“It makes no sense! You go into a Chavista’s house and Chávez and Maduro’s faces are everywhere but you open their fridge and it is empty! Empty!” This was the passionate reaction I received from an acquaintance I was chatting with yesterday when I commented…
“For a great many people, in the past and in the present, it is hard to resist the thrill of war fever, the excitement of ‘seriousness,’ and the call of history—the romance of the iceberg even as it sinks the boat.”—Adam Gopnik on Crimea and the hysteria of history: http://nyr.kr/1f8dQsT (via newyorker)
From a powerful article one of my housemates wrote about observing Ukraine from a tourist’s perspective:
This week marked a devastating turn of events in Ukraine—thousands have been injured and more than twenty have died as the government brutally cracked down on protesters. Fires rage all around Independence Square, Molotov cocktails fly through the air, and police shower protesters with rubber bullets and live ammunition. Seeing so much destruction in such a beautiful city turns my stomach in knots.
These images of fire, violence, and revolution in a city five thousand miles away should, theoretically, not affect me so much. After all, I spent only a few days wandering through the touristy parts of Kiev, and the extreme cold made it nearly impossible to be outside for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Tourists, including me, can only scratch the surface of a place. There’s something campy and inauthentic about being a tourist that makes it impossible to experience the “true” version of a city or country.
It’s my experience, though, that even tourists can make an authentic connection to a place. My conception of the places I visit is not derived from textbooks or newspapers—it’s gained from talking, tasting, seeing, and breathing.
Watching revolutions unfold makes it difficult to maintain an idyllic understanding of these cities. It’s been jarring to have my mental image of these places shattered.
As more and more images of bloody faces and flaming barricades stream in from Kiev, it seems impossible see an end to the violence. I remember feelings of fear and sadness while watching coverage of the Gezi Park protests. Somehow, though, the violence waned, and it eventually appeared as though protests hadn’t happened.
I can only hope that the violent crackdown of the Ukrainian government against its own people will end soon. Even though it’s disorienting to see such a different image of a city, I hope that when the demonstrations subside, visual reminders of the chaos and violence are not too quickly swept away.
Kiev’s Maidan Square can perhaps be superficially compared to the center of Caracas’ protests, Plaza Altamira, or other centers of protest in Venezuela, with the same violent, anti-government clashes on show, but the reality is – as always – more complicated.
For one thing, Venezuela lacks the obvious geopolitical element that made Euromaidan seem like a clash of civilizations: The Ukrainian people’s hopes for a democratic, “European” future vs. the “Russian” brute force of Viktor Yanukovych’s government. The reality of this was (again) more complicated, as both the situation in Crimea and the far-right Ukrainian nationalists among the Maidan protesters illustrate. Still, it was an easy narrative for those in the United States or Western Europe to sympathize with. The narrative for Venezuela may be less compelling, especially to the many Americans who have sympathy for the socialist government in Venezuela.
There also appear to be some important differences about the nature of support for the protests too. Earlier this month, a number of analysts told The Washington Post that even though opposition leader Leopoldo López is resonating with those who are sick of President Nicolás Maduro, the government is not expected to collapse anytime soon. Importantly, Maduro still enjoys the clear support of the country’s military and much of Venezuela’s poor who personally benefited from the “Bolivarian” Revolution began by Maduro’s late predecessor, Hugo Chavez. López’s own success may also create a split within the opposition, many of whom could well favor the less confrontational style of Henrique Caprile, a former presidential candidate.
“Many think there will be a contagion [with Ukraine], but we are far from there,” Ángel Álvarez, a professor of political science at the Andres Bello University in Caracas, told the Financial Times today.
This blog features interviews with contemporary IR scholars (there are a few biggies on the right-hand side listed) about the big debates in IR today. Pretty nifty, and the one I shared with you directly is with my academic crush Peter M. Haas - who would have thought “epistemic communities” could be so arousing???
Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday. He was 95.
The South African president, Jacob Zuma, announced Mr. Mandela’s death.
Mr. Mandela had long declared he wanted a quiet exit, but the time he spent in a Pretoria hospital in recent months was a clamor of quarreling family, hungry news media, spotlight-seeking politicians and a national outpouring of affection and loss. The vigil even eclipsed a recent visit by President Obama, who paid homage to Mr. Mandela but decided not to intrude on the privacy of a dying man he considered his hero.
Mr. Mandela will be buried, according to his wishes, in the village of Qunu, where he grew up. The exhumed remains of three of his children were reinterred there in early July under a court order, resolving a family squabble that had played out in the news media.
Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.
The question most often asked about Mr. Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite.
The government he formed when he finally won the chance was an improbable fusion of races and beliefs, including many of his former oppressors. When he became president, he invited one of his white wardens to the inauguration. Mr. Mandela overcame a personal mistrust bordering on loathing to share both power and a Nobel Peace Prize with the white president who preceded him, F. W. de Klerk.
And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites against their fears of vengeance.
The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire.
When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.