Category: Human Rights

University of Bologna Student, Fabrizio Parrilli, Defends Master’s Thesis and Graduates

 

University of Bologna Student, Fabrizio Parrilli, Defends Master’s Thesis and Graduates

 

Thesis Excerpt

 

FROM “BROTHEROOD AND UNITY” TO HATRED AND CONFLICT: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE USE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AS AN “ETHNIC CLEANSING” TOOL DURING THE WARS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA AND IN KOSOVO.

Chapter 2: UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLAINING CONFLICT-RELATED SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Sexual violence against women represents a frightening and horrifying social reality, a global burden, a violation of human rights that cannot be justified under any circumstance and by any political, cultural or religious claim. Unfortunately, it continues to pervade our societies and, in some conflict scenarios, its recurrence heightens and can reach high levels in terms of magnitude, number of victims and scope, to the point of making us feel annihilated.

In both ancient and modern times, the impact of the brutalities of a war environment extends far beyond the number of combatants and civilians who are violently affected. Paradoxically, armed conflicts are fought and won using different methods and techniques: first of all, in battlefields using conventional weapons such as firearms, bombs, grenades, drones and missiles over a protracted period of time; and, in addition, by employing strategic military campaigns as that of sexual violence (in all its nuances and forms). Since military strategies are designed to accomplish some larger objectives, Lisa Sharlach (2000, p.90) asserts that “rape [and other forms of GBV] may even be a shrewder military tactic than murder because rape is difficult to prove, there is no corpse left as evidence, and war crimes tribunals and domestic courts seldom prosecute soldiers for rape”. Susan Brownmiller[1] (1994, p.181) has for long time tried to explain and document the recurrence of sexual violence in wartime, claiming that female bodies have become another battlefield:

“Sexual sadism arises with astonishing rapidity in ground warfare, when the penis becomes justified as a weapon in a logistical reality of unarmed noncombatants, encircled and trapped. Rape of a doubly dehumanized object – as woman, as enemy – carries its own terrible logic. In one act of aggression, the collective spirit of the women and of the nation is broken, leaving a reminder long after the troops depart”.

 

As I am going to discuss and disclose in this chapter, during the wars in Bosnia and in Kosovo, innocent women of all ages belonging in most cases to the Bosnjak and the Kosovo Albanian ethnic groups have been conscientiously and overwhelmingly targeted by “Serbs” (i.e., Bosnian Serbs, Serbian Armed Forces, Yugoslav People’s Army [JNA – Jugoslavenska narodna armija][2], regular and irregular paramilitary groups and militias organisations). It is now well-known and acknowledged that the central aim of Serbian nationalists was to “ethnically cleanse” those territories lost, or on the way to secede, after the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) had collapsed in the beginning of the 1990s. The intent behind the employment of GBV was that of terrorising, weakening, and destroying an entire people because of the value and meaning that women have within certain traditional societies. Since women are believed to represent the centre, the honour and the sanctity of the family and the community, “by destroying the women, attackers are one step closer to wiping out their ethnic enemy”, declare Kristine Hagen and Sophie Yohani (2010, p.17). Here lies the peculiarity of the post-Yugoslav wars: the gross abuses of women’s human rights on a massive scale due primarily to ethnic and gender differences. These two characteristics are precisely what made Bosnjak and Kosovo Albanian women “eligible” for being sexually abused (Skjelsbaek, 2006).

In order to effectively counter the issue of CRSV, it is thus pivotal to understand the reasons behind its occurrence if we want to bring justice for victims, their families and communities, with the hope of helping the international community and national governments to implement further measures and plans on how these crimes are to be prosecuted and how victims are to be recognised as innocent victims of war, and protected thus from further psychological and physical harm, social ostracism and discrimination. However, the issue under scrutiny has only recently become a matter of public discussion among scholars, lawyers, politicians, psychologists, historians, and the whole international community. In fact, victims of CRSV are being ignored by history, despite being an active part of it. Perhaps, one of the reasons why this phenomenon continues to occur depends on the silence of the victims and the taboo for the society that keeps such atrocity hidden and buried.

  • Silence and taboo

“Maybe that’s their [Serbian] way of hurting Muslim women and Croatian women, and the whole female race. Killing them isn’t interesting enough for them anymore. It’s a lot more fun to torture us, especially if they get a woman pregnant. They want to humiliate us… and they’ve done it, too. Not just in my case, either, all the women and girls will feel humiliated, defiled, dirty in some way for the rest of their lives… I feel dirty myself somehow. And I feel as though everybody can see it when they pass me in the street. Even though it isn’t true, no one could know about it. But the humiliation is there”.

  • Sadeta, Bosnian Muslim girl, twenty-year-old at the time of the interview in July 1992 (Stiglmayer, 1994, p.96).

 

The cruelty of CRSV has been largely ignored, understudied, and not acknowledged as being politically and culturally significant until recently; it “has been one of history’s greatest silences” (UN Action, 2011, p.4). According to Ruth Seifert (1993, p. 9), in almost five decades the savagery of CRSV has never been a subject of discussion and understanding: history has usually “placed a cloak of silence over the atrocities committed against women”. Indeed, it took ages to become a priority concern for the whole world.

The callous treatment of women during armed conflicts all over the globe and throughout humankind history reveal the need for the imperative commitment to tackle the problem of GBV once and for all. The paradigm and theoretical shift in the universal understanding of the impact, the documentation, and the conceptualization of CRSV occurred at the beginning of the 1990s[3], exactly when the world came to know about the innumerable atrocities committed during the fratricidal wars in the former Yugoslavia and, to a greater extent, during the genocidal campaign in Rwanda[4]. These events, which occurred just after the collapse of the Cold War system, exposed the entire world to a kind of violence that was considered unimaginable to happen again after World War II’s experience of brutal crimes against civilians and entire communities. But the massive gender-based persecutions that occurred during World War II had been partially obscured.

The discovery of the Nazi concentration camps led the international community to adopt, in 1949, a series of Conventions (i.e., the Four Geneva Conventions[5], which define violations of human rights under three general headings: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide), and, in 1977, the Additional Protocols[6], which establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in wartime:

  • The fourth Geneva Convention is the only one to mention “rape”. In Article 27 (UN, 1949, p.179), it states: “Women shall be especially protected against any attack of their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”
  • Article 76 (1) – Protection of women – of Protocol I (UN, 1977a, p.282) provides that “Women shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault.”.
  • Article 4 (2, e) – Fundamental Guarantees – of Protocol II (UN, 1977b, p.2) prohibits acts that are considered “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault.”

However, in all of them, the act of sexual violence as a war crime, crime against humanity and genocide is not explicitly mentioned; it “is not designated as a ‘grave breach’ but only as a lesser abuse”, claims Miranda Alison (2007, p.82). Rhonda Copelon[7] (1994, p.200) argues that the concepts of “honour” and “dignity” of women used by the Convention and the Protocols are a core problem since they somewhat fail to recognise SGBV as a fundamental crime against women, as a “violence against a woman’s body, autonomy, integrity, selfhood, security, and self-esteem as well as her standing in the community”. Furthermore, this conceptualisation seems to give more weight to the chastity and virginity of women, as well as the traditional social view of “invisible” women within societies, rather than acknowledging a specific serious crime: “[w]here rape has been treated as a grave crime, it is because it violates the honour of the man and his exclusive right to sexual possession of his woman as property”, underscores Copelon (1994, p.200).

Indeed, one of the worst crimes documented in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda was exactly the systematic SGBV that achieved startling levels in terms of number of victims and organisation. Something never witnessed before. According to various data gathered by numerous international organisations (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2008, p.39):

  • in Bosnia, between 14.000 and 50.000 women of all ages were systematically raped, sexually assaulted, mutilated, tortured, in public spaces or in concentration camps (named “rape camps”) until death occurred; or held in domestic and sexual slavery for extended periods, and even forcefully impregnated and released only when abortion was no longer feasible.
  • In Kosovo, the estimated number of sexual abuses fluctuated from 23.200 to 45.600 between August 1998 and August 1999[8].
  • In Rwanda, the number of women victims of SGBV is estimated to have been ten times higher than in Bosnia – between 250.000 and 500.000 – and it happened in just 100 days from April to July 1994.

 

Despite it is almost impossible to record each case and to rely on such numbers, these estimates reveal the most brutal side of a conflict and how some military operations are so accurately planned and practiced. “Numbers are unprovable”, exemplified Copelon (1994, p.204); while Albana Gërxhi (2017, p.175) highlights that they remain just an estimation rather than real number of victims, on the one hand, because of “the difficult context on which such violence happens”, while, “on the other hand, many of the women victims of violence would not report their experience bearing the shame and most of the times feeling guilty of what experienced”. These feelings are usually accompanied with the possibility of being rejected by the family and the community after admitting the sexual abuse. In its valuable report on the conflict in Kosovo, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo[9] (IICK, 2000, p.91) found out that GBV – in particular rape – “is notoriously difficult to quantify statistically, due to societal inhibitions against reporting”. As underlined by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “Kosovo: rape as a weapon of ethnic cleansing” (2000), the cultural stigma and women’s reluctance attached to rape further complicated the documentation efforts. In the case of Kosovo, HRW was able to discover “only” ninety-six credible accounts of rape, advancing that this figure represents only a fraction of the actual incidents that occurred. According to Zawati (2010, p.141), the conservative nature of the Muslim society was the reason why the cases of SGBV of Muslim women were under-reported and un-reported:

“In Muslim societies, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, women are valued for their sexual purity. Sexual intercourse is forbidden outside marriage, and if a woman has engaged in unlawful sexual acts, even against her will, she will be blamed and judged by her family and society for this victimization. Of course, this attitude is due to customary and traditional values, not to Islamic teachings and rules.”

 

Namely, the testimony of forty-eight-year-old Munerva, a traditional Muslim woman who felt victim of the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign in Bosnia, allows us to comprehend the injurious effects on women of blaming themselves for being sexually abused, which cause them to internalise the feelings of shame and guilt and to keep the experience buried. Munerva was repeatedly raped at home while her three sons and a daughter-in-law were in the house:

“Then they [two Serbian soldiers] brought me to the other room. I squeezed my legs tight together. One of them was with me, the other one was waiting in the living room. I begged him and cried, and I crossed my legs. Then he took out his thing, you know, and he did it and it sprayed on me. When he was done the other one came and did the same thing, but I kept my legs crossed the whole time. When they left, my sons came out and found me in a complete mess. They asked me what happened: “What’d they do to you?” I said, “Nothing.” I couldn’t tell them about it, I really couldn’t tell them about it. I’d rather die than have them find out about it.” (Stiglmayer, 1994, p.101).

 

Given the above, in traditional as well as in modern societies the taboo of sexual violence – of sexuality in general – provokes the emergence of the “culture of silence” that maintains the topic hidden, at the margins of public attention and debate. Hence, it becomes more difficult to discuss it openly and loudly, and consequently to effectively counter the phenomenon. Skjelsbaek (2001, p.228) states that one of the main problems with the reliability of data lies precisely in the feelings that stem from the crime: “shame, guilt, fear and taboos keep victims and perpetrators silent and this poses a great challenge to outside analysts and it is precisely the same feelings of shame, guilt, fear and taboo which make sexual violence such an effective weapon”. In addition, it is quite logical that aggressors decide not to speak out about what they have committed with the fear of being accused of a barbaric crime, branded as criminals and then imprisoned. Likewise, government and military authorities never admit to encouraging the use of sexual violence or turning a blind eye to what happens within the territorial borders of their countries (Sharlach, 2000).

Nowadays, the silence and the taboo that have covered for so long the topic of CRSV has finally been broken, although some social stigmas are still present. Over the past few decades, many scholars from different fields of study[10], activists, advocates, lawyers, journalists, politicians, policy-makers, human rights organizations, and the international community, have become increasingly concerned about this dramatic plight. Notwithstanding, all those actors are accused not to give enough importance and priority to the issue and to come out to the surface “only at the emotional moment when the side in danger of annihilation cries out for world attention”, as declared by Brownmiller (1994, p.182). On the same line of reasoning, Howard Clark (2000, p.158) adds: “‘Something must be done’ was one of the dominant feelings of the 1990s when faced with media images from one ethnic conflict after another and victims crying out for international intervention”. In his insightful book “Civil resistance in Kosovo” (2000), Clark criticises the international community and illustrates how the world woke up too late when the war erupted in Yugoslavia and how the war in Kosovo could have been prevented if the international community had included the Kosovo Question into the peaceful stipulation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) in November 1995[11], and if it had listened to the several warnings of the Kosovo Albanian civil society and its non-violent movement[12]. Zawati too (2010, p.197) contends that the international community failed to prevent and rapidly stop the wars in the Balkans and in Rwanda, arguing that the myriad atrocities “were committed in the face of an international conspiracy of silence”.

Indeed, in the case of the post-Yugoslav wars there were initially few reports of what was happening to women. Seifert (1993, p.9) stresses out the fact that “the Red Cross and other humanitarian relief organizations have for a long time been informed about the existence of rape camps without bringing the scandal to public attention”. As a matter of fact, the first instances of massive SGBV were notified in spring 1992 by Independent Zagreb feminists, “but they were not taken seriously because they did not have a ‘clear national approach’” (Morokvasic, 1997, p.79). According to Mirjana Morokvasic (1997, p.79), “it was only when the nationalists of the warring parties grasped the propaganda value of women’s suffering that rape stories spread all over the media, both local and international”. On the same line of reasoning, Skjelsbaek (2010) suggests that it is highly likely that stories of sexual violence in Bosnia received more attention by the international media because it took place in Europe among white Western peoples. Instead, what appeared to be a systematic attempt at destroying a community[13] through the establishment of concentration and rape camps was publicly reported only as early as August 1992 by Roy Gutman[14], at the time journalist for the American newspaper Newsday. However, unlike in Bosnia where the occurrence of SGBV was strongly condemned, the situation in Kosovo did not receive the expected scrutiny it needed and revealed the lack of attention to women’s and girls’ needs (Kosova Women’s Network, 2011). Also, the IICK (2000) advocated greater emphasis on the gender dimension of humanitarian intervention, denouncing the insufficient attention paid to the use and impact of rape as a weapon of war during the war in Kosovo.

Thence, once the atrocities committed in Bosnia and in Rwanda were reported and revealed to the entire world, they achieved an unprecedented resonance which brought the issue to the global human rights agenda and into the consciousness of the people, leading to profound transformations in legal, cultural, political, and social understandings of the problem. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the culprits could no more be left unpunished. As a result, two “ad hoc” international tribunals[15] were officially set up in the 1990s with the aim of criminalising, for the first time in history, sexual violence in the context of an armed conflict under international law: the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) and the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). The former represents the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. It was established precisely to prosecute perpetrators for serious violations of international humanitarian law (including mass killings, torture, methodical detention of civilians, rape, enslavement, forced pregnancy, and the practice of “ethnic cleansing”) committed within the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991 (UNSC, 1993c). On the other hand, the ICTR signalled a turning point into the international jurisprudence with the sentence of the “Akayesu” case, in which rape and sexual violence were defined as acts of genocide for the first time in history (ICTR, 2001).

Thus, the tribunals established a legal international precedent by indicting individuals solely for the crime of SGBV. Jefferson (2004) highlights that the great commitment and will of the international community to provide accountability for CRSV crimes indicate the substantial aim to deter similar future episodes. However, both international criminal tribunals received several critiques on account of the failure to meet expectations for establishing accountability and responsibility for the brutalities in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. Accordingly, Jefferson (2004, p.337) claims that “in terms of sexual violence prosecutions each criminal tribunal risks being remembered for what it missed doing, rather than for what it achieved”. There should be no safe haven for all the wrongdoers but, according to the number of individuals accused by the ICTY from 1996 to 2017 (ICTY, 2016), only 78 individuals on a total of 161 had charges of SGBV included in their indictments. Out of the 78 defendants, 32 have been convicted for their responsibility for crimes of SGBV, as defined under Article 7 (1) of the ICTY Statute[16]; and 4 of them were additionally convicted for failing to prevent or punish the actual perpetrators of the crimes, under Article 7 (3)[17] of the Statute. As one may discern, these numbers are shockingly low considering the hundreds of thousands of women sexually abused. “[T]he number of successful prosecutions has been paltry compared to the scale of the crimes”, reckons Jefferson (2004, p.326). Moreover, the tribunals have not given the appropriate support and protection to victims: “[d]uring trials, survivors of sexual violence are reported to have received inadequate witness preparation, and experienced aggressive cross-examination, which left them feeling re-victimised and humiliated” (Bastick, Grimm and Kunz, 2007, p.156). This caused disappointment among victims, women’s rights activists and other actors involved in the prosecution of SGBV.

The ICTY’s jurisdiction was also extended to Kosovo, despite the idea of establishing an international-led Kosovo War and Ethnic Crimes Court (KWECC) as the local arm of the ICTY was soon abandoned due to resistance from Kosovo Albanian lawyers and judges who feared lack of ownership in the future court as well as complications of an additional layer between the domestic judicial system and the ICTY (Amnesty International, 2008). With regard to the conflict in Kosovo, “of the hundreds, potentially thousands, of cases of alleged sexual violence, not a single perpetrator” has been convicted by the ICTY (Kosova Women’s Network, 2011, p.84). The very first conviction for CRSV in Kosovo has been issued by the Basic Court in Pristina in July 2021, against a former Serbian policeman, Zoran Vukotić, sentenced to ten years in prison for the acts of rape and his participation in the expulsions of ethnic Albanian civilians back in 1999 (Gashi and Bami, 2021). In addition, Adam Jones[18] (2006, p.366) points out to the controversy of the ICTY in ruling out war crimes prosecutions of North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) leaders “accused of attacks on civilian targets and other breaches of international law” during the Kosovo war.

The lack of provisions for the protection of women or their unequal application has led to the increasing report of allegations of GBV in wartime and to the adoption of numerous international humanitarian and human rights reports, documents, conventions, and resolutions. Nowadays, CRSV is explicitly and categorically prohibited by international law, and perpetrators are held responsible for committing such crimes. In 1998, amid trials of the ICTY and ICTR, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. For the first time in history, the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, elevated the acts of SGBV (committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population) to one of the most heinous war crimes ever:

  • in Article 7 (1) (g), it is stated that “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” are to be considered as crimes against humanity;
  • in Article 8 (2) (b) (xxii), the same forms of sexual violence as war crimes are labelled “grave breach of the Geneva Conventions” (ICC, 2011, pp.3-6).

 

However, it was not until 2008 with the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1820 (UNSC, 2008, p.3) that forms of GBV can also be recognised as “a constitutive act with respect to genocide”. Furthermore, the UNSCR 1820 (2008, p.3) calls forth States “to comply with their obligations for prosecuting persons responsible for such acts, to ensure that all victims of sexual violence, particularly women and girls, have equal protection under the law and equal access to justice, and stresses the importance of ending impunity for such acts”. The adoption of all these resolutions represents a significant step towards the complete integration of gender concerns within international law and the recognition that CRSV is an abominable crime that challenge, on the one hand, the maintenance and promotion of peace and security and, on the other hand, the protection and safeguard of women.

Although the occurrence of CRSV has not been stopped and continues to be a commonplace, the establishment of the ICTY and ICTR “has subsequently led to a number of symbolic, procedural and substantive victories for both victims and gender justice” (Henry, 2014, p.95), and they “have paved the way for more refined understandings of sexual violence abuses in conflict” (Gërxhi, 2017, p.180). The phenomenon has since then become “a much-discussed subject in personal memoirs, journalistic accounts, films with Hollywood stars and human rights and activist campaigns” (Henry, 2014, p.94). In fact, a variety of movies, books, reports and documentaries on this phenomenon have been released in the past three decades. Recently, on 19th June 2015, the UNGA (2015, p.2) adopted the Resolution A/RES/69/293 which proclaimed the 19th June of each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict[19], “in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to and lost their lives in standing up for the eradication of these crimes.” Furthermore, many CRSV-focused organisations[20] mushroomed over time and started to work together, share knowledge and expertise, provide support and help to victims of CRSV and their families, improve women’s livelihoods and restore their agency, gather precious documentation, to the extent that we have much more information about where these acts happen and who are the wrongdoers. It is worthwhile to mention that the documentation of CRSV (and other gross human rights violations and war crimes) would have never been reported by local and transnational NGOs, the UN, international organizations and the media, if the victims were not able to speak out about what they have gone through. It is only thanks to strong women that we have come to know what happens in certain contexts and situations. As a matter of fact, many international and regional reports draw “their conclusions from the most literal of sources: persons who have survived the atrocities and those who, perhaps not having been raped or tortured themselves, have witnessed the perpetration of atrocities on others”, in addition to women’s visible “scars” on their bodies, emphasises Beverly Allen[21] (1996, p.313-314).

The phenomenon will never be deterred unless and until victims’ stories are spread and heard. “People must hear the horrifying, think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable”, emphasises Tompkins (1995, p.852). For many, testifying before a court requires great boldness, especially if they know that war criminals and their devotees are still out there somewhere and could still do great harm. Allegedly, when victims of sexual abuse decide to testify at war crimes trials the aim is that of brining justice to them, their relatives, and to all the dead victims. Nicola Henry (2014, p.104) advances the idea that many victims and witnesses do it simply because they perceive to have the moral and civic obligation towards their community and their fellow female peers: “the choice to defy the stigma and shame and confront perpetrators in court may likewise represent a desire to speak on behalf of those who do not have the courage to testify”. Some empirical facts may help us understanding this instance. In his intense study on the ICTY witnesses, Eric Stover[22] (2005) found out that 90% of respondents indicated a moral and civic duty to speak for the dead as the main motivation for testifying.

With the massive occurrence of GBV in the 1990s, there was a conceptual shift of regarding the language of human rights (and therefore women’s rights) that spread more widely and entered into the official vocabulary of major international agencies. The extreme cases of SGBV witnessed in the Bosnian war marked a historical watershed between how the phenomenon was conceived before (or rather neglected) and how it became a pillar of human rights. Henry (2014, p.95) points out that, in the past, “wartime rape has been viewed and treated, at least historically, as abhorrent, incomprehensible and unspeakable, yet at the same time as inevitable, excusable or even laudable”. Instead, since the war in Bosnia, academic, political, legal, cultural and diplomatic circles have moved from perceiving CRSV as an unfortunate but inevitable “by-product of war” resulting from the chaos and violence of war, to seeing it as a military strategy, a weapon of war, of psychological mass destruction, a tool of genocide and ethnic cleansing (Allen, 1996; Clark, 2000; Di Lellio, Kraja, 2020; Gottschall, 2004; Kirby, 2012; Littlewood, 1997; MacKinnon, 1994; Salzman, 1998; Seifert, 1994; Sharlach, 2000; Skjelsbaek, 2001; Stiglmayer, 1994; Tompkins, 1999; Wood, 2006, Zarkov, 2003; Zawati, 2010). At the international level, UNSCR 1820 (2008, p.1) explicitly indicates that in some conflicts “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”. Also, the 2015 UNSC’s report on CRSV states that:

“Sexual violence is not incidental, but integrally linked with the strategic objectives, ideology and funding of extremist groups. It is used to advance such tactical imperatives as recruitment; terrorizing populations into compliance; displacing communities from strategic areas; generating revenue through sex trafficking, the slave trade, ransoms, looting and the control of natural resources; torture to elicit intelligence; conversion and indoctrination through forced marriage; and to establish, alter or dissolve kinship ties that bind communities” (UNSC, 2015, p.24).

 

Moreover, Zawati (2010, p.169) asserts that the high number of rape reports in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda demonstrate that systematic mass rape was employed “as a weapon of war for different purposes, including humiliation, extracting information, political terror, intimidation, ethnic cleansing, and breaking down the morale of the opponent’s civilian population by inflicting physical and psychological injuries on the victims and stigmatizing them and their families”. As I am going to analyse in depth in the course of the thesis, the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo make an exception for the methodical and organised way to deliberately detain, rape and impregnate Bosnjak and Kosovo Albanian women. According to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women report (CEDAW, 1994, p.1), the brutalities carried out in Bosnia “were premeditated, carefully organized and meant as acts to humiliate, shame and degrade the entire ethnic group. They were not just products of the ‘war environment’”. It was not an unfortunate by-product of the conflict, claimed Roy Gutman (1994), but rather the “aim of the campaign” pursued by ethnic Serbs, central to the conquest of the Bosnian territory.

In a follow-up report, the UNGA (1994) further stated that “this heinous practice [abuse of women] constitutes a deliberate weapon of war in fulfilling the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and […] that the abhorrent policy of ethnic cleansing was a form of genocide.” With regard to the Kosovo conflict, HRW (2001, p.130) established that:

“Rape and other forms of sexual violence were used in Kosovo in 1999 as weapons of war and instruments of systematic “ethnic cleansing.” Rapes were not rare and isolated acts committed by individual Serbian or Yugoslav forces, but rather were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and push people to flee their homes. Rape also furthered the goal of forcing ethnic Albanians from Kosovo”.

 

To conclude, as claimed by Skjelsbaek (2001), the best “coping strategy” to break the silence related to GBV is to speak up about the issue. But in view of the persistent stigma and ostracism faced by victims, many women prefer in fact not to come forward to seek help or to speak out. However, another conceptual shift at the social and cultural level is the fact that women today are less marginalised and discriminated against by their families and communities in comparison with decades ago. The growing awareness and sensitivity towards victims of GBV smashes decisively the sense of embarrassment and shame that has characterised the humankind history. This generates a common awareness of women’s experiences.

Currently, Cockburn (2013, p.435) observes how the technological innovations, the development of social media and the internet make it easier and faster to spread worldwide the news and stories of sexual abuses: these new instruments “bring the news of war immediately to audiences both near to and far from conflict”. A recent powerful event that further changed the conception of victims of GBV is represented by the social media campaign #MeToo[23] against sexual harassment and abuse that, since 2017, has reached every corner of the globe (Seales, 2018). However, Seales (2018) shows that its resonance has inevitably gained greater traction in those countries where the freedom of press and the media is rightly exercised and guaranteed. Skjelsbaek (2018, p.2) praises the widespread share of experiences of GBV and the use of the hashtag #MeToo that “opened up a language, recognition, and an outlet for talking about experiences that had far too often remained inarticulate to those affected as well as their surroundings”. She also finds a similarity between the #MeToo campaign and CRSV by claiming that, in both cases, GBV has been overlooked until silence breakers started to speak up and tell their experiences. Fortunately, survivors like Nadia Murad who are relentlessly speaking out, are changing the narrative and bringing hope for all those who continue to suffer. When silence breakers and their dramatic stories develop on a massive scale the result becomes extraordinary: policymakers and academics cannot ignore any longer the impact of the phenomenon. In fact, as acknowledged by Skjelsbaek (2001, p.228), “it is only by making policy-makers, journalists and lawyers and other analysts aware of the issue that one can stop the tradition of impunity and silence” that has for so long characterised our history.

 

Bibliography

Brownmiller, S. (1994). “Making female bodies the battlefield”. In: Stiglmayer, A. (ed.), “Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 180-182.

Clark, H. (2000). “Civil Resistance in Kosovo”. London and Sterling, VA: Pluto Press.

Copelon, R. (1994). “Surfacing gender: reconceptualising crimes against women in time of war”. In A. Stiglmayer (Ed.), “Mass rape: The war against women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 197-218.

Gutman, R. (1994). “Foreword”. In A. Stiglmayer (Ed.), “Mass rape: The war against women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: ix-xiv.

Jones, A. (2006). “Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction”. London: Routledge.

MacKinnon, C. (1994a). “Turning rape into pornography: postmodern genocide”. In: Stiglmayer, A. (ed.), “Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 73-81.

  • (1994b). “Rape, genocide, and women’s human rights”. In: Stiglmayer, A. (ed.), “Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 183-196.

Seifert, R. (1994). “War and Rape: A Preliminary Analysis”. In: Stiglmayer, A. (ed.), “Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 54-72.

Stiglmayer, A., ed. (1994). “Mass rape: The war against women in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Stover, E. (2005). “The Witnesses: War Crimes and the Promise of Justice in The Hague”. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Zawati, H. M. (2010). “The Triumph of Ethnic Hatred and the Failure of International Political Will: Gendered Violence and Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda”. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press.

 

Sitography

Alison, M. (January, 2007). “Wartime Sexual Violence: Women’s Human Rights and Questions of Masculinity”. Cambridge University Press: Review of International Studies. Vol. 33 (1): 75-90. Available at: Wartime Sexual Violence: Women’s Human Rights and Questions of Masculinity on JSTOR [accessed 17th June 2021].

Allen, B. (1996). “Rape Warfare in Bosnia-Herzegovina: The Policy and the Law”. The Brown Journal of World Affairs. Vol. 3 (1): 313-323. Available at: Rape Warfare in Bosnia-Herzegovina: The Policy and the Law (jstor.org) [accessed 31st August 2021].

Amnesty International. (January, 2008). “Kosovo (Serbia). The challenge to fix a failed UN justice system”. EUR 70/001/200. Available at: eur700012008eng_cover (amnesty.org) [accessed 20th September 2021].

Bastick, M., Grimm, K. and Kunz, R. (2007). “Sexual violence in armed conflict: Global overview and implications for the security sector”. Geneva: DCAF. Available at: Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (dcaf.ch) [accessed 21st September 2021].

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. (1994). “Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Bosnia and Herzegovina”. Special Report, Thirteenth session: Supplement No. 38 (A/49/38). Available at: Bosnia and Herzegovina – Special report.doc (un.org) [accessed 22nd June 2021].

Cockburn, C. (November, 2013). “War and security, women and gender: an overview of the issues”. Taylor & Francis Group, Ltd. on behalf of Oxfam GB. Vol. 21 (3): 433-452. Available at: (12) (PDF) War and security, women and gender: An overview of the issues (researchgate.net) [accessed 1st July 2021].

Di Lellio, A. and Kraja, G. (June 3rd, 2020). “Sexual violence in the Kosovo conflict: a lesson for Myanmar and other ethnic cleansing campaigns”. International Politics. Vol. 58: 148-167. Available at: (12) Sexual violence in the Kosovo conflict: a lesson for Myanmar and other ethnic cleansing campaigns | Request PDF (researchgate.net) [accessed 22nd September 2021].

Gashi, K., Bami, X. (July 8th, 2021). “Kosovo Special Prosecutor: ‘Wartime Rape Victims Must Speak Out’”. BIRN: Balkan Transitional Justice [online]. Available at: Kosovo Special Prosecutor: ‘Wartime Rape Victims Must Speak Out’ | Balkan Insight [accessed 20th September 2021].

Geneva Declaration Secretariat (September, 2008). “Global burden of armed violence”. London: Paul Green Printing. Available at: untitled (genevadeclaration.org) [accessed 22nd June 2021].

Gërxhi, A. (2017). “Women a(t) Battlefield”. ILIRIA International Review. Vol. 7 (2): 173-194. Available at: Women a(t) Battlefield | ILIRIA International Review (iliriapublications.org) [accessed 17th June 2021].

Gottschall, J. (May, 2004). “Explaining Wartime Rape”. The Journal of Sex Research, Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Vol. 41 (2): 129-136. Available at: Explaining Wartime Rape (jstor.org) [accessed 6th June 2021].

Hagen, K.T. and Yohani, S. C. (November, 2010). “The Nature and Psychosocial Consequences of War Rape for Individuals and Communities”. International Journal of Psychological Studies. Vol. 2 (2): 14-25. Available at: The Nature and Psychosocial Consequences of War Rape for Individuals and Communities | Hagen | International Journal of Psychological Studies | CCSE (ccsenet.org) [accessed 28th June 2021].

Henry, N. (2014). “The Fixation on Wartime Rape: Feminist Critique and International Criminal Law”. Social & Legal Studies. Vol. 23 (1): 93-111. Available at: (PDF) The fixation on wartime rape: feminist critique and international criminal law | Nicola Henry – Academia.edu [accessed 30th June 2021].

Human Rights Watch. (2001). “Under orders: War crimes in Kosovo”. Human Rights Watch. Available at: UNDER ORDERS: War Crimes in Kosovo (hrw.org) [accessed 27th July 2021].

International Criminal Court  (2011). “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”. The Hague, The Netherlands. Available at: Rome_Statute_English.pdf (icc-cpi.int) [accessed 16th June 2021].

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. (June 1st, 2001). “The Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu (Trial Judgement)”. ICTR-96-4-T. Available at: 010601.pdf (irmct.org) [accessed 20th September 2021].

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. (2016). “In Numbers”. Available at: In Numbers | International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty.org) [accessed 20th September 2021].

Jefferson, L. (2004). “In War as in Peace: Sexual Violence and Women’s Status”. In Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2004: Human Rights and Armed Conflict”: 325-348. Available at: Microsoft Word – WR2004print.doc (hrw.org) [accessed 25th June 2021].

Kirby, P. (2012). “How Is Rape A Weapon Of War? Feminist International Relations, Modes of Critical Explanation and the Study of Wartime Sexual Violence”. London: European Journal of International Relations. Vol. 19 (4): 797-821. Available at: Research : Paul Kirby : University of Sussex [accessed 21st June 2021].

Kosova Women’s Network. (2011). “1325 Facts & Fables. A collection of stories about the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security in Kosovo”. Pristina, Kosovo. Available at: 1325 Facts and Fables – Kosovo Women’s Network (womensnetwork.org) [accessed 20th September 2021].

Littlewood, R. (April, 1997). “Military rape”. Anthropology Today. Vol. 13 (2): 7-16. Available at: Military Rape on JSTOR [accessed 1st July 2021].

Morokvasic, M. (1997). “The logics of exclusion: nationalism, sexism and the Yugoslav war”. In: Charles, N. & Hintjens, H. (ed.), “Gender, Ethnicity and Political Ideologies”. London: Routledge: 65-90. Available at: silo.pub_gender-ethnicity-and-political-ideologies.pdf [accessed 17th June 2021].

Salzman, T. A. (May, 1998). “Rape Camps as a Means of Ethnic Cleansing: Religious, Cultural and Ethical Responses to Rape Victims in the Former Yugoslavia”. Human Rights Quarterly. Vol. 20 (2): 348-378. Available at: Rape Camps as a Means of Ethnic Cleansing: Religious, Cultural, and Ethical Responses to Rape Victims in the Former Yugoslavia on JSTOR [accessed 30th June 2021].

Seales, R. (May 12th, 2018). “What has #MeToo actually changed?”. BBC News [online]. Available at: What has #MeToo actually changed? – BBC News [accessed 27th June 2021].

Seifert, R. (1993). “War and rape. Analytical approaches”. Geneva: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Vol. 11 (2): 17-32. Available at: Microsoft Word – Document1 (wilpf.org) [accessed 6th June 2021].

Sharlach, L. (2000). “Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda”. New Political Science. Vol. 22 (1): 89-102. Available at: (12) (PDF) Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda (researchgate.net) [accessed 26th August 2021].

Skjelsbaek, I. (2006). “Victim and Survivor: Narrated Social Identities of Women Who Experienced Rape During the War in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Feminism & Psychology. Vol. 16 (4): 373–403. Available at: Inger-Skjelsbaek.pdf (usip.org) [accessed 15th June 2021].

The Independent International Commission on Kosovo. (2000). “The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned”. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at: kosovo_993_net (reliefweb.int) [accessed 23rd September 2021].

Tompkins, T. (1995). “Prosecuting rape as a war crime: Speaking the unspeakable”. Notre Dame Law Review. Vol. 70 (4): 845-890. Available at: “Prosecuting Rape as a War Crime: Speaking the Unspeakable” by Tamara L. Tompkins (nd.edu) [accessed 28th June 2021].

United Nations. (August 12th, 1949). “IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 1949”. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.33_GC-IV-EN.pdf [accessed 19th May 2021].

United Nations General Assembly. (July 13th, 2015). “Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 June 2015 [without reference to a Main Committee (A/69/L.75 and Add.1)] 69/293. International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict”. Available at: A/RES/69/293 – E – A/RES/69/293 -Desktop (undocs.org) [accessed 8th December 2021].

  • (December 23rd, 1994). “Rape and abuse of women in the areas of armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia, G.A. res. 49/205, 49 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 226, U.N. Doc. A/49/49”. Available at: http://humanrts.umn.edu/resolutions/49/205GA1994.html [accessed 15th June 2021].

United Nations Security Council. (June 19th, 2008). “Resolution 1820 (2008)”. S/RES/1820. Available at: S/RES/1820(2008) – E – S/RES/1820(2008) -Desktop (undocs.org) [accessed 15th June 2021].

  • (March 23rd, 2015). “Conflict-related sexual violence: Report of the Secretary-General”. S/2015/203. Available at: Etpu (securitycouncilreport.org) [accessed 10th June 2021].
  • (May 25th, 1993c). “Resolution 827 (1993)”. S/RES/827. Available at: S_RES_827(1993)-EN.pdf [accessed 20th September 2021].

Wood, E. J. (September, 2006). “Variation in Sexual Violence during War”. Politics & Society. Vol. 34 (3): 307-341. Available at: PAS290426.qxd (ucla.edu) [accessed 23rd July 2021].

Zarkov, D. (2003). “Feminism and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia: On the Politics of Gender and Ethnicity”. Social Development Issues: 1-19. Available at: (6) (PDF) Feminism and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia: On the Politics of Gender and Ethnicity | dubravka zarkov – Academia.edu [accessed 29th May June 2021].

[1] For further information, see Brownmiller’s ground-breaking book “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape” (1975).

[2] The JNA was formed predominantly by Serbs and Montenegrins.

[3] Prior to the 1990s, the only occasion where rape crimes committed during a conflict were prosecuted by an international war crimes court was at the Tokyo Trial in 1946.

[4] In 1994, nearly 1 million people (mainly belonging to the minority Tutsi group) were killed in ethnic conflict by the majority Hutu group during a 3-months period, the most rapid genocide in recorded history. For a complete account of the mass rape reports occurred in Rwanda see: Human Rights Watch, (1996). “Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwanda Genocide and Its Aftermath”. New York: Human Rights Watch; available at: http://hrw.org/reports/1996/Rwanda.htm. For a comparative discussion of the roots of ethnic conflict, the mechanisms and motivations that led to genocidal rape, ethnic cleansing and mass killings in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, see Zawati, H. M. (2010). “The Triumph of Ethnic Hatred and the Failure of International Political Will: Gendered Violence and Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda”. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press.

[5] The Four Geneva Conventions are referred to: the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field; the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea; the Treatment of Prisoners of War; the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

[6] The Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions were developed and adopted by States to make international humanitarian law more complete and more universal, and to adapt it to new types of warfare and political contexts which had not previously been considered. Protocol I is related to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, while Protocol II concerns the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.

[7] Copelon (1944-2010) filed countless amicus briefs in cases heard by the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

[8] Although estimates of the numbers of Kosovo Albanian war-related sexual violence survivors range from 23,000 to 45,600, research mounted by international organizations such as HRW (Federal Republic Of Yugoslavia: Kosovo – Rape As A Weapon Of “Ethnic Cleansing” (hrw.org)), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ((12) (PDF) Sexual Violence Against Refugee Women (researchgate.net)), the UNFPA (Assessment Report on Sexual Violence in Kosovo. UNFPA (phdn.org)) and OSCE (Kosovo/Kosova As Seen, As Told (osce.org)) has been unsuccessful in identifying the real numbers of victims.

[9] The IICK was a commission established in 1999 by the government of Sweden  to examine the events in Kosovo.

[10] Many scholars who addressed the issue of sexual violence in wartime come from the fields of politics, international relations, sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, women’s studies, gender studies, law, human rights.

[11] The DPA signalled the end to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

[12] During the 1980s and early 1990s a nonviolent resistance movement led by Ibrahim Rugova sought to find a peaceful solution to the Kosovo dire situation and avoid war. More details are found in the next chapter.

[13] Primarily: Bosnjaks, Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs, Serbs, Croatians and Kosovo Albanians.

[14] See: Gutman, Roy, (August 23rd, 1992). “Mass Rape — Muslims Recall Serb Attacks,” New York City: Newsday. Gutman was the first journalist to report on the use of sexual violence in the “ethnic cleansing” campaigns carried out by Serbian military and paramilitary troops against Muslim and Croatian populations. For his courageous and persistent reporting, he won the 1993 Pulitzer Prizes.

[15] The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in May 1993 by the UNSCR 827 and it began its proceedings at the Hague in 1996; and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), established in November 1994. These tribunals were followed by the establishment of “hybrid“ courts in Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor, based on a different model, which are part of the national judicial system but supported by the international community.

[16] ICTY Statute: Part V) INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY, Article 7(1): A person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute, shall be individually responsible for the crime.” Available at: Case Law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: V) INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY (Article 7(1)) (hrw.org).

[17] ICTY Statute: Part VI) COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY, Article 7(3): The fact that any of the acts referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute was committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof.” Available at: Case Law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: VI) COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY (Article 7(3)) (hrw.org).

[18] For further information, see: Jones, A. “Gender Inclusive: Essays on Violence, Men, and Feminist International Relations” (Routledge, 2009).

[19] The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption on 19th June 2008 of the UNSCR 1820, in which the Council condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding.

[20] Some organisations are: Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human rights; Civitas Maxima; Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation; Equator Foundation; IFHHRO | Medical Human Rights Network; IMPACT: Center Against Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence in Conflict; Mukomeze Foundation; REDRESS; Sterk Huis; Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

[21] Allen served as consultant to the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

[22] For further information on the opinions and attitudes of individuals who have appeared before the ICTY, see: Stover, E. (2005) “The Witnesses: War Crimes and the Promise of Justice in The Hague”.

[23] The movement began in October 2017 when The New York Times printed the first allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and rape committed by the famous film executive Harvey Weinstein. He was accused by dozens of women and was fired from his own company inside a week. Some days after that, actress Alyssa Milano suggested on Twitter that anyone who had been “sexually harassed or assaulted” should reply to her Tweet with “Me Too”, to demonstrate the scale of the problem. Half a million people responded in the first 24 hours.

 

 

About Fabrizio Parrilli

Fabrizio Parrilli25, Master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna, Italy. My areas of interest are mainly focused on international issues, contemporary history, protection of human rights, political and cultural dynamics. I love travelling, discovering new cultures and having fun. My motto is live, love, laugh.

E-mail: parrillifabrizio@gmail.com

Multiply and Divide Using Scientific Notation, a poem by David Garyan

06/02/2022
Trento, Italy

 

Multiply and Divide Using Scientific Notation

Only scientists should seriously discuss science,
meaning Judith Butler should stop talking gender.

Only psychologists should seriously discuss psychology,
meaning Harold Bloom should’ve stopped talking behavior.

Only historians should seriously discuss history,
meaning Stephen Greenblatt should forget the history of ideas.

Be an expert only in yourself.

Specialize. Divide. Categorize.

If you’re white, feel only your pain.
If you’re black, do the same.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Democratic Skullfuckery: Neil Young, Joe Rogan, and Art Spiegelman, an article by David Garyan

05/02/2022
Trento, Italy

 

Democratic Skullfuckery: Neil Young, Joe Rogan, and Art Spiegelman

Various thinkers throughout the ages, such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, and Madison, have criticized democracy. Plato believed that excessive liberty in democracy is its very undoing: “is it not the excess and greed of this and the neglect of all other things that revolutionizes this constitution too and prepares the way for the necessity of a dictatorship?” Aristotle, writing nearly around the same time, cautioned against extreme democracies, in which the will of the people supersedes the law: “where the laws are not sovereign, then demagogues arise; for the common people become a single composite monarch, since the many are sovereign not as individuals but collectively.” In other words, democracy becomes mob rule.

Hobbes preferred the stability of monarchy over the instability of democracy: “The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects … whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.”  In other words, a strong, stable, prosperous society is less likely to create civil unrest.

James Madison took the Aristotelian view, that majority opinion is likely based on passion rather than reason, which can lead to chaos: “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Indeed, it was a democratic vote that put Socrates to death, not tyranny or monarchy—or perhaps the excesses of democracy had led to tyranny, as Plato argued. Who knows?

Whatever you may believe, democracy today is suffering from a total meltdown. The political climate surrounding the pandemic, along with the banning of books has made this all too clear. Let’s begin with the latter and move towards the less interesting virulent arena—less interesting only because it’s been discussed to death.

The Tennessee School Board’s recent banning of Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, has created a new conundrum—an added layer to the already difficult-to-navigate waters surrounding freedom of speech and public safety. On one hand, we have a Pulitzer Prize winning author and illustrator, who created one of the most magnificent pieces of Shoah literature ever conceived. On the other hand, we have Joe Rogan, an American UFC color commentator and TV personality turned anti-vax podcaster, who, together with Canadian Neil Young, have essentially sunk the popular streaming platform Spotify. It looks like Spiegelman and Rogan are on totally opposite spectrums, and that seems to be the case—upon closer inspection, however, they do have one little thing in common: Their right to freedom of speech.

Below are protesters supporting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dissent in the landmark case Abrams v. United States (1919). Along with Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Holmes argued that “the principle of the right to free speech is always the same. It is only the present danger of immediate evil or an intent to bring it about that warrants Congress in setting a limit to the expression of opinion where private rights are not concerned.” The case in question dealt with sedition. Now imagine if Supreme Court judges were stripped of their ability to dissent in cases that dealt with national security, much less protesters being allowed to protest the decision.

Let’s forget Holmes and his dissent, however. In defending Spiegelman and denouncing Rogan, many will immediately point out that the former’s work is based on totally verifiable facts—on completely honest historicity, while the latter is simply a right-wing nutjob. Duly noted. It still doesn’t change the fact that in a democratic society we must try our best to protect all freedom of speech—even the speech we disagree with. It’s important to highlight the difference between “trying to protect all freedoms of speech” as opposed to “actually protecting all speech.” John A. Powell, a Berkeley scholar and one of the foremost authorities on the topic, distinguishes between speech which aims to create dialogue, and speech which merely aims to demonize. He emphasizes how people often take advantage of the First Amendment simply to demonize others. In this way, these individuals are exploiting the Constitution’s democratic principles to achieve their racist agendas. Their main aim is racism, not dialogue, and Powell argues that such speech shouldn’t be protected, since it’s not about communication at all, but rather the desire to harm—a psychological assault, if you will, no different from a physical one: “Assaultive racist speech functions as a preemptive strike. The racial invective is experienced as a blow, not a proffered idea, and once the blow is struck, it is unlikely that dialogue will follow. Racial insults are undeserving of first amendment protection because the perpetrator’s intention is not to discover truth or initiate dialogue but to injure the victim.” Nothing we can disagree with here.

Having now established the boundaries of free speech, it’s time to return to the topic. Spiegelman and Rogan—the former an artistic transmitter of the ultimate truth; the latter a semi-conspiracy theorist at best. The reality is that the democratic struggle for both is essentially the same. Today, The Guardian ran an article on Spiegelman with the following subtitle: “Since his early days in the underground comix scene, Spiegleman has reveled in ‘saying the unsayable’ and subverting convention.” The issue isn’t that they misspelled the great artist’s name, but that on the very same day they ran an article on Rogan with the following headline: “Can Joe Rogan change?” He may be a bit of a wacko, but why should he? If, for years, Spiegelman had the privilege of saying the unsayable, are we really allowed, in a democratic society, to take that very same privilege away from Rogan—even if we disagree with what he says, even if what he says isn’t entirely accurate? In a democracy we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have the United States when we want democracy, and the Soviet Union when we want safety and decorum. We must live in one system or another.

The right to exercise one’s freedom of speech has always brought with it certain perils, regardless of whether the speech offered undeniable truth, or whether it was dubious at best. Under the First Amendment, things like flag burning and even the burning of Bibles are allowed because such freedom is healthy for a democratic, free society. While these actions bring with them certain dangers, they’re nevertheless necessary ingredients for the vitality of our democracy.

When, after 9/11, there was an incredible backlash against the Muslim community—to the extent that Balbir Singh Sodhi (a Sikh, not a Muslim man, wearing the traditional beard and turban) was gunned down at a Chevron gas station in irrational retaliation for the attacks—no Muslim or even Sikh ever thought of shaving his beard to eliminate the “threats” facing him then. The dangers inherent to the freedom of expression were worth bearing in the name of one’s choices, beliefs, and lifestyle.

The same must be said for the other so called “dangers” we associate with the freedom of expression. A democratic society—as powerful and robust as the American one—must have the institutional capability to bear the rhetorical impact made by speech that passes the aforementioned Powell test. American democracy must come equipped with some sort of linguistic airbag that prevents the death of freedom no matter how gravely any given rhetorical impact affects it.

All this leads to the less interesting side of things: Neil Young—an aging self-righteous rocker who penned the hit “Keep on Rockin’ in The Free World,” a song he should’ve called “Keep on Rockin’ in the Fully Vaccinated Better-Agree-With-Everything-I-Say-Free World.” We should’ve seen it coming from a mile away. Neil Young is a selfish, entitled, Canadian rock star (not that we should hold it against him). We should’ve known this as early as 1970, when Mr. Young had the good sense—not—to write a song called “Southern Man,” essentially dissing that whole part of our country, but for this he was swiftly posterized by the great Ronnie Van Zant in “Sweet Home Alabama:” “Well I hope Neil Young will remember / A southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Good for you, Ronnie.

Neil Young should shut his mouth and not concern himself with business that doesn’t concern him. If America ever suffers the misfortune of totally succumbing to fascism or communism, it will precisely be Neil Young who’ll be denouncing fellow artists and compatriots left and right—the perfect Beria or Goebbels for Stalin and Hitler, respectively. And one more thing, Neil: All the songs you’ve ever written are essentially one song. And that’s not my opinion—take it from Dana Carvey. Click below to hear “every Neil Young song you’ve ever heard.”

Here we have an aging hippy who in the ’60s was spreading messages of freedom and peace—a man singing proudly about transcending our differences. Well, it only took fifty or so years for him to become a capitalist tool, getting in bed with a billion-dollar corporation to try and silence someone whose views he disagrees with. Here’s a tip, Neil: You shouldn’t have said “They can have Rogan or Young. Not Both.” You should’ve just pulled your music and gone your own way. That would’ve been emblematic of the freedom you so espouse—a real protest. But the scheming attitude of trying to get a platform to cancel someone you don’t agree with so this very platform can continue to play your music is a bit pathetic coming from a guy who wrote many songs that all sound like one song. Again, I didn’t say it.

In the interest of countering “misinformation,” Neil Young should probably delete his Facebook page with 2.6 million followers, his Instagram page with almost 250,000 followers, and any other social media website where misinformation is spread, especially as it relates to COVID, only one of the many problems plaguing our planet today. If you didn’t already know, Facebook’s response to human rights abuses is so slow in many parts of the world, that Mexican drug cartels, for example, “were using Facebook to recruit, train and pay hit men … the company didn’t stop the cartel from posting on Facebook or Instagram, the company’s photo-sharing site.” So, why just Spotify, Neil? Scared you’ll fall into obscurity? Be a man and do the real difficult thing, won’t you? Get off the grid.

The doublethink in today’s society is off the charts. Orwell would’ve been proud. American democracy is being shit on, and Facebook is having a field day with it. All the users posting and reposting the news of every single debonair band pulling their music are complicit in what I can only call an orchestrated virtual stinkfest of hollow solidarity resembling the day after Coachella. The next person to pull their tracks from Spotify better be a suburbanite Neil Young garage cover band that once had a decent following in remote parts of Winnipeg, until they finally realized the futility of trying to score with those songs, and so they humbly called it quits. I’ll have it no other way.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Social Media Gestapo and NKVD: Djokovic and Meat Loaf, an article by David Garyan

23/01/2022
Trento, Italy

 

Social Media Gestapo and NKVD: Djokovic and Meat Loaf

Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful
Friedrich Nietzsche

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently signed a decree stating that from February 1st, a Super Green Pass will be required to access all forms of public transport, along with bars and restaurants (indoors and outdoors), theaters, cinemas, stadiums, gyms, and so on. A Super Green Pass can only be attained through vaccination, or through recovery after testing positive for COVID. In other words, negative tests will no longer work. In an unprecedented move, people will now also be required to have the basic Green Pass to access banks and post offices. The question is why? Why this disproportionate response?

Not long ago, the good Prime Minister went on record saying the following: “Most of the problems we are facing today depend on the fact that there are unvaccinated people.” That’s very funny. Of course, in a so-called democracy it’s easy to blame people who, for whatever reason, decide they don’t want to do something the state tells them. Let’s admit many of those “dissidents” have no legitimate reason to avoid the vaccine. If we admit the aforementioned, however, let’s also acknowledge that when a state doesn’t give you the right to have ownership over your own body—to have a choice—then that state isn’t really free. Even if a government forces its individuals to do something which is ultimately beneficial for them, it’s not freedom—it’s merely efficient autocracy. Dictatorship with benefits. An amusement park you loved in the beginning, but now you can’t leave it. Essentially a prison, but it’s not a prison: Everything inside it is nice and merry, but even if you’ve had your fun, you have to stay. It’s all for your own good.

Draghi’s word’s are pathetic, cheap, and disingenuous. He should pick on someone his own size. Since the 19th century, Italy has been dealing with a pandemic far worse than COVID—a virus the government itself has been complicit in spreading. It has suffocated the majority of rural communities in the south. It dominates almost every important sector of Italian life in places like Naples, Palermo, and Calabria. We’re talking about an epidemic that controls anywhere from 0.7 percent to 1.7 percent of the country’s GDP, according to Reuters, and Andrea Orlando, Italy’s former justice minister, respectively.

While 0.7 and 1.7 percent may seem miniscule, we’re talking about Italy’s entire GDP, which is roughly 1.8 trillion, meaning the figure amounts to anywhere between 13 to 18 billion USD. To make things even clearer, the whole GDPs of countries like Armenia, Albania, and Georgia, for example, are about that much—13, 15, and 16 billion, respectively. Essentially, what we’re saying is the following: If the ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra, and Cosa Nostra were to join forces, their collective profits could amount to bankrolling an entire country like the one in which I was born—Armenia. That’s the real problem. The more unfortunate fact, however, is really this one: “The UN has a target for countries to spend 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA).” What? Developed western democracies who’ve colonized and plundered the globe only have a duty to set aside less than one percent of their whole GDP to developing poor countries? Excellent. Well done.

It’s good to know countries like the UK, in 2013, “achieved this target for the first time.” Unfortunately, the UK also has a problem: “Since 2015, the Government has also been under a statutory duty to meet it. However, citing the economic impact of the pandemic, the Government will spend 0.5% of GNI for ODA in 2021 as a ‘temporary measure.’ NGOs have said the reduction undermines the Government’s intentions to prioritise global health and girls’ empowerment.” Politicians. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Draghi is a man of politics, but we shouldn’t hold it against him. We should, however, criticize him for being a coward—a poltroon of the biggest proportions. A bully who acts tough and picks on weak kids to make himself feel strong. The real problem, Mr. Prime Minister, isn’t the unvaccinated—the real problem is government. For over a hundred years, honest, hardworking citizens in your country have been silenced, harassed, and even killed, because pestilence roams the land, and government has not only been unable to stamp it out, many within it have done a great deal to proliferate the disease. Exceptions exist. There are heroic Falcones and Borsellinos today, and the American role in bolstering the problem after WWII as a strong bulwark against communism must also be mentioned.

It seems, however, that people have forgotten the ‘90s. Mani pulite is an Italian expression meaning “clean hands,” but it’s often used to describe the scandal that rocked the country—no, it had nothing to do with a shortage of hand sanitizer during the flu season. Mani pulite was a nationwide corruption campaign that, along with the downfall of the USSR, contributed to bringing down the First Republic. Countless political parties disappeared. Many individuals committed suicide as a result of the controversies. Naturally, things like this happen everywhere.

I have used Italy only as an example because the phrase Mani pulite is so appropriate to the occasion. If Draghi was a real tough guy, he would go after people his own size—organizations that can bankroll small countries—instead of poor, little, irresponsible anti-vaxxers. They aren’t Italy’s problem, and neither are they the world’s. The planet, if you haven’t noticed, is going to shit. It has bigger things to worry about. As people in Africa are dying of hunger, why doesn’t any country donate ten percent of their GDP? More pertinently, when Ebola and Avian influenza were tearing through Africa, why did no one care to lift a finger? Aha. When the pandemics begin to hit the privileged class, it’s time to “really” protect ourselves. Vaccines, boosters, high-grade masks, and the whole nine yards, really.

Why is it so hard for people to accept the following? While government and science have done many great things, they have mostly failed to contain this pandemic. In the beginning, we were told to quarantine, and this would solve the problem—it didn’t. Then we were told to quarantine again, and this didn’t do it either. Quarantines are now a thing of the past—like the Sony Walkman or the floppy disk. Then it was the salvation of vaccines. Hallelujah, Sweet Jesus! How we all waited for that! Finally, an end to the madness! Science the Savior had arrived. And then the vaccines didn’t really work either (I admit—that’s a bit dishonest). Vaccines did minimize the effects of COVID, drastically reducing the death toll, but their use isn’t sustainable. Their potency is pathetic months after inoculation, meaning constant boosters are needed.

The problem is that the “effectiveness” of vaccines is misleading. Effective? Yes, but for how long? If COVID were to go on for five more years, let’s say, you could no longer rely on vaccines—you would need a course of 10-15 booster shots just to make it to the end, and it’s almost certain no medical study would uphold such a vaccination campaign. So, the disciples of science are merely lucky—they can say their miracles are helping to end the pandemic because if it were to go on for much longer, their Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca would become more useless than the holy water they love to ridicule. The most important question, however, is the following: Why is the situation at its worst precisely now—when cases are sky-high—almost a year after the vaccines were developed? That’s a bit ridiculous. It’s like inventing the electric car to clean up pollution and ending up with more pollution after everyone begins driving them.

Having said all that, the point of the article is neither Draghi nor Italy. The point is our obsessive need to self-police—to self-arrest, even. Before it was the state that assumed all the burdens of tracking and “correcting” deviant behavior. In Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany that was the NKVD and Gestapo, respectively. Citizens occasionally denounced their fellow compatriots, but it was largely the state that utilized its political machinery to achieve total obedience. Today, the work of the state has become easier. Fellow citizens themselves log into Facebook and post all kinds of stupid, logically fallacious propaganda, not worthy of the latest edition of Pravda. What they love to do most of all, however, is to go after the illustrious personalities—the ones who refuse to acquiesce to the state. Most recently? Djokovic and Meat Loaf.

Why do people do this? It seems the need stems from a desire to bring some relevance into their own worthless existences. Their whole lives have been wasted sitting on a couch. They have eaten the frozen TV dinners and watched the sitcom reruns. Now they feel a need to display their accomplishments. The problem is they have none, and so they impose their benevolence on all of society. Naturally, their own meaningless being pales in comparison to the stature of Djokovic and Meat Loaf, and so they feel compelled to market the only achievement they have—bending over and letting the state stick it in.

The media, too, is clever. It capitalizes on the psychological need we have to see people suffer—especially if these people have achieved more than we have. All our lives we’ve been rejected, unable to realize our goals, to be recognized for our work, to travel and have people admire us—indeed, there’s a certain satisfaction to be had in seeing these “privileged” people suffer as well. That’s, in fact, the very same attitude which brought communism to Russia: Look at these privileged noblemen—we have nothing and they have everything. After all, how difficult could it be to ridicule this?

I admit I too felt a certain sense of pleasure hearing the news about Djokovic. Then I analyzed what I had felt. Being honest with myself, I saw how the reaction was driven by my own shortcomings—by my inability to have achieved similar levels of greatness.

The problem is that we’re too pathetic to accept the difficult truth: As Westerners who shout about rights, democracy, and body ownership, it’s really people like Djokovic who are our heroes, but we don’t want them to be our heroes. What we really want is to be Djokovic. To have the same recognition. To have accomplishments on that level. To have the same platform to speak. To have our voices heard. To exercise one’s rights in the way we want. What do I mean? Djokovic is someone who has attained such a level of success that missing an Australian Open—while unfortunate—will not keep him from being remembered as one of the greatest tennis players ever. While the Australian state may shut him down, deny him entry, and harass him, he can still exercise his individuality. He can stand firm. He can act in accordance with his beliefs, suffering the consequences but nevertheless standing firm. We can’t.

We’re proud activists, promoters of democracy, passionate defenders of human rights—only one thing stands in our way: The state has us by the balls. Go ahead. Try to refuse vaccination. You will lose your job. This will force you to live off our savings (those more fortunate will have them). Once those savings dwindle, you’ll be out on the street. You neither have the capital nor the platform to do what Djokovic did—to stand up for your beliefs. So you go after the guy who can. Essentially, you become the arm of the state. That’s what Facebook has grown to be—a cesspool of the vilest stupidity known to man. An online network of Stalinist apparatchiks and Gestapo forces patrolling the ether, hell-bent on punishing any and all deviance.

When Aaron Rodgers tried to stand up for his beliefs, social media grilled him because he had lied. “He should’ve just been honest,” was what many on the internet said. Then athletes like Djokovic were honest, but that wasn’t good enough either. All this, finally, brings me to Meat Loaf.

Meat Loaf is dead. He was an anti-vaxxer. He was a Republican. So what? I would rather have hung out with him than any of the Don Smiths on Facebook with their despicable opinions and poorly designed Microsoft Paint propaganda posters. God, I hate those.

What, really, have those Joe Blows done? Meat Loaf was a rock legend. He had way too many accomplishments to be sitting in front of a screen posting poorly made images on social media. I loved his songs, and I will continue to love them. I wish he’d been vaccinated so he could’ve lived longer, but that’s a choice he made. His decision was part of the totality that made him who he is.

And what about Djokovic? He couldn’t have been Djokovic, if, along with his greatness, he also didn’t have the irresponsible beliefs that come from the same source. We must accept him in his totality. For example, why are surgeons, soldiers, and pilots often numb to other people’s feelings? Because many times their inherently “negative” traits are also what allow them to be good at their jobs—it’s the very source from where the talent originates to begin with. Djokovic and Meat Loaf are and were unique individuals—one a world class athlete, the other a bad boy rock star. If your body works at levels far higher than the average one, perhaps you should have more agency over it, and perhaps you will be more afraid of “tampering” with its “configuration.”

For Meat Loaf, he was just a rebel—this helped him become who he is, and unfortunately it also led to his death. We make choices every day. We make choices that affect the course of our lives. I would think that in a Western democracy, it’s perhaps important to try and preserve the ability to choose whenever possible.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Coronavirus: The Governmentalization and Medicalization of Safety, an article by David Garyan

26/08/2021
Trento, Italy

 

Coronavirus: The Governmentalization and Medicalization of Safety

Today, thanks to the miracles of science, along with the generosity of the Italian government, I was able to receive my second Pfizer COVID shot at no charge. While I do feel eternally grateful to all the men and women working in the scientific and governmental sector who’ve made vaccination for all possible, I nevertheless have hesitations about the direction our society is taking. To be clear, this article will not engage in debates about the pros and cons of vaccines because there’s really just one stance a responsible person can take in the midst of a pandemic: Whatever risks these substances may pose—and they certainly do pose some as the recent deaths of these young individuals demonstrate—the threats presented by the actual virus will always be far greater than any given vaccine trying to prevent the spread of said virus. In short, more people have died of COVID than COVID jabs; at the same time, it must be admitted that long-term effects are difficult to measure and it’s often impossible to tell whether something years down the line was caused by a jab, by the virus itself, or whether any manifestation was simply due to the natural progression of a person’s physiology, regardless of vaccination, virus, or other variables.

In short, despite trying to avoid a discussion on the safety of vaccines, we’ve nevertheless managed to go off-topic—let’s get back on track and state that it’s not science and government which are the problem, but an overreliance on medicine and politicians. Before I get into a discussion about what I mean precisely, it’s important for me to go on record and state the following: Firstly, as a student of human rights, my appreciation for honest, paradigm-changing world leaders runs deep, and, secondly, my parents (father a medical profession, mother an engineer) were and continue to be sensible people who both ensured that I had all the proper vaccinations done as a child.

So, what’s the problem here? Let’s start with the fact that governments, along with their respective nation-states are only interested in protecting their own skin; the wealthiest and most powerful don’t really care about your health and well-being—they’re only concerned with it insofar as it either corresponds with promoting their treasured agenda, or, more importantly, they strive for “safety” because any degree of uncertainty in the public and private sectors can seriously damage not just their reputation, but also the depth of their pockets.

It seems that the most powerful figures on the planet have fixated on coronavirus at the cost of everything else—they’ve done this to such an extent that your health and well-being paradoxically no longer matter. What do I mean? Well, simply that at the height of the lockdown one year ago, when millions of people were forced to endure months of isolation, no politician or police officer cared to inform themselves about the various problems that such measures could inflict upon the individual. We were told that by isolating ourselves from each other, we would all become “responsible” citizens who would ensure that this particular virus wouldn’t spread, and somehow, in the midst of all the frenzy, we forgot all our other needs; more importantly, we failed to remember everyone else who perhaps wasn’t capable of such feats, whether due to financial reasons, or psychological ones. Just for clarity, below is a picture not of India, but of a ghetto in Camden, New Jersey, meaning this problem ranges far and wide.

Let’s, however, forget for a moment, these oft-discussed places, where the combination of geography, population, and economics, makes it difficult for poor city workers living with twelve other people in one apartment to self-isolate. Instead, let’s talk about things which have been rarely discussed: When the pandemic peaked, and even now, there were and there continue to be almost no studies which focus on the correlation between isolation and physical well-being. In other words, if before the pandemic it was someone’s habit, and perhaps even with the recommendation of his doctor, to take a one-hour or two-hour walk after dinner, why was this essential need repeatedly denied to many people by those in the highest spheres of government, and why were these policies so strictly enforced? Aside from the fact that mental health is also an aspect of well-being, and the effects of isolation on rising depression rates have been well-documented, it’s already becoming clear that the elite aren’t interested in protecting the fragility of the human body and spirit when those measures may not only expose, but, more importantly, threaten the fragility of their respective nation-states. In times of crisis, the safety of the flag will always supersede the safety of the bodies which carry it and represent it, metaphorically speaking, because it’s after all the masses who ensure its security.

The government, ultimately, isn’t keen on being creative; during the most desperate moments of the pandemic, it wasn’t interested in the well-being of the poet, who simply wanted to walk the street alone at night and look at the stars; it wasn’t interested in the claustrophobic athlete who yearned to jog in the early hours of the morning; it wasn’t interested in the artist who suffers from panic attacks if he spends too much time in the tiny studio he can barely afford; it wasn’t interested in the old widow—that surely must exist somewhere—who’ll incur a nervous breakdown unless she visits the grave of her husband every week to lay flowers, but florists are inessential and all shops are closed until further notice; it wasn’t interested in the single mother with three young kids who would surely drive her crazy if they couldn’t spend at last two hours at the park, which was located far across town, where no supermarkets could be found—ah, the excuse of going shopping; it wasn’t interested in the countless Alberts, Jacks, Sophies, Amandas, or whoever else it may be that had heart conditions and lived in the heart of the city, but couldn’t do their usual walk because it didn’t fall into the category of “essential” activity. No, with the well-being of these people the government wasn’t in the least bit concerned—they did what they needed to do, and, in many cases, placed individuals in far greater danger than COVID could’ve ever presented.

Other than the rising and falling coronavirus numbers, there was and continues to be hardly any data on which illnesses or diseases people may have contracted as a result of following the lockdown strictly as prescribed. For my own safety, mental health, and overall well-being, I’m not ashamed to say that I broke curfew laws many times, and had I not done that, perhaps the effects of the quarantine may have manifested themselves in more serious psychological, and God forbid, physiological ways. Thus, it was only a small inconvenience to be stopped occasionally, to have my paperwork checked, just to know, at the end of the day, that I was still human—a person with feelings, needs, and emotions who considered looking at the night sky an “essential” activity (despite what the government might tell us) not only for my creativity, but for the vitality of my body and spirit. I’m not ashamed to admit this.

This is the freedom I’m talking about—the human right to exercise one’s individuality, to know what’s best for you and your body, mainly because a generic measure to stay at home can’t possibly apply to everyone. Responsibility in this sense, then, isn’t just about making sure other people are safe, but also about making sure that you can likewise protect yourself while looking out for others. If our leaders had been more creative, many governments around the world could’ve instituted measures like designated meeting areas with specific dates and times for everyone, configured with an app or QR code system, for example, but they didn’t do that. For students, they could’ve introduced initiatives to hold classes in parks or even stadiums, which naturally weren’t being used, with respect for social distancing rules, but nothing of the sort was attempted—and not only because these things are difficult, costly, and time-consuming, but, more importantly, because the elite don’t really care about your well-being, unless it threatens their own status and pocket. Words like safety, responsibility, and health are hollow catchphrases, thrown around to give the illusion of compassion, concern, and duty, all things which the ruling classes supposedly embody, but most of this rhetoric is meaningless at best and dishonest at worst.

It seems to me that progressively-minded thinkers, something I consider myself to be, aren’t consistent in the way they apply the doctrine of choice: Why is it that we view abortion, more correctly, a woman’s right to decide what’s best for her body, in very positive terms, while the decision regarding vaccines can’t be left to the will of the individual? In both cases, we’re dealing with matters of life and death, and while irresponsibility in either scenario must not be tolerated, we should ultimately settle the issue of who has ownership over our bodies— individuals themselves or the bureaucracy of the state.

Having spoken about government, it’s now time to discuss science, and my opinions about the topic are really not much more positive, despite the supposed altruism of the field. For one, science, like government, has made us believe that it alone can solve our problems; whereas politicians claim this right in the sphere of social issues, scientists, arrogantly, claim it on the medical front. Vaccines, as I wrote, are safe and effective, and especially during pandemics, they’re an indispensable element in containing the spread of a virus—but that’s just it; they’re only one small part of the matter, not the whole substance. Just like government alone can’t eradicate mass poverty or even a single person’s destitution without individual initiative (hard work, education, proactiveness), so too science, let alone vaccines, can’t eradicate pandemics or even one person’s disease without our freedom to choose what’s best for us (the perfect diet for each individual body, appropriate exercise for every person, proper rest, pleasure, and other activities); in amount and duration, all these requirements will naturally vary, depending on psychology and biology, and this is precisely why people must be given the freedom to choose—responsibly—when it’s best for them to go outside, eat, play, and so on, without the government placing blanket restrictions on its subjects.

Science has become so powerful that it has miraculously been able to solve most of our problems, but that’s precisely its flaw. Those who believe that a vaccine will eliminate the coronavirus are deeply mistaken, and, likewise, forcing people to get jabs shows, in fact, that we’re interested only in the easy way out—we encounter a difficulty and we aspire to kill it immediately, without examining its root causes or underlying motives that are driving us towards such behavior. There’s no vaccine for the complications of global poverty, intolerance, ignorance, and greed. Unfortunately, while there’s also no vaccine for depression, thankfully, at least, there are drugs, and so, if you’re in bad shape, take something immediately without thinking about why you may be feeling that way—for the love of God, just take a pill and don’t worry about whether you could’ve recovered more creatively with the help of music or friends, perhaps. Science, in this respect, has come to dominate our lives to such an extent that the totality of the individual is being sacrificed for the benefit of the nation state—the classic definition of fascism.

It’s precisely this aforementioned medicalization of safety that I have a problem with—unlike the East, we don’t believe that art, prayer, and meditation, just as examples, can really solve the most difficult issues plaguing our society. Yes, we have incredible venues for art in Europe and the US; there are magnificent churches in which people still conduct prayers to this day, but these things, ultimately, are considered “inessential.” In other words, we don’t take artists and religion seriously—most of us engage in these activities mainly because they add decorum and entertainment to our lives, but the belief that art and prayer are in fact necessary to make the functioning of a harmonious, prosperous society possible isn’t really genuine; the proof for this lies right in the fact that art and faith were the first to suffer during the pandemic.

Instead of the government reaching out to creative individuals with the hopes of finding unique solutions, they shut them down in the name of safety because it doesn’t pay to have a “healthy” public when the goals of that healthy public don’t align with the values of the status quo. The attempt to build the complete individual as envisioned by the Ancient Greeks, for example—strong body and mind through the study of art, philosophy, and sports doesn’t seem to be a priority in the modern world. Depression and pandemics are better cured with drugs and vaccines alone, than with the holistic combination of music, healthy lifestyles based on individual choice, art, and a little self-reflection (perhaps even philosophy); these measures are inconvenient, time-consuming, and expensive, and, most of all, they can even threaten the elite, which is why no one cares to implement them, and why also politicians stipulate to their citizens that “responsible” people can only win the fight against the coronavirus with quarantines and vaccines—everything else is a conspiracy designed to discredit government and science. How convenient for them! We must demand more accountability and creativity from our leaders, and those who speak out regarding such matters, demanding precisely those things, shouldn’t be labeled as anti-vaxxers, agitators, right-wing fanatics, or any other disparaging epithet, because you may find that they aren’t any of those things.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He recently graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage. He lives in Trento.