Global Voices

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Two Versions of Mao's China: History Retouched as Propaganda

On January 29-30, 2013 one of the top ten micro-blogs in Sina Weibo, the most influential micro-blogging platform in China, has a set of historical photos showing two versions of the Chinese history during Mao's Era (1949-1976).

The micro-blog, in the form of a collage, published by @Pongyoung with a brief comment: “How history has been amended?”, has been retweeted 13362 times with 2237 comments within one day. The photos and their explanation were originally published by the history channel [zh] of

In order to help our readers see the difference between the two versions of the Chinese history, I cut the collage into 10 photo sets with a brief explanation.

The missing person on the second photo is Lin Biao, a former Chinese Communist Part leader who was condemned as a traitor after his failed attempt to escape to Mosco in 1971. He was killed in a plane crash during his escape.

The missing person is Peng Dehuai, who was a prominent Chinese Communist military leader. He was prosecuted during the Cultural Revolution and died in prison in 1974.

The image amendment is to single out the two greatest leaders of the era: Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin.

Irrelevant people are deleted so as to highlight the leader.

The missing person is Peng Zhen, also once a CCP leader. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution for opposing Mao's views on the role of literature in relation to the state.

The umbrellas and those carrying them had obstructed the stage and thus deleted.

The photo was originally taken in 1927 among a group of intellectuals and writers – Zhou Jianren, Xu Guangping, Lu Xun (front from the left) and Sun Xifu, Lin Yutang, Sun Fuyuan (back from the left). Lin Yutang escaped to Taiwan in 1949 and in March 1977 when the photo was republished Lin Yutang and Sun Xifu were deleted.

Lei Feng, a solider of the People's Liberation Army, was portrayed as a model citizen after his death. The background of his photo was changed into a pine tree, which symbolizes evergreen for political propaganda purposes.

Many comrades who had been trained with Mao Zedong in the Red Amy Camp in 1937 went missing when the photo was published during Mao's era. The original photo only surfaced in 1986 during Deng Xiaoping's era.

The missing person is Ren Bishi, a CCP military and political leader. The photo was taken in 1940 with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Ren was deleted because he was criticized for being sick and hospitalized in USSR in during the Chinese liberation war.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

North Korea: A Sign of Change or the Same-Old Rhetoric?

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.


Wall painting of the late Kim Il Sung in North Korea. Photo by yeowatzup on Flickr (CC-BY)

Kim Jong-un’s New Year message emphasized, among other issues, the importance of inter-Korean relations. While many observers read this as a signal that North Korea plans to open-up in 2013, some bloggers and defectors beg to differ, claiming that Kim’s message contained the same old rhetoric of the past half century.

The North Korean leader’s message was well-received by some Western and South Korean media outlets. The New York Times, for example, suggested that Kim’s speech was an ‘overture’ to the South. The paper was particularly intrigued by his comment that the “key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South”. Indeed, the same can also be said of Kim’s belief that “a basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honor and implement North-South joint declarations”.

Others dug a little deeper. South Korea’s Unification Ministry blog parsed the statement by keywords [ko] and counted that the word ‘unification’ was used 22 times and often in conjunction with “frequent”. This, the blog concludes, reflects a pattern that has emerged over the past three years that suggests that increasing openness by North Korea is on the horizon.

Many observers were also intrigued by the change in format for the New Year’s message. Instead publishing his statement via the North Korean press – as favored by his late father – Kim emulated his grandfather and gave a televised address. This, suggests the North Korean Leadership Watch blog, adds credibility to arguments that Kim has been trying to emulate Kim il-Sung in order to win wider support among the North Korean population. The founder of North Korea was thought to be widely loved by the population, whereas Kim Jong-il was more feared than respected. Some reports have even speculated [ko] that Kim Jung-un intentionally gained weight and mimicked the way his grandfather walked and clapped.

Many North Korean defectors took a highly skeptical view of Kim’s perceived overtures to the South and the international community. Joo Sung-ha, a former member of the North Korean elite, wrote in his blog [ko] that university students had to memorize the New Year’s speech, an order that prompted him to brand Kim’s message an “unrealistic, piece of crap”.

Joo has also seen and heard these messages before:

All those good words were used in the 2010 New Year’s Editorial which had phrases like “We have to open the road to the development of inter-Korean relationship. We have to advance the reconciliation and collaboration between two nations”, and (based on this editorial) eight North Korea experts wrote a joint report concluding that ‘North Korea has indicated strong willingness to mend inter-Korean relationship and economic collaboration’. However, within less than three months, the Cheonan warship was attacked…and at the year-end, North Korea shelled the Yeonpyeong Island, creating near war-like tension.


The same pattern emerged in 2006; North Korea claimed in the New Year’s editorial that it would take a practical approach, instead of taking extreme measures. But in October, it had its first nuclear test.

Other bloggers expressed similar opinions. Stephan Haggard from the Peterson Institute for International Economics blog wrote that there was “no hidden message” in Kim’s speech and that the proposed changes to the country’s economic management merely seek to maintain the existing socialist system. Worse still, argues Haggard, is that Pyongyang appears to be offering nothing in return for inter-Korean dialogue:

The speech also closed with a mildly hopeful note. If this is a bid for reciprocity, it should be explored. But what is on the table? With respect to both economics and foreign policy, our slogan comes from Jerry McGuire: “show us the money.”

Kim’s New Year message was also made in the aftermath of the Saenuri Party’s recent electoral victory in the South. The country’s next president, Park Geun-hye is now in the process of distance herself from Lee Myung-bak’s unpopular North Korea policies. Park has promised, for example, to continue humanitarian aid to the North (though she wants to decouple humanitarian aid from politics) and try to hold a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un.

However, many bloggers believe that Park faces a number of challenges. Writing on East Asia Forum, Jeong Lee said:

Her attempt to extend the olive branch to Kim Jong-un may be opposed by hawks within her own ruling party and an international community bent on punishing the DPRK for its successful rocket test.

Yet Jeong Lee also expressed hope that because Park has already visited North Korea and met Kim Jong-il she might hold a more rational view on inter-Korean relations.

ISN logo This post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inside the Audacious Assassination Attempt in Bulgaria

On January 19, 2013, a gunman attacked Ahmed Dogan, the founder of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), described by some politicians as Bulgaria's “Turkish party,” as he was delivering a speech at a televised party conference in Sofia. No shots were fired, and the gunman was beaten by MRF members, while security guards acted slowly.

The politician

In 1985, Dogan was among the founders of the National Freedom Movement, which reacted against the “Process of Rebirth” (Възродителен процес), a campaign by the Bulgarian Communist Party to assimilate the Turkish minority by forcing the Pomaks and Bulgarian Turks to adopt Slavic-sounding names. Over 300,000 families were forced to leave Bulgaria back then. There are 67,000 Pomaks in Bulgaria now, and the Turkish minority is the country's largest ethnic minority.

After the incident, Dogan resigned as MRF's leader, the post he had held since 1990.

The failed assassin

The attacker, Oktay Enimehmedov, is an ethnic Turk who purchased a gas gun a few days earlier. Later it became known that he had written a suicide note to his mother, in which he suggested that he might be killed. Enimehmedov's friends told the media he was a good man who never caused problems to others. However, the attacker is well-known to the police in the coastal city of Burgas as a perpetrator of minor crimes.

A screenshot of the footage of the Jan. 19 televised attack on Ahmed Dogan.

Was it staged?

The assassination attempt has provoked many reactions by Bulgarian politicians and netizens - and some of them seem convinced that the attack was staged.

A leftist journalist, Alexander Simov, wrote this [bg] on his blog:

I'm not sure if people realize just how dangerous what happened at the MRF conference really was.


Everything in Bulgaria is a big stage play - a stage play of democracy, of political parties, of normalization and decency.


We've witnessed an assassination attempt on an acting Bulgarian politician, for the first time since the dreadful date of October 2, 1996, when the ex-Prime Minister [Andrey Lukanov] was shot dead in front of his home. This raises the question of whether these past 17 years of transition have actually happened at all. The murder in 1996 and the assassination attempt today will surely be linked in all political analyses, which demonstrates in practice how the transition is still stuck at its starting point.


Some people actually felt sympathy towards the (would-be) killer – it's as if they felt he was pointing a gun at the transition itself. […]

Simov continues, asking this:

Where was the Interior Minister this whole time? Why did it take so long for him to make a statement? Why didn't he make one immediately? Was the National Service for Protection asleep this whole time? Why did they mix up their stories so badly? How was someone with a criminal record ever allowed to come up on the stage?”

Bulgarian blogger Konstantin Pavlov (@Komitata) wrote [bg] on his blog:

Who benefits and who loses from the whole ordeal?

The MRF will benefit – its hundreds of thousands of supporters will once again feel threatened and under siege, and the party ranks will be brought into line for the upcoming elections. It won't be a surprise if we see a record turnout.

The [far-right Attack Party] and similar formations will benefit, because they now have new arguments against the vicious nature of the MRF and the degradation of its leadership.

The police state, the cops and similar political-economic elements will benefit as well.

The biggest loser in all of this is the National Service for Protection and the political leadership of the country, which has shown its full inadequacy in the tasks it should perform.

The big picture

Nelly Alexieva commented [bg] that the attack might have an effect on Bulgaria's image:

No one bothered to ask what motives this young man would have to shoot Dogan. That's because no one believed his stated motives to begin with. The performance was all too theatrical. But it did draw public attention to the MRF and its Conference.

Comments and opinions have been pouring all day on who benefits from this stage play.

One thing is for certain – Bulgaria's image stands to lose from all this.

The author of “Rusensko vareno” blog described [bg] what happened as a “circus”:


1. A few days ago Dogan declares that people are to expect big surprises on Saturday, i.e. today.

2. On Saturday, i.e. today, a would-be punk-thug stages an assassination attempt on Dogan.

3. Ahmed Dogan resigns.

4. [Lyutvi Mestan] is elected chairman of the MRF with 100% of the votes.

5. Dogan is appointed honorary president of the party for life.

Alexander Lyutov wrote [bg] on his blog:

Much like the Gulf War, we saw a real action movie unfold before our eye, shot by a camera that no one seemed to get in the way of, not even accidentally, as security guards, but mainly MRF delegates were starting to maul the assailant. […] The European observers at the MRF conference evidently couldn't stand the barbaric display and seemed to have lost their sound and picture.

It's clear that the upcoming [Jan. 27 referendum on building a new nuclear power plant] is no longer on our minds.

User Stoyan wrote this [bg] on The Other Truth blog:

[…] It's my opinion, and a lot of people seem to share it, that the idea behind this staged attack was to bring the ranks of the party into line. If you remember, the MRF lost many municipalities in the last elections, as a big portion of their supporters broke away from the party. Clearly, the season of negative campaigning starts today. MRF delegates were shouting for the resignation of [Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov], and other things of that kind. In other words, the MRF will be blaming the Prime Minister for what happened, he in turn will be blaming [Sergei Stanishev, the leader of the socialists], perhaps Stanishev will start blaming Dogan, and so on. […]

On Twitter, some of the reactions were as merciless.

@therealgenadi wrote [bg]:

the next assassination attempt against Dogan will be more serious - with a Star Wars sword bought at a toy store.

@DidiGK wrote [bg]:

I bet Dogan has organized this attack against himself. Like Berlusconi. Garbage next to garbage.

@asengenov wrote [bg]:

The janissaries who kicked and jumped on the head of Dogan's “attacker” must to be sued for moderate and severe injuries and attempted murder.

Jonathan Allen, the British Ambassador to Bulgaria, tweeted this comment [bg] about the attack on Dogan:

I hear that someone has attacked Mr. Dogan. I hope he feels okay. Democracy means disputes, but with words and ideas.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Diplomatic Passports for Religious Representatives in Brazil?

Recently a lively debate has been ignited in Brazil after the country's Ministry of External Relations, known as Itamaraty, issued two diplomatic passports [pt] to the heads of the evangelical Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus (World Church of the Power of God) pastor Valdemiro Santiago de Oliveira and his wife Franciléia de Castro Gomes de Oliveira.

The concession of diplomatic passports is regulated in Brazil by constitutional Decree 5.978 [pt] which determines that these official documents can be issued to presidents, vice- presidents, ministers, congressmen, heads of diplomatic missions, ministers of the supreme court and former presidents. However, diplomatic passports have also been traditionally conceded to representatives of the Catholic Church, based on the interpretation of Article 6, Paragraph 3:

Photo of Pastor Valdemiro Santiago on facebook.

Photo of Pastor Valdemiro Santiago from his public Facebook page

…às pessoas que, embora não relacionadas nos incisos deste artigo, devam portá-lo em função do interesse do País.

…to people who, although not listed in this article, need to attain it while fulfilling a role of interest for the country.

Although, as mentioned above, Catholic Church cardinals have benefited from this concession, other religious institutions recognized by the Brazilian state are not excluded from the application for diplomatic passports and indeed other evangelical representatives, such as controversial pastor Edir Macêdo, leader of Brazil's Igreja Universal (Universal Church) have received diplomatic passports in the past.

Thanks to the visibility drawn by the media to this particular case though, the Itamaraty has fallen under heavy criticism by the online community for its decision, sparking a discussion on the institution's power and on the violation of the very notion of secularism enshrined in Brazil's constitution.

A reader of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, Renato Khair, posted the following comment in response to an article [pt] covering the case:

É inaceitável que o governo tenha se utilizado do Itamaraty para fornecer passaporte diplomático para o pasto líder da Igreja Mundial. É uma aberração que pessoas que não preencham os requisitos legais recebam passaporte diplomático, como é o caso dos filhos de Lula, do referido pastor e tantos outros. É desmoralizante o que estão fazendo com o Ministério das Relações Exteriores e o Itamaraty, que eram considerados instituições sérias e respeitadas.

Is is unacceptable that a government makes use of the Itamaraty to concede diplomatic passports to the World Church. It is an aberration that people who do not fulfill the legal requirements get to receive diplomatic passports, such as the sons of former President Lula, the Reverends in question and many others. What’s being done to the Ministry of External Relations is demoralizing institutions that were considered respectable and serious.

Blogger Parsifal Pontes also criticized [pt] the issuing of diplomatic passports by emphasizing:

A nossa chancelaria banaliza de tal maneira o passaporte diplomático que daqui a pouco as autoridades portuárias alhures vão gargalhar quando virem um.

The way in which our ministry takes for granted the concession of diplomatic passports will soon lead foreign customs officials to burst into laughter when they see yet another one.

Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus. Photo by Roberto Castelhano on Flickr.

Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus. Photo by Roberto Castelhano on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

On Twitter, under #estadolaicoja (secular state now) the general consensus is that the Brazilian state has gone overboard by violating the basic rules of secularism that it is meant to uphold.

Lawyer Thiago G. Viana (@thiago_fiago), who blogs with Comendo o Fruto Proibido, tweeted:

Legalidade, igualdade, moralidade e laicidade: são “só” esses princípios violados pelos passaportes especiais para pastores.

Legality, equality, morality and secularism: these are the “only” principles violated by the special passports for pastors.

Public prosecutor Chico (@chiconob) continues along the same line of thought:

Simplesmente NAO HÁ argumento plausível pra conceder passaporte diplomático pra religiosos. Que vexame!

There is simply no plausible argument to concede a diplomatic passport to religious representatives. How embarrassing!

The discussion online brings to light an old and ongoing debate regarding secularism in the Brazilian state. Although the constitution affirms the independence of State and religion, in practice the concession of diplomatic passports to religious leaders appears to violate this principal, after all, how can a religious leader carry a diplomatic passport without infringing the basic principal of secularism? A representative who carries an official privileged diplomatic pass should not, at any time, harbor a religious flag, let alone preach his/hers religious beliefs on foreign soil.

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