Up to Speed, Issue 2: Criticized Kings, Prison Deals, and Museum Activism

By Levin Stamm

Collage by Emma Kappeyne van de Coppello

In the midst of non-stop reports, statistics and exclamations about the Coronavirus pandemic, other events and news from around the world may have escaped your attention. But fear not – The Herring’s biweekly current affairs summary helps you stay up to speed. In today’s edition: Among others, a shady prison deal in El Salvador and a Congolese activist scaring European museums.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict re-escalated

The decade-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the two former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia has escalated again. Since last Tuesday, both sides have reported fighting – with civilians among the casualties. The region belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, but is de facto controlled by ethnic Armenians as part of the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh. The renewed flare-up of the conflict can be attributed to the increased Turkish support for Azerbaijan and a pro-war Azerbaijani movement culminating in vast protests in July 2020. Armenia at the same time hopes for backup from the Putin government. However, being critical of the westernly oriented government that has emerged from the 2018 revolution, Russia has refused to take clear sides so far.

(Sources: Reuters, Eurasianet, The Print)

Thailand: Even the King is now criticised

The Southeast Asian monarchy is commonly regarded as a role model in the fight against Covid-19 – with a time span of over 100 days without local infection between May and September. However, the strict measures of the government come at a high price: The suspension of all tourist travel until recently has led to soaring unemployment and a crumbling economy. The deterioration of the economic situation appears to have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back, driving students into the streets since July. They call for far-reaching political reforms and a restriction of royal influence. The latter is an especially delicate topic due to Thailand’s lèse majesté laws. However, the main target of the protests is prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The former general officer of the Royal Thai Army has been in power since the 2014 coup d’état and has ever since reigned Thailand with an iron first. Critics accuse him of silencing oppositional forces, such as exiled pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who has been missing since June.

(Sources: Bangkok Post, BBC)

El Salvador: Better food in exchange for electoral support

A new corruption scandal is currently shaking El Salvador. Leaked prison documents, collected and analysed by El Salvadorian newspaper “El Faro”, confirm dozens of secret meetings between government officials and imprisoned gang leaders of MS-13, one of the most notoriously violent gangs in the country and continent. Especially the role of president Nayib Bukele raises questions. Bukele is alleged to have promised better prison conditions and other favours in exchange for a reduction of murders and support in the upcoming presidential elections. An ironic position for Bukele, who has presented himself as a hardliner in fighting gang crime since becoming President in June 2019.

(Source: El Faro)

France: Congolese activist in court after removing colonial artifacts from Museum

Mwazulu Diyabanza must answer to the Parisian court for a rather unusual alleged offense of attempted theft. In the last months, Diyabanza has repeatedly tried to remove colonial artifacts from French museums. His actions are a cry for attention on the unresolved issue of approximately 90,000 objects of sub-Saharan cultural heritage that have been taken to France during the colonial period. Even though president Emmanuel Macron has pledged to return forcibly stolen objects back in 2017, only one object has been repatriated so far. Regardless of the court’s decision: While museum administrators all around Europe fear imitators, Diyabanza’s activism has already sparked more public attention than he would have probably expected.

(Source: The New York Times)

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