In the aftermath of erecting a metal cross to replace the flag of Europe in front of Georgia’s Parliament on July 5, my intention was to write only on the ambivalence of this cross, but things took a horrifying turn.
World media and social platforms gave an ample coverage to the events that unfolded around the days of Gay Pride, especially to the developments on the last day when Pride organizers decided to avoid clashes and canceled the March of Dignity on the 5th. This decision was a result of the unprecedented aggression against journalists and media persons on the same day. They were reporting on the counter-Pride demonstration—masterminded by anti-Western, i.e. pro-Putinist Russian forces—strongly encouraged by the Orthodox Church of Georgia. A young cameraman from one of the opposition TV channels, Lexo Lashqarava, severely beaten and injured, was found dead at home on the 11th. Thus, my original intention has been overshadowed by the tragedy of the loss of a human life.
Russia’s constitutional amendments of 2020 augur an ever-enlarging foreign policy role for the Russian Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate (ROC). Constitutional entrenchment of the Kremlin’s selective understanding of state sovereignty and non-interference; a state-sanctioned vision of historical truth; the muscular protection of compatriot rights abroad; and the propagation of traditional values each tap into areas where the church has steadfastly advocated Russian civilization as a global counterweight to the West’s “ultra-liberalism.” Faced with this emerging reality, policymakers should reassess the nature and substance of their interactions with church officials and take measures to scrutinize ROC activities more closely in their respective jurisdictions.
*Please note that this essay was authored two days before the reported re-taking of the regional capital Mekelle by the Tigray Defence Forces, which has led the federal government to declare a ceasefire.
On November 4, 2020, the federal government of Ethiopia began a military operation in the region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia. In the eight months of on-going conflict, involving the Tigray People’s Liberation Front/Tigray Defence Forces on the one side and the Ethiopian federal army supported by the Eritrean Defence Forces on the other, innumerable reports have emerged about indiscriminate artillery strikes on residential areas and civilians; the systematic raping of women and girls; the intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment of ethnic Tigrayans; and the looting and destruction of property, hospitals, and religious sites and treasures by federal and ally militant elements. Humanitarian agencies consistently report that a man-made famine is unfolding in Tigray due to restrictions to farming and the systematic looting of agricultural materials by federal and Eritrean soldiers. A June report by the crisis group ACAPS (“Tigray crisis – Impact of conflict on food security, agriculture and livelihoods”) noted that the region is now classified in IPC phase 4, which means that it is facing Emergency Outcomes, with 350,000 people being in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Moreover, since the start of the conflict hundreds of thousands have fled their communities, with some villages/towns being entirely emptied, seeking refuge in the regional capital Mekelle or camps in surrounding regions and at the border with Sudan. In April 2021, CARE reported that the conflict had led to the displacement of “over 417,152 people predominantly women and children” (“Tigray Conflict Rapid Gender Analysis”).
The current situation is personally agonizing, as I previous conducted long-term anthropological research in Tigray, and I have been working since 2016 to understand local communities’ experiences of domestic violence and to help to address the problem from within the local religio-cultural framework of the predominantly Orthodox Täwahǝdo population of Tigray. In November 2020, I relocated to Ethiopia with the intention of travelling back to Tigray’s Aksum city to pilot an intervention working with clergy and secular stakeholders and providers in the surrounding villages. The war erupted just as we prepared to start the project, terminating all our communication with partner institutions in Mekelle and Aksum and making it impossible to know the conditions of our colleagues and the communities there (communication has been partially restored since).
Much has been written about the conflict, and due to the ethnic tensions and grievances that underpin it, there have been conflicting narratives around it. In this essay I am not concerned with reinforcing any of these narratives, but rather to share my personal understanding of the conflict and the humanitarian crisis as witnessed from my current location in Addis Ababa and communicated to me by colleagues in Tigray in order to stress the need for urgent and definitive responses.
Two hundred years have passed since the beginning of Greek Revolution of 1821, the first successful revolution, after numerous failed attempts throughout five centuries, against the Ottoman conqueror and tyrant. It is an event of universal significance that not only signifies the resuscitation of Hellenism from the lethal bonds imposed by the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453 but also affirms its ceaseless continuity from the depths of antiquity up to today. Though there exist several ways of celebrating such a milestone, only one is suitable par excellence: the tropos of participation, that is, of the communion with recent events two centuries old that abrogates spatiotemporal restrictions and renders to the celebrated not only what is proper to it but also its living perpetual imprint.
In the opening of the Platonic dialogue of The Timaeus, there is a passage where Plato narrates the achievements of the city of Athens against a great and powerful enemy from the west attempting to oppress all European cities. Plato describes how Athens “once upon a time suspended a power that moved by insult (hubris) towards the entire of Europe and Asia” (Timaeus, 24e). Albeit mythical, this Platonic narrative on the Atlantis, spelled out by Critias, contains elements pervading Greek identity and the diachronic universal service of Hellenism as defender of liberty and democracy. In this sense, already since Plato’s times we ascertain a self-consciousness of the Greek nation with respect to history, humanity, and its civilization.