Geopolitics

Terrorist "Rebranding"? FARC Needs A New Look — And New Name!

No doubt the rebels cherish their history of armed struggle against the Colombian state, but if they're serious about entering politics, an image makeover is very much in order.

FARC leader Timochenko
FARC leader Timochenko
Daniel Pacheco

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ â€" With an end to Colombia's decades-long civil war finally in sight, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas are expected to disarm at some point, and perhaps even enter public and political life. To accomplish the latter, they'll need to "sell" themselves to voters, a task that won't be easy for a group associated with murder, kidnappings and extortion.

So FARC should start to "rebrand" itself, marketing the group as a new kind of "people's party."

The problem there, of course, is that rebranding belongs to another, ideologically opposed universe: the world of business and advertising; the consumer society; private enterprise! It is "oligarchical," some supporters will say. It's downright capitalistic!

Rebranding is about changing that first impression in a world saturated with labels, and in that sense it's inherently superficial. But it may also prove to be crucial and simply unavoidable for the FARC.

The rebel group won't be able to keep its name and just wrap a perky lizard around it, like the state oil company Ecopetrol did. The big Bogota-based oil firm has somehow "greened" its black soul using the letters ECO its name coincidentally bears (it used to be the Empresa Colombiana de Petróleos).

The FARC-EP (FARC-People's Army) is too loaded with bullet lead for that kind of cosmetic change. It won't be enough to just draw a heart around the acronym, or gussy it up with flowers, because the words each letter represents reek of war: Revolutionary, Armed, Forces, Army.

At the same time, one understands the FARC's reluctance to rid itself of a name that has withstood the vicissitudes of six decades of fighting against a list of opponents with their own memorable names and initials: the AUC paramilitaries, CIA, Plan Colombia. Many fighters will have an emotive attachment to those four capital letters.

Protester at an anti-FARC march in Medellín, Colombia â€" Photo: medea_material

Marketing gurus might say the FARC has etched out its place in the ideological marketplace, and become an undeniably international brand. The rebel group could try keeping the initials and change the words they stand for. They certainly wouldn't be the first political group to bank on the ignorance or total memory loss of the Colombian people. The beloved FARC-EP initials could perhaps represent the Federación Amada Reformista Campesina-Empresa Patriótica (Beloved Reformist Peasant Federation â€" Patriotic Enterprise) or the more candid Familias Andinas Resentidas del Campo â€" Estamos Putos (Resentful Andean Rural Families â€" We're Furious).

But regardless of whether people actually know what the letters stand for, the negative connotations â€" to violence, first off, but also to secrecry â€" are unavoidable. The name will always conjur up what sociologist Daniel Pécaut calls the "introverted origins" of the group, as bequeathed by its late leader, Manuel Marulanda.

The whole point of rebranding is that FARC fighters would emerge from their hideouts and utilize the platforms of peace and international mediation to put their past behind them. They need to start a new, leftist political party that can last and, who knows, perhaps even govern one day.

I would not recommend organizing again as the Patriotic Union, a party the FARC helped found three decades ago following previous peace talks. The history of that group is bloodstained as well. I'd suggest a totally new approach, one that would still be rebellious, irreverent, and even angry, but also with that eminently democratic trait: humor.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ