NEW YORK â€" Iâ€™m almost certain I saw Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Strand bookstore in Manhattan today. I wanted to walk over and call him a war criminal and a monster, and tell everyone around us that he was the man butchering unarmed civilians in Aleppo. But after half an hour of stalking him through the fiction and film stacks, I still couldnâ€™t determine if it was really him.
I pulled up a Wikipedia page with his photo as a reference. I read that during his university days Lavrov was active in drama. This was quite befitting because Security Council meetings often feel like watching a well-produced theatrical performance. The real deliberations happen, not on the floor of the Security Council, but behind closed doors in the adjacent conference hall. Sometimes thereâ€™s yelling, cursing, threats, and Iâ€™ve even heard of objects being thrown. Before the representatives come out, they know exactly what everyone will say, who will veto, who will act shocked upon hearing the veto, who will walk out after acting shocked upon hearing the veto. And they know what will happen to Aleppo, even though we donâ€™t.
Aleppo no longer belongs to Syria, it is now a political game between people who have likely never stepped foot in the city. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad recently called it a â€œRussian-American conflict,â€ comparing Syria to conflicts in Vietnam and Korea. For Russia, Aleppo is an opportunity to exercise its power, and they wonâ€™t stop destroying it until there is nothing left, or until the Western alliance gives in, trading Aleppo for another geopolitical interest.
There are thresholds of international humanitarian law that have been crossed in this conflict that I never imagined would be contested. Wiping out villages with chemical weapons, attacking humanitarian convoys, and systematically targeting hospitals are all lines in the sand when it comes to humanitarian intervention that have been redrawn by the international community.
After the war in Bosnia, a chorus of world leaders claimed, â€œIf we knew then what we know now,â€ especially when discussing the Srebrenica genocide. Russia stayed quiet on the matter, of course, as it supported Serbian forces during the war by providing weapons and vetoing just about anything that crossed the Security Council chamber. In total, Russia has vetoed three resolutions on Bosnia and five on Syria to date.
Journalist Janine di Giovanni recently recalled staying in Bosnia with other journalists as her moral responsibility to broadcast the devastation and the war crimes taking place there. Itâ€™s heartbreaking to see just how much coverage the war was getting on CNN while those in power had the gall to later look us in the eyes and say: â€œWe couldnâ€™t act; we didnâ€™t know this was happening.â€ It was a weak argument back then, at best, and an impossible one now, in 2016, with the ability to self-broadcast via social media.
Lavrov and Putin meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry â€" Photo: Kremlin
Syrians donâ€™t need CNN or other foreign media to show whatâ€™s happening around them. They have pointed their camera phones at rows and rows of dead little bodies with no external wounds in the aftermath of the nerve gas attacks in 2013. Theyâ€™ve posted videos of starved little boys with sunken eyes and protruding ribs, begging for help in Madaya. Theyâ€™ve filmed bloodied, terrified little Omran Daqneesh in the back of an ambulance, sitting quietly and wiping the blood on his seat. These images are haunting, and they serve as touchstones for those who have been crying out for humanitarian intervention since 2011. My concern is that the West has run out of excuses to give them, and eventually will have to admit that help will never come, because their lives arenâ€™t worth saving.
CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour sat with Lavrov recently, and actually put photos of Omran Daqneesh in front of him, asking him to explain how the little boy could have been a target. I hissed at the TV: â€œShow him footage of systematic attacks of hospitals. Show him the dead!â€ Lavrov agreed that it was a sad image but said that, until eastern Aleppo gives up Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, there will be collateral damage. He also explained to her that thereâ€™s just no proof of Russia attacking unarmed civilians in such a tone that made Amanpour seem ridiculous for even asking such a question. He made her laugh later; he even appeared charming. I thought about that as I followed him up to the photography section upstairs.
In the end, I left without saying anything â€" it didnâ€™t matter whether it was him or not. I felt completely devastated, realizing there was nothing I could say to him, including reminding him of Russiaâ€™s history of supporting war crimes in my own country, because it simply wouldnâ€™t matter. We are pawns, and so are the people of Aleppo. If there was one thing I could tell them, and I say this not out of pessimism, but out of experience â€" donâ€™t hold hope in these peace talks or any resolutions because they are not about you anymore. To say that Aleppans should hang on to hope would be deceitful.
*Dragana Kaurin is a refugee of the Bosnian war. She was formerly with UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF.
Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.
• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.
• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.
• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.
• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.
• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.
• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.
• Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.
Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.
Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping
"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.
🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.
📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.
⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."
— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."
Why this Sudan coup d'état is different
Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.
Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:
"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.
True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
471 million euros
Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.
✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! firstname.lastname@example.org!
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