On Junta, Fascism, and the nature of Evil
There are three jargons hovering around Tigrai that merit consideration these days. We often hear Tigrai’s enemies call her elected leaders: “junta”. We also hear Tigreans calling their persecutors “fascists”. The international community is expressing disgust by what many portray as an “evil” act in Tigrai. So, what do junta, fascism, and evil really mean, after all? I will attempt to break down these concepts very briefly.
The meaning of the term “junta” is as important as its application against Tigrai. Most people think the deputy despot in Addis coined this term, but that is not true. The despot in chief situated in Asmara has been using this term since 2000. Most people overlooked this because he uttered this term in Tigrigna ጃንዳ ወያነ. His deputy in Addis, who understands Tigrigna, translated his boss’s favorite term into Amharic and echoed: ጁንታው and spread it to his wider Amharic speaking cheerleaders. So, one can deduce that the junior despot in Addis plagiarized (his common habit) from his commander in chief in Asmara. Now that we know they attached “junta” as a pejorative term against Tigrai’s leaders, let us examine its meaning.
Let us commence with “junta’s” etymology. This term was coined in Spain back in 1620 to describe a political or military group or council in power. Well, that rings a bell if we all put back on our Amharic lexicon hat for a moment and ask: ደርግ ማለት ምን ማለት ነው？(what does Derg mean in English?)Well, in Amharic, Derg means a council and, in Ethiopian history, it represents the 120 middle ranking military officers who usurped power in Ethiopia using force and stayed in power for 17 bloody years (1974-1991). It is also worth noting that, the free world used to call Derg: a “junta”. For example, Charles Mohr’s December 10, 1974 article on the New York Times was entitled: “Ethiopian Junta's Grip Is Suffocating Liberty”.
We are now witnessing the junta in Addis struggling to resurrect Derg from its grave and impose it in the region. The new Colonel is progressively replicated his predecessor’s extremist ideology, dominant rhetoric, and modus operandi (conspiracy, political assassination, and mass murder)- making it worthy of the term Derg 2.0. or ጁንታ 2.0 in Amharic. But ዳግማዊ ደርግ (Derg 2.0) is not the only Junta in town. The oldest junta in Africa since Ghaddafi and Mugabe now resides in Asmara. It is easy to prove this case simply by looking up the dictionary meaning of the term Junta, (ጃንዳ in Tigrigna).
The Oxford dictionary defines a junta as: “A military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force.” Further, Collins dictionary defined “junta” as: “…a military government that has taken power by force, and not through elections. Well, who postponed election for 30 years? Was that TPLF or the tyrant is Asmara? And, who keeps on postponing elections until all of his political rivals are either imprisoned, dead, or exiled? Was that TPLF or the Lt. Colonel running Addis Ababa? So, if we apply the basic definitions of the term Junta, we find out that the true ጃንዳ/ጁንታ/Junta is not the TPLF but the Prosperity Party and its supervising PFDJ. TPLF was elected to lead Tigrai for the coming 5 years. PP and PFDJ have never been elected but are in power by vis-a-viz force, making them Junta by definition.
Now, let us proceed to the next term floating about in local discourse these days: Fascist/Fascism. What is Fascism? The etymology, i.e., its meaning during Roman empire, is less useful than its application in pre-World War II Europe (principally, Italy and Germany). Towering scholars such as Hannah Arendt have framed the theoretical foundation of fascism in particular and totalitarianism in general. Historians like Paxton have also accounted the evolution on this “ism”. Most recently, former US Secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, also published a book titled “fascism”- brief stories of fascist regimes from Mussolini till modern times. Perhaps the key lesson one could derive from the literature on the fascism are:
1. Fascism is an extreme form of nationalism: it is based on a zero-sum or a dog-eat-dog world notion that one’s survival is predicated on the demise of one’s neighbor or nation state.
2. Fascism is patriarchal: there is one messianic father figure wielding absolute power to make or break the nation
3. Fascism lacks ideological framework: there is no reputable scholar who can outline the basic tenets of fascism as commonly witnessed in other “isms” such as communism, social democracy, developmental state, libertarianism.
4. Fascism encourages populism and discourages intellectualism: the only alternative to rally support in the absence of sound ideological framework becomes stirring popular emotion
Now, let us ask where the four tenets of fascism are most present in that region. 1) Who is exterminating a neighboring nation states? To be more specific, which regimes are fighting with just about anyone the shares border with them? Surely, Asmara and the Amhara region are renowned for fighting with all of their neighbors. 2) Where are leaders worshipped like Gods? Cheerleaders of the despots situated in Asmara and Addis will testify they do not know what to do if their respective leaders die suddenly. By contrast, Tigrai has proved it can endure after losing its great leaders. 3) What is the ideology of Isaias Afwerki? Is it Dictatorship? And, what it the ideology of Prosperity Party? Is it the comic book titled Medemer? Well, everyone knows TPLF has a robust ideology called developmental democracy 4) Where is populism more common? Whose followers like to call others ከሃዲ፡ ከፋፋይ፤ ዐጋመ (as if it is an insult)? And, who promotes ህዝባዊነት፡እኩልነት (democracy and equality of ethnicities and religions)? Isn’t it Aboy Sebhat Nega, TPLF’s former leader, who repeatedly cautioned the danger in “አንተን የመሰለ የለም”? (chauvinism?). So, when Tigreans call the despots anchored in Asmara and in Addis, they do so from a valid reason, not out of spite or vanity. These despots meet the commonly agreed indicators of fascist regimes.
Let us now turn to the term “evil”. What do we mean when we say the fascistic juntas harming Tigrai are evil? Well, there is a fine line between doing something wrong/bad and doing something evil. Political leaders could rig elections, harass oppositions, break down protest, or suppress the media. These are wrongful acts that should, of course, be rectified. Surely, political leaders who engage in those bad practices should be forced to mend their ways. Now, evil is something that exceeds a random wrongdoing. Philosophers divide evil as the most despicable act imaginable. Some philosophers call evil does moral monsters. These despicable actions may range from actors who derive intrinsic (not indirect) pleasure by harming others to actors who stay indifferent watching others in harms way.
In Tigrai’s context, we have seen: a) Actors who derive pleasure by exacting murder, rape, and looting on innocent Tigreans. These are active psychopaths- serial killers, rapists, and felons who deserve to be quarantined from society. b) actors who celebrate as Tigreans get killed, robbed, raped, and displaced. These are voyeuristic psychopaths- those who lack the courage to do evil but enjoy watching it. and c) actors who knowingly stay indifferent as millions of Tigreans are starved, tens of thousands are killed and displaced, and hundreds are raped when they could have acted or spoken up. These are borderline psychopaths- the kind of people who would not lift a finger to save a baby walking towards a cliff. So, the despots who ordered their troops to inflict harm on helpless and innocent civilians in Tigrai are evil. Further, the supporters of the tyrants who celebrated the suffering in Tigrai as well as those who kept silent when they could have spoken up while thousands of innocent children, girls, and the elderly were butchered in cold blood are also evil to various degrees.
Contemporary philosophers divide evil by action, by impact, and by motive. The world is already learning about the details of the evil acts and evil impact of the fascists of Asmara and Addis Ababa and their supporters. Perhaps what most people overlooks is the evil motive of these fascists. Their motive is more obvious when one attempts to explain why these fascists would destroy a mosque, a church, and a monastery established in Tigrai over a thousand year ago. Why would they rob historical relics of Tigrai? Well, this is reminiscent of the scheme which that architype Fascist, Benito Mussolini, devised against Tigrai. Mussolini did everything the neo-fascists are doing in Tigrai. His motive, like his modern successors in Addis & Asmara, is to wipe off the historical evidence Tigreans rely upon to spin their national narrative and pass it to the next generation. Although this scheme, otherwise known as “political laundry”, will not succeed, the monstrosity of the scheme suffices to label the motive as “evil”.
In conclusion, if one holds up a mirror in the face of the political groups seating in Asmara and Addis today, one cannot help but notice “fascistic juntas with evil characteristics”. It is not out of spite but for a reason that many Tigreans call them evil fascists and perceive them as real juntas or ዳግማዊ ደርግ- in Amharic. Their action has showed the world that, despite repeated calls to change their course, these fascists continue to exact evil on Tigrai. The genocidal atrocities of the 20th Century have taught us it is safer to quarantine fascists away from society, not appease them.