Late last week, Eritrea Profile published, “Words Matter: Double Standards in Mainstream Media,” a well-written article by Afabet Gebretinsae that decries media coverage of the recent spate of crime and terror perpetrated against peaceful Eritrean festivals in cities across the West. Not long after, The Grayzone, an independent news website producing original investigative journalism, released the article, “Western media glorifies TPLF mob violence against Eritrean festivals,” an enlightening commentary that similarly raised critical questions about how mainstream media in the West have reported recent events. These articles are not only extremely important in helping to shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by Eritrean communities in the diaspora, but are also vital in countering the dominant – yet enormously flawed – narratives and frameworks surrounding the attacks on festivals and Eritrea more broadly. Building upon the many valuable points and insights raised within the articles, the following paragraphs present several additional points worth noting about the deeply concerning pattern of violence, hate speech, and terror against peaceful Eritrean communities across the West.
Hypocrisy and cynicism
First, one can only observe in awe the astounding levels of hypocrisy and cynicism exhibited by Western states in recent weeks. These states never hesitate to pontificate about the fundamental importance of freedom of speech and assembly as they pompously lecture Eritrea – and much of the rest of Africa – about the presumed absence of these freedoms. Yet, as has been so richly demonstrated in recent days and weeks, so many of these Western countries have also not dithered in denying these exact same freedoms from their own citizens (i.e., those who originally come from Eritrea) as the latter seek to come together in celebration of the rich history and culture of their origin nation.
While peaceful festivals and law-abiding groups exercising their legally-protected rights should never be the targets of illegal threats, violence, and terror, Western authorities have frequently revoked permits in response to attacks, thus appeasing the perpetrators of violent terror and doubly punishing victims. For the West, Eritrean celebrations, which are rooted in a proud history that extends back many decades, cannot be permitted, freedom of speech and assembly be damned, because they only serve to powerfully illustrate how truly hollow and utterly groundless the prevailing mainstream narrative of Eritrea actually is.
Xenophobia and racism will increase
Another unfortunate implication of the recent attacks is that they will undoubtedly add fuel to the already high levels of xenophobia, discrimination, and racism against minorities and migrants in the West. Populists, far-right movements, and radical groups, which have been steadily on the march during recent years, will latch on to these deplorable events and recycle a variety of harmful tropes and stereotypes to drive their toxic, exclusionary agenda. Although the overwhelming majority of Eritreans have historically been hard-working, law-abiding citizens that have made substantive, diverse contributions to their host communities, the complexities and nuances of recent events will be totally lost or overlooked, leaving entirely innocent groups to not only be demonized, but also exposed to greater hostility and new threats.
Eritrean resilience and unity in the face of adversity
One of the underlying aims of the recent violence targeting Eritrean festivals is to divide Eritrean communities, weaken solidarity, and harm the nation. History, however, offers an instructive guide: during times of hardship, grave injustice, and immense odds, Eritreans do not wilt. Nor do they crumble.
During the period under Italian colonial rule, Eritreans were subjected to forced servitude, apartheid, and an array of dark horrors and indignities within an inherently brutal colonial system espousing Europeans’ greatness and superiority. Later, in the 1940s, the British military administration in Eritrea proceeded to strip away and plunder much of the latter’s industry and infrastructure, while also aiming to sow local division, stoke discord and tension, and incite communal violence. Subsequently, contrary to principles espoused by the United Nations and unlike the other Italian colonies that received independence at the end of World War II, Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as “an autonomous unit…under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown.” As the federal structure was steadily dismantled before Eritrea was eventually annexed, Eritreans were subjected to state repression, violence, and persecution, while all forms of civil disobedience, opposition, dissent, and resistance, which had largely been peaceful and involved broad segments of the Eritrean population, were forcefully crushed. Afterward, during the decades-long independence struggle, Eritrea received no substantive international economic, political, or military support, and it was confronted by one of the continent’s largest and best-equipped militaries. Throughout the duration of the protracted conflict, Ethiopia was heavily backed by the Cold War superpowers, the US and USSR (sometimes simultaneously), as well as many other countries, including, among others, Israel, East Germany, Cuba, and Yemen. Finally, following independence, Eritrea has faced a large-scale war of aggression aiming at regime change and rolling back its independence, followed by a lengthy illegal military occupation and persistent armed incursions, a harsh, unjust sanctions regime, and a raft of coercive measures.
Throughout this history of tremendous adversity and injustice, one common thread has been that Eritreans have stayed resilient, remained steadfast, closed ranks, and kept moving forward. Now it should be no different.
Abject failure of longstanding Western policies against Eritrea
There is a preponderance of evidence indicating that much of the violence and terror being perpetrated against Eritrean communities in the diaspora is orchestrated and funded by the TPLF and its supporters. It is also increasingly apparent that some Western institutions and officials have played a supportive or facilitative role. These facts underscore the sheer dysfunction and utter failure of the West’s years-long policy of “strategic depopulation” against Eritrea.
Recall that following the failed attempts to force “regime change’’ and erase Eritrean independence through military invasion (during the 1998-2000 war), the TPLF and its principal benefactors initiated a multifaceted effort to achieve their aims via less direct routes. This included, “isolation, destabilization, sanctions and economic warfare, vilification and psychological operations, and degrading the country’s ability to develop or defend itself.” These subterfuges were accompanied by a massive financial injection – to the tune of $US 40 billion – to prop up and “lionize” the TPLF regime.
Another critical dimension of the “full spectrum press” against Eritrea was the targeting of its human resources, particularly its youth. The aim was to wean the youth from national service in order to downgrade Eritrea’s defence and developmental capabilities, as well as to create opposition groups.
Eritrea’s law on national service was enacted in 1992, in the immediate aftermath of the country’s long war for independence. The original law was amended in 1995 and enacted as Proclamation 82/1995. The 18-months-long national service – which may be prolonged in times of war – is a critical national institution. Not only does it ensure national security and defence, it also promotes development, raises human capital, helps instil key socio-cultural values among participants, and fosters cohesion and nation-building within a highly diverse, multi-faith, multi-ethnic country. Accordingly, for Eritrea’s arch-enemies, targeting the institution assumed massive significance. The presumption was that if the national service could successfully be hollowed out and weakened, Eritrea’s defence capabilities would be severely impaired.
The principal conduit for implementing this malicious policy was the UNHCR, which established a series of “Eligibility Guidelines” advocating for the extension of “blanket asylum rights to all Eritrean migrants”, especially the youth and national service members. Although these unprecedented measures were issued supposedly to “assist decision-makers, including UNHCR staff, Governments and private practitioners in assessing the protection needs of Eritrean asylum-seekers,” they were characterized by glaring errors, exaggerated and fabricated information, and a complete lack of context. Notably, the UNHCR also worked closely with TPLF officials and its refugee arm, the ARRA.
The UNHCR’s Guidelines, assiduously accompanied by explicit campaigns to encourage Eritrean youth to cross over to neighbouring countries from which they would be “resettled” in third countries – usually Europe, Canada, Australia and the US – have been the principal factor behind disproportionate migration of Eritreans during the past years. Indeed, tens of thousands of other Africans, including Ethiopians, Sudanese, Somalis, and others, were also prompted to seek refugee status posing as Eritreans due to the perceived ease of acquiring refugee status under this label. At one point in time, the Austrian Ambassador to Ethiopia confirmed that 60% of refugees in Austria were in fact Ethiopians posing as Eritreans. This was not a unique or outlying case but actually a broad representation of the prevailing reality in other western countries.
However, the West’s pernicious policy has not worked. Its abject failure is unambiguously reflected not only in the resilience of Eritrean communities and their strengthened loyalty to and unwavering solidarity with their homeland, but also the leading role played by non-Eritrean thugs and their Western accomplices in recent attacks on Eritrean festivals.