How Do You Defeat a Dictator When He Gets to Write the Rules?

NO_ecard_AmnestyI didn’t think it was possible. As a student at Rutgers in 1988, I sarcastically asked my friends, “Who do you think is going to win the referendum in Chile? Pinochet or Pinochet?”

Following his bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government in 1973, Pinochet murdered thousands of dissidents and outlawed opposition parties. Like many dictators, he legitimated his rule by holding a plebiscite on a “constitution” that gave him unchecked power in 1980. He was able to do so, of course, because the climate of fear and impunity guaranteed his victory.

Facing growing international pressure to step down, General Pinochet tried to pull this same trick again in 1988, by offering a pseudo-election in which Chileans could vote to either let Pinochet remain in office for another eight years or hold a presidential election the following year. Given that he was writing the rules again, how could human rights activists and other opposition groups possibly win? It seemed hopeless.

But it wasn’t! No!, an Oscar-nominated film, tells the story of the brave and creative Chileans who helped their fellow citizens stand up and say, “NO!” to repression. This movie opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 15. You can find a list of theatres and dates for other cities by clicking here.


A Turkish Spring? Freedom To Decide, Freedom To Remember

Spring is a time for optimism and so, despite all the troubling news coming out of Turkey, let me call attention to some positive signs.

The week started badly, when the Turkish Higher Election Board declared that a number of mostly Kurdish candidates for parliament, including Leyla Zana and other former prisoners of conscience, had been disqualified from running.   The decision led to massive protests in Istanbul, Van, Diyarbakir, and elsewhere. In the wake of these protests, however, the Higher Election Board has reversed itself and most, if not all, of the candidates, including Ms. Zana, will be able to run for office.

The coming week promises an event which holds reason for optimism of another sort: on Monday, April 24th a number of Turkish NGOs, will be holding a march to commemorate the Armenian Genocide and call attention to continued issues of bigotry in Turkey. This brave action is a part of a larger effort to deal forthrightly with Turkey’s past.  For example, in ways that were unimaginable only ten years ago, there are now open discussions of the Turkey’s open warfare against the Kurds of Dersim in 1937 – 38, which left tens of thousands killed and uprooted many thousands more.  What is particularly remarkable about these discussions, which have gone on for decades in intellectual circles is that they are now entering into the popular consciousness: as one taboo falters, others are weakened.