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Silician Mafia, Letizia Battaglia

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(continued from a previous post)

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As the Italian state unraveled in ever-widening gyre of political choas, that other threat to law and order was again resurgent in the south.  In Sicily, the Commission — a central organization of mafiosos — was resurrected. Several competing factions were now preparing to fight and claim territories for protection rackets.

At the center of this was Letizia Battaglia, a journalist and photographer for L’Ora newspaper in Palermo. For eighteen years, she documented mafia murders of judges, politicians, police, and members of rival families. She would find herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Here, she remembers taking the photo above (link)

They murdered Nerina, a young prostitute who had started drug-dealing independently from the mafia cartel, and her two male friends. Allegedly, she had disobeyed the mafia’s code of honour. Naturally, the killers were never found.

It was 1982, and I entered this little room in Palermo against the will of the police. They did not want me – a photographer and a woman – at the crime scene. When I realised there was a woman among the victims, I started shaking. More than usual, I mean. I was overcome by nausea and could hardly stand. I only had a few seconds to take a couple of pictures: there were men shouting at me to work fast.

It isn’t easy to be a good photographer when you’re faced with the corpses of people who were alive and kicking only minutes before. In those situations, I would often get all the technical things wrong. But I did my job, I photographed, trying to keep the image in focus and the exposure correct.

Since Nerina, who is slumped in the armchair, had been the main target, I found myself thinking about her. In that small room, her still body was at everybody’s mercy, more objectified than ever. My contact with her lasted only a few moments and was filtered through the lens of a cheap camera. But I saw her alone, lost in an eternity of silence. In that short time, I started to love her. I find women beautiful and courageous, and I love photographing them. They hold so many dreams inside themselves.

It was just one of 600,000 photos she took of mafia crimes; throughout her career, Battaglia received many death threats, but continued on. Her “Archive of Blood”, as she called it, grew and grew as the mafia activity spread. Judge Cesare Terranova, a member of the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, was killed in an ambush in 1979. Battaglia remembers: “This was one of the most important men in Sicilian politics. When he was killed, I said nothing worse could happen. Nothing. It was not true.” [Photo below, graphic].

The Italian state, which had unscrupulous connections with the mafia, was slow and reluctant to respond, even when the mafia detonated a half-ton of explosives under the highway in May 1992 to assassinate a judge (who was a close friend of Battaglia). The next year, Giulio Andreotti, who had been prime minister of Italy seven times, was indicted for corruption.He had flatly denied ever meeting or having any dealings with the mafia, but among Battaglia’s archives were photographs of Andreotti and other Christian Democrat party leaders with Nino Salvo, a powerful Mafia figures who was believed to have been a principal link between the Mafia and Andreotti.

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Battaglia has recently published a book “Anthology” which recounts these haunting years. (Amazon).

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 30, 2016 at 6:51 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with , ,

Birth of a Kibbutz, David Seymour

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With yesterday’s UN vote urging Israel to end to its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, we look back at one of modern Israel’s earliest settlements. 

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David Seymour wrote to his sister in 1951, “You can imagine how everything here is emotionally charged and moving”. The Magnum founder was standing in the middle of a Jewish settlement near Golan Heights when he took the photo of Baby Miriam, the first ever child born into the settlement of Alma (above).

Alma was a melting pot of Yemenite Jews, Tripolitanian Jews from Libya, and immigrants from Southeast Italy, most notably from the small village of San Nicandro. Twenty years earlier, a group of Italian Roman Catholics in that village underwent a mass conversion to Judaism under the influence of Donato Manduzio, a crippled war veteran turned mystic who self-taught himself the Old Testament.

For Seymour, born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw, whose Polish Jewish parents killed by the Nazis during the Second World War, Israel was an emotional place. After the war, he documented post-war Europe for UNICEF and frequently traveled to newly-formed Israel to photograph settlements and kibbutzes being set up.

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Amidst the scenes of weddings, dancing, and olive groves were the snapshots of those improbable days: women carried water in brass jugs from reservoirs miles away even as Baby Miriam’s father supervises a pipeline construction work which is going to bring water from the source. A hardscrabble garden was planted on desert terrain. A tractor is paraded through the streets of Tel Aviv on Independence Day. Soldiers patrolled the border between the Negev Desert and Jordan. A woman mourned graveside at the funeral of a watchman killed during a border conflict.

Seymour himself was sucked into one of those conflicts; in November 1956, he was killed by Egyptian machine-gun fire four days after the armistice of the 1956 Suez War.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 24, 2016 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Politics

The Years of Lead

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A week after this photograph was published in the Corriere d’Informazione, Umberto Eco wrote, “Remember this image, it will become exemplary of our century.” Such a sentiment was inevitable in Italy in 1977, after a decade of political turmoil later known as The Years of Lead — a Manichean violent struggle between neo-fascists and radical left to control the political future of the Italian Republic.

Conflicts of 1977 began in February with a student occupation of the University of Rome to protest education reforms; a fortnight later, a demonstration devolved into a four-hour long guerrilla battle with the police in the streets of Rome. Political parties and trade unions were drawn into this turmoil, which soon spread to other great Italian university towns. In Bologna, a student-run radio station was closed by the carabineri, which shot and killed a student. Another student was killed during a demonstration in Rome in May; it was unclear who shot him, but armed policemen in plainclothes were observed during the demonstration, leading to riots.

The photo above was taken by Paolo Pedrizzetti  in Milan during those riots: the young man in a ski mask and bell-bottom jeans was a member of a far-left organization which pulled out their pistols and began to shoot at the police, killing policeman Antonio Custra on May 14th 1977. This was a fitting photo of The Years of Lead, which also began in Milan with killing of another policeman in November 1969.

The fact that Custra left behind a pregnant wife galvanized the press. The man in Pedrizzetti’s photo was identified as 18-year old student Giuseppe Memeo; this was the first time he had held a gun, and he was not the killer. (Two years later, Memeo shot and killed two, including a secret service agent). The killer was not identified until the other photographer (who was seen in Pedrizzetti’s photo) came forward twelve years later, having hidden his negatives for fear of reprisals.

That was 1977 — the year that came to be known as the time of the “P38”, referring to the Walther P38 pistol. There were 42 assassinations and 2,128 acts of political violence. For Italy, the worst was still to come, but the tide was turning for the protesters. The next year, the prime minister was kidnapped and executed by militant communists — a senseless act of violence which resulted in a loss of popular support. More lenient sentences in exchange for collaboration or “dissociation” followed: the pentiti program enabled the state to hunt down most of the militants. By mid-1980s, Italy was en route to overtake UK in nominal GDP to become the world’s fifth largest economy.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 22, 2016 at 10:49 pm

Posted in Politics

Carnage in the Phillippines

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These days we are bombarded with so many photos and images that rare is an piece of photojournalism that stops you in your tracks. Today’s frontpage of New York Times is one of those rare moments. Daniel Berehulak took photos and wrote about his 35 days in Manila, the Philippines where he covered 41 murder scenes — and 57 bodies.

When thuggish Rodrigo Duterte was elected president in the Philippines in June, he vowed to kill millions of people in a war on drugs to rid the country of drugs. He had urged his citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts, and asked the police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy (with a bounty for dead suspects). Already, his misguided war has claimed thousands of lives, including nearly 2,000 reportedly killed by Philippine police in extra-judicial killings. In vigilante excess, even those who have ‘surrendered’ — i.e., those who have stopped using or selling drugs months ago — were murdered.

Berehulak’s assignment saw bodies, carnage, and extrajudicial killings everywhere, “on sidewalks, near train tracks, in front of convenience stores and McDonald’s restaurants, and across bedroom mattresses and living room sofas”. Police goes undercover to catch drug dealers in “buy-bust” operations, and would enter people’s homes without warrants to shoot and kill suspects. In a chilling response to Reuters inquiry, the Fillippino government noted that “we have only scratched the surface” when it comes to the Drug War. [Listen to Berehulak here]

It is hard to write about modern politics on Iconic Photos. We have covered many gruesome photos on this website — from the Belgian Congo to the Holocaust, from famines and nuclear meltdowns — but we cover them knowing that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. No such satisfaction here. The carnage in the Philippines will go on; as Duterte himself claimed, “Expect 20,000 or 30,000 more” killings, and he has been emboldened by the support from the American president-elect.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 8, 2016 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Politics

The Harding Presidency

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As the richest administration in living memory is being assembled in Washington D.C., we look back at how an earlier version of that had fared. 

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For twenty-nine months in early 1920s, the United States was effectively governed not from the White House but from a small house four blocks away. The residence at 1625 K Street was the epicenter of the Harding presidency — and all the shambolic chaos that surrounded it.

Warren G. Harding was propelled into the White House by a deadlocked national convention and machine politics; in many ways, America elected him as a snub to his predecessor Woodrow Wilson, and Wilson’s internationalist views.  A genial man whose friends included George Eastman, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford,  Harding surrounded himself with cronies and sycophants and assembled a federal government which was less than qualified — to put it charitably.

To head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (and later the Federal Reserve), Harding chose D.R. Crissinger, a former neighbor whose prior work experience was as a director of rural shovel and stockyards companies. Harding gave his sister and brother-in-law, previously missionaries in Burma, senior jobs in the government. His chief military adviser was a man named Ora Baldinger — someone so obscure and inconsequential that he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page — who had been Harding’s newspaper delivery boy.

To head the newly formed Veterans Affairs bureau, Harding chose Charles Forbes, who he befriended by chance during a Hawaiian holiday. Forbes was put in charge of a department with $500 million budget (around $6 billion in today’s money), of which he managed to lose, steal, or misappropriate as much as $200 million in mere two years. Another distinguished appointee was Albert Fall, a senator trailed by a dark cloud of possible homicide of a rival. Fall was chosen to lead the Department of Interior where he blundered into a bribery scheme that would soon be remembered as the Teapot Dome scandal, and became .

Meanwhile, at the Treasury, shrewd Andrew Mellon oversaw a huge tax cut, which while kickstarting the economy, greatly benefited the rich. As a political rival noted at the time, under the new tax, “Mr. Mellon himself gets a larger personal reduction than the aggregate of practically all the taxpayers in the state of Nebraska”. Mellon also used the IRS to prepare his tax returns (to minimize his tax bill), and the State Department to get his companies get contracts in China, according to David Cannadine in magisterial Mellon: An American Life. During his long years at Treasury, Mellon’s personal wealth doubled to over $150 million, and his family fortune grew to over $2 billion.

Harding didn’t manage to see most of the havoc caused by his appointees — not Mellon’s tax trial, not Fall’s prison sentence (who holds the dubious distinction as the first cabinet member to go to prison), not Crissinger’s indictment for mail fraud in a crooked real estate financing scheme. Twenty-nine months into his presidency, he died from heart failure — in the hands of Charles Sawyer, an unqualified doctor who relied on archaic medical practices, and who was only appointed official White House physician because he had been Harding’s parents’ family doctor.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 5, 2016 at 3:55 am

Posted in Politics

Time 100

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This week’s Time magazine assembled a list of the 100 most influential photographs ever taken. It is interesting to see that Time had similar struggles that we at Iconic Photos had in such a task in recent years: “Digital revolution has made quantifying influence a particular challenge.”

Time wrote, “There is no formula that makes a picture influential… Some images are on our list because they were the first of their kind, others because they shaped the way we think. And some made the cut because they directly changed the way we live. What all 100 share is that they are turning points in our human experience.” The photos are here: http://100photos.time.com/ and a selection is printed.

A few thoughts: It is a rare occasion that Time uses a non-red border, but it did it again this week. It also included a wide, diverse array of images — from contact sheets of Phillipp Halsman to instagram work from North Korea, from a PR-stunt of a selfie to paparazzi photos of Ron Galella. Time didn’t publish close-up photo of Emmett Till’s face — suggesting that there are still limits to how far a print media organization can go — although it did include a bloodied face of a dead Iranian protester on its web edition. It was great to see Erich Salomon’s political reporting included; Richard Prince’s rephotography work remains as artistically controversial as it was in 1989,

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 20, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Politics

Cultural Revolution

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Fifty years ago this week went out a short text that was to plague China for a decade. On May 16th 1966, after a secretive meeting of the Politburo, Mao Tse-Dong issued a document that denounced the enemies of the Communist cause that existed within the Chinese Communist Party itself. It heralded the beginning of what is known as the Cultural Revolution – a ten-year madness of purges and excesses in which temples are defaced, colleges were shut down, and mangoes are worshiped. The party debated changing traffic rules for ideological reasons (switching to driving on the left, and red traffic signals meant go).

The Revolution itself was a culmination of twenty years of tumult that began with the Communist takeover of China in 1949. During the first decade of the party’s rule in China, five million people died due to land confiscations and ‘death quotas’. This was followed by the tragedy of Great Leap Forward – a disastrous agricultural and industrial policy that led to forty-five million deaths.

One of the rare chroniclers of the Cultural Revolution in all its excesses was Li Zhensheng who worked for newspaper in Harbin, in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang. He was ordered not to take any “negative” images and executions, but working for a state-owned paper, he was able to travel around the country, taking photos of mock trials, denunciations, and destructions without being harassed.

He recorded truly bizarre moments: the head of Heilongjiang province Governor Li Fanwu brutally being shaved and torn by zealous young Red Guards, who accused his hairstyle of bearing a resemblance to Mao’s (photos below). Photo above, workers being denounced and marched off to their execution.

Li himself was a zealous Maoist, and was an eager member of the Red Guards and even organized his own group of Red Guards. He himself was later arrested in an internal power struggle, but he managed to hide his negatives away under the floorboards of his flat. Some of these photos were collected in a book in 2003, called Red-Color News Soldier. The title referred to the name given to journalists in Harbin, hinting at complex relationship between reporting, photojournalism, and the Party in those heady days.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 13, 2016 at 5:53 am

Posted in Politics

Iran Before the Revolution

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Passing of an Iranian actress was good time as any to reflect on regress of women’s rights in the Middle East. 

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Forouzan’s death last month was as her last thirty-seven years had been: quiet and unremarked. Before that, however, she was one of the biggest stars of the Persian cinema. For a brief period in the 1970s, voluptuous Forouzan (whose name meant bright light) represented a liberated Arab womanhood, which has all been extinguished since at least in the Middle East.

Her death brought to fore various magazine covers in which she appeared — and other contemporary Persian magazines where Western and local models were frequently portrayed showing a bit of skin. Sophia Loren smiled wearing just a fur coat from one cover. The famed Henry Clarke posed several models at Iranian mosques in 1969 (an activity which could have gotten him into deep trouble just a decade later). One week, Forouzan appeared on the cover of Weekly Ettelaat with the headline: “Forouzan and the latest fashion; Will people of Tehran approve it?” (above).

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Iran before the Revolution was hardly a tolerant liberal democracy, but in many ways it was more relaxed socially. A woman cabinet minister was first appointed in 1968, and just before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, women made up a third of university graduates. The Revolution rolled back these small accomplishments: hijab was introduced, and women were removed from the judiciary (Islam posits that women are unqualified to be judges). Because women’s role was to be at home solely, government–run day care centers were shut down, making it difficult for women to lead professional lives. In a telling brutality, the aforementioned first woman to serve in the cabinet was executed. (Only in 2009 and 2015 that Iran appointed its first female cabinet minister and ambassador since the 1979 revolution respectively). 

Forouzan herself was banned from acting again — anyway, there wasn’t much need for actresses anymore as all women were covered under hijab, including on the silver screen. Although in reality, Iranian women do not need to be covered under hijab at home, the movie censors force actresses to wear hijabs for both indoor and outdoor scenes. In a crowning absurdity, women in Iranian films wear hijabs even when they sleep in bed.

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Alas, Iran was not the only country in the region where women’s rights have regressed since the 1970s. In his grand retelling of the pivotal events 1979 ushered, Strange Rebels, Christian Caryl remembers seeing a postcard of a glamorous Afghani model posing on a grass-lawn in a dress of “1970s psychedelia and ethnic chic”. He writes:

“It was easy to dismiss the cigarette-smoking model as an outlier, a solipsistic stand-in for a superficial program of Westernization with no organic connection to the surrounding society. But this is lazy. The Afghanistan she stood for was real. She may have belonged to a minority, but it was unquestionably a growing minority that many wanted to join… This Westernizing, secular, hedonistic Afghanistan was not a phantom; it represented a genuine dream for many Afghans.”

The same could have been said of  Forouzan and her Iran.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 13, 2016 at 6:05 am

Japanese Internment, 1942

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With its combative attitudes towards Muslims and refuges, America mislearns from her young history. 

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As America debates over accepting Syrian refuges, opposing voices have grown louder in recent weeks. A politician was quoted as wistfully referring back to the internment of Japanese Americans. Joining that fray more recently was Donald Trump, a boorish tycoon who was improbably a front-runner for Republican nomination, who wants to ban all Muslims from the US. The Congress overwhelmingly passed a law rolling back visa-waivers to foreigners who have visited troubled Middle-Eastern spots.

As lights of tolerance slowly dimmed across the country, it is instructive to look back at the Japanese-American internment itself, now considered a dark chapter in the country’s history. Then though, in the wake of Pearl Harbour, politicians were enthusiastic to herd off Japanese Americans to internment camps. Creeping terror was unmistakable: firstly, only those who were in sensitive areas (military bases, strategic sites) were relocated, but eventually 120,000 Japanese Americans altogether were removed from their homes. Their property was confiscated, and in a thoroughly capitalist form of state violence, trademarks, copyrights, and patents they held were stripped off.

Terror was all the greater for full support it received. Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, an organisation of Californian elites who were descended from the original settlers of the state, supported it, as did the state’s Attorney General Earl Warren, later to be a liberal Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  American Legion was in favour, as were businessmen who viewed it as easy ways to get rid of their competitors. The media, which broadly endorsed the camps, covered them as if the Japanese Americans have been shipped off to a picnic. In an April 1942 article tellingly titled “Coast Japs Are Interned in Mountain Camp,” Life magazine used the term “concentration camp” but described the internees as “enchanted by scenic surroundings”.

Authorities also perpetuated this atmosphere by not allowing photographers to take pictures of the camps’ barbed wires or guard towers. All the photos also had to be approved by the War Relocation Authority, the body responsible for the internment. Only in the 1970s and the 1980s did reassessment of camps (via photographs taken by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Life’s Carl Mydans) take place. Adams did capture some barbed wires in his sprawling vistas of the camp, but he himself viewed the camps as basically harmless: “the acrid splendor of the desert, ringed with towering mountains, has strengthened the spirit of the [internees],” he wrote.

As such one of the most iconic photos of the internment was taken in March 1942, when Fumiko Hayashida became one of the first Japanese American to be relocated. In the photo, 31-year old Hayashida holds her sleeping 10-month-old daughter, Natalie, while waiting to board a ferry from Bainbridge Island, Washington State which would take her to the internment camps. The photo was printed in The Seattle Post Intelligencer, one of the few papers which gave space to anti-internment editorials, but Hayashida wasn’t named. She was only as “Mystery Lady” until the 1990s, when the Smithsonian Institution tracked her down. {She died only last year}.

The internment lasted until December 1944, when the Supreme Court ruled that the internment had been unconstitutional. However, the Court however ruled that evictions had been legal. Bitter atmosphere surrounded the court before and after the rulings with many a legal mind proposing an amendment to the United States constitution which would revoke the American citizenship of all Japanese to make internment constitutional. Internees who returned home were harassed and even killed. A formal apology was not issued until 1988.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 10, 2015 at 8:04 am

14 July 1936 | Willy Ronis

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One million people marched in Paris on July 14 1936, to celebrate the Bastille holiday and celebrate the victory of Front Populaire in the general election months earlier. Willy Ronis (who took the photo above) called that “It was a party like it had never known before”; soon-to-be a famed photographer, Ronis was just 26 and the above photo was one of his first photos to be sold to a Parisian newspaper.

The photo became the symbol of Front Populaire in that summer of great hopes for social change. The Front, a coalition of Communists, trade unionists, and socialists had won the general election in May and the Socialist leader Léon Blum became the first Socialist — and the first Jewish — Prime Minister of France. He formed a government which included three women ministers at a time when women hadn’t yet gained suffrage. (Women’s suffrage was granted in France only in 1944).

With vigor, Blum’s government set about reforming the French state — many of the measures, good or ill, that we associate today with France where first implemented during his short premiership. He granted the right to strike and collective bargaining, two weeks of paid annual leave (which led to a boom in tourism), and reduced the working week to 40 hours. It was to begin a series of economic intervention that set precedents for the Vichy and postwar governments to consolidate France into a statist nation.

Blum himself was forced out of office in June 1937, as his government divided itself over whether to choose a side in Spanish Civil War.  Blum was briefly Prime Minister again twice (for four weeks in 1938 and five weeks in 1946), but his legacy was made during his first ministry. Despite its bravura reforms and widespread popular support, the Popular Front is now judged as inadequate leaders while Europe darkened into war: “Disappointment and failure,” says Julian Jackson in his seminal Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938.

Centre-left Le Nouvel Observateur was a little more enthusiastic: in 2006, for 70th anniversary of the Popular Front, it called Blum’s first months in office, 100 Days That Changed Our Life.  On the cover of that issue was Ronis’ photo taken on that Bastille Day brimming with expectations and excitements.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 12, 2015 at 7:05 am

Kim Il Sung

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In recent history, Kim Il Sung holds an unique position; dead since 1994, he remains North Korea’s official leader — an Eternal President, embalmed and ennobled in a massive mausoleum in Pyongyang. His son and his grandson who dynastically succeeded him are merely de facto heads of the country that he had led to ruination and that he remains constitutionally the de jure president.

In 1950, when his ruinous rule began North Korea’s GDP per capita was $650, compared to South Korea’s GDP per capita at $870. At his dead, North Korea’s GDP per capita was just slightly over quarter of the South’s, at $2500 compared to $9,000 per capita. [In 2014, it is one-twentieth the size of the South’s GDP per capita]. See here.

As his Stalinist experiment with Communism failed, he refashioned it into a weird mixture of politics, religion, and eugenics; the ideology — later a cult — was called Juche (and alternatively in that eponymous fashion beloved by despots, Kimilsungism), which his son and grandson further aggrandized. In this system, Kim Il-Sung was the father of the nation, his birthday a national holiday, and his name sacrosanct (it must not be split into two parts by a page break or a line break). A massive highway was built to his birthplace, which was declared a national shrine. The Gregorian calendar was replaced by a Juche calendar, where the birth of Kim Il-sung was year 1; songs were written about 10,000 battles he fought (4,000 during one particularly busy year — one every 2h10m I guess) and won.

Inconveniently for the divine narrative, Kim developed a calcium deposit on his neck in the late 1970s. Its closeness to the brain and spinal cord made it inoperable. Juche ideology scoffs at physical disability and this growth was an embarrassment. North Korean photographers were forbidden from taking photos of Kim which showed the growth. Kim was depicted from his left side to hide the growth from official photographs and newsreels (in his official portrait, he cranes his neck to the right as if to hide it). As the growth reached the size of a baseball by the late 1980s, it got increasingly difficult to hide, and photos were doctored to airbrush it out. [It got to ludicrous degree when Jimmy Carter visited; western news agencies received doctored photos from Korea News Agency.]

By the time Carter was in Pyongyang, Kim’s rule has been thoroughly discredited. Even as he clung to power as Communism imploded elsewhere — in Eastern Europe, in Mongolia, and in the Soviet Union — and as China embraced market economy, he was a lone anachronism from a bygone age. Subsidies from fellow travelling nations stopped, and his isolation was clear when soon-to-be-former-Communist countries ignored his tantrums to participate in the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea. By 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev was paying a state visit to South Korea.

Yet his thuggish regime limped on, under a potent mixture of propaganda, cultist control, and downright repression, to become a nuclear power. A suitably noxious legacy for a man who nearly got two American presidents to drop atom bombs on him.

[Above it one of the few photos where the lump was in display. Most North Koreans living today (and many outside Korea too) probably didn’t even know about this. Astonishing if you think about it: Kim died only 21 years ago.]

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 6, 2015 at 10:07 am

Posted in Politics, Society

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Murder of a Reporter | Jose Luis Cabezas

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On February 16, 1996, Cristina Cabezas posed for her husband on the beach in Pinamar. Her husband, Jose Luis, pretended to take photos, but the subjects were not his wife nor his daughter. Pinamar is an exclusive beach resort the Argentina’s Atlantic coast, visited by influential people, and also on the beach was the tycoon Alfredo Yabrán and his wife.

Reclusive Yabrán had been in news for six months. It began when Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo accused Yabrán of being “head of a mafia entrenched in power.” Embattled Cavollo, who was about to be scapegoated for his ambitious reforms which had soured due to the Mexican financial crisis, blamed the then President of Argentina, Carlos Menem and cronyistic cadre of corrupt businessmen who surrounded Menem, of whom Yabrán was the most prominent.

Up to this point, Yabrán had been linked to only a handful of small companies, but Cavallo accused him of owning, through proxies, other major economic entities, including postal, printing, logistics, and security concerns. This network, Cavallo revealed, was used to traffic drugs and weapons.

The press did not have any pictures of Yabrán and struggled to get any: “My picture to me is like shooting myself in the forehead,” he once told an interviewer. “Not even the intelligence services have a picture of me,” he boasted. In his rare interviews, he demanded that the journalist be not accompanied by a photographer.

José Luis Cabezas got the photo, but it cost him his life. The photo was published on the cover of the magazine Noticias on March 3rd. Noticias was known for its exposes on corrupt politicians and businesses, and his appearance on the cover did not please Yabrán. Within a year, Cabezas was kidnapped, tortured, and killed with two shots to the head. The body was placed inside a vehicle rented by Noticias, and burned.

The scandal and gruesome murder that ensued led to series of events which doomed many of its participants. Menem forced Cavallo to resign; Cavallo was later briefly jailed on trumped-up charges of weapon trafficking. Menem’s attempt to run for a third term was ruled to be unconstitutional, and his party was thrown out of the office. After Cabezas’ murder, publicity forced Yabrán to come out of his reclusive lifestyle and face public scrutiny.  Under a judicial investigation, Yabrán committed suicide on 20 May 1998.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 4, 2015 at 6:23 am

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