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Enver Hoxha: The Lunatic Who Took Over the Asylum

arge grafiti art in "the block", downtown tirana, albania.

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 March 2016.

Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania tells the extraordinary story of how one man held an entire country hostage for 40 years – and got away with it.

Between 1944 and 1985, the small Balkan nation of Albania was ruled by a strange, sociopathic and, frankly, completely mad dictator by the name of Enver Hoxha. While Stalinism effectively ended in Europe with the death of its namesake, or at least with the Khruschev reforms that followed, it continued unabated and unquestioned in Albania until 1990.

When Hoxha died in 1985, Albania was officially the third poorest country in the world, with the GNP of a small town and an average income of 15 USD a month. Four decades of collectivisation had led to near starvation in the countryside, where Hoxha’s aggressive isolationism meant people were still using farming technology from the 1920s. When the regime finally collapsed a few years after Hoxha’s death, it left behind a tired, hungry, confused and fearful population.

As Albanians marched towards democracy, like proverbial moles blinking into the sunlight, few had the time or will to reflect upon the man who had ruled them with unimaginable cruelty for over four decades.

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Why North Korea is So Corrupt, and Why that May Be Good

North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un. Image: Surian Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by NK News on 16 October, 2015.

North Korea is probably the most corrupt country in Asia. Measuring corruption levels is difficult, and existing ratings (like the well-known index published annually by Transparency International) should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence appears persuasive enough: Official corruption in North Korea has been exceptional over the last 20 years.

In my frequent discussions with North Koreans, I have discovered the fact that most of them take a high level of corruption for granted. They assume that any official who is in a position to ask for bribes will. In fact, they are surprised if officials refuse bribes. Simply put, corruption is part of the fabric of daily life in North Korea today. » More

Kim Jong Un’s Popularity, Explained

Sketched portrait of Kim Jong Un,leader of North Korea. Image: Monico Chavez/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by NK News on 27 September, 2015. Republished with permission.

A survey of North Korean refugees attracted some attention several weeks ago. According to the survey, a full 63 percent of recently arrived refugees believed that Kim Jong Un enjoys support amongst a majority of the North Korean public.

Such findings are not all that surprising for people who interact with North Koreans frequently enough. Indeed, while the protruding belly, plump cheeks and rather bizarre haircut present a somewhat comical picture to Western audiences, a significant number of North Koreans feel much hope about the third incarnation of Kimhood, finding the young leader attractive and somewhat charismatic. » More

Why Term Limits Matter for Africa

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. Image: AMISOM Public Information/flickr

Africa has a problem of presidents not leaving office when it’s time to do so.  The latest illustration of this is the maneuvering of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza. After 10 years in office, he is attempting to stay on for a third five-year term – in contravention of Burundi’s constitution that limits presidents to two five-year terms.

Nkurunziza’s determination to stay in power has brought the country to the brink of another civil war. (It’s estimated that 300,000 people were killed in Burundi’s ethnically-based civil war of 1993-2005). The government’s hardline response to protests against a third term has resulted in more than 100 deaths, the arrests of some 500 media and civil society leaders, a fracturing of the military, and the exodus of some 200,000 refugees since April.

Unfortunately, Nkurunziza is not alone among African leaders who defy the fundamental requisite of democracy that leaders must step down when their terms expire. In fact, the continent as a whole is in the midst of a wider battle over governance norms. Burundi’s relevance to this larger struggle compels assertive action on the part of key African and Western governments interested in upholding the rule of law. » More

As Crisis in Venezuela Deepens, Maduro’s Iron Fist Tightens

Venezuelan protester, symbolically wearing chains. Image: Carlos Díaz/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 4 March, 2015.

Since the death of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s political leadership has moved from charisma to authoritarianism. Support for Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution has fallen from 65% when the populist leader died to 22% today.

The revolution’s erstwhile steward is Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s current president and Chávez’s hand-picked successor. Maduro lacks his mentor’s extraordinary charm and intelligence – and to compensate, he is resorting to the iron fist.

Who is Nicolas Maduro?

As a teenager, Maduro aspired to have his own rock band, and was a fan of Led Zeppelin. In an interview with the Guardian, he referred to himself as a “a little bohemian”. Although he never finished high school, Maduro was able to build a successful political career. A robust man of 6’4″, he spent the 1980s working as a bus driver in the capital’s public transport system, where he founded and led an informal trade union. » More

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