Christmas at the ISN

The ISN is currently on its Christmas vacation. For the week commencing the 26th December we will be publishing an assortment of ISN Insights and partner content. The ISN’s Editorial Plan will return on the week commencing the 2nd January, when will consider “The State in a Globalizing World.”

Until then, the ISN wishes you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

History Conflict

Christmas at War

British and German troops meeting in no man’s land during the unofficial truce. Photo: IWM Collections

Happy Christmas, war is over. The song has been played to death on the radio, but with Washington’s declaration that the Iraq war is now officially over, John Lennon’s lyrics will likely bring a tear to the eyes of many American mothers. With Christmas being a time when families travel sometimes thousands of miles to reunite, the separation between those on the front lines and those worrying at home becomes all the more pronounced.

Perhaps the most famous – and undoubtedly the most touching – account of Christmas at war stems from the early 20th century. In 1914, only months into WWI, a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires took place along the Western Front. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, German and British soldiers (and to a lesser degree some French) independently ventured into ‘no man’s land’ and exchanged greetings and souvenirs, and even played a friendly game of soccer. The last survivor of the Christmas truce gave a haunting account of how he witnessed this spontaneous act of humanity:

“The words drifted across the frozen battlefield: ‘Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht’. After the last note a lone German infantryman appeared holding a small tree glowing with light. ‘Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.’”

The Christmas truce of 1914 was deemed “one human episode amid all the atrocities,” but there is evidence that small-scale Christmas truces between opposing forces continued throughout WWI.

Government Technology

Democracy, Science and Nuclear Reactors in India

Photo: Sakucae/flickr

Speaking at a major event in New Delhi earlier this month, former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad alleged that India’s problem is its democracy. The country, he advised, would do better with less rather than more democracy. With hordes of protestors on hunger strike over the construction of India’s newest nuclear reactors at Koodankulam, one might not find it hard to second-guess the source of inspiration behind Dr Mahathir’s astute observation. Democracy, one might argue, has led to policy paralysis in modern India; nothing could be more illustrative of this than the now-rusting steel of Koodankulam. For a country which is the world’s fourth largest consumer of energy and heavily dependent on imports to satisfy its energy demands, nuclear energy seems to be the only way out of the perennial and potentially dangerous problem of energy insecurity.

Built at an exorbitant cost to the Indian exchequer (with help from our all-weather Russian friends), the Koodankulam reactors should already be operational. Instead, the reactors are at the center of controversies concerning safety and environmental issues. The population in the surrounding areas is vehemently boycotting the reactors being brought online, fearing drastic environmental degradation and potential loss of habitat if something goes wrong. While reservations were apparent right from the project’s conception fifteen years ago, the Fukushima nuclear accident has undoubtedly led to an intensification of resistance.

Elections Conflict Justice

ICC and Ivory Coast: A Step in the Right Direction – If More Are to Follow

Laurent Koudou Gbagbo in Courtroom I of the International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands, Monday 5 December 2011. © ICC-CPI/AP Photo/Peter Dejong

I wonder how Laurent Gbagbo, sitting in his cell in the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) prison in Scheveningen, has reacted to the announcement of the result of Ivory Coast’s legislative elections on 15 December. Alassane Ouattara’s ruling coalition won an overwhelming majority in the national assembly – nearly 220 out of a total of 254 seats. These elections followed a period of violent upheaval in response to the disputed presidential elections of October 2010. They were, however, marked by low voter turnout (36.6%) and a boycott by the opposition.

But while Gbagbo may be satisfied with the effectiveness of the electoral boycott, he nevertheless ceases to have any direct influence within the political system of Ivory Coast. Instead, he can call himself the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC. Gbagbo’s arrest warrant lists four charges of crimes against humanity, alleged to have occurred between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011.

The new chief prosecutor confirmed that the ICC became active in this case upon the request of the Ouattara government. Prior to the legislative elections Gbagbo was moved from house
arrest in the Ivory Coast to The Hague. The move reflects Gbagbo’s convictions that as long as he was still in the country, Ouattara would not be able to govern. Thus, said one of his defense lawyers in an interview, Gbagbo considered the indictment as politically motivated.


Being Italian and a Woman These Days

Photo: Associazione Orlando/flickr

Italy is one of those countries where a lot of wild contradictions regarding gender, misfortune, and economic circumstance can occur simultaneously. Take the word “mignotta,” which is Roman dialect for “whore,” “bitch,” or “slut”—when referring to a woman. Or a gay man. Or a transsexual man. Or, for that matter, simply an untidy woman. But which originally, back in the Middle Ages, was an acronym referring to an abandoned child whose mother was unknown to the local authorities.

Nothing since that time has changed much in Italy, a country where it is still (a) not a good idea to be a woman, if you can possibly avoid it, and (b) a great place to be a woman, but only under special circumstances. Such as if you’re extremely beautiful, very young, and never met former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.