As a D&I supporter, you might sometimes feel that existing inequities are first world problems. Admittedly, some gaps appear larger and some seem to be closing – but is there still an urgent need to continue with D&I beyond the business case? Two examples will reconfirm your commitment – from Bolivia and Russia.
Imagine that a group of citizens with a disability, many of whom using wheelchairs, request to speak to state officials about their most basic needs. Which bandwidth of reactions do you think are possible? Open doors or accessible entrances to the centre of power or may be a more cautious meeting in some neutral location? Maybe a general ‘no-well-maybe-sometime-soon’ or a somehow harsher form of saying that the topic is not important enough? In Bolivia, a group of disabled protesters and their supports were faced with concrete violence including three meter high barricades, tear gas and other forms of physical force to prevent them from even getting close to government buildings. The pictures that are shown in a breath-taking documentary of The Guardian, launched early May, 2017, are causing sheer disbelief.
Picture show fierce brutality against disabled protesters in Bolivia
In a landmark journalistic effort, The Guardian joined a group of protesters, who call themselves a partisan, in their 35 days long trek across the Andes. We see people in wheelchairs and with different forms of disabilities, moving along highways to finally get in front of government officials. But they can only meet police in full body armour and behind shields. For days, the group was camping in the streets of the capital to find a way to make themselves heard. The video that The Guardian produced shows a type of brutality that we might occasionally see in aggressive revolution-type uproars – but not against a crowd that is predominantly disabled. The visual documentary shows an absurd imbalance and a bizarre disconnect of police and state officials from human reality.
Gays – who officially do not exist – to be extinguished before Ramadan?
The same could be said for Russia and more specifically for one of its ‘federal subject’ Chechnya. There, against the backdrop of a recent anti-gay purge, a spokesman of Chechen President Kadyrov said that gays ‘just don’t exist in the republic’ and therefore the allegations of concentration camps, torture and detainment could not be true. Here, the combination of denying the existence of gay people and the systematic hunt and crackdowns is particularly worrying to Human Rights groups around the globe. A good month after the first reports about the Chechen arrests, enough evidence was gathered so that a few International requests for investigation or intervention were submitted – sometimes in surprisingly diplomatic ways. Early May, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, agreed to a proposal by Russia’s human rights ombudsman to form an investigation group.
Cynical reactions to a – most probably – state-sponsored ‘prophylactic sweep’
While Russia has historically been an Orthodox nation, Chechnya’s population is mostly Muslim. This is considered one reason why the Russian President has given his Chechen friends considerable autonomy. Chechen society is generally considered to be extremely conservative with an extremist interpretation of Sharia law, including a specific anti-gay obsession. While not religiously, in this respect Chechnya is well aligned with their big brother, Russia. The political analysis of power in the region clearly suggest that no such incidences could happen in the country without the President at least knowing about it – some say he could have as well initiated the purge in the run-up to the beginning of Ramadan later this May.
Other analysis wonder about the role of Russia as the superior power. It came as no surprise that Chechnya and Russian authorities both denied any knowledge about the arrests – and neither showed any inclination to investigate or let alone stop them. It seemed that instead, the governments were waiting to see if International partners would step up in defence of that particular societal group – or if they would get away with this test case of minority oppression.
Some similarities to Turkey
Such testing is not unusual in autocratic systems and was also applied in the strategy of Turkish President Erdogan. He had started as Prime Minister to test the alertness and reactions to small laws with clear Islamic tendencies. Later, he used unproven terrorist allegation to close down critical media and reduce parliamentary opposition. The still mysterious coup served as a justification to fire or imprison more than 100,000 people. As International reactions kept on being weak, he eventually continued with his road-map towards being a Sultan-type President, towards death penalty and towards other dynamics that we have seen in other countries that had become strongly or extremely Islamic in the past decades. In most of them, oppression of all kinds of minorities is a reality as are poverty and societal strife.
Even small victories are victories
Against such wide-reaching and long-term trends, the disabled community in Bolivia could feel proud. At least they achieved – together with International support – that, according to The Guardian, Bolivian President, Evo Morales, submitted a bill to Congress that would provide a monthly allowance of 250 bolivars (33 EUR) to people with severe and very serious disabilities. To put this in context: it would be roughly half the amount the protestors had requested as a monthly pension and for a larger group of people affected.
However, the move of government makes it implicitly clear that the group of protesters was never intending to undermine the state, but had a justified case. In Russia, Chechnya and Turkey, critics are still faced with allegations that they were enemies of the state or even so-called terrorists, as a justification to take whatever action against them.
The Bolivia video “The Fight”
About the Chechnya case, little robust information is available. This recent news agency article uses survivor sources