E |Portfolio - 2014 X E R C I S E I N S T Y L E
Editorial Far from willing to equal Raymond Queneau’ s 99 stories, a portfolio can only be an “exercise in style”. As regard to the current demand for polyvalence in writing, today’s beginning in journalism is a constant gymnastic, jumping from multimedia platforms to social networks. What units all those works is a genuine passion for writing about foreign affairs, whether from one side of the Channel or the other. This portfolio is a tribute to a national champion of brain jogging -but make no mistake, only the style is French.
Manon Grard-Manoukian Bi-diploma student in International Relations (University of Kent, UK) & communication studies (Sciences Po Lille, France). @ManonManoukian.
Mise en abyme Critical reviews: How the news media tell us more about themselves than their subjects.
The writing factory of indifference – another
African story. Don’t expect CNN to have any effect at all.
Features: Behind the banality of an event, the analysis of the process.
A Journey in McLuhan’s world. Democratic Republic of Congo: Plot for peace.
“Exercice de style” One story, three narrations.
The whisper of the Tweeters. 24th of April, 2014. A Daydream carried by an Eastern wind. The Russian rescue of East Ukraine: the inconvenient truths.
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The writing factory of indifference –another African story.
Review : “Central African Republic: Brutal echoes of conflict in Rwanda 20 years ago” By Bouckaert Peter, The Independent, 31/01/2014.
Hot news in The Independent, an African country is in stagnation, the past of his neighbour being his present –or is it really news? The equation in the headline is clear for the Western reader’s mind. Central Africa written next to Rwanda equals crazy bloodbath –the key word here being crazy. Incomprehensible to human reasoning, the civil war shacking the Central African Republic is as barbaric, irrational, and endless as the expected pattern drawn by the media on complex issues. In brief, this article is the perfect recipe for a doom to be dull “African story”. It all begins with the incarnation of innocence itself. “A seven month old baby” is ripped away from his Muslim mother by evil forces according to the scenario described –a mix of “machetes”, “blood”, and madness. As the story unfolds, the moral lines of the picture get blurred. The bad Christians anti-Balaka murderers also turn out to be the victims of the Séléka Muslims groups. No matter who’s the good guy, it is just a “game” for them write the journalist. No words can illustrate more accurately the irrationality of random violence and dehumanized behaviours. No need to write down “tribal” or “beast”, the clichés are already on one’s mind. After pulling us in with a tearful story, here comes the usual speech of detachment. How can the reader identify to such irrational behaviours? There are no clear-cut enemies to target, nor innocents to take side with. How can the reader feel concerned when there is no solution on the table to end this conflict? The spectre of the Rwandan genocide, the so-called failure of the international community to open her eyes on time to stop killings, lingers on this new Gordian knot in the Central African Republic. Another inexplicable hatred between two groups of human beings.
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The journalist must clarify his point. Religion is set as the main explanation of these bellicose behaviours. Not surprising. Simply the most irrational factor falling into the reader’s framework of interpretation. And yet, the war is just as religious as famine is natural. 80% of Séléka are foreign militias joint to secure rich north-eastern material resources. Anti-Balaka bands were created to defend distant villages in the lack of a Leviathan State. The roots are political, but the need for the media to simplify complex issues is commercial, and an increasing trend.
The filter of barbarism has sold enough stories, today’s readers may experience compassion fatigue. It is time to speak of African countries in terms of cultural, political and historical identity. It is time to change the recipe.
Don’t expect CNN to have any effect.
Review: “Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad regime” By Mick Krever & Schams Elwazer, CNN, 22.01.14
On January, the 20th, the Guardian and the American channel CNN released the big news: a Syrian official defector may have provided evidence of government’s butchery with rough images of prisoner corpses similarly beaten, emaciated or strangulated. An occasion to confirm that the CNN effect belongs to the past. You know, this so-called emotion viewers experienced when facing unbearable graphic pictures on mainstream media, this unease feeling pushing them to show off their indignation, eventually leading to a change in world politics? The one that is said to have sent US troops in Somalia and brought them home when pictures of a soldier dragged in Mogadishu’s streets were on CNN. That clout of the media. That power of images. Applied to the Syrian case, there is a counterintuitive answer. The more the story last in the media the more we suffer from compassion fatigue. This reversal effect produces a lack of interest from viewers, no matter how “deadly” and “graphic” has remained the illustration of this civil war. Indeed, the first thing you focus on is the above red label calling for advised viewers. And yet the anchor starts speaking, contextualizing the breaking news; you are missing the 50 most important seconds of the report. Otherwise, it is only “gruesome” pictures. Then begins a clinical description where each photo is examined microscopically by the forensic pathologist. Stringed together platitudes challenge the viewer deductive intelligence. “Possible starvation is a very reasonable cause of death with pictures like that,” says the expert. You bet.
They, somehow, might expect the body to tell us the whole story. The viewer, like a fortune-teller, is may be supposed to read in the closely-screened flesh marks the faith of the three years’ Syrian civil war. Similarly, one may know if the gridlock at the United Nations will be removed by such “evidence of torture”, evidence that conditions Russia’s removal of her veto, evidence that could pave the way for an international humanitarian intervention in Syria. Yet, not even the “internationally renowned war crime prosecutor” invited on the show is able to provide us with answers. Nor does he mention that this report can only be a game-changer in front of the International Court of Justice –where Syrian executives cannot be charged with since the country did not sign the convention. Similarly absent from their news are the Qatari origins of the source, a defector who has addressed to a powerful opponent of the Assad regime. The channel has been offered the privilege to be the first to broadcast the story, but seems to spoil it by context-free and sensationalist information. The glory days of CNN may well be miles away.
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A B Y M How the media tell us more about themselves than their subjects. | E
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A Journey in McLuhan’s World.
On 8 March the documentary Plot for Peace was shown in preview followed by a debate at the University of Kent –the occasion to confirm our new relationship with the media.
Five O’ clock, the screen has turned off. The lights turn on and the eagerly awaited man has taken seat, audience stand up straight on theirs, the water is on the table. Everyone is waiting. But waiting for what? The screen turned on again exhibiting the movie’s promotional Twitter page. This is how it begans. I have just spent three long hours in the Gulbenkian movie theatre to understand how Jean-Yves Ollivier, a French wheeler-dealer hero of shadowy diplomacy, have successfully unravelled the unthinkable: bringing South Africa to sign the end of the forty-six years’ Apartheid regime, securing Namibian independence, conducting the withdrawal of Cuban troops out of Angola and, incidentally, enabled the release of another hero –Nelson Mandela. Nothing more, nothing less. The man, this exceptional human being, stands right before us. A surrealist vision, as if he had just come out of the screen. Such a figure only belongs to fiction, just like secret diplomacy is the subject of thriller novels. The audience’s full attention is concentrated on deciphering his face, seeking to confirm the reality that came up on the screen. Then, suddenly, he speaks.
He speaks but all the students’ heads turn towards the nearer screen. A Twitter page on my left, a memos application on my right. The girl in front is zooming on Jean-Yves Ollivier’s face on the picture she just took. The message from the emitter to the receiver is interrupted by screens. You wouldn’t know whether or not you were in a Black Mirror episode. Reality turns out to be only perceptible through a medium, like if the audience was afraid that their eyes or memory would betray them –
extending their senses to remember, to share. A world like Marshall McLuhan had envisioned. He speaks but I can hardly recognize the narrative speech of the movie’s voice-over. His sentences are short, concise, seeks the punchy phrase that would please the Twitter-addicts. The man next to me is about to hail the speaker and yet feels compelled to run a quick check on the internet before asking his question. Few minutes later, he raised his hand and eventually so did his look. “You build your network while being an international commodity trader, therefore do you pursue private company’s interests to do the greatest good?” His response is stinging. “Contrary to the UN, I only need to be legitimate for the person I am dealing with and not for the Western spectators. I invite you to get the word out on social networks”. After granting a complicit gaze to his smiling marketing manager, with a grin he says, “Mr Jacques don’t have to be held accountable”. A humorous note, as reference to the name African negotiators had arbitrary given him, combined with a provocative note, denying public opinion’s scrutiny whom one part is standing right in front of him. Even more daring when considering there is a public behind the public. His messages are going through the transparent audience of the theatre to find a way in the virtual world. Jean-Yves Olliver is not in interaction with thirty students, but with the world of viewers. In this small theatre, screens are the extension of man. Parallel world, science fiction? No, practice of modern communication.
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Democratic Republic of Congo: Plot for Peace VS Endless Violence. Highly desired by industrial nations, the DRC’s massive reserves of gold, diamonds and minerals essential to the making of electronic devices attract groups capable of technology intensive exploitation. There is undeniably economic benefits out of war.
After 19 years on the ground, the UN troops have not yet put an end to the Civil War shaking the DRC. Who of the peacekeepers or the state is failing?
all the more undermined by the culture of impunity –one step further to distancing the social links between conflict’s factions and communities’ retreat on themselves.
The disengagement of the state in his traditional missions is no secret. Corrupted gatekeepers are Even more, there is capacities to sustain a violent clinging to the few authority left, the economic struggle in the region. The issue is difficult to revenue out of natural resources exploitation. address internationally as regard to the opaque The top of the bureaucratic pyramid can be involvement of the Rwandan government in switched, but the systemic logic remains --the money and weapons supplies to the M23 militias – manipulation of the material benefits of state a rebel force spread across sovereignty. Because their both sides of its border with winning coalition is small (the The DRC is a social and political the DRC. But the supplying so-called “clientelism mirage, a legal fiction maintained government of Paul Kagame networks” protecting the only by international law. passes the buck to political seats in exchange for Congolese officials. He has a share of its wealth) rulers been claiming the need to create informal selfdon’t need to satisfy the masses with investments defence groups like M23 given the lack of in public goods. They have to address selective protection offered to his fellow Tutsi, a Rwandan elites with private gains, from public ethnicity which largely immigrated to Eastern responsibilities to material supply. Hence the Congo on the aftermath of the 1994 genocide by underdevelopment of transports linking distant the Hutu population. communities, education healing conflicts’ scourges for future generations, and impoverished The situation thus highlights the failure of the state territories feeding resentment. to control and regulate conflicts within civil society, if not fuel them. The disunited army, a key to the In this view, the DRC may well be a social and monopole of legitimate violence, reflects the political mirage, a legal fiction maintained only by impotence of the institutions. A crisis of authority international law.
Peacekeepers are turning a blind eye to the local roots of the conflict. In dealing with the Congolese legal authorities, whether by monitoring elections or trying to integrate militia’s soldiers in the national army, the UN mandate overlooked justice and state building in the expense of the local roots of the conflicts. A closer look to North Kivu’s competing communities of Barundi (Tutsi ethnicity who immigrated at the beginning of the 20th century) and Bafuliro (who claim to be native) is a sample of this dynamic. The struggle has focused on the granting of Congolese nationality to immigrants, allowing Barundi access to the position of Mwami (traditional chief), namely the door to control over land resources. Indeed, autochthony is a cultural determinant of power as regard to the 1985 law depriving of this right communities arrived in the territory after 1885. In other words, conflict is locally-driven by the community attachment to the use of land perceived as a source of revenue and collective identity, but also combined with historic mythologies to legitimate their presence. This is why factions are rather shaped by different economic agendas than historic ethnichatred.
What are the UN looking for?
“Peacekeepers overlooked justice and state building in the expense of the local roots of the conflicts.”
“Factions are rather shaped by different economic agendas than historic ethnichatred.”
The inconvenient truth
may be that radical change is unwanted. The “failed state” is not as dysfunctional or useless for society as the “invisible state” theory suggests. The presence of the state, whatever the dysfunctions, matters. In an environment of constant uncertainty, peoples cling to the few fixed benchmarks of public life left. The daily administrative structure is not invisible, all the more so as it provides reassurance of knowing where lies the distribution of power, from traditional chiefs’ appointments to the repartition of land control.
“The inconvenient truth may be that radical change is unwanted.”
The core understanding of the recycling of the state is the habituation of the system. Large parts of the population have participated to the distributive state and, from one hand to another, have also drawn money out of the war economy. Institutions never die, they just become private resources. Hence the Napoleonic adage complying with the will of both Sudanese and Congolese warshattered societies: “Everything must change in order that nothing essential change ».
“Institutions never die, they just become private resources.”
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Exercise In Style. One story, three narrations. Russian invasion of Donetsk, Ukraine, from the inside out.
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The whisper of the Tweeters. 24th of April, 2014.
Agence France Presse @AFP #BREAKING Ukraine launches deadly assault on rebel-held towns. Kiev's use of army in east Ukraine “serious crime against own people”: Putin. JohnMeyfair @JMJ Putin’s endless double-game: blames a government shooting on his protestors but supports Bashar in murdering his civilians #FreeUkraine @AFP Catherine @cathydu38: Invasion of Ukraine keeps going on while the Parliament of Men “harrumphs” behind his screen #ONUsless #Crimea @AFP. Anna B @ana_bc: Eastern wind shaking so-called Free Europe, again. #WinterIsComing #Donetsk. Stanislav@Stas69: Единственное, что они вторгаются является площадь Ленина. Единственное Восточной ветер несет надежды на самоопределение #Donetsk. (Invasion? Only Lenin’s Square then. Eastern wind? Sure, one of selfdetermination.)
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A Daydream carried by an Eastern wind.
East Ukraine: Picture of the nationalistic passions on the eve of People’s Choice.
Anna is a simple woman walking in the steps of her nation’s history. There, in her contemplation of the large but monotone Donetsk’s Lenin square, dozens of indistinguishable men and women are hiding behind their black parkas. The people similar to the trio of very colours flying above their head. White, Blue, Red. The threat of secession is not just confined to the Crimean region. In a tacit agreement, the nostalgic mass is affixed to the man of stone sitting at their centre. Her walk in this gorgon-like petrified landscape is the only thing betraying her existence. One must say that in this home of the ousted President Victor Ianoukovtich the flag flying on the government headquarters has already been replaced twice in two days by the police. Sheltered from the wind in their small and unique tent, Ukrainian believers are praying for the sovereign respect of their territory. The time is now suspended in Lenin’s square. Hence the weary standard-bearers holding on to their glorious metallic sticks as to their sovereign allegiance --or is it just the flying colours that are struggling against the Eastern wind? “I am ready to fight against Kiev and its ‘fascist’ supporters in the West.” A man in a black parka has detached himself from the crowd to respond to a French journalist. Rapidly joined by a fellow, the man is ordered to stop talking and to get rid of the camera. Anna knows it is not just hot air being thrown around. Her friend lost her son on the 14th of March during protests on the very seat where Lenin stood. She blames the memory of the recent events, the shadow of the Maïdan square’s uprising in the capital, the deadly violence of hardliner protestors. This is what she sees in this frozen scene before her. More than a determination from the militants, a stubbornness. To her, Putin is not evil, but the Maïdan’s spirit is.
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Anna speaks Russian and was born in mining town which survives on national the last coal industry. Her husband works guard. The town, once prosperous, was post-Cold War wind; shady entrepreneurs all potential resources. Yet the thought of living is what she still owns is what she fears most.
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Chakhtarsk, a subsidies to fuel there as a security chilled by the having exploited daunting. Losing
Chakhtarsk, thirty miles away from Donetsk, a hundred miles away from the Russian border. The sudden appearance of the reporter’s camera interrupts her deep contemplation. The voice of the journalist brings her back to the present: “In one month you will be consulted by referendum to determine the faith of Donetsk: are you going to vote in favour of joining the Russian Federation or remaining a part of Ukraine?” A zeitgeist. “I haven’t chosen yet.” Despite the endless dancing of flags before her, the resolute stance of the protestors, the overwhelming nationalistic pride, the hopes of ProRussians, the beliefs of ProUkrainians, she leaves the square. Anna is as symbolically present to Lenin’s square as Crimea is to Russia. Here to see and tell, she is a witness of political gesticulations, a witness of the political comedy. Her last thought before leaving:
Donetsk joining the Russian confederation? Maybe a scope for Russia subsidising the coal mining again. She can’t afford the luxury of political opinion, her vote is driven by her dire reality.
The Russian rescue of East Ukraine: The inconvenient truths.
What the West does not want to see and hear.
Putin’s violation of international law: still the shocking old-fashioned invasion? Last February on the 28th, masked Russian armed militias entered Crimea assaulting their neighbours’ official buildings. Yes, legally, it is a violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state and an insolent challenge to the international community. Quite a stir was caused, but it’s the same old tune the West refuses to hear. Back in 2008, the Georgian political distancing from Russian interests created the opportunity for the latter to encourage a massive and violent rebellion of proRussian residents. Quickly repressed by local authorities, the motherland took it upon her duty to protect their fellow Slav brothers against a “criminal government”. Parts of Georgia since then have remained under Putin’s rule. A geopolitical masquerade that has been in place since 1992. Indeed, the Moldavian self-proclaimed Transnitria is as Russian as Crimea today –de facto, not de jure. The West have just turned a blind eye to Russia’s will to expand. The strategy is archaic, but the opportunity is very present and likely to occur again if the international community does not decide to make the Ukraine “invasion” a strong case.
Russia retakes the upper hand: is the Cold War order back? The impotent United Nations gnashes its teeth while the imperturbable Russian member continues to annex satellite territories. Crimea first, Donetsk, Slavyansk and Lougansk, one after the other, each region falls under the Russian clout like dominos and no one is there to contain them. John Foster Dulles must be turning in his grave.
economically and military weaker nations. What could be better than a Ukraine losing ground and showing to anyone that help won’t come from the West?
Despite this very likely future, the Russians remain Cold War’s losers. A defeat is never trifling. The USSR, once competitive, has petered out its economic potential before imploding. Its legacy is a survival economy depending on gas exportations and a privileged, but today unjustified, executive seat at the Parliament of Man (the UN). Not to mention that American technologies have far exceeded today’s Russian capacities.
Europeans are not likely to further economic sanctions beyond the gesticulation of liberal ideas –wheat and old mines do not justify a physical demonstration. Humanitarian interventions have a cost, and Russia is keen to show that Western moral concerns are bogus. Realpolitik is the winner. Thus, Putin’s annexation routine is nothing but a first-class spanking to the Western winners. Russia shows she still have power, exactly like when she imposed her veto on the Syrian issue.
In this view, there is not much room for Russia to regain her lost power. If it cannot be shaped domestically, it has to be reflected outside its borders on the back of
Moscow’s diplomacy is bold and challenging as it manages to occult that it does not change the global balance of power.
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Putin’s marionettes make the show, but do Ukrainians want to be Russian? Four Eastern towns will soon offer citizens the choice to reaffirm their allegiance to the state of Ukraine or claim independence. The organisation of a referendum is tricky. As a conventional way to legitimately solve the conflict of governance, it might also be a democratic masquerade in the absence of a real public sphere. The last pro-Ukrainian channel has been forced to close due to threats and muscular intervention. Lacking unbiased and pluralistic information, people are either ideologically imbricated or uncertain about the economic potential of Western help. As a matter of fact, there are more indecisive voters in East Ukraine than decided citizens –a position lately embodied by the minority of hardliner protestors, pro-Russian as well as nationalists. A majority of Eastern Ukrainians are not against joining the Russian federation yet the main reason may not be ideological but economic.
A protest for democracy in Ukraine suddenly turned out to be a bothering opportunity seized by Putin to expand his demonstration of power at the expense of the West’s own failures. The inconvenient truths lie in the primacy of realpolitik and economic crisis rather than a claim for liberal ideas. Putin, villain regarding international law yet a hero when responding to the cry of hopes of the peoples we, Europeans, don’t want to listen to. The most uncomfortable truth may be that Putin is succeeding in raising hopes and pride amongst his own –a domestic failure of the Western powers.
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