In Episode 47 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg speaks with Punnag Tej Hazarika of the Brooklyn-based small-press imprint Coolgrove and affiliated BorderTalk blog, which explores questions of cultural intersection. Among Coolgrove's recent titles is Winged Horse: 76 Assamese Songs, a collection of translated lyrics by Tej's father, Bhupen Hazarika, the "Bard of Brahmaputra," who campaigned through his music for a dignified place in India for the peoples of Assam and other minority ethnicities. Last year, Tej traveled to New Delhi to receive the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, on behalf of his late father. But the honor came with India—and especially Assam and the restive Northeast—on the cusp of exploding into protest over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. The politics of the situation, and the dilemmas of interculturality from Assam to New York, are discussed in a wide-ranging interview. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The only Crimean Tatar TV channel is facing a new threat to its existence—this time not from the Russian occupiers of Crimea, but the Ukrainian authorities. A dramatic cut in state funding for ATR TV has coincided with Kiev's decision to drop Tatar-language services on the state network UATV in favor of a new Russian-language channel to be broadcast into rebel-held territory in Ukraine's heavily Russophone east. ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev reported Jan. 17 that the station has reduced production of its own programming by 90% due to underfunding. He said that of the 35 million hryvnia allocated to the station in Ukraine's 2019 budget, only 15 million had actually been received.
India's northeastern state of Assam has exploded into protest over the Dec. 11 passage of a new national citizenship law. The army has been deployed, a curfew imposed in state capital Guwahati, and internet access cut off. At least five people have been killed as security forces fired on demonstrators. The new law allows religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship. This means it effectively excludes Muslims, and mostly apples to Hindus and Sikhs. Critics of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say it therefore violates India's founding secular principles. But while secularists and Muslims are protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act on this basis elsewhere in India, the biggest protests have been in Assam—motivated by fear that the state will be overrun by an influx from Bangladesh, threatening its cultural and linguistic identity.
Enrique Alberto Servín Herrera, a promoter of indigenous language preservation in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state, was found Oct. 10 slain by a blow to the head at his home in the state capital, Chihuahua City. Authorities have made no arrests, nor named a motive in the attack. Servín Herrera headed the Department of Ethnic Cultures & Diversity at the state Secretariat of Culture, and was especially known for his efforts to help revive and sustain the language of the Tarahumara people. (La Izquierda Diario) The Sierra Tarahumara, homeland of this indigenous people, has been torn by violence related to control of lands by narco-gangs and timber mafias in recent years. Oct. 17 saw the abduction of Cruz Soto Caraveo, an advocate for the thousands displaced from their homes in the Sierra by violence. According to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), 338,000 people were displaced by violence across the country from 2016 to 2018. (La Silla Rota, DF)
Chinese official media (Global Times, Xinhua, China Daily) are making much of a "white paper" issued by the State Council Information Office entitled "Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang," which seeks to deny the national aspirations and even very identity of the Uighur people of China's far western Xinjiang region. It especially takes aim at the "separatism" of the emerging "East Turkistan" movement, asserting that never in history "has Xinjiang been referred to as 'East Turkistan' and there has never been any state known as 'East Turkistan.'" It denies that there has ever been an independent state in what is now the territory of Xinjiang (a name not in use until the 18th century): "Xinjiang was formally included into Chinese territory during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and the central government of all dynasties maintained jurisdiction over the region. The region has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory. Never has it been 'East Turkistan.'" The Turkic roots and identity of the Uigurs are even challenged: "The main ancestors of the Uygurs were the Ouigour people who lived on the Mongolian Plateau during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (581-907) dynasties, and they joined other ethnic groups to resist the oppression and slavery of the Turks."
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the homes of several Crimean Tatars on March 27, officially as part of an investigation of activities linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned as a "terrorist" organization in Russia although operating lawfully in Ukraine. FSB agents carried out at least 25 searches and detained at least 20 people. The searches were conducted in the Crimean capital Simferopol, the nearby village of Strohonivka, and the village of Volodymyrivka in the Bilohirsk district. In Simferopol's Kamyanka district, officers of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs cordoned off the neighborhood and ordered residents who assembled during the operation to disperse. According to reports, residents were not allowed to enter their homes and their lawyers were not permitted to be present during searches.
Taiwan's Council of Indigenous Peoples has signed an agreement with the Pacific Island state of the Marshall Islands aimed at increasing bilateral exchanges to promote Austronesian culture. The agreement seeks to foster cooperation between Taiwan's indigenous communities and the ethnically and linguistically related people of the Marshall Islands, particularly in the fields of language and preservation of traditional wisdom and skills. The agreement, signed last month, coincides with the opening of the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, which acknowledges the critical state of many indigenous tongues, and seeks to promote their protection and use, both at national and international levels.
Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.