Amid low turn-out and a boycott in regions of the country, Algerians approved a new constitution pushed by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in a Nov. 1 referendum. The referendum took place on the anniversary of the start of Algeria's war for independence from France in 1954, with the government adopting the slogan "November 1954: Liberation. November 2020: Change." The preamble to the new charter actually invokes last year's Hirak or "revolution of smiles" protest movement, and the reform was clearly intended as a response to the movement's demands. But in the northeastern Kabylie region, heartland of the country's Amazigh (Berber) people and a bastion of support for the Hirak, demonstrators blocked polling stations to enforce a boycott. In response, election authorities annulled the votes from 63 of the 67 towns in the region.
In Bolivia's eastern lowlands, known as Oriente, the regionally powerful right-wing social networks have responded rapidly to the victory of socialist candidate Luis Arce in the weekend's presidential elections. Hundreds filled the streets of the region's principal city, Santa Cruz, on Oct. 21, and some 5,000 the previous day, waving Bolivian flags, honking car horns and chanting "¡Anulación, Anulación, Anulación!" However, the protesters' accusation that Arce won through "fraud" was explicitly rejected by Manuel González, head of the OAS mission in Bolivia. He said in a statement: "The people voted freely and the result was clear and overwhelming, which gives great legitimacy to the incoming government, the Bolivian institutions, and the electoral process."
Thousands of ethnic Mongolians in the remote north of the People's Republic of China have gathered outside schools to protest a new policy that would restrict the use of their language in the public education system—a rare display of mass discontent. The policy change in Inner Mongolia means all schools in the region will now be required to teach core subjects in Mandarin, mirroring similar moves in Tibet and Xinjiang to assimilate local indigenous peoples. Students have walked out of classes and assembled outside school buildings shouting, "Mongolian is our mother language!" The protests, which have mounted over the past week, have been centered on Tongliao and Ulaanhad municipalities, where hundreds of students and parents have faced off against police.
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."