I thought it might also be useful to provide a glossary pertaining to dark tourism offering explanatory entries for a number of technical terms, people, historical events, etc. – but not of destinations as such, as those are listed in the dark tourism
section, in lists
, according to categories
(and everything is also captured in the index
This glossary is a work-in-progress – that is to say that some entries may still lack the explanatory text, or it may still be just a brief stub. I'm constantly working on the relevant extensions, so please bear with me. Other entries you may hope to find here are possibly absent altogether (for suggestions of amendments contact me
). In many cases the index
may help tracking down explanations or comments relating to a given term/person/event that may be integrated into an entry for a certain place rather than being elaborated on here in the glossary.
To aid navigation within the glossary, the letters of the alphabet can be jumped to directly via this bar:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P
Q R S T U V W
X Y Z
– the date, in American writing (i.e. 11th of September in the British notation), of the terrorist
attacks on the USA
(the first of such a scale ever to target the country at home) in which hijackers used four passenger planes in suicide missions. Two of these hit the World Trade Center in New York
, killing over 2600 (plus the people on board the two planes). The site of the collapsed twin towers of the WTC – commonly referred to as "Ground Zero
" – has since been a site of pilgrimage (and now also of a premier museum about 9/11
). One of the other planes hit the Pentagon
near Washington D.C.
(killing another ca. 200 people), the fourth one went down in a field at Shanksville, Pennsylvania – i.e. without hitting any target (what the target could have been remains a matter of speculation, some think the White House, others the Capitol, but there's no way of knowing). It is assumed that the passengers, having received news of what was happening in New York, tried to overpower the hijackers, rather crashing the plane than allowing it to hit another target. Even though it's not been fully clarified how this really happened, hero-loving America worships this as an act of heroic self-sacrifice (while at the same time calling the terrorists' self-sacrifice "cowardly"). The enormous tragedy of 9/11, often seen as having changed the world, was subsequently exploited by the Bush administration to whip through all manner of toughened legislation (including the infamous "Patriot Act") and even in justifying their Iraq war (even though there never had been any connection between Iraq and 9/11 other than what the US propaganda at the time had made up). The term "9/11" has even come to be used generically, metaphorically: e.g. the co-ordinated bombings of the London
tube and buses on 7 July 2005 have been referred to as "Britain's 9/11" (or, in analogy, as "7/7"), just as the November 2008 attacks on a Mumbai hotel as "India
There have also been other real September 11ths in history that were of deeply dark significance, such as that in the year 1973 in Chile
, the day the military coup against President Allende
took place, which marked the beginning of the 17 year long dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet
– acronym for Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, the official name for the most infamous death squads during the "Dirty War" in Argentina
under its military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
– chemical defoliant that was widely used in the Vietnam War
, originally to clear the view for attacks e.g. on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
, but secondarily also to harm the food supply in Vietnam. After-effects such as birth defects have haunted the country for decades and to a degree still do so. This use of chemicals in war is considered by some to constitute a war crime.
– acronym for 'Armia Krajowa', the Polish underground resistance army during the German occupation of the country in WWII. (>Warsaw Uprising Museum
– former president of Chile
, full name: Salvador Allende Gossens, born 26 June 1908. Allende was the first socialist
leader of a South American country who became president in free, democratic elections, namely in 1970. His programmes of social reform and in particular that of nationalization of key industries, however popular with the ordinary populace, made him an enemy for the right and created a rift in the country's population. With the aid of the CIA
(due to the USA
's paranoid fear of communism
and the alleged risk of a "domino effect"), the Chilean military under General Augusto Pinochet
staged a coup against Allende on 9 September 1973, involving military aircraft bombing the presidential palace La Moneda in Santiago de Chile
. While under attack, Allende gave his final speech over the radio while he still could … already aware (and indicating so) that he would not survive the day. And indeed, he didn't. Whether he did in fact commit suicide rather than risk being captured or whether he was killed by the military was long a controversial question. Meanwhile, however, the suicide theory has more or less been confirmed. See also Cementerio general
– euphemistic term (from the German verb "anschließen" meaning 'to join' or 'link up with') for the annexation of Austria
by Nazi Germany
in March 1938. It was the first in a series of de facto expansions of the Third Reich
, followed not much later by the annexation of the Czech
Sudetenland and eventually leading to WWII
with Germany's invasion of Poland
, who was born in Austria
, propagandistically regarded the Anschluss as a "return" of his "Heimat" ('home country') into the German Reich. In fact, not few Austrians welcomed the move … and the Nazi troops marching into their territory. Hitler himself gave a speech to a cheering crowd on Vienna
's Heldenplatz to celebrate the occasion. Austria had thus ceased to exist as an independent state … and so it remained until after WWII, when Austria was partitioned into Allied occupied zones separately from Germany (and for much longer – Austria
regained full independence as a neutral state only in 1955).
– Afrikaans for "separateness", the term for the policy of racial segregation in South Africa
until the early 1990s, and widely regarded as one of the most vile chapters in the second half of the 20th century's dark history. Of course, there had been racial segregation elsewhere, not least in the USA
until the 1960s (and in part beyond – to a degree to this day, though no longer official policy), but what made South Africa stand out so much, was that its white power elite minority continued to stubbornly cling on to this archaic craziness long after the rest of the civilized world had long overcome it. It also pursued racial discrimination with a zeal, brutality and police state methods that are totally incomprehensible, esp. today. This didn't even change much as the country became increasingly isolated as a result of boycotts and criticism from outside. Change came largely from within, in particular associated with the name Nelson Mandela, and fortunately, apartheid is in the trash bin of history now (although that doesn't mean South Africa is now free of problems – far from it). And for the dark tourist it left some sites of special interest, first and foremost, Robben Island
) – literally "father of all Turks", an honorary designation for the founder of modern Turkey
(in 1923), whose real name was Mustafa Kemal (born in 1881). After having achieved the status of a war hero (cf. Gallipoli
) he led the country into independence and modernity, with a strict division of religion from a secular state, equal rights (on paper) for women, education for everyone, etc., etc. – he died in 1938 but is still THE national hero of the country, his portrait hangs in every public building (verging on a kind of cult of personality), and his mausoleum in Ankara (Anitkabir) is one of the grandest in the world.
– a weapon of mass destruction, and the most powerful sort. It was used only twice, with devastating effects (see Hiroshima
) but was the core of the policy of M.A.D.
during the Cold War
– when nuclear testing
showed even greater apocalyptic destruction potentials. (The Soviet "Tsar Bomba" – cf. Kremlin
– alone had ten times the explosive power of all explosives used in WWII put together, including the two atom bombs used by the USA
"The Bomb" is still the main means of deterrence and political muscle flexing, be it the established nuclear powers (esp. the USA and Russia
) or the "rogue" ones aspiring to join the club, like North Korea
or Iran. See also categories of dark tourism
>nuclear tourism, and dark destinations ordered by categories
– the main heavy bomber of the USA
throughout the Cold War
(and beyond), a massive machine, propelled by eight jet engines, and capable of delivering large payloads of weapons, including nuclear bombs over great distances. B-52s delivered a large proportion of the carpet bombing devastation in Vietnam
(operating typically out of Okinawa
), and some were also used in the two US-led wars in Iraq. The B-52 has become an icon of American firepower more than any other single piece of war machinery – thus also a particularly dark symbol. (Much more humour, on the other hand, is expressed in the music by the band of the same name, "the B-52's"!) A certain number of B-52 bombers, although basically a 1950s design, remain in service to this day. Many others have or are being scrapped (see AMARG
– a descriptive term used here to refer collectively to the mausoleums
of the "Great Leaders" of communism
, namely (in chronological order): 1) Lenin
), 2) Ho Chi Minh
), 3) Mao
(in Beijing, China
), and 4) Kim Il Sung
, North Korea
). All four have in common that you can see the actual body of the great dead one for real, embalmed and preserved "for posterity" on public display (even if access may be restricted and/or tricky). This makes them different from other final resting places of great leading figures, some of whom may otherwise have been allocated grand temples but no glass coffin (e.g. Atatürk
), while some may only have been granted humble "pauper's graves" (such as Ceausescu
's in Bucharest
). The collective term was chosen, deliberately playfully, in loose allusion to the "Big 5", i.e. those large wild animals that formerly hunters, now tourists are/were primarily after on African safaris, namely elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. They are the "big shots" – formerly by gun, today by camera. (A fellow traveller in North Korea
, after having seen the most inaccessible of the Big 4, Kim Il Sung, as her final No.4, used the expression "Grand Slam" for this feat. That's of course an allusion to the world's four great tennis tournaments. Though this gets the figures right I still prefer the allusion to the "big shots" even if it misses the numerical aim by one.).
Visiting such mausoleums is part of dark tourism for two reasons: firstly, the connection with death is obvious, and secondly it's part of the special niche of cult-of-personality tourism
. See also categories of dark tourism
and dark destinations ordered by category
– one of the most prominent survivors of the death camp Sobibor
, and before that of Izbica, a small village and transit station for the Operation Reinhard
deportations. Blatt, born in Izbica
in 1927, helped in the documentation of the atrocities at the hands of the Nazis, wrote books about it, helped track down Izbica Gestapo
chief Kurt Engels
, and famously even interviewed one of the Sobibor perpetrators, Karl Frenzel. Blatt emigrated to the USA
where he still lives.
– term for the enormous death toll during the reign of the Khmer Rouge
under Pol Pot
between 1975 and 1979, who sought to create an utopian agrarian society of "new people". To this end intellectuals were interned and executed, and all city dwellers were evicted from their homes and everybody subjected to forced labour in collectives in the countryside (esp. growing rice). Malnutrition and the complete absence of medical services meant that millions died. In addition the Khmer Rouge also tortured scores of suspected "enemies"/"traitors" and actively slaughtered masses of people for the smallest of reasons (or none at all) in the infamous "killing fields
". It is reckoned that between 1.5 and 2.5 million, i.e. up to (or even exceeding) a quarter of the entire population died in this 'auto-genocide', which is thus one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed in world history.
= Centro Clandestino de Detencion, Tortura y Exterminio, 'clandestine detention, torture and execution centre – see esp. under Buenos Aires
– wife of former dictator of Romania
. She had enormous powers herself and functioned as something like a parallel dictator (some said she was the driving force behind Nicolae). She was executed together with her husband on Christmas Day 1989 (see Romanian revolution of 1989
– (1918 – 1989) communist dictator of Romania
and one of the most eccentric tyrants in the Eastern Bloc
(or anywhere). Not only did he starve his own country's population through extreme rationing (in an effort to pay off all foreign debt), maintained a police state through the Securitate
, while he and his wife Elena were the subject of an over-the-top cult of personality, he also had megalomaniacal architectural ambitions. To fulfil these, he had whole villages wiped out as well as about a fifth of old Bucharest bulldozed to make way for a North-Korean
-inspired housing scheme and, most eccentric of it all: the Palace of Parliament
. In the West he was held in comparatively rather high regard for a while, mainly because he refused to participate in the violent crushing of the Prague Spring in the CSSR
by Warsaw Pact
troops. In the Romanian revolution of 1989
he and his wife were driven out of power and shortly after tried, sentenced and executed under somewhat dubious circumstances by the new powers that were to be.
– short for 'Central Intelligence Agency' – the legendary secret service of the USA
. Its various operations are as fabled as they are controversial, often very much so – from engineering Pinochet's coup against Allende in Chile
in 1973 to the covert abductions of terror suspects to Guantanamo (Cuba
) in more recent years.
– aka global warming
, is hardly doubted by anybody anymore to be the consequence of one of human civilization's biggest influences on the Earth's biosphere – and hence potentially the biggest challenge for this civilization to deal with in all its history. Basically, accumulated emissions of so-called greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, methane from cattle, etc.) in the atmosphere cause a rise in global temperatures. The problem is not just that it's getting warmer, deserts are spreading, and glaciers and the polar icecaps are melting away causing in turn a rise in ocean levels. All these things are just symptoms that cannot be addressed in isolation, e.g. by trying to switch to "green energy" and other reductive efforts to curb greenhouse emissions (usually far too little to make any difference globally anyway). The core problem is two-fold: a) overpopulation
(quantitative) and b) human impact on the environment per capita (qualitative). Resources are depleted at a non-sustainable level, that's the resultant consequence – and it's getting worse (especially with the growing hunger for energy and First World lifestyles in countries like China
). Climate change is one of the crucial indicators of this imbalance … another is the extinction rates of species all over the world … Now, eventually, we too, i.e. humankind, will go on that list of extinct species. That much is unavoidable. The question is when that will be and to what degree it will be our own fault. Until then, why our decisions still matter, it is in our hands to prevent ourselves from becoming extinct prematurely. And don't indulge in fantasizing about the science fiction of colonizing other planets instead of our own one. That's ludicrously improbable. Ultimately, we have nowhere else to go – see Easter Island paradigm
Public awareness of all this is growing. That's a start. Hence, climate change is a term widely used and discussed all over the world. However, the impact on politics beyond the usual lip service and grand but empty declarations of willingness to do something, is depressingly minimal. The regularly held 'climate conferences/summits' are no more than show – big words, next to zero action. By default, economic considerations always override environmental ones. But don't just blame capitalism … OK do! … but do not only
blame capitalism. After all, the communist
systems of the Eastern Bloc
were no better at protecting the environment, if anything they were far worse! (Just think of the Aral Sea
, Nikel near Murmansk
, etc., etc. …)
So if politics remains hopeless, what can we do as individuals? Well, try to reduce our impact. How? There are many suggestions, some simple ones include: avoid eating meat and dairy products (meat production has a worse impact on the climate than all air or car traffic put together!), conserve energy, don't add disproportionately to overpopulation
… and: try to reduce your "carbon footprint" through travelling (especially by air or as single person in cars); e.g. give preference to train travel, and if you have to drive, don't use SUVs or other unnecessarily oversized gas-guzzlers; don't go on cruises (cruise ships are the worst means of transport from an environmental perspective). Only when it comes to flying, we have little choice over what type of plane to use – it's the airlines' decision (however, many now offer carbon offset programmes – use them!). Otherwise, we can only fly less altogether. Now this is obviously a big spanner in the works of a site such as this that is promoting
travel. But that does not have to mean irresponsible travel. See the separate section on travel and environmental issues
for more on this.
The flip side of all this depressing stuff is: it even adds
to dark tourism! There are now tours offered in South America, Switzerland, Canada and elsewhere that actually look at the already visible effects of climate change. In Switzerland
, for instance, you can go hiking on marked "climate trails" in the Alps (around Grindelwald) where information panels and access points for smart phones enlighten visitors about the various aspects in which the region is being affected by global warming (melting glaciers and permafrost, and the resulting rockfalls, floods, etc.). On this website, the entry about the shrinking Pasterze
glacier in Austria
serves as a (representative) example of this new niche of what you might call "climate change tourism". But hold on … isn't that totally perverse? First we cause climate change and than we travel to see the catastrophic effects of it – just like we gawp at Roman ruins?!? Not quite. As so often with dark tourism, that sort of moral-panic-guided interpretation is only possible on too superficial a first glance. In reality, like with visiting memorials to genocide or such dark sites, this type of travel is primarily educational
. The reasoning is: if tourist go and see the effects of climate change with their own two eyes, maybe they think more about what they as individuals can do to curb it. The hope is feeble, I know. But it's not a morally despicable type of tourist activity, and that's the main point here. What is far worse, both morally and with regard to the environment, are some forms of mainstream tourism – planeloads of sun worshippers flying halfway around the globe only to bask on beaches in some Third World country, whose environment they thus strain disproportionately further (and usually without even engaging with that country, its culture, nature, history, etc.). If you want to point an accusing finger at dark tourism, do not spare those far worse forms of tourism.
But back to climate change and our outlook. It's an immensely complicated topic, and this website cannot hope to do more than just indicate the core issues and offer some basic ideas. To those who want to delve deeper into this and try and understand it in the context of human history at large, I recommend the book "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. This too has a section at the end about tips as to what one can do as an individual. And despite its dramatic title, the book does not end on a totally negative, pessimistic note!
– metaphorical label for the period of confrontation between the West (NATO
) and the communist
East (Warsaw Pact
) and their respective superpowers the USA
and the Soviet Union
. It lasted from shortly after WWII
until the late 1980s/early 1990s, when the Eastern Bloc
collapsed. In between, both sides engaged in an arms race of previously unknown proportions. In particular the amassed nuclear arsenals on both sides posed a real threat of mutual destruction (M.A.D.
), which could have meant the end of humanity or at least civilization as we know it. The Cold War is called "cold", because it remained only a threat, as long as the concept of deterrence worked, without any actual exchanges of "hot" fire. However, in the so-called "proxy wars
", e.g. in Vietnam
, the Cold War did have its literally "hot" phases too (though fortunately never with nuclear weapons). Only metaphorically "hotter" phases of particular high tensions were the early nuclear sabre rattling through atmospheric atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and early 60s, the Cuba
crisis of 1962, and the period of 1979 and the early 1980s – with an increased arms race driven by the USA
under Ronald Reagan. It was made especially complicated and dangerous through the advent of a new type of medium-range nuclear missile (esp. the Soviet SS-20 and the US Pershing II), which shortened the early warning times from the 30 or so minutes ICBM
s allowed for to a mere few minutes, which massively increased the risk of nuclear war breaking out accidentally. However, with the new man in the Kremlin
, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union
turned to a policy of ending the arms race and achieving real disarmament. And indeed, from ca. 1986 progress was made. The new missiles were dismantled from 1987 (completed in 1991), and further arms reduction treaties were signed (see START
). Since the collapse of communist rule in the Eastern Bloc
and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact
in 1991 the Cold War was considered over. Recently, however, there has been talk of a "new Cold War" in the verbal sabre rattling between Russia
and the USA
in the wake of the Russian intervention in the Georgia
crisis in August 2008, and especially since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing support for the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine
– a term borrowed here from Lennon/Foley's "Dark Tourism"
, the first standard academic book
on the topic. The term refers to the ways in which a site's management presents it to and develops it for visitors. Especially, of course, if a site is run as an independent business (not state-funded), the site's dark "story" and whatever it may have for today's visitor to see and experience, are the "commodity" that the business "sells" – in order to make a profit. Such sites don't only usually charge higher admission fees, they also try to more directly cater to visitors' expectations, needs, desires (see e.g. the Warsaw Uprising Museum
, or Hamburg's BallinStadt
). At this point there can be a fine line between commodification and commercialization …
But even when it's less commercially driven, the way a site commodifies its assets for visitors can be crucial – and controversial. This is, obviously enough, particularly so at extremely sensitive sites such as concentration camp
memorials. There has been a long and ongoing debate, for instance, as to how exactly Auschwitz
was, is or should be commodified.
At yet other sites, commodification is less important and/or expected, e.g. at natural sites such as volcanoes – although even in such a case, some significant commodification and downright commercalization can be observed, for instance at Mt Aso in Japa
n, where there are not only shopping mall-sized complexes of souvenir shops but also a cable car, signage, concrete shelter bunkers (in case the volcano suddenly misbehaves), railings by the viewing platform … and more souvenir vendors. In Iceland
, in contrast, some volcanic sites are only minimally commodified if at all.
When it comes to presenting dark sites, i.e. sites of death, disaster, atrocities and mourning, to visitors (i.e. us dark tourists), then the way commodification is done and to what degree is also a quality gauge. This partly feeds into the star ratings
given here too, and to a lesser degree also into the darkometer
Some aspects of commodification will always remain down to personal tastes and attitudes, though. Some people will take issue with some dark sites being commodified at all. Omissions or historically dubious presentations can also outrage some visitors more than others – e.g. the controversial Yushukan war museum at Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine
, which is plainly and squarely revisionist, will anger some visitors, such as Koreans or Chinese more, esp. if they're not prepared for what they will get here. I was and therefore my expectations were met – and even though I do not condone the slanted descriptions of history to be seen here, you have to acknowledge that, technically, and in terms of presentation, the museum isn't bad! In fact, the very dodgy politics of the museum can add to its dark attraction – provided you know how to take it! Similarly complex issues are at work when visiting places such as North Korea
, or appreciating the rather stunningly glorifying Stalin Museum in Gori
. An extreme style of commodification thus doesn't necessarily have to mean bad, at least not for all visitors. On the other hand, lack of (or even totally absent) commodification where it would have been necessary obviously docks marks in the quality gauge.
– very, very basically: the "opposite" of capitalism, namely the idea of achieving a just society through equality, where everything is owned by everyone, esp. the means of production (as opposed to being in the hands of a few rich capital-owners). Sounds good on paper, but in practice has proven to routinely lead to dictatorships. The first country that delved into the "communist experiment" was the Soviet Union
, founded after the Russian Revolution led by Lenin
. While it did improve the situation for the working masses (a favourite word in communism lingo), it didn't take long for the dark sides of communism to rear their ugly heads, when the one-party rule drifted into abuse of power, repression and persecution. Under Lenin's successor Stalin
, communism showed its ugliest face, with purges, deportations, gulags
and cult of personality that was practically the absolute antithesis of the original communist idea of egalitarianism and equality. Nevertheless, communism spread to many countries and did also have its successes, esp. in lifting formerly backward countries into the modern age, not just in Russia
and the Eastern Bloc
, but also e.g. in China
or North Korea
under Kim Il Sung
. Economically, however, communism turned out to be too inefficient in the longer term, so the population suffered not only from the lack of freedom but also from a lack of goods. By the 1980s internal resistance was growing in many communist countries, esp. in Poland
, where the Solidarnosc
movement spelled the beginning of the end for European communism. Things got dramatic in the period between 1989 and 1991, when one by one the Eastern European countries overthrew their communist regimes, some surprisingly peacefully, as in the GDR
or the CSSR
, some less so (e.g. Romania
). The Soviet Union
finally broke up in 1991. Elsewhere, communism is either nominally still state policy, while economically it has been replaced by hyper-capitalism, esp. in China
, or still staunchly adhered to in its old form, in particular in North Korea
(cf. >death camp
) – large prison compounds in which some regime's "enemies" are interned en masse, hence "concentrated". The inmates are usually civilians and especially political prisoners. The concept is mostly associated with Nazi Germany
, but it's not a German invention! The colonial powers used similar prison compounds and the actual term 'concentration camp' was first introduced by Great Britain
to refer to their detention camps during the Boer War in South Africa
. However, these days, and especially in terms of dark tourism, it is mainly the Nazi camps that are of note:
; >Maly Trostenets
; Plaszow: >Krakow
– short for 'Czechoslovak Socialist Republic', or just Czechoslovakia – the former communist
satellite state within the Soviet
sphere of influence (Eastern Bloc
) - which the Soviets reinstated in no uncertain terms when they had Warsaw Pact
troops invade the country to end the Prague Spring
, an attempt at "communism with a human face". After the Velvet Revolution
of 1989, which finally ended the communist period for good, the country split again into the two independent states of Slovakia
and the Czech Republic
– also 'Operation Overlord', the code name for the landing operations of the WWII
Allies in Normandy
, in Nazi
, in June 1944 to begin the invasion of the Third Reich
from the west.
– not to be equated with >concentration camp
, death camps are/were pure killing factories, i.e. not for detention of the victims but places for their systematic murder, hence the alternate term 'extermination camp'. The most notorious such places were the purpose-built three camps of Operation Reinhard
during the 'final solution' phase of the Holocaust: >Belzec
; and >Treblinka
had a dual function of death camp and concentration camp, so they are usually subsumed under this category too. >Chelmno
and >Maly Trostenets
are often included as well (occasionally also a few further camps).
– in general a term used to refer to situations when prisoners, deportees, refugees, POWS, or other captives are forced on long marches on foot without adequate provisions of food and water and usually accompanied by brutal abuse, death threats and routine, on-the-spot executions. Death marches had occurred throughout human history, but the term is mostly associated with WWII
and the Holocaust
. When Nazi Germany
was losing the war and enemy forces (in particular the Soviet Union
's Red Army) were getting close, the concentration camps
close to the encroaching frontline were "evacuated", i.e. all inmates who were just about still able to walk were forced on long death marches to areas further inside the Third Reich
's territory not yet under threat of being conquered. Many died from exhaustion or were shot along the way because they were unable to keep up. Those who made it to other concentration camps (e.g. Bergen-Belsen
) added to these camps' overcrowding – so that conditions worsened there and still more died (cf. Anne Frank
Other examples of death marches include those of Allied POWs in the Pacific
war, in particular the infamous Bataan death march in the Philippines
, one of the best-known war crimes committed by Japan
(cf. also Death Railway
The Armenian genocide
also involved death marches – namely into the desert (of today's Syria). In this case it can even be seen as the main method of the genocide, since most of the victims died on these desert marches rather than being killed in their home towns and villages.
The forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in the early stages of the Cambodian genocide
is also sometimes referred to as a death march.
– short for 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea' – the official name of North Korea
. As usual in such staunchly communist
states, the component "democratic" in the name doesn't actually have any real meaning (cf. GDR
) – legendary literary character of an aristocratic vampire; largely the product of the imagination of Victorian British author Bram Stoker, although he very loosely based the figure on the historically real Vlad Tepes. The Dracula myth has become so ingrained in popular imagination, esp. through modern media, that it sparked a kind of specialized type of dark tourism too (thus, even though based on a fictional character it can count as dark tourism all the same – cf. the concept of dark tourism), namely travelling to sites allegedly linked in some way to the "real Dracula" Vlad Tepes, which is being exploited in Romania
, esp. at Bran Castle
(cf. also Bucharest
Easter Island paradigm
– a term sometimes applied to the fate of the ancient civilization on Easter Island
, or rather the principles/mechanisms behind it, as it developed from self-sufficiency via overpopulation
and environmental destruction (complete deforestation, hunting successive animal species to extinction for food) to eventual societal collapse (including even cannibalism). This microcosm example of a human society's self-destruction is sometimes seen as a warning for civilization at large, as similar developments are observable on a global scale. It is precisely for this reason that Easter Island is listed here as a dark tourism destination. See also climate change
– collective term for the states dominated by the Soviet Union
during the Cold War
era. It comprised the members of the Warsaw Pact
, who nominally left the Bloc but remained part of the communist
world. Other communist countries outside Europe, in particular China
are sometimes implied in the usage of the term, but in the stricter sense were/are not part of it.
– a prime example of what in German is called a "Schreibtischtäter" (literally 'desk perpetrator'), i.e. a bureaucratic organizer of a crime, as opposed to one actually committing it physically. In this case the crime in question is the biggest one ever committed: the systematic extermination of European Jewry in the Holocaust
. Eichmann's role (as a mid-level Nazi officer) in the organization of this genocide included taking the minutes at the Wannsee Conference
and then writing them up to the specifications given by Reinhard Heydrich. This bureaucratic procedure was the starting gun for the 'final solution' (see Operation Reinhard
). Before that Eichmann had already been in charge of the persecution of Jews in Austria
following the "Anschluss
". And in the later stages of WWII
he organized the deportations of Hungary
's Jews (see Holocaust Memorial Centre
). After WWII, Eichmann managed to flee to Argentina
where he built a new life for himself under a false name. However, he was discovered and later captured, "abducted" by special agents of Israel
's intelligence service Mossad in 1960 and brought to trial in Jerusalem
. This was the highest-profile court case against a key figure of the Nazis since the Nuremberg
trials. During the trial in Jerusalem (which was recorded and even broadcast live to an international audience), Eichmann showed no remorse and revealed to the full his bureaucratic mindset as a "Schreibtischtäter" (it has been referred to as the "banality of evil"). Seeing the footage from the trial today is still a very chilling experience. He may indeed have been genuinely convinced that he was innocent … simply because he may never actually have killed anybody with his own hands, and all he did in the organization of the Holocaust
was "follow orders" (although in the interrogations he apparently did let on that, while he considered himself legally 'not guilty', he still was guilty on a personal level). Anyway, the outcome of the trial was as could only have been expected: he was sentenced to death, and after the rejection of various appeals and Eichmann's own petition for mercy, he was executed by hanging on 31 May 1962. His body was then cremated and the ashes scattered over the Mediterranean Sea.
('Action Groups') – mobile killing units, or death squads, of the SS (esp. the SD – "Sicherheitsdienst", 'security service') during the Nazi reign of terror before and during WWII. Initially, their targets were rather political "enemies", later during the advances of the German
Wehrmacht into the East, their task involved mass executions and massacres of rounded up Jews in whatever new area was conquered. They were thus the first large-scale forms of the Holocaust in the occupied territories. Extreme examples of such massacres were Babi Yar near Kiev
, and Ponary
. Despite the large scale of the killings by mass shootings, they were felt by the Nazi leadership to be too inefficient (it was also feared that endless active killings by shooting would have a negative effect on the soldiers carrying them out). So the full-scale "industrialized" murder in the death camps
was devised instead (cf. in particular Operation Reinhard
) as the "final solution" – gassing took over as the main method of mass murder on an unprecedented scale. And the mobile Einsatzgruppen's activities declined significantly. At the end of the war, none were left. Captured commanders of some of the Einsatzgruppen were tried in a special trial at Nuremberg
and many of these sentenced to death and hanged. However, the vast majority of the perpetrators, as usual, got away with it and were never found or held responsible.
– 1879-1955; probably the most famous theoretical physicist of all time, the discoverer of relativity and a pioneer of nuclear science (the best-known formula of physics in popular awareness, E = mc2, was part of his work). As such he is of relevance to the context of dark tourism too, of course. In fact, he took an active role in pushing for the USA
's developing of an atomic bomb … before Nazi Germany
could (as a Jew, Einstein himself had had to flee Europe to escape persecution and the Holocaust
and settled in the USA
). Later, however, he became an outspoken critic of the use of the atomic bomb
and (together with Bertrand Russell) campaigned against the nuclear arms race in the unfolding Cold War
chief of Izbica
in eastern Poland
during the Nazis' Holocaust in WWII. Tracked down after the war by famous Sobibor
survivor Thomas Blatt
. Engels was responsible not only for countless deaths but also for the unique desecration of Jewish gravestones by using them in the building of a prison wall in Izbica. Before being sentenced he committed suicide in Hamburg's remand prison on 31 December 1958.
– a type of bunker designed not so much to protect its occupants from direct (atomic) bomb hits but from the radioactive particles that rain down from the sky after an atomic bomb
's mushroom cloud has dispersed. The main design question with these types of bunkers was a) how well sealed off from the outside environment they were and b) for how long the life-support systems, fuel supplies and food & drink provisions would last to keep the people inside the bunker alive. Still, the general question remains: what would survivors of a nuclear Third World War
have found outside if eventually they crawled back out to the Earth's surface after 4, 6, 8 , 12, 36 weeks or whatever? Cf. Greenbrier
, Hack Green
, etc. and see dark destinations ordered by category
– German word for 'anti-aircraft gun towers'; they're actually gigantic bunkers, built by the Nazis during WWII in a (rather feeble) effort to protect large cities of the Third Reich (Berlin
) from the Allied bombing raids, esp. from 1943 onwards. The towers come in pairs: one was for the actual guns, the other for the searchlights – as the Allied bombings of cities tended to take place at night (see also Dresden
). The surviving towers still dominate their surroundings and exude a strangely grim but impressive atmosphere (see esp. Vienna
– a Jewish girl who as a teenager had to go into hiding with her family in Amsterdam
during WWII in order to escape the Holocaust. They were found by the Nazis, however, and deported to Auschwitz
, later also to other camps. Anne Frank died in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen
shortly before it was liberated. She recorded her time in hiding (and in part the time before) in a vividly written diary, which her father (the sole survivor of the family) found after the War and later published in an abridged form. The book became a worldwide best-seller (cf. Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
– short for 'Federal Republic of Germany
', official name of first West Germany from 1949. Since the dissolution of the East German GDR
and reunification of the country in 1990, FRG has been the official name of united Germany
– short for 'German Democratic Republic', the official name of East Germany
, which was part of the Warsaw Pact
, i.e. an ally of the Soviet Union
in the Eastern Bloc
– until the latter began to fall apart in 1989. In the process of German reunification, the GDR was dissolved. That means it's the only former Eastern Bloc country that completely ceased to exist, having been incorporated into another Western state (the FRG
). In all other cases in the former Eastern Bloc, successor states formed (sometimes even more than one – as with the former CSSR
splitting into Slovakia and the Czech Republic
). The complete demise of the GDR is regretted by some (who would have preferred some kind of alliance instead between two independent German states) and has given rise to "Ostalgie", a kind of nostalgic reminiscence about all kinds of cultural traits and remnants of the ex-GDR.
– French term, also used in English as a loan word, to designate the perpetrators (and planners) of the Rwandan genocide
of Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus (cf. Rwanda
– most literally: the murder of an entire people (cf. 'homicide' – the murder of a human being). However, proposed definitions have also included both wider and narrower ones, to include "whole or part of" any ethnic or racial or religious group. Usually there also has to be an element of "systematic
murder/destruction" involved. The term was first coined in the context of the Holocaust – and later encoded officially in the United Nations
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) in 1948. The Holocaust was, however, not the first instance of a genocide. The Armenian genocide
that happened at the time of World War One
is a classic example. The persecution and expulsion (into the Namib desert) of the Herero people in Namibia by the German imperial colonial power is generally regarded as the first genocide of the 20th century. But even before that there have been cases. However, whether the decimation of the Native peoples of the Americas with the arrival and spread of European colonizers also constitutes genocide is debatable – as the most common cause of death was diseases brought in by the colonizers against which the natives had not developed immunity. So there was a strong biological
element in the reasons why they were pushed out by the Europeans, even though there was of course a lot of systematic repression too, including deportations/death marches (e.g. in the USA
of whole tribes to Oklahoma). The measures against the Aborigines in Australia
in the late 19th and the first half or so of the 20th century are a similar case. Whether the mass deportations of Black Africans in the course of the slave trade can be regarded as genocide is debatable because despite the immense death toll and the scale of the crime, it wasn't annihilation
of a whole people (or several peoples at the same time even) that was the purpose of this crime, but extreme exploitation
The clearest cases of genocide came in the second half of the 20th century. By far the most clear-cut and totally undeniable case (other than the Holocaust
) was the Rwandan genocide
of 1994. The Cambodian genocide
of the early 1970s undeniably counts too, though it was a very special case in that it was an auto-genocide
(with no ethnic or racial element involved whatsoever). The systematic massacres against Bosnian
Muslims by Serbs in the Balkan war, especially at Srebrenica
, is commonly also regarded as genocidal (even though it was nowhere near on a similar scale as in Rwanda
). Other cases sometimes put in the same category are Stalin
's purges and the deliberate famine in Ukraine
, or the violence and massacres after Bangladesh
and Pakistan had split from India
. And of course there is the case of Darfur in Sudan, which has most recently been widely discussed as possibly constituting genocide as well. In all cases of post-WWII genocides, a common thread has always been a reluctance by the international community to accept that a case of genocide was indeed present – most notably in the failure to do anything against the Rwandan genocide
, when the UN
actually scaled down
their countermeasures and then debated for so long that the worst was not prevented. Thus, the credo of "never again" so strongly advocated after the Holocaust has proven to be wishful thinking, rather, or even worse: no more than an empty phrase.
For dark tourism, sites associated with genocide constitute the very darkest category
of places one can travel to. It is also at these sites that ethical issues
come to the fore the most – in particular with regard to commodification
and site management, but also on the part of the visitor: appropriate behaviour is paramount, acting in any way that can be seen as disrespectful is unforgivable at such sites! (But, sadly, it can occasionally be observed – I had the misfortune of witnessing such instances e.g. at Choeung Ek
or at some Holocaust sites, such as Sachsenhausen
– a German acronym for "geheime Staatspolizei", 'secret state police', the "security" force in Nazi Germany
during the Third Reich
. It was part of the SS
. Its methods were feared and are still legendary. Indeed they were taken as models by later secret services, from the CIA
to the Securitate
– here, not a haunted town (see paranormal tourism
), but simply a town without inhabitants, or nearly without any inhabitants. The reason for a ghost town to be deserted varies: either the place was abandoned by its inhabitants of their own accord because they moved on to seek better lives elsewhere (as is the case with many ghost towns in the USA
, etc.) or they may have been forcibly driven out of their home (as happened in Cambodia
's capital Phnom Penh and other cities during the Khmer Rouge
's reign in the 1970s) or it was some natural disaster that made continued living in the place impossible (as e.g. in Centralia, USA
, due to the coal fires underground) or an industrial disaster (as in the case of Pripyat near Chernobyl
– term given to what has to be considered the beginnings, or the precursor of tourism: the travels of upper-class/wealthy Europeans (later also Americans), usually young men, for recreational and educational purposes. There were standardized itineraries, which nearly always included/culminated in Italy
with its cultural relics from antiquity, e.g. Pompeii
– in the narrow sense: the infamous prison and hard labour camps of the former Soviet Union
; in a wider, metaphorical sense: any such camp or place of detention. The concept of gulag (short for Russian "Glavnoye upravlyeniye ispravityel'no-trudovih lagyeryey" - 'chief administration for corrective labour camps') is mostly associated with the purges and general reign of terror of Stalin
from the 1930s to the 1950s, when scores of political prisoners, POWs, alleged collaborators, ethnic minorities (and whoever the paranoid Stalin perceived as a threat to his grip on power) were deported to these desolate camps, especially to Siberia and the steppes of Kazakhstan
. See in particular Perm-36
and the gulag museum
– born in Braunau am Inn, Austria
, in 1889, committed suicide on 30 April 1945 in Berlin
. After a less than shining career as a third-rate artist, Hitler somehow managed to become the leader of the Nazis
– and subsequently of the Nazis' Third Reich
, with Germany
as its kernel. He plunged Europe (and the world) into WWII
and his extreme anti-Semitism (already expressed in his 1920s book "Mein Kampf") led to his instigation of the Holocaust
. Both together make him what is probably the globally most vilified historical figure of all time – and with plenty of justification! Countless volumes have been written about Hitler, his rise to power, his ideology, his psychological profile, and all manner of other aspects. This is not the place to even attempt a summary or overview. From a specific dark tourism perspective, the many sites associated with Hitler and the Third Reich bring with them a delicate issue: that of balancing fascination with the deeply dark historical aspects and avoidance of the risks of inappropriate glorification. This puts enormous responsibilities on the site management of dark tourist attractions such as the remains of Hitler's bunker HQ at Wolfschanze
, or the various Nazi-associated sites in Munich
or the "Eagle's Nest" and Obersalzberg
complex in Germany
. In one case, the place where Hitler committed suicide, namely the buried remains of the former Führerbunker in Berlin
, the officially adopted strategy was even to make the place a non-site. That is to say: the location is not commodified
at all (although these days a small information panel marks the spot), instead the remains were sealed and covered up – all in order to prevent the misuse of the place as a kind of shrine by unwelcome neo-Nazis. Less radical approaches in Nuremberg
and partly the Obersalzberg complex strike a fine balance between historical education and satisfying the dark fascination that attracts visitors to these Hitler-associated places. Occasionally, the balance hangs by a thread and is easily tilted – as in some of the tourist entertainment offers on record at places such as Wolfschanze
and other Nazi bunker complexes. As a dark tourist, you too have to bear a share of the responsibility to behave appropriately and carefully at such difficult sites! (See also under ethical issues
Ho Chi Minh
– original name Nguyen Tat Thanh, born in 1890, died in 1969. He was the "father" of Vietnam
's independence movement, later president of the People's Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), and as such leader of the Vietnamese side in the Vietnam War
. Ho had left the country in 1911 to study and not only picked up the ideology of communism but was also an important figure in the spread of communism, in Europe (Paris
, before returning to his homeland in 1941. Here he led the country out of the French colonial rule in a series of conflicts that more or less seamlessly developed into the American War, as the Vietnam War is commonly known as in Vietnam. He didn't live to see the victorious end of this war, but he's still revered as the great liberator and father figure. Probably more so than he himself would have wanted. Unlike other "Great Leaders", Ho did not engage in a cult of personality, but was a modest, unassuming and quietly intelligent man (and multilingual at that). As such he actually opposed ideas like setting up Ho Chi Minh museums (e.g. in his hometown). And he explicitly didn't want the sort of mausoleum
that he did in fact end up in after his death. So the later forms of cult of personality are not attributable to Ho himself but were instigated by his successors. The omnipresence of portraits, busts and statues of "Uncle Ho" (as he is often endearingly referred to) in contemporary Vietnam contrasts in a strange way with the modern way of life in the country, which is at least in economic terms no longer communist
(though politically it still is – like China
). But the "veneration" of Ho in Vietnam seems to be quite genuine, not just propaganda. During my stay in the country at the end of 2008, Vietnam's national football squad achieved their greatest ever success by beating Thailand and winning the South-East Asia Cup. And in the TV coverage of the celebrations in the stadium after the match, Ho Chi Minh (despite having had nothing to do with the football) was celebrated too: not only did the camera repeatedly zoom in on the large Ho portrait hanging over the stadium on one side, there were also quite audible chants of "Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh" from the stands!
Ho Chi Minh Trail
– collective term for the extensive and complex network of tracks and paths through the jungle which the Vietcong used to transport supplies into South Vietnam
during the Vietnam War
, to support the guerrilla war there. It was named after North Vietnam's leader Ho Chi Minh
and achieved legendary status. Despite all efforts on the part of the USA
to cut the Trail off, including chemical defoliants (such as Agent Orange
) and massive aerial bombardments, the network was always quickly reconnected and continued working more or less throughout the War. It thus became a decisive element in the North's eventual victory in Vietnam. As parts of the Trail went through neighbouring Laos and Cambodia
, these countries got dragged into the Vietnam War indirectly too, and also suffered from massive US bombardment.
– in the narrow sense: the persecution and systematic murder of the European Jews by Nazi Germany
and its allies especially during WWII
, peaking in 1942/43 with the 'final solution' (see Operation Reinhard
). Since this genocide was so industrialized and on such a scale - the most common estimate is that around 6 million Jews were murdered then - it ranks as arguably the biggest crime against humanity ever committed. In Israel/Jewish circles the Holocaust is often referred to as Shoah
. This extremely dark chapter in modern history left countless memorial sites some of which feature prominently in dark tourism these days, first and foremost Auschwitz
- which has been called the "epitome of a dark tourism" even (namely by Philip Stone in "The Darker Side of Travel
", page 35). See also under concentration camps
, death camps
, House of the Wannsee Conference
, and other associated sites especially in Poland
, and also Israel
) and the USA
(in particular the USHMM
In a wider sense, the term holocaust is sometimes also used metaphorically to refer to other horrors on a massive scale; e.g. the possibility of an all-out nuclear Third World War
has been referred to as a "nuclear holocaust".
– 1912-1994, head of the socialist party of the GDR
and holder of other key functions, and thus effectively "leader" of the country from 1971 to 1989, until shortly before the collapse of the GDR (and subsequently the entire Eastern Bloc
). While reform processes had already begun in neighbouring socialist countries, most notably Poland
and then even the Soviet Union
, Honecker failed to anticipate the momentum of that development, staunchly clinging on to the old rule as a "hardliner" (just like Romania
). Even on a state visit of the USSR
's Mikhail Gorbachev on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR in September 1989, Honecker ignored the clues he was given by the "big brother" from the "brother state" USSR – just as he ignored what his own people were increasingly shouting. As the peaceful revolution in the GDR gained so much momentum that change became inevitable, it was Honecker's own party that finally deposed him on 18 October in a last-resort attempt to regain control … but as became clear very soon, it was too little too late. Three weeks later the Berlin Wall
opened up and that opened the pathway towards German reunification. After his old state ceased to exist Honecker first went into exile in Moscow
, and as the Soviet Union also dissolved he took refuge in the Chilean embassy (he had family in Chile
). He was extradited to Germany – where a trial against him was prepared. Because of ill health, however, Honecker was released and moved to Chile to join his family in Santiago, where he died just over a year later in May 1994. His wife Margot Honecker still lives in Santiago de Chile
and remains unrepentant (there is TV footage of her celebrating the 60th anniversary of the GDR's founding, complete with speeches and the singing of nostalgic songs …).
– the communist
leader of Albania
from the end of WWII
to his death in 1985. He was thus one of the longest-ruling dictators ever. And he did rule with an extreme iron fist. Albania during his reign was Europe's (if not the world's) most isolated state … increasingly so, in fact, because Hoxha, being a strict adherent to pure anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism (see Marx
) fell out first with the Soviet Union
's death and Khrushchev's reforms, and then with his last real ally China
, after Mao
's death and the subsequent reforms there. In a way, he made Albania what only North Korea
still is today – a staunchly Stalinist country of extreme paranoid isolationism. After Hoxha's death and Albania's eventual opening-up to the outside world, most traces of the legacy of his rule were more or less eradicated. While you can still find Stalin statues and Mao portraits in their countries of origin, you'd struggle to find many traces of Hoxha's impact on Albania
when travelling there as a dark tourist.
– short for "International Atomic Energy Agency", a Vienna
-based international organization which monitors all things atomic in the world, nuclear power and, in particular, nuclear weapons. It entered the international media spotlight especially during the build-up to and aftermath of the USA
's invasion of Iraq in 2003. The US claim that Iraq was seeking to develop nuclear weapons could not be substantiated by the IAEA, neither in their investigations before the war, nor afterwards. Thus a crucial argument for the war was and has always been vacuous.
– acronym for 'Intercontinental Ballistic Missile'; the type of nuclear weapon that played the most significant part in the Cold War
, as they could be launched at very short notice and hardly be intercepted (despite all "Star Wars
" ambitions), thus doing more for "mutually assured destruction" than any other type of weapon. At the height of the Cold War, both the Soviet Union
and the USA
had thousands of them, assuring the potential destruction by multiple overkill capacities. They are not, however, a thing of the past. In fact, both Russia
and the USA, after a phase of drastic reduction of their respective ICBM arsenals, are currently considering upgrades/modernization … For the dark tourist, ICBMs are mostly out of reach – except for two decommissioned ICBM-silos-turned-museums in the USA
: the Titan Missile Museum
in Arizona, and the Minuteman Missile Silo
, South Dakota; a little trickier to get to but also visitable for tourists is a Strategic Missile Silo
– collective term for what is now the three independent countries Vietnam
and Laos, which used to be a French colony until the region sank into turmoil from the 1940s and esp. the 1950s to 70s, with independence wars, civil war, and most devastatingly, the Vietnam War
. As this was not actually limited to Vietnam, but also involved the other two neighbouring countries (esp. Cambodia was also heavily bombed by the USA
), it was sometimes also referred to as America's war in Indochina.
– an extremist Hutu militia movement that was the principal perpetrator of the Rwandan genocide
. The name in the Rwandan language Kinyarwanda literally means something like "those who stand/work/attack (i.e. kill) together". Mostly composed of gangs of youths (often drunk on banana beer), dressed in brightly coloured, pyjama-like "clown costumes" (as some observers described them), the Interahamwe trained for the genocide, threatened Tutsis, spreading (and sucking up) the "Hutu Power" hate propaganda that came through the radio, and when the mass killings started, it was mainly the Interahamwe that manned the countless roadblocks that were quickly set up all over the country to prevent Tutsis and other "enemies" from fleeing. Much of the brutal butchering of the victims took place right by these roadblocks. The Interahamwe were also at the forefront of the orchestrated massacres at churches, schools and so on where Tutsis had been told to gather for alleged safety. However, the support of the Interahamwe by the Rwandan Army and, in particular, the Presidential Guards, was often instrumental in the onset of these massacres, as only they could provide the heavy weapons and grenades used to break down buildings' walls and instantly crush any resistance the victims might put up. It was primarily the Interahamwe, though, who carried out the most blood-crazed butchery, mainly hacking Tutsis to pieces with machetes. As the RPF
pushed out the Hutu forces and ended the genocide, the Interahamwe mostly fled along with hundreds of thousands other Hutus westwards, via the French-installed "safe zone" and on into neighbouring Congo
. From there, the Interahamwe re-grouped and continued carrying out more attacks against Tutsis both back in Rwanda
and inside Congo (eventually triggering a military involvement of the RPF in Congo). Today, parts of the Interahamwe have laid down their arms and returned to Rwanda, to be "re-educated" (and precariously re-integrated into the community), while many others remain active in the continuing bloody conflict within multi-war-torn Congo
intercontinental ballistic missile
– abbreviation for 'Irish Republican Army', the main armed resistance fighter/terrorist organization in Northern Ireland
during the "Troubles". As the name suggests, it perceived itself as a legitimate army in a legitimate "war" against the British oppressors – while the British saw it as an illegal terrorist organization. Same old story. IRA actions outside Ireland, esp. in Great Britain
, e.g. the bombing of two pubs in Birmingham, however, were nothing but plain terrorism, of course. Meanwhile the IRA has ended its fight, as part of the peace process that has calmed the country down since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
– metaphorical expression, first introduced into Cold War
terminology by Winston Churchill, Great Britain
's prime minister during WWII
, in a speech in March 1946 to describe the intensified border security between countries of the Eastern Bloc
and the West. It refers both to the ideological divide between the two blocs and the physical border fortifications that the Eastern Bloc set up all along its borders with the West. Its best known and most intricate and insurmountable part was the Berlin Wall
. But a few other parts of the Iron Curtain also had the form of a wall (see e.g. Hötensleben
). Mostly, however, it was a fence and a system of border surveillance involving watchtowers, patrols, guard dogs, and partly automatic spring guns and/or strips of minefields. The northernmost part of the Iron Curtain ran between the Soviet Union
and Finland, then from the Baltic coast all along the border between the FRG
and the GDR
(and right through the middle of Berlin
as well as around West Berlin), along the western borders of the CSSR
. The border of former communist though 'non-aligned' Yugoslavia
with Austria and for a short bit Italy
could also be considered part of the Iron Curtain, even though this border was more permeable (in both directions) than those of the Warsaw Pact
countries with the West. A wider concept of the Iron Curtain also includes the borders between Greece
, Yugoslavia and Albania
and also those between NATO member Turkey
and Bulgaria in the north west as well as directly with the Soviet Union
in the east (now Georgia
). When Hungary
started dismantling the border fortifications along the border with Austria
in 1989, it was the first "hole" in the Iron Curtain, which soon after was to come down altogether, as all Eastern European countries shed communism
, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War
ended. Today, the "Green Belt" along the former course of the Iron Curtain is partly a protected nature reserve. But the actual physical Iron Curtain has almost entirely vanished. Only a few traces remain, esp. in a small number of border museums in Germany
- president of Rwanda
and formerly commander of the rebel army RPF
, which in 1994 effectively ended the Rwandan genocide
through a military victory which Kagame has widely been credited for. (UNAMIR
commander Romeo Dallaire even called Kagame one of the 20th century's greatest strategists!) After the RPF's take-over of power in Rwanda, Kagame first became defence minister and vice-president, in 2000 he took over as president himself and won the general elections of 2003. He has meanwhile been re-elected twice, winning with a landslide vote – 93% in the latest 2010 elections – of a proportion that normally would trigger suspicions with regard to the elections' legitimacy. In Rwanda's case, however, it does indeed seem to be largely attributable to an enormous degree of genuine popularity, even though there have also been allegations of suppression of the opposition. The respect Kagame enjoys amongst the general populace is mostly due to his role as the one who ended the genocide and brought peace (while the rest of the world passively looked on). But he is also credited with the remarkable recovery of post-genocide Rwanda, both economically and in terms of his policies of promoting education, reconciliation and gender equality (e.g. Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in parliament worldwide – over 50%!). His status as a president of near autocratic power, however, has also generated some controversy. The fact that Kagame, an almost prototypical Tutsi, tall and skinny, is at the head of the current power elite, is no doubt also an irritant to some Hutus who may see this as a re-establishment of the old hierarchies (see under Rwandan genocide
for more on ethnic backgrounds). It is quite remarkable, though, to see so many people in Rwanda wearing Kagame T-shirts. Elsewhere you would suspect that this is evidence of a state-decreed cult of personality, but here it seems largely genuine. Whatever one may think of his standing within Rwanda, Kagame is without any doubt one of the most influential African politicians of our time, also widely respected outside Africa (though with the predictable exception of France
), which is quite remarkable for the head of such a tiny Central African country. Recently, however, his alleged support of rebel militias in Congo
(an allegation which he denies) has damaged his reputation somewhat and cost him support from some European countries as well as the USA
(cf. >Chiran Kamikaze Museum
) – term for the suicide missions of the Japanese Imperial military pilots in WWII
who would steer their planes into enemy targets, thus sacrificing their own lives. In Japan
, the kamikazes are better known as "special attack units", but the informal expression kamikaze (literally 'divine wind') has stuck, esp. in the West. The Japanese expression Kamikaze goes back to ancient Japanese history, when strong typhoons thwarted two Mongolian attempts at invading Japan in the 13th century. In WWII Kamikaze missions peaked during the battle of Okinawa
when nearly 1500 suicide attacks sank or damaged some 30 US
ships. Overall, however, the effect was not so decisive – and the majority of kamikaze missions were unsuccessful, either because of being shot down before the final attack, running out of fuel prematurely or missing the target. The tragedy of the kamikazes is generally remembered very differently in Japan compared to in the West, esp. the USA
. This is evident in special museums such as the one in Chiran
(for an in-depth account of the differences in perceptions regarding kamikazes see esp.: http://wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu/kamikaze/index.htm). Kamikaze missions were not only performed by planes: there were also special small submarines that had the same purpose. Even hand-held mines for divers to sink ships with were developed (see Yushukan
). Officially all kamikazes were volunteers, and to this day they are revered as heroes in Japan. How voluntary it really was is a different matter – there was surely a lot of psychological pressure on the often very young pilots, many only 17 or 18 years old. But the view that they were simply deluded fanatics is certainly not correct either.
– name of a site where the Soviets massacred thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals as part of their annexation of Eastern Poland
(in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
). The USSR
officially denied the massacre ever took place, until 1990, as the Eastern Bloc
was collapsing (the denial was another one of those dark stains on Polish-Russian relations). See Katyn Museum, Warsaw
– short for Russian Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti ('Committee for State Security'), the secret police and intelligence service of the Soviet Union
. Internally, i.e. both within the Soviet Union itself but also in its Eastern Bloc
satellite states, its purpose was to keep the population "in check", monitoring them for any possible subversion or opposition to the regime. Externally, i.e. worldwide, it was the espionage network for the USSR, which played a particularly important role in the Cold War
– in which it was something like the Eastern counterpart of the USA
. The KGB was typically portrayed as the big enemy villain in Western spy flicks of the James Bond series type. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB was also "dissolved", or rather renamed, now under the label FSB in Russia
– only Belarus
kept the name KGB for its state security agency. Probably the most famous name amongst ex-KGB personnel is Vladimir Putin, who during the Soviet era headed the KGB's branch in Dresden
in the GDR
. (cf. also >Stasi
– French for 'red Khmer' ('Khmer' is the term for the people/culture of Cambodia – 'red' stands for communist) and the epithet that Cambodia
's king Sihanouk tagged on the country's communist
revolutionists under Pol Pot
years before they gained so much in strength that they eventually seized power of the entire country in 1975. (What partly helped their gains in popularity building up to their victory was the ruthless carpet bombing that the USA
subjected this nominally neutral country to during the Vietnam War
– mainly just because part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
also used bits of Cambodian territory).
The Khmer Rouge called themselves "Ankar" ('the movement'). They were characteristically clad in black (and not red!). After gaining control of Cambodia they proceeded with one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed in world history: the Cambodian
. Perhaps up to a quarter (or even a third) of their own people lost their lives – through endless sprees of violent executions in the "killing fields
", or simply through malnutrition as a result of starvation rations, forced slave labour and the lack of any kind of medical service. Part of the Khmer Rouge ideology had been to eliminate all intelligentsia – and that included doctors. After the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam
(following a strategically unwise provocation by the Khmer Rouge) in January 1979 the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown – but the movement was not quite eradicated. The Khmer Rouge fled north, and/or took exile in Thailand
– and continued a guerrilla tactics reign of terror well into the 1990s. They are also mainly responsible for the lasting legacy of landmines
, esp. in the north of Cambodia. What is particularly shameful is the fact that after their 1979 ousting the Khmer Rouge were still supported not only by China
(whose "cultural revolution
" they had partly modelled their own utopian ideas on), but also by the West, esp. the USA
and Great Britain
, who continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot
as the country's representatives e.g. at the UN
, rather than the Vietnam-installed new government of Cambodia
, who they even imposed severe sanctions upon that further crippled the country. Of course, Vietnam
had won a war against the USA
and was supported by the Eastern Bloc
– the enemy in the Cold War
. Apparently that was enough for the Western Superpower to choose to rather support the Khmer Rouge and its "Asian Hitler
" Pol Pot!
By the late 1990s (the Cold War confrontation had meanwhile ended, and the Eastern Bloc collapsed) the Khmer Rouge finally had lost all support, and the movement was falling apart. In 1998 Pol Pot died under mysterious circumstances (see Anlong Veng
). Since then a very slow process of coming to terms with their legacy has taken hold in Cambodia – and while many former Khmer Rouge either continue to live undetected or even managed to switch sides and find comfortable new positions in the modern democratic Cambodia's government and bureaucracy, at least a small handful of the genocidal criminals of old were captured and imprisoned. It wasn't until early 2009, however, that a UN-backed tribunal against the remaining few began. Former Tuol Sleng/S-21 prison
chief Duch is the most prominent of the perpetrators ever put on trial. The last leader of the Khmer Rouge, Ta Mok, died in prison of natural causes in 2006. Duch has meanwhile been sentenced, but many other former Khmer Rouge still run free. It is clear that the mark that the Khmer Rouge left on Cambodia
and world history will take generations to overcome.
– expressive term for those countless execution sites in which the Khmer Rouge
murdered masses of people as part of the Cambodian genocide
(the best known and worst example of an 'auto-genocide
' in fact). The killers did so usually by simply smashing their victims' heads in with clubs or iron bars (in order to save on ammunition) and then at best superficially buried them in shallow hollows or ditches. After heavy rain, bodies were often found washed up in the fields and bones of the bodies can be washed up again to this day.
The former was also drastically depicted in the film
of the same name "The Killing Fields", in which one of the lead characters, Dith Pran, has to fight his way through one such swamp full of bodies and skulls as he tries to escape to Thailand
. It was apparently the real Dith Pran who in fact coined the term 'killing fields'. There are numerous killing fields memorials in Cambodia
today, but the main national memorial site is that of Choeung Ek
near Phnom Penh.
The term 'Killing Fields' is also frequently transferred to refer to other sites of mass murder or genocide
, e.g. in Rwanda
Kim Il Sung
– (1912 – 1994) North Korea
’s revolutionary founder following the liberation from Japanese
colonial rule in 1945; he’s the ultimate father figure, almost God-like, revered for the founding of State and Party as well as his “victory” in the Korean War
(even though the latter left the entire country as divided as it was before, only now bombed flat by the Americans – but the subsequent rebuilding efforts provide another reason for Kim worship!) He was and still is referred to as the "Great Leader", while his son and successor is mostly referred to as the "Dear Leader".
The cult of personality around Kim Il Sung exceeds everything ever tried in that vein anywhere else (i.e. exceeding that of Stalin
), and it has been going on for much longer! There are now hardly any North Koreans alive who are old enough to remember a time before Kim Il Sung. This is important to keep in mind when trying to understand this enigmatic country. For North Koreans, history IS the reign of the Kims' dynasty.
“The Great Leader Comrade/Marshal” Kim Il Sung died in 1994 and after a three-year period of mourning was declared "eternal president"! Furthermore he was given the grandest of mausoleums – the pinnacle of the "Big 4
". His portrait is still displayed everywhere in the country, in every office, in every home, and on countless posters all over the country.
For the actual running of the country he was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il
, the "Dear Leader", who after his death at the end of 2011 was in turn succeeded by Kim Jong Un. So it really is the world's only communist hereditary dynasty.
Kim Jong Il
– born in 1941 (officially 1942) and son of North Korea
's "great Leader" Kim Il Sung
, who he succeeded after his father's death in 1994. Kim Jong Il is referred to in the country as the “Dear Leader”, or “the General”, “Generalissimo” even, although officially he was “the Great Leader” too. Complicated terminology … (you have to wonder what epithets Kim Jong Il's successor will acquire …). Kim Jong Il managed to latch on to the cult of personality surrounding his "eternal president" father – his portrait appears next to that of his father: in most places where his father is displayed, he is too. Kim Jong Il was very different from his charismatic father, though, in that he was always rather a recluse, shunning public appearances. This only added to his enigma. In his final years, Kim Jong Il looked increasingly frail, whenever he was seen on one of his rare appearances on TV screens, and also seemed to have lost a lot of weight. Rumour had it that he suffered a stroke in 2008. He then began provisions for installing his successor, his youngest son Kim Jong-Un, who was presented to the media in September 2010. After Kim II finally did kick the bucket at the end of 2011, Kim #III did indeed take over … albeit not quite with the same degree of autocratic power as his Dad. Apparently he has to share power with his uncle and some top brass generals of the military. He has since made a few public appearances, so maybe he won't be quite so elusive as his father – although for the time being nothing much seems to have changed in the country. It's all still secrecy and speculations. And the cult of personality revolving around Kim I & II has been stepped up, if anything. Now there's even a Kim Jong-Il statue next to the grand bronze Kim Il Sung on Mansudae hill in Pyongyang
, while Kim Jong Il's body was placed alongside his Dad's in the grand Kim Mausoleum
– the first full-on "proxy war
" after the world had split into a US
-led Western World and a Soviet
-led Eastern Bloc
. The Korean War of 1950 to 1953 was thus the first "hot" outburst in the newly begun Cold War
era. For Korea, the war was anything but cold, and the end result of the war only re-established the status ante, so it couldn’t really be regarded as a great victory for either side. On the other hand, the North Korean
People's Army under Kim Il Sung
did manage to fight the American counteroffensive back again. There had been an initial near victory too, when the North almost succeeded in occupying the whole of the Korean peninsula, with only a bit around Pusan still being held by the South. Only then the USA
started the counteroffensive with all the military might they could muster (in fact it was a US-led alliance under the aegis of the UN
). And it was performed with utmost brutality – that much cannot be denied. Pyongyang
alone was bombed so extensively that they reckon the total number of bombs amounted to one bomb per citizen. Overkill. At one stage, then, the Americans almost managed to seize the whole country – until China
entered the war with a million strong army of “volunteers”. In total, something like 2 million were left dead at the end of the war – and all basically for nothing.
There has never been a peace agreement proper, only an armistice, signed in July 1953 at Panmunjom
. So technically, the war is still on. The dividing line between North and South Korea
runs more or less along the same 38th parallel as it did before the war. To this day it is marked by a DMZ
, guarded by the highest concentration of military at any border in the world. Given North Korea's recent antics (unilaterally pulling out of agreements, and, in particular, defiantly pursuing a programme to develop nuclear weapons), tensions are running high again, after a period of relative calm. Still, there is a desire on both sides to eventually achieve a Korean re-unification. How that could possibly be brought about, however, remains a question nobody can answer.
– original name Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, born 1879, died 1924. Leader of the Russian
Revolution, founder and first head of the Soviet Union
. He's credited with putting Karl Marx
's theory of communism
into practice, thus he ranks as one of the most influential figures of all time. His post-revolution career as leader of the USSR
was short-lived, however, and under his successor Stalin
, things turned rather sour, that is to say: decidedly dictatorial. Lenin was the first of those "Big 4
" communist leaders whose bodies were conserved and put on display in a public mausoleum
. Furthermore, countless statues and busts of Lenin were put up all over the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc
, many of which still survive, even if in often less prominent locations that they used to be in. The biggest Lenin head in the world is in Ulan Ude in Siberia, Russia
. The northernmost one is to be found in the exotic location of Pyramiden
– telling acronym which stands for 'mutually assured destruction', the heart of the deterrence principle during the Cold War
to prevent a Third World War
– code name for the secret programme in the USA
with the goal of developing nuclear weapons. It was started originally due to fears that Nazi Germany
might be seeking to develop an atomic bomb (many of the pioneers in nuclear physics had been German or within the German sphere of influence). In 1939 one of the world's leading physicists, Albert Einstein
himself (by then emigrated to the US), famously helped to urge then US president Roosevelt to look into getting there first. And the US did. Over the years enormous sums of money were pumped into the project. It had three main sites, one uranium-enrichment plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a plutonium production plant at Hanford, Washington, and the main research laboratory at Los Alamos
, New Mexico, headed by the famous Robert Oppenheimer
. In 1944 progress led to a possible test stage and a site within the US Alamogordo Bombing Range, not far from Los Alamos, was selected and code-named Trinity
. It was here that the first test detonation of an atomic bomb took place, on 16 July 1945. Shortly after, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima
, and 3 days later a bomb of the Trinity design was dropped on Nagasaki
. Oppenheimer, Einstein and others later voiced criticism about the whole development and actual use of this new weapon of mass destruction. They also warned of the dangers that the nuclear arms race would pose for all humankind. Still, the Manhattan Project was the starting gun for such an arms race, which continued all the way through the Cold War
. That particularly crazy race is now over, but not the era of the atomic weapon – as more countries are striving to join the club of nuclear-armed powers (especially Iran). So the legacy of the Manhattan Project lives on …
– full name Mao Zedong (sometimes spelled "Tse-tung"), born 1893, died 1976. Leader of China
's revolution in the 1940s and head of the subsequent communist
state until his death. No single person has ever had as much power over so many people as Mao. He didn't always use it with utmost wisdom, though. His policy of the Great Leap Forward, intended to lift China into the modern industrial world, ended in a large-scale famine that left dozens of millions dead. And the Cultural Revolution during Mao's latter years was in effect a massive purge and involved all manner of anti
-cultural elements such as destruction of traditional cultural artefacts, a virtual halt of the educational system, expulsion of intellectuals to the agrarian collectives, etc. – all in all one of the bleakest periods in world history anywhere. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that Mao laid the groundwork for China ascending to the status of a modern superpower. His legacy extends much beyond his death in 1976. And his mausoleum in Beijing
is one of the world's "Big 4
– born 1818, died 1883. "Father" of communism
, whose philosophical foundations are the "Communist Manifesto", co-authored by Friedrich Engels, and his later main work "Das Kapital" ('Capital'). Probably his most famous line is "Workers of all lands unite!". Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism (see Lenin
) later became something like an ersatz state religion in the Eastern Bloc
. Practically all publications had to make some sort of reference to it (even in sciences where such a connection could hardly be made, such as in linguistics
). Marx died and is buried in London
, where he had lived in exile from 1849. His grave at Highgate cemetery
is still a kind of pilgrimage site. Otherwise you don't encounter his distinctive face with the big beard as much as it used to be the case before the collapse of the communist Eastern Bloc, where Marx busts, statues and images used to be ubiquitous. After the fall of communism in these countries most of those Marxes where removed (together with the Lenins). But there are notable survivors: in Berlin
, a rather lost looking pair of a sitting Marx and standing Engels look solemnly down on tourists near Alexanderplatz. In North Korea
's capital Pyongyang
a giant portrait of Marx (alongside one of Lenin) hangs off a building on Kim Il Sung Square – but even in that last remaining ultra-Stalinist country that's an exception (compared with the omnipresent Kims
). Karl Marx City in East Germany
was re-named Chemnitz after the fall of the Berlin Wall
and communism – but they left the giant stone Marx head, which is not only the largest Marx head but also the largest stone head sculpture anywhere in the world.
– born 1907, died 2000, former (and last) head of the GDR
's secret police Stasi
(cf. >Stasi Museum
), and as such one of the most powerful and most feared men of the state's paranoid system. In the turmoil after the fall of the Berlin Wall
in November 1989 he, challenged for still using the address "comrade", said in reply the ultimately cynical line "but I love all people" – apparently without even noticing the cynicism. He was arrested not much later and after reunification he was tried (though not for any deeds during his Stasi years, but for the murder of two policemen in 1931). His sentence of six years imprisonment was later soon reduced, however, due to his increasing ill health.
– commonly used expression to refer to a treaty between Hitler
's Soviet Union
, signed in August 1939 by Soviet foreign minister Molotov and German foreign minister von Ribbentrop. Its official main point was an agreement on non-aggression between the two countries, but it secretly also included an agreed division of territories across Eastern Europe allocating large parts of these to each other's respective zones of influence. That "influence" quickly took the form of direct annexation. Only a week later Germany began invading Poland
from the west (the start of WWII
), and the Soviet Union took Eastern Poland a couple of weeks later – swallowing up the Baltic States (see Lithuania
) and parts of Romania
) in the process. With Germany's invasion of the USSR
, the treaty technically became null and void. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union, after having come out of the war victorious, simply kept the new territories acquired through the Pact. While the Baltic States regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the territories taken from Poland
still remain part of Belarus
, respectively. But since Poland kept parts of what formerly had been German territory, the country basically came out the same size, only moved a bit to the west. So some effects of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are still in place today.
– 1883-1945; dictator and head of the fascist rule in Italy
, Mussolini was one of the key allies of Hitler
's ('axis powers', see also Japan
) in the run-up to and during WWII
. In fact, he had come to power many years before Hitler (namely already in 1925), but Il Duce ('the leader'), as he liked to call himself, was also ousted almost two years before the end of the Third Reich
and the demise of Germany
's "Führer" Hitler. Shortly after the invasion of Italy by the Allies had begun in July 1943, Mussolini was deposed and arrested. In September, however, he was "rescued" by German special forces and resumed a lower-key degree of fascist leadership in northern Italy, which was not yet occupied. As defeat also reached the north, Mussolini tried to escape but was captured again, this time by partisans who quickly executed him in late April 1945. His body was then taken to Milan
and put on public display on Piazzale Loreto. Hanging upside down next to other executed fascists (and his mistress), he was subjected to all manner of abuse (spitting, kicking, stones thrown at them, etc.) … only he was no longer alive to witness these expressions of hatred towards the once self-declared great leader. This was a very different end compared to that of Hitler
and other top German Nazis, who evaded such treatment by committing suicide and being cremated and/or buried in unknown locations. Mussolini's body, in contrast, was even dug up and carted around by his supporters, recaptured by the authorities, and after many years of uncertainty finally allowed to be placed in a proper tomb in the Mussolini family crypt
in his home village od Predappio near Forli.
– acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organization – the West's (i.e. the USA
's) defence organization in the Cold War
, the counterpart of the Eastern Bloc
's (i.e. the USSR
's) 'Warsaw Pact
'. While the latter was disbanded after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the end of communism
in (most of) its constituent parts, NATO continued to exist, and indeed expand, now to include several of the former "enemy" countries. The resultant encroachment of NATO onto the borders of Russia
's territory has given rise to new tensions (and even talk of a "new Cold War", esp. after the 2008 open conflict in Georgia
– shortened from "Nationalsozialisten", i.e. members of the National Socialism movement. In the historical context, the term refers mostly to the members of the NSDAP
, from the party's founding after World War One
and especially during the period of the Third Reich
, up to the end of WWII
, with Hitler
, Himmler (see SS
), Goebbels, Göring, Heydrich, Eichmann
, Bormann, etc., etc., as the key historical figures associated with that extremely dark chapter in 20th century history. However, the darkness did not end with their demise, nor was it only those prominent names. There were millions of Nazis amongst the "ordinary populace" too, Nazism also had/has sympathizers outside Germany (e.g. Britain
or the USA
) and, most worryingly: neo-Nazi organizations still exist today and are gaining a disturbing degree of support in some parts of the world, not just Germany, but also, puzzlingly, in countries that had to suffer unspeakably under the Third Reich's Nazis, e.g. Poland
. Learning lessons from history evidently does not come naturally to humankind …
– any tourism that isn't mainstream tourism; dark tourism is a sub-branch of niche tourism, of course, albeit a growing one (cf. iDTR
– short for "Nationalsoziaistische deutsche Arbeiterpartei" = 'national socialist workers' party of Germany
', the abbreviation for the Nazi
party in Germany under Adolf Hitler
, founded in 1920 in Munich
and in power in Germany from 1933 to the end of WWII
in 1945, when it was dissolved and outlawed by the Allies.
- detonating atomic bombs
for "mere" testing purposes. While that may be less bad than using them for real in war (see Hiroshima
), the ca. 2000 tests since 1945 have still had their damaging effects, esp. on the civilian population living near test sites (e.g. Bikini
). The accumulated radiation from atmospheric nuclear testing, esp. in the 1950s and 60s, eventually led to a ban of such tests, and testing went underground (literally). Since 1993, after the end of the Cold War
, the nuclear superpowers, including the USA
, have suspended all nuclear testing involving actual detonations of devices (sub-critical tests are being continued). However, the "aspiring" nuclear powers, such as Pakistan and North Korea
, have more recently created a lot of tension with their tests of nuclear bombs. (see also >Atomic Testing Museum
– informal code name used by the Nazis for the worst phase of the Holocaust
, also known as the 'final solution', i.e. the systematic extermination programme to murder all European Jews within the reach of the German Reich. The name Operation Reinhard ('Aktion Reinhard' in German) comes from Reinhard Heydrich, the top dog Nazi who chaired the Wannsee Conference
where the final solution was "discussed" and brought on its way. Its core plan was to construct dedicated death camps
in the east of Poland
purpose-built for nothing but the systematic murder of millions of Jews by gassing (rather than shooting, as previously with the Einsatzgruppen
). The camps of Sobibor
were specifically built for this purpose of the "extermination" of European Jewry and henceforth became the destination for countless deportation trains. After their function was more or less fulfilled, these camps were dismantled and covered up. Operation Reinhard thus stands out in world history as the largest and most systematic mass murder ever ... on an industrial scale and by an industrial method ... arguably, the single biggest crime against humanity ever committed.
– known as the "father of the atomic bomb
", as he was director of the Manhattan Project
, which developed the bomb in the USA
, culminating in the first ever test at Trinity
, and shortly after, of course, the use for real, over Hiroshima
. After WWII
he campaigned for arms control trying to avert the threat of a nuclear arms race (unsuccessfully, as history proved all too well). He got ostracized for his critical remarks during the McCarthy era but was later partly rehabilitated by John F. Kennedy.
– short for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the permanent international organization that's come out of the CSCE process (CSCE = conference for … ~). It's kind of Europe's own UN
equivalent, but actually goes beyond Europe. Some of the 57 participating states aren't even European at all (such as the USA
). There's a particular emphasis of work revolving around the countries of the former Eastern Bloc
, in particular the ex-USSR
successor countries. Its work involves, for instance, environmental issues, election monitoring and conflict resolution. (see e.g. Nagorno-Karabakh
– the root cause of most of the world's problems today. Still it is largely suppressed as a topic. We hear loads about climate change/global warming
, unemployment, migration issues, pensions, a "clash of civilizations", civil wars, oil running out, energy shortages in general, whether we may have to rely on nuclear power, food prices soaring. The list goes on. In a way it also includes floods, landslides, earthquakes and such disasters. Yet, rarely is it mentioned that these issues are crucially linked to the simple fact that there are way too many of us. Think about it: without overpopulation there would be no climate change and global warming, unemployment and migration wouldn't be such problems, we'd probably "clash" a lot less too if we didn't have to fight over resources and land. Oil and other resources wouldn't run out so quickly. 100% sustainable farming and energy supply would become real possibilities. No one would need nuclear power.
Even what we consider to be natural disasters are in many cases exacerbated by the presence of humans: floods, for instance, cause the horrible destruction they sometimes do to people because too many people live too close to the water. Landslides bury settlements built too close to steep unstable slopes. Earthquakes, similarly, have such devastating effects because they hit densely built-up conurbations. Of course I'm not saying that natural disasters are in principle linked to overpopulation – volcanoes, for instance, couldn't care less whether there are any humans about or not. Earthquakes, floods, etc. would also occur without humans – only they would do less damage.
But when it comes to the top major issues that humankind has to face today, with climate change as No. 1, then it is undeniable that it cannot be disassociated from overpopulation.
How many people can the planet support? We can't say exactly, but not as many as we are now. But wouldn't advances in technology and general human ingenuity ensure that we'll find ways of securing the survival of ever more billions of people? So far, this has been the case, yes – but the problems are beginning to outpace human inventiveness, which simply cannot be sped up at will. Whereas climate change does speed up – and it even would if we all vanished now. It's become inevitable. We can already only talk about damage limitation, not avoidance of damage.
World population hit the 7 billion mark in 2011. In the last one hundred years the world's population has doubled twice. It's called the population explosion. Now, it isn't rocket science to see that everlasting growth in a world of naturally limited, even finite resources simply cannot work for ever. It's logically impossible. No way round that.
The good news is that population growth is predicted to level out at some point. UN estimates reckon we'll hit the 9 billion mark by 2050, maybe even 10 billion, but that eventually growth will stop and decline may set in. And that without us dying out. Simply because birth control will become more generally accepted and practised, together with wealth distribution and education becoming more equalized. That sounds like an optimistic scenario.
The problem is: the world's resources are already overstretched, some crucially so. One example: the oceans' fish stocks, until recently believed to be limitless (or at least treated that way), have been largely depleted, in some cases to the point of extinction. Rainforests disappear at an alarming rate to make space for farming, and in particular for cattle (mostly for meat production). And as incomes rise, more and more millions of people want to eat more meat, drive more cars, own more stuff and generally live the "good", i.e. wasteful, life of the affluent West. Meaning more resources are being used up more quickly still. Just take food. It's recently been estimated (cf. e.g. http://news.discovery.com/earth/earth-unrecognizable-2050-resources-110220.html) that at current trends and population growth estimates we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8000. Will that be possible while at the same time resources are increasingly depleted? The gist of the same article is pessimistic and predicts that the Earth "could be unrecognizable" by 2050.
In the same context: it's been calculated that the planet may be able to actually support a population of about 2 billion people long term. Not 9 or 10 billion, and not the current 7 billion. The predicted levelling out of population growth and subsequent slow decline is more than likely to come too late.
The pessimistic scenario, of course, is that when it comes to this, Mother Earth will see to it that she gets rid of us herself. Nastily. First social clashes will eventually lead to civilization collapse, while climate and general biosphere collapse will make survival impossible for all. But not only humans. That's where the unfairness lies. It's a bit like people drink-driving: if it was only their own lives that they were risking, you could say, OK let them be so stupid and kill themselves. But it's the fact that they risk innocent other people's lives in the process. It's the same with us ruining the planet for not just us, but most of the biosphere with it.
OK, it won't be the end of all life on Earth, just the end of life as we know it. Evolution would most probably start virtually anew, from whatever can survive … bacteria, maybe even some sturdy insects – but mammals, us included, will most likely fall by the wayside. In the really grand scheme of things we don't matter. For the Cosmos we're pretty insignificant. But we are not insignificant to us. We have to make sure we survive. And we won't if we carry on as we are doing now.
None of this is really news. I'm confident that, you, my reader, will have heard this before. Possibly even so often that you find the issue hackneyed and don't want to hear it any more. But you have to. Just like I do.
Personally, I can vividly remember having the connection between the world's problems and overpopulation pointed out to me in a TV documentary I watched when I was a teenager, sometime in the mid to late 1970s. I also remember such "pessimistic" scientists and science journalists appearing in chat shows, saying, if we don't change our ways now, we're doomed. The reaction usually was this: "so it's not all too late yet, is it?" Answer: "OK, no, not IF we change things NOW." But apparently what was understood was rather this: "Oh, good, what a relief: it's not all too late yet … so let's continue as usual. Hurray!" I found it depressing even then.
The same is by and large still the case today. In a way it's worse: awareness has certainly spread. Climate change is a topic no one ignores anymore (except perhaps some stubborn idiots with vested interests in resource depletion) and "going green" is becoming a more and more widespread effort. But the fact remains, that in practical terms "green" progress is outpaced by accelerated global resource depletion, more emissions, and, still, more population growth triggering yet more emissions and resource depletion. It's not just the failure of world leaders at climate conferences to agree any meaningful measures. Even if they did, there seems to be little that can actually be done to stop the development anyway. Or could we change it?
As I argued above, simply relying on science to miraculously come up with whatever solutions are required to ensure that everything will be fine, while we carry on ruining the planet, will not work. Separating rubbish and driving hybrid cars and so on will not be enough either. I'm not knocking it. All these private efforts are highly commendable and everyone should be encouraged to do as much as they can in their own way (at this point the issue of travel and climate change
comes in too).
Vis-a-vis the population growth especially in Asia and Africa, however, you can't help but feel that whatever one does to "go green" in the Western world is but a drop in the ocean disappearing with next to zero effect in the sea of more and more people. Also, the industrialized world isn't doing anywhere near enough, beyond paying some lip service, either. It, too, is still based on growth (and it remains true that the world's richest nation, the USA
, is still the worst in terms of emissions and resource exploitation … although China
is poised to take over that dubious championship title soon).
It should be so obvious, but it is hardly ever brought up: if we agree that there are too many people on this planet, then shouldn't we seek to reduce the figure? Obviously not by killing off two-thirds or more of the world's population, but by cutting reproduction? Yet, it seems that this very thought is a total no-no to most. That's probably because it is biologically hard-wired in humans (like any species): reproduction is felt to be the No. 1 purpose in life, the very meaning of life even. I'm not even blaming religion here (although religion and traditions in general also do their bit in sustaining this rationale). Even if the church suddenly allowed rigorous birth control, it still wouldn't do anything about people wanting to have children.
Just look at China
, whose population has roughly doubled since the 1960s despite a strict one-child policy having been in place for decades. (By the way, this legislation has been much criticized as an infringement on human liberty – you get the picture: humans' "right" to produce more than one child is seen by many as more valuable than the survival of the planet – to put it quite bluntly.)
The problem is aggravated by the fact that in Third World countries, having more children is not only a question of status but also of economic survival, serving as the standard pension scheme, as it were.
At the same time in the West, sinking birth rates coupled with people living longer and longer raises concerns about the whole pension system in our societies. Thus adults who chose to remain childless are criticized as being selfish – for not doing their duty to ensure the continuation of the system … it can even be put more nationalistically: as good citizens we're expected to do our part in ensuring that "we" Germans/British/French/Swedish/whatever don't "die out" (also enter at this point: the issue of migration and fear of a culture clash …).
From a global perspective, in contrast, there could be nothing more selfish than having children (especially in the plural!). This is precisely what the "Voluntary Human Extinction Movement" somewhat whimsically claims (see www.vhemt.org/). They do have a point – even though they also exaggerate it. What we need would not necessarily be total extinction of the human race, but a reduction to a sustainable level. But even to attain that it would indeed require us to lower our reproduction rate drastically until we can afford it again to allow for what demographers call "replacement level" (when death and birth rate are equal, so that the population is sustained at a stable figure).
So there we have it: that would be the solution to the core of all those problems. Of course it would come with its own severe problems as we go along (how to support an aged population without sufficient offspring paying and caring for them is an obvious one to worry about). But ultimately we don't have much choice other than that. If we carry on overstretching the planet by being far too many, then human civilization, if not humankind at large, WILL go to pot, and with us most of today's biodiversity.
I am not joining the call for "voluntary human extinction" – I find human civilization too marvellous a thing to sacrifice. But if the much adduced argument of "for the sake of future generations" is to have any meaning at all, then human population reduction is an inevitable prerequisite. We have to do it for them! If we don't, then beware the wrath of those future generations. They will curse us for not having done what we should have done when we knew, or at least should have known, what we had to do.
What one CAN do, as an individual, is a complex package – giving preference to sustainable resources, avoiding waste, raising awareness, not eating meat, reducing mobility and/or offsetting it, and so on and so forth (again also see under travel and environmental issues
and climate change
). Also: supporting politics that turn away from the old standard model of growth as the one guiding principle. And, crucially, it also has to include the personal question of reproduction.
Adding another human being to the planet is the biggest "carbon footprint" one can leave. Doing without it is thus a major contribution towards reducing one's own impact. At the same time it's a step in the necessary direction of population reduction. It doesn't have to mean abandoning the idea of having a family. If you think you can't live without raising children: adopt. There are already far too many children without a family. You'd do doubly good. Insisting on having one's own offspring, in contrast, is indeed "selfish" – and you'd have to do a lot to justify it by "offsetting" this impact in other ways, if that is at all possible.
As the bottom line, we should all strive to strike a good balance in our efforts to reduce the harm our existence does to other beings and the planet at large, and personally I made not reproducing part of this – together with other efforts (esp. avoiding meat, not driving a car, giving preference to sustainable produce, etc. – I'm sure I could do more, I'm no angel, but I'm trying to get better in more ways). So if I hear it one more time from a big-car-driving, junk-buying carnivore that my decision to stay childless is "selfish" I might just hit the ceiling (at least). If you think my decision is selfish, then read this article again from the top!
What you could call me selfish for is having made travel the priority in my life (and for that it certainly helps not to have children). That I'd accept. But not for not putting more children into this precarious world.
Of course you could be really selfish and argue that "if it's all too late anyway, why should I show restraint when no one else does? If I want children, I'll have them. In the same way as you could say: why should I not enjoy driving SUVs while I can; or eat beef daily, buy strawberries in winter flown in from the other hemisphere, shop for the newest gadgets and throw away the previous ones, and, yes travel as much as I like? I'll be gone when it all collapses anyway! So why should I worry about the world to come after I'm gone?"
I see the nihilistic point (and I am sometimes tempted to succumb to it too, when I'm in a particularly pessimistic mood). But there's one crucial difference when it comes to reproducing – if you leave offspring behind, they will pay the bill for what you, and everyone else, is not fixing now while it may just about still be possible. With offspring in the equation, the issue of responsibility becomes an altogether different ball game. And to be perfectly frank, yes, I don't want to have that responsibility. Precisely because the chances that it cannot be fulfillable are too great.
If you are already a parent, don't feel too guilty, rather try and raise your child to be better citizen of Planet Earth than most contemporary inhabitants of it are. Do restrain from adding any more children to the world than you already have. In general, having just one child is at least below replacement level, so that can still halfway count as a contribution to population reduction. Having two is breaking even with you and your partner's eventual demise, so at least doesn't go beyond replacement level, so makes no difference one way or the other. Having more than two children, however, is indeed getting beyond what you could possibly compensate for, even if you dropped all amenities of civilization and lived self-sufficiently without any additional carbon footprint. But wanting to have it all, lots of children AND meat, big motors, travel, etc. – now that
is indeed immoral and selfish!
Of course, none of this makes very good party conversation, especially not when people who have children are about (or even the children themselves). I don't rub it in. I tend to hold back and rather not mention it. Because it is so easily perceived as offensive if you don't join the "having children is great" reflex. And generally I try to be polite. So I don't say anything. But lately I have been thinking, maybe the issue should be brought more to the fore, maybe the VHEMT people do need more vocal support. I don't know. At least I've written this piece – and maybe it makes one or two people think. That's probably the best I can hope for …
– a type of small bunker, usually round (or roundish), serving typically as fortified machine-gun positions, with slits in the concrete to shoot through, often manned by no more than two soldiers ... although larger versions also exist – up to the point where the concept blurs into that of "regular" bunkers. Albania
is particularly (in)famous for its countless pillbox bunkers which, though now disused, are still scattered all over the land (>Albanian bunkers galore
– leader of the (CIA
-aided) putsch of 1973 against Chile
's democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende
(who perished in it) – and subsequently head of the military junta that seized power and subjected the country to a brutal regime in which thousands and thousands of political opponents (and many totally innocent citizens too) were incarcerated in concentration camps, tortured, and often simply "disappeared" (i.e. murdered). For 17 years, Pinochet managed to cling on to power, and was only gradually moved away from being an influential figure even after he was no longer at the helm himself, but remained Commander-in-Chief of the army. The country did, however, begin the process of returning to democracy from 1990. As the ageing ex-dictator's health declined, he made use of his good relations with Great Britain
, where in 1998 he went to receive medial treatment (and meet his old friend ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher). However, Spanish judges demanded that Pinochet be extradited to Spain
on charges of torture, murder, illegal detention, etc. (also against Spanish citizens – hence). It was a landmark struggle in international law – but eventually Pinochet was allowed to return home, on the usual health grounds. A few years later, however, he was also put under house arrest in Chile
and deemed fit enough to stand trial. Charges after charges were brought forward, but Pinochet, then aged 91, died in December 2006, without having been convicted.
– real name: Saloth Sar, born 19 May 1928, died 15 April 1998. Leader (aka "Brother No. 1") of the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge
and thus of the Cambodian
state from 1975 to 1979. During that time he was the main figure responsible for the ruthless agrarian collectivization and brutal persecution of any trace of opposition that became known as the Cambodian (auto-)genocide
. After he was removed from power by the invading Vietnamese
in 1979, Pol Pot fled north, also into exile for a while. From the north, the Khmer Rouge continued a guerrilla-like reign of terror in Cambodia well into the 1990s. Only when support for him and the Khmer Rouge (through China
, but also the USA
) came to an end, the possibility emerged that he may be handed over and put on trial. He had been ousted and put under house arrest by the then second in command, Ta Mok ("the butcher"), at the last Khmer Rouge stronghold at Anlong Veng
. Before he could be handed over and tried, however, Pol Pot died under mysterious circumstances while in Ta Mok's custody. His body was quickly cremated in Anlong Veng, so no investigation into the cause of death was possible. It is rumoured he may have been poisoned or driven to suicide. Officially it was said he died of heart failure. In any case, this "Hitler
of South-East Asia", one of the worst mass murderers the world has ever seen, through his death escaped being held responsible for his deeds.
POW – abbreviation for 'prisoner of war'
) – a period of liberalized communism in the CSSR
under reformer Alexander Dubcek in 1968. But as early as in August of the same year all this was violently crushed by the Soviet Union
who would not tolerate any such moves in one of its satellite states of the Eastern Bloc
, so Warsaw Pact
troops invaded the country and put a stop to the new freedoms. Resistance by CSSR citizens provided some extremely iconic images (esp. of the man-standing-in-the-path-of-a-tank variety – cf. Tiananmen Square
) but were ultimately useless. The invasion was widely criticized across the world. Interestingly not only by the West, but also from within the Eastern Bloc, esp. by Romania
's leader Nicolae Ceausescu
. Still, it was the Cold War
, and the Soviet Union wouldn't budge. Thus it wasn't until 1989 that the CSSR managed to rid itself of communism
for good, this time in a remarkably peaceful "Velvet Revolution
– descriptive term from the Cold War
era for wars in which the superpowers USA
and Soviet Union
fought each other indirectly, as it were, namely through supporting opposing sides in quite "hot" wars outside their own respective territories. This also gave them the opportunity to "test" their military technology in real action. Prime examples were the Korean War
and the Vietnam War
– a type of volcanic rock that is the result of super-heated, pressurized ejections esp. in explosive volcano eruptions (and can also be the result of lava mixing with water). It's a kind of solidified froth and thus extremely lightweight due to its porous nature trapping lots of air pockets. Its low density enables it to float on water. Being so lightweight, it's a sought-after raw material for buildings and insulation. Places of dark tourism associated with pumice include Pompeii
and the route to Viti
– a type of volcanic eruption, or rather the after-effect of an eruption, in which super-hot currents of gas and rock shoot down the slopes of a volcano and through valleys at extreme speeds of up to or exceeding 400 mph (due to an air-cushion effect reducing, or nearly eliminating friction), making them one of the most dangerous and destructive volcanic phenomena. They can leave behind massive deposits which in turn can then become dangerous themselves, namely when rainwater turns them into lahars
, mudflows of volcanic ash. Places affected by pyroclastic flows and lahars that have since/hence become dark tourism destinations include Merapi
, Herculaneum near Pompeii
in the Caribbean.
= Royal Air Force, Great Britain
's air defence branch of its military.
– short for "Rote Armee Fraktion", 'Red Army Faction', the notorious terrorist organization in (West) Germany
that had formed out of the left-wing student movement of the 1960s but took the political "cause" (which was never really defined in any clear way) into an armed "guerilla" war. Especially during the 1970s and 80s, they carried out a number of major operations such as bombings, assassinations, bank robberies, hostage taking (cf. Stockholm
) and the like, until most members had ended up in jail and the remaining free members declared an end to the organization's cause (as times had changed and they conceded that violence was not the way … or something like that). The R.A.F.'s infamous logo featured the silhouette of a Kalashnikov machine gun against a black star. The organization was also often referred to as the "Baader-Meinhof-Group", after two of its most prominent leaders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof (who both committed suicide in jail).
Romanian revolution of 1989
– the fall of communism
towards the end of 1989 took a somewhat different course compared to the changes in neighbouring Eastern Bloc
countries at the time, which were more or less peaceful transitions to democracy (esp. the "Velvet Revolution
" in the CSSR
). Not so in Romania. For starters, the revolution in Romania came later, with Romania's dictator Ceausescu
clinging on to power (like the last one standing) even after irreversible changes had already taken their course in the GDR
, the CSSR
… But when the revolution did break out it did so with much more violence than in any other country of the former Warsaw Pact
. It is also the only case in the whole collapse of the Eastern Bloc in which a former dictator was not only deprived of power but also of his life.
It is however disputed whether it can even count as a real revolution at all. It started as one alright, from 16 December 1989, initially with mass protests in the western Romanian city of Timisoara, which quickly spread to the capital Bucharest
. Attempts by Ceausescu, who was desperately clinging on to power, at brutally crushing the revolt were thwarted by parts of the military switching sides and joining forces with the revolutionaries. Things got particularly chaotic and bloody from 21 December. A speech by Ceausescu on what is today Piata Revolutiei
, supposed to be a rally in his support got out of control and turned into an anti-Ceausescu demonstration. Full-scale fighting broke out between the protesters and the military during which over 1000 protesters were killed. The next day saw one of the most iconic scenes in the whole media coverage of the revolution. Ceausescu made a final attempt at delivering a speech from the balcony of the Communist Party's Central Committee building, but was booed off and then "evacuated" from the scene by a helicopter taking off from the building's roof only moments before it was stormed by protesters.
Meanwhile, the revolutionaries had taken over the television centre and famously broadcast the announcement that the dictator "had gone" and that they had "won". Well, the former was soon to be even more true, but as for the latter, it's never been so clear:
and his wife Elena were captured shortly after their escape by helicopter. In a kind of show trial they were sentenced to death and promptly executed by firing squad on Christmas Day 1989. While the actual shooting was not filmed, the trial was, as was the inspection of the dead bodies of the executed, all shown on the new "free" television. It was all eerily suspicious.
It is indeed widely claimed that what looked like a "proper" revolution to outsiders was in actual fact more a coup d'etat from within the country's communist party itself, who had longed to dispose of Ceausescu anyway and seized the opportunity to do so when the moment came in the chaos of the violent demonstrations. And indeed, the quickly emerging "National Salvation Front" under former Ceausescu confidant Ion Iliescu promptly filled the power vacuum. So basically the same political caste held on to power, albeit under a new name and banner. The fact that the Ceausescus were so speedily disposed of without a chance for a proper trial is often seen as supporting the conclusion that, at least at the top level, this hadn't really been a revolution but a coup, which was only taking advantage of the people's revolutionary mood.
If the suspicion needed corroboration, it came shortly after in the form of the "Mineriada", or miners' riots, of January 1990 and in particular again from 13 to 15 June, when Iliescu had some 20,000 miners carted into Bucharest
to brutally quash protests that had erupted about his election as president (the manner of which was severely questioned by many and seen as just a replacement of the old regime with a new face). In ugly scenes of violence the miners (some shouting things like "death to intellectuals") injured hundreds of (mostly student) protesters, even killing scores of them – though exact figures vary too widely to be sure of anything (the death toll lies somewhere between an "official" six and up to 300). But still, Iliescu had the audacity to go on television and publicly thank the miners for their brave work in saving the "revolutionary spirit". His accusations that the protesters were "fascists" and "hooligans", controlled by some outside "conspiracy", were fully in line with what one was accustomed to under the previous openly communist propaganda of old. Still, Iliescu managed to get himself re-elected in 1992, ousted in 1996, and re-re-elected in 2000. His term ended in 2004 but he remained in parliament until recently and is still a prominent figure.
The Ceausescus, on the other hand, were given mere paupers' graves in Bucharest's Ghencea cemetery (see Ceausescu's grave
– 'Rwandan Patriotic Front', the Tutsi rebel force that originally formed in and operated from exile in Uganda
, but in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide
went into Rwanda
and took over power within 3 months. In the process the RPF ended the genocide (and was therefore celebrated as the liberators by the genocide survivors). But it also drove out Hutu refugees into neighbouring Congo
, who were fearing reprisal acts. Some such incidents seem to have indeed occurred, but on the whole the RPF demonstrated remarkable restraint in dealing with the Hutus. The RPF's commander at the time, Paul Kagame
, later became first defence minister of the new Rwanda, and then president, now in his third consecutive term.
– one of the worst ever large-scale genocides
in modern history, a mass butchering of ca. 800,000 to up to one million, predominantly of the Tutsi ethnic minority by extremists of the Hutu majority – although a smaller proportion of the victims were also Hutus who were considered "moderates" (and thus "enemies" too). The killings lasted for about 100 days from April to July 1994.
The roots of the events are complicated – the genocide certainly did not come as out of the blue as it was mostly perceived in the outside world, esp. in the West. A particular irony is the fact that the ethnic distinction between Tutsi (the minority, but for much of Rwanda
's history the power elite) and the majority Hutus was only institutionalized (and enforcedly marked in identity papers) during colonial rule by Belgium
(which ended only in 1962). Before the arrival of the colonizers the distinction had rather been one of class than of race (although there is a racial origin involved in the dichotomy too), with the Tutsis, who had apparently moved in centuries ago from the north as cattle herders, outdoing the Hutus, who have traditionally always been farmers. Cattle represented more wealth, and so the Tutsis developed into a kind of economic (and also royal) elite minority. There have always been a lot of intermarriages, however, so that the ethnic divide had apparently become rather blurred. Through the European colonizers' zeal for eugenics during the first half of the 20th century, though, it eventually became grounds for openly confrontational racism in the post-colonial power struggle – and power disputes coupled with racism is always a volatile combination.
The first phase of genocidal acts directed against Tutsis occurred from 1959, which drove many into exile, in particular to Uganda in the north. The Belgian colonial rule now adopted a position that turned the power strata of the country simply on its head: instead of the minority Tutsis being supported (and exploited) as a ruling class, the Hutus, as the ethnic majority, were now put in power – but without accompanying changes in political structures this hardly amounted to the democratic progress it was declared to be by the outgoing colonial power.
Instead, autocratic Hutu leaders were now at the helm, Tutsis became refugees within and outside Rwanda, and Tutsi rebels began a civil war. Meanwhile internally Hutu clans held on to power, partly assisted and armed by France
and Belgium, in return for the promise of democratic reforms (which however failed to materialize). Economic problems aggravated the situation – enter the need for a scapegoat …
The tensions within Rwanda are also intrinsically linked to similar tensions in neighbouring countries, in particular Burundi, where smaller scale, though still significant, genocides (first against Hutus, then too against Tutsis) had taken place in 1972 and 1993 respectively. Involvement in political upheavals in Zaire, later the Democratic Republic of Congo
, also played a role and still do so today (see below). The situation in Rwanda grew increasingly more violent and explosive during the early 1990s, with frequent massacres already occurring. But it was still but a foreboding of what was to come in 1994.
On the political stage, the Rwandan leadership was pressured into peace negotiations, labelled the Arusha Accords, after the place in Tanzania where they were drafted. The international community was supposed to support the peace process and a UN peacekeeping force was formed: UNAMIR
(for 'United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda'). However, under-funded, under-equipped and under-supported politically, this ill-fated mission never had a real chance of preventing what was to come.
In any case, what then happened in Rwanda
from April 1994 matched the definition of genocide
in a most crystal clear fashion: it was a planned, systematic, nationwide extermination operation targeting an ethnically defined section of society, a people, with the overtly stated policy of wiping them out completely (even the expression "final solution" was used). It was preceded and accompanied by mass propaganda to exactly that effect – especially through radio (which enjoyed exceptional authority amongst ordinary people). All Hutus were openly requested to take part in the extermination of all Tutsis – or else they'd risk being slaughtered themselves.
A main driving force in the mounting violence was a paramilitary organization called the Interahamwe
. For months before the onset of the genocide, they had been training for it. They also made their presence and determination increasingly openly known – supported and spurred on by what's become known as "hate radio". From an informant, the UN even received concrete pointers to weapons caches and clear indications that a genocide was being prepared. But the upper echelons of the UN in New York chose to ignore these hints.
A particular catalyst for the eruption of the mass killings was the shooting down of a plane on the evening of 6 April 1994 which had Rwanda's then Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana as well as Burundi's president Cyprien Ntaryamira on board, both of whom were killed in the subsequent crash … The exact circumstances of this event (and the identity of the perpetrators) remain shrouded in mystery, conspiracy theories and controversy. In any case, the very same night the political opposition, both Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders were eliminated (murdered, in many cases, in their own homes), as the "Hutu Power" extremists took over a "crisis government" – at the same time militias began going from house to house with well-prepared lists, in order to search out any Tutsis (singled out by means of their ID cards) … and the systematic slaughter took off.
The way the ensuing genocide was carried out was characterized by unmatched barbarism too: due to limited availability of firearms, the main weapons used were machetes and nail-studded clubs – i.e. the victims were literally slaughtered, battered and hacked to death. Men, women and children were all attacked indiscriminately – as long as they were Tutsis (often first openly selected and separated from Hutus).
Women, however, suffered in other ways too: a significant part of the genocide was the organized mass war rape of Tutsi women and girls, often carried out in full public view (and that of the families – before they were slaughtered). In the process many women were deliberately infected with HIV – an exceptional case of using the disease deliberately as a "weapon". Many estimates reckon that up to half a million women were raped during the genocide.
But it wasn't just marauding hordes of bloodthirsty savages doing all this. No, it was all well orchestrated, through a whole hierarchy, often supported and ordered by local and regional leaders, in many cases even with the active involvement of the church. Frequently, Tutsis looking for shelter, were deliberately sent to churches and schools under the false pretence they'd be safe there, when in reality it was just a ploy to assemble them in a confined place in order to make the mass slaughter easier. An overt pattern that showed the racist principle of the slaughter was the fact that the Hutu perpetrators often hacked off Tutsis' legs and arms to "shorten" them (as one racial feature of Tutsis is that they tend to be taller). Escape from the massacres was sometimes made impossible by first slashing the victims' tendons – so that the murderers could come back later to "finish" the "work". Indeed, it was declared "work" – a "duty" all Hutus were told they had to fulfil in order to eliminate the "enemy". And too many obeyed, few resisted.
The failure of the world and the UN to intervene and stop the genocide stands as one of the blackest marks in the history of the organization. Basically, the world just looked on (or rather: looked away), maybe shocked, but largely passive, while the horrors continued. The eyes of the media were also focused elsewhere at the time – namely on ex-Yugoslavia
, esp. Bosnia
, where war had returned to Europe, i.e. much closer to home from a Western perspective – and that also included genocide, albeit on a much smaller scale than in Rwanda, which was nevertheless left in the lurch.
It wasn't like nothing could have been done. In fact, UNAMIR's commander Romeo Dallaire had a detailed plan which, in hindsight, has widely been deemed workable to prevent the disaster through controlled use of military force. But instead, the mission was given neither the prerequisite mandate, nor the military means. On the contrary: after 10 Belgian UN soldiers were killed on 7 April (see under Camp Kigali
for more details), the reaction of the UN was not reinforcement (as demanded by UNAMIR on the ground) but more or less "running away". The UN troops were largely withdrawn, reduced to a fraction of what would have been needed – while a military effort was made only to evacuate expatriate Westerners quickly and then Rwanda was simply left to the slaughter. Hence the accusation that the world's (non-)reaction to the Rwandan genocide has racist elements itself cannot easily be refuted.
What cannot be denied at all is the fact that the Western powers and the UN proved too slow and bureaucratic to react adequately. The genocide was already three-quarters through while the UN was still debating about whether what was happening in Rwanda constituted "genocidal acts" (prompting the cynical question of how many such acts does it take for a genocide to be called genocide). The reluctance in even applying the term genocide can be explained by the fact that an acceptance of a genocide taking place would have meant a legal obligation of the UN and its member states to intervene. But clearly, nobody was prepared to bear the costs for such an intervention. Doing it for humanity's sake was obviously not enough of an incentive (and Rwanda doesn't have oil or a geo-strategically important location to offer as more convincing incentives). So for months, Dallaire and his rump mission in Kigali tried to do what little they could, but ultimately were bound to fail.
In the end it was the Tutsi rebel army of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame
who ended the genocide – through a military victory, systematically invading Rwanda from their bases in Uganda, and eventually seizing power in the country. (Kagame later became president, and still holds the post today.)
As the RPF pushed westwards, a mass exodus of Hutus, fearing retribution, further aggravated the situation during the latter phases of the genocide and afterwards. Hundreds of thousands fled especially into neighbouring Congo
(then still called Zaire). At that point, at the end of June, there came a sudden reaction by the French
who launched a forceful "humanitarian" mission of their own (though UN-sanctioned) under the code name "Operation Turquoise". Creating a "safe zone" in the west of Rwanda and supporting refugee camps in Goma
and elsewhere, however, later earned the French the accusation of having provided the perpetrators of the genocide ("genocidaires") with a "corridor" through which to escape. Not only that, it gave them a base from which they were able to continue their murderous work. (And that after France had also helped the Rwandan Hutu regime by providing military training before the genocide – little wonder, then, that the role France played in the whole affair is, to say the very least, "controversial").
The large-scale displacement of people and the squalor of the refugee camps finally made the eyes of the world take note – though often perhaps under the wrong impression that these were all refugees who had fled from genocide as victims, not perpetrators. In any case, now that the genocide was over, foreign aid money did start to flow – in the end to a proportion that far outweighed what it would have cost the world to prevent the genocide in the first place. Moreover, the continuing civil war in Congo has ironically triggered what is currently the largest UN
mission. Too much too late, as Dallaire once called it. And whether any lessons had been learned from Rwanda
was subsequently called into question over Darfur in Sudan.
The phrase "never again" predictably dominates the canonized commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, as it has done in that of the Holocaust
. But you really have to wonder whether the world can really just keep saying never again again, and again and again
, without that phrase becoming more vacuous with every repetition …
The issues and tensions are far from resolved within post-genocide Rwanda either, and the situation especially along the regions bordering Congo and Burundi remains volatile. By and large, however, Rwanda has been remarkably successful since the late 1990s at calming the country down and recovering both economically and mentally.
Though political freedoms are still somewhat restricted, the country's coming to terms with its genocidal recent past is second to none anywhere in Africa – and beyond. While e.g. in Cambodia
the process of tackling that country's auto-genocide
past are only beginning now, more than three decades afterwards, Rwanda was amazingly quick in openly engaging with commemoration of the tragedy, through eyewitnesses and victims speaking out, reconciliation efforts actively being promoted, and: memorial centres being established (see under Rwanda
Obviously not everybody is keen to engage in this – and trials and prosecution of perpetrators is still a very tall order (and a complicated one at that – as often victims and perpetrators were neighbours). At the top level, there's the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, which also has an outpost in Kigali. At the grassroots level, almost literally even, is the Gacaca trial system ("gacaca" means 'grass' in Kinyarwanda) as a kind of revived community judicial system, where suspected perpetrators are supposed to admit to and show remorse for their crimes during the genocide in front of survivors and victims' families. The system, intended to speed up the enormous backlog of cases as well as to aid "healing" in the aftermath of the genocide, is not ideal; but you have to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of suspected perpetrators, and no fully formal legal system could possibly deal with that. So Rwanda is trying to go about this in its own way. And who could blame them for doing it their own way, after the rest of the world ignored them when they had needed help.
For the future you just have to hope that the violence is now over for good. It remains to be seen but things are looking up at least within Rwanda itself. Reconciliation is state policy – to the point that the ethnic distinction between Hutus and Tutsis is no longer to be made (the alternative motto being encouraged is to say "we're all Rwandans!"). In general it seems to working alright – even though there have also been worrying reports of ethnic divisions resurfacing in schools, despite the educational efforts being made at that level too.
Rwanda is these days considered to be one of the most stable countries in Central Africa, if not the whole continent. The economy is strong (by African standards at least) and tourism, having increased exponentially over the years, has helped a good deal too.
For general country information see under Rwanda
Some background reading
that can be recommended include UNAMIR
's former commander Romeo Dallaire's own account of the months between October 1993 and August 1994, entitled "Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda" (2003), which for the most part is a precise chronological report, balanced between military accuracy and sometimes emotional outbursts, which also contains a much needed glossary of names, terms and abbreviations (indispensable with all that UN jargon); another recommended book is called, gruesomely, "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" (1998), by New York journalist Philip Gourevitch. It's a pioneering account of Rwanda (and the region) in the early years of dealing with the aftermath of the genocide. Gourevitch too points many a well-justified guilty finger at the West, while at the same time you can feel his admiration for Rwanda's efforts in coming to terms with its dark past. Both books contain some gruesome details of the slaughters during the genocide, so neither is for the faint-hearted. But at least one of them should be essential reading in preparation for a trip to the actual country and the sites where the genocide took place.
– the dreaded secret police during the communist
dictatorship in Romania
, the force that upheld the police state in the country, roughly the equivalent of the Soviet Union
or the GDR
– according to Marx
, socialism is a kind of precursor en route to achieving full communism
. The theoretical distinction is in reality often quite blurred, esp. with regard to countries that have or had the word "Socialist" in their official names, so that frequently the two labels are used interchangeably as synonyms (on this website too) – in particular in the context of the former Eastern Bloc
countries. In other contexts, the distinction is more relevant, e.g. when talking about the non-communist "socialism" in countries such as Venezuela
. In Western Europe the politics of Social Democrats derived certain elements from the socialist ideas but incorporated them, selectively, into a framework that is at the same time committed to capital-driven market economy, but "tamed" by social elements. This is something very different to communism/socialism and must not be confused with either.
– an art form, favoured by socialist
countries, which often depicts workers, soldiers, ideological leaders or technological achievements, significant landscapes, etc. in a realistic but often very glorified manner. This can be in the form of sculptures/monuments or in the form of paintings or propaganda posters. Sometimes elements of modernism are incorporated, but rarely in a truly abstract way. Typical symbols like the hammer and sickle (standing for workers and farmers) feature a lot. Prominent figureheads, e.g. communist thinkers/leaders such as Marx
used to have statues or busts in every town or village in the Eastern Bloc
. The "great leaders" were of course other obligatory motifs. Extreme examples can be so over the top, esp. to Western eyes, that they are almost funny. In the former Eastern Bloc, where communism
was driven out from 1989, the socialist realist statues and posters largely disappeared from public view. Many statues were simply trashed, some merely removed and dumped somewhere. Here and there, they have been put in special collections, in museums or sculpture parks (see e.g. Memento Park, Budapest
or Grutas Park
). A few particularly large examples (e.g. Rodina Mat
) remain in their original place. Basically, the further east you get, the more likely you are to still find those Lenins etc. still in place. And of course in countries that remain fully and staunchly communist, or even Stalinist, notably North Korea
, socialist realism is still dominating all art and propaganda. There is/was also socialist realism in literature, but for the tourist it's those sculptures and posters that form particular, visitable attractions, especially in communism tourism of course - see categories of dark tourism
and dark destinations ordered by category
– meaning "solidarity" in Polish, was the driving force in the overcoming of communist
rule in Poland
in the 1980s. Originally founded more as an independent trade union, but later turned into a full-blown political party, Solidarnosc achieved its victory in 1989, and Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa became president of Poland for several years. Solidarnosc, and Poland at large, is widely seen as the pioneer of political change in the former Eastern Bloc
without which the development that eventually led to the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War
may not have been possible.
– literally 'special commandos/units/task forces', but in a more specific terminological sense it was the euphemism used by the Nazis
to refer to the work units of Jewish prisoners at the death camps
of the Holocaust
(see in particular Operation Reinhard
) whose most gruesome task it was to clear out the gas chambers after each batch of mass murder that was committed in that way in places like Auschwitz
. The SS
would do the actual gassing, but removing the contorted and soiled corpses afterwards was left to the victims themselves, as it were. The Sonderkommandos often had the additional task of extracting gold teeth and removing other hidden valuables from the dead – and only then would they feed the corpses into the crematoria. The prisoners selected for this most "dirty work" aspect to the Holocaust were forced into it under threat of their own lives, of course, but they were also given slightly better provisions and living conditions (if only because the Nazis needed them to remain fit enough to perform their work). However, even that lasted only for short periods. Normally, the "teams" would be changed on a regular basis, every few months – that is: the previous ones would be murdered too, and a new Sonderkommando, formed out of new arrivals at the camps, was forced to take over. In a context that is already so full of unbelievable cruelty, this use of Sonderkommandos was arguably the most vile aspect. There were two uprising involving members of these groups, namely at Auschwitz and at Treblinka, but only a very small handful of Sonderkommando members survived the Holocaust
to tell the tale, amongst them Shlomo Dragon and Henryk Mandelbaum.
– common short name of the state whose official full name was USSR: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Historically, the USSR emerged out of the Tsarist Russian empire, following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War. The Union was officially founded in 1922, with Lenin
as its first leader (followed by Stalin
, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev). It lasted until its dissolution in 1991.
Until then the USSR had been the largest and oldest communist
state in existence, and dominated a large part of the world, esp. in the Eastern hemisphere – hence the designation Eastern Bloc
. It served as a model for the founding of other communist states, several European ones joined the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact
, the communist counterpart of the USA
during the Cold War
, which more or less seamlessly followed WWII
, in which Stalin
's USSR had been one of the victorious powers – but also the country that had suffered the greatest human losses.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union accumulated a gigantic arsenal of nuclear weapons, which together with that of its arch enemy the USA threatened to wipe out humankind in a possible Third World War
Strained by the cost of the arms race and general economic difficulties the political power of the communist party increasingly began to crumble. In the 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union, tried to reform the country – Perestroika and Glasnost became key words. This in turn led to the end of the Cold War
but also to a collapse of the Warsaw Pact, as more and more former satellite states shed their communist
past. While this was generally applauded in the West, internally the Soviet Union was still a mess – and after a failed military coup in 1991, it basically broke apart too. Former Soviet republics became independent states, while the heartland of the USSR got back to being simply Russia
(which even without the former Soviet republics remains the largest country on Earth). Some of the ex-USSR republics and satellite states managed to turn into modern democracies, others less so. Whether Russia itself can count as a democracy is widely contested, even though it's no longer communist. Others, esp. Belarus
, held on to the former forms of governance, yet others turned into autocracies of a different ilk, most notably Turkmenistan
The collapse of the Soviet Union had wide repercussions beyond its former constituents and direct satellite states, in particular on communist states in other parts of the world, which had relied on support from the USSR, in particular Cuba
or North Korea
(the latter has now overtaken the USSR as the longest standing communist state in history).
For the dark tourist
, the legacy of the Soviet Union left a particularly rich range of destinations in well over a dozen countries, sites related to communism
, Cold War
and nuclear testing
, environmental disaster areas, and more. It's probably fair to say that the former USSR has left the world about as many dark tourism destinations as even the Nazis of the Third Reich
Ex-Soviet countries of note as dark destinations are: Russia
, the Baltic states Latvia
, Moldova (see Transnistria
), the Caucasus states Georgia
, as well as the Central Asian countries Kazakhstan
; former Soviet satellite states of particular interest to the dark tourist are Poland
, the GDR
), the CSSR
(see Czech Republic
– short for German "Schutzstaffel" ('protection squad'), the paramilitary organization that was originally indeed founded as a mere security guard group for the early meetings of the NSDAP
), but after the Nazis
came to power developed into the most feared and most deadly part of the Nazis' terror machine. Under the command of Heinrich Himmler, the SS grew in importance and influence and in the end was the part of the Third Reich
that was responsible for the majority of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. The SS became an elite force within the Nazi organization, and only those most committed to the Nazi ideology could join. The SS not only ran the concentration camps
, they also formed the Einsatzgruppen
and later oversaw the death camps
of Operation Reinhard
. It was always SS guards who would operate the gas chambers … (while inmate Sonderkommandos
were left to do the "dirty work" afterwards). The black SS uniforms, their runic symbol and skull on the cap reflected their dark purpose visually and have become legendary icons of the Nazi era. Given their evil record, it was clear that after WWII
the SS, together with the NSDAP
and other Nazi organizations, would be outlawed by the Allied victors (see Nuremberg
trials). However, many SS men got away with it and managed to go into exile, especially South America – cf. Eichmann
. Other key figures did not survive the end of the Third Reich: Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated (see Lidice
) and Heinrich Himmler committed suicide after he was captured by the British on 23 May 1945 (namely by cyanide poisoning, which was the "preferred" method that the top Nazis used to top themselves…).
– real name Iosef Besarionis dze Jughashvili, born in Georgia
1878, died 1953; the adopted name Stalin roughly means "the man of steel". He was also nicknamed abroad the "Red Tsar", as he was the successor of Lenin
as head of the communist Soviet Union
and became one of world history's greatest and most ruthless dictators. He's most notoriously known for the purges of the 1930s, in which he had hundreds of thousands, if not millions, exiled/deported and/or interned in forced labour prison camps/gulags
or even directly executed, for being "enemies of the people" (i.e. political opponents, even just vaguely potential opponents, including former allies). His reform plans in that era also caused widespread famine, hitting esp. hard in the Ukrainian
SSR, where millions starved to death. In World War II
he also had masses of people deported, especially ethnic Germans, suspected of potentially being ready to collaborate with Germany
as the Nazi
armies invaded the Soviet Union.
Stalin led the Soviet Union to victory against the Nazis, however, and raised the USSR
's status to that of a superpower in the subsequently ensuing Cold War
against the USA
and the West. His paranoia towards his party collaborators, making them toe the line through sheer fear, was legendary. After his sudden death in 1953, his successor Nikita Krushchev started a process of De-Stalinization, and for a while also relaxed the confrontation with West (not for that long though). "Stalinism" has become a term used for any extremely repressive (communist
) state system, especially if it involves a similar propagandistic cult of personality (as e.g. in North Korea
). While reverence for Stalin, and his statues, soon disappeared all over the (former) communist world, the cult of personality about "Uncle Joe" was still going strong in his birth place Gori
. And in recent years it has even seen a certain revival within e.g. Ukraine
and also Russia
– acronym standing for "strategic arms reduction treaty", signed by the USA
and the then USSR
in September 1991, and a significant step in the ending of the Cold War
– not just a famous (and rather overrated) series of science-fiction movies, also the term informally (and somewhat sarcastically) applied to the ambitions esp. on the part of the USA
to find a way of intercepting nuclear missiles (esp. ICBMs
) and thus breaking out of the principle of mutual assured destruction, which had formed the core of the Cold War
system of deterrence. President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" programme called SDI ('Strategic Defence Initiative'), initiated at the height of the Cold War, was as controversial (precisely because it undermined the rationale behind deterrence) as it was unsuccessful. Today, however, similar ambitions again stir up tensions between the USA
(as well as Poland
and the Czech Republic
), although both context and scale have changed …
– the secret police in the GDR
. The East German system of repression of, and spying on, its own population was one of many such systems within the states in the Eastern Bloc
, but probably second only to the KGB
in efficiency. The GDR's "Ministerium für Staatsicherheit", or 'ministry of state security', officially MfS for short, but better known under the informal short form 'Stasi', was founded in 1950 as a combination of secret police and an intelligence agency. The Stasi had more than ten times the number of official full-time personnel than even the Nazis
had had. It was not only given excessive resources in technology and personnel of its own, it also infiltrated the general population through so-called 'unofficial co-operators' – "Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter – IMs". And that's not counting the army of about 180,000 'unofficial co-operators': such 'IMs' were typically people of the general public, from all walks of life, who were frequently approached (even pressured) by the Stasi to assist in the spying. Such 'lay spies' or informers were often able to gather and pass on information that the 'official' proper spies would not so easily have had access to, simply because they were personally closer to them – even friends and family members were brought to spy on each other in this way. Thus it was nearly impossible for anybody in the GDR not to be affected by this system. Even the smallest of 'offences' or remotest reasons for suspicion were traced with German efficiency. And so many people found themselves suddenly snatched by the Stasi and thrown into prisons (such as Hohenschönhausen
) for the wildest of 'reasons', but quite frequently for nothing more than expressing a wish to leave the country. That was enough. Once at the remand prison, 'suspects' were subjected to interrogation, solitary confinement, all manner of psychological torture and occasionally more than that, all ultimately aimed at breaking the inmate's will – after all, only a very small number of the Stasi's victims really posed any kind of threat to the state. The point was rather general repression of any non-conformist attitudes and ideas. However, this system seemed to have developed its very own dynamics, in which it hardly mattered whether there were any 'reasons' involved at all. For most of its existence, from 1957 to its dissolution in 1990, the Stasi was headed by minister Erich Mielke
, one of the key figures of the GDR
Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall
(which led to the end of the communist
regime), enraged protesters stormed Stasi centres to stop the shredding of files – which Stasi staff quickly set out to do to cover up their actions. Today, enormous numbers of Stasi files still exist that would take decades to evaluate.
To this day, the whole issue of the Stasi constitutes something of an open wound in reunified Germany
's attempts at coming to terms with its past – and frequently there's more salt poured into this wound when new cases of uncovered former 'unofficial co-operators' come to light, or even just suspicions are raised.
(See also >Stasi museum
and >Stasi exhibition Berlin
, Claus Schenk von – the main member of the plot to assassinate Hitler
on 20 July 1944. Stauffenberg had had a long officer career in the Wehrmacht and originally was a Nazi
himself. However, he agreed to take over the most crucial part of the plot, namely the delivery of the bomb, because he had direct access to Hitler when briefing meetings were held at the main command bunker at Wolfschanze
– see also >German Resistance Memorial Centre
and Plötzensee memorial
. After the plot had failed, Stauffenberg was summarily executed by firing squad in Berlin
that same night.
– code name (full form in German: "Aktion T4") for the euthanasia programme of the Nazis
. In the context of the Nazi ideology of race and eugenics, there had already been requests by Nazi doctors to be allowed to "dispose of" (i.e. kill) those they deemed incurable, thus "unworthy of life" ('lebensunwert') and only "useless eaters". At first, however, Hitler
refused – not for humanitarian reasons but purely out of tactical considerations, arguing that such an undertaking could not be justified and carried out in peacetime with the prerequisite secrecy and without stirring up resentment. Once WWII
had started (beginning with Germany's invasion of Poland
), however, Hitler signed the crucial memo that authorized such killings of the mentally ill, by way of "granting" them what he called "Gnadentod" ('mercy killings'), an even more cynical term for the systematic murders than the more common term 'euthanasia'.
Six institutions were set up to carry out the euthanasia programme, beginning with Brandenburg
and Castle Hartheim
), and followed by Bernburg
. It was the first "industrialized" killing programme, victims were murdered in gas chambers with carbon monoxide. The methods and processes (including the deception of victims by camouflaging the gas chambers as shower rooms) were later carried over to similar systematic killings at various concentration camps
, and ultimately to the Operation Reinhard
mass exterminations in the death camps
in eastern Poland
. Even the personnel first involved in the "Action T4" typically later moved on to "serve" in this most deadly phase of the Holocaust
(e.g. Christian Wirth, Franz Stangl).
The programme was "officially" ended in September 1941 (again on orders from Hitler) – apparently because knowledge of the killing programme had filtered into the pubic awareness and discomfort with it was being signalled, but also simply because the "task" had largely been accomplished. The total death toll of the T4 programme at the six euthanasia centres was at least 70,000, plus possibly another 200,000 or so if you count in similar killings at other places as well as other methods of killing (injections of poison, medical experiments, food deprivation, etc.), which continued after the end of Action T4, and had occasionally taken place before its proper launch too.
The code name "T4" derives from the address No. 4 Tiergartenstraße in Berlin
where the headquarters of the programme's administration was located (the building was destroyed in WWII – today, there's an outdoor memorial
at the site).
– the name the Nazi
leadership gave their home country Germany
and its annexed territories (including Hitler
's home country Austria
). The element "third" alludes to the two previous German empires, that of the Holy Roman Empire period from the 10th century under Charlemange as the first, and the Prussian empire from 1871 to 1918 (i.e. to the end of World War One
). The count of three is thus arguably correct, at least a lot more so than the pretentious epithet of the "thousand-year empire" ('tausendjähriges Reich') assumed by the Nazis … having survived a mere 14 years from 1933 to 1945 it fell short of living up to that designation by the slight margin of 986 years!
Third World War
– conventional term for the theoretical war that could have been if the Cold War
turned had hot (like World War One
and WW II
before), i.e. if the principle of deterrence (M.A.D.
) had failed to work. A resultant all-out nuclear war between the superpowers USA
(or rather: between NATO
and the Warsaw Pact
), so it is widely agreed, would most likely have meant the end of civilization, if not of all humankind (even all mammals). That it didn't come to this was frequently more a matter of luck, as we now know. World War III could easily have been sparked off by accident. The danger is far from over today, only smaller – there are still more than enough nuclear weapons in existence for the world's total destruction, but at least they are no longer kept at such hair-trigger alert …
– name given to a glass-like greenish substance mainly consisting of molten desert sand that was created around ground zero in the first ever atomic bomb
test in New Mexico, USA
; see >Trinity
– Japanese word, and now internationally accepted technical term for the kind of waves with enormous destructive force such as those of Boxing Day 2004 in the Indian Ocean or 11 March 2011 in Japan
. Like in these two cases, many tsunamis are caused by marine earthquakes that can suddenly displace huge amounts of water. The resultant waves can travel vast distances at great speed, so that even thousands of miles away from the epicentre they can still unleash their deadly force – see especially Banda Aceh
, but also Thailand
, Sri Lanka
. Not all tsunamis are created by earthquakes, though. Volcanic eruptions are known to cause tsunamis as well – see e.g. Krakatoa
. Similarly, though not usually referred to as tsunamis, large-scale landslides can also cause massive "tidal" waves on a local scale, but still with devastating effects – see e.g. Lovatnet
, or Vajont
– real name Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov (1940 – 2006), formerly first secretary of the Turkmen communist
party towards the latter days of the Soviet Union
. After the break-up of the latter, and Turkmenistan
gaining independence, he held on to power as "president", was elected (as the only candidate) in typically unreal landslide election victories of up to 99.9% (only Saddam Hussein ever had the full chutzpah to claim a 100% win) and was effectively an autocratic tyrant. In fact he became one of the most eccentric rulers the world has ever seen (for some of his antics see Turkmenistan
), including a mind-bogglingly over-the-top cult of personality on a par with (if not exceeding) that of Kim Il Sung
in North Korea
. As part of this, he declared himself "Turkmenbashy", which means as much as "father (or leader) of all Turkmens" (and for good measure he named a whole city after his newly acquired epithet too – it's on the Caspian coast). Even after his sudden death in 2006, the country at first more or less continued with the same line as before. Meanwhile, however, his successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has toned the extreme cult of personality about his predecessor down quite a bit. Some of the more eccentric Turkmenbashy monuments have even been dismantled (to the regret of dark tourists who find such things intriguing), while at the same time images of the new president have become more widely distributed across the country instead … how much more of such changes the future will hold remains to be seen.
- abbreviation for "United Nations
Assistance Mission for Rwanda
", a name picked by the mission's Canadian commander Romeo Dallaire. Despite its hopeful beginnings, he and his shamefully under-supported mission could only but fail when it came to the Rwandan genocide in April 1994. Without the necessary resources and personnel, Dallaire and his men still struggled admirably to provide whatever alleviating help they could provide. But in the end it was the RPF
that ended the genocide through a military victory. All through Dallaire's 2003 account of the mission (see under Rwandan genocide
) it becomes painfully clear, how the bureaucracy and indecisiveness of the UN hindered the goals of the mission rather than supporting it – just as the indifference of the "international community" left it high and dry. Overall, it's a failure that stands as a particularly black mark on the civilized world's humanitarian record.
– abbreviation standing for 'Union of Soviet Socialist Republics', the official full name of the >Soviet Union
– short for 'unexploded ordnance", i.e. shells, grenades, landmines, etc. that never went off but are still lying on or under ground. Various modern-age wars have left such a nasty legacy. Nasty, because UXO poses real threats to the population even decades (or centuries) after the war. In Belgium
, UXO from World War One
is still a problem (esp. as some may contain agents of chemical warfare and can be badly corroded, which only exacerbates the dangers). Cambodia
are more recent examples, esp. the former, where millions of landmines
still kill and maim thousands.
V1 / V2
– arguably the first modern missiles that were developed as nothing but pure terror weapons, namely by Nazi Germany
. The V1 was a precursor to contemporary cruise missiles, i.e. it was not a rocket, but a flying bomb powered by a jet engine. It thus flew slower and in a lower trajectory than an actual missile. The V2 (or A4) was indeed the world's first actual larger ballistic missile that could be fired from surface to surface over large distances – not yet transcontinental ranges (see ICBM
), but a few hundred kilometres, thus exceeding any other weapon in existence before it in delivering a warhead "remotely", i.e. from a safe distance. In typically cynical Nazi
lingo, the "V" stood for "Vergeltungswaffe" or 'retaliation weapon'. In actual fact, however, both weapons were mainly used purely aggressively against cities' civilian populations (primarily in London
, but also cities in Belgium
). The missiles' guiding systems were very poor, hence they would kill indiscriminately on hitting a more or less random target inside those cities. After the war, the V2 became the basis for both the USA
's and the Soviet Union
's rocket-development programmes and this the starting point of their respective space programmes. It must not be forgotten, however, that it had always been a weapon of indiscriminate destruction in the first place, even though the "father" of the V2, Wernher von Braun (later director of NASA's Apollo programme) may indeed have exploited his position in the Nazi arms industry to satisfy his desire to develop the world's first space-going vehicle. In a way he did achieve that, of course, but at what price … This does not only concern the effect of the V1 and V2 as weapons against enemy countries – as such they were both actually rather inefficient. The largest death toll they generated was actually in production – as WWII
dragged on and Germany
came increasingly under attack by superior Allied air power, much of the Nazis' arms production went underground – and forced labourers from concentration camps
had to toil away under extremely inhumane conditions to mass produce these weapons. The most notorious of these underground factories was Mittelbau-Dora
. The original site where the missile was developed was at Peenemünde
. Both sites are now memorials and hence prime dark tourism destinations.
– fittingly descriptive term for the rapid and exceptionally non-violent changes in the former CSSR
from mid November 1989 (just a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall
), when protests led to the stepping down of the former communist
rulers and subsequently the abolishment of communism and a transition to democracy, in which former dissident Vaclav Havel became president. It was the least problematic of the many similarly radical changes that occurred at the time all over the former Eastern Bloc
which also ended the Cold War
. It's in a way at the opposite end of the scale in all these revolutions, with Romania's revolution of 1989
at the very violent other end.
– term used in particular in the West to denote the "Liberation Army" of Vietnam
, originally the communist
forces in South Vietnam, under the North's support, but also used by the US
troops to denote any Vietnamese enemies. The abbreviation V.C. also gave rise to the alternative usage of "Victor Charlie".
– one of the worst wars of the 20th century. It isn't straightforward to put an exact date on its beginning, as it had sort of evolved out of previous independence and civil war, but anyway, the USA
got increasingly involved from the late 1950s, and by the mid 60s it had become an all-out "proxy war
", in which the North had support from the Soviet Union and the South from the USA. It wasn't just "proxy" though. The USA, unlike the USSR
, were an active force too, and quite so, with enormous troop forces on the ground as well as massive use of the US Air Force. Thus the war is known in Vietnam
as "the American War". It's an incredibly huge and complex topic which is way beyond the scope of this website (search the Internet, though, and you'll quickly find extensive coverage on numerous other websites dedicated to the Vietnam War). Suffice it to say here that it was a nasty war in many ways, in which guerrilla tactics and persistence of the communist
North Vietnamese "Vietcong
" eventually triumphed over US firepower, which included the use of chemical warfare and carpet bombing on a scale never seen before or since. The USA dropped about three times the tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than in the entire Second World War
. As can easily be imagined, the civilian casualties in this war were atrocious. The country suffers to this day from the after effects of the War, e.g. in the form of UXO/landmines and also birth defects from the USA's use of chemical defoliants (esp. Agent Orange
) which contained dioxin. In the USA, the Vietnam War has left a trauma, not just for the nation, whose self-esteem suffered a blow from having to pull out of Vietnam as the "losers" in 1975, but also quite literally in countless Vietnam veterans. (See also Vietnam vets monument in Washingto D.C.
) – a Wallachian (Romania
) prince in the 15th century who is often associated with the Dracula myth, because the author of the novel Dracula, Bram Stoker, very loosely based his fictional Transylvanian vampire count on Vlad. The connection is rather thin, though. The real Vlad was the son of one Vlad Dracul – hence he inherited the Draculea as his name's extension, meaning 'son of dragon', not 'son of the devil' as is often erroneously inferred from the fact that just "Drac" means 'devil in Romanian. The real Vlad may not have been an immortal blood-sucking devil with bat wings, but nevertheless his cruelty was legendary. His nickname "Tepes" (pronounced "tse-pesh") means 'the impaler'. And in fact he had his enemies impaled in great numbers, i.e. a wooden pole was driven through the victims anus carefully to pierce through the entire body to come out by the shoulders or through the mouth. As with crucifixion, death would be torturous and long drawn out, taking a day or two to finally liberate the victim from his or her agony. Legend has it, that Vlad watched his writhing victims while having dinner – esp. rare meats, presumably. Apart from this blood-thirsty "hobby", Vlad was also an important historical figure, esp. in the struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Unlike Dracula, Vlad died (under unknown circumstances) and he never came back. But legend lives on, both that of Vlad and that of the fictional Dracula
's tourism industry reaps this legend successfully, esp. at Bran Castle
diplomat who served in Budapest
and who is famous for having saved countless Jews from deportation to the death camps
during the Nazi
reign in Hungary
by providing them with false passports/IDs. For his altruistic courage he is honoured at Yad Vashem
as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations". His fate after the war is a matter of controversy. He was apparently arrested by the Soviets
when they had conquered Hungary and taken to Moscow
's infamous Lubyanka
prison. Here, so the Soviets later claimed, he suddenly died of a heart attack; but there is also a strong suspicion that he may secretly have been executed. Earlier there had been claims that he had actually been murdered by either the Gestapo
, the Arrow Cross
or even (the wildest accusation) by Zionists. Others claimed to have seen Wallenberg alive even after 1947. Apparently no hard evidence could be adduced for any of these versions. But the most likely scenario seems to be that he died, under whatever circumstance, while in Soviet custody.
– the military alliance formed in the Soviet
-led Eastern Bloc
after West Germany
) joined NATO
. The alliance remained NATO's Eastern opponent throughout the remainder of the Cold War
. In the East, it was and still is rather called "Warsaw Treaty" (or even given the full-length title "Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance"), but the slightly more derogatory "Warsaw Pact" is by far the more common usage worldwide. Members of the alliance were the Soviet Union
, the GDR
, the CSSR
, and Bulgaria
. Until the 1960s, Albania
was another member but left the alliance over a row concerning relations with China
. After the collapse of the communist
regimes all over the Eastern Bloc from 1989, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved at the end of 1991. This is often seen as the day the Cold War
was brought to a close.
World War One
– the First World War, so called because several nations and multi-nation alliances across Europe and beyond (especially the USA
) got involved in it … not quite the entire world, but the focus of the world from the dominant Western perspective. Especially in British contexts it is also known as the Great War. It lasted from 1914 to 1918. The main opposing blocs were the "Central Powers" of Germany
(and their allies, including Turkey
) on the one side, and France
and Great Britain
as well as Commonwealth allies such as Australia
and New Zealand
(ANZAC), later also the USA
. The trigger that ignited the tensions that had already been building up at the time was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo
in June 1914. World War One is regarded as the first major 'modern' war, in the sense that more mechanization and technology were involved, such as tanks and fighter planes, but also poison gas and such new developments. The combination of such new arms technologies with the old strategy of trench warfare resulted in mass slaughter of soldiers – especially at Gallipoli
and in the battlefields of France
, Somme and Verdun
), but also on the southern front in the Alps, especially along the Isonzo Front between Italy
and what today is Slovenia
World War II
(WWII for short) – Nazi Germany
in September 1939 (without a declaration of war), after which Great Britain
declared war on Germany; then Germany also invaded its old arch-enemy France
, and overran the Netherlands
… and so the world was plunged into another world war, only three decades after World War One
. At first it was only a European affair again, but soon became truly global, especially since Germany's far-eastern ally Japan
attacked Pearl Harbor
, dragging the USA
into the war again as well. In the European "theatre", the war ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany and its unconditional surrender in May 1945 (see German-Russian Museum
) – in the Pacific
"theatre" it dragged on another few months until the USA stepped up the bombing of Japan by using the newly developed atomic bomb
(see also Manhattan Project
) to destroy Hiroshima
, after which Japan, too, surrendered. WWII was the deadliest war of all time, costing between 60 and 80 million lives in total, a large proportion of this civilians. The nation with the single highest death toll of all participating states was the Soviet Union
, with between 20 and 25 million dead in this country alone. This degree of severity, but also the fact that the USSR came out victorious (and subsequently became one of the world's two superpowers) explain why WWII is commonly referred to all over the former USSR
as the "Great Patriotic (Fatherland) War". The legacy of this war reshaped most of Europe – eventually ending old animosities, beginning with the German-French reconciliation policies and culminating in the formation of the European Union. The Cold War
between the West (NATO
) and the Eastern Bloc
also meant deterrence prevented another world war in Europe (i.e. a Third World War
). Wars after WWII have thus been confined to extra-European locations, especially in so-called proxy wars between the superpowers' respective allies, at least that held true until Yugoslavia
broke up in the early 1990s, which brought war back to European soil for the first time since WWII.
– a place on the Black Sea coast of the Crimea in Ukraine
(now annexed by Russia
) where in February 1945 the leaders of the Soviet Union
, the USA
and Great Britain
held a conference to discuss the post-WWII
reorganization of Europe. It was thus a precursor to the Potsdam
conference (see Cecilienhof
) held shortly after the surrender of the Third Reich
in July 1945. Yalta had a particularly significant effect on the reshaping of Poland after the war – and some see the fact that Poland
was allowed to fall under Stalin
's (Soviet) sphere of influence as "betrayal" on the part of Churchill
and Great Britain
. There was certainly a misjudgement of Stalin involved, who simply broke his promises regarding a free and democratic Poland. Instead it would take Poland to the end of the 1980s to achieve that goal for themselves … see Solidarnosc
. The success of this freedom movement has therefore been referred to as "The End of Yalta".
– the term the Khmer Rouge
used for the time after they seized power in Cambodia
in 1975, after which they immediately began expelling all city dwellers (now called "New People") in an endeavour to create a utopian, classless, completely agrarian society – but which led to the Cambodian genocide
– a former socialist
federal state in the Balkans, founded under Josip Broz Tito before the end of WWII
in 1943. Like Albania
, Yugoslavia established its communist statehood without direct help (or imposition) by the Soviet Union
(as was the case in the rest of the Eastern Bloc
). Within the communist world, Yugoslavia continued to play a special role all through the Cold War
, e.g. in declaring itself a "non-aligned", neutral state, i.e. it was not part of the Warsaw Pact
, and also in pursuing a somewhat different course of communism
(e.g. reverting from initial collectivization back to private land ownership, and allowing its citizens to travel to the West). After Tito's death in 1980 ethnic tensions were on the rise in this extremely complex multi-ethnic entity that was Yugoslavia. As from 1989 the Eastern Bloc
began to fall apart, mostly peacefully, so did Yugoslavia – though not at all peacefully. Slovenia
were the first to declare independence and thus the process of disintegration had begun. And so had the path to war – further fuelled by ethnic clashes, esp. between Muslim Bosniaks and Croats and Serbs as well as Kosovo Albanians. The rest of Europe watched in horror as in former Yugoslavia full-on war, "ethnic cleansing" and genocide returned, thought to be impossible in post-WWII
Europe. The various wars in ex-Yugoslavia raged basically all through the 1990s, with Bosnia-Herzegovina
and Kosovo receiving the worst of the violence. The latter's independence is still not generally accepted and remains a bone of contention between Serbia
on the one side and the West (esp. the USA
) on the other. Otherwise, the now independent ensemble of states (Slovenia
and Kosovo) have calmed down. The scars run deep, though, and tensions have not been fully overcome yet, but the focus now seems to be on rebuilding and coming to terms with the violent recent past (though strong nationalism still is rife). One particularly nasty legacy of the Yugoslav wars is the problem of landmines. In Croatia and Bosnia in particular swaths of land are still heavily mined and thus still unsafe and unusable.
– a chemical originally developed as a cyanide-based pesticide, i.e. for use against insects by fumigating. During the Holocaust
, it was then also used for systematic mass murder by Nazi Germany
to "exterminate" Jews and concentration camp
inmates, in particular in Auschwitz-Birkenau
. It came in the form of bluish dried pellets, in tin containers. These were emptied by an SS
guard into shafts in the walls of the gas chamber, where they would turn into the deadly gas on contact with air and slowly fill the chamber through vents. It would often take up to 20 minutes or more until everyone in the gas chamber had died a most gruesome death. (Note: the gas was never delivered through the mock shower heads above, as a common misunderstanding has it - in some gas chambers these were indeed installed to fool the victims into believing they were merely going to have a shower, but these heads were not used for anything at all.) The involvement of German industry, including the giant company I.G. Farben, in the production and delivery of this vile killing agent constitutes a significant part in this gigantic crime against humanity.