Growing-up under Totalitarianism with a Gun in your hand

Totalitarianism seems to have some kind of sick and twisted fascination with the youth. To totalitarian governments, the affection of the young is pure and untarnished, which adds a layer of sheen when it comes to perfecting propaganda. Youngsters, who are oftentimes susceptible to outside influence, could be easily mold into defenders of a regimented system of governance. More importantly, the young generation is a vehicle that carries on, and actively enforces the state’s poisonous ideology imbued with sadism, hatred and cruelty, usually doing so with a lethal weapon in hand. The following is a collection of photographs showcasing the grotesque combination of cold hard steel and ruddy young faces.

Preparing for a possible gas attack. Stalin's Soviet Union, 1937.

Training for a coming chemical attack. Stalin’s Soviet Union, 1937.

Hitler youth training for war, 1943.

Hitler youth preparing for war, 1943.

Little Red Soldiers. Cultural Revolution, China.

Little Red Soldiers. Cultural Revolution, China.

Young Khmer Rouge fighters with captured American firearms.

Young Khmer Rouge fighters with captured American firearms.

Jihadi baby from ISIS territory.

Jihadi baby surrounded by guns and grenades. ISIS territory.

Nine year-old with rifle in ISIS controlled Iraq.

Nine year-old with rifle in ISIS controlled Iraq.

Young girls are no exception. Everybody must learn how to kill.

Young girls are no exception. Everybody must learn how to kill.

I do not know what this little fella is talking about. But what I do know with crystalline clarity is that the future of children growing-up under ISIS is heading towards a very dark direction. There is nothing more sinister than a young boy holding up a gun while delivering an impassionate hate speech in a former place of worship. Almost like a scene out of Children of the Corn or Omen, except this time it is real.


Winners and Losers: China and the Crisis in Ukraine

Copyright: J.H. Cho

Copyright: J.H. Cho

International politics sometimes resemble a game of poker. Besides having the right players and a lucky hand, meticulous strategizing is perhaps the one crucial factor that determines the winners and losers at the end of the day. International crisis, like the most recent one in Ukraine, is a regrettable yet reoccurring phenomenon of international politics ever since states learned to interact with each other millenniums ago. There are many losers in the Ukraine Crisis. Ukraine, as a country lost sovereign territories, the interim Ukrainian government lost confidence among its constituents, and the citizens of Ukraine lost their right to live a normal life in peace. But Ukraine is far from the sole loser in the ongoing crisis. The United States, its European allies, and to a large extend Russia all took losses in varying degrees as mutual antagonism deepens over the struggle for the breadbasket of Europe (more importantly the gateway to Russia). According to the norms on the poker table, the existence of several losers means there must be clear winner. So which party would that be?

Geographically distant from Ukraine, China may be the only claimant to significant gains in the ongoing crisis. Though an economic giant with considerable international clout, China has a modicum of established interests in the Ukraine. A world apart, Ukraine occupies moderate geopolitical, and economic importance on the Chinese foreign policy agenda. Yet perhaps it is because of its lack of high stakes in Ukraine, China was able to extract the most rewards out of the ongoing turmoil. A canny player in the diplomatic arena, China, throughout the duration of the crisis was able to maintained the status quo with the US, strengthened its ties with the EU, and achieved a crescendo in expanding the Sino-Russian relations.

Though the relationship between US and China has been marred by clash of interests in the West Pacific Rim and mutual accusations of cyber-espionage, China’s artful performance in the Ukraine Crisis in some ways helped in cooling down the scalding bilateral ties. By calling on all parties to respect Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity”, China avoided inflaming the senses of an already agitated US.[1] Similarly, China curried additional favors with the US in abstaining from voting on a UN resolution that would have condemned the Crimea referendum as illegal (of course, this measure saved Russia some face as well). Overall, the US represented another end of the pole as oppose to Russia. Gravitating too much towards the US position is counterproductive and contradicting to China’s foreign policy objectives. Hence, China chose a middle of the road position to balance relations with both US and Russia to a “golden ratio” most beneficial to Chinese national interests.

Result of Crimea vote at United Nations General Assembly. From:

Result of Crimea vote at United Nations General Assembly (click on image for higher resolution).

The crisis in Ukraine forced an onerous millstone around the neck of EU leaders. Though facing blatant armed Russian aggression towards a fragile European neighbor, leading EU member states are finding it increasingly difficult to effectively impose further sanctions on Russia due to mutual economic interdependence. Furthermore, headstrong resistance from European business leaders against additional sanctions could possibly open up chasms in the US-EU united front against Russia.[2] In times like these, a stimulating dose of constructive dialogue could be well appreciated. The Chinese leaders understand this earnestly. China’s policy regarding the EU highlights the common wishes of peace and neutrality, ideas aimed to comfort and assure the EU member states of China’s non-confrontational stance, which seems especially charming in the light of Russia’s rapacious behavior against Ukraine. Germany, widely recognized conductor of the EU, proved to be exceptionally amenable in responding to the Chinese call for coexistence and mutual acceptance. Seeking perhaps to check Russia by strengthening ties with its eastern ally, the German and Chinese heads of state jointly declared that they have officially upgraded bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership on March 28, a development that further enhanced China’s standing vis-à-vis the EU.[3]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after speaking to the media following talks and the signing of bilateral agreements at the Chancellery on March 28, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. President Xi Jinping is on a two-day official visit to Germany. Copyright: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after speaking to the media following talks and the signing of bilateral agreements at the Chancellery on March 28, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. President Xi Jinping is on a two-day official visit to Germany.
Copyright: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

China’s convivial relation with Russia was pushed to a height amid the Ukraine Crisis. However, unlike the past, this time around Russia is the party enthusiastically taking the initiatives in offering China tokens of friendship. This is a corollary of Russia’s economic slowdown facilitated by heavy-hitting Western sanctions and partially stemming from its need to have an even closer relationship with China to substitute sapping influence in Europe. Just yesterday, an estimated $400 billion gas deal was signed between Russia and China, one of the largest joint projects between the two countries to date.[4] Be mindful, this deal was inked after a decade of toilsome, backbreaking negotiations. The Chinese, having secured several willing gas suppliers in the meantime, still have serious reservations over Russia’s business model resulting from Russia’s habitual use of gas cutoffs as a baton to punish “recalcitrant” European states. Nevertheless, China’s tacit assent of Russia’s actions during the crisis bore fruits in obtaining a business contract that serves the interests of both countries and will act as the cement that binds the two states together for decades to come.

Copyright: and

Copyright: and

China’s diplomatic finesse, demonstrated through playing the laohaoren (good old guy) in the recent Ukraine Crisis could very well rank China as the only country that maximized its comprehensive strategic and economic gains in the midst of a tense international deadlock, all at the lowest cost. In addition to the factors mentioned above, China is also concentrating on building its proposed Silk Road Economic Belt, while augmenting its global prestige as the new chairman of CICA or the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, an Asian security framework that will likely be groomed into a continental mechanism designed to parry any threats to China’s national blueprint for a continuous “peaceful development”.


(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)


[1] Shannon Tiezzi, “China Reacts to the Crimea Referendum,” The Diplomat, accessed May 21, 2014,

[2] Matthew Karnitschnig, “German Businesses Urge Halt on Sanctions Against Russia,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2014, sec. Europe,

[3] “China, Germany Establish Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” Global Times, accessed May 22, 2014,

[4] Chris Wright, “$400 Billion Gas Deal Shows Russia Looking To China To Replace Western Money,” Forbes, accessed May 22, 2014,

And What About the Crimean Tatars? Five Reasons Why the United States and its Allies Must Take a Leading Role on Safeguarding the Rights of the Crimean Tatars

A Crimean Tatar praying.  Copyright: Reuters

A Crimean Tatar praying.
Copyright: Reuters

The protection and the betterment of human dignity are the moral obligation and legal responsibility of all nations. However, Russia’s recent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula not only constituted a serious breach of internationally law, it is, moreover a severe human rights violation concerning minority ethnic groups native to Crimea, namely, the Crimean Tatars.

A Turkic group native to the Crimean Peninsula, the Crimean Tatars once comprised the core population of the Crimean Khanate that ruled large swath of territory encompassing modern day southern Ukraine, as well as parts of Russia’s Rostov Oblast and Krasnodar Krai. The Khanate began to decline in the early 18th century under a combination of factors. Eventually, it succumbed to Russian military advances in 1783. Ever since, the Crimean Tatars has been foreigners in their native land, often facing discriminatory policies under successive regimes. The years under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was the most calamitous chapter in Crimean Tatar history. Using the pretext that the Tatars had collaborated with invading Nazi forces, Stalin ordered the wholesale deportation of Tatars from Crimea to Central Asia on May 18, 1944. Known as the Sürgünlik (exile), the dreadful day of May 18 marked the beginning of the Crimean Tatar nation’s long march into darkness on the bleak Central Asian steppes.

Most Tatars returned to their Crimean homeland in the early 1990s when the Ukraine became an independent nation following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The recent Russian annexation of Crimea came as a terrible shock to most Tatars, who staunchly opposed to the region’s return to Russian rule. Although most of the world has not accepted the Russian annexation, the fait accompli means the Crimean Tatars will now have to endure increasing pressure from the Russian authority. Curiously, in spite of the statements by the United States and it allies against Russia’s actions vis-à-vis the Ukraine, none have focused on the Tatars who are on the receiving end of heavy handed tactics from the incoming Russian authority. This is a rather unfortunate fact, because the Tatars desperately needs outside support in a time of extreme cataclysm. Recently, Russian border guards banned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev from entering Crimea.[1] And on May 4, Crimea’s regional prosecutor, Natalia Poklonskaya labeled the protests of the Mejlis,the Crimean Tatar’s main self-governing body, as “extremist activities” that could result in the “liquidation” of the organization.[2]

Vocal US support for Crimean Tatars rights shall be placed higher up on the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda for the following reasons:

First and foremost, it is the US’ duty as a responsible, influential great power to speak up for oppressed minority groups lacking adequate communication channels to express their human rights predicament.

Second, vocal US support could shed more light upon the plight of an ethnic group not exactly cheerful about Russian rule of Crimea, contrary to the oversimplified media portrayal of Crimea as a historically Russian region inhabited wholly by ethnic Russians.

Third, the Tatars, despite being a minority in Crimea, exhibits three distinct identities that could invoke resounding popular sentiments abroad. European in terms of geographic alignment, the Crimean Tatars are followers of the Islamic faith with protruding Turkic features both in physical appearance and cultural manifestation. Given such context, forthright US support for Crimean Tatar rights will not only enhance their capacity to struggle against threats from the Russian government, it could also cause powerful international reverberation, further limiting Russia’s foreign policy mobility.

Fourth, from a realpolitik perspective, by placing a foreign policy emphasis on the plight of the Crimean Tatars, the US could to a certain degree ameliorate its strained relations with its Middle Eastern allies. In addition, by broadening the Crimean Tatar struggle for basic human rights, the US could also open windows of opportunity for its Turkish and Arab allies to weigh in on Russian imperial ambitions in a conflict geographically distant from the Middle East, yet its outcome crucial towards determining the characteristics of future Russian foreign policy.

Fifth and most importantly, by drawing the attention of the world to this issue, the US could open up a deluge of responsive global public opinion that could very well be the key to preventing further deterioration of the rights of the Crimean Tatars.

As the date of Sürgünlik commemoration approaches, it is important for the US and its allies to stand behind the resilient Crimean Tatar nation that endured no less than a Holocaust in the tragic 20th century. With the forceful return of Russian subjugation, a 21st century world shall know and understand the struggle of the Tatars, and stand steadfastly with them against any form of chauvinist oppression.

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)


[1] “Russia Bans Crimean Tatar Leader Mustafa Dzhemilev,” International Business Times, accessed May 10, 2014,

[2] RFE/RL, “Prosecutors Warn Crimean Tatars Over ‘Extremism’ Amid Protests,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, May 4, 2014, sec. Ukraine,