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National Elections Under Protest

As the United States watches its 2020 election season drag on longer than most presidential elections, the highly charged partisan domestic environment raises concerns over possible protest against the final results. It is an illustration that paints the twenty-first century very well; this century has become an early indicator of electoral revolutions. From across the Atlantic to the Old World, history provides several examples of protest against controversial elections of leaders fighting to maintain the status quo. These elections were remembered for electoral malfeasance, popular reactions often marked by public protests, and by the government’s response.

Demonstrators spending the night in front of the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi, 23 November 2003. Zaraza | Wikipedia
Demonstrators spending the night in front of the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi, 23 November 2003. Zaraza | Wikipedia

In Eastern Europe, two “color” revolutions in the new century come to mind. In 2003 Georgia, which had been suffering from economic mismanagement and government corruption, the Rose Revolution began with widespread protests over the disputed parliamentary elections. The International Election Observation Mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) discovered electoral fraud—such as stark differences between official and unofficial vote counts—and concluded that the elections fell short of OSCE and international standards. When President Eduard Shevardnadze refused to void the results and, later, refused to resign from office, it sparked a twenty-day revolution from anti-government protestors led by opposition parties like Mikheil Saakashvili’s National Movement. Opposition parties took the revolution’s leadership role, increasing the support against the Shevardnadze government.

President Shevardnadze’s position proved fragile. As a special negotiator for Eurasian conflicts, Ambassador Rudolf V. Perina, in an interview with ADST, described President Shevardnadze as being widely unpopular with an unhappy Georgian population. His popularity rating was significantly low, and he had lost the confidence of the people. The country was facing a revolution standoff between non-violent anti-government protesters and the military. The central streets of Tbilisi witnessed campaigns of civil disobedience, and Kmara, a youth organization, became a key factor for non-violent protests and government reform. The government sent soldiers to suppress the unrest, but as the revolution carried on, more and more people—including eventually the soldiers—joined the movement. By nightfall on November 23, the government lost its right for authority, and more than 100,000 protestors celebrated as Shevardnadze penned his letter of resignation. This paved the way for a new government under Saakashvili.

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Barranquilla Nights—Braving a Difficult Time in Colombia

Annie Pforzheimer entered the U.S. Foreign Service when she was twenty-four years old and was immediately whisked away to Barranquilla, Colombia, which at the time (1989) was a two-person post that was known for bearing witness to tremendous amounts of violence. Pforzheimer lived and worked at a time where there was extensive political turmoil as well as the ever present “drug wars” between different Colombian drug lords, both of which contributed greatly to her experience as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) in Colombia.

Barranquilla, Colombia. Taken on March 27, 2007 by F3rn4nd0. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Barranquilla, Colombia. Taken on March 27, 2007 by F3rn4nd0. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Working as a Vice Consul issuing visas to Colombians looking to work/live in the United States, Pforzheimer’s story is an eyewitness account of Colombia during this time of unrest.

While in Barranquilla, Pforzheimer saw firsthand the effects of the “drug war” that was occurring at the time. It was deemed dangerous enough that she commuted to and from work in armored cars accompanied by armed bodyguards. She lived in a building that required more than eight different security measures to get into her apartment. She feared being kidnapped (something with which the woman whom she replaced at the Consulate had been threatened) and had to use judgement and exercise extreme caution when deciding to go out and about in the city. In fact, her protection and survival depended on such security measures because the Colombian government was fighting drug cartels and drug lords all over the country, including in Barranquilla. During Pforzheimer’s tour, the 1990 Colombian presidential election took place in the context of a long history of the tumultuous political environment of Colombia. A number of politically motivated assassinations occurred in the run up to the election, which coincided with Pforzheimer’s arrival in Barranquilla as an entry-level officer, thus introducing her to the dangers of political violence very early on in her career.

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An Exchange Program Between Japan and Michigan

Following the Allied victory in World War II and a period of U.S. occupation, the United States and Japan put relations on equal footing starting in 1952. Armed with fluent Japanese skills and in-depth knowledge in industrial relations, Professor Solomon B. Levine travelled back and forth from the United States and Japan and became a pioneer in the study of Japanese industrial and labor relations.

Ford Escorts on an Assembly Line, 1970s | Wikimedia Commons
Ford Escorts on an Assembly Line, 1970s | Wikimedia Commons

Levine made a total of twenty-seven trips to Japan with the help of government grants and funds. Interestingly, instead of a collaboration between the Japanese government and the U.S. government on a federal level, Levine was part of a state-level labor exchange program between the Shiga prefecture and Michigan.

The Shiga government wanted U.S. investment and hoped that it would come from big corporations. The “Big Three”—General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—were all nestled in Michigan, which provided a great environment for Shiga to satisfy its long-term interests. The program was advertised as an opportunity for young people in Michigan to learn Japanese and the nation’s culture. Moreover, it was a way to pull funds and U.S. talent to boost Japanese-U.S. business ties.

The exchange program did not come to fruition without controversy. The government of Shiga had built two buildings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which were then gifted to the state to be the Michigan Center for Japanese Studies. The Michigan government also took part of its state budget and scholarship money to pay for the institute. This collaboration quickly became a hot button issue during a time when Americans saw Japan as a rising industrial threat. As a result, the program’s budget was cut in half and was sidelined by the creation of a private foundation.

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One for All and All for One: The Conception and Early Development of NATO

During his opening remarks at the Munich Security Conference in February 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared that “[I]n many ways, NATO is the ultimate expression of the ‘West.’” Born out of the ashes of World War II, this organization strives to champion the values of freedom, democracy, and peace, in turn functioning as a beacon of hope for the Western world.

Flag of NATO (1953) | Wikimedia
Flag of NATO (1953) | Wikimedia

However, the pursuit of such ideals is rarely without its challenges, and NATO is no exception to this trend; in its early days, NATO faced a slew of internal and external difficulties—difficulties that in certain cases have subsided and in others have only perhaps become further exacerbated.

In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that Ambassador Theodore Achilles identified two particular challenges in his experience of establishing and developing NATO. The first concerns the fear of a spreading communist influence. The U.S. standing their ground against the Soviet request for France and China to be absent from the initial peace treaties provided proof for one critical concept: the Soviet Union was not going to reasonably cooperate with the West anytime soon. It therefore appeared crucial to certain officials that NATO in turn had to develop an agenda aimed at preventing the rise of Communism throughout the world, not only within Eastern Europe but also within Western countries such as France and Italy.

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The Royal Family of Swaziland Raises Awareness About AIDS

In 1995 the Apartheid era came to an end in South Africa, yet many still found themselves shouldering Apartheid’s tragic legacy. Their escape was Swaziland. The landlocked country within South Africa became a destination for South Africans, both Black and White, to unwind and seek a different perspective on South Africa’s remaining tensions. However, Swaziland was not without its own hardships.

An AIDS/HIV Awareness Billboard in Swaziland (2007) | HEARD
An AIDS/HIV Awareness Billboard in Swaziland (2007) | HEARD

At the time, approximately 22 percent of Swaziland was infected with HIV/AIDS—a daunting number that almost went unrecognized. People traveling back and forth from South Africa to Swaziland would carry and spread the disease, not knowing if they were infected or not. The infection rate was later estimated to be around 25 or 30 percent, giving it the highest prevalence of infection out of any nation in the world. Swaziland’s marginalized and criminalized groups, such as sex workers, were estimated to have the world’s highest prevalence at 60.8 percent. With the stigma surrounding the disease and the lack of public knowledge about its transmission, the silent epidemic ravaged the nation; hospitals were overwhelmed with an excess of patients disguised as TB (tuberculosis) diagnoses.

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“The Times They Are a-Changin”—Working in the Context of Social Revolution

While U.S. State Department employees regularly serve in the midst of pivotal international agreements and turmoil, the events going on surrounding their personal lives are often equally fascinating. Social change, and in some cases rebellion, characterized the formative years of many senior U.S. diplomats.

Draft Card Burning NYC (15 April 1967) Universal News| Internet Archive
Draft Card Burning NYC (15 April 1967) Universal News| Internet Archive

From the 1963 March on Washington to the Bureau of Indian Affairs take-over in 1972, this era was packed with previously unheard voices. While such voices did eventually affect change even in the venerable institution of the State Department, their currents were not unfelt by young up-and-coming members of the time.

Attending school at Texas A&M and Berkeley in the late 60s, USAID officer Craig Buck experienced first-hand the ripples caused by these events. With fears of being drafted to Vietnam shadowing thoughts of graduation, and notable political assassinations dominating the news, caprice and uncertainty were the themes of the time. Keep reading to find out about Craig Buck’s brushes with South American rebels, affiliation with Bobby Kennedy’s campaign, and other social stirrings.

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Ethic Tensions Boil Over in Malaysia’s 13 May 1969 Incident

A single election can have many impacts, but one in particular unmasked a deep, controversial issue based on ethnic tensions. The 1969 general election in Malaysia sparked a horrific outbreak of violent rioting and brutal conflict between two struggling forces. What came to be known as the “13 May Incident” resulted in at least 196 civilian deaths in Kuala Lumpur.

Governmental Office at Kuala Lumpur in Selangor (circa 1900) Lambert & Co., G. R. / Singapore | Wikimedia
Governmental Office at Kuala Lumpur in Selangor (circa 1900) Lambert & Co., G. R. / Singapore | Wikimedia

Former Foreign Service Officers David Brown and Alphonse La Porta both served as political officers in Kuala Lumpur and provided first-hand accounts of the environment leading up to, during, and after this pivotal election.

The 1969 election resulted in a shift of representational power within the Malaysian Parliament. The Alliance Party, representing the majority Malay population, lost seats to the newly established opposition Chinese parties, the Democratic Action Party, and the Parti Gerakan. While the Chinese are a minority in Malaysia, they hold substantial socio-economic power, and as a result have steadily increased their influence both economically and politically. The political victories of these Chinese political parties sparked race riots based on deep-seated ethnic tension dating back to Malaysia’s British colonial rule.

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Castro’s Cuba – The Early Days

On January 1, 1959, after a sustained armed revolt led by Fidel Castro and others took control over most of the country, Fulgencio Batista fled Havana, marking the end of one era and the beginning of another. With the departure of the despised dictator, there was initially hope that life in Cuba would improve. William Lenderking, arriving in Havana in March 1959, witnessed how optimism quickly gave way to fear and repression as the new government began indoctrinating youth and instituting widespread control over libraries, newspapers, and magazines. Lenderking concludes that Castro was never truly interested in good relations with the United States. Read more