Eugen Weidmann (1908-1939) was the last person to be publicly executed in France in June 1939. He was guilty of multiple murders. Executions by guillotine in France continued in private until September 10, 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi was the last person to be executed.
Weidmann’s execution was photographed and even filmed. Here are some of the photographs:
Here’s the film (careful: it’s upsetting):
This is the man in better times:
For comparison: the U.S. performed it’s last public execution three years earlier, in 1936, and is of course still killing criminals in this day and age.
Protests don’t have to be mass protests. Individual actions like this one can be very high profile. Or you can go subtle, like this:
However, I think it’s fair to say that mass protests are usually more effective, not necessarily in the sense of achieving the stated ends but in the sense of achieving something. Hence the recent spate of massively popular urban demonstrations. Maidan, Tahrir, Taksim… The list goes on and on. Someone counted the number of protests during the last couple of years and there’s indeed a steady increase:
37 of the 834 events counted had one million or more protesters!
Analysis of these protests often focuses on the role of social media, but just as interesting and somewhat forgotten is the role of urban planning and architecture. Most mass protests take place in and around central squares of large cities and it’s easy to see why these are favorite protest spots:
- Public squares allow large numbers of people, sometimes very large numbers to congregate at the same spot. Centrally located in capital cities, they typically have many access routes. They are also Schelling Points (“a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication, because it seems natural, special or relevant to them”).
- There’s often some kind of symbolic meaning to these places (maybe they’re named after national heros). They tend to be close to the institutions of power, which isn’t merely symbolic: it’s those institutions that are claimed to be responsible for the grievances of the masses and that need to hear the message.
- Large numbers of people are also more difficult for security forces to attack, in the sense that an attack would be very visible and public and therefore potentially embarrassing – at least for those rulers who aren’t beyond embarrassment. The importance of large numbers of protesters doesn’t lie in the fact that the police or the military have a larger force against them – they usually have the means disperse even very large groups of people and a sense of safety in numbers is therefore mostly illusory among protesters. The problem with dispersing large groups is that it doesn’t look good on TV.
- The ease of TV coverage is itself a reason for holding mass protests in large open spaces in capital cities (reporters often don’t venture outside of the capital). Protesters need to be seen together and when they take over central squares in capital cities – places that are normally buzzing with economic activity – then the world takes notice. The choice of location enhances the impact of protests.
- And finally, large groups enhance the intensity of the protest through solidarity, mimicry etc. Physical unity translates into intellectual unity, and physical unity is easier in large open spaces.
A particular urban setting – intentionally designed or grown over the course of history – can promote the occurrence and intensity of mass protests. It’s no surprise therefore that the urban planners of dictators try to design cities in such a way that potential protesters are discouraged. Focal points such as large squares are not designed away – a dictator needs them for the theatre of power – but they are policed and fenced. Small streets that could be used by protesters to escape and barricade are demolished and replaced by wide avenues:
These avenues can then be used to send in the troops if need be. For example, Beijing’s avenues were instrumental in the attack on Tiananmen square.
The model of pro-autocratic urban design is of course the rebuilding of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s. Baron Haussmann turned a medieval city full of narrow streets into a rational, centralized, geometrically ordered system with grand boulevards that would be both harder to barricade and easier for troops to march through. The hope was that this would stop the revolutionary fervor in France. Here’s a before/after image of 19th century Paris:
All dictators ever since have tried to replicate this model, if necessary by way of the construction from scratch of new capital cities in the middle of nowhere. If international embarrassment becomes less painful than a fall from power, the central squares and large avenues can be used to crush dissent. In Tiananmen the crushing took place by way of tanks, but usually the means are less extreme:
So you have your classic double edged sword: large open spaces can facilitate protest, but also the reaction of the state.
Some bonus pictures of the Majdan protests in Kiev:
A young man being executed in Tehran a few nights ago. Some reports say that the witnesses in the first image were the family of the person executed, others say that it’s the family of his victims. Makes a big difference in interpretation of the image, obviously. Maybe they’re both there.
Yarmouk, a Palestinian neighborhood in Damascus, has been under siege by the Syrian army since July 2013.
At least 55 people have died from hunger and the majority of children are suffering from malnutrition, according to a Palestinian activist living in Yarmouk.
About 20,000 people are currently besieged in Yarmouk. The regime of Bashar al-Assad says “terrorists” are holding people hostage. Beyond the tactical starvation, Syrian jets have also been bombing the area.
This picture, published by United Nations Relief Workers Agency, shows a seemingly endless line of people waiting for food aid.
This may seem like a good time to publish some illustrated commentary about homophobia. It used to be the case that in most countries of the world, homophobia meant outright legal prohibition of homosexuality. And that’s still the case today in some countries. The often grotesque punishments make it even worse. Uganda is now in the spotlight for it’s recent anti-homosexuality legislation. The risk of vigilante violence against Ugandan gays is not unreal when you have newspaper headlines like this:
This is the Red Pepper tabloid, one of Uganda’s biggest selling newspapers:
A Ugandan tabloid has named the country’s “200 top homosexuals”, a day after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill toughening penalties for gay people.
Red Pepper’s list appeared under the headline: “Exposed”, raising concerns of a witch-hunt against gay people. … Homosexual acts were already illegal in Uganda, but the new law bans the promotion of homosexuality and covers lesbians for the first time. (source)
Another Ugandan newspaper also openly called for the persecution of homosexuals a few years ago:
One of those listed in the now defunct Rolling Stone, David Kato, was subsequently murdered.
Homophobia is also on the rise on Russia lately. Putin has masterminded a series of laws discriminating against homosexuals, which have resulted in this amusing protest:
Of course, there’s homophobia even in countries that don’t make homosexuality or the promotion of homosexuality a crime. And it doesn’t have to be less painful. For example, there’s been the infamous Matthew Shepard murder in the US, somewhat of a cause célèbre of homophobic hate crime:
However, some doubts have been raised as to the nature of the crime. Perhaps it wasn’t a hate crime after all. Whether or not it was, there have been numerous other cases that most definitely were. Here’s an example:
Let’s start with an unintentionally ironic one:
This one is fun as well:
“Ethnics” doesn’t make good noun, if you ask me.
Following the recent floods in the UK, someone thought it was a good idea to use development aid money to help UK flood victims, because fellow citizens whom you’ve never met before are obviously more important than desperately poor people born on the other side of an imaginary line on the ground:
It’s hard to understand, but there are apparently people who want to send back all immigrants:
Your respectable xenophobe usually limits himself or herself throwing out the criminal immigrants:
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to private and family life - is now in force in the UK, and some “foreign criminals” have won appeals against deportation based on this article. This has led to a backlash in the UK against the Convention and against “human rights” and “Europe” in general. As if deportation is necessary for the fight against crime. I mean, they do have prisons in the UK, don’t they?
Here’s an older clipping, from the US this time, with a review of a book about the “celebrated” Dred Scott decision:
The Dred Scott case, rather than celebrated, is now infamous for upholding slavery. The “prognathous race” is the African race, by the way. Prognathous means having a projecting lower jaw or chin, and this was believed to be typical of blacks:
You might ask, what has Dred Scot to do with xenophobia? Isn’t that a simple although horrible case of racism? Well, part of the Supreme Court decision was the ruling that African Americans, whether slave or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court. In other words, they were strangers – xenoi – forever.
Human zoos, euphemistically called “ethnological expositions”, were quite common between the mid 1800s and the beginning of the 20th century, although they already existed during the Renaissance. Actual people, mostly from Africa, were brought over to Europe and displayed in monkey style cages or recreated villages, often side-by-side with the more traditional animal exhibits. Entire families were recruited from the colonies and paraded for the entertainment of western spectators. One can only guess how many made it back home.
Although she personally was never part of a “zoo” exhibition, Sarah – or “Saartjie” – Baartman (not her real name of course) is probably history’s most famous human exhibit. She’s standing in the middle here:
Sarah was a Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited as a freak show attraction in early 19th-century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus — “Hottentot” was the then-current name for the Khoi people. “Venus” because of her body shape. After she died impoverished at a very young age, her body was dissected and her remains displayed. For more than a century and a half – until 1974! – visitors to the “Museum of Man” in Paris could view her brain and skeleton until they were removed from public view and stored out of sight; a cast of her body was still shown. In 2002, she was peacefully laid to rest in her homeland South Africa.
The remains of one very interesting human zoo can still be visited in the Vincennes woods of Paris. Over a 100 years ago, in the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale a public exhibition was held to promote French colonialism.
In 1907, six different villages were built in the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, representing all the corners of the French colonial empire at the time– Madagascar, Indochine, Sudan, Congo, Tunisia and Morocco. The villages and their pavilions were built to recreate the life and culture as it was in their original habitats. This included mimicking the architecture, importing the agriculture and appallingly, inhabiting the replica houses with people, brought to Paris from the faraway territories. … Entire families recruited from the colonies were placed in replicas of their villages, given mock traditional costumes and paid to put on a show for spectators. (source)
Here’s one of the “attractions”:
I think this is from the same “Jardin”:
Here’s another, very “cheap” looking replica village (I don’t know where this image was taken):
Human zoos were comparable to the much more common “freak shows”. Both focused on the display of “exotic” or strange body shapes:
More on animalization here.