Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian civilians – The Dehumanising coverage by the Swiss media

Alaa Qadoum (5), Mohammed Hassouna (14), Ahmad Al-Nairab (11), Momen Al-Nairab (5), Hazem Salem (9), Ahmed Al-Farram (16), Jamil Al-Deen Naijm (4), Nazmy Karsh (16), Hamed Najim (16), Mohammed Naijm (17), Jamil Ihab Najim (13), Muhammad Al-Nabahin (13), Ahmed Al-Nabahin (9), Dalia Al-Nabahin (13), Haneen Abu Qaida (10)

These are the names of the Palestinian children killed by the Israeli military in the recent airstrikes in Gaza. They are just a few of the many innocent civilians who have lost their lives in the past few days as a result of Israel’s brutal and inhumane attacks.

When covering wars and occupations, human rights violations and war crimes, especially the cold-blooded murder of civilians, must be at the centre. And yet the double standards of Western mass media could not be greater. As soon as attention turns to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Israeli war crimes against Palestinian civilians fade into the background. Moreover, the media often adopts a biased stance that welcomes the Israeli view.

Using the examples of the online media watson.ch, 20minuten.ch and srf.ch, this article will show how Swiss mass media have failed miserably to present the Israeli attacks on the Palestinian civilian population in a factual manner over the past few days. The three news portals mentioned were chosen for analysis because, according to the Yearbook Quality of the Media 21, they have the largest reach among online media in Switzerland. The analysis integrates articles published or updated from the beginning of the Israeli attacks on 5 August 2022 until the ceasefire on 7 August at 22:00. 

Irrelevant headlines

Headlines from watson.ch, 20minuten.ch and srf.ch are meant to give Swiss readers a picture of the situation on the ground. Watson and 20minuten write the same thing in terms of content: “After killing of jihad chief: Several rockets fired at Israel” (watson.ch); “After killing of jihad chief: Israel reports rocket fire from Gaza Strip” (20minuten.ch). Both headlines reveal a biased stance of the media portals, which clearly side with Israel by using this wording. They imply, namely, that the Israelis carried out a lawful act (execution of the jihadi leader) and that the Palestinians reacted to it with an unlawful act (firing rockets at Israel). They also display Israelis as the victims and Palestinians as the perpetrators. However, the two headlines ignore that there was more than a precise military operation behind the killing of the jihadi chief. It involved several Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which at the time of publication of the articles included the bombing of a residential building, the killing of ten Palestinians, including a five-year-old (Alaa Qadoum) and 23-year-old girl (Duniana Adnan Al-Amour), and the injury of 55 civilians. 

SRF described the Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian civilians the next day as follows: “Violence in Gaza continues for second day”. This is outrageous on two counts. First, the headline’s use of the term “violence” trivialises the brutal and bloody conditions in Gaza. This is evident from pictures and videos of bleeding and lifeless children and adults, which circulated on social media. Secondly, the headline avoids holding Israel responsible for this atrocity. In another headline, SRF wrote “Islamist chief killed: Israel attacks more Gaza targets”. This wording gives the reader the impression that the “further targets” refer to terrorists and that the attacks are therefore legitimate. In reality, numerous homes were bombed and completely destroyed. Watson mentioned in the headline of 07.08.2022 the “hail of rockets on Israel” – which incidentally did not result in any serious casualties on the Israeli side – but excluded the Israeli hail of rockets on Palestine, which by that time had already resulted in 31 deaths, including six children, four women, and 265 wounded. 

Glancing over Table 1, one immediately notices that none of the headlines mention the killing or wounding of Palestinian civilians. This is worrying and confirms that Palestinian civilian casualties are not a priority in the reporting of the Swiss online media.

watson.ch20minuten.chsrf.ch
Nach Tötung von Dschihad-Chef: Mehrere Raketen auf Israel abgefeuert (published on 05.08.2022, 22:14, updated at 23:04)Nach Tötung von Jihad-Chef: Israel meldet Raketenbeschuss aus dem Gazastreifen (published on 06.08.2022, 02:52)Nach Tötung von Dschihad-Chef: Gewalt im Gazastreifen hält zweiten Tag an (updated on 06.08.2022, 10:29am)
«Katastrophale Situation» in Gaza – einziges Kraftwerk vorĂĽbergehend abgeschaltet(published on 06.08.2022, 14:44, updated at 17:05)Naher Osten: Israelischer Luftangriff tötet Dschihad-Kommandeur Chaled Mansour(updated on 07.08.2022, 11:44am)Islamisten-Chef getötet: Israel greift weitere Ziele im Gazastreifen an (published on 06.08.2022, 16:23, updated at 21:24)
Tötung von Dschihad-Militärchefs und Raketenhagel auf Israel – das Wichtigste in 8 Punkten (published on 07.08.2022, 04:47am, updated at 17:05) Gazastreifen: Wieso eskaliert die Gewalt ausgerechnet jetzt?(published on 06.08.2022, 20:35)
  Gewalt im Nahostkonflikt: Gaza: Ab heute Abend soll offenbar ein Waffenstillstand gelten (published on 07.08.2022, 10:29, updated at 17:26)
Table 1: Headlines of the three online media outlets concerning the situation on the ground

Biased reactions of the Swiss media

Not only the headlines, but the articles themselves put the Israeli attack on the Palestinian civilian population in the background, despite the fact that such actions violate the principles of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the articles are filled with biased and out-of-context formulations. This is illustrated by the three original reactions from watson.ch, 20minuten.ch and srf.ch. 

Watson

In the first article published by Watson, the opening paragraphs are devoted to the situation in Israeli cities (based on Israeli media reports), the threats of the “Palestinian organisation Islamic Jihad” (PIJ) and the Israeli assassination of its leader in a “military operation in the Gaza Strip” in response to “planned attacks on [Israeli] civilians”. As a crowning conclusion – before the Palestinian civilian victims are even mentioned – it is emphasised once again that Islamic Jihad is “classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the USA”. At this point, the average reader is already influenced and has formed an opinion: The Israeli attack on Gaza is legitimate because they are taking out terrorists in Gaza as a preventive measure against attacks on their own civilian population. Israelis are the good guys, Palestinians the bad guys.

Then finally, after nine pro-Israeli phrased sentences, a misleading headline and a photo showing Palestinian rockets “heading towards Israel”, Palestinian civilian casualties are mentioned for the first time: “According to Palestinian sources, at least ten people were killed in the Israeli airstrikes, including a five-year-old child and other PIJ members, in addition to al-Jabari [jihadi leader].” This sentence is abysmal for several reasons. First, the “five-year-old child” has a name: Alaa Qadoum, a young girl still in kindergarten and ripped from life in the worst possible way. Secondly, Alaa is only mentioned in a subordinate sentence. The article consists of 32 sentences in total, and yet Watson does not dedicate a single sentence to her. Finally, Alaa is placed between “al-Jabari” and “other PIJ members”. By placing Alaa between two descriptions of “terrorists”, Watson is deliberately trying to trivialise her death and legitimise the Israeli attack. This once again highlights the neglect in reporting of Palestinian “collateral damage”, as the Israeli military often legitimises attacks on innocent civilians. 

20minutes

The 20minuten article on the Israeli air strike in Gaza is basically identical to the Watson article. It is slightly shorter and some sentences have been changed, but the biased wording and the neglect of the Palestinian civilian population remain. Under the title, the news portal added a photo of an explosion in the Gaza Strip and commented as follows: “Fire and smoke in Gaza: Israel reports targeted killing of Palestinian militant leader.” This description overlooks the devastating impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. Below the photo, 20minuten also included an information box to inform readers about the main  events. Again, the attack on Palestinian civilians was not reported. Even more unsettling: the Israeli airstrikes were not even mentioned, but only that the Israeli military “killed the military chief of the militant Palestinian organisation Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Gaza Strip (…)”. 

SRF

SRF’s original reaction – here we have an updated version of the article on 06.08.2022 at 10:29 – to the events on the ground is equally worrying. As in the case of 20minuten, many distorted and biased formulations are repeated in line with the Watson article. Moreover, once again the summary of key events at the beginning of the article does not even mention Palestinian civilian casualties. When this issue is finally mentioned, the figures are again played down: “Among the dead are at least four members of Islamic Jihad and one child. Rephrased, this means: Among the dead are up to five civilians, including one child. SRF could have opted for the latter formulation, but instead decided to place the killing of the child in the context of killed PIJ members. 

Regarding the beginning of the article, two formulations are misleading. “Targets in Gaza” implies a feigned legitimacy, since the airstrikes had already hit several residential buildings at the time this article was published. There is no trace of this in the SRF article.Additionally, the sentence “the Palestinians continue to fire rockets into Israeli territory” is a misplaced generalisation, implying that Palestinians in general, and not PIJ, are responsible for the rockets fired. This once again illustrates how the Swiss online media fail to differentiate between civilians and PIJ members. 

SRF’s reporting also lacks context, as do the other two articles. It writes “Israelis and Palestinians in fear – Many Israelis in the south of the country spent the night in shelters. In the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, people fear the Israeli air strikes that began Friday afternoon and continued.” To the reader, it appears that both civilian populations were equally affected by the events. Omitted is the fact that Palestinians in Gaza have been living in an “open-air” prison for 15 years due to the Israeli land, sea and air blockade. There are no shelters in the Gaza Strip, and no Iron Dome to intercept Israeli rockets. The approximately two million inhabitants, trapped in one of the most densely populated regions in the world, are defenceless against Israeli airstrikes. SRF briefly addresses this at the end of the article, but only selectively. “In the Gaza Strip, some two million inhabitants live in very poor conditions.” Instead of addressing how the Israeli blockade massively restricts access to electricity, clean drinking water and life-saving medical treatment, any responsibility is shifted away from Israel. The blame is placed on the Palestinians by emphasising that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and implying that the ongoing Israeli blockade was a legitimate response: “Hamas, classified by the EU as a terrorist organisation, had violently seized power in 2007. Israel then tightened a blockade of the area, (…)” Watson uses the same reasoning, while 20minuten completely ignores the context of the blockade. 

Finally, it should be pointed out that a 37-second video entitled “Many dead and injured in Gaza” appears at the top of the SRF article. The clips are apparently intended to give readers an understanding of the situation in Gaza. One can see a group of Palestinians filming rubble with their mobile phones; smoke coming out of a building; and a close-up of three apartment blocks that appear to still be standing. The choice is surprising, considering the videos that have been circulating on social media. Why weren’t Swiss readers shown one of the many videos available of Israeli rockets hitting Gaza? Or the video in which a group of Palestinian children with bloodied faces fearfully stare into the void? Or the video in which a distraught young man carries the lifeless body of Alaa in his arms?

Conclusion

The examples of these three media portals highlight several problematic issues in the coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in general and the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza specifically:

  • The coverage downplays the drastic situation in Gaza. The attacks on the Palestinian civilian population are for the most part blanked out or pushed to the background. In the few cases where they are mentioned, their killing is legitimised as collateral damage, thus degrading and erasing their existence. 
  • The coverage implies a biased attitude on the part of the media portals, which clearly side with Israel through their writing and wording. The actions of the Israelis are erroneously presented as lawful and legitimate, those of the opposing side as unlawful and illegitimate. Readers are given the impression of who are the “good guys” (Israelis) and who are the “bad guys” (Palestinians). Accordingly, the victim/perpetrator role is also clearly assigned. In some cases, Palestinians are generalised as terrorists by the online media. 
  • The coverage refuses to hold Israel responsible for their human rights violations and war crimes. Instead, readers are given the impression that Palestinians themselves are the ones to blame for their plight. 
  • The coverage fails to present the events within an adequate context – the inhumane, illegal and ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza. 

The online media portals watson.ch, 20min.ch and srf.ch reach a wide readership. Swiss readers form their opinions on certain topics based on their headlines and formulations. Therefore, balanced and contextual reporting that focuses on the suffering of civilians, defines war crimes as such and holds its perpetrators accountable is all the more important. In this respect, the three media portals analysed failed miserably. 

Reporting that does not lead with the attack on the Palestinian civilian population and the serious extent of war crimes on the part of the Israelis is irresponsible and dehumanising. Moreover, it contributes to the legitimisation of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Israelische Luftangriffe auf Palästinensische Zivilisten – Entmenschlichende Berichterstattung der Schweizer Medien

Alaa Qadoum (5), Mohammed Hassouna (14), Ahmad Al-Nairab (11), Momen Al-Nairab (5), Hazem Salem (9), Ahmed Al-Farram (16), Jamil Al-Deen Naijm (4), Nazmy Karsh (16), Hamed Najim (16), Mohammed Naijm (17), Jamil Ihab Najim (13), Muhammad Al-Nabahin (13), Ahmed Al-Nabahin (9), Dalia Al-Nabahin (13), Haneen Abu Qaida (10)

Das sind die Namen der palästinensischen Kinder, die in den jüngsten Luftangriffen im Gazastreifen vom israelischen Militär getötet wurden. Es sind nur einige der zahlreichen unschuldigen Zivilisten, die in den vergangenen Tagen durch die brutalen und menschenrechtsverachtenden Angriffe Israels ihr Leben verloren haben.

In der Berichterstattung von Kriegen und Besatzungen mĂĽssen Menschenrechtsverletzungen und Kriegsverbrechen, insbesondere der kaltblĂĽtige Mord von Zivilisten, im Zentrum stehen – das hat die journalistische Arbeit während dem Ukraine-Russland-Krieg verdeutlicht. Und trotzdem könnte die Doppelmoral von westlichen Massenmedien nicht grösser sein. Sobald sich die Aufmerksamkeit auf die israelische Besatzung Palästinas richtet, rĂĽcken die israelischen Kriegsverbrechen an die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung in den Hintergrund der Berichterstattung. Zudem nehmen diese Massenmedien oftmals eine voreingenommene Haltung ein, die die israelische Sichtweise begrĂĽssen.

Am Beispiel der Online-Medien watson.ch20minuten.ch und srf.ch soll im Folgenden aufgezeigt werden, wie Schweizer Massenmedien kläglich gescheitert sind, die israelischen Angriffe auf die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung in den vergangenen Tagen sachgerecht darzustellen. Die drei genannten Nachrichtenportale wurden deshalb zur Analyse ausgewählt, weil sie gemäss dem Jahrbuch Qualität der Medien 21 unter den Online-Medien die grösste Reichweite in der Schweiz erreichen. Die Analyse integriert jene Artikel, die seit Beginn der israelischen Angriffe am 5. August 2022 bis zum Waffenstillstand am 7. August um 22:00 Uhr publiziert oder aktualisiert wurden. Blick.ch ist auf Rang 4 hinsichtlich der Zahl der erreichten Leser in der Schweiz, hat jedoch innerhalb der analysierten Zeitperiode keinen Artikel zum Thema veröffentlicht und wird daher nicht berĂĽcksichtigt.

Irrelevante Schlagzeilen

In Tabelle 1 sind die Schlagzeilen von watson.ch, 20minuten.ch und srf.ch aufgelistet, die ausgewählt wurden, um den Schweizer Lesern ein Bild der Lage vor Ort zu verschaffen. Watson und 20minuten schreiben inhaltlich dasselbe: Â«Nach Tötung von Dschihad-Chef: Mehrere Raketen auf Israel abgefeuert» (watson.ch); Â«Nach Tötung von Jihad-Chef: Israel meldet Raketenbeschuss aus dem Gazastreifen» (20minuten.ch). Beide Schlagzeilen implizieren eine voreingenommene Haltung der Medienportale, die durch diese Formulierung eindeutig Partei fĂĽr Israel ergreifen. Sie implizieren nämlich, dass die Israelis eine rechtmässige Handlung (Hinrichtung des Dschihad-AnfĂĽhrers) durchgefĂĽhrt haben und die Palästinenser mit einer unrechtmässigen Handlung (Abfeuern von Raketen auf Israel) darauf reagiert haben. Sie implizieren ebenfalls, dass die Israelis Opfer (werden mit Raketen befeuert) und die Palästinenser Täter (Dschihadisten, die Israel mit Raketen befeuern) sind. Die beiden Schlagzeilen lassen allerdings ausser Acht, dass hinter der Tötung des Dschihad-Chefs mehr als eine präzise Militäroperation steckte. Es handelte sich dabei um mehrere israelische Luftangriffe auf den Gaza-Streifen, bei welchen zum Zeitpunkt der Publikation der Artikel unter anderem ein Wohnhaus bombardiert, zehn Palästinenser/innen, darunter ein fĂĽnf-jähriges (Alaa Qadoum) und ein 23-jähriges Mädchen (Duniana Adnan Al-Amour) getötet und 55 Zivilisten verletzt wurden

SRF beschrieb die israelischen Luftangriffe auf die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung am Folgetag wie folgt: Â«Gewalt im Gazastreifen hält zweiten Tag an». Dies ist zweierlei empörend. Erstens verharmlost die Schlagzeile mit dem Gebrauch des Begriffs Â«Gewalt» die brutalen und blutigen Zustände in Gaza. Das zeigten Bilder und Videos von zugeschĂĽtteten, blutenden und leblosen Kindern und Erwachsenen, die in den Sozialen Medien die Runde machten. Zweitens geht die Schlagzeile durch ihre Formulierung einer israelischen Schuldzuweisung fĂĽr diese grausamen Lage aus dem Weg. In einer anderen Schlagzeile schrieb SRF Â«Islamisten-Chef getötet: Israel greift weitere Ziele im Gazastreifen an». Diese Formulierung gibt dem Leser den Eindruck, dass sich die Â«weiteren Ziele» auf Terroristen beziehen und die Angriffe daher legitim sind. In Wirklichkeit wurden zahlreiche Wohnhäuser bombardiert und komplett zerstört. Watson erwähnte in der Schlagzeile vom 07.08.2022 den Â«Raketenhagel auf Israel» – der im Ăśbrigen zu keinen Schwerverwundeten auf israelischer Seite fĂĽhrte – klammerte jedoch den israelischen Raketenhagel auf Palästina aus, welcher zu diesem Zeitpunkt bereits zu 31 Todesopfer, darunter sechs Kinder und vier Frauen, und 265 Verwundeten gefĂĽhrt hatte. 

Ăśberfliegt man Tabelle 1, fällt sofort auf, dass in keinem der Schlagzeilen das Töten oder Verwunden der palästinensischen Zivilbevölkerung erwähnt wird. Dies ist besorgniserregend und bestätigt, dass palästinensische zivile Opfer in der Berichterstattung der Schweizer Online-Medien keine Priorität haben. 

watson.ch20minuten.chsrf.ch
Nach Tötung von Dschihad-Chef: Mehrere Raketen auf Israel abgefeuert (publiziert am 05.08.2022, 22:14 Uhr, aktualisiert um 23:04 Uhr)Nach Tötung von Jihad-Chef: Israel meldet Raketenbeschuss aus dem Gazastreifen (publiziert am 06.08.2022, 02:52 Uhr)Nach Tötung von Dschihad-Chef: Gewalt im Gazastreifen hält zweiten Tag an (aktualisiert am 06.08.2022, 10:29 Uhr)
«Katastrophale Situation» in Gaza – einziges Kraftwerk vorĂĽbergehend abgeschaltet(publiziert am 06.08.2022, 14:44 Uhr, aktualisiert um 17:05 Uhr)Naher Osten: Israelischer Luftangriff tötet Dschihad-Kommandeur Chaled Mansour(aktualisiert am 07.08.2022, 11:44 Uhr)Islamisten-Chef getötet: Israel greift weitere Ziele im Gazastreifen an (publiziert am 06.08.2022, 16:23 Uhr, aktualisiert um 21:24 Uhr)
Tötung von Dschihad-Militärchefs und Raketenhagel auf Israel – das Wichtigste in 8 Punkten (publiziert am 07.08.2022, 04:47 Uhr, aktualisiert um 17:05 Uhr) Gazastreifen: Wieso eskaliert die Gewalt ausgerechnet jetzt?(publiziert am 06.08.2022, 20:35 Uhr)
  Gewalt im Nahostkonflikt: Gaza: Ab heute Abend soll offenbar ein Waffenstillstand gelten (publiziert am 07.08.2022, 10:29 Uhr, aktualisiert um 17:26 Uhr)
Tabelle 1: Schlagzeilen der drei Online-Medien betreffend die Lage vor Ort

Voreingenommene Reaktionen der Schweizer Medien

Nicht nur die Schlagzeilen, sondern die Artikel an sich stellen den israelischen Angriff auf die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung in den Hintergrund. Dies obwohl solche Handlungen gegen die Grundsätze des humanitären Völkerrechts verstossen. Zudem sind die Artikel geprägt ĂĽbersät von voreingenommenen und kontextlosen Formulierungen. Im Folgenden wird dies anhand der drei ursprĂĽnglichen Reaktionen von watson.ch, 20minuten.ch und srf.ch aufgezeigt. 

Watson

Im ersten veröffentlichten Artikel von Watson widmen sich die ersten drei Absätze der Lage in den israelischen Städten (basierend auf israelischen Medienberichten), den Drohungen der Â«Palästinenserorganisation Islamischer Dschihad» (PIJ) und der israelischen Ermordung deren AnfĂĽhrers in einer Â«Militäroperation im Gazastreifen» als Reaktion auf Â«geplante Angriffe auf [israelische] Zivilisten». Als krönender Abschluss – bevor im Folgesatz die palästinensischen Zivilopfer erstmals erwähnt werden – wird noch einmal betont, dass der Islamische Dschihad Â«von der EU und den USA als Terrororganisation eingestuft» wird. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt ist der durchschnittliche Leser bereits beeinflusst und hat sich eine Meinung gebildet: Der israelische Angriff auf den Gazastreifen ist legitim, weil sie als Präventionsmassnahme vor Terroranschlägen auf die eigene Zivilbevölkerung Terroristen im Gazastreifen ausschalten. Israelis sind die Guten, Palästinenser die Bösen.

Dann endlich, nach neun pro-israelisch formulierten Sätzen, einer irrefĂĽhrenden Schlagzeile und eines Fotos, das palästinensische Raketen Â«in Richtung Israel» zeigt, werden die palästinensischen Zivilopfer erstmals erwähnt: Â«Nach palästinensischen Angaben kamen bei den israelischen Luftangriffen mindestens zehn Menschen ums Leben, darunter neben Al-Dschabari [Dschihad-AnfĂĽhrer] ein fĂĽnfjähriges Kind und weitere PIJ-Mitglieder.» Dieser Satz ist aus mehreren GrĂĽnden abgrundtief. Erstens hat das Â«fĂĽnfjährige Kind» einen Namen: Alaa Qadoum, ein junges Mädchen, das noch im Kindergarten und in schlimmster Art und Weise aus dem Leben gerissen wurde. Zweitens wird Alaa nur in einem Nebensatz erwähnt. Der Artikel besteht aus insgesamt 32 Sätzen, und trotzdem ist sie Watson keine Widmung in einem eigenstehenden Satz wert. Letztens wird Alaa zwischen Â«Al-Dschabari» und Â«weitere PIJ-Mitglieder» platziert. Indem Watson Alaa zwischen zwei Beschreibungen von «Terroristen» stellt, wird bewusst versucht, ihren Tod zu verharmlosen und den israelischen Angriff zu legitimieren. Dies verdeutlicht einmal mehr die Vernachlässigung in der Berichterstattung von palästinensischen «Kollateralschäden», wie das israelische Militär häufig die Angriffe auf unschuldige Zivilisten legitimiert.

20 Minuten

Der Artikel von 20minuten zum israelischen Luftangriff in Gaza ist im Grunde genommen deckungsgleich mit jenem von Watson. Er wurde etwas gekĂĽrzt und einige Sätze leicht verändert, die voreingenommenen Formulierungen und die Vernachlässigung der palästinensischen Zivilbevölkerung blieben jedoch bestehen. Unter dem Titel fĂĽgte das Nachrichtenportal das Foto einer Explosion im Gazastreifen ein und kommentierte dies wie folgt: Â«Feuer und Rauch im Gazastreifen: Israel vermeldet die gezielte Tötung eines militanten PalästinenserfĂĽhrers.» Diese Beschreibung sieht ĂĽber die verheerenden Auswirkungen der israelischen Angriffe auf die palästinensischen Zivilisten hinweg. Unter dem Foto baute 20minuten zusätzlich eine Informationsbox Â«Darum gehts» ein, die die Leser ĂĽber die wichtigsten Marksteine der Ereignisse informieren soll. Auch hier wurde nicht ĂĽber den Angriff auf die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung berichtet. Es kommt noch verstörender: die israelischen Luftangriffe wurde nicht einmal erwähnt, sondern nur das das israelische Militär Â«den Militärchef der militanten Palästinenserorganisation Islamischer Jihad (PIJ) im Gazastreifen (…) getötet»hat. 

SRF

Die ursprĂĽngliche Reaktion von SRF – hier liegt nur eine aktualisierte Version des Artikels am 06.08.2022 um 10:29 Uhr vor – auf die Ereignisse vor Ort ist ähnlich besorgniserregend. Wie im Falle von 20minuten, wiederholen sich viele verzerrte und voreingenommene Formulierungen in Kohärenz zum Watson-Artikel. Zudem: In der Zusammenfassung der wichtigsten Ereignisse zu Beginn des Artikels wird die andauernde Gewalteskalation, der erneute Angriff der israelischen Luftwaffe auf Â«Ziele im Gazastreifen», die anhaltenden RaketenbeschĂĽsse der Â«Palästinenser» und die Tötung von Al-Dschabari aufgelistet. Die palästinensischen Zivilopfer schaffen es auch hier nicht auf die Prioritätenliste. Gleich im Anschluss ist dann zwar von neun getöteten und 79 verletzten Palästinenser die Rede, im Folgesatz werden diese Zahlen aber erneut heruntergespielt: Â«Unter den Toten seien mindestens vier Angehörige des Islamischen Dschihads und ein Kind.» Umformuliert bedeutet das: Unter den Toten sind bis zu fĂĽnf Zivilisten, darunter ein Kind. SRF hätte sich fĂĽr letztere Formulierung entscheiden können, sah es allerdings fĂĽr notwendig, die Tötung des Kindes in den Kontext von getöteten PIJ-Mitgliedern zu setzen. 

Um nochmals zu den aufgezählten Punkten am Anfang des Artikels zurĂĽckzukehren: Hier sind zwei Formulierungen irrefĂĽhrend und realitätsverzerrend. Â«Ziele im Gazastreifen» impliziert wie bereits erwähnt eine vorgetäuschte Legitimität, da die Luftangriffe zum Zeitpunkt der Veröffentlichung dieses Artikels bereits mehrere Wohnhäuser getroffen hatten. Von diesen fehlt im SRF-Artikel jede Spur. Zusätzlich ist die Formulierung Â«die Palästinenser feuern weiter Raketen auf israelisches Gebiet» eine unangebrachte Generalisierung, die impliziert, dass Palästinenser im Allgemeinen und nicht PIJ fĂĽr die gefeuerten Raketen verantwortlich sind. Dies ist ein weiteres Beispiel, das veranschaulicht, wie den Schweizer Online-Medien die Differenzierung zwischen Zivilisten und PIJ-Mitgliedern misslingt. 

In der Berichterstattung von SRF, sowie von den anderen beiden Portalen, fehlt es ausserdem an Kontext. Weiter unten im Artikel schreibt SRF Â«Israelis und Palästinenser in Angst – Viele Israelis im SĂĽden des Landes verbrachten die Nacht auf Samstag in Schutzräumen. Im Gazastreifen wiederum fĂĽrchten die Menschen die israelischen Luftangriffe, die Freitagnachmittag begannen und andauerten.» Dem Leser erscheint es, als wären beide Zivilbevölkerungen gleich betroffen von den Ereignissen. Ausgelassen wird, dass die Palästinenser im Gaza-Streifen seit 15 Jahren aufgrund der israelischen Land-, See- und Luftblockade wortwörtlich in einem «open-air»-Gefängnis leben. Schutzräume gibt es im Gazastreifen nicht, und auch keinen Iron Dome, der die israelischen Raketen abfängt. Die rund zwei Millionen Einwohner, in einer der am dichtesten besiedelten Region der Welt gefangen, sind den israelischen Luftangriffen wehrlos ausgesetzt. Tatsächlich geht SRF am Ende des Artikels kurz darauf ein, allerdings nur punktuell. Â«Im Gazastreifen leben rund zwei Millionen Einwohner unter sehr schlechten Bedingungen.» Anstelle darauf einzugehen, wie die israelische Blockade den Zugang zu Elektrizität, sauberem Trinkwasser und lebensrettenden medizinischen Behandlungen massiv einschränkt, wird jegliche Verantwortung von den Israelis weggeschoben. Stattdessen wird die Schuld den Palästinensern zugewiesen, indem hervorgehoben wird, dass die dort regierende Hamas eine Terrororganisation sei und impliziert wird, dass die anhaltende israelische Blockade eine legitime Reaktion darauf war: Â«Die von der EU als Terrororganisation eingestufte Hamas hatte 2007 gewaltsam die Macht an sich gerissen. Israel verschärfte daraufhin eine Blockade des Gebiets, (…)» Watson benutzt dieselbe Argumentation, während 20minuten den Kontext der Blockade komplett ausser Acht lässt. 

Zuletzt soll noch hervorgehoben werden, dass beim SRF-Artikel zuoberst ein 37-sekundiges Video mit dem Titel Â«Viele Tote und Verletzte in Gaza» erscheint. Die Zusammenschnitte von einzelnen Clips sollen scheinbar den Lesern die Lage in Gaza näherbringen. Zu sehen sind eine Gruppe von Palästinensern, die mit ihren Handys TrĂĽmmer filmen; Rauch, der aus einem Gebäude kommt; und eine Nahaufnahme von drei Wohnblöcken, die offenbar noch stehen. Die Auswahl ist verwunderlich, wenn man die Videos berĂĽcksichtigt, die in den Sozialen Medien verbreitet wurden. Weshalb wurde den Schweizer Lesern nicht eines der zahlreichen verfĂĽgbaren Videos gezeigt, die zeigen, wie die israelischen Raketen in Gaza einschlagen? Oder das Video, in welchem eine Gruppe von palästinensischen Kindern mit blutvergossenen Gesichtern angsterfĂĽllt in die Leere starren? Oder das Video, in welchem ein seufzender junger Mann den leblosen Körper von Alaa in den Armen trägt? 

Fazit

Die Beispiele der drei Medienportale verdeutlichen mehrere Problematiken in der Berichterstattung der israelischen Besatzung von Palästina im Allgemeinen und der jüngsten israelischen Angriffe auf Gaza spezifisch:

  • Die Berichterstattung verharmlost die drastische Situation im Gazastreifen. Die Angriffe auf die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung werden grösstenteils ausgeblendet oder in den Hintergrund gestellt. In den wenigen Fällen, in denen sie erwähnt werden, wird deren Tötung als Kollateralschaden legitimiert und ihre Existenz dadurch degradiert und ausgelöscht. 
  • Die Berichterstattung impliziert eine voreingenommene Haltung der Medienportale, die sich durch ihre Schreibweise und Formulierungen eindeutig auf die Seite Israels stellen. Die Handlungen der Israelis werden irrtĂĽmlich als rechtmässig und legitim, jene der Gegenseite als unrechtmässig und illegitim dargestellt. Die Leser erhalten den Eindruck, wer die «Guten» (Israelis) und wer die «Bösen» (Palästinenser) sind. Dementsprechend wird auch die Opfer-/Täterrolle klar zugeteilt. In einigen Fällen werden Palästinenser von den Online-Medien als Terroristen generalisiert. 
  • Die Berichterstattung weigert sich, Israel fĂĽr ihre Menschenrechtsverletzungen und Kriegsverbrechen verantwortlich zu machen. Stattdessen wird den Lesern der Eindruck vermittelt, dass die Palästinenser selbst die Schuldtragenden fĂĽr deren Misere sind. 
  • Die Berichterstattung versäumt es, die Ereignisse innerhalb eines adäquaten Kontexts – die menschenverachtende, rechtswidrige und anhaltende israelische Blockade des Gazastreifens – darzustellen.

Die Online-Medienportale watson.ch, 20min.ch und srf.ch erreichen eine breite Leserschaft. Basierend auf deren Schlagzeilen und Formulierungen bilden sich die Schweizer Leser ihre Meinung zu bestimmten Themen. Deshalb ist eine ausgewogene und kontextbezogene Berichterstattung, welche die Ăśbel der Zivilbevölkerungen ins Zentrum stellt, Kriegsverbrechen als solche definiert und die dahintersteckenden Parteien verantwortlich macht, umso wichtiger. DiesbezĂĽglich haben die drei analysierten Medienportale kläglich versagt. 

Eine Berichterstattung, die nicht mit dem Angriff auf die palästinensische Zivilbevölkerung und dem schwerwiegenden Ausmass der Kriegsverbrechen vonseiten der Israelis leitet, ist unverantwortlich und entmenschlichend. Zudem trägt sie dadurch zur Legitimierung der illegalen israelischen Besatzung der palästinensischen Gebiete bei. 

The cube of truth

by Christian Ewert & Deborah Kalte

Hidden Politics

On a busy street during an ordinary day with people walking by, black-dressed activists in Guy Fawkes masks get in position. They claim a part of the public space by standing in a cube formation, some of them hold laptops and tablets that display disturbing and evocative footage of animal farms, others carry signs that bear the word “Truth” in English or other languages. Yet some other activists stand beside this cube and reach out to passersby to discuss animal welfare and veganism. Together, these activists perform, as they call it, a Cube of Truth.

Jeangagnon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cube of Truth is a complex performance of the animal rights organization Anonymous for the Voiceless. What started in 2016 as a local event of Australian activists has soon become a worldwide movement which has, as of today, performed more than 10’000 Cubes of Truth. It is thus a rather new, yet very successful form of communicating and informing the greater public of the â€śhidden politics behind common consumer goods” as scientists Micheletti and Stolle have called it. Or as the organizers state on their website, “people can learn there is no humane way to exploit, enslave or murder an animal.”

Indeed, the almost militaristic and anonymized cube depicts “the truth” about animal suffering in writing and on explicit and very graphical footage, while the outreach team (in civilian clothes) hands out information, asks questions, and engages in deliberation. With their impressive performance, the activists have, in their own words, “successfully convinced hundreds of thousands of people” so far.

Modern Consumption

The Cube of Truth is one of the many examples of innovative strategies that citizens have developed to engage politically and express their concerns with current consumption practices. Possibly the most familiar political consumer activities are the boycotts of certain products or companies. Other strategies include the conscious choice of products such as organic or Fairtrade, the decision to adapt one’s lifestyle along certain guidelines, for instance by living vegan, or discursive actions such as campaigns that target fast food chains by anti-branding them (for example “Murder King”), culture jamming (such as the famous Nike Email Exchange), or public protests.

Conscious or political consumerism, as it is often called, has been on the rise for at least 30 years or so. It can be seen as a response to the increasing power of multi-national corporations, and the (perceived) inability of states and international organizations to hold these corporations accountable for their (mis)conduct. And indeed, companies such as Nike, the global diamond trader De Beers, or Shell have felt the consumers’ “wrath” in the past and have consequently changed their practices to some degree. Today, many companies have developed some form of corporate social responsibility scheme to communicate the ethics of their behavior.

Vegan Community

As a performance related to political consumerism, the Cube of Truth is unique in two ways. For one, the activists do not address big corporations but instead, target ordinary people. While the first-generation political consumerism aimed at influencing the behavior of multinationals such as Nike, De Beers, or Shell, this second generation is trying to convince consumers to adopt a more conscious and animal-friendly lifestyle.

More importantly, however, the Cube of Truth is unique because of its performers: the vegan community.

In Western countries, only 0.5–3% of the population identifies as vegan, making vegans a tiny minority that is culturally dominated by the mainstream omnivore society. Think about how major supermarkets always sell some form of meat, eggs, or dairy, and how common leather clothing is. Think about how difficult it is to find vegan-friendly menus in some (often less urban) restaurants. And think about the mockery and ridicule that vegans experience, even with family and friends.

It is then perhaps not surprising that vegans create their own communities that stand in stark contrast to omnivores. Using a term coined by the linguist Michael Halliday, vegans form their own “anti-society.”

An anti-society is a small minority which is embedded in a (much) larger and dominating host society (the mainstream). The anti-society has its own values and norms, cultural practices, and even patterns of communication that are distinct from the host society.

And given its dominated status, many anti-society practices and patterns of communication center around the question of identity: Who are we, compared to them? What is important to us, and not to them? What do we do differently, compared to them? Maintaining its distinctiveness is necessary for an anti-society’s survival.

Vegan Identity

Understanding the vegan community as an anti-society sheds a new light on the Cube of Truth. Yes, vegans perform the Cube of Truth to convince non-vegans into adopting a more animal-friendly lifestyle.

But vegans also perform the Cube of Truth for themselves. Together, they plan and prepare each performance. Together, they wear the same clothes and masks and stand in strong formation for their cause, firmly representing their values. And together, they not only have access to “the truth” (about animal products and welfare), but also show it to the world.

As a highly ritualized performance, the Cube of Truth impresses passersby. Simultaneously, it impresses its performers as well, because it connects each individual performer to the larger, global community. A community that shares similar values, norms, practices, and communicative patterns.

To outsiders (i.e., non-vegans), the Cube of Truth holds meaning because of the graphic footage of animal suffering, the helpful discussions with the outreach team, or the black clothes and masks. To insiders (i.e., the performers), it holds meaning because it is a joint undertaking that welcomes contributions, and thus creates a strong sense of shared identity and belonging.

With tens of thousands of performances, the Cube of Truth is a highly successful manifestation of political consumerism. Maybe it so successful because it speaks to non-vegans and vegans alike.

The Qatar disaster: What hideous actions a country is willing to undertake for profit

Qatar, a tiny country located at the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is hosting the 2022 World Cup. The gas- and oil-rich emirate is around one third the size of Switzerland and has more or less the same population as the city of Manchester. How is it possible that a small-scale country was awarded the responsibility of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world? What are the dark sides of a World Cup in Qatar and what has been done to shed light on this darkness?  

How to get away with vote buying

In 2010 the Executive Committee of the governing global football federation FIFA, today known as the FIFA Council, elected Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022. The votes were cast in secret; thus, it is not officially disclosed who voted for whom. Following the vote, the Sunday Times launched a thorough investigation inspecting allegations of vote buying in the 2022 as well as in the 2018 World Cup bidding process. The investigation was based on intelligence that had been confidentially gathered from seven people involved in the England 2018 bid. Additionally, over a span of four years the Sunday Times investigated and later published information and millions of documents gathered from a whistle-blower inside FIFA, known as the FIFA files. The investigations found evidence that Qatari officials, in particular then FIFA vice president Mohamed Bin Hamman, had bribed FIFA Council members in return for their votes for the 2022 Qatar bid. According to the Sunday Times, Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma for example, two former African FIFA Council members, were paid $1.5 million by the Qatar 2022 bid in exchange for their vote. Also, the information gathered by the Sunday Times included different vote trading deals between bidding countries, among them a deal between Qatar 2022 and Spain-Portugal 2018. This was only possible due to FIFA’s decision to conduct the vote for the 2018 and the 2022 World Cup host simultaneously, for whatever reason. Even though the practice of vote trading was strictly banned according to FIFA regulations, it was practically an invitation for FIFA Council members to exchange their votes. 

One day after the first Sunday Times publication in June 2014, US attorney Michael Garcia, who was appointed by FIFA to investigate earlier allegations concerning vote buying, announced that the evidence-gathering phase of his inspection would shortly come to an end. A couple of weeks later, Garcia submitted his final report, without having investigated the evidence by the Sunday Times. FIFA then published a summary (!) of Garcia’s results, which exonerated the Qatar 2022 (and also the Russia 2018) bid of all wrongdoing. Case closed. Interestingly, in response to the Sunday Times reports the organizing committee claimed that Bin Hammam had not been involved in the Qatar 2022 bid team. FIFA, who had already banned the Qatari for another corruption scandal, supported the claim. That is how to get away with vote buying. 

Human rights only secondary

After the successful World Cup bid, Qatar began with its megaproject, which included among other things the construction of seven new stadiums, a new airport, a new public transport system and a new city, where the World Cup final is set to take place. In the past few years, Qatar’s excessive construction has been under intense scrutiny. Several reports have claimed that the construction workers – mostly migrant workers from South Asian countries such as Nepal or Bangladesh – have been exposed to dreadful labor conditions. In February 2021, The Guardian revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the emirate won the hosting rights for the World Cup in 2010, the number likely to being an underestimate. 

An earlier report from the Guardian in 2019 addressed the causes of migrant workers’ deaths. According to the official Qatari death toll, most migrant workers had died because of “natural deaths” such as heart or respiratory failure. The investigations, however, show that many of the deceased were in their twenties and thirties, and had arrived in Qatar in good and healthy shape. This leads to the suspicion that their deaths may not have been as “natural” as stated by the Qataris. For its research, the Guardian collaborated with an experienced clinical cardiologist. He found that hundreds of young men, who rarely suffer heart attacks, died in Qatar due to heart strokes, which in turn were caused by the immense heat stress that they were exposed to. This is not surprising, given the fact that these migrants were forced to work in temperatures as high as 45 degrees for up to ten hours a day. 

The deaths of these migrant workers caused by the exposure to such heat is certainly tragic. However, these are not the only human rights violations that the organizers of the 2022 World Cup are responsible for. In 2016, Amnesty International published a report based on interviews with over 200 migrant workers. Some of them worked on a stadium construction site, others as landscapers for a sports complex, where teams such as Paris Saint-Germain have carried out training camps regularly. The findings were shocking. Many migrant workers claimed to not have been paid for months. Besides not being able to pay for basic needs such as food, this impeded them from paying recruitment-related debts or sending money back home to their families, the latter initially being the reason for the migrants leaving home. Another example was the confiscation of migrant workers’ passports by their employers that prohibited the workers from leaving the country. Some of the interviewed Nepali workers claimed that they were not allowed to visit their families in 2015 after a disastrous earthquake struck the country, killing almost 10,000 people. These are only some of the examples of human rights abuses migrant workers had to go through. Dirty and cramped accommodations, lies about the salary and threats for complaining about the terrible conditions are some of the others. Clearly, the organizers of Qatar 2022 do not view the adherence to human rights as a top priority.

Lucrative football industry

Of course, hosting the 2022 World Cup – the biggest sporting event in the world – will greatly benefit Qatar in economic terms. Foreign investments will significantly increase, since such huge events are very lucrative for foreign businesses. Also, the tourism industry is likely to gain a notable economic boost. In particular, the luxury packages offered by MATCH Hospitality AG – FIFA’s official hospitality programme for the Qatar World Cup – will bring in an incredible amount of money. To illustrate, a private lounge ticket for the semi-final match in the newly built Lusail stadium can be purchased for a bargain of $1,760,800. Just to be clear: This doesn’t include neither travelling nor accommodation costs, it is just the price tag for watching one single game of football from a VIP lounge. Fortunately, caviar and a glass of champagne are likely to be included. 

However, it is not only the World Cup that will be beneficious to Qatar economically. In fact, the emirate’s World Cup bid should be seen as part of a broader strategy to maintain Qatar’s wealth once it runs out of its oil and gas reserves. Football has in this regard been viewed by powerful Qataris as a lucrative investment opportunity. Besides the bid, Qatar has tried to invest in the football industry for example by sponsoring Bayern Munich through the state-owned airline Qatar Airways or, more importantly, by taking over the French side Paris St. Germain (PSG) in 2011. Qatar Sports Investment, a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, which is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, has pumped hundreds of millions into the club, transforming it from a struggling side to one of the best football teams in the world instantly. In 2017, for example, PSG (de facto the state Qatar) shocked the world when they paid the â‚¬222 million release clause to bring in star-player Neymar from FC Barcelona – the highest amount ever paid for a football transfer. As leaked documents from whistleblower Rui Pinto demonstrate, PSG have repeatedly violated Financial Fairplay regulations, but the Qatari bosses have managed to arrange settlement agreements and get away with ridiculous fines. 

As described, in a long-term attempt to make money, Qatar is investing in the profitable football industry with all necessary measures. Moral convictions such as a fair election or human rights do not seem to be of interest. 

Tick tock

On November 21st, 2021 the final countdown started: 365 days until the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar. While FIFA president Gianni Infantino travelled to Qatar to celebrate the beginning of the one-year countdown by unveiling the fancy Hublot countdown clock, Amnesty International published â€śReality Check 2021: A year to the 2022 World Cup”. The report describes how Qatar had made an agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO) back in 2017 in an effort to ”end labour abuse and exploitation of its more than two million migrant workers” by introducing several potentially effective legal reforms. More importantly, however, the report demonstrates how the Qatari government has failed to actually implement these reforms that are supposed to tackle abusive practices such as wage theft or unsafe working conditions. Also, the kafala system, which binds migrant workers to their employers, often preventing them from changing jobs or leaving the country, is still intact. Amnesty International highlights that employers who are abusing their migrant employees are not effectively sanctioned by the government, and are therefore still incentivized to violate human rights. Based on its investigation, the NGO concludes that – in practice – concerning human rights not much has changed since the reforms. 

In its report, Amnesty International do not call for a boycott. Instead, in a highly optimistic statement they urge Qatar, FIFA and corporate actors involved in the 2022 World Cup to immediately take further actions. In addition, they encourage football associations to “actively and publicly take action to ensure that the rights of migrant workers are respected in the run up and during the 2022 World Cup”. However, for that it is too late. Too many workers and their families have suffered. Too many workers have died, no, killed! And realistically, what will some pre-match jerseys with the inscriptions “HUMAN RIGHTS” or “FOOTBALL SUPPORTS CHANGE” worn by national teams – such as Norway, Germany and the Netherlands during the 2022 World Cup qualifiers – achieve? It is more likely that such actions will benefit these associations from a PR perspective – regardless of whether intended or not – than actually lead to change. 

Change is certainly needed, and football must support it. But as for right now, it does not. If football really does want to support change, as the Netherlands jerseys claimed, then particularly associations and players need to show courage and take real actions. The most effective way to bring about change would be to boycott the World Cup. Imagine the uproar it would cause if a leading football nation such as France or England, or a player like Lionel Messi – the idol of so many people around the world – would refuse to travel to Qatar. Football fans would stand up in support, other players and associations would follow, causing an unstoppable domino effect. In the end, it would be clear to everyone that it is unacceptable for bidding countries to buy votes and to violate human rights in an effort to exploit the lucrative football industry. Only a boycott will guarantee that the Qatar disaster would never be allowed to be repeated. 

So far, none of the 211 FIFA member associations and no prominent football player has spoken out in favor of a boycott. One brave player, or one brave nation â€“ that is all that is required to bring about significant change. And no, it is not “10 years too late” for a boycott, as German international Joshua Kimmich stated in an interview. There still is time, but the clock is ticking. 

Vladimir Putin and his methods – how Russia’s president deals with opposition

By Ivanna Biryukova

Russia, January 23rd, 2021. The streets of 198 cities were filled with slowly moving masses. A sea of down jackets, scarfs and hats. A sea of old and young. A sea of hope, rage, unfulfillment and disappointment. It was a cold, slippery day, a day when people would soon be met with overwhelming police presence. Thousands of them would end up detained and beaten up by law enforcement officers.  It was two days after the infamous video “A Palace for Putin: The Story of the Biggest Bribe” was released.  It was also one week before Alexey Navalny would officially become a political prisoner. 

Vladimir Putin’s difficult relationship with opposition 

Russia’s president of 18 years Vladimir Putin is not the biggest supporter of the opposition in his country. A man who granted himself the opportunity to stay in office until the year 2036, he has a long-winded history in suppressing his critics. Today, almost every single independent news outlet and non-profit organization is either closed or falls under the “foreign agent” law. This law is used to punish disloyal media outlets that have little to do with foreign governments – it is simply another tactic of disempowerment and pressure. In contrast, even though 1990s Russia was a lawless and unsafe place to live in, freedom of speech thrived during that time allowing many of the most notorious anti-Putin journalists and politicians to rise to to fame after the Soviet Union fell apart. 

“A reformer who never backed down”

One of these people was Boris Nemtsov (1959 – 2015), whose political career started off  under Yeltsin’s presidency. Nemtsov stood loyally behind Yeltsin during a coup attempt in August 1991, and the latter rewarded him with the job of presidential representative in his native region of Nizhny Novgorod. After that, he secured the position as the governor of the same region. 

The early years of Nemtsov’s political career were filled with change and progressive thinking: the West saw the future of Russia’s liberal and open politics in him. More so, Yeltsin introduced him to Bill Clinton as his “successor”. However, when Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned in 1999, Vladimir Putin took over as president. The reasons for this are still unclear, but the fact remains that Putin, a former director of the Russian Federation’s Federal Security Service (F.S.B.), the same security service that poisoned Alexey Navalny last year, has been in power ever since.  

As years passed, Nemtsov became more outspoken about his disapproval of Putin’s governance. He organized rallies and marches, was detained several times, and spoke out against the annexation of Crimea and the situation in Chechnya. In February of 2015, Nemtsov expressed fears that he might be killed. On February 27th, his body was found on a bridge near the Kremlin – he was shot from behind and died at the scene. 

All eyes turned to the Kremlin. One of Putin’s most vehement opponents assassinated in front of the presidential office? 

According to some journalists close to Nemtsov, he was working on a report that would have proven the presence of Russian military forces in eastern Ukraine, despite Russia’s denials. Others spoke of Ramzan Kadyrov’s (the Head of the Chechen Republic) involvement in the murder. After all, many critics of Chechnya’s leader face a similar fate. Kadyrov has obtained a license to kill, and many fear that he plays the role of executioner for another higher-ranking figure who sponsors him and covers up his crimes. Even if Putin was not on board with Nemtsov’s killing, he covered it up, which makes him an accomplice. 

Ramzan Kadyrov and a woman’s attempts to unveil the truth 

Why is Kadyrov’s possible connection so important? Because Anna Politkovskaya, a brilliant, fierce, and honest journalist, that described Kadyrov as the “Chechen Stalin of our days”, was murdered in the elevator of her apartment building in 2006. Politkovskaya reported from Chechnya – she was the person who showed the Russian public what was really going on behind the high peaks of Caucasian mountains. The Second Chechen War (1999-2009, a conflict between Russian Federation and Chechen separatists) was one of the most traumatic events modern Russia has gone through – and Anna Politkovskaya (along with many other journalists) put pen to paper. 

She survived a poisoning attempt on a flight (a well-known tactic at this point), was a victim of a mock execution, received death threats from an OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Unit) officer and from Kadyrov himself. Politkovskaya managed to get Kadyrov to convey his feelings toward Putin in a 2004 interview during which he referred to Putin as “one of their own” and called for him to be the lifelong president of Russia. 

Anna Politkovskaya was one of Russia’s most genuine journalists, and her honesty was not appreciated in governmental structures. On October 7th, 2006, she was shot 4 times. In 2014, four Chechen men were convicted of her murder – according to court materials, none of them had personal motives to assassinate Politkovskaya. October 7th, 2021, marked 15 years since her death – the person who hired the killers is still free.

The last hope of Russian opposition 

On a domestic flight from Tomsk to Moscow, Alexey Navalny, a 45-years-old politician, and anti-corruption activist, fell ill. After an emergency landing in Omsk, he was brought to a hospital, where the authorities wouldn’t let his wife Yulia and his team see him. Yulia demanded them to release her husband to transport him to a better medical institution in Germany. It took 2 days, but on August 22nd Navalny was put in an induced coma and evacuated to the CharitĂ© hospital in Berlin. A month later, the politician was discharged, and Novichok agent (a chemical weapon) was pronounced to have been found in his blood work. 

Alexey Navalny stayed in Germany until January 17th and while he was there, he and his organization FBK (known as “Anti-Corruption Foundation”) released investigative videos about his poisoning. They could prove that FSB was behind the murder attempt. The incompetence of the team that was ordered to poison Navalny was the only thing that saved him putting concrete evidence of their contribution into his hands. One of the films features a phone call with one of the poisoners, in which he essentially explains the poisoning process step by step. The Russian government denies any involvement to this day. 

As soon as the plane that carried Navalny and his wife landed in Moscow, the politician was taken into custody â€“ Navalny violated the terms of his probation by not contacting his parole officer while he was in a coma.  

After Navalny was detained, FBK published an investigative documentary on their Youtube channel: “A Palace for Putin: The Story of the Biggest Bribe”. The film calls for people to come out and protest for Navalny’s release and exposes Vladimir Putin’s 1.35-billion-dollar palace on the Black Sea. All hell broke loose – tens of thousands of people took it to the streets after seeing their opposition leader detained and their president in possession of a literal royal palace with 700€ gold pipe-cleaners, while millions of Russians live below the poverty line. 

On February 2nd, 2021, Alexey Navalny was sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony. The protests went on, but so did the beatings and the detentions, and so FBK have called off the marches until further notice. 

When addressing the court, Navalny said: “Murder is the only way he [Vladimir Putin] knows how to fight. He’ll go down in history as nothing but a poisoner. […] I hope very much that people won’t look at this trial as a signal that they should be more afraid. This isn’t a demonstration of strength – it’s a show of weakness. You can’t lock up millions and hundreds of thousands of people. I hope very much that people will realize this. And they will. Because you can’t lock up the whole country.”

One of the characteristics of Russian mentality is to endure something for as long as humanly possible. So that slippery 23rd of January was not only a way to show disagreement with the government, but an important sign of unionization and mobilization of a normally passive nation. The Russian opposition finally managed to show Putin that they have had enough, they are here, and despite countless threats, they aren’t going anywhere. 

Digital Love: Why digitalization and dating don’t go together

by Danai Rossalidis

Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Lovoo or Badoo have long since become part of our everyday vocabulary. Finding love, romance, sex, adventure or any kind of togetherness online is no longer anything new. Dating in the digital sphere has become part of our normality. In times of digitalization and technologization, it seems easier than ever to find the “perfect match”. But why then is the majority of the young population still single? And why do we find online dating more difficult and frustrating than ever?

The age of Tinder and co.: where everything seems possible yet nothing is real

Be it the age of digitalization, global networks and pandemics, frustration with being alone or simply boredom with everyday life: many of us find ourselves facing the seemingly inevitable entry into the vast world of online dating. If online dating used to be laughed at, “swiping” for love has now become almost cult. What makes Tinder & co. so popular? Why do we keep catching ourselves pressing the red flame button in the silent hope for another “perfect match”, while the other 20/30 matches fizzle out in incoherent gibberish or vanish into thin air like ghosts?

The normal process of online dating is as follows: you match, text for a few hours or days and then meet for a coffee or drink. After that, there are two scenarios: in the first one, you have been fooled by the photos or the physical appearance of the person and now find yourself in front of someone with whom it just does not “vibe” at all. Then the date is brought to an end as quickly as possible in order to (hopefully) never meet the person again. In the second scenario, a certain “connection” is noticeable and a sympathy for the counterpart is present. Unfortunately, this is often hindered by the spasmodic pressure that it must be a date. If you are lucky this can be overcome and the date may end with a smile, a goodbye wave, even a kiss or a night together. What comes next is unfortunately not so pleasant. In that moment one of the other 20/30 matches has decided to respond and we are back to scenario one: someone “ghosts” the other and as fast as the flame ignited it is extinguished.

These apps promises an unlimited selection of possible partners and the possibility to find either your great love or the next adventure, on the go and at any time with just one swipe. The speed is fast, the selection large, and the responsibility small. So, it seems to be a perfect fit for the needs of our generation. But with the many possibilities these apps open for us, they also confront us with new, unfamiliar challenges. With a few exceptions where Cupid’s arrow actually hits, many are often left frustrated by rejection, disappointment and unmet expectations. What also negatively affects our dating experience is the insidious behaviour that online dating evokes in us. We are under constant pressure to keep someone’s attention due to the selection and pace, or we get bored quickly and don’t give anyone enough time. We want to give someone attention and win them over, but at the same time not seem “needy” in fear of not being cool enough. And we only let ourselves get involved with a person as far as we don’t run the risk of getting hurt. Furthermore, we never invest 100 per cent on a single person, always having at least one more up our sleeve in case it doesn’t work out with the first one.

At the same time, it’s very limited to really get to know or even like someone based on five to six photos and a few text messages. Online dating is still a bubble of impersonality, where we can be who they want, wear a mask and not really have to face anyone. Hiding behind the screen means never having to take responsibility for your actions.

Between a swipe, a match and a text, honesty, openness and real feelings are left on the sidelines.

Big Data meets Love: how do we fall in love in the future?

We are already in a time where our social behaviour lags behind technological advances. Cultural changes are slow and gradual. New dating apps, however, are popping up rapidly and in huge numbers. We find ourselves caught between new technologies and outdated norms. In an environment of unlimited possibilities and no guidebook, we often lose ourselves. Despite being acutely overwhelmed by digitalization and its consequences, we will have to deal for better or worse with further digital advances in the future. Some futuristic science fiction films and series such as “The One” show us what this could look like in terms of our dating behaviour.

In the series “The One”, through a genetic test people have the opportunity to find their “perfect match”, the one great love with whom they would like to spend the rest of their lives. What may sound completely suspicious and futuristic at first is not so far from our reality. A study by the zukunftsInstitut shows that in the future we will be able to get more and more suitable partner suggestions based on Big Data. This works based on more data collected about our usage behaviour not only online, but also in the physical world. This is then compared and matched with other users. These matching mechanisms based on our individual activities online and offline are called “behavioural matching”. At the same time, the amount of data is increasing enormously due to increasing networking, which leads to an improvement of matching algorithms and should lead us even closer to “the one”.

The film “Her”, on the other side, gives us another view of our possible dating behaviour in the future. In the film, the main character Theodore falls in love with “Samantha,” an operating system that has been adapted to him. He communicates with Samantha and experiences how quickly she learns about him and his social interactions. From then on, she becomes more and more human to him. Based on intense communication between the two, an intimate relationship between human and operating system develops. The film shows the direction in which technology and love can develop. It points out how an extreme technologization of our private lives and especially of our emotional world can lead to a distancing from reality.

How does one love today?

You can rant and rave about Tinder and co, but at the end of the day, we are all social beings who long for affection, tenderness, and human contact – and we do it via online dating. We cannot escape technological developments. Therefore, we need to change them according to our preferences and needs. Our dating behaviour should not be the bad product of their emergence. Much more, our personal behaviour needs to change. This does not have to mean deleting all apps in order to get to know someone in “real life” like “in the good old days”, even though that is of course also great. No, it means a more conscious approach to dating apps. This means being respectful, tolerant and open towards the other person. And most importantly being truthful to yourself and others about what you expect from dating. There is no golden rule on how to behave exactly. Dating expectations are individual and different for each person. Therefore, you should give every new acquaintance the chance to express themselves and respond to them honestly.

We have to be aware that behind every profile there is a person who has not yet given up hope of finding love. And what could be more beautiful than a person who believes in love? That’s why we need more honesty, mindfulness, the courage to express our feelings, and more “real life” in the digital sphere!


The radicalization of politics

By Christian Ewert and Raphael Capaul

On that fateful Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the United States elected Donald Trump as their President. Four years later, there is no doubt that he was one of the most radical and aggressive incumbents the USA have ever seen. Standing out not only for his inclination for authoritarian rule—as demonstrated by the 2019 Ukraine affair and his involvement in the recent breach of the Capitol—but also for his degrading rhetoric toward women, minorities, and political opponents.

Donald Trump was not reelected in the 2020 presidential election. But of course, there are still other countries run by rather radical actors. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro is in power and has to face re-election in 2022. In the same year, elections are also due in Hungary, where the Fidesz party headed by Victor Orban governs. And the Law and Justice Party (PiS) leads the governing coalition in Poland, at least until the next regular renewal of the Sejm, the lower house of the parliament, in 2023.

However, it is important to acknowledge the unique circumstances in which the next elections will take place: A global pandemic threatens health, the markets, and social cohesion. Climate change endangers the survival and prosperity of all people. The EU and the UK have yet to cope with and fully process Brexit. Mediatization, privatization, globalization, and conflicts between more traditional and more progressive values and lifestyles are creating new political arenas, new winners and losers. Geopolitical conflicts between the USA and China will determine international politics for the foreseeable future. And demographic changes continue to deplete social security and pension schemes. Each one of these political, economic, and cultural crises is difficult enough to handle. If they occur together, they reinforce and amplify each other.

Crisis favours radicalization

A situation of crisis favours the radicalization of politics. To be precise, radical actors are always present in democratic societies, but they profit more than moderate actors from unresolved challenges and insecurities. This can be explained by, on the one hand, the growing disappointment and disenchantment of citizens with moderate or “mainstream” politics. For instance, virtually all governments of Western democracies have made painful political decisions in recent years. These include most notably the strict austerity measures implemented in connection with the last economic crisis, but also the restrictions on personal freedoms enacted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. All of these measures have created strong resentments and criticism. Moreover, and despite these measures, many political problems appear to remain unsolved. Deforestation continues at an alarming rate, fossil fuels are still being burnt which contributes to global warming and climate change, and pension schemes have to rely on fewer and fewer contributors to support more and more retired persons; these are just some of the persisting policy problems of course. Finally, many people fear or are directly affected by a declining socioeconomic status.

Out of this disappointment and fear, voters are increasingly turning to and into radical actors.

On the other hand, radical actors know how to profit from crises. They try to convey or intensify the “mood” of crisis through a rhetoric of emotionalization, simplification, and negativity. And indeed, the voter turnout shows that Bolsonaro, Fidesz, and PiS know how to play their cards. Trump, for instance, received more votes than any other sitting President before him in spite of his failures to control the pandemic.

Is the radicalization of politics inevitable?

Considering the many crises we face and the implications they have on voters and politics, is the radicalization of politics inevitable?

The answer is no. For one, the USA have shown on November 3, 2020, that radical actors can still be “kicked out” of office. And in addition to this, history has shown that radical actors can de-radicalize themselves, and become more moderate.

The Freedom Party of Austria (FPĂ–) exemplifies such de-radicalization. The party was a junior member of a coalition government from 2000 to 2005. During this period, FPĂ– came closer to the policy positions of the leading centre-right coalition party, the Austrian People’s Party (Ă–VP). FPÖ’s convergence was indeed so substantial that its moderate wing, consisting of ministers and members of parliament, seceded and founded the new Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZĂ–). Another example following a similar trajectory is the Norwegian Progressive Party (FrP). It was represented in government along with established “mainstream” parties from 2013 to 2020, and also departed from its radical positions. Massive internal tensions and debates among the more moderate and radical members were the result.

It seems like a paradox: Radicalism in times of crises leads to electoral successes, and yet at least some radical actors de-radicalize and become more moderate. How come?

Many factors shape a political actor’s development. It certainly makes a difference whether this actor is in opposition or part of the government. In opposition, it is possible to agitate and criticize the government and the “corrupt elites.” In government, there might be no time for this because it is more urgent to actually “fill potholes” and “fix sewage systems,” as political scientists Tjitske Akkerman and Matthijs Rooduijn have put it. Apart from that, in many democratic systems, it is necessary to form governing coalitions and engage in compromises with other powerful political actors. If the incentives of joining a governing coalition are compelling, radical actors might be tempted to leave their radical positions.

The outlook is thus ambivalent. Given the current political challenges and crises, it would come as no surprise if Bolsonaro, Fidesz, PiS, and others would continue their winning streaks at the urns. Nevertheless, the election of Joe Biden and the de-radicalization of both FPĂ– and FrP have shown that political radicalization is not a one-way street.


  • Christian Ewert, PhD, is a lecturer in political science at the University of Zurich (Christian.Ewert@uzh.ch)
  • Raphael Capaul, MA UZH, is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Legislative Studies, University of Zurich (Raphael.Capaul@rwi.uzh.ch)

Why people believe in conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories have been around for as long as we can remember. From the “Flat-Earth-Society”, denial of the moon landing, crop circles to climate change denial. We are all searching for answers to events that shape our society. Especially for the ones which are not sufficiently explained yet. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, not only has there been a particular increase in conspiracy theories, but also an increased belief in them. They have quietly found their place in our everyday lives, creeping into our private conversations, conquering the front pages of print media, and littering the Internet and social media. But what are conspiracy theories? Where do they come from and why do we believe in them?

It is probably most helpful to begin with a definition of this looming phenomenon. Researchers K. M. Douglas, R. M. Sutton, and A. Cichocka of the School of Psychology at the University of Kent provide the following definition:

Conspiracy theories are: «explanations for important events that involve secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups”.

They illustrate, for example, the condemnation and distrust of an individual or group towards the activity of the government. History shows that predominantly in times of crisis and periods of uncertainty, people adopt a more critical stance and desperately seek answers. Thus, it is not surprising that no-vax theories and COVID-19 denial are gaining increasing support. But what makes people believe in such seemingly absurd theories? We want to get to the bottom of this.

So, why do we believe in conspiracy theories?

To reveal the reason behind the phenomenon and break down its complexity, it must be analyzed from a psychological perspective. We are attracted to conspiracy theories because they satisfy deep psychological needs. Based on these needs, three dominant motives can be identified that provide an explanation for the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories.

  • The epistemic motive addresses the human desire for knowledge and certainty. During major events that shake our society, people look for the why behind them. It is a natural pursuit to find a truth and a sense of security. Times of great change and uncertainty particularly evoke this need in many people.
  • The existential motive is the answer to a need for power and control. People do not like to feel powerless. In times of crisis, conspiracy theories provide the missing information here and give back a sense of control and autonomy in order to feel powerful and secure.
  • The social motive illustrates the classic psychological need to feel good about oneself. On an individual level, this means feeling confident through access to information that others do not necessarily have. When people believe they know the truth, they feel superior and unique. This is exactly what increases their self-esteem and makes them feel good about themselves. Such a dynamic can be observed not only in individuals but also in groups.

To illustrate these motives, let’s take the example of a very dominant conspiracy-theory group: QAnon, also known as “Q”.

QAnon

QAnon is a U.S-based group that has been spreading conspiracy theories since 2017, often with a far-right political undertone, and that has grown in popularity in recent months. The group’s central claim is that a Satanic elite of pedophiles is kidnapping children, murdering them, and creating a rejuvenation drug on their extracted blood. Their goal is to fight this global elite, which they call “The Deep State” or “The Cabal.” They support a Republican political leadership under Donald J. Trump and believe in the notion that Democratic politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are plotting a coup to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship, thereby threatening U.S. representative democracy. The information this group believes in supposedly comes from “Q”, a mysterious figure who posts cryptic clues online. QAnon is partly responsible for the conspiracy theory on “Pizzagate”.[3]

In order to better understand this grouping and its background, its intentions can also be examined in terms of the three motives mentioned above.

First, its members exhibit an epistemic motive in that they appear to provide protection from this global elite and state that they are fighting them to prevent the demise of U.S. democracy.

Although the identity of Q is unknown, QAnon supporters are convinced that Q is an individual or individuals who have access to highly sensitive data that reveals the truth. Q’s audience is encouraged to piece together and interpret important information from the few encrypted messages that are published, which have numerous gaps. This creates the dangerous illusion that Q is providing valuable information when in fact very little is being revealed. This the conspiracy’s existential motive: give its followers the feeling of being superior and of having more information and thus more security and control.

Additionally, there is a social motive within the group dynamic. QAnon uses the acronym WWG1WGA, which stands for “Where We Go One, We Go All”, as well as the proclamation “We save the children”. With these wordings, they are stating a humanitarian cause and seeking support. Their signature phrase “Trust the Plan” also speaks to the deep psychological need to believe in something given and to feel safe. This gives Q extreme power and entices many people to join the grouping. It is therefore important to recognize the group’s motives and intentions in order to better assess its intentions and information.

Who believes in conspiracy theories?

We are currently living in an age of information overload. One can find a supposed explanation everywhere and for every topic. However, assessing this information correctly and differentiating between reliable and deceptive sources is not always easy. Education helps us to better assess such sources. In fact, less-educated people who have a lower tendency to think analytically are more susceptible to conspiracy theories. People who feel powerless and are disillusioned also have a higher tendency to believe in them and age equally has an influence here. And younger people show a higher risk of being exposed to misinformation and incorporating it into their belief system. Additionally, character traits such as narcissism can exacerbate this. The correlation between narcissism and belief in conspiracy theories lies in the need to feel superior and unique. Evidence has shown that a certain type of personality is more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, however, we are all potential targets for misinformation.

Misinformation as the fundamental problem

One explanation for the increasing support and number of conspiracy theories may be related to the increasing use of social media. Through the Internet, it is easier than ever to get information. It has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and access information. Unfortunately, it has also increased the spread of misinformation. Nowadays, you can meet like-minded people and find support much faster via the Internet. This can polarize attitudes towards conspiracy theories and reinforce opinions that often have no factual basis. 

Addressing this problem is a major challenge. Given the fact that one can’t stop this information overload, what we have to change is the way we deal with it. Once a conspiracy theory is spread and we have formed an opinion, it is almost impossible to break it. The problem of misinformation must be addressed in advance. Research has shown that a pre-warning for misinformation can prevent people from believing in conspiracy theories. This means that confronting people with factual information before they are exposed to a conspiracy theory makes them more resistant to falsehood. We should therefore be aware of the dangers of misinformation and be conscious of how we should handle information and its sources in our fast-paced environment. Investing in early education could be a good approach to this problem, so that no conspiracy theory may fool us anymore.  

Find out more about the danger of false information and its threat to liberal democracy in our previous article: False information: a dangerous threat to liberal democracy.


De-stigmatising a natural body function: let’s talk about menstruation!

On May 28th we celebrate menstrual hygiene day to raise awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene management and to change negative social norms about menstruation around the world.  Why is it the 28th of May you may wonder? The answer is simple: The average menstruation cycle lasts 28 days, during which girls and women have their period on average for 5 days. Menstruation is still considered a taboo topic all over the world even though it is a normal biological process that is key to maintaining the reproductive health of women. 

The Stigma around Menstruation

Menstruation is not openly discussed and dealt with secretly all over the world.

Lack of education on this matter, however, has fatal consequences. Women and girls worldwide face numerous challenges in managing their menstruation. In many cultures, they are perceived as dirty and impure while menstruating. This leads to many restrictions for girls and women when they have their period. For instance, drinking milk, preparing food, interacting with people or refraining from performing religious rituals are just some examples. Women are forbidden to bathe or cleanse themselves properly during these days, which increases the threat posed to their health due to lack of menstrual hygiene. Furthermore, they also are afraid to go to school or work since often these places lack facilities like clean water, soap, and washrooms.

In addition to exclusion from social, cultural and religious activities, hygiene sanitary products can be unavailable or unaffordable. Globally, a minimum of 500 million women experiences period poverty every month. Menstruation products are extremely difficult to access because of their high cost even though they are a vital necessity. They are still perceived as luxury products and in many countries, they are subjected to the value-added tax (VAT), also known as the “pink tax”.

The importance of menstrual hygiene

The lack of education on this matter and the cultural shame attached to menstruation leads to the use of unhealthy ways to collect menstrual waste. Girls and women are forced to use old clothes, rags and sawdust as an alternative to sanitary hygiene products. Clothes used as sanitary napkins are often washed without detergents and dried indoors, out of shame and fear of superstitions related to menstruation. This often means that the clothes remain damp, which can lead to infections. Period poverty and forced poor menstrual hygiene can pose various physical health risks such as reproductive and urinary tract infections, high incidents of genital rashes and a high risk for cervical cancer.

Additionally, many lack access to safe toilet and handwashing facilities with clean water. According to UNICEF, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services and in Least Developed Countries only 27% of the population has a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. Managing periods at home is, therefore, a major challenge for women and adolescent girls who lack these basic facilities.

An important issue that is often overlooked is menstrual hygiene management in emergency situations, conflict-affected areas or in the aftermath of natural disasters. In such situations, the usual lifestyle of affected individuals changes and they are confronted with additional stress that can worsen their physical and psychological well-being. Provision of fundamental aid such as shelter, food, clean water and medicines is prioritised, however other needs such as safe menstrual hygiene management, the lack of which can have a profound psychosocial impact, are often neglected.

Discriminatory cultural norms, lack of education, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure undermine the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls around the world. As a result, millions are kept from reaching their full potential and are denied basic human rights.

The Link to Child Marriage

The cultural shame attached to menstruation stops girls and women from going to school and work every day in many parts of the world. This means that girls on average miss 5 days of school a month because of difficulties in managing the bleeding and social stigma around menstruation. For example, the absence rate in school in Nepal is 41% and in Kenya even 86% for menstruating girls. Most schools do not include facilities to assist girls during their period. This kind of absenteeism leads to them missing out on lessons and achieving poor grades, which can contribute to parents questioning the value of girls’ education.

Schools can also become a hostile environment for girls entering puberty. They may face sexual harassment on their way to or from school or from their peers or teachers. Parents who fear that school is unsafe for their unmarried daughters may view marriage as an acceptable solution to protect them and their family’s honour. Young girls who do not receive an education are more likely to enter child marriages and experience an early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications as a result. Research has shown that when girls have access to appropriate sanitary products and facilities, and they understand what is happening to their bodies, they are more likely to stay in school and out of marriage.

How to Break the Stigma?

The first step is to normalize menstruation. It is a natural and healthy body function and not something to be ashamed or afraid of. To achieve menstrual equity and break the silence around menstruation we need to strengthen education on this topic as well as improve availability, affordability, and access to sanitary items, particularly in schools and workplaces. We also need to improve the sanitation and hygiene of washing facilities and give women a safe way to change and dispose of soiled products. Educating girls and boys on menstruation at an early age at home and school promotes healthy habits and breaks stigmas around this natural process. Young boys also benefit from menstrual hygiene education. 

Menstrual Hygiene Day is a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) for all women and girls. It especially engages decision-makers to increase the political priority and catalyse action for menstrual hygiene at global, national, and local levels with the goal of ending period poverty by 2030. For that to happen we need to work together and challenge social norms, talk openly about menstruation and spread awareness and education. 

Let’s break the silence around menstrual hygiene together!


 Want to find out more about this issue? Here are some useful resources:

How the environmental crisis is already affecting us and who really bears the consequences

We are all concerned about our future and that of our planet. The many issues related to climate change are known to all of us, but we see them primarily as a problem of the future. We do not necessarily pay primary attention to the acute effects and profound emergencies that the climate crisis is already triggering.

The climate crisis is a very complex problem that is unlikely to be solved quickly. It is an issue that will affect us all. However, the current situation is highly unbalanced and unjust: Those who cause climate change and those who suffer the consequences are two different groups of people.

The Sahel: a major victim of climate change

The acute consequences of climate change are already being felt throughout Africa, especially in the Sahel.[1]In this region, more than 3.5 million people have already been forced to flee their homes due to flooding and desertification, and 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Due to temperature increases and changes in precipitation, deserts are forming and rivers are overflowing, forcing the local population to flee. These environmental changes are particularly drastic because the economy of these countries relies heavily natural resources. Climate change threatens agriculture, livestock, mining, but also tourism. These are all livelihoods for the resident population whose economic, social and existential security is now constantly threatened by the consequences of climate change. In addition, their status as developing countries complicates the situation. Access to funding, aid and research projects is severely limited and there is a risk of institutional failure due to additional local armed conflicts. The paradox is that Africa is currently experiencing the greatest effects of climate change yet has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions.

The Complexity of the concept of ‘Climate Refugees’

Not only in the Sahel, but also in South Asia and Latin America, people are suffering from the effects of climate change. For the population, migration is often the last and only option. These people are mistakenly referred to as ‘climate refugees’. This term is critical because there is no international agreement on the exact definition of it. There is widespread disagreement on who should be considered a climate refugee and how to resolve the crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) favors the wording “persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change.” The disagreement over the formal definition of ‘climate refugee’ is very problematic, as those who are forced to leave their home due to natural disasters are not officially considered refugees and thus are not protected under international law. International law does not protect them since they are not forced to flee because of their nationality, religion, or political beliefs. As climate change-affected states are often also developing countries who suffer from violent armed conflicts, several issues overlap and make this definition even more difficult. 

What is certain is that the number of climate refugees has risen sharply in recent years and already exceeds that of armed conflict refugees. At this time over 65 million people are affected, creating one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of this century. This issue requires global political coordination and the affected states cannot and should not bear the consequences alone. 

In fear of the impact of migration on Europe and North America, many financial resources are currently being invested in the migration crisis. This short-term solution may placate the problem, but it won’t solve it. In the long term, there is also a need to invest in concrete solutions to climate change and to comply with global agreements on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. The UNHCR has an important role to play in being responsible for protecting climate refugees, promoting policy coherence in areas of climate change, research, and activities in the field.

An artistic appeal against climate change

In addition to the UNHCR’s commitment, the Coalition for Art and Sustainable Development (COAL) offers another interesting approach. Their goal is to make the acute problem of the climate crisis visible through art. They call on artists to address the issue of climate change and draw attention to it. Art has the unique potential of opening a personal perspective and addressing our feelings through a visual language. It can lead us to further our understanding of the abstract construct of climate change and strengthen our empathy for the fate of many of those affected. Annually, COAL awards a prize to contemporary artists working on environmental issues. In 2019, the prize was awarded to Lena Dobrowolska and Teo Ormond-Skeaping for their work “You never know, one day you too may become a refugee.” It addresses migration policies in Uganda. The country, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the world but has taken in over 1.3 million refugees is a model for climate refugee policy. In their artistic practice, the artists present a fictional reality of a white middle-class family forced to flee to Africa or South America. In their work, art makes itself apparent as a new tool for educating and raising awareness. They show how art can fight the environmental crisis in a sensitive and peaceful way.


[1] This affects parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan and Eritrea.