Twenty Years Ago Today: The Nightmare Begins

Juvenal Habyarimana, third president of Rwanda. Twenty years ago today, an airplane fell to earth in Rwanda. But this was not just any airplane. This one carried the presidents of two nations. Both of them were killed, though it was the death of Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda which sent his nation into hell. Nor was it an accident: witnesses reported seeing missiles flying towards the plane. Something terrible was about to happen.

Rwanda was divided between two main ethnic groups, the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis. This had been the case ever since independence from their Belgian colonial masters, though there's some doubt as to whether the two groups had existed beforehand. The Belgians may have simply segregated the population according to those they were willing to trust as overseers (Tutsis) and those they were not (Hutus). Or they may have co-opted existing ethnic divisions to enforce their own ideas of racial purity. It's hard to tell, when the only records were made by a bunch of racist colonists whose main interest was screwing as much money out of the country as possible.

Habyarimana led a coalition of Hutu groups and was increasingly seen as too moderate, while a fragile ceasefire was holding between his government and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by the Tutsi leader, Paul Kagame. The Rwandan president was returning from a conference to discuss ways to quell the ethnic tensions across the region, doing his best to resolve the conflicts that had dogged his country and those around it.

All hopes for peace died with Habyarimana. The missiles that killed him were alleged to have been fired by Kagame's forces (though later analysis showed that this was unlikely). Within only a few hours, Hutus were responding to the terrible news with a terrible vengeance. Explosions were heard in the capital, Kigali. Radio stations were issuing cries of hatred against the Tutsis. Machetes were being sharpened.

The genocide had begun.

Twenty Years Ago Today: 17 November

November_17Yes, I know, it's not November the 17th. It's the 24th of January. But 17 November (or 17N) is something else entirely, although the revolutionary organisation was formed in memory of that date, the final day of a student uprising against the military government of Greece in 1973. They were marxists, or at least they claimed to be. They struck targets of the Greek government and allied powers, beginning with the CIA station chief in Athens. Curiously, they were unable to convince anyone that they'd actually committed the murder until they went out and killed their next target. And then people started taking them seriously, from 1975 until the group was disrupted in 2002 and most of them were sent to prison.

On this day in 1994, they committed one of their many murders - the assassination of the banker Michael Vranopoulos, former governor of the National Bank of Greece. He'd handled the sale of AGET-Hercules, the cement company that had furnished postwar Greece with most of the concrete from which it was built, and not everyone was happy with the bargain basement price paid for a state asset that should have belonged to the people.

But all this is safely in the past, and Greece has entirely different worries: the economic crisis just for a start, still impoverishing people across the nation while neofascists like the Golden Dawn take advantage and polarise the population.

Except that four days ago, on the 20th of January, 2014, a member of 17N, Christodoulos Xiros, absconded from the prison where he'd been since 2002, and immediately released a video manifesto in which he promised to continue 17N's terrorist campaign. Does this mean that the Revolutionary Organisation of the 17th of November is back? We'll find out soon enough.

We may think the past is safely buried under the weight of the present. But it's always there under the surface, waiting to break free...