Tunisia – The Country Is Now Due For Its Opthamology Exam – 7 February 2013


“Blind in the right eye.”

In Germany, after World War I had ended, and Germany was awash in right-wing extremism, its new democratic government was afraid to punish right-wing assassins (such as those that killed liberal Walter Rathenau and centrist-catholic Matthias Erzberger, who were prominent politicians in the legislature of that government). It was so afraid to do so that people started to say the above phrase to describe the country’s judicial system. Its left eye could see left-wing extremism pretty clearly, and socked it to would-be revolutionaries with long sentences in horrific jails. But it was “blind in the right eye”. One of the right-wingers about which that judicial system was so blind – who was given a tiny slap on the wrist after trying to overthrow the government of Bavaria – ended up taking over most of Europe as a result.

I’ve read a lot of German history, and I know about all of that. So when I heard about the shooting of Chokri Belaid, a prominent leader in a large opposition coalition represented in Tunisia’s parliament, I shuddered. That seems frighteningly familiar.

Mr. Belaid spent some of the last moments of his life on Tunisian television, trying to point out to his fellow Tunisians that religious extremists were waging a campaign of violence against those daring to exercise their freedom of speech. That he was killed so quickly after making that appearance on television sent a powerful message to those desirous of deeper democracy in Tunisia – and that message is that extremists in the country have people just like them in their gun sights.

Perhaps we should start calling it Weimar Tunisia? I hope that’s not going to be the way of things, with all the hopes I have vested in the Tunisians and this Arab Spring of theirs. But then, the hopes of democrats were certainly vested in Germany’s Weimar Republic, and that didn’t turn out so well either.

All I can say is that Tunisians can judge the extent to which they truly have a democracy by whether Mr. Belaid’s cowardly murderers are brought to justice or allowed to fall through the cracks, by a government interested in other things than justice.

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