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YPFDJ: Radicalization Of Eritrean Diaspora Youth (P- I)

An article titled “Exposing YPFDJ in Europe: Part IV” appeared at awate.com. It reveals an untamed and gratuitous physical attack committed by Senai Solomon Lemma, the head of YPFDJ Denmark, against an Eritrean man at a social gathering. Instead of averting the attack, PFDJ members were encouraging and cheering Senai Solomon who got 40 days suspended prison sentence. I have met Senai Solomon and other youngsters from Denmark at YPFDJ meetings. They, like many other second-generation Eritreans who participated at the conferences and meetings, always seemed excited and paid special attention to everything taught to them about Eritrea and PFDJ without questioning information they received. Even then it was evident that most of them were sitting ducks and victims of radical PFDJ indoctrination. With time, rivalry between members for little power and recognition began to give birth to extremism and radicalism within the YPFDJ. The environment of competition and mistrust became engulfing and complete. Disappointed by the transformation of the organization, from a more community-based movement, a doer of positive social activities for the Eritrean Diasporas, to a predominantly political mouthpiece and propaganda tool of the PFDJ, I withdrew myself from the activities of the YPFDJ.

In this article, I will try to give reasons for why 2nd-generation Eritreans in Europe are becoming radicalized by the YPFDJ and displaying dangerous extremist tendencies.

Among segments of second-generation Eritrean youth living in Europe, there is a feeling of being victim of favouritism, prejudice, and discrimination; these factors result in frustration and low self-confidence and dissatisfaction with the status quo. These issues and resulting feelings are consistently talked about in the YPFDJ group meetings and panel discussions.

Some factors contributing to the aforementioned are: (1) perceived bias of Western government policies; there is a sense among some detached YPFDJ youth that acceptance by western society is more and more conditioned on amalgamation and integration in European societies; and if they do that, some postulate, that they will lose their Eritrean identity. This sense of seeming segregation and discrimination is of particular significance in the face of the challenges posed by radicalisation in the YPFDJ. (2) a public debate in which Eritrea/Eritreans and foreigners in general are sometimes slandered in the western media; (3) a sense of disenfranchisement and isolation due to a community inter-generational split between the 1st and 2nd generation of Eritreans in Europe; and (4) a community guidance crisis, mainly when it comes to the representation of the Eritrean Diaspora community in public and earnest director of the youth. This lack of attentiveness and pro-activity from the older generation resulted in the disenchantment of many Eritrean youth born and/or raised in Europe. (5) A desire to make a difference in the Eritrean communities as well as wanting to augment personal acquaintances and friendships. (6) Naturally, as in all gatherings of human beings through the creation of groups, associations and organizations, egocentric desires for power, authority and recognition, etc. are also factors motivating many opportunists; and, the YPFDJ organization was not deficient in being a magnet for such personalities, beginning from the days of it’s inauguration. 

Thus, those who had unanswered questions about their place in the social order, those who wanted to do good works of philanthropy for Eritrean communities and the opportunists who wanted influence and acknowledgment were all attracted to YPFDJ. Most were receptive to narratives that seemingly gave them a sense of belonging, whether politically radical stories or broad-spectrum philosophical narratives that would pretend to explain their place in the world for them.

During a time from 2001 to 2006, there was a strong awareness among some Eritrean Diaspora youth that the communities are dull and ineffective, and that Diaspora Eritrean youth lack a strong central organized movement that will create a large efficient network around Europe. NUEYS was strong in USA, but almost non-existent in Europe. Therefore, when the government of Eritrea created YPFDJ, albeit for hidden political motivated reasons, many of the younger generation Eritreans in Europe had visions and aspirations of doing and being better, more effective and successful envoys and more effective community representing leaders through the YPFDJ movement, than the older generation. They hoped to introduce the beauty of Eritrean culture to the West and attract many tourists to Eritrea by being young ambassadors for their country across Europe. Moreover, gullible and naive as they were scores of them actually believed that they would change the PFDJ from within: they really envisaged, as people of adolescent age usually do, to revolutionize and transform the fabric of Eritrean politics and thus also the Eritrean society both in Eritrea and abroad through the YPFDJ movement.

The majority of YPFDJ members, including their leaders, hold only a shallow and general knowledge about Eritrea. They really do not know what it is to be a real Eritrean born and nurtured in Eritrea with all its positivity and negative aspects, simply for the reason that most of them didn’t have a chance to spend more than 6 weeks in Eritrea.

Like many young PFDJ members, Senai, the YPFDJ chairman in Denmark is, merely another brainwashed young man, who is at his “I read Noam Chomsky and I blame the West for all the anguish of the third world” juncture of his life. For Senai and several other YPFDJ members, it was never about true beliefs and virtuous ideals; had it been so, they would have advocated for democracy and greater freedom in Eritrea; the same kind of freedom, they enjoy in the West. They seek only a sanctuary to belong to, a place where they can enjoy festivities and party with other like-minded young Eritreans without ever asking any daring questions; indeed, they would rather continue with their drinking and festivities, while other the less-fortunate Eritreans are suffering, struggling and yearning for the greatest thing YPFDJ members enjoy in the West: freedom. Freedom to think, write, talk, express, criticize, invent, create, work, sing, play freely; and importantly, the freedom to choose.

Paradox, indeed it is, when so many of the Eritrean Diaspora who spent most of their lives away from Eritrea and never dream of returning to Eritrea to become permanent citizens there, are acting much more patriotic than Eritreans in Eritrea or those Eritreans who have laboured so much for Eritrea before forcefully immigrating from their treasured country.

The truth is that most human beings would choose freedom and opportunity before country. That is why most old Eritreans don’t return to Eritrea for good; yet, more importantly, why so many young Eritreans still keep immigrating to the West 20 years after Eritrea gained its independence. Personal human freedom precedes patriotism, infrastructure, food security, national security or any similar secondary factors. And this was why many young Eritreans lost their lives in the struggle for independence and keep losing their lives in deserts and oceans till this day—not for land freedom, but for human freedom.   

So what makes second-generation Eritreans, principally those born and raised in democratic western Europe and USA to join an extremist reactionary political movement as the YPFDJ, a political youth movement envisioned in a non-democratic single-party state in a 3rd world country? And more importantly, why are they becoming political fanatics?

I believe, basically it can be divided into 3 main motivators or factors. One motivator is the desire to be recognized, your real personal identity. The second dynamic motivating Diaspora Eritreans to join YPFDJ is a desire to belong to a congregation of people from similar background and culture. Being an element of such assembly automatically results in a sense of overcoming alienation from white Europe. The third factor for joining a movement such as YPFDJ is discriminations experienced in Europe and being an underprivileged minority. I will write about these 3 entwined motivating factors in the second part.

About M S. Meki

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