Dejen: The Man YG Chose
A piercing Gaze:YG attempted to fuse Kafka’s parables with Dejen’s history with the aim of creating an imaginative political fantasy. But the concepts were altered from their original meaning in a very significant way. In part he discussed the theme of, “A Message from the Emperor” whose core meaning is about messages going to nowhere. We can understand that there was a message that was sent hoping for justice that never materialized, exactly like what happened to Dejen. It is as if a mother drowned while in labor, yelling for help until she was swallowed by the sea, similar to what it happened to an Eritrean mother during the Lampedusa tragedy.
“Before the Law” is also another carefully selected parable.
2. Before the Law
Talking on Dejen’s indeterminate world, YG wrote: “There is another excellent parable by Kafka, Before the Law that has, again, this uncanny resemblance to the ever-hedged world in which Dejen found himself, especially so since both deal with the issue of fithi.”
One might ask what the parable is about. Written in 1915 by the same author who wrote “A message from the Emperor.” “Before the Law”was a parable contained in the novel “The third Trial.” Only a portion of the parable is given in YG’s article but I suggest you check the entire chunk here:
The theme of the parable is that man cannot wait for the law to come to him. He cannot sit down and hope that one day he will be part of the law. Every man has a right to justice. The common man must be willing to fight or stand up for his civil rights and do what is necessary to have the legal system work for him…. (for more, click here)
Interpretation of the parables
First parable: “A message from the Emperor”
YG wrote, “Dejen literally waited eternity for that message from the Emperor, Isaias Afwerki, to arrive (and to some extent, is still waiting).
Is this all that Dejen in his interview? Of course, Dejen was sending many letters addressed “to whom it may concern.” He spent 15 years in prison writing at least writing an average of 1.5 letters every week—he produced about 1170 letters. I hope these letters are archived by the PFDJ.
Dejen told us about one side of his daily communication practice. Within the PFDJ security system, the prisoner gets a visit, not a family visit, but by an interrogator as a routine procedure, to checks and cross-examine the status of the prisoner. At this moment, any verbal question, complaint or concern is not accepted, it should be present in writing. This has two objectives from either side: for the prisoner, it is a kind of relief to express his feeling even if only in writing, and hope for justice; for the officers, they get to follow up on the psychological state of the prisoner and to keep general records. But YG presented that as if he was literally waiting for a reply though what Dejen said was quite different.
Though Dejen was lenient at first, as soon as he gave-up the system, no doubt he was doing everything a routine requirement. Parallel to that, he was planning to escape from the prison, and he gave much emphasis and energy on his escape plan. YG’s complete belittling of Dejen’s efforts to escape and presenting it as if he only expected justice through his letters, which is completely untrue.
Second parable: “Before the Law”
At no point can we learn how this parable resembles that of Dejen’s take. YG stated, “… this uncanny resemblance to the ever-hedged world in which Dejen found himself, especially so since both deal with the issue of fithi…” Dejen, played the two—like every prisoner, he expected to be put on trial or be released. In fact, after giving up on the two possibilities, “Escaping” occupied his daily thoughts.
I think “Before the law” can be interpreted from three dimensions: that of the victim, the victimizer and the observer. YG assumed the victim’s position with no real experience. In that position, YG totally Dejen’s diligent search for justice. But YG did not have the courage to consider the second alternative that the victim pursued. The ex-prisoner repeatedly narration the possible opportunities he explored. For the first four-years he wanted to liberate himself from the system that brainwashed him; later on he searched for other possible opportunities. But YG says, “…this again is meant to convince the man to resignedly wait by the door, until the Law comes to him on its own who will never happen….” Why does YG consider the alternative of “Escape” a taboo? YG’s analysis is based on an already conceived image (the parable) of Degen’s situation as this quote from his article demonstrates: “I have tried all paths in many different ways. And, invariably, all these paths lead to doors that don’t yield.”
YG’s Bank of Vulgarity and Defamation:
People who grow-up in slum have rich vocabulary of vulgar words; it is hard to trace the origin YG’s absurd mentality: being a young boy of the 1960’s and thinking about the possible quality of cultural purity at that time, he can badmouth with great fluency. Words flow just like water gushing downstream.. YG is not only a source of enormous amounts of vulgar and defamatory words that target the opposition groups but is a nursery and factory of such vocabularies. I am not a psychologist but this seems a serious psychological problem. Here is a list: “dictator”, “despot”, “tyrant”, “oppressor”, “totalitarian”, “megalomaniac”, “paranoid”, “lawless”, “victimizer”, “wulqe-melachi”, “aremyen”, “amatsi”, “regats-fithi”, and after few seconds pause, he continued; “dictatorial”, “lawless” (highi-albonet), bestial “arawit”, “badonet” (nihilist), “shameful”, “whose history will be written in a dark book”,etc.
I heard that such cultural values flourished in Eritrea during the Derge era. I wonder how YG built his bank as he always refers back to the era of Hailesellasie in all his writings, with no apparent mention of the Derge.
YG is good at accusing people and claiming others are also doing the same.
It is generally believed that fear can trigger the temptation to surrender freedom to a demagogue who promises, power and security in return. When fear displaces reason, the result is often irrational hatred and paranoia. YG has expressed his fear and disturbance very clearly in his last article, even in building his own assumptions.
Philosophy of YG
It has been a while since I came to understand the philosophy of YG philosophizes on the Eritrean case–almost all are of fallacy in nature and usually enforced by the rejection of reality, fear and intimidation. YG’s approach to the Eritrean question and his basic argument can be summed as:
The Ghedli did wrong to Eritrean people.
The Eritrean people did not like the Ghedli
Therefore, Eritrea as a free nation should not have existed.
In this particular article, YG used such argumentative methods. The title by itself, “Dejen’s syndrome. The contradiction of the Eritrean mindset” is the best example of such fallacies. One more example;
If it took Dejen four years in prison to give up on the system,… how many years of living in today’s civilian Eritrea would require for the average citizen to give up on the system?
The “If” world of YG
In Tigrigna, “ente…” is most hated reasoning as it is considered a word of the incapable, lazy, non-visionary and weak person. On the contrary, YG is known for his “If”, “ente” arguments. His well known if argument is: Had Eritreans not started the armed struggle (Ghedli) against Ethiopian Emperor, all these misers that Eritreans face today because of Shabia could not have existed.”
YG imagined, “Given this, I am wondering, if the only way Dejen could escape from the Carcelli prison had been by shooting at the guards, would he have attempted it? Or would he say, “These are my fellow teghadelti. How can I shoot at them?” YG dismisses the fact that Dejen crushed the prison gate to escape by bringing irrelevant “if” argument. Weren’t those standing at the gates tegadelti when he broke through the gates? YG is questioning his resolve after the fact! Dejen already broke through the prison gate.
In search of Dejen’s Mindset Origin
Dejen came from Bet Timhrti Sewra (The revolutionary School of EPLF). Ingunn K. Mork Bjorndal wrote a research he carried out at the ministry of Education between 1998-1999 under the objective of, “what was the role of education in the Eritrean Liberation War, and how do the wartime experiences of former EPLF educators influence what they think and do as MoE administrators today to create an Eritrean national culture of education? The research methodology was inspired by philosophical hermeneutics–applying philosophical thinking to the interpretation of written texts.
EPLF’s revolutionary school was established in 1976 at a camp in Sahel. Students with different backgrounds and locations attended that school which became an orphanage, for children of fighters, nomads and displaced highlanders in EPLF camps and for Eritrean youth who had run away from Ethiopia, areas occupied by the Dergue, or camps in Sudan. In 1986 there were about 3270 enrolled students in the school. In 1985, the EPLF opened a vocational school called Winna Technical School.
Dejen’s mindset is simple to understand; the educational philosophy of EPLF was to produce revolutionary brainwashed mind-set. As Bjorndal put it in hispaper, “I asked former EPLF educators to explain the educational aspect of the Struggle and the philosophy/ideology behind EPLF’s vision of a new Eritrea and a new kind of education” which can be implied equally to the same objective. In short, the philosophy is, “education as conscientisation and liberation – that liberation also includes the liberation of culture from colonial ideological imperialist.” And for this the educators use constant brainwashing mechanism to orient the mind to a level where everything is directed to a constructed real or imaginary enemy.
Dejen is one of these students who in that school till grade 9. By 1978, his entire family—his father, his mother, his three siblings—were all enlisted in the EPLF. As a child, he was enrolled in the “Revolutionary School”, and was literally raised by the revolution. In 1991, when Eritrea became independent, he was about 16 years old. Dejen grew-up and was nurtured by revolutionary concepts, “tewelide n’Adey” mind-set.
YG’s Ignorance of Eritrean Educational System
YG wrote, “The entire school system of the nation was excluded from participating in this selection process that would initially make up the Air Force of the nation.” Bold and misleading sentences that are totally out of reality. This shows how ignorant YG is on the reality of the EPLF’s and later the PFDJ’s (Eritrean) educational system. Worst, he went back to Hailesellasie Era to prove his statement, “During Haile Selassie era, I remember [when I was a high school student at San Giorgio] when the Ethiopian Air Force used to recruit students through standardized examination all over the high schools in Eritrea, as it did in the rest of Ethiopia.” I am not surprised that such an ignorant reference is to utilized by YG.
Let’s not forget first the revolutionary school was composed of different social group, but YG boldly wrote, “There is no other reason except for the preferential one why almost all the pilots of the Air Force hailed from Biet-Timhrti Sewra while there were many others in their age group with similar or better talent among the students from civilian parents all over Eritrea.”
This is about 1991, and if one is thinking of establish an Air force, who is the best candidate? The one who is already in the military, an ideologically ready combatant or a student randomly picked from the population? And that is concerning the first year.
In the consecutive years, the Eritrean Air force continued to accept students from technical schools and I was requested to apply in 2001. Even in 2002-2003, the Air force was taking students from the University of Asmara.
Also, there are all kinds of examinations to be accepted and only the capable joined the force. Therefore, YG’s allegation is invalid and it shows his complete ignorance of the educational system which is run by the EPLF/PFDJ. The 1991/2 phenomena was a default, not a privilege.
Dejen’s failure to accuse the President
Dejen showed his wisdom in the manner he chose his words; he said repeatedly that the president was just a student. For a patient, composed man, what Dejen said is very clear. As I wrote before, YG expected him to use vulgar words, but Dejen surpassed YG and like-minded people by appearing as simple as he is and truly transcended hero. A student stays a student till he graduates. A student cannot become a class-supervisor or a school director while teachers are still educating him; I do not know how YG failed to understand this.
4 Years Transcendental: Is that much long?
YG writes, “At one particular point in his narration that I found revealing, Dejen says that it took him four years in prison for him to entirely give up on the system – that is, to fully realize that the fault was not on the prisoners’ but on the system’s side,” in the first lines under a sub-title “Dejen’s multiple prison.”
In 1999, Dejen was probably 24-25 years old. Even after four years, he will still be under 30, to properly to analyse what really was going on within him–he was not a politician; he was a technician and a fighter.
On the other hand, even after hearing all the civil wars between two revolutionary fronts, all the execution of university graduates in the 1970’s by EPLF, and all the youth and student frictions that were going in US between the front supporters, YG just denounced PFDJ in the late years of the 1990’s, specifically after a few years following the border war of 1998. YG was not able to recognize and define the PFDJ for a long time ago while he lived freely in US and with amole reading materials, education and other opportunities he had.
For a complete transcendence, according to eastern mystics, a number of meditation steps must be learned, practiced and mastered. Only then one can have a completely new life. Imagine a man who is forced to sit in one room and yet looking for “justice”, how is it possible to practice such de-brainwashing? Had it been by choice, like Buddha, then everything is possible and yet there are temptations. If we think about the temptation in Dejen’s mind, he could have committed suicide, but he did the opposite.
YG purposefully ignored that the first four years were crucial for the next 11 years for Dejen to patience live in hope, searching alternatives and still preparing himself for any opportunity. For Dejen, the four year years was a period of meditation, a complete mental emancipation, and declaration of freedom. Not like YG’s one day visit and betrayal of the Gedli.
Talking on Dejen’s family
YG has no moral background to speak on sacrifice, he does not know what it means. It is like a joke I heard of diaspora Eritrean who stated, “I will go to my country, be martyred… and then I will come back.” YG was in a complete dissociation from reality.
To his ignorance, he expected Dejen’s family to differentiate between Shaebia and PFDJ. He wrote, “There was not the slightest bit of ambiguity on the parents’ side when it came to the entity they were referring to; be it coming under the name of PFDJ or Shaebia, it remained the same.” But even the elites of Eritrean politics are still not capable of making the distinction, let alone the fighters.
The forgotten sides of Dejen,
Though my objective is specifically a rebuttal of YG’s article, after listening to all the audio interviews, and I am convinced that Dejen should be glorified—I have omitted even, the most important events detailing all the short lived obstacles he encountered at the last hours of his escape.
YG chose Dejen to build his argument, but in the process he went astray as he tried to fabricate a new imaginative Dejen who does not exist, through whom he tried to infer a character in order to apply to whole Eritrean population. All the assumptions he developed, the ifs, the allegations, the fabrications, the use of vulgar words, deviation from the main truth, accusations, appearing as innocent praise are all meant to enrich the already well-established school of thought YG has built to deceive and recruit followers who are totally detached from their true Eritrean values.
- What is the theme to Franz Kafka’s, “Before the Law”? Quotes to support the theme?”
- Before the Law: An Interpretation. Accessed on 23/07/2014.
- Albert Camus. 1955. The Myth Of Sisyphus And Other Essays (Translated works)
- http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/kafka/beforethelaw.htm accessed on 23/07/2014
- A message from the Emperor. Accessed on 22/07/2014
- Ghebrehiwet Yosief. Dejen’s Syndrome: the Contradictions of the Eritrean Mind. Accessed on 22/07/2014.
- Complete interview of Dejen Ande Hishel with Radio Asenna
- Dejen Ande Hishel: The Prison Breaker,