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CAPITALISM HAS KILLED DEMOCRACY: AN INTERVIEW WITH CORNELIUS YUFANYI OF THE VOICE

I. HOW LONG?

How is it possible that we stand up for our principals in a society that seeks to destroy them? When the majority of the people are apathetic and prefer to look the other way so as not to feel that they themselves are somehow responsible? When breaking societal conventions means losing valuable solidarity? When racist and colonialist attitudes come not only from the mainstream of society and the government but also from the so-called progressive sectors? When practically no one else is willing to take the next step, leaving you not only alone and isolated but above all vulnerable?

Cornelius Yufanyi fled Cameroon and came to Germany in 1998 following two years in prison whereby even his family did not know where he was. The reason? Participating in student protests due to the government’s decision to raise tuition costs. After finally located Cornelius, his family was able to get enough money together to send him to Europe.

Cameroon is a country with not only a colonial past but a colonial present. Cameroon, although this fact is ignored by the western world, has been ruled over during the last 22 years by a dictator by the name of Paul Biya. Cameroon, as is the case of much of the rest of the world, is a rich country forced into poverty while the western governments extract the countries’ natural resources while simultaneously financing the repressive military. The western governments - primarily European - increase the foreign debt of Cameroon while imposing unjust economic policies at the same time they criminalize those who attempt to leave in search of a better life.

A rich land, a poor people. But the people aren’t poor, at least not when you measure the worth of a person by means other than money. And that’s where the problems begin. Who defines good and bad, rich and poor, right and wrong, moral and immoral, correct and incorrect, justice and injustice? Indeed, all issues worthy of discussion, but nevertheless difficult to achieve in the midst of such unjust colonial relations. Until the people of the western countries recognize and internalize the fact that it is precisely their terms, their conditions and their ideologies that have not only been forced upon the world, but which are also responsible for at least 500 years of unjust and genocidal colonial impositions, then it is questionable if a fair discussion is even possible at the moment.

Cameroon is Africa, but it is also Colombia, Iraq, Vietnam, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Chile. Cornelius didn’t realize this when he first came to Germany, although he recognized the roles played by France and England in their colonial relations with his country. It was here, in the heart of the “democratic” culture, where he learned that this injustice is not only carried out against blacks or Africans nor only by France and England. Here, in Germany, Cornelius realized that this genocide is being carried out by the western governments embedded with the rich of the Third World countries and is primarily directed against all peoples of color. Coming here and meeting so many displaced people from so many parts of the world was like looking into a mirror and seeing the same face as that of his own people: a mixture of sorrow, anger and dignity.

Now Cornelius must go to prison. Why? Simple really. He refuses to pay a fine hanged on him for breaking an Apartheid-like law and thus subject himself to his own submission as inferior to the Germans. In short, he refuses to give the German authorities what they really want: not only that he bow his head in recognition of their power (and thus their superiority), but that he also lets them know that they – as morally superior beings - deserve the authority granted to them by their racist laws. Slaves normally say yes master, in Germany the people in the concentration camps were trained to respond Jawohl.

The law that Cornelius has violated is called Residenzpflicht, also known as the Pass Law or Obligatory Residency Law. It stipulates that refugees are not allowed to leave a certain geographical region known as Landkreis (district or municipality) without prior permission from the authorities, which is almost never forthcoming. If one is caught outside his or her Landkreis they are temporarily detained, later to be escorted by the police (in handcuffs of course) back to their housing accommodations (often times abandoned East-German military barracks located in the middle of nowhere). Finally, and although many receive only a laughable amount of cash (instead receiving coupons which are only to be used in certain stores), they must pay a fine that is set so high as to “discourage” them from doing it again. In worst case scenarios the courts can even decide that the violation of this law is reason enough to deport someone.

Cornelius, like millions of other people in this world, is angry. He begins to hate and must fight to control it. He wants to destroy and must control himself. He sometimes wants to just forget everything but is reminded that he can’t. Sometimes he just wants to sit down and rest, but that he can also not do. Although lacking bars, since birth Cornelius has been locked up and caged in another prison, the prison of colonial relations that have never ceased to exist and that allow black, brown and yellow children to die daily by the thousands of diarrhea, malnutrition and a host of other diseases so that the people of the United States and Europe can live in heated homes, eat exotic fruit, travel to exotic places and live a life free of worry.

For hundreds of years now the people of the world of non-European ancestry have been told what to do and how to do it. They have watched their countries pillaged and their families destroyed. They have lost their livelihood and their dignity is shat upon. When they fight for justice they are intimidated, imprisoned and tortured in their countries. Here it is the same, only often times more psychological than psychical.

Following years of bureaucratic injustice and bureaucratic impunity, 26,000 asylum seekers are to be deported over the next three years from Holland to countries often times destroyed by European bombs and sanctions (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosova, Congo, etc.). Since the United States began bombing Iraq more than 10,000 Iraqis have died after an estimated one million died due United Nations imposed sanctions. Poverty is growing alongside the strengthening of authoritarian governments worldwide. More and more people are having their only possibility of survival taken away from them in the name of the free market.

Something that markedly distinguishes the people of Europe or the United States with people of regions like Africa or Latin America is the following: in terms of injustice, the people of the western countries have no historical memory. With the argument “I cannot be held responsible for what happened in the past,” they try and distance themselves from the past injustices committed by their ancestors. Likewise, they try and morally distance themselves from the same crimes - which although disguised by names of modernity like democracy and progress are fundamentally the same as two hundred years ago – that are still being carried out in their name and for their benefit as perhaps unjust acts but that nevertheless are far outside their sphere of influence.

As the Twin Towers fell in New York, the western world immediately understood that the United States had the right to respond with the use of violence. And the people of Africa? And the Colombians? The Chileans? The Iraqis? The Afghans? Who has the right to employ violence? Who has a right to defend him or herself? Only the white people?

After the United States bombed the offices of the news agency Al-Jazeera in Baghdad, killing the reporter Tareq Ayyoub, Ayyoub’s wife wrote an open letter asking how she should now raise her daughter and what she should tell her about what happened to the child’s father. She herself responded to the question: “Allow me to answer… I will raise her never to forgive or forget. Never to forget her father and never to forgive those who killed him.”

They are told to wait. Should they be patient? For how long? Should they calm down? Should they also forget their historical memory? Should they forgive and forget? Should they just bow their heads and do as they’re told, say yes, master and Jawohl? Or should they defend themselves and their dignity? And you?

The following interview with Cornelius was carried out at the end of February, 2004. He expects to be sent to prison some time between April and May for refusing to pay the fine assigned to him by the German courts.

II. CAPITALISM HAS KILLED DEMOCRACY

When will we enjoy
the seeds of our land
and the sweetness of our sky?
When will the sun
find a place in our hearts?
Will a day finally come?
The day.
Just like for everyone else?
Everyone seeks peace.
We prefer to be in struggle
against the death that blinds us.
Without considerations
nor piety
for infinite theories.
Everyday.
Relentlessly.
(Muhammad Aziz al-Hababi)

For this liberty
so beautiful as life
we must give our all
be it necessary
even our shadows.
And it will never be enough.
(Fayad Jamis)

Q: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I ask the following question: How does it feel to live in a free society such as Germany?

A: I think that Germany is not a free society. If it’s free then only for those who persecute others, because they have the rights and the power to do anything they want. So maybe it is free for them, but I would say that for me Germany is not a free country. I have experienced too many persecutions and intimidations here.

Q: Since coming to Germany as a refugee, how has your personal situation improved?

A: Physically I am o.k., but mentally I am close to being destroyed in Germany. My hope when I came here was that I could live a life as I had envisioned it. But coming here has so destroyed my life so that at one point I thought to myself, “O.k., I should turn the page and start all over again”, but then I realized I was just going deeper into the situation that almost every foreigner here in Germany faces. And then I asked myself “where could I possible go?” There are very little possibilities.

Also, there is my family situation. I think there is nothing to do but to bear the cross, by which I mean stay and fight for the survival of myself and for those around me who are also facing the same problem. I could also say that the development of my life has been negative as a result of being here in Germany. I have had too many negative experiences and they go through my mind everyday. It’s like a trauma. Everyday I walk on the street I am constantly reminded that I am a foreigner, that I am not accepted nor wanted in this society. But everyday I also gain the courage and the power to see how I can fight for myself and for others.

Q: Why do you think that refugees in Germany can be punished for the simple act of going from point A to point B?

A: My personal and political view is that there is too much discrimination in Germany and I don’t think refugees should be punished, because freedom of movement is one of the basic rights that anyone can think of - I would say a birth right. And freedom of movement has always existed; since the beginning of the world human beings have moved freely.

Since 1982 to 2004 – for 22 years – this racist law known as Residenzpflicht is still unknown to the people, there is basically silence, without anybody trying to do anything to abolish or stop this law. It’s just another one of the racist features that we have here in Germany. Discrimination always goes from one group of people to another, it’s not just a thing of today. I would also say that it is part of racist behavior in a society that has permitted the implementation of this law. I also see it as part of the Apartheid which we abolished in South Africa but which now also exists here; an attempt by the State or by its citizens to create a demarcation or segregation between the foreigners who live here and the Germans.

Secondly, the foreigners are also being discriminated in other ways. For example there are different categories of migrants. You have migrants who have been here a long time and may feel like citizens of this country; you have foreigners who are here studying and may feel that they are better than the others; and then you have people who are at the very bottom: the refugees and asylum seekers who come to this country in search of a better life, be it economical or political. But they are so discriminated against that they feel they are the worst of all categories. It’s part of a way to suppress and intimidate the people in such a way so that they cannot even fight for their rights.

Finally, although I don’t want to try and make a direct comparison to what happened in the past, I do think that this oppression tries to destroy every single individual that doesn’t identify him or herself with the rules that are in place in this country.

Q: Why don’t these laws exist for Germans or Europeans?

A: The Residenzpflicht [also called Pass Laws or literally Obligatory Residence Law] is a law that Germans or Europeans cannot break, while a refugee or migrant can be imprisoned or even deported for going against this law. It is a way to show that in Europe - and in particular in Germany - human beings are different, that some are “better” than others. And all those not wanted in Germany live under very acute conditions so that they will eventually “voluntarily” go back to where they came from or go to another country. I would also see Germany as an apex of the whole thing, because this German law has been exported to other places like Holland, where we have recently heard that 26,000 people are to be deported and certain areas placed under Residenzpflicht. Or in England, where there are places where refugees or particular people cannot go. I think all these things come from Germany. Time is running out that we stand up and fight against this abuse, and I think we must point our finger at Germany and say they are the most powerful economic country of Europe and politically, that basic human rights should be at the forefront of their policies.

Q: Because you refuse to participate in an act of self-injustice you are in danger of going to jail for a crime that only refugees can be punished for. If you are going to jail as an act of resistance, what actions do you think German supporters and anti-racists could and should carry out?

A: I started my personal campaign against Residenzpflict because I found it important that one is his or her own example. I began four years ago to say that I am no longer going to the Foreign Office to ask for permission to leave my district. Shortly thereafter I had an interview with a newspaper and the boss of the Foreign Office responsible for my case read it and on the basis of the interview they began to persecute me. I decided to challenge this in the German courts although I always knew the results would be negative, but because I have always been calling for civil disobedience - for resistance to this law – it didn’t really matter.

Going to prison is not going to be so difficult for me, because if I do not go to prison then I will suffer for the rest of my life with a bad conscience that I could not stand up for my beliefs nor for my dream that all refugees be free in this country. And going to prison is also to show the German supporters and all those well-wishers for the betterment of the situation of refugees and migrants in this country that they too could also do something. They could also stand for their beliefs. It isn’t only about participating in demonstrations or holding political meetings: it is to stand up for one’s convictions. And I am willing to do everything in order to fight against Residenzpflicht - as part of the special laws in Germany.

The action of going to prison and accepting the consequences should be seen as a way of fighting a system that has everything; it has the police, it has the army, and it has economic power, everything to demoralize and suppress us. But our convictions can never be killed. Our dream to live in a free society can never be extinguished, and that is what I stand for. I will do as much as possible to see that each person with whom I work understand that this is my opinion, and that this law must be abolished or fought against until the end. If the German supporters can learn from this, that we stand together and fight for our convictions, then I think it is going to be a positive step. As for myself, I think it will be o.k. to go to prison, because I will know that I fought it to the end, and that I will continue to fight it even if I have to go to prison a thousand times.

Q: Franz Fanon, in his book the „Wretched of the Earth“ wrote that Europeans will never understand the plight of the wretched, because they are the ones who will always have the shoes on their feet. What do you think?

A: Even if Europe doesn’t want to feel the pain of the poor and the displaced that they create they are going to be forced to do so. I think human development shows that the more you make a certain class of people rich and you leave the others to die, then the more that those who are suffering, those who are being oppressed, will one day stand up and say: “here we are!” And this is something Europe cannot avoid. Secondly, there are many people who have direct or indirect contacts to Europe. There are also many people who have been forced into poverty to make Europe rich, and there are many people who are going to make this connection and come to Europe. This will develop in such a way that those who come will protest even more here then they even do in their own countries. What this means is that whatever policy they take to become powerful, be it economically, financially or whatever, the very people that they destroy are going to come to Europe and protest. And I think if these very people unite, then they are going to demonstrate not only to the world but also to themselves the importance of people standing up for themselves and saying: “We have this problem and we have to solve it here because it originated here.”

Q: Recently the governments of Germany, France and England met to discuss the details of new military units intended to intervene in Africa. What are you thoughts on this?

A: The friends of the western governments may see this as a positive step, but I would see it as a strategy to create a new market in order for them to sell their arms, which they have stockpiled in their own countries. I think that the problems that they publicly say they are going to fight were created by them, and I think the moment that they take their hands off of Africa that Africa is going to solve its own problems. The corruption that exists in Africa today came from Europe. The military regimes in Africa are supported by the European and American governments, so where are you going to fight? Which problem are you going to resolve? Are you going to fight on the side of the oppressed or the oppressors? Who are you going to sell arms to? To the oppressors so they can continue to oppress?

Q: German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer explained that, in large part, the main objective of these interventions would be to stop refugees from making it to Europe.

A: I would already say Europe will probably be able to succeed in the first few years, but I think Africa is also learning. I have learned much by being here. I will not stay my whole life in Europe. What I have learned here I will bring back to Africa and try to see what I can do to make Africa a better place, not only for me but for everyone.

Secondly, I would also say that, as a result, protest is also going to come, but the corruption is stronger than the protest. For me it is important to denounce and reject all African governments that accept this type of policy. There are also other African governments who are totally against it. For example in Senegal, where France deported some Senegalese people back to Senegal. Well, the very next day the Senegalese government deported 20 Frenchmen back to France. Now, I am not for deportation - in no way! - but I think the response or the actions that come from Europe, if they could also be responded to in a political way to show that Africa is independent, then it is going to be good. Some African leaders understand that, some don’t, but I think it is our challenge for those of us who intend to build a continent like Africa to see that whatever action we take is directed toward the betterment of Africa and anybody who wants to live in Africa.

Q: Like millions of other people in this world, you view the world through the eyes of the oppressed. Describe the world we live in.

A: I would describe it in one word: capitalism. A rich man or woman would see capitalism as good, because he or she has the opportunity to gain from it and to exploit others; to increase his or her riches everyday. But from my point of view, capitalism has created practically all of the problems that we face in this world. I see the world as one that takes the little what people have and give it to those who have more, and the moment that you try and fight for your own existence you are totally extinguished, be it being killed, oppressed or put somewhere where you can no longer express yourself. I also think that the future is going to be catastrophic. The countries that have always been crying for democracy, the western countries, are now entering into a system of dictatorial regimes that even the marginalized in the “democratic” countries - when they stand up and fight for their own rights or who try to express themselves freely - are being totally oppressed.

Capitalism in the western world has killed democracy, and capitalism in the western world has killed human rights. In the presence of capitalism there is never going to be any respect for human rights. In the presence of capitalism I am being oppressed. In the presence of capitalism we have from about 85 to 95 percent of the citizens of this world living in poverty while just 5% have all the riches, and capitalism is responsible. I think the longer capitalism continues to dominate the more people are going to be oppressed.

Q: What do you have to say to those Germans who say that they are not responsible for what is happening, that they have nothing to do with this injustice?

A: I think the moment I say I am not responsible for what is happening around me, it means that I am totally closing my eyes or I am blind, but I think the people of the western world are not blind. I will just give one example: Africa is poor today because Europe is rich. Latin America is poor today because America is rich, and I think all those who benefit – I myself included although I consider myself part of the oppressed – have a responsibility and have to be held accountable for the poverty that exists in different regions of the world and that is why I stand up and say enough is enough for myself and for the ill doings that are going on in the world. I think it is the responsibility of every European to do the same. They can’t just say, “I am not responsible for it.” And I think every single person is responsible and every single person has to stand up and fight, and the person who doesn’t stand up is just part of the whole system which destroys those who have a positive way of thinking.

Q: What is the role that we have as individuals?

A: Our role as individuals is to be our brothers and sisters keepers. Our role is to see that we live to fight for ourselves and for others, to glorify and to respect the rights that each and every individual has. For me, is to know that my right ends where another persons right starts, and to know that I as a human being must not infringe on the rights of other human beings, and to see that I recognize that every human being is a part and parcel of this world.

Q: Anything else?

A: I have a right to live like any other person, and the moment that I feel my dignity taken away from me, then I also have the right to fight against it and I think that is why I live in Germany and I think that is why I have the challenge for myself to continue to fight against these racist laws, especially the racist Residenzpflicht law. Those who are said to be the citizens of this country - the Germans - in my point of view have failed this struggle and have failed the hopes that the foreigners placed in them. That is why I call on the refugees and migrants to see how we can unite and to identify ourselves as part of the society, because we live here and we have to play a role in this society.

My hope is that the people of all African countries that have suffered under colonialism and the oppression of European countries begin not only in their own countries to protest the way that they have been destroyed but that they also come here to protest as well. I also hope that one day I will walk the streets of Europe and Germany and finally regard all people equally. And if I no longer see people differently, then I have started in a way to take one step toward recognizing that there is only one human race and not two. It is also important for me to be able to recognize that everywhere I go I have rights as a human being and that I can express myself in such a way that I have the same dignity that every single human being has a right to have.

They have always tried to push us apart. We must learn that our survival doesn’t depend on the Europeans or any other world power. Our survival depends on our convictions and I think if we remain weak and are not capable of controlling ourselves then I think we have already given up and lost the fight.

For futher information regarding Cornelius Yufanyi and the struggle of refugees and migrants in Germany, contact:

The Voice Refugee Forum Goettingen
Lange Geismar Str. 73, 37073 Göttingen, Tel.:+49(0)551/58892, Fax: +49(0)551/58898
E-mail: THE_VOICE_goettingen@gmx.de, www.thevoiceforum.org

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