Magnificent Manipulation: How the Medici Politicised Public Art

Written by: Joshua Al-Najar.

In Renaissance Florence, public spaces served as the physical manifestation of the government’s agenda. Often this took the form of art, as regimes sought to disseminate a set of ideals via public works. This communicative discourse could be wrought with problems, as the creation of artworks did not necessarily translate to control over the response. As the Medici galvanised their grip of Florence, their artistic patronage became a key tool in cultivating public support. Beginning with Cosimo de’ Medici, the family had to simultaneously augment their own status, while providing the veneer of ‘good public work’. However, this duality was not without issue. 

The Medici balancing act is perhaps best exemplified by the pair of statues by Donatello, his David (fig I.) and Judith and Holofernes (fig. II), both commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici in the 15th century. The statues stood in the courtyard of the Medici palace, which functioned as a public space due to the numerous petitioners received there. The pair were highly emblematic of Florentine values: both represented liberty’s triumph over tyranny, and thus Florence’s government over more autocratic regimes, such as Milan.

Fig. I: Donatello, David (1440s), Museo Nazionale del Bargello.  
Fig. II: Donatello, Judith and Holofernes (1457-64) Palazzo Vecchio.

The statues successfully conveyed the Medici’s status, but also their dedication to Florence’s values. The pieces were inspired by the Hellenistic Spinario, and thus they serve as an artistic expression of Cosimo de’ Medici’s education and taste for antiquity. As well as this, the Medici reimagine themselves as Florence’s ‘protectors’ in the Judith’s inscription:

          The Salvation of the state. Piero de’ Medici, son of Cosimo, dedicated this statue of a woman to both liberty and to fortitude, whereby the citizens with unvanquished and constant heart might return to the republic.

The text perfectly accompanies the visual, both clearly communicating the Medici intention to safeguard the republican institutions integral to Florentine identity. In reality, they had been eroding them for decades, but it was of crucial importance that the Medici respected Florence’s republican values – in a performative and public sense, whilst their supremacy remained informal.

The Medici’s lavish spending on art pieces, such as the David and Judith, was considered by many humanists to be a display of their dedication to bettering the city. Pieces such as these entered the city’s fabric, and thus could be a point of pride for all strata of society. This embodies the concept of ‘renaissance magnificence’, which essentially reimagines abundant spending on artworks as a virtue; the rationale dwelling in neo-Platonic thought, whereby Florence’s outer beauty reflected its virtuous characteristics. Fabulously wealthy families such as the Medici could align the enhancement of their own status with investment in the city as a whole, whilst countering the huge disparities in wealth that plagued Florence. In his Florentine Histories (1525), Niccolo Machiavelli wrote of how Lorenzo de’ Medici’s art projects had been propelled by a desire to ‘maintain abundance in the city, to keep the people united and the nobility honoured’. To humanists at least, the pretence was resounding. 

Though scholars like Machiavelli appear to have been convinced, it is crucial to unpick their support. J. Burke suggested that many humanists extolled Medici spending as they too benefitted from their ongoing patronage. Alongside the visual arts, leading families would have demonstrated their magnificence by associating with humanists; thus, encouraging lavish spending generally presented opportunities for them too. 

Many of the popolo likely resented the flagrant displays of wealth, often at their own expense. For example, with numerous patrician palaces directly displacing humbler dwellings. It can hardly be imagined that these citizens appreciated copious displays of wealth, though little has been left in the literary record. In his austere sermons, Girolamo Savonarola would highlight the ostentatious works of the elite as being built on ‘the blood of the poor’. To him, and presumably many of his followers, the fixation with outward appearances implied a neglect of the interior spirituality. 

When the Medici were expelled from Florence in 1494, the new authorities sought to reinvigorate the republican spirit that had been dampened under Cosimo’s successors. Donatello’s David and Judith were relocated from the Medici Palace to the Palazzo della Signoria, in a move which forced a new reading of the pieces. Suddenly, the Medici had become the tyrants they had once disavowed. This move indicates just how powerful the positioning of certain pieces could be in creating a political dialogue. 

As well as this relocation, the republican authorities devised their own political artworks. In 1504, Michelangelo’s David (Fig. III) was unveiled. Yet again, placement was crucial, as David was placed on a highly visible plinth, flanking the entrance to the Piazza Della Signoria. Thus, from the offset, this artistic underdog became deeply entwined with city’s republican institutions. Michelangelo’s stylistic choices clearly harkened back to the Roman republic. The naturalistic stance, lithe frame, and draped cloth over David’s back all exemplified the classical style. To many Florentines, David would come to symbolise their role as the inheritors of Rome, and also its cardinal virtues of prosperity and liberty. This is evident in an excerpt from Vasari, which reads:

         David was a ruler who had defended his people and governed them with justice so those who governed their city (presumably Florence) should defend it courageously and govern it justly.

Clearly, within the collective memory, David became synonymous with just, transparent rule – the antithesis of what the Medici had become. Lorenzo Polizotto’s work on orations has even revealed that amongst the newly sworn in gonfaloniere, (holders of prestigious communal office during the Renaissance period), some opted to refer to David in their protesti di giustizia.

Fig III: Michelangelo, David (1501-4) Galleria dell’Accademia.

Michelangelo’s David had become so embedded within Florentine political identity, that when the Medici were permanently restored in 1530 they allowed it to remain, despite the destruction of many other projects that exalted the republic. Instead, the Medici sought a counterbalance to David’s ideological weight, and this came in the form of Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (Fig. IV) in 1534. Bandinelli’s Hercules contrasted David: David was reticent and slender, Hercules was bombastic and imperious. This artistic dichotomy reflected Florence’s transition from a republic to an autocracy. Herculean triumph was associated with strength and wisdom, which appeared as more desirable motifs for the reinvigorated Medici dukes. 

Fig. IV: Baccio Bandinelli, Hercules and Cacus (1534) Piazza della Signoria.

The populace was not entirely convinced. Critics recognised the piece as a vestige of Medici muscle, with Benvenuto Cellini’s Vita (1558) recording one hundred disparaging poems littering the Hercules’ platform. Though Cellini likely exaggerates – he was a rival to Bandinelli – some of these poems survive. One of the sonetti caudate (an expanded sonnet form) supposes the animated Hercules deriding the supplicant Cacus, who is a thinly-veiled allegory of Florence. The poet references “the cows of Florence”, likely referencing La Vacca, a bell which had long been associated with Florentine liberty, that had been melted down by Alessandro Medici. The poet imitates an ‘everyday-man’ of the body politic, but was likely a member of the literary elite; however, he shows signs of the political disenchantment that impacted all Florentines. 

Art was a powerful method for the Medici to convey their political convictions and heighten their status. They recognised its importance within the identity of the Florentine republic, and were able to warp that sentiment to their own advantage. Once Florence was brutalised and their dominion was secure, the Medici were able to eschew republican pretence and bear their autocratic intent. Despite this, the Florentine public had autonomy over their own response, and utilised it both in support and against the Medici. 


Burke, J. Changing Patrons: Social Identity and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Florence. (Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 2004): 77. 

Crum, Roger J., and Paoletti, John T. Renaissance Florence: A Social History. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Paoletti, John T., and Bagemihl, Rolf. Michelangelo’s David: Florentine History and Civic Identity. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Trachtenberg, Marvin. Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern Florence. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Waldman, Louis. “”Miracol’ Novo Et Raro”: Two Unpublished Contemporary Satires on Bandinelli’s ‘Hercules’.” (Mitteilungen Des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 38, 1994): 419.

Woods, Kim., Richardson, Carol M. and Angeliki. Lymberopoulou. Viewing Renaissance Art. Renaissance Art Reconsidered; v. 3. London (2007).

‘Tipu’s Tiger’ and the Importance of Visual Language

Written by: Laila Ghaffar

In the narrative of the British colonisation of India, it would be very easy to understand the Indians as passive and helpless in the face of rapid British expansion. After all, history is written by the winners. However, one look at ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ and an entirely different story is conveyed. 

The statue, which is on display at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, depicts a life-size tiger mauling a European soldier lying on his back. The tiger entirely overwhelms the soldier beneath. But the wooden statue is not just a visual display of might and ferocity. Hidden behind a hinged flap within the tiger is an organ, which can be exposed by turning the handle next to it. Upon doing so the soldier’s arm goes up and down, and noises intended to resemble screams are produced by the automaton. Hence, the statue invokes a multi-sensory experience of terror and alarm. 

It comes as no surprise that the patron of the work, Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore, was a fierce enemy of the British. After taking part in his first Anglo-Mysore war at the mere age of seventeen, he dedicated his life to relentlessly opposing the expansion of the East India Company, and engaged them in four separate rounds of fighting from 1767 to 1799. He was quick to recognise the British threat to the independence of India and urged the rulers of neighbouring kingdoms not to align themselves with them. His letter to the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1796 states: 

Know you not the custom of the English? Wherever they fix their talons they contrive little by little to work themselves into the whole management of affairs.

And, indeed, he was right. The British system relied entirely upon dismantling and draining the kingdoms and princely states of their resources, rendering them entirely dependent on the Company. Equally, the British relied upon inflaming religious sentiments to better facilitate their expansion in India. Here too, Tipu recognised the importance of conserving the Indo-Islamic tradition which had endured for centuries in India. As a Muslim ruler of a Hindu majority kingdom, he ensured that the Hindu temples within Mysore were protected as state property. Moreover, his personal library was compiled of over 2,000 books written in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Urdu, representing the linguistic traditions of the major religions active in the Indian Subcontinent. Both publicly and personally, Tipu was tolerant of diversity and treated all religious groups residing in his kingdom with respect. 

Yet perhaps the biggest surprise and challenge for the English was Tipu’s fascination with modern technologies. He attempted to engage with technological developments outside South Asia, and looked to French military advancements for inspiration. Thus, his army was supplied with sepoy flintlocks, which were far more effective and advanced than the British matchlocks. He also experimented with the use of water power to drive machinery, another example of imitating French technology. Furthermore, Tipu turned his gaze eastward and sent envoys to southern China to bring silkworm eggs back, with the aim of establishing and encouraging sericulture in Mysore. This is a tradition that has endured and shaped the cultural and economic landscape of contemporary Mysore, and is just one part of Tipu’s significant legacy on the region. Therefore, Tipu frightened the British, because, as British historian William Dalrymple suggests, ‘he was frighteningly familiar’. Hardly resigned to the inevitability of British colonialism, he possessed a powerful imagination and utilised Western technologies against its creators. 

Tipu’s imagination also influenced the way he manipulated visual language. He adopted the tiger as his symbol and adorned his possessions in tiger memorabilia. Jewelled tiger heads adorned the finials of his throne, and the coinage of Mysore was stamped with tiger stripes. Moreover, his soldiers wore uniforms with tiger stripe patterns sewn into them, leaving no doubt as to their allegiance, or their ferocity on the battlefield. All of Tipu’s personal possessions were embossed with tiger stripes, such as his swords and guns. Hence, Tipu very closely and calculatedly intertwined his personal association and rule with the symbol of the tiger, an animal which has traditionally been understood to represent the entirety of India. The effect of this visual association was deeply profound on the British. Upon Tipu’s defeat and death in his capital of Seringapatam in 1799, each British soldier involved in the victory was presented with a medal, on which one side depicted a lion wrestling a tiger to the ground and the other bearing the Arabic words ‘Assadullah al-Ghaleb’, meaning ‘the conquering lion of God’. The implication here is clear: the British lion has emerged victorious over the Indian tiger, Tipu. The desire to assert this notion using the same visual language as Tipu, reveals how significantly his branding of himself as the tiger had affected the British psyche and morale. 

Tipu’s swords

It is probably worth noting that examples of Tipu’s possessions are highly prized collector’s items and fetch very highly at auction. On 23 October Sotheby’s will auction one of Tipu’s swords – with a tiger stripe pattern embossed on the blade and a gold tiger head handle, for a high estimate of up to £150,000. This only proves that the affiliation of the tiger with Tipu’s memory has withstood the test of time, despite subsequent British efforts to dismantle his memory and legacy. 

The story of Tipu is an especially potent example of the importance of visual language in contributing to the way in which history is told and understood. ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ diverges far from the traditional account of the Indians as submissive, whilst also contributing to our understanding of Tipu as a single man and ruler. While history may be written by the winners, the appreciation of visual language may give rise to a more nuanced and complex awareness of narratives and characters. 

Tipu’s Tiger


Victoria and Albert Museum. (2019), V&A, Tipu’s Tiger, (online) avaliable at: ; (accessed 20 October 2019).

ThoughtCo. (2019), Biography of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, (online) available at: ; (accessed 20 October 2019). 

Dalrymple, William, (2019), The Guardian, An Essay in Imperial Villain-Making, (online) available at: ; (accessed 20 October 2019).

Scottish History and Archaeology, (2019), Tipu Sultan and the Siege of Seringapatam, (online) available at: ; (accessed 20 October 2019). 
Sotheby’s (2019), Auction Lot 251: A Rare Sword with Burri-Patterned Watered-Steel Blade, from the Palace Armoury of Tipu Sultan, India, Seringapatam, Circa 1782-99, (online) available at: ; (accessed 20 October 2019).

Remembering the legacy of Kowloon Walled City

Written by: Prim Phoolsombat.

Before its demolition in 1994, Kowloon Walled City occupied only six-and-a-half acres in Kowloon Province, Hong Kong and had the world’s highest population density ratio. With a chaotic reputation for opium dens, brothels, and crime syndicates, it’s complex history as a political no-man’s-land between Chinese and British authorities throughout the twentieth century has rendered it a famed, almost fantastical site of cultural memory. It is highly romanticised as a stand-alone phenomenon of anarchy, despite the city’s tight-knit community being very much integrated with British Hong Kong.

In fact, the dark, modern perception of Kowloon residents are based on stereotypes encouraged by British colonial authorities who wanted the city destroyed. Even though colonial conflicts caused the city’s poor conditions, and crime rates went down, the city’s reputation is still thought to be the fault of its residents’ choices. Seen by some as an extreme example of what is to come in cities globally (from overpopulation, late capitalism and/or organically developing “anarchies”), enclaves like the Walled City teach us the consequences of colonialism and demonizing communities for political power.

The humble beginnings of Kowloon Walled City can be traced back to the Song Dynasty (860-1279) with a customs station. Then, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in 1841, the British occupied Hong Kong and the Treaty of Nanking was signed in 1843. The first construction of a recognizable Walled City came in 1846, when the Qing fundraised to construct a small fort with walls and canons. The city became valuable to the Qing as a good site to shore up on coastal defense technology. In 1898, Hong Kong’s New Territories were leased to the British, putting the city in British territory.

From then onwards, a back and forth ensued for the next fifty years; China wanting to retain control over Kowloon City, and the British wanting to destroy it. After strong resistance from both parties, the city entered a state of political purgatory where neither authority controlled it. After World War II, British authorities banned opium dens, brothels, and other vices in Hong Kong. These businesses moved swiftly into Kowloon Walled City, as it was seldom patrolled, sparsely populated, and under ambiguous jurisdiction.

The city’s reputation, population, and physical prowess formed rapidly between the 1950s and 1980s, especially as refugees from the Cultural Revolution fled to Hong Kong. Unregulated construction led to compact, topsy-turvy high-rises. However, buildings were limited to thirteen or fourteen stories so airplanes could land at nearby Kai Tak International Airport, which was partly built with Kowloon’s stone walls. Rent was cheap without taxes and buildings were connected by dark, narrow alleys. Within them lay a maze of schools, illegal factories, charities, illegal food and butcher shops, family homes, and criminal headquarters.

From an ivory tower, the city seemed to be a blemish on British Hong Kong’s modernising, Western excellence. However, the unfavourable coverage ignored the necessary dependence of the city on Hong Kong’s demands to sustain its businesses. The customers who sought Kowloon’s prostitutes, the drug suppliers who perpetuated Kowloon’s opium dens, the punters who played in the gambling dens — they came from Hong Kong. There were no consequences for the taxi companies openly advertising these vices to transport Hong Kongers to and from the city. The residents were also the victims of police brutality and corruption. A landmark case in 1959 by a Hong Kong judge declared that criminals captured in Kowloon city were subject to Hong Kong law. Police activity increased and officers would blackmail residents with demands under threat of arrest.

Additionally, the city’s lack of hygienic infrastructure became associated with the residents as further proof of inherent “dirtiness” — more justification for its eradication from the British. Because the city did not belong to Hong Kong, it was not connected to water. Kaifong (街坊) associations (local councils formed by residents) formed as more residents and refugees came, and along with charity groups, they routed water into the city. However, the city was constantly dripping. Indeed, the city was described as having a micro-climate, where visitors and factory workers entering the hot and humid bottom floors always used umbrellas to shield from the leaky, makeshift pipes above. The precious roof-top spaces became cool gathering places at night, as well as play areas for children, trash dumps, and was a place for pigeons to be raised.

In 1984, reunification was set for 1997. Despite evidence by the 1980s that crime rates in Kowloon Walled City were no higher than in other areas of Hong Kong, it was declared in 1987 that the city was to be destroyed. It had to be destroyed before the turnover — one government official working on the project explained that if it was not then the Chinese government’s media could easily portray Kowloon Walled City as being a “nice” result of British colonialism.

The quirks and darker aspects of the city drew swaths of curious tourists before demolition. Already, the city was turning into cultural memorabilia for outsiders while residents scrambled to ensure compensation before eviction, especially in the face of Hong Kong’s soaring property value. After demolition, a park was built on top with Qing architecture and drainage systems, revising the space to represent clean, pre-colonial Chinese cultural greatness and ignoring the reality of the residents. The park was praised by British and Chinese authorities, avoiding the recognition Kowloon Walled City deserved as being the result of their conflicts.

Today, the memory of Kowloon is artificially reconstructed in themed casinos, arcades, video games, manga, cyberpunk fantasies, and more. Those seeking an authentic experience of an anarchy or a hedonistic community will find only exaggerated features of the Kowloon that was subject to power struggles outside of residents’ control. The ugly truth of the Walled City is not simply it’s criminal spaces and lack of infrastructure, but the transfer of responsibility for those features from colonial governments to the people who called Kowloon home.

The Significance of the Media in the Provocation and Resolution of the Conflict between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims (1992-1995): An Analysis

Written by: Kvitka Perehinets

The media has always had significant political influence in communist societies, such as Yugoslavia, and often served ‘as a conveyor belt for the views of authority’. As long as that authority worked toward bringing Yugoslavia’s diverse society together ‘in the Titoist spirit of “brotherhood and unity”, it was not a problem. However, it soon became clear that as Yugoslavia fell apart, the media of the individual republics served not as an informational platform for its peoples, but rather as a tool for boosting support ‘for the stances taken by their leaderships’. 

After establishing himself as the leader of the Communist Party in 1986 and later as the leader of Serbia in 1989, Slobodan Milosevic quickly proved to be skillful with using national media as a loudspeaker for his ideas, as he was aware of its capability of effectively penetrating and manipulating society’s mindset. When opposition groups started claiming that Radio Television Belgrade (RTB) ‘…was biased in favor of the socialists’, the Socialist Party of Serbia responded by initiating the Radio and Television Act of 1991, resulting in the dismissal of radio and television management, and the unification of media into a single body, Radio Television Serbia (RTS). The law made it easier for socialists to banish reporters who were unwilling to cooperate with the party and bolster ‘…the official message of hatred and fear towards the other Yugoslav peoples’, highlighting not only how much control the regime had over mass media, but how important it was for the party to sustain that control. Having a legislative grip on media allowed for the manipulation of reporting and the unnoticeable integration of propaganda campaigns into respected news sources. Consequently, because there were very few alternative sources of information, what an average Yugoslav believed depended on their media intake and what their media was telling them. The Milosevic regime was successful in making official state media the main outlet for information: while some independent publications and television networks remained intact, they soon lost meaning either due to limited circulation or after being nationalized by the socialists. The access to independent media outlets became even more restricted when the United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions upon Yugoslavia in 1992. As a result of sanctions, inflation rates soared, increasing production costs for independent publications and leaving ‘only 8 per cent of Serbian families [that] could afford a daily paper’ (Gagnon Jr., 2004). Consequently, it is estimated that ‘69 per cent of the population relied on state television as their primary source of information, and that over 60 per cent watched the news program of state-owned RTS (Dnevnik)’. With no other news sources available or affordable, a vast majority of Yugoslav peoples were left with no choice but to rely on state TV.

In a report issued by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) titled Milosevic’s Propaganda War, it is noted that a parallel may be drawn between Milosevic’s propaganda campaigns – broadcasted through government-funded TV networks, such as RTS, and newspapers – and techniques used by Adolf Hitler, with the exception being that Milosevic had the additional power of television. The report goes back to the idea exploited by the Nazi party of ‘myths binding the masses together tightly’ and fear of the unknown as a tool for stirring violence between groups. Professor Renaud de la Brosse of the University of Reims, commented that Serbs, similarly, used a technique of ‘drawing on the sources of Serbian mystique, that of a people who were mistreated victims and martyrs of history, and that of Greater Serbia, indissolubly linked to the Orthodox religion’. Indeed, after the death of Tito, the Serbian Orthodox Church endorsed the violent tactics of the Milosevic regime, in hopes of encouraging ‘a shift from secular to religious approaches’ in public affairs. Priests and church officials were shown blessing Serbian soldiers before they went off to war in the 1990s, and public and private radio stations were used for releasing public proclamations of support by the Church of the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. The analysis by IWPR additionally highlighted the repetitive use of derogatory descriptions by the Serbian television and radio, such as ‘Ustase hordes’, ‘Vatican fascists’, ‘fundamental warriors of Jihad’ and ‘Albanian terrorists’, which soon became part of the common vocabulary in the media. Unverified stories were presented as facts and became common knowledge, such as a segment about ‘Bosnian Muslims feeding Serb children to animals in the Sarajevo zoo’ featured by a Serbian television network RTS. Such stories turned neighbours, friends, co-workers into ‘others’, further enforcing a concept of ‘us versus them’ to dehumanize familiar faces. Similar stories came from television networks from within Bosnia – a pro-Bosnian-Serb broadcaster Pale Television had once commented on evening news: ‘NATO forces used low-intensity nuclear weapons when they conducted airstrikes on Serb positions around Sarajevo, Gorazde and Majevica’. The announcer referred to Serbian examiners, who reportedly found signs of ‘contamination by radiation’ in Serbian residents of the areas. The statement was unreliable, as it was not corroborated by any other news outlets, yet it was still impactful as it provided further reasons for mutual fear and hatred.

Another objective of the Serbian-run media was keeping the arguments for war intact. Therefore, when the story of Maja Djokic, a 17-year-old girl of Serbian descent shot dead by a Serbian sniper in 1995 emerged, it quickly became the story of a Serbian girl, who was caught, raped and then killed by Muslims ‘as she attempted to escape to the Serb part of Sarajevo’. Djokic was only one of the many ‘rearranged’ stories, created to enforce the rhetoric behind Radovan Karadzic’s argument for war: ‘life with ‘muslim enemy’ and ‘the fundamentalists’ was impossible.’ To Karadzic and his followers, the Serbs who chose to stay in Sarajevo despite the siege were even worse than Muslims as they were ‘a living rebuttal’ to their argument. 

As the conflict progressed, international media responded to the atrocities in what became known as CNN effect: ‘use of shocking images of humanitarian crisis’ around the world compelling US policy makers to intervene in humanitarian situations they may not otherwise have an interest in’. Indeed, the coverage of the war by international news outlets, to a large extent, had contributed to the eventual resolution of the war by putting pressure on the international community to react. A Newsweek poll on the opinions of the American public regarding airstrikes noted a dramatic shift from 35 per cent to 53 per cent of support for intervention after images of a Serbian concentration camp were shown by British television network ITN. While relying on polls to make conclusions is inefficient due to inaccurate representation of opinion, the poll serves as proof of how impactful media can be in stirring public opinion. However, Nik Gowing, a British journalist, argues, that ‘media influence upon strategic decisions to intervene during a humanitarian crisis was comparatively rare, whilst tactical and cosmetic impact was more frequent.’ He had discovered that media reporting had the power to influence tactical decisions – like the creation of ‘safe areas’ such as Srebrenica or Goražde – or ‘limited airstrikes against Bosnian Serb nationalist artillery positions’. Gowing’s argument is more compelling, as it takes into consideration the nature of policy-making: decisions of the legislative branch are not dictated by the public opinion alone, and those decisions are not as straightforward as they may seem. 

Throughout the 1992-1995 conflict between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks, the different sides of the war employed a number of resources with the goal of stirring public opinion in their favour and exerting pressure on local and international communities. In Milosevic’s Serbia, mass media was nationalized in efforts of promoting fear and hatred towards other Yugoslav peoples, while international media used a tactic of repeatedly broadcasting violent images of the war as means of persuading the international community to work on a resolution. The media has therefore demonstrated it holds the power to equally, provoke and resolve conflict. But we have learned our lesson?


Televizija Srbija (RTS): Srpsku Decu Bacaju Lavovima. 2007, 

Cohen, Roger. “For Sarajevo Serbs, Grief Upon Grief”. Nytimes.Com, 1995, 

 Gilboa, Eytan. “The CNN Effect: The Search for a Communication Theory of International Relations” 2005

 “Dr Mark Thompson – UEA”. Uea.Ac.Uk, 2018, Accessed 29 Apr 2018.

 Ricchiardi, Sherry. “Confused Images: How The Media Fueled The Balkans War”. Quod.Lib.Umich.Edu, 2018,–confused-images-how-the-media-fueled-the-balkans-war?rgn=main;view=fulltext. 

 Fogg, Kent. “The Milošević Regime And The Manipulation Of The Serbian Media”. European Studies Conference, 2006, Accessed 9 May 2018.

V. P. Gagnon, Jr., The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2004), 112. 

Gordy, Eric D. The Culture Of Power In Serbia. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999, pp. 65-66.

Armatta, Judith. “Milosevic’s Propaganda War”. Globalpolicy.Org, 2003, 
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The former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,

Shadow Wars: Cold War Foreign Policy in Africa

Written by: Jack Bennett

The international political, economic and military landscape was chilled by the ongoing tensions between the USA and USSR during the Cold War. These hostilities contributed to the flaring of ‘hot conflicts’ through ‘proxy wars’ across Africa following the process of decolonisation during the latter half of the twentieth century. These declarations of diplomatic and military power created an arena in which the fundamental ideological dichotomy between democracy and communism could be fought out. Within this international climate the United States engaged in an exceptionalist foreign policy. This doctrine was based on the notion that the United States was internationally distinctive by upholding Enlightenment values of liberty, democracy and freedom, defining the nation’s mission to spread these foundational principles. As a result, American intelligence agencies played kingmakers across the African continent during the Cold War, financing and overseeing coups to install biddable rulers in an attempt to ward off the threat of communist encroachment.

At the opening of the decade in 1960, the Congo Crisis erupted following the declaration of independence. For five years, widespread violence and suppression of political and military opposition ensued under the nationalistic, communist-inspired leadership of Patrice Lumumba. The question of who controlled the southern region of the Congo was of particular diplomatic concern and conflict between The United States and Soviet Union, as it was a location rich in uranium deposits. As Lumumba resorted to Soviet military support in the systematic suppression of rebel factions, the CIA director Allen Dulles’ declaration that Lumumba was ‘a Castro or worse’ encapsulates the anxieties surrounding the United States’ ideological stance of exceptionalism during the Cold War. As a consequence, US finances secured the loyalty of Colonel Joseph-Desire Mobutu, whom the CIA believed to be ‘childish’ and easily led. Mobutu utilised American economic support, financing an army in order to expel the Soviets. Additionally, he detained Lumumba, who was murdered soon afterwards. Even the assassination of Lumumba in 1961, rumoured to have been conducted through the espionage-movie like use of poisoned toothpaste according to Kalb (1982), serves to highlight the exceptionalist autonomy asserted by the United States through these proxy shadow wars.

Declarations of independence followed decolonisation elsewhere in Africa, leading to further instability and other examples of proxy engagement by the United States and the Soviet Union. Examples include both the Ogaden War from 1977 to 1978, which was rooted in the ongoing political and social tensions surrounding the independence, and the partition of Somalia in 1960. In the context of the Cold War, the United States’ unwillingness to intervene on behalf of the Somali regime, President Carter’s lack of expediency in confronting communist aggression, and the Soviet victory prompting their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to a gradual decline of détente between the United States and the Soviet Union. Additionally, the protracted Angolan Civil War from 1975 until 2002 further elucidates the interrelationship between domestic ethno-political divisions following decolonisation, and the ideological conflict underpinning the Cold War between capitalism and communism. We can therefore see the concept of exceptionalism greatly influencing the United States’ foreign policy, both in their attempt to transplant democratic frameworks onto newly independent nations undergoing conflict-ridden processes of decolonisation, and in their simultaneous prevention of the spread of communism into these vulnerable, developing states.

However, both international superpowers tended to suborn local strongmen with military backgrounds and authoritarian instincts, whether or not these dictators had any ideological commitment to communism or capitalist democracy. Turse (2015) argues that the actions of the United States during this time period only produced chaos and destabilisation of the region. They were motivated by the economic advantages seen in developing diplomatic ties with newly independent African states, as opposed to the idealist vision of democratisation. Furthermore, following the Soviet Union’s support of General Nasser in Egypt in 1955, the US was convinced that ‘democratic’ Africa was fragile and prepared to embrace authoritarian but reliable alternatives by 1958. This reveals the limitations in underpinning the pursuit and support of proxy conflicts by the United States’ with exceptionalist ideologies during this time period. For example, the US Secretary of State, John F. Dulles, argued that it was imperative for America “to fill the vacuum of power which the British filled for a century”. The US, therefore, welcomed the rule of General Ibrahim Abboud, who had in November 1958 seized power in recently independent Sudan, declaring himself an enemy of communism and Nasser. Through these foreign policy manoeuvrings and strategies of supporting anti-communist groups and resistance movements in recently decolonised African states, the United States’ aimed to politically, economically and militarily ‘roll back’ the global encroaching influence of the Soviet Union in an attempt to end the Cold War. Even if that meant adopting a neo-imperialist and hegemonic projection of diplomatic and military power.

During the proxy rivalry in which Africa was embroiled over the next 30 years, the concept of American exceptionalism clearly prevailed in determining this geographic strategy in the political, ideology and economic projection of power during the Cold War. Despite no direct military engagement between the US and USSR, the two superpowers clashed through their respective support of opposing regimes. Ultimately, it can be argued that America came out of these proxy wars victorious, asserting their dominance in the face of Soviet expansionist efforts. With the ideological influence of exceptionalism shaping the foreign policy actions pursued in Africa during the 1960s, the USA fundamentally aimed to spread American concepts of liberty, freedom and democracy globally at a time of political division and opposition to communism. However, it is important to consider the ramifications for Africa as a continent left to pick up the pieces after decades of political and social turmoil. The development and proliferation of corrupt dictatorships, civil wars, environmental destruction, social turmoil and economic instability clearly define the Cold War’s lasting legacy.


Ambrose S. and D. Brinkley, Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938. London: Penguin, 2012.

Dearborn, J. A.  Exceptionalist-in-Chief: Presidents, American Exceptionalism, and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1897. Mansfield: University of Connecticut, 2013.

Hollington, K. Wolves, Jackals and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.

James, L. ‘Africa’s Proxy Cold War’, BBC World Histories, Issue 3, April/May.

Kalb, M. G. The Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa – from Eisenhower to Kennedy, Macmillan, 1982.

Madsen, D. L. American Exceptionalism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998

Naimark, N. ‘Becoming Global, Becoming National’ in N. Naimark, S. Pons, & S. Quinn-Judge (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Communism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2017.Turse, N. Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015.

Image: Somalian troops,

The Fall of Troy

Written by: Justin Biggi

Words take bright flight. Torn from the round, a city fire, a city burning. They spread their wings like black omens. Carrion birds line the walls. They wait, eat a child’s arm. In a silence too still to be real, Cassandra waits. She waits because there is little else to do. She sought refuge, her body a thing to be sacred. They have denied her that refuge. In a torso no longer able to be breathing, she must relearn who she is without Troy around her. Troy, that hated her and raised her. Troy, that she loved with the love of the despairing. 

She is a creature of in-between. She is shaped like the present, and her words reek of past. Here she is, awake, alive, alert. But behind the glass of her eyes there are oceans, a myriad of ships; and a frightened girl in a temple, curled around her grief like poison she cannot live without. She has been branded and re-branded. They have torn her, broken her, denied her a voice. She is tired. She has grown tired in ways that are impossible to speak. A war that lasted too long and took too much. She has seen it all. She has known it as well as she knows the shape of her own despair. It is shaped like men, so many men, too many goddamn men. Cassandra has no words left inside her. In the end, they made her tired, and her voice does not matter at all.

She has been touched, spoken to by the lightning, the lightning a child of thunder. She has been touched, and she did not want to be. Ajax holds her, holds her. Agamemnon claims her. She spits venom and it burns as it falls. In her hands there is nothing: she is the abstract act of prophecy. And in a new world where heroes die, prophecy is as meaningless as iron, its song of blood poetry. As meaningless as what stays behind after genocide: the broken bits of a wooden horse. A child devoured by crows. A snake that slithers back into water.

So sang the thunder’s light. It spits in her mouth, and she sings back. Sings, in her throat of black prophecy. The earth bends like ice after winter, on the brink of breaking, ready to give. A sheet beginning to fracture, open wide. Like old bones left out too long, the rot all bleached out of them. Ready to snap underneath feet. In the harsh smell of the air, the soot and the charred bodies. There is little answer to be found here: death has taken and there is no other way.

She spoke to them of it. They did not believe her. Across the plane of her father’s ruination, in the stench of the burning, thick and deep inside her, she sees every second she has ever dreamed of manifest too bright to bear. The ashes of Troy fall on her head, this newfound baptism. So few of them are surviving. Living is no longer part of the equation.

Sometimes she damned her voice. Sometimes she wanted to go back, shake the god who gave her this gift until he relented, until he took it back, until he denied, denied, denied. But she had made her choice and he had made his, what came after had not been her fault, nor his. Some things are simply written, going back upon them is as impossible as stitching a wound without scarring. 

And besides. And besides… 

Who would she be, without the days that unfold backwards? Who can she be, if not incapable of going forward, unable to look back? They trapped her. They made her this: prophetess without belief. She has taken these gifts and she has washed them in blood, over and over, and they have laughed as she tried to make them listen. In the end, they listened, in the end, and she stood and watched unfold a horror she knew would happen and they did not. Did it make it any less terrible?


Perhaps that is the only answer she has left. That the knowledge did not make it any less painful. That to know did not hurt her any less. That the ash was the ash of her family, that this was a world, then, where heroes came to die. 

Image: Cassandra in front of city of Troy by E. De Morgan (1898, London)

The Lost Cimabue: Reflections on a Medieval Master

Written by: Tristan Craig

‘Woman discovers Renaissance masterpiece in kitchen,’ declares The Guardian on 24 September 2019. This was announced upon the surfacing of a rare painting by thirteenth-century Florentine artist, Cimabue, in the home of an elderly woman in northern France. Christ Mocked, one of only eleven known wood panel paintings attributed to the artist, was found hung inconspicuously above the stove of the anonymous woman’s home. Here it had remained – unassumingly and undisturbed – for many years. The arrival of this artwork into public knowledge has garnered much intrigue; however, there remains a great deal of mystery surrounding this discovery – especially how it came to be hung on the wall of a kitchen in Compiegne. I hope in this article to shed a little more light on this once lauded artist. His fall from celebrity has seen him almost erased from the artistic canon in contemporary scholarship, and I write this article in the hopes that this exciting discovery will help restore some of his artistic legacy.

Cimabue was born Bencivieni di Pepo in 1240 in Florence, Italy. Both a painter and mosaicist, he was credited by Giorgio Vasari in his seminal 1550 text, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects as being the artist ‘who spread first light upon the art of painting’. This accolade helped to cement Cimabue’s reputation as a forerunner in propelling the Italo-Byzantine style forward, which in itself was heralded as a welcome return to the high artistic style of Classical antiquity. He was amongst the first to explore perspective and naturalism in painting. He especially focused on enhancing the largely stylised iconography of his predecessors, with such examples found in the frescoes of The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Whilst many have been extensively damaged over the centuries, the surviving frescoes reveal his fantastically developed style and skill for figurative depiction.

A Changing Fashion

It would be inappropriate to discuss the life and work of Cimabue without giving mention to the artist – of arguably greater renown – believed in some scholarly circles to have been taught by the master, Giotto di Bondone. Giotto received great fame both as a painter of frescoes, a number of which adorn the walls of The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi alongside Cimabue, and as an architect. His artistic talent earned him the title of ‘caput magister’, or ‘Headmaster’, at Florence Cathedral with his accomplishments including the design of the campanile in 1334. Why Giotto has come to overshadow Cimabue is largely due to his enormous renown in life rather than the mastery of his craft – something immortalised by Dante in his epic Divine Comedy. In Purgatorio, Canto XI, he introduces the Italian painter, Oderisi da Gubbio, who laments the fleeting fame of artists, remarking that ‘Cimabue thought / To lord it over painting’s field; and now / The cry is Giotto’s, and his name eclips’d’. With a declining reputation amongst his contemporaries and with so few artworks comparative to Giotto, it is perhaps of little wonder why Cimabue receives such limited recognition today.

It will take some time and several expert opinions before we are able to say with certainty whether or not this is indeed the work of the medieval Florentine artist. Additionally, it is made only more difficult by how few of his works have survived. Whilst there is little doubt that the artwork bears an unmistakable resemblance in style and content to other Cimabue wood panels, a more nuanced analysis will be required before it can be considered indubitable and not the work of a follower. How it came to end up in the ownership of this family – who believed the artwork to be a substantially less valuable Russian icon painting – is perhaps more difficult to discern and will invite a great deal of speculation. Mirroring the 2014 discovery of a painting by Caravaggio in the attic of an apartment in Toulouse, there are a number of theories as to how the Cimabue could have come to rest on a kitchen wall. The socio-economic upheaval of revolutionary France, coupled with a growing veneration of classicism as the epitome of ‘high art’, would have seen a medieval artist such as Cimabue fall out of favour. The lack of a signature on the artwork aided its fall into obscurity – and into the hands of an unwitting dealer.

Restoring an Artistic Legacy

If experts are able to confidently agree that this ‘tatty old artwork’ – as coined by Metro News Online – is indeed a Cimabue, then this discovery is an immensely important one. Whilst Cimabue might not be the household name that Caravaggio or Giotto are, the fact that so few of his works exist adds great significance to this find. His crucial role in art history at the transition from the homogeneity of iconography to the elaborate sensibilities of the Renaissance, ought not to be neglected. Yet, Cimabue is repeatedly omitted from prominent academic works. Perhaps this is due primarily to a lack of attributable works, or perhaps the debate surrounding the validity of Vasari’s account has further diminished his reputation as the teacher of Giotto. Perhaps Giotto simply propelled the Byzantine style further forward than Cimabue ever did, often exemplified by a comparison of the Santa Trinita Madonna of Cimabue and Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna. Let us set aside the writing of Vasari and Dante, and the questionable manner in which the press has chosen to relate this find (choosing to erroneously refer to the late medieval artist as ‘Renaissance’ – but therein lies another article). Instead, let us focus on restoring the reputation of Cimabue to artistic canon and how the discovery of an unassuming icon painting in a small French kitchen might just help us do that.

Image: Christ Mocked, Cimabue. Image from

The Pendle Witch Trials – The Testimony of Jennet Device

Written by: Isabelle Sher

Extracts taken from the work that earned Thomas Potts the King’s favour – and which is entitled The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.

Thomas Potts triumphantly abandoned his quill and took up the finished manuscript in his hands. He could not help but smile, for it was this work that would make his name. This was how history would remember him, for accounting a trial so bizarre and wonderful that it was almost certain to attract the attention of readers throughout the kingdom, maybe even King James himself. Stretching, he rose and made his way to the fireplace. Outside the wind raged and rattled the windows. With every gale the rain changed direction, so that sometimes it hit the glass with a force that made him jump and his ink smudge. It was five in the evening and very dark. He would not have the shutters closed yet however. Thomas relished the brutality of a cold and bleak November evening. 

He turned to the completed work that now lay dormant on his writing bureau. The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster. A spectacle that he had witnessed and after which the judges, Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, had commissioned him to compile for publishing. Who better than the clerk of the Lancaster Assizes? His mind fleetingly turned to the irony of the situation – as ten witches hung, their lives at an end, his own future was about to begin. How much did he owe to the testimony of that scruffy nine-year-old girl, Jennet Device? 

He poured himself a little wine and leaned heavily against the mantelpiece, glass in hand, reminiscing on the events of that day and, more importantly, the testimony of that strange little girl…

18-19 August 1612 – Lancaster Castle.

Thomas Potts cleared his throat. His fingers quivered slightly as he squinted at the papers before him. The atmosphere of the courtroom was distracting. The air was sticky and still, a horrid hot sweat lined his back, cold as his clothes pressed into him. He turned to look at the magistrate, Richard Nowell, the man responsible for the organisation of the proceedings taking place today. Nowell was a man of ambition, what he had achieved would no doubt set a precedent for future trials of this kind. Thomas glanced to the judges, Sir James Altham fumbled with one of his rings, nodding thoughtfully as Sir Edward Bromley spoke in a hushed whisper. The jury was mostly silent. Thomas tapped his fingers on the wooden desk before him as a general hush signalled the beginning of the proceedings. Thomas quickly took up his quill, poised to start.

One by one the women and men stood before the judges. Thomas wrote diligently, the quill scratching audibly against the paper. A part of him wanted to glance upwards to witness what was taking place before him but he did not want to see Nowell. He did not want to look upon the smug face that had brought these people to trial, however heinous their crimes. 

Allison Device, the young girl who had bewitched a pedlar resulting in his death, left the dock, her mother Elizabeth taking her place. It was Elizabeth’s mother, old Demdike, who had been known as the local ‘cunning woman’. Since her imprisonment however, she had passed away in the prison. As the two women swapped places Thomas abandoned his quill to the desk and, unable to resist, allowed himself one fleeting look at the woman. He was horrified by the figure that stood before him. She was hunched, frail and filthy, grasping at the railings with horrible thin fingers. Her face was evil, her mouth pulled downwards into a grimace, her chin sagged, her skin so grey it almost shone. It was her eyes however that revolted him most. He began to write:

This odious Witch was branded with a preposterous mark in nature, even from her birth, which was her left eye, standing lower than the other; the one looking down, the other looking up, so strangely deformed, as the best that were present in that Honourable assembly, and great Audience, did affirm, they had not often seen the like.

It was then that her youngest daughter, Jennet, was brought out to testify against her own mother. The old hag screamed such violent threats, such appalling language as made the court gasp and the judges shake their heads. Thomas was appalled, they were such words as could not be repeated in writing. No doubt overcome by the circumstances in which she had been placed, the young girl began to weep bitterly, saying that she would only testify if her mother was removed from the room. The screaming woman was dragged from the dock. Thomas wrote again:

In the end, when no means would serve, his Lordship commanded the Prisoner to be taken away, and the Maid to be set upon the Table in the presence of the whole Court

Jennet clambered on to the table and spoke calmly and articulately of the crimes her mother had committed. Thomas was in awe. From a group of individuals imprisoned in the castle, she also picked out all those who were present at the Good Friday meeting of the witches at Malkin Tower, the home of her grandmother. Each was taken by the hand. One of the judges then attempted to trick Jennet, creating a fictional character of the name Ioane a Downe, and asking if she had been present on Good Friday. The little girl testified that she had not seen the woman, nor had ever heard of her name. Thomas looked again at Jennet. The girl was surely speaking the truth. She looked unflinchingly back at him. 

The court was spellbound. 

All of Jennet’s family were put to death. Ironically, in 1633, Jennet Device would be in court once more, accused of witchcraft by ten-year-old Edmund Robinson. 

Image: Salem witch trial. Witch trial in Salem, Massachusetts, lithograph by George H. Walker, 1892. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-pga-02986)

‘Deutschland’ by Rammstein: A Look at Cultural Memory in Germany

Written by Lewis Twiby

Warning: The music video discussed in this article is graphic and viewer discretion is advised.

French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs described memory as being owned by both the individual and society. One can have different recollections of an event, but societal memory can greatly impact an individual’s own memories. Cultural memory has become especially important in Germany as it tried to come to terms with its dark twentieth century; ranging from division during the Cold War to the horrors of genocide during Nazi rule. In March 2019, German heavy metal band Rammstein released their new, and controversial, song ‘Deutschland’. The lyrics and music video to this song gives us an insight into memories of German history, the politics of national identity, and the controversies which accompany it.

     Due to Rammstein often using cryptic lyrics and imagery in their songs we can only look at a snapshot of the song just as Rammstein looks at a snapshot of German history. The song opens referencing the Battle of Teutoburg Forest: a Roman squadron sees their comrades hanging from a tree as Germania, the personification of Germany played by Afro-German actress Ruby Commey, decapitates a dead soldier. This event was later adopted by German nationalists as the forging of Germany: Arminius uniting the Germanic peoples against Rome halted their expansion, and delineated what was Rome and what was Germania. The rest of the song flashes through snapshots of German history ranging from the very literal, with the Hindenburg disaster to the Red Army Faction (RAF) attacks, to the more metaphorical, the political violence of the 1920s being represented through a boxing match. Naturally, being Rammstein, the video is full of controversial imagery. Monks gruesomely eat a meal over the body of Germania (possibly referencing the Reformation and Wars of Religion) and the band, to show the hypocrisy of the leaders of East Germany, go from drinking champagne to having an orgy. Lead singer Till Lindemann, dressed to resemble East Germany’s premier Erich Honecker, re-enacts the famous ‘socialist fraternal kiss’ with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev in that scene. Even the end credits reference Germany; over the credits their song ‘Sonne’ is played, and its music video features a twisted version of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Originally this was a German fairy tale, so the band has linked their own personal history with wider German culture.

     The most controversial part of the video concerns the concentration camp scenes. The band wear a Star of David, a pink triangle (signifying homosexuality), and a red triangle over the Star of David (signifying that they were a socialist Jew) while awaiting execution on the gallows. Germania is now dressed as an SS-officer and in the background V-2 rockets fire into the sky. Accompanying these images are the words 

Überheblich, überlegen, Übernehmen, übergeben Überraschen, überfallen, Deutschland, Deutschland über allen (Overbearing, Superior, Take Over, Surrender, Surprising, Assault, Germany, Germany, Over Everyone).

 By the end of the video the inmates take their revenge on the Nazis, in typical Rammstein fashion, by bloodily shooting them in the face. Rammstein purposefully chose Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, Nordhausen for this scene for several reasons. Over 350 inmates were hanged and up to 20,000 more were worked to death to build Wernher von Braun’s V-2 rockets. In a great injustice, von Braun never saw justice as he was one of many Nazi scientists taken to the US to work on the rocket project and was never brought to trial for mass murder. 

     In ‘Deutschland’, Rammstein wanted to look at German history through a very particular lens. Despite the initial view that the song is nationalistic, ‘Deutschland’ instead paints German history as a grim and violent one. The Golden Age of Weimar is replaced by political violence and brutality, Germany’s ‘origin’ of defeating the Romans is shown as a gruesome affair and past intolerances are linked to contemporary ones. As witches are being burnt at the stake the Nazis are burning books. Curiously, for a song about German history, the events depicted do not show any recognisable historic figures: Honecker and van Braun somewhat appear through parody, and Karl Marx appears via the giant head which can be found in Chemnitz. Otto von Bismarck, Frederick the Great, Martin Luther, Hitler, and even Arminius are absent. This links us back to Rammstein creating an ‘anti-patriotic’ song, and their own politics. German history is presented as being driven by the masses where the ‘Great Men’ become great only thanks to the agency of the people. The band further tries to highlight a marginalised history of Germany. Germania is represented by an Afro-German woman; Lindemann at one time plays a beaten political prisoner, and the band become Jews and homosexuals being persecuted by the Nazis, who later get violent retribution. Rammstein’s own politics and contemporary issues impact why this version of German history is created.

     History does not exist in a vacuum; it is constantly shaped by future generations to fit new narratives or ideas. Rammstein’s version of history is one part of this constant rewrite of history and is a direct critique of rising xenophobic nationalism in Germany. The band have been very open about their own politics and opposition to fascism; in a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone Lindemann said that he is a socialist and that We used to be either punks or goths – We hate Nazis!’. This is highlighted by their song ‘Links 2,3,4,’ which is a direct reference to the labour movement song Einheitsfrontlied. The far-right has seen a resurgence in Germany over the last decade – the rise of Pegida and the AfD shows that, despite the trauma of Nazism, fascism is exploiting conditions in Germany. On 9 October 2019 a far-right Holocaust denier attacked a Turkish kebab shop and a synagogue in Halle. It is against this backdrop that Rammstein re-evaluates Germany’s history. Rammstein tries to argue that German history is full of darkness which nationalists overlook:

Deutschland, deine Liebe, Ist Fluch und Segen, Deutschland, meine Liebe, Kann ich dir nicht geben, Deutschland! (Germany, your love is a curse and a blessing, Germany my love I cannot give you, Germany!). 

   ‘Deutschland’ becomes a way to fight the rising far-right through its lyrics and its symbolism, and it is no coincidence that an Afro-German actress is purposefully chosen to represent Germania. In a Germany where resurgent fascism attacks anything that is not white, Christian, or cis-heterosexuality, Rammstein aims to directly challenge this.

     However, by making this statement it links back to German cultural memory and what is missing from this history loudly echoes in the video. Anti-Semitism was rife throughout European history and Germany is one of the many countries to have a long, sordid history of persecution. This ranges from the pogroms during the People’s Crusade to the state-sponsored anti-Semitism during Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, however, German anti-Semitism is boiled down to just the Nazi camps. The Holocaust did not simply start with the rounding up of Jews and other so-called untermenschen into camps; it instead built on years of intolerance towards those marginalised in society. This has been a constant tension in German cultural memory; while Germany has started coming to terms with the horrors of the Holocaust there has been little state sponsored memory of pre-Nazi anti-Semitism. Berlin’s Tiergarten still boasts a large statue honouring Bismarck despite his anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic policies. The inclusion of an Afro-German Germania also raises these issues. Germany’s black population, and its history in colonialism, have regularly been overshadowed by other narratives of trauma. In 1904, the German empire enacted the first genocide of the twentieth-century when, in Namibia, over 100,000 Herero, Nama, and San were murdered by colonial forces. Furthermore, the Nazi sterilisation of the so-called ‘Rhineland Bastards’, mixed-race children born by colonial French and even German troops, has been forgotten in cultural memory of Nazi eugenics. As cultural memory is blind to empire and colonialism, so is Rammstein’s ‘Deutschland’.

     Finally, controversy sparked up when Rammstein released the teaser for the video. This was partially expected thanks to the band’s long history of controversy; BDSM imagery in their concerts has created hysteria, in 1998 during a concert in Massachusetts they threw a dildo into the crowd, and in July 2019 they kissed on stage during a St. Petersburg concert to protest Putin’s homophobic laws. The particular scene they chose to release was the one set in Mittelbau-Dora which caused accusations of anti-Semitism for trivialising the Holocaust. When the context of the scene was revealed these accusations were retracted, but Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner for anti-Semitism, stated it best; that it was a tasteless expression of artistic freedom. Rammstein could have used any scene from the video; after all, the violence in each scene could have generated the wanted publicity, but instead they chose to use images of genocide to do this. Although Rammstein are firmly against fascism and anti-Semitism, their willingness to use the trauma of the Holocaust shows that cultural memory does not touch everyone equally. While the Holocaust is, and should be, remembered as a horrific event, even in Germany it can still be used as a cynical way to garner publicity. This is at the expense of the 16 million Jews, Roma, Slavs, and other ‘undesirables’ who perished under Nazi rule.

    To conclude, Rammstein’s ‘Deutschland’ offers an interesting snapshot into how history, memory, and contemporary politics comes into play. History and memory are always being shaped by those in the present, and ‘Deutschland’ shows how it can be used to fight resurgent intolerance in society. It also shows how it can be manipulated for publicity. To quote Rammstein, Germany, your breath cold, so young, and yet so old, Germany, your love is a curse and a blessing’.

Image: Single cover of ‘Deustchland’.


Rammstein, ‘Deutschland’, YouTube,, (28/03/2019), [Accessed 13/10/2019].

‘Rammstein video: German rock band causes outrage with Nazi clip’, BBC News,, (29/03/2019), [Accessed 13/10/2019].

‘Rolling Stone: Exclusive Interview with Till Lindemann and Flake Lorenz’, Rammstein Press,, (02/04/2014), [Accessed 13/10/2019].

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