Iran’s recent foray into Denmark is a good example of rogue states gaining confidence on the world scene, oppressing their people abroad and not just at home.
A month ago, our family went to Jutland for the weekend. We made an early start, leaving mid-morning. That proved to be a good choice, as the afternoon saw all transport links out of Copenhagen shut down in a massive police operation – an unprecedented move in usually peaceful and orderly Denmark.
Authorities have been tight-lipped about the incident, but today they revealed that the incident was allegedly part of a plot by Iranian intelligence to assassinate an exiled activist, living in Denmark.
Oppressing your people abroad
This follows other similar examples from this year. There was Russia’s poison attack on double agent Sergei Skripal in England in March. And just this month we saw Saudi Arabia killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their own consulate in Istanbul.
In all three cases, the regimes behind the actions are denying everything. Not surprising – I would probably deny it too if I was caught red-handed in something that ludicrous.
The overarching trend here is an audacity from doubtful regimes in playing their power games not just at home, but on the world scene.
When Turkey’s President Erdogan campaigned for more power to his office last year, he did so also among the Turkish diaspora in Europe, causing a major row with the Netherlands, who didn’t want foreign campaigns on their turf.
But Erdogan has stated in clear terms that he does not feel limited by national borders. In 2011, for example, he said to a gathering of ‘Turkish Germans’: “You are part of Germany, but you are also part of great Turkey.” Mind you, these are German citizens, living in Germany.
The golden age of dictators
For much of the 20th century, dictators could oppress their own people and pretty much get away with it. It was the golden age with memorable figures like Idi Amin, Muammar Gadaffi, Juan Perón, Ferdinand Marcos, and Augusto Pinochet.
All of these were eventually overthrown, of course, but many remained alive, living well in exile, with the aid of the funds they had stashed away in overseas banks.
By the turn of the century, however, things were changing. When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, it was the first time that a former government head was detained in another country for crimes committed in his homeland. And war criminals from Rwanda and Yugoslavia were being captured and prosecuted by international courts.
Adding to that, the money game has become more difficult, as Switzerland has ceased to be the safe haven for dictators that it used to be.
No safe place
For a while it seemed like we had the upper hand on dictators. The world was smaller, and they had fewer places to hide.
But now, at least some of the dictatorships have learned to play the globalization game. Where there is arguably no safe place for a dictator, there is also no place for the subject of a dictator.
In the old days you could at least defect, and then you would be (relatively) safe. Today, for those unfortunate enough to be born in countries like Russia, Iran, or Turkey, if you dare to speak against the regime, they will hunt you down, wherever you are. Even in Denmark.