Cult of Personality, Militia and Genocide

Mohnaa Shrivastava

“By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.”


The aforetime instances of genocide and mass atrocities outline a pattern in behavior of perpetrators, giving us a few indicators of an imminent genocide. The foremost trait is the alienation of a particular group. Alienation is further followed by a number of discriminatory acts by the perpetrator. Another chief feature is the suppression of the right to free speech. Massive use of propaganda to amplify the personality of one single leader is an important factor that has been observed to facilitate a genocidal condition. The use of private militia or a paramilitary organization is another common trait that has been observed in a number of cases. The Chetniks killed the Bosniaks[1], Interahamwe killed the Tutsis[2], Janjaweed killed the Nuba[3], Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade killed in the Ndebele regions, Musaveni’s National Resistance Army tormented the Ugandans, Mugabe used ZANLA and the Shabiha serves as Bashar Al-Assad’s death squad.[4] This is followed by the inability of the target group to protect itself, reminding us of our terrors through death tolls.

We often find ourselves calling someone the father of the nation, our protector, the great communicator, the great emancipator and our savior. Humans tend to worship a personality with unquestioning faith, wrapping him in a bubble of undying reverence. The idealism created around the leader, lead to circumstances granting him a frightening ease of committing unspeakable crimes that forever haunt the conscience of mankind. From bygone or present examples, we can explain how a person glorifies himself to a stage that gives him the audacity to think and plan unthinkable mass murders and genocide. Hitler and Stalin are such examples from the past. Hitler was aware of the mass detest towards the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles and he relentlessly used it to gain influence over the people. He gave himself the title of the ‘Supreme Judge of People’[5]. After the occupation of Greece in 1941, Hitler was given the title of ‘High Protector of the Holy Mountain’.[6] His Propaganda Ministry called him the ‘Greatest Military leader of all times’. He used films, magazines, comics, radio and posters, to impose the idea of Jewish extermination from Europe upon the masses. Stalin’s personality was strongly imposed as that of a father to the Soviet population. The press steadily used religion in myriad ways to shift the earnestness of masses from Church to Stalin.[7]

In recent times, Radovan Karadzic who orchestrated diabolic military campaigns[8] is still called holy and considered a living saint.[9]Robert Mugabe, who annihilated thousands in Gukurahundi genocide,[10] swore that only God could remove him from office.[11] His followers consider him a messenger of God, the one who is close to Christ and has been sent to liberate the Zimbabweans.[12] Apart from those who have committed genocides, there are those known for committing grave atrocities against humanity in the garb of their cult of personality. Teodoro Obiang has an unbreakable faith that he is the ultimate protector of people and has a direct connection with God.[13] He runs one of the most torturous prisons in the world where he personally invigilates the systematic torture of inmates. Than Shwe of Burma was called ‘Aba Gyi’ or the ‘Great Father’.[14] The world knows of his inhuman gulags where one could only pray for a dignified death if not life.

The cult of personality created through propaganda gives an ease of access to the perpetrator. The impact of the glorified personality helps in legitimizing the thought of genocide in the minds of the cultivated followers who show a pervasive, lunatic devotion towards the perpetrator. The use of militia gives the perpetrator a far-reaching weapon that organizes his inhuman acts and gives him speedy results without the restrictions of law. He gains the power to thwart any resistance or rebellion and also uses it as a scapegoat in evading liability. History, repeating itself, teaches us that psychological impact of a cult personality can alter the perceptions of people, fooling them into killing their own kind. Genocide happens when humanity fails; it ascertains not who is right, but who is left with memories of excruciating death.

[1] Human Rights Watch, The Unindicted: Reaping the Rewards of “Ethnic Cleansing” in Prijedor, 1 January 1997, Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian was one of the first reporters to obtain access and give an account of what happened at these concentration camps.
[2] Human Rights Watch, and Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme, Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, September 1996.
[3] Ted Dagne, Specialist in African Affairs, Sudan: The Crisis in Darfur and Status of the North-South Peace Agreement, June 1, 2011.
[4] Harriet Alexander, and Ruth Sherlock, The Shabiha: Inside Assad’s death squads, The Telegraph, Beirut, 2 Jun 2012.
[5] Benton L. Bradberry, The Myth of German Villainy, Author House, 2012, p 228; Oberster Richter des Deutschen Volkes
[6] Däh, jetz ham mer den Kriech (Band 1), Bernhard Josef Neumann, Books on Demand, 2010, p. 401
[7] Victoria E. Bonnell, The Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 165.
[8] Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, U of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 7 and p. 47.
[9] Christine Spolar, New Cult of Personality Deifies Ousted Karadzic, The Moscow Times, July 26, 1996.
[10] Peter Stiff, Cry Zimbabwe: Independence – Twenty Years On, Galago, 2004.
[11] Joseph Winter, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, BBC News, August 16, 2013.
[12] Lloyd Mbiba, Mugabe messenger of God: Nzuwah, Daily News, March 17, 2014.
[13] Equatorial Guinea’s “God”, BBC News, July 26, 2003; “He can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell because it is God himself, with whom he is in permanent contact, and who gives him this strength.”
[14] Richard Lloyd, Defector tells of Burmese atrocity, Parry The Australian, June 9, 2008.

(The essay was first published by Society Initiatives Institute here [Page 29]. The reproduction has been done with express permission of the author ) 


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