1960: Oliviu Beldeanu, for the Berne incident

Add comment February 18th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1960, Romanian anti-communist Oliviu Beldeanu was executed at Jilava prison for a headline-grabbing protest he’d orchestrated in Switzerland five years before.

Beldeanu (here‘s his Romanian Wikipedia page) was the ringleader of a group of Romanian exiles who’d commandeered the Romanian embassy in Bern(e) in February 1955.

The aptly-named Berne Incident was meant to be a symbolic protest — Communist symbols smashed, damaging secret correspondence released, that sort of thing — but it did also result in an embassy driver being shot to death.

These “legionary fascist groups”* and “traitors abroad,” (pdf) (in the official lexicology of Bucharest) were handled fairly gently by Switzerland, predictably keen to stay clear of diplomatic incidents.

Beldeanu et al drew lenient prison sentences from which they were released early.

And that would have been the end of it … but a Communist cloak-and-dagger operation after the ex-cons were freed lured Beldeanu to Berlin. He was kidnapped by the East German Stasi and flown to Romania, there to be subject to a perfunctory trial and speedy execution.

* “Legionary fascist” denunciations — associating the Switzerland activists with Romania’s notorious Iron Guard — cited by Paul Nistor, “The five who scared … America, too. The immediate effects of the attempt in Bern (1955) over the Romanian diplomacy”, Valahian Journal of Historical Studies, Dec. 2009.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Power,Romania,Shot,Treason

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1957: Dedan Kimathi, Mau Mau commander

1 comment February 18th, 2009 Headsman

At a Nairobi prison this morning in 1957, the most famed and feared of the so-called Mau Mau was hanged under emergency measures permitting the death penalty for illegal firearms possession.

The armed Mau Mau uprising against British colonialism was by this time on its last legs militarily, having been ground down by years of murderous anti-insurgent operations and pleasantries like mass internment.

It had been an ugly fight on all sides, with overlapping conflicts — within the Kikuyu tribe, between Kenya’s native populations, and between the British Empire and her faraway subjects — brutally settled.

Certainly the Mau Mau’s depredations had garnered voluptuous press coverage in the mother country; accordingly, the capture of “Field Marshal” Kimathi, the biggest name in the insurgency, was a plume in the British lion’s cap.

(An earlier propaganda piece along the same lines sounded the war tocsin “so that peace may come to this troubled colony.”)

Notwithstanding the (still) official London take on Kimathi and the Mau Mau, their fight for the independence Kenya would soon attain has made Kimathi a hero to many Kenyans.* He was honored on the 50th anniversary of his death with a bronze statue in Nairobi.

And more than that: the Mau Mau would metastasize into a sort of floating signifier for implacable racialized anti-colonialism, a powerful symbol for an age of decolonization. Malcolm X frequently invoked the Mau Mau example. Frantz Fanon saw in the Mau Mau the potency of spontaneous rural resistance in generating white interest in “compromise” with the moderate who

never stop saying to the settlers: ‘we are still capable of stopping the slaughter; the masses still have confidence in us; act quickly if you do not want to put everything in jeopardy.’ … as the settlers cannot discuss terms with these Mau-Mau, he himself will be quite willing to begin negotiations.

* Although many surviving Mau Mau themselves are nonplussed by their post-independence treatment.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Kenya,Language,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Separatists,Soldiers,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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