Exclusive: A video message from Razan Zaitouneh


Foreign Policy is thrilled to host its annual Global Thinkers gala tonight, which will honor many of the activists and political leaders who made this year's revolts in the Arab world possible. Global Thinker Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights activist who was selected for her indispensable work bringing the Syrian regime's atrocities to light, recorded a video message for the occasion that FP will play at the event. Zaitouneh addressed FP's readers from Damascus, where she currently lives in hiding.

Zaitouneh emphasized the largely peaceful nature of the Syrian revolution, and outlined the steps that the international community could take to help end of the bloodshed -- including severing military and financial ties with President Bashar al-Assad's regime, pushing for a U.N. observer mission to Syria, and launching legal action against top Syrian officials.

The news out of Syria is growing steadily more dismal. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Dec. 1 that the country was in a state of civil war, and that the death toll was "much more" than the official U.N. estimate of 4,000. Every day brings reports of new army defections, and civilian casualties that regularly run into the dozens. If Syria is to fulfill the hopes of the Arab Spring, it's going to need the world's help - and more voices like Zaitouneh's.

Her remarks are transcribed below:

Thank you for giving me this chance to send this message from my beloved city of Damascus. Eight months of our revolution for freedom and justice has passed. More than 4,500 people got killed by the Syrian regime, and tens of thousands got arrested and disappeared.

Many people are wondering why Syrians are sacrificing their lives, and bear all that pain and blood for more than eight months. I would say simply because we have been living such pain for almost half a decade, deprived of our simplest rights and controlled by fear and despair. We face one of the most brutal regimes in the region and the world, mostly with peaceful protests, songs of freedom - chanting for a new Syria and a new future. Discovering for the first time within decades our voices and personalities, and how it feels to bring down walls of fear as we stand for our beliefs.

I'm very proud to be Syrian, and to be part of these historical days, and to feel all that greatness inside my people - who show amazing greatness and faith. We highly appreciate all the help and dedication of those who supported us in any way around the world -- from NGOs, to civil society and media, to individuals.

But yet, it is very important to take more actions to help support stopping the bloodshed in Syria. Like cutting all kinds of military and financial support for this regime, put more pressure to have a U.N. Security Council resolution that denounces the violence against civilians, and sending observers to protect civilians, to undertake legal actions against key figures in the regime to hold those who are responsible for torture and killing accountable in front of the International Criminal Court. Such actions will help the Syrian people win their battle in a shorter time, with less victims and suffering.

Thank you to Foreign Policy magazine for choosing me among the top thinkers of this year. We've learned that we can all live in a better world if we all stand together and demand dignity and freedom for each and every individual.


2011’s traditions you never knew needed protecting

Judging by the latest reports from Durban, your children may never know what a glacier is, but thanks to the UN's cultural body -- recently defunded by the United States for other reasons -- they'll still be able to watch cross-dressing Czech boys on horseback have money stuffed in their boots.

Last year, FP listed 10 of the odder entries from UNESCO's Intangible Heritage List, examples of cultural practices the body has decided merit preserving, as opposed to actual physical sites. That list included such treasures Turkey's Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival and Luxembourg's Hopping Procession of Echternach.

UNESCO has just released its 2011 list. Here are a few highlights:

Nijemo Kolo, silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland (Croatia)

According to UNESCO, the Nimemo Kolo is a circular dance which involves "male dancers leading female partners in energetic, spontaneous steps -- the male dancer publicly testing the skills of his female partner, seemingly without defined rules. The steps and figures, often vigorous and impressive, depend on the mood and desire of the participants." In other words, it's dancing ... but without music!

The Ride of Kings, south-east Czech Republic

This procession happens in the spring around the time of the Pentecost:

"The ride is headed by chanters, followed by pageboys with unsheathed sabres who guard the King - a young boy with his face partially covered, holding a rose in his mouth - and the rest of the royal cavalcade. The King and pageboys are dressed in women's ceremonial costumes, while the other riders are dressed as men. The entourage rides on decorated horses, stopping to chant short rhymes that comment humorously on the character and conduct of spectators. The chanters receive donations for their performance, placed either in a money box or directly into the riders' boots."

That sounds sort of fun. But when it comes to Central European springtime costume parades, it's hard to top the Annual Carnival Bell Ringer's pageant of the Kastave region of Croatia - a 2009 UNESCO inductee - during which local men dress as "plants and animals (including a prankster bear), prowl through the forest, burn garbage, ring bells, and bump into each other."

Al Sadu weaving

The weaving form traditional to the United Arab Emirates made this year's list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding" and involves the production of "soft furnishings and decorative accessories for camels and horses." Why is it endangered? UNESCO blames "the rapid economic development and social transformations brought about by the advent of oil in the Emirates" and the fact that "pastoral Bedouin communities have dispersed among urban settlements, and young women increasingly work outside the home." Call me a cultural imperialist, but much as I love a well-appointed camel, those all seem like good things to me.

Tsiattista poetic dueling

Basically a Cypriot freestyle rap battle, Tsiattista is traditionally "performed to the accompaniment of violin or lute in ‘jousts' in which one poet-singer attempts to outdo another with clever verses made up of rhyming couplets." There are a ton of Tsiattista clips on YouTube. It's a little hard to appreciate if you don't speak Greek, but the music's not bad.


Mariachi music, a ubiquitous form familiar to anyone who's ever been to a Mexican restaurant, looks a little out of place on a list of things like the Enawene Nawe people's ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order, but hey, it's hard to think of anything more distinctively Mexican. Even sea mammals like it.

Equitation in the French tradition:

According to UNESCO's citation, French equitiation is a "school of horseback riding that emphasizes harmonious relations between humans and horses. ... guided by non-violence and lack of constraint, blending human demands with respect for the horse's body and mood." Last year France managed to get the French "gastronomic experience" added to the list.

Granted, the French may not be the only people in the world who enjoy riding horses and eating tasty food, but don't tell them that.