CIDOB Key Figures 2017


Yogi Adityanath, the troubling face of Hindu nationalism

The controversial Yogi Adityanath (44) became chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in March 2017, after elections in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to victory, winning more than three-quarters of the seats. With over 200 million inhabitants, UP is a key state for India’s governance as well as for communal relations. That is why Modi naming a recognised figure from the most fanatical wing of the Hindutva movement raises serious questions.

Putin’s female allies, sexism and homophobia as Russian values

Putin receives prominent and politically belligerent support from a cohort of women who share and defend his conservative credo: the defence of orthodox religion, the stalest stereotypes about women, and virility as the distinctive mark of the true Russian. Among these, Yelena Mizulina, senator and former member of parliament stands out. She promoted the recent decriminalisation of domestic violence and the iniquitous 2013 law prohibiting gay “propaganda”.

Luis Almagro, democracy as determination

The Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OEA) has made the defence of democracy a hallmark of his mandate. In 2017 serious crises have been faced: the worsening situation in Venezuela, with the unconstitutional calling of a Constituent Assembly without guarantees; the difficulties of power transfer in Haiti; and the accusations of fraud in the controversial November 26th elections in Honduras. Almagro (54) has shown himself to be a tireless opponent of abuses by authoritarian governments seeking to keep themselves in power.

AntAC (Anti Corruption Action Centre) tireless work

Forged in the heat of Euromaidan, AntAC is made up of young Ukrainians organising themselves because, as their website says, they were «fed up with corruption and those who undauntedly engage in corruption of all types and levels». The credit due to them is all the greater given that even now Ukraine is «a country where corruption was and is a way of life». Their tireless work, despite the campaigns against them, has borne real fruit and is another way of ensuring the reform process does not stall.

Jacinda Ardern, Obama, Trudeau and now … Ardern

New Zealand’s new prime minister has had a meteoric career rise to the top of the Labour Party, which, after her predecessor left, regained popularity in just two months thanks to her fresh, sincere discourse, focussing on the fight against inequality and poverty. Despite her youth (she is 38), she has worked in Helen Clark’s team, was a policy advisor to Tony Blair and has been a parliamentarian for ten years. Nevertheless, she did not win a large enough majority and will govern with the populists of New Zealand First, a coalition that had a difficult birth and about which no few doubts remain.

Article 50 of the TEU, never designed for use

On March 29th 2017 the United Kingdom requested the activation of article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, the nuclear button for a member state to leave. Since then, although the feared contagion effect of Brexit has not materialised, the path to EU disintegration has also opened up, putting an end to the pattern of ever closer union. European public opinions have shown an upturn in the desire to stay in the EU, while the negotiations between Brussels and London for the United Kingdom’s exit continue to generate divisions in Theresa May’s government and British public opinion.

The new Uzbek «atmosphere», unexpected optimism inside and outside the country

Uzbekistan is having its own spring under the presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who, in the first year of his mandate, has defied all predictions by beginning a process of opening up, which though tentative, is visible in daily life. Two dozen political prisoners have been released, almost 3,000 convicts amnestied, thousands of people deleted from the so-called the security services’ «black lists», and the press is beginning to cover issues that were previously forbidden. All of this, alongside the diplomatic efforts towards neighbours, have created a new, lighter and more relaxed «atmosphere» and aroused unexpected optimism inside and outside the country.

Behrouz Boochani, the voice of refugee prisoners


In 2017 this Iranian-Kurdish journalist was given an award by Amnesty International Australia for his first-person chronicle of the precarious survival of the refugees detained by Australia in the Manus detention centre in the territory of Papua New Guinea. For four years and with growing intensity after the forced closure of the camp was announced, Boochani’s articles in the Guardian have narrated the violence, solitude and misery in the camp and he has become the most visible figure in the resistance against the detainees’ transfer to another detention centre.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, against fiscal paradises

The Maltese journalist was investigating the relationship between her country’s executive and the Panama Papers scandal when she was assassinated in October 2017. A month later the Panama Papers came to light, which revealed tens of thousands of new investments in fiscal paradises and the involvement of a long list of public personalities. Caruana (53) leaves a legacy of scrupulous investigations on relations between her country’s political class and «offshore» companies with significant parallels in many other European countries.

Yao Chen, an actress with a conscience

The popular actress, who has around 79 million followers on the social network Weibo, does not hesitate to place herself close to the problems facing society, such as air pollution and media censorship in China. She has also been especially active in defence of refugees around the world since 2010 when the UNHCR designated her a Goodwill Ambassador. With them she has visited camps in Sudan, Pakistan, the Philippines and Lebanon among others and has significantly raised awareness in China about the global refugee crisis. En 2017 Chen (38) was again chosen as one of TIME magazine’s most influential people in the world.

African Union – EU Summit, the fifth Euro-African summit since 2000

Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, hosted the fifth EU-AU summit in November. The future of African youth, migration, security and governance were at the centre of the agenda, and some commitments were made in these four areas. The summit was marked by two important facts: the serious migratory situation in Libya, and the realisation that Europe had lost centrality in the continent, in favour of certain emerging countries.

Cumhuriyet, the legal battle against Turkey’s oldest newspaper


Established in 1924, Cumhuriyet is the oldest up-market newspaper of Turkey. It has traditionally been very secularist and republican, lately shifting to a more independent and left wing course. The newspaper has been under the attack of AKP circles and was accused of leaking state secrets.  In 2017 the case against the editors and staff of the newspaper steered domestic and international backlash. The image of one the journalists on trial, Kadri Gürsel, kissing his wife when being released, gave a glimpse of hope.

Gégé Katana Bukuru, Congolese feminist and activist against sexual violence

Sexual violence has become a weapon of war for the opposing parties in the Congolese armed conflict. At some points, over a thousand women a day have been raped. Despite their invisibility, dozens of local initiatives are confronting this terrible reality. Gégé Katana Bukuru leads one such organisation, Solidarité des Femmes Activistes pour la Défense des Droits Humaines (SOFAD), and has been awarded numerous prizes, including Sweden’s Per Anger prize in 2017.

Georgia, Schengen without a visa at last!

From March 28th 2017 onwards Georgian citizens with a biometric passport can travel without a visa to the 26 countries in the Schengen Area and stay for up to 90 days. The EU had recommended lifting visa restrictions for Georgians as early as December 2015. But the process got bogged down by the obstacles put up by various member states, many of whose populations reacted with security fears and distrust of the extra foreigners who might come and remain. In Georgia, by contrast, public celebration burst out across the country.

The populist international, down but not out

With their sights set on the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, representatives of the far-right populist international met in Koblenz (Germany) in January 2017 to call on Europeans to follow the examples of Brexit and Trump. Fortunately for both the EU and the defenders of open societies, their xenophobic and eurosceptic proposals were not backed by the majority of citizens in the 2017 electoral cycle. Despite that the far right has reached unprecedented rates of acceptance, influencing the agenda, politics and discourse of the European political centre.

Xi Jinping, imperial president

The unanimous incorporation of his ideas into the corpus of Communist Party doctrine served to armour-plate – as if more protection were necessary – his indisputable leadership at the head of the world’s second largest economy. Following the CPC congress in October, and the advance of his supporters in the politburo, Xi (64) has gathered a larger share of power than his predecessors; the personality cult is being revived and Xi embodies the ideological father of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, outgoing president of Liberia, after 12 years in the post

Waiting for Liberia to choose its new president in the second round of presidential elections, the polls in his small country in the west of Sub-Saharan Africa above all represented the end of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s (79) 12 years in government. Considered the first female elected head of state in Africa and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, Johnson-Sirleaf leaves behind her a country that is more politically stable after a long decade of war, but whose social reality remains very difficult for the bulk of the population.

Yuriko Koike, pride and prejudice


Tokyo’s charismatic governor, who aspired to become prime minister, fell victim to the manoeuvring of the government to call elections while the opposition remained dispersed and the Party of Hope, recently created around Koike (65), was still unknown to voters. Her conservative profile and prejudices towards the Korean community resident in Japan raised doubts over whether Koike would be a genuine alternative to the already conservative prime minister Abe.

João Lourenço, new president of Angola

Another historic African president, José Eduardo Dos Santos, left power after 38 years in charge. In August, his political dauphin and the former minister of defence, João Lourenço (63), won victory for the MPLA, opening up a new era in Angola. Many thought that with Dos Santos still presiding over the party, Lourenço would be a mere puppet for the ex-president’s designs. However, in his first months in government he has removed dozens of important political figures from office, including Dos Santos’ daughter, who led the state oil company Sonangol. All of this may signify a meaningful change for one of the countries with the most clout on the continent.

Emmanuel Macron, the anti-establishment establishment figure


When he announced his candidacy for the French presidential elections in November 2016 at only 38 years old, few imagined Emmanuel Macron would overturn the stagnant French party system. The discrediting of the traditional centre-right and centre-left and facing Marine Le Pen helped him to victory in the presidential elections in May 2017. His programme openly embraced the pro-European cause at a difficult time for the EU. It remains to be seen whether his victory translates into in-depth EU reform following the multiple speed logic and relaunches the Franco-German motor.

Angela Merkel, a legacy for Europe?

Angela Merkel (63) is about to start her fourth and last term. Over her 12 years leading Germany, the chancellor has made herself Europe’s leader and guardian of the global liberal order. Merkel approaches a new mandate with her sights set on internal stability, with a multi-party system growing in Germany, and the far right winning 13% of the votes in the September 2017 elections. Merkel also faces the challenges of undertaking wide-ranging reforms of the EU alongside Emmanuel Macron and taking advantage of Brexit to rethink the European integration project.

Lenin Moreno, de la continuidad a la ruptura

The close election that won him Ecuador’s presidency in April seemed to augur continuity for the citizen’s revolution begun by Rafael Correa, under whom Moreno (64) served as vice-president from 2007 to 2013. However, he soon showed a desire to lead his own project, sparking direct criticism from his predecessor, who seems determined to act as the opposition from his semi-retirement in Europe. The turn towards economic management in order to tackle economic imbalances and the accusations of corruption against Jorge Glas, vice-presidential nominee during his candidacy and a loyal Correa ally, have led the Alianza País party to an internal crisis that threatens breakdown.

Robert Mugabe, former president of Zimbabwe

After 37 years in power, Robert Mugabe (93) found himself forced to resign at the end of November. The former leader had been strongly questioned for years over repeated social and economic crises, allegations of electoral fraud and the generalised lack of freedom. Paradoxically, it was the army and a section of his own party, ZANU-PF, that brought about his end. It remains to be seen whether the events in Zimbabwe merely represent a handover between elites or whether we are witnessing a wake-up call that also has implications for other African countries.

Ram Nath Kovind, first BJP president


Ram Nath Kovind (72) became the 14th president of India in July 2017. His nomination represents one more step in the attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to consolidate itself as the leading party in Indian politics, replacing the Indian National Congress (INC), the traditional hegemonic force since independence. Ram Nath Kovind is, in fact, the first member of the BJP to reach the presidency of the country and is, furthermore, the second Dalit – formerly known as untouchables – to achieve this.

Ni una menos, a cry against feminicide

Shouting «ni una menos” (not one woman more), millions of people rallied in numerous large Latin American cities on March 8th to condemn the violent deaths of women across the continent. Such acts of condemnation of a scourge that, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) Gender Equality Observatory, reaches rates of over 10.2 feminicides per 100,000 women in some of the region’s countries, along with millions abused, are highly critical in Central America. This movement is the result of an initiative that arose in Argentina in 2015 out of the assassination of 14-year-old Chiara Páez. Two years on, this condemnation has become a collective resistance movement against gender-based violence.

Marichuy Patricio, a new figure in indigenous politics

Indigenous woman and possible candidate for the Mexican presidency. With the announcement of her election as «spokeswoman» for the Indigenous Governing Council and her potential candidacy as an independent, backed by the Zapatistas, she has burst onto the Mexican political scene. Championing the union of indigenous people and the anticapitalist fight, Patricio (53) aims not to win the election but rather to put forward an alternative and transformative organisational proposal.

Sebastian Piñera, the return of alternation

With his clear triumph in the Chilean presidential elections on December 17th, Sebastián Piñera (68), revalidates his capacity to produce alternation in Chile and attract the middle classes disillusioned by the second Michelle Bachelet government. In his second mandate the veteran conservative president will have to make cross-party agreements on the pending reforms in a political environment that is more plural and segmented following the latest.

Valérie Plante, the new face of the capital of Quebec


Elected in November 2017, Montreal’s charismatic new mayor, Valérie Plante (43), is the first woman to hold the post in Quebec’s largest city. With a professional background in grassroots community organisations, her programme commits to putting Montrealers at the centre of municipal policies. One of her electoral promises was to build a new metro line, the Pink Line, with the stops named after prominent women in the city’s history.

Rohingyas, the face of Asian refugees

The Muslim Rohingya minority, one of the world’s major stateless communities, were the protagonists in 2017 of the largest exodus of refugees in a short period since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. From August to the end of the year, over 630,000 people fled the violence perpetrated by Burmese forces in Rakhine State (Myanmar) and crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh, unleashing an unprecedented crisis in the region that overwhelmed already large refugee camps and settlements.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s image following Russia’s interference


Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. The executive had to battle throughout 2017 with an unexpected problem: Russian interference in the last US presidential elections and political life through thousands of fake accounts and advertisements placed on the social network about sensitive issues like immigration, gun ownership and race. Sheryl Sandberg (48) is also a well-known feminist.

Nawaz Sharif, stained by corruption

The Lion of Punjab, as the magnate Nawaz Sharif (67) is known, leader of the Muslim League (N) and three-time prime minister of Pakistan, was one of the most prominent victims of the Panama Papers revelations, with several of his children implicated. The Supreme Court disqualified him from office in July and thereby revived the ghosts of corruption in a country that had maintained unprecedented stability in its civil leadership over the past decade, albeit with the army always vigilant and decisive behind the scenes.

Jagmeet Singh, the new star of Canadian politics


This charismatic 38-year-old Sikh politician has been elected leader of the New Democrats and is the first racialised person to lead one of the major parties at national level in Canada. Young, modern, concerned for the environment and representative of the country’s diversity, Singh symbolises the new Canadian left.

Ksenia Sobchak, genuine opponent or straw candidate?

The famous Russian TV presenter has announced her intention to stand in the 2018 Russian presidential elections, unless the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, is authorised to stand, which is highly unlikely. Daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the well-known mayor of Saint Petersburg from the Yeltsin era (a liberal democrat for whom the young Putin worked) Ksenia Sobchak (36) remains an unknown on the political chessboard. But there can be no doubt about her courage: a famous Russian daring to say loudly and publicly that Crimea belongs to Ukraine shows great personal and political bravery in today’s Russia.

Qassem Soleimani, the pride of Iran

Soleimani (60) is a senior figure in Iran’s ‘Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution’ (IRGC). He commands the Quds Forces, the IRGC’s special forces. He is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and, more recently, his figure is often associated to the rise of Iran as a regional power. Soleimani is often seen on battlefields in Syria and Iraq where Iranian interests are invested. He has played a major role in saving Bashar al-Assad, in retaking Aleppo from the rebels and defeating ISIS in Mosul. His prestige and influence is huge among Iranians and among regional actors aligned with Iran. He is equally hated and feared by Iran’s enemies.

Azza Soliman, a feminist and change-maker under arrest

This Egyptian activist founded the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), an organization providing legal assistance for women victims of violence and abuses. Her organisation also combats female genital mutilation, incest and child marriage. Her academic work and advocacy are highly recognized, also by legislators and religious leaders. Yet, the Egyptian government is investigating Azza Soliman (49) in the case known as the ‘foreign funding case’ targeting several well-known Egyptian NGOs and human rights defenders. She was issued a travel ban and the freezing of both her personal assets as well as the assets of her law firm. She risks facing a life-long imprisonment.

Ilmi Umerov, the Tatars of Crimea are not giving in

The prominent Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov (60) has been sentenced by a Russian court to two years in prison – a longer sentence than the prosecutor had sought – after a trial that Human Rights Watch has denounced as unfair. This measure, one more of a series imposed on Tatar activists – who are often accused of collusion with Islamist terrorism – shows that the Kremlin is continuing with its policy of persecuting Crimea’s Tatars, the peninsula’s original population, who have consistently denounced the annexation of Crimea.

Javier Valdez Cárdenas, another voice silenced in Mexico


Assassinated Mexican journalist. “Let them kill us all, if that is the death penalty for reporting on this hell. No to silence», this is what Valdez (50), a journalist specialised in the drugs trade, said about the murder of a colleague shortly before his own death in May 2017. Mexico is one of the places in the world where most journalists are killed (11 in 2017), on a par with countries such as Syria and Iraq (9 and 8, respectively, in the past year).

María Eugenia Vidal, leadership with an individual voice

The woman chosen as governor of Buenos Aires Province in 2015 became a cornerstone of the strength of Cambiemos in the 2017 legislative elections in Argentina when her leadership was strengthened to the point of national impact. The disarray of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner presidency in a jurisdiction it was thought impossible for them to lose contributed to Vidal’s (44) stock rising in national politics; she is a lifeline for Mauricio Macri’s government, bringing continuity to its reform process.

Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the power in the shadows


MBZ (65) is the de facto ruler of the UAE and of the few people the Saudi Arabia crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman, listens to. He is the driving force of the Emirati geopolitically hyperactiveness: Yemen, Libya, discrete contacts with Israel, cultivating links with the White House, actively involved in the coalition against Daesh, obsessed with the Muslim Brothers and thus with Qatar’s regional role and more anti-Iran than the rulers of Dubai. Everyone is obsessed with Saudi Arabia and MBS but in order to understand what is going on in the Middle East, we should be looking more carefully at Abu Dhabi.



Nasser Zefzafi, Hirak’s face

Zefzafi (38) became a prominent political activist in Morocco and was arrested in May 2017, accused of crimes that could imply a life imprisonment. He was one of the leaders of the Hirak movement, an expression of social discontent that emerged in the Rif area and more specifically in the coastal town of Al Hoceima. After a period of silence, the King decided to take action and replaced several ministers and high officials, accused of not being fulfilled the development promises made to Morocco’s impoverished Northern regions. Morocco expected these decisions and also Zefzafi’s arrest to put an end the protests. Yet, the issues that provoked the frustration of the inhabitants of this region from Northern Morocco are yet to be addressed.

Source of the images: Wikimedia Commons or social media.