A Sorry which was never said- Deconstructing a post-democratic apology of a political Deathwatch

By Daanish Kaur


Jean Genet’s play Deathwatch1 (in French- Haute Surveillance, 1949) highlights the peculiarity of manipulating power. Power dominates, incapacitates, and represses, playing out in its absurd multiplicities, like a perfect melange of Lukes’ 3rd dimensional2 and Foucauldian notion of Power.3 Green Eyes, a character in chains, restricted, and guilty of murder, orchestrates a delusional act of ‘going back in time’ and feeling repentance- the guilt of killing a woman he thought he could bring back to life. He was an accidental murderer, appearing in his eternal recurrence as he initiates another death in the prison cell. He would grow out to be the most feared yet revered authority, who is like a humble ‘sacrificer,’ giving up his ‘girl’ to other jail inmates, whose example of ‘what a guard is’ to be ‘in his boots’ instead. He, a cold-blooded murderer, would even be adopted by the jail authority, to their pleasure. After all, as Green Eyes would claim later in the play, the prison was his; he was ‘running the show here.’ He was special, the chosen one, a self-proclaimed victim of the politics of absurdity in his life. Snowball, a black inmate, appears to be as powerful as Green Eyes, so the prison was divided into two zones with these two as the ruling kings. One must constantly remain conscious of this fact: the jail was under their control; it was their show. Green eyes, the proven big brother, too white, incites the two small-time criminals to fight for the woman he would sacrifice- he was to be instead sacrificed for the state at the guillotine for a crime, or would he be, one can’t say. He watches death unfold, an innocent turning into a murderer while shirking away from any repentance and moral responsibility. No one could match his strength. He became a criminal not just by fate but by choice as well. 

A Notion of a Post-Democratic Apology

While everything is under tight state surveillance, all affects and consequences are maneuvered to a political end that leaders later regret. Sometimes, when the apology is most needed, it never is communicated. This often occurs in post-democratic times, which can be defined as a phenomenon where “elections certainly exist and can change governments, public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals expert in the techniques of persuasion, and considering a small range of issues selected by those teams. The mass of citizens plays a passive, quiescent, even apathetic part, responding only to the signals given them.”4 Apologies in these contexts play out significantly as per the interests of the political elites, justifying their economic gains. In other words, post-Democracy seems to represent a lacuna of active political participation, where the public seems to be easily convinced of the political outcomes and remain cohesively ignorant of the deontological breakdown of the use of power and institutions. A Post-Democratic apology should then be instrumental for such elites in the domain of political language and rhetoric, where it is promulgated via the intensity of its affect to convince the ‘masses’ of a simulated, hyper-real regret. 

In the discourse of the politics of an apology, several notions are to be considered. The apologizer’s advantage of timing, for instance, is crucial, as notions of proper acts of regret have great power to shape the political communities and their delivery as quasi/proper/non-apologies concretely structure the opinion of masses.5 Such apologies may be, at certain times, significant to highlight the responsibility and recognition of an act of historical significance to ensure a sense of satisfaction amongst the citizens or participants in the power arena of a state. The value of such apologies increases when backed with substantial proof of interference of state actors in certain acts and, in the case of which, all factors of apologizing become important to successfully regret the outcome and method of that act. 

Case 1: The incomplete apology of the ‘big brothers’ 

After Vincent Duclert submitted a report6 on the matters of the Rwandan Genocide to Emmanuel Macron on March 26, a subtle ‘regret’ was expressed, or rather a lip-service viewed as ‘righting’ wrongs of his French predecessors in affairs concerning the Françafrique. Several reports indicate gory details of French involvement in the genocide, if not proven complacency.7 The Hutu government and its militiamen all received aid from the French ministers’ government in the form of military and intelligence assistance. A documentary curated by France 248 described how Hutu militiamen were trained to dig trenches, paid, and provided with “biscuits and bottles of water” as the miscreants welcomed the French army. French military men expressed their awe when asked for sophisticated weaponry like cannons to “liquidate the Tutsis.” When asked how the victim community felt about French authorities acting prior to the genocide, some survivors felt ‘perhaps the government wanted to remain blind, act naive towards what was manifesting in Rwanda.’ In another report,9 the RTLM network broadcasted especially hateful speech against the ‘enemy and his people,’ while having shareholders, like the Director of Political Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jean Bosco Barayagwiza and the Foreign Minister Bicamumpaka, who had strong relations with French President Mitterrand, P.M. Balladur, and Foreign minister Juppé. Balladur, in another interview with France 24 and RFI, was repeatedly questioned whether he felt responsible for the French framing a ‘mutely spectating’ stance during the so-called humanitarian Opération Turquoise, and his answers hinted towards a denial projected through rationalization, which is better understood by the lens of ‘State of Exception.’ In this interview, the reporter asks, “Shouldn’t France regret and apologize for their involvement in Rwanda?” to which Mr. Balladur responds, “No. Demand it from the others, the Non-French also.”10 

Of course, the U.N. was aware of it, as General Dallaire of UNAMIR forces claimed, as he had sent several cables back to New York to express his concern over the impending danger of the genocide.11 The Clinton administration maintained a ‘Rwandan Portfolio’ covering daily updates of the political crisis in the country, yet maintained a realist and a substantial indifference, perhaps in light of a “CNN effect” to intervene militarily.12 As the 1999 Human Rights Watch report suggested,13 the U.S. could do nothing more than evacuate its citizens. However, maybe this was because there was nothing significant at stake- the UN, which was apprehensive about calling it even a ‘genocide’ as the 1999 HRW report suggests, was operating under the neurosis of a ‘Somalian Syndrome’ which similarly affected the Belgian participation, and the latter soon removed their forces from Rwanda.14 The American diplomatic aftermath was apparently a typical Democrat statement, another lip service, expressing their helplessness on being “unable to do anything” even when they, like France and other nations, knew exactly what was happening. This apology, although sincerely democratized, normalized, was one where no onus was taken by President Clinton to accept the American apprehension to tackle the genocidal threats.15 This notion of apology comes full circle to the French Apology that President Macron almost made, but never fully provided, regarding French actions in Kigali. The latter has already been trapped in the Center-right debate in his home country. He could apparently do nothing more than repeat lines of President Sarkozy to really let it be in a political demeanor to save his political career.16

Who should win with this post-democratic apology- the Presidents, their satisfied target groups, including the Armed Forces, or the nationalist identity influenced by profitable neo-liberal practices both in and outside the nation? Was such a regret actually strong, or was it insignificant to stakeholders of power who repeated the same patterns of voyeuristic deathwatch. In his essay, Pornography of the War,17 Baudrillard highlights the American role in rampant abuses committed at the jail in Abu Ghraib and the recent report on the wrongful drone attacks in Kabul18 that killed innocents as instances where all blames are attributed to misinterpretation and no apology was expressed by the administration. Further, the addressal of the post-colonial debate on issues relating to Mali and Chad and insensitive claims from Macron that the Algerian nation never existed until the country was turned into a French Colony and how the latter has re-written history against the French government.19 Instead, the lack of repentance and a ‘symbolic’ acceptance of aggressive history has been the new policy to recognize colonial abuse towards Algerians.20

Case 2: The emotional domestic apology

The Farmers’ protest saw its conclusive climax when Prime Minister (P.M.) Modi apologized to the nation and announced the cancellation of the three farm laws. It sounded quite democratic to the nation and has been seen as rebranding his image right before the elections in north Indian states by February 2022 (among other state elections due the same year). The timing of the apology was significant, as it aired on the day of commemoration of Guru Nanak Dev Jayanti,21 sacrosanct for the Sikh population.  It was a substantial approach of the Bhartiya Janata Party to cater to their Punjabi population (majority of whom are Sikhs, also who formed a significant part of the protesters in Delhi) through its election campaign. During the two years of protests, the government had failed to have a constructive dialogue with the farmers, and some of them, particularly Sikhs from Punjab, were referred to as ‘terrorists’ in the light of the secessionist past of the state. Some of the B.J.P. politicians even directly called them ‘Khalistanis.’22 The same ‘terrorists’(also called so as the communist party and unions supported protestors, popularly dubbed by B.J.P. as ‘maoists’)  had been addressed finally by the P.M. in an attempt to woo them, trying to secure his vote bank in agricultural states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab, where the popularity of the B.J.P. has witnessed a noteworthy dip. 

This apology was insensitive in light of the deaths of four farmers and a journalist in Lakhimpur-Kheri in U.P., which has been recently deemed a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’ as per legal investigations.23 The accused is a son of a Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Union government, who, interestingly, was recently defended by the P.M. in his interview this month before the elections. The apology also didn’t cater to the deaths of approximately 700 farmers who died during the protests. Far from an apology, the government, led by the P.M., has refused to endow any compensation to families of the deceased, remarking that no data of farmer deaths is available to accommodate any such claims.24 

Earlier in May 2021, the P.M. appeared teary-eyed to ‘apologize’ and regret the deaths of Indians who died due to Covid infections.25 The government later announced that no Indian died of Covid and that they had been suffering other physical complications when ordered by the Supreme Court to compensate monetarily, as an ex gratia grant for each covid-related death.26 The apology was mocked by the opposition. Earlier, when the P.M. was serving as the Chief Minister (C.M.) of the state of Gujrat, he was asked to apologize to the Muslim community in light of the communal riots of 2002. The then C.M. had refused to do so, as he did not want to repeat the ‘sorry.’27 

The question of deathwatch doesn’t stop here. The government has been fighting to sideline the issue of the international coverage of the covid deaths. The images of bodies being burnt or floating in rivers were countered by imposing strict media censorship, which limited the news relating to covid-related deaths in Indian media.28 Further, the recent wave of the Omicron infections has also been downplayed.29 In addition to this, no apology or its derivative has been expressed by the P.M. and his administration for the insensitive surveillance of the apparent ‘opponents’ of the government, even if it meant spying on their party members via the Pegasus software.30 The government has refuted all claims of purchasing the software from the Israeli company NSO Group in relation to the scandal, although it was clear a breach of the basic fundamental right to privacy was expressed.31 


The people are left to fight among themselves, like Maurice and Lefranc in Genet’s play, while Green Eyes continues viewing the carnage before his eyes. The passions of regret infuriated the argument between Maurice and his killer, and were insensitive to the aftermath by sideling from the final crime.  The blame of the murder is easily put on Lefranc, which seems significant, while Maurice is killed to the political advantage of the man in charge of this haute surveillance, as his possible competition possibly arising out of his support is taken off the path to glory. By reclaiming his unchallenged position of privilege, he controls everything. Such is the deathwatch of authorities witnessing details of crimes, ignoring the moral rationale of democracy as it caters to demands of these elites. This is the fragility of democracy. The only apology is the forced penance for democratic deficits and lacunas, of which the people have to pay the brunt of. Systematic deconstruction of such apologies must become a rigorous function of our systems, and are  the only way to take down such farces. 

Daanish Kaur is pursuing a Masters in Political Science at the Panjab University in Chandigarh, India. She has previously presented and worked on publication of papers and articles concerning the Gandhian thought, Nanakian Discourse, Anthropocene, Comparative Literature, Post-Democracy and Continental Philosophy. She is also a French Language student and recently served as a Jury Member of the National Committee of the Indian edition of the Prix Goncourt, 2021-22. 


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