Public holidays are set as cultural propaganda for political purposes in Syria
Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas
The World Teachers’ Day is celebrated worldwide on 5 October, according to the United Nations’ international days agenda, while Syrian people celebrate this occasion on the third Thursday of March of each year, through the approval of the Prime Minister under the name of the Arab Teachers’ Day.
The Arab Teachers’ Day is not the only occasion celebrated by Syrians on a different date. Rather, the Syrian government has appointed numerous festivals and social holidays, mainly since Hafez al-Assad came to power, on different dates at the national or international level.
This article discusses the Syrian regime’s attempt to use occasions and holidays to consolidate its political and national thought within the Syrian society.
Public holidays as investment tools in Syrian regime’s hands
The Syrian regime has deliberately brought every political, cultural, or social event to the circle of its partisan or national goals and made Syrian people glorify the leader and the military institutions in an obligatory manner within the cultural life associated with political work, said the former leader of the Baath Party, Dr.Nasser Saba, in an interview with Enab Baladi.
“The Syrian regime has used the festivals and social and cultural holidays to serve its ideology based on marginalizing Syrian people, and highlighting the one-party system that rejects any pluralism that does not fit its goals in the state.” This transformed the Syrian “culture and its institutions into machines that serve the interests of the tyranny of al-Assad family,” according to Dr.Saba.
These institutions were supposed to draw a horizon of knowledge through which political thought develops and protects the historical facts of the events that Syria has lived through since its establishment until the Syrian regime’s assumption of power.
Thus, the Syrian regime absent members of society from a celebration that is considered an entrance, as expressed by Saba, to learn about the culture of a basic community component, the Kurds of Syria. And thus, “Political difference and national goals have been reflected on the festive occasions and holidays among Syrians.”
The governments in Syria have always sought to prevent everyone from celebrating the Nowruz Festival, the Kurdish New Year.
The Syrian regime used to arrest dozens of Kurdish activists and civilians each year to celebrate this festival in Kurdish cities and neighborhoods in Syria.
International Teachers Day is called in Syria “Arab Teachers Day” by the Syrian government. According to Saba, the use of this term in a country like Syria characterized by its ethnic and national diversity is considered a curtailment of workers’ efforts in the educational sector that is limited only to Arabs, excluding other ethnic groups. Saba pointed out, “This is considered as a further reflection of the fact that the Syrian regime uses the festive occasions and holidays to marginalize ideas opposing its plans.”
Saba said that “In half a century, Syrians had been celebrating fake events set by the regime of al-Assad Family,” which were systematically printed in the memory of Syrians.
Some of the most prominent of these “fake occasions” is the “March 8 Revolution” and the anniversary of the “Baath” Party assuming power in Syria.
Saba believes that the Syrian minds were “blinded” about the importance of Syrian women’s role in building their society during that period.
Syrian people are supposed to celebrate “International Women’s Day,” which is considered an opportunity to enhance the significance of women’s participation in work and decision-making. Nevertheless, “the regime used this day to commemorate its access to power and to stay in it within an authoritarian policy that Syrians have suffered for decades,” Saba highlighted.
During the Syrian revolution, the civil movement and the Syrian opposition newspapers have attempted to shed light on the International Day of “Women” without the “March 8 Revolution,” as a kind of peaceful expression of opposition to the Syrian regime on the anniversary of its entry to power.
Syria is an “isolated island from the world”
Syria has a severe social problem; certain society groups tend to remain aloof or detached from others.
It is impossible to understand this locking-on phenomenon in how the Syrian society’s identity is built today outside the context of the intellectual propositions that established this closure.
Syrian social researcher Hussam al-Saad told Enab Baladi before the Internet was jump-started into Syria, society relied on constructing its knowledge on the cultural and intellectual production provided by government institutions, within the targeted media and government cultural centers.
Social and political events and holidays were exploited by the Syrian regime to build its own propaganda to control the Syrian street’s mindset. Thus, the Syrian people cannot revolt against the Syrian government, or the government will be able to thwart any rebellion that could occur, even if it violates its date of time within the global scope, to become Syria as an “isolated island from the world,” al-Saad explained.
Consecration of collective awareness among Syrians by linking international events or those related to national or ethnic components to purely local events related to the “Baath” party’s orientations has resulted in “an intellectual and cultural rift in society. Besides, this has led to the creation of conflicts and disagreements between national components that they do not need.”
Thus, the Syrian regime achieved its goals: societal incoherence and disharmony, which contributes to the existence of isolation and contraction of some groups or social components on themselves, according to the social researcher.
This was prominent during the past nine years. Last July, the date of “Mother’s Day” was changed according to an official decision issued by the Executive Council of the Kurdish-Autonomous Administration in northeast Syria.
According to the decision, “Mother’s Day” will be celebrated on 13 May instead of 21 March.
Besides, “Teacher’s Day” will be set on 5 October, instead of the third Thursday of March of each year, with the word “Arab” deleted from this occasion’s name.
The social researcher al-Saad believes that in such decisions, there is something that increases the intellectual and social division in Syria, as each authority will use events and holidays in its military area of influence to serve its interests, even if this is harmful to society in the future.
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