Saturday, April 30, 2005


There is going to be a break in posting, while I'm on holiday. Things should be back to normal by May 17 or thereabouts.

Friday, April 29, 2005


Clearly, the opposition between Mexico and the United States belongs to the North-South duality as much from the geographical as from the symbolic point of view. It is an ancient opposition which was already unfolding in pre-Columbian America, so that it antedates the very existence of the United States and Mexico. The northern part of the continent was settled by nomadic, warrior nations; Mesoamerica, on the other hand, was the home of an agricultural civilization, with complex social and political institutions, dominated by warlike theocracies that invented refined and cruel rituals, great art, and vast cosmogonies inspired by a very original vision of time. The great opposition of pre-Columbian America – all that now includes the United States and Mexico – was between different ways of life: nomads and settled peoples, hunters and farmers. This division greatly influenced the later development of the United States and Mexico. The policies of the English and the Spanish towards the Indians were in large part determined by this division; it was not insignificant that the former established themselves in the territory of the nomads and the latter in that of the settled peoples.

Mexico is the most Spanish country in Latin America; at the same time it is the most Indian. Mesoamerican civilization died a violent death, but Mexico is Mexico thanks to the Indian presence. Though the language and religion, the political institutions and the culture of the country are Western, there is one aspect of Mexico that faces in another direction – the Indian direction. Mexico is a nation between two civilizations and two pasts.

In the United States, the Indian element does not appear. This, in my opinion, is the major difference between our two countries. The Indians who were not exterminated were corralled in “reservations”. The Christian horror of “fallen nature” extended to the natives of America: the United States was founded on a land without a past. The historical memory of Americans is European, not American. For this reason, one of the most powerful and persistent themes in American literature, from Whitman to William Carlos Williams and from Melville to Faulkner, has been the search for (or invention of) American roots. We owe some of the major works of the modern era to this desire for incarnation, this obsessive need to be rooted in American soil.

Exactly the opposite is true of Mexico, land of superimposed pasts. Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec city that was built on the likeness of Tula, the Toltec city that was built on the likeness of Teotihuacán, the first great city on the American continent. Every Mexican bears within him this continuity, which goes back two thousand years. It doesn’t matter that this presence is almost always unconscious and assumes the naïve forms of legend and superstition. It is not something known but something lived. The Indian presence means that one of the facets of Mexican culture is not Western. Is there anything like this in the United States? Each of the ethnic groups making up the multiracial democracy that is the United States has its own culture and tradition, and some of them – the Chinese and Japanese, for example – are not Western. These traditions exist alongside the dominant American tradition without becoming one with it. They are foreign bodies within American culture.
-Octavio Paz (1979)

The Old Ideals

In the Washington Post, a consideration of Mr. Putin's Verdict:

What was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"? The rise of Nazi Germany? The spread of genocide as a tool of state power? Some might say it was the crushing of a host of nations by the totalitarian Soviet Union, at the cost of millions of lives. But not Russian President Vladimir Putin. For him, the greatest catastrophe was not the Soviet Union's rise but its collapse -- an event that freed 14 of those nations, from Latvia to Kyrgyzstan, from Moscow's domination. "The old ideals were destroyed," Mr. Putin lamented during his annual state-of-Russia address on Monday.

Most accounts of Mr. Putin's speech focused on the passages intended for Western consumption: his claim that "the development of Russia as a free and democratic state" is now his highest priority; his assurance to Russian and foreign business executives that their investments will not be seized by rapacious authorities, despite the state's recent confiscation of the country's largest oil company; his announced plans to strengthen political parties and make the state-controlled media more independent.

Yet the former KGB officer's nostalgia for the former Soviet empire seemed as telling as any of his promises. So did his denunciation of the "disintegration" of Russia before he came to power, which he defined as the "capitulation" of granting autonomy to Chechnya and the "unrestricted control over information flows" that allowed private business executives to operate newspapers and television networks. Mr. Putin has reversed both of those liberalizations -- in Chechnya's case, by means of an ongoing war that has killed tens of thousands.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Professors Against Peace

Alan Dershowitz on the AUT boycott:

"I used to think that it didn't matter what we did," an Israeli moderate once told me. "They will hate us just as much even if we give back the whole West Bank as well as Gaza."

He paused and then continued: "I was wrong. It does make a difference. They hate us even more when we give more, because it confuses their image of us as totally evil. And our enemies see it as a sign of our weakness and their strength."

My friend was right. This academic boycott makes clear that when Israel does precisely what its detractors demand that it do, even then – especially then! – extreme left-wing academics will only despise Israel more for putting the lie to the professors' hate-filled views.

By targeting Israeli Jews, Britain's "Professors Against Peace" – that's what they really should be called – have displayed bigotry against Jews, done violence to academic freedom and anti-discrimination laws, and are fast closing a window of opportunity for reconciliation in the Middle East.

The History Game

Norm has a Who's Who of the Iraq War.


In the Moscow Times, a report about the current head of the Dresdner Bank division in St Petersburg, who knew Vladimir Putin well, and once spied for the Stasi - sending its clients' documents to the GDR, while working as a bank official in the West.

(via Marius)

Prying on the Pope

Marius points me to an article in the Guardian by Monika Scislowska, from which it transpires that the priest in charge of caring for Polish pilgrims at the Vatican apparently collaborated with the communist secret police in the 1980s during the reign of Pope John Paul II:
An investigation into communist-era persecution of the Roman Catholic church in Poland turned up documents showing that the Rev. Konrad Stanislaw Hejmo, a Dominican, ``was a secret collaborator of the Polish secret services under the names of Hejnal and Dominik,'' said Leon Kieres, head of the state-run National Remembrance Institute that investigated Nazi and communist crimes in Poland.

Hejmo's Dominican superior, the Rev. Maciej Zieba, said he saw the files, which he termed ``convincing and shocking.''


Publius has a post about the resignation of Mexico's attorney general.

Truth over "Triumph"

Try, if you can, to picture the scene. A vast crowd in Red Square: Lenin's tomb and Stalin's memorial in the background. Soldiers march in goose step behind rolling tanks, and the air echoes with martial music, occasionally drowned out by the whine of fighter jets. On the reviewing stand, statesmen are gathered: Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea, Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former dictator of Poland -- and President George W. Bush.

That description may sound fanciful or improbable. It is neither. On the contrary, that is more or less what will appear on your television screen May 9, when the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II is celebrated in Moscow. I have exaggerated only one detail: Although Kim Jong Il has been invited, his attendance has not yet been confirmed. But Jaruzelski is definitely coming, as are Lukashenko, Bush and several dozen other heads of state. President Vladimir Putin of Russia will preside.

Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post about the upcoming May 9 commemoration in Moscow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Caucasian Knot

Finland delaying answer

Andrei Nekrasov's documentary Distrust about explosions of apartment
houses in Moscow in September 1999 will make its debut in Helsinki on 9
May, film producer Olga Konskaya told Caucasian Knot.

Distrust's main characters, Timur and Lydia Dakhkilgov, have been invited
to the premiere. They were to come to Finland on 12 March, invited by
Nekrasov, but Finnish authorities insisted that they should leave the
country without any explanation and after a search. Upon arrival to
Moscow, the couple at once lodged a complaint with the Finnish embassy
and filed another one to a Finnish court of law. Nekrasov applied to the
same court with a "protest and demand of apology to the Dakhkilgovs and
reimbursement of their costs."

The couple recently obtained new visas, Lydia Dakhkilgov told Caucasian
Knot by phone. She said they had not yet received any answers to their
complaint and lawsuits. The embassy promised to give the answer as far
back as in early April. However, they have since answered by phone that
the secretary supposed to give the answer is away.

Nekrasov's film describes how Timur Dakhkilgov was accused of blowing up
the houses on Guryanova Street and Kashirskoye Highway; he spent three
months in prison, where he says he was subjected to torture.

A Shameful Legacy

In response to the dangerous rantings of Richard Gott in today's Guardian, Norman Geras has some strong criticism of

senior figures on what once saw and represented itself as a new, democratic, anti-Stalinist left, but who have lately caved in and gone politically berserk; people who have been on the wrong side of nearly all, or indeed all, of the key international conflicts since the first Gulf War, resolutely anti-American and ready in this with cheap and grotesque Hitler-Nazi references, but somehow a little bit less resolute in what their alignment might mean with respect to the likely future of the most noxious movements and lethal regimes there are; 'democrats' in everything except a proper recognition of the democracy that exists in the US and other Western nations, and of what the absence of democracy means for those peoples for whom it is in fact - daily, ruinously - absent; loud denouncers of the abuses and crimes or alleged crimes of the US, or the UK, or Israel, but more tactful and tactical in relation to other and much worse; people for whom George W. Bush is a more hated figure than Saddam Hussein or anyone else is or was, and for whom the discontinuation of that monster's rule in Iraq today seems to be of less importance morally than the failure to find WMD there or an 'international law' to which many of them have never shown any visible attachment hitherto.

What is it that has led to this intellectual and political debacle of so much of the left of (roughly) my own generation? The pathology of anti-Americanism? The failure to call certain political phenomena by their proper names? A loss of nerve and/or moral perspective in face of a capitalism seemingly everywhere triumphant? Perhaps (three times). But a debacle is what it is - the loss to progressive opinion of half a generation or more of those who might otherwise have been expected to pass on a mature wisdom to younger others. Instead, this shameful legacy.

Cheques and Balances

Writing in the London Review of Books, the veteran left-wing historian Eric Hobsbawm describes An Assembly of Ghosts:

I find myself seated between Reagan’s National Security Adviser in 1981 and a French ex-spook, and opposite an anti-Sharon Israeli I talked to at lunch and who turns out to have been deputy head of Mossad in pre-Likud days. I also recognise a Czech apparition from a past I would like to forget: Rudolf Slansky junior, expelled from the Party for his part in the Prague Spring, later a Charter 77 protester. He even seems to me to look like his father, executed in 1952, the most prominent Communist victim in the last and most overtly anti-semitic of the show ‘trials’ of Stalin’s Eastern Europe. Somewhere along the table Lech Walesa is explaining that neither Russian policy nor Polish Communists had anything to do with Poland regaining independence: it was all due to Solidarity and the pope. (My neighbour, who had signed the cheques for the CIA’s Polish operations at the time, is unimpressed.) Walesa has the air of a Polish John Prescott, only bigger. He has not carried the last 25 years as well as the other Poles.

Reading this, one wonders whether even Hobsbawm himself really believes the part about the "cheques". The whole essay turns out to be a curious two-handed "tribute" to ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev:
If the historian in me was slightly disappointed, the fan of Mikhail Gorbachev was not. Was he a great man? I do not know. I doubt it. He was – he visibly continues to be – a man of integrity and good will whose actions had enormous consequences, for good and bad. I regard it as a privilege to be the contemporary of this man. Humanity is in his debt. All the same, if I were a Russian I would also think of him as the man who brought ruin to his country.

(Hat tip: Marius)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Norm has a link to Engage - against the AUT boycott.

Thorn in the Flesh

Belarus is increasingly turning to Russia for military assistance. Roger N. McDermott writes in EDM that
On April 20 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka met senior Russian defense officials in Minsk in order to examine mutual security threats and consider ways to deepen bilateral military cooperation. Lukashenka told Sergei Ivanov, Russian Defense Minister, and General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian Chief of the General Staff, that Belarus looks towards Russia to learn from its experience with military reform, learning from both its successes and failures. He particularly seemed keen to emphasize the role of Belarus as a reliable partner against Western intrusion into the affairs of the former Soviet Union, while criticizing the West for adopting policies of intervention. "We have not bombed Afghanistan into penury and brought some Asian countries to the brink of poverty," he said. "A flood of illegal immigrants washes over Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other countries to the West."

Behind Lukashenka's anti-Western diatribe and search for stronger security cooperation with Russia lies a curious mixture of old-guard thinking and an assessment of security threats fixated upon the concept of Western intervention near Russia's borders. Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev, Belarusian Defense Minister, addressed a joint board from the defense ministries of both countries in Minsk on April 20, stressing that the joint handling of defense issues and cooperation between the Russian and Belarusian defense ministries laid the basis for strengthening the union state and supporting the Collective Security Treaty. The recent history of bilateral military cooperation, largely generating multiple paper agreements and providing a legislative basis for more practical measures, has persistently escalated in its nature and scope.

While politically Belarus remains "a thorn in the flesh of Kremlin policy planners",
concentration upon intelligence, joint air defense, and the rehearsal of rapid deployment of Russian strategic bombers suggests that planners in Minsk and Moscow are not considering terrorists, first and foremost, as potential future mutual threats, but rather the prospect of Western humanitarian intervention within Belarus as a theoretical flashpoint.

Siegfried Lauterwasser

At On An Overgrown Path, an interesting post on the mystery of the Siegfried Lauterwasser Collection.

(via The Periscope)

The Friendship Drug

Did the Russians spike Kekkonen's drink?
By Teemu Luukka
Helsingin Sanomat

I recently received a startling e-mail. It contained an extract from a
book published in the United States in 2000, according to which the
Russians had used something called a "friendship drug" on Finnish
President Urho Kekkonen and the leadership of the Finnish Communist Party.

The book was written by Joseph D. Douglass, who has a doctorate
from the renowned Cornell University, and who has studied the use of
drugs in international politics for several decades. The extract was
from the book Betrayed, on how various medications and drugs were used
to influence prisoners of war.

The book tells about how governments in various countries - especially
the Soviet Union - became interested in synthetic drugs in the 1950s.
The Russians tested drugs which undermine will power on clergy and
others considered suspect by the Soviet system.

The drugs were placed in people's drinks, and apparently were
administered in such a way that the victims could not recognise the
effect of the substance. The goal was to get the victims to agree with
the Russians after a few days.

The allegations are quite astounding, but are they true?

First we must ask Finnish experts about the matter. One expert
on the history of the communists, Kimmo Rentola, says that he has
never heard that the Russians would have given Kekkonen anything
stronger than vodka. Timo Vihavainen, a professor of Russian studies,
also says that he knows nothing of any such activities.

But what about Kekkonen's biographer Juhani Suomi, who knows
more about Kekkonen's activities than anyone else in Finland? He has
also never heard that Kekkonen would have been under the influence of
the friendship drug.

"It would certainly have been noticed. In negotiations there was
always someone there who was sober, and a doctor would have noticed in
the morning at the latest if Kekkonen was behaving in an exceptional
manner", Suomi insists.

But what does Dr. Douglass base his claim on? On the basis of
biographical data, the man would seem worthy of being taken seriously.
He has a long history in research institutes studying security
matters, as well as a career in the US Defence Department.

The book does not actually say when the Russians might have
slipped Kekkonen a Mickey.

The former Finnish President is mentioned in a part of the book
explaining how seminars would often be held in Czechoslovakia, where
participants would unwittingly consume the friendship drug during
breakfast. The book does not actually claim that Kekkonen would have
been drugged specifically in Czechoslovakia. Kekkonen paid a state
visit to Czechoslovakia only once, on October 1st - 4th, 1969.

All I can do is to ask Dr. Douglass himself.

"Sorry I can not provide additional details. You are most
unlikely to obtain any 'documents' because of their sensitivity and
because such materials would be written in code language and be very
obscure to anyone who did not know what the words meant", Douglass
wrote in an e-mail.

He says that he heard about Kekkonen being drugged from Jan
Sejna. "Jan Sejna died in 1997 before I could learn more details about
this operation", Douglass wrote.

"What he said is what I wrote. He did mention Kekkonen as one of
the targets, as I recall, and I believe he was talking about the early
50s or thereabouts."

Jan Sejna was a famous man. He was a major-general, and served for a
long time as a member of the Central Committee of Czechoslovakia's
Communist Party. He also led Czechoslovakia's Ministry of defence.

Shortly before his death Sejna admitted in the US Senate that he
smuggled 200 American prisoners of war from Vietnam to the Soviet
Union, and that the Soviet Union used drugs on the American POWs.

He defected from Czechoslovakia to the United States in 1968. He
is one of the highest-ranking communist leaders ever to escape to the

After his defection, the communists claimed that he was a drug

Sejna's information has been used by various people, including
former Soviet expert, the present US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Not everyone in Finland likes Sejna. In his memoirs, he described how
Soviet Defence Minister Andrei Grechenko had said during a meeting
that Finland had promised to put its transport facilities at the
disposal of the Soviet Union if war breaks out between the Warsaw Pact
and NATO.

It has not been possible to verify that claim either.

(via Marius)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Cracking Down

Russia's Putin says will crack down on unrest

MOSCOW, April 25 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin
declared on Monday that Russia would decide itself how it would
develop democracy and said authorities would crack down on any
"unlawful methods of struggle."

Apparently responding to sharp Western criticism that he is
backsliding on democracy, the Kremlin leader said in a State of
the Nation speech: "Russia .... will decide for itself the pace,
terms and conditions of moving towards democracy.

But he added that this was possible only through legal
means. "Any unlawful methods of struggle ... for ethnic,
religious and other interests contradict the principles of
democracy. The state will react (to such attempts) with legal,
but tough, means."

(Reporting by Oleg Shchedrov)

Peje el Toro

México desde fuera takes a more pessimistic view of the crisis of power in Mexico, and wonders if Alberto Fujimori might not be a better analogy than Hugo Chávez when considering the potential future role of Manuel López Obrador:
Si como todo parece indicar Peje el Toro se saldrá con la suya y estará en la boleta electoral del 2006, nada le impediría que de ganar la elección de ese año diera un golpe al más puro estilo Fujimori contra la Corte que lo quiso devolver al nivel de ciudadano común y corriente. Con ello las posibilidades de transitar de manera efectiva a la democracia se habrán estrechado una vez más.

Qué triste es pensar así, pero no me cabe duda, en la actualidad en México no hay espacio para la esperanza de que las cosas pudieran mejorar.

No Chavez

Rossana Fuentes Berain, writing in the Washington Post about fears of a populist president in Mexico:

Lopez Obrador may well garner enough support for his cause to get on the ticket, raising this question: Is this populist mayor someone to be feared? Is he another Hugo Chavez, who will create turmoil in domestic and foreign affairs while pursuing an agenda of radical change?

Not likely, I would say. Mexico is not Venezuela. State and federal institutions are strong. We also have a more diversified economy and a private sector less dependent on governmental actions. So, even if he is not defeated at the polls, which he very well could be, we in Mexico would do better to learn to live with him than to risk derailing our young democratic process.

It's clear that no politician should be above the law. But the misdemeanor with which Lopez Obrador is being charged (the building of a road in violation of a court order) should not be allowed to trigger a political crisis that could undermine hard-won economic stability.

This is a situation that requires an enlightened approach by many people. The defendant himself should stop acting as if he would rather play the role of a political martyr than embrace a valid legal defense.

The judiciary should expedite the process and base its action on the legal facts of the case -- not political considerations.

President Vicente Fox has to overcome his obvious dislike for this contender and behave in a statesmanlike manner. As a president who wants to go down in history as a beacon of Mexico's democracy, he needs to understand that it's up to the electorate, not him, to decide whether Lopez Obrador is the right man for the office.

Finally the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) should bet on its proven record of electoral strength rather than reverting to its old, bad habits of rigging the process or the results.

And what should the United States do in this situation? Nothing. At least nothing but sit tight and be patient. I know that's hardly within the nature of an activist country, but it's exactly what Washington needs to do.

Lopez Obrador, should he win, is unlikely to join Chavez and Fidel Castro in a sort of Latin American axis of evil. That is so not only for the institutional reasons mentioned above but because of important economic considerations, the most important being the fact that monetary policy in Mexico is set by an autonomous Central Bank whose head, Guillermo Ortiz, cannot be removed.

As for Lopez Obrador's comments about restructuring Mexico's debt (comments that understandably frighten the markets, given the recent Argentine experience), his economic advisers are adamant in maintaining that this would have to do with renegotiating terms rather than with seeking debt reduction.

Where a Lopez Obrador presidency could really be a problem is in the matter of unfinished structural reforms -- in energy, labor and fiscal affairs. His political shortsightedness could stall long-overdue action in these areas, with unfortunate effects on Mexico's competitiveness with China and other countries.

In a perfect world, this and Lopez Obrador's disregard for the law, as shown in the current case against him, would be enough for the electorate to reject him. In the real world, where there is deep discontent in many parts of the population, he must be regarded as a serious candidate. These are difficult times. We need to weather them and to keep our eyes on the main prize: a long-term North American compact.

The good news is that Mexico has changed radically in the past 20 years. We have chosen a free-market model, our private sector is competing internationally, our citizens are enjoying their freedom to choose -- whether it is consumer products or politicians they are choosing. We will not let that be taken away from us. There is no room for a Chavez in Mexico.

Leaders of Youth

"On 15 April the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi (Ours)
held its inaugural congress and elected Vasilii Grigorevich Yakemenko
and four others as leaders of the movement. The same day, retired
chess master Garri Kasparov blamed Nashi for an incident earlier that
day in which a young man attacked him with a chessboard. Many
political analysts -- and Kasparov, apparently -- see the group's
agenda as trying to tap into Russia's growing nationalism and

"In an interview with on 1 March, National Strategy
Institute Vice President Viktor Militarev argued that with Nashi,
Yakemenko has developed a more effective doctrine than he did with
the pro-Putin youth group Walking Together. Instead of 'Putin is our
president and he is always right,' Militarev noted, Yakemenko gives
lectures to youth activists in which he describes 'the American
authorities as our geopolitical opponent and says Russia needs to
defend itself.'"

Julie A. Corwin, writing about the leader of Russia's latest youth movement, Nashi, in Endnote (RFE/RL).

Oligarch's Reply

Leonid Nevzlin, Menatep Group owner and majority shareholder in Yukos, has given a press interview:

Asked about the possibility of Putin running for president
for a third term in 2012, Nevzlin said Putin "must think not about
new elections but of the Hague tribunal. He will have to be charged
with Chechnya, the Nord-Ost [theater siege in Moscow in fall 2002],
and the Beslan [school tragedy]," reported.

RFE/RL Newsline April 25

Belarus scolded, Chechnya ignored

An AP report notes that

The UN Human Rights Commission, widely accused of shielding
some governments from criticism, concluded what might be its last
annual meeting Friday with a top UN official calling its performance
"demonstrably deficient.''

During its six-week session, the 53-nation commission condemned human
rights abuses in Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar. But it did
not consider potential abuses in Chechnya, China or Zimbabwe.

Louise Arbour, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights,
told the commission at its final session that its performance was
"demonstrably deficient."

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the
question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in
any part of the world is answered only by reference to four states,"
said Arbour, a Canadian legal expert.

Other critics say authorities in Russia, China and Zimbabwe — whose
representatives are on the commission — have been shielded from
condemnation. Under UN rules, members are picked by regional groups,
which means that several states which have been criticized for abuses
are on the panel. Countries criticized by the UN body face no
penalties, even though most governments push hard to avoid such censure.

(Via chechnya-sl)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Aaronovitch on AUT

In a very well-reasoned piece in the Observer newspaper, David Aaronovitch comments on the AUT boycott of Israeli universities:
...the object of those wanting peace and justice in the Middle East is to bring about an end to [the] occupation, and enable the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. It is to persuade both sides that such a settlement is practical and to persuade both sides to make the difficult sacrifices that are necessary. It is to build confidence between Jews and Palestinians, and to strengthen, always, the hand of the peacemakers.

Unless, of course, you don't believe that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state at all within any borders. And this, as it happens, seems to be the view of Sue Blackwell, who describes Israel as 'an illegitimate state'. Unlike the United Nations, she does not believe it should have been set up and she would rather it disappeared. As she pointed out in 2003 to a previous AUT council: 'From its very inception, the state of Israel has attracted international condemnation for violating the human rights of the Palestinian people and making war on its neighbours.' Or, to put it even more bluntly, everything is all the fault of the Israelis.

The problem is that many Jews understand very well that this is her view and, unfortunately, will believe that it is also the view of all her fellow campaigners. Consequently, there will now be a battle royal (of which this article is part) about the rights and wrongs of these particular tactics, and the bigger picture will inevitably be lost. Everyone will return to their trenches and take the tarpaulins off their heaviest and most inaccurate artillery.

However, there may be a saving grace. Two years ago, Blackwell predicted that Tony Blair would be ousted at the next general election over Iraq. But if not: 'Then it may well be time for international pressure to be brought to bear, since the British electorate will have failed in their moral duty'.

So, one last reason, perhaps, to vote Labour on Thursday week. To enjoy the sight of Sue Blackwell busily boycotting herself.

via Harry's Place

Black Pora and Yellow Pora

At Orange Ukraine, Dan McMinn writes that
Pora is still around, or at least the people in the organization are still around. However, during the events in the fall, a second group calling itself Pora also appeared (the original being "Black Pora [ru]" the newer one "Yellow Pora"). Since January the split between the two Poras has made it difficult for the group to establish a Pora party line even though they now have a political party [ru] because at least some would like to get into the Parliament [ru] in the March 2006 election.


The Students for Global Democracy website now has a Belarus Campaign (BELL), to which it's possible to make financial donations. From the campaign literature:

Often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” President Lukashenka has openly and consistantly repressed the people of Belarus—eliminating opposition and forcing the nation into both economical and political isolationism. Independent media barely exists in the country and the KGB - which still tellingly goes by the old Soviet moniker - monitors every form of communication. Just recently, the government has demanded that all radio stations submit transcripts of their broadcasts in advance so that Lukashenka’s censors can vet possible criticism of the dictator. The Belarussian president has also given himself the power to appoint all 110 members of the upper house of Parliament—meaning that a body which would normally check the executive’s power does nothing more than rubber-stamp his proposals. Fear runs rampant throughout the nation as Lukashenka stands poised to undo the constitutional term limits of the Belarusian presidency to officially become nothing less than the permanent dictator of Belarus.

All opposition has not ceased, however, and lives on in such groups as Zubr, Free Belarus, and Charter 97. Zubr, for example, is the largest civil society group in the nation; completely non-partisan and non-violent, they organize the majority of demonstrations and opposition in Belarus today. Threats of personal or family-related torture, financial ruin, and potential death make the life of a Belarussian democrat a difficult one. In 2004 alone, monitoring groups were able to identify at least 650 acts of repression and violence against Zubr alone.

350 arrests for the distribution of literature, 200 arrests for protest, at least 10 military searches of known Zubr residences, more than 400 days in combined recorded prison time—the Belarussian people are trying their best to receive their entitled freedoms. They have not lost hope for the day when they and their children can decide their livelihoods for themselves.

Zubr—as with any group—needs financial aid to operate effectively. Andrei Sannikov, leader of Charter 97 and former Belarussian deputy foreign minister, told SGD President Charlie Szrom how domestic funding is simply impossible due to dire government pressure on whoever attempts to aid the democratic opposition. Andrei spoke of one particular incident that occurred in 2004 when Sannikov met with a business friend in order to attain funding for the Belrusian democrats. The businessman said he thought he could help, and promised to do what he could. Only ten minutes after the meeting’s end, however, the businessman called Sannikov and said he could not help at all. As it turns out, immediately after the meeting, a KGB agent had caught the buisnessman and told him that the government would shut down his business if he gave even a dollar to the opposition. The government also puts extreme pressure on businesses that employ democrats, meaning that simply getting by day-to-day poses a challenge for those who would seek their country’s freedom.

In essence, only international funding of groups such as Zubr is possible. Yet, since 2001 such funding has essentially dried up. After the 2001 Belarussian election, Lukashenka began to crack down on those who had run against him in the election to punish them for daring to oppose his rule. Instead of increasing their aid to respond to the worsening situation, most large international donor organizations pulled the majority of their funding. Such organizations also usually demand that aid recipients be officially registered with the Belarussian government—a ridiculous demand considering that Minsk would never officially recognize an organization that seriously threatens its dictatorial status.

SGD aims to play a different role than these larger organizations by effectively using its donated funds to achieve the best result possible for the people of Belarus. We listen to those on the ground—the democrats—to determine what is actually needed and how to best change the situation there. We simply want to bring democracy to Belarus, not serve the interests of a bureauratic aid organization with inefficient policies.

Together, we can make a true difference in our world and for the people of Belarus—all in a peaceful and powerful way. We ask only for your support in this effort, be it through a monetary contribution or by spreading awareness to colleagues and friends about the drastic need for action to aid the Belarussian people.

Help the people of Belarus get the rights they are entitled to and the liberty that should be enjoyed by all people, and note that whatever contribution you can make to this effort will help the bells of freedom ring just that much louder in Belarus.

The Underworld

A debate in which the thoughts are not expressed in the way in which they existed in the mind but in the speaking are so pointed that they may strike home in the sharpest way, and moreover without the men that are spoken to being regarded in any way present as persons; a conversation characterized by the need neither to communicate something, nor to learn something, nor to influence someone, nor to come into connexion with someone, but solely by the desire to have one’s own self-reliance confirmed by marking the impression that is made, or if it has become unsteady to have it strengthened; a friendly chat in which each regard himself as absolute and legitimate and the other as relativized and questionable; a lovers’ talk in which both partners alike enjoy their own glorious soul and their precious experience – what an underworld of faceless spectres of dialogue!

- Martin Buber, Dialogue [Zwiesprache] (1929)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Lost in Translation

Condoleezza Rice: Lost in Translation

Created: 21.04.2005

Natalia Gevorkian

No, we are not that perfect just yet. We will be perfect only once Ms. Condoleezza Rice, with her difficult character, opens her mouth over Russian television and translators insert a text edited by the Kremlin.

For example: Ms. Rice says that she hopes President Vladimir Putin will not alter the Constitution or try to use his power to remain president. But instead of that we will get the translation: Ms. Rice has said that she has no ambition to become president of the United States. Now, she may have said that, but not at that time, and in this shot she was talking of a different president of a different country. But of course this feminine gossip on the part of the secretary of state doesn't have anything to do with our viewers. Of course, later the secretary of state may argue that she never said those words during that shot or that her right to free speech was violated in Russia, but that would be later. For now, we've missed that train.

Lost in translation - it happens.

During Condoleezza Rice's visit to Moscow a rehearsal of sorts was staged for turning off the microphone when a guest says something that people here in Moscow don't want to hear. First of all, Russian television viewers were not told what it was exactly that Ms. Rice said on the plane just after landing in Moscow. By the way, she spoke about the limits placed on democratic freedoms in Russia. Incidentally, at the time she spoke there was a report of a bomb placed at the hotel where she would be staying, so the television media was focused, on the orders of the Russian president, on the fight against terrorism.

That was the first day of Ms. Rice's visit. When it turned out that there was neither a bomb nor any terrorists to be found, they decided to give at least some sort of information - after all, it was the second day, and the lady was always talking about something. So they reported briefly that Ms. Rice is concerned about freedom of speech in Russia in general and on the Internet in particular. That's exactly what they said - the Internet. And here Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave a press conference where he announced that yes, they spoke of freedom of speech, but that he, the minister, doesn't quite understand what is meant when people speak of freedom of speech "in general,"that we need concrete examples. Ms. Rice gave a specific example, but it looked like Mr. Lavrov did not understand it. She stressed that when she spoke about freedom of speech problems in the "electronic media," she specifically meant television and not the Internet, as it was "translated" for the Russian public. The woman knew what she was doing. She understood who and why "mistranslated" her words, and insisted on a correction, which, as unfortunate as this was for Mr.Lavrov, was broadcast on television.

That same day, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, which is not prone to mistranslations, Ms. Rice said that during her meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov she was successful in getting more American access to Russia's nuclear objects. Sergei Ivanov rushed to deny Ms. Rice's statements, saying that they did not touch on this topic at all during their meeting. For fairness' sake, however, that there was no mistake in translation here. Ekho asked Ms. Rice to clarify her answer several times, and she did so. Ivanov, meanwhile, made his statement in Russian. Moreover, Ivanov and Rice already found a common language some time ago, and it was English. So it would be hard to imagine that during their meeting the translator mistranslated part of their conversation. Either they did not agree on what to tell the press, or Rice did not see the need to hide her "little victory," while Ivanov
found it unpleasant to admit that the Russian side gave in to the secretary of state.

Ms. Rice is a very smart lady. Yes, it's possible not to tell the Russian viewer everything, to fail to mention something, or to "mistranslate" something. But this lady understood everything perfectly, I assure you. This experience with Russia's "freedom" of speech for a leader of her rank is priceless. Someone tried to cut and edit the U.S. secretary of state to put her in line with state television's information policy. The attempt failed, because the woman caught on. But the attempt was made, and that is sad. It's wrong to show such cowardice, especially to a lady.

Friday, April 22, 2005

AUT Boycott Motion Goes Through

A disgraceful decision:

* Israel universities - statement by AUT general secretary Sally Hunt *
* AUT Council today decided to boycott Haifa University and the Bar-Ilan University. *

The executive committee will issue guidance to AUT members on these decisions.

Council delegates also referred a call to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the executive committee will investigate the background to this and will report in due course.

Council delegates also agreed to circulate to all local associations a statement from Palestinian organisations calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

via LGF and Harry's Place

A "Joke"

From today's RFE/RL Newsline:

Vladimir Putin announced in an interview on 21 April with the Israeli television station Ayal Hasson ahead of a visit to Israel and Egypt on 28 April that Russia has decided to complete a deal with Syria for advanced Igla (SA-18) antiaircraft missiles despite the objections of Jerusalem and Washington, Russian and international media reported. Asked whether the deal will spark security fears in Israel, Putin said jokingly: "It will, of course, make it difficult to fly over the residence of the Syrian president," the "Jerusalem Post" reported on 21 April. Reacting to Putin's statement, the daily "Ha'aretz" wrote on 21 April that "Russia fights terrorism with one hand but with the other it helps a state that supports terrorists." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on 20 April that Israel does not accept the Russian assessment that antiaircraft missiles pose no threat to Israel, "Ha'aretz" reported. "What concerns us is that they can find their way into the hands of terrorist organizations," Sharon said. VY


In connection with IAJE, Ian Darrington writes that "In order to ensure that the UK and its members are well represented within the organisation the IAJE UK has been created. A constitution has been drafted and an organising committee has been set up to promote and develop membership and raise funds. Additionally, it is intended in 2005 to begin the distribution of a regular newsletter."

Ian notes that "it has been acutely difficult to persuade UK jazz musicians of the values of IAJE membership with many seeing it as exclusively American." Hopefully the new organisation will do something to counter that.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rice on Belarus

From the NATO meetings in Vilnius, Lithuania, news that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has met Belarusian dissidents. The BBC reports:
She told them there will be "a road to democracy in Belarus", which she has described as the "last true dictatorship" in central Europe. She defended the right to public protests and called for a free media as well as credible elections.


Modern intelligence is in utter confusion. Knowledge has become so diffuse that the world and the mind have lost all point of reference. It is a fact that we are suffering from nihilism. But the most amazing things are the admonitions to “turn backward.” Return to the Middle Ages, to primitive mentality, to the soil, to religion, to the arsenal of worn-out solutions. To grant a shadow of efficacy to those panaceas, we should have to act as if our acquired knowledge had ceased to exist, as if we had learned nothing, and pretend in short to erase what is inerasable. We should have to cancel the contribution of several centuries and the incontrovertible acquisitions of a mind that has finally (in its last step forward) re-created chaos on its own. That is impossible – in order to be cured, we must make our peace with this lucidity, this clairvoyance. We must take into account the glimpses we have suddenly had of our exile. Intelligence is in confusion not because knowledge has changed everything. It is so because it cannot accept that change. It hasn’t “got accustomed to that idea.” When this does happen, the confusion will disappear. Nothing will remain but the change and the clear knowledge that the mind has of it. There’s a whole civilization to be reconstructed.
- Camus, Notebooks (1942)


If one believes in moral value, one believes in all morality, even and including sexual morality. The reform is total.
- Camus, Notebooks (1946)


In a world that has ceased to believe in sin, the artist is responsible for the preaching. But if the priest's words carried, this is because they were fed by example. Hence the artist strives to become an example. This is why he is shot or deported, to his great distress. Besides, virtue is not learned so rapidly as the handling of a submachine gun. The fight is unequal.
- Camus, Notebooks (1948)

Two Poems

Two Poems by Tua Forsström

Tua Forsström was born in 1947 in Porvoo, Finland, and lives in Tenala. She made her literary debut in 1972 with the collection En dikt om kärlek och annat (A poem about love and other things). She has worked as a publisher's editor at the Finland-Swedish firm of Söderströms in Helsinki, but for most of her life has been a full-time writer. Forsström has won more literary awards than any other Finnish poet of her generation, and is as well-known in Sweden as in her homeland. Her collections of poetry have been translated into Finnish, Danish, Dutch, French, Spanish and English.

The two poems here are from Parkerna [The Parks] (1996). [my tr.]

The snow whirls over
Tenala churchyard

We light candles so that
the dead will be less

lonely, we believe they are
subject to the same laws

as ourselves. The lights twinkle restlessly:
perhaps the dead are longing for

company, we know nothing of
their doings, the snow whirls

The dead are silent as cotton.
A flock of thin children who

inaudibly take one step closer
They look at us closely for a

moment: is it because they’ve
forgotten, or remember? The snow

whirls over Tenala churchyard

As when you in
over a city at night at

low altitude: the lights become
motorways, the headlamps of

the traffic, you arrive
from somewhere

Soon you are driving along a
road, one of the twinkling

lights in the whirling snow

We make such a pitiful
sight that the circus-master
is in tears. What is more, we’re cold. Ach!
He wishes us to hell, he wishes
this muddy market-place in Ekenäs to
hell, with eyes closed he leaves
this slush-puddle for the continent, a
different place: where the ballerina’s lace isn’t
dirty, where the trapeze artist doesn’t
smell of spirits, where the lion doesn’t stare
despondently. Where cracks don’t open
in the powder. Where cracks don’t open
anywhere! The circus-master doesn’t know
any such city, but it is painful to
grow old and remember without pain. Somewhere
the horses’ coats are shining, spangles,
glitter, the audience roars far away
from these bumpkins. There it is never
October with snow-mingled rain, there art
is memory and shimmering coins.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Rice in Moscow - II

Siberian Light has a link to a briefing given by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice en route to Moscow. As the blog points out, some of Rice's comments are particularly interesting, including one that suggests she thinks Putin will seek a third term as Russia's President. The blog also rightly points to Rice's even-handedness:
It is a fascinating insight into how Condoleezza Rice views Russia, and I have to say her comments seem very well balanced to me - she was quite prepared to dish out praise as well as criticism where it is warranted.

Rubbing Out

In Jamestown Foundation's Chechnya Weekly (April 20) John B. Dunlop contributes the following article:


The First Channel (Russian state television) serves de facto as the most influential voice of the Putin regime, reaching as it does into nearly every village and hamlet in the vast sprawl that is the Russian Republic. One of the best-known political commentators on the First Channel is journalist Mikhail Leontyev, who has his own television program called "Odnako" (However). According to Moscow-resident and pro-Kremlin Chechen, Shamil Beno, Leontyev is "a propagandist whom they appreciate a lot in the Kremlin." Leontyev recently featured the following grisly scene on one of his programs, Beno said in an item published on on April 4: "On Leontyev's program, ‘Odnako,' they showed this: someone is coming out of a basement [in Chechnya] dragging after him a toilet seat. He says: ‘It smells in there. You see, they just rubbed Maskhadov out in the crapper…'"

Leontyev's crude "humor" concerning the March 8 killing of Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov was intended to recall Russian President Vladimir Putin's gangster-like vow, made in the autumn of 1999, to "rub out the bandits in the crapper." The seemingly endless Russo-Chechen conflict, with its tens of thousands of civilians killed, as well as the marked rise of xenophobia in Russia in recent years, are traceable in no small part back to the sentiments expressed in Putin's vengeful promise.

In an item published by on March 28 under the provocative title "The Chechen people interest no-one," Leontyev elaborated on the theme addressed in his television program. "From the political point of view," Leontyev underlined, Maskhadov's killing "represents a great success for Russia." Now, for example, the U.S. State Department is no longer able to whine, "We continue to insist that the sole way out [of the Chechen conflict] is a political resolution," a refrain which represented "a mockery of Russia."

As for the Europeans, Leontyev continued, they should now stop simpering over the rash of kidnappings in Chechnya, particularly those carried out by the pro-Moscow Kadyrovites. True, the Kadyrovites are bandits, but they are pro-Russian bandits fighting anti-Russian bandits. Those who seek to apply European human rights standards to the Caucasus are "cretins" and "sick people."

Leontyev's cynical commentary seems to be the authentic voice of the Putin regime as it is addressed to the Russian populace. It should be noted that the regime's treatment of Maskhadov's body, which was publicly displayed stripped to waist, as well as the gleeful celebration of his having been "rubbed out," have proved deeply offensive to virtually all Chechens, who believe that his remains ought to have been turned over to his family for a proper Muslim burial. One Russian specialist, Maksim Shevchenko, noted on on March 22: "I have to work a great deal with [pro-Moscow] Chechens, the Zavgaevites and Kadyrovites, and, especially after the defilement of the body of Aslan Maskhadov, even the enemies of Maskhadov say that with the Kremlin, with this Moscow, which treats a deceased person in such a fashion we cannot have any dealings." Other visitors to Chechnya have reported similar reactions.

Aimed at Russian intellectuals, and the associated website, recently provided the transcript of a lengthy round-table discussion containing remarks made by specialists on what Maskhadov's killing tells us about Putin and the Russian leadership as a whole. "What does the death of Maskhadov demonstrate?" asked Ida Kulklina, a member of the Public Council of the President of the Russian Federation to Assist the Development of the Institutions of a Civil Society. "First," she answered, "[Maskhadov's elimination] is a gesture by which the Kremlin showed that it intends to ‘rub them out in the crapper' to the end. In addition, it liquidated the last symbol of legitimacy in Chechnya…. The Russian side says ‘crappers,' "rub them out to the end.' What does ‘to the end' mean? On average, the group [of separatist fighters] is estimated at between 1,500 and 2,500. You kill two thousand of them, and another two thousand appear. It is an endless process, one not conducive to negotiation but rather to a continuation of the war."

Sergei Gradirovsky, chief advisor to the Plenipotentiary Representative of the President of the Russian Federation in the Volga Federal District, focused on Putin's deepest psychological impulses in his comments: "There is of course," Gradirovsky said, "a fear of Khasavyurt [the town where the 1994-1996 war came to a negotiated end], a fantastic fear of appearing weak, because negotiations, especially negotiations with Maskhadov, could be interpreted as the weakness of the Kremlin and, in particular, the weakness of the president."

In addition to an intense fear of appearing weak, there was, Gradirovsky believes, an additional element of personal vengeance in Putin's decision to liquidate Maskhadov: "He [Putin] could not agree to negotiations [with Maskhadov], it would have been a personal humiliation before a man who said: ‘God is above us, but the kozly (billy-goats) are below us.'" As pro-democracy journalist, Andrei Piontkovsky, has written: "When British Prime Minister Tony Blair…timidly reproached Putin for annihilating Grozny, Putin replied sincerely and with conviction. It turns out that one of the Chechen rebels called him a ‘kozyol' – something close to ‘bastard'. In the St. Petersburg courtyard of his childhood, such insults were never forgiven. Turning Grozny into Dresden or Hiroshima is, in Putin's understanding, a perfectly suitable response to being called a bastard." (Quoted in Matthew Evangelista, The Chechen Wars, 2002, p. 74)

If Kuklina and Gradirovsky (both employees of the Putin regime) are correct, an intense fear of appearing weak coupled with a strong psychological impulse to avenge a perceived insult is behind Maskhadov's killing.

But what motivated the separatist president in the lead-up to his assassination? reported in a piece published on April 6 entitled, "Aslan Maskhadov was lured into a trap under the pretext of negotiations," that Maskhadov spent his last days living under the illusion that the Russian authorities, assisted by the Europeans, seriously intended to negotiate a settlement to the bloody conflict with him. "[Maskhadov] descended to the lowlands, where there are more federal troops and more Kadyrov police about, actively made use of a mobile phone, conducted several meetings, moving from place to place. In so doing, it should be specially remarked, he constantly called upon the [separatist] field commanders to strictly observe a cease-fire."

According to Taisa Isaeva, director of the Information Center of the Council of Non-Governmental Organizations of Chechnya, copies of a tape of one of Maskhadov's last interviews – perhaps his last – have been circulating among human rights activists. "In this interview," Isaeva said in an item posted by the website on April 5, "the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria speaks about impending peace negotiations with Russia. In so doing, he names those countries that are to serve as intermediaries in the impending political dialogue between him and the Russian side. In Maskhadov's words, the ministries of foreign affairs of Germany and Switzerland were to assist in the negotiations. To one or another extent, representatives of the OSCE were also to take part. These proposals had been transmitted to Aslan Maskhadov through his special representative [in Europe] Umar Khambiev…" It was because of these perceived fast-approaching negotiations that Maskhadov was insisting that "the unilateral ceasefire declared by him be observed."

So there seems to be evidence that at the end of his life Maskhadov was energetically seeking to help bring an end to the second Russo-Chechen war, as he and the late General Aleksandr Lebed had earlier stopped the bloodshed of the first conflict in 1996. But the Kremlin, we now understand, had a different scenario in mind.

John B. Dunlop is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is an expert on Russia's two wars in Chechnya, nationalism in the former Soviet Union, Russian cultural politics, and the politics of religion in Russia.

AUT again

At Harry's Place, David Hirsh has a round-up of the current state of the controversy over the proposed AUT boycott of Israeli academics. The arguments for and against are apparently being thrashed out almost entirely in the columns of the Guardian newspaper, with the actual AUT debate due to take place this week.

David Hirsh writes:
In yesterday’s Guardian there were letters signed by 262 academics setting out 3 different but overlapping arguments against boycotting Israeli academia. In Today’s Guardian there is a reply from those who are proposing the academic boycott . Also this leader in the Guardian and this story written by an Israeli, so if you’re in favour of the boycott, you are not allowed to read it.

The pro-boycott argument goes like this: Israel is, like the old South Africa an apartheid state. We know what to do with apartheid states – we boycott them. This is their only argument. They do not address any of the criticisms made in the 3 letters.

Less than Celebratory

An AP report focuses on the story of Tadeusz Olizarowicz, an 81-year-old Pole who spent 8 years in Stalin's prison camps, suffered a crushed fingertip and still has headaches that were the consequence of a mine explosion: "I am an old man ... I feel it very strongly," Tadeusz Olizarowicz said. "It all has a negative effect on my emotions and my health."

As the world prepares to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 9, the mood in Poland and other former communist republics is less than celebratory. Here, the feeling is that the end of the war simply replaced one horror -- Hitler's -- with another -- Stalin's.

Poland was forced into the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, while the Baltic countries -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- were incorporated into the Soviet Union. They did not regain their freedom until the collapse of communism in eastern Europe 15 years ago.

The lingering bitterness has led Presidents Arnold Ruutel of Estonia and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania to refuse invitations to Moscow for the May 9 celebrations, though Presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia and Aleksandar Kwasniewski of Poland will attend.

That Olizarowicz had already been thrown into a Nazi camp didn't help him with the Soviets. Today, he remembers the Nazis and Soviets as "equally bad."

"If you did something bad in the German camp, a guard would take out a gun and kill you immediately," he recalled. "But in a Soviet camp, they would starve you to death so the death was longer and more painful and then they would shoot you and finish you off with a sickle."

Olizarowicz's "crime" was serving in Poland's Home Army, the clandestine force that fought the Nazis, and which the Soviets feared would remain a rallying point for resistance. Convicted in 1947 of "anti-Soviet activity," he was among nearly 800,000 Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians shipped to labor camps.

During the train ride in cramped cattle cars, Soviet guards would count their prisoners by hitting them. They fed them only salty dried fish while denying them water on hot summer days. In a camp in Minsk, in Belarus, where he spent a year laying bricks before being taken to Siberia, Olizarowicz saw guards slashing the corpses of inmates to make sure they were dead.

The report adds:

Today, resentment is stoked by the perceived unwillingness of today's Russian authorities to acknowledge the suffering.

(via Marius)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Safe Stalin

Roy Medvedev, on what Russians have to be proud of after 15 years of postcommunism.

Great Moments

At the website of the Council on Foreign Relations, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, who was Denmark's Foreign Minister from 1982 to 1993, writes eloquently about the struggle of the Baltic States for the restoration of their independence:
I believe that the free world is sustained by the presence of American power and America's willingness to use that power against those who threaten us. Even though the Baltics did obtain their freedom, it is adequate to question whether it was the right decision to leave the Baltics on their own during these critical days in January 1991. The Baltics stood up bravely, much to the surprise of the Soviet leaders who had completely underestimated popular resistance. Nevertheless, Gorbachev could easily have ordered a bloody end to the independence movements in the Baltics.

(Via MAK)

Russia's Fascist Present

As the May 9 Moscow meeting, ostensibly being held in order to commemorate the victory over Nazism, approaches, Yury Vdovin, who was 7 years old on May 9, 1945, reflects on Russia's own resurgent fascism:
On the face of it, there would seem to be no way for fascist ideology to take root in Russia. But in the 1970s, it was widely rumored that youth groups professing a fascist or quasi-fascist ideology had been rounded up by the authorities. Fascist literature and regalia had been confiscated along with weapons. According to the rumors -- which have never been confirmed -- the children of highly placed party functionaries and of top brass in the KGB and the Interior Ministry belonged to these underground fascist organizations. This was long before glasnost, of course. The rumors nevertheless received a mixed response. On the one hand, people were pleased with the chekists for rounding up these groups. On the other hand, they found it difficult to believe that such groups could exist in a country that had suffered so terribly from fascism.

Those rumors from the 1970s would have long been forgotten if not for the recent surge of xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance and nationalism that quickly spilled over into plain old Nazism.

In the early 1990s, an organization called Pamyat, or Memory, responded to a natural desire to restore values lost during the Soviet era with an ideology of Russian superiority. Pamyat's ideologues didn't shy away from using terminology and regalia -- black shirts and armbands -- based on Nazi models.

Pamyat eventually disappeared, but it gave rise to hundreds of as-yet-uncoordinated fascist, nationalist and xenophobic organizations across the country, all claiming to defend Russia against alien elements that are ostensibly turning Russians into drunks, swindling them in the marketplace and stealing their jobs.

The authorities traditionally regarded such developments as the work of agents of influence and fifth columns. In fact, in times of social and economic instability, the regime has always sought to deflect popular discontent by blaming the current state of affairs on various enemies.

In recent years, Russia has been gripped by serious socioeconomic instability. When the Soviet system collapsed, it left a legacy of empty shelves and a socialist economy incapable of meeting the country's basic needs. The constant shortage of food, the lack of goods and services, and the terrible living conditions in dormitories and communal apartments all reached a breaking point in the early 1990s. To get out of this mess, the country needed new leaders capable of implementing new ideas. Instead, the old party nomenklatura retained control of the country's chief resources and went about reforming them insofar as their limited understanding of reform and democracy allowed. As a result, a chosen few thrived while most people endured grinding poverty.

This created an opportunity for Pamyat, the skinheads and faux patriots to capitalize on this popular discontent, blaming people's atrocious living conditions not on the political leadership, but on oligarchs , merchants and minorities.

At the same time, Russia's "traditional" religions -- which often leave little room for Catholics, Protestants, atheists or the non-religious -- began to assert themselves. Nationalists of all stripes, intentionally set loose by the authorities, have gone to war against anyone they consider "alien." Hundreds of newspaper and web sites advocate ridding the country of non-Russians. Meanwhile, there are numerous attacks on and killings of non-Russian university students, workers and even defenseless young girls.

Yet the trials of neo-fascist groups drag on for years. Evidence is analyzed by expert after expert until one of them finally concludes that the obviously inflammatory texts involved do not incite ethnic hatred. Those convicted of promoting Nazism, fascism and racial intolerance have even been amnestied in connection with Russia's victory over the Nazis.

In the short term, the regime clearly benefits from shifting the blame for the country's woes onto "alien" elements. But in the long term, the country as a whole suffers as people are made to believe that they are superior to others simply because they were born into the right ethnic group. This mindset is almost a guarantee of future tragedies.
(Via MAK)

Word and Creature

"I have not the possibility of judging Luther, who refused fellowship with Zwingli in Marburg, or Calvin who furthered the death of Servetus. For Luther and Calvin believe that the Word of God has so descended among men that it can be clearly known and must therefore be exclusively advocated. I do not believe that; the Word of God crosses my vision like a falling star to whose fire the meteorite will bear witness without making it light up for me, and I myself can only bear witness to the light but not produce the stone and say "This is it". But this difference of faith is by no means to be understood merely as a subjective one. It is not based on the fact that we who live today are weak in faith, and it will remain even if our faith is ever so much strengthened. The situation of the world itself, in the most serious sense, more precisely the relation between God and man, has changed. And this change is certainly not comprehended in its essence by our thinking only of the darkening, so familiar to us, of the supreme light, only of the night of our being, empty of revelation. It is the night of an expectation - not of a vague hope, but of an expectation. We expect a theophany of which we know nothing but the place, and the place is called community. In the public catacombs of this expectation there is no single God's Word which can be clearly known and advocated, but the words delivered are clarified for us in our human situation of being turned to one another. There is no obedience to the coming one without loyalty to his creature. To have experienced this is our way."
Martin Buber, Dialogue [Zwiesprache] (1929)

Estonia and the EU reports that

according to a recent survey 70 per cent of election-age Estonian citizens are in favour of Estonia's membership in the European Union (EU); the support has been stable for the past five months.

The AS Emor poll carried out in March revealed that 70 per cent of the election-age citizens interviewed were in favour and 24 percent against Estonian membership in the EU, with five percent unable to take a stance.

The percentage of support for Estonia's membership in the EU has been stable since last November at 67-70 percent of election-age citizens.

Sixty-two percent of election-age citizens and 58 percent of all respondents had heard at least something about the EU constitutional treaty.

Television and newspapers are still regarded as the main sources of information about the treaty. The role of the radio as a source of information has slightly increased.

Forty-four percent of election-age citizens regard the treaty as useful. There are as many of those who are unable to say whether the treaty is beneficial or harmful for Estonia. Four percent of election-age citizens think the treaty is disadvantageous.

Brzezinski and Kissinger on May 9

CNN Late Edition had a short discussion with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger about the upcoming May 9 meeting in Moscow, and President Bush's part in it. From the transcript:

BLITZER: All right. We don't have a lot of time, but I want your thoughts, Dr. Brzezinski, because I know you have some serious thoughts on this subject: 60 years, the end of World War Two. There's going to be a big meeting coming up in Moscow, in Russia. What do you anticipate, the opportunities, the pitfalls of what's about to happen?

BRZEZINSKI: The opportunity is for reconciliation between Russia and its neighbors in Europe, particularly those who were occupied by Stalinism. The risk is that a celebration of the defeat of Hitlerism might become a celebration of the victory of Stalinism.

And just consider who is invited. In addition to the democratic leaders, foremost President Bush among them, standing with him there near the mausoleum for Lenin will be Kim Jong Il of North Korea, whom the president has described as a despot -- he's been invited now; Niyazov, the dictator of Turkmenistan; Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus; and General Jaruzelski, the repressor of solidarity in Poland.

These have been invited as official guests to be with the democratic leaders.

BLITZER: So what your fear is that Russia, that Russians, could get nostalgic for Stalin? Is that what you're saying?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, there is a tendency in Russia in that direction. I don't think it should be internationally sanctioned.

But more importantly, I think what is being missed here is the opportunity for denunciation of Stalinism, reconciliation with the Baltic Republics and the others who harbor grievances for being occupied by Stalin. And I think Putin is missing that, and I think the president runs the risk of being embarrassed in the photo opportunity of the kind I described.

BLITZER: I'll give you very briefly the last word, Dr. Kissinger. You want to weigh in on it?

KISSINGER: I think the fact the president is stopping in Latvia on the way in and in Georgia on the way out symbolizes that there is a new order in Eastern Europe and...

BRZEZINSKI: That's right.

KISSINGER: ... that the Stalinist domination of Eastern Europe is decidedly over. There is that danger, but I think fundamentally the itinerary of the president is more significant than the visits of these relics of the Stalinist system.

BLITZER: We'll leave it right there. Dr. Kissinger and Dr. Brzezinski, thank you, to both of you, very much for joining us. Always an interesting conversation -- we always learn something when both of you are on this program. Thanks very much.

(Hat tip: Marius)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Voices of the Gulag

From Tallinn, Estonia, a correspondent writes:

Mart Niklus was released a few months before the other well-known Estonian prisoner Enn Tarto. Both continued to languish in Soviet camps for years after the beginning of "glasnost" and "perestroika". They had been incarcerated for speaking out for human rights - something that the new Soviet "openness" under Gorbachev supposedly no longer criminalized.

Estonian ex-Gulag prisoners urge world leaders to shun Moscow V-day event

TALLINN, April 13 (AFP) - Two Estonians who were held in labour camps as political prisoners during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic state urged world leaders in a letter published Wednesday to boycott events in Moscow on May 9 to mark the end of World War II.

"Seeking to divert the attention of the world from both past and present crimes, the leaders of the Russian Federation intend to stage on May 9 a grand propaganda event to which leaders of many countries have been invited," the ex-prisoners, Kalju Matik and Mart Niklus, said in their open letter, which was sent to the leaders of five countries.

The letter is addressed to US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, all of whom have accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to the May 9 ceremonies.

The two ex-prisoners said that the only way world leaders could justify their attendance at the event would be by presenting a joint demand that amends be made for crimes committed by the former Soviet Union and, more recently, Russia.

The letter cites atrocities carried out against civilians during the five-decade Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and Poland, including deportations and the mass murder, as well as in present-day Chechnya, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed over the last decade as separatists battle the Russian army.

Matik spent six years in a forced labour camp in Russia and Niklus more than 16 years in Soviet prisons and camps in the 1970s for "anti-Soviet" activities. Niklus was only set free in 1988.

Resolution 128

"Expressing the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian
Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and
condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union
from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania."

House Bill Number: H.CON.RES. 128
Sponsor: Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL)
Last Sponsor Date: Apr. 12, 2005

Official Title as Introduced: 'Expressing the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. '

Sponsor/Co-sponsor(s) 9
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI)
--- Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. David Dreier (R-CA)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. James McGovern (D-MA)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA)
Apr. 12, 2005 Rep. Michael Rogers (R-MI)

Text of Resolution:

House Concurrent Resolution 128
H.CON.RES. 128
Expressing the sense of Congress that the Government of The Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Whereas the incorporation in 1940 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union was an act of aggression carried out against the will of sovereign people;
Whereas the United States was steadfast in its policy of not recognizing the illegal Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania;
Whereas the Russian Federation is the successor state to the Soviet Union;
Whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 [Hitler Stalin Pact of 1939], including its secret protocols, between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union provided the Soviet Union with the opportunity to occupy and annex Estonia,Latvia, and Lithuania;
Whereas the occupation brought countless suffering to the Baltic peoples through terror, killings, and deportations to Siberian concentration camps;
Whereas the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania bravely resisted Soviet
aggression first through armed resistance movements and later through political resistance movements;
Whereas, in 1989, the Congress of Peoples' Deputies of the Soviet Union declared the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of the 1939 void;
Whereas the illegal occupation and annexation of the Baltic countries is one of the largest remaining unacknowledged incidents of oppression in Russian history;
Whereas a declaration of acknowledgment of such incident by the Russian Federation would lead to improved relations between the people of Estonia,Latvia, and Lithuania and the people of Russia, would form the basis for improved relations between the government of the countries and strengthen stability in the region;
Whereas the Russian Federation is to be commended for beginning to acknowledge grievous and regrettable incidents in their history, such as admitting complicity in the massacre of Polish soldiers in the Katyn Forest in 1939;
Whereas the truth is a powerful weapon for healing, forgiving, and reconciliation, but its absence breeds distrust, fear, and hostility;
and Whereas countries that cannot clearly admit their historical mistakes and
make peace with their pasts cannot successfully build their futures:

Now, therefore, be it:
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the consequence of which will be a significant increase in the good will among the affected people and enhanced regional stability

Cosponsors needed for H. Con. Res. 128

The Resolution has been referred to the Subcommittee on Europe of the House International Relations Committee. However, before the Subcommittee can act on HCR 128, we need to have 25 cosponsors.

To Contact Your Congresspersons

You can find who your congresspersons are by going on the Internet and contacting Thomas Guide to Government: You will need to have your 9 digit zip code. You can also send e-mails to Congress from the Thomas Guide.

(via MAK)

Rice in Moscow

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to make a two-day visit to Moscow this week, starting tomorrow (her schedule also includes a stop in Lithuania, for a NATO meeting). Ahead of the visit, Reuters reports that
the former Soviet specialist will visit Moscow to shore up a deal meant to stop anti-American militants from stealing Russian nuclear material while stemming what her predecessor called Russia's democratic backsliding. With many Russians suspicious Washington wants to curb their country's development and influence abroad, Rice said she would stress the benefits for the Russian economy and its relations with the West if it improves its democratic record. "My message there will be that a democratic and vibrant and prosperous Russia is in everyone's interests," said Rice...
Not everyone is hopeful about the outcome of the Moscow meetings. Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is quoted as saying: "Even as relations with Europe are improving, tensions continue in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Russia's retreat from democracy at home and its attempts to influence elections abroad have raised considerable concern..."
(via MAK)

The Last Outpost

Gosia Wozniacka, a student journalist at UC Berkeley, has a moving and vivid column in the San Francisco Chronicle on her personal experience of life and politics in Belarus:
I came to a halt just next to the "Belarus Lives" banner where the riot police were pulling out their batons. And at the very second they launched themselves on the protesters, my microphone stopped working and the camera ran out of film. Empty handed, I faced KGB agents in long, black coats and heard the first skulls crack.

"Come closer," one agent beckoned, grinning, motioning to the melee. Beside me, two police officers had a young boy by his jacket -- one of the several thousand demonstrators disputing a rigged parliamentary election. They were kicking and beating him enthusiastically with nightsticks. The boy looked like a frail, flailing bird with outstretched wings. "Come snap a photo," the agent hissed.

Wait a minute, I told myself: The Soviet Union collapsed 14 years ago. My own country of birth, Poland, had already galloped toward full-fledged democracy, and neighboring Ukraine was just then boiling on the edge of revolution. So why did this poker-faced goon seem so confident? Didn't he know he looked like a bad Hollywood stand-in?

My fists and stomach clenched. Images of militiamen beating up Polish protesters, agents searching my family flat, and tanks rolling through Gdansk, Warsaw, Budapest and Prague flashed through my mind. My father had been interned for six months. We fled communism looking for a better life. But that was in another age, before the Iron Curtain crumbled and wildly celebrating East Germans dismantled the Berlin Wall stone by stone.

Why, I wondered, hadn't Belarus heard the news? This question was already on my mind when I first arrived in the capital, Minsk, to see the land that time forgot, the last petrified outpost of European communism.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Breaking and Entering

In the Moscow Times, Vladimir Kovalev muses on documentary footage showing Soviet soldiers in 1940 opening the gates in the border fence between Estonia and the Soviet Union. It's footage that is unlikely to be shown in Russia today:
One question was stuck in my head as I watched the screen. Would the 60 percent of Russian citizens who, according to a recent public opinion poll, believe that the Baltic states are hostile, be happy about some idiot breaking into their apartment and smashing their belongings? But let's give credit where credit is due. The average Russian's biased approach to the question of invasion is in many cases inspired by the country's leadership, which shouts to the four winds about its wish to be integrated into European society but at home sows the seeds of nationalism.

It is well known that deep down, many people in Eastern Europe still consider Russia a potential enemy. The reason for this is clear: Those who do not admit mistakes are wont to repeat them.

It is unlikely that Russia will repeat the history of occupation today, but the unpleasant memories are still there. Russia, as well as Russian people traveling to Europe, has a certain image abroad because of the Soviet Union's actions in the past. To change things for the better, the Kremlin should review its foreign policy and start presenting the country as a tolerant state that is open to Europe and its history and intentions.

Russia has a long way to go to achieve this, but we have to start moving in this direction some day if we want to become a civilized nation.

(via MAK)

On Not Forgetting

Douglas Davis, author of a new book, Israel in the World: Changing Lives Through Innovation, said: “Some British universities are reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. Let us not forget that the first place Hitler had Jews banned from was the universities.”
From an article in today's London Sunday Times about the proposed AUT boycott of Israeli academics.

The Desertion of Joe

The best and most comprehensive review of Angels in America I've been able to find online is the one by Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books. Mendelsohn pinpoints many of the movie's strengths and virtues, but also lays emphasis on what he sees as a major failing: Kushner's "desertion" of Joe Pitt, the play's (and the movie's) central character:
Of all the sufferers in Angels, only Joe is left alone at the end, the only character who is neither forgiven nor redeemed in a way that conforms to Kushner's sense of "Perestroika" as a "comedy."

Why is this? When you look over the cast of characters in Angels and think about whom we're supposed to sympathize with, and who gets forgiven, you can't help noticing that the most sympathetic, the "best" characters are either ill, or women, or black, or Jewish. Looking over this rather PC list, it occurs to you to wonder whether, in the worldview of this play's creator, the reason why Joe Pitt, who alone of the characters is the most genuinely and interestingly torn, who in fact seeks love the hardest and suffers the most for self-knowledge, can't be forgiven by his creator, and is the only character who goes unredeemed in some way at the end of the play, is that he's a healthy, uninfected, white, Anglo-Saxon, male Christian. This in turn makes you realize how much of the second part of this play depends, from the in-joke of San Francisco as Heaven to the closing scene in which Prior addresses the audience and in a valedictory blessing vapidly declares us all to be "fabulous creatures, each and every one," on a certain set of glib, feel-good, politically correct gay assumptions about the world, assumptions that in the end undercut the ambitions and, occasionally, the pretensions of what has come before. I, for one, would have respected much more a play that invited its presumably liberal, often largely gay or gay-friendly audiences to see as its central and truly tragic figure a white, healthy, Protestant male on the verge of something truly transformative and redeeming: not illness and suffering, but self-knowledge. When all is said and done, Angels itself is guilty of its own kind of reprehensible abandonment: abandonment of the tragic for the merely sentimental, of real intellectual challenges for feel-good nostrums, of hard questions about guilt and responsibility for easy finger-pointing at all the usual suspects.
And, Mendelsohn concludes, this detracts from the work's central message of reaching-out and reconciliation:
Within Angels lurks that great work about America itself, one that could well speak to the heartland, a work about migrations and revelations and about the essential tragedy of American and possibly even human experience, in which one person's liberation —now more than before—often means another's suffering. But the play as we have it is a more limited affair, one meant to reassure not the heartland but the marginal groups whom the play cozily addresses. What, in the end, can the "heartland" be expected to make of the play's real message: that those who come from it are unforgiven, and unforgivable by those of us who reside on the coasts?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Exclusive Angels

I just watched the Mike Nichols television adaptation of Tony Kushner's Angels in America for the first time (I haven't seen or read the original play). This was in some ways a disorienting experience, as the the genuineness of the movie's emotional and human appeal seems to clash irrevocably with so many of the philosophical and ideological concepts that underlie it. The film's "absent God" theology, and its implicit suggestion that Marxism would have worked as a creed for social renewal had not those nasty prelapsarians in the Kremlin subverted its original aims, seem rooted in an earlier age - and although Ethel Rosenberg emerges strongly as a character in the plot, the actual implications of her role are never clearly drawn, or drawn at all in any meaningful way. As a disquisition on AIDS and the domestic problems of America in the mid-1980s, the film is probably unique and without rivals. So powerful are its action and rhetoric that the viewer begins to expect it to carry out its apparent intention of revealing a universal message to the world. And yet, with the exception of some oblique references to the now almost forgotten era of Gorbachev and "perestroika" (the film's second part bears this as its title), and some unimaginative commentary, right at the end, about the aftermath of the events of 1989-90, it somehow manages to ignore the rest of the world - and in particular the realities of the world of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe - altogether. For a work that claims to be rooted in principles that are "dialogic and dialectic", that seems strange.