Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ukraine: the Danger at the Top

In EDM, Vladimir Socor discusses the crisis of Ukraine's state institutions:
The Kremlin's "gas attack" on Ukraine exploited an ongoing crisis of state institutions in that country and exacerbated the crisis almost to the point of meltdown. This situation undermines the country's and its president's capacity to resist Moscow's emerging strategy to recapture key economic and political positions in Ukraine, one year after the Orange Revolution.

The signing of the January 4 gas agreement with Russia illustrated the dangers stemming from the growing weakness of Ukraine's state institutions. Basically, just two individuals, Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Naftohaz Ukrainy chairman Oleksiy Ivchenko, negotiated and signed a dubious agreement in complete secrecy in Moscow, without the support of experts from government agencies that are traditionally involved in such negotiations, without consultation with the cabinet of ministers, and without public accountability even after the highly controversial agreement had been signed. Their briefings afterward to the media proved misleading, and they then declined to testify to the parliament, in effect setting up Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov to take the fall. (Yekhanurov initially also dissembled on the gas agreement, but eventually distanced himself from it.) Meanwhile, President Viktor Yushchenko continues describing the gas agreement as an unqualified success even crediting Russian President Vladimir Putin for contributing to the purported success despite massive domestic and international criticism of key parts of the agreement.

The gas agreement provided the parliament with the political excuse to exercise its right to dismiss the government, although the parliament itself will only have the constitutional right to install another government after the March elections. Yushchenko disputes the legal validity of the parliament's no confidence vote and insists that the government has not been reduced to "acting" status, but that it continues to operate with full authority. Nevertheless, the president and government are looking for legal avenues to establish that the government has the standing required for signing international agreements. A determination on that issue cannot be reached, however, because Ukraine does not have an operating Constitutional Court. The parliament and the president are accusing each other over failures to fill and swear in their respective quotas of seats on the Court. Each side fears that the other might use the Constitutional Court as a tool in the conflict between president and parliament over implementation of constitutional reforms.

By all accounts, the president is attempting to renege on his December 2004 agreements with parliament on constitutional reform that would transfer certain presidential powers to the parliament and government. Yushchenko now claims that the procedure of reaching those agreements was hidden from the public and that the substance of the constitutional reforms was not debated or understood prior to their adoption by parliament. Such claims are factually unsustainable. The procedure was highly publicized at the time; the parliament held detailed debates before passing the constitutional reforms; and the pro-presidential bloc Our Ukraine voted for the reforms as well.

Because of his differences with the majority of deputies over the no confidence vote in the government and the constitutional reforms, Yushchenko has launched a war of words on the parliament. He has recently been describing the majorities that oppose him on those issues as "destabilizers," "anti-state," "destructive," "fifth column," "parasitical"; he describes their decisions as "illegal," "anti-people," and the parliament's composition itself as unrepresentative ("lost the people's ideological support"). The president warns that he would call a popular referendum (either before or after the upcoming parliamentary elections) in order to cancel the constitutional reforms. This course, if continued, would cause Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine bloc to lose their remaining or potential allies in this parliament and that to be elected in March. On a fundamental level, it reflects inadequate understanding of political and state institutions as such.

While that inadequacy seems common to a wide range of political forces and interest groups in Ukraine and beyond, it becomes all the more debilitating when it afflicts the top level of the executive branch.

Immediately after the Orange victory, de facto parallel governments emerged in the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) and the Presidential staff, in addition to the constitutionally empowered cabinet of ministers. One year later, laws have yet to be adopted on the functioning of those institutions. After NSDC's first head, Petro Poroshenko, had vastly exceeded his prerogatives, Poroshenko's successor, Anatoly Kinakh, does so selectively on key issues. During the gas crisis, for example, Kinakh publicly proposed entrusting the management of Ukraine's gas transit pipeline system to Russia. Simultaneously he declared that Ukraine would no longer tolerate infringements of its national sovereignty, such as giving up lucrative contracts for its turbines (an allusion to Washington's earlier demand that Ukraine abandon the turbine contract for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant). Both of Yushchenko's appointees as NSDC heads have no background in national security, and both have played the Russia card while in that post. Despite such dysfunctionalities, the NSDC seized a number of portfolios from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, for a year after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine had no ambassador in Washington and other key capitals.

In sum, Ukraine is traversing an institutional and a constitutional crisis, as well as a deficit of competence at the top. Against this backdrop, Yushchenko's unofficial meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 11 in Astana initiated a potentially wide-ranging rapprochement. An embattled Yushchenko feels that he needs that relationship to shore up his presidency and improve his bloc's electoral prospects. For their part, influential Kremlin advisers calculate that a weakened and isolated Ukrainian president might be used, particularly in the post-election period. Risky under any circumstances, a personal rapprochement with the Kremlin could prove especially dangerous for Yushchenko to undertake without the backing of effective democratic institutions and a functioning government.

(Survey based on Ukrainian media coverage of the political crisis, January 2006; see EDM, January 12, 25)

Carnegie Hall, May 2, 1912

The directors of the Music School Settlement were extremely pleased with the evening, both because it resulted in raising nearly $5,000 for the Harlem school, and because the orchestra performed so well. "Don't you worry," Europe had assured Ms. Curtis before the concert, "once those fellows hear that music and catch its swing they'll eat it right up." According to her, they did just that. "'Barbaric'!, one college-bred Negro called the Clef Club," she recalled. "'Barbaric!', we exclaimed in astonished admiration. That an orchestra of such power, freshness, vitality and originality could have remained so long undiscovered in novelty-hunting New York, was a silent and reproachful comment on the isolation of the `Negro quarter."' The large orchestra with its sections of banjos, mandolins, guitars, strings, and percussion, that entirely filled the stage, produced an "absolutely distinctive sound, a 'tang' like the flavor of pine-apple amid other fruits." To David Mannes, the orchestra's sound was "very imposing and seductively rhythmic," and yet the great "surprise" was "the beautiful, soft sound of this strange conglomeration of unassorted instruments." "Its only prototype in tone," he thought, was "the Russian balalaika orchestra." As for the leader, Mannes described Europe as "an amazingly inspiring conductor. Of a statuesquely powerful build, he moved with simple and modest grace, always dominating this strange assemblage before him with quiet control."

Mannes was impressed by the simultaneous singing as well as playing of orchestra members, who sometimes sang in a different clef or pitch than that of the instruments they played. There were also the fourteen upright pianos, placed back to back and played by fourteen of the best ragtime players in town, adding a "truly beautiful, rich and unusual" color to the overall sound. Two aspects of the Clef Club Orchestra's use of the piano are worth noting. First, the instruments, which Elbridge Adams - an official of the American Piano Company - provided as Europe had requested, were not the concert grands that most Carnegie Hall patrons were used to hearing; rather, they were the small uprights of the type that so many of the Clef Club musicians played in their regular jobs as entertainers in the hotels and clubs. The choice was deliberate. Second, the pianos were treated as orchestral instruments, as contributors to the overall sound and not employed in their more familiar role as solo instruments or as single voices in a trio or quintet. As such, Natalie Curtis thought them particularly effective, "weaving a sonorous background of tremolos, deepening with tone-values the roll of the kettledrums, sharpening percussion effects with varieties of pitch, emphasizing rhythmic outline, coloring the accents, blending strings, brass, plectrum and drums into a vibrant unity of sound - a link between them all."
From A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe, by Reid Badger, Oxford, 1995.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Clef Club, 1910

The idea for an organization devoted to furthering the professional interests of black popular musicians, singers, and dancers in New York City, given the rising demand for their services downtown, proved a timely and popular one. By April 28, when Lester Walton announced in his column in the Age that a new organization, composed of "well-known musicians and singers of Greater New York, the majority of whom play and sing in the leading hotels and cafes of New York City and provide entertainment for the smart set" had been formed, membership had already grown to more than 135. Among the "well-known musicians and singers" were current or future band leaders Joe Jordan, Ford Dabney, Egbert Thompson, and Arthur "Happy" Rhone; singers Tom Bethel, Henry Creamer, and George Walker, Jr.; and pianists Clarence Williams, Irving "Kid Sneeze" Williams, and John Europe (Jim's older brother). The majority of the original members of the Clef Club, however, played one or several of the stringed instruments then popular in the hotels and nightclubs. Among these were musicians trained in the standard instruments drawn from the European symphonic tradition (violins, celli, violas, and double basses), but the vast majority were players of instruments then associated with American minstrelsy and eastern European and Mediterranean folk music: banjos, mandolins, bandoris (a cross between the banjo and the mandolin), and harp guitars - an awkward double-necked hybrid of an instrument. The most significant technical aspect of the latter instruments is that they must be plucked or strummed, rather than bowed, in order to be played, and their sound, therefore, has a strong percussive, or rhythmic, quality. It is interesting that while there were a few true percussionists (timpani and trap drum players, the latter having recently emerged from the marching band, but considered at the time little more than a vaudeville novelty), there appear to have been no woodwind or brass players in the original Clef Club.
From A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe, by Reid Badger, Oxford, 1995.

Dmitrievsky Alert

Received from Defender Alert Network:

Dear Friend,

On February 3, a Russian court will decide whether human rights activist Stanislav Dmitrievsky committed a crime when he published articles calling for peace in Chechnya.

If he is convicted, not only could he face up to five years in prison, but a dangerous precedent will be set for all Russians who exercise their right to question and criticize government policies.

This is a critical moment in Russia as a conviction would have a chilling effect on open public debate nationwide.

Please support Mr. Dmitrievsky and take a stand against the further erosion of human rights in Russia by going to the URL below:


See also:

Support Stanislav Dmitrievsky!

P is for Pipelines

In European Voice (paid sub required), Edward Lucas has an "A-Zzzzzzzzz guide to European gas wars":

It sounds boring, but it could hardly be more important. So here's a quick guide to the gas wars.

A is for Armenia: a Russian ally trying to break ranks and buy gas from neighbouring Iran - busting the Russian gas monopoly. Will Russia allow it?

B is for the Baltic gas pipeline, Russia's expensive new plan which is aimed at keeping Western Europe hooked on its gas, while bypassing former captive nations like Poland and Ukraine.

C is for China. Russia's planned pipelines to China will create a choice of customers, while European countries will have only a monopoly supplier. Worried? You should be.

D is for diversification. If you buy your gas from just one source (eg Russia), you are a hostage. Go figure.

E is for "Energy Security", which means paying more for energy now in order to guarantee secure supplies later. A nice idea, with few takers F is for France: the country that has cleverly stuck to nuclear power, giving it an enviable dose of energy security.

G is for Georgia, which is now facing a de facto energy blockade after "terrorists" blew up the gas pipeline from Russia. Georgia earlier refused to sell its transit pipeline to Russia.

H is for Hungary, which earlier also had a nasty shock: despite its left-wing government's Russia-friendly policies, it still suffered a nasty hiccup in its gas supplies in the new year.

I is for intermediary companies that broker Russian gas sales to the former empire, such as the infamous, murkily owned, Rosukrenergo. No honest company needs these. When you see or smell one, run fast.

J is for Japan, which loves LNG: diversification is so much easier if you are rich.

K is for Khantsy (and Mantsy) the miserably treated and soon to be extinct ethnic minority, related to the Hungarians, who are the indigenous people in Russia's gas-rich western Siberia. None of the petro-roubles goes to them.

L is for Liquefied Natural Gas, available by the tanker-load from lots of different countries, creating elasticity, clarity and choice.

M is for Moldova, the most shamefully ignored victim of Russia's gas war. Russia is trying to grab its gas company.

N is for Norway, a nice safe source of Western gas, from which many Poles now wish they'd built a planned pipeline five years ago.

O is for Oman, another nice safe, plentiful faraway source of LNG.

P is for pipelines. They come from Russia, destroy competition and create monopolies and corruption. Avoid them if possible (see LNG)

Q is for Qatar, another source of LNG.

R is for renewable energy. Like energy security, a nice idea with no takers at the current price.

S is for Slovakia, where Russia has gobbled up the local gas pipelines.

T is for Turkmenbashi, the dictator of Turkmenistan. If he would agree, a pipeline across the Caspian Sea and Caucasus would solve all our problems. Our pigs would fly too.

U is for Ukraine, whose energy deal with Russia is unravelling already.

V is for Vladimir Putin, the man who has unleashed, albeit clumsily, Russia's energy weapon.

W is for weather - Russia's recent feeble excuse for a dip in supplies to its European customers.

X is for xenophobia (as in Russia's punishment of its former satellites).

Y is for Yamal, the Russian pipeline through Poland. Russia ran a telecoms cable along it - without informing the Polish authorities.

Z is for Zzzzzzzzz, the sound that you get once you start talking about dull but vital subjects like gas...
(via the EdwardLucas email list)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Double Trouble

Writing in the UK's Sunday Times about a leaked secret document which reveals that MI5 has discovered almost nothing about the worst terrorist attack against Britain despite months of investigation, David Leppard points out that
The leaking of the report is a further embarrassment for Britain’s secret services. At the same time as MI5 has failed to make any significant breakthrough in the London bombings inquiry, the spying efforts of MI6 in Moscow blew up in its face last week.

Skinny White Guys

In the Guardian, Hannah Pool wonders if the UK's black music scene is dead?
Few record company executives (predominantly white middle-class men) understand the current black British underground scene. Even though they might see the financial potential of a new signing, they don't necessarily know what to do with them. "Black artists are the first to go if there is a problem," says Kwaku, of the Black Music Congress, a non-profit organisation which is holding a debate next Saturday at London's City University entitled Should British Black Music Shut Up Shop?, "so many of them are dropped after the first album, the first single even. There is no development, and it is not because there is no talent. There is a lot of talent, but there needs to be sustainability."

Yes, there has been the relative success of Dizzee Rascal, Estelle and, more recently, Kano and Sway, but even they haven't truly hit the big time.

"Kids are doing music on estates, on the street, in their bedrooms, but they are not being taken seriously," says Estelle. "There is not enough faith in black music at a high level. Record company executives, labels and artists are not taking the time to go and see what kids are producing. They don't go to the estates, they don't have that much of a clue."

And when the major labels do sign black British artists, they don't always get it right, or they end up signing acts that either aren't good enough or aren't ready. Or they sign underground white acts such as the Streets or Lady Sovereign, which would be fine if they signed plenty of black artists, too. "They get excited and complacent at the same time, so they think we are all the same," says Estelle. "They lump us all together. I am a black British female artist, so I must be like Ms Dynamite, I must be like Shystie, I must be like Jamelia, but we're all different."

The last boom for black British music was when the UK garage scene exploded at the turn of the millennium. But it didn't make enough money quickly enough, so the A&R men went elsewhere. They went back to what was familiar to them, to the music that reminded them of their youth, the stuff they knew how to sell, their spiritual home: indie music. So, too, have the hordes of white, male, middle-class music journalists, the radio station bosses and, well, pretty much everyone else. You can practically hear their relief to be back on home turf with every breathless Doherty feature.
The whole article is worth reading, both for the light it sheds on the current music scene, and for the insight it gives into some of the less encouraging directions in which British society is currently developing.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Rap for Mozart

Leopoldo, who is my only Estonian-Latin-American correspondent, has sent an item from the Agencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Comunicación about a "rap for Mozart", which looks promising, as it involves the Mexican conductor Sergio Cárdenas (who is also a notable translator of Rilke's poetry), the Mexican poet Dyma Ezban, and no fewer than 12 virtuoso cellists! It is to be followed later in the year by a Rap for Beethoven.
Músico mexicano de origen presbiteriano sorprende al mundo con un rap para Mozart

MÉXICO, Ene. 27 (ALC). "The Flower is a Key", un rap para Mozart, es una obra del director de orquesta mexicano Sergio Cárdenas, quien dista mucho de ser un rapero, pero que alcanzó un gran éxito precisamente con este tema que combina el pegajoso ritmo del rap con la música clásica de uno de los mayores genios musicales del mundo.

Cárdenas, nativo de Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, quien empezó a trabajar el tema a solicitud de un grupo de violonchelistas de la Filarmónica de Berlín, hizo sus estudios iniciales de música en el Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano de México, y los continuó en Princeton (Estados Unidos) y en Europa.

Ha dirigido orquestas en Austria (entre ellas la Mozarteum, de Salzburgo), Alemania, Egipto y México (fue director de la Sinfónica Nacional) y es profesor de la Escuela Nacional de Música de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Es autor de los libros "Estaciones en la música" (1999) y "Un rap para Mozart" (2003), donde reunió textos que versan sobre música y poesía. Además, es un notable traductor de poesía alemana, especialmente de Rainer Rilke, uno de los mayores autores del siglo XX.

El poeta mexicano Dyma Ezban (seudónimo), de la ciudad de León, Guanajuato, aportó al proyecto del rap un poema que había escrito por el bicentenario de la muerte de Mozart. Este viernes el mundo recuerda los 250 años del nacimiento del músico genial.

La pieza fue editada en inglés el año 2002 por la compañía EMI Classics como parte de una retrospectiva de la música norteamericana , con música de Broadway, de los espirituales negros y el rap de Mozart.

"En el proceso de composición, traté de captar el espíritu mozartiano utilizando varios giros melódicos y armónicos característicos de Mozart vertiéndolos en un lenguaje moderno o más contemporáneo y en los ritmos del hip hop que caracteriza al rap", comenta Cárdenas en una entrevista para BBC Mundo.

El "Rap para Mozart" ha tenido tanto éxito que actualmente el músico mexicano prepara una versión sinfónica con 12 virtuosos violonchelistas para estrenarlo el próximo 8 de febrero en la Universidad de Bonn, Alemania.

Cárdenas anuncia igualmente un rap para Ludwig van Beethoven que presentará en octubre de este año en el Festival Internacional Cervantino en la ciudad de Guanajuato, México. (051/2006/presb/art/alc).
Agencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Comunicación
Apartado postal 14-225 Lima 14 Perú
Tel. (51 1) 242-7312 - Telefax (51 1) 446-5219
Correo-e: director@alcnoticias.org
http://www.alcnoticias.org - http://www.alcpress.org

Rescue Chechnya

Received via the chechnya-sl email list:
Canadian Committee For Peace In Chechnya

Invitation to Join

A genocidal war has been conducted by Russia against Chechnya for over a decade. 200,000-300,000 civilians have been killed with as many displaced. A pre-war population of over a million has been reduced to 400,000.The destruction inflicted by the Russian forces on Grozny and many of Chechnya's main towns and villages is only comparable to that inflicted on Stalingrad or Dresden in the Second World War.

Leading Human Rights organizations (e.g. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International etc.) have documented rampant human rights abuses and disappearances of ordinary Chechen men, women and children that are happening on a near daily basis.

The Canadian Committee For Peace In Chechnya is a group dedicated to highlighting the plight of Chechnya and the Chechen people.

We combine three broad areas of action:

- raising awareness about the plight of Chechens

- addressing the legal, material and educational needs of Chechens anywhere
through cooperating with NGOs and developing our own projects,

- helping the growing Chechen Diaspora become more organized and effective,
strengthen Chechen culture

If you are interested in learning more about our organization, please go to our website (www.rescuechechnya.com). We are looking forward to hearing from you, and hope that some of you will decide to get involved.

Contact Email : chechnya.relief@gmail.com

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Crimes of Communism

In EDM, Vladimir Socor gives a full account of the struggle of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) - against determined Russian government pressure - to gain approval for a a report calling for "International Condemnation of the Crimes of Communist Regimes." The report condemns both the ideology and the crimes of international communism, and has now been voted on - with a simple majority in favour of approval. Socor, noting that such a move would be unthinkable at the OSCE, which "for all its claims to speak for 'values' -- is structurally dependent on Russia and makes a virtue out of the necessity named 'consensus'," provides the background:
A different kind of Russian problem emerged in the debates on the anti-communism resolution at PACE: Russia's delegation enlisted the support of a sizeable contingent of left-leaning European Socialists, hardline leftists, and residual communists to fight the report. In negotiations prior to the vote, this bloc managed to delete or dilute some formulations in the report, even expunging direct references to the Soviet Union. Even so, the Russian delegation, along with allies on the left, tried to kill the document altogether by returning it to PACE's Political Committee for further revisions. That Committee began work on the report in December 2003, initially under the Dutch Christian-Democrat Rene van der Linden (currently the president of PACE) and then under the Swedish parliamentarian Goran Lindblad, both affiliated with the European People's Party in the Assembly. Ultimately, the PACE resolution to approve the report passed narrowly with 81 in favor, 70 opposed, and some members not voting.

The report notes that the totalitarian communist regimes formerly in power in Central and Eastern Europe, and those still ruling elsewhere, were responsible for mass-scale crimes and suppression of human rights. Without explicitly equating Communism and Nazism, the report calls for condemning these totalitarian ideologies. It calls on all existing communist parties to review critically their own past and to acknowledge and condemn the horrors perpetrated by communist regimes. It urges all post-communist parties and governments in formerly communist-ruled countries to encourage the study of the historical record of communist regimes, ensure that their crimes are appropriately reflected in school textbooks, and institute national days for commemoration of the victims of communist regimes. The report recommends that the Council create a working group of experts to process information on the crimes of communist regimes.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee and head of Russia's delegation to PACE, led the fight against the report. Kosachev claimed that not all communist regimes were criminal or violent, though he did not clarify how he categorized the Soviet Union in that regard. "Not everything that's red is blood, some of it may be tomato juice, Mr. Lindblad" -- he lashed out at the rapporteur during the official debate (Interfax, January 25). Moreover, Kosachev charged that the report seeks to assign to the USSR a share of the responsibility for the Second World War and the division of Europe. Finally, he contended that Communist ideology could not be grouped together with Nazi ideology under the category of "totalitarian." Implicitly excusing the former, Kosachev insisted that the report must not place those two ideologies on the same footing.

In Moscow, the Kremlin-linked political consultant Sergei Markov criticized the PACE report in a similar vein. He termed the document a "blow struck against Russia as successor to the communist Soviet Union." Moreover, according to Markov, PACE is "attempting to prop up the undemocratic regimes in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Georgia, the legitimacy of which rests on anti-communism" (Interfax, January 25).

It would be unthinkable for German officials to describe condemnations of Nazism as blows struck against today's Germany or to feel insulted by the pairing of Nazism with Communism as totalitarian ideologies. Yet this type of attitudes on the part of Russian officials seems to be regarded as normal by many European Socialists, judging by PACE's vote.

Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov seconded Kosachev's efforts in Strasbourg, though using a different line of argument by which he attempted to vindicate communism outright. "Latin America is turning Red," Zyuganov exulted in this context, alluding to Venezuela and Bolivia. The other Russian delegates to PACE had to speak more cautiously than this. But, while the PACE debate was in progress, Russian energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil were rushing to Venezuela and Bolivia with Kremlin-approved project offers.

(Interfax, January 20, 23-25; Radio France Internationale, January 21; Ekho Moskvy, January 24)


Estland has some links to the newly revamped website of Estonian Television, where it's possible to watch newsclips of Estonian and world events in the Estonian language - great for those of us who are trying to keep our knowledge of the language in some kind of developing state. Among other things, in addition to a 24-hour Mozart festival today, there are recent items on the ice situation in the Baltic near the island of Saaremaa, and a car that caught fire on a Tallinn highway - but international news is also prominently featured. There are also text versions of the video commentaries - a doubly useful feature for those studying the language.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ukraine: The Geopolitical Context

In a fascinating essay in Maidan, Mykola Malukha examines the concepts relating to Ukraine in Russia's geopolitical realm. He studies the history of Russia's attitudes towards Ukraine, from the 18th century onward, and shows how the threat of the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state has tended to eat at Russia's geostrategic self-confidence, especially within the context of Russian imperial ambitions. Bismarck said that "Russia could be undermined only if Ukraine was taken away from it."

As an example of present-day Russian nationalist thinking on the subject, Malukha cites a recent (1996) paper by Mikhail Smolin, a Russian political analyst who espouses the "classical" world view principles currently endorsed by the Kremlin. The paper contains the following paragraphs:
"The greatest domestic national problem for Russians as of today should be considered the 'Ukrainian' question. The lack of resolution of this issue could lead to a real tragedy the scale of which would be difficult to imagine. Any variants are possible, including even a war along the lines of that in Yugoslavia. If Russian society and the State do not act in response to the emergence on Little Russian territory of a Ukrainian State, and do not try to expose the Russo-phobic myths which are being assiduously inculcated in Ukrainian society and in the minds of Little Russians living on Russian territory, then in a very short space of time our Motherland will possibly come up against unstoppable problems presented by a Ukrainian State which has joined NATO and is ready for war with Russian as a part of any coalitions.

"'Ukrainism' which is in confrontation with the Orthodox Church, with Russian statehood and with the unity of the Russian people must be extracted from the Russian body as one extracts a harmful virus, freeing us from that ideological fog which prevents many Russians from seeing the greatest harm from the 'Ukrainian movement'. Nationally-minded Russian people, must, for the sake of the future Russian people, under no circumstances recognize the right to exist of a state of 'Ukraine', of a 'Ukrainian people' and a 'Ukrainian language'. History knows neither the first, nor the second nor the third of these – they do not exist. They are fetishes created by the ideology of our enemies."

Osama's Vietnam Syndrome

Osama's Vietnam Syndrome

By George Friedman

Osama bin Laden has broken his long silence: An audiotape containing his latest statement was delivered to and broadcast by Al Jazeera on Jan. 19. The United States has said that the tape appears to be authentic, and there has been ample time for al Qaeda to have denied its authenticity if it were fake. That hasn't happened, so it appears reasonable to assume that this is, in fact, an authoritative statement by the head of al Qaeda.

This obviously puts to rest the question of whether bin Laden is still alive. The tape apparently was recorded after Nov. 22, 2005, since bin Laden discusses the widely circulated story that U.S. President George W. Bush had suggested to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Al Jazeera's headquarters should be bombed. That story first appeared in the press on Nov. 22. While the tape theoretically could have been made anytime between Nov. 22 and Jan. 19, logic and precedent dictate that it would have been recorded some time before it was aired. It generally takes -- and has always taken -- at least a week, and often longer, for messages from bin Laden to reach broadcast stage. Security requires a slow and tortuous journey, lest the tape be tracked back to bin Laden's location. So we would guess that the tape was not made much after Jan. 1.

If we were to guess -- and this is pure guess -- we would argue that the tape was made after Dec. 15, 2005. Dec. 15 was the date of the election in Iraq. That election drew extensive participation by the Sunni population and posed a serious crisis for the jihadists in Iraq. It raised the real possibility that a substantial portion of the Sunnis would turn against the jihadists, since they would now have a role to play in the government. There were also serious discussions within the Muslim world, and in the United States, as to whether al Qaeda remained functional and whether bin Laden -- who hadn't been seen or heard from since December 2004 -- was still alive. The Dec. 15 date represented a crisis for al Qaeda, and it was logical that bin Laden would be willing to face the security risk involved with making and transporting a tape. Therefore, not that this is critical, but we would guess the tape was made sometime between Dec. 16 and the first week of January.

The recording reveals two things about bin Laden.

First, he is still in touch with the world. He knows what is going on in American politics, he has access to American books -- he mentions one book by name -- and he is aware of the state of operations in Iraq. The level of detail varies, but it is unlikely that he is stuck in a cave somewhere. Unless there are platoons of couriers bringing reports to him -- something that would violate all rules of security -- it would appear that bin Laden is able to access satellite television and possibly the Internet. Wherever he is, there is electricity and some degree of connectivity to the world. He's getting his news from somewhere.

Second, and much more important, bin Laden is aware of the state of the war and has decided that he needs to change tactics somewhat. He acknowledges the possibility of al Qaeda's defeat, which is not like the old bin Laden. On the tape, according to a translation made by The Associated Press, he says:

"Finally, I say that war will go either in our favor or yours. If it is the former, it means your loss and your shame forever, and it is headed in this course. If it is the latter, read history! We are people who do not stand for injustice and we will seek revenge all our lives. The nights and days will not pass without us taking vengeance like Sept. 11, God permitting."

At this juncture, he is separating the war from the attacks of Sept. 11. He is open to the possibility that the war might be lost. However, acts of revenge -- like the Sept. 11 attacks -- will continue. Bin Laden therefore is referring to Sept. 11 as an operation other than war.

In referring to the true war, he specifically cites Iraq and Afghanistan. About those, he speaks -- at the beginning of his recording -- with his usual bravado: "The war in Iraq is boiling up without end and the operations in Afghanistan are continuing in our favor." Thus, there is a disconnect between this assertion that the war continues and that the trends favor al Qaeda, and the assertion that the war might go either way. Two things are clear: First, bin Laden increasingly means, by "war," operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; and second, he views Sept. 11-type operations not as part of the war, but as an alternative to war.

These points are interesting. But what is fascinating and vital is his turn to Vietnam as a mode of analysis and strategy. Bin Laden refers to the U.S. Army as the "Vietnam butcher." This indicates that he has been thinking about Vietnam, but that thinking becomes clearer in the way he addresses the problems and opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First, he focuses on anti-war sentiment in the United States:

"But I plan to speak about the repeated errors your President Bush has committed in comments on the results of your polls that show an overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. But he has opposed this wish and said that withdrawing troops sends the wrong message to opponents, that it is better to fight them on their land than their fighting us on our land."

Bin Laden clearly knows about the polling trends in the United States and obviously knows that Bush has slipped substantially in opinion polls. He overstates the numbers when he says that the overwhelming majority want withdrawal -- it is a majority, but far from overwhelming -- but he clearly is speaking to the anti-war movement in the United States.

He is also speaking to troops in Iraq, saying: "Pentagon figures show the number of your dead and wounded is increasing not to mention the massive material losses, the destruction of the soldiers' morale there and the rise in cases of suicide among them." Bin Laden is portraying the U.S. Army in Iraq as being in fairly desperate straits, while the Pentagon remains indifferent.

Analytically, he views the condition of the United States as if it were Vietnam. Bin Laden is asserting that there is massive sentiment against the war and that Bush, like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, is resisting that movement and resisting withdrawal. He is portraying the Army in Iraq as if it were the Army in Vietnam, late in that war. The truth or falsehood of the view is not material here -- nor should his statements be taken as propaganda directed at the American public. Bin Laden is not unsophisticated. He is not trying to persuade the American public to oppose the war. His view is that the polls show that Bush's political base has collapsed, along with morale in the U.S. Army.

Bin Laden then pulls a maneuver right out of Ho Chi Minh's playbook, saying:

"We don't mind offering you a long-term truce on fair conditions that we adhere to. We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war. There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America who have supported Bush's election campaign with billions of dollars -- which lets us understand the insistence by Bush and his gang to carry on with war. If you are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you."

If there is a massive anti-war movement in the United States and if the Army is weary of war, then the next logical move is to offer negotiations toward a cease-fire. Bin Laden completely understands that Bush would reject that offer. His hope is that the offer of a truce would further split the United States -- undermining Bush's political power even more and giving ammunition to those who want an end to the war. "If you are sincere in your desire for peace and security," he says, "we have answered you."

During the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese introduced the idea of a negotiated settlement in large part because they wanted to provide a rational basis for the anti-war movement. They understood that there would be only a tiny pro-Hanoi movement in the United States. They also understood that as the war dragged on and victory became less visible, support would grow for a negotiated settlement as the only reasonable outcome. The view of the pro-war faction -- that the offers of peace talks did not provide any basis for a real settlement but were a cover for a North Vietnamese victory -- was opposed by those who argued that settlement and withdrawal were the only rational actions for the United States in an unwinnable war.

Wherever he is, bin Laden has done a lot of thinking, and he apparently has come to think of himself as Ho Chi Minh. From his viewpoint, Bush, like Johnson, is resisting a wave of anti-war sentiment. The Army is tired. An offer of a long-term, honorable truce would build up the anti-war faction. Add to that the promise that even if the United States wins the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, al Qaeda will continue to stage Sept. 11-type attacks, and you have an added incentive for a negotiated settlement.

Bin Laden may be deluding himself, but he smells serious political problems for Bush in the United States and a movement that wants to withdraw forces in return for a truce that guarantees no further attacks on the American public. That is the heart of his message. He is prepared to negotiate a truce. He believes that this will fuel anti-war sentiment today, just as the offer of negotiations fueled anti-war sentiment in the 1960s. And if that truce is agreed to, he believes that he can reshape the Islamic world today much as North Vietnam reshaped Indochina.

What is most clever in this move is that it doesn't require actual negotiations. If Bush starts to draw down forces in Iraq, bin Laden can declare a truce and imply in the Muslim world that he compelled the United States to capitulate. He is trying to trap Bush in two ways. If there isn't a drawdown, Bush would face an anti-war movement calling for truce with al Qaeda. And if there is a drawdown, Bush would face assertions that he is implicitly or secretly agreeing to the truce that bin Laden proposed.

Bin Laden is not Ho Chi Minh. No one will call him "Uncle Osama" or liken him to George Washington, as they did Ho. It is difficult to imagine that anyone -- pro- or anti-war -- in the United States would think seriously of negotiating with him. Even the Europeans, who have never seen an offer of negotiation they didn't like, took a pass when it came to bin Laden. Nevertheless, as a glimpse into bin Laden's strategic thinking, the view is fascinating. Above all, there is this parallel: The most creative diplomacy of the North Vietnamese followed their defeat in the Tet Offensive. The moment that bin Laden's strategic position in Iraq (but not Afghanistan) is at its weakest -- following the Dec. 15 elections -- is the moment he offers a truce.


Send questions or comments on this article to analysis@stratfor.com.

Human Rights First


Human Rights First Condemns False Accusations against Russian Human Rights Organizations

NEW YORK – The Russian government has publicly defamed four well-respected human rights organizations by accusing them of collecting funds from the British secret service. The organizations are the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, the Eurasia Foundation, and the Nizhny-Novgorod-based Committee against Torture. All of the organizations have denied the accusations, pointing out that funds they have received from the British government have come through legal, transparent channels. Ludmilla Alexeeva, chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a renowned Soviet era dissident and recipient of Human Rights First’s 2005 human rights award, characterized the allegations made in a television documentary as “a sad slander campaign against human rights defenders.” She has demanded an apology from the government.

“The attack on these human rights organizations are part of an escalating government campaign against independent civil society taking place in Russia today,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “If the government forces these organizations to close Russia will recede further into the type of severe repression associated with the Soviet Union.”

Accusations such as the ones made this week could provide the government with justification to close down these vital organizations under a law governing non-governmental organizations that was signed into effect by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Igor Kolyapin, chairperson of the Committee against Torture, and Yuri Dzhibladze, director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, expressed concerns that the accusations form part of a coordinated government attack on human rights organizations. The accusations are also accompanied by the prosecution under counter-extremism laws of human rights activist Stanislav Dmitrievsky, director of the Nizhny-Novgorod Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. The verdict in this case is expected on February 3, 2006. If he is convicted, it too will have a chilling effect on the activities of human rights defenders in Russia.

Human Rights First is a leading human rights advocacy organization based in New York City and Washington, DC. Since 1978, we have worked in the U.S. and abroad to create a secure and humane world -advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law. All of our activities are supported by private contributions. We accept no government funds. Visit our web site: www.humanrightsfirst.org

Human Rights First 333 Seventh Ave., 13th Flr, New York, NY 10001 Tel: (212) 845-5200 Fax: (212) 845-5299 www.humanrightsfirst.org

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Support Stanislav Dmitrievsky!

You can sign the petition at the following address:


Support Stanislav Dmitrievsky!

Just a decade ago, journalists in Russia were heard and listened to. Their reports and opinions were waited for and discussed. There was demand for independent information. Journalists and human rights activists had real influence on the authorities (among other things,they did a lot to end the first war in Chechnya).

In the several years, the words "Russian journalism" are perceived differently as journalism is becoming increasingly "nationalized," to be more exact, increasingly state-controlled. The number of sources of information that are independent of the state propaganda is decreasing. Television and radio are mostly state-run and only some newspapers maintain independent views and are not subjected to censorship.

The most controlled information is information coming from the Chechen Republic, where, despite official reports, people still get killed and go missing. One of the few independent and alternative sources of information on the events taking place in Chechnya is the newspaper Pravo-Zashchita, which was founded by the public association Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society (NOPCh).

On September 2, 2005, the Nizhny Novgorod prosecutor's office charged the paper's editor-in-chief Stanislav Dmitrievsky with crimes envisioned by Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code ("fanning ethnic, racial or religious feud in combination with abuse of office"). Dmitriyevsky is facing three to five years in prison if convicted of the charges.

The criminal case against the journalist was opened in January 2005 based on the publication in Pravo-Zashchita of addresses made by Chechen separatist leaders Akhmed Zakayev and Aslan Maskhadov, which contained calls for a peaceful settlement of the Russian-Chechen conflict. Those publications sharply criticized the Russian government, the Russian army, and personally President Vladimir Putin. Human rights activists consider these charges to be politically motivated and aimed at liquidating the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech. On November 15,2005, the international human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a statement, in which it expressed concerns about the pressure put by various public structures on NOPCh and said it intends to give Dmitrievsky the status of a political prisoner if he is convicted of the charges.

The trial began on November 16, 2005. On December 15, Dmitrievsky gave his testimony in court and answered questions the parties' questions. In his testimony, he categorically denied all the charges and said he not only does not consider himself guilty, but is insulted by the prosecutor's office's accusations of racism and xenophobia.

One day before the trial, the Nizhny Novgorod region's court rejected the lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry's Main Registration Department for the Nizhny Novgorod region, which sought the liquidation of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

There is an information war going on against NOPCh in Nizhny Novgorod. Its staff are being threatened with violence (the Nizhny Novgorod region's interior affairs department opened criminal case No. 155200 on October 7, 2005 on the basis of those threats).

On August 15, 2005, the Federal Tax Service's inspection for the Nizhny Novgorod Nizhegorodsky District issued Decision No. 25 to prosecute NOPCh for a tax violation. On September 12, 2005, Justice Yevgeniya Belyakova of the Nizhny Novgorod region's Arbitration Court issued a ruling suspending that decision.

Apparently, the authorities are doing everything to do away with one of the independent sources of information on events taking place in the Chechen Republic and put its editor-in-chief Stanislav Dmitrievsky in prison.

Is Pravo-Zashchita being penalized only for trying to tell people what the state propaganda is not telling them?

Do you agree with it?

If you don't, sign this statement, support Stanislav Dmitrievsky!

Case Materials [Sorry, only russian]

See also in this blog:

Dmitrievsky Trial
Dmitrievsky: Politkovskaya Testifies

Ryzhkov on the Voice Behind the Rock

Vladimir Ryzhkov, independent Duma Deputy:
- This exposure is designed for internal and external consumption. First of all this is a slap on Blair and Great Britain for their obstinacy to deliver Berezovsky and Zakayev. It is interesting that the exposure and film about this took place on the eve of Berezovsky's anniversary. They showed nicely to the people that all human rights organizations - are an instrument of the CIA.

Владимир Рыжков, независимый депутат Госдумы:

– Разоблачение рассчитано на внутреннее и внешнее потребление. В первую очередь это пощечина Блэру и Великобритании за неуступчивость в выдаче Березовского и Закаева. Интересно, что разоблачение и фильм про это состоялись накануне юбилея Березовского. Народу красочно показали, что все правозащитные организации – орудия ЦРУ.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Spies": Two Quotes

FSB spokesman Colonel Ignatchenko said in Moscow on 23 January that the case involving the four British diplomats "requires a political solution," RIA Novosti reported.
(RFE/RL Newsline, January 24)

Prime Minister Tony Blair declined to comment on the spying allegations. Asked about them at his regular monthly news conference, he said: "I'm afraid you are going to get the old stock-in-trade 'We never comment on security matters' . . . except when we want to, obviously.

"I think the less said about that, the better."
(Washington Post, January 24)

Moscow Attacks NGOs and "Spies"

Via chechnya-sl:

From Le Monde


From our Moscow correspondent, Marie Jégo

Spies disguised as "students", a stone that emits and receives "coded information", supplies of foreign funding to Russian NGOs: the scenario could be that of a thriller, but for the fact that these were revelations made on Sunday 22 January by the Russian security services (the FSB) on the strength of four British diplomats in Moscow having been detected in carrying out spying activities. These men have not been threatened with expulsion, according to the FSB, which has applied itself to describing their financial links with NGOs.

A film, made by a camera hidden by the FSB, and put at the disposal of the two public television channels (Pervyy and Rossiya), was shown on Sunday 22 and Monday 23 January. In it, men in hoods can be seen walking repeatedly beside a big stone in a Moscow park. "Officials of the British embassy seen walking around the stone included Mark Doe (the second secretary), who came there summer and winter," a commentator explained. According to the spokesman for the FSB, Sergey Ignachenko, who was shown in the broadcast beside a sort of "meteorite" whose longitudinal section gave a view of a transmitter within, "this spy" was in frequent contact with the "transmitting stone" and was accused of "financing NGOs".

The Foreign Office protested in vain - the Russian media repeated the broadcast non-stop, insistent on the links detected between the spies and NGO activists aiming to destabilise the country. The organisations concerned, the Helsinki Group and the Eurasia Fund, were named by Sergey Ignatchenko on television as beneficiaries of support payments received. The president of the Helsinki Group, Ludmila Alexeyeva, acknowledged that one of the diplomats had, in 2004, approved the payment of $40,000 out of the funds allocated to him, thanks to which she had been able to carry out her programme of human rights monitoring. According to her, this episode is best understood as "an attempt to stain a respected organisation. Public opinion is being gradually prepared for the idea of the banning of our organisation, now that the law permits it."

At Memorial, the association inspired by the dissident Andrei Sakharov, the activists do not hide their anxiety. "For the first time," explains the historian Arsen Roginsky, "a politically controlled entity will verify if our activities are in conformity with our statutes." The law requires verification of NGOs' activities and of the uses of 80% of financial contributions received from abroad. Already, Memorial, which led the way in the defence of individual freedoms, and in denouncing the crimes committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, has been subjected to a tax inspection in the spring of 2005. Absolutely nothing was left out, including the bowls donated to the Gulag veterans on the occasion of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Kengir camp. The tax authorities required payment of social tax on each bowl, together with a completed information sheet with the details of every beneficiary. Memorial's accountant: "We had to provide thousands of documents to the tax office. It all took a great deal of time, to the detriment of our normal activities". A fine of $57,000 was imposed, a decision Memorial is appealing.

A few hundred kilometres from Moscow another NGO is in difficulty. Stanislav Dimitrievsky, the founder of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society of Nizhny-Novgorod, is accused of "inciting racial hatred" and faces five years imprisonment for publishing, in 2004, in his newspaper Pravozashchita, an appeal for peace by the Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov, later killed by the federal forces. The accusation is surprising when one considers the thousands of extremist, racist and anti-semitic organisations which are allowed to exist in Russia undisturbed. The NGO, targeted for a tax inspection, is threatened with closure. According to expert testimony quoted at the trial, it is alleged that he wrote the adjective "putinian" with "a small p" instead of a capital letter, although that is recommended by textbooks. "The authorities want to silence the only trustworthy source of information on Chechnya," according to Oleg Panfilov, an activist for journalists' rights. "We are now learning that freedom of expression is extremism, that there is no war in Chechnya, and that journalists are fanatics," says Yuri Djablidze, of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Moscow.
Accédez à cet article sur Lemonde.fr


Translated by Jeremy Putley

Cold Comfort

Crispin Black in the U.K.'s Daily Mirror, discussing the Moscow spying allegations, comments that we seem to be back in the "dangerous but strangely reassuring world of John Le Carré and the spy novel":
Putin isn't just nostalgic for the past, he wants to turn back the clock. In particular, he doesn't like sharing political or economic power and if he feels threatened he'll react aggressively.

That's why so many Russian billionaires have come to live here and why both Ukraine and Georgia are currently locked in disputes with Russia over gas supplies.

Another group exercising Putin are non-governmental organisations like Amnesty International and the British Council.

Putin dislikes them because they're not under his control and aren't afraid to criticise his authoritarian tendencies including the brutality of the Russian military in Chechnya.

He wants to curb their activities with new laws and ban any that operate using foreign money. What better way to discredit them than accuse them of being fronts for western intelligence?

And what better way to shore up domestic support for the new laws than to uncover a spying scandal involving British intelligence, deeply ingrained in the Russian psyche as the most duplicitous and ruthless of all.

While Russia no longer has vast armies pointed at Western Europe, it retains considerable influence over us.

It's a major provider of gas to the West and it's offered to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear programme.

We need to know what plans Putin's Russia has and are right to be wary - it is after all a country run by ex-KGB men.

And all the time there is the suspicion that Russia cannot be trusted, we need spies to uncover exactly what the Kremlin's intentions are.

Monday, January 23, 2006

In EDM, Vladimir Socor writes about the January 22 energy supply cutoff to Georgia:
The selection of targets and close coordination of the blasts leaves no doubt that they aimed for a total halt of Russian energy supplies to Georgia during an unusually cold mid-winter (with Armenia suffering collateral damage). The operation undertaken to that end in two different North Caucasus regions demonstrates the effectiveness of whatever organization carried it out. Suspicions focus variously on elements within Russia's secret services, intent on forcing Georgia to its knees; or on North Caucasus guerrilla groups seeking to discredit Moscow in the region and internationally.

Either version must be seen as a mortifying possibility by Gazprom, as well as Russia's United Energy Systems (UES) and Transneft, and by implication the Russian government. The blasts indicate that Moscow no longer reliably controls energy export routes on Russia's own territory. Gazprom's pipelines to the South Caucasus and to Turkey (Blue Stream), Transneft's oil pipelines from Dagestan and from Azerbaijan to the Black Sea export terminal Novorossiisk, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium's oil line also to Novorossiisk, and UES's planned electricity transmisison lines toward Turkey, all criss-cross an increasingly unstable North Caucasus en route to export destinations.
Socor suggests that the blasts and cut-off should come as as a wake-up call to the West: dependence on Russian gas and energy supplies may be disastrous for its future.

The G8 Test

In its current slightly grotesque "James Bond" spying accusations against Britain, it looks as though the Russian government is testing the water as it takes up the G8 presidency. Writing in the London Times, Jeremy Page notes that
...if this does lead to the four diplomats being expelled from Russia then we can expect that London will respond by kicking the same number out of Britain. Experience suggests that these sorts of intelligence disputes rarely spill over to become major diplomatic rows. At worst, it will sour the atmosphere for a while.

"If this is true, Russia doesn't need to bang on about it. It's proved its point and convinced a large majority of the Russian population that Western funded NGOs are a real threat. The best MI6 can do is keep its head down.

"The upshot of all of this for Russia will be that it is now going to be very hard for the British government to criticise the NGOs Bill, which means it will get at least one G8 member to shut up about it."

Viola Vibrations

The U.K. is apparently suffering a shortage of viola players. But all is not lost - according to the BBC, viola fans are fighting back, "starting with a special concert in Edinburgh this weekend featuring new viola music to raise the profile of the cause." The article also lists some of the better-known viola "jokes":
What's the difference between a viola and a coffin?
The coffin has the dead person on the inside.

What's the difference between a violin and a viola?
The viola burns longer.
The viola holds more beer.
You can tune the violin.

What's the difference between a viola and a trampoline?
You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.

What's the difference between a viola and an onion?
No one cries when you cut up a viola.

What's the definition of "perfect pitch?"
Throwing a viola into a bin without hitting the rim.

Why do violists stand for long periods outside people's houses?
They can't find the key and they don't know when to come in.
Read more here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Declaration of Interest

Oliver Kamm has a post about a New Statesman review by Richard Gott of Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis's recently-published The Cold War. He points out some uncomfortable facts:
Nowhere in the review do you find the slightest hint or allusion - other than his claim that "the much-derided [Berlin] wall brought a measure of stability to the European scene" - that Gott was scarcely a disinterested party remote from the partisans of both camps. He in fact received covert payments from the KGB. When this was revealed in 1994, Gott resigned as Literary Editor of The Guardian and penned an apologia for the newspaper in which he claimed no harm had come from his activities. It was all a bit of a giggle, in fact: "I enjoyed it."

I would expect nothing less of Richard Gott. But I hope the NS editor, John Kampfner, can be persuaded to state explicitly his reasons for omitting this information (which he certainly knows) from his reviewer's byline.

Imitation Operations

An article I just translated for the Prague Watchdog:

"Special operations" or imitations?

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – In Chechnya there are cases where representatives of security agencies [silovyye struktury] report "successful special operations against fighters" which have not actually taken place.

On January 6 on the outskirts of the village of Bamut in the Achkhoy-Martanovsky district (south-west Chechnya), members of the “Akhmad Kadyrov” special-purpose regiment of the Chechen Interior Ministry conducted a "successful special operation", in the course of which four guerrillas were killed. Information about this was disseminated by several Russian media, with reference to Hussein Aydamirov, head of the local police department.

According to the official information, the group that was eliminated planned to carry out a number of acts of sabotage and terrorism against law enforcers and public officials. "We received operational information about the preparation of provocations, and took pre-emptive measures", Aydamirov stated.

However, representatives of human rights organizations say there was actually no “armed clash with a group of saboteurs" on the outskirts of Bamut. Instead, the security agencies simply carried out the imitation of a battle and successful special operation.

"We have an eyewitness, a resident of the village of Bamut, who gave the following testimony. On January 6 he noticed two white “Niva” vehicles on the outskirts of the village. Men in military uniform got out of them (the source assumes that these were local law enforcers), who took out some large objects and threw them into the ditches at the side of the road. After the vehicles left, he discovered there four half-dressed, badly disfigured male corpses (the bones of the slain men had been broken to such an extent that the bodies were folded in half). In addition, the slain men’s clothing was clearly not their own," says a member of the human rights centre Memorial in Grozny.

"This was reported to the district police station (ROVD) of the Achkhoy-Martanovsky district and to the prosecutor’s office. They in turn summoned military personnel from Khankala (the main Russian military base in Chechnya), who after inspecting the corpses loaded them into an ambulance and took away with them. Thus, their identities were not established. But the next day information was disseminated to the effect that that an armed clash had taken place on the outskirts of Bamut, and that ‘four members of a bandit formation under the leadership of field commander Dokku Umarov were liquidated’," he said.

"We have also recorded earlier cases of the imitation of military operations,” says the human rights activist. "For example, on May 9 last year, according to the official version, a battle between a group of eight guerrillas and members of the Security Service of the [Moscow-backed] Chechen President (presently the Anti-Terrorist Centre, but usually called “kadyrovites” by the inhabitants of the republic.) In the course of the exchange of fire the eight guerrillas were reportedly killed.."

“It later became known that among the “slain guerrillas” Khamid Akuyev, a resident of Gudermes, born in 1981, who had earlier been abducted from his grandmother’s house by “kadyrovites”, was identified by relatives. Khamidov’s mother repeatedly applied without success to the various law enforcement agencies, attempting to establish his whereabouts, and then identified her son among the photographs of the "slain guerrillas", which were shown to her at the Kurchaloysky district police station. Moreover, a passport in the name of a Grozny resident called Kulishov was found on one of the slain men. This man had been abducted from his own house on the night of March 14, 2005 by unknown persons," says the human rights defender.

"Or another example. On the night of May 13 on the outskirts of the village of Ishkhoy-Yurt, in the Gudermessky district, a skirmish also took place between members of the SB and a force of guerrillas. In the process of the fight two “kadyrovites” were killed, and four more were wounded. In the morning, two men who were being detained at the SB base in the village of Tsentoroy (Kadyrovs’ native village) were brought to the site of the armed clash and shot dead. In the evening, the corpses of the slain men were taken to the Gudermessky district police station. Khozh-Baudi Borkhadzhiyev, editor of the newspaper Gums, who happened to be there, recognized one of the slain men as his nephew Ilman Khadisov, born 1982, who was detained by "kadyrovites" in March 2005,” he asserts.

According to the source, there are very many similar cases of extra-judicial executions of innocent civilians who are subsequently called "slain guerillas", but not all of the cases reach the public domain and are recorded documentarily, since the relatives of the slain often hide information about what happened, fearing persecution".

"In my view, in cases of this kind the officials of the law enforcement agencies mainly pursue their own personal, mercenary interests. According to some data, they receive a bonus of 18,000 roubles for one hour of participation in a ‘special operation’ or armed clash. It’s probably for this very reason that many ‘special operations’ against the guerrillas last for several hours, with the deployment of heavy military equipment, even in cases of resistance by only one man, who is often armed only with a pistol," says the human rights activist.

Meanwhile on January 17 it was announced at a board meeting of the Moscow-backed Chechen Interior Ministry held in Grozny that last year 140 guerrillas were killed in Chechnya, including "25 leaders of bandit groups”. In the same period officials of the law-enforcement agencies detained 311 fighters, of whom 13 were also "bandit leaders". Losses among officials of the Chechen Interior Ministry were 121 killed and 283 wounded.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

IAJE 2006 - 3

5 pm Friday January 13 at the Sheraton saw another important event that was to some extent strings-related. This was the “Keeping the Mingus Legacy Alive” discussion, with Gunther Schuller, Sue Mingus, Boris Kozlov and Andrew Homzy as panelists. Nat Hentoff, who was also to have taken part, was unfortunately indisposed. Sy Johnson, whose scoring of the formidable "Let My Children Hear Music" (a scoring commissioned by the composer) is one of the best-known of all Mingus arrangements, was present in the audience but did not take part in the panel, except to offer a few comments in conversation with Boris Kozlov.

The centrepiece of the discussion was an extended tribute to Mingus by Gunther Schuller, who talked about his friendship with the composer and virtuoso bassist. Schuller stressed that Charles Mingus was a real composer, an American composer of the same calibre and quality as contemporaries like Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and Milton Babbitt. Professor Schuller devoted particular time and attention to a consideration of Mingus’s extended orchestral compositions, in particular “Revelations” and “Epitaph” – the latter a work some 4000 measures long, requiring two hours to perform. It was given its first performance in 1989, with Gunther Schuller conducting, ten years after Mingus’s death. Schuller noted that this composition contains atonal works where multiple voices improvise together, and he suggested that it holds important pointers and signposts for the future. Remarking that the convention of jazz soloing has now become so widespread that the textures, subtleties, and historical content of jazz ensemble playing are being neglected, he asserted that multiple-voice improvisation of the kind that Mingus developed in his orchestral scores – Schuller called it “instant composing” – is the direction in which jazz needs to go now, if it is not to lose touch with its roots.

Andrew Homzy talked with Sue Mingus about the preparation and publication of his new “Simply Mingus” series for jazz ensemble, which is being published by the Hal Leonard company. Initially three Mingus charts – "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Boogie Stop Shuffle," and "Fables of Faubus” – are being made available in these new arrangements, which to some extent simplify and modify the considerable technical demands of the original scores, thus rendering them accessible to a wider range of ensemble groups. Andrew Homzy has also broken with the “static” big band scoring of the “5,4,4,4” type that’s become routine in contemporary arranging and music publishing, and has varied the disposition of the instruments to make the scores more flexible, so that everyone has a chance to join in. Though Andrew said he had received some criticism for these and other modifications, Sue Mingus was supportive of the new arrangements, and implied that they have her full approval. She characterized the new series as a worthy addition to the already-published “Charles Mingus: More Than a Play-Along” and “Charles Mingus: More Than A Fake Book”. It seems that there will also eventually be an edition of the "Simply Mingus" series arranged for jazz quintet.

See also in this blog:

IAJE 2006 - 1
IAJE 2006 - 2

Friday, January 20, 2006

IAJE 2006 - 2

One top feature of the IAJE conference this year was a focus on big bands. They included student and faculty ensembles and a reading session group, but also mainstream ensembles like the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the US Army Blues Band, the Mingus Big Band, the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra with Nnenna Freelon and Barry Harris. The last two of these groups gave a most memorable concert on the Saturday evening (January 14), which ended in a “battle of the bands” and an amazing impromptu jam session.

On the Thursday afternoon (January 12) there was a panel discussion on the subject of “Strings in the Big Band – Past, Present and Future”, chaired by Paula Zeitlin, with panelists Bill Kirchner, Sonia Jacobsen, Akua Dixon and John Blake Jr. While most of the other strings-related events were consigned to the early morning hours – it was noticeable that even Christian Howes was given a 9 am slot – this one, with its relevance to the world beyond the "string caucus", was scheduled at the more popular hour of 5 pm. The audience contained some distinguished personalities in the field of jazz, including the arranger/composer Sy Johnson (who arranged for and played with many of the best-known performers in jazz, including Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Charles Mingus, Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme), trumpeter and composer/arranger Cecil Bridgewater (who wrote many of the charts for the Max Roach Double Quartet and Uptown String Quartet), and trombonist and composer/arranger Steve Turre. Indeed, there was some question as to why these three important figures were not on the panel itself, but only somewhere in the audience, as their contribution to the role of strings in jazz has been a defining one.

Bill Kirchner, who spoke first, appeared to take a rather negative view of the possibilities for strings in the big band. However, he outlined what he perceived to be the history of the genre. For him, the blending of strings with other jazz instruments in a large ensemble - as distinct from the routine incorporation of strings in the dance bands of the 1920s - began with the Paul Whiteman band. Kirchner played a rather lengthy excerpt from a Paul Whiteman recording, a piece in two sections with a lyrical string section and then a band section that seemed unrelated. Kirchner also referred to Artie Shaw and his "Strings Orchestra" as being among the earliest examples of blending strings with other band instruments. Again, he played a rather long example.

When pressed, Kirchner merely confirmed that in his view these recordings demonstrated an example of the best way for string players to contribute in a jazz setting: in his view, as string players are almost by definition classically trained, they don’t blend with other musicians who have a working experience of jazz. They “look at the notes” and “don’t listen to the brass”, and their approach to eighth notes is a classical one. He talked about the disillusionment felt by composer/arranger Gil Evans in the 1950s in his experiments with string writing. The often-repeated claim that “strings don’t swing” holds largely true, Kirchner appeared to be saying, though he made no reference, for example, to the strong and pioneering work of Max Roach and the Max Roach Double Quartet, and the later Quartette Indigo. The implication seemed to be that while strings could be used for coloration and effects, they weren’t really jazz instruments, and in any case most jazz arrangers didn’t know how to write for them.

At this point, John Blake intervened in order to introduce and play some short excerpts from some tracks by Duke Ellington. They included the three-movement “Night Creature”, originally commissioned in 1955 by conductor and composer Don Gillis to be played by the Symphony of the Air in concert with the Ellington band. The 1963 recording presented by John Blake features the Ellington band with musicians from European symphony and opera orchestras, who certainly do swing on these tracks at any rate, and also a fine solo from violinist Ray Nance in the second movement. John also referred to Ellington’s recording of the 1949 “Non-Violent Integration”, which not only features swinging strings, but also an oboe solo by the principal oboist of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. These examples appeared to contradict much of what Kirchner had been saying.

Next to speak was Sonia Jacobsen, whose New York Symphonic Jazz Orchestra is one of the few big bands in New York – perhaps the only one – to include a full string section. Picking up one of Bill Kirchner’s points, she commented on the difficulties of incorporating strings into a big band context. One major problem is that very few jazz arrangers are cognizant with the technical modalities and possibilities of string instruments, and have little knowledge of how to write for strings. She suggested that one way round this would be for jazz arrangers to make themselves acquainted with the use of strings by classical composers - in compositions of the baroque period. and in 20th century works of composers such as Bartok and Shostakovich. Sonia also referred to the difficulties of amplification of strings in the big band - she mentioned the points raised by Chris Howes in his morning clinic, concerning the most effective methods of actually playing a string instrument with amplification: he suggested that the violin is best played with very little bow pressure, a very small bowing width, and a very low dynamic, probably pianissimo. All of the rest of the details are handled by Yamaha! There may be a danger here, Sonia implied.

Sonia also bemoaned the fact that many classically-trained string players are told by instructors (who ought to know better) to play swing eighth notes like triplets. As she pointed out most graphically, in jazz music this simply gives the wrong feel.

Cellist Akua Dixon made the point – which badly needed to be made – that classically trained string players who want to play in a jazz setting must familiarize themselves with the language of jazz by listening to jazz music. They need to begin with the larger forms and structures, like blues, and work in toward the details of breathing/bowing, phrasing and articulation. This familiarity and knowledge can only come from actually hearing the music played and sung – no amount of abstract theory can substitute for this. The string players also need to develop a historical awareness of how the jazz language developed, and to discover how to incorporate that awareness in their playing and their interaction with players of other instruments.

The rest of the discussion was devoted to an overview by John Blake of strings in the big band context. In addition to the considerable contribution made by Ellington, he discussed the work of musician/arrangers Cecil Bridgewater and Harry Lookofsky. In particular, Lookofsky’s “Stringsville” album was singled out for praise and study, as an example of how ensemble strings could really swing in jazz. In response to Bill Kirchner, John asserted that there is really no “right” way to play eighth notes in jazz. Different players in jazz have different attitudes to the eighth notes – just as in classical music there is a difference between the eighth -note styles of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. Turning to the situation of string players, or the string quartet, in a big band setting, John Blake suggested that like the other instrumentalists in the ensemble, what they need to do above all is to listen, and to follow the style of the band leader. Noting an eagerness among younger jazz string players to concentrate on soloing, he counseled them to spend more time on studying bowing and phrasing, and on learning ensemble playing so that others can mesh with them. He also stressed the importance of studying the history of jazz, the blues, the different styles of the music, and how the different ways of playing the eighth notes can sound.

The discussion was brought to a close very promptly at around 6 pm, and it turned out that there wasn’t time to cover the final topic, which was to have been a consideration of the possibilities opened up by technology for strings in the big band.

It was an inconclusive discussion. But I then had a most enjoyable evening in the company of John Blake, Akua Dixon-Turre and her sister Gayle at Virgil's on West 44th St., with great Southern food, including gravy and biscuits, ribs, chicken, beer - and all the trimmings.

And we drank to the health of Anthony Barnett, who in his very active role as a compiler and publisher of historic recordings has done so much to further the cause of strings in jazz. There is no doubt that his presence on the panel was also sorely missed - for one thing, he would have been able to counter some of the viewpoints presented by Bill Kirchner.

See also in this blog:

IAJE 2006 - 1
IAJE 2006 - 3

Coca the Dove

Russia won't be put on trial for Chechnya - a column by Leopold Unger

from Gazeta Wyborcza, Warsaw

Leopold Unger 15-01-2006, last update 15-01-2006 17:16

There is no such address in advertisements and travel brochures. This is not Thailand, where the memory of the tsunami has become one of its tourist attractions. Chechnya is a country and nation that have disappeared from our TV screens, and that means from our conscience.

Chechnya has returned to our screens, probably for a short time (whether to our conscience, it remains to be seen). The film is called "Coca - the dove of Chechnya", was made by Swiss director Eric Bergkraut, and its pre-premiere took place in the presence of Ms Zainap Gachayeva, a 52-year-old Chechen woman who has been living in Moscow. It was she who gave this film its title, - because "Coca” (the dove) is her Chechen pseudonym.

The movie is the diary of this Chechen woman’s struggle to film, preserve and later show to the West the truth about this terrible war and the fate of her nation, which as French philosopher André Glucksmann says, has been "buried alive". Ms Gachayeva hopes that this document, which has been made at such cost - also in human life – "will become evidence at a court trial, after the creation of a tribunal to judge the crimes committed in this war by Russians and Chechens.”

Ms Gachayeva is deluding herself. There will be no such tribunal, it might never be created... It's not even needed – there are enough tribunals in the world. After all, we already have the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the OSCE in Vienna, the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, etc, etc. It's true that the latter was particularly discredited and ridiculed, when it allowed Libya to chair it. These three and all other similar organisations are able to exist and have as their main goal the defence of human rights, they are all paid and live well from our taxes, and they all shed tears over the fate of Rwanda or Guantanamo. Also, as soon as Chechnya is mentioned, they are all paralysed and unable to solve the tasks for which they were created.

Of whom and what are we afraid? Of a Russian invasion? Of blackmail, which calculates that if the West takes a closer look at Chechnya then Russia will leave the anti-terrorist alliance, or refuse the sale of some gas. That's a joke. We need Moscow just as Moscow needs us. We buy gas, Russia buys Boeings and airbuses. The Kremlin always retreats when its adversary will not. How can this be? Victor Yushchenko stood up to Russian blackmail; Putin blinked before the Ukrainian, but all the planet's democracies together are unable to withstand the Kremlin's stare?

Dear lady, dear dove, please don't delude yourself, today no one will take Putin’s Russia to court, and no one is able to. Above all, they don’t want to. They don’t want to abandon this state of mind which a historian calls “an era of blinded indifference", they don’t want to quit fleeing from the truth, to stop what someone has described as a "crime committed with common premeditation". Dear lady, there is no lack of new laws and special judges, but there is a lack of statesmen, of intellect, dignity and courage. And also of honour.



The dove from Chechnya

Europe in Denial of a War

A film by Eric Bergkraut

Her parents called Zainap Gashaeva "Coca" - the dove. Born in exile in Kazakhstan, she became a business woman and reared four children. Zainap has been documenting what have become daily events since 1994: abduction, torture, murders.

What has been declared an "anti-terrorist operation" by President Putin has taken on features of genocide. Up to thirty percent of the Chechen population may have been killed. The world is looking away; be it out of ignorance, helplessness or opportunism.

Together with other women, Zainap has been hiding hundreds of videotapes. She is now bringing these tapes to Western Europe to serve as evidence so that the guilty - on whichever side - are punished. Is she tilting at windmills?


Die Taube aus Tschetschenien

Europa und sein verleugneter Krieg

Ein Film von Eric Bergkraut

„Coca" nannten ihre Eltern Sainap Gaschaiewa - die Taube. Geboren in der Verbannung in Kasachstan, wurde sie Geschäftsfrau und zog vier Kinder gross. Seit 1994 dokumentiert sie, was in ihrer Heimat täglich geschieht: Verschleppung, Folter, Mord.

Was Präsident Putin zur "antiterroristischen Aktion" erklärt, hat Züge eines Völkermordes angenommen. Bis zu dreissig Prozent der tschetschenischen Bevölkerung könnten getötet worden sein. Die Weltöffentlichkeit schweigt, sei es aus Unwissen, Hilflosigkeit oder Opportunismus.

Zusammen mit anderen Frauen hat Sainap Gaschaiewa hunderte Video-Kassetten versteckt. Jetzt will sie diese nach Westeuropa schaffen. Sie hofft, dass es zu einem Tribunal kommt und die Schuldigen bestraft werden – auf welcher Seite sie auch stehen. Ein
Kampf gegen Windmühlen?


La colombe de Tchétchénie

L'Europe renie une guerre

Un film de Eric Bergkraut

Ses parents l'appelèrent „Coca" - la colombe. Sainap Gachayeva est née en exil, au Kasakhstan. Devenue femme d'affaires, elle éleva ses quatre enfants. Depuis 1994 elle documente les maux que son pays subit au quotidien: les enlèvements, la torture, les meurtres.

Ce que le président Poutine nomme „une action antiterroriste" a pris les traits d'un génocide. Près de trente pour cent de la population tchétchène pourraient avoir péri dans cette guerre. Le monde se tait, par ignorance, impuissance ou opportunisme.

Sainap et ses amies de combat ont caché des centaines de cassettes vidéo. Elle a décidé de les transférer en Europe occidentale: Elle espère en un tribunal qui punirait les coupables, de quelque bord qu'ils soient. Se bat-elle contre des moulins à vent?

(via Marius)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

IAJE 2006 - 1

This year’s IAJE International Conference – the 33rd in the series – held in New York City from January 11 to 14, was an astonishingly dynamic and wide-ranging event featuring many of the best-known figures in contemporary jazz. It’s not even remotely possible to visit all of the hundreds of clinics, panels, sets and concerts that take place over the four days, but this year the task of navigating the conference was even more challenging than usual. I was fortunate to be staying at the New York Hilton, which was also the venue for much of the action (the Sheraton next door accommodated the rest), but even so I found it hard to plan my attendances solely on the basis of the “Conference-At-A-Glance” brochure, which looks more like a busy commuter train schedule than a conference program.

Still, I had a great time. There is something about the atmosphere of an IAJE conference that is really electric and energizing, and I found that if I let my main preoccupation – the role of strings in jazz – guide me through the labyrinth, I was able to take in the week’s main events as well as many more peripheral and out-of-the-way ones. And above all, I was able to maintain a focus on the proceedings, something that’s essential in such a vast and diverse confluence of music-related activity.

The first clinic I attended, at 9 am on the Thursday morning, was given by a string player, the very gifted classically-trained jazz violin virtuoso Christian Howes, who talked on the subject of “preparing classical string players for the leap into jazz”. Since many or most string players have a background in classical training and musicianship, this is an important point of focus. It’s not always realized that in order to play jazz at all, it’s necessary on most instruments to have quite a high level of classical technique, and this is particularly true of the violin, viola and cello, where conventional, folk-based “fiddling” technique is simply not sufficient to meet the demands of this modern and sophisticated music. On the other hand, if classical players are to embrace jazz, they also need to modify and even forget certain basic functions of classical playing. Chris began by admitting that as a classically trained violinist who made the leap into jazz later in life (he is only 32), he had found “three central problems” which held him back. These he characterized as improvisation, practical theory, and style, and he showed ways in which they could be tackled, including a free use of the instrument in the exploration of creativity, and the employment of technology, such as the Yamaha Silent Violin, Viola or Cello, combined with devices such as pedals, distortion, delays, looping units, and so on.

One point that emerged with clarity from the morning clinic concerned the question of bowing in jazz string playing. This was closely linked to the vexed questions of amplification – issues for which Chris has his own solutions, profiled in the clinic handout. Perhaps the most concise expression of these solutions is revealed in the handout’s supplemental materials, which contain answers to some of the most commonly asked questions on improvisation and the use of electric instruments. A quotation may serve to pinpoint Chris’s approach:

The electric violin is similar to an acoustic violin in some ways and also very different. It feels the same in the left hand, and I hold it the same. However, I don't need to think about tone generation in the same way with the electric violin because the amplifiers do all the work. Consequently, I can reserve the energy normally used to create tone, and put this energy into other elements of making music. In other words, I don't have to use as much bow, so I can play faster if I want and focus on smaller movements of the right arm, focus on my left hand, focus on the musical ideas themselves, etc.... Whereas, with an acoustic violin, so much energy is taken up simply producing a big sound. The electric violin cannot produce the SAME sound as an acoustic violin, but it can be very similar. If you ever amplify an acoustic violin (even with a microphone) you're essentially filtering the tone, and you might as well consider yourself "electric". It's impossible to cut through a rock band, or a moderately aggressive jazzband, or most dance music bands, without amplification. So I use an electric violin that's set up to be amplified. Furthermore, you can customize the tone of an electric violin through multiple processors. The degree of nuance in tone that you control just by playing (i.e. using only the bow and instrument, as opposed to using the amps and processors) is greater and very different with an acoustic violin, and this has advantages as well as disadvantages, depending on the context.

To my ears, in a jazz context Chris often makes the violin sound much like an amplified blowing instrument – a clarinet or alto/soprano sax – or like an electric guitar, and in certain situations he seems to move away from the subtle, violinistic sound and tone of standard-setting African-American players like John Blake, Regina Carter and others who among the many technical methods at their disposal make use of bow pressure and vibrato to achieve projection and definition. His approach to jazz on the violin could perhaps be characterized as “post-modern straight ahead”, and in spite of some obvious, sometimes immediately recognizable vestiges of classical nuance, his playing shows affinities with bebop and post-bop expressions, channeled as though on a horn. It’s certainly very different from the traditional swing style of Stéphane Grappelli, though in some ways it does perhaps have more in common with the sonorous, horn-like quality of the melodic lines that were produced by the great swing player Stuff Smith – though without the same pressure of the bow.

The clinic was illustrated with live performances by Christian Howes with cello accompaniment, and these were uniformly brilliant, with a particularly moving and agile rendering of Round Midnight. At the end of the hour, clinic attendees were invited to sign a guest book, and received a complimentary CD of music by Chris.

By the end of this hugely enjoyable session, one lingering reflection refused to go away, though it’s one that probably has little to do with Chris’s wonderful playing as such. The fact is that he is a Yamaha Performing Artist, and the electric focus and bias of his work is clearly audible and visible. The Yamaha family of electrically amplified string instruments and electronic pickups has undoubtedly enriched the possibilities of expression for string players, and has made the traditionally hard-to-access violin, viola and cellos more available, especially for young students. But whether the almost exclusive emphasis on electrically amplified modes of expression is a positive development, only time will tell. As the earlier quotation makes clear, Chris Howes’ own view is that in order to be heard at all in a jazz environment, the violin needs to be amplified – and once that step is taken, whether by microphone, pickup or solid frame, the instrument’s tone is filtered and altered, and it is by definition “electric”. There are, however, other contemporary practitioners of jazz for strings who don’t take this view, or who adopt it only in part and strive to preserve the unique tone and colorations of the acoustic instruments. Also, it has to be said that when he isn’t playing straight-ahead hard bop, or rock, but working in the vein of Latin jazz or his own extraordinarily fine jazz arrangements of classical works, Chris Howes also appears to look back in no uncertain terms to the world of the acoustic instrument. In the light of his prodigious playing, the debate about "alternative styles" and their relation to jazz is obviously not going to go away.

There is evidently some kind of conflict here, one that’s grounded in the history of jazz and of strings in jazz, and which awaits resolution in a future that is only just beginning. What I hear in Chris Howes’ playing above all is an awareness that the “post-modern” approach to strings in jazz, where the emphasis is on trying to reproduce the sound of earlier string players or, more significantly, other jazz instruments, on the violin, viola or cello, regardless of history, is simply not sufficient, and that some other way of looking back at the roots of jazz and their relation to other forms of music is needed to make further progress possible. As Gayle Dixon has noted:

Listening to Chris Howes play it is very clear that he has made a thorough study of the Black musical genres that are the bedrock of jazz -- the blues, bebop and even gospel music (hear the first track on the complimentary CD). I don't think of Chris as an Alternative Styles player because he has mastered the language of jazz.

All of these considerations are essentially related to another important and central discussion that took place at the conference, concerning the place of strings in the big band. I’ll look at that discussion in my next conference-related post here.

See also in this blog:

IAJE 2006 - 2
IAJE 2006 - 3