Saturday, December 29, 2007
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse -
But all may be described in verse.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen.
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few believe
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve
“Come; see the oxen kneel
“In the lonely barton by yonder comb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Thomas Hardy (1915)
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The streaming videos of the conference proceedings and accompanying film material can be watched here and here.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Andrei Sidelnikov is the leader of "Pora", an opposition youth movement which advocates an Orange-style revolution to overthrow the government of Vladimir Putin. He said he feared for his life if he remained in Moscow.
"I am very afraid about my life in Russia. When I saw the letter from the FSB, I thought that it was the end of my story in Russia."
The Russian embassy in London told the BBC they were aware of Mr Sidelnikov's arrival in the UK, but had no specific information about his case.
A spokesman said his decision to apply for political asylum was a matter for the British authorities. The Home Office said they do not discuss the details of individual applications.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The exhibition [now under threat from the Russian government], which includes works from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and Moscow's Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, is currently in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Some of the art was taken from private collections after the 1917 revolution, leading to fears of seizure.
Gordon Brown and Vladimir Putin are scheduled to attend the show's opening.
Former shadow arts minister Hugo Swire, who used to work for the National Gallery, told the BBC it was difficult to see what was behind the situation.
The Conservative MP, who organised an exhibition of Russian art in London during the Gorbachev era, said issues such as the Litvinenko row or the closure of British Council offices in Russia could be to blame.
"I think this is a situation that certainly the Royal Academy were nervous might happen," he said.
"I had a discussion with the then director about this very situation, and the government I don't think have been very quick to come forward to address the potential of something like this happening."
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
...Putin would send a battalion or two of troops by air to Belgrade, load them onto trucks and send them toward Pristina, claiming this as Russia’s right under agreements made in 1999. Assume a squadron of Russian aircraft would be sent to Belgrade as well. A Russian naval squadron, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, already is headed to the Mediterranean. Obviously, this is not a force that could impose anything on NATO. But would the Germans, for example, be prepared to open fire on these troops?However, as Valery Dzutsev points out in the comments, for several well-founded reasons these projected scenarios are the least likely ones to arise, and Friedman ignores a much more possible outcome, though even it can't yet really be tagged as "probable".
Monday, December 17, 2007
European cultural institutes have sent a letter to the Russian government expressing deep concern over moves against the British government's cultural arm, which is caught up in a diplomatic row between London and Moscow.
Signed by bodies such as the Goethe and Cervantes institutes, the letter said an order to the British Council to halt operations in two cities outside Moscow from
January 1 amounted to "discriminatory action".
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin;
Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Words are not always necessary; in fact, they frequently get in the way. Your cat speaks volumes when s/he finds just the right moment to rub against your cheek and curl up next to you... Despite an arduous day, when your cat gazes at you and purrs, it is the gesture of an angel reminding you that, today and every day, you are worthy of being loved.
Friday, December 14, 2007
This is by far the best book on the nature and rearing of cats that I've found. It's written by a real doctor, who genuinely understands the often strange yet tender world of the cat, and the ways in which it intersects with the world of human beings. I've learned a great deal from this wonderful book.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
While no one disputes that there was falsification there and often on an enormous scale, polls taken in the region before the vote suggest that more of it involved boosting total turnout numbers rather than increasing the share of votes going to United Russia, although that certainly happened in many places there as well.
But over the last few days, specialists on polling data and elections as well as on ethnic and political traditions in the North Caucasus have come forward to argue that the results reported across this region, however obviously absurd they were at the margins, nonetheless reflected certain underlying realities in that region ( http://www.rusk.ru/news data.php?idar=174570).
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
If there is still anybody out there who doesn't believe Mr. Umarov's words from his original video message, it should now be absolutely clear that he meant what he said. Through the last two days he has issued a number of decrees (now called "omra") in his function as "Amir of the North Caucasus", in which he once again declares the establishment of a "North Caucasian Emirate" and the abolition of the ChRI and its structures.The first two decrees (establishment of the North Caucasian Emirate;introduction of "sharia" law on its territory) have been translated into English, cf. htp://www.kavkaz.org.uk/eng/content/2007/12/10/9162.shtml The following decrees are only published in Russian at this point, cf.http://www.kavkaz.org.uk/russ/content/2007/12/10/54917.shtml They include in detail:
No. 3: The establishment of "vilayat" as an administrative unit.
No. 4: The conversion of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria into "Vilayat Nohchichö".
No. 5: The integration of the other North Caucasian republics-turned vilayat into the N.C. Emirate.
No. 6: The creation of the institute of "Wali" (governor of a vilayat).
No. 7: The abolition of the institute of President of the ChRI.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
The rebels in the Caucasus do not hide in woods or in the mountains all the time, rather, they are as other residents in Russia, they watch Russian television and read Russian newspapers. They also watch the TV program of Mikhail Leontyev, the well-known political observer who likes to repeat that the Americans sponsor terrorists in the North Caucasus. In 2003, in Chechnya, while the author of this article was talking to a Chechen field commander from the radical wing of the resistance, he admitted receiving money from international Muslim international foundations. He speculated that some Western countries were also contributing with the aim of causing more trouble for Russia. The Kremlin exploits anti-American propaganda in order to inspire xenophobia among the Russian population, and this situation affects—in turn—the feelings in the North Caucasus. The worse that Russian-American relations become, the greater are the illusions of the militants that the United States is really helping them discreetly, or at least that it might start doing so one day.
The absurdity of the rebels’ declarations lies in the fact that they declare war against the West, and at the same time beg for aid in their anti-Russian struggle. When Dokka Umarov’s video declaration of the establishment of the Caucasian Emirate was posted on the Kavkaz-Center website, the names of the countries he had called “enemies of Allah"—America, England and Israel—had been removed and replaced by the abstract phrase “enemies of Islam.”
Whatever the Caucasian rebels say, it is clear that they do not have much in common with the interests of the international Jihadi movement. For the Taliban and the Sunni militants in Iraq, the main enemy is the United Sates, while for Hamas and Islamic Jihad the main enemy is Israel. For all of them, Russia is not an enemy, while for Islamists in Russia, the main and, in fact, the only enemy is the Russian government. With the establishment of the Caucasian Emirate, one could speak of the appearance of a new phenomenon that could be described as a Russian Jihadi movement. This movement has no smaller plans than the Jihadi movement worldwide, but it nonetheless limits itself to activities inside Russia’s borders and has no ambitions to grow into an international problem.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
According to Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, more and more of communication takes place on the Internet, and Estonia must keep up with the trend. “Second Life’s popularity as an alternative environment for interaction has grown rapidly, which is why we decided to establish an embassy there,” Paet added.The embassy can be visited here (you need to have the SL client installed on your computer).
Art exhibits, concerts, lectures and other events will be organised in the embassy. The first lecture, entitled “Back to the future,” will be given in January by Estonian Ambassador to Great Britain Margus Laidre.
According to Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry Matti Maasikas, several other countries are planning to open virtual embassies in Second Life, which means that the prominence of Second Life is growing in diplomatic circles. “We expect people interested in Estonia, as well as people interested in foreign relations and foreign policy, to participate in events at the embassy,” said Maasikas.
The virtual embassy has a conference room, exhibition room, reception hall and a technology room, where Estonia as an e-nation is introduced. Visitors to the Estonian embassy will hear current news read by an Estonian hound.
In honour of the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, the embassy will display the exhibit “Blue-black-white in Estonian painting”. There will also be other materials dedicated to the anniversary on display.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Indeed, France boasts such world-renowned figures as Pierre Boulez, the composer and conductor, as well as the diva Natalie Dessay who took centre stage at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's season.
And in how many other countries would a philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, be frequently seen holding forth on prime-time television shows?
Monday, December 03, 2007
December 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- There is an "election" going on in Russia. Not an election, but an "election." This is not an election that falls short of international standards. It is not a democratic, a flawed-democratic, or even a pseudo-democratic process. According to a recent RFE/RL poll, nearly two-thirds of voting age Russians don't believe the elections will be conducted honestly. Nearly half say if they do vote, it will be out of a sense of "duty."
The Kremlin, regardless, is expending considerable effort to create the illusion of a democratic process, with the Kremlin-controlled election agencies, the Kremlin-controlled legislature, and the Kremlin-controlled media, which constantly intones the mantra that Russia is following its own democratic path, that the country has a reliable democratic system. "We don't need helpers in organizing elections like in Africa or Kosovo," a Central Election Commission member said in October. "We have an established democratic system."
Here are five myths the Kremlin's political spin machine has been working non-stop to promote.
1) President Vladimir Putin is popular. Polls consistently show Putin with a popularity rating of 60 to 70 percent. But these polls are part of an antidemocratic system, one where conformist political messages are drummed into the populace constantly while high-profile examples of the consequences of dissent -- from dispossession to exile to murder -- are frequently reinforced. No other political figures in Russia have even minimal name recognition, and even people who regularly appear on state television to sycophantically praise the leader are not known to the public by name. In Pictures: Russians Go To The Polls.
"Popularity" in Russia is something the Kremlin gives and takes away. Six days after the largely unknown Viktor Zubkov was named prime minister in September, a poll found that 40 percent of Russians thought he'd be the next president of Russia. Because Putin is the only political figure with any significant stature in Russia, he attracts personal credit for everything that happens in the country, all of which is positively spun in the state-controlled media. However, the presidential administration understands how quickly setbacks can erode even Putin's support, as it learned in 2001 when Putin was lambasted for failing to show sympathy for the trapped crew of the Kursk nuclear submarine and in 2005 when pensioners took to the streets in the thousands calling for Putin's resignation because of a controversial social-benefits reform.
Putin's popularity ratings are a bubble that exist within a political vacuum, a bubble that nonetheless needs to be continuously pumped up with injections of hot air from state television.
2) Parties matter. Putin and his team have worked hard over the last seven years to bring the political party system under control, and they have succeeded. Although there was some evidence the plan was to create a system based on two Kremlin-friendly parties, the Kremlin's commitment to that idea was never solid. Now it appears Soviet-era political impulses have taken over and the efficiency of a single-party monolith has proven too attractive.
There are 11 parties participating in the current campaign, but only one counts. Propped up by Putin and more than two-thirds of Russia's regional leaders, plus thousands of mayors and other apparatchiks, the Unified Russia party has -- as it did in 2003 -- ignored the other parties and focused entirely on using its vast financial and administrative resources to persuade a cynical public that since there is no beating them, you'd best join them.
Since its creation, it has followed the direction of the presidential administration, which in turn has not even bothered to create the impression that it takes the party's opinions into consideration. Party leaders were stunned when Putin announced unexpectedly on October 1 that he would head Unified Russia’s list of candidates for the Duma elections.
As for the other parties, some -- the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, A Just Russia, and Civic Force -- are Kremlin-controlled pseudo-opposition groups designed to muddle the situation and siphon votes away from independent organizations. The real opposition parties are financially starved groups that must spend all their resources merely in order to comply with the strict laws on forming and registering parties; that are shut out of the national media; and that are harassed, ridiculed, and parodied by Kremlin-inspired pseudo-NGOs.
3) Issues matter. The platform of Unified Russia's campaign is a collection of Putin speeches nebulously called "Putin's Plan," and it is not discussing any issues more sophisticated than the slogan "Putin's Plan Is Russia's Victory."
As it did in 2003, Unified Russia has refused to participate in campaign debates with opposition parties. Nonetheless, because of the party's domination of state-television news coverage, 8 percent of Russians in a recent poll said they remembered seeing Unified Russia members in televised debates and 69 percent of Russians who said they watched the debates thought that Unified Russia performed well in them.
Although Unified Russia has turned the elections into a referendum on Putin and his course, observers know that "Putin's course" is whatever Putin and his inner circle deem expedient at the moment.
Policy pronouncements by the minor also-rans are ridiculed at best, and as a rule ignored. In addition, because the violations of election standards by the authorities, by Unified Russia, and by bespoke “nongovernmental” outfits like the militant Nashi youth group have been so frequent and so outrageous, opposition parties spend the lion's share of their time and effort cataloging and complaining about them. There is literally no time to discuss matters such as the creeping renationalization of the economy or the systematic dismantling of civil society.
4) Election rules matter. Any party advertisement that does not include a direct, literal appeal to vote is not considered part of the campaign and is not covered by campaign or campaign-finance laws, the Central Election Commission has ruled in connection with complaints about Unified Russia flooding the country with t-shirts, notebooks, backpacks, and bottles of vodka.
On the other hand, the Federal Security Service, the KGB successor organization charged primarily with preventing terrorism, is investigating a Communist Party leaflet that contains jokes about Unified Russia and Putin. Police in cities around the country have confiscated campaign materials of the Union of Rightist Forces on pretexts ranging from the need to test them for narcotics to the need to analyze their content for signs of extremism or hidden advertising.
Opposition activists have been questioned by police in their homes and detained without cause on the streets. Garry Kasparov, head of the opposition Other Russia coalition -- which can't even participate in the elections because the Kremlin refused to register it -- spent five days in detention for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration, while six more Other Russia activists were sentenced this week to six days in jail for allegedly resisting arrest. Ivan Bolshakov, a leading Yabloko youth activist and Duma candidate from Nizhny Novgorod, was arrested on November 20 in Moscow hours after filing a complaint against Putin with the Central Election Commission on charges stemming from a demonstration he attended in May. Yabloko activist Farid Babayev was shot dead in Daghestan following his criticism of the republican administration's manipulation of the election campaign.
Unified Russia has filed 11 cases against newspapers in the city of Saratov alone, having recently won a hefty decision against one cash-strapped paper. Neither Putin nor the vast majority of the nearly 70 Category A officials (federal ministers and regional heads) running for the Duma on the Unified Russia ticket is taking administrative leave during the campaign. The governor of Novosibirsk region told journalists he can't leave his post because of upcoming events like " the celebration of the harvest, the 70th anniversary of the oblast, and the coming of winter."
5) Election results will reflect the public will. This myth is perhaps the most important from the Kremlin's point of view. Analysts in Russia and the West have argued Putin is seeking a landslide in the elections so he can -- under the cover of an apparent popular mandate -- affect some unspecified major overhaul to the state structure and/or the constitution. Those changes will likely institutionalize Putin's increasingly totalitarian political system by introducing further antidemocratic measures such as the elimination of the direct election of the president.
No one knows what those changes -- "Putin's Plan" -- will be. So no one can vote for them. But even if Russians did know what that plan is, a political system without alternatives cannot produce an endorsement of that plan. Fewer than one in five respondents in the RFE/RL poll believe the results of the vote will reflect the true will of the electorate.
The Russian legislative elections will produce a "landslide," but it will be no more meaningful than similar landslides that are produced in other controlled political systems, such as those in most Central Asian countries. Unified Russia's victory will be a victory for Putin and his circle. But it won't be anything more than that.
Friday, November 30, 2007
BRITISH OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS OF RUSSIAN ARMED THREATThe Telegraph report is here.
Britain's "Daily Telegraph" reported on November 29 that Conservative Party leader David Cameron argued in Washington on November 28 that "Western forces, which could include British troops, must be sent into the Balkans to prevent Russia sparking a new European war" over Kosova. Cameron said "let me make it clear: there could be a new crisis in the Balkans by Christmas.... That [would be] a direct threat to our national security, and we must therefore take decisive action now to prevent it. We need to reinforce the military presence in the region now, by drawing on some of NATO's dedicated operational reserve, to prevent trouble later." The daily suggested that "British diplomats privately share Mr. Cameron's fears of a Balkan crisis, but ministers have stopped short of proposing a further military deployment, and the Tory leader's call could dramatically increase the diplomatic stakes over Kosovo." PM
It looks as if Astemirov, following Basaev’s death, gave Umarov an ultimatum in an attempt to force him to “bury” Ichkeria and to declare the Emirate. Umarov, who needs the support of non-Chechen fighters in Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Dagestan, had no alternative but to agree.
The declaration of the Caucasian Emirate clearly demonstrates the rising influence of non-Chechen rebel leaders inside the Caucasian insurgency. For non-Chechen fighters, Chechen independence means nothing, and they do not want to fight any longer under the Chechen flag. Indeed, from the very beginning, the Caucasian insurgency, unlike the Chechen separatist movement, showed more signs of being a radical Islamist movement than a nationalist one.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The highly centralized system Putin has put into place has improved the state’s ability to conduct certain actions, according to Taylor: “It is clear that the central government can mobilize large numbers of police to deal with opposition protests, or to bring criminal cases against political and economic adversaries.” The police can function as a tool of foreign policy, Taylor observed, in cases such as Russia’s recent dispute with Georgia. During the height of tensions, police harassment of Georgians in Moscow ranged from document checks to tax police raids. “Whether that came from the Kremlin, I don’t know,” said Taylor, “but certainly the police felt that they were able to engage in such an operation during this foreign policy dispute.”
In terms of enforcing society’s laws, Taylor continued, Russia’s law enforcement structures are still very weak, both in specific and general terms. Specifically, in cases of high-profile assassinations or terrorist attacks, there are doubts about police capacity to solve or prevent such incidents. In general terms, such as fighting overall crime, the police are not sufficiently effective, as evidenced by consistently high murder rates under both Yeltsin and Putin.
Taylor questioned why law enforcement structures have not done better, given the centralization reforms that were designed to improve their effectiveness, and given the growing economy that is providing significantly greater resources to those structures. The key, he emphasized, is the “commercialization” of the enforcement structures, which was not undone by Putin’s reforms. In fact, Taylor said, there is little evidence that Russia’s law enforcement structures are getting any cleaner—the police remain one of most distrusted institutions in Russia.
There are both internal and external methods of monitoring law enforcement structures that can help reduce corruption, Taylor noted. External monitors—such as the media, non-governmental organizations, and opposition parties—have been consistently weakened in Russia over the last seven years, he noted. Taylor cautioned that exclusive reliance on internal monitoring and self-policing by the Russian state will make it more difficult to weed out corruption. So long as state officials are able to exploit state institutions for personal gain, he predicted, Russia will have persistent corruption and weak rule of law. “Recentralizing coercion does not reduce illegal state activity, and thus does not strengthen the state,” Taylor concluded.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
"The way the British think of the teddy bear - as far as Christmas is concerned, and toys are concerned - we don't have any teddy bears over here, so in Sudan, for us, it is a fierce and dangerous animal."
Dr Khalid al Mubarak, a spokesman for the Sudan embassy in London, quoted by the BBC in the case of Gillian Gibbons, incriminated by the Sudanese government, and facing a possible jail term or lashing for allowing the schoolchildren in her care to name a teddy bear "Mohammed".
Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
A senior Russian rights activist said he and a television crew had been abducted and beaten by security agents in the southern region of Ingushetia, just hours before a protest against police brutality.
Oleg Orlov of rights group Memorial told Reuters he and a film crew from the REN-TV channel were snatched from their hotel rooms in the Ingushetian town of Nazran by a group of masked and armed men who said they were from an anti-terrorist unit.
Jussi had a difficult time for a week or so - he developed an inflammation in the lining of his bowel, but it has healed now, and he's quite returned to his old self. Life in the cat shelter and before was hard, and he didn't get much of a diet there. The food I was giving him was too rich. Now after a couple of visits to the vet he's on dried food and water, and is doing much better.
Friday, November 23, 2007
On the eve of today's first anniversary of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered by polonium poisoning in London, Akhmed Zakayev gave a memorial tribute to the former FSB officer at an event hosted by Lord Pearson of Rannoch. From the conclusion of the speech:
As a man of strong moral principle, Sasha embarked on an irreconcilable struggle against that criminal [Moscow] regime, and found natural allies in the Chechens, who for many years had been confronting the Kremlin terrorists in almost total isolation. Alexander did not opt for the hypocritical but far more comfortable stance of a Russian patriot, instead openly declaring his support for the Chechen people, whose resistance he saw as a beacon of freedom for everyone.
His enemies were scared of Sasha and mobilised all their resources, even nuclear resources, in order to physically take revenge on this hero. A year later we see those directly involved in his murder being celebrated throughout Russia in much the same way that, in Soviet times, the first cosmonauts were feted for having carried out what was described as an important state mission.
Despite all this, Sasha managed to make an incalculable contribution to the inevitable downfall of these terrorists, which will surely come, no matter how sure of themselves they may feel today.
The noble memory of Alexander Litvinenko will live on not only in the hearts of his friends. It is no exaggeration to say that he has already gone down in history as an ideal of human courage and nobility, a man who dared to challenge one of the most inhuman regimes the world has ever known.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Today MI5's Jonathan Evans will brief British members of parliament on the current security situation and terror threat in the UK, as part of the parliamentary inquiry into the subject. The BBC notes that particular emphasis will be given to railway security, with the announcement that "from next year there will be new security barriers, vehicle exclusion zones and blast resistant buildings, and rail travellers face having their luggage screened at large stations."
Recently, Evans pointed out that in Britain children as young as 15 are being recruited for terrorist-related activity by al-Qaeda, and that resources that could be devoted to counter-terrorism are instead being used to protect the UK against spying by Russia, China and others, as espionage by these countries is now at Cold War levels.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
(via Mari-Ann Kelam)
In his speech at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg November 12, Tunne Kelam of the European Peoples’ Party and European Democrats faction sharply criticized an idea to create a Russian-European institute for democracy and human rights as proposed by Moscow at the recent EU-Russia summit in Mafra.
President Putin sees this institute as a Russian Center in the European Union which would be financed from the Russian state budget.
"Russian representatives have openly admitted that this step is planned as a political countermeasure against the European Union’s continuing criticisms of the worsening situation with human rights in Russia,” stated Kelam.
Kelam emphasized that EU leaders have to oppose any and all attempts to politicize the topic of human rights.
"Sufficient mechanisms to develop dialogue between Russia and the EU on human rights already exist," said Tunne Kelam. "These mechanisms have not been adequately used because Russia has not responded to problems pointed out by the EU.”
According to Tunne Kelam it has become clear that Russia plans to finance such an institute and its activities.
"To push this idea to its logical conclusion, we can imagine that tomorrow, for example, President Ahmadinejad would demand the creation on EU territory of an institute financed by Iran to study human rights and the Holocaust,” added Kelam.
Tunne Kelam is convinced that implementing the proposal made in Mafra would discredit the noble cause of defending human rights.
Kelam believes that the hope of some EU representatives that agreeing to the proposal would in turn open the door for financing independent non-profit organizations in Russia is short-sighted and naive.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Last month, 138 Muslim scholars addressed an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in which they call for a new dialogue between Christianity and Islam based on sacred texts.Via Leopoldo
Entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," the document claims that the shared Muslim and Christian principles of love of the One God and love of the neighbor provide the sort of common ground between the two faiths that is necessary for respect, tolerance and mutual understanding.
The publication of this letter coincided with the anniversary of a previous open letter in response to the pope's controversial Regensburg address on Sept. 12, 2006, when he appeared to link violence in religion to the absolute transcendence of God in Islam. His point was that according to Muslim teaching, God's will is utterly inscrutable and therefore unknowable to human reason - with the implication that divine injunctions cannot be fully understood and must be blindly obeyed.
Against this background, the latest initiative by Muslim scholars marks an attempt to move interfaith dialogue away from debates about reason and revelation towards scriptural reading. Christian-Muslim relations, so their argument goes, are best served by engaging in textual interpretations that highlight shared commandments and common beliefs.
But to suggest, as the authors of "A Common Word" do, that Muslims and Christians are united by the same two commandments which are most essential to their respective faith and practice - love of God and love of the neighbor - is theologically dubious and politically dangerous.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Friday, November 09, 2007
There are clear positives and negatives in the current situation. On the positive side, it needs to be remembered that members of the resistance were always of two different minds as to how they saw the future of Chechnya. After Zakaev’s declaration, it will be possible to fully flesh out a separate political wing oriented towards the values found in the 1992 constitution of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The traditions and customs of the Chechen people have made it difficult for those who have opposed reevaluating resistance goals in order to accommodate Middle Eastern allies to find their own voice. This silence has been exploited by those who are oriented towards the Middle East (who themselves used those same traditions that they sought to undermine and condemn). Albeit crudely, Zakaev has managed to do what no one else has dared to do. The fact that Isa Munaev, one of the few leaders still respected and trusted in the broader community, has sided with Zakaev makes the whole situation far easier for the foreign minister (Chechenpress, November 1). Those willing to criticize Akhmed Zakaev are unlikely to criticize Isa Munaev, regardless of Munaev’s views. Zakaev’s statements have also been met with a positive response by some Chechen parliamentarians, as well as mid and high-ranking commanders.
The clearly negative aspect of the situation lies in the continued tarnishing of the resistance movement’s image. The Beslan tragedy was one huge blow, the death of popularly elected President Aslan Maskhadov was another, and now the third one will be this proclamation of an “emirate,” in the wake of which nothing will remain for Chechens to do than simply give up the political struggle, since few of them aimed to build an Islamic state. Even Shamil Basaev noted in one of his final interviews that the point of the struggle was to achieve independence to give the people an opportunity to decide for themselves how they wanted to live (Novaya Gazeta, August 4, 2005).
The silence coming from the camps of Dokka Umarov and Movladi Udugov has grown suspiciously long, making it possible to assume that Umarov will withdraw his sensational declaration. It is still unclear who passed on Umarov’s speech to radio “Svoboda.” On one hand, it could be Zakaev trying to seize the initiative from his opponents. On the other hand, it could be Udugov testing the reaction to such a drastic change in strategy. One thing is for sure, the coming weeks will be crucial for clearing up this question and showing just what the resistance will be like in the near future.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, Vol. I (1950)
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Read it all.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
There are at least 2,000 people in the UK who pose a threat to national security because of their support for terrorism, the head of MI5 has said.
Jonathan Evans said there had been a rise of 400 since November 2006.
He said children as young as 15 were being recruited for terrorist-related activity by al-Qaeda.
Resources that could be devoted to counter-terrorism were instead being used to protect the UK against spying by Russia, China and others, he added.
There had been "no decrease" in the number of Russian covert intelligence officers operating in the UK since the end of the Cold War, Mr Evans said in a speech in Manchester.
Monday, November 05, 2007
There's no point in waffling: this confrontation is being called for by extremist groups such as al-Qaida that dream of establishing a caliphate from Indonesia to Nigeria, rejecting all openness, all modernity, every hint of diversity. If these forces were to achieve their sinister objective, it is certain that the twenty-first century would be even worse than the last one, itself marked by merciless confrontation between ideologies.
Kjelstrup is not afraid to point out, however, that one major author who failed to receive the Nobel award was turned down on the grounds of his "anarchism". He was Lev Tolstoy.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
by Paul Weston
When Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History and the Last Man in 1993, it was to argue that Western liberal democracy and free market economics meant an end to warfare within the west, and by default, the end of history.
Fukuyama was drawing on Winston Churchill, who stated: “The history of man is war”, thus allowing Fukuyama to propose that a future consisting of perpetual peace meant an end to history itself, history being simply a narrative of warfare, conquest and re-conquest, rather than which queen succeeded which king and on which date.
This idea that warfare within the West is now a thing of the past seems to be shared by an overwhelming section of Western people, reared as they are on a diet of enlightened tolerance and historical ignorance.
In 1990 it would have been relatively difficult to argue with Fukuyama’s prophecy. The West, excluding the inevitable frictions that came with the break up of the Soviet Union, was clearly not going to engage in the type of politics that led to the two world wars, whilst the demise of Communism meant an end to the global proxy wars between Russia and America.
What Fukuyama failed to realise, however, was that the ingredient for yet another “war to end all wars” was already in place. The cultural clashes between fascism, communism and liberal democracies had simply been replaced with another culture that would inevitably clash with the Western host cultures -- Islam.
Wars do not simply spring out of nowhere. Although the causes may be relatively complicated, they require only a few very basic ingredients which when blended together, placed in a pressure cooker on gas level 5, and left to boil unattended, can have only one result.
The first of these, self evidently, is an enemy, without which a chef cannot even begin to prepare his feast gastronomique. Some may argue that Islam is not our enemy; such an entity being radical Islam, a relatively small component of Islam overall. Possibly so, but this rather misses the point that Western liberal democracy is Islam’s enemy, as they tell us over and over again, through word and deed.
The death and destruction wrought throughout the West in recent years is not because Islam, in some childlike, well-intentioned yet misguided way, wishes to assimilate with us, it is because Islam wishes to take us over. We, obviously, do not wish to be taken over, so we must be prepared to resist an enemy, or be prepared to submit to an enemy, the point being that there is, with absolute certainty, an enemy.
The fact that it is radical Islam as opposed to moderate Islam is immaterial. In WWII Germany was our enemy, not the Nazis, just as Islam is our enemy today and not radical Islam. I am sorry to have to say this, but war entails polarisation of differing races/religions; the pieties of multiculturalism are reserved only for times of peace.
The second ingredient for war is anger and resentment amongst a unified mass majority. Despite the breadth of difference between Christian, post-Christian, Jew, agnostic, atheist, male, female, homosexual and heterosexual, the common thread that unites the people of the liberal West is no longer what we are, but what we are not. We are not Islamic, and -- voluntarily -- never will be.
And we are getting angrier by the day as we watch the television news, read the newspapers and listen to Islamic rhetoric calling for the overthrow of the West; a call apparently supported by our ruling elites who choose to clamp down on their indigenous people who dare to complain, rather than the perpetrators themselves.
Despite the best efforts of the vast state-funded race relations industry, the glaring evidence suggests one stark, unpalatable fact; Islam and the liberal West are incompatible. The utopian multiculturalist view that we can all get along is belied by the fact that as Islam keeps on trying to blow us up, so “Islamophobia” continues, quite naturally, to grow.
When police chiefs speak of “heightened racial tensions” (and in the case of France “low-level civil war”) they speak volumes about our current predicament. When Islam moves into an area and the indigenous inhabitants move out, this too speaks volumes. We do not -- indeed apparently cannot -- co-exist, a parlous state of affairs even whilst Westerners have the means and the territory to move away, but what happens when that escape route is removed?
Unfortunately, the birth rate differentials coupled with massive Muslim immigration and growing indigenous emigration suggest that this escape route is only temporary. Many European cities are on the brink of Muslim majorities already; within the next twenty years this will only escalate with increasing rapidity. At some point in the not too distant future, Europeans will have nowhere left to run.
Just as Islam is intransigently opposed to Western liberal democracy, so Western liberal democracy is intransigently opposed to Islam. The West in the case of “within borders” religious conflict is a demographic juggernaut compared to Islam today, but this can change very quickly as I argued in part 1 of a recent article. Within twenty years we will see two juggernauts of equal size, travelling in opposite directions on the same side of the road with the all too obvious result: collision circa 2025 or earlier, depending on their speed.
And it is as simple as that. Western Europe in 1990 did not have the ingredients necessary to bring about another war, but in 2007 we have the only ingredients necessary to ensure it. Two intransigent enemies, one demographically shrinking, the other demographically -- and literally -- exploding, both sides drawing their lines in the sand, and of course the simmering anger, fear and resentment that comes with such a scenario.
This situation reminds me of A E Housman’s words, describing the year 1914:
Europe is a powder keg. The Germans are gripped by fervent nationalism, the British feel afraid of German expansion….the French still remember the bitter defeat of 1870. Germany enters into a pact with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but that empire is being torn apart by ethnic tensions and it will take just one spark to ignite a European war on an unimaginable scale…
Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose, as they once said over a game of chess and chain-lit gauloises in the avant garde cafes of the Paris banlieus. History repeats itself, a fact not lost on the realists of the “right”, but lost in the fluffy mists of time to the liberal/left.
Perhaps a more recent quote might jolt them from their multicultural reverie, taken from Alastair Finlan’s book The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 which details the civil war that killed 250,000 people, the majority of whom were civilians, out of a population of 10 million.
In 1991, almost overnight, an ethnically diverse region that had enjoyed decades of peaceful coexistence descended into bitter hatred and chaos. Communities fractured along lines of ethnic and religious affiliation and the resulting fighting was deeply personal, resulting in brutality, rape, torture, genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Yugoslavia was a small country, and the death toll would have been much higher were in not for the intervention of external forces. Continental Europe has close to half a billion inhabitants. Should war start, there is no way on earth that any external force can stop it. And it need not be constrained to Europe; would a nuclear-armed Pakistan sit idly by? Will Iran or Syria possess a nuclear capability and would they use it against Israel? Would America then become involved? Would our need for oil necessitate the invasion of the Middle East? How would Turkey respond to that?
Unlike the First World War, given our nuclear weapons, this really could be the war to end to all wars.
Such an apocalyptic scenario should give the liberal/left pause for thought. Is such a possibility really worth this peculiar multicultural experiment of forcing two disparate cultures together, in a perverse attempt to prove history (and present day reality around the non-Western world) wrong?
Even the most vacuous multiculturalist would have to admit that religious war is a possibility, but what percentage chance would he admit to? Suppose it was only 1% — is that a risk worth taking? My only question to him would be “would you fly on a passenger jet that had a 1% chance of crashing, and if you would not, why do you think it acceptable that your children will inherit Armageddon based on a statistical chance of death that you yourself would not take?”
The completely unknown Serbian, Gavrilo Princip, provided the spark that ignited the First World War when he assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the little-known town of Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914.
In the Europe of 2007 the ingredients for the Third World War are in place, save for Islamic demographics, an issue rapidly being addressed. Will it be a Dwayne Sproat or an Achmed Al-bubba acting as the present day Gavrilo Princip who sparks it?
There have been a number of stories in the press in recent months about Geographically Challenged America. None tops the report about Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder confessing he hadn't known that people spoke English in London.Read it all
"I couldn't find London on a map if they didn't have the names of the countries," he explained. "I swear to God. I don't know what nothing is. I know Italy looks like a boot."
I suppose we'd all have another chuckle if Crowder were asked to find Estonia on a map, but in truth how many can? And for those of us who can, how many of us know anything of significance about this seemingly insignificant little country?
(hat tip: Leopoldo)
Friday, November 02, 2007
Council staff claim they are spending so much time dealing with the needs of Polish immigrants they are unable to provide other customers with the attention to which they are entitled.
Information-services workers at West Lothian Council, trying to support Poles who speak little or no English, now have much less time to help local people.
The findings, revealed in a report by Grahame Blair, the council's head of social policy, show a "huge" period of time is spent explaining entitlements and access to local amenities.
The report also says the resulting strain on staff resources means non-Poles are not receiving sufficient assistance from council staff.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The website chechenews.com posted on October 28 a statement it received by e-mail, signed by Chechen President and resistance commander Doku Umarov, in which Umarov confirms that he has proclaimed himself amir of a North Caucasus Islamic state, the precise extent of which he declines to specify. London-based ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev expressed concern one week earlier that Umarov would issue such a proclamation under pressure from radical elements within the resistance who, Zakayev claimed, have been suborned by the FSB, which intends to retaliate with harsh reprisals across the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 23, 25 and 26, 2007). The prospect that Umarov would declare a North Caucasus emirate has elicited concern among representatives of the ChRI government in exile, who warned that doing so would violate the constitution and undermine the legal status of the ChRI. Two prominent Chechen field commanders, Isa Munayev and Sultan Arsayev, have issued statements publicly siding with Zakayev, thereby implicitly distancing themselves from Umarov.
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves recently called on Western countries to adopt a policy of "benign neglect" toward Russia. He argued that it is a waste of time to complain about human rights violations there because the Kremlin ignores such entreaties. Ilves also said that the West should ignore Russia's belligerent rhetoric and not respond to aggressive comments by President Putin and his officials.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Buster is now called Jussi - after the Finnish-Swedish opera tenor Jussi Björling. Being called "Buster" seemed to rankle with him a bit - while he responded to it, he obviously associated the name with some rough times in the past. He responds to "Jussi" better somehow - and this name reflects his undoubted singing powers, when he decides to meow.
He hasn't been outside the house yet - perhaps next week I'll try taking him into the garden in his Cat Walking Jacket Harness and leash.
In fact, here in the UK it's fairly normal for cats to go outside unattended. In the States, however, things are rather different.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
As already reported, since 21 October 2007, the website Human Rights in Russia at www.hro.org, the largest Russian-language Internet resource on human rights in the Russian Federation) has been subjected to a relentless and concentrated computer attack (a new form of DidoS attack***) with access to the site blocked.
It would seem that HRO.org has become the first public resource in Russia to be confronted with an attack of such ferocity and persistence. The human rights resource has effectively become in the frontline of the newest stage of “cybernetic warfare”.
It should be noted that this attack does not only involve a consistent flow of tens of thousands of requests. The perpetrators have also managed to penetrate the website’s extremely serious security system and insert virus infecting modules into the file system.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The more one reflects on it, the more one is convinced, I believe, that the passage from constraint to freedom is accomplished in belonging. This, however, opens up a vast field for meditation. How indeed shall we judge the modern anarchical notion of freedom which implies precisely the fact of not belonging to anybody or anything? Analysis discloses that what is here presented as a plenitude may be after all only a void. We should closely examine, however, the historical relation between this anarchical individualism and a socialism which at first sight seems to be opposed to it in every respect, since they have not only developed concurrently, but have even at times encroached on one another; as though, by a clearly marked dialectic, the unity without content of a self which belongs to nobody gave birth to the false plenitude of a social idolatry to fill or absorb it.
Gabriel Marcel (1940)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
As Socor notes, there is also a Chechen connection. Read the whole thing.
Three factors account for the slowdown in the momentum behind Margelov’s candidacy. One is the hesitation and scruples felt by a growing number of PACE members about electing a representative of the Kremlin’s “managed democracy” to the presidency of Europe’s leading democracy-promoting institution. The doubters realize that such an election would accelerate the ongoing erosion of PACE’s credibility.
Another factor is information about outgoing PACE president Rene van der Linden’s involvement in business in Russia in 2006-2007. A dossier of Russian media reports -- that were available all along -- on that topic has now been compiled in Estonia and is circulating among members of the Strasbourg-based PACE. Van der Linden had previously disclaimed repeatedly any business activity in Russia. Faced with the Russian media reports, he no longer denies involvement but disclaims having earned profits from it. Van der Linden played a key role in the deal to put Margelov in PACE’s presidential chair for the next three-year term. Thus, van der Linden’s overall political judgment comes into sharp question at the end of his presidential term.
Baltic parliamentarians in the three capitals and in Strasbourg were taken aback when van der Linden suddenly began replaying Russia’s propaganda themes against their countries in August and September. The Estonian parliament’s European Affairs Commission chairman, Marko Mihkelson -- until recently the head of Estonia’s delegation to PACE -- made public the Russian media compilation, commenting that it is up to van der Linden himself to judge whether he finds himself in a conflict-of-interest situation (Baltic Times, October 17).
Yet another factor in the debate is Russia’s failure to fulfill a host of commitments it had made to the Council of Europe in 1996 as a pre-condition to Russian membership. Quite apart from the overall assault on democracy in Russia in recent years, the non-fulfillment of Russia’s commitments to PACE involves specific, clearly worded, incontrovertible obligations. PACE’s itemized list of those issues when Russia was admitted as a member (Opinion No. 193, January 1996), now circulating among members, helps flag Russia’s unfulfilled membership conditions and commitments.
the CIA used Radio Free Europe (RFE) to spark the October 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation and satellization. In other words as instigators and cheerleaders, the CIA and RFE, says Mr. Weiner, were responsible for the bloody events.
"If Mr. Weiner had done any homework," Beichman notes, "he would have realized how misplaced is his accusation."
Meanwhile, Estonian politician Mari-Ann Kelam recalls that arguments of the kind presented by Weiner were common currency during the years that marked the end of Communism in Eastern Europe:
One of George Bush’s excuses in 1990 for not being pro-active on the Soviet-occupied Baltic nations was this same nonsense about the “radios encouraging the Hungarians” and not wanting to repeat that fiasco…He told us this at a meeting in the White House with American Baltic leaders.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Mari-Ann Kelam writes from Tallinn, Estonia:
Especially in light of articles such as “The Horrors of Red T-shirt” below, I appeal to you again to help ensure that the film “SINGING REVOLUTION” gets the widest possible audience and recognition. The film is about Estonia’s recent history primarily as Estonians living in Estonia experienced it – invasions, occupation by foreign totalitarian regimes and how the small Baltic nation peacefully restored its democracy and independence. The film is exceptionally well done and will help “set the record straight” for all three Baltic nations as well as helping to prevent something like this happening again. Let’s use the internet to do some good.
If you saw my earlier mailings on this topic and said, “I’ll do it later” – then today is the day – do it NOW, before you log off. It is easy and fast and secure. Just go to www.singingrevolution.com At the risk of sounding like one of those email chain letters we all used to get J (“Send this to everyone you know!”) I do ask you to sign up yourselves and to encourage your families and friends to do the same. A number of you have your own lists to whom you send items, please inform the members of those lists – it is a great movie! And, my dear international contacts, surely you know people living in North America – do take a minute to inform them and ask them to sign up to view the film.
While you are visiting the Singing Revolution website, do take a few minutes to browse through the various sections on history, etc., to read updates on the blog, to view the trailer…. Thank you! MAK
The Times, Oct. 18, 2007
It’s become an early 21st-century commonplace that the Right has won the economic argument, the liberal Left the cultural one. And, I would add, the revolutionary Left has, almost posthumously, won the argument over T-shirts, to the extent that their favourite hard men have entered mainstream iconography.
Last weekend, at my local farmers’ market, I saw a T-shirt for sale bearing the faces of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Castro. (Strange for a farmers’ market, admittedly. You can buy the usual humorously overpriced tomatoes and bottles of olive oil, too.) Paint the Town Red said the legend. And under the faces, in smaller text, Tough Dictator Finish. A bargain at £25.
But why, I thought, mentally totting up the misery these men have caused, stop at just the image? Why not feature a precis of each dictator’s personal death toll? Or maybe you could print an individual rollcall of repression and mass murder on the back of the shirt, as bands do with their tour dates? Obviously, it’d have to be a very large T-shirt.
Stalin: caused the Ukrainian famine, forcibly displaced entire peoples, including the Chechens, conducted the Great Purge, sent hundreds of thousands to the Gulag camps, ordered the Katyn massacre, signed an alliance with Hitler, weakened the Red Army by killing its officer corps, had thousands of returning Soviet PoWs executed for treason, antiSemitic, laughed at son’s suicide attempt, had most of own family murdered.
Mao: brought in killing quotas during land reform in the early Fifties, one landlord shot per village, starved millions during the so-called Great Leap Forward, unleashed the Red Guards to torture city-dwellers, spectacle-wearers etc during the Cultural Revolution, said “China is such a populous nation it is not as if we cannot do without a few people”.
Lenin: set up the Cheka, instigated the Red Terror, and thus the deaths of perhaps a quarter of a million opponents, signed off mass executions of former tsarist ministers and officials, issued the infamous hanging order for the exemplary execution of kulaks during the civil war, possibly syphilitic, no sense of humour, ghastly prose style.
Castro: political executions since the revolution running at somewhere between 5,000 and 12,000, not counting the thousands drowned trying to flee, including children swept into the sea with powerhoses by the Cuban Navy, country held down by the normal paraphernalia of a police state, rigged elections, lies, torture, toe-curling personality cult (Fidel, El Comandante etc).
If someone wore a T-shirt celebrating Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and, say, Somoza, or Pinochet, they would, one hopes and trusts, before long receive a firm instruction to desist or face the consequences. I can see no reason why anyone parading this equally gruesome quartet should be treated any less robustly, and at least with all that detail on the shirt, they might realise why.
The North Caucasus resistance has become increasingly radical since the beginning of the Second Chechen War in 1999. For the jihadists who oppose Chechen nationalists, the Taliban has become the example. But as the radicalization of the North Caucasian resistance increases, even the Taliban, which according to some radical jihadists is possibly the only government that followed the dicta of the Koran, started to lose its luster.
A contributor to one Internet site appeals to the authority of Sheikh Al Islam Ibn Taymia, who, together with Qutb, is one of the most quoted authorities for present-day Islamists. The contributor argued that the Taliban has become tainted by compromise with the non-Islamic world and has tried to create a peculiar, but still democratic, state. This was a crucial mistake. To start with, democracy is an outmoded political system; even leaders who are not inspired by Islam understand this. Hitler abandoned democracy and made Germany a strong state. Chinese leaders have followed the same path, forsaking democracy and pitilessly crushing those who challenged the regime, which has made China strong despite much screaming from Western critics. Democracy is an unworkable institution by its very nature; furthermore, organized states of any type are not part of Islam. The Taliban forgot this. It attempted to play according to international rules. It wanted to be recognized by the international community and indeed was recognized by some states. The Taliban also tried to integrate themselves in the global order of the non-Islamic world, hobnobbing with regimes that, while claiming to be Muslim, were actually quite foreign to Islam, such as the Persian Gulf states.
All these blunders would have been avoided by those who follow the Islamic path. They would have rejected any political arrangement that does not stem directly from the Koran. The Koran implies that one-man rule rather than democracy should be the organizing principle of government. This principle should go along with resolute struggle against any regime that is a traitor to Islam despite external Muslim trappings. Such regimes are to be treated with the most decisive actions, for they are more dangerous than openly anti-Islamic regimes to the cause of Islam.
And the same holds for the Russian regime. Muslims who serve Russians and those such as Ramzan Kadyrov, Russia's viceroy in Chechnya who combines Islam and nationalism should be decimated without pity. The Internet sites make a special point of describing the gruesome death of such people. Other Muslims are warned not to help wounded pseudo-Muslims, at the risk of being subject to attack themselves.
This uncompromising extremist view, apparently shared by increasing numbers of Islamists underground, including the North Caucasian segment, is troubling. But it has a silver lining. The absolutist nature of the movement could well create a basis for cooperation for practically all members of the international community, regardless of the tensions among the major players.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Gabriel Marcel (1940)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
In Iran, Mr. Putin pledged that he would not "renounce our obligations" regarding a nuclear power plant Russia is building in the Iranian port city of Bushehr. He insisted that Iran's "main objectives" in seeking nuclear technology "are peaceful." And he underscored Russia's burgeoning economic ties with the Islamic Republic, which "has already reached $2 billion."
Anyone harboring illusions that Russia can be brought aboard for a tougher round of U.N. sanctions against Iran might want to read these statements twice. Similarly, anyone who thought Russia could be won over to the deployment of a limited U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic should have paid closer attention to Mr. Putin's message to Condoleezza Rice and Bob Gates: "Of course, we can some time in the future decide that some antimissile defense should be established somewhere on the moon," said Mr. Putin, with more sarcasm than wit. He offered this observation after keeping his American guests cooling their heels for 40 minutes, a tactic that recalls the habits of the late Syrian strongman Hafez Assad.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The phrase “political correctness” was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the political correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.Read the whole thing.
There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what to do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art — the arts generally — are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution. It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.
(Hat tip: Leopoldo)
Monday, October 15, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
For years, Russia's security forces have attempted to create a link not only in the Russian public's mind, but also in that of the international community, between the the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (detested by the "law enforcers") and the events that take place in the North Caucasus - the most memorable being the tales about the "White Pantyhose Brigade", "supplemented by jokes and the recollections of eye-witnesses, even more funny than jokes. In these recollections, legends and myths, the slender blondes from Lithuanian villages had come to Chechnya to avenge themselves for the misdeeds of Molotov and Ribbentrop hitting our soldiers and imagination from sniper rifles," as Ilya Milstein wrote in the New Times a few years ago.
At first, the obviously manufactured, artificial nature of the violent events in Ingushetia this year made some observers wonder just who the forces behind these actions were. On the basis of the foregoing, it's becoming increasingly evident who they are.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
We move to a coffee shop so Azizov can plug in his Alienware laptop. It connects to the Internet via cellular card, and he navigates to R2.ee, an Estonian radio station. After a few keystrokes, he smiles and tilts the screen toward me. There is an error message. He has performed what is known as an SQL injection attack. With one more keystroke, he says, he could take over the site entirely.
"Why are you showing me this?" I ask.
He tells me that he has just started a new company that will help system administrators assess the vulnerability of their sites. He will identify weaknesses, as he just has with R2.ee, and offer to fix them — for a price.
"Did you offer to help fix R2.ee?" I ask.
He smiles awkwardly and says that he hasn't. I ask him why anyone would trust him. After all, he seems to have a suspiciously intimate knowledge of the Estonian attacks. "Russian IT specialists are knowledgeable and experienced enough to destroy the key servers of whole states," he says. "They're the best in the world."
The implication: Clearly you want them on your side, so why not hire them? Maybe Estonia was simply an advertising campaign.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Monday, October 08, 2007
See also: When enough is enough
Sunday, October 07, 2007
President Putin commands the support of a good 70 per cent of Russians and he could probably lift the numbers of United Russia to the two-thirds majority in the Duma needed to change the constitution and redistribute power. Under that scenario, United Russia, hitherto an ideas-free Putin vehicle, would transmute into a ruling party with long-term tenure – not so much a Communist-style one-party set-up as like an Institutional Revolutionary party, which ruled Mexico for most of the last century.Jeremy Putley has sent me the text of a letter, so far unpublished by the FT, which has recently acquired a new editor:
If Mr Putin intends to run things – and clearly, he does – then it is arguably better that he rules through institutions than from behind the scenes as, say, head of an arm of the state such as Gazprom. Yet even for someone so clearly in control, it is not easy to rejig the sources of real power. This transition is not over yet.
3 October 2007
Putin’s power play with democracy, editorial, today
Parliamentary democracy is generally found to be preferable to the alternative democratic model of government based on an elected, all-powerful president. There are very few instances of good presidential working models, and the Russian system is not one of them. It might, therefore, appear to be a step in the right direction if power were to transfer, in the person of Mr Putin, from the office of president to that of prime minister.
But this is to ignore the merits of the individual concerned, and it was a significant omission from your editorial today that you have made no comment on the prospective candidate’s suitability for office. Mr Putin’s record disqualifies him.
In the years since 2000 Mr Putin has presided over a state whose salient aspects have included the conduct of a war in Chechnya characterised by massive civilian deaths, savage destruction, and wide-scale crimes against humanity; the imposition, in Chechnya, of a fake political settlement while repressions continued unabated; the abuse of the judicial system to lock up persons who are perceived as opponents, following dubious judicial proceedings which are frequently in camera; widespread torture of suspects, documented with impeccable credibility by the late Anna Politkovskaya; the creation of a domestic terrorist threat as a consequence of repressive policies; ineffectual leadership at times of crisis; and, not least, the suppression of democratic freedoms.
The secrecy in which the Chechnya war was conducted was deliberate Kremlin policy, intended to hide the lawless anarchy created in Chechnya, the war crimes committed by the Russian military, and the mass murder of the civilian population. It would be a pity, I suggest, if that policy were to be rewarded. Crimes should not go unnoticed and unremarked; all the more so if “a good 70 per cent of Russians” support the incumbent president.
Russia is a country without many heroes. It had a good many, once. But under Vladimir Putin, president since 2000, most of the heroes are in prison, exiled or dead. The bravest and best of them was Anna Politkovskaya, assassinated a year ago today.
In her four published books and her journalism Anna Politkovskaya reported and commented fearlessly on the injustices and the corruption, the crimes and the lies she found wherever she went. In so doing she wrote the history of the Putin era. The importance of her contribution to the record of what really happened at events such as the Dubrovka theatre siege lies in the efforts of Russia’s sinister regime of siloviki to falsify history. As a minor, but significant, example, the number of the hostages killed by the rescuers at the siege was officially 139, but in reality, as accurately recorded by Politkovskaya, 200.
Attempts by the Russian government at falsification of the historical record, or disguising what really happened, are a trademark of Putinism. The suppression of the truth of the Chechnya war was deliberate policy, intended to hide the lawless anarchy created in Chechnya, the war crimes committed by the Russian military, and the mass murder of the civilian population. In A Dirty War, published in 2001, and A Small Corner of Hell, in 2003, Politkovskaya wrote about what was really happening there. On the blanket of secrecy she commented: “The time of Putin is the time of silence about what’s most important in this country.”
Putin’s Russia, in 2004, is about a man who, as the book’s blurb says, had marketed himself as an open, enlightened leader eager to engage with the West. Unlike many European and American journalists and politicians, Anna distrusted Putin’s press image, and set about dismantling it, arguing that he is a product of his own history, and so is unable to prevent himself from stifling civil liberties at every turn. The following passage from the book discloses the sense of moral outrage that was the inspiration for the best of her journalism. She relates how a missile bombardment on a farmstead, in April 2004, killed everyone there - a mother and her five children - and writes:
Why do I so dislike Putin? Because the years are passing. This summer it will be five since the second Chechen War was instigated. It shows no sign of ending. At the time the babies [killed in the bombardment] were yet unborn, but all the murders of children since 1999 in bombardments and purges remain unsolved, uninvestigated by the institutions of law and order. The infanticides have never had to stand where they belong, in the dock; Putin, that great “friend of all children”, has never demanded that they should. The Army continues to rampage in Chechnya as it was allowed to at the beginning of the war, as if its operations were being conducted on a training ground empty of people.
This massacre of the innocents did not raise a storm in Russia. Not one television station in Russia broadcast images of the five little Chechens who had been slaughtered. The Minister of Defence did not resign. He is a personal friend of Putin and is even seen as a possible successor in 2008. The head of the Air Force was not sacked. The Commander-in-Chief himself made no speech of condolence…and in Russia all was quiet.
Why do I so dislike Putin? This is precisely why. I dislike him for a matter-of-factness worse than felony, for his cynicism, for his racism, for his lies, for the gas he used in the Nord-Ost siege, for the massacre of the innocents which went on throughout his first term as President.
This is how I see it.
It was passion and honesty, as well as Anna Politkovskaya’s undoubted courage, which made her Russia’s greatest journalist in her lifetime. I once so described her on an internet forum; a Russian wrote to inform me that she was not well regarded in her own country, and moreover my opinion was in bad taste. I had not intended to praise the quality of her journalism so much as the indomitable spirit which informed it, the shining courage which made her so necessary to her profession in the time in which she lived. Russian people in general are still unaware, no doubt, that they lost a truly heroic figure in October 2006. Her books remain unpublished in Russia, I believe.
Her last book, published posthumously in February this year, is entitled A Russian Diary. In the foreword the broadcaster Jon Snow writes: “For many of us who continue to aspire to the highest standards of journalism, Anna Politkovskaya will remain a beacon burning bright, a yardstick by which integrity, courage and commitment will be measured.”
Politkovskaya’s bravery was remarkable. There were many recorded instances, of which one is referred to by Matthew Evangelista, in his 2002 book, The Chechen Wars:
In February 2001 she travelled to Chechnya to investigate stories of mass detentions in underground pits, torture, and summary executions. Not only did she verify the stories, but she herself was arrested by the FSB and threatened with rape and “execution”. Unbowed, she continued to issue critical reports about the behaviour of Russian forces in Chechnya.
In October 2001 Politkovskaya had to flee the country after receiving threats on her life. She had published more controversial articles on the Chechen War, including the interview with [the Russian war criminal, General Vladimir] Shamanov. In September she wrote about alleged summary executions and torture committed by a unit of Interior Ministry troops in Grozny. The report contained detailed accusations of torture by Sergei Lapin; an officer who allegedly shaved his nickname “Kadet” on the back of the head of Zelimkhan Murdalov, a 26-year-old Chechen man in custody before breaking his arm and thorax and cutting off his right ear. Supposedly transferred to the hospital, Murdalov was never seen again.
Anna did not remain abroad for long, and in spite of information that her life was in danger she returned to Moscow. In October 2002 she was involved in the Dubrovka theatre siege as an intermediary between the Chechen hostage-takers and the would-be liberators. And in September 2004 she was poisoned, almost certainly by the FSB, and hospitalised, en route to Beslan, to prevent her reporting on the events of the school siege and massacre.
After an unconscionably lengthy delay, a parliamentary commission reported on the Beslan tragedy. The report by the Torshin commission was a work of cynical mendacity intended to whitewash the Russian government and its agencies. It was interesting only in showing that the heirs to the Soviet Union’s praesidium, or central committee, are capable of lies intended to falsify, to the Russian people and the world, the historical record of what really happened, and to hide the crimes of the officials who ordered the assault on the school knowing that hostage deaths would be the inevitable consequence.
It was therefore with a sense of being lied to yet again that, at the end of August, I watched on the Russia Today TV channel the hour-long press conference given by the Russian prosecutor-general, Yuri Chaika, in which he announced that the investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya was complete, that the guilty were under arrest, that there was a Chechen trail, and that an unnamed person living abroad was identified as having ordered the murder.
I don’t think so. The person who ordered the murder had a motive, and that person is to be found in Russia or in Chechnya. It is unlikely that he will be named by the unconvincing Mr Chaika, since he doesn’t know who it is – or, if he does, is not going to tell us for fear of a bullet or two.
The Hero of Russia title and medal replaced the Soviet equivalent in 1992, since when an unknown number of persons have received the honour. In her book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya wrote of “Russia’s secret heroes”:
I had two very simple questions. The first was, How many soldiers have received state awards for their participation in the Second Chechen War? And the second was, How many of them earned the Hero of Russia title?
The Information Department sent me to the Putin administration’s Department of Government Awards. “That information is classified,” the assistants firmly stated, categorically refusing me any chance to talk with the bosses of their departments. “It’s not subject to disclosure.”
“But that’s absurd!” I objected. “Why are the Hero of Russia and other awards confidential?”
“For the protection of those who receive these awards,” came yet another cryptic response.
Anna Politkovskaya was not nominated to receive the Hero of Russia award. In any case she would have declined the title, which has been much dishonoured by being awarded to unworthy men.
Her lasting contribution and her title to greatness are in this ironic truth: that her record of what really happened in her country under President Putin will stand. The falsehoods and secrecy promulgated by the corrupt men who now rule in Russia will not stand. The eventual verdict of history on the Putin presidency will be as it was recorded by the courageous, lone woman journalist who died a martyr to the truth, one year ago.
October 7, 2007