Tuesday, December 27, 2005

MI6 in Athens part III

/ cover-ups / royal /
I've been following both here (1, 2) and on the European Tribune (1, 2) the saga of this summer's abductions of Pakistani immigrants in Athens by "unknown captors". The story just acquired a new twist which is why I'm writing a third post instead of updating the last one...

On Christmas day, the Athens Weekly "Proto Thema" published a list of Greek Secret Service operatives involved in the abduction as well as the name of a British agent described as the MI6's stationmaster in Athens (who was possibly in command of the whole operation). The newspaper is a rather sleazy/muckraking tabloid - with connections however to a lot of people in high places. The leak probably came from within the secret services - and the veracity of the story is strengthened by the Greek Government's and the Greek Intelligence Service's panicked reactions. It is interesting that no other Greek newspaper that I know of - and certainly no British or International publication on the web has published the MI6 agent's name - pointing to a gag order:
THE Government tried last night to block the naming of an MI6 officer alleged to have orchestrated the torture of terrorist suspects in Greece.
It issued a warning to media organisations after a leading Athens newspaper identified the British intelligence officer and 15 Greek agents, alleging that they took part in the arrest and abuse of 28 Pakistan-born detainees who were held in connection with the July 7 bombings in London.
The disclosures sparked a row in Athens, with opposition leaders and human rights groups demanding to know why British agents were allowed to operate in Greece...

The MI6 agent is named Langman and probably is the same bloke who was also implicated in the various Diana-related MI6-scenarios - and thus already compromised, I would say, never mind that his name was published on the front page of the Sunday newspaper with the largest bleeding circulation in Greece, so I don't understand why the fuss.

Anyway, the Greek government has a whole load of problems with this right now as the public prosecutors' office is stating that the complaints are "absolutely valid" and is preparing to call the named Greek Intelligence officers to testify. This is something that the Intelligence Service (EYP) has already stated that it will not allow its employees to do, on grounds of "national interest". The lawyer of the abducted immigrants, however, is preparing to sue the named EYP officers. This will make not appearing in court difficult for the agents accused. The conservative government is already suggesting that it was Socialist party sympathizers inside EYP who leaked the story for political gains (or disgruntled officers skipped on the promotion lists) and insists that there is nothing to it, a position that is getting harder to defend with each passing day.

[cross posted in a slightly different form in the European Tribune]

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Berisha short on cash again?

/ corruption / forgotten /
Does any one else find the fact that a Berisha government "...works towards creating a favourable investment climate in an effort to attract Albanian migrant workers to direct their money to the domestic economy and local investments..." hilarious? I mean, the goal is laudable, but rather ironic given the history of his previous presidency. I can't figure out how this guy is president of Albania again - "fighting corruption", no less - and not behind bars. A comment from an Albanian neighbor about this effort was "he's looking for suckers again" ("ψάχνει ξανά για μαλάκες").

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Athens abductions update

/ common sense / abducted /
The case of the abducted Pakistani immigrants by greek and english speaking "secret service" (?) officials this past August, mentioned in a previous post has taken a turn towards the bizarre: Pakistan's interior minister denied that such events took place, in what surely is a case study in illogic:

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, in Athens to attend a conference on immigration, said Pakistan's ambassador in Greece had received no official complaint regarding the claims.

"So far he has had no response, which means that no such incident has happened," the minister said. "We have a large community of Pakistanis here in Greece, and they are law-abiding citizens."

Well, first of all, the local Pakistani community denies this, and they have actually taken the issue to court in July already, something that might possibly have escaped the ambassador's notice. It is mind-boggling for the ambassador to claim that he was unaware of this case, which was covered by Greek media since August at least, unless he isn't paying much attention...

Along with Jack Straw claiming that the whole thing is "complete nonsense", Greece's minister of Public Order stated that such an case "Never existed, doesn't exist and will never exist for the Greek authorities" pre-empting the official investigation of the events in question by the Justice Ministry, which treats it as a serious case: Athens prosecutor Dimitris Papagelopoulos assures the public that his office "has the guts" to investigate these events thoroughly. The MPO's statements were characterized by Amnesty International as irresponsible. Voulgarakis, the Minister in question went on to declare that:

“These types of accusation are being treated by the Public Order Ministry as possibly suspicious or deliberate,” Voulgarakis said. “They have the aim of damaging the good atmosphere and security that members of the Pakistani community feel in our country.”

He added (according to in.gr) that:

[Some aim] to make the [Pakistani Immigrants] feel insecure, hearing about abductions and things that are possibly happening in other countries, so that they might be more easily manipulated... We will not allow the creation of mujahedeen cells in Greece. Our country is, and will remain hospitable and safe..."

... Which can easily be interpreted as a warning to all concerned to shut up or risk being escorted to the next flight for Karachi - or worse.

Eleftherotypia also reports that:

"According to sources 12 Pakistanis have testified (8 with the prosecutor present) and they confirm the content of the complaint while adding a few details about the events. They say that their abductors spoke fluent Greek and that they led them, hooded, to an unknown location after an hour and a half ride.

They also stated that their prison was possibly in a rural setting, as they felt they were walking on rough ground. Their interrogators asked them questions about their relatives in London, about their relationships with others there, without inflicting serious violence although, as they claim, when they didn't respond or didn't cooperate, they pushed their heads down.

During their detention and interrogation, their captors, who when they arrested them claimed to be Greek Police officers, didn't wear a hood so they could recognize them if they saw them again"

The Athens daily "Ta Nea" suggest that the investigations point to the Greek Secret service (EYP), and that Voulgarakis attempted cover-up will lead him to all sorts of political trouble... Conceivably true yet doubtful. There's all sorts of plausible deniability available and a very short attention span on matters concerning immigrants. I hope I'm proven wrong.

[slightly updated version cross-posted to the European Tribune]

Bolivia's stunning electoral result

/ chavez / contagious /
In what is still more good news from Latin America the socialist Evo Morales, self-styled US nightmare in the region, a cocalero, the first native indian president of the country and a chavezite, has, it seems, received the 51% of the vote that enables him to claim the presidency without any political bargains. This is great news any way you look at it.

This guy is about to rock some boats (although there are fears in the movement that supported him that he won't go far enough):

  • He's about to nationalize Bolivia's gas reserves:

    Morales wants to nationalize Bolivia's huge gas reserves, the continent's second largest after Venezuela, currently in the hands of multinational companies. 'We will renegotiate all contracts - they are illegal, since congress has never ratified them,' he says. 'The state will recover the property of its natural resources, but we are open to foreign investment in exchange for a share of the business.'

    He's not in a hurry and won't do this hastily, but it is quite certain that (after the past few years' "gas wars") he can't back off this promise. He seems to have certain ideas that involve neighboring Venezuela. Venezuela might step in if the US makes good on its threat to cut (90 million dollars of) aid to the country. Chavez BTW is already giving the big oil companies hell. The population of Bolivia has been radicalized by both the gas issue and the water issue, having defeated World Bank mandated water privatization that had exploded the price of water. More on the Bolivian water wars here.

  • The thing that will certainly piss off the US is the fact that Morales is about to legalize coca cultivation, a traditional crop for Indians and primary ingredient of cocaine, "with the aim of industrialising productions so it can be made into food and medicinal products". A site called Evo Morales, which might or might not be connected with Evo personally or might, more probably, just be a fan site, states the following (which I reproduce in its entirety):

    We, Aymaras and Quechuas, original nations of the Andes, have survived the onslaught of the white man until today thanks to our coca leaf. From the moment the white man came to our land he has tried to control our leaf for his own enrichment. He has abused it here and now he is abusing it everywhere else. Since it has escaped his control he is intent on destroying it.

    He has labeled our sacred plant a drug, to be prohibited and eliminated under universally binding drugs conventions. With these conventions the United Nations have offended and betrayed the Aymara and Quechua Nations.
    Under the cover of these conventions and after impoverishing our people with their neoliberal policies, the United States government, foremost enemy of the Indians, has used its dollars to bribe the officials of Bolivia, corrupt its institutions and pit white Bolivians against us. Recently the United States Embassy in La Paz has funded a mercenary force with orders to eliminate the coca plant and the Indians defending it.

    Coca is not a drug!
    This lie has to be called. The moment has come for us to stop the menace of anihilation of the coca plant and our communal ways of living.
    The coca plant has sustained us through all adversities until today and we will strive, with all our might and with her help, to thwart the white man's wicked plans.
    Like other plants coca is a medicine, a holy plant. Thanks to coca we have withstood the untold sufferings brought upon us by the white man's unholy war on drugs.

    Therefore, the United Nations should respect our coca leaf and take it off their prohibitive lists.
    Therefore, the United States should get all their drug war personel and equipment out of Bolivia. They have abused their stay. Let them go home to fight their own countries drug war.
    Therefore, the white men should stop their war on drugs and accept that we live peacefully with the coca plant. They should consider reports from Harvard University, their most cherished academic institution, about the beneficial uses of our plant.

    But this will not come about without our active intervention. We have to rise to the occasion.
    The moment has come for the original nations to take power in our own hands.
    The moment has come for us to redeem the coca plant.
    We have learned to treat the plant with respect and she has generously rewarded us
    From now on we will no longer tolerate any foreign powers harming our plant. We will be her sovereign guardians.
    Those nations that accept this will be our friends. We will help them treat its abuse.
    Those that will continue to repress our plant will be our enemies and the predictions of sickness and misery proferred by our yaquiris, as recorded by legend, will certainly befall them.

    As long as the American invader fights us, we, the original nations, won't forget our war cry, born from the pain of our people:

    Causachun coca! Wañuchun yanquis!
    Long live coca! Yankee go home!

  • In related developments in neighboring Venezuela, the Chavez government just earmarked a breathtaking 41% of total expenditure of the country's 2006 budget for social programs. Which according to the BBC are already showing spectacular results.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    MI6: Kidnap and torture world-wide

    / terror / antiterrorist /
    This story is just breaking, and the Greek media are pointing to a BBC report that I couldn't find on its site yet, but which is carried by the Times today:
    A leading Greek lawyer will today present a dossier to parliament in Athens of the treatment of 28 detainees by MI6 officers. Frangiscos Ragoussis alleges that the detainees were hooded and held in secret.

    The men, all of Pakistani origin, claim that they were threatened by two British agents who warned them that their families in Greece and the UK would suffer also if they dared complain about their treatment.

    Reports first surfaced about these events in the Greek press this past August, so the Times' claim that:
    The late night raids on addresses in Athens and the northern town of Ioannina came a week after the London bombings but have only now come to light because of Mr Ragoussis's intervention.

    ...is not really accurate: the Athens daily Eleftherotypia (among others) carried the story on the 18th of August (link here in Greek). Excerpts (quickly translated from that report):
    Seven alien residents, six of Pakistani descent and one Kashmiri, charged that they were abducted by foreign secret services in Athens, were interrogated and then freed blindfolded in the center of Athens...

    This sensational story took place allegedly on July 15th, a few days after the Al Qaida strike in London. The immigrants were held for periods ranging from 48 hours to 7 days (two of them were freed on July 22) ...

    ...The Greek police and the antiterrorist service, under the jurisdiction of which this case would fall, have stated that they were unaware of these events. This as the approximately 11.500 Pakistanis living in Athens are terrorized, having already on their shoulders the "damning evidence" of their nationality and religion...

    [This happens] a few days after the revelation that a classified message from Scotland Yard reached the Ministry of Public Order, through which a young Pakistani male was interrogated - suspected of having ties with Al Qaida.

    Javed Aslam, president of the Pakistani community in Greece, in a legal complaint to the Greek judicial authorities, officially denounces the methods of "interrogation" of his compatriots that are reminiscent of undemocratic regimes. He claimed that:

    * On 15.07.05 around 11 pm, unidentified persons who claimed to be policemen, raided the home of seven immigrants in [the down-town area of] Petralona "without the DA being present, without a warrant and with no explanation... "after they were blindfolded they were led to an unknown location as the house was searched".

    * Their employer, noticing their absence, queried the nearby police station, where officers told him that "they are not held here nor anyone knows anything about them". On July 16 and 17, along with his lawyer, he visited all the area's precincts, the immigration office, the police and internal security headquarters, with no result. The 7 immigrants had disappeared and the authorities claimed ignorance...

    * "On Sunday the 17th" - as the complaint states - "5 of the persons abducted were "freed" in the dark alleys around Omonia [one of Athens' central squares]. They were blindfolded again and they had been threatened not to take their blindfolds off until after 5 minutes had passed. From these terrorized immigrants we learned that the "interrogation" they were subjected to concerned the recent bomb attacks in London"

    * Because two of the immigrants remained under arrest, the two lawyers [one of which is the lawyer that has brought charges to parliament today] visited the antiterrorist service on July 21, to receive the same reply: "we know nothing about this"! The following day and in the same dramatic fashion the two remaining detainees were released"

    The claim concludes demanding that "an investigation in depth be held to uncover the Greek or foreign, overt or clandestine secret services responsible for these events and to launch criminal charges. Especially since those abducted are terrorized and were forbidden by their captors to make any statements or take any action. All of us live in insecurity and terror, since the incident is well known in our community and we all feel as potential targets of these clearly terrorist actions. These "unidentified" police officers trampled on the Constitution and breached democratic guarantees and human rights"

    I'll be following the story as it unfolds... [cross-posted to the European Tribune]

    Balkan Defense Overview: Developments and Prospects

    / balkans / gunsRus /
    An excellent overview of defense procurements in the Balkans, from Balkanalysis - indicative of the sort of money we're throwing to various defense contractors (in the case of Greece at least - with all sort of "side-benefits
    "At this time the Balkans is one of the most heavily armed areas in Europe and it remains one of the crucial regions for geo-strategic analysis, as far as the international balance of power is concerned.

    It is a peninsula that is sufficiently close to Russia, the Middle East and Western Europe alike to become important in cases of power shifts like the major one that happened after 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Defense developments in the region are thus of profound interest for everyone involved in forecasting, analysis and policy making. This article considers defense procurement trends in four Balkan countries: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia & Montenegro."

    Speak of Balkanalysis, they seem to have fallen victim to plagiarism from no other than UPI, which is a sign of the times surely - and at least an indirect, if inappropriate, recognition of Chris' excellent work.

    Trapped at the Gates of the European Union

    / table tennis / human /
    Behzad Yaghmaian, relates the odyssey of African immigrants in Turkey - including a story of human ping-pong between Turkey and Greece:

    The number of Africans on the streets of Istanbul increased, and once again, in July 2001 the Turkish authorities acted in desperation. This time, they wished the Africans to disappear from Turkey. Violating Turkey 's international agreements, the police rounded up the Africans on the streets and secretly deported them to Greece.

    "During the first two weeks of July there was a sizeable roundup of foreigners in Istanbul, and possibly in Ankara. The group is said to include more than two hundred fifty Africans, of various nationalities. [They] were separated from other nationalities such as Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on July 27, 2001.

    The Africans were picked up in their homes or on the streets, and transferred by buses to the border with Greece. Groups of forty men, women, and children were boarded in small ten-person boats, and sent off to the Greek side of the Meric River [Greek Evros], a natural border between Turkey and Greece. The Greek authorities arrested the Africans, detained them and kept them in jail overnight. Next evening, they secretly took them to the border, placed them on small boats, and returned them to the Turkish side. Once in Turkey, the Turkish authorities arrested the Africans again. Some spent nearly a week in prison near the border before deported to Greece. The Greek authorities sent the unwanted Africans back to Turkey again. The Turks returned them to Greece. The Greeks dropped them off in Turkey.

    "Some people died. We were left with nothing, no food, nothing. We spent many nights in a police bus. We were not prepared for the journey," Ron, an African who was among those deported, told me in October 2002. Ron was picked up from his home in an Istanbul Ghetto. "This was like a movie," Donald, a Nigerian survivor in his early twenties told me in July 2005.

    Now what isn't mention is that the border between Greece and Turkey is heavily mined (certainly on the Greek side - quite possibly on the Turkish side as well) which means that these poor souls were set on an even more dangerous path than what they couldforeseee (there were 9 reported deaths and 5 serious injuries from these mines in 2001 alone - 60 in all between 1990-2003 and 17 deaths in 2003-2004 - This has to do with Greece's very slow compliance with the Ottawa treaty). Actually the situation described in 2001 was even more grotesque: Amnesty International painted an even grimmer picture of events...

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Former KGB chief disappoints gullible world-wide: sorry no UFOs

    / aliens / soviet /
    In a rather interesting interview in the Komsomolskaya Pravda, former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov speaks of UFOs, paranormal research and other myths. Selected quotes:

    We have never received any proof whatsoever that UFOs or other supernatural phenomena actually exist... With full responsibility I have to state - never ever during the long period of my work with the intelligence service was anything really supernatural spotted, either in Russia or in any other country. When I say "other country"”, I rely on the information from the highest officials, military, research and of course the intelligence agencies of foreign states...

    ...the Americans tried conducting so-called "parapsychology experiments", but made no progress. Neither did our own research institutes in this respect, although we also conducted some research. There are more exaggerations than achievements here.

    More precisely, no discoveries at all, and this with the efforts of the KGB'’s best, most extraordinary thinkers. This is a field that generations can explore for years, and still discover nothing... So all these rumors of the KGB'’s "’zombifying"’ its agents, or of whole closed special-mission towns, this is sci-fi fantasy, playing games with an ignorant and spooked public...

    and on another note, worth mentioning:

    ...the murder of Stepan Bandera was one of the last cases when the KGB disposed of undesired people [abroad] by means of violence. The USSR abandoned those methods in the times of Andropov, at the beginning of the 1980s.

    The West proclaimed the same non-violence policy, but we have information raising doubts that, say, the Americans follow this policy. We witnessed agents who were U.S. nationals disappear, and then learned they were dead.

    There was a similarly dismissive report coming out of Russia regarding UFOs, five years ago. Two russian researchers, one from the Academy of Sciences and one from the military, who checked out UFO reports over a thirteen year period, had concluded that:

    "...either the territory of the USSR was, due to any reasons, closed for alien visitations during, at least, 13 years, or that the hypothesis of an extraterrestrial origin of UFOs is inconsistent. Any serious investigator of the problem of UFOs should, at least, face this reality."

    Which means that stuff like this are fiction in any country you care to notice... Well almost any country: Russia was actually helping Iran with its UFO infestation problem... apparently these nosy aliens were hovering over Iran, quite near the country's nuclear facilities. So either these aliens are interested in nuclear powerplants (a galactic version of planespotters?), or someone else is...

    Someone else is.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2005

    An "Islamic terrorist" talks about himself and the Islamist movement

    / terrorists / talkative /
    The Moscow News has an interview with alleged intelligence chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, extradited from Pakistan and awaiting trial in Tashkent. Shukhrat Masirokhunov, ex-Komsomol cadre, son of an Uzbek CPSU functionary, turned local oligarch, turned Islamist Mujahedeen, talks about many interesting things, so interesting in fact as to be suspicious, given the fact that he freely admits to cooperating with the authorities:

    q: Have you been subjected to "“enhanced interrogation techniques"” in Uzbekistan?

    a:There was no need. We are all professionals. I know that today there is no problem getting any information from a person so I cooperated voluntarily.

    One wonders if the cooperation includes a (partially even) scripted interview in which (Uzbek? FSB? ISI? a little bit of everything?) secret services spread a little bit of what they want to disseminate for reasons of their own. Plus, the guy comes off as some sort of cool and almost disinterested observer of the situation, hardly a fanatic of any sorts. Which might or might not mean something - who knows?

    To get an idea of the regional situation the New Yorker had a piece (2002) on the islamic movements in Central Asia which provides excellent background - see also this Radio Free Europe article on the same subject (2004).

    Here's some main points of the interview:

    - Al Qaeda is connected but not running the Central Asian islamic movements
    - Al Qaeda was thinking of exploding "dirty bombs" in various places. The organization is already in possesion of such "dirty bombs" - probably.
    - Dr. Abdul Kadyr Khan father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, met with bin Laden in Kandahar and provided the material for such bombs (relevant story). The Americans discoveredtwo nuclear laboratories in Afghanistan, but never admitted it.
    - The islamists had chemical and bacteriological capabilities. Laboratories were based in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia (see here for a skeptical take on the Pankisi Gorge myth though).
    - The Taliban funded the whole business lavishly. He personally had enough money to send home - via Iran, to which he travelled to cable the cash home (eh?).
    - In Pakistan people sympathize with the islamists and there is no way that they will be cleaned up from the country because of this support. Bin Laden is in Pakistan and the Pakistani government doesn't want to catch him.
    - American agents tried to turn him while he was held prisoner in Pakistan, arguing that Karimov is their common enemy.
    - Namangani is confirmed dead.
    - Americans are in contact with various islamist factions, trying to play one against the other.
    - Afghanistan is outside of US control. The US will have to leave soon. They will be forced out of Iraq as well.
    - The IMU has become a pan-turkic islamic movement. He calls it the Islamic Movement of Turkestan now, yet reports call it the Islamic Party of Turkestan. A minor slip possibly.
    - Their training camps are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They're moving into Kyrgyzstan. They are supported there:

    "...by a local drug baron, Erkinbayev, as well as a member of parliament. I do not know his name, but he went to Iran to meet with Makhmud Rustamov, who was in charge of external relations. They discussed Kyrgyz POWs who we had taken during the Batken events.

    - Also:
    One route from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan lies through Tajikistan and then on to Kyrgyzstan. Our men were carried there in vehicles from the Tajik Emergency Situations Ministry. This ministry helped many of our men to get jobs and housing. For example, Rasul Okhunov, a member of our movement, worked for the ministry.

    Incidentally, U.S. instructors -— specialists in explosive demolition and commando operations -— trained government servicemen at the Ministry's bases in Kairakkum, Taboshar and Shurabe."

    A problem is that Erkinbayev is dead, murdered this past September. Though it is possible that Masirokhunov hasn't been informed of this, it remains an impressive gap, especially since Erkinbayev, a "tulip revolution" figure and Kung Fu master, doesn't seem like the kind of person who would invest in this sort of political horse - yet appearances might be deceiving.

    All in all spectacular and, who knows, maybe even to an extent true.

    Friday, December 2, 2005

    Comment problems

    / mistakes / silly /
    Well I turned on the moderation, but forgot to insert a notification email, thinking that this would happen automatically. Not very clever eh?

    The comments are fixed and the ones sent recently published, moderation is off - and sorry about the inconvenience.

    Are Karadzic and Mladic about to surrender?

    / fugitive / psychologists /
    According to an Athens News Agency Report from Zagreb (here in Greek from in.gr), the Croatian newspaper Globus claims that Bosnian Serb reputed war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are in Belgrade (at least according to the Croatian intelligence service). It is expected - says the report - that it is a matter of time before they are delivered to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia... Supposedly European governments have been notified of these events, and the surrender of the two wanted Bosnian Serb leaders, will be arranged in such a way as to minimize reactions from K&M's local supporters. Bosnian Serbs are divided right in the middle on the question of extradition for the two "warlords"...

    Now this is far from the first time such rumors are heard - and more theatrical situations have been arranged in the past. Not to mention that Karadzic is never supposed to surrender. Yet I mention this rumour because it seems to have a "history", though of course this by itself does not make the rumour likely - just worth considering:

    On the 11th of November Serbia & Montenegro, were given a warning to bring K&M to the Hague by the end of the year or face Euro-Atlantic "excommunication". Bosnian Serb leaders thus prepare and then publish a statement calling for the duo's surrender. On the 16th of November, rumours are published that Kostunica is negotiating Mladic's surrender, which are promptly denied, later emphatically enough to suggest the possible way that such a surrender is going to be served.

    Anyway this promises to be interesting - possibly being in that crazy fervour of his, Karadzic could do just about anything - including surrendering?

    Meanwhile in another part of the Galaxy (the part where K & M might be heading for), the headline is that "UN's war crime court jails first Kosovo Albanian", or equivalently, that "UN tribunal acquits Kosovo rebels", depending on the way one sees the exact same event. The latter story title has, quite understandably pissed off pretty much all of the Serbs who noted that percentage of acquittals in the ICTY might be perceived to correlate with lobbying money invested in PR. This while other big fish are soon to be judged in the Hague...

    [post crossposted at Eurotrib]

    Friday, November 25, 2005

    Don't Bomb Us - A blog by Al Jazeera Staffers

    / damage / collateral / press /
    The staff of Al Jazeera have started a blog in reaction to recent leaks regarding the shrub's desire to bomb Al Jazeera offices in Qatar. That this was not simply an exaggerated version of events, the british government sought to swiftly confirm by a gag order prohibiting the british media from publishing any further details from the top secret memo - according to some sources, as a result of White House pressure.

    What I'm impressed by is the fact that the memo has not leaked to non-British publications yet. Wasn't the Mirror supposed to have it (its contents anyway) in the first place? So, what are they waiting for? Send it to Al Jazeera, Xinhua, AFP, Counter Punch, Infoshop -heck send it to me, I'll publish it, make photocopies, fly to London and pass them around. I mean what's holding them? A proprietary attitude toward their sources? The British government is holding the Mirror staff's children hostage? Has the material been confiscated? What exactly did the Blair government want to conceal?

    Kosovo: Guantanamo II - Other developments

    / internationalizing / guantanamo /

    A. Camp Bondsteel, a new Guantanamo?
    The US military ran a Guantanamo Bay-type detention centre in Kosovo, a top Council of Europe official said.

    The Council of Europe's Human rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles said he had been 'shocked' by conditions at the barbed wire-rimmed centre inside a US military base, which he witnessed in 2002.

    The same report in this Reuters report, in case the Forbes link expires. The story originated in Le Monde [no link (?)]. Zaman adds that:
    The Council of Europe official added that Marcel Valentin, Commander of the multinational forces for Kosovo (KFOR) and Lieutenant-General, was also with him, and he was as equally shocked by the treatment prisoners were exposed to.

    The story was hinted at, by a Spiegel article on US clandestine prisons in Eastern Europe

    The Americans are also active in other parts of the Balkans. Not far from Macedonia, in the heart of Kosovo, the US government even operates a Gitmo-style camp with its own prison and landing strip around 30 kilometers east of Pristina. Originally used to house members of the Albanian independence group the UCK, Camp Bondsteel -- like Guantanamo -- is an overseas US enclave existing in legal limbo.

    Also tied to this is Mark Almond's (no, not formerly of Soft Cell - the Oxford historian), report of a raid in Djakova, Kosovo, back in 2002, published in the New Statesman, but in another form in the BHHRG site (an organization with which Almond is affiliated, and which I'm not terribly impressed by in general).

    B. The future of Kosovo: Tadic officially proposed splitting the province, yesterday:
    Serb President Boris Tadic offered his proposal to the Serb government Thursday, saying Kosovo should be divided along ethnic lines to give Albanians virtual independence while keeping the province within Serbia's borders.

    Government officials said Thursday the proposal will be a part of Serbia's negotiating package.

    The proposal, which was first unveiled by Tadic during his recent visit to Russia, has been rejected by ethnic Albanian leaders who are seeking nothing but full independence for the whole province.

    It also drew angry reactions from Serb ultranationalists who demanded that Tadic be impeached by the parliament for ceding part of "sovereign Serbian territory" to the Kosovo Albanians.

    The division of Kosovo, or its return to the direct Belgrade administration, has been rejected by the United States - which wields veto power as a permanent Security Council member - and the European Union. But Russia and China -— who also have veto power in the council -— oppose Kosovo's independence.

    This, apparently is contrary to the UN's plans. Yet Kosovo's Roma are all against independence, claiming that they have been the victims of large scale ethnic cleansing by the UCK and suggesting that such a development would be rewarding the perpetrators of these crimes:

    "...Europe and the international community have been informed that at first the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and then UCCK besides crimes over the Roma, committed several radical "ethnic cleansings"” of members of that national minority. Of the some 260,000 Roma living there before 1999, only 29,656 remain. Out of 193 Roma settlements, there are now only 26...
    ...An independent Kosovo, in whatever form, would mean a recognition and reward to those who committed crimes against the Roma, crimes unrecorded up to now in the annals of European history after Auschwitz, a symbol of the Holocaust of Jews and the Roma. On the other hand, in the year that the UN has declared as the year for marking the 60th anniversary of the victory over fascism, neglecting the Roma victims of Kosovo and depriving children's right to a future would signify the international communityÂ’s silent agreement with a regime that has committed misdeeds against those people and ruthlessly trampled their national, civil and human rights. Rights which are guaranteed by the UN, its bodies and other major European institutions"

    I'm not sure about the 260.000 number - I remember seeing statistics claiming half of that number for the Roma population in Kosovo. Perhaps a large number were unregistered? And another question, to any of my readers might know the answer: who is the recipient of money from exploration licenses in Kosovo? Am I paranoid in thinking that this deal will be lining somebody's pockets?

    Finally on the utter mess of the situation in Kosovo, I still think that my Berlin v 2.0 idea is the only one that might minimize the possibility of serious (short or long-term) trouble.

    The Greek government is to play an "important role" I hear, but, interestingly, Foreign Minister Molyviatis has recently suggested (albeit implicitly) that Greece might not prepared to back simply full independence:

    On the issue of Kosovo, Mr. Molyviatis stated that Greece's position is that the price for stability in Kosovo cannot be the destabilization of the wider region.

    He said that the solution should be European, should respect international law and be compatible with the EU principles and values, while the EU should have a meaningful role in forming the final status.

    The solution, he stressed, must be the result of meaningful negotiations without pressing timetables and should not be an imposed one.

    Foreign Minister Molyviatis stated that the goal is a safe, multiethnic and multicultural Kosovo and a special attention is given to the security conditions for the return of the non Albanian refugees and the protection of the Orthodox monuments.

    Molyviatis has written article about Kosovo, published in the Washington Times, which is appropriately open to diverging interpretations.

    I'm not seeing any light at the end of this tunnel, to tell you the truth - and I'm scared of a "settlement" that won't settle much.

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Politically rationalist

    / enlightened / ideals /
    India's rationalists are very active among people of all classes and castes, busy in their efforts to stamp out superstition. While the effort might seem quixotic there is a lot to be learned, I suggest, from the political and social aspects of defending rationality, in a country that is plagued by all sorts of mythical nationalist, religious and sectarian nonsense. This is especially interesting over here in the West, where mythologized Indian esotericism is one of the defining components of new-age and post-new age quackery. It is illuminating indeed to discover the original ideological uses of crass superstition, wherever it might originate from.

    "Despite a tenacious western orientalism which overemphasises and overvalues Indian religiosity, reinforced by the homegrown ‘Hindutva’ movement propagated by the BJP (anatomised by Meera Nanda in New Humanist Jan/Feb 2005), India has a long and distinguished rationalist tradition which is considerably older than that of the west. According to Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, the seeds of rationalism were planted many thousands of years before the Enlightenment, and centuries before Jesus Christ. Buddha himself, or at least Siddharta (who may or may not have been the first Buddha), could lay claim to being the first rationalist, and even the Hindu sacred text the Ramayana contains the character of Javali who advises the god-king Ram that “there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that…[religious] injunction have been laid down in the [scriptures] by clever people just to rule over [other] people.” This tradition also includes practical political rationalism such as that of Buddhist Emporer Ashoka (273 – 232 BC) who declared religious tolerance and equal human rights with the aim of unifying all India..."

    [But see here for a critical appraisal of Sen's views]

    ... While the political aspects of the rationalists' campaigns are obvious:

    Each case [of debunking miracles] reveals the deep connection between India’s structural inequality – the caste system, gender subordination – and the lure of supernaturalism, the desire to be heard, to escape or to grasp some approximation of meaning apparently offered by the holy-rollers. The crucial skill of the Indian rationalist tacticians is to be able to combine a sense of theatre comparable to that of the most extravagant sadhu, with a recognition of the link between India’s social inequalities and superstition. Desire for social transformation, in the west more associated with radical progressive politics, goes hand in hand with the desire to expose fraud. Tactically astute, organisations like the SSS know that miracle exposures, successful as they are, will not of themselves transform Indian social inequality, but they form the conspicuous surface of an underlying strategy: “We are wedded to social change, but to create acceptability we need to make inroads in the thinking of the people. Exposures achieve this, as does our voluntary work of all kinds. We have exposed over 50 frauds, and many mid-level gurus have left the state, but our focus is on the people. First and last we want people to think rationally. Once that happens the gurus will not remain anywhere."

    Living in a country where nationalism, mystical or not, a return to a most benighted version of Greek Orthodoxy, "traditional values" (of the reactionary variety) and racism - along with metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and other manifestations of the "sleep of reason" - enjoy a poisonous upsurge in popularity, I only wish we had a group as well organized, popular and effective as the Indian Rationalists.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    Kashmir: The End of the World, Part III

    / catastrophes / biblical /
    Matt Taibbi reports from Muzzafarabad in Pakistani Kashmir (BBC images from the ravaged city), on the harsh realities of a catastrophe that makes the Tsunami disaster look manageable by comparison. Excerpt:

    "...The age of the International War on Terror seems to have turned itself into an unusually grim time in world history, an era of awesome and unforeseeable catastrophes, giant steps backward in the journey of civilization, ruinous and far-reaching political blunders and violently disillusioning confrontations with man's limitations. Even the most godless among us has to tremble before the biblical scale of the past twelve months' headlines: the tsunami that swallowed south Asia, the deadly lady named Katrina (also known as America Not Immune) and now this. We do not seem to be going forward very much, but every few months we lose, somewhere, a big piece of the world map, a mysterious and enervating process that is becoming like an ominously steady drip that can be heard all over the planet.

    And this, the massive earthquake that rocked Kashmir on October 8th, is the worst by far of the troika. It is a calamity the dimensions of which the world so far has completely failed to appreciate or understand. Coupled with the geopolitical nature of the misfortune -- testing the nerve of two antsy nuclear antagonists and the political health of a somewhat notorious but also critically important American ally regime -- the continuing disaster known as the Kashmiri earthquake threatens to be a world-shaping event as important as the Iraq War itself...

    ...the quake left behind 3 million utterly impoverished people to live in tents -- in tents if they're lucky, under the stars if they're not -- in a region where heavy snowfall and severe winters are the norm. Aid organizations that exist to deal with these sorts of situations recognized the danger immediately and began a desperate drive to at least get tents to as many people as possible before winter made aid operations impossible.

    They called it the "window of opportunity," this month or so between the quake and the expected onset of winter, and for the international aid community it would be their Normandy, the toughest single emergency rescue operation in history. Like Normandy, the success or failure of Operation Window of Opportunity would hang on the first crucial weeks. Unlike Normandy, most insiders agreed that anything like success was unlikely at best."

    For more background and excellent reporting see Steve Call's "Letter from Kashmir" in the New Yorker. It contains this precious detail, highly indicative of the Pakistani government's priorities:

    ...The United Nations warned that thousands of earthquake survivors could die from exposure if relief did not reach them before winter, yet, ten days after the earthquake struck, Musharraf'’s government signed a billion-dollar contract for Swedish military surveillance aircraft, a bewildering priority. The Friday Times, one of Pakistan's leading newspapers, suggested in a front-page editorial that Musharraf's insistence on heavy defense spending might explain the slow pace of donations to the U.N. for earthquake relief: "“If you were a Westerner asked to provide humanitarian financial assistance to a country led by a military government obsessed with the regional '‘military balance,'’ what would you think?"” A week later, Musharraf announced that he would postpone buying American-made F-16 fighter jets, at least until the financial pressures of earthquake relief had eased...

    You will not find the mandatory "optimism" and "resilient" angle in Taibbi's piece, unlike the more mainstream reports. As far as results go, I feel that only when faced with the utter magnitude and helplessness of the situation can the richer nations be expected to chip-in in an underfunded effort, despite reaching the "targeted" amount (some of it in low interest loans). It's a rather obvious observation, but the catastrophe in India, Pakistan and Kashmir, by not affecting Western tourists or providing the opportunity for impressive disaster videos and images (like the Tsunami disaster) or by not having some good circumstantial political usefulness (like Darfur), is bound to remain, if not invisible, then an "unimportant" catastrophe. If the extent of the relief contributions are mostly determined by the magnitude of the media coverage and the political uses of natural and man-made catastrophes, then the slow and unspectacular death of potentially tens (or hundreds) of thousands of human beings is the inescapable consequence of such media-driven philanthropy. This should serve as a reminder that, albeit very useful, private donations rarely match the funds that are (much less should be) contributed by governments, nor are they always directed to the aeas of most urgent need. Which in turn should be stressed in the current climate of diminishing first world budgets for all kinds of aid.

    Finally, this sad piece of news seems symbolic of the disaster and its aftermath, while if you want to see how extremely conservative patriarchal traditions are threatening to cost lives - possibly under the encouragement of local landlords...

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    Greece: Statistical improbabilities and corruption

    / lottery / laundering /
    Chris Deliso, over at Balkanalysis has a great article regarding corruption in the Greek football pools, and the imaginative ways people use around here, to launder money...
    It is worth adding that most Greek newspapers and certainly TV stations are pretty much ignoring or downplaying the issue. Which is amazing, since they are currently preoccupied with vastly more minor scandals concerning the government. Right now Kokkalis is in a truce with most of the other Greek media barons - with the exception of Alafouzos, owner of Kathimerini and Skai radio.

    As the article mentions, there is, statistically, no doubt of very vile foul play in OPAP (the Greek lottery and betting company - a monopoly), and the fact that the wife of a close business collaborator of controversial Intralot owner Sokratis Kokkalis being the recipient of such good luck, suggests that it reaches pretty high. Most of the local media ignores it though. This should be contrasted with the fuss they made when Kokkalis shut down "Flash Radio", his radio station, for no apparent reason other than a deal he has allegedly made with the conservative government promising to shut down critical voices he owns against it, in return for keeping his rather large share of public works and supplies - or something similar.

    This is a wonderful case study in Greek corruption - and media control. It is impossible to read or hear about a scandal without wondering who benefits from its exposure. The fact that a majority of media moguls run their media businesses at a deficit - in order to prop up their far more lucrative activities as suppliers and contractors to the Greek government is indicative of a rather serious societal and economic malaise. To the detriment of the Greek taxpayer of course - not to mention a majority of underpaid media workers.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2005

    True Colours

    / unrevolutions /
    Ukraine, Georgia... Azerbaijan? No, I'm afraid not, as yesterday's "revolutionaries" of colour support the Aliyev regime:
    the protagonists of the Rose and Orange Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine -- and the American and European supporters of those color revolutions -- are clearly signaling that they support President Ilham Aliyev's policies, which guarantee Azerbaijan's stability and Western orientation.

    Thus, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has declared: "We are pleased to see that things are going well in Azerbaijan, that the country is developing as Georgia would wish it to, that it is becoming prosperous. I am glad that Azerbaijan has a leader who is a great hope for his people -- the results of his modernization efforts are obvious -- and who is very close to us, my personal friend, President Ilham Aliev. I refer to the policies he is carrying out to make Azerbaijan a truly successful country. This is absolutely crucial for us Georgians, because we will have an economically successful and strong neighbor, a strategic ally for dealing with all political and economic issues" (Imedi Television, October 12)...

    With the results in, the OSCE which went out of its way to find nice things to say about the election process, came out and condemned the election process - something that Aliyev possibly didn't comprehend, as his spokesperson commented that "All the international reports of the international monitoring missions were fine... It doesn't say in them that the elections did not meet international standards," despite, you know, saying exactly that. The Azeri regime might have in mind Russian and Turkish observers who were quite cool with the legality of the process, while the US, while more critical, used the sort of language, noting "some improvements", that most obviously it did not during possibly less egregious election fraud in Ukraine. Anyway the World Bank is OK with all of this as it immediately offered Aliyev a loan.

    Aliyev is not only comparable (including a shared inclination to murder opposing journalists) but worse than Kuchma in many ways (such as depending on his daddy's Stalinesque cult of personality). What seems to be happenning is that both the US and Russia are quite happy with the deals they made with Aliyev Jr and thus there's little concern over the not really exemplary human rights conditions in Azerbaijan, from any side. As some in the Russian Press point out:

    The Azerbaijani government is receiving the support of Moscow and the West in return for its partial fulfillment of various demands, and Azeri President Ilham Aliev has obvious defeated the opposition for now in this oil-rich country.

    Note some well crafted Azeri government apologetics, prior to the elections themselves.

    The whole area is an arena of Great Game geopolitics, and this article might provide some background for the byzantine twists and turns of Azeri politics.

    France: No to the state of exception

    / siege / state /
    The following statement is from various trade unions, left political parties and civil liberties groups in France.

    Joint Communiqué, Paris, November 8th, 2005. Confronted by a revolt born from the accumulation of inequalities and discrimination in the “banlieues” (suburbs of Paris) and the poor areas, the French government has just passed a new and extremely serious threshold in the escalation of security measures. Even in May 1968, when the situation was a lot more dramatic, the public authorities did not use the extreme measure of declaring a state of emergency. The proclamation of the state of emergency is the answer to a revolt whose causes are profound and well known even at the level of state repression...

    Regarding the rather gross hyperbole in a great part of the media coverage, today's NYT has an article that's a bit more rational and closer to reality by Olivier Roy. Excerpt:

    France has a huge Muslim population living outside these neighborhoods - many of them, people who left them as soon as they could afford it - and they don't identify with the rioters at all. Even within the violent areas, one's local identity (sense of belonging to a particular neighborhood) prevails over larger ethnic and religious affiliation. Most of the rioters are from the second generation of immigrants, they have French citizenship, and they see themselves more as part of a modern Western urban subculture than of any Arab or African heritage.

    Colman at the European Tribune is more sarcastic: Paris now nothing but cinders and ashes.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2005

    Blogging the events in France

    / riots / france /
    A few resources as rioting in France continues:
    Sketchy thoughts (linked above) is providing news and translations regarding the riots in France. You'll learn more from it than from all the aglophone papers combined...

    Note also: Paris is Burning by Naima Bouteldja.

    Jerome from the European Tribune on the events...

    More as the dust settles...

    Tuesday, November 1, 2005

    An Islamic Republic Resurgent

    / iran / analysis /
    Iason Athanasiadis, a British-Greek filmmaker, photographer, and writer currently based in Tehran, who has worked for a range of broadcasters, including the BBC, al-Jazeera, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, sends this report / analysis from Iran touching issues not usually discussed in more simplistic accounts. Excerpt:

    "...The victory of the ultra-conservatives temporarily ends the eight-year success enjoyed by the reformist movement under twice-elected former president Khatami. Despite enjoying unprecedented popular support, and winning back-to-back electoral landslides, the reformist movement lost the battle against Iran’s parallel power system, which consistently blocked reform. What Ahmadinejad has going for him, therefore—uniting all government institutions under a conservative banner—may also lead to his downfall. Obliged to push through reforms, and with supreme leader Ali Khamenei unlikely to block him, Ahmadinejad will live or die by his policies. Many anti-regime Iranians even cheered the election upset, arguing that the new government was sure to fail its voters and discredit the Islamic republic in the process. It is widely assumed that the 2009 elections will become a general referendum on the republic, with even more massive changes following in its wake...

    And here's a bit more from the Asia Times on the Hojjatieh society, mentioned in the article, and their possible re-emergence as a political power. They are described as "Shi'ite supremacists". The AT article is yet another informative analysis of current Iranian events - and beyond actually:

    "There is no doubt that Mesbah and the new crew, whether formally Hojjatieh or not, are more attached to core Shi'ite identity and values," said Vali Nast, a professor of Middle East politics at the Department of National Security Affairs. "But an equally important faction, especially in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council, is simply anti-Ba'athist. These are people who fought in the Iran-Iraq war and that may also be important in deciding attitudes towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq."

    At a time of rising Sunni-Shi'ite tensions in the region, and as Iraq increasingly turns into a proxy battleground for its neighbors, it is not surprising that a Shi'ite supremacist government in Tehran, whether related to the Hojjatieh or not, should reemerge.

    Saudi Arabia and Iran are battling it out in Iraq as both seek to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis, the majority of whom are Shi'ites. While Iran is believed to have a better intelligence presence in the country and a more organized military capability, Saudis account for a large percentage of the suicide bombers active there.

    Friday, October 28, 2005

    European Left - The First Congress

    / manifestos / left /
    Athens is hosting the first Congress of the European Left Party, a recently created trans-European Left party alliance. The necessity of such a united left on a European scale can hardly be contested, and following the "No" votes on the European Constitution referenda one could argue that an opportunity has opened for such a continent-wide, coordinated, left political coalition to be effective in fighting the good fight versus the trimumphant neoliberal advance in European societies. Yet reading the, above linked, political theses of the congress one is left underwhelmed (and wishing for a english language editor). There are the obvious general positions, an assortment of wishes, and some general directions, yet there seems to be a vagueness about the positions stated (never mind the rhetorical blandness - the Communist Manifesto, this ain't), that's rather frustrating. For example take this paragraph:

    We consider social protection a central element for the cohesion of the 25 EU member countries and a true productive element. In effect, the European social model is the one able to defeat the dramatic and growing unemployment and precariousness. European Left Party's opposition is not so much to the declared objectives of the Lisbon strategy but to their subordination to the capitalistic competition politics and to their liberalizing logic. We have to think about a political economy able to stop the social decline, not only by defending social, tax and environmental standards in the global competition, but also by implementing them as true development boosters.

    Yes, we must refuse to pay the price of the continent's economic decline. Our alternative economic concepts for the European union must rather focus on possibilities to stave off the economic crisis by re-launching a tangible proposal to prevent the uncertainty and precarious employment and poor living conditions of the European populations. Therefore we work towards the perfectly possible aim of full and decent employment for all of those that live and work here.

    What? Which "European Social Model" are we referring to? everyone from Barroso to Chirac is paying lip service to this chameleon of a concept. Shouldn't it be somehow described? Why is the ELP's objection "not so much to the declared objectives of the Lisbon strategy" and how are these objectives conceptually separate from their "liberalizing logic". And shouldn't there be a bit more about that "tangible proposal to prevent the uncertainty and precarious employment and poor living conditions of the European populations"?

    Or take this bit:

    ...We have supported the enlargement and integration of Europe.

    We have positively agreed to and greeted the entry of 8 new Eastern and Central-European countries, Cyprus and Malta since we think that the European political space that doesn't stop on the borders of the former East/West blocks. We also notice that the accession process was not used for reviewing the hitherto practiced political, economic and social logic of EU integration. No decisive steps to guarantee the working and production conditions in all member states are recognisable. The European Union remains the big single market for the circulation of capitals and commodities and increasingly services while – against the proclamations the “labour” forces are not able and - even more - migrant men and women are not allowed to move freely.

    Never mind the near-incomprehensible english here (I hope other versions are more coherent), is the EL seriously saying that the EU expansion such as it was, with seriously reduced cohesion funds for most Eastern European new members, should have been "positively greeted"? How can one separate the general "ideal" from the way it is implemented? Isn't it obvious that this hasty and incomplete expansion makes the prospect of a more democratic union, that is more than a free-trade zone, quite impossible - and that this was why it was greeted by American neocons and among European anti-integrationists wholeheartedly?

    Anyway, despite the fact that the Left remains annoyingly vague and murky about what it wants, I hope the result of the congress offers something better than the initial documents and that the EL parties continue to cooperate and gain support across Europe.

    Note that theoretically the congress should be broacast through this link, though it hasn't been working for me today....

    Thursday, October 27, 2005

    Rotting Oranges

    / revolutions / mock /
    Remember the Orange revolution? The exile's Kyrill Pankratov, very cynically gives a brief account of its apparent decay in the provocatory article linked above:

    "...Revolutions do eat their children -- it is a fairly common fate. But few expected such a rapid, incredible unraveling as what happened after the Orange Revolution. In the first months of the Yushchenko-Timoshenko government the economy nosedived. Instead of attracting foreign investments, both from Russia and Europe, investors were scared away en masse by Timoshenko's militant re-privatization talk. During the spring and summer the government managed to stumble into the 'gasoline crisis,' the 'flour crisis,' the 'sugar crisis' and so on -- all of them completely unnecessary -- without producing even a fraction of promised and advertised reforms. From the rapid 12% growth of last year, and around 10% average for the Kuchma's second term in office, growth slowed down to some 5% in the first half of this year and came to a halt in recent months (in August there was even an economic contraction). The first corruption scandals of the new government already exploded, and utter incompetence in many areas became too painfully visible..."

    You might recall that the revolution was heralded to be about bringing Ukraine "into the free market age", as Time magazine put it back then. Well a month ago, after firing Yulia Tymoshenko, last year's icon of the revolt, in an anti-corruption move, he was supported by the same Victor Yanukovich who (as Time and many more Western publications described) was described as "a throwback to the Soviet era". It now seems that Ukraine is repositioning itself vis-a-vis Russia [free reg. - this might help], to which it is still tied by business and geopolitical considerations (energy being prominent among them). There seems to be disappointment regarding the way the Orange Revolutionaries handled government, evident in public perceptions as well as,

    "...a poll of Kyivites found that 73.1% did not believe that corruption had declined with only 20.4% agreeing (Zerkalo Tyzhnia/Nedeli, September 10-16, 2005). Another poll found that only 31% of Ukrainians believed that the government had successfully battled corruption, with 59% disagreeing (UNIAN, September 9)..."

    One of the problems - evident even before the latest euroconstitution referendum, was that re-orienting towards the EU, can only be achieved if the EU is interested in expanding your way. It isn't. The Turkish accession drive, whatever its final outcome, has surely made any further addition to the accession lists quite difficult, not to mention that it is becoming more and more evident to many in the EU, that any further hasty expansion would indeed reduce the European Union to just a free trade zone. The EU isn't seriously interested in the Ukraine - but Russia is, and it's quite evident that Russian and Ukrainian economic well-being will go hand-in-hand. Joining NATO, will similarly, have to confront the unwillingness of many countries in NATO to challenge Russia - not to mention the fact that a majority in Ukraine is far from eager to join the Alliance, as public support for joining NATO is possibly less than 20%. (Α sign of rationality from the Ukrainian citizens, no doubt, as joining NATO will have exactly two immediate effects: joining a cold-war relic which nowadays serves the purpose of a fig-leaf for American unilateralism, and seriously expanding their defense budgets so as to purchase NATO-compatible weapons and equipment - from the proper manufacturers, of course). BTW the same enlightened western powers who supported Yushchenko last year, supported Kuchma a few years back - if that says something about the wisdom and idealism of western policy.

    While I'm always in favour of people on the streets demanding better government, I have four points to make: a. I do think that placing one's hopes of improving democracy on a set of political actors with known oligarch/mob connections (trying to displace another mob), not taking into account that the oligarchs expect from your democrats of choice quite different things from your average protestor, and are vastly more likely to get them, is a sure sign of wishful thinking - slightly less childish than the belief in Santa Claus. b.Geography and history are to a large extent destiny, which can only be overcome by vast societal/geopolitical changes. c. If one is really determined to change things for the better, one has to persist in the original tactics: massive and repeated demonstrations and assorted hellraising demanding more democracy - and trying to be as inclusive as possible. Lastly this: Russia is a behemoth of a country surrounding much of Ukraine; the idea of a policy based on mostly snubbing Russia (even worse, with no realistic alternative on offer) is as realistic as, say, Mexico deciding to avoid any contact with the US in favour or preferential economic ties with the EU: one could propose such a policy - but it would have few prospects of success. Actually the Ukraine/Russia relationship is even more compulsive than the Mexico/US case, as a large part of Ukraine is Russian/pro-Russian - and until 15 years ago they were parts of the same country.

    On a more philosophical note, this seems like a sanguine review of the myths of the Orange revolution.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Srebrenica Revisited

    / massacres / examined /
    Diana Johnstone revisits and re-examines the facts and the circumstances regarding the Srebrenica massacre. She also examines the modern political uses of the massacre - and the rather skewed, perpetrator-dependant sensibilities regarding large scale murder.

    I post this article, because it is argued rather convincingly and makes some important points regarding, not only Srebrenica and the Bosnian war, but also the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, that are both true and forgotten - frighteningly so, for someone who followed the events as they were reported at the time - for example that:

    ...Whatever happened in Srebrenica could have best been prevented, not by U.S. or NATO bombing, but by preventing civil war from breaking out in Bosnia Herzegovina to begin with. This prevention was possible if the "international community", meaning the NATO powers, Europe and the United States, had firmly insisted that the Yugoslav crisis of 1990 should be settled by negotiations. But first of all, Germany opposed this, by bullying the European Union into immediate recognition of the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia, without negotiation. All informed persons knew that this threatened the existence of Bosnia Herzegovina. The European Union proposed a cantonization plan for Bosnia Herzegovina, not very different from the present arrangement, which was accepted by leaders of the Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat communities. But shortly thereafter, Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic reneged, after the U.S. ambassador encouraged him to hold out for more. Throughout the subsequent fighting, the U.S. put obstacles in the way of every European peace plan. These years of obstruction enabled the United States to take control of the eventual peace settlement in Dayton, in November 1995...

    I'm usually loathe to post much that might be considered exculpatory of Serb crimes in Bosnia, because of the sort of people that advance pro-Serb apologetics in Greece - in defense of Serbian nationalism in any form and shape. These are the sort of arguments that are patent nationalist nonsense, invoking past crimes to justify recent atrocities, but they are argued seriously and passionately over here - indeed there were Greek ultranationalist volunteers that were involved in Serb atrocities in Bosnia. In fact there is no doubt that the attitudes of the average Greek on the issue are certainly pro-Serb in a rather instictive and ill-reasoned way. Yet it's equally obvious that reading the disaster of the Yugoslav civil war as a "morality pantomime between pure good and pure evil", in Johnstone's words, is so patently unsatisfactory a version of events, that I can't help but be amazed at the ubiquity of such a view among intelligent and erudite people in the West. It is still useful therefore, to discuss the events surrounding the whole Yugoslav war, not only as a matter of history, not only to identify the culprits of horrendous crimes, but to understand the way in which versions of historical reality are honed as tools in modern propaganda wars - and real victims become alibis for even worse atrocities.

    I'm eager to hear opinions on Johnstone's piece - and the issues she tackles.

    A related side note: it seems to me that any version of Balkan history, from Ottoman times onward, that tries to explain events based mainly on local events and local societal and political dynamics, without emphasizing the dominant role that all sorts of "Great Powers" have played in the region, is a naive version of history. Balkan states were marginally more than protectorates throughout their history, the only exception being - for better or for worse - Tito's Yugoslavia.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Barroso: Bureaucracy slayer or deregulator?

    / regulating / regulation /
    Barroso is attacking red-tape and bureaucratic inefficiency, is he? By himself with no input from the European Parliament at all?

    "Mr Barroso will next month attempt to put the EU legislative machine into reverse, with a programme to codify or abolish existing laws, thus cutting the EU's 80,000-page lawbook down to 50,000 pages.

    But the plan was criticised by some members of the European parliament, who claimed the purge could reduce European protection of workers, the environment or consumers."

    Yet one would not be paranoid if they suggested that along with any reasonable red-tape-cutting measures, other things are eliminated as well, indeed that might be part of the real reason of this initiative:

    The initial legislative purge will remove 68 pending measures, many of them trivial or trapped in the EU's legislative machine and long-forgotten.

    Some of the hit-list, however, including a review of a law to give temporary workers the same rights as full-time staff, would have a big impact on business.

    Other measures to be withdrawn include ones on food labelling, safety laws relating to sunlight exposure, and the regulation of sales promotions.

    Others are also skeptical, including the President of the Party
    of European Socialists, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen...Left Euro-MP Kartika Liotard has written a letter to Barroso to remind him that, now that he has found a way to withdraw legislation even while it is before EU parliament, he can finally do away with the "despised Services Directive".

    Monday, October 3, 2005

    Setting the record straight about Bill Clinton

    / lesser evil / idealized /
    Having lived in the US under most of the Clinton years, I'm continuously surprised by the rosy picture painted regarding his administration's economic policies - especially from the left. Bill Clinton himself is aggressively pushing a rather idealized version of his administration's record regarding the poor (among other things). Thankfully Paul Street does a good job of reminding the memory-challenged among the left what that was about:
    "...What emerges from a careful reading of these and numerous other texts and sources is a Clinton administration that defied mainstream public support for socially democratic policies by conducting the public business in regressive accord with the interrelated neoliberal and racially disparate imperatives of empire and inequality..."

    Going back to my seemingly ancient bookmarks on the subject, I find that, yes, at the time, this wasn't really an issue - since then of course Hurricane Dubya has made even Ronald Reagan's seem like a benevolent and sensible presidency. Yet Mark Weisbrot was challenging almost five years ago the received wisdom of a triumphant economic policy, noting among other things that:
    The economic policies for which the President can honestly claim responsibility-- e.g., NAFTA, the creation and expansion of the World Trade Organization-- served primarily to prevent the majority of Americans from sharing in the gains from economic growth. And then there was welfare reform, which threw millions of poor single mothers at the mercy of one of the lowest-wage labor markets in the industrialized world.

    In short, Clinton's policies continued the upward redistribution of income and wealth, and punishment for the poor, that were the hallmarks of the Reagan era. It was not until 1999 that the median real wage reached its pre-1990 level, and it remains anchored today at about where it was 27 years ago.

    ...going on to highlight the Clinton administration's deep involvement in aiding and abetting the Mafia Economy that oversaw the Russian collapse.

    Similar issues were highlighted at the time by the International Socialist Review, and many others among which I'll just point to a Chomsky article from 1994.

    Thursday, September 29, 2005

    JG Ballard on "A History of Violence"

    / movies / reviews /
    A JG Ballard review of David Croneberg's upcoming film A History of Violence" (trailer), hardly could escape mention in this blog. I can't wait... Excerpt:

    ...Existence, in Cronenberg's eyes, is the ultimate pathological state. He sees us as fragile creatures with only a sketchy idea of who we are, nervous of testing our physical and mental limits. The characters in Cronenberg's films behave as if they are inhabiting their minds and bodies for the first time at the moment we observe them, fumbling with the controls like drivers in a strange vehicle. Will it rise vertically into the air, invert itself, or suddenly self-destruct?

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    Apocalypse There. Matt Taibbi from the disaster zone

    / disaster / witness /
    Matt Taibbi left for New Orleans on September 3d, along with a movie star and a historian. He describes his journey into the sunken city. His story is probably one of the best told and to-the-point accounts of the destruction of New Orleans. For anyone even remotely familiar with New Orleans his descriptions are like something out of a JG Ballard post-disaster, metaphorically existential, narrative - only written by a post-punk Hunter S. Thompson who doesn't do the existential part except by accident.

    This, probably will become (or if it doesn't it should) one of the defining, standard descriptions - indeed testimonis of the New Orleans disaster in the future. It is both eloquent (since Taibbi is one of the few journalists I know of that is actually a great writer) and substantial in what it doesn't omit.

    [non-random excerpt]:

    ...Not far from his church we come upon a house full of elderly people who are sitting out on their porch. Their house is in only about three feet of water, but no police or Guardsmen have come by to talk to them yet. Upon seeing Willie, Warren Champ and Jeannette Carter ask what the latest news is.

    "Well, these reporters are here to see what y'all think about the storm," he says.

    "You tell us, preacher," says Jeannette. "You're always reading the Bible and whatnot, doing all that reading."

    "Well, you know this is all about bankruptcy," he says. "That levee? They letting it fail."

    "Why would they do that?" Jeannette asks.

    "All those years when they were stealing . . . all those failed schools, all those debts on the city rolls . . . it's all going to be washed away now. They're getting a clean slate, a brand-new slate."

    Willie goes on to explain that most of these neighborhoods are going to be condemned, and that people will be asked to sell their properties: "They're getting all of y'all out of state, sending you to different parts of the country. And they're hoping you don't hold on to what you've got. They're hoping you take the money and move. And then they'll bring in the developers, and they'll make new neighborhoods, with a new tax base."

    I am about to interrupt here, but white guilt slaps a hand over my mouth. What am I going to say -- that white people aren't dastardly enough to blow a levee on purpose? This is the wrong audience for that joke. As for the rest of it, it rings unpleasantly true. Deep in my white heart I can appreciate the brutal logic of shipping 300,000 blacks out of town and hoping they stay away at a barbecue somewhere while you auction off their houses. I am definitely not going to argue with that part of it.

    "But what is your advice for poor black people?" asks Carter.

    "Hold on to your properties," he says. "Don't let them take what you've got. And you can listen to me. I'm not in it for the money. I'm in it for the blessings of God."...

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Galloway's Reply to Greg Palast

    / pissing / contest / champion /
    Remember Greg Palast's uncalled for attack on Gorgeous George I mentioned a few days ago? Well, George Galloway responds - and whoever told Palast that he could beat Galloway in a round of invective tossing, has been proven decisevely wrong. Palast shot himself on the foot here and Galloway seems to be making signs he will sue...
    You know, I wish people would repeatedly make unfounded slanderous allegations, easily disproved in a court of law, against me too. That way I would never have to work again. Lucky bastard...

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Hugo my man, you're gonna get yourself killed

    / market / values /
    In a step that is bound to multiply calls for Chavez' assasination among the wacky right in the US:

    >"...the Venezuelan leader said his country will soon start to ship heating oil and diesel fuel at below market prices to poor communities and schools in the United States. 'We will begin with a pilot project in Chicago on Oct. 14, in a Mexican-American community,' said Chavez, who was in town for the United Nations sessions. 'We will then expand the program to New York and Boston in November.'...
    ...Chavez said he can afford to sharply reduce Citgo's prices [citgo is owned by the government of Venezuela] by "cutting out the middle man." His plan is to set aside 10% of the 800,000 barrels of oil produced by the Citgo refineries and ship that oil directly to schools, religious organizations and nonprofits in poor communities for distribution. The same approach, he said, has worked in the Caribbean, where Venezuela is already sharply subsidizing oil deliveries to more than a dozen nations..."

    Interestingly for a president of an oil producing country Chavez also warned that:

    "Americans must reorder their style of life" because "this planet cannot sustain" our "irrational" consumption, especially when it comes to oil.

    An obvious point certainly but rather impressive coming from Chavez, since Venezuelan GDP would certainly benefit from "irrational consumption".

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    R.I.P. Joseph Rotblat

    / science / conscientious /
    Belatadely, yet important: Joseph Rotblat, a Polish nuclear physicist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, died at the age of 96 on September 2.

    Rotblat was the last surviving signatory of the Pugwash, Russell-Einstein Manifesto issued in 1955.

    Rotblat was involved in the Manhattan Project but walked out on moral principle, when he realised that Germany wouldn't be aquiring a nuclear bomb:

    "I realised that my fear about the Germans making the bomb was ungrounded, because I could see the enormous effort which was required by the American(s), with all their resources practically intact, intact by the war - everything that you wanted was put into the effort. Even so, I could see that it's still far away, and that by that time the war in Europe was showing that Hitler is going to be defeated, and I could see that probably the bomb won't be ready; even that Hitler wouldn't have it in any case. Therefore I could see this from the beginning, that my being there, in the light of the reason why I came to work on it, was not really justified. But nevertheless, I could not be sure that the Germans would not find a shortcut maybe and they could still make the bomb. Therefore I kept on working together with the other people, although I was very unhappy about having to work on it. But as soon as I learned, towards the end of 1944, that the Germans have abandoned the project, in fact a long time before, I decided that my presence there was no longer justified, and I resigned and I went back to England..."

    A moral giant who is now honoured universaly.

    ... Which wasn't always the case.