Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Why I’m voting for Paddick – with a transfer to Livingstone

Gherkin2Like a lot of people of my broad political persuasion, I’ve been finding it very difficult to decide how to vote in tomorrow’s election for London’s mayor. Despite the importance of the post, the choice boils down to what one considers the least evil.

I’m a Labour supporter, and would vote Labour without a second thought if we had a regular Labour candidate. However, I’d prefer London’s mayor to be a Tory rather than a genuine extremist of right or left; I’d vote Tory if it were the only way to keep out the BNP or Lindsey German and the Left List.

Ken Livingstone is half-way between the Labour mainstream and left-wing extremism. He was resolute in supporting NATO over the liberation of Kosova and in condemning the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London (though his condemnation was shamefully marred by his description of the bombing victims as ‘working class’ – as if middle-class victims were less worthy). He has some real achievements as mayor to his credit, above all running an efficient bus service, something that I, who grew up in the 1980s and remember the horrors of the London bus service under the Tories at the time, greatly appreciate.

Yet while I do not hate Livingstone, I do consider him unelectable in principle. His endorsement of various fascist and extremist political elements, from Yusuf al-Qaradawi to George Galloway, Kate Hudson and the so-called Stop the War Coalition, and his collaboration with unsavoury anti-Western leaders abroad such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, make him unacceptable. How can we have a mayor for our capital city who has a working relationship with the enemies of our country and of Western civilisation ? Lest anyone think I’m simply being sectarian here: we’re talking about people who support the fascists in Iraq who are not only murdering innocent civilians, but killing our soldiers as well. What a disgrace. I’d rather have Boris Johnson as Prime Minister than Livingstone.

Additional minuses for Livingstone are his philistine disregard for London’s heritage and opposition to Heathrow expansion – things that I, as a born and bred Londoner and a frequent flyer (though probably not as frequent a flyer as Ken himself) deeply resent.

Having said all that, Livingstone has one great advantage over Johnson: he is a passing phenomenon. He will serve one more term and can then make way for a more palatable Labour candidate. By contrast, a win for Johnson could be the thin end of the wedge, leading to a Tory-controlled London for an unknowable length of time, and perhaps paving the way for a Tory victory at the next general election.

So I’ll cast my protest vote for Brian Paddick, with a transfer to Livingstone. I should add that I dislike the Liberal Democrats as an essentially irrelevant party and the ignominious recipient of the anti-Blair Guardianista protest vote at the last general election. But Paddick seems a decent enough chap.

I’m sorry if none of this sounds very idealistic, but such is the choice that we in London face tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll be given a better choice next time around.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008 Posted by | London, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left, Transport | Leave a comment

Serbia: What is to be done ?

In its dealings with Serbia, the EU has never been very competent in balancing the stick and the carrot. Serbia’s signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU is facing resistance from the Netherlands and Belgium because of Serbia’s failure to cooperate over the arrest of war-criminals indicted by the UN tribunal in The Hague. It now appears that the Netherlands and Belgium are softening their resistance to the SAA with Serbia, though without ending it altogether. While the Low Countries’ insistence that Serbia must cooperate fully with the Hague Tribunal is commendable, it is also problematic: the anti-Western nationalists grouped around Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica would anyway prefer Serbia not to join the EU and are opposed to signing the SAA even if it is offered, so are likely to view a veto of the agreement as a reward rather than a punishment. Conversely, the pro-EU elements around President Boris Tadic have not the power to arrest war-criminals against the will of the nationalists, however much they might like to. And the longer the impasse over the SAA continues, the more the the anti-Western nationalists strengthen their hand vis-a-vis the pro-Europeans, and the closer Serbia drifts to Russia.

The best elements in Serbian politics are the ones keenest for the SAA to be signed. Yet for all this, there are strong arguments against signing it at the price of Western capitulation on the issue of war-criminals. Serbia has a long way to go before it achieves the political and democratic standards to make it a suitable EU member. Easing the pressure on Serbia would reduce the incentive for it to reform, thereby paradoxically slowing its achievement of these standards. All the evidence, painfully gathered since the early 1990s, overwhelmingly points to the conclusion that Serbian nationalism cannot be appeased: making concessions over the issue of war-criminals will not result in Serbian leaders making concessions in return; rather, it will be perceived as a sign of weakness and an invitation for Serbia to demand further concessions from the EU. This is particularly dangerous for two reasons.

Firstly, even if they perform well in the Serbian parliamentary elections scheduled for 11 May – which is by no means certain – the pro-EU elements around President Tadic and the Democratic Party are far from being model Europeans and democrats; they staunchly align themselves with Kostunica’s faction in opposition to the independence of Kosovo, and have shown themselves to be every bit as pettily and small-mindedly anti-Kosovar as the more anti-Western nationalists over this issue. Tadic has disgracefully stated that Serbia should join the EU in order to prevent Kosovo from joining, showing that he, his party and his country all still have a lot of growing up to do before they are fit for EU membership. Give them a carrot over the war-criminals issue and they are likely to take the whole sack, indeed bite the hand that feeds them. In other words, concessions over the war-criminals issue are likely to encourage Tadic and the Democrats to play a more destabilising role over Kosovo, thereby setting back the Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic integration.

The second reason why we should be wary of giving Serbia concessions over the war-criminals issue is that this could be the thin end of the wedge, given the bad faith with which some of our European allies approach South East Europe. At the NATO summit in Bucharest earlier this month, both France and Germany, in particular, showed themselves ready to sacrifice Europe’s principles and interests, and to let down NATO aspirants Ukraine, Georgia and Macedonia, in order to appease Russia and Greece. The fact that there was absolutely no justice whatsoever in Russia’s objection to a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and Georgie or to Greece’s opposition to Macedonia’s membership of the alliance, and the fact that keeping Macedonia out of NATO is actively destabilising the Balkans, mattered nothing to our Machiavellian allies. To appease Serbia over the war-criminals issue is an open invitation to France and, in particular, to pro-Russian Germany to offer further concessions to Moscow and to Belgrade at the expense of Balkan stability, British and US interests and the interests of the Western alliance as a whole. So long as we are firm with Serbia, we limit the possible scope of such French and German mischief-making.

How, then, to square the circle: to avoid appeasing Serbia and avoid pushing it away from the West at the same time ?

There is, in fact, a very simple way: to change the stick. Rather than withholding the SAA, which ultimately damages Western interests as much as it punishes Serbia, we should respond to Serbian non-compliance over the arrest of war-criminals by dismantling Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), something that would serve our interests well and uphold our principles at the same time.

The Republika Srpska is a destabilising factor in the Balkans. It was created by Serbian aggression and genocide against Bosnia in the early 1990s, a genocide that has now been recognised by three different international courts: the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; the International Court of Justice; and the European Court of Human Rights. The Republika Srpska‘s existence as a sectarian, apartheid state represents a gross injustice to the nearly 50% of the territory’s population that was made up of Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs at the start of the 1990s – it is because this entity’s territory was nearly half non-Serb until it was ethnically cleansed that it has no legitimate right to secede from Bosnia, or even to exist. The Republika Srpska was recognised by the Dayton Agreement in November 1995, at a time when Western diplomacy was at its most ignominious, Serbian military capability was most grossly overestimated and British policy was determined to appease the insatiable aggressor.

There is no reason why we should feel bound to honour our earlier, disastrous mistake. Dayton was an agreement, and the simple truth is that the leaders of the Republika Srpska have not honoured their side of the bargain. War criminals have not been arrested. Muslim and Croat refugees have, for the most part, not been allowed to return. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik responded to the ICJ’s recognition of the Srebrenica genocide by rejecting its verdict, revealing his contempt for international law. He attended the anti-Western, Serb-nationalist rally held under Kostunica’s leadership in Belgrade following the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, when the US embassy was set on fire, and publicly mooted a Republika Srpska  UDI. The Republika Srpska, meanwhile, obstructs the functioning of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state, hindering its Euro-Atlantic integration and economic reconstruction.

Responding to the Serb failure to arrest war-criminals by dismantling the Republika Srpska, instead of by withholding the SAA from Serbia, would serve our interests in every respect. It would allow us to punish the Serb nationalists for their behaviour while holding the EU door open to Serbia. It would serve Belgrade notice that Serb nationalism will pay a very real penalty for each and every act of obstruction, while rewarding the loyal, pro-European Bosnian (Muslim-Croat) Federation. It would remove a major element of instability and bridgehead of Russian influence in the Balkans, strengthen Bosnia-Hercegovina as a reliable pillar of the European order and reverse the Western alliance’s earlier disgrace in allowing the country to be emasculated in the first place.

Decoupling Serbia’s EU accession from the war-criminals issue would simplify future EU relations with Serbia, whose EU accession could be more straightforwardly linked to its good behaviour over Kosovo. We could then set before Tadic and his pro-EU faction in Serbia a set of conditions for the signing of the SAA that they could reasonably be expected to fulfill: an end to all instability and violence on the Serbia-Kosovo border and among the Kosovo Serbs; an end to all Serbian obstruction and destabilisation of Kosovo as a self-governing entity; and a commitment that Serbia’s dispute with Kosovo will be resolved only through peaceful, consensual means. This would pave the way toward a de facto acceptance of Kosovo’s independence on Serbia’s part, while the final, formal Serbian recognition of Kosovo would be a precondition for Serbia’s final, full membership of the EU.

It might be objected that dismantling the Republika Srpska would provoke Bosnian Serb resistance, therefore instability. The Western alliance has spent much of the last two decades flinching before the Serb-nationalist paper-tiger, and there is no reason for it to continue to do so. The dismantling need not take the form of a formal abolition of the Bosnian Serb entity, but of its transformation into a shadow entity which would continue to exist on paper, with its own administrative borders and flag – helping to mollify Serb popular sentiment – while all real power would be transferred to the central Bosnian institutions. Republika Srpska politicians would be likely to resist, but only up to a point: their refusal to participate in the reconstituted Bosnian state would leave all power in Bosnia in Muslim and Croat hands, while economic sanctions would make prolongued obstruction extremely costly to them. In fact, there is a precedent for this: Bosnian Croat nationalist politicians have repeatedly attempted to rebel against the Bosnian constitutional order, and each time the international community has successfully faced them down. The firmness that worked with the Bosnian Croat nationalists can equally work with their Bosnian Serb counterparts.

A second objection might be that dismantling the Republika Srpska would be ‘anti-Serb'; i.e., objectively unjust. This is true only if one views treating the Serbs exactly the same as every other Balkan nation to be ‘anti-Serb’. In Bosnia, the Croats were deprived of their own sectarian, ethnically pure, self-proclaimed ‘republic’ by the terms of the Dayton Agreement, while the Serbs were allowed to keep theirs. This application of double-standards, to the benefit of the Serb nationalists and at the expense of the Croat nationalists, did not produce any qualms among Western politicians. Likewise, the Ohrid Agreement that brought an end to fighting between the Macedonian government and Albanian rebels in 2001 granted the large Albanian minority in Macedonia very reasonable, substantial rights that fell short of territorial autonomy, thanks to which Macedonia has enjoyed seven years of internal peace and functions as a state much better than Bosnia does. Alone in the Balkans, it is the Serb nationalists who have been allowed to carve out a sectarian entity, where none previously existed, from a multiethnic, unitary republic, on territory – it is worth repeating – that was barely more than 50% Serb prior to the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s.

Far from being a violation of Bosnian Serb self-determination, the ideal of a unitary, self-governing Bosnia-Hercegovina as the common homeland of Serbs, Croats and Muslims was one that successive generations of Bosnian Serb politicians upheld. When the Bosnian republic originally came into being in 1944-46, its president and prime-minister were both Serbs, and both champions of Bosnian unity and self-rule. Conversely, the goal of dismembering Bosnia is one that Serb nationalists have begun to follow, consistently and openly, only more recently. As late as 1990, when the Communist regime in Bosnia fell, the Bosnian Serb nationalists who campaigned successfully for the Bosnian Serb popular vote did so without ever saying that their goal was the dismemberment of Bosnia – the war of destruction they launched against the Bosnian republic in 1991-92 had no democratic mandate from the Bosnian Serb people. Of course, the traditional Bosnian Serb support for a united, self-governing Bosnia always presupposed a close link with Serbia – a desire that was satisfied so long as the Yugoslav Federation existed. But in this respect, we can satisfy Bosnian Serb national feeling: as fellow members of the EU, Bosnia and Serbia will be as closely linked as they ever were within Yugoslavia.

The present author is not the only one to favour a reform of the Bosnian state along such lines. On 25 September 2007, Republican Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey, supported by Democratic Representatives Russ Carnahan and John Olver of Missouri and Massachussetts respectively, sponsored a resolution in the US House of Representatives (H.Res. 679) for Bosnia’s reorganisation on a basis similar to that which I have suggested here.

For the past two decades, the Balkans have suffered the effects of Western policies that were ad hoc, short-termist and reflected the lack of will of their initiators. With Russia increasingly aggressive and assertive in the region, Serbia on a knife-edge between democracy and a reversion to nationalist extremism and authoritarianism, and Kosovo and Macedonia fragile and vulnerable, such dilettantism can no longer be afforded. It is time for both a stick and a carrot that are worthy of the names.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Hat tip: Domagoj Margetic, Necenzurirano.com.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia | 2 Comments

Antiwar ad absurdum – the Madagascar Plan as an alternative to the Holocaust

ChamberlainAnyone who follows the politics of the ‘anti-war’ left will long ago have learned that the Iraq War is The Most Evil Thing That Ever Happened. The Nazi Holocaust; Stalin’s terror-famine and mass purges; Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution; the Rwandan and Darfurian genocides – all are viewed as fairly minor misdemeanors in comparison to the US’s invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein without UN Security Council authorisation. Even the former Most Evil Thing That Ever Happened – the US intervention in Indochina – is now sometimes viewed in a relatively rosy light, as Lindsey Hilsum made clear when, in the pages of the New Statesman, she favourably compared Henry Kissinger’s brand of foreign policy to that of George Bush and the neocons.

Now, however, the New Statesman‘s former editor, Peter Wilby, has taken the anti-war reinterpretation of history to new levels in his article, on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’, entitled ‘The last excuse for the Iraq war is founded on a myth: Seeing the Second World War as a pure struggle to defeat an evil dictator has led us into foreign policy traps ever since’. Wilby’s main argument is that Britain’s decision to go to war with Nazi Germany in 1939 should not be seen in such a positive light, because it was taken for reasons of self-interest rather than morality: ‘Britain fought Germany for the same reason it had always fought wars in Europe: to maintain the balance of power and prevent a single state dominating the continent.’

This argument is tedious even to summarise. Partly because everybody already knows that Britain went to war with Nazi Germany for reasons of self-interest; the existence of the ‘myth’ that Wilby describes is what some would call a ‘straw man’. And partly because, whether you believe Britain went to war with Germany for altruistic or for selfish motives, this has absolutely no bearing on whether the war was worthy of support. Perhaps one day someone will write their PhD dissertation on the reasons why stoppers and other ‘anti-war’ types are so repetitive in making the point that Western leaders are motivated by self-interest rather than altruism. I think it has something to do with the moral legacy of Protestantism, whereby what matters is purity of inner belief rather than outwardly appearing to do good: salvation through faith alone, rather than salvation through good works.

So far, so mind-numbingly, nob-shrinkingly, bed-wettingly boring, as Rick out of the Young Ones might have said. What makes Wilby’s article stand out is his attempt to square his rejection of the case for Britain’s war against Nazi Germany with the fact of the Holocaust:

Would the Holocaust have happened if there had been no war or if the western democracies had acted against Nazi Germany earlier? We can never know – though it is likely that, if Britain had made peace in 1940 after the fall of France, the Jews would have been sent to Madagascar. What is certain is that the war prevented any concerted attempt at rescue.

Resources used to help Jews would be diverted from the war. Any mass movement of refugees ran the risk of the Germans planting agents among them. Oil supplies were too vital to Britain to risk upsetting Arabs by evacuating them to Palestine. Any of the suggested swaps – Jews for German PoWs, for example – might suggest allied weakness. Besides, why should the allies assist Hitler to rid Europe of Jewry? The best we could do, as Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, observed in 1944, was to “hope that the German government will refrain from exterminating these unfortunate people”.

Wilby appears to be saying that the outbreak of World War II ensured that nothing could be done to help Europe’s Jews; and that once the war had broken out, they would have been better off had it ended in mid-1940, as they might have got off with simply being deported by the Nazis to Madagascar. This, of course, presupposes British collaboration with the deportation, since as the dominant world naval power, Britain controlled the sea route to Madagascar. So Wilby is essentially arguing that Britain should have made peace with Nazi Germany, or avoided fighting it altogether, so as to allow the Nazis to deport Europe’s Jews to Madagascar.

Wilby does not, of course, consider just how many of the Jews would have perished on the voyage to Madagascar or after arriving there. Holocaust historian Laurence Rees writes of the Madagascar Plan in his book Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution, that ‘it is important to remember that this plan, like all the other wartime solutions to the “Jewish problem”, would have meant widespread death and suffering for the Jews. A Nazi governor of Madagascar would most likely have presided over the gradual elimination of the Jews within a generation or two.’

However, Wilby’s real error is to assume that it was Britain and France that were the cause of World War II, and that Nazi Germany wanted nothing more than to live in peace with the rest of Europe. This is what left-wing ‘anti-war’ types, in fact, think: war is always the fault of the democratic West; Hitler, Stalin, Galtieri, Saddam and Milosevic wanted nothing more than to live in peace.

In reality, had Britain made peace in 1940 after the fall of France, Hitler would undoubtedly have gone on to attack the Soviet Union. And the Holocaust, it should not be forgotten, properly began with the mass slaughter of Soviet Jews by the SS Einsatzgruppen. In two orders issued by the SS leadership in July 1941, the Einsatzgruppen were ordered to execute all those behind the German lines who might have organised resistance, including Communist officials and Jews, and to execute certain categories of Soviet POWs, including Jews. The executions initially targeted only adult male Jews, but from about mid-August 1941, the genocide encompassed women and children as well. Some Holocaust historians, such as Rees, have suggested that the mass murder of the Soviet Jewish women and children was motivated by the desire to free the Reich from the burden represented by a section of the population that, after the elimination of its menfolk, had no means of support of its own. Others, such as Christopher Browning, have suggested that the Nazis took increasingly murderous measures against the Jews in response to their triumphs on the Eastern Front; thus, the huge German battlefield victory over the Soviets at Kiev in September 1941 was followed by the infamous Babi Yar massacre of Kiev’s Jews.

What is certain is that the genocide of the Soviet Jews was an integral part of the Nazi war against the Soviet Union, and was linked to genocidal crimes against other sections of the population. Millions of Soviet POWs were starved to death in Nazi captivity. Millions of non-Jewish Poles, Ukrainians and others were killed by the Nazis in order to pacify the conquered territories of the Slavic east, with the ultimate aim being to clear vast areas of their inhabitants so that they might provide lebensraum for German settlers.

In other words, if the British had made their peace with the Nazis in mid-1940, it would not have meant that the Nazi genocide would not have happened, merely that it might have taken a slightly different form. In all likelihood, it would have made the eventual Nazi genocide in the East more likely to have succeeded, and on a bigger scale – involving up to tens of millions of assorted untermenschen.

I wonder just how many of these victims would have been saved by the ‘concerted programme of rescue’ that Wilby imagines might have happened had Britain not declared war on Germany ? I wonder also if today’s ‘anti-war’ types would be looking back and praising Neville Chamberlain for peacefully colluding in the Nazi genocide instead of declaring war ?

That is, in the unlikely event that freedom of speech still existed in Britain two-thirds of a century after the Nazi victory.

Sunday, 27 April 2008 Posted by | Genocide, The Left | 1 Comment

Where can Macedonians go on holiday ?

‘When Alexander saw the breadth of his domains, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ – Alan Rickman

Geography poses a very different problem for today’s Macedonians. It was reported last week that Greece’s transport ministry had rejected a request from Macedonia’s national airline, ‘MAT – Macedonian Airlines’, to fly into its territory, because it objects to the airline’s – and the country’s – use of the name ‘Macedonia’. Greece has spent the best part of the twentieth century trying to eradicate all traces of the Macedonian nationality and language from its territory, and since the early 1990s this has grown into a campaign to try to force the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, which emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia, to change its name. So obsessive has Greece’s campaign to deny the Macedonian nation the right to exist become, that it not only vetoed Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, but even forced Dustin the Turkey, Ireland’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, to change the lyrics of its entry to the latter competition, because they referred to all the countries of Europe, including Macedonia.

Dustin the Turkey – the new threat to Greece and champion of Greater Macedonian irredentism.

Now Macedonia Airlines will be prevented from flying Macedonian holiday-makers to the Greek island of Corfu this summer.

This should not pose a problem for Macedonians, because there are pleny of other destinations for anyone wanting a Mediterranean beach holiday, many of them undoubtedly more lovely than Corfu. The most beautiful Mediterranean beaches and coastline are, of course, in Croatia. But after Croatia, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus may be an attractive destination, boasting beautiful, uncrowded, unspoilt beaches at a reasonable price combined with plenty of pretty towns, villages and places of historical interest for the more discerning tourist. Highlights include Kyrenia, described by the Rough Guide to Cyprus as ‘Cyprus’s most attractive coastal town’ with a ‘ruthlessly picturesque harbour'; St Hilarion castle; Nangomi, the ‘Golden Beach’, with its sea-turtles and birdlife; and the Gothic and Ottoman architectural treasures of North Nicosia.

Information about North Cyprus beach holidays can be found here, here, here and here.

Monday, 21 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey | Leave a comment

Mea culpa

I have been ticked off by ‘Shuggy’, one of the Drink-Soaked Trots, for using the term ‘lumpen’. Apparently, it proves that I am a snob who despises the working class. Some might ask why Shuggy does not complain when the person I described as lumpen, his fellow DSTPFW blogger ‘Will’, uses misogynistic terms of abuse such as ‘cunt’ and ‘whore’ – might this not be deemed disrespectful to sex workers and to members of the fairer sex in general ? Some might ask why Shuggy does not complain when Will uses the term ‘retard’ as a term of abuse in the comments section of Shuggy’s very own post – might this not be deemed disrespectful to the mentally handicapped or to people with learning disabilities ? But they would be wrong, because, I am told, it’s normal for people Up North to speak like Will does:

I feel so badly for you – to be introduced to how people in places like Glasgow and Newcastle actually talk. You know, like real people, majority people, common people, unwashed, uneducated and uncouth people. The kind of people who, if you were honest with yourself, you’d admit you despise. How traumatic and ghastly this must be for you.

Of course, I could respond that, in the predominantly middle-class milieu of the left-wing intelligentsia that I come from, using terms like ‘lumpen’ to describe abusive, aggressive and intolerant Neanderthals is how we actually talk. We may not be so common and we may generally be washed, educated and couth. But we are the kind of people who, if you were honest with yourself, you’d admit you despise. How traumatic and ghastly this must be for you.

But I would have no right to make such an argument. Because where would we all be if white, male, middle-class heterosexuals like myself felt they had a right to criticise members of oppressed groups such as the working class for behaviour that’s simply part of their group culture ? Why, the next thing you know, I might feel entitled to condemn Muslim bigots who castrate young girls, keep their multiple wives imprisoned at home, blow up cafes full of Jews and organise conferences to deny the Holocaust. But that would make me an Islamophobe, of course, just like Peter Tatchell.

Thanks to Shuggy’s post, I’ve realised the error of my ways. I realise that if Geordies or Glaswegians spew vulgar abuse, mug old ladies and set fire to immigrants’ homes, they are just expressing their true, gritty, proletarian Northern culture. Far from being the object of condescension from middle-class snobs such as myself, such culture should be celebrated. In fact, there is a lot more wholesome truth and sincerity in the phrase ‘Sharon is a slag’ written on a bus-shelter and embellished with a good slash of urine by a working-class lad from Up North, than in whole libraries full of books by left-wing intellectuals who are mostly white, male and middle class.

Of course, you can’t really blame me. In the state primary school I attended, the dinner ladies used to tell me off for swearing. I didn’t realise at the time that those dinner ladies were just working-class traitors who were trying to embourgeoisify the youth with poncey middle-class good manners. Although in retrospect, I suppose, they might have been telling the middle-class kids off for swearing while secretly encouraging the working-class kids to swear more so as to preserve their working-classness, and I – oblivious in my privileged state of contentedness – was simply blind to these subtle acts of class warfare going on around me.

Perhaps that’s the solution ? We could have separate schools for the working class and for the middle class. And in the working-class schools, so as not to patronise the children, we could encourage them to swear, twock cars and make spelling mistakes. Meanwhile, middle-class children could receive a proper education, but be taught to feel extremely guilty about it, so that they’d never dare to criticise any working-class person, ever.

Well, I have to thank the horny-handed sons of toil over at the Drink-Soaked Trots for setting me straight. Some weeks ago, I argued here that the politics of class leads to moral relativism. How totally I have been proven wrong.

I was planning to go fox-hunting this weekend, but instead, I think I’ll just stay at home and contemplate the sheer enormity of my middle-class guilt. In fact, I think I’ll go back to being a Trotskyist.

Correction: I referred above to the Drink-Soaked Trots as ‘horny-handed sons of toil’. This is incorrect. It should be ‘horny-handed sons and daughters of toil’. Come to think of it, it should be ‘horny-handed daughters and sons of toil’.

Friday, 18 April 2008 Posted by | Political correctness, The Left | Leave a comment

Freedom under capitalism, or against it ?

It has been a rare treat to be engaged in a genuinely constructive and interesting discussion in the blogosphere. Doesn’t happen as often as it should… I refer to the debate between myself, Bob from Brockley, Peter Ryley, New Centrist, Peter Ridson, Never Trust a Hippy and one or two others about the meaning of progressive politics today. It began with my article arguing that the global ideological divide between left and right had been superceded by the divide between pro-Western and anti-Western. I can’t do justice to all the nuances of the discussion here – anyone interested can follow the links – but the biggest criticism made of my political standpoint has been that it allegedly involves making peace with the existing order here in the UK (or the West) in order to focus solely on progressive change abroad. Linked to this is Ryley’s important and valid point, that

even if a left party gets into power, it can be constrained by the power of other institutions, such as big business, and by international politics and economics. When democratisation has produced left victories in the developing world recently, they have been undone by debt, trade and ‘structural adjustment’.

The essence of our disagreement may be over the extent to which progressive change is possible or desirable within the existing liberal-capitalist order, or whether we should ultimately be fighting for the overthrow of this order and its replacement by one based on a different form of property relations – i.e. socialism.

I’ll confess to being thoroughly disillusioned with what I consider to be the politics of unrealisable left-wing ideals, which is why I have less time than some of the comrades in this discussion for distinguishing between different varieties of radical left-wing politics. It may be true, philosophically speaking, that anarchists who support autonomous communes are fundamentally different from statist socialists who support a centrally planned economy, but given the unlikelihood that the ideals of either will ever be realised, I do not consider it particularly worthwhile to discuss such differences. What matters is where one stands on concrete issues relating to struggles that are actually taking place.

There are plenty of things wrong with the existing order here in the UK, and plenty of worthwhile fights left to fight. We need, for example, to free people from the oppression and misery of living on sink estates; break the hold of crime and violence over our young people; restore their belief in the value of education and self-improvement; provide child-care for single mothers to enable them to work; provide homes for all our citizens and residents; integrate all our ethnic and religious minorities into our citizenry; and so on. My personal belief is that the UK’s social problems are caused more by lack of education and opportunity for those lower down the social ladder, and by deficiencies in popular culture among the population at large, than they are by poverty or inequalities in wealth. I view, for example, the fact that our Labour government is committed to the target of half of all school-leavers going to university as more inspiring than any number of radicals writing about public ownership of the means of production. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush…

The point has been made that the welfare state in Britain was not simply the product of Labour’s 1945 election victory. Ryley argues:

Universal suffrage was preceded by instruments of working-class self-help – trade unions, co-operatives, self-improvement societies, friendly societies and the like – which were eventually replaced by the welfare state.

I never suggested otherwise. But a pluralistic political order was necessary for such instruments of working-class self-help to blossom, and democracy was necessary for a political party arising from the labour movement to take power and replace these instruments by the welfare state.

And this is the key point: real, meaningful change is possible under the existing liberal-democratic order, whereas there is no reason to believe that this order can be overthrown and replaced by something radically different and better. If I have ‘made my peace’ with the existing order, it is not because I think the existing order is perfect, but because it is an existing order that can be improved, whereas the radical-left alternatives do not offer any realistic prospect for successful progressive change.

There is, furthermore, so much in the existing liberal-democratic order that is good – something that radical leftists seem strangely unwilling to recognise. People of all genders and sexual orientations are mostly free to dress as they like, travel freely, sleep with whom they like and choose their profession without being arrested or persecuted. Our young girls don’t have their genitals mutilated; our gay people are not executed. Our workers have health-care, trade unions, TVs, cars and foreign holidays; their children can go to university if they want. Our cities are devoid of crowds of hungry, ragged children scavenging for food in rubbish bins. We are free to speak, write or demonstrate against our government. Our ethnic minorities are protected by laws against racial discrimination. I find it very difficult to understand why my desire to spread these benefits to the population of the world as a whole makes me a traitor to left-wing values, while those who prioritise giving the already relatively well off population of the West even more benefits than they already enjoy should be considered the ‘true’ radicals.

Which brings us back to the question with which we began: of whether the inequalities in wealth and power under the global capitalist order make it impossible for large parts of the Third World to enjoy the standard of living, the rights and the benefits that we enjoy in the West; whether Third World countries will always be kept down by the richer countries that profit from their exploitation (there is also the question of just how many people globally could enjoy Western levels of access to heating, electricity and consumer goods before the environment collapses altogether, but that is a problem we would have to address even in a hypothetical post-capitalist world, and is the subject of a whole other discussion).

There are in fact several cases of countries, thoroughly exploited economically by the developed West, carrying out successful national-liberation struggles to achieve their independence vis-a-vis the latter.

Turkey – the Ottoman Empire – was a virtual economic colony of the Western imperialist powers before World War I; foreign control was established over the Ottoman Public Debt, while under the system of the ‘capitulations’, foreign merchants in the Ottoman Empire and their native collaborators were exempt from taxation and from the jurisdiction of the Ottoman courts. True to Lenin’s model of how imperialism works, the economic colonisation of the Ottoman Empire by European capitalism culminated during and after World War I in foreign invasion and the attempt by the victorious British, French and Italians to dismember the Anatolian Turkish heartland and divide it into zones of influence. If there was ever – in the history of the world – a genuinely anti-imperialist movement of national liberation, then it was the movement led by Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists, which not only saved the Turkish heartland from territorial dismemberment but freed it from foreign economic domination. And this was carried out under a Westernising regime that set Turkey on the path to post-war alliance with the US and NATO membership; today, the Turkey created by this revolution is attempting to complete the process by joining the EU. Liberation from Western domination meant joining the West.

We can tell a similar story about Ireland, whose liberation after formal independence in 1922 from British domination was slow and painful, but which is today a prosperous EU member. We can compare the Turkish and Irish experiences favourably with those countries that liberated themselves from Western domination under the banner of a radically anti-Western or anti-capitalist ideology – China, Cuba, Iran. Their experiences show that the anti-Western, anti-capitalist cure may be worse than the Western neo-colonial disease. For all the qualifications that must be made (Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds; Ireland’s domination by conservative Catholicism; the restriction of personal freedoms in both countries; etc.), the Turkish and Irish experiences show that not only is it entirely possible for colonised countries to achieve genuine national and economic liberation within the global capitalist order, but that this is best achieved under the banner of a Western-style or Westernising nationalist ideology, rather than an anti-capitalist or anti-Western ideology.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I at least have some idea of what kind of politics has borne fruit in the past, both here in the UK and globally, and what has proven a dead-end.

PS Peter Ryley and others have suggested I have been unfair to the blog ‘Drink-Soaked Trots’, and have failed to appreciate the diversity of views represented by its contributors. While I indeed appreciate and respect several of these contributors, the overall tone of the blog is defined by the hatred, poison and negativity spewed copiously by the lumpen, semi-literate ‘Will’ and by one or two others. Their anger is entirely familiar to those of us who have dealt with people from the Spartacist League, or from one or two of the splinters of the old Workers Revolutionary Party; it is the anger of those who react to their ever-growing political isolation, marginalisation and irrelevance by becoming ever more rigid and ever more sectarian, which in turn leads to further isolation, marginalisation and irrelevance, and to further anger. And so on.

Consequently, the voices of the ‘distinguished authors and journalists from both sides of the Atlantic’ at DSTPFW that Peter mentions are simply drowned out by the voices of sectarian hatred, frustration and bitterness. Not to mention the unending stream of vulgarity and abuse which any civilised person must find disgusting. You may be a distinguished author, but if you live in a cage with animals, people may reasonably mistake you for a monkey.

Thursday, 17 April 2008 Posted by | The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

BNP agitates against Kosova’s independence

Image posted on the BNP’s website, 20 February 2008

The British National Party (BNP), Britain’s largest and best-known fascist party, has been running a series of articles denouncing the international recognition of Kosova’s independence from Serbia. On the day Kosova declared independence, 17 February, the BNP’s website ran an article entitled ‘Kosovo – the EU and USA get their way !’, claiming that the move represented

the successful takeover of part of a Christian country by a bunch of Islamic terrorists, and Albanian thugs. Aided and abetted by useful dupes who are themselves being manipulated by their puppet masters, pulling strings as ever behind the scenes! What we are left with is an embryonic Islamic state in the Balkans. It will cause destabilisation throughout the region.

Furthermore,

After today, the future balkanisation of other countries, including Britain, is no longer a flight of fancy. It will happen, unless you turn to the BNP: The last remaining political party willing to stand up to the growing Islamic threat within this country!

Playing on an ‘anti-imperialist’ theme, the BNP also claimed that Kosovo’s independence

wouldn’t have been possible without the full backing and support of America and the European Union.

The BNP condemns Kosova’s independence because most Kosova Albanians are Muslims, and because it identifies them with the Muslim immigrants in Britain. On 14 February, the BNP website published an article citing Kosova as an example of

What happens when a government loses control of immigration and gives special preference to immigrants for political reasons.

On 24 February, the BNP website ran an article accusing British church leaders of being determined to ‘appease Islam’, and linking the alleged Islamic threat in Kosova to that in Britain:

It seems incredible to us that those leaders of the Christian Church here in Britain so determined to appease Islam in our country, appear so apparently ignorant of the suffering of their co-religionists in the Serbian province of Kosovo!

Are they not aware, for instance, that since KFOR took responsibility for the province that around two hundred Christian churches, monasteries, shrines and other sites of worship have been systematically destroyed or otherwise desecrate, in what can only be seen as an organised campaign of cultural cleansing?

Can they really be unaware that quite apart from the great many Christians who have been murdered, raped, robbed and mutilated over the last nine years, that hundreds of thousands more have been driven from their homes and forced to flee for their lives by the adherents of the very religion that they go to such lengths to defend? Many would regard this as ethnic cleansing!

Do they seriously believe that Kosovo marks the end of Islamic expansion in Europe and are truly ignorant of Islamicist designs on adjoining areas of Serbia and Macedonia – both having very significant Islamic communities?

The BNP identifies the Kosova Albanians not only with the Islamic threat, but also with organised crime – as it does with ethnic minorities in the UK. On 8 March, it republished an article entitled ‘Kosovo – just one step in the Islamification of Europe’, which claimed:

Albanians are spread all over Europe and especially in the criminal underworld. They are notorious for their effectiveness, unpredictability and incredible cruelty. Their main advantage to the other organized crime is the fact that they speak language nobody understands, their organization is based on family ties and if someone dares to speak out that person is being brutally murdered. In Europe, today the Albanian mafia is the main engine of traffic of drugs and humans, theft and falsification of passports, weapons and human organs trade, abductions, extortions and executions. In London these people control the entire network of prostitution, in Italy and Greece they deal with weapons and drugs’ smuggling. There are entire towns in Italy where the business is controlled by Albanians. In the US there are more than 150,000 Albanian immigrants from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania.

The article concludes:

I am just trying to explain why independent Kosovo is so dangerous for the cultural and social integrity of Europe. The Albanians and other Muslims for that matter have been refusing for years to integrate in the European society. The problems they have created in the UK, Italy, France, Germany, the Balkans and many other places are countless.

In its agitation against Kosova’s independence, the BNP has unambiguously adopted the ‘anti-imperialist discourse’ of the ‘radical left’, as in this article of 23 February, warning of the danger of a conflict with Russia over Kosova:

The blood thirsty warmongers of Washington, along with the self serving bureaucrats, and politicians of Brussels, and elsewhere, have now brought us closer to the brink of a major conflict, centred upon the Balkans, than at any time since the days of the cold war!

On 27 February, I wrote here at Greater Surbiton how right-wing anti-Muslim bigots were aligning themselves with the West’s enemies in opposition to Kosova’s independence. I cited articles by Melanie Phillips and Julia Gorin. Both of these articles have been reproduced on the BNP’s website, in support of its line on Kosova.

Interestingly, the BNP has also adopted the entire ‘anti-imperialist’ narrative of alleged Western victimisation and demonisation of Serbia, promoted by publications such as Counterpunch and Living Marxism.

On the alleged Western demonisation of Serbia:

Showing any sympathy for the present plight of Serbia is swimming against the tide of received opinion, which was largely generated by the successful propaganda of the West, particularly concerning Bosnia and Kosovo. The demonization of Serbia was taken to grotesque proportions and, in general, faithfully and uncritically repeated in the mainstream media.

Concerning the alleged German engineering of the break-up of Yugoslavia:

So, a clerico-fascist [Croatia's Franjo Tudjman] and an Islamic extremist [Bosnia's Alija Izetbegovic] were supported by Western intelligence agencies, governments and armed forces as bearers of “European values” to the benighted Balkans. To do this, the EU member states broke their obligations under the UN charter and the Helsinki Accords by which they had guaranteed to accept existing national borders in Europe. They recognized Slovenia and Croatia diplomatically. This was done principally at Germany’s instigation and the German government regarded this sudden about turn by the other EU states as a triumph. The Foreign Minister was cock-a-hoop “By this, Germany has regained diplomatically everything lost in Eastern Europe as a result of two world wars”. It opened the way for the new “Drang nach Osten”.

Note the reference to Western imperialism’s supposed violation of international law – a popular theme of the ‘anti-war’ left.

And concerning the alleged ‘invention of a genocide’ in the Balkans by Western propaganda, a favourite theme of John Pilger, Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour and others:

Wartime “information” from NATO told us that at least 100,000 young Albanian men from Kosovo were missing, presumed murdered. Yet the Spanish forensic team, sent to look for mass graves was gravely embarrassed. In late 1999 its leader complained that he and his colleagues had become part of “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machine because we did not find one, not one mass grave”. The Wall Street Journal concluded that NATO stepped up its claims when it saw “a fatigued press corps drifting towards the contrary story – civilians killed by NATO bombs… The war in Kosovo was cruel, bitter, savage. Genocide it wasn’t.” The Spanish forensic team found 2108 bodies in 1999.

The BNP’s rhetoric over Kosova and the Balkans is therefore in line with that of both the ‘anti-imperialist’ left and the anti-Islamic conservative right. One would have been surprised if it were otherwise.

Image posted on the BNP’s website, 14 February.

Sunday, 13 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, The Left | Leave a comment

Are we Tom Paines abroad but Edmund Burkes at home ?

Two weeks ago, I argued here that the global ideological division between the pro-Western and anti-Western camps had superceded the ideological division between the Left and the Right. I am glad that some friends, such as Kirk Johnson of Americans for Bosnia, agree with me (Kirk is, like me, a Bosnia activist from a left-wing background who experienced a similar ideological shift to my own, and for very similar reasons). I am honoured that a whole entry in the marvellous Encyclopedia of Decency has been devoted to lampooning my article. But I have also received some intelligent criticism, from Peter Ryley, Bob from Brockley and New Centrist. One of the snappiest counter-arguments was Peter’s claim, that those who share my outlook are ‘Tom Paines abroad but Edmund Burkes at home’, meaning that we are radical only in relation to foreign regimes, but conservative in relation to our own.

While I appreciate the quip, it is not one that I can accept. Edmund Burke was the father of modern conservatism, who developed his ideas in opposition to the French Revolution. I’ll admit to being, like Burke, someone who does not support revolution in my own country, but that’s all the common ground I share with him. He was a supporter of King and Church who upheld native tradition as an alternative to the universal Enlightenment values championed by the supporters of the French Revolution, and believed only in the most gradual, organic change to the domestic order, where absolutely necessary. By describing those of us on the centre-left as ‘Burkes’, Ryley is conflating all those outside the radical left with conservatism.

In fact, someone who is a Burke at home cannot be a Paine abroad, because Burke’s way of thinking, precisely, meant that the British traditional order could not be transplanted onto foreign countries. By contrast, I believe that the liberal democratic model of the kind we enjoy in Britain and Europe is equally valid for any part of the world, and should be promoted globally as an alternative to tyrannical or authoritarian regimes. And, unlike Burke, I believe the existing domestic order should be reformed according to the principles of reason. Our true affinity, therefore, is with Whigs like Burke’s great opponent, Charles James Fox, who supported revolution abroad and reform at home. This is partly because the revolution has already triumphed at home. I wonder whether a true Burke would ever feel comfortable supporting a National Health Service, or gender equality, or same-sex civil partnerships. I would also therefore claim a greater affinity with the more moderate Jacobins who, having carried out the Revolution in France, sought to prevent its degeneration into extremism at home while simultaneously promoting it across Europe.

I support the abolition of the monarchy, a democratically elected second chamber, the disestablishment of the Church of England, the abolition of faith-based and private education and the complete secularisation of public life. This is another area where a centre-leftist such as myself parts company with the latter-day Burkes, and even with the Blairites. These are not trivial issues; I believe that, if we are going to integrate our Muslim and immigrant population, we need a modern concept of homogenous citizenship to which all faith-based and class-based schools are anathema. I am a strong supporter of an ultra-liberal immigration policy, partly because immigration is a means to dissolve traditional society and hasten globalisation. And globalisation – anathema to Burkeans – is something I strongly support.

Ryley argues further:

So when Marco [sic] Attila Hoare recently wrote that “the principal ideological division in global politics today” is “pro-Western vs anti-WesternI think that he too was oversimplifying. For the left, it is not about being reflexively pro or anti-Western. It is about standing with the poor, the oppressed and the exploited. It is about being consistently pro-social justice.

I agree with Peter that social justice is crucial; however, liberal democracy is the fertile ground in which social justice grows. In Britain, universal suffrage came first, the welfare state second. Working class people needed to be able to vote in a free election, so that they could elect in 1945 the Labour government that established the welfare state. Earlier social reforms were carried out by the Liberal Party in the years before World War I, largely to meet the challenge posed by the rise of organised labour and the Labour Party. Conversely, the welfare states established by totalitarian regimes have tended to be less durable, which is why the working classes are better off in Western Europe today than they ever were under Communist regimes. While I strongly disagree with US Republican hawks such as George W. Bush on domestic social issues, I believe their support for democracy abroad offers the best chance for the prosperity of ordinary people globally in the long run. The West European model of welfare capitalism is preferable to the US model; but the US model is vastly, incomparably preferable even to left-wing totalitarianism, let alone to Islamist totalitarianism. And as I pointed out in my last two posts, Bush’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Eastern Europe is simply more progressive than that of most, and probably all, of the present governments of Western Europe.

Bob from Brockley questions whether the West can be upheld as a positive model, given the murderous record of Western colonialism, and Western support for murderous dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Pinochet. As I made clear in my original article, the dichotomy ‘Western vs anti-Western’ cannot be projected back in time and equated with the Cold War divide between the Western and Communist blocs, let alone with the divide between the Western colonial powers and the colonised world. The ‘Western vs anti-Western’ dichotomy is a new one; the end of colonialism and of the Cold War has enabled both Western values and the Western alliance to assume a more unambiguously positive character that they did not possess before. As a historian of the Yugoslav Revolution, I can safely say I view the Communist-led sides in the Yugoslav, Greek and Albanian civil wars of the 1940s as the positive ones. I would not have supported the Americans in Vietnam or the Contras in Nicaragua. But these are yesterday’s wars that took place in yesterday’s world. I fear that Bob’s argument dangerously resembles the moral relativist one: that the geopolitical West is wrong today because it can never shed its guilt for past crimes. The ‘Western camp’ that I support is one that, as I made clear, embraces both former Cold Warriors and former Marxists, irrespective of whether they once held correct or incorrect views on Pinochet or Mao, the Contras or the Khmer Rouge. The point is where they are now, not where they were then.

New Centrist argues (and both Peter and Bob seem to agree):

Hoare also ignores the existence of ultra-leftists, anarchists, and other self-styled revolutionaries who advocate a third perspective that is classically “anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist” while also critical of Jihadist terrorism. I’m referring here to Three Way Fight, World War 4 Report, etc.

In fact, the radical leftists of this kind appear on my diagram in the far left, equidistant between the pro-Western and anti-Western camps. I had not previously heard of Three Way Fight, but I am familiar with World War 4 Report, as well as other blogs in this category such as the Drink-Soaked Trots. The problem with leftists of this variety is that they tend to be obsessed with their own ‘radical-left’ identity, with ideological purity and with loyalty to the anachronistic ‘revolutionary’ principles of yesteryear (In reality, to talk about ‘proletarian revolution’ or ‘world socialism’ or ‘anarchism’ today is no more ‘revolutionary’ than are the steam engine or the gramophone in today’s technological age). At best, comrades of this kind can set aside their antiquated shibboleths enough to be able to unite behind progressive causes alongside those further to the right, in which case their ‘revolutionary socialism’ or ‘anarchism’ may add a bit of diversity and harmless exoticism to the movement. And, joking aside, diversity and exoticism are good things. But at worst, leftists of this kind simply retreat into their own ideological foxholes, from which they write off %99.9999 of the rest of the world as heretical and Satanic, thereby consigning themselves to political irrelevance and sectarian oblivion.

In practice, if you want to avoid irrelevance and oblivion, you have to take sides in the struggle that really matters. And in that case, you can only be so left-wing, before you end up flipping round to the side of the far right.

Update: Francis Sedgemore (aka ‘Jura Watchmaker’) of Drink-Soaked Trots has responded to this article, arguing ‘One thing that stands out in Hoare’s post is his use of the term “homogenous citizenship”, when defending his vision of an egalitarian society. Homogenous? Hoare’s support for an “ultra-liberal immigration policy” aside, this reeks of the aculturalism that I associate with Burkean liberal-conservatism. The last thing I want to see is a homogeneous society. It would be the social equivalent of thermodynamic heat death.’

Leaving aside Sedgemore’s inability to understand the difference between ‘citizenship’ and ‘society’, to associate Burke with ‘aculturalism’ and with ‘homogenous citizenship’ is a bit like associating Karl Marx with support for the maintenance of aristocratic privilege. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke wrote:

The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue, it grafts benevolence even upon avarice. The possessors of family wealth, and of the distinction which attends hereditary possession (as most concerned in it), are the natural securities for this transmission. With us the House of Peers is formed upon this principle. It is wholly composed of hereditary property and hereditary distinction, and made, therefore, the third of the legislature and, in the last event, the sole judge of all property in all its subdivisions. The House of Commons, too, though not necessarily, yet in fact, is always so composed, in the far greater part. Let those large proprietors be what they will — and they have their chance of being amongst the best — they are, at the very worst, the ballast in the vessel of the commonwealth. For though hereditary wealth and the rank which goes with it are too much idolized by creeping sycophants and the blind, abject admirers of power, they are too rashly slighted in shallow speculations of the petulant, assuming, short-sighted coxcombs of philosophy. Some decent, regulated preeminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given to birth is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolitic.

It is said that twenty-four millions ought to prevail over two hundred thousand. True; if the constitution of a kingdom be a problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does well enough with the lamp-post for its second; to men who may reason calmly, it is ridiculous. The will of the many and their interest must very often differ, and great will be the difference when they make an evil choice.

Furthermore:

We are resolved to keep an established church, an established monarchy, an established aristocracy, and an established democracy, each in the degree it exists, and in no greater.

In other words, both with regard to religion and with regard to class, Burke was about as far from supporting ‘homogenous citizenship’ as it was possible to be. He upheld a parliamentary system that privileged the propertied classes, and in particular the aristocracy, and that was underpinned by the established church – in opposition to the emerging French secular republic based on universal, equal citizenship.

In other words, Sedgemore is throwing around accusations of Burkeanism without having a clue about what Burkeanism is.

Thursday, 10 April 2008 Posted by | Political correctness, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | 1 Comment

Bush in Zagreb – Croatia comes home

Croatia and Albania have now been invited to join NATO. This was the one mitigating factor for South East Europe in last week’s otherwise mostly dismal NATO summit in Bucharest, in which the hopes of Macedonia, Georgia and Ukraine for NATO membership were let down. But while Bush was not able to press his NATO allies into showing greater solidarity with the East Europeans, yet he was at least able to deliver a rousing speech in the Croatian capital of Zagreb following the summit, expressing the kind of solidarity with the South East European nations of the kind which West European leaders currently seem incapable. Leaving aside the references to God and religion, I endorse every word of Bush’s speech, here reproduced in full:

Dobro Jutro. (Applause.) Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much. I’m honored to be here with the leaders from Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia. The United States appreciates the leadership you have shown in the cause of freedom. We’re pleased Albania and Croatia have been invited to join NATO. And we look forward to Macedonia taking its place very soon in this great alliance for freedom. (Applause.)

Laura, who has joined me today, and I are proud to stand on the soil of an independent Croatia. (Applause.) Our countries are separated by thousands of miles, but we’re united by a deep belief in God and the blessings of liberty He gave us. And today, on the edge of the great Adriatic, we stand together as one free people. (Applause.)

Croatia is a very different place than it was just a decade ago. The Croatian people have overcome war and hardship to build peaceful relations with your neighbors, and to build a maturing democracy in one of the most beautiful countries on the face of the Earth. (Applause.) Americans admire your courage and admire your persistence. And we look forward to welcoming you as a partner in NATO.

The invitation to join NATO that Croatia and Albania received this week is a vote of confidence that you will continue to make necessary reforms and become strong contributors to our great Alliance. Henceforth, should any danger threaten your people, America and the NATO Alliance will stand with you, and no one will be able to take your freedom away. (Applause.)

I regret that NATO did not extend an invitation to Macedonia at this week’s summit. Macedonia has made difficult reforms at home, and is making major contributions to NATO missions abroad. Unfortunately, Macedonia’s invitation was delayed because of a dispute over its name. In Bucharest, NATO allies declared that as soon as this issue is resolved, Macedonia will be extended an invitation to join the Alliance. America’s position is clear: Macedonia should take its place in NATO as soon as possible. (Applause.)

The NATO Alliance is open to all countries in the region. We welcome the decisions of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro to take the next steps toward membership called Intensive [sic] Dialogue. And we hope that soon a free and prosperous Serbia will find its rightful place in the family of Europe, and live at peace with its neighbors. (Applause.)

With the changes underway in this region, Europe stands on the threshold of a new and hopeful history. The ancient and costly rivalries that led to two world wars have fallen away. We’ve seen the burning desire for freedom melt even the Iron Curtain. We’ve witnessed the rise of strong and vibrant democracies and free and open markets. And today the people of Europe are closer than ever before to a dream shared by millions: A Europe that is whole, a Europe that is at peace, and a Europe that is free. (Applause.)

The people of this region know what the gift of liberty means. You know the death and destruction that can be caused by the followers of radical ideologies. You know that, in a long run, the only way to defeat a hateful ideology is to promote the hopeful alternative of human freedom. And that is what our nations are doing today in the Middle East. The lack of freedom and opportunity in that region has given aid and comfort to the lies and ambitions of violent extremists. Resentments that began on the streets of the Middle East have resulted in the killing innocent people across the world. A great danger clouds the future of all free men and women, and this danger sits at the doorstep of Europe.

Together the people of this region are helping to confront this danger. Today soldiers from Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia are serving bravely in Afghanistan — helping the Afghan people defeat the terrorists and secure their future of liberty. Forces from Albania and Macedonia are serving in Iraq — where they’re helping the Iraqi people build a society that rejects terror and lives in freedom. It’s only a matter of time before freedom takes root across that troubled region. And when it does, millions will remember the people of your nation stood with them in their hour of need. (Applause.)

At this great moment in history, you have a vital role. There are many people who don’t appear to understand why it takes so long to build a democracy. You can tell them how hard it is to put in place a new and complex system of government for the first time. There are those who actually wonder if people were better off under their old tyranny. You can tell them that freedom is the only real path to prosperity and security and peace. And there are those who ask whether the pain and sacrifices for freedom are worth the costs. And they should come to Croatia. And you can show them that freedom is worth fighting for. (Applause.)

The great church in this square has stood since the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, it has seen long, dark winters of occupation and tyranny and war. But the spring is here at last. This is an era in history that generations of Croatians have prayed for. It is an era that Pope John Paul the Second envisioned when he came to this land, and prayed with the Croatian people, and asked for “a culture of peace.” Today in this square, before this great church, we can now proudly say: Those prayers have been answered. (Applause.)

(Turns to interpreter.) They can’t hear you. Don’t worry about it.

May you always remember the joy of this moment in your history. And may the hopeful story of a peaceful Croatia find its way to those in the world who live as slaves, and still await a joyful spring.

May God bless Croatia. And thank you for coming.

On this occasion, too, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader delivered a speech that likewise stressed the theme of South East European solidarity:

Croatia knew how to realize its future even when it seemed to be uncertain. Today we are at the threshold of Atlantic Alliance and European Union. The power of this success encourages us to continue to support our neighbors in their efforts. This is why we are very pleased to have with us the leaders of Albania, Macedonia, Presidents Bamir Topi and Branko Crvenkovski, Prime Ministers Sali Berisha and Nikola Gruevski.

The peoples in our southeast neighborhood also have the right to realize their aspirations. In Macedonia, our friends also have full rights for our support and encouragement. We will find the solution for Macedonia to join us soon in NATO Alliance.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Croats, Bosniacs and Serbs have the right to live in peaceful, democratic European country in which all three peoples are coexisting, sovereign and equal.

In Montenegro, they have the right to incorporate their state goals in new Atlantic home. And in Kosovo, they have the right to live in a new democratic order which will protect minority communities and include them in public administration and political life.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, Serbia, too, has the right to its place in Europe and the world. It’s paid the price for its misdirected former politics, and not only has the right, but I’m convinced it will also demonstrate that it is ready for new future. This is why I repeat our neighbors don’t give up. The inclusion of the entire Europe southeast into the Euro-Atlantic integration will continue. The time is for future. Our partners are with you.

On this occasion, it was politicians of the Right who stressed the themes of internationalism and ‘brotherhood and unity’ in South East Europe, of a kind that is inclusive of every nation in the region, Serbia and Kosova alike. Yet our own former Labour prime minister Tony Blair was a pioneer in this regard, travelling to a Kosova Albanian refugee camp at the height of the Kosovo War to reassure the refugees: ‘Our promise to you, to all of you, is that you should return in peace to the land that is yours.’ It was an expression of solidarity coming from the centre-left that compared extremely favourably with the minimisation of Albanian suffering, and whitewashing of Milosevic, in which radical leftists were engaging at the time.

For anyone coming from a radical left-wing background, as I do, the ironies are there for all to see. Radical socialists, from the Balkans and from the West, have long spoken of a ‘socialist federation of the Balkans’. Yet the unification of the Balkans as a tight confederation and military alliance of sovereign states is now being carried out by the EU and NATO (aka ‘Western imperialism’), on the basis of a political model that is the most progressive the world has ever seen (generally falling short in the Balkans in practice compared to that which exists in Western Europe, but there’s room for improvement).

Croatia has long been demonised by radical leftists as a ‘counter-revolutionary’ or ‘pro-imperialist’ nation, so it is ironic, too, that it has taken until 2008 for Croatia to be invited to join NATO. Pro-Milosevic radical-left rag-sheets like Living Marxism claimed during the early 1990s that the break-up of Yugoslavia was the result of Germany or ‘the West’ wishing to carve out a sphere of influence in the Balkans, which would include Croatia but exclude countries like Serbia that were further to the east, both culturally and geographically. Yet it transpired that Orthodox, ‘eastern’ Romania and Bulgaria made it into the EU and NATO before Croatia.

Now that Croatia has finally been formally invited to join NATO, it’s a good opportunity for…

‘Croatia, Western Imperialism and the Left’ – a Potted History, written by a left-wing defector to Croatian nationalism and Western Imperialism

1. During the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, Croats and Serbs fought side by side against Great German and Great Hungarian nationalism. Consequently, the Croats were a ‘counter-revolutionary nation’ in the eyes of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and other Great German nationalists (or ‘revolutionary socialists’, as some would have it).

2. Conversely, the fact that Croat fascists during World War II fought on the side of Great German and Great Hungarian nationalists, and persecuted Serbs, proved retrospectively to many leftists that Croats were a ‘pro-imperialist nation’.

3. The Croat fascists in 1941 declared war on the US. But they have never really been given credit for this by our contemporary anti-imperialists, who have likewise declared war on the US.

4. Adolf Hitler supported a united Yugoslavia up until March 1941. He invaded Yugoslavia reluctantly, in response to a British-backed coup d’etat in Belgrade. Even then, he remained more interested in Serbia than in Croatia; Serbia was assigned to the Third Reich’s exclusive control, while Croatia became an Italo-German condominium, as the puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’. This was nevertheless interpreted retrospectively by many leftists – and by many others – as evidence of a ‘historic German interest’ in Croatia, even though it was actually evidence of the exact opposite.

5. The Yugoslav Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito was a Croat. The Yugoslav Communists, under his leadership, endorsed the goal of Croatian independence at the start of the Partisan uprising against the Nazis in 1941. The Partisans’ strongest wing, for the best part of the war, was their Croatian wing – aka the ‘People’s Liberation Army of Croatia’. Throughout the war, the Communist Party of Croatia had more members than any other section of the Yugoslav Communists. The Partisans founded the Croatian republic as a sovereign and constituent member of the Yugoslav federation. Fortunately, most Western leftists were sufficiently ignorant of this history to enable them to overlook Tito’s Croatian deviations.

6. Tito and the Yugoslav Partisans were allies of Britain and the US. In 1944, Tito set up his base on the Adriatic island of Vis under British naval protection. Britain and the US provided Tito with massive military assistance in the form of arms supplies and air-strikes – the latter often carried out at Partisan request, with the help of information provided by the Partisans, even though the air-strikes often killed many Yugoslav civilians. Western leftists were able to overlook these sins in light of the Partisans’ left-wing credentials.

7. By contrast, during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991-92, Croatia received no military assistance whatsoever from the Western alliance. Indeed, the Western powers assisted the attacking Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitaries, by imposing an arms embargo that tilted the military balance at the expense of Croatia. Furthermore, they imposed a ceasefire in late 1991 and early 1992 that rescued the Yugoslav and Serb forces from defeat. Still, the belated German diplomatic support for recognition of Croatian independence from November 1991, and Croatian President Tudjman’s anti-Communist rhetoric, coupled with frequent Serbian mention of the WW2 Nazi puppet state, were taken as evidence that ‘Western imperialism’ was on the side of Croatia.

8. In 1994-95, Clinton gave small-scale, tactical military support to Croatia as a way of forcing the Bosnian Serbs to accept a peace agreement. This essentially took the form of US military training and intelligence, and a green light for Croatian military operations against Serb forces. After the signing of the Bosnian peace agreement in December 1995, US relations with Croatia cooled again on account of the US’s support for the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague, and its insistence that Franjo Tudjman’s regime in Zagreb collaborate with it. In 1998, Tudjman responded to US pressure over the tribunal by signing a declaration of friendship and cooperation with Russia, providing for military and other forms of cooperation. Croatia’s conflict with the tribunal was uncomfortable for many leftists, since both were supposed to be on the side of imperialism, so they tended simply to ignore it.

9. During the run-up to the Iraq War, Croatia was rather more wobbly than most other formerly Communist European countries in supporting US military action, even resulting in a US rebuke. In radical left-wing terms, this can perhaps be explained by the fact that Croatia was more an ally of German imperialism than US imperialism (US support for Operation Storm can at this point be forgotten so as to keep things simple).

Well, I suppose we Croats can only resist our genetically programmed inclination to support imperialism for so long; I personally gave up a while ago. After all the twisting and turning we’ve had to do, throughout our history, to prove that we’re a ‘counter-revolutionary nation’, it’s a relief that we’ve finally been admitted to the club.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, NATO, Serbia, The Left | Leave a comment

NATO’s double disgrace

An old joke goes, Q: What’s the first thing you learn in French military academy ? A: How to say ‘I surrender’ in German.

Now that France, Germany, Britain and the best part of Europe are united in the NATO alliance, however, it’s probably time we adopted a more uniform military system, and all learned how to say ‘I surrender’ in Russian simultaneously. At this week’s NATO summit in Bucharest, the leaders of France, Germany and other NATO countries rejected the US proposal to invite Ukraine and Georgia into the Membership Action Plan for NATO, in order to appease Russia. George W. Bush was virtually alone at the summit in arguing that welcoming new East European states into the alliance would both encourage them in the path of democratic reform and affirm support for their independence: ‘Welcoming them into the Membership Action Plan would send a signal to their citizens that if they continue on the path to democracy and reform they will be welcomed into the institutions of Europe. It would send a signal throughout the region that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states.’ But this enlightened view was trumped by the grubby calculations of realpolitik. As French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has made clear, ‘We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia, and we want to have a dialogue on this subject with Russia.’

It is not clear why the right of Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO should be held hostage to relations with Russia. Supposedly, they are independent states, not simply part of Russia’s imperial backyard – a backyard which, presumably, we no longer recognise in this enlightened, post-imperial, post-Cold-War age. If NATO is not directed against Russia, then Russia can have no possible objection to NATO expansion, and there is no point in recognising any such objection as legitimate. But if NATO really is directed against Russia, then it is a pretty puny alliance which allows the enemy a veto over its expansion. Ultimately, every sovereign state, from Russia to Ukraine and Georgia, has the right to form alliances with other sovereign states. To deny a smaller state this right in order to appease a larger, stronger state is shamefully disrespectful of the first state’s sovereignty.

If the NATO powers lack the will to stand up to Russia, it raises the question of what precise purpose NATO serves. The alliance has proved less than adequate in mobilising troops from member states to fight the Taliban. The very same states that wish to appease Russia in Europe – France and Germany – have been less than forthcoming when it is a question of providing troops to fight the enemies of humanity in Afghanistan. France has now belatedly agreed to provide the minimum additional number of troops to Afghanistan to avoid the threatened Canadian withdrawal from Kandahar. But even this move faces stiff domestic opposition in France.

Nor has the Bucharest summit upheld the noble principle that NATO should serve as a framework within which the states of ‘new Europe’, along with ‘old Europe’, can coexist and cooperate. Not only did the NATO states let down Ukraine and Georgia, but they could not even muster the will to pressurise Greece into allowing Macedonia to join the alliance without first having to change its name. Macedonia’s membership in NATO is crucial for the stability of South East Europe, and Greece’s policy of trying to crush the sovereignty and national identity of a European country has nothing to do with democratic values, and much more in common with fascist traditions – it was Greece’s 1930s fascist dictator Ioannis Metaxas who pioneered the most extreme measures to forcibly Hellenise the Macedonian national minority in Greek Macedonia.

This point was amply reaffirmed by recent Greek attempt to interfere with freedom of expression in Macedonia, by pressurising the latter over the appearance of billboards in the Macedonian capital of Skopje, showing a swastika superimposed on a Greek flag. The billboards were private advertisements for which the Macedonian government was not responsible; the Greek regime’s attempt to link Macedonia’s NATO bid to its removal of these billboards puts it on a par with the Muslim fundamentalists who rioted over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed. Greece has been a very poor member of NATO; it has only about 130 troops in Afghanistan – the same number as Macedonia, a non-member with one-fifth its population. Nevertheless, a senior NATO source apparently blamed Macedonia for Greece’s veto of its NATO bid.

The sad truth is that the widely reviled Bush has shown himself to be a much better European than France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. Although Sarkozy is an improvement on the last two French presidents, is at least relatively pro-American, and has agreed to bring France back into the NATO integrated command structure, yet he has persistently shown himself ready to put considerations of narrow national interest above higher principles – and to justify it in the crudest terms. He argued against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ (This from the president of a republic that includes territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean as its integral parts or ‘overseas departments’). He supports Greece against Macedonia in the ‘name dispute’ on similarly principled grounds: ‘I always stressed that we support the Greek position in the name issue. Greeks are our friends.’

The US has shown itself to be more principled and more pro-European than France. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has contradicted NATO’s source, and stated unambiguously that Macedonia was not to blame for the failure of its NATO bid. The US has now promised to boost assistance to, and bilateral relations with Macedonia; one source suggests that this may even take the form of a strategic partnership similar to the one that the US has with Israel. It is a sad day for NATO when the US must bypass it to support the more youthful and vulnerable members of the European family.

One of the sorriest aspects of this dismal NATO summit was the failure of our own Prime Minister Gordon Brown to support the US, either over Ukraine and Georgia or over Macedonia. The charitable explanation is that this was the inaction of a PM inexperienced in foreign affairs who still has not found his feet. The more worrying possibility is that Brown is reacting to Tony Blair’s controversial experience by attempting to be less pro-American and more ‘pro-European’ (i.e. anti-European but pro-Franco-German). This would be a mistake. If it is left to the US, alone of all the major NATO countries, to stand up for the East Europeans, this will not be good for European unity.

Saturday, 5 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Croatia, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Turkey | Leave a comment

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