Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

We can and must reverse the Caucasian Anschluss

Nobody should be surprised that Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov has called for Russia to annex the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol. Such a move would be the logical next step to the effective Anschluss with the secessionist Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Russia has carried out since March. Russia has lifted sanctions against Abkhazia, established diplomatic relations with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, unilaterally increased its military presence in Abkhazia – in violation of its 1994 peacekeeping treaty with Georgia – and shot down at least one Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia, according to the UN. Russia had already granted citizenship to most Abkhazians and South Ossetians, and the Russian rouble is the de facto currency of both break-away territories. This Anschluss punishes the Georgia of President Mikheil Saakashvili for its attempts to draw closer to the West. A Russian annexation of Sevastopol, as called for by Luzhkov, would similarly punish Ukraine. Through this form of territorial expansion and the dismemberment of neighbouring states, Russia seeks to exert control over its former empire in the ex-USSR. So long as it meets no effective resistance from the West, there is every reason to believe that this expansionist, imperialistic policy – reminiscent, in a somewhat more measured form, of that practised by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s – will only escalate in the years to come.

Georgia and Ukraine are not alone in being threatened in this way. Through its support for the separatist territory of Transnistria, Russia exerts a degree of influence over Moldova. But the familiar cases of Georgia and Moldova could be only the start of a potentially limitless Russian policy of expansionism and trouble-making. There are about eight million ethnic Russians in the Ukraine; over four million in Kazakhstan; and smaller Russian populations in every former Soviet state – potential irredentas, should Moscow choose to activate them. Then there are existing or potential conflicts between different non-Russian nationalities. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is the most actual, but Central Asia’s patchwork quilt of ethnic groups cutting across arbitrary borders provides the scope for plenty more such conflicts, should a Central Asian state be in danger of drifting too far out of Moscow’s orbit. Why should an increasingly powerful and aggressive Russia restrain itself in this regard if the method turns out to work well in Georgia ? A Western alliance that cannot muster itself to defend with any unity or resolution a NATO aspirant that borders on an existing NATO member, and on the Black Sea, is unlikely to act as a deterrent in more distant Central Asia.

The idea that Russia might limit its destructive policy to its own ‘backyard’ has been comprehensively discredited by the fact that Moscow has pursued exactly the same policy toward Serbia and Kosovo – which were not even in the Soviet sphere during the Cold War – as it has toward Georgia. In other words, Moscow has prevented a resolution to the Kosovo question, and dangerously heightened tension and instability in the Balkans, in order to hinder Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, destabilise the newly independent pro-Western state of Kosovo and disrupt NATO and EU expansion more generally. This has been our payback for the Western support of Russia’s assault on Chehnya in 1999, which took place soon after NATO’s liberation of Kosovo. We should expect a similar payback for our weak response to the Caucasian Anschluss.

Georgia in the late 2000s is, therefore, equivalent to the Czechoslovakia of the late 1930s; at our peril, we treat it as a far-away country of which we know nothing. But just as there were very serious practical obstacles to defending post-Munich Czechoslovakia, so there are obstacles to defending rump Georgia. On the one hand, a NATO-backed Georgian military offensive to liberate Abkhazia – in the tradition of the US-backed Croatian offensive that successfully liberated Serbian-occupied central Croatia in 1995 – is not militarily feasible. Furthermore, like Czechoslovakia in the 1930s and Bosnia in the 1990s, Georgia is a country apparently deemed expendable by a large part of democratic Western Europe, as suggested by the successful German-led resistance to granting Georgia a Membership Action Plan at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April. The US, Georgia’s staunchest Western ally, faces a tough Russian opponent, and it has only feeble backup.

Yet for all the obstacles in the way of a successful defence of Georgia, the strongest cards are ultimately in our hands. For all that Georgia is partially occupied, it is also partially liberated. And it is partially liberated thanks to the Western victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, a victory that did not involve any direct fighting between Soviet troops and the troops of the Western alliance. We won the Cold War because ultimately our political and socio-economic system was more attractive to the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union than was the Communist system, and because the Soviets’ greatly inferior economic power did not ultimately allow them to sustain their military confrontation with us. Essentially the same factors can enable us to defend Georgia and win back Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The ‘us’, in this instance, means the US, the UK, and other democratic states willing to support us in defending Georgia. The NATO summit in Bucharest showed that our leading West European allies are less than committed to the cause of Ukrainian and Georgian membership of NATO. With German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partners veering toward a policy of ‘equidistance’ between Washington and Moscow, Germany is unlikely to be a pillar of support for the defence of Georgia. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy supported the German position on Georgia and Ukraine at Bucharest and even supported Greece’s veto of Macedonia’s NATO membership, but still managed to come under fire from domestic opponents who accused him of ‘Atlanticism’. The UK’s own Gordon Brown failed to stand by the US, Ukraine and Georgia at Bucharest, a failure that can most charitably be attributed to his inexperience as a prime minister but, more worryingly, may be an expression of a Brownite departure from Blairism that would bode ill for the Atlantic alliance and British security. It is essetial that Brown not allow fashionable anti-Americanism or the narrow national agendas being pursued by some of our West European allies to damage relations with our most important ally. Georgia is an issue over which British interests are at stake and which is close to the heart of John McCain, the person most likely to be the next US president. It is an issue over which we can reaffirm the Atlantic alliance.

The US is already building closer bilateral relations with former Communist countries over and above those which they enjoy through NATO. Poland seeks a stronger bilateral military relationship with the US because it understandably feels that NATO and the EU alone are insufficent to meet its security needs. The US has signed a Declaration of Strategic Partnership and Cooperation with Macedonia as a response to NATO’s failure at Bucharest to invite Macedonia to join the alliance. The US’s military support for Georgia has long been very close. Britain should fully support all these relationships and participate in them as much as possible. Closer relations with East European states, both those that are in the EU and those that want to join, promoted in partnership with the US, is one way that the UK can match the plans of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy for a Mediterranean Union.

Increased US-UK support for Georgia, ideally involving Turkey and other NATO members, is one way that we can promote Georgian security. But actually to reunify Georgia involves taking this policy a step further. It means fighting the battle for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not through force, but through persuasion, as we fought and won the battle for Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The US and UK should promote visa-free travel for Georgian citizens in the US and EU. We should provide scholarships for Georgian students to study at universities in the West and subsidised internships for young Georgian professionals to work in Western institutions and companies. We should extend these benefits to the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the promise that they will eventually enjoy all the benefits of EU membership. And we should establish information services in Abkhaz, Ossetian and other languages spoken in Georgia’s two break-away regions, to ensure that the Abkhazian and South Ossetian people are made aware of all the present and future benefits that will accrue to them if they choose the European path.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s membership of the EU should be brought about as quickly as possible. The Turkish Cypriots were once as implacably opposed to the reunification of Cyprus as the Abkhazians and South Ossetians are to the reunification of Georgia. That they endorsed overwhelmingly the 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification was above all due to the economic promise of EU membership and to the desire to share in the prosperity enjoyed by the internationally recognised Cypriot state. Georgia’s salvation lies ultimately in its ability to attract the Abkhazians and South Ossetians in this way, which is why its EU membership should not be held hostage to the progress of its reunification.

We cannot compromise on the principle of Georgian territorial integrity. But that does not mean that we cannot play the role of honest broker, and offer the Abkhazians and South Ossetians very real guarantees in exchange for their readiness to embrace the process of European integration within the Georgian framework. With the ultimate aim being a form of ‘broad internal sovereignty’ for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a united Georgia, in line with existing Georgian government proposals, we can initiate the dual processes of reconciliation without preconditions between Georgia and its break-away regions, and of integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Euro-Atlantic framework. The launching of the processes of reconciliation and Euro-Atlantic integration will realistically have to come before any Abkhazian or South Ossetian acceptance of inclusion within Georgia, as the leaderships and populations of both break-away regions will not accept any such inclusion at this stage. But the ultimate goal would be, that as they begin to accrue the benefits of association with the EU and US, and as they gain confidence in the readiness of the Western alliance to guarantee their security, they would ultimately accept inclusion within Georgia. Of course, we would simultaneously need to reassure Tbilisi that the process of Abkhazian and South Ossetian Euro-Atlantic integration is the path to Georgia’s reunification, not to the formalisation of its partition. Our readiness to work with Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists need not imply any recognition of the legitimacy of their separatist goals, any more than the British government’s readiness to work with Sinn Fein implies support for the Irish Republican goal of a united Ireland.

A peaceful, bloodless policy of this kind cannot legitimately be accused by anyone of being ‘aggressive’ toward Russia. Yet by extending the benefits offered by the Euro-Atlantic community to territories considered by Moscow to lie within its sphere, we would be forcing it to compete with us in a civilised manner, in the realm of economic incentives and civic progress. This might serve to deter future Russian adventures of the kind in which it has engaged in the South Caucasus. It might even provide a little catalyst to the process of democratic change within Russia itself.

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

Wednesday, 28 May 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Georgia, NATO, Russia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Turkey | Leave a comment

Tory Party betrays the working class

This is a guest post by the Trotskyist Workers Alliance of Tolworth and Surbiton

The fact that the Conservative and Unionist Party is now led by David Cameron, an alumnus of Eton and Oxford, and has Boris Johnson, another alumnus of Eton and Oxford as its mayor of London, is proof that the Tories have finally forfeited all claims to be considered a party of the working class.

Since the late 1960s, the Conservative Party chose a series of leaders from the ranks of the proletariat: Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major. As prime ministers, these committed sons and daughter of the people fought for the cause of proletarian internationalism and world socialism, as manifested in such policies as the Assisted Places Scheme and the Youth Training Scheme and in the goal of a ‘classless society’. Yet now, this proud tradition of proletarian Toryism has been betrayed by the accession of Cameron and Johnson; snotty sons of privilege; upper-class toffs. The Conservative Party can no longer be trusted to represent the interests of ordinary people, but will now simply act in the interests of the bourgeoisie and world capitalism.

The Trotskyist Workers Alliance of Tolworth and Surbiton unreservedly condemns this latest betrayal of the working class. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers of Britain in the fight for socialism. We demand that a new workers party be formed to uphold the legacy of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Heath, Thatcher and Major, and to defend the class interests of ordinary working people.

Workers of the world, unite !

Sunday, 25 May 2008 Posted by | The Left | Leave a comment

Zorba the Greek on the extermination of the Macedonians

Greece’s politics since World War II have involved a series of catastrophes that collectively resemble a train-wreck: the murderous persecution of leftists that provoked the Greek Civil War; the fascist Regime of the Colonels of 1967-74; the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, provoked by the Colonels’ policies; support for Milosevic’s Serbia in the Wars of Yugoslav Succession; and the continued persecution of the Republic of Macedonia. All these disasters originate from the fact that right-wing nationalists took power in Greece after the Nazis vacated the country in late 1944. These nationalists had themselves either collaborated with the Nazis, or at best had played a negligible role in the resistance compared to that of the left-wing National Liberation Front, but were able to take and hold power thanks to the support of first Britain and then the US. The Greek leftists, who had led one of the greatest anti-Nazi resistance movements in occupied Europe, were murderously crushed.

When contemplating the magnitude of the horrors that have resulted from this exceptionally shameful case of British and American geopolitics, it is worth recalling the proud tradition of the Greek left, whose members have often provided the most eloquent voices of protest at the crimes of Greek reaction and Greek nationalism. And none has been more eloquent than that of Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), arguably Greece’s greatest modern writer.

Kazantzakis’s most famous fictional character is Alexis Zorba, the eponymous hero of his 1946 novel ‘Zorba the Greek’. A swashbuckling, philosophising Casanova, Zorba remains beloved by Greeks today, and Greek restaurants all over the world are named after him. Given current Greek policy toward Macedonia, it is illuminating to read the words that Kazantzakis placed in the mouth of this most popular of Greek fictional heroes when the latter described his role in the Greek struggle to colonise Macedonia, that got going properly in the late nineteenth century and that culminated in the Greek conquest of Aegean Macedonia in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. In this struggle, Greece’s principal opponents were Bulgaria and the Macedonian and Bulgarian nationalists based among the Macedonian-speaking population. The Bulgarian nationalists considered all Macedonian-speakers to be ‘Bulgarian’, while the Macedonian rebels themselves were divided over their relationship to Bulgaria. Zorba refers to his victims simply as ‘Bulgars’, though the terrain on which he operated would have been populated by ethnic Macedonians rather than actual Bulgarians.

Zorba recalls:

I used to wander about the mountains of Macedonia with Pavlos Melas – I was a strapping fellow then, taller than this hut, with my kilt, red fez, silver charms, amulets, yataghan, cartridgecases and pistols. I was covered with steel, silver and studs. When I marched there was a clatter and clank as if a regiment were passing down the street !

Zorba describes his ambush of a rival guerrilla, a Bulgarian priest:

So I went into this priest’s stable and waited. Toward nightfall the priest came into the stable to feed the animals. I threw myself on him and cut his throat like a sheep. I lopped off his ears and stuck them in my pocket. I was making a collection of Bulgar ears, you see; so I took the priest’s ears and made off.

A few days leter, Zorba repented of this action and renounced his country, after meeting the five orphaned children of the priest he had killed, who had been reduced to beggary. But this was only after having already carried out a whole series of atrocities:

I’ve done things for my country that would make your hair stand on end, boss. I’ve cut people’s throats, burned villages, robbed and raped women, wiped out entire families. Why ? Because they were Bulgars, or Turks.

Zorba then describes his assault on a ‘Bulgarian’ village:

Once I went into another Bulgarian village. And one old brute who’d spotted me – he was a village elder – told the others and they surrounded the house I was lodging in. I slipped out onto the balcony and crept from one roof to the next; the moon was up and I jumped from balcony to balcony like a cat. But they saw my shadow, climbed up onto the roofs and started shooting. So what do I do ? I dropped down into the yard, and there I found a Bulgarian woman in bed. She stood up in her nightdress, saw me and opened her mouth to shout, but I held out my arms and whispered ‘Mercy ! Mercy ! Don’t shout !’ and seized her breasts. She went pale and half swooned.

‘Come inside’, she said in a low voice. ‘Come in so that we can’t be seen…’

I went inside, she gripped my hand: ‘Are you a Greek ?’ she said. ‘Yes, Greek. Don’t betray me.’ I took her by the waist. She said not a word. I went to bed with her, and my heart trembled with pleasure. ‘There, Zorba, you dog’, I said to myself, ‘there’s a woman for you; that’s what humanity means ! What is she ? Bulgar ? Greek ? Papuan ? That’s the last thing that matters ! She’s human, and a human being with a mouth, and breasts, and she can love. Aren’t you ashamed of killing ? Bah ! Swine !’

That’s the way I thought while I was with her, sharing her warmth. But did that mad bitch, my country, leave me in peace for that, do you think ? I disappeared next morning in the clothes the Bulgar woman gave me. She was a widow. She took her late husband’s clothes out of a chest, gave them to me, and she hugged my knees and begged me to come back to her.

Yes, yes, I did go back… the following night. I was a patriot then, of course – a wild beast; I went back with a can of paraffin and set fire to the village. She must have been burnt along with the others, poor wretch. Her name was Ludmilla.

(Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek, Faber and Faber, London, 2000, pp. 240-245)

This, then, is the heritage of the Greek struggle for Macedonia, currently manifested in the campaign to force the Republic of Macedonia to change its name, in order finally to wipe the Macedonian nation off the map of Europe. As expressed by the pen of Greece’s greatest novelist, through the mouth of Greece’s favourite fictional character.

Kazantzakis must be spinning in his grave.

Friday, 23 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia | 1 Comment

Turkish coffee in English

Before the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I was one of many people from a left-wing background who felt greatly alienated from ‘the Left’ as it had come to be: anti-progressive, nihilistic, callous toward the suffering and the struggles of foreign sisters and brothers, and obsessively anti-American. Only, I did not realise how far I was from being alone. Since the eve of the Iraq War, dissident and heretical leftists such as myself have coalesced into a current of opinion often referred to – not always satirically – as the ‘Decent Left’. For me, the essence of the Decent Left is its absolute commitment to democratic and Enlightenment values and to their universality; its insistence upon internationalism and solidarity with those abroad who are struggling for these values; its absolute rejection of any tolerance of or collaboration with fascists, fundamentalists, dictators or other ultra-reactionaries; and its refusal to compromise these principles in the name of ‘anti-imperialism’ or ‘left-wing unity’.

The Decent Left is a growing phenomenon, for the simple reason that progressive people all over the world are increasingly dissatisfied with the form that traditional left-wing politics is taking. We do not necessarily agree over what the answers are, but we broadly agree about the questions. In fact, ‘Decent’ left-wing discourse will remain fruitful only so long as there is plenty of debate and disagreement, and no restrictive new orthodoxy comes into being.

As a former-Yugoslav specialist, it has been an eye-opener for me to become acquainted with Sarah Franco and her blog Cafe Turco, now appearing in English. Sarah is a scholar with considerable first-hand experience of the former Yugoslavia, and has spent time recently in both Kosova and Serbia, where she was able to witness at first hand the former’s celebration of its independence and the consequent rioting in the latter. She brings an entirely original approach to commentary on the subject. One of the reasons that I welcome Cafe Turco is that it represents an informed, insider’s viewpoint on the former Yugoslavia from a genuinely independent progressive standpoint. And there aren’t that many of those around.

Another reason is that Cafe Turco is reevaluating issues relating to the Left in Sarah’s native Portugal, such as the legacy of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution. And if it has been a relief for me to discover in recent years that I am far from alone in feeling that there is a desperate need to reevaluate left-wing politics and to ask difficult questions about it, so it is an inspiration discovering those who are asking similar questions from outside the English-speaking world, particularly from a country such as Portugal, with such a proud left-wing heritage, but one that is too often neglected in our Anglocentric intellectual universe.

We may not all agree, but the more of us there are that are asking such questions and trying to provide answers, from as many perspectives and traditions as possible, the better. The revolution in left-wing intellectual thought, for which the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq provided such a catalyst, is only going to spread.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia, The Left | 2 Comments

The end of the Kosovo myth

They told us that the Serbian people were not like other Europeans. They told us that the Serbian people were so outraged over international recognition of Kosova’s independence that they would turn their backs on Europe and rally behind the nationalists. They told us that Serbia and Europe were parting ways because of Kosova. They told us that the Serbian people were crazy.

They were wrong.

Some of us had more faith in the Serbian people. After the riots in Serbia that followed the Western recognition of Kosova’s independence, when Serbia appeared to be descending into darkness once again, I wrote this:

Serbia’s suspension of diplomatic relations with Western states that are recognising Kosova conveniently burns the bridges to the democratic West and creates the isolation that the nationalists crave. This is not what most Serbian people want. It is one thing to be unhappy about the loss of Kosova, but to favour turning Serbia into an isolated, impoverished Cuban- or North-Korean-stye satrapy of Russia, under a repressive regime that condones mob rule and murders dissidents, is quite another. The opinion of the majority of Serbians is probably best represented by Tadic: angry about losing Kosova, they nevertheless do not want this issue to stand in the way of Serbia’s European integration.

In yesterday’s Serbian parliamentary elections, despite the Western recognition of Kosova’s independence less than three months ago, the Serbian electorate failed to punish the pro-EU parties or reward the nationalists. The results of the election have not yet been fully confirmed or broken down, so any conclusions here are only tentative. But it appears that, whereas the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party received approximately the same share of the vote as in the last Serbian parliamentary elections in January 2007, i.e. something over 28.5%, there has been a swing away from the nationalist faction of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (Democratic Party of Serbia – New Serbia), which has seen its share of the vote fall from 16.55% to something over 13.5%. Conversely, the parties that make up the coalition ‘For a European Serbia’ (Democratic Party, G17+, Serbian Renewal Movement, League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina and some smaller parties) have received 36.69% of the votes according to the provisional calculations of the Republican Electoral Commission, which is a rise of at least 2.5% compared to what these same parties received in 2007. The wild card is the success of the Socialist Party of Serbia, which received 5.64% of the vote when standing alone in 2007, but whose coalition of parties, which includes the Party of United Pensioners of Serbia, yesterday received over 9% of the vote.

I emphasise again that my conclusions here are tentative. But the results appear to show that the Radicals, although remaining the largest single party, are incapable of breaking out of their existing electoral base, even in circumstances that are apparently most favourable from the nationalist perspective. By contrast, Kostunica’s faction, which has become more overtly nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-European since Western recognition of Kosova, has done so at a cost to its electoral support, part of which has deserted it for the pro-European bloc. Kostunica put all his money on the Kosovo card, and lost.

We do not yet know what kind of coalition government will emerge from the new parliament. But there is no doubt about it: this election represents a watershed; despite the recognition of Kosova, the danger of a Serbian backslide into popular extreme nationalism has been averted. There is no Kosovo factor in Serbian electoral politics.

Zivela Srbija !

Monday, 12 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Serbia | Leave a comment

The patriotic tradition of the Serbian Radical Party

In the parliamentary elections taking place today in Serbia, the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party looks set to win the largest number of votes, as indeed it did in the last parliamentary elections in 2007. Only this time, it is more likely to have a chance actually to enter government, as it is now likely that the nationalist faction headed by the incumbent prime minister Vojislav Kostunica will be ready to defy Western pressure and form a coalition with it.

The Radicals present themselves as patriots who will take a hard line in resisting Kosova’s independence, and who will redirect Serbia away from the EU and toward Russia. However, the tradition of ‘patriotism’ from which the Radicals derive was that which expressed itself through collaboration with the Nazis and Italian Fascists during World War II, against those Serbs and other Yugoslavs who were fighting the occupation of their country.

The leader and founder of the Radicals is Vojislav Seselj, currently indicted for war-crimes by the UN tribunal in The Hague. In 1989, Seselj visited the US and was awarded the honourary title of ‘Vojvoda’ (warlord) by Momcilo Djujic, President of the ‘Movement of Chetniks of the Free World’. Djujic was an Orthodox priest and Chetnik warlord who, during World War II, had distinguished himself by having fired not so much as a bullet against the German or the Italian occupiers. He was one of a number of Serb warlords who had sprung up in 1941, when the Croatian fascist Ustashas had begun a genocide against the Serb population of Croatia and Bosnia and the Serbs had risen in resistance. The epicentre of the resistance was the Serb-majority area of western Bosnia and central Croatia (Banija, Kordun, Lika and northern Dalmatia), where Djujic among others operated.

On 1 September 1941, the Yugoslav Partisans convened a mass assembly, in the town of Drvar, of the overwhemingly Serb guerrilla detachments of western Bosnia and the adjacent Croatian region of Lika. Djujic attended the assembly – at this point in time, the rebels had not yet split into the rival camps of Partisans and Chetniks. The assembly was convened to represent the ‘Liberation struggle of the Serb nation’ from ‘Proud Bosnia and stout Lika’. It declared that ‘we Serbs are fighting for the national liberation of our nation from the occupiers and their hirelings.’

The assembly entrusted Djujic with the task of resisting an Italian advance against the rebels from his native Knin. Upon receiving this task, this great Serb patriot, Seselj’s hero, made an agreement with the Italians that granted them free passage through his fiefdom. His troops carried Italian flags to indicate their loyalty to the occupiers. With resistance sabotaged by Djujic and other traitors, the Italians occupied on 25 September the rebel base of Drvar, where the rebel assembly had declared its task of Serb national liberation less than a month before.

For the rest of the war, Djujic, as a Chetnik commander, loyally served the Italians and Germans while persecuting and killing Croats and anti-fascist Serbs. He was no mere opportunistic collaborator, but an ideological fascist-sympathiser and anti-Semite. A recent Serbian biographer of Djujic has this to say about him: ‘During 1944 Momcilo Djujic was in contact with Milan Nedic, the president of the government of Serbia. Of him, Djujic spoke only good words. He deemed that Nedic, along with Ljotic and Dragoljub Mihailovic, are doing the same work for the Serb nation, but each in his own way.’ (Veljko Dj. Djuric, ‘Vojvoda Djujic’, Belgrade, 1998, p. 49). Nedic was the Nazi-quisling Serbian leader who served Hitler directly and who helped implement the Holocaust. Ljotic was the Serbian fascist leader, whose Serbian Volunteer Corps formed part of the Nazi SS during 1944. Mihailovic was the Chetnik commander, therefore Djujic’s leader. Djujic described the Yugoslav Communist leaders as ‘paid Jews’ and ‘Communist Jews’, whom he pledged to ‘crush’.

In late 1944, Djujic, with his force of Chetniks, stood shoulder to shoulder with the troops of the German Wehrmacht and the Croatian Ustashas – the same Ustashas who had slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Serbs over the course of the previous three and a half years – in a defence of Knin from the attacking Yugoslav Partisans. The Partisans were victorious despite enormous losses; Djujic was routed and retreated alongside the Germans. He eventually emigrated to the US, where he would bestow his decoration upon Seselj in 1989.

Djujic’s story was far from exceptional. The Chetnik movement, of which he was a part, collaborated with the occupiers throughout the war.

Chetniks and German soldiers posing together in a village in Nazi-occupied Serbia.

 

Another expression of Serb patriotism on the part of the Radicals’ Chetnik forebears.

 

Seselj honoured the Chetniks by naming his own militia after them. Seselj’s Chetniks murdered and raped their way across East Bosnia in 1992, under the command of Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslav People’s Army.

Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, wearing a Chetnik hat.

 

Should the Radicals, under Seselj’s underlings Tomislav Nikolic and Aleksandar Vucic, take power in Serbia after today’s general election, they will not recover Kosova, which everyone knows is permanently lost to Serbia. But they are likely to expand the existing Serbian government policy of selling the country to the Russians, thereby patriotically serving Putin as Djujic once patriotically served Mussolini and Hitler.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Radicals’ likely front-man, Vojislav Kostunica.

Sunday, 11 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Serbia | 2 Comments

Israel’s sixtieth birthday should be celebrated with open eyes

Happy sixtieth birthday, Israel ! It should not be necessary to explain why today, formally the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s independence, is worth celebrating for those of us who are not Israelis. The survival of a nation that has been threatened with destruction is cause for celebration. The fact that nationally conscious Jews have been able to exercise their right to self-determination, and establish a homeland that has successfully provided a safe haven for members of the long-persecuted Jewish people, is cause for celebration. And the fact that an Israeli nation exists at all is cause for celebration. This is not to say that the process by which the Jewish state came into being, or its actions since its birth, are without their moral ambiguities – far from it. But these moral ambiguities are not reasons why Israeli independence should not be celebrated; merely why Israeli policy needs to change. One day, it should be possible to celebrate Israel’s anniversary in the knowledge that the moral ambiguities are all in the past.

Israel’s critics point out that the establishment of the State of Israel involved the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – for Palestinians, the ‘nakba’. This is true, but frequently taken out of context: Israel is no different from most of the world’s other nation-states, which are founded upon the oppression and ethnic cleansing of other peoples. Beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the emergence of a modern nation-state of England, Britain and the United Kingdom and their evolution over hundreds of years involved the colonisation, dispossession and forcible assimilation of the Irish, as well as an almost unrivalled programme of imperial aggression and expansion overseas. But there is no way that our English and British nationhood can be divorced from this heritage. The modern French nation-state was founded with the Great Revolution of 1789, an event that is widely viewed as marking the birth of modern politics, yet it quickly involved the genocidal or proto-genocidal persecution of the people of the Vendee, acts of massive territorial conquest and, under Napoleon, a failed genocidal project directed against the black population of Haiti. The US is founded upon the genocide of the Native Americans, without which it would not exist. Yet one could not expect the French not to celebrate the Revolution, or Americans not to celebrate Independence Day.

Israelis may feel it is unfair of me to compare them with great imperial powers. So it is – I cite these examples to dispense with the myth of ‘good’ Western nations vis-a-vis ‘bad’ others. In the moral ambiguities of its creation, Israel more closely resembles the nation-states of Central Europe and the Balkans – appropriately, since Israel is itself a post-Ottoman state many of whose citizens originated in Central Europe. Where these nation-states are concerned, who was the ethnic-cleanser and who was the victim largely depended upon who happened to win the war. This was the case with Israel and the Palestinians: had the Arabs won in the 1940s, the extermination and explusion of the Jewish population of Palestine would have resulted. Throughout the region of Greater Europe, the question of which nation was dispossessed was open to question; the fact that dispossession would take place was not.

Today’s relatively ethnically homogenous states of Poland and the Czech Republic are founded upon the massive ethnic-cleansing of ethnic Germans after World War II, involving millions of victims. The Balkan states – Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey – are all in their present forms, to varying degrees, products of ethnic cleansing. The Orthodox Christian states of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece were founded upon the slaughter and expulsion of a large part of their Ottoman Muslim inhabitants, and ideed upon the slaughter and expulsion of other Orthodox Christians. Romania had a large Jewish population and an exceptionally anti-Semitic political culture that culminated in massive Romanian participation in the Holocaust and the post-war emigration of Romanian Jews. The establishment of the Turkish nation-state involved the genocide of the Armenians, followed by the expulsion of at least one and a quarter million Greeks (or Turkish-speaking Christians) – which parallelled the Greek expulsion of a smaller number of largely Greek-speaking Muslims. Most recently, the establishment of independent Croatia involved the exodus of 150,000 Serb civilians from the ‘Krajina’ region and the slaughter of hundreds of them. I am leaving aside here the question of the respective rights and wrongs of these cases, or of how blame should be apportioned – that the formation of modern nation-states involves a process of ethnic homogenisation accompanied by real horrors should be indisputable.

There is no point pretending, therefore, that the establishment of modern nation-states – Israel included – is without its profound moral ambiguities. Yet it is the modern system of nation-states upon which our system of world politics is built – we can no more abolish nation-states than we can abolish modern politics. Indeed, nation-statehood is the prerequisite for liberal democracy: dynastic states such as the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires and multinational ‘socialist’ federations such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia had to give way to sovereign nation-states for Europe to become a continent of democracies. Perhaps even more importantly, the people of the world love their nation-states, which they consider part of themselves. Asking the Israelis or anyone else to renounce their national identity is a violation of the most dearly felt feelings of ordinary people.

What is essential for the transition to full, post-nationalist democracy, however, is for members of every nation to face up to the moral ambiguities involved in the creation of their national state. This is not a question merely of assuaging liberal guilt. The crimes involved in the creation of a nation-state poison the functioning of its democracy and its relations with its neighbours. This poison can only be purged from its body politic by a recognition of its crimes. Turkey’s difficulty in functioning as a democracy is closely related to its unwillingness to face up to the Armenian Genocide or to the existence of a Kurdish people within its borders – hence it cannot fully permit freedom of speech, as this would result in open discussion of the Armenian Genocide and open expressions of Kurdish national politics. Greece’s imperialistic policy toward the Republic of Macedonia today is not based on any genuine national interest, but is a product of a nationalist ideology that guided a century of Greek colonisation, ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation in Greek Macedonia, of which the denial of the existence of a Macedonian nationality was a necessary part. The US’s record remains far from perfect, but in the US there is at least full freedom of speech – hence the possibility for films such as ‘Dances with Wolves’, that portray Native Americans sensitively and as victims of white oppression, to reach a mass audience. The American public still needs to face up to the genocide of the Native Americans, something that would produce a healthier American democracy and more politically aware citizenry. But we are still a long way off from the day when mass popular Turkish audiences will watch films of the ‘Dances with Wolves’ variety about the Armenian Genocide, or Greek audiences about the colonisation of Greek Macedonia, or Israeli audiences about the nakba.

So far as Israel is concerned, its record of democracy and human rights concerning its own citizens compares very favourably with most other Middle Eastern countries, but very badly with just about any West European country, because its stage of national development more closely resembles Turkey or Greece than France or the Netherlands. The two deformations resulting from the nature of Israel’s birth are, firstly, a failure to embrace the concept of a multi-ethnic citizenry and accord equal rights to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, resulting in suffering and injustice for Israeli Arabs; and, secondly, a continued policy of colonisation in the West Bank, resulting in massive suffering for the occupied Palestinians. These deformations are, of course, linked to the behaviour of the Arab states and the refusal of most of them to recognise Israel, as well as to the Palestinians’ own behaviour – but this is not ultimately a question of apportioning blame. Like every nation-state, Israel needs to develop a post-nationalist national ideology if it is to complete its national and democratic development. This means becoming a genuinely Israeli nation-state, i.e. a state of the Israeli nation; a state of the citizens of Israel – rather than simply a Jewish state in which non-Jews are second-class citizens. Jews would still form a comfortable majority in Israel, thereby guaranteeing Jewish national self-determination. But a Jewish ethnic majority can comfortably exist with a concept of citizenship blind to ethnicity – as all concepts of citizenship should be, from the US and France to Israel and the Arab states. And as the American and French models show, a concept of citizenship blind to ethnicity rests upon identification with the state’s legal borders – hence no colonisation projects directed against neighbouring peoples.

As a Croat, I am very pleased that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is forcing Croats to face up to the crimes carried out in the course of their War of Independence. All Croatian children should celebrate this War of Independence, but they should also learn about its moral ambiguities – the crimes against Serb civilians and the parallel attempt, which thankfully was defeated, to expand into Bosnia. They should learn about Croatian resistance to the Nazis in the form of the Partisan movement, of which they should rightfully feel proud, but also about the Croatian Ustasha genocide of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies – and, of course, about Partisan atrocities. Above all, they should be taught that theirs is a multiethnic nation that encompasses Serbs, Bosniaks and others, who do not cease thereby to be Serbs or Bosniaks. One should be able to be an ethnic Serb and at the same time belong to the Croatian nation as fully as an ethnic Croat, without abandoning one’s Serb identity, just as one should be able to be an ethnic Arab or Palestinian and belong to the Israeli nation as fully as an ethnic Jew, without abandoning one’s ethnic Arab or Palestinian identiy.

When this happens, a national anniversary becomes something that everyone, regardless of ethnic background, can celebrate without reservation.

Thursday, 8 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, France, Greece, Israel, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, Palestine, Serbia, Turkey | 1 Comment

A small Serbian anti-fascist gem

With Serbian parliamentary elections due on 11 May, this chilling little film about the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party, starring its baby-faced general secretary Aleksandar Vucic and some of his comrades, is brought to you by Hattori of Parapsihopatologija, a Serbian artist who understands what his country is facing. It lasts three minutes, but you need to watch it to the end, particularly if you’re one of those left-wing ‘anti-war’ types who are inclined to view the Serbian Radical Party’s sympathisers as members of their ‘extended family’. The Serbian Radical election caption at the end reads ‘On your side – Vucic’.

With thanks to Andras Riedlmayer and Jonathan Davis.

On a happier note, Greater Surbiton yesterday reached the figure of 50,000 page-views. I’d like to say a big thank you to all my readers, and in particular to those from among the brave citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, who have shown the world how to stand up to a bully with courage and dignity.

Smrt fasizmu – sloboda narodu !

Tuesday, 6 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | Leave a comment

Greek threat to Simpsons star

Homer Simpson, star of the American animated TV comedy show ‘The Simpsons’, has been placed under police protection in his native Springfield after receiving death threats from an extremist Greek-nationalist organisation. The threats follow a formal demand from Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis last week that Mr Simpson change his first name, pointing out that ‘Homer’ was the name of Ancient Greece’s greatest poet, the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. ‘Identity theft is an internationally recognised crime’, Ms Bakoyannis stated at a press conference in Athens on Friday; ‘millions of children, all over the world, are growing up believing that Homer was American. But the real Homer was Greek.’ She added: ‘And he was not yellow and did not have only eight fingers.’ She stressed, however, that Greece was willing to negotiate a compromise to the name dispute that would satisfy both parties, and suggested that ‘New Homer’ might be an appropriate and mutually acceptable name for the Simpsons star. Ms Bakoyannis’s move builds upon a Greek initiative to ban gay women worldwide from calling themselves ‘lesbians’, which is the name of the inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos, and upon a successful Greek action to force Dustin the Turkey, Ireland’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, to drop a reference to ‘Macedonia’ from the lyrics of his Eurovision entry.

Matt Groening, creator of ‘The Simpsons’, said he was distressed to learn of the Greek objection to the name of one of his most beloved characters, pointing out that he had named him after his own father, who was also called Homer. He also said that every effort had been made to ensure that his character was faithful to the spirit of the Greek original, and that, for example, the original Homer portrayed Odysseus as having said ‘D’oh !’ when half of his crew was eaten by the cyclops.

Diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the latest Greek-initiated name dispute are continuing.

(Greater Surbiton News Service)

The Simpsons
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Monday, 5 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Greece, Macedonia | Leave a comment

The ‘Indecent Left': Bluster does not imply integrity

Those who have been reading this blog since it was launched in November of last year may recall that my first two posts were devoted to explaining why I believed that the radical left, as a whole, was bankrupt and reactionary. In particular, I singled out the readiness of the majority of the radical left to support or march alongside fascists, ethnic-cleansers and other ultra-reactionary elements. It is just possible that readers may also recall the bluster and indignation with which my argument was greeted by a certain Daniel Davies aka ‘Dsquared’ aka ‘Bruschettaboy’, the chief mover behind a blog called Aaronovich Watch (AW), which exists to cyber-stalk David Aaronovich and Nick Cohen, and to a lesser extent other members of the Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left, and point out petty inconsistencies in their writings. Indeed, Davies and his merry men at AW devote a large part of their time to expressing righteous indignation at the fact that Eustonites frequently portray members of the left as fascist fellow-travellers.

At the time, I was ready to attribute this bluster and indignation to the affront that an honourable if naive leftist of the traditional variety might have felt at a perceived attack on his political tradition. I was at pains to point out that the fact that the radical left as a whole was characterised by a readiness to support fascists and ethnic-cleansers does not mean that all its members were guilty in this regard; as I put it, ‘it is the good apples – the small number of honourable socialists, Trotskyists, anarchists, pacifists and others – who are in the minority in a barrel whose contents are mostly rotten. However well meaning the good apples may be, they are part of a movement that is corrupt overall.’

Well, it seems I was a sucker. Davies has now ‘come out’ and described an unabashed sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party – the all-round buffoon Splintered Sunrise – as ‘what I like to think of as AW’s extended family’.

How, you may ask, is it possible for someone to describe a neo-Nazi sympathiser as a member of his ‘extended family’, while giving vent to an unending stream of self-righteous indignation – sustained over a period of literally years – at the fact that Eustonites often accuse members of his political tradition of being fascist fellow-travellers ?

The only answer I can come up with is that it requires a total absence of integrity.

I’m still prepared to believe that there exists a handful of honourable socialists, Trotskyists, anarchists, pacifists and other radical left-wingers of the traditional kind. I’m even ready to believe that some of them can consciously reject Eustonite politics from the standpoint of principled disagreement.

But the more closely one looks, the fewer the number of honourable left-wing opponents that we Eustonites have there turns out to be.

Saturday, 3 May 2008 Posted by | Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | 1 Comment

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