Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Kosova’s independence cannot remain hostage to the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill

vetevendosjeOnce again, Europe has become a serious threat to stability in the Balkans. The UN Security Council has voted to deploy EULEX, the EU’s law and order mission in Kosova, on the basis of the six-point plan of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The plan panders simultaneously to a Serbia that appears determind to keep fighting a war it has already lost, a Russia whose own ill-will and lack of faith have been demonstrated in Georgia, and EU members for which toadying to Russia is an end in itself. Although the UN Security Council vote did not formally mention the plan, and although the US has been at pains to stress that Kosova’s opposition to the plan has been respected, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is merely a fudge intended to mollify Kosovar opinion. Deploying the EU force in Kosova only on the basis of agreement with Serbia and Russia represents a dangerous precedent and unnecessary concession to ill-willed parties. This policy of ‘anything for a quiet’ life must be halted to avoid serious damage to our interests, both in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole.

The Ban plan has been rejected by the Kosovar leadership and by all sections of Kosovo Albanian political and public opinion, as contrary to Kosova’s constitution and damaging to its territorial integrity, and it is worth pausing for a minute so see why this is so. The plan bases itself on UN Security Council 1244, which guaranteed the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’. As the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was transformed into the ‘State Union of Serbia and Montenegro’ in 2003, and as this union then dissolved in 2006 when Montenegro voted to become independent, talk of its ‘territorial integrity’ being maintained from 1999 is meaningless. The Ban plan has adopted this form to appease Belgrade, which wants to turn the clock back to before the international recognition of Kosova’s independence of this year, and sees reaffirming the Resolution 1244 as a way of doing this. But paradoxically, Belgrade wishes to do this in order ultimately to move the clock forward – to impose a territorial partition on Kosova as the price for its independence, a partition that it has already enacted on the ground. By confining the EULEX mission to the areas of Kosova under the control of the Albanian-dominated government, and by maintaining separate police, courts and customs for the Serb enclaves under UN rather than EU control, the Ban plan will, if put into practice, solidify this soft partition, thereby appeasing Serbia on this score as well. Again, the US claims that the Security Council vote allows for the deployment of EULEX throughout Kosova, but whether EULEX will really be allowed to assume responsibility in the north appears uncertain.

It is, perhaps, a sign of how far several of the Balkan states have progressed in terms of democracy and responsibility, that they show greater awareness of the dangers inherent in this scenario than the supposedly mature democracies of Western Europe. According to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, ‘The plan has serious problems, since it favours a soft partition of Kosova.’ After meeting with Berisha, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic warned that a partition of Kosova would destabilise the region, consequently ‘The division of Kosova along ethnic lines is a buried plan’. And in the words of Croatian President Stipe Mesic: ‘The division of Kosova based on Serb appetites is a dream of Serbia which reminds us of the epoch of the Milosevic dictatorship. And if it really happens as Belgrade intends, this means a step backwards. It means the realisation of the dream of Great Serbia.’ Although the sabre-rattling in which Serbia has engaged in recently in relation to Croatia and Montenegro as well as to Macedonia and the Western powers over Kosova is essentially empty, concessions of the kind represented by the Ban plan may serve to persuade Serbia that, despite its past defeats, aggressive behaviour does pay after all.

It is paradoxical that this UN plan for Kosova – rejected by Kosova, favoured by Serbia and unpopular with Serbia’s Balkan neighbours – has won EU approval, despite British and US reservations. Paradoxical, given that 22 out of 27 EU members, including all the larger ones except Spain, have recognised Kosova’s independence: the EU has ended up favouring a plan opposed by the side in the conflict whose position its members mostly support, and supported by the side that opposes the views of most EU members. This only makes sense if we consider the dynamics of European geopolitics. The EU’s foreign policy chief is Spain’s Javier Solana, considered by some at Brussels to have been rather quick off the mark in backing the Ban plan, and to have done so on the basis of Spanish rather than EU political considerations. Spain is, of course, the only larger EU member, and the only West European country, that refuses to recognise Kosova’s independence, and that indeed continues actively to lobby against it.

Meanwhile, the big three of the continental EU, France, Germany and Italy, are motivated by a general policy of conciliating Russia on all fronts, therefore of mollifying the Serbia-Russia bloc over Kosova. France holds the EU presidency, and at the EU-Russia summit this month at Nice, French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to undermine the US plan for a missile defence system for Europe – to the consternation of the Czechs and Poles – and called for an EU-Russia pact, despite Moscow’s failure to honour the terms of the ceasefire in Georgia. Appeasement of Serbia, consequently of Russia over Kosova is of a kind with this policy orientation, one that directly sacrifices the interests – and in some cases the sovereignty – of the Czech Republic, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and, of course, Kosova.

Sarkozy’s Gaullist pursuit of an independent French line, in a manner that undermines the unity of the Western alliance, is not limited to appeasement of Russia, however; he has vocally supported Greece in its ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia, in contrast to the US’s support for Macedonia – despite the potentially tremendous damage that Greece’s aggressively nationalistic policy may do to the Balkans, and despite the fact that Macedonia has in recent years been a much better supporter of the Western alliance than has Greece. Sarkozy’s determination to keep our crucial Turkish ally out of the EU, expressed and justified in the crudest terms, is a further example of his pursuit of narrow French interests at the expense of common Western interests.

In Kosova, the consequences of EU appeasement of Serbia are beginning to make themselves felt, with the Kosovars – up till now the most pro-Western nation in the Balkans – uniting in opposition to the form EU policy is taking. Their opposition is manifesting itself in mass demonstrations, but there are ominous signs that resistance is also taking a more extreme form: on 14 November, a bomb attack was carried out on the EU representative office in Pristina, with a group calling itself the ‘Army of the Republic of Kosova’ claiming responsibility, and threatening further attacks against Kosovo’s Serb minority. Pursuing the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill over Kosova, we have consequently let down our own Kosovar ally to such an extent that we risk engendering a new terrorist-extremist threat in this sensitive spot.

Things are going badly in the Balkans because Britain and the US, Kosova’s two strongest supporters in the Western alliance, have been far too reticent in standing up for our ally, and have allowed Russia, Serbia and their West European appeasers to make the running. Nor have we been sufficiently active on the world stage in promoting the cause of Kosova’s independence. Egypt, one of the opponents of Kosova’s independence, blocked Kosova’s participation at an Organisation of the Islamic Conference event in Cairo; despite being one of the largest recipients of US aid, the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak obviously has no qualms about undermining Western diplomacy in this gratuitous manner. Similarly, in last month’s UN General Assembly vote on whether the International Court of Justice should rule on the legality of Kosova’s independence, it was left to the US and Albania, virtually alone, to vote against; the EU members that recognised Kosova’s independence all abstained, while the five EU members that reject Kosova’s independence all voted in favour. So it is the troublemakers – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus; the ones that are blocking a common EU policy on Kosova – that aggressively promote their own policy, while Britain pursues the line of least resistance.

The rot must be stopped. If Britain and the US are to prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Balkans, discourage Serbia’s escalating policy of revanchism, dampen the slide toward extremism in Kosova, make it clear to Moscow that its mischief-making will be met with resistance, and put a brake on the Franco-German-Spanish-Italian appeasement drive, we must be much more forthright and vocal in promoting our policies and interests and in standing up for our friends. This means waging a much more active diplomatic and public campaign in defence of Kosova. Diplomatic pressure should be brought to bear on the five EU members that have so far refused to recognise Kosova’s independence; in particular Spain which, as the only large and West European country among them, bears a particular responsibility for the failure to achieve EU unanimity on this question. Bad allies such as Egypt should be made to understand that they will suffer diplomatic and financial consequences if they continue to undermine us in the Balkans.

A successful diplomatic campaign is one half of winning the battle of Kosova. The other half is to achieve facts on the ground that make this victory an irreversible fact. Serbian attempts to undermine Croatia’s independence and annex parts of Croatian territory came to a definite end when the Croatian state became strong enough to assert its authority unchallenged across the whole of its territory. Similarly, Kosova’s independence will became a reality, irrespective of Serbian opposition, when a strong Kosovar state exercises full control over the whole of Kosova, including the area north of the River Ibar. Consequently, the EULEX mission must not be allowed to become a permanent international protectorate that prevents the emergence of a genuinely independent Kosova, but must work rapidly to put such a Kosova on its feet. Bosnia, where the international protectorate has wholly failed to create a functioning state or a stable political order, and where the situation is increasingly critical, should serve as a salutary warning of where a similar policy over Kosova might lead.

Britain and the US must therefore work together to ensure that the EULEX mission is a means to the end of a genuinely independent, territorially united Kosova, not to the end of keeping a lid on things indefinitely so as to appease Serbia and Russia. The very aim of Belgrade and Moscow is to undermine us and promote Balkan instability; they will use our weakness and our fear of confrontation to ensure that the lid comes off. The corollary of this is that we cannot establish an independent Kosova and stabilise the Balkans so long as we are pursuing the will o’ the wisp of consensus with these regimes. We must choose: to acquiesce in the destabilisation of the Balkans by two regimes that are taking us for a ride, or to move forward and resolve the situation once and for all, at the price of a few impotent howls from them. It should not be a difficult choice to make.

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

Sunday, 30 November 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Spain | Leave a comment

Greater Surbiton first birthday post

rulingclass1

‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love

Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.

I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.

While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.

It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.

Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.

Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.

If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists'; ‘anti-Zionists'; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.

Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.

Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum.  But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.

Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.

Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).

Hak Mao, in response to my Normblog profile:

‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’

This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.

The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.

Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.

Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.

Here’s a joke for the comrades:

Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?

A. Karl Marx

(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)

Daniel Davies, in response to my post ‘Weighing Obama versus McCain’:

I wrote:

‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’

Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:

‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’

This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:

‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’

Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.

As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:

holbrooke

You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.

Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.

Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.

What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?

Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?

Friday, 28 November 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

An appeal to the British intellectual community to show support for a national referendum in Italy against ad personam legislation

berlusconiLast July the Italian government succeeded in passing a law granting the President, leaders of the upper and lower chambers, and Prime Minister (the four highest offices of the state) immunity from investigation whilst in office.

The ongoing investigations into current Prime Minister Signor Berlusconi’s affairs, which include allegations of corruption, bribery and attempts to pervert the course of justice, question the motives behind such legislation. It is the ad personam nature of these laws which makes them unacceptable. Not only is the idea of equality before the law traduced, but a clear message is sent that the position of lawmaker may be abused for personal gain.

The most fundamental principle of the rule of law is that all are treated equally under it. If such ad personam laws were passed today by a soi-disant democratically elected leader of an Eastern European or African state, it is likely that we would be swift in our condemnation of the act, and there would likely follow calls for action. European member states should be an example to the international community in setting the principle that all in society are equal before the law. Italy should be no exception.

Under Italian law, legislation passed by Parliament may be challenged by referendum, provided that 500 000 signatures calling for such action are collected within a period of 90 days. Despite little or no coverage in the Italian media, 200 000 signatures were collected in a single day, following the formation by some Italian politicians and intellectuals (including Nobel laureate Dario Fo) of a referendum committee. The support of the wider intellectual community is crucial in getting this issue into the Italian media and highlighting the need for a public referendum on this question.

The above message is from the website of Energie in fuga.

Members of the British academic community who would like to sign the appeal should click here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008 Posted by | Italy | 1 Comment

Jasa Almuli and Holocaust revisionism: The making of a Serbian anti-Wiesenthal

almuliEarlier this year, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade came under attack from Jasa Almuli, a Serbian journalist and former president of the Belgrade Jewish community. What apparently provoked Almuli’s ire was the claim made by the Helsinki Committee’s 2006 report: ‘During the course of the Second World War, the Jews in Serbia perished at a high rate, not only at the hands of the German occupation authorities, but at the hands of the Government of National Salvation of Milan Nedic, the Ljoticites [Serbian fascists], gendarmes and Special Police, whose effective work contributed to the fact that, already in August 1942, Belgrade, as the first European capital city, was proclaimed a city cleansed of Jews (Judenrein).’

Almuli objected: ‘This equation of the German occupiers and the quisling organs in the destruction of the Serbian Jews does not accord with the truth.’ Allegedly basing himself on Serbian Jewish sources, Almuli claimed that ‘they all state that the German occupiers alone decided on the destruction of the Jews in Serbia and that the perpetrators were German organs.’

This is far from the first attempt by Almuli to defend the Serbian fascists and quislings of World War II from the charge that they participated in the Holocaust. In a letter published in the UK’s Sunday Telegraph on 27 February 1994, Almuli wrote:

‘As one of the few Serbian Jews who survived the Holocaust I can testify that the Serbian government of Milan Nedic under German military occupation did not “manage to deport every Serbian Jew to face the Holocaust”, as Tom Carter alleged (letter, February 20). The deportation of Jews in Serbia and their complete destruction was a crime exclusively committed by the Nazi Germans. They alone deported the Jews and killed them in camps they established in Serbia. The Serbs, who always resisted German invasion, rebelled against the Nazis and were subjected to exceptionally cruel reprisals in which for each German soldier killed by the Serbian partisans 100 Serbian hostages were executed. All Jewish males were killed by the German army as Serbian hostages, and no history of the Holocaust written by Jews blamed the Serbs for their deportation.’

However, what Almuli claims – that the Serbian quislings of Milan Nedic were innocent of any role in the Holocaust, and that no history of the Holocaust written by Jews blames ‘the Serbs’ for deporting Jews to the Nazis – is untrue. According to Israeli historian Menachem Shelah, writing in Israel Gutman’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (MacMillan, New York, 1990), the extermination of Serbia’s Jews was indeed the work of the Nazi SS and military leaders, but ‘Others involved in determining and carrying out Jewish policy were… the Serbian quisling puppet government, under Milan Nedic, whose police and gendarmerie assisted the Germans in rounding up the Jews.’ (p. 1341) Shelah writes in the same volume (p. 289): ‘There were many instances of Chetniks murdering Jews or handing them over to the Germans.’

Thus, whereas Almuli claims that the deportation and extermination of the Serbian Jews was ‘exclusively’ the work of the Nazis and that the Serbian quislings were innocent of any involvement, a respected standard reference work on the Holocaust says otherwise.

This is not the extent of Almuli’s efforts to whitewash the role of the Serbian quislings in the Holocaust. But before I go into this in greater detail, it is necessary to say a few words about him. According to the Serbian independent news magazine Vreme in June 1992, Almuli was one of a group of Serbian Jewish leaders who ‘directed all their efforts to just one goal: to be as close as possible to the existing regime.’ The regime in question was the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. This resulted, Vreme‘s journalist continued, in ‘the fact that Mr Almuli was a frequent guest at sessions of the Serbian government, at which propaganda activities were discussed.’ (Ivan Radovanovic, ‘Guzva u jevrejskoj opstini: Ovozemaljski izbori’, Vreme, 1 June 1992). Another member of this group of Serbian Jewish leaders was Klara Mandic, who founded the ‘Serbian-Jewish Friendship Society’ in 1987, to lobby the Jewish world, and in particular Israel, on behalf of Milosevic’s Serbia. Mandic had been a close ally of Milosevic and his intermediary in dealings with semilegal business enterprises on whose support he drew. She lived for nine months with the Serb paramilitary leader Dragan Vasiljkovic (‘Captain Dragan’) and was a close associate of both Radovan Karadzic and Zeljko Raznatovic ‘Arkan’. She was murdered in Belgrade shortly after the overthrow of Milosevic.

According to Vreme‘s journalist, Almuli resigned as Belgrade Jewish community president in the face of opposition from among Belgrade Jews to his initiative to publish an attack on the leadership of the sister Jewish community in Zagreb (for its own alleged closeness to its ruling regime – in this case, Croatian). He subsequently emigrated to the UK. Whereas Mandic was a flamboyant propagandist for the Serbian nationalist cause, her former mentor Almuli more quietly wrote letters in defence of the Serbian cause, as he saw it, for publication in newspapers.

On 25 May 1992, at the height of the Bosnian genocide, a letter of Almuli’s was published in the Jerusalem Post, attacking what he claimed was the Israeli newspaper’s ‘lack of objectivity’ with regard to Serbia: ‘We deplore your one-sided, biased presentation of the situation in the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. You do not state a single fact or argument bearing out your claims that Serbia is “aggressive and cruel”, that it has become a “grave danger to stability in Europe” and that it should be punished by a “total trade embargo and diplomatic isolation”.’ In a non sequitur which was already becoming all too familiar to anyone paying attention to Serbian propaganda in the early 1990s, Almuli then jumped straight from the events of 1990s Bosnia into an account of Serb suffering and Croat and Muslim wrongdoing in World War II.

Almuli then proceeded to present the Serb-nationalist case to his Israeli audience:

‘We, the Jews, who, together with the Serbs, suffered in Ustasha death camps – of which Jasenovac is recorded in the Hall of Remembrance in Yad Vashem – understand their current concerns. The Serbs want the Yugosalv crisis settled in a way that will not reduce them in the republics other than Serbia to a helpless minority… The republic of Serbia is not indifferent to the fate of the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the same as Israel is not indifferent to the fate of the Jews in the Diaspora.’

In a further apparent effort to mitigate Serb war-crimes in Bosnia and appeal to Israeli sensibilities, Almuli claimed: ‘In recent years, the Republic of Serbia took on the leading role in demanding the re-establishment [by Yugoslavia] of diplomatic relations with Israel.’

In other words Almuli, as the former pro-regime leader of the Belgrade Jewish community, was using these credentials to agitate on behalf of the Serb nationalist cause. Despite his readiness to attack his fellow Jews in Croatia for their own alleged closeness to their own regime, he frequently presented his polemics in terms of ‘we Jews’ or ‘us Jews’ – as if his past history of official service in Serbia qualified him to make statements on behalf of all Jews in the former Yugoslavia. Thus, in a letter published back in November 1993 (see below), Almuli claimed that ‘In the present propaganda battle among the waring factions in former Yugoslavia the history of the Holocaust is insistently revised with the aim of making the opposing faction guilty of killing the Jews.’ He finished by saying that ‘I plead with the warring factions in former Yugoslavia, and with their respective friends abroad, to stop using Jews in their propaganda warfare.’ Yet he failed to mention that he himself sided with one of the warring factions, that his own agenda was to whitewash his own country’s (Serbia’s) role in the Holocaust while emphasising the role of its enemy (Croatia), and that he himself was ‘using Jews’ in his own propaganda warfare aimed at defending the role of Serbia in the Bosnian war.

Almuli made an additional intervention in the propaganda war over Bosnia in January 1994, in response to an article in the International Herald Tribune by Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, who condemned Serb aggression as involving ‘genocide’ and a ‘Holocaust that is taking place in the heart of Europe’, and who called for US military action to halt in, and for the lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia. Almuli responded:

‘It is very dangerous for a Jewish leader to take sides in an alien civil war with strong religious connotations, as Mr. Siegman does in Bosnia. He barely mentions the Catholic Croats, although they exposed themselves to widespread criticism by their military involvement in Bosnia and the resurgence of Ustase elements, which are of grave concern to the local Jewish community. He strongly supports the Bosnian Muslims, despite the fundamentalism of their leader, Alija Izetbegovic. And he invites Western military intervention against the Bosnian Serbs, who are Christian Orthodox, thus provoking possible reactions against Jews in other Christian Orthodox countries.’

In this way, Almuli attempted to silence Jewish criticism of the Serb genocide in Bosnia by raising the spectre of Orthodox Christian retaliation against Jews elsewhere.

In his recent attack on the Serbian Helsinki Committee, Almuli claims:

‘I am not defending Nedic or his regime, but defamed Serbia, and I fight always against revision of the history of the Holocaust. Therefore I present the question: Do the ladies and gentlement of the Helsinki Committee in Belgrade not know all this, or did not know how to read ? Some great Western powers, in the absence of any kind of international legal basis, claim that Serbia has no moral right to Kosovo, because it has killed there many Albanians at the time of the bombardment in 1999. Does this moral disqualification of Serbia need to be covered by the lie that Serbia is just as guilty as the Germans for the murder of the Serbian Jews ?!’

So it is, that this former leader of the Belgrade Jewish community sees his task as ‘defending defamed Serbia’ over Kosovo by whitewashing Serbia’s Nazi collaborators.

If readers are wondering why I am bringing up the subject at this time, it is not only because I have only just learned of Almuli’s attack on the Helsinki Committee, but also because I figured in his attack, as a ‘Briton with family links to Croatia’, who has also been ‘guilty’ of bringing up the Nedic regime’s role in the Holocaust. Almuli refers to a letter he had published in the London Review of Books back in November 1993, in which he accused me – back when I was a 21-year-old undergraduate – of making false claims about the Nedic regime. You can read his letter here. Indeed, I made some mistakes; above all, I put the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims in Serbia at 23,000, when it was closer to 15,000 (though Almuli, through confusing the territory of wartime Croatia proper – which I referred to – with the territory of the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, falsely accused me of getting the figure for Croatian Jewish victims wrong as well). I also mistakenly attributed the building of the quisling Serbian death-camp of Banjica to Nedic, though in fact its construction was initiated in quisling Serbia before Nedic personally took office. Yet while Almuli correctly pointed out the first of these errors, his letter otherwise consisted of a factually inaccurate apologia for the quisling regime in Serbia.

Almuli wrote:

The allegation that the regime of Milan Nedic, installed by the Germans in Serbia in August 1941., enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust, is the second incorrect statement in Mr. Hoare’s letter. No anti – Jewish legislation was passed by this regime, no death camp for Jews was established or run by it and virtually no killing perpetrated. All that was done by the German Army, police and SS which had almost entirely destroyed the Serbian Jewish population by May 1942., although several hundred Jews were still hiding with Serbian friends. The German police were hunting them and many were caught with the help of police loyal to Nedic’s regime, attracted by the financial reward the Germans were paying. This is all that can be found about Nedic in the published research of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. The Germans themselves dealt with the Jews in Serbia; the duty of Nedic‘s regime was to carry out internal administration.

The half – truth in Mr. Hoare’s letter refers to the concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade. It was indeed a death camp and staffed by Serbian policemen, but it was not destined for Jews. This camp was established by German order and the Serbian personnel were subject to the control of the Gestapo. The camp was intended for Serbs who opposed the German occupation, for Partisans, Communists and liberal patriots. Out of 23,697 persons who were imprisoned in this camp only 455 were Jews.

In absolving the Nedic regime of responsibility for anti-Jewish legislation, Almuli did not choose to mention that the German commander in Serbia had issued an anti-Jewish and anti-gypsy decree on 31 May 1941, which required Jews to register with the Serbian police and wear the yellow star, banned them from public service, prevented them from visiting theatres and cinemas, and so forth. The decree specified: ‘The Serbian authorities are responsible for carrying out the orders contained in this decree.’ As Serbian prime minister from August 1941, Nedic presided over the enforcement of this decree by the Serbian authorities. Almuli’s claim that the Germans alone were responsible for measures against the Jews, while Nedic merely carried out internal Serbian administration, is therefore false.

As for Almuli’s attempt to downplay the role of the Serb quislings in the organisation and management of the Banjica death camp, and its role in the destruction of the Jews, historian Jennie Lebel (Zeni Lebl), in her book ‘Until the final solution: The Jews in Belgrade 1521-1942′ (‘Do konacnog resenja: Jevreji u Beogradu 1521-1942′, Cigoja stampa, Belgrade, 2001, pp. 312-313), has this to say:

The decision [to establish the Banjica camp] was taken in the staff of the German military commander for Serbia on 22 June 1941, and the same day the chief of the administrative staff Dr Turner informed the first person of the Commissars’ Administration [Serbian quisling government] Milan Acimovic of it. As it was a question of a joint, Nazi-collaborationist camp, the carrying out of the order was entrusted to the administrator of the city of Belgrade, Dragi Jovanovic, i.e. to the Administration of the city of Belgrade, the Belgrade municipality and the Gestapo. Dragi Jovanovic appointed on 5 July Svetozar M. Vujkovic as the first manager of that first concentration camp in Belgrade; and for his assistant, Djordje Kosmajac. They maintained daily close contact with the Special Police and with them decided the question of life or death for tens of thousands of prisoners in the camp. The security of the camp was exercised by a special detachment of the gendarmerie of the city of Belgrade, under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and with the special engagement of the Department of the Special Police. The German part of the camp was under the administration of the Gestapo.

The camp building had to be very quickly repaired and organised to suit its new purpose. According to the model of German concentration camps, metal walls, iron doors and bars were put up at Banjica, and grates were put on the windows. The first prisoners were brought to the newly formed camp already on 9 July, while the adaptation of the building was still in progress, even before the building of the high camp walls. The bringing of prisoners, Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, was carried out at a fast tempo, as were their daily executions.(emphasis added)

Lebel is not the only historian to write about the role of Banjica in the Holocaust. Sima Begovic, a Yugoslav historian who was himself imprisoned in the camp during the war, is the author of a two-volume history of Banjica (‘Logor Banjica 1941-1944′, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Belgrade, 1989). He writes the following (vol. 2, pp. 25-26):

Larger groups of Jews reached the camp at Banjica on 14, 15 and 16 September 1941. Among them appear the surnames of well known Belgrade Jewish families: Albano, Gris, Finci, Pijade, Konfino, Sabitaj, Demojorovic, Mandilovic, Ruso, Gozes, Solomon, Almulzino, Amar, Demajo, Benvenisti, Janjatovic, Frajdenfeld, Isakovic, Zonensajn, Nisim, Altarac, Singer, Adanja, Melamed, Karic, Masic, Kon, Nahimijas, Kabiljo, Naftali, Grinberger, Anaf, Mor, Razencvajg, Munk, Blau, Hercog, Gutman and others. From the Banat group there were in the Banjica camp four Jews, doctors by profession: Djordje Farago from Petrovgrad (Zrenjanin), Franjo Loza from Srpska Crnja, Pavle Miler from Kovino, and Branko Auspic from Vrsac. In those three days alone 202 Jews were brought to the camp at Banjica. All of these were transferred, as recorded in the first register of the Banjica camp, to a different camp on 17 September 1941. Because the camp at the Old Fairground still was not completely finished, this was probably a matter of transfer to the camp at Topovske supe. It is a still more likely assumption that they were then, or a little later, executed at the village of Jabuka in the Banat, where the first executions were carried out both of Banjica prisoners and of Jews imprisoned at Topovske supe.

In terms of the numbers of Jewish victims from Banjica, Begovic writes (vol. 2, p. 28):

It is not easy or straightforward to determine the number of Jews who resided at the camp at Banjica and from it taken to the execution site. Judging by the Banjica registers, that number just exceeded 900 individuals. However, not all Jews were recorded in the registers of the Banjica prisoners.

Thus Almuli’s claim, that ‘only 455′ Jews passed through Banjica, is false. His figure of 23,697 prisoners at Banjica is also rejected by both Begovic and Lebel, who point out that this only represents the number of prisoners recorded in the camp registers, and does not include the thousands or possibly tens of thousands more who went unrecorded.

The camp at Topovske supe that Begovic mentions is described by Lebel as ‘the first Jewish death camp in Belgrade’. She writes (pp. 312-314) of the incarceration of the Jewish prisoners:

‘The guard was kept by Nedic’s gendarmes, who were inhuman and, to show their loyalty to the Germans, often worse than the latter. They prohibited them things that the Germans sometimes permitted. At the entrance there were not many guards, and even on the occasion of the transport of the prisoners to work there was not a particularly prominent guard. But it was made clear to them that every attempt at escape would be punished most strictly. They were soon convinced of this: when some nevertheless attempted to escape and were caught, in front of all the prisoners they were hanged in the camp courtyard.’

Nedic himself was an anti-Semite. As I demonstrate in my book, ‘Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943′ (Oxford University Press, London, 2006), he peppered his speeches with references to the ‘Communist-Jewish rabble’ and ‘Communist-Masonic-Jewish-English-mafia’ against which he was supposedly fighting. On 22 June 1942 he wrote to German General Bader to complain that Serbian prisoners-of-war in German camps were being confined alongside Jews and Communists, and requested that ‘it would be very desirable if Jews and leftists-Communists be removed from the common camps and kept apart from the nationally healthy officers.’ Consequently, ‘The Serbian government, concerned by this action, would be extremely grateful if the German Reich would take effective measures for a maximally rapid separation, etc.’ (‘Genocide and Resistance’, pp. 158-159; the citations are from archival documents that I located in Belgrade; photocopies of them are in my possession).

The Serbian historian Olivera Milosavljevic, in her recently published study of the Serbian quislings (‘Potisnuta istina: Kolaboracija u Srbiji 1941-1944′, Helsinski odbor za ljudska prava u Srbiji’, Belgrade, 2006, p. 25), based principally on an extensive examination of the Serbian quisling press, has this to say of Nedic’s official ideology:

‘The principle of a ‘clean’ nation encompassed all spheres of social life in Nedic’s Serbia, in which state officials, professors, pupils and students had to demonstrate that they were Serbs. The ‘Aryan paragraph’ entered the official documents of Nedic’s goverment which, on the occasion of employment in state service, required that candidates provide evidence that they were of Serb nationality and ‘Aryan origin’ and that their families did not have ‘Jewish or Gypsy blood’. Confirmations were provided by the municipal authorities.’

The Serbian fascist leader Dimitrije Ljotic, a central figure of the Serbian quisling regime, was most explicit in his statements on the Jews. For example, in a speech over Radio Belgrade in August 1941: ‘I have said, that the Christian nations have become so blind, that they see danger in every imperialism – except the most dangerous imperialism: the Jewish'; ‘Only the Jew could on the one hand be the creator and user of capitalism, and on the other create Marxism and lead revolutions, supposedly against capitalism'; ‘And to the Jews it must be clear that for the forseeable future the realisation of their dream of world revolution is ended'; ‘You will only then, with the fall of red Bolshevik Moscow, see what wrong toward the Russian nation and toward you, Serbian tribe, has been committed by those renegades, who convinced you that that Jewish-Unrussian creation is – your Slavic Russia’. (Dimitrije V. Ljotic, ‘Sabrana dela’, vol. 8, Iskra, Belgrade, 2003, pp. 46-48). Ljotic’s militia was closely involved in hunting down and arresting Jews.

This, then, is the true face of the Serbian quisling regime of World War II, whose record Almuli sees fit to defend. Almuli’s record may be set against that of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to bringing Nazi war-criminals to justice and fighting Holocaust revisionism. In contrast to Wiesenthal, Almuli has tried his best to ensure that the crimes of his own fellow-countrymen, who participated in the Holocaust, are forgotten.

Updates on Almuli’s revisionist activities can be found here and here.

Addendum: For another defence of Milan Nedic’s Nazi-quisling regime, one that writes its role in the Holocaust out of history, see amateur historian Carl Savich at Serbianna.com, who writes that in its collaboration with the Nazis, ‘the regime Germany established in Serbia had no choice in the matter. They were not allies or loyal partners as Ante Pavelic was. The goal was to preserve the Serbian population.’ The Nedic regime’s involvement in Nazi genocide has also been written out of the history of World War II by the Jasenovac Research Institute and other Serb nationalist organisations and websites that claim to deal with the subject.

Saturday, 15 November 2008 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weighing Obama versus McCain

It may be that I have spent too much time living in Serbia and studying it, and that some of that fabled Serbian inat, or bloodymindedness, has rubbed off on me (readers may be surprised to learn that, as an adult, I was christened in the Serbian Orthodox Church, something that occurred not because of religious belief – of which I have none – but because I was once married to a Serbian woman). Or it may be just that I don’t like jumping on bandwagons. Be this as it may, I’m not prepared to follow the herd and endorse Obama for US president. That said, there are some powerful arguments to be made in favour of Obama, which I have been hearing from Obama supporters – such as my own girlfriend, as well as my mother – for some time now. The strong reasons for supporting McCain, however, which I have outlined in previous posts, remain. Each of the candidates offers a very different set of advantages and disadvantages, and a US citizen deciding whom to vote for should weigh them up very carefully before deciding.

One of the paradoxes of this election is that Obama is perceived by much of the liberal intelligentsia in the West as being the progressive, anti-establishment candidate, even though his likely election victory will owe much to the fact that his campaign has enjoyed much greater financial resources than McCain’s. The richer candidate is spending his way to victory; even if a large part of this funding has consisted of small donations, the hated representatives of American capitalism have hardly been falling over themselves to fund his Republican opponent. Yet Obama’s greater popularity among the liberal intelligentsia, and indeed among international opinion generally, is undeniably because he is more widely – and unfairly – seen as less quintissentially American than McCain. Obama may be just another liberal Democrat in the tradition of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but for various reasons – in part because he would represent a dramatic break with the politics of George Bush, in part because he is black, and in part because he is undeniably charismatic – he has been invested with much greater belief on the part of the outside world as a force for change than he probably warrants.

But perception matters. And here is the strongest reason for voting for Obama. A President Obama would restore the world’s goodwill toward the US. The outside world will give him the benefit of the doubt, and the US a second chance to enjoy the degree of international popularity it enjoyed before 9/11. Conversely, a victory for McCain – particularly after such a strong and sustained poll lead enjoyed by Obama for so long – would produce another great outpouring of anti-American bile across the world, and above all from the ranks of the European chattering classes. The Republicans would, once again, be viewed as having unfairly stolen the election; their regime would enjoy little international credibility or goodwill. McCain will be painted as a continuation of Bush, and continue to be punished for the sins, real or perceived, of his predecessor. Obama would, therefore, be better able than McCain to restore the US’s network of alliances and connections, rejuvenating the US’s world leadership, or what is termed on the left as ‘American imperialism’.

Yet the reason why Obama would enjoy such international goodwill, and be able to restore the US’s world image and standing, is also the reason why one should think twice before supporting him: the world prefers soft US presidents, and Obama will undoubtedly be a much softer president than McCain. George Bush Snr betrayed the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 and acted to keep Saddam Hussein in power; Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban, and strove hard to keep the US from having to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia; yet neither has earned the kind of opprobrium incurred by the current US president for the crime of overthrowing Saddam. Obama has shown himself to be less committed than McCain to the defence of democratic Iraq and of independent Georgia; his restoration of US popularity globally may come at a high price.

Obama’s choice of the tough and experienced Joe Biden as his running mate does something to allay one’s concern at the foreign-policy implications of his presidency. Biden deserves credit for his opposition to aggression and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But his instincts have not always been so good: he has supported the partition of Iraq. Biden is, like Obama, pro-Greek and anti-Turkish; they would be taking over leadership of the US at a time when, given the threats posed by the hostile regimes in Moscow and Tehran, we need to maintain the Turkish alliance, and at a time when Greece’s merciless bullying of the fragile Republic of Macedonia potentially threatens disaster in the Balkans.

So the choice between Obama and McCain revolves around the question of whether it is better to have a US president who can restore the US’s global popularity and standing but is likely to be less resolute in resisting the enemies of the democratic world, or a president who will be globally unpopular but more determined in resisting our enemies.

Some readers may feel that US domestic policy should count for more in this weighing up. All well and good; I prefer Obama to McCain on domestic issues, but there are 6.7 billion people in the world, and only 300 million of them are Americans. The United States is a sophisticated system of decentralised democracy and constitutional checks and balances, and the battle between conservatism and liberalism will continue to be fought out at multiple levels throughout the country, regardless of which candidate wins. But it is foreign policy where the president’s voice counts for most. I would discount on principle the idea that one should vote on the basis of the candidate’s age or skin-colour; Winston Churchill was presiding over the Normandy Landings when he was only a year or two younger than McCain is today, and was several years older when he became prime minister for the second time, while the social changes that have made it possible for the US presidency to be within reach of a black candidate have occurred, and will continue to occur, regardless of who wins. The fact that Obama supposedly is friends with various dangerous radicals is a big red herring; most of us probably have been, one way or another. But it is no more a red herring than the big Sarah Palin bogey; Palin was brought in by McCain to mobilise the Republican base; she will not determine US policy. McCain might die in office and leave the inexperienced and very right-wing Palin as acting president. But probably not. Finally, I have faith that US capitalism will rejuvenate itself, regardless of who is managing the economy.

So for me, it boils down to a choice between the man who will capture the world’s hearts and the man who will fight the world’s enemies. While there are strong arguments to be made for each, I would always support the candidate who, when the chips were down, defended a small nation against a brutal aggressor, against the candidate who has supported an aggressor against a fragile small nation.

Others may draw the line in a different place.

Monday, 3 November 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | 4 Comments

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 128 other followers