Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Intolerance that disgraces the European Union

Image: Volen Siderov, leader of the Bulgarian fascist party ‘Ataka’

The recent ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland, following a referendum, was, in the words of one commentator, ‘a reflex of the Swiss tendency for self-isolation’. It is evidence that, for all its long tradition of prosperity and stability, Switzerland would be a less than ideal member of the European Union, were it to join. Switzerland did not permit women to vote in national elections until 1971;  it was not until the 1990s that women achieved the right to vote everywhere in Switzerland at the cantonal level. We may lament rich, stable Switzerland’s unwillingness to join the EU, but it has come with a definite silver lining. For with the forces of intolerance on the upsurge in many parts of Europe, the last thing we need is to strengthen their ranks within the EU.

In Slovakia, legislation came into force on 1 September of this year that criminalises the use of non-Slovak languages in the public sphere, including Hungarian, which is the first language of Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, comprising nearly ten percent of Slovakia’s population of just over five million. The legislation means that an ethnic Hungarian train-conductor responding to an ethnic-Hungarian passenger in Hungarian or a Roma doctor addressing a Roma patient in Romani could face prosecution. The legislation is the work of Robert Fico’s governing coalition, which includes the racist and far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) of Jan Slota. It was passed in a context, in the words of the European Council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in which ‘the rise of anti-Hungarian discourse by some political figures has created a negative public climate which has led to an increase in intolerance against the Hungarian minority in Slovaka as well as acts of racially motivated crimes against members of this group.’ Not coincidentally, Slovakia is one of only five EU members that refuse to recognise the independence of Kosova; in Slovakia’s case, because it fears that Kosova’s independence from Serbia sets a precedent that its own Hungarian minority could follow. Since Kosova’s independence was the result of the brutal persecution and ethnic cleansing of Kosova Albanians by the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic, this suggests that Bratislava sees itself as following in Milosevic’s footsteps so far as minority rights are concerned – which, to an extent, it is.

The response from the ranks of the EU has, however, been muted. Fico’s ‘Direction – Social Democracy’ party had its membership temporarily suspended in the Party of European Socialists – which includes Britain’s Labour Party – in response to its alliance with the SNS, but this suspension has now been lifted, the language law notwithstanding. In other words, Slovakia’s mainstream Social Democrats are allied to fascists and promoting chauvinistic, anti-minority legislation, and this is being tolerated by the Social Democratic mainstream in Europe.

The implications for regional stability are potentially dangerous. The language law is poisoning Slovakia’s relations with neighbouring Hungary, which recently dropped its support for Bratislava’s bid to host the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER). Like ethnic Serbs and Albanians, ethnic Hungarians are dispersed among several Central European and Balkan states; a reopened Hungarian question would have potentially grave implications for regional stability. Former Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi stated recently that ethnic Hungarians outside of Hungary must always remain a determining element of Hungary’s foreign policy; this sounds reasonable given Bratislava’s current behaviour, but it is uncomfortably reminiscent of the ‘concern’ expressed by Serbia’s politicians in the early 1990s for the Serbs outside Serbia.

Slovakia’s is not the only government in the EU that has promoted anti-minority legislation in order to appease fascist elements. Earlier this month, Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, announced the holding of a referendum on the abolition of Turkish-language news broadcasts on Bulgaria’s BNT1 public television channel. Nearly 10% of Bulgaria’s population of nearly eight million is ethnic-Turkish, and the minority has a long experience of persecution, most notably at the hands of the Communist tyrant Todor Zhivkov in the 1980s. Borisov announced this move in a joint news conference with Volen Siderov, the leader of the fascist party National Union of Attack (‘Ataka’), with whom his own inappropriately named Citizens for European Development in Bulgaria (GERB) party is in coalition. According to Borisov, ‘This is a very delicate situation and we don’t want the matter being exploited against Bulgarian Muslims or by them. That’s why I support the idea of solving the issue on a referendum as this is the most democratic way.’ He added, ‘We don’t want other minorities to feel neglected. Soon we might have the Roma asking for news in their language’, enlightening his audience by pointing out that Bulgarian was the country’s official language.

This move nevertheless provoked strong opposition in Bulgaria itself, including on the part of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (MRF), which is predominantly ethnic-Turkish. To its credit, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the European parliamentary liberal bloc to which the MRF belongs, then threatened to raise the issue of the referendum in the European parliament. Bulgaria also came under pressure from Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raising the issue in a telephone conversation with Borisov. Indeed, a return to the persecution of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria would further complicate the already difficult relations between Turkey and the rest of the Western alliance. Turkey is, of course, itself long guilty of persecuting its Kurdish minority, something most recently manifested in the Turkish Constitutional Court’s ban of the Democratic Society Party, the country’s principal Kurdish party. But Turkey at least has the excuse that it is not in the EU, and that its patchy human-rights record is partly responsible for keeping it out. Unlike Turkey, some EU members appear to be given an undeserved clean pass by the Union and by their allies.

In Bulgaria, nevertheless, the forces of intolerance appear to have suffered a defeat, with Borisov retreating from his plan to hold the referendum. But while Bulgarian resistance to the anti-Turkish measure is heartening, encompassing as it did the president and the parliamentary opposition, less edifying has been the muted response from Europe. GERB’s adoption of an anti-minority measure to satisfy a fascist parliamentary ally did not, apparently, provoke any opposition in the ranks of the European People’s Party, the conservative Euro-federalist bloc in the European parliament of which GERB is a member. Nor, indeed, have the European People’s Party or other EU bodies reacted much to earlier instances of persecution of minorities in Bulgaria. Sofia lost two cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), brought by Omo Ilinden Pirin, the party of the ethnic-Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Both times, the ECHR ordered Sofia to permit the party to register legally and to pay it damages; while the damages were paid, Sofia continues to refuse to allow the party to register.

Indulgence toward anti-minority chauvinism in the EU is nothing new. Greece has for decades pursued a policy of forced assimilation of its ethnic minorities; it refuses to recognise the existence of the ethnic Turkish and Macedonian minorities on its soil, and persecutes and harasses their political and cultural organisations. Athens has been found by the ECHR to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to both minorities as regards freedom of expression, association and self-identification, yet has disregarded the Court’s verdicts. Thus, over ten years after the ECHR found Greece in violation of human rights for its refusal to permit the registration of the ethnic-Macedonian society ‘Home of Macedonian Culture’, it has continued to refuse, without suffering adverse consequences from the EU. Greece’s policy of trying to force the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia to change its name is closely linked to its programme of forced assimilation of its own Macedonian minority; the EU, through recognising the Greek right to veto Macedonia’s EU accession, enables this chauvinistic policy as well.

So far as Greece’s Turkish minority is concerned, Athens violates its human rights both in national and in religious terms; it denies the right of organisations bearing the appellation ‘Turkish’ to register themselves, and denies the right of Muslims in Greece to elect their own imams and muftis. Religious officials elected by Muslims in Greece on their own initiative have been prosecuted and imprisoned, over which Greece was again found by the ECHR to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as regards freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Greco-Turkish relationship is a permanent potential source of discord within NATO ranks, and as Turkey moves to define a new geopolitical role for itself, continued Greco-Turkish cooperation cannot be taken for granted; indeed, there are indications that it is already fraying. Athens’s mistreatment of its Turkish minority may aggravate an already dangerous situation.

Such instances of intolerance toward minorities, on the part of states that belong to both NATO and the EU, are a disgrace to the Western alliance. They are also a threat to our security. With Moscow pursuing an aggressive policy aimed at derailing NATO’s eastward expansion, and with several states of Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe already concerned by our apparently lukewarm commitment to their security, this is not a time for creating new divisions within our ranks. Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece are all NATO members, and it is reasonable to question just how solid a military and political alliance can be while some members are violating the human rights of co-nationals of other members.

We must bring pressure to bear on those EU and NATO members that violate the human rights of their minorities, and make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, both because it violates the principles of civilisation and democracy that underpin the EU, and because it threatens our common security. Before these minority issues grow into regional crises, they should be nipped in the bud.

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

Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer

Wednesday, 30 December 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bulgaria, Central Europe, European Union, Greece, Slovakia, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Balkan racism in academia and on the Left

Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.

Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.

I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.

In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.

However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.

My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.

Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.

I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.

I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*

This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.

Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.

There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.

In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation'; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers,  or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.

By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.

 

*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics'; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .

I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Against the sale of Mistrals to Russia

The following petition was published by the Centre for Geopolitical Studies on 3 December. Although it speaks in the name of ‘European citizens of the countries neighbouring Russia’, all concerned individuals are invited to sign it irrespective of citizenship.

Against the sale of Mistrals to Russia

We, European citizens of the countries neighbouring Russia, wish to express our misgivings about the French government’s intention of selling “Mistrals” to Russia.

According to Vladimir Vysotsky, the commander of the Russian Navy « A Mistral-type vessel will significantly increase the fighting and maneuvering capabilities of the Russian navy. During the events of August 2008 (the Russo-Georgian war), this ship would have enabled the Russian fleet in the Black Sea to carry out its mission in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours».

We want to remind the French government that, in violation of an agreement signed with the President of France, Russia is still occupying parts of Georgia.
The Russian leaders have repeatedly threatened to dismember the Ukraine and to intervene in neighbouring states in defence of “Russian-speaking” citizens. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, has recently stated that

“in critical national security situations, one should not exclude a preventive nuclear strike against the aggressor”,

and that Russia is revising the rules for the employment of nuclear weapons to repel conventionally armed attackers,

“not only in large-scale, but also in a regional and even a local war.”

This year Russia simulated an air and sea attack on Poland and Lithuania during military exercises.
Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Putin openly stated his intention to annex Georgia to the Russian Federation.

Taking into account these worrying developments, as well as the fact that the Russian leaders are not subjected to any control from their citizens, and that an arbitrary regime is always dangerous for its neighbours, we ask the French government to remember its responsibility for peace and to renounce the sale of “Mistrals” to Russia in the name of European solidarity.

The petition can be signed here.

Friday, 11 December 2009 Posted by | Georgia | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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