Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Scotland has the right to self-determination

As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said, ‘The more closely the democratic system of state approximates to complete freedom of secession, the rarer and weaker will the striving for secession be in practice’. If you want to keep a multinational union together, the best way to do it is to grant maximum freedom to its constituent nations, which will then have no reason to secede. The benefits of full sovereignty for individual nations can be enjoyed alongside the benefits of a larger union; we can have our cake and eat it too. The Yugoslav union could have been saved if only Serbia’s political classes had been ready to accept its evolution into an eight-member confederation, with its constituent republics and autonomous provinces enjoying complete self-rule. Unfortunately, Serbia’s politicians and intellectuals preferred no union at all to a confederal union. The European Union, for its part, though still a confederation, has already integrated too far, to the point where the sovereignty and democratic rights of its constituent nations are being violated; the British government is rightly resisting further unwanted integration. For multinational unions, less is usually more:

And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

These are factors worth pondering as we witness the British coalition government’s clumsy attempt to dictate to the Scottish people how their referendum on independence should be framed and organised. The government has rejected the idea of a three-question referendum, as favoured by Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party leader and First Minister of Scotland), in which the Scots would be permitted to vote not only in favour of independence or of the status quo, but also of a third option – ‘devolution-max’, or full sovereignty over domestic affairs but with continued membership of the United Kingdom, and a continued common foreign policy and defence. The government is instead insisting on an ‘all or nothing’ referendum, in which Scots would be forced to choose between full independence or the status quo, and on a deadline by which the referendum would be held.

At this rate, the British government might as well simply declare the United Kingdom dissolved. There is no surer way of persuading a constituent nation to secede from a union than by trying to bully its elected representatives in this manner, and restrict its citizens’ right to vote as freely as possible. David Cameron and his ministers will have only themselves to blame if Scotland’s voters, angry at being denied the right to vote freely without interference from London, react by turning in favour of independence. If they want to save the union, Westminster’s politicians should recognise the right of Scotland’s elected representatives to choose when to hold their referendum and on what basis it should be held. With the majority of Scots opposed to independence, there is every reason to believe that granting them the right to devo-max would be the best way to save the union.

I support devo-max for Scotland. I support the right of the Scottish people to have all the sovereign rights that other nations in Europe enjoy. If they want to be fully independent, I respect their right to be. However, I hope they will opt instead for having their cake and eating it. There is no reason why left-wing Scotland should be forced to endure government by right-wing Westminster; a sovereign Scotland will in all likelihood have more enlightened domestic government than the one the UK has at present.

On the other hand, the UK has, since 1997, been a major positive force in world affairs; first under Tony Blair, then under Gordon Brown and now under David Cameron. However regrettable his domestic policies, Cameron’s foreign policy has been almost impeccable; where Blair was a pioneer of progressive foreign policy, Cameron adopted his model and, if anything, improved upon it. It would be a loss for the world if the UK were to be diminished by Scotland’s secession. By contrast, Salmond’s peacenik, anti-nuclear record suggests that an independent Scotland led by him would be likely to obstruct rather than support progressive moves on the global stage by Britain and the West.

Over and above such cold calculations remains the fact that the majority of Scots, like the majority of English and Welsh, continue to identify, at least at some level, with Britain as a whole. Devo-max would best reconcile the self-identification of Scots as Scots with their self-identification  – and the self-identification of the English and Welsh – as Brits.

Some fear that Scottish sovereignty would leave the Conservatives too overwhelmingly dominant in the rump UK. This might not be so straightforward. Comfortable dominance over Labour in a rump UK, and in an English parliament, might lead the English Conservatives to splinter, and see the re-emergence of a gentler, one-nation current of Conservatism in opposition to the currently dominant Thatcherites. At the very least, the establishment of an English parliament would help the English to understand and articulate their own national identity better, as the Scots already do. The Welsh may opt to retain a closer union with England than the other parts of the UK will, but that again is up to them.

PS I have purposely omitted discussing Northern Ireland in this article, as that is a whole different kettle of fish…

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare, Scotland, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2011: The year the worms turned

I cannot remember any year of my life being so exciting, in terms of global political developments, as 2011. In a positive way, too: although many of the great events of last year have been far from unambiguous triumphs for human progress and emancipation, they have nevertheless demonstrated that many of the chains that bind humanity are not as immovable as they previously seemed. Though many of the battles remain to be fought and some will be lost, that they are being fought at all is reason for optimism. I haven’t remotely been able to provide adequate comment at this blog, but here is my personal list of the most inspiring events of 2011 – not necessarily in order of importance.

1. The Arab (and Russian !) Spring.

Cynics regret the fall of the Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes, and the likely fall of the Saleh regime, in the belief that these acted as Hobbesian leviathans keeping lids on political Islam. They fail to appreciate that these dictatorships, through preventing the emergence of healthy political pluralism and through opportunistic collaboration with Islamism, acted as the incubators of the very Islamist movements they claimed to keep in check. It is pluralism – more so than democracy – that is ultimately the cure for the evil represented by Islamism. The Arab Spring may end badly in some or all of the countries in question, but hats off to the brave Syrians, Yemenis, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Bahrainis and others who have redeemed the honour of the Arab world through their heroic struggle against tyranny, showing that change is possible. The Arab fighters against tyranny may not win, or they may succumb to a new tyranny, but they are fighting a struggle that needs to be fought. And hats off too to the brave Russians who are raising the banner of freedom in the heart of Europe’s worst police state.

2. International intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo.

For all that I supported the US-led intervention to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, events have proven it was an intervention too far: carried out without any form of mandate from world opinion or support in the country in question and attempting a too-radical overthrow of the existing order, it brought democratic change and emancipated the Shia majority and Kurdish minority, but only at great human cost and immense damage to the West’s reputation and to the political standing of the Western governments that participated. By contrast, the intervention in Libya was everything the intervention in Iraq was not: carried out in support of a genuine popular uprising and at the request of Libyans themselves, with a genuine international mandate, it brought down a dictatorship without any foreign troops setting foot in the country or losing their lives. There has been some whining among wishy-washy moderates that regime-change was carried out under cover of a UN mandate to prevent massacre, and that consequently Western leaders have made it more difficult to obtain international support for humanitarian intervention in future. Nonsense: even the propaganda catastrophe of Iraq did not prevent the intervention in Libya, so the successful intervention in Libya will be far from discouraging future interventions. In fact, like the Kosova intervention before it, Libya shows how humanitarian intervention can work, as did the international intervention that helped bring about the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, followed by his arrest and deportation to the International Criminal Court where, we hope, more of his fellow tyrants will end up.

3. The rise in the West of protests at the abuses of capitalism.

For much of the past fifteen years or so of my life, I felt I was gradually becoming more right-wing (from an admittedly extreme-left-wing starting-point), to the point where, at the last British general election, I adopted a bi-partisan standpoint vis-a-vis Labour and the Conservatives. I have seen, and continue to see myself, as a centrist rather than a leftist. Well, the events in the UK, the rest of Europe and the US have certainly served as a wake-up call to me, as the mainstream political right and the super-rich – not to put too fine a point on it – are simply taking the piss. Here in the UK, public services are being massacred while those in the corporate and financial sectors pay themselves vast and unearned bonuses, and the authorities turn a blind eye to their blatant tax-evasion. We’re supposed to believe that cutting the incomes of ordinary working- and middle-class people is necessary in the name of deficit-reduction, while cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations is necessary in the name of economic stimulus ! Well, you can’t have it both ways. In the US, the Republicans have gone so far to the right in their support of selfish and irresponsible tax-cuts for the rich that they’ve gone completely off the rails, seriously jeopardising their government’s ability to navigate the economic crisis. With mainstream centre-left leaders like Barack Obama and Ed Miliband failing to show any backbone over this, it is left to grass-roots activist movements to do so. So three cheers for Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and all such movements, for doing what our elected representatives are failing to do. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

4. The fall of Silvio Berlusconi and popular protests in Greece.

The fall of the corrupt sleazeball is a bittersweet triumph, given that it occurred in the context of the EU’s imposition of brutal austerity programmes across the Eurozone, accompanied by creeping integration that violates both the national sovereignty and democratic will of member states. The cause of deeper EU integration has revealed itself to be a deeply undemocratic, anti-people cause. I have been very critical of the Greek political classes for their criminal regional policies, vis-a-vis Milosevic, Macedonia, etc.; the Greek people, by contrast, in the ferocious fight they are putting up against the EU-imposed austerity measures, have set an example to us all. Let the costs of the economic crisis be born by the bankers and politicians who caused it, not by ordinary people and future generations.

5. The phone-hacking scandal in the UK.

All my life in the UK, I have lived in the belief that the tabloid newspapers and particularly the Murdoch media empire are a great incubus on British politics and society, encouraging everything that is worst in our country: xenophobia, small-mindedness, vulgarity, philistinism, voyeurism and sleaze. So how refreshing and liberating it is, to see them being taken down a peg or two. There is no reason why people’s private lives and feelings should be constantly violated, and intimate personal details splashed all over newspapers, by hack reporters pandering to the worst public instincts; it is time that the UK passed some serious privacy laws, to put an end to the permanent national scandal and embarrassment of our tabloid press. However uninspiring Ed Miliband may be as Labour Party leader, he deserves credit for bravely taking on the Murdoch empire. Let’s hope the Daily Mail goes the way of the News of the World – that would go a long way toward solving our supposed ‘immigration crisis’ !

6. Independence for South Sudan.

What a sad day it is for democracy, when a genocidal dictatorship accomplishes what various flawed democracies seem unable to do, and negotiates the independence from it of an oppressed region. In July, South Sudan formally became an independent state and joined the UN. Congratulations to its people, who have shown that even the most brutal struggle for freedom can have a happy ending ! Meanwhile, Turkey is escalating its terror and repression of its Kurdish population; Serbia continues to block and disrupt Kosova’s independence, with Serb extremists creating chaos in northern Kosova and undermining Serbia’s EU aspirations; and Israel continues to obstruct peace with the Palestinians through its settlement-building programme and Apartheid-style occupation regime in the West Bank – to which its apologists turn a blind eye, while they try to blame the Palestinians for wanting to join the UN and UNESCO ! Shame on the democratic world.

7. Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the International Court of Justice and Palestinian membership of UNESCO. 

Were the democratic world to apply liberal and democratic principles fairly and consistently, it would be extremely easy to bring about solutions to the Macedonian-Greek and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, that would respect and safeguard the rights of all four nations in question. Unfortunately, the EU over Greece and Macedonia and the US over Israel and Palestine, far from acting as honest brokers in negotiations to end these conflicts, are simply supporting the hardline nationalist agendas of the stronger sides. They hypocritically talk of ‘negotiated settlements’ while ensuring that pressure is only put on the weaker sides, never on the stronger. When they say they want both sides to negotiate, what they really mean is that they want one side to surrender. The Macedonians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice over what’s in their national interest from EU apparatchiks, just as the Palestinians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice from craven US officials. Do they really want their countries to end up like Bosnia, whose leaders in the 1990s were unwise enough to follow ‘advice’ of this kind ?? So what an inspiring example these nations are setting when they refuse to follow the advice of hypocrites, and pursue justice in a dignified, civilised manner through international institutions. Palestine’s admission to UNESCO in October followed by Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the ICJ in December are two blows struck for democracy and human rights that Western leaders seem unable to uphold.

8. The fall of Dominique Strauss-Khan and the acquittal of Amanda Knox.

At one level, the collapse of the sexual assault case in New York against Dominique Strauss-Khan suggests that even in the US, it may be legal for a rich sexually to assault a hotel maid, provided the maid in question has a personal history that’s marginally less unblemished by sin than that of the Virgin Mary, and has done something satanically evil like telling a lie during her asylum application. As has long been said, in rape cases it’s often the victim rather than the rapist who is on trial. For all that, Nafissatou Diallo’s accusation against Strauss-Khan did succeed in ending the political career of a violent misogynist with a history of attacking women, forcing his resignation as IMF chief and wrecking his French presidential bid. And in encouraging other female victims of sexual assault, at the hands of him and of others, to come forward. Another spectacular victory over misogyny was won in October, when Amanda Knox was acquitted by an Italian court on appeal of murdering her flatmate, having been originally convicted in something resembling a medieval witch-trial. Again, she was convicted not on the basis of the evidence against her, since there wasn’t any, but because she was good looking and sexually active, pursued what was in conservative Italian eyes an unorthodox lifestyle, and did not behave like a tearful female stereotype after her flatmate’s murder. Soon after, an apparently respectable boy-next-door, Vincent Tabak, was convicted of murdering his neighbour, Joanna Yeates. Initially overlooked by police until he incriminated himself, he turned out to have a secret fixation with strangling women. So there you have it.

9. The killing of Osama bin Laden and the arrest of Ratko Mladic.

Justice finally caught up in 2011 with two mass-murderers whose long evasion of justice made them symbols of ‘resistance’ for the worst kind of extremists. Mladic turned out not to be as brave as he had been when he was directing the genocidal massacre of defenceless Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, and surrendered quietly to the Serbian police. Bin Laden was, by contrast, whacked in Pakistan by US special forces, as was his follower Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone attack in Yemen later in the year, in both cases prompting much hand-wringing by wishy-washy liberal types of the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown variety, who seem to be under the impression that it’s possible for the US peacefully to arrest terrorists based in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict with those terrorists, as if the latter were pickpockets in New York. They would do well to remember the Allied assassination of Holocaust-architect Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbour, the following year – we certainly didn’t try to arrest them ! And of course, based on what happened to former Republika Srpska vice-president Biljana Plavsic, an international court might have just sentenced bin Laden to a few years in prison, then let him out early.

10. The referendum defeat for the ‘Alternative Vote’ in the UK.

Not as significant as the above events, but it made me happy anyway.

Happy New Year !

Sunday, 1 January 2012 Posted by | Arabs, Britain, Egypt, Greece, Islam, Israel, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East, Misogyny, NATO, Russia, Sudan | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Macedonia and Greece: What is the basis for a reconciliation ?

VerginaA Greek blogger called Omadeon has written a critique of me, entitled ‘Dr Hoare’s Balkan excesses need… anti-nationalist critics’. Well, I don’t admit to any excesses, but I do welcome anti-nationalist critics. Omadeon deserves credit for writing against Srebrenica-genocide denial and for his statement that ‘I think Greece owes an apology to Bosnia, for the one-sided support of Serbia by most Greeks’. He deserves credit too for his rejection of some of the excesses of Greek nationalism.

Unfortunately, Omadeon nevertheless shares the Greek-nationalist blind-spot with regard to Macedonia. He refers to the Republic of Macedonia in a derogatory manner, as ‘Slavo-Albanian Macedonia’, and puts the words ‘Macedonia’ and ‘Macedonian’ in inverted commas when referring to the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian nation. He describes the Macedonian identity as a ‘fiction’. He wrote a letter to the New York Times in April 2008 in which he condemned the newspaper for its criticism of Greek policy with regard to Macedonia, asserted the alleged Greekness of Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians, and demanded that the contemporary Macedonians change their name to ‘Slav Macedonians’. Above all, he seems absolutely obsessed with telling the Macedonians that they should abandon the identity that they want to have and adopt the identity that he wants them to have, which is a ‘Slavic’ identity’ (‘A SANE attitude, on behalf of Slav-Macedonia, would be the simple RECOGNITION of their ESSENTIALLY SLAVIC national identity; something they have EVERY RIGHT to be PROUD of….’). But a given identity is something that people either feel for themselves, or they don’t. It is not up to Omadeon and the Greeks to decide what sort of identity Macedonians should have.

Consequently, I am afraid that Omadeon, although he appears to be an honest and decent individual in most respects, is very far from being an ‘anti-nationalist’. In fact, his writings on Macedonia highlight the erroneous way in which ethno-nationalists interpret modern national politics. This includes:

1) A belief that modern nations can be traced back, in unbroken continuity, to ancient or medieval peoples: the modern Greeks to ancient Greeks; the modern Macedonians to medieval Slavs; etc.

2) A consequent belief that one has, on the basis of one’s own ethno-nationalist interpretation of ancient and medieval history, the right to accuse other nations of being ‘invented’ or having ‘fictional’ identities.

3) An inability to understand the difference between language and nationality.

In this case, Greek nationalists – on the basis of their erroneous understanding of ancient and medieval history, and of the meaning of modern nationhood – believe that they have the right to decide what the ‘true’ identity of Greece’s northern neighbour should be. Since they erroneously believe that the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia is descended from Slavs who arrived in the area during the Middle Ages, and since they equally erroneously believe that modern Greeks are descended in unbroken continuity from ancient Greeks (among whom they include the ancient Macedonians), they believe they have the right to pronounce that the Macedonians are ‘not really’ Macedonians, that the Macedonian identity is a ‘fiction’, and that they – the Greek nationalists – on the basis of their ‘objective’ reading of ancient and medieval history have the right to pronounce what the Macedonians’ true name and identity should be.

From this, it follows – according to the Greek nationalist logic – that since their own interpretations of history and of the meaning of modern nationhood are the correct ones, then Macedonians who dispute this are ‘nationalists’, and those who support them in this rejection – such as myself – are supporting ‘ultra-nationalism’, which is what Omadeon accuses me of.

In this way, the Greek nationalists turn reality on its head. Macedonia is not threatening Greece or its national identity; the Macedonians are not saying that the Greek language and nation do not exist; or that Greece has to change its name. They are not trying to impose their own version of Greek identity on the Greeks. They are not even denying the right of the Greek inhabitants of Greek Macedonia to call themselves ‘Macedonian’. Yet for the crime of rejecting the Greek-nationalist interpretation of history, and of asserting their own identity, then it is they who become the bad guys in Greek-nationalist eyes. And before you know it, the whole of NATO and the EU have to shape their policies around the Greek-nationalist misinterpretation of history. Such is the world we live in.

Nationalists do not appreciate the fact that, in a democratic world, everyone has to be free to define their identity as they wish; no nation or individual has the right to decide what the identity of another nation or individual should be. Nationalists do not appreciate that there is no one, single, ‘objective’ interpretation of history; historians, archaeologists and others must be free to put forward different interpretations about Antiquity, the Midde Ages and so forth. No group or nation can impose its own version of history on the rest of the world.

Nationalists also do not appreciate the fact that all modern European nations – all of them – have very mixed ethnic origins. The modern Macedonians – the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia – are descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, Slavs and others. And modern Greeks are likewise descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, ancient Greeks, Slavs, Turkish-speaking Anatolians and others. Something similar applies for all European nations: English, Scots, French, Germans, Italians, Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Turks, etc.

There is no such modern ethnic group as the ‘Slavs’ – ‘Slavs’ do not exist as an ethnic group in the modern world, any more than do Angles, Saxons, Franks, Gauls, Visigoths or Vikings. ‘Slavic’ is a linguistic, not an ethnic category. The Macedonians speak a Slavic language, and in that sense they are ‘Slavic’, just as the English and Dutch are ‘Germanic’ and the Italians and French are ‘Latin’. Greek nationalists demanding that the Macedonians call themselves ‘Slavs’ is like someone demanding that the English and Dutch call themselves ‘Germanics’ or that the Italians and French call themselves ‘Latins’. It is up to the Macedonians alone whether they feel their identity to be ‘Slavic’ or not – nobody else has the right to impose such an identity on them.

Ironically, in terms of their genetic origins, non-Slavic-speaking Greece and Albania are more Slavic in their origins than the modern Macedonians and Bulgarians; spoken language is a very poor guide to ethnic origins. But does this mean that the Greeks and Albanians are not really Greeks and Albanians ? Of course not ! Modern nationhood does not derive from ancient or medieval ethnicity, but from a shared sense of identity in the present. Omadeon’s describing of the Republic of Macedonia as ‘Slavo-Albanian Macedonia’ is equivalent to describing Greece as ‘Slavo-Albanian-Turkish-Greek Greece’, or England as ‘Celtic-Anglo-Saxon-Viking-Norman England’. If the people of Greece feel themselves to be Greek; if the people of Macedonia feel themselves to be Macedonian – that is all that matters. Trying to deny the existence of a modern nation by pointing out its ethnically diverse roots, or by reducing it to a number of ethnic components, is the action of a chauvinist. We all have ethnically diverse roots. We should be proud of them.

In an age of globalisation and mass immigration, nations will become more, rather than less ethnically diverse. This, too, should be viewed positively. There are English people today whose grandparents were all born in Pakistan, or in Jamaica. They are no less ‘English’ than English people who claim ‘pure’ Anglo-Saxon descent. Black or brown Englishmen and women have as much right as white Anglo-Saxon Englishmen to lay claim to the heritage of English or British historical figures: the Celtic Boadicea; the Norman-French William the Conqueror; the Dutch William of Orange; the Irish Duke of Wellington; the half-American Winston Churchill. In the same way, Alexander the Great is part of the heritage of Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians and Albanians alike, and of all those nations which have arisen on the territory that he once ruled. Alexander the Great belongs to Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis, too.

Omadeon accuses me of opposing reconciliation between Macedonia and Greece, and of not being even-handed in my treatment of Macedonian and Greek nationalism. I make no pretence at being even-handed: I am on the side of the victim (Macedonia) and against the aggressor (Greece), and will always encourage the national resistance of a victim against an aggressor. Siding with a victim against an aggressor is the only honourable position to take: it means siding with Cyprus against Turkey in 1974; with Croatia against Serbia in 1991; with Bosnia against both Serbia and Croatia in 1992-95; with Chechnya against Russia in 1994 and 1999; and with Georgia against Russia in 2008. There can be no ‘even-handedness’ in treating an aggressor and a victim, or in treating their respective nationalisms. Greek nationalism is threatening Macedonia. Macedonian nationalism is not threatening Greece. The two are not equivalent.

As for the question of ‘reconciliation’, this can only rightfully be based on justice, not on the capitulation of the weaker side to the stronger. The only just compromise between Greece and Macedonia would be along the following lines:

1) The Macedonian nation and language, and the Greek nation and language, exist. Anyone who says they do not is an anti-Macedonian or anti-Greek chauvinist.

2) Macedonia and Greece both have the right to call themselves what they want, and to define their national identities as they wish.

3) The people of the Republic of Macedonia, Greek Macedonia and Bulgarian Macedonia have an equal right to call themselves ‘Macedonian’ and to lay claim to the heritage of Ancient Macedonia and of Alexander the Great, if that is what they wish.

4) Greeks and Macedonians alike are descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, Slavs and others. The common ethnic heritage of the two nations should be stressed, not denied, by those seeking reconciliation.

5) The symbol at the start of this post – the Star of Vergina – is dear to both Greeks and Macedonians and belongs to them both. Two nations that love the same symbols and revere the same ancient historical figures should naturally be friends. 

Anyone who calls themselves an ‘anti-nationalist’, irrespective of whether they are Greek or Macedonian, should have no difficulty subscribing to these principles.

Saturday, 29 August 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Greece, Macedonia | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dressing chauvinistic hatred up as ‘class warfare’ or ‘anti-imperialism’ does not make it a good thing

One of the most insidious things about the radical left-wing discourse of class warfare and imperialism is the way in which it is increasingly providing a cover under which the worst forms of bigotry, even murderous or genocidal bigotry, can masquerade as something ‘progressive’. So effective is this propaganda technique that today it is increasingly being adopted by members of the right and far right as well. Indeed, right-wing and left-wing opponents of our contemporary, cosmopolitan, global civilisation are increasingly resembling each other, dressing up anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as resistance to imperialism or capitalism.

Take the example of anti-immigrant racism. The BNP regularly presents its racism in class-warfare terms: ‘The only political party in Britain that is opposed to the immigration racket and its devastating effect on British jobs is the British National Party. We are poised to throw the entire weight of our campaigning machinery into action in support of striking British workers. We, unlike the unions and Lib-Lab-Con, will stand by our own people no matter what the cost. For decades we have had a simple slogan explaining our position: BRITISH JOBS FOR BRITISH WORKERS!’

But even less crude opponents of immigration are ready to play the class-warfare card. In the words of Jeff Randall, writing a couple of years ago in the Daily Telegraph: ‘By lowering wages, migrants enable the middle classes to hire more home-caterers, dog-walkers, house-cleaners and hedge-trimmers for less cost than before. Very nice, if you’re an investment banker in Kensington. Not so hot, if the last job you had was polishing his Bentley.’ Of course, working-class families might also benefit from Polish plumbers charging less than British plumbers, but this particular Telegraph columnist has learned the value of dressing up his right-wing viewpoint in quasi-Marxist clothes.

He is far from alone. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Bernard Dinneen complains that in permitting mass immigration, ‘Labour politicians were the culprits; they betrayed the working class. ’[] Sue Reid, in the Daily Mail, wrote an article entitled ‘The great white backlash: Working class turns on Labour over immigration and housing’. She argued that in light of increasing ‘white working-class’ receptivity toward the BNP, ‘Perhaps this should serve as a timely warning to Hazel Blears and the rest of the New Labour hierarchy, who many feel have let down the ordinary people who put them in power.’

The problem is not that the language of the left is being cynically misused by racists and right-wingers, but that the links between left-wing discourse of ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ on the one hand, and racism and anti-Semitism on the other, are much deeper than leftists are often ready to admit. When Ukrainian peasants rebelled against their Polish aristocratic landlords in 1648, their ‘class warfare’ was directed in particular against the landlords’ Jewish estate-managers; in practice against Jews in general, tens of thousands of whom were slaughtered. I hope it is unnecessary to point out that anti-Semitic slaughter of this kind does not become acceptable simply because it is an expression of ‘class struggle’.

For modern socialists and anarchists, hostility to capitalism frequently went hand in hand with hostility to Jews, as evidenced by the anti-Semitism of Proudhon, Fourier, Bakunin and others, including Marx himself. Fascism itself had radical socialist origins, as the brilliant historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell has demonstrated. Early fascists replaced the class struggle with the national struggle as the weapon for attacking liberalism and democracy; they believed redistribution of wealth and power should occur between nations, rather than – or in addition to – between social classes.

The most radical ‘national socialist’ experiment was, of course the one undertaken by Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party. As Hitler said: ‘We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.’ Hitler saw the task of his National Socialists as freeing the German workers from the influence of ‘Jewish’ international socialism, and of freeing the German economy from the control of ‘Jewish’ international capital. In power, the Nazis expropriated the wealth of Jews and of other nations, redistributing it in favour of Germany and German ‘Aryans’.

Yet genocidal impulses are scarcely an aberration in the revolutionary left’s tradition. Notoriously, Marx and Engels believed in the existence of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ fit only to be exterminated. In 1849 Engels called for a ‘war of annihilation of the Germans against the Czechs’ as the ‘only possible solution’; he described the Croats as a ‘naturally counter-revolutionary nation’ and looked forward to the day when the Germans and Hungarians would ‘annihilate all these small pig-headed nations even to their very names.’

Left-wing radicals, unrestrained by any belief in the virtues of moderation and restraint, will frequently slip down the slope from aggressive radicalism into outright chauvinistic hatred, with their radical ideology simply a means by which their inner rage against particular groups of people can find socially acceptable expression. And in recent years, the more the prospect of revolutionary social change in the direction of socialism has receded in the advanced capitalist world, the more radical leftists and their fellow travellers have been ready to descend into the gutter of chauvinism directed against ‘counter-revolutionary nations’.

During the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s, a considerable portion of left-wing opinion in the West made it abundantly clear that it did not respect the right of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ such as the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians even to exist, let alone to receive solidarity in their struggles for national survival. The genocidal campaigns of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic were invested with an ‘anti-imperialist’ content, so had to be defended against ‘Western media bias’ and ‘demonisation’. What was chilling at the time was that, once the nations in question had been marked as ‘pro-imperialist’, their only legitimate option – as far as the ‘anti-imperialists’ were concerned – was to lie down and die. Any attempt at resistance to their national destruction on their part was condemned as a crime equivalent to – indeed worse than – the original Serbian assault on them, while any expression of solidarity for them by others in the West was condemned as ‘support for Western intervention’.

The Western leftists who defended Milosevic’s genocidal campaigns internalised the Serb-nationalist ethnic stereotypes of Croats as ‘Ustashas’, Bosnian Muslims as ‘fundamentalists’ and Kosovo Albanians as ‘criminals and drug smugglers’. There were plenty of ironies in the sort of arguments used to deny the right of these peoples to national existence. Opportunistic anti-Semitic statements made by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman in his book Wastelands of Historical Truth were cited to tar the entire Croat nation with the brush of fascism by leftists who have consistently turned a blind eye to – if not actively apologised for – the far more extreme and integral anti-Semitism of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah or of the Iranian and other Muslim regimes. The Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, who never expressed any chauvinism toward Christians or Jews and who presided over a secular state, was condemned as a reactionary Muslim by leftists who would soon be supporting ‘resistance’ to ‘imperialism’ and ‘Zionism’ in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on the part of genuine murderous Islamists, or uniting with British Islamists to form the ‘Respect’ party.

Leftist stereotyping of Kosovo Albanians as drug smugglers and criminals is simply the same stereotyping as that employed by the BNP against Albanians and other immigrants or ethnic minorities. Thus, the Socialist Unity website cited popular left-wing blogger ‘Splintered Sunrise’ to back up its own opposition to Kosovo’s independence, quoting him as saying ‘I’m opposed to independence for Kosovo because the place is run by a bunch of mafiosi, its economy is based on the trafficking of drugs, arms and women, and giving this basket case the attributes of statehood will make a bad situation worse.’ The BNP, too, opposes Kosovo’s independence on similar grounds, arguing ‘Albanians are spread all over Europe and especially in the criminal underworld. They are notorious for their effectiveness, unpredictability and incredible cruelty. Their main advantage to the other organized crime [sic] is the fact that they speak language [sic] nobody understands, their organization is based on family ties and if someone dares to speak out that person is being brutally murdered. In Europe, today the Albanian mafia is the main engine of traffic of drugs and humans, theft and falsification of passports, weapons and human organs trade, abductions, extortions and executions. In London these people control the entire network of prostitution, in Italy and Greece they deal with weapons and drugs’ smuggling. There are entire towns in Italy where the business is controlled by Albanians.’ However, ‘Splintered Sunrise’ attributed the BNP’s support for Serbia over Kosovo not to anti-Albanian racism, but to the Albanians’ own alleged sins: ‘the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters’.

What is horrifying is not that the leftists in question are accusing Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovar leaders of things they are often not guilty of, or that the leftists in question are inconsistent or hypocritical. It is that such accusations are simply so many pretexts to support the destruction of the nations in question. These leftists do not want to give solidarity to progressive Croats who oppose anti-Semitism, or progressive Bosnian Muslims who support secularism, or progressive Albanians who oppose organised crime, with the goal of making Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo better places. On the contrary, the leftists are seeking to provide ammunition to those who would like to wipe these countries off the map altogether.

But for all the venom directed by ‘anti-imperialist’ leftists at the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, there is one state that they hate even more. Israel, in their eyes, is the ‘counter-revolutionary nation’ par excellence; its Jewish majority citizens condemned as ‘settlers’ (unlike immigrants in the West, who are not so condemned); its academics boycotted. Such leftists will line up with the most murderous and bigoted elements in the Muslim world against even the most progressive nationally conscious Jews on an ‘anti-Zionist’ basis; their need to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and state trumping any opposition to anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, misogyny or homophobia they might be expected to have. Once again, they oppose Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank or discrimination against its Arab citizens not because they wish to align themselves with progressive Israelis who also oppose these things, but because they would, fundamentally, like to see Israel destroyed altogether.

The pretext for this left-wing hatred of Israel is that it is a ‘hijack state’ based upon the dispossession of most of the Palestinians who lived there until the 1940s. But this ignores the fact that other states are based upon similar or even larger-scale dispossessions of national groups, without their right to exist being called into question. For example, the Czech Republic’s relative ethnic homogeneity stems from the Czechs’ expulsion, following World War II, of two and a half million ethnic Germans from what was then Czechoslovakia. Likewise, modern Turkey is founded upon the extermination of a million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1910s and 1920s, and the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands more. But nobody claims the Czech Republic or Turkey is an illegitimate nation-state. It is Israel alone which is deemed to have forfeited its legitimacy as a nation on account of its leaders’ crimes of decades ago.

In each of the examples presented here, extremists try to dress up their bigoted hatred of whole ethnic groups or nations in radically progressive clothes. So the BNP will present its hatred of immigrants in terms of ‘supporting the British working class’, and radical leftists justify their hatred of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ on the basis of ‘anti-imperialism’. Chauvinistic hatred does not become progressive simply because it is dressed in progressive clothes, and it is always worth looking beyond the window dressing to see what the agendas of such groups and individuals really are. Equally, it is time to acknowledge the problematic nature of such radical left-wing concepts as ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, and the reasons they lend themselves so readily to abuse. When they are increasingly becoming the justification for the most extreme reactionary politics, something is very wrong.

This article was published on 10 August by Engage.

Friday, 14 August 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Red-Brown Alliance, SWP, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The racist case for partition

MontgomeryWilliam Montgomery, former US ambassador to Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro and former advisor to President Clinton on Bosnia, has an article in today’s International Herald Tribune, arguing for the partition of Kosova and Bosnia:

In both Kosovo and Bosnia, we need to consider different solutions — ones which we may not like and which will have complications of their own, but which will be really…achievable. This is the only way the international community can bring its involvement in the Balkans to an end. In Kosovo, this probably means some form of partition between the Albanians and the Serbs combined with joint recognition, pledges of full rights for minorities and a variety of sweeteners from the EU. Bosnia is more complicated. There, a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence. This would have to include a lot of guarantees about future relationships, and be done as a complete package led and implemented by the international community.

Montgomery admits that adopting this position represents a policy turn-about on his part. He justifies it thus:

The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control. The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole. I know of what I speak: For more than 15 years, I was one of these pounders. I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.

The last two sentences are worth re-reading:

I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.

In other words, Montgomery is saying that the Balkan peoples are oriental savages who will never accept the values of civilised humanity. This being so, he feels that their problems can’t be solved by civilised solutions, and the only option is to let the savages wear their grass skirts and bones through their noses, and to enjoy their traditional right to dance round idols and cook other savages in large pots.

It was ever thus. The supporters of appeasement/partition have long tended to justify their abandonment of principle with reference to the fact that the Balkan peoples are supposedly ‘not like us’ and don’t think like ‘we’ do, but are just a bunch of savages in the grip of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’, to which civilised standards of right and wrong cannot be applied.

But who is this ‘we’ ? In Montgomery’s case, the ‘we’ is the former servants of the Clinton Administration in the US. It is this group of people that bears a very large share of the blame for the mess that Bosnia is currently in. In defiance of mainstream US opinion, Clinton sided with the pro-appeasement Europeans over Bosnia. In the autumn 1995, he rescued Republika Srpska from the jaws of defeat and imposed the Dayton settlement on Bosnia that gave the Serb nationalists most of the territory and autonomy they wanted, and that has ensured Bosnia has never been able to function as a state since. After Dayton, the Clinton Administration refrained from arresting Radovan Karadzic and other war-criminals, being basically content to let the country rot. This was probably related to the fact that Clinton’s envoy Richard Holbrooke made a deal with Karadzic, promising he would not be arrested, and also because Clinton viewed Milosevic, right up until Milosevic’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords in March 1999, as a partner in maintaing order in the Balkans.

First Clinton’s people create a mess in Bosnia. Then, after the mess has remained a mess for over thirteen years, they blame it on the fact that Balkan peoples don’t ‘think like we do’.

But Montgomery is wrong: there are plenty of people in the Balkans who think like ‘we’ do. In Bosnia, they are Republika Srpska Prime Minsiter Milorad Dodik and the Serb nationalists, who share Montgomery’s thinking about allowing Republika Srpska to secede. Just as the indicted war-criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic shared Clinton’s thinking about the need to establish Republika Srpska in the first place.

Montgomery’s ‘we’ is not the ‘we’ of the principled democratic West. It is the ‘we’ of the war criminals and their appeasers.

Friday, 5 June 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The persecution of Serb civilians in wartime Gorazde

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Review of Savo Heleta, Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, AMACOM, New York, 2008

It is a truism that there were victims among all national groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war of 1992-95. Though Serb forces were guilty of most of the killing and persecution during the war, and Bosniaks made up the great majority of its civilian victims, yet Serb civilians, too, were victims at the hands of Bosnian and Croat forces. It should not need saying that their suffering was no less real or worthy of recognition than that of other Bosnians. Unfortunately, all too often, accounts of Serb suffering have been instrumentalised by propagandists for the Great Serbian cause, who will for example, highlight the killing of Serb civilians by the Bosnian Army at Kravica in January 1993 and in virtually the same breath deny the Srebrenica massacre. Such abuse of victimhood adds to the sensitivity with which any discussion of Bosniak atrocities against Serbs must be treated. In these circumstances, eyewitness accounts of such atrocities by enlightened Serb witnesses are particularly valuable.

In Savo Heleta’s book Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, we have one such eyewitness. Heleta has provided a gripping, harrowing account of his family’s suffering in wartime Gorazde. He describes the intimidation, murder attempts, vandalism of property and other abuses to which he, his family and other Serb civilians were subjected at the hands of local Bosniak thugs, as well as lengthy arbitrary incarceration without food, dismissal from employment, humiliating forced labour such as street-sweeping, and enforced virtual starvation at the hands of the authorities. Some Serbs fared worse, and were beaten or murdered. In the words, of Heleta’s father, as quoted here: ‘Everyone in this city is suffering, but we are also seen by Muslims as the enemy. Muslim extremists, hit squads, and even the police and government officials have threatened to kill us. The only reason we are oppressed is because we are Serbs. Many innocent people have already been killed just because they were Serbs and remained in their homes.’

Yet Heleta also describes the support and kindness extended to his family by Bosniak neighbours and friends, including the provision of food and shelter that may have saved their lives; he does not portray the persecution as the work of Bosniaks in general. The official persecution of Serb civilians he attributes to segments of the Bosnian authorities, including the city mayor and senior police officials, but mentions that other Bosnian officials, including senior army officers, disagreed with the persecution and tried to stop it, or intervened to protect Serbs. There is much nuance in this account, though this should not be allowed to overshadow the suffering to which the Heleta family and other Serb civilians were subjected. In one graphic passage, he describres the impression created when his parents, emaciated after months of semi-starvation and abuse, swam in the River Drina: ‘When they took off their clothes, the entire beach turned toward us and stared at them. People whispered in disbelief, asking if anyone knew who the two skeletons were.’

Heleta does not shy away from describing the wider context of the persecution of the Serbs: the Serb shelling and sniper attacks on the town; the arrival of large numbers of Bosniak refugees who had been expelled from their homes elsewhere in the region by Serb forces; and the fear that the town would be overrun by the Serb army, as all other Bosnian towns in the region were. He describes how, in response to NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in the spring of 1994, ‘the Serbian forces, incensed by the NATO attack, went on to brutally and indiscriminately bomb the city.’ And elsewhere: ‘The Serbian snipers often shot at everyone – women, children, and old people – even though they were located on the hilltops not far fromt he city center and could probably distinguish between civilians and soldiers. I saw with my own eyes old women getting shot while scurrying across the street with water canisters in their hands.’ Faced with this existential threat, some Bosniaks looked upon Gorazde’s Serbs as spies or as the enemy within, though as the Serbs often pleaded, they were not responsible for the Serb assaults and were themselves at risk from Serb shelling. The agony of the Gorazde Serbs, caught between a rock and a hard place, is starkly portrayed by Heleta.

Tragically, it was the very Serb civilians who stayed in Gorazde and endured the Serbian assault alongside their Bosniak neighbours who were inevitably likely to end up most wholly alienated from their once multiethnic town. As Heleta relates: ‘After thugs and the police had terrorized my family so many times over the course of the previous months, I didn’t feel I was living in the same city. I no longer felt safe anywhere. I didn’t know most of the people in my neighbourhood anymore. Most of them were refugees. Those people I did know I didn’t feel like I knew anymore. I knew many of them hated my family. They lied that my parents were spies, that they should be killed. Some talked about this even in front of us. I started seeing my city and the majority of the people in it in a different light than before the war. They were now a source of degradation, forcing me to lose all connections to the world outside my circle of family and close friends.’

Though the narrator generally comes across as a sympathetic individual in difficult times, he is not uncritical of himself; he confesses that his anger at his family’s wartime treatment drove him, among other things, to throw rocks at Bosniak cars that drove between Gorazde and Sarajevo after the war, sometimes smashing windscreens and windows: ‘It hardly crossed my mind at the time that perhaps those people in the buses and trucks had not done anything bad to my family. Some of them could even have been those who had helped us. Maybe even the man who gave us his last loaf of bread. I was completely blinded by fury.’ This book is valuable reading for anyone wishing to understand how a multiethnic society can be pulverised by war; it was not simply a question of the authorities destroying multiethnic coexistence from above, but of ordinary people – Serbs and Bosniaks alike – responding to suffering and injustice at the hands of officials or thugs from the opposing side by adopting a generalised hostility to the entire other nationality.

Unlike nationalist Serbs who responded to the Bosnian war by embracing the crackpot politics of genocide-denial and anti-Western conspiracy theory, Heleta has, to his credit, spoken out against instances of persecution and injustice in other parts of the world in the years since his ordeal. I do not agree with all of his politics, but he has, in his blog and elsewhere, genuinely attempted to be consistent in his condemnations of killing and human rights abuses, and has spoken out against the regimes in Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan – and in particular over Darfur – while being strongly critical of US and Israeli policy as well. If he has a weak spot, it is in his readiness somewhat to gloss over Serbian wrongdoing; his book makes no mention of Serbia’s role in engineering the Bosnian war, which he blames vaguely on ‘nationalist politicians’ and ‘bad leadership’. He also rather unfortunately describes the Nazi-collaborationist Chetniks of World War II as having ‘fought against the Nazis’.

On his blog, Heleta downplays the killing of Kosova Albanians by Serbian forces in the late 1990s, and complains of the fact that the Western alliance intervened in Kosova but not in Darfur: ‘Western governments are eager and ready to send troops, equipment, aid, and money to stop conflicts in Europe, while conflicts in Africa are ignored. They have done this in the case of Bosnia in the early 1990s, while ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They are doing this again in Kosovo since 1999, while ignoring the Darfur conflict and suffering of millions since 2003. Whether it is due to skin color, geographic location, natural resources, or effective lobbying, it seems that some people do matter more than others.’ Critics of Western policy are often fond of making this sort of point, though it begs the questions: Should the West intervene neither in Kosova nor in Darfur, or should it intervene in both ? And if it intervenes to stop the persecution only in one place and not the other, is this not better than intervening in neither ? The answer one gives to these questions reveals if one is genuinely opposed to persecution and injustice, or whether one is merely exploiting it opportunistically to score points against the West. I believe that Heleta is sincerely opposed to injustice, but there are a couple of wrinkles in his political ethics that he needs to address. But this does not detract from the value of his moving memoir.

Monday, 25 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment