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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top posts of 2015

Inspired by my mate Bob From Brockley, here are my top posts from this year (or rather half year, as I only restarted blogging at the end of June).

Most of my writing or reblogging concerns Ukraine and Russia, such as my last reblog of Ukrainian leftie opinion on the, now banned, Ukrainian Communist Party, and only gets a few hundred views. This doesn't bother me as, for me, the point is to get stories from Russia and Ukraine more widely known, and I can see from retweets and other sources that those less well covered stories, such as about the left in those countries, do get an wider circulation via this blog. So is all good!

To answer a question I've been asked several times - why Ukraine? Well, I got inspired by the 'Revolution of Dignity', as it is now known, when it started in late 2013. Thanks to the internet it could be watched practically live. The participants I followed were not the 'fascists' that Russian war propaganda and its Western idiots have since tried to paint them as. Most of them were like the journalist Maxim Eristavi, who I covered last month: ordinary people horrified by the state's violent response to the protest of real grievances, in particular the theft of state resources on an almost unparalleled scale. Simply put, I found them inspirational and still do.
  1. Corbyn and Ukraine: it's not pretty
    By August it had become clear that the issue of a war in Europe was not on the agenda of the Labour Party leadership campaign. Since no one was doing it I thought I must step up and explain what the leading candidates views actually were. This hit a nerve. Abuse followed but still no one has actually responded to the points in the piece. And now Corbyn's views are much more widely understood. (Also, most of the information in it was rehashed by other, well known but shall be nameless, writers.)

  2. New Muslim LGBT heroes
    This was the first post from when I restarted blogging - and it went viral. It concerns the Turkish MPs who put their bodies on the line to protect Istanbul's Gay Pride march from attack by police, a story which wasn't getting any coverage. Also ran on PinkNews.

  3. Deselect Stop The War Coalition
    Prompted by the defence of Stop The War by the actual Labour Party earlier this month, this uses socialist arguments to say that they're beyond the pale and should be dropped by the left.
  4. The fascists in Russia's hybrid army
    Another 'untold story', that of the bonafide fascists in positions of power in Ukraine's eastern 'People's Republics'. Was reblogged by EuroMaidan Press and ... translated into German!

  5. Have Stop The War Coalition finally jumped the shark?
    The exclusion of Syrians by STWC - detailed. This post led to some uncomfortable questions directed at Diane Abbott on TV.

  6. Corbyn is wrong says Ukrainian human rights legend
    A reblog of Halya Coynash's assault on Corbyn's pretense of a 'human rights' stance, focused on Crimea. Got picked up by The Times.
  7. Brown's right, Corbyn will 'ally' with Putin
    Gordon Brown was widely criticised for saying this, but it's true, as I explain in this post illustrated with fluffy ducklings for a reason.

  8. The left's Russia naivete
    How and why Russia influences Western public opinion, based around a reblog of the American counter-intelligence expert John Schindler.

  9. Corbyn's election means Ukraine's stuffed
    Written just before he was elected, a pan of the conduct of the leadership campaign, especially by the media. With a prediction that turned out worse than predicted.

  10. Donbas can starve say 'rebel' leaders 
    How these 'anti-fascists' put ideology before the lives they control. More to come on this subject.

  11. World awaits Greenwald/STWCUk apology: 'We woz wrong', for example 
    Worst. Headline. Ever. Prompted by the ignored peace deal in Mali, a country all the usual suspects said should not be supported when they were invaded by Islamists. Even if the people there were pleading for support, cos 'West = always bad'.

  12. The night Stalin tried to destroy the Belarussian nation
    Reblog of Paul Goble's piece on the anniversary of this episode from history, a good example of how one retweet can lead to something reaching a new and much wider audience. 

  13. 40% young Russia: We’ll beat America in nuclear war
    This crosspost from Little Green Footballs, the US website where I also post, digs out the buried lede from a BBC Monitoring story by the great Stephen Ellis.

  14. Frankie Boyle and the Aborigines
    In which I take some casually offensive comments from Boyle's election show and run and run with it.

  15. Back brave LGBT comrades in Ukraine
    My argument that "LGBT must not be sacrificed in the name of solidarity with Ukraine or in the name of national solidarity." Includes demonstration report from Ukrainian LGBT group Insight. 
Thanks for permissions to reuse content this year from Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine Solidarity CampaignLeftEast, John Schindler, People and Nature (Gabriel Levy), Window On Eurasia and openDemocracy.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

On Ukraine's UKIP-like Communist Party

KPU behind a Russian far-right banner of Tsarist ‘heroes’ on an anti-Maidan protest in Odessa in 2014

Reblogged with permission from Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. Introduction by
Christopher Ford.


On 16th December 2015, the District Administrative Court of Kyiv agreed to the request of the Minister of Justice to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) from being able to officially operate or participate in elections. The move has been condemned by Amnesty International and the ‘Law on the Condemnation of the Communist and Nazi Regimes and Prohibition of Propaganda of their Symbols’, which preceded the judgement has itself been condemned by European constitutional law experts from the Council of Europe, who say that it does not meet European standards. The much respected Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has also questioned the actions against KPU.

Ukraine Solidarity Campaign asked a number of Ukrainian socialists and trade unionists their views on the ban.  As can be seen below there are strongly divided opinions as regards the judgement and its consequences.  One reason for this is not only the bitter legacy of Stalinism but the cynical role of the KPU in the corrupt politics of Ukraine dominated by rival oligarchs. 

The politics of KPU are largely unknown in the West and easily considered as similar to the Communist Party of Britain or France.  However the nearest equivalent would be if the CPB were allied to the Tories and had views similar to UKIP.  The KPU leader Petro Symonenko was notorious for living in a mansion in Kyiv on land worth $1.5 million, whilst multi-millionaire Oksana Kaletnik was a member of the KPU group in the Parliament. 

A good example of the KPU's conservative and chauvinist opinions is an article published in Party journal Kommunist comparing the Maidan rebellion to Black ghettos in the USA entitled  “white on the outside, black on the inside”:

Huge piles of garbage, all kinds of infections and diseases previously unknown to medicine, is a feature of life on these reservations. Their inhabitants do not work anywhere and only receive money because they wander aimlessly in the streets. They motivate their refusal to work by the fact that they are no longer slaves. Over there, in America, there are graffiti of Martin Luther King. Here at home, the portraits of Tymoshenko and Bandera. Here and there, they are dressed in what kindly souls have given them. Here, as on the other side of the ocean, this mess has the charming name of ‘democracy.’ But in this case we no longer have democracy. At least in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco the police sometimes make raids on such places and simply kill a few rabid Negroes. (…) Even the dark-skinned vendors in Kyiv second hand shops seem a bit more civilized than our ‘light-skinned brothers’ from the western regions of the country, who have gathered on the Maidan. ‘White’ on the outside, but ‘black’ on the inside.  (M. Kuzmienko, ‘Bielye’ snaruzhi, ‘chornye’ vnutri’, Kommunist, 17 January, 2014).

It is difficult to imagine such an article appearing in the Morning Star for example, though it would certainly help our movement understand the complexities of Ukraine if it did publish what the KPU have actually been saying and doing.  Nevertheless whilst standing up for democratic rights in Ukraine we have a duty to understand the complexities of politics in a country scarred by the bloody years of Stalinism.

The comrades below were all asked about the recent court judgement and what this means for democratic rights in Ukraine? Is it a danger for working class organisation? What is the nature of the politics of the KPU? What does this mean for Ukrainian left organisations?

Vitaliy Dudin is part of the Organising Committee of the new left party ‘Social Movement’; he is also a leading trade union lawyer.

I think it is a shame for Ukraine. Our state does not have any reason to ban any ideological party. They should protect society against extremists. KPU are not extremists’, but the armed nationalists are (Right Sector, Svoboda, c14).  Our state shows that it cannot guarantee the key democratic right – the protection of the minority.

We do not have any strong political left organisations’, that is why this precedent cannot be of any harm for them.  I don’t know any real trade union or left organisation which collaborated with KPU so I do not see any danger for anyone else.  But we should understand that this can provoke a new wave of conflict inside Ukraine.  The struggle around history it is a good background for neo-liberal reforms.

KPU line is no more radical then the Oppositional bloc. Plus they are homophobes like Svoboda [A far-right Party]. But even in this case they can be called an opposition.

The neo-liberal establishment has defeated all of its enemies – both real and virtual. Now we should show that it cannot save Ukraine from crisis.  We will continue to build a real revolutionary party despite any reactionary steps of the authorities.

I hope that KPU will continue to work in the conservative format of the ‘New State’ name  – that is the rebranding of the KPU which the Party used for the last local elections in Ukraine.   It seems very clear then that that their propaganda was rather conservative (homophobic) but not leftist.  It is not a reformist left party – it is closer to a mix of social populism and pro-Russian conservatism.

Artem Klymenko is a socialist activist in Poltava, part of the Marxist initiative ‘Flame’.

At first, the Communist Party was the left wing (brace) of the oligarchic pro-Russian Yanukovych regime. That is a bourgeois populist party that stands for the ideology of Stalinism, and “Soviet patriotism” (speculating on the return to the stability of the USSR, declaring that the socialist system existed then).

Symonenko's mansion (TV report)
Petro Symonenko [First Secretary of the Central Committee of the KPU] and his closest associates are corrupt bourgeois politicians. They opposed European integration, supported the alliance with Putin’s Russia, sharply condemned the Maidan events, calling them a putsch of the far right (nationalist uprising that was sponsored by the USA). KPU also expressed its support to President Nazarbayev, [of Kazakhstan] who ordered the shooting of the insurgent workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.  KPU are only called communists, which has caused a large part of Ukrainians to view the word communism with disgust.

In my opinion, among ordinary party members there were honest decent people, but most of them have lost any hope in the possibility of positive change in the political course of the Communist Party.

The ban of the party, I think, has not any significant (negative) consequences for us. It gives a real chance to rehabilitate the name Communists (Communist Party) for the Ukrainian working class (Ukrainian workers), though it will not be that easy.

De-communisation has many negative consequences, because it is a part of the anti-democratic policies. As for the ban of the Communist Party, it is not the worst thing.

Denis Gorbach, an anarchist from Kyiv, who previously helped co-found the Autonomous Workers’ Union.

First of all, it should be clear what sort of party KPU is – or was. Far from the idealised image it has among some Western Europeans, it is a conservative nationalist party which uses cultural fetishes (including Stalinist imagery and social conservatism) and economic populism as its tools in electoral politics.

Political capital obtained in this way was routinely transformed into very real material gains: KPU was able to sell their votes in the parliament, and under Yanukovych they even had some governmental posts which yielded enormous illegal income to their holders. For example, Igor Kaletnyk, son of a former regional governor and pro-governmental MP, was a member of KPU; in 2010-2012 he was the head of the Customs Office, later he became the first deputy speaker of the parliament.

Opponents of KPU often cite their Stalinist ideology, but in fact they cannot even be called Stalinists – unlike real committed Stalinist parties like the Greek KKE, the KPU was a regular bourgeois right populist party, a local analogue of UKIP or French Front National.  Not only was it a nationalist party allied with the Orthodox church and drawing heavily on a conservative agenda, but it has also supported the massacre of the striking Kazakh workers in Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011: the party newspaper published an article in which it condemned “the revolt of the well-fed” which had been undermining precious political stability in Kazakhstan.  In 2014, it also did not hesitate to support the changes to the Ukrainian Criminal Code which would criminalise the “inciting of social discord” – along with a number of other laws limiting the freedom of assembly and speech and introducing online censorship.

Genuine leftist organizations of Ukraine, despite all their differences on other subjects, have been always united in their attitude towards KPU, the very existence of which served to constantly discredit socialist ideas. Some of them actually hope that the ban of KPU will now clear the path for truly socialist political forces. But there is a lot to be done before these hopes will become realistic.

Today, anti-communist mood is prevalent in Ukrainian society, and the situation has been made far worse by the conflict with Russia. Too often “communist” is understood as “pro-Russian” – just as in Croatia after the war, to be socialist meant to be pro-Serb. Thus, there is no easy future for the Ukrainian left: they have to combat the nationalist stereotypes which KPU helped to create.

Volodymyr Sotnyk is a leading activist of the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU) in Kyiv.

To my mind, the fact of banning KPU does not have a negative impact on democratic rights in Ukraine.  KPU is a fragment of the KPSS (Communist Party of Soviet Union).  KPSS controlled all aspects of life (information policy, manufacture, military activity, culture, agriculture etc.).  It’s totalitarian political system was aimed at enslaving people.  For the sake of keeping power, KPSS party leaders enforced mass repressions of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ among whom were intelligentsia, peasants and workers.  (The number of KPSS victims in the USSR reached twenty million people.

KPU was a populist left-wing party; it never really struggled for the rights of workers. Its electorate was predominantly descendants of KPSS party leaders, descendants of those who lived through good connections until 1990 and people with limited access to information who idolise Stalin, Lenin and want a return to the USSR.

KPU did nothing significant for the Ukrainian people.  In the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] of Ukraine its members supported all anti-democratic and anti-European draft laws for stopping Ukraine’s development and the increasing of corruption.

I have nothing against left-wing parties, but KPU was just a populist party that propagandised Soviet Union ideals and has nothing in common with left-wing parties.

De-facto the working class has never been protected by KPU. Now the place for a real left party is vacant.

See also:

Monday, 14 December 2015

When Stop The War directs kids to war, and other true tales

Book by STWC leader Andrew Murray. Cover picture shows the burning trade union building in Odessa "where 40 people died after supporters of the Kiev putsch government, Right Sektor activists and Chernomorets football ultras attacked."

The past two weeks has seen a unprecedented amount of attention on the Stop The War Coalition (STWC), because of their association with the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Endless press stories and media appearances for a leadership under siege.

The STWC response to the spotlight has been to label every criticism a 'smear' or a 'lie', however it has also been to engage in some tragic PR tactics. When the focus has shifted onto what they publish on their website the STWC response has been to start cleansing the website - and firing the poor Web Editor.

At the instigation of 'Soupy' a blog has been set up to cover what STWC are trying to hide or may be about to try to hide.

The Real Stop The War launched at the weekend and here is the content on Ukraine which I contributed.

When Stop The War directs kids to war

The STWC website has a number of posts about Ukraine,. The most egregious by far are by John Pilger.

Pilger methodically repeats a series of Kremlin war propaganda* memes: That the 2014 Revolution of Dignity was a fascist coup (see the response to this pap by Ukrainian socialists and anarchists I link to in my post on Corbyn's Ukraine fantasies); That there were pogroms against Russian speakers - a line lifted from Putin himself and a vicious fantasy.

The idea of NATO 'expanding Eastwards' and 'threatening Russia' - central to Pilger but also STWC more widely- not only ignores the agency of Eastern Europeans but also indulges one of the central myths used by Russia's imperial rulers to maintain their rule.

It's his post on the so-called 'Odessa massacre' that is the most dangerous. The violent events of May 2, 2014 were immediately seized on by Russia to paint Ukraine as fascist, Russia even toured exhibitions around Europe. Citizen investigations have shown that what happened was nothing like Russia says (and Pilger loyally repeats).

Among the mountain of falsehoods, Pilger includes the supposed eyewitness testimony of a doctor. This lie was very quickly debunked as Kremlin disinformation. There's a weasel note on the post, copied from The Guardian, which fails to say that this information has been proven false.

The May 2 events have been widely used as propaganda and have led to a number of left-wingers (including Brits) traveling to Ukraine to 'fight the fascists'. In reality they have arrived in 'Republics' where actual fascists wield power, anti-Semiticism is endemic, homosexuality is illegal as are free trade unions and humanitarian agencies are banned because they might 'foment counter-revolution'.

Those thug 'Republics' are backed by STWC leaders Lindsey German and Andrew Murray. They, along with Pilger, back war on 'fascist' Ukraine and could care less for the fate of any mugs encouraged by their website to participate.

*See this fantastic Lithuanian documentary for more on Russia's war propaganda machine (in English).

See Also:

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Deselect Stop The War Coalition

Last weekend something remarkable happened, well two things.

First, Stop The War Coalition [STWC] actually walked something back. They had published, as is their want, a repugnant piece by Matt Carr which compared the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War to ISIS. Cue outrage on social media, including from a number of Labour MPs. Less than a day later Carr's work had been taken down but not before its author had 'explained' himself by digging himself a deeper hole.

Secondly, an anonymous spokesperson for the Labour Party was quoted in several media articles saying that the piece "had been taken down because it did not reflect the organisation’s [STWC] views." That person then went on to defend STWC and claim that during the group's existence they had "repeatedly called it right."

Paul Waugh quoted a source, not named as such but presumably the same Labour one, saying about the Carr post: "This is the second time this has happened, it won't be happening again." (The 'first' time was their also taken down response to the Paris attacks that the French were “reaping the whirlwind of western support for extremist violence.”)

How the heck would that Labour source know that? STWC is not an affiliate of the party, by what possible method could the party enforce its will and hence make that promise?

If the party is now saying it has this intimate connection to STWC then everyone needs to know what exactly it is tying itself to. Waugh also reports a source telling him that STWC will "get a grip" on its website so clearly a spring clean is being attempted in the hope that the world will buy it and move on. The world should not move on. The world needs to drop STWC like a stinky hot brick, and that includes 'anti-war' activists.

Forget 'Blairite smears'

Writing in the New Statesman the socialist Michael Chessum, co-founder of The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, lamented that the movement against intervention in Syria had been relatively small. Why?
At the core of the British anti-war movement there has been a failure of internationalism. In running a campaign against British intervention in Syria, Stop the War has seemingly run a campaign with as little reference to Syrians as possible, and it stands accused of outright apologism for Russia and Assad, giving platforms to regime loyalists. As a result, the relatively simple anti-war narrative – opposition to British bombing, condemnation of Turkey and Assad, and practical solidarity with secular and progressive forces in Syria – has lost its clarity and persuasiveness in the public eye.
In order to effectively oppose future wars and escalations, the anti-war movement will need to regroup and renew itself. The simplified, reactive politics of recent years needs to be replaced with a genuinely internationalist movement: one that builds solidarity with labour movements and progressive forces on the ground, and opposes dictatorships and imperialist ventures regardless of who is behind them.
He is hardly the first socialist to bemoan the behaviour of STWC. Way back in 2003 the activist and comedian Mark Thomas was warning that it was a front for a hard left interested most of all in recruiting new members. Twelve years ago, in a spooky echo of Chessum, Thomas wrote:
The peace movement could do a lot worse than start to organise a coalition free from SWP [ Socialist Workers Party] domination, one that regards peace as the goal and co-operation as the means of getting there.
Comrade Andrew Coates has made similar points to Chessum's. Responding to the traditional 'blowback' response from STWC's Lindsey German following the Woolwich killing Coates wrote:
We can agree that Western intervention is wholly wrong. It has stoked the fires of conflict in all the countries she cites.
But is removing it a solution to the rise of violent anti-democratic Islamism?

Perhaps we should be, as the left, giving some energy to supporting the democratic left in these lands who offer a real political alternative to Islamism, authoritarian, intolerant, or indeed jihadist.

That involves a genuine politics of human rights.

This is the way to start thinking of how a solution can come about.

The failure of much of the British left to back the Arab democratic left is part of the problem.
Another socialist, the writer, poet and broadcaster Anna Chen, is a former STWC publicity officer and one of those most responsible for getting the numbers to the anti-Iraq war march. Her insider account of the behaviour of those controlling STWC is eye popping. After putting up with a lot she finally left - with another message which should resonate down the years:
Who needs this crap?

We were warned

Chessum doesn't note this but other commentators have - there has been a dramatic withdrawal of support from Muslims for STWC over the past couple of years. Why might that be?

Could it be, as he cites, the sickening treatment of Syrians by STWC, something I have covered at length?

As Chen notes and as Jews, Ukrainians, Iranians and Iraqis, among others, have experienced before, this is nothing new from STWC. What is new is the spotlight. Here's an anecdote from this week's edition of The Economist, of all places:
“There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad.” Those present sigh as one. On to the logistics of the event. It is decided that stewards should guard the mic, poised to fend off any “pro-war Syrians or imperialists”. After all, notes the chairman: “We know what we’re talking about here.” Would that BBC Manchester possessed such discernment. The station is interviewing pro-war Kurds tomorrow, to the group’s disdain: “They dig ’em up.” “Amazing how they find them!”
Less well known but, to my mind, just as appalling is STWC leaders Andrew Murray and Lindsey German's backing for the (misnamed) group Solidarity with the Anti-fascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU).

This group supports the so-called 'People's Republics' in Eastern Ukraine where open fascists operate unmolested, homosexuality is illegal, child soldiers are deployed and the people left to starve and die from lack of medicine as aid agencies are banned for ideological reasons.

This so-called anti-fascist group is behind the smears against the National Union of Mineworkers - of all people - as being 'pro-fascist' because of their solidarity work with their comrades in Ukraine.

STWC has promoted SARU on their website. Also on their website they have hosted vile, defamatory diatribes by John Pilger against Ukraine, posts by the well-known anti-Semite Alison Weir, poetry that quotes neo-Nazis, a piece headlined 'Time to go to war with Israel', a post saying that concern for women kidnapped by Boko Harem is "hysteria"and another that FIFA corruption is a Jewish conspiracy.

If they're going to be starting the scrubbing there's a lot of work to do.

Matt Carr may have had his latest piece scrubbed but he was the one wheeled out by STWC only last month to defame complaining Syrians fed up with being excluded by a group now commanding statements defending it from the Labour Party High Command. Carr, incidentally, is a 'truther' when it comes to chemical weapons in Syria. He thinks Assad didn't do it and the Syrians gassed themselves to make Assad look bad. The sort of person STWC is happy to offer a platform to, in other words.

This is not to mention all those other delightful people STWC have given a platform to over the years. Have you got all night? Or what they haven't put on their website. Such issues as the plight of the Kurds in Kobane or the imperial adventures of Russia.

Talk of sharks jumped


As noted, those burned in close contact with STWC have been sending out warning klaxons for twelve years. Just today I discovered that a number of Labour MPs, including the now well-known Mike Gapes, put down an Early Day Motion in 2004 decrying that STWC had distributed a message saying they backed "the legitimacy of the struggle of the Iraqi people, by whatever means they find necessary" to end occupation (meaning they backed Islamists such as those who beheaded the British civilian Ken Bigley). It asked STWC to "reassure the public that they have not lost their moral bearings." Jeremy Corbyn put down an amendment to delete all of that, blaming all the violence in Iraq on the Coalition (UK, USA etc). Of course he did.*

Yet only now, after years and years of this, are some of those who have given STWC succor pausing. Only now do they smell the stink from the giant pile of manure they are sitting on top of.

STWC's Galloway, Rees, + German.
Better late than never I suppose.

Today Caroline Lucas MP resigned as a Patron but Dave Wetzel still sits on the Steering Committee with 'Green Party' next to his name. Whether or not he is a representative I don't know (have asked and will update when I get a reply) as the STWC website is opaque on who sponsors them and where they gets their funding from.

One can only assume if Lucas is resigning because of, as she said, some of STWC's "positions" then Wetzel will too. But what of all the others? What of those who appear to be representing the NUJ, NUT, UNITE and others?

Are the members of these unions and other groups or those unnamed who may be funding STWC still happy with the association? If you're a member or supporter of those unions and other groups are you happy? Maybe you should start asking questions.

*Edited to add: Gary Kent has detailed the appalling behaviour of STWC at that time, particularly towards Iraqi trade unionists.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

When corruption isn't the real problem in Eastern Europe

The ouster of Romania's Prime Minister following a disaster last month in a nightclub has universally been put down to a revulsion against corruption. In this article, reblogged with permission from LeftEast, an alternative explanation for what happened is put forward: that the real problem is austerity.

What regulation existed had been relaxed and there weren't enough people to enforce it. It was a disaster waiting to happen. And the health system was shown massively wanting for those who survived.


By Florin Poenaru

On October 31st during a rock concert in the underground club Colective in Bucharest a fire broke out, killing 27 and injuring another 200. Almost a fortnight after the total number of casualties reached 54, with many more still in critical condition in hospital.

This was the biggest tragedy in the recent history of Bucharest and its social effects will still be felt in the foreseeable future. In the short run, this dramatic accident sparked a series of processes that are still underway and whose significance is still uncertain. In this text, I will try to highlight some of the social forces and processes that this tragedy simultaneously brought to light and managed subsequently to obscure, especially by the way it was integrated into a certain symbolic and discursive universe.

While the real dimensions of the tragedy were still not fully known, the Romanian President went public and offered what became the main framework for explaining the tragedy: corruption kills. Since the site where the concert was held lacked any proper amenities or authorizations for such events while the authorities looked the other way, the corruption of the local administration and of the political class in general were conveniently blamed for the deaths. Such an immediate explanation for the tragedy resonated with what is already the main popular framework in Romania: things go wrong because of corruption, especially the corruption of the political class as a whole. This tragedy was just the ultimate example.
The moment Colective club caught fire

After a day of mourning and silent marches across the country in the memory of the victims, the people took to the streets on Monday November 2 in huge numbers and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. Surely, there was no direct connection between him and the tragedy, but Ponta has been framed for long as the embodiment of all that is wrong with the political class, especially its corruption. Accused of plagiarism, Ponta was also recently indicted and is awaiting trail for corruption and abuse of power. In fact, his days were numbered ever since he lost the Presidential elections almost a year ago. Then he was defeated precisely by the anti-corruption rhetoric and by a candidate who seemed to come from outside, or at least from the margins of the current political establishment. This tragedy became then the perfect moment to finally get rid of the prime minister, a fact calculated by the President who offered corruption as the immediate explanation for the tragedy.

Therefore, what seemed to be a genuine sudden outburst of anger following the tragedy was right from the beginning directed towards very concrete political goals at play in the prolonged struggle that has been taking place in Romania in the past 12 months. Prior to this tragedy, the vice Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea was already under heavy street pressure to offer his resignation after a policeman in his escort died in an accident provoked by the breaking of a legal. Oprea and his parliamentary fraction were the only reasons Prime Minister Ponta was still in power. The nightmare of Colective swapped both of them aside and paved a way for appointing a new prime minister by the President.

While this framing of the tragedy as an outcome of corruption was indeed very powerful and continued to inform most of the subsequent demands of the protests in the following days, the exact details emerging after the accident opened up alternative interpretations and a new set of different questions. Such details could not simply be subsumed under the anti-corruption narrative.

For example, it turned out that the there were not enough local fire safety inspectors following the cuts in the public administration during the austerity measures imposed after the financial crisis. Moreover, the legal provisions were very much relaxed in the past years in favor of business owners. The official policy of the local administration to transform the center of Bucharest in a place of consumption and fun enabled entrepreneurs to open up places with little official oversight and minimal investment in infrastructure. Deregulation, not corruption emerged as the main culprit.

Maria Ion
Furthermore, details about the people killed in the accident complicated the picture even more. One of the victims was the cleaning lady of the club. Maria Ion was the homeless single mother of five who had been waiting for years in vain to get social housing from the Mayor house. Her family got it after her death during a TV show in which what was supposed to be a social right became an act of charity. The club employed her illegally, without proper documents, regular payment or social insurance. So were the bartender and the bodyguard working there, both of them in mid-20s and now dead.

The number of the injured soon put an immense strain on the city’s hospitals. They had difficulties coping with the influx of badly injured people and doctors and nurses had to be brought from homes and work long shifts in order to deal with the situation. It became obviously clear that hospitals in Bucharest are understaffed and quite unprepared to deal with catastrophes of such scales. The special clinic for cases of severe burning was not functional at the time of the tragedy. This of course should not come as a surprise given the number of doctors who left the country and the ridiculous salaries paid to those who stayed. The system has been under-financed for 25 years and the main idea of reform is just privatization. As many people have observed, it is better not even to think what would have happened if such a tragedy had occurred in a small provincial city in the country.

In this context, relatives of patients asked for them to be treated abroad. This might have been an emotional reaction in some cases, and an impossible demand given the state of the patients, but it nonetheless reflected the popular belief that the local medical system cannot be trusted. In the past, the president, the prime minister and many other notable officials chose to seek medical treatment abroad in a sign of no confidence in the local system.

It also emerged that many of the injured ones, a vast majority of them young students and professionals, do not even have basic medical insurance, reflecting a wider trend among the unemployed and underemployed Romanian youth living in conditions of basic precarity and vulnerability that usually remains hidden.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, and following well-known knee-jerk reactions in such cases, a series of controls and official declarations painted an even grim picture. It turned out for example that over 90% of schools in Romania do not meet fire regulations. Even by the current legislation, lax at it is, they should be closed. Also, about 200 buildings in Bucharest, including popular cinemas, clubs, restaurants and shops, are in such an advanced state of dilapidation that they should be immediately closed. They are still functional. In addition, tens of blocks of flats in Bucharest and dozens of other buildings are in danger of collapsing in case of an earthquake. The exact number is not even known.

While it is politically productive and intellectually convenient to blame the death of people in Colective on corruption, the sobering truth is that they are victims of the current state of deep underdevelopment of the Romanian society. Corruption cannot be dismissed tout court, but it is not a cause. It is also an effect of the same mechanisms that contributed to the current situation. Deregulation, the neoliberal policies of reducing the state to the bare minimum and of privatizing public goods, the flexibilization of the labor code and the dismantling of any collective bargaining rights, the assault against social services and the demonization of the “welfare profiteers”, market fundamentalism and the fetishism of individualism, profit and success – in short the consensus of the transition yeas made inevitable the tragedy in Colective.

In such cases, emotions run high and comparisons fly like shrapnel. But the sheer scale of the tragedy in Colective should not blind us to the fact that this was not an isolated case, even though the collective number of victims is staggering. Just a few days after the tragedy in Bucharest a bread factory in Brasov caught fire. A worker was killed and others were badly injured. It turned out that many workers were trapped inside because they could not open the doors with their magnetic cards once the electricity went out. For the majority of the people, working and living conditions in Romania render them not only vulnerable and precarious but also almost entirely disposable in the process of accumulation and profit.

In this context, there is a deep ironic paradox in the decision of the protesters to ask for the resignation of the prime minister. As a politician, Ponta was unwilling and unable to break with the neoliberal consensus and his main policies (the fiscal code, etc.) were geared towards the benefit of business owners and global capital. Such a conduct is completely unsurprising from a social democrat nowadays everywhere in Europe. But Ponta was able to break with the austerity measures of the former conservative government and to offer some modicum reprieve to labor and state employees. He was also bent towards a more liberal Keynesian measures including more state regulation.

By pushing for his resignation the protesters decrying the events in Colective just paved the way for the proponents of neoliberalism and austerity — the main culprits of the tragedy — to come back to power in the next elections.

* This article originally appeared in Croatian on the Bilten website.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The case of Maxim Eristavi

Maxim Eristavi is a Ukranian journalist I've been following for about two years. When the EuroMaidan (what is now known as the 'Revolution of Dignity') broke out in Kyiv he was a strong English speaking presence reporting what was happening.

The first time I saw him was in a series of interviews around Ukraine he did with a German hipster where his ability to ask the right questions came shining through (see their report from March 2014 'What happened on the Maidan in Kiev?' after the jump). His writing last year for publications like New Republic pulled no punches, such as 'The New Ukrainian Government Is Poised to Abandon the LGBT Activists Who Were on the Front Lines'.

Now he is regularly interviewing Very Important People on the Hromadske channel he helped found, whose Sunday Show in English, which he co-hosts, has become a go-to source for Ukraine watchers.

He was recently made a Poynter fellow and spoke at the Yale Law School saying:
My mission today will be to highlight the 5 most popular myths about Ukraine and the Ukrainian-Russian war, to debunk them and by doing so to show how Ukraine is not, as it may appear, a far away localized conflict but instead a good case study for many global developments in international law, six main theories of international relations, social deconstructive studies, global fight for civil rights equality and development theories.
Eristavi on the Maidan
Eristavi is also openly gay, a rare thing in Ukraine, and features in a series by the artist Carlos Motta called "Patriots, Citizens, Lovers..." which was at the gallery owned by the oligarch Victor Pinchuk (who recently brought Elton John to Kyiv to tell Ukraine's elite to support LGBT rights). Motta developed the show in conversation with Ukrainian journalist Maxim Ivanukha and it is "composed of ten urgent interviews with Ukrainian LGBTI and queer activists who discuss the critical and dire situation of lesbian, gay, trans and intersex lives in Ukraine in times of war."

Here's what Eristavi had to say (you can watch him after the jump along with a Hromadske report about the show):
My name is Maxim Eristavi. I am an independent journalist and the co-founder of Hromadske International. I work on media coverage of Ukraine: Mostly on LGBT issues and media rights. I am also one of the few openly gay journalists in Ukraine. As a journalist I have always thought that if you know a topic really well or if your background helps you to cover a specific topic well, then you must do it. I decided that I can cover LGBT news better than non-LGBT journalists or those who do not quite understand the daily realities of LGBT people’s lives in Ukraine.

After I came back to Ukraine at the end of 2013, after a long absence, and the revolution had begun, I understood that this was an opportunity for the implementation of civil rights in Ukraine. The Maidan revolution was and is a unique opportunity for the majority of people in Ukraine to realize the importance of equality. Equality as a wide concept that concerns everyone and that has to do with the civil rights that all people should have since they are born. The revolution presented a unique opportunity to define this and to help the progress of attaining equality.

I used to live in Russia, which is often compared to Ukraine in terms of the scope of its homophobia. But when I returned to Ukraine I noticed how much society had changed. I started thinking that in Ukraine, in contrast to Russia, equality and the empowerment of the civil rights of the LGBT community were a potential victory. Achieving these goals here would be much easier than in other countries of the region and if we were to achieve them we could make progress for the whole region, not only for Ukraine.

From the gallery show
Recent polls show that more than 70% of Ukrainians think gay people are sick. This discussion is still stuck in the past. One can surely understand people who say that in times of conflict the time is not right to discuss important yet controversial issues, such as trying to change the course of history or stereotypes about minorities. Not only about the LGBT community but also about gender rights, religious expression or the concerns of other minority groups. But when they tell me: “Why don’t you wait 20-30 years until the big problems are solved and then we can get back to your problems?” I always answer that the war in Ukraine is not only military and economic, but also civil and cultural. Building a society that is dramatically different from Russia and from the post-Soviet values that we are still trying to get rid of would be a very important victory in this war. A victory for everyone, not only for the minorities, but also for the whole country. This won’t be achieved by solving only military and economic problems. Ultimately, strong and protected minorities are not a threat to a healthy and successful country.

But one year after the revolution and in the midst of the war the situation in the country has worsened. The problem is not only a change in the social attitude towards LGBT issues because you can often see a completely different trend. People want to know more, they understand the necessity to protect minorities... Yet from another perspective, I see the current situation as an attempt to highjack the conversation about LGBT issues, to instil fear in people and to manipulate them through this fear.

I wouldn’t only blame the nationalists or other marginal groups for this. Our own community is also to blame. In a country of 45 million people there are practically no LGBT people who are out. There are only a handful of them and they are mostly involved in the field of activism. Ordinary Ukrainian citizens don’t know what LGBT means and they don’t know any LGBT people. In a country that keeps its LGBT life in the closet, the community itself should be the first to address this issue.

 When it comes to gay rights, gay Ukrainians don’t differ from other Ukrainians who want to have more rights. This goes back to a culture of fear common to Soviet times. Constant paranoia and fear of being punished for having a different opinion created a culture of fear that still persists. When you speak with LGBT people of an older generation, generally they don't participate in any events or speak openly about their sexuality, even with their families, which might be more important than coming out publicly.

My whole life could be described as an escape: An escape that started at school when I was trying to avoid being bullied and to get away from people who tried to humiliate me. Later on, the escape becomes larger as you want to escape your city since you don’t feel safe and you are trying to find a new and more tolerant society. Later you want to leave the country. I went to places where I thought I would feel more comfortable but I realized that this fear stays inside you everywhere you go. It is impossible to escape until you turn back, stop, and start hitting back. Where you live is not so important, you first have to solve the problem of self-respect. Hating something inside you, something you can’t overcome, something passed on to to you at birth, is toxic and destructive.

Honesty is one the things that attracted me to journalism. It was important for me not only professionally, but personally as well. If I had become honest with myself and with those people whom I tell my story, I realized that I could do things differently in my job. I have idealistic and romantic journalistic standards and I realized that it is impossible to tell people stories without talking about my personal background… If I tell a story about LGBT people, I have to say that I am also gay.

If there are so many LGBT people in the Ukrainian media, why is the media’s coverage of LGBT issues so unprofessional? I wouldn’t only blame journalists for this but also LGBT activists themselves. Due to the activists’ previous negative experiences with the media they prefer to take some distance and agree only to minimal cooperation. Both sides need a fresh start; we need to work together in order to understand why the coverage is so unprofessional and often homophobic.

I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel. But we have to pay attention to history and to the experience of other countries where this issue has resolved successfully. We need to try to learn something elsewhere and to test it here to see whether it works. We need to constantly search for new ways to achieve progress. Ultimately, despite history and everyone’s different backgrounds it comes down to one simple task: Accepting the choices of another human being.

When I recall my childhood and the problems I faced then: being humiliated at school by other boys who wanted to disgrace me by locking me up in the public toilet, I understand that I am more successful now than they are and that I feel better than they do. I don’t need special rights, additional rights or special privileges. I just need just equality, a right that is given at birth and is guaranteed not only by law but simply by the right to life. Equality shouldn’t require any additional expenses or the efforts of lawmakers. One shouldn’t have to vote or organize elections in favor of equality. Equality is something you have at birth. It is a right to be proud of who you are and not to be afraid to say it to others. It is something given to all humans at birth. This is the idea with which absolutely all Ukrainians can agree on after the Maidan revolution.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

On Russia’s selective ’retribution’ for acts of terrorism

Andrei Lugovoi, FSB assassin and Russian MP

Reblogged with permission.


By Halya Coynash

Andrei Lugovoi, Russian State Duma Deputy and the UK’s chief suspect in the killing of Kremlin whistle-blower Alexander Litvinenko has promised “inevitable retribution” for the terrorists who blew up Russian A321 and blamed “European tolerance” allowing “a flow of migrants” into Europe for the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov 13.

The irony could not be more pronounced. Litvinenko, who like Lugovoi was a former FSB [Security Service] officer, died a hideous death from radioactive polonium in 2006 not very long after publishing a book in which he accused the FSB of being behind the apartment block bombings in 1999 which killed several hundred people and helped Putin come to power. That book was recently placed on the List of extremist materials in Russia, a few months after Lugovoi received a state award from the President “for courage and daring demonstrated in carrying out work duties in conditions linked with risk to life”. *

Litvinenko shortly before his death

Lugovoi became an MP shortly after Britain’s request for his extradition was turned down, and he is now the deputy head of the State Duma Committee on Security and Countering Corruption. It was clearly in this capacity, and standing in front of the State Duma sign that he gave a long interview, entitled “You shouldn’t believe the USA” to Rossiya 24.

After more than a week of vague statements, denials and furious conspiracy theorising, Russia announced on Nov 17 that the Metrojet plane which crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on Oct 31 had been destroyed by a bomb.

Lugovoi called this a “monstrous crime” and said that Russia’s reaction must follow two principles: no negotiating with terrorists and inevitable retribution. He agreed with unnamed government officials in saying that Russia must increase its activity in the Middle East, including in Syria.

There were certain key messages, one being that Russia has allegedly made huge strides in fighting terrorism – through the “effective work” of the FSB, through legislation, etc. The A321 attack is presented as “unique” and as due to “treachery of local security services”. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov reports that the Kremlin’s leader has ordered “those guilty exterminated”. There is no indication as to how ‘guilt’ is to first be determined. Nor, of course, is there any suggestion that the terrorist act, if such it be, may have been linked with Russia’s active role over the last month in bombing areas under the control mostly of groups opposing Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, including, but by no means exclusively ISIS.

Lugovoi goes on, as have other pro-Kremlin politicians, to point out that Europe is also not safe and he directly blames “European tolerance”. He makes no mention of the thousands of refugees fleeing the Assad regime and the bombing in Syria, and speaks only of a “flow of migrants” which Europeans supposedly clap their hands over.

The Ahmads brought their four children to Russia seeking safety, but they were refused asylum
This, of course, enables him to ignore such shocking violations of international law as the continued presence at a Moscow airport of an entire family of Syrian refugees whom Russia is simply refusing to allow into the country.

Lugovoi basically sings Russia’s praise, suggesting that the FSB’s role should be an example for other countries. The latter, he suggests, must consider closing borders. Numerous reports on pro-Kremlin media have broadcast predictions that France and / or Europe will be forced now to resort to other restrictions on people’s freedom - doubtless also following Russia’s role model.

Asked about an anti-terror coalition, Lugovoi says that Russia’s only ally was its own army and fleet. Lugovoi, who spoke extremely emphatically on all other subjects seems nervous here, and waffles only about some possible “temporary” measures. He does, however, return to a standard theme in Russian propaganda, by saying that the USA will always do everything to reduce safety for Russia and “our western partners”, and that the more “mess” there is between Russia and European countries, the better for the USA who should not be believed.

Lugovoi has long spoken and, doubtless, acted, in unison with Russia’s leaders and his key statements here are similar to those made by others. It is almost certainly no accident that Putin should have taken the opportunity to pass into force a plan on developing the military until 2020. While spending on medicine has dipped catastrophically in Russia, together with the standard of living, more and more money is being spent on the military. Any Levada Centre public survey will make it quite clear whom Russians deem their enemies. ISIS has seldom received a mention.

With respect to Russia’s ‘principles’ of not negotiating with terrorists and “inevitable retribution”, there are many bitter words that can be written about the Kremlin’s funding and support for militants, a large number of them from Russia, responsible for hostage-taking, forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions, etc. in Crimea and Donbas.

There will be cases before the European Court of Human Rights and, almost certainly, the International Criminal Court over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and behaviour in other parts of Ukraine.

Footage on July 17, 2014 which Life News reported as a Ukrainian military plane downed by militants
It is Russia that has blocked an international investigation into the downing of the Malaysian MH17 airliner by a Russian-made BUK missile. This was reported on Russian television as having been downed by Kremlin-backed militants with those reports and incriminating footage only removed after it became clear that a passenger plane had been downed, not a Ukrainian military aircraft.

A European Court of Human Rights judgement is now awaited over one of the most monstrous terrorist acts in the Russian Federation. The Court in Strasbourg has already accepted that Russia must answer for its failure to prevent the tragedy at the school in Beslan, North Ossetia in which 331 people died, more than half of them children. For over two days then Putin even lied about the number of people held hostage in the school, and it is known that the terrorists were so angered by the claim that they were not prepared to negotiate that they refused to give the children water. There are serious grounds for believing that Anna Politkovskaya was poisoned to stop her negotiating, and that the explosions used to justify the storming of a building holding well over a thousand children, parents, grandparents and teachers, did not come from the terrorists. There was no ‘inevitable retribution” and Russia has, on the contrary, done everything to block a proper investigation and bring those responsible to answer.

* The results of a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s murder are due out soon. Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun left traces of radioactive polonium everywhere they went, both before and after the meeting with Litvinenko where he drank the fatal substance in a cup of tea. One key point made repeatedly through the hearings was that radioactive polonium is not something that you can buy on the black market.

See also:

Monday, 16 November 2015

Meaningful art: the KGB HQ ablaze

Pavlensky infront of the Beria-designed ablaze door

Pavlensky is a hero, as far as I'm concerned. This image above will outlive him. Reblogged with permission.


By Gabriel Levy

Russian political performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who set fire to the doors of the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters this week, has asked a judge to treat him the same way as political prisoners from Crimea.

On Monday [last week] Pavlensky poured petrol on the doors of the notorious building on Lubyanka square – used since the 1940s as the offices and detention centre of the KGB, the Stalinist security police – and set light to them. Supporters filmed the action. Pavlensky was arrested and charged with “vandalism motivated by ideological hatred” – to which he responded: “It would be strange to have any other attitude to the Lubyanka.”

In the Taganka district court on Wednesday, Pavlensky said that “the so-called ‘Crimean terrorists’” were charged with terrorism offences for setting fire to doors, in cases fabricated by the FSB. “I demand that I be suspected of terrorism. I consider this to be the logic of your system. Until this demand is met, I refuse to participate in all your juridical rituals.” He then declined to answer further questions.

The Crimean prisoners to which Pavlensky referred are anti-fascist activist Aleksandr Kolchenko and film director Oleg Sentsov, political prisoners jailed for their part in protests against the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Kolchenko and Sentsov were in August sentenced to ten and twenty years respectively by a court in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, on fabricated terrorism charges. A third frame-up victim, Gennady Afanasiev, gave evidence under torture that was used to secure convictions, and is serving a seven-year sentence. Human rights organisations denounced the trial as a parody of justice and demanded the defendants’ release.

The connection made by Pavlensky was to Kolchenko’s admission that he had been involved in causing a fire at a building used by pro-Russian forces in Crimea, in which no-one was hurt and only minor damage done to property. His lawyer argued that a hooliganism charge would have been appropriate. (For detailed information on the Crimea case see the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group site.)

Pavlensky, 32, has been remanded in custody for a month. The court rejected his lawyer’s request for release on 1 million rubles (about £10,000) bail, and/or being placed under house arrest while caring for his children, who are seven and four years old.

Pavlensky named his performance “Threat. The Lubyanka’s burning doors”. In a statement published on line, he said:
The burning door of Lubyanka is a glove thrown by society in the face of the terrorist threat. The Federal Security Service [FSB] operates through continuous terror and holds sway over 146,000,000 people. Fear has turned free people into a sticky mass of isolated bodies. The threat of imminent reprisal hangs over anyone within reach of surveillance and eavesdropping devices and passport checks. Military courts are eliminating the last vestiges of free will. But terrorism can exist only due to the animal instinct of fear. An unconditional defensive reflex makes the individual oppose this instinct. This is the reflex to fight for one’s own life. And life is worth fighting for.
Pavlensky nailing his balls to Red Square
Pavlensky’s previous performances have included lying in St Isaac’s Square in St Petersburg, wrapped in barbed wire, and sewing up his lips in protest at attacks on freedom of speech. He considers himself an actionist, in the tradition of the artistic school of that name established in Vienna in the 1960s. Earlier this year he organised a group of people to burn automobile tyres and bang metal sheets with sticks in the centre of St Petersburg, to echo the atmosphere of the Maidan demonstrations in Kiev that brought down the government of Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014.

Some Russian socialists have argued that Pavlensky’s action was motivated by middle-class individualism. I sympathise with the response by Ivan Ovsyannikov, a socialist and trade union activist:
Yes, I understand all that about “middle-class/ decadent/ individualist rebellion” that “lacks class consciousness”. I’ll even allow that the FSB’s doors are a valuable artistic monument. But I spit on those doors and on pseudo-left phrases. Right now they are cynical, wretched, inappropriate. Pavlensky isn’t a political strategist. But he is a brave person who can serve as an example (no, not in respect of his particular way of doing things, but with his unbending non-conformism at a time when total cynicism prevails). I do not know how good an artist he is, but in any case I know that those who are judging him “wouldn’t do art like that themselves”. Of course, there is no need to imitate Pavlensky, but there’s nothing to despise him for, either. At the end of the day, the Marxists of the early 20th century disagreed with the methods of the People’s Will and Socialist Revolutionaries – but that didn’t stop them from acknowledging their heroism. And of course this is a different case. But from a moral point of view, I repeat, Pavlensky is right. And we need to defend him. And “to defend” does not mean to say “oh, bless him, he didn’t mean anything nasty, just give him 15 days”. No, the main point must be this: [government] power, which has spit on morals, rights and justice, that power, which has surpassed all the limits of good and evil, has no right to judge the artist Pavlensky, even if he burned the whole FSB to a cinder.
St Petersburg picket for Sentsov + Kolchenko
For readers who doubt the rationale of Pavlensky’s action, I would add two points of my own.

First, it is almost impossible either rationally or emotionally to get our minds round the cruelty of the sentences on Kolchenko and Sentsov, and the absurdity of the fabricated case against them. Pavlensky’s courageous action helps.

Russian social and labour movements face a state that is not yet a dictatorship … but under which even small acts of political defiance potentially carry the price of devastating, disproportionate repression. Pavlensky didn’t answer the question “what to do?”, but he focused on the inevitably inadequate nature of our responses to the Crimea case. Of course, inadequate: Kolchenko and Sentsov are in jail and may remain there for years.

Second, the site of Pavlensky’s performance was well chosen. From the 1930s the Lubyanka epitomised Stalinist terror. It crushed and destroyed people – socialists, activists, and innocent bystanders alike – on site. Its continued use in the post-Soviet period as the security police headquarters is a pretty eloquent expression of the continuity between past and present regimes. Resistance continues too.

See also:

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Thoughts on the Paris attacks

Reblogged with permission.


By Ralph Leonard.

On Friday morning, one would have not been mistaken to think that the fight against ISIS had made some positive progress, with the liberation of Shingal by The Peshmerga from ISIS' dominion in northern Iraq and the killing by drone strike of Muhammad Emwazi (Jihadi John). Albeit the killing of Emwazi was more symbolic than catergorical and the liberation of Shingal is not exactly going to speed up the inevitable defeat of ISIS.

However, on Friday night in Paris, we were reminded again that this Jihadist cancer is still alive and well gnawing away at civilisation just like they had done a few days ago with the suicide bombings in Beirut and the beheadings of Shia Hazaras in Afghanistan. In Paris, terrorists launched a series of attacks that have claimed the lives of at least 160 people and 300 people injured. This make it the deadliest terrorist attacks in Europe since the Madrid bombings in 2004. ISIS has released a statement where they claimed responsibility for this and we definetly know it was a Jihadist attack because we have credible reports the gument shouted "Allahu Akbar" as they slayed the innocent.

In the aftermath of these horrific attacks, I have noticed alot of kneejerk finger pointing and simplistic analysis which is often done through a political lense that lacks complexity and nuance. You have the regressive left essentially blaming Western foreign policy and changing the subject to irrelevant topics. While on the other side you have those who want to shoehorn immigration and the refugee issue into this debate because that is their pet issue they want to talk about.

To be honest, I really am not surprised or shocked by the fact that we got the usual deflection, obsfucations and masochism from the regressive left.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks first response to the Paris attacks was to change the subject to Dylan Roof and the Iraq war. Later in the show one of his colleagues claimed that France closing it's borders will potentially "further radicalize muslims". This clearly bigotry of lower expectations. So muslims will all of a sudden start killing people if they don't get the desired immigration policy they want. How contemptable. The closing of the borders is likely a short term measure as part of the state of emergency France is under right now. However, suppose France did make this a long term policy, it still would not provide an excuse or an "explaination" for radicalization. Despicable.

WOW! I am so glad we have Ayatollah Piers Morgan to be arbiter of who is a "real" muslim and who is not a "real" muslim thereby engaging in takfiri reasoning and Kuffarsplaining. Piers has probably never read the Qu'ran in his life, yet he considers himself an expert in Islam.

Another trait in the regressive state of mind is to dig for western "hypocrisy" in light of a terrorist attack in the west and engage in fatuous whataboutery. Notice he had to shoehorn Palestine in there as per usual. Don't get me wrong the problems in Palestine, Lebanon and Yemen are serious issues that definetly should be talked about, but why is Ben excavating for "hypocrisy" now? I'm afraid I find this contemptable.

Then we have the "grievance" argument. Remember when regressives talk about "grievances" in relation to Islamist terrorism what they mean is "this attack happened because of "Western foreign policy" which is what the Latuff cartoon (right) implies. This a simplistic and wrong analysis of the situation. The attackers did not target symbols of French militarism or the French state. Rather, they attacked places where young, multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan Parisians hanged out such as cafes, resturaunts and bars like La Belle Equipe, Le Petit Cambodge and the Jewish owned music venue Bataclan.

The other venue attacked was the Stade de France, the home of the French national football team, (Les Bleus) another symbol of multi-racial and multi-cultural France.

For too long now the regressive left has said that these Jihadists are the bullhorn of long forgotten "muslim grievances". I suppose they are, if you want to define a "muslim grievance" as the grievance of seeing an undraped female head or face, the hatred of cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity embodied in cities like Paris, the presence of a Shia muslim, a Jew and non-muslims on what you claim as "muslim soil". The horror of not having an totalitarian, imperialist super state called the Caliphate which they have now resurrected in Iraq and Syria. Anything can be twisted into a grievance by Jihadists.

Yes they have grievances, but it is nothing like the grievance we have with them. It should be we who they are afraid of, it should be our opinion that they should be worried about. Because we too have unalterable values and we do care about defending The Enlightenment and the values of a civlized world.

While the regressive left tried to play the card of masochism and blame terror attacks on Western foreign policy, some on the right have and will try to ramp up an anti-immigrant agenda, the more extreme elements will go for a more anti-muslim agenda.

As of now we're not sure of the backgrounds of all the attackers. We do know that a Syrian Passport was found next to one of the gunmen belonged to someone who registered as a refugee.They are also checking on the fingerprints of another man at the request of French investigators. However, authorities are not ruling out the possibility that the passport may have been a fake or may have been stolen or bought from a well established black market.

Another question that must be asked is why would a Jihadist who thinks modern notions of citizenship and nationality is haram, all of a sudden take his passport to a suicide mission and make sure it got found? For me this seems too calculated.