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Palestinian resistance, the necessity of three fronts

Something must be done about Israel’s number one ally, the Palestinian Authority, otherwise what we are witnessing today will be merely another flare-up, as opposed to a turning point for decolonization and the beginning of an end to the occupation.

Resistance in Gaza, Shoufat, Naqab and Haifa. Courtesy of Qawim (Resist!). All rights reserved. Resistance in Gaza, Shoufat, Naqab and Haifa. Courtesy of the Qawim (Resist) movement. All rights reserved.

When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stood up before.”

This famous quote belongs to Mamie Till-Mobley, after her 14 year old son Emmett was brutally murdered in 1955 Mississippi. An all-white jury acquitted his murderers. Nearly 60 years later, the lynching of a 16 year old Palestinian boy by Israeli settlers took place in Jerusalem. Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped, forced to drink gasoline, and was burned alive. 

Mainstream media similarly acquitted the state of Israel, conveniently ignoring the racist, ethnocentric, and colonial ideology the state is premised upon. Reports circulated that Abu Khdeir’s murder was a ‘revenge killing’ after three settlers, reported missing for three weeks, were found dead on June 30. Palestinians took to the streets in outrage, yet the reaction of the de facto president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas was at the very least insipid. His response came almost a week after the lynching, when he announced he had sought help to form an international committee to investigate Israeli crimes against Palestinians. Such a dry proposition is in stark contrast to his words when it came to the three missing settlers. Then, he stressed their humanity and openly defended the security coordination with Israel, during the latter's biggest incursion into the West Bank in over a decade. 

With the mainstream media labelling Abu Khdeir’s killers as ‘extremist,’ this has sought only to absolve the Israeli public and the state from the crime of what they represent: a colonizing, occupying, bigoted entity. As Palestinian writer Khaled Odetallah pointed out, using the word 'extremist' to describe an unruly pack of settlers is nothing but a mechanism for regarding the other Israeli population as natural, and discounting the blatant racism that is inherent in all colonizing entities.

Jerusalem and '48

Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s lynching released an unprecedented wave of angry protests that has quickly spread from his hometown of Shuafat to other neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, and to Palestinian towns and villages in modern day ‘Israel.’ Since July 3, thousands protested across the Galilee, as initial confrontations took place between Palestinians and Israeli police in Nazareth, Arara, Umm al-Fahem, Taybeh, and Qalanswa. Tires were burned, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired, and chants resonated with the cry “The people demand the demise of Israel.”

As the days stretched out to complete one week since Abu Khdeir’s death, protests sprung up in other villages in the Galilee, referred to as the Triangle, such as Tamra, Deir Hanna, Kufr Manda, Baqa al-Gharbiyeh, Shifa Amro, Iblein, Sakhnin, Arraba al-Batouf, and Jadeeda al-Makr. The cities of Haifa and Akka also held protests, as well as Bi’r Sabe’ and Rahat in the southern Naqab desert. On Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in Yafa after Israeli settlers attacked a few Palestinian homes in the old city. Palestinians are in the throes of direct protests against the state that has allocated Israeli citizenship to the 1.6 million Palestinians, but which systematically discriminates against them and regards them with a mixture of fear and suspicion. Hundreds have been arrested, including dozens of minors, and more than one hundred remain in detention.

Gaza assault

On Monday night, July 7, Israel announced its incursion into Gaza, the most densely populated territory in the world. This came after it had already killed ten people the day before. In the first 24 hours of the bombing campaign, called Protective Edge by the Israeli army, 24 Palestinians were killed, including eight children. Civilian homes such as the Hamad family home in Beit Hanoun and the Kaware’ and Abadleh family homes in Khan Yunis were targeted by air strikes and destroyed with “surgical precision”, a phrase popular with warmongers and military officials.

The resistance in Gaza, comprised of the military wings of the various political factions, responded with a barrage of rockets that for the first time proved their long-range capabilities, hitting Khadera, which is 113 kilometers away from Gaza. Gaza's resistance tactics have surpassed the imagination of Israel, with a navy commando unit storming the Zikim military base after swimming there from Gaza. The Israeli government ordered the bomb shelters for its citizens to open, as air sirens went off from Sderot to Isdoud to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and further north, near the city of Haifa. 

Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for the Hamas resistance al-Qassam brigades, listed in a brief press conference last Friday the conditions Israel must fulfil in order to stop the rockets. The first is for Israel to cease its aggression in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the ’48 occupied territories. The second demands that Israel release the former prisoners who were released in the 2011 prisoner swap deal but who were re-arrested in droves during the recent massive military raid on the West Bank last month. The Israeli government is already pushing for a bill to approve that these prisoners should serve out the remainder of their original sentences once they get re-arrested. Hamas will decide when to start and when to stop, not anyone else, despite Israeli prime minister Netanyahu declaring that he will “intensify attacks” in Gaza, and despite the support of western governments such as that of David Cameron, who promptly reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel. 

Israel has boasted that it has launched air strikes on more than 400 sites in Gaza, where 1.7 million people, 75 percent of whom are women and children, reside in an area that is 365 kilometers squared. The strip has been targeted with 4000 tons of explosives, with an Israeli air strike occurring on average every four and a half minutes. The death toll has already surpassed 120. The last large scale attack on Gaza was in November 2012, where 173 Palestinians were killed, including 38 children. 

Outsourcing the West Bank

In the middle of all of this, the West Bank remains conspicuously quiet. The protests by the shabab last month against the Israeli army as the latter swept through towns and villages, wreaking havoc, arresting hundreds, and killing six have subsided since the army nominally withdrew. It is well known that the resistance rockets from Gaza are no match for a heavily subsidized, professionalised, and technologically developed military, which forms the standing pillar of the state of Israel.

Rockets are part of the resistance, as are the protests in the ’48 territories. Yet without depriving Israel of its number one ally, the Palestinian Authority, what we are witnessing today will be merely another flare-up as opposed to a turning point for decolonization and the beginning of an end to the occupation. Mahmoud Abbas’ conduct and reaction has done him no favours as regards the recent events, and his speech at the normalizing Herzliyya “peace conference” where he begged Israelis to not miss his outstretched hand for peace is nothing but grovelling to the enemy, in the very same moment that homes in Gaza were being destroyed with their families still inside them. On Friday, Abbas' interview with PA-run Palestine TV insinuated that the resistance rockets from Gaza were pointless, and that he prefers to fight with politics and wisdom

These events represent a period of escalated action, yet for the status quo to be truly smashed, the West Bank must rise up against the Palestinian Authority, effectively getting rid of the infamous security coordination with Israel, and replacing neoliberalism with a representative anti-occupation programme that is intolerant of oppression and colonization.

Otherwise, Hamas and Israel will sign another empty truce after the former incurs heavy losses on its side with no formal guarantee that Israel will not immediately violate it as it has in 2008 and again in 2012, and the demonstrations within the ’48 occupied territories will be hijacked or co-opted by the older generation of “Israeli-fied” Palestinians such as Ali Sallam (member of the Nazareth municipality who described the protesters as hooligans and thugs) and will fizzle out.

What cannot be ignored is that the PA has created an entire sector of society that benefits from its relations with Israel, and the fear barrier regarding its notorious intelligence and security services has not been broken. The West Bank has been reduced to a shadow of its self as the Palestinian cause was transformed into coffeehouse conversations, rather than actions targeted at the oppressive force of Israel and its collaborators. Yet as the resistance rockets are met with gleeful support by Palestinians across the country, the PA are already caught up in irrelevancy. The PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of Palestinians has been exposed as toothless, since the Palestinians in “Israel” resisting against the occupation serve as a reminder that their identity first and foremost, despite the passport imposed on them, will be Arab Palestinians. Widespread support among Palestinians across the country for the resistance is mounting, leaving the PA's fallacious and empty rhetoric of peaceful negotiations and security collaboration in a very tight space indeed, not to mention a strong sense of the inappropriate.

The Palestinian Authority has once again shown that it exists solely to maintain Israel’s security over and over again. This physical domination is coupled with a disastrous neoliberal order used to pacify and oppress Palestinians who demand to live with dignity. This is not the place to discuss strategies and plans on how to resist the PA; it is primarily crucial to acknowledge that precisely because of its deep entrenchment in Palestinian society in the West Bank, any movement aimed at dismantling it will constitute a social, economic, and political revolution in itself.

Already recent protests in Hebron, Jenin, Nablus and the outskirts of Ramallah have been suppressed by the Palestinian Authority security forces, an extension of the Israeli army. Protesters in an apparently planned attack on Friday night descended upon Qalandiya checkpoint with molotovs and fireworks, catching the Israeli soldiers there by surprise. Yet the PA apparatus must also be simultaneously targeted in order to achieve and affect real change.

As the popular quote goes, “If I had ten bullets I’d fire one at my enemy, and nine for the traitors.”

Country or region: 

Data pubblicazione : Sat, 12 Jul 2014 19:50:39 +0000
The security dilemma, the media and the Israeli bombardment

If you care about human life you should be appalled by what is happening in Gaza right now. But you should also be appalled if you are a hardheaded political realist. Or even if you simply love Israel.

At the time I write this, ninety Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and no Israelis killed by Gazan rockets. There is plenty of moral indignation about this unpleasant fact. As Chomsky put it:

Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.

The narrative of defenceless Palestinians being massacred by the vastly richer, vastly more powerful Israelis is a compelling one for all those who care about human life. And yet even this narrative, used in a certain way, can be read as a subtle example of the subtle pro-Israeli bias that predominates in much western media. Why so?

The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ tendencies that characterise much of political discourse not only in his own country, the United States, but increasingly throughout the rest of the developed world, are understandable in terms of the way that they seek to activate different fundamental ‘bases’ of human morality. Liberals, Haidt believes, are concerned primarily with care, fairness and liberation. Conservatives want these things too – but usually only for a particular in-group, which they define in terms of a different moral vocabulary, rooted in culturally constructed, but ultimately primal notions of purity, authority and loyalty.

When ‘liberals’ read about one side killing 90 people with advanced weaponry, and the other side killing no people with primitive weaponry, they naturally root for the underdog. In doing so, however, they play right into the hands of those with ‘conservative’ political sensibilities. After all, ‘all’s fair in love and war’. And if leftists (it’s a bit daft to call a radical anarchist like Chomsky a ‘liberal’, but he is for the purposes of the argument here) say it isn’t war, then hardline conservatives beg to differ. Read the words, for example, of ultra-hardline Knesset member Ayelet Shaked: 

The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two peoples. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.

The logic here is grotesque, but there is a logic, somewhere. If you have two groups, each one perceiving itself to be in an existential struggle with the other, then the idea that you would voluntarily restrain yourself arguably makes not that much sense. Why should Israel restrain its firepower just because Hamas doesn’t have access to the same firepower? War isn’t pistols at dawn. It isn’t cricket.

Of course, this is an example of foaming at the mouth fundamentalism that few will sympathise with. But a more insidious version of basically the same logic comes up in the ‘security dilemma’ claims that deeply permeate the way that our media presents Palestine and Israel. According to this narrative, Israel is stuck in an unfortunate catch-22 situation. It knows that its occupation is breeding misery and extremism. It wants to withdraw. But it can’t, because the very extremism which occupation produces means that if it loosens its grip, it will expose itself to devastating attacks by an unrelenting opponent.

Of course, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is simply illegal. Technically, refusing to withdraw on these grounds is a bit like saying that you won’t give back the plasma tv you stole because you’ve tried watching cheaper models, but it hasn’t really worked out for you. Being realistic, however, the security dilemma argument looks compelling. It looks compelling because security dilemmas are good stories. They are plausible – we’ve all experienced something similar in microcosm. They offer a realistic a priori account of human motivation. They explain why good people might have to do bad things. And they don’t force us to demonise one side or the other.

So, the security dilemma argument, placed side by side with the asymmetric killing argument sets up the Palestine-Israel issue in terms of the consumer market in political opinions that we are all familiar with. If your politics are shaped by the ‘care’ instinct, then you will probably empathise (all things being equal) with dead Palestinian children. You don’t need, then, to worry too much with the wrongs and rights that got things to that point. If you think of yourself as still compassionate, but a bit tougher minded, then you will go with the ‘tragedy’ narrative, and perhaps lament the lack of ‘leadership’ on ‘both sides’. If, finally, you are a hard core political partisan on one side or the other, then you will simply pick your team and stick to it through thick and thin.

Either way, each market sector can be comfortable with its choice, knowing the dispositions that have accounted for its own choice, and the contrasting dispositions that have accounted for others’ choices. And there is, of course, another winner from all this: the incumbent power, (Israel, in this instance) which gets to keep the status quo.

What is obscured in all this, is that the central issue is not really a security dilemma at all. We do not have a conflict, but rather a colonisation. Israel is not occupying the West Bank to protect Israel (were that so, Israelis would have given up tolerating the expense long ago). It is occupying the West Bank to protect the infrastructure of Israeli settlements that crisscross and cut up the West Bank. It is laying siege to Gaza, choking it just short of death, not to prevent Hamas from getting the wherewithal to build rockets, but to collectively punish its citizens for refusing to recognise Israel’s ‘right to exist’ or, nowadays its ‘right to exist as a Jewish state’. (There is also the small matter of the gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters which Israel is presently selling off permits to develop).

It is bombing Gaza not because of rockets, but as part of a broader campaign to undo the remarkable achievement of the Palestinian authority in reconciling Hamas to a project of moderation and Palestinian national unity.

And when I say ‘Israel’, that conceals the fact that this is really being done by a narrow elite made up of politicians, the military, and the hi-tech arms industry who grow ever richer in a country which is one of the most unequal in the developed world.

If you care about human life you should be appalled by what is happening in Gaza right now. But you should also be appalled if you are a hardheaded political realist. Or even if you simply love Israel.

Country or region: 
Civil society
International politics

Data pubblicazione : Sat, 12 Jul 2014 17:05:56 +0000
Srebenica: the world fails, but never one’s own government

There are cogent reasons – international, historical and domestic to Britain – why this year's Srebenica massacre commemorations are different, and beg painful, difficult questions that demand answers.

The earth around Srebrenica yesterday took in the remains of a further 175 bodies – in some cases just a bone or two – alongside the thousands already interred there. Exhumed from mass graves, they had finally been identified by DNA matches with surviving relatives - 'this year's' addition, to what will one day be a cemetery for all the 8,000-plus unarmed men and boys summarily slaughtered in the worst single bloodbath in Europe since the Third Reich.

This was the nineteenth anniversary of the massacre in 1995, ahead of next year's twentieth to which legions of politicians and dignitaries are sure to descend, shed tears and be seen to do so – whether crocodile or sincere. But there are cogent reasons – international, historical and domestic to Britain – why this year's commemorations are different, and beg painful, difficult questions that demand answers as yet unforthcoming but necessary to any reckoning with this and other atrocities.

The first reason is that next Wednesay, the question of legal responsibility for the massacre raises its own stakes to the international level: a district court in The Hague will deliver its verdict in the case of 6,000 survivors who are suing the Dutch state for the failure of its soldiers - part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission  - charged to protect the UN-declared 'Safe Area', but who ejected crowds seeking protection in its compound as the execution squads arrived in town, and watched on as the Bosnian Serb units separated men and boys, for massacre, from women and children.

The verdict will be a landmark one affecting not only the wider issues of accountability for the massacre, but the role and obligations of troops taking part in future UN peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world.

The case has a legal precedent in a ruling by the Netherlands’supreme court last September, that the Dutch state was responsible for not preventing three Bosniak men from being killed after they were expelled from the base. Liesbeth Zegveld, who represented one of the Bosnians in the case, Hasan Nuhanovic, said the verdict was based on the fact that the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica made a decision to expel the Bosniaks from the compound instead of protecting them, as was their duty and as they were ordered. The same argument in law applies to the class action.

A second reason was the visit recently by foreign secretary William Hague and his glamorous companion Angelina Jolie to Srebrenica, as part of their tour claiming to reveal and address rape as the age-old war crime it is. Violation of women occurred in Srebrenica, but nothing like on the scale of specially designated rape camps in Visegrad and Foca nearby, which the celebrity pair omitted to visit.

Hague had said in Sarajevo, of mass rape during Bosnia's carnage: “Now we know”; and in Srebrenica that his tour with the actress (and her film about the subject) had, “opened the eyes of the world” to this abomination. This was preposterous: Hague was a junior minister in the government who knew perfectly well at the time what was happening and worse - but did nothing, and worse.

During the Bosnian war, the British government – along with the United Nations and that of France - appeased (at best) and encouraged (at worst) the perpetrators at Srebrenica for the three long and bloody years to which the massacre was the inevitable conclusion. Three years during which British diplomats and politicians clasped the hand of Radovan Karadžic, now charged with ordering the massacre, beneath the chandeliers of Geneva, Paris and London and connived to keep him in business. They have names: Hurd, Carrington, Neville-Jones, Owen, Rifkind, Hannay and others. Three years during which our generals and others from France and the USA dined with and bestowed gifts upon Ratko Mladic, who also stands trial for sending in the death squads.

It is, however, logical for Secretary Hague and Jolie to visit Srebrenica, although it was the site of a massacre not a rape camp: one goes to Srebrenica de rigeur, because it is an icon. It is a place in which politicians and statesmen can appear to care, even shed a seeming tear, and talk about the 'world failing', but never their own government.

Srebrenica was not an isolated incident. It was the culmination of the genocidal pogrom appeased and facilitated by the west over time. Yet, rather than draw attention to all those other places where smaller but equally vicious massacres took place, Srebrenica detracts from them. It 'ticks the box’ of appearing to reckon with Bosnia, without doing so. Who ever hears these days about Vlasenica, Bjeljina, Doboj, Brcko, Prijedor, Foca, Visegrad, Caplinja, East Mostar… the list is endless, beyond those bereaved, shattered and scattered by the slaughter there?

A third reason for the nineteenth anniversary's singularity is a sudden, unexpected initiative by the British government to take a lead in 'Remembering Srebrenica'. Last Tuesday, at Lancaster House in London, an array of politicians and dignitaries including ministers Eric Pickles and Steve Williams hosted and provided speeches, canapes and Srebrenica goody-bags at an event to this end, enacting a resolution by the European parliament in 2009 that member states commemorate the massacre.

Organised with the estimable 'Remember Srebrenica UK' movement and charity, there had been a moving event in Luton the previous Sunday, at which young local people who had visited the mass graves reported on their experience and emotions, while survivors of the concentration camps at Omarska and Trnopolje (at the other end of Bosnia, and of the war - its beginning in 1992), who had arrived in Luton as refugees, recounted their ordeal and settlement in Britain.

Four activists of the remarkable 'Mothers of Srebrenica' addressed that meeting in a community centre with unbearable power and dignity – as they did in the gilded hall at Lancaster House 48 hours later, where brochures were available containing commemorative messages from David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Boris Johnson, Ed Miliband, Pickles …  et al.

Why? Why do Britain's leaders suddenly want to be seen weeping for Srebrenica, nineteen years later, as William Hague does for victims and survivors of mass rape?  This was the question that baffled the huddles of Bosnians in their best suits, invited to Lancaster House from among our diaspora, and it is a good one. 

A member of the Mothers' delegation dismissed it, however: “We don't care what the reason is. We are remembered here, we are recognised. After Iraq, Syria and all that has happened, we are forgotten, and at this occasion we are not. That is all we ask”.

But a leading British organiser of the event confided: “It's to do with the Muslim vote and Muslim extremism here in Britain. Srebrenica has become the Muslim Holocaust Remembrance Day at which you have to be seen doing the right thing. Which is fine – but the price is re-writing Britain's role in Bosnia”. This is about our domestic politics, but not our domestic reckoning.

And the fourth reason to focus on this nineteenth anniversary is that the first book has just been published not on the horror of Srebrenica but its aftermath - by two leading scholars on Bosnia, Lara Nettelfield and Sarah Wagner. It is an exhaustive and landmark study: covering the progress of 'Srebrenica in court', at The Hague, the grotesque disinterrment of bodies from mass graves to 'secondary graves' and even tertiary ones to hide the evidence, the fortunes of Srebrenica's diaspora scattered worldwide and the vicious harassment of those survivors – mostly women, of course - who dare to return to their native soil.

But the dark kernel of the book concerns the continued and insistent denial of the massacre by Bosnian Serb authorities and their president Milorad Dodik. As families arrived in Srebrenica this week to bury and remember their dead this week, Mr Dodik made a speech in which he invoked the imperative that, “Serb people will in the future have in some way to recognize and celebrate Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadžic and myriad others, to repay them in some decent way for their contribution."

There has always been this nagging question: are the deniers and revisionists mad, or are they pretending to be mad? They know perfectly well what happened at Srebrenica; many of them were involved to a greater or lesser degree.

Nettelfield and Wagner suggest an answer, the book's most shocking proposition, by investigating beyond the usual explanation of the deniers' deranged nationalism. They find the strategy and politics of denial - fostering ethnic strife and searing pain for the survivors as they do - to be a means of political self-preservation; denial is the ultimate political 'spin': a hateful, cynical but effective way of maintaining pyramids of power.

The Dayton agreement of 1995 gave the Bosnian Serbs all they wanted from their pogrom of 'ethnic cleansing', and enabled the machinery of war to remain intact, so that, say the authors: “the gains made during the war were at stake for elites and the institutions they represented. In Republika Srpska … the truth about Srebrenica could undercut its claims to legitimate authority and political control over that territory”.

Denial is thus a means to protect “state and entity bureaucracies staffed by individuals with close connections to the genocide” for whom “a full accounting of the crimes would threaten their careers, after decades of material benefits derived from access to state resources and, in many instances, wartime plunder of the Bosnian state.”

And so the subsequent question of accountability arises, not just in Bosnia, but beyond. Dr. Nettelfield says in interview: “This is another thing Srebrenica's survivors achieved: raising the level of discussion about accountability beyond the execution sites, to try and get international leaders, governments and the United Nations held liable, expand the scale of responsibility for what happened”. She adds of Britain's commemorations, at which she was a guest on Tuesday: “What's the point of commemoration, unless there is accountability?”

So two contributions from Tuesday's occasion in London roared louder than all the hosts' rhetoric, despite being the most softly spoken. One came from Mejra Duguz, who lost her husband, sons, brothers and 40 members of her extended family, and said of her return to live in Srebrenica: “Every day I see the men who killed our children. Every day, they laugh in my face, as though to say: 'We killed everything you had. You never had children because we killed them and we kill them every day because we say they never were’. ”

And a 'daughter of Srebrenica' of the new generation, Nirha Efendic, who lost her father and only brother, and pleaded that the British government, “pressure the Republika Srpska to make denial of the genocide a crime”, as Holocaust denial is in France. Now there is something to get on with, to do with these otherwise impotent tears. There’s a start, nineteen years late, better than never, towards what has to be the ultimate goal if peace is to mean anything: the erosion or abolition of Republika Sprska and unification of Bosnia.

Three recent events

The book was completed before three recent events in Bosnia that undercut this institutionalised trampling on the truth: street protests against mass lay-offs due to privatisation, floods, and the World Cup. From outside the narrative of death, came post-war themes which bonded communities regardless of wartime experience: the fight for jobs, necessity to abate the waters and the achievement of Edin Dzeko et. al. in qualifying for Brazil, where they were supported by Bosnian Muslims and Serbs alike, subverting the politics of ethnicity.  

But it remains to be seen which cuts deeper: the entrenched politics of racism and denial, or common interests. The future of the latter serves all ethnic parties, especially Dodik's. That of the latter clearly lies at the level of community, such as the remarkable 'plenums' established to encapture the principles of the protests. For its part though, the international community – including and especially Britain - which facilitated the massacre, continues to pander to those who rule by its denial, as impotent in the face of Dodik's hatemongery as it was to General Ratko Mladic's advance on the 'Safe Area'. 

We knew then and we know now, whatever Hague and Angelina say. And if there is an element of contrition in all this commemoration, it needs to be stated clearly, humbly and without mercy for a prior generation which appeased and encouraged the killers.

Nettelfield and Wagner use a good term: 'the work of remembrance', to describe marchers for peace and justice who interrupt their lives annually to walk, as they did this week, in reverse the 'road of death' along which stragglers tried to escape the execution squads in 1995, usually without success. The 'work of remembrance' does not describe canapes, speeches and goody-bags at Lancaster House, unless they are urgently, cogently and decisively acted upon in Bosnia; for the sake of the massacre's legacy, and that as yet elusive reckoning without which commemoration is useless and peace just a word.


Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide by Lara J. Nettelfield and Sarah E. Wagner is published by Cambridge University Press.  Ed Vulliamy is author of The War is Dead, Long Live The War - Bosnia: The Reckoning, published by Vintage.

Country or region: 
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Civil society
Democracy and government
International politics

Data pubblicazione : Sat, 12 Jul 2014 15:42:18 +0000
As Israel-Palestine descends into violence, what should Europe do?

The latest effort by the Israel-aligned US to renegotiate the asymmetric power relationships of the Middle East has inevitably failed, with brutal violence following; it is time, as an alternative, for the EU to generalise the rule-based constraint on Israeli action it has tentatively essayed.

Body of child in Gaza hospital morgue snapped by photographers Death in war's spotlight: a Palestinian child in a Gaza hospital morgue. Ahmed Hjazy / Demotix. All rights reserved.The seemingly dormant Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reawakened. A sequence of events triggered by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager has seen the region descend once again into a vortex of violence. Settler attacks on Palestinian civilians, Israeli raids and arrests, Palestinian rioting in the west bank and east Jerusalem, rocket fire from Gaza, the launch of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” with mounting Palestinian casualties and the threat of an Israeli ground operation in the strip have raised the spectre of a third intifada. In light of this escalation, the predictable failure of talks mediated by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the all-round regional chaos, what should the European Union and its member states do?

The EU has never been and is unlikely to be a mediator in Israel-Palestine. Yet it has historically played a pioneering role in the conflict. From the Venice Declaration in 1980 to outright support for a two-state solution in 2001, the EU has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to be ahead of the curve. And, away from the media spotlight, the last decade has slowly but surely seen the EU changing the paradigm governing its relations with Israel and Palestine, shifting away from political discretion towards rule-bound action. Pursuing this pioneering path in the Middle East “peace process” is a responsibility the EU cannot elude.    

Discretionary sanctions

Following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and in the framework of the Middle East Quartet, the EU endorsed and implemented highly discretionary sanctions towards the elected Palestinian government—after the split between Fatah and Hamas, specifically the Hamas-led administration in Gaza. While the condition of non-violence is sacrosanct and firmly embedded in international law, the remaining conditions were highly political and almost designed so as not to be fulfilled. That policy of conditionality was premised on the hope and expectation that Hamas would at worst capitulate and at best wither away. Notwithstanding almost a decade of sanctions, the policy has dismally failed. Even in the west bank, the resistance movement has anything but vanished.

Implicitly acknowledging the bankruptcy of the policy, the EU (and the US) tacitly nodded at the Palestinian government formed via agreement between the factions in 2014. While igniting Israeli ire, this technocratic coalition (arguably closer to the Palestinian Authority than to Hamas) became the first sign of intra-Palestinian reconciliation since the collapse of the “national unity” government in 2007.

The challenges to the survival of the new government are however monumental. Not only does it have to withstand Israel’s onslaught on Gaza but it must also pursue the structurally complex task of reunification after seven years of physical separation, mistrust and animosity. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority still has no presence in the strip. The 50,000 civil servants in Gaza hired by the Hamas authority have not received their salaries since the government’s formation; the PA lacks the funds to pay them and fears that doing so would trigger EU and US retaliation. And the reintegration of the PA and Hamas security apparatuses remains a distant prospect, not to speak of the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza—the more so after the current wave of violence.

In this context, the EU is called upon to put its money where its mouth is. If indeed it supports Palestinian reconciliation and accepts the current technical government, it should do what to takes to ensure its survival. With the odds stacked so heavily against it, active support rather than passive acceptance is essential.

Rule-bound action

When it comes to dealing with Israel, recent years have witnessed the evolution of an EU consensus on rule-bound action. For decades, the EU accepted a binary policy divide—co-operation versus pressure—in which the intra-EU tide weighed heavily in favour of the former. Over time and with mounting headaches caused by the EU’s bending of the rules so as not to upset its political relations within Israel—take, for instance, the decades-old problem of product-origin rules and the EU’s preferential treatment of Israeli settlement products—the tune has started to change. Rather than the either/or, carrot/stick approach, rule-bound co-operation is increasingly becoming the only and most desirable third way. Not only is it the only feasible route for a rule-based EU to maintain and deepen co-operation with Israel. It is also the most effective strategy to temper, rather than fuel, the dynamics of the conflict.

In this context, the EU is called upon to put its money where its mouth is.

The 2013 EU guidelines on funding to Israel, which explicitly excluded as beneficiaries Israeli entities in the occupied territories, represent the first evidence of this new approach. The guidelines are important not because their implementation will cause financial damage to the settlement enterprise, still less because such damage might induce Israel to end the occupation. They are however crucial—hence the uproar they occasioned in Israel—because for the first time EU practice has aligned with its declaratory support for international humanitarian law and the two-state solution.

The effectiveness of this policy is demonstrated by Israel’s ultimate acceptance of the guidelines. Criticism notwithstanding, the Israeli government did not slam the door in the EU’s face. It ultimately signed up to the EU Horizon 2020 programme, contenting itself with an annexed declaration in which it restated its domestic position without this having any legal consequence for the EU. When the EU presented its position to Israel as a legal necessity and not as a discretionary political act, Israel screamed and shouted but ultimately complied.

The challenge today is of pursuing this path and making the funding guidelines the harbinger of a new approach, rather than an incidental digression from old habits. The EU high representative, Catherine Ashton, had promised a new set of guidelines on the labelling of Israeli products, indicating their exact origin, thus allowing EU consumers to make informed choices. But those guidelines never appeared, as the EU was once again put under the magic spell of the “peace process” and its relaunch under Kerry’s impulse. Rather than viewing the labelling guidelines as another small step assisting the US-led peace effort, the EU and its member states suspended the work on them. Following the appointment of the new EU high representative, that work should be revived. It should be pursued even more vigorously if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were to be renewed.

What these episodes reveal is the EU’s ability to signal to Israel and the wider world the broader principle governing the conduct of its bilateral relations. Once that rule-based principle is fully internalised, its scope for application is infinite—from police co-operation to EU assistance for the Israeli-controlled “area C” in the west bank. When put together and conceptualised as a coherent strategy, its appeal may spread beyond the EU, perhaps one day reaching the other side of the Atlantic.

“Peace process”

What then about the “peace process”? When the Kerry-mediated talks were launched, few believed they would finally deliver the two-state solution painstakingly delineated over the two decades since Oslo. And yet the international community, in primis the EU, religiously praised the process and prayed for its success. The candid explained that blind faith was obligatory: negotiations might not resolve the conflict but they would prevent its escalation at a time of mounting regional chaos and, anyway, there was no alternative.

Events over the last few days have revealed the fallacy of this reasoning. A process destined to fail—after two decades it is difficult to argue otherwise—cannot be taken to be better than no process at all. Indeed, it creates hopes which, when dashed, increase rather than reduce the chances of escalation; hence the pattern of a conflict frequently punctuated by violent eruptions. Furthermore, dogmatic insistence shuts down all space for creative thinking about alternative processes and end-points, as Europe pioneered as far back as 1980.

The EU is not a mediator but it does have a role and responsibility. It also has high stakes in the resolution of a conflict in which it has invested so heavily. After 20 years of funding to support a Palestinian state which has precious little chance of seeing the light of day, it is legitimate for the EU to ask whether this continues to be a realistic way forward.

That is not to say that the EU should abandon the goal of a two-state solution or turn its back on the “peace process”. Rather, it should open up a debate, at least internally, on the fundamentals of the process and its presumed conclusion. The Middle East today is unrecognisably different from the early 1990s, when the building-blocks of Oslo were put in place. The EU cannot blindly assume that the Oslo acquis remains relevant today, out of sheer terror of contemplating alternatives. Precisely because the EU does not bear upon its shoulders the responsibilities of mediation, it should use its freedom and its duty towards the conflict parties to engage in an out-of-the-box discussion on the possible way ahead. 

Country or region: 
International politics

Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 20:20:51 +0000
The devastating truth of women’s rights in Afghanistan

The looming withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan highlights the apparent dispensability of the modest gains Afghan women have seen since 2001—and the deep-seated forces which sustain a viciously patriarchal order.

“The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women …”Barack Obama, Ladies’ Home Journal, September 2008

Afghan women trainee police officers with guns Changed roles: Afghan women training as police officers under ISAF stewardship. Balazs Gardi / Flickr. Some rights reserved.Thirteen years on from the international community’s intervention, the situation of Afghan women still gives rise to despair. Although women’s rights and freedoms in Afghanistan have finally appeared on the international radar, they still linger on the margins in many respects and violence against women still emanates in part from laws conducive to its perpetration. Overall, the position of girls and women remains bleak.

Afghanistan is a patriarchal society where all the major institutions are controlled by men. Although, since 2001, there have been many endeavours to elevate women and improvements have been observed, the foundations of discrimination against women have not been uprooted.

In the context of weak law and order, the strict tribal norms, gendered values and religious extremism which are embedded in the history of Afghanistan have been associated with gross violations of the rights of women and would survive significant legal reforms, even were these to be instituted. So one can expect continuing obstacles for women in securing access to healthcare, education and employment, as well as limitations on freedom of movement and opportunities for equal social and political participation.

Killing for “honour”

Much of the oppression of women in Afghanistan is attributed to Pashtun practices: male elders having a say over marriages of young women, high bride prices given to the father of the bride, suggesting the sale of women into marriage, and “honour” killings of women for purported sexual misconduct. During the past few decades, these norms and values have however been adopted across all ethnicities in Afghanistan and the seclusion of women is thus prevalent—entailing women wearing the chaderi or burqa when they leave the confines of the household compound.

Afghanistan’s entrenched traditional and customary practices constitute one of the strongest sources of violence. One of the most esteemed values in Afghanistan is namus. Namus is that which is defended for “honour” to be upheld—as distinct from behaviour which might be deemed honourable, such as showing hospitality. If someone is held to have offended the rules of a gendered order, then it is claimed there is reason to act to protect one’s namus.

Almost every woman in Afghanistan is hidden and isolated from the outside world. 

There have been thousands of cases where women have been physically tortured, beaten severely, brutally mutilated, burned alive or had acid thrown at them—as well as being forced to marry at a very early age, raped or sold into prostitution, with many engaging in self-immolation as a result—and all in the name of namus. Women in Afghanistan, as in other tribal societies, are considered bearers of the “honour” of the family and bound within the associated chains of what is held to be sanctity.

Why such overwhelming violence against women, such calculated misogyny? To taken-for-granted cultural “traditions” should be added the materiality of wealth and power. Sustaining the current political, economic, socio-cultural, religious and tribal systems, even the educational deprivation of the female population, provides opportunities for men to exploit, legally or illegally—including via the drug trade, human trafficking, the black market and dealing in arms. Empowering girls and women would take that away from them or, at a minimum, force them to share the advantages that come with mobility, education and self-sufficiency. Hence, the status quo is preferable and many men resort to criminal behavior and violence to preserve it—knowing they can often act criminally with impunity in so doing.

Root causes

The Afghan government and law-enforcement agencies need to take the discrimination and violence against women seriously. But at the same time the root causes of the problem have to be addressed. Until and unless women are considered human beings and an integral part of society nothing fundamental will change.

Afghanistan today sees more than 50% of Afghan girls married or engaged by the age of 12 and almost 60% married by 16. Almost 80% of Afghan girls are forced or “arranged” into marriage with men who are far older, some in their 60s. One of the reasons which prompts many families to force their young daughters into marriage is the lack of security stemming from three decades of war, including the risk of kidnapping and rape. Some girls are bartered into marriage to repay debt or resolve a dispute. And widespread poverty still compels many parents to have their daughters married to avoid the cost of caring for them.

The implications of child marriage cannot be overestimated as many girls do not continue their education and remain illiterate. They have babies while still young teenagers, increasing health problems and risking death for themselves and their children (the risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth for girls under 14 is five times higher than for adult women).

Education is the best strategy to liberate women from male domination. Only 40% of Afghan girls attend elementary school, and only one in 20 girls attend school beyond the sixth grade. Many Afghan families will only permit their daughters to attend all-girls schools close to home and few such schools exist. Other families believe it is unnecessary for girls to be educated. Schools for girls have been burned down, hundreds of teachers educating girls have been threatened or killed and girls have been physically harmed while attending or walking to or from school.

Almost every woman in Afghanistan is hidden and isolated from the outside world. Islamic extremists insist women and girls stay at home and can only leave if they are fully covered and accompanied by a male relative. In the cities most women wear a burqa, which completely covers them. The fact that girls live with their husband’s extended family often results in them being treated like servants or slaves, compounding their isolation. A culture prohibiting women to appear in public combined with a widespread lack of education means women enjoy few economic opportunities: in general, they are confined to housework.

In addition, women’s legal standing is limited. According to sharia law, a female’s testimony is worth half that of a man. In custody cases, children will usually be awarded to the father or grandfather. So divorce—even in cases of extreme abuse—is less likely to be sought, because a woman must be prepared to lose her children. These discriminatory practices against women are pervasive, occurring across ethnic groups in both rural and urban areas.

Many Afghans, including some religious leaders, reinforce harmful customs by invoking their interpretation of Islam. In most cases, however, these practices are inconsistent with sharia, as well as Afghan and international law. As long as patriarchy is perceived as the dominant culture and public value in Afghan society, violence and the tendency to commit violent acts will remain an integral part of culture and valued relationships.

Modest progress

It would be wrong, though, to discount the achievements made since 2001—especially since those achievements are now in jeopardy. According to NATO’s 2012 statistics:

  • in the upper and lower houses of the Afghan parliament, there are now 21 and 69 women respectively;
  • three ministers are female and gender directorates are functioning in 27 out of the 31 ministries;
  • out of 1,472 judges, 142 are women, including one provincial governor;
  • there are now more than 1,500 women in the Afghan National Security Forces, and
  • the number of girls enrolled in primary and secondary school has gone from 50,000 in 2001 to 3,230,000 in 2011, while the number of women enrolled in higher education has gone from zero to more than 20,000 in the same period.

    Change, if it is to be permanent, cannot be imposed by western outsiders on this tribal, Islamic, post-conflict society. It has to emerge through education within the context of the culture. Educating boys is just as crucial as educating girls: educated men are much more likely to support more choices for women and educated husbands appreciate and are less threatened by their educated partners.

    Nevertheless, although these gains are real, the obstacles to women’s rights and empowerment in Afghanistan are forbidding. Reforming the laws and penal codes, improving the performance of the judiciary, aligning the Elimination of Violence Against Women law more closely with Afghan criminal law, criminalising rape and redefining it in a way that dissociates it from zina (adultery), building awareness of the plight of girls and women, and facilitating attitudinal shifts toward a more gender-balanced society are all imperative.

    A vicious circle of lack of education, poverty, illiteracy, violence and insecurity fuel the highly patriarchal society and even fundamentalism and militancy which still characterise Afghanistan today. Breaking the cycle will take great resolve and courage, as many Afghan women and men have demonstrated—sometimes paying with their lives. Although progress is slow, hope is found in places least expected

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    Country or region: 

    Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 17:46:51 +0000
    Arab migrants face a new Sykes-Picot in Calais

    The latest raid on camps in Calais is an example of Europe continuing to strengthen border controls and crack down on migrants. But violence and coercion will not deter those who are determined to reach a safe haven at any cost.

    Migrant protest in Calais: "We want to go to England - we fled war and violence and found no safety and peace." Image courtesy of Calais Migrant Solidarity.

    On 2 July, only minutes after the close of the suhoor Ramadan dawn meal, the combined forces of the French Police aux Frontières, constituent riot control forces and the Gendarme staged a coordinated raid on the migrant population of Calais – the grim transport hub linking France and Britain. The surprise mass eviction resulted in the destruction of various sub-camps and the detention of hundreds of refugees. At least 600 migrants were attacked with pepper spray, humiliated and insulted, while any surrounding witnesses to the eviction were violently removed from the scene. This latest attack on migrant settlements was authorized by the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart; another murder-hole attendant defending the walls of fortress Europe.

    During the brief interludes wherein the camps are not raided, migrants shelter themselves beneath canopies made of plastic bags, without access to clean water, without recourse to protection. Volunteer groups have attempted to alleviate conditions by distributing food, sanitation items and clothing, and a demonstration has been called on July 12 to protest the atrocious treatment of Calais’ migrant population by the French government and forces.

    The word 'jungle', when it wasn’t being used to denote particularly impenetrable or overgrown vegetation, was a colonial byword for unruly, untameable lands that had yet to come to heel. Today, these same jungles can be found within the former colonial powers, on the outer periphery of ferry ports and border crossings; in Calais they take the form of squatted buildings or makeshift camps. Afghan Jungle, Hazara Jungle and Palestine House - all names given by its embattled occupants - have existed in varying incarnations for years. They house migrants from areas as diverse as Afghanistan, Iran, Vietnam, Kurdistan, Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, not to mention a sizeable East African contingent.

    Recently the most marked increase in those fleeing to the shores of northern Europe has been amongst the Syrian community. In October, Syrian refugees in Calais attempted to appeal directly to the UK government, staging a short-lived protest that saw some wielding placards appealing to speak to Prime Minister David Cameron directly. Syria Jungle has fallen, but the desperation that necessitated its existence ensures that it will rise again.

    Tensions mounted in Calais on 28 May as a series of migrants’ camps were dismantled under the pretence of fears of a scabies outbreak. Rather than effectively treating its inhabitants, the authorities intensified the cycle of violence and abuse. In response to the operation, occupants that had been forced to sleep outside the SALAM charity center began an ongoing hunger strike in protest against constant police harassment and repeated evictions. Initially, SALAM was founded in response to the closure in November 2002 of the Red Cross centre in the town of Sangatte.

    With winter approaching the French government effectively condemned these migrants to sleeping on the streets, leading a number of volunteers to pool their efforts and resources. Today SALAM has centres in Calais and Dunkirk and, with a contingent of 300 active volunteers, ensures a hot meal is served every evening.

    Following the closure of the Sangatte Red Cross centre, over a decades worth of unsanitary camps have been forced to spring up in its place, all of which have been threatened by (ultimately successful) police attempts to clear the makeshift shelters. In 2009, the French minister of immigration Eric Besson authorized a notorious and widely publicized crackdown on the jungles of Calais, which ended in the arbitrary arrest of 278 migrants and their incarceration in detainee centres.

    While the crackdown unfolded, Franco-British negotiations were conducted to allocate resources and provide for the strengthening of border controls in the face of that most overstated of threats: forced migration. Just as the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 reneged on the assurances made to support a pan-Arab homeland, so too does the contemporary Anglo-French alliance lay bare the false motives at the heart of David Cameron and François Hollande’s eagerness to intervene in the Syrian war.

    The 2009 clearing was yet another tragic example of, in this case, two European nations fortifying themselves against crises of their own making; crises that have led to countless deaths in perilous marine crossings, transatlantic wheel carriages and airless, suffocating lorries. In the intervening years the world has witnessed the upheavals caused by various responses to the Arab Spring. The British and French governments have already appropriated the Libyan and Syrian conflicts as a means of repairing their crumbling humanitarian image.

    Already the Franco-British betrayal of previous forced migrations – such as those of Iraqis, Afghans, and Sudanese – is evidenced in illegal deportations, ignored asylum requests and repeated instances of harassment and violence. But with an idea of deliverance in mind, migrants who travel the thousands of perilous miles with the UK as their final destination ultimately refuse to give up their dreams in spite of the toxic socio-political environment.

    Meanwhile, another model for migrant support has more or less flourished in Jordan and Lebanon. Although destabilised by the on-going conflicts in the Middle East, many surrounding countries have willingly provided asylum and protection to some of the almost-three million Syrians that have fled the war. One such camp, Zaatari in Jordan, began life as a tent-city. Now, some of its earliest settled streets are paved and, while crime remains an issue, the spontaneous infrastructure of this migratory urbanism is a testament to the self-sufficiency of its population. Relative to the Calais jungles, Zaatari is a place of stability, making a more suitable environment to treat pervasive cases of trauma, war-related injuries, and disease.

    The latest series of evictions of Calais’ camps began last Wednesday with the SALAM charity’s food distribution centre, a concrete yard secured by mesh gates, where 540 migrants, including twenty women and ten children, had been sleeping rough since their camps were destroyed in May. The police blocked all exits of the enclosure, using volleys of tear gas to prevent escapes. Activists, support groups and visiting journalists were quickly segregated from the epicentre of the clearances to ensure no one bore witness to summary assaults and the destruction of the jungles, the migrants’ only source of shelter. Over 300 individuals were crammed onto coaches and taken to detention centres across the northeast of France, many to facilities that had recently transferred detainees to other centres across the country to make room for the imminent eviction.

    Despite the best efforts of the Calais authorities to stop migrants congregating around the region, violence and coercion will not deter those who are determined to reach a safe haven at any cost. Just this week a British driver discovered a sixteen-year old Sudanese boy clinging to the underside of a coach bound for Ilford, near London. Having just returned from a school trip to Calais, the driver only discovered the child by chance during routine checks; certainly, the outcome could have been much worse.

    The Calais Migrant Solidarity group, who have organised a demonstration on Saturday 12 July, aim to ensure that risky border crossings (such as that attempted by the young Sudanese boy) do not remain the only option open to the embattled migrants of the Calais region, and that mass round-ups do not become the exception that proves the rule. Having worked with migrants in Calais on a daily basis since June 2009, Calais Migrant Solidarity have overseen the residence of British, Belgian, Dutch, German and Italian activists, many of whom remain on-site, monitoring police activity, providing emotional support and distributing SIM cards and other provisions to ensure that a fragment of normality can survive in the Calais migrant’s liminal lives.

    From the infamous 2009 clearing of the Afghan Jungle to last week’s destruction of the Syrian Jungle, the temporary settlements of those dispersed by conflict, tyranny and oppression have become increasingly scattered along the northern French coast. Just 40km from Calais, in the town of Dunkirk, SALAM have recently set up a food distribution point to alleviate the day-to-day hardships of forced migration.

    For many British citizens, the name of the town alone brings to mind images of evacuation, the need for shelter, protection and deliverance. It has been 74 years since the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, a stunning rescue of over 300,000 soldiers from the onslaught of the Nazi blitzkrieg. What was once hailed as a "miracle of deliverance" today appears as an alien concept to the French coast, which continues to be the location of an Anglo-French betrayal of the region’s itinerant migrant population.

    International politics

    Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:20:38 +0000
    Look far right, and look right again

    The Russian political establishment thinks that Ukrainians are 'traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ But it is not only Putin’s Russia that is behind the challenge to democracy in Ukraine.

    Russkiy mir

    In 2006, Russian nationalist historian Mikhail Smolin condemned former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s book Ukraine is not Russia, arguing that Ukraine was a 'sickness,' and Ukrainians were 'South-Russian separatists,' 'traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.' To a greater or lesser extent, this view of the Ukrainian people is shared by the entire Russian political establishment and underpins many of the Kremlin’s responses to developments in Ukraine. 

    The notion of 'Russian unity' or russkiy mir (literally, Russian world) would seem to imply the existence of a transnational community of people and societies committed to Russian culture and language. The idea was adopted by Putin as early as 2006, and is obviously imperialistic, but it also reveals a deeper and probably more important insight into Moscow's domestic and international politics. Since Putin’s regime correctly recognised Western-style liberal democracy as an existential threat to the well being of its elites (not the people), it has crushed democracy in Russia and successfully convinced a large number of Russian people that Western-style democracy is destructive (look back at the 1990s, they say) and essentially alien to them. To compensate for the rejection of liberal democracy and, therefore, becoming part of the West, the Kremlin and its loyal opinion-makers have offered the Russian people the belief that they are a unique civilisation in its own right: you do not need Western values because you are different; Russian culture is not only different but superior to Western culture.

    President Putin meets with members of the 'Night Wolves' a Russian Orthodox motorcycle gang. President Putin meets with members of the 'Night Wolves' a Russian Orthodox motorcycle gang. via

    Russkiy mir is an, 'unwesternisable' and 'unmodernisable' community.

    Moscow proclaimed the uniqueness of Russian culture to justify both the rejection of Western-style democracy and Western modernisation. But the Kremlin – unlike China – has failed in its attempts at authoritarian modernisation, and Russian culture, as intrinsically understood by Putin’s regime, is about not modernising at all. Russkiy mir is an, 'unwesternisable' and 'unmodernisable' community. This is why Putin’s Russia is not fascist, as some commentators suggest: both Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany strove for an alternative modernity rather than rejecting the idea of modernisation altogether.

    Obviously, no society should be forced to modernise along Western lines unless it so wishes. However, the danger of the Kremlin’s 'non-modernisation,' driven by the elites' urgent need for self-preservation, is that it clashes with Russia’s natural progress towards social modernisation, which is determined by globalisation. Thus, the Kremlin’s 'non-modernisation' agenda is not only to conserve the existing traditionalist elements of Russian society, but also to suppress those who embrace Western-style modernisation. This suppression has resulted in almost all the social conservative policies that Putin’s regime has produced so far, showing disdain for – if not openly persecuting – human rights and environmental activists, social, cultural and sexual minorities, progressive artists and musicians, etc.

    Another danger of the Kremlin’s refusal to modernise is that the uniqueness of the 'unwesternisable' russkiy mir needs constant corroboration, meaning that hindering the progress of Westernisation and democratisation in the countries that are allegedly part of russkiy mir is crucial for continuing to substantiate the 'non-modernisation' thesis to the Russians. Putin’s attempts, first to sabotage Ukraine’s democratic revolution, and then to undermine the country’s post-revolutionary development were aimed at Russian citizens, to prevent them from observing Ukraine’s successful democratisation; otherwise, if those Little Russians did it, why can’t we?

    Belonging to russkiy mir

    It is essential to stress that russkiy mir is not a community of ethnic Russians or societies committed to Russian culture. The Kremlin’s flirtation with Russian nationalism, although convincing, is inherently a means to secure the rule of the political and financial elites in Putin’s Russia. To be part of russkiy mir is to fit their agenda: disdain for liberal democracy, suppression of human rights, and undermining the rule of law. This explains why liberal citizens of Russia, or ethnic Russians in Ukraine who supported the democratic revolution, do not belong to russkiy mir; they are 'national traitors' or 'Russophobes.' It also helps to explain why the defenders of russkiy mir in Eastern Ukraine are racists and homophobes; and why the best friends of russkiy mir in the West are corrupt politicians and undemocratic political parties.

    Russkiy mir is not a community of ethnic Russians or societies committed to Russian culture.

    In May 2014, an 'epic thread' appeared on the Facebook page of the Right Sector, a far right Ukrainian movement that emerged at the beginning of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013. A photo of Conchita Wurst, the extravagant Austrian winner of 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, was posted with the comment: 'Do we need this kind of ‘Europe’? Or would it be better to restore the real Europe at home and build a strong national state that would be free not only from Moscow imperialists but also from Western liberasts?!'. This post became a disaster for the Right Sector, as the overwhelming majority of the commentators – many of them actual subscribers to the Right Sector Facebook page – condemned the homophobia and intolerance of the post. One commentator said: 'You have Putin’s view of Europe… Europe is different and Conchita demonstrates that people are different... And, with the kind of attitude that you demonstrate, you’d better go to a referendum and join Russia.’ Another comment was no less devastating: 'If you're homophobes, then don't turn on the TV. Go and visit neighbouring fascist Russia – they think the same way you do. Shame on you.' Apart from comparing the Right Sector to Putin’s Russia, some comments also denounced its isolationism: 'Do you want Juche [North Korean autarchy) ideas in Ukraine or do you want Ukraine to be a full member of the world community? If you want Juche, then you are enemies of Ukraine; if you don’t, then stop this silly hysteria and talk about self-isolation. Simply put: stop talking nonsense. Glory to Ukraine!'

    'I will return Crimea to Ukraine!', one of the slogans of Oleh Lyashko's presidential campaign 'I will return Crimea to Ukraine!', - slogan from Oleh Lyashko's presidential campaign. (c) RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Maksimenko

    Written in Ukrainian and Russian, comments like these affirm that Ukraine’s departure ('South-Russian separatism') from russkiy mir or the sphere of influence of Putin’s Russia is not about creating an unbridgeable ethno-cultural cleavage between the Ukrainians and Russians. It is about rejecting what Putin’s Russia apparently stands for: intolerance, illiberalism, and isolationism.

    Far right… and far far right

    Unfortunately, the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the proxy war that the Kremlin has waged against Ukraine in eastern parts of the country have created the conditions for some elements of Ukrainian society to evolve in the direction of russkiy mir. The natural feeling of humiliation deriving from the loss of territory and military failure, resulted in a psychological need for the deceptive comfort of populism and its simplistic rhetoric and actions. Similar attitudes were to be found in Russia after the defeat in the first Chechen war – attitudes that contributed to the rise of Putin. 

    Another presidential candidate, Oleh Lyashko, obtained 8.32% of the votes and finished third.

    After Ukraine’s presidential election in May 2014, many journalists and experts on Ukraine, who highlighted the pathetic results of the two 'official' far-right candidates, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok (1.16%) and Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh (0.70%), completely ignored the strong electoral performance of another presidential candidate, Oleh Lyashko, who obtained 8.32% of the votes and finished third. In his political programme, peppered with 23 exclamation marks, Lyashko presented a textbook example of unabashed populism, while, during his campaign, he postured in a military uniform promising to 'return Crimea to Ukraine!' In the run-up to the presidential election, Lyashko praised militarism and bragged about unlawfully questioning a captured separatist. However, not only have the Ukrainian authorities ignored Lyashko’s criminal actions, but society has largely failed to condemn his behaviour.

    Social-National Assembly (SNA)

    Lyashko worked with Right Sector extremist elements, namely the Social-National Assembly (SNA); and by spring 2014 had effectively managed to lure them away from Right Sector. The SNA is a neo-Nazi movement, which has always been too extreme for the Right Sector. According to its official documents, its 'nationalism is racial, social, great-power imperialist, anti-systemic (anti-democratic and anti-capitalist), self-sufficient, militant and uncompromising'. Its ideology 'builds on maximalist attitudes, national and racial egoism,' while glorifying the Ukrainian nation as part of the 'White Race.'

    Fighters of the Azov battalion under the flag of the SNA featuring a wolf's hook. Fighters of the Azov battalion under the flag of the SNA featuring a wolf's hook. via

    Lyashko's Radical Party nominated several SNA members as candidates in the May 2014 Kyiv city council elections: Oleh Odnorozhenko (its ideologue), Ihor Mosychuk, Ihor Kryvoruchko, and Volodymyr Shpara. It seems plausible to suggest that SNA members will also be included in Lyashko’s party list in the early parliamentary elections possibly taking place in autumn 2014. 

    The Azov battalion includes members of Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi movement.

    The SNA was also behind the formation of the Azov battalion, a volunteer auxiliary police unit that was armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as part of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) launched against the (pro-)Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Azov battalion does not consist solely of SNA members (although there are unverified reports that all the volunteers are required to sign up to the SNA before joining the battalion), but the SNA leader Andriy Biletsky is its commander, with Mosychuk as his deputy. The battalion includes members of Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi movement, whose Ukrainian 'branch' – mostly based in Kharkiv – is affiliated with the SNA. The Division considers that, rather than liberating Eastern Ukraine from illiberal and undemocratic (pro-)Russia separatists, their 'black squadrons are fighting in the ranks of the pagan battalion Azov against the residues of modern society represented by khachi [racist slur for natives of the Caucasus region], chavs, communists, liberals, Asians and other Untermenschen.'

    Media coverage

    The SNA’s participation in the ATO in Eastern Ukraine, and Lyashko’s cooperation with the neo-Nazis, run in parallel with mainstream Ukrainian media according the SNA a degree of legitimacy by proclaiming them 'defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.' They are almost never presented to audiences as SNA members, but specifically as fighters of the Azov battalion. In the same manner, RT (formerly Russia Today) presents members of European far-right parties who support the Kremlin’s agenda, as simply European politicians, without mentioning their undemocratic doctrines.

    Recently, SNA members have appeared on Ukrainian TV, and interviews with them have been published by respected media outlets. Their ideology was very rarely questioned although sometimes they took the liberty of appearing on TV wearing clothes with dubious symbols. Regretfully, the same media that provided objective coverage during the Maidan revolution were now legitimising the SNA by refusing to regard their ideology and activities as problematic.

    In one episode, a journalist of Hromadske went so far as to show a video in which Mosychuk was humiliating a captured separatist.

    Hromadske TV, for instance, invited Biletsky, Mosychuk and Kryvoruchko to its studio as the commanders of the Azov battalion. In one episode, a journalist of Hromadske went so far as to show a video in which Mosychuk was humiliating a captured separatist. The journalist failed to provide even moderate criticism of Mosychuk's actions – in what way was he any different from the Russian state journalists who questioned, detained and abused Ukrainian security officers?

    In another episode, Roman Skrypin, a journalist for Hromadske, evidently unwillingly asked Biletsky, who was wearing a black paramilitary polo with a chevron saying 'Black Corps' – a clear reference to Das Schwarze Korps, the official newspaper of the SS – about the claims that the SNA was a neo-Nazi movement. When Biletsky, for obvious reasons, decided not to give a direct answer, Skrypin disavowed his question.

    Ukrainska Pravda, LB, The Insider and other influential Ukrainian media outlets have regularly published comments from and interviews with the SNA leaders, as well as sympathetic coverage of their actions. Novoye Vremya, a new media project of Vitaliy Sych, former editor of the popular magazine Korrespondent, has even named Biletsky among the 10 people 'who are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence in Donbas.' It may be worth remembering that Sych declared Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok 'the person of the year 2012.'

    Ihor Mosychuk in the studio of Hromadske TV, wearing a t-shirt produced by the neo-Nazi brand Doberman Aggressive. Ihor Mosychuk in the studio of Hromadske TV, wearing a t-shirt produced by the neo-Nazi brand Doberman Aggressive. via YouTube

    How different, then, are they all from the media in Putin’s Russia that serve as a platform for disseminating the illiberal and intolerant views of Russian ultranationalists such as Aleksandr Dugin, Aleksandr Prokhanov and many others? Ukrainian humanistic and liberal voices are few. In Ukraine, they are often slammed as 'pacifists,' although neither humanism nor liberalism equals pacifism. In Russia, liberal journalists are condemned as the 'fifth column.' 

    Conflict as a test of Ukrainian democracy

    Russia’s proxy war against Ukraine now serves as a perfect excuse for legitimising the fringe Ukrainian neo-Nazis as 'defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.' Those who are involved in this process – especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs that arm them and Ukrainian mainstream media that uncritically take their 'patriotism' at face value – fail to understand that neo-Nazis pose a real threat to Ukrainian society. 

    Neo-Nazis pose a real threat to Ukrainian society.

    The Constitution of Ukraine unequivocally states that 'Ukraine is the sovereign and independent, democratic, social, legal state' (Article 1). For some Ukrainians, the Russian threat to their country’s sovereignty and independence has obscured the rationale of being sovereign and independent – that is to secure the democratic, social and legal state. Furthermore, the Constitution unambiguously recognises, 'the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security' as the highest social value. At the same time, the main duty of the state is 'to affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms' (Article 3). 

    It is absurd to assume that the neo-Nazis who 'are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence' are doing this in the name of Ukraine’s highest social values or to reinforce the main duty of the state as stipulated by the Constitution. Rather, they are arming themselves, learning how to fight and kill, as well as recruiting new members. Their 'ideal Ukraine' is not only different, but is the direct opposite of a democratic, social and legal state. To ignore these values, to override them for the sake of sovereignty and independence, is to move closer psychologically in the direction of Putin’s russkiy mir without even acknowledging it. Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU should mean something different, because EU member states have partially sacrificed their sovereignty and independence at the altar of supranational democracy, more secure social order and the stronger rule of law.

    In the beginning of July, Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko used the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as an excuse for discarding what should be the fundamental values of the democratic Ukrainian state. On 5 July, the Ukrainian LGBT community was going to hold a March of Equality in Kyiv, under the slogan 'Ukraine is united and we are part of it,' but Klitschko called for its cancellation on the grounds that 'when military operations are taking place and many people are dying,' it would not be  'appropriate to hold entertainments.' Klitschko seems completely to misunderstand the meaning of democracy: the March of Equality is not an 'entertainment' but a means of drawing attention to the fact that the state should 'affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms' of all its citizens.

    What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion returns to Kyiv to fight against various 'Untermenschen'?

    The March of Equality has been cancelled but the reasons for cancelling it are most disturbing: the police told the organising committee that 'they could not secure the safety of participants in the face of expected far-right counter-demonstrators.' What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion – officially armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs – returns to Kyiv to fight against various Untermenschen? The failure to protect the participants of the March of Equality from Ukrainian right-wing extremists in Kyiv is no different from the failure to protect East Ukrainian civilians from (pro-)Russia separatists, because 'all people are free and equal in their dignity and rights', while 'human rights and freedoms are inalienable and inviolable' (Article 21). 

    Giving in to bullies only makes them stronger; retreating from any enemy of democracy – be they militants of intolerant and isolationist russkiy mir or Ukrainian neo-Nazis – is to open up even more space for injustice, and cede even more territory to anti-European forces. Every time Ukraine’s authorities infringe the rights of its citizens, Putin gives a welcoming smile.

    Country or region: 
    Creative Commons

    Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 13:27:15 +0000
    The Middle East - who cares?

    Or at least, who cares enough to try to start thinking anew? The region is burning. Apart from the parties to the conflicts who want to win, nobody seems to have any idea of what to do.

    Right now


    - Israel is again bombing Gaza and Hamas is firing missiles at Israel, including at the nuclear reactors at Dimona.

    - An irregular militia has constructed a new state in parts of Iraq and Syria and appears to exert power through pure terror. It has got control ofSyria’s largest oil field and occupied Mosul in Iraq, taking over US$400 million from its central bank and large amounts of US military equipment.

    - In Syria itself a multi-front, multi-sided civil war continues. The retiring UN special envoy describes the country as a failed state run by warlords. Russia is a major arms supplier for the government, aligning with Iran in giving unequivocal support to Assad. Saudi Arabia supplies the insurgents with arms, as does the US, if with less fanfare.

    - As the Islamic State piles the pressure on the Iraqi military, that country faces political meltdown along with escalating sectarian violence. One slice of territory has been lost – perhaps just temporarily, perhaps for longer – to the Islamic State and Kurdish leaders have re-emphasised their intentionto establish Kurdistan.

    - Iran remains deeply engaged both directly and indirectly in both Iraq and Syria. The Iranian supreme leader says his country must enrich more uranium to meet energy needs; this will renew fears about it having weaponising ambitions and slow down progress to international agreement on its national nuclear development.

    - Egypt is going through its most politically repressive period since independence.

    - Libya is a patchwork of areas where 1,700 militias hold sway in shifting coalitions; try googling ‘Libyan quagmire’ and see how widely the trope is used.

    - A coalition of militias has formed a politico-military campaign led byGen Khalifa Haftar, Chief of Staff of the military under Gaddafi for a time and a rebel leader in 2011, in what may be an attempt to bring order out of chaos, or may turn out to be one more milestone on chaos road.

    - In Yemen the truce has collapsed and this week rebels have taken a major town 70 kilometres north of the capital.

    Oh –

    - And next door in Afghanistan, the results of a presidential election are contested. The declared loser is threatening to set up a parallel administration.

    The stakes are immense, outside powers are embroiled, the roar of contention and suffering is deafening. And equally deafening in a different way is the silence if you try to listen out for somebody articulating a viable way forward.

    Before right now

    The trouble is that you can unpick the headlines and dig deeper beneath them and see how in each case, there are added layers of complexity and intransigence that only increase each conflict’s degree of intractability.

    - In Israel and Palestine, the almost complete lack of empathy for each people’s murdered teenagers and their grieving families; and in Israel the rising tide of anti-Arab racism, the grisly counterpart of anti-Semitism and holocaust denial among Arabs.

    - In Egypt, the increasingly frequent, seemingly systematic and officially authorised use of sexual harassment and violence including rape as a way of punishing and policing women who oppose the clampdown on freedoms – or have ever done anything that implies they might oppose it.

    - In Saudi Arabia, the self-hamstrung response of the politico-religious establishment to the jihadi challenge it did so much to nurture and rear.

    - The parallels with Algeria in the 1990s, drawn by The Economist among others, when a popular movement for change was frustrated by the military, leading to a civil war of extraordinary brutality, and bequeathing to North Africa a salafist organisation that is now al-Qaeda in the Magreb.

    None of this makes pleasant reading. Perhaps even worse, this summary from The Economist:

    - “The Arab spring has led to something depressingly like a region-wide rerun of the Algerian experience.”

    Or as I heard in a briefing last year: “It’s not spring; it’s the start of 15-20 years of instability, insecurity and worse.”

    The situation is, in a word, bad. Yet, apart from those who know they want to win, not many people seem to have much of an idea of what to do. Worse, not many people seem bothered enough to try to have an idea. Indeed, so pervasive is the lack of ideas that you start to wonder if anybody is paying the right kind of attention to the problem.

    The region and the rest of us

    By rights, everybody should be listening and trying. Despite my provocative headline, people care very much about the Middle East. Most of the key events make headlines everywhere. What happens there hits first and foremost the people who live there and they have the greatest stake in finding peaceful solutions. But the range of effects goes much wider, sometimes with lethal consequences – as can be attested in London, Madrid, New York, Bali, Mombassa, Nairobi…

    Beyond the killing, what happens in the Middle East affects us all, and not just materially because of oil, the wealth of the region, and the movement of people into and out of it. It affects in the sense of touching us because the region is part of the sacred geography of all societies that have been influenced by any or all of the three world religions that began there – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And with that, it touches even the most secular among us.

    Scanning the media, both mainstream and blogosphere, and considering the voluminous expert and scholarly production of research and analysis, it is evident that the region, its culture, history and current conflicts get a huge amount of attention. So it seems many people care very much.

    Beyond caring, thinking

    There is plenty of real caring. Great effort is going into trying to get humanitarian aid to Syria where millions are in desperate need. And plenty went into clearing Syria of chemical weapons – an outstanding achievement, almost completeagainst all the odds.

    These things are profoundly important and I am not knocking them at all when I say that nonetheless there is a problem. Ask people about the region and what to do and from within it and outwith, in government and outside, among experts and punters, the response is not only helpless but close to clueless.

    The humanitarian response and the emphasis on chemical disarmament are of paramount importance but they do not address the underlying problem because they avoid the politics of it.

    The reason why violent conflict is so widespread in the region is because of the systems of power in the Middle East. There are essentially two dimensions of this – national and regional – and both are so structured that the inability to handle inevitable conflicts except through violence is an inevitable result in most of the region.

    While the national specifics cannot be forgotten or else there will be no peaceful resolution, it is also purblind to ignore that what is going on is region-wide. It is as a regional political process that events unfolded and brought hope as people sought change. And it was still a regional process when things seemed less hopeful as the various power-holders blocked change in most countries. It continued to be a regional process when it seemed like disaster loomed as some countries became the playground for international interests and gatherings of the disaffected and disempowered of the region. And it remains a regional issue now that disaster has arrived.

    Consequently, both national and regional efforts are necessary to create a peaceful future. The Middle East is a region of great diversity in which everything is connected and whatever it is you seek to achieve politically, you ignore that connectivity at your peril. To get that effort going, we need a period of discussion to develop ideas to drive the effort.

    Beyond thinking, thinking differently

    The current disaster and the way it has unfolded shows that the default politico-diplomatic-military response of finding who to support and doing so by supplying or using arms is not going to work.

    If you look at Syria and are sometimes ambushed by the thought that, well, maybe, we should have intervened (whoever the “we” inside your head is), then look at Libya today, three years after armed external intervention. It is the one-word description of the perils of intervening with the force of arms.

    Of course there are people and groups in Syria whom supporters of democracy, decency and human rights could back. But doing so with the force of arms does not have a good track record. It does not always go wrong (ref Sierra Leone) but it does not often go right – at least, not all the way through.

    So the ideas we need now are, by definition, new: since everything that has been tried hasn’t worked, we need something that has not been tried before.

    Beyond thinking, imagining

    The risk when you say ‘politics’ is that what happens is a partisan process of fixing the blame. Actually, one good way of analysing the region’s systemic problems is to listen to all the blaming. Then, rather than trying to decide who’s right and wrong, what’s justified and not, simply add it all together and go on from there to think about the social realities that lie behind the actors. US influence, Israel, the other side of the sectarian divide, oil, despots, religious fanatics and religious hypocrites, European colonialism (and before that the Ottoman empire, which is, surprisingly to my mind, usually allowed off the charge sheet) – all of these things are part of the picture. Many of the blame-gamers are not wrong as such – except for pure fantasists, to be found on most sides – they are merely incomplete.

    But even a better understanding of what is happening will not help much if we are unable to apply our imagination – to be ready to think different thoughts, to think anew.

    And who is that “we”? Obviously, the people of the region are first; without them driving forward a search for new approaches, nothing is possible. But I think the rest of us have a legitimate interest too, because where I live has been affected by the violence, albeit much less than the region itself has, and also because of that shared sacred geography. So it is a pretty large “we” and a quite complex discussion that we need.

    I am not saying it is easy – I understand the reasons for turning away into passivity, anger or focusing on just bits and pieces of the overall problem. I am not saying that anyone I know has the answer. I’m simply saying it’s urgent.


    This piece was originally published on Dan’s blog on 11 July, 2014. 


    Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 13:25:51 +0000
    Time to get even with Stevens

    New NHS boss Simon Stevens has revealed his true privatising colours with this week's announcement on personal health budgets - which would wreck NHS services and leave the field clear for big business.

    We have been waiting to see whether - and how - new NHS boss Simon Stevens would work round to furthering the private sector agenda he has brought with him from his sojourn at US insurance giant UnitedHealth – and now we know.

    In a speech to the Local Government Association this week Stevens called for a major extension of combined health and social care personal budgets. The announcement opens up a whole range of opportunities for private insurers selling policies to cover top-up payments, and a host of cheapskate private service providers looking to cash in on a new £5 billion-plus market.

    The Local Government Association should have been highly skeptical.

    Incessant government cuts have forced them to make year after year of brutal cutbacks in adult social care budgets. For most people, there is next to no care now available for ‘moderate ‘social care needs, only for people with serious or critical needs. Much social care is delivered by exploited privatised staff on minimum wage, zero-hours contracts, meting out “care” in 15 minute episodes.

    When it comes to finding cash for personal health budgets, the cupboard is bare.

    Stevens stretched credulity when he told his audience that personal budgets would be a way to overcome the shortages of money which are increasingly visible in the NHS and social care.

    In fact the establishment of personal budgets on the scale he now proposes – 5 million people, mostly receiving £1,000 each - in fact rips 20% or more out of the £30 billion a year currently spent on health and care of frail older people. All for giving people £20 per week - which won't go far, ripped out of the system, even at minimum wage levels.

    It would empty the coffers of already-struggling NHS and council-run services, triggering a widespread collapse and closure of unsustainable services, resulting in even less choice, and in many areas no services at all for those who do not opt in to PHBs.

    Personal Budgets are a way of carrying through the ultimate privatisation and fragmentation of care – right down to the individual. It completes the shift from state-funded and previously state-provided care, through to a partial state subsidy, leaving individuals organising their own care and footing an increasing share of the bills themselves. Apparently they are supposed to feel “empowered” in the process.

    “Our Balkanised health and social care services are no longer fit for purpose”. Too many patient groups receive “inadequate and ‘fragmented’ care”, Stevens tells us.

    For those on the receiving end, this is hardly news. But if the budgets of these main public services are inadequate now (and both face further real terms cuts for years to come) how can personal budgets solve the problem?

    It’s the same feeble dregs in the jamjar – no matter how you divide it up or spread it, it still won’t make a decent sandwich.

    In fact, it’s worse. How is state funding going to generate any more care if spent by individuals steering a difficult route between grasping private companies seeking to rip them off?

    The answer to these riddles is unstated but obvious. When the personal budget runs out, those who can afford to do so will have to “top up” the miserly state contribution with their own money, or borrow from family and friends to pay the extra themselves.

    Those who don’t, or who lack any savings or access to extra money will go without.

    And there are more questions. How can five million individuals expect to get a “better deal” in negotiating one by one with private companies than they get from public services? Public services – whatever their faults – are driven by responsibilities to those who need care and support. Private companies are driven by the duty to deliver maximum return to their shareholders.

    If older people are “baffled and daunted” by dealing with “an array of different parts of the NHS”, why would they not be equally or more baffled or daunted by being made responsible for buying their own care in a market place that will be thronged with low quality providers keen to make a fast buck?

    The ground would be cleared for the private profiteers, who are happy to cash in on the limited choice of a large number of individuals trying to find their way through the chaos of the new system, possibly with the assistance of a voluntary sector ‘advisor’ and the local Yellow Pages.

    Some voluntary sector organisations such as Age UK have opportunistically and uncritically jumped onto Stevens’ bandwagon scenting more empire-building possibilities ahead, just as the voluntary sector has now been harnessed in to back contracting out of cancer services and other “pathways of care”. They are doing their client groups no favours.

    Eager testimony is retailed by ministers and voluntary sector enthusiasts citing the experience of selected individuals who were enlisted on early pilot schemes, given much more generous health budgets and who were willing and able to take matters into their own hands. But of course for the next five million these factors will increasingly not apply.

    We’re at the end of a transition from institutional care, to care at home… to caring for yourself, on your own in your own home. That’s the glory of neoliberal Britain.

    Stevens is a bright enough to know he’s talking nonsense when he claims that “individuals themselves can be the best ‘integrators’ of the health and social care they are offered”.

    The imbalance of knowledge and power between even the most physically and mentally agile patients, and the providers of their health needs, means that a genuinely free market in health care is almost universally seen as impossible, and no country on earth has attempted to create one.

    It’s clear that Stevens and the supporters of this policy – resting on anecdotes from a handful of individuals who have been able to do well from early pilots – are not interested in evidence such as the failed experiments with PHBs in the better-funded Netherlands system.

    They appear to have also wilfully ignored evidence much closer to home. Back in 2011 the NHS Confederation published reports weighing up the merits of the scheme - and found strong concerns from service users, front line staff and carers.

    They found “Service users in particular pointed out that even if given control of a budget, they would still be heavily dependent on their health professionals for expert advice …”. While a few NHS staff “spoke optimistically about PHBs allowing them to set up their own micro-providers”, the majority “expressed suspicion that this policy could destabilise current NHS services, replacing them with more for-profit providers.” “Frontline staff in particular foresaw a significant increase in the transaction costs of administering, brokering and monitoring health services under PHBs”.

    Double running costs would arise from having to continue to run existing services for the majority while also finding the money to give to smaller numbers of patients to spend elsewhere.

     “Service users wanted assurance that PHBs would not lead to the local services they valued closing down, leaving them, ultimately with less choice overall.”

    In fact this was already happening in 2011. In South East London a successful community arts programme for people with mental health problems was forced to close by the financial insecurity of PHBs. There is now no equivalent service available to mental health service users. More  closures have followed since.

    The key selling point is always the same - Stevens suggests his plan would “keep people out of hospital, and ultimately save money”.

    It might save George Osborne money if individuals are forced to dig into their own pockets to bridge the gaps and secure adequate services: but many will lack the money or the expertise to bridge the gaps and will fall through them, winding up in hospital, with even fewer options for discharge home again.

    Stevens won’t care. He is now embarking on his real mission, to find the private sector serious returns from the wreckage of an NHS driven aground by Tory under-funding and marketisation.


    He remains, as many feared, the private sector’s man, now carving up the service that superseded the private health care market. The fight is on to stop him.

    Like this piece? Please donate to OurNHS here to help keep us producing the NHS stories that matter. Thank you. 

    Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 12:59:42 +0000
    Ruslan Kutayev: Chechen human rights activist

    Ruslan Kutayev, human rights activist, has been sentenced to four years imprisonment in Chechnya for possession of heroin. His fellow campaigners are convinced that the charges were false.

    On Monday 7 July, a court in the Chechen town of Urus Martan, found Ruslan Kutayev guilty of unlawfully procuring and possessing heroin with no intent to sell; and sentenced him to four years in a minimum-security labour camp. Presiding judge Aleksander Dubkov also banned the 56-year-old president of the NGO 'Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus,' and member of the political council of the 'Alliance of Greens and Social-Democrats,' from engaging in any public activity for a year after the end of his sentence.

    Arrest and beating

    Ruslan Kutayev was arrested on 20 February 2014, outside the house of relatives, in the hamlet of Gekhi. According to the Interior Ministry, a crime-prevention operation was being run at the time in the village, and the patrol detained Kutayev, whose behaviour struck them as 'odd.' When they searched him, they found three grammes of an unknown powder substance in his trouser pocket. Kutayev was taken in for further investigation.

    Ruslan Kutayev has been sentenced to four years in a prison camp. Photo CC: youtube

    'For a long time we didn't know where Ruslan was, who had taken him, and where,’ said his brother Shirvani. ‘We only knew he had been arrested outside our relatives' house, in his slippers – they were just sitting down to supper. Several cars drove into the courtyard; then masked men came in to the house and took my brother away. It was only late that night that we discovered he was at the police station at Urus Martan,' Later, the investigators informed him that Kutayev had confessed to possessing heroin. A day after that, he was taken for medical testing. After several attempts, they apparently found codeine and morphine in his urine. 

    'He had broken ribs and had been badly beaten. He seemed very low.'

    His brother managed to get to see Ruslan when he was in the police station: 'he had broken ribs and had been badly beaten. He seemed very low.' Later, in March, the doctors discovered that Kutayev had two broken ribs and the lawyers recorded many bruises, a large hematoma on his back and in the chest area.

    Relatives are in no doubt that the officers had beaten Kutayev, to try and get him to confess, though he denied this at the bail hearing on 24 February. Kutayev confessed that he had found the package with the three grammes of heroin in a taxi on the way back from Pyatigorsk, and had put it in his pocket quite consciously.

    Upsetting the President

    The anniversary of the deportation of Chechens was moved to 10 May, the anniversary of former President Kadyrov's (left) burial.Kutayev's arrest did not cause much of a stir in the Chechen Republic; it did, however, attract the attention of Russian human rights campaigners. Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, was the first to publicise the charges against Kutayev. He pointed out that two days before the arrest, Kutayev, among others, had taken part in an adademic conference in Grozny's Central Library. This was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Chechens and Ingush; other participants included Chechen WWII veterans, Deputies of the republican parliament, academics and historians. The anniversary is usually commemorated on 23 February, but this year, President Kadyrov decreed that the date should be changed to 10 May, the anniversary of the burial of his father Akhmad Kadyrov.  

    Ignoring the decision of the Chechen President, Kutayev convened an academic conference on 18 February.

    Ignoring the decision of the Chechen President, Kutayev convened the conference on 18 February, and, in so doing, according to Kalyapin, fell foul of the head of the Presidential Administration, Magomed Daudov. Several of the people involved in the conference were called to a meeting with Daudov, who expressed his dissatisfaction at what had taken place.  Kutayev was telephoned and 'invited' to attend, but refused, saying that he did not have to take orders from the head of the Presidential Administration; and he was too busy to attend.

    'After the conference, Ruslan rang me and several others in Moscow. He was sure he would be arrested quite soon because of his refusal to meet Daudov, said Kalyapin. ‘He called me from his relatives in the village to say he was being followed. Two hours later he had been arrested.' Soon after the arrest, Kalyapin managed to get to see Kutayev in the Urus-Martan police station, where he confirmed the many hematomas and bruises on Kutayev's body.

    Kalyapin's preliminary investigations led him to declare that the case was politically motivated and the charges trumped up. The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, reacted very quickly to this statement: at a meeting in the Public Chamber he stated in his usual brusque manner that Kalyapin was involved in dubious financial dealings and even in aiding and abetting terrorist activities in the republic.

    'I emphasised that no one on earth is more interested in protecting the rights of Chechens. Our first President [Kadyrov's father], Hero of Russia Akhmad-khadzhi Kadyrov and thousands of his supporters, paid with their lives for these rights. At the same time, however, some people in Chechnya are trying to make a career out of human rights and have their own agenda,' said Kadyrov. According to him, Kalyapin is 'trying to persuade some Ruslan Kutayev or other to give false evidence.'

    ‘Some people in Chechnya are trying to make a career out of human rights and have their own agenda,' said President Kadyrov.

    This is not the first time that Kadyrov has attacked Kalyapin and his committee, criticising him and it for offering legal assistance to victims of torture, which they have been doing since 1995. 'We have our own human rights campaigners, who can raise any questions with the Government and defend the legal rights of Chechen citizens; they have no need of any Kalyapins,' was the conclusion of the President.

    The Ombudsman

    The next person to speak of the Kutayev case was the Chechen Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev. He explained that as soon as he heard about Kutayev's arrest, he tasked his subordinates with discovering both the circumstances and the reason for the detention. He said he had spoken to Kutayev alone, and could reveal that the prisoner had no complaints about his rights being infringed or the conditions of his detention. 

    'I can see no reason for getting excited about this case, but those that are making the fuss are certainly working against Kutayev's interests. The situation is being artificially hyped by some people who are pretending to be energetically engaged in human rights activities, but are really only interested in self-promotion,' said Nukhazhiyev. He undertook to keep tabs on the investigation, and to react immediately if he considered this to be necessary.

    Dressed in white, Chechen Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev (far right) attends a session with Putin on human rights in Russia.

    The trial

    The investigation of the charges against Kutayev was completed fairly rapidly: the investigators only took two months to prepare the indictment, and on 25 April the trial began.

    The police who had taken part in his arrest were called as witnesses. During the trial, Igor Kalyapin more than once pointed out the inconsistencies and contradictions in their evidence. One of the witnesses said that Kutayev had attracted their attention because he was 'unsteady on his feet, though standing in one place, and in some kind of agitation.' This led the officers to suspect that he was on drugs. However, Kutayev was only taken for medical examination the day after he was arrested. Kalyapin's suspicions were also aroused by the fact that during questioning many of the policemen asked the judge to read out to them the statements they had made earlier, during the investigation.

    The policemen asked the judge to read out to them the statements they had made earlier.

    On 2 June, while on the stand, the neurologist who had examined Kutayev, said that she did not know who had entered into her signed statement the ‘fact’ that codeine and morphine had been found in his urine. She said that she had made no probe sampling for analysis, and that she herself had not been in charge of the laboratory investigation; who had done it and when she did not know. Kutayev himself explained at the trial that he had been compelled to confess under torture.

    'I was taken to Daudov. He and Alaudinov (Deputy Interior Minister) beat me viciously in the presence of their bodyguards,' said Kutayev, during one of the court sessions, 'I don't think this was only personal animosity towards me, however, and it is by no means the main reason for the fabrication of criminal charges and the subsequent criminal proceedings.' In his opinion the case against him is only one of the many examples of Russian officials and siloviki (officers from the uniformed ministries) settling scores with their political opponents in Russia. 

    'The false accusation against me of illegal possession of drugs is, first and foremost, to do with my political activities. They are using intimidation to make an example of me so as to scare off other people in the same field, who dare to criticise the Chechen authorities.'

    'Lord' Daudov

    Magomed Daudov, head of the Presidential Administration, is well known in Chechnya as a former soldier with the codename 'Lord.' Two weeks before the trial, he expressed his intention of personally attending it.

    'I heard that during the last session my name gave rise to laughter. I am not working in a circus, and therefore do not take kindly to anyone ridiculing my name.' He stressed that he had neither beaten Kutayev nor detained him. He also assured the judge that he was not personally acquainted with the defendant, had never met him and, contrary to what the defence had said, had only spoken with him once on the telephone. Daudov even asked the court to show mercy towards the accused on the grounds that anyone can make a mistake.

    'I do not support violent measures against someone who has made one mistake,’ said Daudov, ’I know our prison service, how people are held and in what shape they come out of prison. Unfortunately, anyone who receives a ten-year sentence will definitely suffer. Prison does not bring them to their senses and they are, therefore, ruined.' 

    In Russia, the penalty for possession of drugs in large quantities without intent to sell is from three to ten years. The prosecution called for Kutayev to be given five years. The court sentence was four years in a prison camp.


    Kutayev's arrest has attracted the attention of human rights campaigners inside Russia and abroad. In Russia, the human rights watchdog 'Memorial' designated Ruslan Kutayev a political prisoner. Memorial is sure that the case bears all the hallmarks of falsification: their suspicions were aroused, among other things, by the evidence of the policemen during the trial. Interior Ministry officials were unable to explain where the order had come from to carry out a crime-prevention operation in the village of Gekhi; and no documents on this subject were made available to the court.

    The atmosphere of fear is so strong in Chechnya that few dare to protest any matter at all. Photo CC:Facebook

    In the opinion of the international organisation Human Rights Watch, the Russian authorities must immediately release Ruslan Kutayev. Hugh Williamson, director of the HRW Europe & Central Asia Division expressed his support thus: 'The arrest of Ruslan Kutayev and his appalling treatment have unambiguously reminded us that it is better not to criticise the regime in Chechnya. The atmosphere of fear is so strong in the republic that few dare to protest any matter at all to Kadyrov.' 

    ‘The atmosphere of fear is so strong in the republic that few dare to protest any matter at all to Kadyrov.'

    Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina, who has been following the case, regards the Kutayev case as the first political trial in today's Chechnya. 'I was present at practically every session of the trial in Grozny, and I am absolutely convinced that the legal investigation was falsified from start to finish. The barrister for Kutayev completely demolished all the accusations against him, although the court totally ignored his conclusions, thus only emphasising the weakness of the verdict.' She is sure that Daudov attended the trial of his own volition solely with the intention of scaring everyone involved, and demonstrating his strength.

    'It's the first time that such a high-ranking silovik (bureaucrat) has wanted to be called as a witness at a trial. All the better – now his surname will remind everyone of the scandalous sentence imposed on Kutayev,' she says. His relatives and friends point out the inconsistency of the charge against him – he could not bear cigarettes or alcohol, so how much more intolerant would he have been of drugs?

    He couldn't bear cigarettes or alcohol, so how much more intolerant would he have been of drugs.

    It is important to remember that there was no criminal episode, as Igor Kalyapin points out. 'No one found heroin on Kutayev because he was not searched; he was detained at home by armed men. All the documentation materialised later on. We tried to prove this in court. We had only to ask for the phone records of the policemen who apparently arrested him but who were not actually in Gekhi on that day; and, indeed, Kutayev's own records, to see that he hadn't been to Pyatigorsk that day. So he didn't come back in a taxi and didn't find a package,' says Kalyapin. Notwithstanding, he considers that the chances of the appeal court finding in favour of Kutayev, and reducing the sentence are virtually nil.

    'I'm sure that the appeal court too will be doing the will of the Chechen Government,' he says. As for the officials' part in Kutayev's beating, he is absolutely convinced that everything happened exactly as Kutayev said. But, 'It is extremely unlikely that the case will ever be investigated.’  

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    Data pubblicazione : Fri, 11 Jul 2014 12:31:58 +0000
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