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The Barcelona I know will rise stronger after this day of horror

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:22

This devastating attack comes at a very delicate political moment, but it has united Barcelonians, Catalans and Spanish in revulsion and sorrow. Español

People attend a gathering to mourn for terror attack victims at Placa Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, on Aug. 18, 2017. Xu Jinquan/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association. All rights reserved. Until fairly recently, walking down Las Ramblas – the scene of yesterday’s devastating attack – was something Barcelonians used to do quite regularly, enjoying a relaxed stroll down to the port. Before the great urban transformation brought about by the Olympic Games 25 years ago, it was one of the few spots where ordinary citizens could come in contact with the sea. This pedestrian boulevard is one of the city’s landmarks, once famous for its unique mixture of cosmopolitan diversity and Mediterranean parochialism, a place where the uptown Catalan bourgeois rushing to the opera house would encounter everyday folk going about their business, as well as the seedier elements of the night-time economy. In other words, Las Ramblas represented the democratic spirit of an open-minded city in southern Europe.

Over the last decade or more, Barcelona’s success as a global tourist destination has made Las Ramblas a place most locals tend to avoid, thinking it too crowded, and lamenting the replacement of modest stands selling blue parakeets and baby turtles with fancy kiosks selling waffles and ice-cream. Even so, Las Ramblas remains part of the soul of this city, if only because it is still the place where Barça fans traditionally gather to celebrate the victories of their extraordinary football team.

So yesterday, when Barcelonians learned that a van had ploughed through a crowd of pedestrians in this special place, killing more than a dozen and injuring one hundred, it was experienced as a terrible blow. Barcelonians are very proud of their welcoming and peaceful city. When, 30 years ago, Basque terrorists, in their deadliest attack ever, bombed a supermarket car park killing 21 innocent people, the city reacted with incredible abhorrence. As a consequence, Eta never came back to town.

And yet, Barcelona has been considered a likely target for a jihadist terror attack for some years, and this incident has certainly not come as a surprise to the intelligence and security forces. They have been working successfully to protect the city, and a number of plots, at different stages of preparation, have been successfully dismantled over the years. After the Madrid attacks in 2004, it became clear that Spain was firmly on the jihadist terrorists’ map. The country, if not its government, strongly opposed the Iraq war, and has kept a low profile as far as other western military interventions in the Arab world are concerned, an attitude that some analysts thought might have prevented Spain becoming a target in the way the US, the UK or France are. If there is one thing that can feed the spirit of a nation and the solidarity of its people, it’s a deadly terrorist attack.

However, with this current wave of attacks on soft targets, which only need a rented van and a resolute driver to succeed, prevention has become an unmanageable challenge. Taking into account what has happened over the last year in Nice, in London, in Stockholm and in Berlin, it was only a matter of time before Barcelona would experience the same misfortune. It is not clear at this point how many perpetrators were involved in the Barcelona attack, and the second in Cambrils, a small tourist town south of Barcelona where five suspected terrorists have been shot dead, although the complexity of the operations suggests significant planning.

What is clear is that, by striking at a world-famous brand, a favourite destination, a place where so many people from so many countries gather, this is an attempt to make a global impact. As much as 16% of Spain’s GDP comes from tourism, and as many as 84 million tourists are expected to visit the country in 2017. Hitting Spain in the middle of August, when tourism is at its peak, underlines the intended global ambitions of the act.

The domestic consequences of this attack are still unfolding, but it comes at a very delicate political moment in Spain, when tensions between the Catalan regional government, controlled by supporters of independence, and the Spanish central government, are at a historic high. After a first attempt to hold a referendum on independence in November 2014 was met with firm opposition from Madrid, the pro-independence camp ended up holding an informal poll. At that time, they managed to get support from about one-third of eligible voters. They have now called for a new referendum, due on 1 October this year, and have declared they will hold it despite an explicit prohibition by the constitutional court. The tension was already brimming over on this issue when the van ploughed Las Ramblas yesterday, and Barcelonians, Catalans and Spanish alike felt first the horror, then the pain, and now the sorrow.

In these times of uncertainty and the blurring of borders, if there is one thing that can feed the spirit of a nation and the solidarity of its people, it’s a deadly terrorist attack. Barcelona will proudly rise stronger from this day of horror. It will remain a modern, attractive, cosmopolitan and increasingly global city. We are all united in this endless battle against extremism, and today there is less room than ever for what Robert Kaplan once brilliantly called the narcissism of small differences.

This article was originally published in The Guardian on 18/ 8/ 2017

Country or region:  Spain Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

“We are love”: Russian LGBT and feminist activists attacked

Fri, 2017-08-18 09:34

This week, LGBT activists in St Petersburg and feminists in Krasnodar were threatened and attacked.

12 August: a participant in the Petersburg LGBT march holds a sign "we are love". Source: All rights reserved to the author.

We continue our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly. 

On 12 August, an LGBT pride action was held in St Petersburg. One woman was detained, while homophobes attacked journalists and activists. The police took no steps against the attackers. Young men in tracksuits sprayed pepper gas in the faces of the activists and journalists. About 10 people were injured, including journalists from Current Time, the freelance photographer David Frenkel and Fontanka correspondent Kseniya Klochkova. Three people received medical help.

Later on the VKontakte page Straight Edge | sXe, a video of the attack was posted with a text stating that, when the group of young people “saw sexual attraction towards themselves in the eyes of the marching LGBT activists,” they viewed this as an attempted rape and took steps to defend themselves (the post has since been deleted but a screenshot has been saved). 

Furthermore, Anna Grabetskaya, who was holding a placard that read “I love my wife” during the action, was detained. Grabetskaya began to feel ill at the police station. However, after being taken to the hospital, she was not admitted but returned to the police station. The activist remained there until Monday. Two charges were brought against her — one for failing to obey police orders, a second for violating the regulations governing public events. The court fined her 10,500 roubles.

In Krasnodar region, feminist activists with a child were detained twice in a single day. At the police station, their passports were taken from them. They had earlier been threatened by people calling themselves Cossacks. The young women wanted to hold a feminist camp. However, they cancelled the event on account of threats they received from the “Cossacks”.

Early on Monday morning the police detained five women activists with a child for a first time. The police officers claimed to have received a lead about a suspected “violation of public order”. The second time, nine people were taken to the police station. At the police station, the activists’ ID papers were taken. The young women were released only after they had signed an official protocol “warning” them about holding public events that did not have official permission and about extremist activity.

A high school student prosecuted in the “12 June case” has been formally charged. According to official investigators, 17-year-old Mikhail Galyashkin released pepper spray into the face of a National Guard officer and caused him bodily injuries not harmful to his health. On 11 August the term of house arrest for Mikhail Galyashkin was extended until 13 September. The high school student maintains his innocence of the charges.

Protests against corruption were held on 12 June in 154 Russian cities and towns at which unlawful detentions and beatings of protesters by police were recorded. More than 1,769 people were taken to police stations. In 46 police stations, officers committed at least 109 serious violations of the law. In police station No. 33 in St. Petersburg, police officers sprayed tear gas into cells holding detainees.  

Artur Panov (left) and Maksim Smyshlyaev in the North Caucasus District Military Court. Credit: Igor Gukovsky.A Rostov resident has been sentenced to 10 years in a strict regime prison for associating with a minor. Maksim Smyshlyaev has been charged with abetting terrorist activity on the grounds that for a short time he associated with a minor, Artur Panov. Panov, a supporter of the Red Army Faction, published posts threatening acts of terror. Smyshlyaev says Panov discussed a planned act of terrorism with him, but he, Smyshlyaev, was not in favour. The investigators consider it was Smyshlyaev himself who told Panov how to produce a homemade bomb. 

Теxts of the week: how Tver district court is “cancelling” reality and how the KGB conducted surveillance of young people at the end of the 1960s. Teatr.doc director Zarema Zaudinova has told us how a leopard costume,  which she use for the 12 June protest, was transformed into trousers and coat at her trial. And here you can see a note by the KGB on surveillance of “dissident” students.

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For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould here.


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Why explaining internal strife in the United States through “Russian influence” is lazy and unhelpful

Fri, 2017-08-18 08:28

When you find yourself doing the same thing Putin and his propaganda machine does, you’re doing it wrong.


11 August: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching Charlottesville, Virginia. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.On 11-12 August, violent clashes erupted between the far-right Unite the Right movement and anti-fascist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman died when an alleged neo-Nazi sympathizer rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. There were numerous injuries and a major national crisis erupted in the United States resulting from and inspired by the rapid rise of white nationalist, neo-Nazi and other similar sentiments far to the right of the political spectrum.

As it often happens these days, numerous people on Twitter immediately jumped in, pitching the so-called “hot takes” — rapid, hastily weaved together series of tweets with often outlandish theories of what really happened. These instant experts, who have come to prominence in the wake of the Trump presidency, have carved out a niche for themselves by taking the most tangential or non-existent connection to anything Russian and “connecting the dots” or “just asking questions”. The most egregious example is Louise Mensch, a former UK conservative pundit (and sometime MP) now residing in the US. Mensch is the most extreme example of a Twitter-age conspiracy-mongering populist. But there are other people, with more credible credentials, who are also prone to demanding that “ties with Russia” (via individuals, events and institutions) be investigated.

Immediately following the events in Charlottesville, Molly McKew of Foreign Policy magazine and Jim Ludes of the Pell Center, among others, chimed in with their “hot takes”, repeating each other almost word for word: “We need to closely examine the links between the American alt-right and Russia.” These particular expressions (“links between X and Russia”, “ties with Russia”, “Russian connections” or “close to Putin/Russian government”) are, essentially, weasel words, expressions so elastic that they could mean anything — from actively collaborating with senior Russian officials and secretly accepting large donations from to the vaguest, irrelevant connections mentioned simply for the sake of name-dropping Russia in an attempt to farm for more clicks.

Young men with identical haircuts and matching, uniform-like attires chanting “Blood and soil!” in the streets of American cities are inspired and influenced by many things, but a bearded Russian mystic is hardly one of them

Almost every person of Russian origin involved in the Trump drama is “Putin-connected”, although in Russia that definition only applies to a tiny power circle of trusted aides and advisors, a select group of oligarchs running state-owned enterprises and close personal friends from before Putin’s presidency. The exaggerated tone of reporting often suggests something more far-reaching, coordinated and sinister than a loose collection of unconnected factoids.

So, what do “links between the American alt-right and Russia” actually mean? Much of the allegations of American alt-right’s “collusion” with Putin’s regime rely on the fact that Richard Spencer, a divisive figure in this already quite loose movement, was once married to a woman of Russian origin, Nina Kupriyanova. Their current marital status is unclear and, frankly, irrelevant. Kupriyanova, a scholar of Russian and Soviet history with a PhD from the University of Toronto, is also a follower of Alexander Dugin, a larger-than-life figure in contemporary Russian media and politics. Because of Dugin’s outsized presence in the western media where he is often, and quite erroneously, presented as “Putin’s mastermind” or “Putin’s Bannon”, this connection is often enough to be declared the smoking gun in the crowdsourced investigation.

Dugin has been many things to many people over his decades-long, zig-zagging career as an underground occult practitioner in the Soviet years: philosopher, lecturer, one of the founding fathers of a radical movement, public intellectual, flamboyant media personality. But he is not a “Putin advisor” and never has been. Although Dugin is a vocal fan of the Russian president, has repeatedly professed his loyalty to Putin and has orbited the halls of Russian power for more than a decade, he hasn’t accumulated enough influence to even keep a stable job.

2012: Alexander Dugin gives a lecture at Moscow State University. Source: Youtube.In 2014, Dugin was fired from his position as a guest lecturer at the department of sociology of Moscow State University. Students and academic staff had complained for years about the “anti-scientific, obscurantist” atmosphere Dugin had created within the department (one petition filed by the students mentions Dugin “performing extrasensory experiments” on them during lectures). But the final straw was Dugin’s interview where he agitated to “kill, kill, kill” Ukrainians in June 2014 — the early stages of Russia’s war campaign in Ukraine. Both Dugin and his patron, the dean of the sociology department, were promptly fired after a major media scandal.

Later, Dugin was quite unceremoniously removed from his position as a host on Tsargrad TV — a right-wing, reactionary private network funded by “Orthodox oligarch” Konstantin Malofeyev and launched with the help of a former Fox News executive. All mentions of Dugin’s show on Tsargrad simply disappeared from the network’s website.

It’s not Russia influencing the West and exporting its values, but vice versa. It’s Russia’s parliamentary ultra-conservatives who have been inspired and supported by the American religious right

Although Richard Spencer’s own writings for his Radix Journal do have visible Dugin inspirations, it’s inconceivable that Dugin has any significant influence on the American right. His teachings are just too eclectic, esoteric and over-intellectualised for an average American neo-Nazi who just wants to see more white faces around him. In fact, Dugin’s overarching idea of “Eurasianism” goes against the grain of “keeping America white and ethnically pure”: at its core is an obscure early 20th century Orientalist school of thought which accentuated Russia’s civilisational continuity with Mongolian and Turkic ancestors, as opposed to the spiritually alien West.

Russia’s conservatives of all shades of right have indeed been long cultivating links with their brethren to the west of Moscow — well before Putin appeared on the scene. These have been well documented by scholars of the far right such as Anton Shekhovtsov. After Putin’s onslaught in Ukraine, Russia, in dire need of new allies, intensified efforts to strengthen those links.

A trove of leaked emails released by the hacker group Shaltai Boltai (“Humpty Dumpty”) in December 2014 did indeed uncover a sinister plot to place Russia in the centre of a wide-ranging alliance of right-wing, far-right, pro-life, pro-”family-values”, hardcore Christian and other similar organisations in Europe and both Americas. But there’s little evidence that anything resembling the coveted “Black International” ever came to fruition. Only temporary, tactical alliances have been more or less successful, aimed at promoting shared common interests — such as Italy’s pro-Kremlin Lega Nord party lobbying for lifting EU’s sanctions against Russia — or values.

Nick Griffin (British National Party), Udo Voigt (National Democratic Party of Germany) and Roberto Fiore (Alliance for Peace and Freedom) at the International Russian Conservative Forum in St Petersburg, 2015. Source: Nick Griffin / Twitter.In the latter case, the dynamic is reversed: it’s not Russia influencing the West and exporting its values, but vice versa. It’s Russia’s parliamentary ultra-conservatives like Yelena Mizulina (now a senator) who have been inspired and supported by the American religious right.

Russia’s last public attempt to unite the European and American far-right ended in a major media scandal in early 2015 when the “International Russian Conservative Forum” in Saint Petersburg was widely criticised in the press. The forum’s Russian official supporters from the “traditionalist” Rodina (Motherland) party allied with the ruling United Russia were forced to withdraw their endorsement, and no further attempts to organise the forum have been made. Propaganda outlets like RT are quietly shedding commentators with far-right sympathies like Manuel Ochsenreiter or Richard Spencer mentioned above in an attempt to cleanse their image as a safe haven for Holocaust deniers and white power enthusiasts. Only a couple of days after Charlottesville, Russian authorities banned The Daily Stormer, a virulently anti-Semitic “alt-right” website, which had temporarily sought refuge on Russian web space after having been refused service in the US.

There is little to no evidence that any of the above had anything to do with the tragic events in Charlottesville. The resurgence of murderous, hateful ideologies in the United States is a home-grown issue. Young men with identical haircuts and matching, uniform-like attires chanting “Blood and soil!” in the streets of American cities are inspired and influenced by many things, but a bearded Russian mystic is hardly one of them. Attempting to explain internal strife in your country by “Russian influences”, hastily put together disjointed and exaggerated phenomena, is intellectually lazy. It distracts from getting to the root of the problem by offering quick, easy answers to complicated questions.

Ironically, it’s also a very Putin thing to do. Explaining Russia’s internal issues by blaming the West’s machinations is the Russian president’s shtick. When you find yourself doing the same thing Putin and his propaganda machine does, you’re doing it wrong.


Sideboxes Related stories:  Charlottesville, far-right rallies, racism and relating to power Putin and Trump’s bad bromance Kremlinphobia, russophobia and other states of paranoia Russia, America, it's time to talk face-to-face Bulgaria: how not to mistake Russian propaganda for Russian policy Putin’s 'useless idiots' or signs of a deeper pathology? Russophilia and national populism in Greece Who is Alexander Dugin? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The Barcelona attack

Fri, 2017-08-18 05:46

After 16 years of the so-called war on terror, people feel no more secure than in the aftermath of 9/11.

Police officers stand guard in a cordoned off area after a van ploughed into the crowd on the Rambla in Barcelona, Spain, on August 17, 2017. Utrecht Robin/ABACAPRESS.COM/ABACA/Press Association. All rights reserved.The Barcelona attack followed a pattern that has developed over nearly three years and stems from the start of the intense US-led air war against ISIS which began back in August 2014. That was instigated by the United States following the taking of Mosul by ISIS and its wider control of much of Northern Iraq, and the air war then evolved into a very considerable operation involving a broadly based coalition of states.  While it did include a few regional states such as Jordan, the overwhelming majority of the attacks have been undertaken by the US Air Force and Navy, but aided by many other states especially France and the UK, together with Australia, Canada, Germany, Belgium and several others.

The air war has used tens of thousands of missiles and guided bombs and after three years the Pentagon reports that the coalition assault has killed at least 60,000 ISIS fighters. This is in itself quite an achievement since the DoD view three years ago was that ISIS had a total force of no more than 30,000. Either the original estimate was wrong or ISIS has had a steady flow of new recruits from the region and beyond, the evidence pointing to the latter. 

The air war, though, has been effective and has aided the defeat of ISIS in Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and elsewhere, although the costs to civilians have been huge – western Mosul has been likened to the ruins of Stalingrad. Tacitus comes to mind – “we made a desert and called it peace”.  We are moving into an era of conflict where traditional methods of military control simply do not work.

Yet the Barcelona attack follows a pattern that has very clear origins. Five years ago the original ISIS aim was to create a geographical caliphate focused on a Raqqa/Mosul axis but once it became clear to the ISIS leadership that this could not last in the face of a massive and sustained air assault, that aim changed.  Work began in order to spread the message abroad, prepare for a sustained guerrilla war in Iraq and Syria and organise the means to attack the “far enemy”.

Many of those attacks are inspired or encouraged by ISIS propaganda and its sustained policy of presenting itself as the true defender of Islam under attack by the crusader forces of the far enemy, but some are directly supported or even organised by the movement. The methods are often crude, but they can be when the attackers are prepared to die for their cause.

Across the world, and in addition to Barcelona, they have included attacks in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, London, Manchester, Nice, Istanbul, several in the United States and in many other countries, not least Afghanistan. The attacks in the west have three main aims – to demonstrate continuing power, as revenge, and most importantly, to stir up as much anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia as possible. 

The attacks in the west have three main aims – to demonstrate the continuing power of the movement, as revenge for its own losses and, most importantly, to stir up as much anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia as possible.  It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are aghast at what is being done in the name of one of the three great Religions of the Book, but a tiny minority do get sucked in.

The really difficult thing for western politicians and military leaders to accept is that we are moving into an era of conflict where traditional methods of military control simply do not work.  After 16 years of the so-called war on terror, people feel no more secure than in the aftermath of 9/11.  Right now, Trump has to decide whether to withdraw from Afghanistan or reinforce the US presence, the war in Iraq and Syria continues, ISIS has links across the world including in the Philippines, and Islamist paramilitaries are active not just across the Middle East and North Africa, but right across the African Sahel.

At some stage there will have to a complete rethinking of western security policy but there is little sign of that for now.  The consequence is that the terrible attack in Barcelona will come to be seen as one more indication of the new normal.

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Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Paul Rogers, Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016)

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Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

Defense News

Long War Journal

Paul Holden, Indefensible: Seven Myths that Sustain the Global Arms Trade (Zed / University of Chicago Pres, 2017)

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Erdoğan: prophetic leader or political suicide?

Fri, 2017-08-18 04:40

If Erdoğan persists in his callous quest, it will only be a matter of time before he succumbs to increasing economic pressure that will threaten to leave the country destitute. 

Thousands of people attend the July 15 ceremony at Bursa city to mark the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt. People gathered in public squares and at ceremonies across Turkey to mark the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt which saw 249 people die when military personnel attempted to overthrow the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the night of July 15, 2016. Depo Photos/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.It has become commonplace to label Turkey as an autocracy following the despotic policies of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

A wave of ideological purges succeeded the failed coup d'etat of June 2016 that was instigated by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces, the Peace at Home Council.

Among the motivating factors behind the coup appear to be a combination of an increasing feeling of eradication of secularism within the country, and Turkey's declining influence on the global political stage.

The supposed spearhead of this entire operation has been namechecked as Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish religious figure who was previously an ally of the president until he withdrew his support amidst the 2013 Turkish corruption scandals. Unsurprisingly, Erdoğan has also turned Gülen into the scapegoat for the inception of judicial investigations into said scandals, seeing the whole affair as a joint venture between Gülen and “international forces”, particularly the United States.

However, it is highly likely that such accusations serve as pretenses for the president to consolidate his grip over the country in an attempt to erode the influence of Kemalist ideology and revert to Islamic rule, thus effectively merging the state and religion, as was the case during the Ottoman Empire. 

Kemalist ideology had impacted Turkey drastically. Ataturk's set of reforms demonstrated an endorsement of western values and customs that not only radically changed Turkish life, but also opened the door to economic partnerships between Turkey and countries belonging to the Occident.

For example, one prominent principle present in Kemal's thought was that of Revolutionism, which emphasized the importance of the termination of old institutions and the necessity to replace said institutions with ones that contribute to modernization through scientific and intellectual progress. 

However, despite Kemal's benevolent policies, Erdoğan's philosophical doctrine denotes a reversal of Kemalist beliefs. For example, he has stated on numerous occasions that he does not believe in the equality between men and women due to Islamic teachings that define the role of the woman as motherhood and therefore there can be no equality due to men and women's diverging natures.

Last year, Erdoğan publicly encouraged women to bear at least three children, saying that women who are childless are “incomplete”, and this may well be extended to infertile women. Consequently, fertility and motherhood are fundamental bases upon which women are divided socially into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’, which represents a most atavistic mentality. Furthermore, he reiterated the necessity of having children by asserting that women’s ability to enter the job sector ought not to act as a hindrance to their starting a family.

Despite his repeated remarks of denial, it is clear that Erdoğan has delusions of grandeur with regards to wishing to be seen as a sultan, especially after he oversaw an extensive revival of Ottomanism, for example hosting the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in his 3.1 million square feet palace surrounded by men dressed as Ottoman soldiers. The president highlighted his intention of hosting world leaders in a similar fashion in the future.

The situation became even more turbulent when the president, in his quest to make himself the spiritual successor to Suleiman the Magnificent, used the coup in order to goad the United States into conceding to his demands namely that of extraditing Gülen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania and has been accused of treason.

Drastic actions that aimed to offend the US serve as nothing but a ploy to force the latter to bend the knee. This has manifested itself via the arrest of a Turkish-born, US-based NASA scientist and Andrew Brunson, an American pastor ludicrously accused of being a CIA operative tasked with organizing last year’s coup and the similarities between these foolhardy anti-US operations and the move to detain German journalists serve as a double political suicide, with Deniz Yucel a Turco-German political correspondent working for Die Welt being accused of having ties to Kurdish groups.

Aside from the detention of German journalists, corporate investment in Turkey has been suspended indefinitely due to the accusations brought forward by Erdoğan's government that several giants such as Daimler have ties to the Gülen movement, thus significantly affecting Turkey's ability to attract foreign capital for the foreseeable future. 

That said, this may serve as retribution for the lack of compensation for Turkey's aiding in housing millions of refugees, with only 700 million Euros having been delivered so far out of the 6 billion that were agreed upon by Germany.

Halfway through this time-span, Germany has not even come close to paying half of the pledged money as a sign of gratitude for Turkey's willingness to keep within its borders an abundance of refugees. 

In this respect, Erdoğan possesses the high-ground for he has upheld Turkey's promise of sheltering refugees and thus saving Europe further escalation. He could thus use this situation and associated agreement as a bargaining chip in order to get Germany to fall in line.

Yet the president is forcing his luck in thinking that he possesses the upper hand in this quarrel with Germany for the latter may use Erdoğan’s purges, specifically the imprisonment of German nationals, as an excuse for ceasing payment with regards to their bilateral agreement on dealing with the refugee crisis.

In the meantime, President Erdoğan has set his sights on Russia and the Arab League, as a result of his aggressive stance towards the EU and the United States. 

While the recent deal struck with Russia to buy the S-400 defense system may strengthen Turkey's position from a military standpoint, potential negotiations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain would be much more tempestuous due to Turkey's warm ties with Qatar, which has been accused of being affiliated with and offering financial support to organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar-Turkey relations are so watertight that the former has permitted a deployment of Turkish troops, the removal of which has been requested by the quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain in order for tensions to diffuse.

So, what might be made of this cumbersome affair?

Erdoğan is most certainly not a prophetic leader but rather a perfect example of a leader committing political suicide. In his relentless quest to transform himself into a sultan-like figure, Erdoğan does not only risk alienating other major economic powers, but his very own people who would not take too kindly to their leader's wish to reverse social and political organization to an atavistic form of rule.

Turkey is in an extremely frail position given that it is losing western allies and tensions are continue to build within the Arab League surrounding the Qatar terrorism allegations. 

Therefore, if Erdoğan persists in this callous quest, it will only be a matter of time before he succumbs to increasing economic pressure that will threaten to leave the country destitute. 

Throughout human history, religious dogma has always compounded social, cultural and intellectual progress and in the increasingly interdependent world that we live in, it would be extremely asinine to seek to implement archaic policies that have a stagnating effect.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Race to the sea: Qatar and the balance of power in the Middle East Is the world finally breaking its silence on Turkey? The trauma of the attempted military coup as observed from a college campus in Istanbul Fear and loathing in Turkish academia: a tale of appeasement and complicity Can mosques and minarets be tools for democracy? Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus “A homeland that wants to kill us” The Sultan is dead, long live “Başyüce” Erdogan Sultan! Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Democracy and government Economics International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria

Fri, 2017-08-18 01:28

From rebuilt mosques to new oil contracts, Russian firms are cashing in as the Assad regime gains the upper hand in Syria. 

Waer district, Homs, after rebel fighters evacuate in May 2017. (c) Omar Sanadiki/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.Over the past eight months, Russia has increasingly seized the initiative in charting the political and military course of events in Syria. With the United States focused on the fight against Islamic State in Raqqa, Moscow has engineered, with Ankara’s cooperation, a number of “de-escalation zones” in the country, covering the four primary areas of regime-rebel contact. At the same time, Russia has loudly trumpeted the rebuilding of several prominent mosques in Syria as flagship projects aimed at demonstrating its benevolent intentions. Recently-uncovered documents have also revealed that Russian firms have made major strides in securing economic boons for the immediate postwar period. Despite this, the Kremlin continues to face profound issues in projecting its influence across regime-held Syria, a problem that demands ever-growing resources even as major combat in the country declines.

Russia is significantly expanding its forces in Syria. In contrast to announcements of success and subsequent withdrawal made by Vladimir Putin in March 2016 and January 2017, Russia continues to deploy ever-more ground troops to Syria. Around the time of the latest round of international negotiations in Astana in early July, Moscow spent roughly a month reconstituting and preparing its new ranks of military police destined for Syria, with no reliable reports of these units emerging for most of July. Suddenly, 24 July saw a flurry of activity, beginning with the deployment of roughly 400 Russian personnel to the Daraa de-escalation zone in southwest Syria, where they set up two checkpoints and ten observation posts near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

The next day, video emerged of a Russian checkpoint operating in East Ghouta, establishing a Russian ground presence in the second of four de-escalation zones in the country. On 26 July, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed a major development, stating that Russia presently had four military police battalions operating in Syria, eclipsing the previous total of two to three such units. Shoigu also stated that these battalions were from Russia’s Southern Military District, a region which includes the North Caucasus, thus indicating the Sunni Muslim composition of most or all of the units. This marked growth shows Moscow’s seriousness in implementing its painstakingly-negotiated ceasefire regimes in western Syria.

25 July: Russian military police reported to man checkpoint in East Ghouta, an outlying district of Damascus. Source: TV Center.Further developments along the western front occurred in early August. On 3 August, Russian military police established two checkpoints north of Homs city to enforce that province’s ceasefire regime. By 10 August, these checkpoints were running at full capacity, enough to invite numerous Russian journalists to inspect the area. While a framework for Idlib province has yet to be established, three of Syria’s four de-escalation zones now have a Russian ground presence and are functioning to various degrees.

Freezing the situation along rebel-regime frontlines in western Syria has allowed Russian assets to aid with a push towards their new military objective — securing oil and gas resources in the country’s east. Syrian government forces have advanced against the Islamic State in recent weeks, looking to secure outlying desert areas and relieve the four-year siege imposed on the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. While there is no hard evidence of Russian advisors in this push, numerous Russian reporters are embedded alongside regime forces, stationed on the frontlines in the recently-captured town of Sukhna. Russian aerial assets have also supported this offensive, shifting since 9 July to focus on Islamic State territory near Sukhna and along the Euphrates River. These efforts dovetail with recently-revealed economic interests secured by Russia in the area.

Leading Russia’s reconstruction efforts in Syria is a seemingly unusual actor: the restive North Caucasus republic of Chechnya

While Russian political and military efforts aid Assad in stabilising frontlines and reclaiming ground around the country, Moscow is also increasingly claiming economic benefits in Syria. The first signs of potential profits emerged in October 2015, when a Russian delegation visiting Damascus announced that Russian companies would lead Syria’s postwar reconstruction. From these negotiations emerged a pair April 2016 deals worth at least €850m total. While the full details of these were not made public, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi implied that more agreements were also in the offing. A further Russian parliamentary visit to Syria in November 2016 resulted in Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem reportedly offering Russia firms priority in rebuilding Syria.

Leading Russia’s reconstruction efforts in Syria is a seemingly unusual actor: the restive North Caucasus republic of Chechnya. The Chechen government is financing some of Moscow’s most prestigious projects in the country, most notably the rebuilding of Aleppo’s prominent Ummayad Mosque at a cost of $15m. The Akhmat Kadyrov Foundation, named in honour of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s late father, is also rebuilding the Khalid ibn Walid mosque in Homs. Chechnya has become a key player in Moscow’s outreach efforts to the Sunni Muslim world in recent years. By allowing Grozny and Kadyrov to spearhead activity in Syria, the Kremlin hopes to win back some of its legitimacy among Syria’s majority-Sunni population.

March 2013: Free Syrian Army "Al Tawhid" brigade patrols in the old market and the Umayyad Mosque. (c) Abd Rabbo Ammar/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.The most significant Russian economic coup to date came in the form of an agreement revealed by the St Petersburg daily Fontanka in June 2017.

According to documents recovered by the outlet, in December 2016 an agreement was concluded between Syrian Oil and Gas Minister Ali Ghanem and a Russian firm under the auspices of the Russian Ministry of Energy. This agreement allegedly awarded 25% of Syria’s entire oil and gas production to Russian firm Stroitransgaz, which was entrusted with providing services regarding the “defence, production and transportation” from the fields in eastern Syria. Another Russian firm involved with these dealings, EuroPolis, is closely linked to both Stroitransgaz head Evgeny Prigozhin, himself a close Putin ally, and Dmitry Utkin, the leader of the well-known Russian private military contractor Wagner. With an estimated 2,500 Wagner personnel in Syria, the group seems likely to carry out security duties for Stroitransgaz-operated wells in the country’s centre and east, including participation in the ongoing offensive from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.

Maxim Suchkov, the editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia-MidEast Pulse, urged caution over judging these recent deals as a decisive victory for Russia in Syria’s economic environment, as Fontanka is prone to “overstretch[ing] things.” Nevertheless, Suchkov emphasised, via email, the interests held by Moscow regarding Syria’s oil sector and their willingness to utilise PMCs to safeguard Russian firms operating in the country, a tactic which allows a degree of political insulation for the Russian government for any potential casualties incurred.

Source: Syrian Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources. Beyond the east, the most complicated issue facing Russia in Syria presently lies in the country’s northwest. Russia is currently seeking to determine, alongside Turkey, the plans for a much more ambitious de-escalation zone in Idlib province, which will likely require far more than the 1,000 or so military police previously deployed by Moscow.

Idlib, which constitutes the most formidable remaining opposition stronghold, with tens of thousands of rebel fighters, presents a far greater challenge than Homs, East Ghouta or southwest Syria. For this reason, Moscow is seeking additional manpower and political buy-in not only from Ankara, but from a number of Central Asian capitals as well.

Russia currently has its highest number of personnel in Syria to date, despite combat being at a relative low

Intense negotiations are currently underway to secure a contingent of peacekeeping troops from the Collective Treaty Security Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance comprised primarily of Russia and Central Asian republics. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have been specifically mentioned by Russian and Turkish officials in such an operation, and while there is little political will among either governments or civil society in Astana or Bishkek, Russia does have significant leverage, particularly with the latter, whose debts of $240m were recently written off by Moscow. Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, views such deployments as unlikely. “I don’t expect these troops to be deployed any time soon… there are many obstacles,” Kortunov said. “In theory, this could occur… but I don’t see any rapid deployments.”

Despite Russian successes in capturing territory and enforcing ceasefires, all is not well with Moscow’s campaign in Syria. Attempts to secure international peacekeepers reflect the difficulties the Kremlin faces in enacting leverage over its erstwhile Syrian and Iranian allies, who continue to pursue their own goals regardless of international agreements brokered by Moscow that would ostensibly constrain their actions. Russia currently has its highest number of personnel in Syria to date, despite combat being at a relative low compared to the large-scale battles fought in Aleppo and elsewhere since Russia’s September 2015 intervention. Iran, in particular, has proven problematic. Maxim Suchkov mentions that Tehran is increasingly upset by Russia’s deals with the opposition, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the US, which it sees as being made “behind their back”.

October 2016: Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff speaks at a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry's headquarters in Moscow. (c) Ivan Sekretarev AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Russian-Iranian disagreements over how to conclude the battle for Aleppo in December 2016 were the catalyst for the initial insertion of Chechen military police into the country that same month. The inverse relationship between Russia’s increase in personnel deployed to Syria and the intensity of conflict in the country, while seemingly paradoxical, is in fact a measure of the scale of resources Moscow must deploy in order to secure its political objectives: a drawdown and resolution of the ongoing conflict.

Amid these increased deployments, regional media has halted coverage of the matter. North Caucasian media sources and officials have gone completely silent on this latest round of deployments, in stark contrast to the intimate documentary coverage and triumphant medal ceremonies that accompanied the initial military police campaign. The last specific mention of the Chechen military police battalions deployed to Syria came as the second rotation of these units returned home on 24 June. Ingush soldiers likewise have been absent from media discussion since finishing their first deployment around 5 June.

Russia faces a daunting and fundamental task as it attempts to maneuver itself as the dominant actor in Syria: rebuilding the shattered Syrian state’s authority

This could indicate that the Kremlin, realising the contradiction between its narrative of “victory over terrorism” in Syria and its increasingly widespread ground presence, is wary of drawing further public attention to these growing deployments and the subsequent risks these carry. While the regional governments of the North Caucasus may be happy to send soldiers to Syria, their populations, themselves Sunni Muslims, are significantly more averse to potential deaths incurred while fighting their coreligionists far beyond Russia’s borders. More ethnic Russian soldiers may also be involved in the presently-active battalions, a fact belied by interviews with military police officers in Syria bearing such names as Vitaliy Afanasiev. Whatever the case, discussion of these units in the North Caucasus has been reduced to social media rumours.

Even beyond these issues, Russia faces a far more daunting and fundamental task as it attempts to maneuver itself as the dominant actor in Syria: rebuilding the shattered Syrian state’s authority. Russia has not yet sought to seriously improve governance in recaptured areas, as doing so would necessitate an even greater number of ground forces than it presently has in Syria. Analysts have long noted the increasing breakdown of the Syrian state, as local governance and security functions are largely outsourced to militias outside the control of the state.

Russia’s efforts, however, have so far stopped short of restraining pro-Assad Syrian militias and Iranian-backed foreign armed groups from ruling through extrajudicial thuggery in reclaimed areas. Reports of abuses by pro-regime militias in Aleppo since its return to government control have highlighted that the posting of several hundred Chechen military police there in early 2017 changed little. More worryingly, Moscow appears either unwilling or unable to engage with and bring to heel various autonomous actors wielding power in government-held regions of Syria. Russia is largely attempting to deal with Syrian state structures and institutions, while ignoring (either willfully or via ignorance) that the country is de facto a patchwork of fiefdoms controlled by local elites and warlords.

As its diplomatic efforts progress, expect to see more Russian soldiers and military police in Syria in the coming months

Moscow will thus face major difficulties in reaping the rewards of its lucrative reconstruction efforts, which are likely to be challenged by local actors and elites enforcing their influence. Even the presence of several thousand military police will likely prove insufficient for exerting control, with Iranian-backed and autonomous pro-regime formations retaining effective control of nearly the entirety of government-held territory in Syria.

Moving forward, Russia’s focus is likely to continue to remain on the Astana process and its initiatives. Maxim Suchkov notes that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin’s point man on Middle East issues, is presently attempting to engineer unity among Syrian rebel groups and acceptance among them of the de-escalation zones. Andrey Kortunov believes that Moscow will focus heavily on further engaging the US in the Astana talks, adding further legitimacy and international consensus, while also seeking to continue to defuse conflict in the country.

While these goals may be realistic, Russia continues to face wide-ranging problems regarding the construction of true stability in Syria, and will likely be drawn ever further into ground-level engagement in the country. As its diplomatic efforts progress, expect to see more Russian soldiers and military police in Syria in the coming months.


Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

This article is the outcome of an ongoing partnership between SyriaUntold and oDR.

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What can be learned from the movement to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Thu, 2017-08-17 18:09

Why indigenous civil resistance has a unique power.

This article was first published in Waging Nonviolence in collaboration with the Peace Science Digest, which summarizes and reflects on current academic research in the field of peace and conflict studies.

Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016. Credit: Flickr/Leslie Peterson. CC BY-NC 2.0.

2016 saw the emergence of a powerful movement against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, through land vital to Native communities, especially the Standing Rock Sioux. For non-Native people who have not been paying attention to indigenous rights struggles over the past several decades, the #NoDAPL movement may have served as a wake-up call to some of the injustices still confronting these communities.

For others, as Tom Hastings points out in “Turtle Island 2016 Civil Resistance Snapshot,” in the Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict, #NoDAPL is simply another in a long line of civil resistance struggles Native communities have mobilized, often successfully, to claim their rights.

He highlights this recent history of Native American and First Nations civil resistance movements on Turtle Island—the name, from Lenape mythology, that refers to the landmass others call North America—and takes stock of their characteristics, challenges and successes, arguing that nonviolent resistance has been a more effective strategy than violent resistance in defending Native peoples and their “lifeways.”

Hastings begins with the fact that, unlike other identity groups struggling for justice in the United States or Canada, indigenous groups can claim sovereign rights as nations with their own governance structures — which also means that activists often mobilize in tandem with, as opposed to against, their tribal governments. Practically speaking, this fact provides indigenous activists with an additional tool in their activist toolbox: the nation-to-nation treaties previously negotiated with the settler governments of the United States and Canada.

Hastings notes that occasionally simply mentioning the existence of a treaty, and the fact that “tribal lawyers are standing by,” has been enough for action to be taken in favor of Native communities. In other cases, of course, the process is not so easy, but the existence of treaties as legal documents to which the federal government must be held accountable helps enormously.

For example, Hastings recounts an incident in 1974 when two brothers from the Anishinaabe nation, upon realizing that they had treaty rights to do so, “purposefully and openly fished on off-reservation waters” and presented a copy of the treaty to the game warden who came to arrest them. The matter was taken up in the courts, who ultimately ruled in their favor. But although they had established their legal right to fish in these off-reservation waters, they still faced the wrath of angry mobs who met them with racial slurs and sometimes even violence as they were trying to fish.

Hastings himself, along with other allies with the organization Witness for Peace, would, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, accompany them to the fishing spot as a protective presence. Eventually, media attention, which highlighted the contrast between the nonviolent Anishinaabe people simply fishing and the “inebriated racists” trying to stop them, shifted the opinion of the public and ultimately government officials in favor of treaty rights.

This case draws out a number of elements of Native civil resistance that Hastings explores throughout the article, in addition to treaty rights leverage: the strategic importance of nonviolent discipline, the power of media in shaping the outcome, the key supportive role that can be played by non-Native allies (as well as by indigenous allies globally), and the ultimate need for broader public education and opinion change on Native history, rights and struggles.

Beyond treaty rights (mostly regarding access to resources on land ceded in treaties—sometimes with dubious levels of consent—to which tribes have historical ties), Hastings mentions mobilization around a range of other issues: environmental protection, tribal health care, law enforcement, borders/boundaries, tribal dignity, consultation (on various policies affecting tribes), and basic sovereignty.

Of these, he pays special attention to anti-nuclear and anti-pipeline (environmental) activism against attempts to store nuclear waste and extract or transport oil close to Native communities, noting how these movements have become “more effective at drawing [in] coalition partners and using their special sovereignty statuses to wield power disproportionate to their populations.”

Throughout the article, the complex and multi-faceted nature of Native identity—and its relation to various forms of resistance—emerges as a common theme. First, Hastings brings attention to the importance of national (e.g., Sioux) and band (e.g., Brule Sioux) identities as opposed to the blanket identity of “Native American” or “First Nation,” which he says is more often used by non-Native people than by indigenous people themselves. He does, however, note the way in which a pan-Native American identity developed to some degree in the United States (through the emergence of American Indian Movement activism in the late 1960s and1970s) whereas it did not in Canada.

Finally, he highlights the emergence of a complicated warrior identity, both in relation to participation in the U.S. military — often in the name of and to gain status for their tribal nations rather than out of allegiance to an oppressive federal government — and in relation to longstanding anti-settler resistance, including the resistance of nonviolent “warriors.”

Contemporary relevance.

From April 2016 until late February 2017, enduring a fierce winter, Standing Rock Sioux water protectors and their allies created an encampment where they gathered and prayed to resist the proposed construction nearby of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River and across their sacred sites. The encampment and its acts of civil disobedience drew widespread media attention and support but also brought repressive responses from local police and private security companies.

Although President Obama temporarily halted construction in light of the Standing Rock people’s concerns, President Trump has since reinstated the project, and the camp has been dismantled. This article helps to situate the so-called #NoDAPL movement in the broader context and history of settler colonialism, broken treaties, exploitation and persistent indigenous civil resistance in North America. Understanding construction of the pipeline as part of this continuum of oppression, displacement and trust-violation endows the resistance movement with greater meaning—a movement that needs to be seen not as an over-reaction to an isolated incident but as a justified response to a steady onslaught of injustices.

More broadly, this history focuses attention on the widespread modes of domination by which some groups of human beings interact with both other groups of human beings and the natural world—instrumentalizing both for self-centered gain with no regard for indigenous self-determination or ecological balance. It is becoming abundantly clear that such practices are neither socially nor environmentally sustainable. As climate change becomes a clear and present danger, non-Native folks have much to learn — and fast — from resistance movements and lifeways of indigenous peoples about how to live sustainably without obliterating the world or one another.

Practical implications.

For indigenous activists, this research highlights the importance of maintaining nonviolent discipline, while also thinking strategically about both the use of media and collaboration with global and local allies to facilitate shifts in public opinion and create broad-based movements that will be more resilient and have greater impact.

For non-Native allies, it reminds activists of the broader historical context informing indigenous struggles and what that means for the significance of a specific movement itself but also for the role of settler allies in that movement—those who benefit in many ways from the forms of exploitation that have deprived Native communities of their livelihoods and sacred places but who also have access to particular forms of leverage that can put pressure on those spear-heading that exploitation and dispossession today.

For example, allies of #NoDAPL can go right to the source and move their personal savings out of banks financing the DAPL project and into local banks or community credit unions that are not. Going a step further, they can mobilize their employers and cities to do the same. More broadly, non-Native allies can educate their families, friends, and communities on the historical and contemporary injustices facing Native communities so that indigenous civil resistance movements can be met with even greater empathy and support.

Finally, activists should continue to draw out the connections between local struggles like #NoDAPL and the broader global climate justice movement. The former grounds and gives a human face to an issue as daunting as energy consumption and climate change, while the latter provides #NoDAPL and other such movements with additional urgency and wider relevance that can galvanize broader publicity and mobilization.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Climate justice meets racism: Standing Rock was decades in the making Sheriffs refuse to send troops to Standing Rock as public outrage mounts The Pipeline Strikes Back: the audacity of TransCanada's $15b suit against the U.S. Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Arms bazaar: needs wars, eats lives

Thu, 2017-08-17 10:33

A world of conflict and fear means boom time for big military companies.

Ceramic poppies from the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red artwork installed at St George's Hall, Liverpool, for Remembrance Services in 2015. Peter Byrne/PA Archive/Press Association. It seems to be business as usual in the worldwide "war on terror". The United States military is currently embroiled in many hotspots where violence, fear, and the ever present reality or threat of high explosive are the order of the day. Those conditions mean, for people at the sharp end, multiple distress. But for suppliers of weapons and military equipment, the good times – which never really went away – are back.

Consider, for a moment, just a few of the international conflicts stretching from Africa to east Asia where the US is a major player. It is increasing the use of armed drones in Syria as the war against ISIS accelerates. It remains active in Iraq's evolving combat. Its military chiefs are working out how to persuade Trump to expand operations in Afghanistan, even as a resurgent Taliban tell him in an open letter to withdraw all American forces from the country.  

It is also about to conduct a major “wargame” in South Korea, where Trump and his ally, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, seek to counter North Korea's missile ambitions. It is providing heavy military assistance to the Philippines government as a much less comfortable ally, Rodrigo Duterte, takes on a local ISIS-affiliated movement in the southern city of Marawi. It is called on to deploy more resources in eastern Europe in face of Russia's power, and to address the rise in paramilitary violence in the Sahel.

Such wars and rumours of wars require constant supplies, and this is where that perennial of human activity, the arms bazaar, comes in. The informative journal Defense News sums it up neatly with a report on military industries under the headline “A return to prosperity? Defense revenues climb for the first time in 5 years”.

The report lists the top hundred military companies, and in a helpful way. While highlighting businesses that may have many other interests, Defense News in this case focuses solely on their military-related activities. The results are most revealing. Take, for example, the top seven corporations with their country of origin and their defence revenues in 2016:

1. Lockheed Martin, United States: $43,468 billion
2. Boeing, United States: $29,500bn
3. BAE Systems, United Kingdom: $23,621bn
4. Raytheon, United States: $22,394bn
5. Northrop Grumman, United States: $20,200bn
6. General Dynamics, United States: $19,696bn
7. Airbus, Netherlands/France: $12,321bn

Even from such bare details, several important truths can be extracted or inferred. The first is the American dominance of the field, which is even more pronounced in that much of BAE Systems’s revenue comes from the company's US-based activities. This leads to a second point, that all seven are transnational to varying extents. Airbus, for example, is active across western Europe, which allows it to use its clout with more governments. A third element is that these are very large outfits. Lockheed and Boeing each has annual military revenues larger than the entire GDP of Uganda, whose population is 39 million.

A fourth point is that this sheer wealth enables huge operations. These are often aided by the “revolving door” whereby senior civil servants and military chiefs who are concerned in any way with weapons development and procurement can secure very good post-retirement consultancies or even board memberships.

A fifth factor is that these companies, where their activity in relation to international arms sales is concerned, can rely on a favourable attitude from the states where their production is based. This positive outlook may extend to direct government encouragement and aid. A clear indication is a ruling which found against the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). The group had challenged the legality of the UK government's arms sales to Saudi Arabia, where weaponry exported to Riyadh were being used in repeated bombing of targets in Yemen that had caused substantial loss of life among civilians.


A sixth and yet larger truth emerges, as obvious as the others yet all too frequently ignored. Major military companies actually need wars – or at least, they need very high states of tension and fear, of the kind which will guarantee increased sales potential.  

The ideal in such situations, whatever the company's apparent national status, is to sell to both sides. Just before Nato’s air-war against the Gaddafi regime in 2011, for example, French and Italian arms companies were working for the Libyan government to upgrade its aircraft and armoured vehicles. Within days these were being destroyed by Nato forces, bringing a potential double benefit: supplying Nato states with more bombs and missiles to replace those used, and replenishing the Libyan hardware after the war.

In this case, only the first part worked out well, for Libya came apart at the seams and its arms market has not so far been open to the big company deals of the good old days. But there are compensations: the condition of Libya, with its radical Islamist groups, migration pressures and other insecurities all make for an atmosphere of tension and fear. This is felt sharply across the Mediterranean, which improves the chances of higher military budgets in European states looking to protect themselves from the fruits of their own policies (see "Libya: victory, tragedy, legacy", 3 November 2011).

Shakespeare’s line in Henry V, “now thrive the armourers”, relates to the battle of Agincourt in 1415. But it is ever topical, and in more ways than one: for armourers also thrive by flinging accusations of lack of patriotism against people who question their operations, connections, and practical consequences. The biggest difference today is scale. These huge conglomerates are protected by their colossal turnovers, formidable power, and absolute belief in the legitimacy of what they do.

It will take a great deal to change this culture. A single example makes the point. Two of the three largest military corporations, Lockheed and BAE Systems, sponsor Britain’s annual Red Poppy Appeal run by the British Legion (see "Red poppies and the arms trade", 12 November 2014). Thus an organisation dedicated to helping the casualties of war and their families actually gets financial support from companies making money out of producing and selling weapons. Such stark contradictions need to be aired, as a step on the road to being able to say "now thrive the peacemakers". 

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Paul Rogers, Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016)

Oxford Research Group

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

Defense News

Long War Journal

Paul Holden, Indefensible: Seven Myths that Sustain the Global Arms Trade (Zed / University of Chicago Pres, 2017)

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“Blood on our hands” - the sorry state of UK mental health services

Thu, 2017-08-17 08:23

Nobody doubts there is a problem – so why isn’t more being done to protect survivors of abuse?

"I frequently speak to clients who feel that they have nowhere to turn and nobody to talk to". Image: Juraj Varga/Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

It took Sir James Munby, President of the High Court’s Family Division, to issue a damning warning before an NHS bed was recently found for a suicidal teenager who was at significant risk of self-harm. This case (judgment can be seen in full here) has once again highlighted the sad state of affairs for mental health provision in the UK but, unfortunately, and tragically, it is difficult to be optimistic for change any time soon.

During the recent election campaigns rival politicians decried that mental ill-health and/or associated support services was a “burning injustice” (Conservatives), “the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age” (Labour) and “stretched to breaking point” (Liberal Democrats). With such cross-party consensus it seems ludicrous that we still find ourselves in an intolerable situation whereby some of the most vulnerable members of our society are left without the support which they require.

The provision of mental health services is a postcode lottery.

As somebody who represents survivors of abuse, many of whom have found themselves in situations of acute mental health crisis at one point or another in their lives, I frequently speak to clients who feel that they have nowhere to turn and nobody to talk to. The provision of mental health services is a postcode lottery, with some people being placed on excruciatingly long waiting lists for NHS therapeutic services which are ultimately limited in scope and time.

Currently I am representing survivors that range in age from those barely older than toddlers to people almost into their 70’s; and yet almost all face a distinct lack of tailored support for their individual needs.  

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recently released a Rapid Evidence Assessment of the impacts of child sexual abuse on survivors and those that are closest to them. It pulls together various studies and makes for stark reading. Notably 57% of young people subjected to abuse suffered with depression and survivors of child sexual abuse are six times more likely to make an attempt of suicide.

The need for adequate mental health provision for those affected by abuse is clear, but this is not a new concern.

84% of NHS staff felt that it had become more difficult for children to access support.

The IICSA report notes that there has previously only been one study into the costs of child sexual abuse specifically, and that this was published by the NSPCC in 2014. Whilst the personal costs of abuse are clearly immeasurable, and the economic costs will never be accurately known for various reasons, the NSPCC report suggests that child abuse costs the economy approximately £3 billion a year. Of that £182 million is attributable to health provision, including child and adult mental health services, child suicide and self-harm and adult physical health concerns including alcohol and drug misuse.

The cost and scale of the issue therefore cannot be understated. However in May this year, following a survey of 3,000 NHS staff undertaken by the Association of Child Psychotherapists, it was reported that 84% of those questioned felt that it had become more difficult for children to access support and 33% said that their workplace was either downsizing or being closed. It led to senior figures suggesting that children’s mental health services within the NHS were in crisis.

Time and time again survivors of abuse tell us that the system is broken. When they reach the end of the lengthy waiting list and finally receive therapy most can expect a standard course of treatment, no more or no less than the person in front of them in the queue. For some this ‘one size fits all’ approach has had a detrimental impact upon them; effectively opening a can of worms and shortly thereafter leaving them without adequate support to go about their daily life. It is a desperate situation and, in my experience, one of the key motivators in survivors of abuse seeking legal advice for a claim for compensation.

But this should not be read as a criticism of NHS staff, some of whom have empathetically explained why support services for survivors of abuse within the NHS are inadequate. Charities are often being left to pick up the slack, but with increasing demand and diminishing funds they cannot be expected to bridge such a huge gap.

The ‘one size fits all’ approach... is, in my experience, one of the key motivators in survivors of abuse seeking legal advice for a claim for compensation.

In July 2016 the Government recognised the issue and announced a £550,000 grant funding for charities assisting survivors of sexual abuse; but with the NSPCC report highlighting how health services for survivors of abuse costs almost £500,000 a day, it isn’t difficult to see that this grant would diminish quickly in the overstretched and under-resourced third sector.

The child at the centre of Sir Munby’s judgment required treatment specific to her needs, and without this support her life could potentially have been cut short. He was right to say that society would have “blood on their hands” if they failed a child who was known to pose a risk to herself.

Without further funding it is inevitable that for some of those who do not have such a respected advocate to speak out on their behalf their mental health support will be inadequate for their needs and they will slip through the net. Even when suicidal ideations or thoughts of self-harm are not a concern the unmet support needs are likely to continue to have a detrimental impact, with many survivors of abuse describing how they are left to live a life they are not happy with, and how untreated issues can also impact upon their families and communities.

It is therefore more important than ever to continue the conversation surrounding mental ill-health, and to continue to push for reform and further funding for mental health services so that no more people are failed.

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Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban

Thu, 2017-08-17 08:18

A year and a half ago, the authorities in Abkhazia banned abortions in nearly all circumstances. These women have paid the price.

A hospital in Sukhumi, Abkhazia. Photo via Sputnik Abkhazia / OC Media. Some rights reserved.

This article originally appeared on Open Caucasus Media, in partnership with Civil.Ge. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.

A year and a half after Abkhazia banned abortion, reportedly to increase the number of births, reports of women’s deaths and pregnancy complications have became more numerous, yet the number of babies being born has not increased. Local activists have called on parliament to change the controversial new law, which they say discriminates against women.

The amendment to the Law on Healthcare passed in early 2016 banned abortions in the South Caucasus territory in almost all circumstances. It has provoked heated discussion in Abkhazian society, with local activists still raise the issue periodically, arguing either for or against the law citing various arguments. 

oDR’s partners at OC Media spoke with three women who have been directly affected by the ban. All three asked to remain anonymous; they said that their problems were too sensitive to bring up in public — but that they could not remain silent.

One mother of two who said that when her husband found out that the family was expecting one more member, he simply left. “He told me I should have just not got pregnant if I didn’t want to. He said that he couldn’t cope with family responsibilities anyway and he just left,” the woman recalls, with tears in her eyes. “I approached a charity and asked them to help me have an abortion, but they persuaded me to keep the child, promising to provide help after the birth.”

“If mothers were given higher allowances, we would have children. But the state doesn’t want to help us, all they do is to forbid things”

The woman says that financial difficulties were the only reason she didn’t want to give birth to the child. “If mothers were given higher allowances, more than 500 roubles (£6.50) a month, we would have children. But the state doesn’t want to help us, all they do is to forbid things,” she sighed. 

Abkhazia’s de-facto president Raul Khadzhimba signed the law banning abortion on 9 February 2016. Two months later, the law was enshrined in Abkhazia’s constitution. The original author of the law was Vice Speaker of Parliament Said Kharaziya. 

Supporters of the law talked of demographic fears in Abkhazia and the supposed “sinfulness” of abortion. According to Khazariya, no one has the right to take the life of an “unborn soul”. Before the law was adopted, there were suggestions that the ban should apply only to ethnic Abkhaz people. However parliament dismissed the approach as discriminatory, deciding to ban abortion altogether, even in the event of serious medical complications.

During the session of the parliament when the amendment was adopted, Said Kharaziya said that “everything was in God’s hands.”

Not everyone can afford a child

Our second respondent found herself in a similar situation, she already has three children and is unemployed. Her husband only has irregular work, and their social benefits are barely enough to buy school supplies for the couple’s older children. 

She told OC Media that she couldn’t afford to pay for a trip to Russia to have an abortion. Despite childbirth being free under the Abkhazian law, she will still have to give the doctor a huge bribe.

“I received 1,000 roubles (£13) in benefits for two children and came to [the territory’s capital] Sukhumi for a scheduled examination with the doctor. This money is not enough. I have to pay 1,500 roubles (£19.60) for the tests alone, and then I have to pay the doctor. So that’s how I’ll spend my whole pregnancy, not knowing if my child is fine, and I also need to save money for childbirth. Until the doctor receives 20,000 roubles (£261), the newborn won’t be released from the hospital. They come up with different problems, like the child has jaundice, but the moment they see the money, the baby is suddenly alright. I already went through it three times,” she exclaims.

Children play in a courtyard in Sukhumi, capital of the unrecognised Republic of Abkhazia, 2006. Many buildings in the city remain derelict following the bloody 1992-1993 war with Georgia. Photo (c): Alexey Nikolsky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

Our third respondent, determined not to have a fourth child, went to Sochi, right across the Abkhazian–Russian border. Even there she encountered difficulties, as a number of Russian doctors were refusing to terminate the pregnancies of Abkhazian women. She was categorically rejected by several doctors, yet in the end, managed to find one who agreed to go through with the procedure. She had to pay about 3,000 roubles (£39). 

“I was told at a clinic in Adler [district of Sochi] that women with Abkhazian passports can’t be given abortions. Some kind of order had come from above. But this one doctor felt sorry for me and sent me to another clinic in Sochi. There I was also coldly received. They said they had also been instructed not to give Abkhazians abortions. They said that they have 700–800 Abkhazians terminating their pregnancy each month. But it was my goal to remove the foetus, and I wasn’t going to stop at anything. Maybe this doctor noticed and felt sorry for me,” she remembers. 

These are the reasons Viktoriya Vorobyova, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at the Sukhumi Maternity Hospital, is categorically against the ban on abortion. She told OC Media that someone who really wants to have an abortion will find a way, while economically disadvantaged and often poorly informed women will continue to give birth, including to sick children.

Two pregnant women have died since Abkhazia’s abortion ban was introduced

“Women order pills for chemical abortion online, they administer them themselves, even in late pregnancy. We have had women with severe complications at our hospital. One patient, after taking such a ‘miracle pill’ had her uterus seam loosen and the foetus fell into the abdominal cavity. We barely saved her,” Vorobyova recalls. 

Two pregnant women have died since the ban was introduced. Their children were saved, but their two large families were left without mothers. 

“These women came to the hospital early in their pregnancy to terminate them, but they were turned away due to the ban. One died from eclampsia — a severe condition that occurs only in pregnant women. The second shouldn’t have give birth either,” the doctor said. 

“Women need explaining how to behave” 

Member of Parliament Alkhas Dzhindzholiya mentioned the need to soften the ban in his parliamentary election programme, saying that abortion should be legal when there are medical complications. But even now, as he says, women have the opportunity to have an abortion without violating the ban. 

“If developmental defects in the foetus are diagnosed, or the woman herself is sick, then a consultation meeting between several doctors is held. A record of the consultation goes to the Ministry of Health and there they decide whether it is possible to let the woman have an abortion. There are already precedents for this,” Dzhindzholiya told OC Media.

As for changes in the legislation, he said that more work was needed.

Woman in a walnut orchard in Gali district, southern Abkhazia, 2011. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Dmitriy Medlev / Nonviolent Peaceforce / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“We should not approach this issue categorically. You can’t allow full permission for abortion, but at the same time, you can’t put [women’s] lives at risk. That’s why we consult with the public. In general, we need to work with women. They need explaining how to behave, so they don’t need to have abortions later,” Dzhindzholiya said. 

Dzhindzholiya discussed only medical factors. Social aspects, such as the financial situation of families, are routinely ignored by Parliament. Politicians say that there are always ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Any woman can receive a free consultation and various contraceptives at the state-funded Centre for Reproductive Health.

Doctor Viktoriya Vorobyova told OC Media that condoms, contraceptive pills, and the contraceptive coil are always available at the centre and are always free. 

“Maybe we don’t inform the public well enough about the activities of the centre,” Vorobyova admits. “We need to work with young people, explain to them that [contraception] is nothing to be ashamed of.”

There is currently only one such centre in Abkhazia, in Sukhumi. Outside of the capital, international organisations occasionally implement programmes offering contraceptives, or to educate people about how and why to use them, both to protect their health and prevent unwanted pregnancies. These are all, however, sporadic at best.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Banning abortion in Abkhazia” - a short video on Chai Khana

Related stories:  Breaking the cycle: ending underage marriage in Georgia Love, North Caucasus style Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus How should we talk about abortion in Russia? Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Kurdistan referendum: why now is the wrong time

Thu, 2017-08-17 07:39

It appears that the referendum is arguably nothing more than a bargaining chip used by President Barzani, whilst also covering itself as a clever ploy to lull the suffering Kurdish population away from the on-going problems.

A member of Kurdish security forces stands guard in Sinjar region, Iraq August 2, 2017. Suhaib Salem/Reuters/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Numbering around 40 million, Kurds hold the infamous title as the largest ethnic group in the world without a country. Split between Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, and with sizable diasporas around the world, one set of Kurds seem to be closer to achieving the long elusive goal of independence.

Since 1991 the Kurds in Iraq have operated under de-facto autonomy. However, Iraqi Kurdistan, revered across the world for its bravery and supposed secularism in an unstable region, is now subject to a never-ending list of problems.

Nevertheless, that has not stopped President Masood Barzani from calling a referendum to secede from Iraq. Whilst, undeniably, this is the moment all Kurds have been dreaming for, such drastic actions could prove disastrous and damage everything the Kurds have laboured for strenuously up till now.

Post 2003, oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan underwent an economic boom, drawing in investors all over the world. With ostentatious buildings under construction, an increasing tourism sector, and the erection of democratic structures, Kurdistan’s future looked bright and prosperous.

However, since the arrival of ISIS, the region has suffered a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), complicating things for the small 5 million population of the area. Bearing in mind the rapidly increasing food prices, power cuts and constant demonstrations, there is no denying the cataclysmic disarray across the blemished region.

This dire situation is amplified as economic mismanagement and corruption are treated with impunity. Iraqis considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with Kurdistan arguably sharing a brunt of the blame. Thousands of ghost workers across the region are an example of this corruption.

Moreover, for several months, the government has failed to pay the salaries of workers, including the valiant Peshmerga (the Kurdish army). Not only has this led to mass social unrest, it has also left the people with low morale and apathy. Coupled with the drop in oil-prices, an unwillingness for Baghdad to allocate funds to the region and an outstanding $20 billion debt, Kurdistan is not the bubbling metropolis it was once set out to be.

Considering these inapt circumstances, one must really question how the Kurds intend on funding such a costly project with an already broken economy and minimal funds?

Since 2013, not only has President Barzani unlawfully extended his premiership, but the Kurdish parliament has also been dissolved, making any mandate to push forth a referendum ultimately undemocratic.

To make matters worse, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has been at constant odds with the opposing Change Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The inability for the parties to cooperate functionally in unity poses serious questions for stability in the region in any scenario of independence, with their Peshmerga already infamously divided.

On top of the fact that there are currently a number of disputed areas between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish government making things even more problematic, the only country who has openly showed actual support for Kurdish secession is Israel.

Whilst any ally would be welcomed, in the Middle East, such partnership could be disastrous on how the Kurds are further perceived by their hostile borders.

Seceding from Iraq in any case, would have to be done in an amicable case. But with constant quarrels between the two and Baghdad previously refusing to pay Kurdistan’s constitutional allocated budget, this will be difficult. This does not bode well for the Kurds’ future, if we bear in mind the fierce opposition from numerous other Shia and Sunni groups.

With minimal allies in a country where sectarianism is rife, the likelihood of Kurds splitting in such a delicate time is only more likely to separate the country and bring about more conflict.

The Shia dominated government has constantly been accused of repressing the Sunni minority and now reports of Feyli Kurds in Baghdad being attacked also make this referendum that much more sensitive.

Beyond this, with mixed communities in disputed areas and Hashd Al-Shabi only gaining more fervour and dominance across the country, the likelihood of more conflict once ISIS disappears is only stronger, and likely to encourage other minorities in the area to rebel.

Beyond these barriers stand the border countries of Turkey, Iran and Syria. All countries have a sizable Kurdish population and have a long history of oppressing Kurds. All three are also adamant in Iraq’s borders remaining intact. The reason being that the successful independence of Iraqi Kurdistan will diffuse to other regions, causing revolts and instability.

Added to the fact that the Syrian war has also been favourable for Kurds in Syria, the two major powers of Turkey and Iran both have reasonable fears. President Erdogan stated that the referendum “is a threat to the territorial integrity of Iraq and is a wrong step”.

Whilst in the same vein, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has highlighted opposition, arguing that the Kurdish referendum is “opposed to the independence and identity of Iraq”.

With the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) also stepping up attacks on military personnel in Turkey and Iran, any possibility of Kurdish secession is a major danger to them.

Nevertheless, both are Kurdistan’s biggest trade partners, and in the event of an unwanted secession both Turkey and Iran have the option of blockading the region and ending all trade, leaving a premature naive Kurdistan starved and suffocated, with no means to build its utopia.

The Kurdistan region has more problems it can count and independence certainly won’t solve any of those, but rather blow them up. Beyond that, all the border countries are clearly opposed to any referendum and the USA has also shown opposition, highlighting that international support is also limited.

In any case, it appears that the referendum is arguably nothing more than a bargaining chip used by President Barzani against the Iraqi central government, whilst also covering itself as a clever ploy to lull the suffering Kurdish population away from the on-going problems.

Whilst the Kurds have undoubtedly suffered and every nation has the right to self-determination, now is the wrong time for such deluded fantasies. Considered a beacon of light by some in a tarnished region, this could very quickly go sour and mimic the failed South Sudan.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The possible devastating outcome of a Kurdish referendum Country or region:  Iraq Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government Economics International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Пограничное состояние

Thu, 2017-08-17 05:44

С момента грузино-абхазской войны прошло 25 лет. Но ситуация с грузинскими беженцами до сих не урегулирована.

Беженцы переправляются по разрушенному мосту через реку Ингури, 1994 г. Фото (c): Тутов / РИА Новости. Все права защищены.

В августе 1992 года на территорию Абхазии с целью восстановления конституционного порядка вошли силы Национальной гвардии Грузии. Это стало началом открытого и затяжного конфликта, в результате которого более 250 тысяч граждан стали беженцами. Прошло 25 лет, но многие вынужденно переселившиеся семьи до сих не считают новую территорию своим домом. 

Все еще переселенцы 

Грузинское село Орсантия вытянулось вдоль дороги, ведущей к границе с Абхазией. В двухстах метрах от него уже КПП. Всего в Орсантии живет 3500 человек, 1400 из них - грузинские беженцы из непризнанной республики, которые покинули свои дома во время первой войны с Абхазией. 

В центре небольшого поселка расположены продуктовый магазин, здание администрации и полуразрушенные дома, в одном из которых находится офис неправительственной организации "Егрисси". НПО занимается помощью переселенцам и оставшимся в Абхазии грузинам, а также выдает гранты на открытие пекарен и теплиц. 

Руководитель "Егрисси" Цицино Библайа до 1992 году жила в Гальском районе Абхазии, где работала учительницей в школе. После начала конфликта ей пришлось бежать в Зугдиди, столицу Мегрелии. Она вспоминает, что когда война разгоралась, местные власти уверяли население в обратном и просили не устраивать панику: "Я сидела в школе и заполняла журнал, и вдруг началась суматоха. Все начали убегать. Мы не знали, куда деться, даже одежду не успели поменять. Так я оказалась с мужем и детьми в новом городе и до сих пор не могу с этим смириться".

Внутренние перемещенные лица из Абхазии, в грузинской столице Тбилиси, 2012 г. Фото CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr.

Гражданская война в Грузии (1991-1993 годы) началась после прихода к власти Эдуарда Шеварднадзе. Между новым президентом и сторонниками первого главы Звиада Гамсахурдия обострились отношения и началось открытое противостояние. Столкновение сопровождалась этническими конфликтами в Абхазии (в 1992-1993 годах) и Южной Осетии (в 1989-1992 годах). Гражданское население стало массово уезжать из зоны боевых действий. Переселенцами стали более 250 тысяч человек. 

В результате конфликта Абхазия и Южная Осетия объявили о независимости, но официальный Тбилиси по-прежнему считает эти территории своими, поэтому всех беженцев в документах называет внутренне перемещенными лицами (ВПЛ). 

Большинство ВПЛ проживает на территории, прилегающей к зоне конфликта: в Мегрелии, Имеретии, Шида-Картли и столице. По данным министерства беженцев и расселению Грузии, в стране зарегистрировано более 265 тысяч ВПЛ. Это примерно 6% от числа населения страны, которое к тому же всерьез уменьшилось за счет трудовой миграции в Россию и Евросоюз. 

Граница на замке 

Сегодня, несмотря на давность конфликта, места коллективного расселения вынужденных переселенцев никуда не исчезли. Лишь небольшая часть людей после войны смогла начать новую жизнь. Подавляющее большинство по-прежнему зависит от госпомощи. Многие продолжают жить в тяжелых условиях - чаще всего в переделанных под жилье помещениях бывших санаториев и домов отдыха. Например, в Кутаиси, в одной из таких гостиниц живет несколько семей беженцев и их потомков. Номера давно обветшали, вместо окон - картон.

К тому же вынужденным уехать из Абхазии грузинам, у которых в непризнанной республике остались родня и имущество, с каждым годом все труднее посещать родные места. В марте 2016 года абхазские власти закрыли два КПП на реке Ингури, а спустя год перекрыли пункты в селах Отобая и Набакия. Сейчас остался лишь центральный КПП через Ингурский мост.

Лишь небольшая часть беженцев после войны смогла начать новую жизнь. Подавляющее большинство по-прежнему зависит от госпомощи

Жители сетуют, что сегодня на пересечение границы уходит не менее трех часов. Более того, сделать это может только тот, у кого сохранился старый советский паспорт с пропиской в Абхазии или есть специальный пропуск, выданный абхазской стороной. Тем, у кого нет документов, нужно получить приглашение и заплатить визовый сбор. До марта 2017 года переход занимал 15 минут и был бесплатным, утверждают местные.

Россиянам для посещения непризнанной республики не требуется заграничный паспорт, поэтому грузинские пограничники не могут отследить посещение ими Абхазии, но формально, по законам Грузии, это запрещено. Чтобы не нарушать законодательство об оккупированных территориях, жители стран СНГ и ЕС должны заехать с грузинской стороны. Но нескольким моим знакомым Абхазия отказала в визите с грузинской стороны и настоятельно рекомендовала ехать через Россию (в 2014 году не без приключений сюда смог попасть путешественник Александр Лапшин, осужденный недавно Азербайджаном за посещение Нагорного Карабаха). 

Ингурский мост восстановлен - но дорога домой еще закрыта грузинским беженцам. Фото CC-by-2.0: Anya / Викисклад. Некоторые права защищены.

Сейчас в Набакии на абхазской стороне у старого моста на бетонных опорах натянута сетка рабица и установлены массивные укрепления из бетонных блоков. С грузинской стороны пограничников нет - Тбилиси не считает это границей. Тем не менее за территорией все равно следит полицейский спецназ в полной боевой выкладке. 

"Раньше люди из Абхазии могли легко сюда переходить – с обеих сторон до границы ездили маршрутки. Пограничниками были абхазы, и с ними всегда было легко договориться. Потом поставили россиян, и контроль усилился. К тому же взяток они не берут, вместе с тем прекратилась и контрабанда", - рассказывает 56-летняя Цицино Библайа. 

Несмотря на сокращение КПП, жители Абхазии по-прежнему пересекают границу, чтобы закупить продукты. Каждое утро на рынке в Зугдиди есть поток людей. Раньше абхазы сами везли на продажу орехи и мандарины, но сейчас Сухуми установил таможенные пошлины на вывоз товаров, и торговать стало нерентабельно. 

Soft power по-грузински 

Многие семьи по-прежнему живут на два дома: пожилые люди, как правило, предпочитают оставаться на абхазской стороне, а молодежь, по словам общественницы Библайи, на грузинской. Некоторые беженцы числятся на территории приграничных сел лишь официально - они предпочли переехать в Тбилиси, но благодаря статусу беженцев получают социальные выплаты. 

"Государство выдает гранты на обучение в университетах, предоставляет бесплатную медицинскую помощь и выплаты", - перечисляет Библайа способы, которыми власти Грузии привлекают людей. Из-за низкого уровня медицинских услуг в Абхазии жители непризнанной республики ездят на лечение в Грузию. Для этого необходимо иметь грузинский паспорт. По словам общественницы, многие стараются не афишировать свой приезд, опасаясь проблем дома. Сейчас аналогичную схему для жителей Крыма, Донецка и Луганска пытается реализовать Украина. 

Нередко брачные отношения не оформляются, чтобы не потерять статус беженца и соответствующие льготы

По словам сотрудника того же НПО Ираклия Хубуа, большинство вынужденных переселенцев до сих пор чувствует себя обособленно. "Смешанные браки заключаются, но люди чувствуют себя пришельцами, которые живут здесь временно", - говорит Хубуа. Немалую роль в этом играет и компактное проживание беженцев, и тот факт, что причастность к переселенцам гарантирует дополнительную социальную помощь. К примеру, в Гори есть целые кварталы, где живут исключительно беженцы. 

Разрушенная гостиница "Хвамли" в Кутаиси, в которой живут беженцы из Абхазии. Фото (c): Мари Никурадзе / openDemocracy. Все права защищены.

Нередко, рассказывает Хубуа, брачные отношения не оформляются, чтобы не потерять статус беженца и соответствующие льготы. Некоммерческие организации также занимаются сохранением памяти, откуда именно бежали грузины. Схожая ситуация в Азербайджане, который после войны потерял контроль над Карабахом, а бежавшие оттуда азербайджанцы формируют землячества для консолидации общины и сохранения исторической памяти. 

В Грузии на этом поле активнее всего работает центр "Абхазети", который вместе с Датским советом по беженцам при финансовой поддержке Евросоюза с 2016 года организует строительство домов для переселенцев в рамках государственной программы устойчивого расселения. По словам главы общественной организацией "Луч надежды" Нино Миндиашвили, подобная помощь нередко негативно сказывается на желание работать. "Мужчины привыкли получать подачки и стали иждивенцами, теперь здесь работают только женщины, а мужчины предпочитают ждать кредитов", - говорит общественница. 

На новой земле 

В сохранении памяти о родных местах серьезную роль играют ритуальные традиции, согласно которым похороны должны проходить на семейном погосте. Например, глава "Егрисси" тайно прошла по абхазской стороне 11 километров, чтобы похоронить родственника. "Не у всех были нужные документы, поэтому мы обходными путями несли цинковый гроб с моим родным братом, 165 кг на себе. Шли через лес, а с той стороны абхазы выходили помогать - неизвестные нам люди", - рассказала Библайа. Желание быть похороненными на земле предков может показаться экстравагантным, но это подтверждают несколько собеседников, живущие либо покинувшие Абхазию и Южную Осетию. 

Тем не менее для многих детей перемещенных лиц Абхазия – это уже совсем чужая страна

Тем не менее для многих детей перемещенных лиц Абхазия – это уже совсем чужая страна. Например, молодежь, осевшая в Кутаиси и Тбилиси, в первую очередь нацелена на поиск работы и жилья, а о Цхинвали, Очамчире и Гале вспоминает как о земле предков, оставшейся в детских воспоминаниях. 

"Мои правнуки уже родились здесь. Моя внучка переехала сюда в три года. С каждым поколением люди забывают откуда они. Возможно, правнуки уже свыкнутся, что они лишь вышли из Абхазии, а потом полностью интегрируются", - считает Жуна Библайа, другая жительница Орсантии. 

Пожилая беженка из Абхазии в поселке Шкра, центральная Грузия. Фото CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Некоторые права защищены.

Каждый день она приходит нянчить двух правнуков в двухэтажное общежитие, которое власти предоставили для ВПЛ. За исключением икеевского шкафа при входе, вся обстановка очень советская - ковры на стенах и фарфоровые фигурки на антресолях. Квартиру топят печкой-буржуйкой, душ - один на этаж, вода из колодца, часть соседних квартир заброшена, окна выбиты. Беженцы живут здесь почти четверть века, но самостоятельно делать ремонт не хотят. 

"Мы не потребители и не ждем поблажек от государства, но почему они ничего не делают? Когда государство хочет, то выполняет свои цели. Но им, видно, не особо нужно приводить это все в божеский вид. О нас обычно вспоминают только в ключевые даты", - говорит учительница биологии Римма, которая живет в том же доме. 

Она бежала из Абхазии после того, как во время сбора орехов их окружили вооруженные абхазы. Один из сборщиков орехов попытался сбежать, за ним погнались, а Римма с мужем смогли уйти. По ее словам, она не держит зла на абхазов, ведь множество из них несколько раз спасали им жизнь во время боевых действий: "Я готова их простить. Даже если они не правы , мы можем быть первыми, кто протянет руку". Она вспоминает, как знакомые звонили на свои телефонные номера в Сухуми, а брали трубку чужие. "Люди просили ухаживать за домом, плакали, а потом опять набирали", - говорит Римма.

Грузинские обыватели винят в случившемся кого угодно, но не Тбилиси. Тем не менее международные наблюдатели обращали внимание, что в преступлениях против мирных жителей участвовали обе стороны. Многие пускаются в геополитические споры, возлагая ответственность то на Горбачева, то на Путина. 

"Мы не потребители и не ждем поблажек от государства, но почему они ничего не делают? О нас обычно вспоминают только в ключевые даты"

По мнению руководительницы Центра реабилитации и развития "Эргнети" Лии Члачидзе, прежде жившей в Южной Осетии, одной из причин затянувшегося конфликта стала политика грузинских властей в отношении национальных меньшинств. Члачидзе переехала в Грузию после конфликта 2008 года. 

"При первом президенте Гамсахурдиа из Тбилиси ехали вооруженные люди, а местные грузины говорили: "Зачем? Не надо нас так защищать". После войны вроде успокоилось, но были постоянные провокации с обеих сторон. Что уж тут говорить, в том числе и с нашей. Те стреляли, наши стреляли. И уже в 2008 году произошла авантюра президента Саакашвили с его желанием молниеносной войны", - поясняет Члачидзе.

Библайа же считает виновной в развязывании конфликта и сохранении напряженности Россию. "У нас не было опыта войны, и тут сразу началось: грузины на грузин, абхазы на абхазов, и все друг на друга. Это была братоубийственная война. Но прежде никаких проблем или жалоб у абхазов не было. Да, наверное, абхазы и сейчас хотят независимости, но если российские войска покинут территорию, то нашим народам будет проще договориться. Как теперь вернуться домой? Я даже об этом не думала. Вот зайду я в свой старый дом, а там чужой человек. Не могу же я его выгнать. Это только войной нужно", - говорит она.

По ее словам, дети долгое время были настроены против русских, считая только их виновными в конфликте. "Я им пыталась объяснить, что русские со мной дружили, мне помогали и не надо никого уже обвинять. Теперь сын вместе со мной смотрит русские фильмы, чтобы учить язык". Она поясняет, что сейчас ей удалось объяснить детям разницу между российскими гражданами, русской культурой и российским государством. "Но грузины все меньше видят контактов с русскими. Остаются лишь воспоминания о войне, особенно у таких как мы, вынужденных бежать".

Надежда без права возвращения

В общей сложности за время нескольких поездок я провел в Грузии больше двух месяцев. По стране чаще всего путешествовал автостопом, и волей-неволей разговор заходил о российско-грузинских отношениях, особенно в фокусе конфликта в Осетии и Абхазии в 2008 году. 

Несмотря на человеческие жертвы, отсутствие официальных дипломатических отношений и появление самопровозглашенных республик, грузины всегда относились ко мне благосклонно. В большинстве случаев они радовались подвернувшейся возможности поговорить на русском, который с годами стали использовать реже, а также ругали правительства обеих стран за военные авантюры. 

Президент РФ Владимир Путин и президент Абхазии Рауль Хаджимба. Визит Путина в Абхазию на 8 августа был приурочен к годовщине начала конфликта в 2008 года, когда после пятидневной войны, Россия признана независимость Абхазии и Южной Осетии. Фото (c): Алексей Дружинин / РИА Новости. Все права защищены.

Возможно, если российские власти были бы чуть дальновиднее, то смогли бы использовать подобные настроения себе на пользу. Сейчас же грузины все больше поворачивают на запад, учитывая возможность посещать страны Евросоюза без визы и появление центра НАТО в республике.

Тем не менее положение перемещенных лиц все еще остается подвешенным, и в ближайшее время они вряд ли вернутся домой. В условиях текущей политической ситуации у них не так много сценариев, как обустроить свою жизнь: помнить об утраченном доме, переехать на заработки в столицу и попытаться сохранить идентичность выходцев из Абхазии, учитывая то, как важно для грузинского общества знать откуда ты родом.


Sideboxes Related stories:  Двадцать пять лет постмодерна на Кавказе Родина там, где не ждали Georgia: the exiles’ election Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Brexit: a view from the other end of the telescope

Thu, 2017-08-17 05:06

Brexit is the incomprehension of a former imperial power, wistfully hoping to recreate a long-gone global sphere of influence. 

Image: diamond geezer, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, described the UK government’s proposal this week for an interim customs agreement as a ‘fantasy’, as Euronews reported, it highlighted how the view of Europe from the home counties is very much at odds with the view of the UK from the European mainland.

Yet amid the welter of coverage of Brexit in the British media, the view from the other end of the telescope is very rarely adopted. Take a simple example. Throughout the referendum campaign in 2016, no commentator—or even partisan from the Remain side—asked the obvious question: why has the European Union grown from the six that the UK joined in 1973 to the 28 of today and yet only the UK has even considered leaving the club, never mind voted so to do? What is it, in other words, not about ‘Brussels’ but about Britain, which makes it so alien?

The UK has always been a reluctant EU partner. An academic book published seven years ago with the title A Community of Europeans? described how hitherto narrowly national identities and public spheres across the EU had become ‘Europeanised’ as a result of decades of integration. But throughout the author, Thomas Risse, noted how the UK remained an outlier. The Brexit vote, we now know, was the consequence, but claims of a domino effect leading to a ‘Nexit’ or a ‘Frexit’ proved ridiculous.

On the contrary, before-and-after survey research commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation in six large EU member states found a significant uptick in support for the EU after the Brexit vote in all of them (France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the UK) bar Spain. Respondents were asked how they would vote in a referendum on retaining EU membership and in the UK positive responses rose from 49 per cent in March 2016 to 56 per cent in August. Fast forward and three out of four tracking polls by Survation—the company which called the Westminster election most accurately—in June and July this year have found Remain would win a rerun referendum. Hence the shrillness of the Brexiters that ‘the will of the people’—most of them, then—must be respected.

Yet also entirely absent from the saturation reporting of Brexit—and from the Remain camp—have been the three European precedents for the overturning of a referendum which initially brought a narrow Eurosceptic victory by a second ballot. In 1992 in Denmark, the Maastricht treaty was rejected by 50.7 per cent of voters but 56.7 per cent approved it the following year. Denmark and Ireland, both countries with quite a nationalistic political culture, joined the EU at the same time as the UK and voters in the Republic rejected two treaties at the first time of asking: the Nice treaty of 2001 and the Lisbon treaty of 2007. Constitutionally, Ireland requires referenda on EU treaties, because they comprise constitutional amendments; again, in both cases the initial vote was decisively overturned in the rerun referendum. Democracy is not a once-and-for all event—the ‘will of the people’, always pluralistic, changes.

Democracy is not a once-and-for all event—the ‘will of the people’, always pluralistic, changes.

Because of the myopic lens applied to European affairs, therefore, the UK is on track—despite contrary votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland and despite the shifting mood in England—to commit what the leading Irish official dealing with Brexit described in April as an ‘act of great self-harm’. A Financial Times investigation found in May that the UK would have to rewrite at least a bewildering 759 international agreements as alternatives to those to which it was party as an EU member. And an expert on trade has explained how developing a bespoke customs union with the EU bilaterally would be fiendishly complicated.

With firms and staff already voting with their feet in the City and the car industry in an agitated state—on top of Brexit-induced inflation hitting already pressed living standards generally—talk of sunny economic uplands for ‘global Britain’ has understandably quietened. So why is Brexit still going ahead?

The problem is that there are four longstanding features of British political culture which are taken for granted domestically and yet together have made the UK a ‘foreign body’ in the EU:

  1. A ‘classical’ English approach to political economy, rooted in the thinking of Adam Smith (not John Maynard Keynes) and embodied in the dominant ‘Treasury view’;
  2. A ‘liberal’ approach to the welfare state, characterised by means-testing of benefits and a commitment to low taxation;
  3. A patrician approach to governance, marked by dominance of the executive (‘the Crown in Parliament’) and lack of judicial constraint on ‘parliamentary sovereignty’; and
  4. A ‘realist’ approach to international relations — ‘no friends, only interests’ — associated with a transfer of allegiances from the countries of the former empire to the ‘special relationship’ with the US.

These four aspects were never going to sit easily with widely-held post-war assumptions on the European mainland—and indeed long delayed UK membership. While not all would share the traditional étatisme of the French governing class, nevertheless even on the Christian-democratic centre-right there was a recognition that markets had to be socially embedded to avoid the searing experience of deflation and mass unemployment which had been associated with the rise of Nazism and the onset of war. And while not all would endorse the Nordic welfare states, with their universal benefits funded by progressive taxation, the alternative was the insurance-based Bismarckian system, introduced to dampen worker alienation, rather than an Anglo-American minimalism based on faith in ‘flexible’ labour markets.

While there was respect for the long tradition of democracy in Britain, with its ‘mother of parliaments’, the absence of a written constitution for the UK was incomprehensible to most elsewhere, as was the British belief in the merits of a winner-takes-all electoral system, in sharp contrast with European-style coalition-building. And while British trumpeting of values of tolerance and freedom would also not have been discounted, the subservience (and associated delusion) of the UK’s Atlanticism was a mystery to many.

And so the conflicts inevitably followed over the decades succeeding UK accession, the periodic eruptions beginning when that nationalist evangel for market fundamentalism, Margaret Thatcher, entered Downing Street in 1979. And they were to be over predictable issues:

  • - ‘our’ money, as Thatcher banged the table for a rebate on its contribution to the resources necessary for the European Community to function;
  • - the mild ‘social chapter’ of the Maastricht treaty and the working-time directive, from which the UK opted out for ideological reasons;
  • - the constraints on UK ‘sovereignty’ represented by the European Court of Justice and the (separate) Court of Human Rights; and
  • - the establishment of the euro, deemed to undermine the City and sterling as a ‘global currency’.

These inchoate conflicts were inflamed by (themselves unregulated) conservative newspapers, which seemed unable to address European integration except in the aerated language of ‘Brussels’ impositions — ‘straight bananas’ among them — presented as defying British ‘common sense’.

These inchoate conflicts were inflamed by (themselves unregulated) conservative newspapers, which seemed unable to address European integration except in the aerated language of ‘Brussels’ impositions.

Underpinning all this has been the dominant narrative in Britain of World War II. This is not of a Europe rescued (including with the sacrifice of 20 million Soviet citizens) from the fascist Sword of Damocles but is a story of how ‘Britain stood alone’ against its main national enemy: historically this was France but since World War I had been Germany. Fascism, and the political alternatives to it, only entered this story in the superficial demonising features of helmets, swastikas and the pidgin German (‘Achtung’, ‘Jawohl’) found in countless children’s comic books.

Elsewhere in Europe, the political lesson bitterly learned through the Holocaust was of the need to subordinate particularistic identity claims and their aggressive prosecution against the ‘other’ to a regime guaranteeing universal norms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law — the fundamental shift which turned western Europe from the most violent region on the planet in the first half of the 20th century into a haven of peace in the second. What Britain ‘learned’ however was merely a reinforcement of its supposed national mission in the world, embodied in beliefs in its inherent stoicism at home and acceptance of the White Man’s Burden abroad.

Brexit is thus not just a misunderstanding between the British ruling class and the rest of Europe. It is the incomprehension of a former imperial power, wistfully hoping to recreate a long-gone global sphere of influence, for what remains—despite all its manifest shortfalls—a modern, cosmopolitan political project.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

“It’s so taboo but we want it so damn bad”: introducing 50.50 columnists Tiffany Mugo and Claudia Torrisi

Thu, 2017-08-17 04:20

These 50.50 authors will delight and challenge us with monthly comment and analysis about sexuality in Africa, and reportage on intersecting forms of oppression in Italy.

50.50 writers Tiffany Mugo (left) and Claudia Torrisi. Photos courtesy of authors.“We live in a world that is so sexually powerful and electric but so sexually violent that you don’t know whether to masturbate or carry a machete,” says Tiffany Kagure Mugo in a rousing TEDx talk in Cape Town, South Africa. She throws up her hands as a ripple of laughter runs through the audience. “It’s true, it’s true! The thing about sex is that it's so taboo but we want it so damn bad”.

Mugo is the joyously creative co-founder and curator of HOLAA! a unique online hub devoted to tackling issues around African female sexuality. Starting this month, Mugo also joins openDemocracy 50.50 as a regular writer. For the rest of 2017, she will delight and challenge us with monthly comment and analysis “talking about sex, sexual identity and sexuality in an easy and lubricated way”.

READ Mugo's piece Coitus and conversation: the digital realm is taking sex to new levels

From Italy, journalist Claudia Torrisi is also joining 50.50 as a monthly writer. With a series of reported features Torrisi will help us understand how racism, sexism, xenophobia, poverty and other mechanisms of exclusion intersect. She will report on the impact of these dynamics – and the social movements and organisations that are organising the resistance.

Torrisi is a young freelance reporter based in Rome. She is also a volunteer with Chayn Italy, a unique and open-source feminist tech collective. Her previous pieces for 50.50 have examined how the Italian media covers violence against women and have investigated how widespread use of “conscientious objection” by Italian doctors limits women’s access to safe abortion services that have been legal for almost 40 years.

READ Torrisi's piece “Change can start from us”: Roma women in Italy fight for their rights.

Follow @tiffmugo, @clatorrisi and @5050od on Twitter, and sign up to 50.50’s newsletter so that you don’t miss any of their articles. Have another idea for a regular feature or a theme we should dig into? Want to republish a 50.50 piece? That's great. Email us. We'd love to hear from you. 

Country or region:  South Africa Italy Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Charlottesville, far-right rallies, racism and relating to power

Thu, 2017-08-17 03:40

The term 'alt-right' is appropriate for a loose movement able to mainstream white nationalism and fascism and make them part of popular culture, the media landscape and the national dialogue.

Demonstrators Rally in Chicago, IL in Solidarity with Charlottesville, VA after White Nationalist Attacks, August 13, 2017. Christopher Dilts/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.‘This song’s just a reminder to remind your fellow man that this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan’,

Bob Dylan, The Death Of Emmett Till (1963)

As someone who has spent my academic career working on the American far-right, I was shocked, but not surprised by the Unite the Right rally and scenes of (tiki) torch wielding, swastika bearing and sieg heiling ‘alt-right’ ‘activists’, white nationalists and fascists marching through Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August 2017. The rally, ‘protest’ or ‘riot’ as it has been described, was organized by alt-right white nationalist figurehead Jason Kessler in defense of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee located in Emancipation Park. This followed a Klan rally about the statue in the same city on 8 July.

The battle over confederate monuments was reignited following Dylann Roof’s attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on 17 June 2015. Images of Roof with the flag sparked calls for the removal of such symbols, which led to opposition from the far-right. Unite the Right was also, as the name indicates, an attempt to unite diverse and disparate far-right groups and movements to build upon their already established unity around President Trump and present a show of force. Those attending ranged from neo-confederates, neo-Nazis and Identitarians to militias, and included Ku Klux Klan groups and former Grand Dragon David Duke, the neo-Confederate League of the South, Daily Stormer clubs, the National Socialist Movement, alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, Traditionalist Youth Network and Traditionalist Worker Party with leader Matthew Heimbach, Vanguard America, American Guard and leader Augustus Invictus, the Nationalist Front, Identity Evropa, Anti-Communist Action, the 3 Percenters, and Oath Keepers, as well as various state militias.

Unite the Right was branded an alt-right rally, but three things were made clear by those present: 1. It was not limited to young men in suits attempting to look respectable or social media savvy activists and trolls; 2. The term alt-right is problematic for how it conceals the white nationalism and fascism of those within it and fellow travellers; and 3. The term is, despite this concealment and the fact that it is the language of the far-right, to a certain degree appropriate for a (loose) movement that was able to mainstream white nationalism and fascism and make them part of popular culture, the media landscape and the national dialogue.

Taking our country back

There were a number of violent incidents at the rally, including attacks on anti-racist and anti-fascist counter protestors. In one horrific incident, a car, driven by a rally participant, ploughed into counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The accused attacker, who has been arrested and charged, is known white supremacist affiliated with Vanguard America, James A. Fields. Heyer has since been attacked and her funeral threatened by far-right activists on social media and in The Daily Stormer. In another case, Deandre Harris was also chased by a group of white men and beaten up. The Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and the FBI ordered a civil rights investigation. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security had previously warned of the threat of white supremacist extremism and violence, something President Trump ignored. Trump did make a statement almost immediately following Heyer’s death, but not only failed to denounce the far-right, but distracted from them and spread the blame with a false equivalence: ‘We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides … It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time’. In addition to repeating ‘many sides’ twice, the reference to Obama and history was an implicit response to criticisms that not only was Trump a factor in this rally, but responsible for the wider resurgence of the far-right and mainstreaming and normalization of racism. Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said:

‘Look at the campaign he ran. Look at the intentional courting, both on the one hand all of these white supremacist, white nationalist groups like that, anti-Semitic groups, and then look on the other hand the repeated failure to step up and condemn, denounce, silence, put to bed, all of those different efforts just like we saw yesterday, and this is not hard’.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had also said that ‘Trump's run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man's country’. Former Grand Dragon of the KKK David Duke asserted this at the rally itself: ‘We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back’.

The link between Trump and such movements, and his responsibility for the rally and its violence, can be seen in his campaign rhetoric about immigrants and refugees, Mexicans, Muslims and Black Lives Matter, his appeal to white socio-economic and cultural alienation and victimization, as well as courting of racists and organized far-right white nationalists. It is worth mentioning that this wave of reaction started earlier, building on Trump’s promotion of anti-Obama ‘Birtherism’ and capitalizing on the rise in racism and far-right activism and violence that occurred in response to Obama’s election, as Homeland Security and the SPLC both reported in 2009.

In terms of courting the far-right that united in Charlottesville, during the campaign Trump received endorsements from Rocky Suhayda of the American Nazi Party, Don Black of Stormfront, the Klan and former Grand Dragon David Duke, as well as alt-right’ figurehead Richard Spencer and ‘alt-right’ gateway figures from Breitbart such as Steve Bannon (who now works in the White House) and Milo Yiannopoulos. When challenged on the Duke endorsement, Trump failed to reject it and denounce the man and wider far-right: ‘I don't know – did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists’.

Following the election, the SPLC reported a rise in hate groups, which they attribute to Trump’s campaign and victory. They also reported a spike in hate-based harassment and attacks against various groups post-election. Between 9 November, the day after the election, and 14 November, they collected 437 reports of hate incidents. This rose to 1,094 by mid-December. The SPLC linked the rise in such incidents to Trump’s campaign and victory, and noted graffiti on targets reading ‘Make America White Again’ (a play on his slogan ‘Make America Great Again’) and ‘Vote Trump’.

While many criticized Trump’s response to Charlottesville, the far-right was generally happy. According to Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi The Daily Stormer:

‘Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him’.

David Duke had issues with the wide distribution of blame, saying: ‘I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror and remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists’. After a great deal of pressure and two days, Trump finally condemned the rally participants and wider far-right: ‘Racism is evil, … And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans’.

Telling the truth like it is

Trump, however, soon reverted to his original position and doubled down, criticizing so-called ‘alt-left’ groups who he claimed were ‘very, very violent’, arguing that there is ‘blame on both sides’. He also claimed that there are, ‘some very fine people on both sides’, denying many on the right were Nazis and white nationalists: ‘Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee … This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?’. This made Duke happier, ‘Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth’.

Trump’s second statement, declaring that racism and the far-right have been around long before him and Obama was true though (although not in a way that removes responsibility from him). Racism has been around since the founding and building of the country through white settler colonialism, manifest destiny and slavery, and continues in its structures, institutions and policies despite claims about a post-racial America that accompanied Obama’s election.

The far-right arrived in the form of the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan in the 1860s, and has returned, been revived or resurgent at many times throughout American history, so neither racism nor white nationalists, supremacists and wider far-right are as un-American as Trump, who used racism to ‘Make America Great Again’, claimed.

His third statement reference to George Washington as a slaveowner acknowledges the place of racism at the very core of American history, although he only did it to defend the far-right. Although the far-right have risen, declined and risen again throughout American history, it has changed in form and discourse, as well as relation to power, but rarely has it been in or represented by those in the White House, whether it be Trump, Bannon or Sebastian Gorka. It is for this reason, that it is worthwhile looking back at the history of the far-right and organized white supremacy and nationalism to see where both the militant violent fascists and legitimized, electoral and policy-oriented racist far-right that converge with Trump, come from and what they relate to.

Five eras of far right

The ‘Unite the Right’ rally reminds me of developments in the 1980s, when former Klansman and Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler opened his compound in Hayden Lake, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to the wider far-right for his Annual Aryan National Congress (ANC). After a history where the Ku Klux Klan dominated the racist far-right, Aryan Nations not only attempted to steal the crown, but unite and lead the racist right. Although not every group wanted to join, the ANCs played host to a diverse group of white supremacists, white separatists, neo-Nazis, Klan paramilitaries, posses, Christian Patriots, survivalists, neo-confederates and more.[1] It was at one of these meetings in 1983 that Bob Mathews and Bruce Pierce formed The Order, which went on a murder and crime spree that took the life of Denver talk radio DJ Alan Berg in 1984,[2] a case made famous by Oliver Stone in Talk Radio and Costa-Gavras in Betrayed.

The latter also included a scene at one of the congresses. A real ANC can be seen in the documentary Blood in the Face, by James Ridgeway, assisted amongst others by Michael Moore. Louis Theroux also visited on one of his Weird Weekends. Where this differs is that none of the participants felt emboldened by the president and it took place within the confines of a secure compound with only racists, right-wing extremists and fellow travellers attending. Where this differs is that none of the participants felt emboldened by the president and it took place within the confines of a secure compound with only racists, right-wing extremists and fellow travellers attending.

I was also reminded of the Greensboro massacre, which did impact a community and involved targets and victims. This occurred on 3 November 1979, when members of the Communist Workers' Party (CWP) and Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO) participated in a textile workers’ march defending Black workers in Greensboro, North Carolina. The CWP had opposed the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazis Party and other groups, who confronted them and killed five CWP and civil rights activists, as well as wounding others.[3] According to James Ridgeway, this was one of the first incidents of what has been termed the ‘fifth era’ or post-civil rights era.[4]

It was this era that provides the template for the current diversity and attempted unification of the far-right (from white supremacist to neo-confederate to neo-Nazi), the organization around perceived white victimization and loss of America and militant violence. What is significantly different about these two periods is their relation to state power. The history of the far-right was, until the 1970s, dominated by the Ku Klux Klan, its traditional white supremacy, system-supportive ideology and close connections to governmental and institutional power (local, state and sometimes federal), defending racist laws and practices such as segregation. This was probably the last time as indicated by Trump and his racist and far-right followers that America was deemed ‘great’ by them.

According to Henry Louis Gates Jr., Trump’s support and success  ‘clearly represented a backlash against the progress black people have made since 1965’. The success of civil rights and voting rights have been a source of material for post-racial claims and narratives since Obama’s election (how far ‘we’ve’ come),[5] as well as resentment on the part of the far-right and a wider racist backlash which occurred in and challenged the ‘post-racial’ claim. This also represented a crisis point, fuelling anger and resentment for the Klan at the time, known as the third or civil rights era Klan, which in turn fuelled the fifth era.

Un-American activities

After a decade defending segregation, enforcing legal white supremacy and opposing civil and voting rights in league with the local and state government, law enforcement and white society, the tide turned for the Klan following the June 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner by Klansmen and including Neshoba Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price in Mississippi. President Lyndon Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy pressured FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to launch the FBI’s Internal Security Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) ‘White Hate Groups’ program.[6] Following the 1965 murder of voting rights activist Viola Liuzzo, the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) held hearings on the Activities Of Ku Klux Klan Organizations In The United States, which produced the report The Present-day Ku Klux Klan Movement in 1967 and condemned the Klan as un-American. 

While these were responses to violence and political pressure, it also allowed the federal government to remove an obstacle to the enforcement of legislation and disentangle the Klan from legitimate, mainstream southern society such that this could be redeemed and reconstructed. The same occurred in the first era when the Klan first emerged in response to emancipation and reconstruction in 1867-8, preoccupied with the threat to whites particularly white women, from free former slaves, and were defeated by anti-Klan legislation and Ulysses S Grant in 1871.[7] While the third era shows what a far-right with political power and influence can look like, unlike the current manifestation of the far-right, it had no power and influence on a federal or national level. While the third era shows what a far-right with political power and influence can look like, unlike the current manifestation of the far-right, it had no power and influence on a federal or national level.

For the Klan, civil rights, voting rights, COINTELPRO and HUAC represented not only their failure to ‘maintain white supremacy’, their stated objective, but also their persecution by the federal government. It is here that the contemporary far-right’s discourse of white victimization has its modern origins, although it can also be seen in the post-civil war first era, which is now being played out in the defense of confederate monuments.

In response, a split has occurred in the Klan about how to respond to a country that has allegedly abandoned whites, and reversed the racial order of things. David Duke pursued a mainstreaming strategy, leaving the Klan but largely following his predecessors’ non-violent, legitimate path, establishing the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) and running unsuccessfully for President in 1988 and successfully for Louisiana State Legislature in 1989.[8]

This is sometimes referred to as the fourth era. Yet, most followed the more radical path expressed by Texas Klansman Louis Beam Jr. in his call-to-arms ‘where ballots fail, bullets will prevail’.[9]  This was a rejection of the Klan’s mainstream tactics in favour of more violent and insurgent ones, which defined the fifth era in the late 1970s to the 1990s. 

This era saw the paramilitarization of the Klan in the form of Beam’s Texas Emergency Reserve and Frazier Glenn Miller’s White Patriot Party. Like Duke, Miller spans the eras. It was his followers who were involved in the Greensboro Massacre and he was convicted for the April 2015 shootings at a Jewish Community Centre and retirement home in Kansas. The traditional Klan was also replaced in significance by Aryan Nations and other groups such as National Alliance, White Aryan Resistance, Posse Comitatus and The Order. In addition to which, traditional white supremacy was pushed to the side by the growth of anti-government patriotism, Nazism and white separatism. It is here that the extreme politics of post-civil rights white victimization, fascism and violence we see today manifested themselves and mobilized, but against the federal government as opposed to in league with and emboldened by it. What we are seeing today is the extremism of the fifth era and national institutional legitimacy of the second era.

This era saw violent attacks not only on left-wing activists, by IRS officers and local law enforcement, particularly during the farm crisis of the 1980s. The mobilization of the far-right during the farm crisis and deindustrialization of the 1980s played on the theme of white alienation and victimization that we see perpetuated by Trump. The 1990s saw increasing anti-government radicalization with the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, emergence of the Militia movement and bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995. All of these were mentioned as precedents and threats in the Homeland Security and SPLC reports following Obama’s election.

It was rare for fifth era activists to run for elected office. One exception was Posse Comitatus member James Wickstrom, who ran unsuccessfully for Wisconsin State Senate in 1980 while also (ironically) serving as the Posse’s National Director of Counter Insurgency and founder of the sovereign township of Tigerton Dell.[10] The fifth era did not have a Trump or anyone in office to look to or legitimise them.

If we want to see what it looks like for the far-right to have national power and influence, we have to go back further to the second era in 1915, when the Klan re-formed after being whitewashed and rehabilitated by DW Griffith in Birth of a Nation.

Although re-formed in Georgia, the second era Klan capitalized on the 100 per cent American white nationalist nativism of the day, something Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ and anti-immigrant politics reference and share common traits with. The Klan of the era saw themselves defending the nation from within against immigrant ‘aliens,’ Jews, Catholics and communists, as well as black people, and it was mainstream, popular and influential on a state and federal level.

At the peak of the era in 1925, the Klan had up to five million members.[11] On 8 August 1925, more than 50,000 members of the Klan marched on Washington, D.C. and Texas Klansman Earl Mayfield was elected to the U.S. Senate. Most significantly, Congress passed the Klan-supported 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which was intended to end the ‘indiscriminate acceptance of all races’, limiting immigration and introduced permanent restrictions designed to keep out Southern and Eastern Europeans, particularly Italians and Jews, Africans and those from the Middle East, as well as barring Asian immigration.[12]

It was this act that Jeff Sessions, who has previously expressed admiration for the Klan, referenced when he expressed support and admiration regarding the contemporary concern about immigration in a 2015 interview with Stephen Bannon. It was also in this era that Trump’s father Fred was a member and arrested at a riot in 1927.

Dangerous convergence

America is a haunted house of hate. What we are seeing today is the extremism of the fifth era and national institutional legitimacy of the second era. It is this convergence which is so dangerous and we must not let one distract from the other, but address them both, as well as the racism that runs through American society even when there is not a revival or resurgence of the far-right in whatever form it may take. 

[1] Kevin Flynn and Gary Gerhardt, The Silent Brotherhood: The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent, Anti-Government Militia Movement, New York: Signet, 1990.

[2] Ibid.

[3] J. Ridgeway, Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1990, p. 79.

[4] Ibid. 

[5] C. Dickey, ‘Journey Through a Troubled South’, Newsweek, 11 Aug. 2008, pp. 22-32; Chicago Herald Tribune, ‘Election 2008’, 5 Nov. 2008, pp. 6-7; USA Today, ‘Reflections on Living History’, 21 Jan. 2009, pp. 14a-15a; Newsweek, ‘Commemorative Inaugural Issue’, 20 Jan. 2009; A. Fetini, et al., ‘One Dream Realized’, Time: Special Inauguration Preview, 26 Jan. 2009, pp. 28-31.

[6] C. Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America: From the Klan to Al Qaeda (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 97-98; D. Cunningham, Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights Era Ku Klux Klan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 197.

[7] J. Ridgeway, Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1990, p. 34.

[8] S. Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States, New York: Guilford Press, 1995, pp. 264-265. 

[9] J. Ridgeway, Blood in the Face, p. 87.

[10] Ridgeway, Blood in the Face, p.117.

[11] D. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan 1865-196., Garden City: Doubleday, 1965, p. 31; D. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 33.

[12] M. Cox and M. Durham, ‘The Politics of Anger: The Extreme Right in the United States’, The Politics of the Extreme Right: From the Margins to the Mainstream, London: Pinter, 2000, pp. 290-291,  

Sideboxes Related stories:  How the Alt Right is trying to create a safe space for racism on college campuses Country or region:  United States Topics:  Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Gaza border controls: frustration, despair and death

Thu, 2017-08-17 03:30

This summer how many people will drive, walk, or take a train and barely realise that they have crossed a border?  How many people will know about the 2 million residents of Gaza that don’t have that right?

Palestinians gather in front of the gate of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza during a protest against the blockade calling for reopening of the crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip July 3, 2017. Picture by: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved. On which side of the border were you born?  On the side of high security walls, of permits, of strict military controls and interrogation?  Or on the side of freedom of movement?  The feeling of getting up one morning, pulling on some trainers and running from home into another country seems so liberating that I decided to do it. I’m setting off from my house in Catalunya in the cool hours of the morning to run 111 km north, ending in the Pyrenees with a hot, hard climb  to Le Perthus a small French town just over the border.

Article 13 of the Declaration of Human Rights recognises the human right of freedom of residence and movement, to leave any country and to return.  So many people around the world do not enjoy this fundamental right. 

Described by various world leaders as a “prison-camp or open air prison for its collective denizens”, Gaza is home to 2 million people who do not have the right to freedom of movement.  Gaza residents are contained by a high security 60 km wall along the border with Israel, a high security fence along the Egyptian border and a blockade of Israeli warships along its coast.  There are two border gates for people.  The Rafah border crossing in the south is completely closed for most of the year and when it does open, crossing is limited and very strictly controlled.  The Erez Gate crossing point in the north is the only way out of Gaza all year round but less than 1% of the population succeed in leaving each year.

Why are seriously ill patients left to die in Gaza when the required medical treatment is available in a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem?  Why are immediate family members prevented from visiting convicts in Israeli prisons?  Why is the Gaza economy being crushed by arbitrary restrictions on trades people?  Why is the future of so many students blocked by denying them the opportunity to study abroad?

Gaza residents can only cross the border if they have a permit approved first by the Palestinian authorities and ultimately by the Israeli military.  The permits fall under four categories all with strict criteria: Health, economy and employment, movement of population for various needs and senior Palestinian officials.  The process is arbitrary, non-transparent, lengthy and frustrating.   Even if the applicant meets the criteria for a permit to leave Gaza, the permit may be refused at any time with the simple motive of “for security reasons”, without any further explanation.

International humanitarian law requires Israel, the occupying force, to ensure the Palestinian population’s access to medical treatment but many residents in Gaza suffer from the lack of medication and medical resources.   A patient can only apply to go to a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem for “life-saving” or “life-changing treatment” if that treatment is not available in Gaza.  Medical teams can apply to go for medical training only if that would improve the medical response for Gaza residents in cases of life-threatening danger.  Families can apply to visit a seriously ill first-degree relative for a maximum of 1 week. Children who are ill or who have special needs can apply to go on “exceptional organised day trips of a humanitarian nature”.

Hind Shaheen has breast cancer.  The necessary treatment is unavailable in Gaza due to the ten year blockade but her application to cross the Erez Gate in order to receive the treatment in Jerusalem has been turned down three consecutive times, without explanation.  She has lost hope.  Lack of essential medication, resources and training mean that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer in Gaza are 30% compared to 86% in Israel.  In Gaza the postcode lottery is a harsh reality. 

Sausen Kadih, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last June.  She was at first cleared to undergo treatment in a Ramallah hospital, but in the past month the permits were not issued and her request was denied by the Israeli army.  Here, as in many other similar cases the international humanitarian law which requires Israel, the occupying force to ensure the Palestinian population’s access to medical treatment is not respected. 

A report from the World Bank states that the Gaza economy has reached “the verge of collapse” with employment at 41%.  The general rule is that employment of Gaza residents in Israel is not approved.  There are 5000 permits available for trades people to go across the border which last a maximum of 3 months.  The trade must be in goods approved by the civil policy and the entry must contribute to improving the Gaza economy. There are 500 permits for senior Palestinian businessmen which last up to 6 months.  A limited number of emergency medical teams may work in the Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

Permits are available for other various needs.  First degree relatives may apply for a permit to attend a funeral, a wedding or to visit detainees in Israeli prisons.  However, prison visitors are also subject to the Israeli Prison Service rules and are limited to one visit every two months.  Permits can also be applied for by journalists, for legal needs, to attend an embassy interview, to attend work meetings and conventions and by athletes participating in official team activities. It is worth noting that the head of the Palestinian Olympic team was denied a permit to leave Gaza in 2016 to join his team in Brazil.

In June 2017, the Israeli authorities issued a statement that all Palestinian families of Gaza prisoners jailed in Israel are banned from visiting.  Dia al-Agha has been held in an Israel prison for 26 years.  His 67-year old mother had not been allowed to see her son for a year and every time she applies for a permit it is rejected. “I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live. Any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him.”

Awad was imprisoned for 19 years for attempting to cross the borderline between Gaza and Israel. His father died during the 2007 ban on prison visits and was never able to visit his son.  His mother, 64, worries that due to her deteriorating health she will soon no longer be able to endure the long, tiring visitation process that often starts at 5am, involves humiliating strip searches, and finally finishes at around 4pm.

Some permits are available for those holding VIP1 or VIP2 documents and key positions in the Palestinian Authority.

It must be emphasised again that even though the applicant fulfills the criteria above, permission is often denied without any reason given.  The application could be turned down due the month’s quota being reached, or because the application process has taken so long that the reason for going has expired.

This summer how many people will drive, walk, or take a train and barely realise that they have crossed a border?  How many people will know about the 2 million residents of Gaza that don’t have that right?  And if they do know, how many of you will stop and think of that infringement to freedom?  That is the aim of my 111km run through the border this summer to highlight how the arbitrary border controls in Gaza lead to despair, avoidable deaths and contribute to the decline in the economy. The freedom of crossing borders in Europe is in contrast to the daily frustration and impotence of the Gaza residents when their lives and livelihoods depend on passing through unnecessarily strict border controls.

Sideboxes Related stories:  “I am proud to keep resisting”: fighting the occupation in Hebron Gaza: ten years of economic blockade Gaza in transit: what after the GCC crisis? Mental help: the story of Gaza’s trauma unit Country or region:  Palestine Israel Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Claiming rights under the kafala system

Thu, 2017-08-17 03:00

How can domestic workers organise when the legal system places them at the complete mercy of their employers?

May day parade Lebanon 2017. Photo by Marie-José Tayah. All rights reserved.

The Middle East plays host to the largest number of migrant domestic workers in the world. National statistical sources collated by the ILO estimate that 1.6 million migrant domestic workers are working in the Levant and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Another estimate, from the International Trade Union Confederation, puts the number even higher at 2.5 million. These women traditionally hail from Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India, however Ethiopia, Madagascar, Kenya and Uganda have also emerged as new countries of origin.

The admission, residence and exit of migrant domestic workers are governed by the kafala system, a private sponsorship scheme for temporary migrant workers. Kafala ties the work and residence permits of a domestic worker to a specific employer; makes residence permit renewal the responsibility of the employer; and makes employment termination, transfer from one employer to another, and exit from the country contingent on the sponsor’s approval. It is a system that leaves workers at the complete mercy of their employers.

Further, domestic workers continue to be excluded from the scope of national labour laws with the argument that domestic work cannot be regulated like other sectors without violating the sanctity of the employer’s household. Employment contracts thus regulate the employer-agency-worker relationship; however these documents carry little weight without adequate inspection mechanisms. Even where standard unified contracts exist – such as in Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon – agreements negotiated bilaterally with countries of origin supersede them, promoting a race to the bottom in the working and living conditions of domestic workers from different nationalities and encouraging stereotypes about the quality of the work performed by women from certain countries.

As a result, domestic workers are overworked, underpaid and cheated by brokers and recruiters. They face considerable barriers to accessing justice and their embassies and consulates do not have the resources or capacity to respond to the volume of complaints. Furthermore, when domestic workers – faced with unfair laws, barriers to justice, and employer impunity – decide to leave the homes of their employers they are declared “absconded” and become susceptible to arrest, long periods of detention, excessive fines, and finally deportation and blacklisting.

Over the past 10 years, international organisations and NGOs in the Middle East have launched advocacy campaigns, submitted legislative proposals, and offered a variety of legal and socio-medical services to migrant domestic workers. These initiatives were rarely guided by the priorities of domestic workers, in part because very few spaces exist for domestic workers in the Middle East to articulate their concerns. The result has been a plethora of well-intentioned but incongruent programmes and services for domestic workers. This is progressively changing. Inspired by images on Facebook and Instagram of domestic workers taking the streets across the world, domestic workers across the Middle East are consolidating in nationality-based or sectorial organisations to make their demands heard.

The following is a description of the barriers to domestic workers’ unionising in the Middle East; a review of emerging models of collective voice outside the union model; and a discussion of the role of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF) in reconciling the organic social dynamics of organising among migrant domestic workers with classical trade unions.

Barriers to the unionisation of domestic workers in the Middle East

Freedom of association is generally restricted in the Middle East. Trade unions and strikes are banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Only workers’ committees are allowed, although not for women migrant domestic workers. Domestic workers can join existing unions in Lebanon and committees within union federations in Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain (ILO, 2015). Across the Levant and the GCC, domestic workers are not allowed to run for union-elected positions on account of their migration status.

Domestic workers in Lebanon succeeded in establishing their first sectorial union in the Middle East in 2015 under the umbrella of the National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL). The union remains unrecognised by the Lebanese Ministry of Labour, but is reported to count over 500 members. It was formed through an ILO-led process involving women migrant domestic workers; four NGOs (i.e., Nasawiya's Anti-Racism Movement, Insan Association, Frontiers Ruwad (FR), Kafa (Enough Violence & Exploitation); the National Federation of Employees' and Workers' Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL); and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). The 20-month process, completed in January 2014, had three main objectives: (1) raise domestic workers' consciousness to encourage active participation in advocacy campaigns; (2) promote collaboration between domestic workers, unions, and NGOs over priorities and interventions; and (3) create synergies with the global domestic workers' movement (Tayah, 2014).

The 80 participating domestic workers provided the critical mass required to establish the domestic workers’ union in January 2015. Over the past two years the union has concluded agreements with trade unions in the countries of origin, such as the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) and the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), to extend protection to domestic workers across the migration cycle. These agreements, unfortunately, lack focus and are not supported by implementation protocols.

The union has also expended substantial energy campaigning for recognition by the Lebanese authorities, but has yet to define a policy position and strategy on domestic work outside of the generic anti-kafala slogans. Union engagement at the policy level is hampered by the sector’s fragmentation across recruiters and brokers at origin and destination; multiple government agencies; origin country embassies; a multitude of policy spaces (national, binational, regional, interregional, global); and transnational policy issues that are at the crossroad of care, migration and employment regimes. All of these require a high level of technical knowledge that FENASOL, in spite of its heightened awareness to the challenges in the sector, still lacks.

Elsewhere, in May 2017, the Arab Trade Union Confederation (the Arab office of the International Trade Union Confederation) supported establishing a national committee of migrant workers as part of the General Federation for Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU). The committee is headed by the president of the federation and composed of the presidents of the construction, garment, public services and municipality workers’ unions. It aims to represent migrant workers, including domestic workers. The General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU) had also set up a committee for migrant workers that will include a focus on domestic workers. These are welcome developments, but the trend toward migrant committees rather than domestic workers’ committees risks stymieing sector-based organising and undermining the principle of equality between migrants and nationals in their working conditions. 

Practical, organisational, and political barriers frequently prevent domestic workers from joining domestic workers’ unions and migrant workers’ committees where they are permitted to do so in the Middle East.

Practical barriers include workplace isolation and restrictions on mobility, such as the denial of a leave day outside the home; bans on driving; long and unpredictable working hours; and the withholding of personal documents. Further, the fear of employer reprisal through contract termination (which may lead to deportation) is also commonly cited as a deterrent against organising efforts. Outreach efforts are further limited due to the absence of gathering areas such as parks and churches/temples in the GCC, which often greatly facilitate ad hoc forms of solidarity among domestic workers.

Gender dynamics, conflicts of interest and the inability of migrant workers to comply with strict union reporting requirements constitute organisation- and union-level deterrents for domestic workers. Men dominate the leadership structure of trade unions in the Middle East, and as a consequence they have largely been unable to welcome (women) domestic workers into their ranks. Trade unionists in the region are also employers of domestic workers, especially in the countries of the GCC. Finally, leaders of the domestic workers’ communities wear multiple hats: they are leaders in their migrant communities and leaders in the sectorial union. Their activism on the migration front is incongruent with strict trade union reporting requirements. The domestic workers’ leaders who worked with FENASOL and became the founders of the Domestic Workers Union of Lebanon have since moved on to form the Alliance of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon. They continue to recognise the importance of the union but prefer the flexibility of organising around both sectoral and national lines.

Additional organisational barriers include low salaries, time limitations and language barriers. Low salaries mean that domestic workers are unable to pay membership dues and are unlikely to pay for transportation to attend union activities. Where the leave day is respected and tolerated by employers, domestic workers are also much more likely to rest rather than to spend their free time with the union. Language barriers in Middle Eastern countries – where domestic workers hail from over 12 countries of origin – are also an obstacle to sector-wide strategies.

More broadly, national level politics serve as another layer of obstacle for domestic worker organising. Population politics – migrants make up half the population of the GCC and over 90% of the population of certain countries like the UAE and Qatar – and the pressing issue of integrating refugee populations into labour markets of countries like Lebanon or Jordan are always thin lines to tread. On top of that, unions are often associated with certain political parties, and in some countries there is a growing rift between independent trade unions and government-supported trade unions. These dynamics greatly complicate organising in the region as these tensions are often instrumentalised to exclude domestic workers from unions and policy agendas.

The association model for collective voice in the Middle East

Domestic workers can set up or join trade unions but they can also adopt the association model of organising (e.g. community-based organisations), and/or experiment with arrangements straddling the association and union models (Bonner, 2010, pp. 10-15). There are many examples of migrant workers’ associations organising around gender, race, nationality and/or occupation in the Middle East. These associations have adopted union characteristics (e.g., paying membership fees) but do not have union powers.

In 2011, the Anti-Racism Movement in Lebanon established the Migrant Community Centre as a meeting space for migrant workers, and offered trainings in online activism, self-defence, computer skills, and grassroots advocacy. The MCC is now host to the Alliance of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon, which is starting to receive attention. On Labour Day 2017 it led the Migrant Workers’ Parade, reading out a statement under the slogan “Kafala kills” that denounced the deportation of domestic workers who give birth in Lebanon and the deaths of migrant domestic workers that are not properly investigated. Photos of the parade and the workers’ demands featured on the evening news and in major national newspaper outlets. In follow-up to the parade, the alliance and concerned NGOs are planning a meeting with the Ministry of Labour to discuss potential strategic partnerships on and with domestic workers.

Other associational models in the region include Migrante International – the global alliance of Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs) – which counts as a national chapter in Saudi Arabia. Migrante International receives complaints of OFWs in distress and their families and seeks redress for their grievances. It also regularly conducts research and fact finding missions and embarks on corresponding advocacy campaigns. The Sri Lankan Women’s Society in Lebanon organises around gender and nationality, although it is an association of mostly domestic workers, and The Domestic Workers Solidarity Network in Jordan represents Ethiopian, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Filipina domestic workers. The network organises worker literacy programmes and legal clinics.

The Middle East has also experimented with hybrid forms of organising. With Anti-Slavery International (ASI), the Lebanese NGO ‘KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation’ supported the establishment of a self-help group of Nepalese women working as domestic workers in Lebanon (NARI) in 2012. NARI members are affiliated to GEFONT, becoming trade unionists at origin and civil society activists at destination. NARI advocated for the establishment of a Nepali embassy in Lebanon.

IDWF: A middle out approach to organising in the Middle East?

The IDWF is a membership-based “global union of domestic workers” with 62 affiliates in 50 countries, and almost 501,000 individual domestic workers as members. Most of its members are trade unions or national trade union federations while the rest are membership-based associations and worker cooperatives. IDWF’s objective is to build a strong, democratic and united organisation to protect and advance domestic workers’ rights everywhere. IDWF has been present in the Middle East since 2017.

Given the web of challenges facing the labour movement generally and domestic workers specifically in the Middle East, the IDWF is investing in ‘middle-out’ approaches to organising where the emphasis is on building strong, membership-based organisations of domestic workers until unions are legally, organisationally and culturally able to host them and integrate them within their ranks/leadership. At the same time, IDWF works with unions in the region to lay the groundwork for formal unionisation.

Specifically, IDWF supports networks of domestic workers in defining: vision and mission statements; leadership structures, bylaws, and election systems; and membership fees, payment methods, and benefits. It also helps with developing recruitment drives. The establishment of membership-based organisations outside the union structure prepares a critical mass of domestic workers to hit the ground running when trade unions are ready to host them.

In working with trade unions to lay the groundwork for formal unionisation, IDWF, in collaboration with the ILO, is using the My Fair Home (MFH) campaign to raise the awareness of trade unionists to the working and living conditions of domestic workers, as well as to encourage them to invite the workers in their own employ to discussions on trade union premises. When trade unions join the campaign their members pledge to: pay fair wages to domestic workers (at least the minimum wage); ensure fair working hours and rest periods; negotiate the terms of employment with the domestic workers themselves and to set those terms in writing; ensure access to decent healthcare and a home free from abuse, harassment and violence; provide a safe, secure and private bedroom; and safeguard domestic workers’ right to spend their free time wherever and however they choose.

My Fair Home campaign pledge cards in FENASOL. Photo by Marie-José Tayah. All rights reserved.

In March 2017, FENASOL joined the MFH Campaign. FENASOL affiliates from sectors as diverse as hotels and restaurants, garment and construction took the pledge to respect domestic workers' rights in their own homes. The General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions joined the MFH one month later.


IDWF’s affiliates in Asia and Africa have broadly national memberships. IDWF is encouraging these affiliates in the countries of origin to extend membership to co-nationals and co-workers abroad, especially to places where such individuals are not allowed to join trade unions. IDWF union affiliates in Africa, for example, are beginning to lobby their governments to negotiate MoUs with the countries of destination that promote protections for domestic workers abroad in addition to facilitating labour market access.

Selected IDWF affiliates in countries of origin for domestic workers in Asia


National Domestic Women Workers Union (NDWWU)


Jaringan Nasional Advokasi Pekerja Rumah Tangga (JALAPRT) - National Network for Domestic Workers Advocacy

-       SPRT SAPULIDI, Sapulidi Domestic Workers Union, Jakarta

-       Serikat PRT Tunas Mulia, (Tunas Mulia Domestic Workers Union)

-       KOY, (Yogyakarta Domestic Workers Organisation)

-       Serikat PRT Merdeka Semarang, (Merdeka Domestic Workers Union)

-       SPRT Sumut/North Domestic Workers Union in North Sumatra


Home Workers Trade Union of Nepal (HUN)

Sri Lanka

Domestic Workers Union (DWU)


-       Gharelu Kaamgar Sangathan (GKS)

-       National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM)

-       National Domestic Workers Federation (NDWF) – 15 union affiliates

-       Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)


United Domestic Workers of the Philippines (UNITED)

UNITED has the following chapters:

1. Murphy Domestic Workers Association- UNITED

2. Roxas Domestic Workers Association- UNITED

3. Samahan ng mga Manggagawasa Tahanan ng Payatas- UNITED

4. Veterans Domestic Workers Association- UNITED

5. San Dionisio, Paranaque Domestic Workers Association –UNITED

6. Samahan ng mga Nagkakaisang Manggagawa sa Tahanan ng Amparo-UNITED

7. Bagong Silangan Domestic Workers Association- UNITED

8. Tunasan Domestic Workers Association of Munitilupa- UNITED

9. Poblacion Domestic Workers Association of Muntilupa –UNITED

10. Amytiville Subdivision Domestic Workers Association- UNITED


Selected IDWF affiliates in Countries of Origin for Domestic workers in Africa


Syndicat des Employés d’Hôtel et de Maison (SYNEHM)

Cote d’Ivoire

Syndicat des Travailleurs/ses Domestiques et des Travailleurs/ses de l’Economie Informelle de la Côte d’Ivoire


Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA)


National Hotel Trade Catering, Cafe, Bar and Allied Workers (domestic and informal)


Conservation, Hotel, Domestic and Allied Workers Union (CHODAWU)


Uganda Hotels, Food, Tourism, Supermarkets and Allied Workers Union (HTS-Union)


Conservation Hotel Domestic and Allied Workers Union (CHODAWU-Z)


Conclusion: a non-traditional sector in a non-traditional context needs to think outside the box, not dig its heels in

There is a general obsession with structure when discussing the organising of domestic workers in the Middle East. This causes us to lose sight of context, of how migration, care and employment regimes and their institutions intersect, and of existing ad hoc forms of solidarity. Development actors working in the sector want quick and simple models of organising for replication across the region without considering both the intended and unintended consequences of their interventions. They are either opting for trade unions models or civil society models of organising, and establishing their respective fiefdoms in one or the other of these two realms.

The two systems are not, however, mutually exclusive. They each bring an added value to workers in the sector and must work in conjunction with one another until the opportunity to build a strong sectorial union for domestic workers presents itself in each national context. Migration and domestic work are hot topics that attract the attention of many donors. Organising domestic workers in the Middle East should not be understood as an activity fitting of project lifecycles and donor time frames. Organising is a bottom-up, long-term and ever-transforming process, especially in domestic work, a highly technical subfield that straddles borders and policy areas.

To push token representation from domestic workers’ communities into unions transforms the latter into a golden cage for workers, one that that is totally dependent on funding and technical assistance from donors because it lacks the knowledge and momentum of committed and knowledgeable workers. It is one thing to create a structure and another to create a social dynamic or organising within that structure. Similarly, the rush to set-up migrant or domestic workers’ associations in complete isolation from the labour movement transforms these associations into support groups that work apart from other sectors of the economy and leaves them excluded from important policy discussions that have significant implications for the sector.

Organising is an organic and naturally evolving process that is shaped by how the political, economic and demographic situation in a country develops. Organising also requires solidarity building between labour and diaspora, labour and NGOs, across sectors and borders. It took 22 years for the Jamaica household workers' association to register as a formal union; 25 years for the national domestic workers’ movement in India to organise domestic workers into state-level unions; almost 10 years for domestic workers’ organisations to consolidate in a regional grouping in Central and South America; and 30 years to organise globally. To do it right takes time.

All view expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the institutions with which she is affiliated.



Bonner, C. 2010. Domestic workers around the world: Organising for empowerment (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising, WIEGO).

ILO. 2014. Cooperating out of isolation: The case of migrant domestic workers in Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan (Beirut).

ILO. 2017. Employer-migrant worker relationships in the Middle East: Exploring scope for internal labour market mobility and fair migration (Beirut).

ILO. 2015. Global estimates on migrant workers: Results and methodology (Geneva).

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). 2014. Facilitating exploitation: A review of labour laws for migrant domestic workers in Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (Brussels).

International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). 2017. Caught at the crossroads: Nepalese domestic worker activists in Lebanon fight kafala's ruthlessness, heartless human traffickers and a network of corrupt officials, available at: [accessed on 19 May 2017].

Tayah, Marie-José. 2014. Organising through research: The story of a participatory action research with women migrant domestic workers, NGOs and Unions in Lebanon (Geneva, ILO). 

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

"I closed my eyes and waited for the bullet"

Wed, 2017-08-16 09:35

5 years ago today, 34 mine workers were shot dead in South Africa during a bitter dispute with British firm Lonmin. Today their community is taking their demands for accountability to the firm’s HQ.

In August 2012, mine workers at British company Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in South Africa went on strike to demand the living wage. In the week leading up to 16 August, the workers tried to access the managers’ offices but they were pushed back by security. This was where the battle began.

Pushed back from the managers’ offices, the mine workers decided to go to the koppie, a small mountain near Lonmin’s mine, outside the company’s premises. They were there for a few days waiting for management to reply to their demands, and the rest of us in the community were not allowed to go near them. Every day when the men came down from that mountain, we asked them to tell us what was going on. Ten people were killed between 12 – 14 August, including two police officers.

We watched what was happening on TV constantly and in the afternoon of 15 August, we saw a crowd of people. Horses and police officers were growing in number on the koppie and, as women and leaders of the community, we were very upset. We were waiting for good news, for the management to make good decisions.

Early in the morning of 16 August, we saw the barbed wire encircling the koppie and we knew that people there were going to die. We collected the women of the community and, as leaders, we said that we should go straight to Lonmin management and tell them that if they didn’t want to give the mine workers the extra money, then it was better that we take them home because the situation had become so bad.

We collected the women and when we met near the mountain, we were too late. We heard the bullets, and then the ambulances.

Thirty-four mine workers were shot dead.

We couldn’t get there afterwards, there was a large crowd and we were told not go there, that it was very hectic. We turned back and didn’t sleep that night. Early in the morning, we went to see the police at the koppie and were fighting with them, trying everything. Then we cried.

We went to the police stations and hospitals to look for the missing. We were looking for a guy that was staying in the yard of one of our houses. He didn’t come back and we weren’t sure if he died or was in hospital or jail.

They killed Paulina

The day before, on 15 September 2012 we were near the koppie with Paulina Masuhlo, an ANC councillor and our good friend. The police had weapons and fought the mine workers near the koppie. They killed Paulina. I don’t know how I (Primrose) survived because I was next to her. I just took my hood and closed my eyes and then I waited for the bullet. We took Paulina to hospital where she died.

After Paulina’s death, we met again as women and formed an organisation called Sikhala Sonte (We Cry Together). We organised as women in solidarity with those who died. They were brothers, fathers, friends, they were related to us. As women, we gathered together in the hospitals, funerals, prisons and courts.

Sikhala Sonke is now a registered non-profit organisation and last year filmmaker Aliki Saragas approached us about documenting our community’s struggle for justice. We are in the UK to show the finished film, called Strike a Rock, and to represent the mine workers, widows, orphans and everyone in our community. We are demanding action from Lonmin because they promised to help the widows, to compensate them, to compensate Paulina’s family, but they’ve said nothing about her since.

While Lonmin have given us promises, the conditions in Marikana are even worse than they were before 2012. We have no roads, toilets, running water and no proper housing. if somebody is sick they will die because the ambulances cannot reach them. Many widows were forced to work in the mines to replace their husbands because their children were starving. They had no choice.

The miners that weren’t killed on 16 August 2012 were taken to prison and charged with the murders of their co-workers. Men were arrested in the days, months and years that have followed under an apartheid-era law, called the Law of Common Purpose. Some of them are still fighting charges and have recently been in court. Many of those accused have been tortured by the police and are traumatised. The whole community is traumatised.

Over 30,000 people live in Marikana and most are still living in shacks. Many adults are not working and gender-based violence, domestic violence and drug-use is common.

Sikhala Sonke demands reparation from Lonmin

Lonmin has an obligation to the community. In its Social Labour Plan it has committed to building 5,000 houses for the community, a promise made before the Massacre to improve living and working conditions. Up until the film was released, it had built three. Sikhala Sonke has repeatedly asked why these houses have not been built, particularly as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the finance arm of the World Bank – paid $50 million to Lonmin in 2007 to fulfil its commitments to the community.

We want to know where that money has gone.

In recent months, Lonmin has built some houses, for mine workers only, but many are paying high rents. Some 4,400 homes are meant to be built by 2018, according to Lonmin’s 2016-2018 Social Labour Plan. The South African Department of Mineral Resources must get tough on Lonmin for not complying with the Social Labour Plans, because they are legally binding regulations.

Sikhala Sonke participated in dispute resolution talks with Lonmin last year but we realised that it was a waste of time and decided to pull out. The company promised us each time we met that in the next meeting they would discuss our demands but, when we returned, they told us that they had no money. We didn’t demand money from them, all we wanted was justice.

Neither the ANC government nor the police protected the mine workers. But now Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, wants to come to Marikana and apologise. This is because he’s trying to become president. He is too late. Where were the apologies in 2012? ANC leaders should have gone to Marikana before and said sorry to those they have wronged.

We are picketing Lonmin’s Headquarters in London because we want them to be held accountable for what has happened. We want them to take care of their workers and to give them a share of their profits.

Over 90 per cent of Lonmin’s business is in South Africa but its headquarters and shareholders are in the UK – this is where the profits go. Our visit to the UK must make some changes for our community.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Lenin Moreno, Rafael Correa and the bull in the China shop

Wed, 2017-08-16 09:12

A lot of people in Ecuador have been hurt over the last ten years by Correa’s bull headed attitude to getting things done. Español

Lenin Moreno, left, was inaugurated as the new President of Ecuador in the Plenum of the National Assembly, former President Rafael Correa, right welcomes him, in Quito, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Photo by Gabriela Mena/ACG/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

When I think about Rafael Correa, and I suppose that in Ecuador we all do more often than is good for us, the image that comes to mind is that of a bull. A bull: strong, fierce and tireless, capable of a great deal of work. The problem of course is that bulls can also be dangerous and destructive; get too close to a big animal in a small space and you’re likely to get hurt.

Ecuador is a small space, and a lot of people have been hurt over the last ten years by Correa’s bull headed attitude to getting things done. To be fair, he did get a lot of things done. For the outside observer it’s obvious that the country has changed, and not only on the infrastructure level. Correa gave Ecuadorians political stability after a tumultuous period of seven Presidents in ten years, and a sense of pride that they had never witnessed before, with the possible exception of a military victory over Peru in the border war of 1995. And after the economic disaster of the early century, when poverty levels briefly rose above fifty percent (50%) and it seemed that half the population was migrating, or at the very least considering it, this was nothing short of astounding. He put them on the map.

Calling Moreno weak is nothing more than arrogance. 

But to get back to the negatives. I confess to admiring those blessed with the spirit and energy to create, while recognizing  that the ability to ‘get things done’ is often accompanied by a desire (presented as need) to trample on the unfortunate sods that happen to get in the way. And this coupled with a vicious attitude towards political opponents who try to derail the ‘project’. Many in both categories have felt the bull’s hot breath down their necks over the last ten years.

As a consequence the governing party’s candidate in the last presidential elections, Lenin Moreno, barely scraped over the line, and did so principally because he was not Rafael Correa.  He promised a different style of government. And after the first two months we can clearly say that we have exactly that. Strangely, that has made a lot of people within the governing Alianza País unhappy. Moreno has been called a traitor, weak, a liar, a neoliberal, a sellout to the Right, and all this by those who are his own side, including the ex-president himself. Correa has actively gone after his successor, taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book, twittering on a daily basis and causing a great deal of damage by blundering about in his own china shop.  

Why? The basic reason has little to do with ideology, although that’s how it’s been dressed up by many of the members of the Ancien Regime. Calling Moreno a traitor to the project requires defining the project, which could be difficult given that a major feature of Correa’s government has been pragmatism. Calling Moreno a neoliberal is to forget what neoliberalism is, to forget that the Free Trade Agreement with the EU was signed by Correa (it was probably inevitable), that Correa himself leased oil fields, and proposed selling off hydro-electric installations (long lease), and selling the nationalized Banco del Pacífico as well as the National Airline, Tame, which would be a blessing if in fact it were possible to find a buyer at a price over US$100. Calling Moreno weak is nothing more than arrogance.  

The economy is also not in great shape, and lowish oil prices mean that the government no longer has the ability to stoke the economic boiler. Moreno might have been more careful about some of his ministerial appointments, naming people that he knew, or should have known, were going to be a problem for many of his party members. On the other hand, real changes to previous government policies are likely to be few. It’s been evident for some time that major cooperation with the private sector was going to be necessary, and would come at a cost of increased political clout. It’s doubtful that Correa himself could have done much about that; he even prepared the ground. The difference is that he doubtless would have dressed it up as heroic.

That word: Odebercht

The scandal related to the Brasilian company and its corrupt and corrupting practices has become a very big fly in a very big jar of ointment.

The real issue here is probably Moreno’s lack of interest in playing Medvedev to Correa’s Putin. In response to the latter’s criticisms and, to be fair, his need to solidify his approval ratings and consequent ability to govern, he has hit back. In the process Moreno has distanced himself from ex-President and committed the heresy of suggesting that not all was bright and beautiful in the house that Correa built. By criticising the ex- president for his own political purposes, and also due to genuine disagreement, Moreno may have seriously compromised the chances of the ex-president successfully running again in 2021. Correa, and those political allies who would benefit by his return, are not at all happy about the criticism, to say the least. This is speculation of course, but to be honest it’s hard to find another plausible reason for the outpouring of hostility by Gabriela Rivadeneira and Marcela Aguiñaga: respectively Ex-President and Vice President of the National Assembly.

Then there’s that word. Odebrecht. And sticking to animal metaphors, the scandal related to the Brasilian company and its corrupt and corrupting practices has become a very big fly in a very big jar of ointment. Keeping the lid on corruption scandals in Ecuador over the last ten years has been possible by means of threats and promises. Only rumours survived the pressure. Correa and Glas were even said to have been involved in a punch up over Glas’s corruption. But who knew for certain if it was true? It was just a rumour. But Odebrecht is not a rumour, it’s something else entirely: an international scandal in which international actors have an interest in making sure the lid stays open. The very sound of the word must send shivers down the spines of many of the faithful.

Two past ministers have fallen and now the noose is slowly tightening around the neck of the Vice President, Jorge Glas and his uncle Ricardo Rivera who appears to be the linchpin.  Recordings made by José Conceição Santos, previous Odebrecht representative in Ecuador, of conversations between himself and the State Comptroller Carlos Polit, presently out of the country and unlikely to return, mention Glas as asking for money for all Odebrecht contracts. The pieces are beginning to fit together. To complicate matters there are other cases of corruption that appear to implicate the Vice President. Up to now the Correa-Glas supporters seems to believe that just stating their support for Glas and blaming everything on a campaign to discredit him will make everything go away. But it won’t. Denial will only make things worse.

The Vice president, almost certainly aware that Lenin Moreno was on the point of stripping him of his functions, attacked him in an open letter, which of course made the demotion even more certain. Denying everything has been Glas’ chosen tactic, and while it is a fact that no hard evidence has yet been found, as Moreno has recently said, the finger is pointing in his direction. And it’s a really big finger. The Attorney General is under pressure to formulate charges, but to subject Glas to criminal proceedings or destitution the National Assembly would have to give the green light. That only appears possible if the Vice President’s own party approves. If it does, the Correa faithful will be put in an extremely awkward position, if, on the other hand, it does not, the whole structure, President Moreno aside, will suffer a major blow to a credibility which is already creaking under the strain.  As one local commentator stated, cynicism will become the party’s byword.

Whether Glas is guilty or not, and it would be hard to find a dozen people outside the Alianza País structure who think he isn’t, the major question is why Rafael Correa insisted on forcing the now Vice President onto the electoral ticket. Glas was a clear liability for the campaign, and Moreno would probably have won handily with another running mate. So why do it? Why insist against the wishes of many of his own people, including Moreno, who in the early stages supposedly refused to run if Glas was on the ticket.

Shooting yourself in the foot is one thing, pointing the gun at your head is quite another.

According to one theory, the plan was to find a way to get rid of Moreno so that as Vice President Glas could take a step upwards; another implied that a way would be found to install José Serrano, the actual President of the National Assembly and previously Minister of the Interior in the Correa government. Both ideas sounded somewhat plausible, but whatever the reality, the first is now impossible and the second unlikely given that Serrano appears to be clearly in Moreno’s camp.

It is now evident that insisting on Glas, and continuing to do so in the face of the recent revelations, has in fact turned out to be the shot in the foot that many imagined it would be. The outcome could be a disaster for Alianza País, and involve a major reconfiguration of the political scene. Calls are being made for unity with the party, but unless agreement involves allowing Glas to be processed, little or nothing will be gained. Shooting yourself in the foot is one thing, pointing the gun at your head is quite another.    

Sideboxes Related stories:  The changing of the guard in Ecuador Ecuador elections 2017: A change is as good as a rest? Ecuador’s elections: the worst of all possible worlds Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

4 things that struck me after visiting political spaces in 14 US cities

Wed, 2017-08-16 08:25

I call my homeland Aotearoa New Zealand. Where I’m from, biculturalism is not a radical position, it’s a common experience.

Earlier this year I spent 9 weeks touring the US with my partner. We stopped in Boston, Providence, Indianapolis, New York City, Washington DC, Tucson, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Oakland, Eugene, Portland, New Orleans, and Asheville.

We met folks in many different political spaces. Many of them do not self-identify as “left”, or even as “political”, but I’d say they’re all “organising”, and all of them share the “values of the left”: social justice, environmental justice, racial justice, etc.

I don’t know the collective noun to describe what they have in common so I’ll just list some of their keywords: grassroots, social entrepreneur, community development, cooperative, anarchist, activist, civil servant, journalist, consensus, sociologist, organisational development, movement building, artist, permaculture, non-hierarchical, cohousing, think tank, network, researcher. Part of the struggle is that we’re lacking good names for what to call “us”. The new political actors in Spain call themselves “organised citizens” which I really like.

This trip was a huge experience. I’ve been digesting for two months and still feel like I’m just getting started. I have a strong urge to share some of my reflections, even the ones that are only half-digested. If you don’t have capacity for a long read, you can skip to the end to see my conclusions :)

I may turn a nice phrase now and then but please keep in mind that I’m not a journalist. This is a highly subjective snapshot of my current thinking. I’ll try to not masquerade as a social scientist or pretend to be objective.

I’m a White male outsider, so my sample is skewed and my biases are large. It was a high-speed long-distance trip, so most of my encounters were shallow. I’m going to say a bunch of challenging stuff, so if any of it triggers your rage button, my invitation is for you to take a breath, assume positive intent, and if possible, share constructive feedback to help me learn.

1. The welfare state makes a much bigger difference than I imagined

I grew up in a welfare state. After 30+ years of uninterrupted neoliberal economics, it is a pretty threadbare and punitive kind of welfare these days. But still, our socialised healthcare and unemployment systems protect a huge number of people from the worst consequences of bad luck or bad decisions.

Let me give you an example: my collarbone was broken in a traffic accident recently. I was evaluated in the field by an emergency first responder, shuttled to hospital by an ambulance, X-rayed and diagnosed by a specialist, and prescribed painkillers, a sling, and rest. I was back home within about 3 hours start-to-finish, and I think I had to pay a total of $3, for the drugs. We have a “no fault” socialised accident insurance scheme, which means the cost of accidents is covered by taxes, and nobody gets punished for honest mistakes. So that night, the driver of the car who hit me visited my house with a hot meal and a genuine apology. Everything about this story is ludicrously fantastical to my friends in the States.

Until I visited the US I didn’t appreciate just how much difference the welfare state makes to people’s choices. Social welfare makes it safe to fail. When you’re safe, you can try risky things, like starting a co-op, prototyping a community currency, or running for local office. I felt the economic forces in the US pushing people into self-preservation mode, with little left over for creative or social endeavours. Frankly, I didn’t find as much practical, local mutual aid work as I expected.

The logo of Hungarian student organisers Hallgatói Hálózat showing a big fish eaten by a swarm of little fish.

We’ve known forever that organised workers have more power than the fat-cat boss. Organised citizens have more power than the oligarch. But you can’t organise hungry people: first they need to be fed. This is why it is so important for organisers to work in the economic plane. Trade unionists know this. The Black Panthers knew it too. It’s old news, but it was brought into stark focus for me as we encountered hunger and homelessness on a scale I couldn’t imagine existing in a wealthy country.

So if I were organising in the US, I’d focus on material needs first: improving the economic security of members and agitating for political change to shift the playing field for everyone. In practical terms, this could traditional workplace organising or fresh approaches like starting savings pools to wipe bad debt, or livelihood pods to mutualise the income of precarious workers. I saw signs that some social justice movements are heading in this direction, e.g. see Cooperation Jackson, the economic justice policy of the Movement for Black Lives, and the work of the New Economy Coalition.

Silicon Valley could be a massive leverage point here, if you can drag entrepreneurs’ attention to solving real material problems (which means dragging investors away from their obsession with 100X returns). See Zebras UniteIndie.VC and Platform Coop for optimistic signs on that front.

2. The “race awareness” I have from growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand does not translate into the US context at all

I call my homeland Aotearoa New Zealand. That’s two names stuck together, representing my understanding that we are two societiesstuck together by Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the founding document of our country). Where I’m from, biculturalism is not a radical position, it’s a common experience.

In addition to te tiriti, there’s te reo (the language), whakapapa (genealogy traced back to the first arrivals), tikanga (protocols and ways of being), marae (meeting grounds), and many more tāonga (treasures) for Māori and Pākehā (foreign) people to draw strength from. By the way: as a result of decades of language activism, it’s really common for Pākehā folks to know these words.

I don’t want to gloss over the ongoing harm done to Māori by the arrival of Pākehā. Colonisation leaves many of the same bruises wherever it grips around the world. Māori population was literally decimated as their land was expropriated by White immigrants. Within these brutally constrained boundaries though, Māori culture, language, identity, and values are thriving.

Many of the most potent organisers I know in Aotearoa New Zealand are Māori. They have a kind of credibility and tireless energy that I interpret as the result of having their roots planted in a living breathing alternative to capitalist modernity. Their political demands are grounded in lived experience of a different social order. One of the tragedies of genocide and slavery in the US is that it has cut off most Black and Native folks from that source of energy.

Before I visited the US, I thought about slavery mostly in terms of racist subjugation: the horror of having one people forced to serve the will of another. I hadn’t considered the trauma of cultural dislocation, of being ripped from your land and ancestry, often with no way of tracing your bloodlines back home.

In Aotearoa New Zealand it is comparatively easy for me to encounter another self-governing autonomous culture. Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) is visibly distinct from Te Ao Pākehā. From time to time I’m invited to visit. The invitations come more frequently as I learn how to be a good manuhiri (guest). The closer I come to Te Ao Māori, the more I’m able to imagine an alternative to the individualistic, disconnected, suicidal society I inherited.

I believe there is so much to learn when autonomous cultures encounter each other, without one trying to consume the other. These lessons are particularly urgent with the current rise of nationalist authoritarianism.

If I were working in the US I’d need new methods to make these encounters. I guess the first step would to be work with Black-led organisations, like the Kheprw folks I wrote about in April. I knew while I was in their spaces I was invited into a different logic, to use different language and tactics in pursuit of different aims. The feeling at Kheprw was unique among all the spaces we visited: encouraging, inclusive, optimistic, alive, connected. That is what “autonomy” feels like to me.

3. Activist spaces are weakened by self-censorship

I was quite disturbed by my experiences in some activist spaces. I’ve been chewing on it for weeks, and the best way I know how to describe it is censorship: the feeling that there are important things not being said. I’ll try to explain…

Over the past decade, as I started to understand my role in patriarchy, one of the first things I learned was how to stop talking. This is a great step! Wow, when I’m not talking, I can listen! I don’t think anyone can be an effective ally to feminists without completing this first challenge.

So it is good to learn how to share space, but there is much more to being a good ally than shutting up. In my understanding of justice, it’s not enough for me to stop participating in oppression and violence, I have to get in the way.

Coming to terms with oppressive systems like patriarchy and white supremacy is really hard work for anyone. It takes a lot of study, self-interrogation and conversation. As a White man, it’s really easy for me to mess up. The conversation can feel like walking a high-wire: one false step from me and we all topple down into this immense chasm of historical trauma. Ah fuck sorry, what I meant to say was “I respect you and I have your back” but I can see how you heard “I want to be your White Knight”.

Even with the best intentions, I know I’ve done a bunch of harm by showing up to a traumatic conversation without enough knowledge or consideration to keep it safe for everyone. The only way I’ve learned how to do that less, is by practice. Over the last few years I’ve found a few people that are willing to have those clumsy conversations with me, so I don’t have to inflict my learning experience on whatever activist meeting I happen to be in at the time.

I think that’s what I mean by the censorship I picked up in some of the political spaces we visited. Folks don’t seem to have good spaces to learn in, so they shut their mouth to avoid causing harm. If I’m not comfortable talking about sexism it’s safer to say nothing.

At best, censorship results in reduced capacity. People with more privilege have more opportunity to shape the world, so we need to learn how to talk about oppression unapologetically.

At its worst, censorship turns to rot, resentment and shame, which is a resource that neo-fascist recruiters know how to exploit. Trump said it is cool to be sexist again, and I’m sure a ton of men breathed a sigh of relief.

This one is not constrained to the US, so I have a sense that it might be my work for the next few years. Just as SURJ is hosting spaces for mostly White folks to learn and organise against White supremacy, I’m thinking I want to host spaces for mostly men to learn and organise against patriarchy.

4. I’m no help to anyone when I’m in shock

In the States I found myself repeatedly saying “Y’all don’t know how to grieve!” Time and time again I met people who were organising, when I think the best thing they could be doing is recovering. When we left Indianapolis, I wrote this piece about grief, trauma and shock.

It took me weeks to appreciate the irony: ohhhh, I’m in shock too!

I left the US behind me the way you leave a wildfire: sprinting in terror, not looking back. I was invited to Barcelona for the OpenDemocracy Team Syntegrity. A couple days in to the event, I was knocked over by a massive wave of feeling, crying on the couch as I tried to explain some of what I’d seen in the US.

The place is so fucking terrifying! We met folks in Arizona who are working against border militias, people who are openly hunting for humans the way other folks hunt for deer. The day after we left Portland two people were murdered on a train in broad daylight after confronting a racist loudmouth. In California (a state with a multi trillion dollar economy), we saw thousands of people living in tents and makeshift shelter. The situation is fucking drastic, with many indicators that things are going to get worse.

The sheer scale of injustice and suffering stunned me. I could only start to make sense of it once I got far far away. With the privilege of distance, I could escape the daily assault and start to process the experience. There’s no way for me to reckon with this kind of stuff without first feeling the sting of hot tears, the ache of empathy, the despair of powerlessness. I need to feel my feelings first, before I can act strategically.

For a more informed perspective on the role of trauma and therapy in political organising, I hugely recommend this article by liberation psychologist Megan Clapp: Harnessing Pain and Burning It as Fuel for the Revolution.

One of the most brutally effective techniques of the Trump administration is to keep the resistance in shock: if you keep lashing people with urgentconcerns, they’ll never get to the important work of building counter-hegemonic alternatives.

So if I were organising in the US right now I’d be looking for spaces to grieveand to heal. I’ve heard phenomenal things from people who have engaged with The Work That Reconnects so I’d start there.


I’m feeling a degree of clarity I’ve been struggling for since last November. I have a set of bullet points I can hold in one hand:

  • Follow the leadership of women and People of Colour.
  • Focus on material needs. (Make allies in Silicon Valley.)
  • Practice having difficult conversations without traumatising people.
  • Find space to deal with my own trauma.
  • Break out of urgency and into dreaming, scheming, strategising mode.

What strikes me now in writing this, is just how extraordinarily privileged I am to have the peace and space for contemplation and dialogue. My clarity is the product of thousands of miles of travel, hundreds of conversations, days of writing. The major question I’m left with is how on earth can folks in the US find the peace to make sense of the present and dream of a future worth fighting for?

And shit, I’m crying again.

This article was originally published on medium.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0