Above: Orwell enjoying a nice cup of tea
Baroness Anne Jenkin, the Tory peer who has advised the poor to eat porridge instead of “sugary cereals” and to learn to cook, would do well to read some Orwell and learn some humanity – and humility:
“The miner’s family spend only ten pence a week on green vegetables and ten pence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes – an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. […] When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll have a nice cup of tea. That is how your mind works when you are at the PAC level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread” – from The Road To Wigan Pier, 1937
Above: Aubron Waugh
Robin Carmody writes:
As someone who greatly enjoys your occasional ‘Enemy intelligence’ feature, would it be possible to expand it to include old articles presenting enlightenment from unexpected sources? In this case, Auberon Waugh, who was undoubtedly fanatically anti-working-class and anti-socialist but when he got it right, he really got it right. These pieces are both from the Daily Telegraph in September 1995 (first piece slightly edited, second piece complete), and the sadness of both is that they could pretty much still apply today, just with a few names changed:
Saturday 16th September 1995:
(…) Villagers of St Tudy, the small Cornish village near Bodmin, were recently moved to address a petition to Mr Major asking for a referendum on further European involvement. A senior villager, Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, 80, one time head of “intelligence” at the Ministry of Defence, thought the petition would be ignored. He explained.
“I would not be so naive as to suppose that what St Tudy says today, the Government will do tomorrow. But at least, before we die, we have done the best we can for our grandchildren.”
If that is the best he can do, it is pathetic. So is the entire level of political debate in Britain (…) What these people fail to realise is that we have a much better prospect for resisting change within the protection of a selfish, inward looking Europe than we have when exposed to cultural takeover by the United States and economic takeover by the Pacific Rim.
Terrified and resentful of the tiny changes required by participation in the European Union, Britons miss nearly every opportunity to shape the union to their own advantage. Instead they mumble their platitudes about British sovereignty, and having fought two major wars to preserve it.
Let them examine the picture of [Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair and John Major] laughing cruelly about a goldfish. They are what is left of British sovereignty.
Saturday 30th September 1995:
At the time of the Gibraltar shootings, I remember taking the rather pompous line that if we Brits were to adopt terrorist tactics and start executing people on suspicion, we had no business to pose as upholders of law and order in Northern Ireland. Those who argued, as they did in every saloon bar, that the only way to deal with outlaws was to give them a dose of their own medicine, were quite simply wrong, or so I maintained.
The three terrorists, two men and a woman, were unarmed, none carried a remote control device to a nearby bomb, nor was there any bomb nearby. At the time it seemed more likely than not that it was a planned assassination, an illegal execution of three suspects, and that a cock-and-bull story about explosives in a parked car and remote control devices was a limp afterthought for the benefit of the inquest.
Seven years later it seems probable that the SAS were indeed misinformed, and that they genuinely intended to arrest the three terrorists, although there was remarkably little planning for their removal from the scene as prisoners. What remains slightly frightening is the weight of opinion behind the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to execute suspected terrorists without trial, on the basis of unexamined and highly questionable intelligence information.
One expects this degree of moral crassness from The Sun and from at least some of its sexually confused readers. The Sun summed up its own reaction to the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict in a sentence: “Terrorists have no human rights”. That is an attitude people are free to take, but they still have to establish that the people from whom they propose to remove all human rights are terrorists. You can’t condemn people on a wink and a nudge, or on the untested gossip of an intelligence service which seems to get three quarters of its information wrong.
However we look at the matter, the SAS goofed. When someone described as a “senior Cabinet minister” talks of the “prompt and courageous action of the SAS” and announces that in response to the European Court’s unfavourable verdict many Cabinet ministers want Britain to leave the Court of Human Rights, I think we should start to tremble. It is unpleasant enough to have to live surrounded by people of The Sun‘s intellectual and moral calibre. One does not want to be governed by them.
Let us be thankful for every bit of self-determination we sacrifice under these circumstances. For my own part, I shall even welcome tomorrow’s arrival of the litre and the kilo. Those most vehemently opposed to them are just the sort of people who ought to be in prison.
We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:
I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests
spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean
O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic
knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church,
which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded
person and a very humorous one.
But I want to say something about Tom the public man.
Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated
his life to the working class and had an unwavering
conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and
in particular the T&G [later Unite].
Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was
to come of age when the union movement was in decline.
That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of
his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining
to those who had forgotten, and those who had
never known, what a trade union should do, and how a
trade unionist should conduct themselves.
He often made the point to me that there were no shortcuts,
no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain.
What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his
decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say
so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well,
all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.
Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done
next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance
within the T&G and its left.
However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we
often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards
him arose from what he stood for.
If you think about it, there were always going to be those
who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought
against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible;
the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would
turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never
going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the
most mundane of levels there were those who resented
him because he always turned up to meetings having read
the paperwork, and they had not.
For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all
the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry
about such people; his duty was to explain. His political
enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always
ready to have the argument.
Of course there are many trade unionists with similar
qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite
the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories
in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding
the movement together and provided real insights in how
we should rebuild it.
I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves
in our cause with greater dedication. As for me
I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades
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From Howies’ Corner:
Cross-post from Why Evolution Is True
Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy
I meant to post this yesterday, but there is so little time. . . Still, it must be recorded so that the full horrors of ISIS’s behavior can be known. Both Thursday’s New York Times and Reliefweb (summarizing a condemnation by a UN envoy) report that an Iraqi lawyer, Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy, was taken from her home in Iraq by members of ISIS, tortured, and then executed by firing squad. Her crime? Apostasy.
From the NYT:
Ms. Nuaimy had posted comments on her Facebook page condemning the “barbaric” bombing and destroying of mosques and shrines in Mosul, a northern Iraqi city, by the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL. She was convicted of apostasy by a “so-called court,” Mr. Zeid said, adding that her family had been barred from giving her a funeral.
The killing follows the execution of a number of Iraqi women in areas under Islamic State control documented by United Nations monitors, including two candidates contesting Iraq’s general election in Nineveh Province, who were killed in July. A third female candidate was abducted by gunmen in eastern Mosul and has not been heard from since.
And, like Pol Pot and Mao before them, ISIS targets the group most likely to make trouble: educated and literate people, especially women, whose acts of criticizing Islamic society are especially odious to devout Muslims:
United Nations monitors in Iraq have received numerous reports of executions of women by Islamic State gunmen, some after perfunctory trials, the organization said. “Educated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk,” it added.
These killings, together with abductions and the enslavement of women and children, illustrate the “utterly poisonous nature” of the extremist group, Mr. Zeid said, drawing attention to the plight of hundreds of women and girls of the Yazidi religious minority and other ethnic and religious groups sold into slavery, raped or forced into marriage after the group overran large areas of northern Iraq.
The thought that someone would be tortured for five days before being shot boggles my mind. It’s a return to medieval barbarism. And Karen Armstrong tells us this has nothing to do with religion: it’s due to enforced secularism (what??). Now tell me how execution for “apostasy” could exist without religion. And every country where that’s a crime is Islamic. From Wikipedia:
In 2011, 20 countries across the globe prohibited its citizens from apostasy; in these countries, it is a criminal offense to abandon one’s faith to become atheist, or convert to another religion. All 20 of these countries were majority Islamic nations, of which 11 were in the Middle East.
Here’s the map, with the penalties in each of the countries. Can one seriously make a case that in every one of those countries the laws against apostasy stem from colonialism, or from religion that, coopted by a malicious state, was once benign and is now odious? After all, both the Qur’an and the hadith specify punishment for leaving the faith, and in thehadith that punishment is death. Punishment for apostasy was part of the faith from the beginning.
We already know that ISIS is poisonous, and somehow—I don’t know how—it must be destroyed. Although other Muslims have condemned the group as “un-Islamic,” it’s a charge I find ludicrous, for this killing, rape, and abduction of women is merely an extension of the more moderate Islamic doctrine of marginalizing and oppressing women. Though you can face charges of “Islamophobia” for saying so, we must incessantly condemn the “moderate” Muslim practice of not allowing women to achieve their full potential. A large proportion of these “moderates” may not engage in beheadings, rapes, and tortures, but they still treat half of their population as second-class citizens—if you can even call them “citizens.” “Breeder cattle” is more like it.
We’ve been asked by Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity, to publicise this meeting to be held at the House of Commons tomorrow; we’re happy to oblige, especially in view of the appalling, thoroughly one-sided campaign of misinformation/disinformation and pro-Putin propaganda being spread on the British left by the likes of the Morning Star and the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition.’ Apologies for the short notice:
Ukraine is suffering from war and a deep social crisis that has implications for all of Europe. Many are asking what has happened in Ukraine. What is the role of Russia and the West? How should we respond? This forum is a unique opportunity to hear an alternative, first-hand analysis from leading socialists and trade unionists from Ukraine and Russia.
Nina Potarskaya of the Left-Opposition, director of the Centre for Social and Labour Research, socialist candidate in the Kyiv elections
Kirill Buketov of the Praxis centre Moscow, and the Global Labour Institute
Hosted by John McDonnell MP.
Wednesday 9th July 7pm
Committee Room CR10, House of Commons, London
Via the main St Stephens entrance
Adams of the Graun: evasion and waffle
When Ofsted publishes its reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of the islamisation of nominally secular state schools in that City, it will censure six schools for failing to provide a “rounded education” or prepare pupils “for life in modern Britain.” In other words, the essential claim of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document – that Islamists have been organising to impose their fundamentalist agenda on schools in Birmingham – is true.
Since the ‘Trojan Horse’ document appeared in March, and the Ofsted inspections were ordered, Tim Boyes, the Head of Queensbridge School in Moseley, Birmingham, has come forward to claim that in 2010 he warned the Department of Education that in some Birmingham schools, pupils and staff were displaying “racist, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour” and that “I and a whole series of colleagues … were reporting concerns about governance and things that weren’t going well … tensions and politics have exploded and as a result head teachers have had nervous breakdowns, they’ve lost their jobs, schools have been really torn apart.” Gove’s department failed to act, says Boyes.
Very similar claims have now been made by a prospective school governor, Keith Townsend, who told Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme that a small group of governors had “infiltrated” the governing body of an un-named Birmingham school (thought to be Golden Hillock School in Sparkbrook), demanded a stricter Muslim regime, and set about driving out the non-Muslim headteacher. Townsend says he reported his concerns to Birmingham City Council in 2008 (when it was controlled by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition) but received a “dismissive reply.” Labour MP Steve McCabe says he can recall having a conversation with Mr Townsend at that time and taking his concerns to an assistant director at the City Council.
All of which puts the Guardian in a bit of a spot. All the Graun‘s coverage to date has concentrated upon suspicions about the provenance of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document, rather than the question of whether or not the allegations of an organised Islamic fundamentalist campaign to take over some Birmingham schools, are actually true. The logic put forward by the Graun is that because the ‘Trojan Horse’ document may well be a hoax, therefore the claims made in it must, of necessity, be untrue: an argument that simply doesn’t follow, if you give it a moment’s thought. At times, the Graun and its Education editor Richard Adams, seem to have been acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the ultra-reactionary Islamist Tahir Alam, Chair of governors at Park View School, and influential at its sister schools Golden Hillock and Nansen. Adams even wrote a glowing report of a visit to Park View, that was clearly arranged, organised and supervised by Alam himself!
How will Adams and the Graun react when the Ofsted reports show them to have been so completely and egregiously wrong about what’s been going on in Birmingham?
Well, we were given a foretaste yesterday, in a typical piece of evasion, double-speak and waffle from Adams. The article’s wretched nadir must surely be this:
“The tranche of reports on 21 state schools, which could be published as early as this week, say there was scant evidence of religious extremism on a daily basis in classrooms, with most criticism reserved for school management and cases of overbearing behaviour by school governors.
“Ofsted’s inspectors appear to have been unable to find much evidence of claims of homophobia or gender discrimination, which have been alleged by anonymous former teachers at some of the schools” (my emphasis -JD).
Now, try a little experiment: try substituting the word “racism” (or, indeed, “Islamophobia”) for “religious extremism” in the first paragraph, and, again, for the words “homophobia or gender discrimination” in the second: then see how it reads.
This isn’t exactly a new low for the Graun (there’ve been too many of them to keep up with), but it’s one more depressing example of that paper’s miserable descent into relativism, pro-Islamism and a complete betrayal of secularism and enlightenment principles.
Above: Borodai – a ruler in the tradition of Plato?
Guest post by Dale Street
In mid-May the previously unheard-of Aleksandr Borodai was declared Prime Minster of the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.
This fact alone should disabuse anyone deluded enough to believe that there is anything ‘progressive’, ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘left-wing’ about the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and its Lugansk counterpart.
In 1992 Borodai fought as a volunteer in the war in the predominantly ethnic-Russian Transnistrian region when it broke away from Moldova. In 1993 he took part in the defence of the Russian Parliament after its dissolution by Yeltsin.
Borodin went on to write for the Russian newspaper “Zavtra” – poisonously anti-semitic, full of nostalgia for Stalin, rabidly Russian nationalist, and arguably outright fascist. According to the newspaper’s owner and editor, Aleksandr Prekhanov:
“I’ve known him (Borodai) since 1991. In terms of his ideology he is a Russian nationalist. He is a supporter of a strong Russian state. … He’s always been close to me, and has preached the idea of a Russian national white – not red – imperial consciousness.”
Apart from turning his hand to running his own PR consultancies and working as deputy editor of the magazine “Russian Businessman”, Borodai helped Prekhanov to launch the “Djen” television channel in 2011.
Like “Zavtra”, the channel’s output consists of anti-semitism, Russian nationalism, conspiracy theories, homophobia, misogyny, denunciations of the decadence of European civilization, and, more recently, treatises on the ‘fiction’ of a Ukrainian national identity.
Borodai is on the channel’s editorial board and, until recently, regularly hosted its programmes. Another “Djen” regular is Konstantin Dushenov. He has served time for anti-semitic incitement and is the author of a video series entitled: “Russia with a Knife in its Back – Jewish Fascism and the Genocide of the Russian People.”
In early 2014 Borodai turned up in the Crimea, working as a “political strategist” for the peninsula’s “governor” (and mafia boss) Sergei Aksyonov at the time of its annexation by Russia.
From the Crimea Borodai moved directly to south-east Ukraine: “The territory of the Crimea is quite closely connected to the Donbass, and naturally the people who set up these popular movements are the same people, they are connected to each other. So when I finished in Crimea, I automatically came here.”
More information about Borodai’s politics can be found in an interview recently published by “Russkaya Vesna”, the website of the Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’:
Q: “Aleksandr, how did it come about that it was you who ended up as the head of the republic’s government?”
A: “Fate decreed it to be so. I cannot answer any differently. I was prepared to take this responsibility on myself and to take up this role simply by virtue of my personal characteristics. I see what is happening as a confirmation that history has not ended, contrary to the claims of fashionable philosophers. Today it is happening in front of our eyes. And the most important thing is that it is the history of my native country.”
Q: “You are a product of the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University, the son of a philosopher. You’ll recall Plato’s idea that philosophers must rule. I know you fought as a volunteer in Transnistria and defended the Russian Parliament in 1993. What are your opinions?”
A: “To put it briefly and simply, I am a Russian patriot. I consider that the extent of the Russian world was artificially reduced as a result of certain circumstances, and that the Russian world was divided by artificially created borders. Those borders divide people of Russian culture. I am convinced that the difference between the inhabitants of, say, the Rostov and Donetsk regions is to a certain degree imaginary. I therefore see my task as defending and supporting my compatriots. Basically, we are at one of the first stages (this became particularly obvious after the reunification of the Crimea and Russia), the gathering together of the Russian world, which was violently dismembered after the geo-political catastrophe of 1991.”
Q: “Is it true that you were personally acquainted with the philosopher Lev Gumilev (see below). Could one say that his creativity has influenced your own views?”
A: I was still a child when I had the good fortune to associate with him. He was often a guest in our home and spent summers in my father’s dacha. Once he even had something like a mystic revelation, but I’ll talk about that another time. Many early but valuable memories link me to this mystic. I highly value his contribution to Russian culture and science. Absolutely, he has influenced me.”
Q: “In that case, could what is happening in the Donetsk Republic be regarded as an eruption of passionarity?” (see below)
A: “What’s happening confirms that the Russian cultural archetype is far from having exhausted his vitality. Just as in Transnistria, so too in the Donetsk Republic we are confronted with the process of the self-organisation of the Russian world, in response to the uncompromising challenge it faces. What is happening in the south-east of Ukraine can be characterized as a Russian uprising. Russian in the broad sense of the word – in terms of culture, mentality and civilization. But I’d also like to point out that ethnic Ukrainians are massively involved in the resistance movement. This process is not to be stopped.”
The Lev Gumilev praised by Borodai was a Russian ethnologist and anthropologist (and anti-semite) who theorized that ethnic groups went through a particular life-cycle. Such groups expanded, through conquest, when their national “passionarity” reached maximum heat.
“Passionarity” is stimulated by external, mostly natural, events (such as oscillations in solar radiation levels). Similarly, it is natural events which set cultures apart. Hence, according to Gumilev, the border between Russia and the West coincides with the negative isotherm for January.
For Gumilev, the Mongol domination of medieval Russia saved Russia from the West and Catholicism and created a Russian “super-ethnos”, through a merger of Eastern Slavs (currently: Russia, Ukraine and Belorus) with Tatars and Mongols.
Gumilev contrasted the “passionarity” of the Russian “super-ethnos” with “parasite states” which exercised only “chimera statehood”. Examples of the latter states were America and France, both of which has been created by Jews (who, lacking a “passionarity” of their own, are necessarily parasitic on other peoples).
The next time British Stalinists want to stage a protest about fascism in Ukraine – perhaps they could direct their anti-fascist endeavours towards Prime Minister Borodai and his supporters? Or are they incapable of recognizing fascism when it comes draped in a Russian tricolour?
The following article, first published by Al Jazeera, should be drawn to the attention of those on the left who, throughout the Ukraine crisis, have been taken in by and/or parroted Putin’s hypocritical “anti fascist” rhetoric:
Is the Russian leadership formenting links with some European far-right parties?
By Halya Coynash
Ukraine’s main far-right party, VO Svoboda, has been dumped by its erstwhile European ultra-nationalist allies. It was dumped for Russia with whom the most virulently anti-Semitic, anti-migrant and far-right parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries are developing close ties. The Kremlin’s blossoming contacts with those parties, and the far-right roots of prominent pro-Russian activists in Ukraine do not deter Russia from claiming to be protecting Russian nationals from the anti-Semitic and fascist hordes who have allegedly seized control in Ukraine.
The claims have been refuted countless times and attempts to use anti-Semitism condemned by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, prominent Jewish civic figures, academics and others. The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights has rightly indicated that “misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered” but missed the point entirely about the source of it all.
Who is fascist?
Russia’s propaganda machine, and especially Russian-language TV channels are feeding not only the Russian audience, but also a significant number of Ukrainians with lies and manipulated reports. Images of a Crimean rabbi forced to leave for Kiev after condemning Russian intervention are presented as showing a rabbi forced to leave Ukraine because of mounting anti-Semitism.
Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s something you haven’t read here before: well done to the Guardian !
Anyone wanting honest, factual reporting of events in Ukraine over the past month, could not have done better than to have relied upon the Guardian – mainly because of the on-the-spot reports from the excellent Luke Harding.
While the Morning Star has been spouting Putin’s propaganda about a “fascist” “coup” in Kiev, Harding gave us the facts: yes there were (and are) some very unpleasant extreme nationalists involved in the Kiev revolution, but they do not define that movement and Putin’s constant reference to them is crude, but effective, propaganda, coming as it does, from a regime that is itself only too happy to utilise extreme right-wing forces at home.
The Graun‘s resident public school Stalinist and Assistant Editor, Seamas Milne, predictably sides with Putin and Russian imperialism (with a minimal amount of embarrassment), but for once he and his friends were not able to annexe the editorial line, and the usually-craven Rusbridger seems to have stood his ground. As a result the paper has firmly denounced Putin throughout, and on the day after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the editorial was a memorable, no-holds-barred denunciation of this “illegal, neo-imperialist act” – a denunciation so powerful and true (especially with regard to the supposed Kosova analogy so beloved of Putin and his apologists) that it deserves to be reproduced in full:
Crimea: Mr Putin’s imperial act
The historic atrocities in Crimea were committed by Moscow, which slaughtered tens of thousands of Tatars.
So it has happened. Crimea has been annexed. A strutting Russian president sealed the fate of the once-autonomous Ukrainian republic with a speech to parliament yesterday in which he sought to wrap himself and the Black Sea peninsula together in the flag of his country. It was a bravura performance from Mr Putin, largely free of the ad hoc ramblings he indulged in at his press conference on 4 March, but nevertheless filled with purple rhetoric.
Without apparent irony he invoked his namesake St Vladimir in Russia‘s cause. It was in Crimea, Mr Putin said, that Vladimir, the Grand Duke of Kieff and All Russia, acquired the Orthodox Christian roots that would spread throughout Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. It was in Crimea that the noble Russian soldiers lay in graves dating back to the 1700s. It was Crimea that had given birth to Russia’s Black Sea navy, a symbol of Moscow’s glory. In his people’s hearts and minds, he said, Crimea had always been a part of Russia.
Quite how, then, his dimwitted predecessor Nikita Khrushchev had managed to hand it to Ukraine in 1954 was unclear, but that act had been a “breach of any constitutional norm” and could thereby be ignored. And by the way, Mr Putin intimated, Moscow had only failed to raise the issue of Crimea’s sovereignty during previous negotiations with Ukraine because it hadn’t wanted to offend its friendly neighbour. Now the west had cheated on a range of issues – Nato‘s expansion into eastern Europe, the “coup” in Kiev, the unnecessary prolonging of discussions over visa waivers for Europe – Russia felt inclined to accept a willing Crimea back into the fold.
So the self-justifications went on. There have been few clearer-eyed critics of Soviet-era propaganda than Milan Kundera, who once wrote that “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Watching members of the Duma wildly applaud Mr Putin, the phrase felt newly appropriate. In the modern struggle of memory, we should recall that when Mr Putin was asked two weeks ago if he considered that Crimea might join Russia, he replied “No, we do not.” We should recall his assertion that the troops without insignia on Crimea’s streets could have bought their Russian uniforms in local shops. And we should remember Kosovo.
Mr Putin made much of the parallel between Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and Russian actions in Crimea. In fact the differences between the two cases are stark. In Kosovo in the 1990s, a majority ethnic Albanian population was being persecuted by the government of Slobodan Milosevic. The region’s autonomy had been revoked, ethnic Albanians had been ousted from government jobs, their language had been repressed, their newspapers shut, and they had been excluded from schools and universities. By late 1998, Mr Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing was reaching a climax: Serbian army and police units were terrorising and massacring groups of Albanians in an outright attempt to drive them out. The Kosovans’ plight was the subject of intense diplomacy, which was rebuffed by Mr Milosevic’s government.
In Crimea, by contrast, despite Mr Putin’s characterisation of the emergency government in Kiev as “anti-Semites, fascists and Russophobes” whose tools are “terror, killings and pogroms”, there have been no pogroms, little terror, no persecutions of Russian-speaking citizens bar a bid, now dropped, to rescind Russian’s status as an official language. The historic atrocities in Crimea were committed by Moscow, which starved and slaughtered tens of thousands Crimean Tatars in the 1920s, before deporting them en masse in 1944. Almost half the deportees died from malnutrition and disease.
As Moscow takes a historic bite of Ukraine, Mr Putin would rather the world misremember Kosovo, or discuss the legality of the US-led invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan. The world has debated those wars before and should do so again. Today, let us see Russia’s move for what it is: an illegal, neo-imperialist act.
NB: Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty dissects Milne’s “shoddy arguments for Putin”, here.
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