By Paul Canning (cross-posted with his blog)
Alexander Kolchenko is a left-wing social activist and antifascist who is being held in captivity by the Russian authorities. Along with renowned film director Oleg Sentsov, he was kidnapped by the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) and detained following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula,. He is held as a political hostage in Lefortovo jail in Moscow and has been charged with committing “acts of terrorism” and “belonging to a terrorist community”.
A call to action has been organised by the French ‘Active Generation: The web activists network‘ and the International Solidarity Campaign For Alexander Kolchenko.
Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.
Why is Alexander Kolchenko in jail?
Alexander, who has undeniably proved his antifascist stance over many years, is facing preposterous accusations of belonging to Right Sector, a radical Ukrainian right-wing organization, whose real role in Ukrainian events is blown out of proportion by Russian official propaganda. In modern Russia any activist — left-wing, anarchist or liberal — can be slandered as a member or sympathizer of Right Sector. This situation is comparable to the hunt for nonexistent ‘Trotskyists’ under Stalin, or the McCarthy witch-hunt for communists.
Putin’s authoritarian and nationalist regime, which uses in its propaganda everything from religious prejudices and conspiracy theories to outright racism, shamelessly steals “antifascist” rhetoric. And yet anyone who is considered bothersome is called a “fascist”, even if he/she stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
The case against antifascist Alexander Kolchenko and civil activist and film director Oleg Sentsov (investigators enrolled them into the same “terrorist” group) is political. It is meant to intimidate inhabitants of Crimea and prevent any resistance on the peninsula.
The most authoritarian of methods are now used in annexed Crimea to repress all discontent. Many people were obliged to leave Crimea because their life and freedom were threatened: lawyers, left-wing activists, students and trade union activists, anarchists, antifascists and Crimean Tatar activists who have fallen victims of ethnic discrimination.
|Sentsov (left), Kolchenko (right)|
What threats does Alexander Kolchenko face?
A terrible prison sentence of up to 20 years threatens Alexander for a non-existent “terrorist attack” in which he was not involved. Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners (such as the more famous Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda (Nadia) Savchenko) are detained only in order to demoralize opposition by show trials. Their freedom is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime: if we can shake the confidence of Putin in his impunity, the prisoners will be set free.
- There is no hope that Kolchenko, Sentsov and others will be judged fairly by the law.
- Their arrest was unlawful.
- The charges against them are far-fetched.
- It’s not a mistake, the regime knows what it’s doing.
Your Honour, I have already stated that I do not consider this court to be legitimate. We are citizens of Ukraine who were arrested on the territory of our country, and we are being tried on fabricated charges. I don’t, however, feel any animosity to you and other parties to this trial.
A lot of lies have already been spoken here and I therefore feel it necessary to clarify certain things, but I do not plan to later take part in these proceedings.
I consider myself a Maidan activist, but that does not mean that I am a criminal. Maidan was the main deed that I have carried out in my life, but that does not mean that I’m a radical, burned ‘Berkut’ riot police or drank anybody’s blood. We drove out our criminal President. When your country occupied Crimea, I returned there and engaged in the same volunteer work as on Maidan. I spoke with hundreds of people. We considered what to do next but I never called on anybody to carry out actions that could have led to deaths. I did not create terrorist organizations, and I certainly had nothing to do with ‘Right Sector’.
Do they have support from NGOs?
Film director Sentsov has received support from the UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and widely within the film industry. Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in May dedicated its opening event to Sentsov.
The main prosecution witness, Gennady Afanasyev, has confirmed that his ‘confession’ had been extracted through torture. The sole other witness, Oleksy Chirniy, told the Ukrainian consul and his lawyer that his testimony was given under duress. Kolchenko and Sentsov also say they were tortured. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has suggested that Afanasyev’s retraction may mean that he is now in danger.
Kolchenko admits taking part in a failed firebombing of the office of the United Russia party. However, says Memorial, ‘terrorism charges are “incommensurate both with the damage caused, and with standards of Russian practice.”
We assume that Right Sector is being foisted on the indictment in order to create a primitive media image of a nationalist threat in Crimea.
Russian has imposed Russian citizenship on the pair and they are being prevented from seeing the Ukrainian consul and from being defended by a Ukrainian lawyer.
How can you help Alexander Kolchenko?
We’re asking international left-wing and libertarian forces for help. You can organize and lead actions of protest and solidarity, write letters to Kolchenko, send donations for lawyers and food parcels, help his family. It is also important to spread information about his case. Most of all, we need to dissociate ourselves from any forces that support aggressive expansion of Russian nationalism, even if they cover it up with ‘leftist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric. Putin’s regime is doing just fine without your sympathy, better save it for those who have become its victims.
When to start?
You can start right now by helping us to spread this text, translating it into other languages and sending it to comrades. We also strongly encourage you to organize demonstrations in support of Alexander Kolchenko and other political prisoners jailed in Russia.
Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.
For case updates check the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group website.
This text has been adapted from The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.
Ebenezer Elliott, iron monger, Radical and Corn Law poet wrote a lament for the enemy of his country, Napoleon Bonaparte. To a later generation it sounded shocking. W H Auden said of it, that it was like finding a poem saying Now Hitler lies dead in Berlin.
When working blackguards come to blows,
And give or take a bloody nose,
Shall juries try such dogs as those,
Now Nap lies at Saint Helena ?
No, let the Great Unpaid decide,
Without appeal, on tame bull’s hide,
Ash-planted well, or fistified,
Since Nap died at Saint Helena.
When Sabbath stills the dizzy mill,
Shall Cutler Tom, or Grinder Bill,
On footpaths wander where they will,
Now Nap lies at Saint Helena ?
No, let them curse, but feel our power;
Dogs! let them spend their idle hour
Where burns the highway’s dusty shower;
For Nap died at Saint Helena.
Huzza! the rascal Whiglings work
For better men than Hare and Burke,
And envy Algerine and Turk,
Since Nap died at Saint Helena.
Then close each path that sweetly climbs
Suburban hills, where village chimes
Remind the rogues of other times,
Ere Nap died at Saint Helena.
We tax their bread, restrict their trade;
To toil for us, their hands were made;
Their doom is seal’d, their prayer is pray’d ;
Nap perish’d at St. Helena.
Dogs! would they toil and fatten too?
They grumble still, as dogs will do:
We conquer’d them at Waterloo;
And Nap lies at Saint Helena.
Elliott was living through the early nineteenth century. Habeas corpus suspended, tough censorship laws, men press ganged for the navy, a cruel penal code, the poor starved by Corn Laws and shut out of enclosed lands. To many it was a tyranny and the French Revolution, and Napoleon, the Revolution’s saviour, meant hope of a transformation. Elliott’s poem is full of scorn and bitter anger at the injustice within the legal and economic system.
Napoleon was much admired by the progressive spirits of his day as an alternative to old rotten regimes. Martin Kettle in The Guardian:-
William Hazlitt, the most ardent of all British radical admirers of Napoleon, called the battle of Waterloo “the greatest and most fatal in its consequences of any that was ever fought in the world”. William Godwin, another of the Waterloo dissidents we should be remembering this week, railed against the “miserable consequences of that accursed field”, and continued throughout his life to believe that, however flawed Napoleon might be, he was still to be preferred to the restored Bourbon kings.
… William Cobbett put it in this way: “The war is over. Social Order is restored; the French are again in the power of the Bourbons; the Revolution is at an end; no change has been effected in England; our Boroughs, and our Church, and Nobility and all have been preserved; our government tells us that we have covered ourselves with glory.”
William Hazlitt and William Cobbett are two of the best writers and the most generous minds that Britain has ever produced.
Kettle says that they may seem like useful idiots and it is reminiscent of how a powerful figure in a foreign land – Lenin, Stalin, Chavez – is picked up as a sign of hope that the old oppressive power can be broken. Sections of the Left fell into despair when the USSR collapsed, as better a false hope than no hope at all.
Napoleon was no Stalin and a reformer in many ways but his scheme for a conquered Britain sounds more like propaganda than actuality. “I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people.”
There would have been some liberal measures – emancipation of the Jews for instance – but Napoleon’s habit was to install one of his useless siblings on the thrones of the countries he conquered. During the nineteenth century Britain went its own way to a more liberal and democratic government, out of Old Corruption to cleaner politics and a less jobbing civil service.
So I’m glad that the Emperor of the French got done over by Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo, the battle that Wellington described as “ been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. “ Blucher had wanted to call Waterloo the Battle of La Belle Alliance but Wellington decided on Waterloo as more easily tripping off the English tongue. I’ve always had a liking for Wellington if only for his laconic pithiness of speech compared to Bonaparte’s bombast and grandiosity.
There’s plenty of French Empire bling in the television series that Andrew Roberts, the military historian and an admirer of Napoleon, is presenting.
He also has a five parter on Radio 4 on the Corsican Usurper and yesterday he was telling us how Napoleon screwed up winning the Battle of Waterloo.
“The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance. .. “ Wellington.
URGENT: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has decided to uphold Raif Badawi’s sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison. Let’s remind them that blogging is NOT a crime! http://amn.st/6187hAbD
(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)
This footage below was sent to me by one of the teachers taking part in the widespread strike by the Iranian teachers. They are demanding better pay and conditions.
“Most of the martyrs in the war were from our ranks, the teachers and pupils, so we have paid our fair share for this revolution, but sadly we have received the least just rewards for our sacrifices, during these days of strike, I read things that saddened me, I want to address the Friday Prayer leaders who in their sermons speak against us teachers, they say “when a teacher talks about money, it means knowledge has been abandoned in exchange for wealth”! I ask these clerics who have put on the prophet’s robes, who wear the messenger of Allah’s turban on their heads, why is it that when wealth comes your way, it doesn’t mean your religion has been abandoned for wealth? Why is it that most of the factories are owned by your lot? [crowds applause] Is religion just for me, a teacher? I am proud that I am a teacher, we are the faithful servants of real Islam, for us the first teacher is God and then his messengers, yet they say if there is talk of free lunch somewhere, the teachers will run to there, this is sad, Yes, I, a teacher am hungry, because there are many greedy stomachs in our country, [crowds applause] Yes, I a teacher have no money, because all the cash has been plundered by the children of the officials running the country, [crowds applause] My pockets are empty, because the sons and daughters of this country have such grand villas in Canada and European countries, [crowds applause] ..”
Above: workers protesting in front of the Iranian Parliament, January 2015
Statement co-ordinated by Codir (Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights)
On May Day 2015, we, the representatives of trade unions around the world, raise our voice again in solidarity with the struggle of Iranian workers and trade unionists for fundamental rights and better pay and working conditions. In pursuit of our call on 1 August 2013 on the eve of the inauguration of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, we once again call on him to fulfil the promises he made during his 2013 election campaign to act on the legitimate demands of Iranian workers for a decent living wage and the right to form, join and belong to a trade union of their choice.
We remind the Iranian president that two years after his election on a platform of undertakings to respond to the demands of Iranian people, unemployment is still high and increasing, inflation is sky high, prices of basic and essential goods are out of the reach of workers, wages are not paid on time and destitution has reached catastrophic levels. Conventions on health and safety are openly flouted. Since last July, large groups of workers – including miners, auto workers, teachers, nurses and others, in all provinces – have taken to the streets and demonstrated outside the Iranian Parliament to demand their legitimate rights. These rights are set out in international conventions such as ILO Conventions 87 and 98. It is only by the President and his government responding to these legitimate demands that working people in Iran and their trade union brothers and sisters across the world can be confident that they can rely on his words.
Over the years we have continuously received verified reports of workers and trade unionists being arrested, imprisoned, fired and deprived of their livelihood. Currently, a number of trade union activists are serving prison sentences for the sole ‘offence’ of being trade unionists and campaigning for workers’ rights, decent wages and improved working conditions. We hold that no workers should be detained in prison for demanding their internationally accepted rights.
The trades unions supporting this May Day Call to Action are united in calling upon the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to:
- Release immediately all trade unionists imprisoned for their trade union activities, including Ali-Reza Hashemi (General Secretary, Teachers’ Association), Rassoul Bodaghi (Teachers’ Association), Mahmood Bagheri (Teachers’ Association), Mohammad Davari (Teachers’ Association), Abdulreza Ghanabri (Teachers’ Association), Shahrokh Zamani (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Behnam Ebrahimdzadeh (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Mohammad Jarrahi (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Mahmoud Salehi (Kurdish trade unionist), Ebrahim Madadi ( the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company- Sherkat-e Vahed) and Davoud Razavi ( the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company- Sherkat-e Vahed);
- Halt the sacking of trade unionists and workers’ activists on the basis of their trade union activities and reinstate those who have lost their jobs for campaigning for workers’ rights;
- Remove all obstacles preventing Iranian workers from forming independent trade unions and joining trade unions in accordance with ILO Conventions 87 (freedom of association) and 98 (collective bargaining); and
- Lift the ban on the right of workers to commemorate and celebrate May Day, organise May Day events and mark 1 May as a national holiday.
IndustriALL Global Union,
ICTUR (International Centre for Trade Union Rights),
Amnesty UK Trade Union Network,
PEO (Pancyprian Federation of Labour),
Petrol-Is (Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Workers’ Union, Turkey),
Tekgida-Is (Union of Tobacco, Beverage, Food and Related Industry Workers of Turkey),
TUMTIS (All Transport Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Deriteks (Leather, Weaving and Textile Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Tezkoop-Is (Union of Commerce Education Office and Fine Arts Workers of Turkey), Belediye-Is (Municipal and General Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Kristal-Is (Cement, Glass & Soil Industries Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Basin-Is (Printing Publishing Packaging and Graphical Workers’ Union of Turkey),
TGS (Journalists Union of Turkey),
CODIR (Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights).
By Camila Bassi (reblogged from Anaemic On A Bike):
“The Yankees have invented a stone-breaking machine. The English do not make use of it, because the ‘wretch’ who does this work gets paid for such a small portion of his labour, that machinery would increase the cost of production to the capitalist.” (Marx, Capital: Volume One)
My recent visit to Shanghai was the last of nine in which I have glimpsed urban development ‘the China way’. My photo story captures themes present in each of my visits that have haunted me. The former Chinese Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping, who hailed in the era of ‘opening and reform’, famously said: “Development is the only hard truth.” If capital is akin to a monster, then a gigantic monster was set loose in Shanghai from 1990, and has gluttonously and mindlessly trampled over people and eaten up land ever since – commodifying and extracting surplus-value at a reckless speed. Over the years, the sight of low-rise alleyway, working class living that is half demolished, with people still residing within it, has been less and less prominent in downtown Shanghai, simply because more and more of the demolition has been completed. The working class have been largely moved out of the centre to the isolating high-rise apartments of the suburbs – placed within new tower blocks that have been as quickly put up as old homes have been destroyed, and which signify urban regeneration that will fast degenerate. Shanghai is urban dystopia. It is a city of hardware, with no regard for software: culture, civil society, freedom to pause, and to think, and to question. If one sits in a taxi at night driving through the dazzling skyscrapers of Pudong, the Special Economic Zone just over the river from downtown Shanghai, one feels like one has entered Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.
The scale of Pudong is a frightening mash-up of the might of global capital and the muscle of Chinese totalitarianism – this is urban development, the China way. It is the subtle sights of Shanghai that have always struck me the most, and the absences too: where are the poor? Space and place is so controlled in Shanghai’s centre that one can stroll from Starbucks to Starbucks, visiting global retail chains in between, and simply miss the missing population. What we call gentrification in the West appears on such a vast scale in Shanghai that what one can actually see – if awake enough – is capitalism at its most naked. There’s the next, near-erected skyscraper, such as the one I walked passed once by the Bund at midnight, with orange sparks against a black sky right at the top, generated by welding, as rural migrant workers toil for little pay and no health and safety protection. And there’s the rural migrant workers digging holes in roads and pavements with pick axes and shovels, such rudimentary equipment which once puzzled me. Yes, labour in China is that exploited, it is cheaper to employ workers to dig into concrete with pick axes and shovels than it is to employ a worker and a digger.
This review should appear in the next issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity, as (I understand) part of a feature on blacklisting:
By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (pub: New Internationalist)
Trades unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment. The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.
For many years a central blacklist was managed, operated and sold to major employers by an outfit called the Economic League, which in the 1970s employed around 160 staff and was receiving over £400,000 a year in subscriptions and donations. When media exposure (notably the campaigning journalism of Paul Foot in the Mirror) lead to the collapse of the League in 1993, its work was taken over by an organisation called the Services Group (formed by the big construction companies as it became apparent to them that the League might not survive), and then The Consulting Association (TCA), which obtained the Economic League’s database, and expanded and updated it, with files on thousands of workers, including National Insurance numbers, vehicle registrations, press cuttings and comments from managers.
Again, it was construction companies who were the main (but not only) subscribers, using the organisation as a covert vetting operation to monitor job applicants. All the biggest names in construction – Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Keir, Costain and McAlpine – made use of TCA information to exclude job applicants and to sack workers already on site.
TCA was eventually exposed and brought down in 2009 following a raid on their premises by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that enforces the Data Protection Act. Blacklisting was not, then, in itself illegal, but breaches of the Data Protection Act were. TCA’s database was confiscated and found to contain the details of 3,213 construction workers.
As a result of the raid, the subsequent publicity and dogged lobbying by the construction union, UCATT (and to a lesser degree, Unite), the Labour government finally introduced legislation (the Blacklists Regulations 2010 – an amendment to the Employment Relations Act 1999) making it unlawful for an employer or employment agency to refuse employment, to dismiss, or to cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist and provides for a minimum £5,000 compensation award at a tribunal. But this was , at best, a very small step forward and contained at least one major loophole: as it is civil, not criminal, legislation, it can only be enforced by an individual to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal; and (as the Blacklisting Support Group pointed out when the legislation was under consultation), blacklisted workers can only bring claims against the companies that refused to employ them, which will often be small sub-contractors, and not the big companies actually doing the blacklisting.
This scandal is described in meticulous detail in the new book ‘Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists’ by Blacklisting Support Group (BSG) founding member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain.
Perhaps the most fascinating revelations in the book are interviews with HR managers and bosses involved in blacklisting, several of whom claim that they obtained information from officials of UCATT and the EEPTU. It should be emphasised that both UCATT and Unite (the union that now includes what used to be the EEPTU) have cleaned up their acts and now both take a firm stand against blacklisting. However, the book describes a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group in February 2013, at which a BSG speaker, Steve Acheson, was barracked by senior members of UCATT, who accused him of making allegations of union collusion without evidence and demanded he “name names”: in response, Acheson held up a handwritten note from former TCA manager Ian Kerr and said: “If you want me to name names, I will: the name that appears on this note is George Guy” (Guy is a former senior official and acting General Secretary of UCATT: the book notes that he “vigorously denies” the allegation).
This superbly-researched and very readable book was launched in March at a meeting in Parliament at which John McDonnell MP read out a statement from Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who spent four years as part of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Francis’s statement said he infiltrated Unison, the FBU, CWU, NUT and NUS. He had previously infiltrated anti-racist organisations and the Militant Tendency. The Economic League and The Consulting Association may be gone, but blacklisting, spying and dirty tricks against trade unionists and other activists continues – often, it would seem, by the forces of the state.
The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast, has cancelled a symposium on the issues raised by the Charlie Hebdo killings. The professed reasons for the cancellation were supposed security concerns and – more worrying in many ways – concern for the “reputation” of the University. Nick Cohen has written a typically good piece about this and other attacks on free speech in higher education, but the article we re-publish below (from Little Atoms) is by one of the invited speakers, Jason Walsh, and you can tell that despite his measured tone, he’s angry:
Here’s an open letter to Cameron, Miliband etc. on the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who now again faces possible execution for apostasy.
The organisers are trying to move the campaign from petitioning and desperate pleas – amnesty style – to something a little more substantial. There is a translated letter being used in France and they are trying to get Charlie Hebdo survivors to sign.
We intend to send it end of Tuesday, sending to the press for Tuesday lunchtime. It would be good if we could get some signatures on it from trade unionists and socialists.
We are attaching the letter and signatures as of midday today (also below) but anyone thinking it would be useful to make contacts as well as get signatures please use it. Or obviously if you want to sign….. let us know in the comments below.
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently imprisoned in a Saudi Arabian jail having received the first 50 of a threatened 1,000 lashes. If Raif survives these floggings he faces another 10 years in jail. His ‘crime’ was to have set up a website that called for peaceful change of the Saudi regime away from the repressive and religiously exclusive regime that it is.
In another shameful act his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, and other human rights activists were also later arrested. On February 20th this year Waleed had his sentence confirmed as 15 years in prison.
The European Parliament in its resolution of Feb 12th made clear its demands on Saudi Arabia to release Raif, as well as his lawyer Waleed and others imprisoned there for exercising their freedom of speech.
But to free Raif from this nightmare needs more than politicians saying that they disapprove of his punishment.
The total EU trade with the Saudi regime is currently close to €64 billion a year. The UK alone has approaching £12 billion invested in Saudi Arabia whilst it continues to invite Saudi investment in the UK, particularly in the property market. Saudi investment in the UK is currently over £62.5 billion.
As the regime inflicts beheadings and floggings on its people, questions have to be asked about why more cannot be done to promote the human rights of citizens of a country with which there is such extensive business. Particularly questions have to be asked about the morality of providing such a regime with arms, particularly the weaponry and facilities they use in their brutal penal system.
We ask that you make publicly clear your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and demand the immediate release of Raif and Waleed as the EU parliament has done. We also ask that you make publicly clear what measures you will take as a government to put any trading with this regime on an ethical basis and what conditions you will demand from the Saudi regime if all of that trade is to continue – particularly in relation to weapons that might be used in oppression or imprisonment.
If nothing is done to stop the brutality, beheadings and floggings that are committed there – then any moral stand taken against similar horrors committed elsewhere by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can only be compromised.
In the spirit of consistency, transparency and humanity we ask you to take action to Free Raif and promote human rights in Saudi Arabia
Signatories as at Sunday, 8th March, 12pm: Read the rest of this entry »