Devastation at M2 hospital in Aleppo after government air strikes (@aboali_majed)
The few doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written an open letter to US President Barack Obama begging him to intervene against the war crimes being committed by the Assad regime and its sponsor, Putin. It is not clear whether the doctors are calling for a diplomatic or military intervention.
Last month, the Syrian Army took control of the last road into the city with the help of Russian air strikes.
Most of the doctors who remain in the city have urged Mr Obama to intervene and create a zone to Aleppo’s east which is protected from airstrikes.
They have also called for “international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again”.
The letter in full:
Dear President Obama,
We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield.
We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians.
For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents – flee now or face annihilation ?
Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work. Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.
What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.
Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.
Our dedication to this pledge is absolute. Some of us were visiting our families when we heard the city was being besieged. So we rushed back – some on foot because the roads were too dangerous. Because without us even more of our friends and neighbors will die. We have a duty to remain and help.
Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being wilfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.
Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.
We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians.
1. Dr. Abu Al Baraa, Pediatrician
2. Dr. Abu Tiem, Pediatrician
3. Dr. Hamza, Manager
4. Dr. Yahya, Pediatrician and head of Nutrition Program
5. Dr. Munther, Orthopedics
6. Dr. Abu Mohammad, General Surgeon
7. Dr. Abu Abdo, General Surgeon
8. Dr. Abd Al Rahman, Urologic Resident
9. Dr. Abu Tareq, ER Doctor
10. Dr. Farida, OBGYN
11. Dr. Hatem, Hospital Director
12. Dr. Usama, Pediatrician
13. Dr. Abu Zubeir, Pediatrician
14. Dr. Abu Maryam, Pediatric Surgeon
15. Dr. Abo Bakr, Neurologist
The US Socialist Worker (not connected with the British SWP) comments:
Black Lives Matter is under attack after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, but that isn’t stopping demonstrators from taking to the streets, reports
Above: Marching in San Francisco after the police murders of Philandro Castile and Alton Stirling
THE POLICE KILLING of two Black men–Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota–last week horrified people around the world and brought protesters into the streets in large numbers across the country to proclaim that Black Lives Matter.
Yet just as quickly, in Dallas, a man who shot and killed police officers as BLM supporters were demonstrating–killing five officers and wounding several more before being killed himself by police–provided the means for the media and law enforcement to shift the spotlight away from the epidemic of police violence and blame those who have risen up to protest.
Micah Xavier Johnson, an African American veteran, opened fire on police during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas on July 7. There was zero evidence, even in the immediate confusion surrounding the attack, that Johnson was connected to the protest.
But authorities immediately used the opportunity to smear the movement, suggesting that the attack was part of a coordinated plot–involving as many as four shooters, the police initially claimed–and a willing media went along.
Political leaders and media commentators immediately lumped protest against racist police harassment and violence together with Johnson’s shootings–and called on the Black Lives Matter movement to accept some kind of responsibility for Johnson’s rampage.
Typical was the New York Times, which warned that “Black Lives Matter now faces perhaps the biggest crisis in its short history. It is both scrambling to distance itself from an African-American sniper in Dallas who set out to murder white police officers and trying to rebut a chorus of detractors who blame the movement for inspiring his deadly attack.”
Of course, neither the Times nor anyone else in a position of power makes the same call for law enforcement to accept collective responsibility for the police murders that take place several times a day across the country. In those cases, we’re told, it’s just “one bad apple.”
CNN’s Chris Cuomo had the gall to ask Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, about her reaction to the shootings in Dallas–before bothering to ask a single question about the loss of her son or the gut-wrenching aftermath captured on video as he lay dying in front of his girlfriend her 4-year-old daughter.
The grieving mother set Cuomo straight:
Me? I don’t know anything about what happened in Dallas. My son died just the other day, and I haven’t had sleep in almost 48 hours. So no, I haven’t been watching any television, so I can’t answer that…
No one has reached out to me as far as anything concerning [Philando]. As a matter of fact, since my son has been killed–murdered, executed by the state of Minnesota’s police officers–I have not yet to see his body.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
THE GUT-wrenching video footage of the deaths of Sterling and Castile–Sterling as he laid subdued on the pavement, and Castile in his car as his fiancé and her 4-year-old daughter looked on–brought home once again the daily reality of racist police violence.
Their deaths–one day and 1,000 miles apart, but immediately joined in the minds of people around the world because they were captured on video–spurred a new round of protests.
Read the rest of this entry »
Above: the criminally irresponsible ‘Lexit’ campaign
No-one wants to use a horrible death to make political capital – it’s not done and it’s not decent.
But imagine this: after weeks of vicious racist propaganda in sections of the mainstream press and from the far-right of the Tory party, there is then a racist attack, even though it may be by a mentally ill “lone wolf”: surely, the left would not hesitate to ascribe it to the racists in the press and the Tory party?
We might, privately, acknowledge that there isn’t, necessarily, a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the racist propaganda and this particular attack: but we’d be clear that words have effects and those responsible for stoking up racism deserve to be held accountable for the political atmosphere they’ve created, and, therefore, for any physical violence that follows.
A below the line commenter at Shiraz Socialist has made the following apposite observation regarding my previous post on this subject:
“A banal example: I got off the train at San Pietro during the period when the Pope prior to Ratzinger was dying. A women was writhing on the floor outside the station wailing about the Virgin Mary, her stigmata and how she was related as mother, to the coming ‘holy father’. The police arrived, people tapped their heads – simply a ‘nutcase’ (sic), mentally disturbed. True, but why was she ranting about the Pope and stigmata? Why not rant about Mickey Mouse or the Grand Patriarch? She was clearly influenced by the ideological images and various cultural forms in which she lived. This is Jim’s point I think and taken in this way, it is not without merit. If however, he is saying that the Brexit campaign had a direct causal effect on the killers actions and his illness, then the proposition cannot be sustained.”
I can accept that reasonable point, but it doesn’t change my question: why is much of the left so reluctant to link the murder of Jo Cox in any way to the racist campaign that has been waged by all sections of the Brexit campaign over the last couple of months? Partly, it’s an admirable sense of decency: a reluctance to politicise or seek to make political capital out of a tragic death – and that reaction is admirable.
But also (see, for instance, the craven editorial in Saturday’s Morning Star or this wretched, evasive piece in Socialist Worker) something more simple and more shameful is at work here: some idiot-leftists have been giving “left” cover to the racist Brexit campaign, and now they seek to evade their responsibility. They’d not be so reticent about ascribing blame for a racially-motivated murder under any other circumstances. I suspect that the more thoughtful and honest of them are now recoiling in horror at their role.
The truth is that, unlike the contemptible Labour xenophobe Gisela Stuart, the rather pathetic ‘Brexit’ campaign is so marginal and irrelevant to the main debate going on over the EU that their intervention will have little or no influence upon the final result. Even so, the “left” Brexiters will be branded with infamy by the serious left for their criminally irresponsible role during the referendum campaign.
I’m not Owen Jones’s biggest fan, but on this occasion I can completely understand his anger and frustration at the refusal of Sky News presenter Mark Longhurst to recognise this as a homophobic attack. Longhurst told him “you cannot say this is a worse attack than what happened in Paris”, which Jones did not say. Eventually, Jones walked out, and good for him:
The US Socialist Worker (no longer related to the UK organisation/paper of the same name) at least makes an attempt at a serious analysis, but is not entirely coherent and verges, towards the end, on a version of “blow-back”.
Donald Trump is all too predictable … and loathsome.
Owen Jones explains himself at greater length here
Leave.EU has wasted no time in cashing in:
Above: the remnants of one of the pubs immediately after the blast
From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
Cross-posted from Tendance Coatesy:
Supporters of Murderer of Pakistan Blasphemy Law Reform Supporter Salmaan Taseer
Thousands at funeral of Pakistani executed for murdering governor.
Huge crowds mourn for Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged for killing Salmaan Taseer over his opposition to blasphemy laws.
An estimated crowd of more than 100,000 people have attended the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, in a massive show of support for the convicted murderer of a leading politician who had criticised Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The vast gathering on Tuesday centred on Liaquat Park in Rawalpindi, where a succession of clerics made fiery speeches bitterly condemning the government for giving the go-ahead for Monday’s execution of Qadri, a former police bodyguard who became a hero to many of his countrymen after he shot and killed Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, in 2011.
Reports the Guardian.
Pakistani Christians are in great fear,
Protests and riots have broken out across Pakistan following the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri a former Police Officer who ruthlessly machine-gunned former Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer in the back several times on January 4th 2011.
Mr. Qadri never repented of his crime stating it was retaliation for the vocal opposition of the ‘holy’ blasphemy laws of Pakistan and Governor Taseer’s support for freedom for Asia Bibi, who Mr. Qadri refers to as a kaffir (infidel) and blasphemer.
The lawful hanging of Mr. Qadri took place at 4.30am (9.30 in Pakistan) at Adyala Jail in the city of Rawalpindi. The family of Mr. Qadri were secretly ushered to the jail during Sunday evening under pretext that he was ill, in an attempt to prevent mass hysteria. A media blackout was also in place preventing the news reaching supporters of Mr. Qadri during the tense early moments after his death.
The Muslim legal fraternity of Pakistan on hearing about Mr. Qadri’s hanging immediately declared a one day strike. This was later matched by a call for national protests in support of a Muslim Hero and martyr, by the leader of Sunni Tehreek a Muslim political wing of the Barelvi sect of Islam.
Mr. Sarwart Ijaz Qadri called for roads to be blocked and tyres to be burnt. However, during the riots that have ensued, shops have been attacked and those buses attempting to complete their journeys have been attacked and burnt. In many districts shops have remained shut and across the country schools have remained closed while security forces who are extremely stretched work towards restoring peace.
Mumtaz Qadri is held in high esteem by the growing number of conservative Muslims in Pakistan. He made history when he received the largest number of Valentines cards of any Pakistani during a court hearing on February 14th 2011. During the hearing he was garlanded with flowers and praises were sung about his killing of Governor Taseer and returning honour to Islam. The judge who initially ruled the guilty verdict in the case of Mumtaz Qadri was forced to flee the country, as he was targeted by death threats.
A mosque in Islamabad was named after Mumtaz Qadri and as a consequence rapidly grew to double its original size (click here)
Christian communities have locked their homes with families hidden safely inside, other Christians have travelled to families in more rural regions, hoping to escape the furore and rioting in the cities. Every Christian, our officer Shamim Masih has spoken with, has expressed their fear that their homes will be burnt down in retaliation for the hanging of Mr. Qadri.
Shamim Masih said:
“The Christians of Pakistan are in great fear and want the Government to ensure their safety. Threats have already been made to Christian communities and those who have fled their homes to escape to more rural areas will no doubt return to find their homes have been looted. Christians remember the attacks on the communities of Shati Nagar, Gojra and St Joseph’s colony where mob violence resulted in loss of lives, homes and churches. They also remember the recent bomb attacks in Peshawar and Lahore, they do not believe extremist and conservative Muslims need much of a reason to attack them and feel the current climate is creating great animosity towards them.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:
“What chance do Christians have for survival in a nation that openly places hero status on murderers? Mumtaz Qadri was involved in the heinous murder of Governor Taseer, an act that traumatised Pakistan and brought to light the extent of extremism and hatred towards minorities in Pakistan. This man enjoyed privileges whilst in Pakistani prisons that few obtain and was able to spread his evil ideology within prison often coercing wardens to punish those involved in blasphemy cases – which contributed to the death of a British Prisoner. Most alarmingly the legal fraternity of Pakistan have come out in support for Mr. Qadri and declared a one day strike, an act that is a clear indictment of the extremism that is ubiquitous throughout all tiers of Pakistani Muslim society. The few voices of liberality in Pakistan will have an uphill struggle making the nation one that is egalitarian, yet in the meanwhile western nations including Britain have deduced that Christians in Pakistan rarely face persecution, a judgment that has led to the re-persecution of thousands of Pak-Christians stranded in Thailand.”
“Pakistan’s current government should be commended for their efforts towards upholding justice in this landmark judicial process. Whatever one thinks of death sentences, it is the prevailing law in Pakistan and to bring it to fruition in this manner has been a brave decision. The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri illustrates that justice is achievable. The terrorists can no longer hide behind their faith and public support and the former impunity has been terminated.”
We spoke to several Christians in Rawalpindi and Islamabad about how they felt. Here is what they said:
Kaneez Bibi said:
“I work as a beautician but I did not go into work today. Our bosses told us to stay at home as they are not opening their businesses due to threats of violence. My family and I are bunkering down at our home and it is very frightening.”
Tariq Parvez said:
I work in a permaflex and printing company. I could not get through to work this morning. A large group of protestors threatened to beat me if I tried to reach my work premises. The group looked scary and was shouting out about how Kaffir (infidels) were ruining the country. I am fearful for my life and my family.”
Shakil Masih a school music and fine art teacher at BeaconHouseSchool said:
“I was travelling to school and was stopped by protesters. They threatened to kill me and beat me on my back to send me home. I later called the school and found out it was closed, but no-one from management had contacted me. This type of incident will continue until the government takes bolder steps to improve Pakistani Society.”
Rafique Gill, a scrap merchant, said:
“It is worrying that the protesters are in the streets with such animosity. So far Christian areas have not been attacked but there is, as yet, no extra policing for our communities. I have taken the risk of opening my business as it is far from the city centre and most of my clients are Christian. But if I am threatened I will close the shop. It is not worth the loss of life, even though I desperately need the money.”
British Pakistani Christian Association.
Inspire (1) is shocked and disappointed that some British imams, Muslim groups and individuals in our country have expressed their support and paid tribute to Mumtaz Qadri following his execution* yesterday in Pakistan, by declaring him to be a “martyr” who defended the honour of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)
Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for his stance against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his robust defence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is currently on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Governor Taseer pointed out in November 2010 in an interview with CNN that the blasphemy law is not a religious law but a political tool implemented in 1979 when he stated:
“The blasphemy law is not a God-made law. It’s a man-made law. It was made by General Ziaul Haq and the portion about giving a death sentence was put in by Nawaz Sharif. So it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities.”
Also in 2010, during an interview with Newsline Governor Taseer made the following statement:
“The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 per cent of them are Christians when they form less than 2 per cent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.”
Such remarks angered Qadri enough to murder Governor Taseer in cold blood. Yet today in Pakistan thousands of supporters cheered and threw flowers at the casket of Mumtaz Qadri. Here in the UK since yesterday, a number of imams, Muslim groups and individuals have praised and defended Qadri’s act of murder.
We believe there is absolutely no justification – whether religious, moral or ethical – for supporting individuals like Qadri, least of all from an Islamic perspective. Qadri’s supporters have argued that he honoured the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by murdering Taseer when in fact Qadri and his supporters have tainted the name of the Prophet and dishonoured his teachings by murdering a man in cold blood who showed solidarity with minority communities, as did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). As Governor Taseer rightly pointed out: “Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.“
This Islamic position was recently re-emphasised at the historic Marrakesh Declaration which was attended by Muslim theologians from 120 countries in February 2016 and can be read here
We at Inspire believe that we must stand for equality, human rights and the rule of law. We also recognise we must challenge those who seek to bring our faith into disrepute by justifying violence and death in the Prophet’s name.
(1) Inspire is a non-governmental advocacy organisation (NGO) working to counter extremism and gender inequality. We empower women to support human rights and to challenge extremism and gender discrimination. By empowering women, Inspire aims to create positive social change resulting in a more democratic, peaceful and fairer Britain. Women are key to the development and prosperity of any society; Inspire believes that Muslim women are no different and are capable of being at the forefront of strengthening communities as well as tackling problems both within Britain and internationally.
Inspire was founded in 2009 after its co-founders had spent over 15 years working within British Muslim communities. They were concerned that not enough was being done to challenge both gender discrimination and extremist ideologies within UK’s Muslim communities. Inspire was created to fill this void.
Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013
An idependent observers’ group says at least 1,015 civilians have been killed in Russian air strikes.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late last month that close to a quarter of those killed were under the age of 18.
Russia, in support of the Assad regime, has consistently denied hitting civilian targets and insists it is battling “terrorists, but is in fact targeting anti-Assad forces rather than ISIS or the Nusra front.
Medicins Sans Frontières said seven people were killed when a facility it supports in Maaret al-Numan, Idlib province, was hit four times in two separate raids. Mego Terzian, MSF’s France president, told Reuters he thought that either Russia or Syrian government forces were responsible. Both have been engaged in an unrelenting aerial bombardment in Idlib.
The hospital, which has 54 staff and 30 beds, is financed by the medical charity, which also supplies medicine and equipment.
“The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of about 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s head of mission in Syria.
Meanwhile the Assad regime has extended its policy of starving civilians in rebel-held towns, from Madaya (where the policy was first used) to Aleppo:
The UN says 4.5 million Syrians are living in besieged or hard-to-reach areas and desperately need humanitarian aid, with civilians prevented from leaving and aid workers blocked by the regime from bringing in food, medicine, fuel and other essentials
The official position of the Stop The War Coalition is to be against all interventions into Syria (with or without a UN mandate)… so we can expect a STW-organised mass mobilisation against Putin’s bombings, and a demo outside the Russian embassy any day now, eh ..?
Opposition to Putin and his ultra-reactionary regime ought to be second nature for self-proclaimed leftists. Unfortunately, it isn’t: the Morning Star and former Guardian columnist (now a senior adviser to Corbyn) Seumas Milne, for instance, have a long record of defending and justifying Putin, especially (but not only) with regard to Russian imperialism in Ukraine.
So it was a welcome development when Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently admonished certain (unnamed) sections of the left for remaining silent about the reactionary nature of Putin’s regime. Even so, Jones’s piece was hedged about with embarrassed apologetics designed to appease the pro-Putin “left” and to excuse in advance his own half-hearted apostasy:
“Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.”
Anne Field, writing in the present issue of Solidarity, is more straightforward:
Putin: a model of reactionary politics
The report of Britain’s official Owen Inquiry into the 2006 murder of former Russian security service agent Alexander Litvinenko was published on 21 January. It attributed responsibility for the murder to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Putin ruled Russia as its President from 2000 to 2008. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third successive term of office, Putin was nominally Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. In reality, he remained the ultimate source of authority in Russia. Amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging, Putin was re-elected President for six years in 2012. (The presidential term of office had been increased from four to six years while Putin was Prime Minister). He is already on record as saying that he will seek re-election in 2018.
From the outset Putin’s rule has been based on “siloviki” (strongmen): former KGB agents and serving agents of the police and the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB), and former and serving military commanders. According to a survey carried out by Olga Kryshtanovskaya in 2004, “siloviki” constituted around 25% of Russia’s political elite, and over 50% of Putin’s inner circle. Their influence has continued to grow since then. Putin himself is a former KGB agent. But, as Kryshtanovskaya wrote: “Putin brought ‘siloviki’ with him. But that’s not enough to understand the situation. The whole political class wished them to come. There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country.”
One of Putin’s first acts was to incorporate Russia’s 89 regions into seven new federal districts. The districts are run by appointees personally selected by Putin as his representatives. They have control over the armed forces, the budgets and activities of the regional governors in their districts.
Five of the first seven appointees were “siloviki”. At the same time Putin weakened the powers of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament with representation from the country’s different regions. Putin also scrapped the election of regional governors (they too were to be personally appointed by Putin) and empowered local legislatures (dominated in practice by Putin’s supporters) to sack popularly elected mayors. Over the past decade and a half potential sources of opposition to Putin’s rule in civil society have been attacked, one after another. The media empires run by the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were both effectively taken over by Putin and their owners forced to flee Russia. Dissident journalists have been sacked, programmes critical of Putin have been taken off the air, and attempts to create independent television channels blocked by the government. The only surviving independent channel is now run from an apartment in Moscow.
Under a law signed off by Putin in 2014, international organisations, foreigners and Russians with dual citizenship will be banned from owning mass media outlets by the end of 2016. Its main target is Vedomosti, jointly published by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The internet in Russia is controlled by the government agency Roskomnadzor, created in 2012. Russian bloggers with 3,000 or more visitors a day have to register with Roskomnadzor, reveal their identities, and verify the accuracy of their blogs. Roskomnadzor can also block websites which “refuse to follow Russian laws”, which carry “extremist” political content, or which “encourage illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), described by Putin as “jackals” and “Judases”, have been singled out for repressive legislation. They are required to register as “foreign agents”, submit quarterly reports on their funds and resources, and submit six-monthly reports on their personnel and activities. They are also subject to mandatory audits and can be fined for publishing anything not described as having been published by “a foreign agent”.
In the spring of 2013 alone, 2,000 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were raided by government authorities. After a wave of protests at Putin’s decision to seek re-election as President in 2012, he increased fines for taking part in unauthorised protests to 300,000 rubles, and fines for organising such protests to a million rubles. In 2014 Putin ramped up the penalties yet again. Repeated participation in unauthorised protests now attracts a penalty of up to a million rubles and up to five years of forced labour or prison. A law passed in 2013 banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors”. Breaches of the law could result in fines or imprisonment. The following year another law banned all swearwords in films, on television and in theatre performances. And last year new rules for licencing the showing of films were introduced, banning films which “defile the national culture, pose a threat to national unity, and undermine the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Other laws have obstructed the registration of “non-indigenous religions” and prevented them from acquiring land and building permits. This has benefited the religious monopoly enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church, described by Putin as one of the two “pillars” of national and state security. The other “pillar” is nuclear deterrence. Reflecting Putin’s own views on Stalin (“his legacy cannot be judged in black and white”), Russia adopted Stalin’s national anthem (with different lyrics) in 2000, and Russian textbooks now explain that while the Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR was not a democracy, it was “an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Putin has also regularly contrasted his authoritarian conservatism with western “decadence”, denouncing the west as “genderless and infertile” and guilty of “the destruction of traditional values from the top.”
This has provided a basis for political alliances between Putin and parties of the European far right: the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Bulgarian Attack, the Slovak People’s Party, and various far-right parties in Germany. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for US president last month was only a logical development of his support for political reaction at an international level. Putin’s record since 2000 has not been one of a failed attempt to establish a functioning democracy after the chaos and corruption of the 1990s. It is a record of success in establishing an authoritarian regime which has promoted itself as a model for far-right movements and regimes round the world. And it is a record regularly punctuated by the physical elimination of Putin’s critics and opponents: the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Magnitsky, and the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as Litvinenko.
George Galloway is the gift that keeps on giving. He no longer makes me angry: he makes me laugh. An increasingly preposterous self-caricature, the Prat in The Hat has become a rather sad conspiracy theorist.
On BBC Newsnight (see Youtube clip above) he rejected The Owen inquiry‘s conclusion that Vladimir Putin was “probably” involved in the murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko – claiming the inquiry was “riddled with imperfection” and accusing the BBC’s Newsnight of conducting a “show trial”. He also claimed to be opposed to Islamist extremism (in sharp contrast to what he said during the Afghan and Iraq wars) and accused Litvinenko’s friend, the Russian democracy campaigner Alex Goldfarb of having a “cold war agenda.”
The Prat then went on to praise Putin for “trying to restore a lot of the lost prestige” in Russia and for being “the most popular politician on the planet”, before entering the realms of conspiracy theory, likening the Owen’s inquiry – which found Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun to have poisoned Litvinenko in London in 2006 by putting the radioactive substance polonium-210 into his drink at a hotel – to the inquest into the death of Iraq weapons inspector, Dr David Kelly.
It would be easy to ascribe this sort of grovelling to the fact that Galloway is a bought-and-paid for creature of Putin’s propaganda machine (he works for RT television), but I don’t think that is really the explanation: the truth is that Galloway is irresistibly drawn to dictators and strongmen, whom he admires and seeks to serve in whatever capacity he can.
He has become a truly pathetic figure.
STOP PRESS: Galloway knows who dunnit: it was the You-Know-Who’s (of course!):
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