Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Story of Chrystia Freeland's Grandfather

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

I’ll lay my cards on the table: I have never been particularly fond of Chrystia Freeland’s attitude towards the Russian Federation.

I was aware that her family originates in the western part of Ukraine, inhabited by anti-Russian nationalists largely Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) by religion, where collaboration with the German invaders was a major issue in the Second World War.

It never would have occurred to me, though, that her grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, ran a Ukrainian newspaper in Nazi-occupied Cracow, Poland, on behalf of the Hitler regime.

Before the war, he was a young journalist in Lviv, then a part of Poland. Having graduated from university with a degree in law and political science, he started work for the Ukrainian-language daily Dilo (Deed).

In 1939, as the Germans and Soviets attacked Poland, Lviv fell to the Russians, and Chomiak fled for Crakow, in the German zone of occupation, where he became editor of Krakivtsi Visti (Cracow News), in a plant confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish-owned paper.

Chomiak’s work was directly supervised by Emil Gassner, the head of the Nazi press department there. It contained numerous anti-Semitic stories and revelled at German triumphs over the Allies in the early stages of the conflict. Other writers have now provided excerpts of his enthusiasm for “cleansing” various cities, including Kyiv, of Jews.

All this, while millions of Jews were being slaughtered in nearby death camps such as Belzec and Auschwitz.

So enmeshed was he with the Nazi Generalgouvernment headed by Hans Frank, that in the last stages of the war, he fled west with the retreating Nazis, and continued editing the paper from Vienna, until the final collapse of the Third Reich.

All this has now become public knowledge, along with the fact that Freeland not only kept quiet about this – understandable – but also fabricated her grandfather’s biography to make him appear a simple Ukrainian patriot opposed to both Stalin and Hitler, one who struggled “to return freedom and democracy to Ukraine,” rather than an enthusiastic collaborator.

My own life story is one almost the exact opposite. My parents were Polish Jews from Czestochowa, whose entire families in Europe were wiped out in the Holocaust. They were themselves in a Nazi concentration camp until liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945; I would otherwise not be alive today.

So clearly I have a very different perspective regarding the Russians, though I would never consider myself an apologist for Stalin’s (or Vladimir Putin’s) crimes, and I have in fact written a number of books regarding the naiveté of those Jews who allowed their anti-fascist sympathies to blind them to those crimes.

It needn’t have to be said that Chrystia Freeland, born long after the war ended, is not responsible for her grandfather’s war crimes, though it might have stood her in better stead had she condemned these long ago, especially once she entered public life, when they were bound to be unearthed sooner or later. She has known the truth for some two decades.

In other words, the problem isn't that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator -- she can't, obviously, be blamed for this -- but that she defended him, in essence serving as a propagandist and purveyor of what people nowadays call “fake news.”

Yet not only have some sympathized with Freeland’s own rewriting of her grandfather’s history, they also try to turn the tables against the Russians by portraying Freeland as a victim.

One article in Maclean’s magazine, for example, suggested that the Russians have been trying to discredit Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, “with a smear job about her grandparents.” (A smear, though, usually implies libellous accusations; this story turns out to be true.)

None of our Canadian political parties have made any statements either. No, we can’t demand that Trudeau fire Freeland, despite her dissembling and attempts to turn this into a story of Russian attacks on her. But surely our leaders should at the least state their disappointment in her lack of candor.

Of course the post-2014 Ukrainian regime, its support coming mainly from western Ukraine, itself passed a law in 2015 that grants recognition, as fighters for Ukrainian Independence, to Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

They have been designated “defenders of the fatherland.” Streets have been renamed and statutes erected for Bandera.

These organizations were allied for much of the war with Hitler and participated in the massacres of many thousands of Jewish and Polish civilians. Poland itself has protested their rehabilitation.

Democratization Fails in Cambodia

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

One of the most horrific genocides of the twentieth century took place between 1975 and 1978 in the southeast Asian nation of Cambodia.

A Maoist group known as the Khmer Rouge captured power in the wake of the American withdrawal from Vietnam. Neighbouring Cambodia had also been devastated by the war, leaving a vacuum for Maoist guerrillas to take control.

The new regime dismantled modern society in its quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia. Their totalitarian policies forced the relocation of the population from urban centers to the countryside, torture, mass executions, malnutrition, and the use of forced labour. Those wearing glasses were executed as “intellectuals.”

“To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss,” declared the murderers. Starving prisoners kept in dank cells would catch and eat cockroaches and rats – but only when guards were not looking, lest they be beaten.

By the time they were ousted by Vietnamese troops in late 1978, the Khmer Rouge had managed to kill at least two million of their own compatriots, about a quarter of the overall population. Cambodia’s “killing fields” became notorious throughout the world.

Even then, the Maoists withdrew to the Thailand-Cambodia border and remained active there for 15 more years thanks to military and financial support from China.

Has the country managed to recover from such horrors? Yes and no. Justice has been meted out only slowly and sparingly.

Only in January of 2001 did the National Assembly pass legislation to try members of the murderous former regime.

A tribunal known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was formed five years later, following an agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations to prosecute senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

A complex hybrid court, it combines elements of international and domestic law and its members include both local and foreign judges.

But it has been criticized, as only three people have been convicted so far. Many other mass murderers had already died, including Pol Pot, who had led the Khmer Rouge since 1963 and became the country’s leader in 1975, “Year Zero,” when it was renamed Democratic Kampuchea.

The current government, which includes many former Khmer Rouge officials, has fought efforts to prosecute anyone beyond the Khmer Rouge’s senior leaders and one notorious prison chief.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier, has warned that more trials would cause fresh outbreaks of civil war and chaos.

Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), nearly defeated Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in a 2013 general election.

They charge the prime minister, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, with attempts to weaken his rivals before local elections this coming June and a general election in 2018.

Some opposition politicians have been assaulted and even murdered. Kem Ley, a political commentator was shot dead last July; CNRP president Sam Rainsy described the murder as “state-sponsored terrorism.”

In February, though, he quit as CNRP leader in the face of increasing government pressure. This came as Hun Sen announced he will introduce a new law that would dissolve political parties if their leaders are convicted of domestic crimes.

Sam Rainsy has numerous defamation lawsuits to his name, and many are still pending trial. He has been in exile in France since late 2015. Hence his decision to step down; he has been replaced by Kem Sokha.

The forthcoming elections, it is clear, will do little to further the emergence of democratic ideals, reform-minded elites, and pro-democratic institutions in this tragic country.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bilingualism Roils the Politics of Cameroun

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Canada is not the only country to have grappled with issues around official bilingualism over the decades.

In Africa, with its multitude of ethnic groups, most states include large numbers of peoples speaking different languages. As well, the language of the former colonial power – usually English, French or Portuguese – often has official status.

This becomes even more complex when a state is a union of two former colonies whose rulers were different European powers. In one case, the central African country known as Cameroun in French and Cameroon in English, this has caused much difficulty of late.

Once a German colony, the territory was divided between France and Great Britain after the First World War. Approximately 80 per cent of the country went to the French, with the remaining 20 per cent to the British.

In 1960, the French-administered part became independent as the Republic of Cameroun. A year later, following a referendum in the British territory, the southern part of British Cameroons voted to form a federal state with Cameroun, while the northern area became a region of neighbouring Nigeria.

Cameroun is a member of both the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, and French and English are the official languages, but the country is more closely bound to France, on which it relies for defence and guidance in foreign policy.

There are approximately 250 other languages spoken by the 24 million Cameroonians.
Because the two sections had been divided by language through colonial rule, it has had a negative effect on how the country is run today. It may be officially bilingual, but – as is the case in Canada – most of the population is not.

Cameroun has been plagued by constitutional disputes and complaints from English speakers who say the government gives them fewer resources and generally fails to represent their interests.

The language barrier has been one of the largest problems in regards to employment. With French predominating, it becomes much harder for an English speaking Cameroonian to be granted a government job if their proficiency in French is not good enough.

Ndang Azang-Njaah, a first-generation American whose parents are anglophone Cameroonians, feels that bilingualism “only serves to divide and cause greater rifts between the anglophone Cameroonian and francophone Cameroonians alike.”

This has recently come to a head. Lawyers have long put up with laws that aren’t translated into their native English.

Last fall, after another new law, regarding business transactions, was not translated, lawyers in Bamenda, a city in the northwest, organized a demonstration to protest to the government in the capital, Yaoundé.

It is dominated by the French-speaking majority that has long slighted their English-speaking region. Paul Biya, a francophone, has been president since 1982, regularly winning elections in which the opposition has alleged voting irregularities and fraud.

By December, the protests had turned violent. Security forces used live ammunition to disperse demonstrations in Bamenda. The unrest, the worst in almost a decade, comes as Biya appears intent on trying to extend his rule, the fourth-longest on the continent, in elections next year.

The secret to Biya’s ability to stay in power is a divide-and-rule policy that has split Cameroun along ethnic and regional lines.

Cameroun ranks 145 out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index, with the judicial system, government and the education and health sectors all severely affected by graft, according to the Berlin-based organization.

In recent weeks, dozens of protesters have been arrested and moved to Yaoundé. Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, the president of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, and Fontem Neba, the group’s secretary general, were arrested, and the group declared illegal, on Jan. 17.

The government’s heavy-handed response, which includes shutting down access to the internet in anglophone areas, has revived calls in the English-speaking area to break away from the rest of the country.

In English-speaking towns recently the population seems to disappear on some days, as life is suspended, in a form of protest called Operation Ghost Town.

Is it possible to establish a stable representative democracy in a truly multilingual society? John Stuart Mill, the eminent British political philosopher, thought not.

“Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist,” he contended in his 1861 book Considerations on Representative Government. Only a few countries, like Canada and Switzerland, have managed it.

Chrystia Freeland and the Complexities of History

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

On March 8, the Globe and Mail reported that “Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has known for more than two decades that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in Nazi-occupied Poland.”

Her grandfather, Michael Chomiak, was a Nazi propagandist for Krakivski Visti (Crakow News), supervised by German intelligence officer Emil Gassert. Its printing presses and offices were confiscated by the Germans from a Jewish publisher, who was later murdered at the Belzec concentration camp.

The paper was a mouthpiece for the Nazi regime, circulated among ethnic Ukrainians living under the “Generalgouvernement” of Hans Frank, Hitler’s Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories.

That area of Poland, known as Galicia, had been contested between Germans, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians over the decades, and Hitler was playing them off against each other. But it doesn’t excuse collaboration with the Nazis – though some Chomiaks defenders are using that excuse to portray his as simply a Ukrainian nationist defending his own people.

What are the sources for the information that Freeland’s grandfather worked for the Nazis? No, it isn’t something cooked up in Moscow.

The Ukraine Archival Records held by the Province of Alberta has a whole file on Chomiak, including his own details about his days editing the newspaper Krakivski Visti.

Chomiak noted he edited the paper first in Crakow, Poland and then in Vienna, after he had to flee with his Nazis colleagues as the Russians advanced into Poland.

Yet as of March 7, Freeland was falsely claiming this story was Russian disinformation,
even though she had helped edit the monograph Krakivski Visti and the Jews, 1943, written by her uncle John Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, and published in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies in 1996.

Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, a day earlier, had the gall to claim that Canada has to be “alert” to these Russian tactics.

The Globe and Mail also reported that an official in Freeland’s office had denied the minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator.

All of my family in Europe were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators, and I don’t appreciate being told that this story is simply about “Vladimir Putin trying to make Chrystia Freeland look bad.” (And by the way, my own parents were freed from a Nazi concentration camp by the Red Army in 1945.)

You can’t reduce this to the simple Russian skulduggery known as kompromat -- after all, the story is true! And as Richard Nixon found out, it’s the cover-up that kills you.

Freeland, as soon as she entered politics, should have known this would eventually emerge and should have “got ahead of the story,” as they say.

Freeland lied about this and should now condemn what happened. Her grandfather ran a Nazi newspaper not that far from the Auschwitz death camp where millions perished.

Just pooh-poohing it as Putin propaganda is like saying the Holocaust is no big deal when a Trudeau cabinet minister is involved! Even Marine Le Pen kicked out her own anti-Semitic father from the National Front.

The Jewish community won’t see this as something minor. Freeland’s grandfather was part of the machine that murdered six million Jews. It’s not “ancient history.”

Also, although clearly no one blames her, or even her mother, both born after the war, for what happened in wartime Cracow, she did obviously imbibe very hostile views of the Russians, as was no doubt the case of many of the refugees that fled Ukraine as the Soviets reconquered it.

It’s important to remember that the problem isn’t that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator -- she can’t, obviously, be blamed for this -- but that she defended him, while knowing the truth.

My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939, she has stated. But Chomiak did not flee in 1939. He moved to Cracow, to become editor of a virulently anti-Semitic pro-Nazi paper, and remained a collaborator until the end of the war.

And today's Kyiv government, which she lauds, is, in my mind, in some ways a continuation of that ideology.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Leonard Woolf Was an Early Opponent of Empire

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press
Today, Leonard Woolf is remembered, if at all, as Virginia (neé Stephen) Woolf’s husband. 

But he was himself a man of many parts, and one of these was as a servant of the British imperial order in the South Asian island colony of Ceylon – today’s Sri Lanka.

Born in November 1880, to Marie de Jongh and Sidney Woolf, a barrister, Leonard was the third of nine siblings. The family was solidly bourgeois, Jewish but not religious, and even after Sidney Woolf’s early death, when Leonard was just 11, they managed to live in relative comfort.

Woolf attended St. Paul’s School in London and then went to Trinity College, Cambridge University, in 1899. There he made friends with people who would over the next few decades become the core of the progressive and bohemian Bloomsbury Group, named after the London neighbourhood near the British Museum.

He never dwelled upon the anti-Semitism of the English culture of his times, but it set him apart as an outsider even among his intimates; his nickname was “the rabbi.” The best-known figures of the Bloomsbury group were all capable of appalling examples of casual anti-Semitism. Even Virginia told friends she was marrying “a penniless Jew.”

When he graduated from Cambridge in 1904, and now a liberal intellectual, Woolf joined the Colonial Civil Service and was sent to Ceylon, to assume the first of three posts in the Ceylon Civil Service.

For the next seven years he served in three of its nine provinces, while also travelling around the country for various purposes, at one point supervising the Pearl Fishery in the Gulf of Mannar. 

Promoted to Assistant Government Agent, in 1908 he was put in charge of running his own district in south-east Ceylon, Hanbantota Province, which contained 100,000 people. 

Woolf taught himself Sinhalese and Tamil and he travelled all over his district, dealing with agriculture, justice, public health, road-building, taxation and petty problems of every kind.

His acute observations of the customs and behaviour in the Sinhalese, Tamil and Anglo-Indian cultures of the country would all appear in his five-volume autobiography, of which Growing: An Autobiography of the Years 1904 to 1911, published in 1961, was the second volume.

In 1913, back in England and now married to the non-Jewish Virginia, he wrote a novel, The Village in the Jungle, described by the British writer and broadcaster Nicholas Rankin in 2014 as “the first novel in English literature to be written from the indigenous point of view rather than the coloniser’s.”

The book is well known in Sri Lanka, where it is seen as a sociological or ethnographic description of south-east Ceylon in the early 1900s. 

He went on to publish studies of imperialism and act as Secretary of the Labour Party’s Advisory Committee on International and Imperial Questions. He ran, unsuccessfully, for Parliament for the party in 1922.

Along with Virginia, he founded the Hogarth Press, and he was an editor at several journals, as well as a director of the New Statesman. After Virginia’s suicide in 1941, he traveled, wrote his memoirs, and gardened until his death at 88 in 1969.

Woolf admitted to having been “a very innocent, unconscious imperialist” upon arrival in Ceylon. What grew was his recognition of the absurdity in “a people of one civilisation and mode of life trying to impose its rule upon an entirely different civilisation and mode of life.” When he returned to England on leave in 1911, he resigned from the Colonial Civil Service.

He was in a sense an early proponent of what we might today call “Huntingtonianism”-- named for political scientist Samuel Huntington’s famous thesis outlined in his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, where he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural lines.
Ceylon gained its independence in 1948 but would eventually become embroiled in a brutal decades-long civil war between its Hindu Tamil and Buddhist Sinhalese people in which at least 80,000 victims perished – a victim of its own “clash of civilizations.”

Monday, March 06, 2017

China's Relations With Africa Continue to Evolve

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

China’s economic ties to Africa have evolved in the past decade, and continue to grow.

In early February, a newly-built 750-kilometre railway line connecting Djibouti, on the Red Sea, to Addis Ababa, capital of landlocked Ethiopia, began operations.

China designed the system, supplied the trains and imported hundreds of engineers for the six years it took to plan and build it. Chinese banks provided nearly all the financing, which came to $ 4 billion. Djiboutian and Ethiopian laborers were hired to lay tracks and dig tunnels.

The system will be operated by Chinese conductors for five years and then turned over to local citizens, many of them trained in China.

“It is indeed a historic moment, a pride for our nations and peoples,” remarked Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister of Ethiopia. “This line will change the social and economic landscape of our two countries.” Ethiopia depends on Djibouti’s ports for 90 per cent of its foreign trade.

China is also investing another $14 billion into projects in Djibouti, including three ports, two airports, coal-fired power plants, and a pipeline that will bring water from Ethiopia.

Chinese has also provided loans to Djibouti’s heavily indebted government, amounting to 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

They came with strings attached: China is constructing its first overseas naval base here -- just a few kilometres from one of the largest and most important American installations.

Nor are Chinese firms confining their activities to a few states on the Horn of Africa.

They are constructing new ports, highways and airports across the continent, including a rail link between the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa that will open later this year; and an urban transit system for the Nigerian city of Lagos.

The spectacular scale and speed of China’s domestic renewable energy capacity development and technology has also been followed by the growing involvement of China in the development and transfer of renewable energy technologies on the continent.

In South Africa, for example, Chinese firms have become increasingly significant in the diffusion of renewable energy technology.

The growing relationship leads to opportunities for China and Africa to collaborate on the achievement of the latter’s Agenda 2063 and African Mining Vision.

In 2013, Africa’s political leaders rededicated themselves to the Pan-African vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”

The Agenda 2063 document that emerged included an extensive outline of African development experiences, analysis of challenges and opportunities, as well as a review of national plans, regional and continental frameworks and technical studies.

China is prominent in these plans. Beijing has been providing development assistance in different sectors of the African economy, most notably in infrastructure, telecommunication, energy generation and supply, manufacturing, and industry, as well as the agriculture sectors.

China has allocated $7.5 billion of development assistance to 51 African countries through more than 2,500 development projects.

The sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in December 2015, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, noted that China’s overall investment in Africa increased to $ 32.35 billion in 2015 with over 3,000 Chinese companies operating across the continent.

And China pledged to donate $60 billion to a development fund for African countries.

When the African Union adopted the Africa Mining Vision in 2009, it looked to create a transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development.

Chinese investment into this key sector provides expanded opportunities for accelerated economic diversification throughout Africa.

China’s formal commitment to collaboration in mineral resource development has been reiterated in various forums, including FOCAC, emphasising the importance of giving high priority to helping African countries turn their advantages in energy and resources into development strengths.

“African leaders should capitalize on their partnership with China, leveraging their partner’s anticipated growing interest in the continent’s mineral resources to further their strategic development objectives,” indicated  South African Professor Cristelle Maurin of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Chinese Studies.

The African Mining Vision has offered a framework for China to translate official pledges into concrete action.  It is now up to African leaders to identify the fundamental development problems and challenges to make the most of this opportunity.

Socialist Revival in Southern Europe

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The 2008 financial crisis has caused tremendous economic hardship in southern Europe, with Greece and Spain, in particular, affected. Massive unemployment, especially among the young, continues to persist.

The unemployment rate for young people in Greece stood at 45.7 per cent at the end of last year, more than double the overall rate of 23 per cent. There are similar figures for Spain, with the youth unemployment rate, at 42.9 per cent, far more than the 18.6 per cent overall.

This has led to dire consequences, as an entire cohort sees its prospects dwindle. As a result, parties of the left have gained traction.

Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) is a Greek political party that was established in 2004 as an alliance of left-wing parties which, in 2013, became a unified party.

In the January 2015 elections, running on an anti-austerity platform, Syriza obtained 36.3 per cent of the vote, attaining 149 out of the 300 seats and becoming the largest party in the Greek parliament.

When 25 Syriza legislators rejected the terms of the Greek debt bailout and bolted the party in August 2015, the party lost its majority and called new elections a month later. It won 145 seats and re-established its coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), resulting in 155 seats.

Podemos (translated as Together We Can) is a Spanish left-wing political party established in March 2014, formed in response to growing economic inequality and the high levels of unemployment.

It is harnessing the widespread discontent caused by the hard economic times and major corruption cases involving Spain’s traditional political parties.

Podemos advocates the renegotiation of austerity measures. Its platform also emphasizes poverty reduction via a basic income for everyone.

In the December 2015 parliamentary elections, it obtained 21 per cent of the vote, and became the third largest parliamentary party by obtaining 69 of 350 seats.

As no party won a majority, new elections were called for June 2016. Podemos joined forces with other left-wing parties, including the Communists, to form the Unidos Podemos (United We Can) alliance.

Disappointing its supporters, Unidos Podemos got 71 seats, behind the 137 won by the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the 85 won by their rival on the left, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

These new leftist parties face major challenges. There is no more blatant example of the European left’s inability to be leftist than Greece.

Though Syriza that promised to thwart European Union austerity policies, it has been compelled, under threat of expulsion from the Eurozone, to adopt an agenda that is anything but leftist: privatizations, increased taxes, pension cuts and stringent fiscal targets.

Hardline ministers who had criticised these policies were replaced by moderate technocrats. The party’s supporters are frustrated, and have engaged in demonstrations.

As a result, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may be preparing to call early elections this year. He warned international lenders on Feb. 10 not to heap new burdens on Greece but he still hopes a bailout review with them would end well.

In Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the PP heads a minority government as he attempts to pass a budget and stay in power. His political rival, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a former political science professor, won’t make that easy.

“A political crisis is a moment for daring,” Iglesias has asserted. “This is a party of the 21st century that advances alongside the people, while other parties are entrenched in the institutions,” Iglesias declared in a fiery speech on Feb. 12.

The post-2008 crisis among some of the 19 Eurozone countries that use the Euro as their common currency created a devastating debt problem that upended the economies of Greece and Spain.

The result has been low growth, high unemployment, and hopelessness. It will take a lot effort to turn things around.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Cyprus Issue Drags On

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

It’s one of those disputes that never seem to reach a resolution – especially given the role of foreign parties.

A historic effort to end the division of the partitioned island of Cyprus began in January. Since 1974, it has been divided between a Turkish north and a Greek south.

Even its capital city of Nicosia is split in two by the “green line” that divides the (Greek) Republic of Cyprus, the officially recognized state, from the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). United Nations peacekeepers oversee a buffer zone across the island.

The latest round of negotiations, sponsored by the UN, began on Jan. 12, as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, Greece and Turkey, the three countries that are designated as “guarantors” of the nation’s sovereignty under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, met in Geneva.

It prompted the new UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, to state that Cyprus could be “a symbol of hope” this year.

The commitment to a settlement shown by the leaders of the two Cypriot communities – President Nicos Anastasiades of the Republic of Cyprus and Mustafa Akinci of the TRNC -- also helped to raise expectations.

But everything on the island is fraught with symbolism. The Greek Cypriot government recently decided to introduce the commemoration of “Enosis” in its public schools.

It celebrates a 1950 referendum, when 96 per cent of Greeks voted for the island to be annexed to Greece. This made Turkish Cypriots angry, and Akinci has insisted that Anastasiades rescind the legislation.

The purpose of the talks is to create a unified, though federated, political structure, with a rotating presidency. Any agreement would have to be sanctioned by the UN and put to a referendum on both sides of the island.

It has always been understood that some of the territory controlled by the Turkish Cypriots will be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal, to allow at least 90,000 Greek Cypriots displaced by the 1974 Turkish invasion to return to their homes.

The debate over how much land should be handed over and its location has hampered previous talks.

The last time a peace deal was close at hand, in 2004, it was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots in a referendum but rejected by the Greek Cypriots.

But two major powers might still derail the current process.

Much will depend on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is unpredictable. It is he who will decide whether Turkey makes the concessions needed to solve the Cyprus problem.

Erdogan on Jan. 13 announced that Turkey would not withdraw from the island as long as Greek troops were also stationed there. “Full withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus is not possible,” he said.

Otherwise, Turkish troops would remain on the island “forever.”

The Republic was admitted to the European Union in 2004, but the north has not been able to share in its benefits. Still, Turkey will never abandon its Cypriot ethnic kin.

Russia also is proving to be a problem. As the negotiations in Geneva got underway Russia’s ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus, Stanislav Osadchiy, attended a seminar dedicated to derailing any prospect of an agreement. This delighted hard-line rejectionist Greek Cypriot politicians in Nicosia.

Bound to Russia by a shared Orthodox Christian faith and its role as a financial and banking center for Russian business, many Greeks in the south of the island have historically looked to Moscow, as well as to Athens, as a protector.

About 40,000 Russians live on the island, and own real estate and businesses. They are also a major source of tourist revenue for Cyprus. Some 525,000 Russians visited the island in 2015; only Britain provides more tourists. Cyprus also wants to get Russian firms involved in exploiting its offshore oil and gas energy sector.

Russia seeks to weaken and divide NATO, but a settlement of the Cyprus issue could strengthen the alliance by resolving the larger conflict between Greece and Turkey, which are both members .

Moscow worries that a reunified Cyprus might even join NATO, which would also mean an end to Russia’s military use of Greek Cypriot ports for its warships, gained in 2015.

Russia has made it clear that an agreement in Cyprus can only take place if Russia supports, or at least tolerates, it.

The Black Sea Remains Volatile Area

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
For centuries the Black Sea was an historically contested borderlands region of three empires -- the Ottomans, Russians, and Habsburgs. Their demise following the First World War led to the creation of newly independent nations, and the emergence of a Communist Russian state.

After yet another world war, in 1945 the region was divided by the Iron Curtain, as either part of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc (Bulgaria and Romania) or NATO ally Turkey.

With the collapse of the USSR, three new states emerged in its place – the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Georgia. Today the Black Sea is bounded by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

These transformations, which led to the emergence of yet newer international frontiers, have led to inter-ethnic violence. In this part of Eurasia, the heightened nationalism has not subsided despite the reintegration of the region into the global economy.

On the contrary, history and cultural heritage often become sites of a fierce competition contributing to the alienation of some minority groups and feelings of cultural anxiety among the majority populations in the countries around the Black Sea.

The Crimean Peninsula is claimed in one way or another by Russia, Ukraine, and the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim people once under Ottoman protection. Russia seized the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 but western countries have not recognized the annexation.

Georgia has seen Abkhazia break away and become a de facto independent nation, under Moscow’s protection, especially since the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

As an international and strategically important body of water, and an area of contestation between Russia and the western allies, the Black Sea also remains a flashpoint which could at any time erupt into a military confrontation.

In February, ships from NATO member states, including Canada, took part in joint military exercises in the Black Sea. They were carried out in that part of the body of water which borders Russia’s coastline.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the Daily Mail that “the UK is sending a clear message that we are committed to defending democracy across the world and support Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu indicated that Moscow was monitoring the drills. “At present, we are watching and monitoring everything that is happening there.” Russia, he said, was ready to take on any challenges.

Bulgaria plays a prominent role in NATO’s plans to bolster the bloc’s military presence in the region. This year, Novo Selo, a U.S. military base there, is expected to host more American and NATO troops.

Last September, American and Bulgarian aircraft launched joint patrols in the Black Sea. The patrolling mission greatly increases the risk of an accident, especially with Russian military systems stationed in the Crimea, and Russia’s naval fleet based at Sevastopol.

Russia’s Ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko said on Feb. 7 that he sees no signs of NATO rolling back its eastward expansion plans. The alliance’s presence in the Black Sea “is another step towards building up confrontation with Russia,” he stressed.

On Feb. 16, at a meeting of NATO defence ministers, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the alliance is planning an additional increase in its military presence in the Black Sea region, including more war games and training.

Might all this really lead to a wider war? According to British General Sir Richard Shirreff, NATO’s second-ranking military officer from 2011 to 2014, it’s a distinct possibility.

In his recently published book War with Russia: An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command, he paints a plausible narrative of how such a war would be launched.

Nearly 70 per cent of Russians currently view NATO as a threat, according to a recent survey from Gallup. It is the highest number recorded since 2008.

On the other hand, Eastern European NATO members see the alliance as a source of protection against Russia.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Absence of Social Capital May Lead to Conflict

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, in a number of articles and books, has referred to the quality known as social capital. It’s the network of thick connections that keep citizens engaged in collective activities on behalf of all.

It rests on a set of mutual understandings about the kinds of behaviour people can expect from one another, and comes about when people all have mutually reinforcing ties across a wide spectrum of civil society institutions.

On the other hand, there is often a distinct shortage of social capital in heterogeneous states inhabited by groups that may share little in common or even distrust each other.

Altruism and community cooperation is rarer, friends across groups fewer, and detachment from and distrust of public institutions is the norm in these entities. When such empires or multi-ethnic states collapse, ethno-nationalism claims victims.

Pakistani author Bapsi Sidhwa’s 1991 novel Cracking India is written from the point of view of a young girl who is surrounded by the ethno-religious violence and dislocations that accompany the partitioning of India in 1947.

“One day everybody is themselves,” Lenny, the daughter of a Parsi family in Lahore, observes, but soon each is shrinking into his or her generalized ethnic identity. “India is going to be broken,” she realizes. “And what happens if they break it where our house is?”

The demise of the Soviet Union resulted in massive displacements of populations. In Belarusian investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich’s 2016 book Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future, a Russian refugee from now-sovereign Tajikistan aptly summarizes her own fate:

“In Dushanbe, I worked as the deputy chief of the railway station, and there was another deputy who was Tajik. Our children grew up together.

“He used to call me ‘little sister, my Russian sister.’ And suddenly he walks over – we shared an office – stops in front of my desk and shouts: ‘When are you going back home to Russia? This is our land!’ ”

An article by Dexter Filkins, “Before the Food,” in the January 2, 2017 New Yorker magazine, describes some of the ethnic enmity in the chaos of post-2003 Iraq.

In Wanke, a small farming community he finds Mohammed Nazir, a Kurdish farmer, irrigating his field. For years, Nazir told Filkins, Wanke was a mixed Arab-Kurdish community.

But when Islamic State fighters swept in, during the summer of 2014, many of his Arab neighbours stepped forward to help the invaders. “They told us, ‘This is not a Kurdish town anymore,’ ” he said.

“It was humiliating. They started ordering us around. I knew their children. I went to their weddings. They betrayed everything in life.”

Nazir and his family escaped to a nearby village, where they lived with relatives for a year and a half before the insurgents were expelled from Wanke.

When the family moves back, Nazir finds that his Arab neighbors had fled with the retreating invaders. “They are not welcome back here,” he declares.

Such forms of ethnic cleansing, whether informal or forced, are typical in situations of conflict across the globe, especially in the case of partitions, among them 1974 Cyprus, 1922 Ireland, and 1948 Palestine.

Trust between rival groups was virtually non-existent, and social capital was in short supply, leading to massive violence.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Social Capital Makes Japan Strong State

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

What allows members of a polity to be willing enough to trust each other in order to engage in collective endeavors for the common good?

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, in a number of articles and books, has referred to this quality as social capital. It’s the network of thick connections that keep citizens engaged in collective activities on behalf of all.

Social capital rests on a set of mutual understandings about the kinds of behaviour people can expect from one another, and comes about when people all have mutually reinforcing ties across a wide spectrum of civil society institutions.

The single largest factor used to quantify social capital is the level of social trust, he has argued.

The greater the amount of social capital, the likelier it is that members of society will be able to cooperate in the public realm – something of immense importance for the proper functioning of a democracy. 

So, as Putnam suggested in his 1993 book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, a strong and free government depends on a virtuous and public-spirited citizenry.

Japan provides an excellent example of this. Its culture and its homogeneity may be its greatest strengths. The nation’s deeply rooted shared political and cultural principles allow for a level of social peace, harmony and unity found in few other countries.

Some social scientists posit that this gives the Japanese a sense of meaning and purpose and hence the desire to accomplish tasks to the best of their ability. There is a deep personal investment that people make in their work. Perhaps you work harder when you are all part of one “extended family.”

In an article in the New York Times Magazine of Dec. 18, “What the West Can Learn From Japan About the Cultural Value of Work,” John Lanchester tells us that the word shokunin sums it up: It means something like “master or mastery of one’s profession,” and it captures the way Japanese workers spend every day trying to be better at what they do.

There is also a different approach to business relationships; there is much more of a sense of social responsibility than there is elsewhere.

While company profits are important, so is their corporate social duty to keep their workers employed as much as possible. The relationship is one of mutual responsibility going back to samurai times.

Employees are expected to work hard and demonstrate loyalty to the firm, in exchange for some degree of job security and benefits. Executives and workers look out for each other and not just for the bottom line. So unemployment, at about three per cent, is almost nonexistent.

Companies thus take on a heavy amount of responsibility for ensuring social stability, the latter being a paramount value in Japanese culture.

All of this can sometimes be carried too far. An article by Amanda Erickson in the Jan.14 Washington Post, “Japan’s Employees Are Literally Working Themselves to Death,” observes that the Japanese “might be the hardest working people in the world.”

Even taking a vacation is seen as selfish. The culture is so rigorous that there is a word for literally working yourself to death: karoshi. 

The Japanese have gone through many decades of turmoil, be they economic, political or military, over the past century. They continue to face challenges, especially in their relations with China, South Korea and the United States. But they will see them through as a united country.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What Led to Trump's Attempted Ban?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
President Donald Trump’s executive order regarding the entry of various people into the United States, which initially came into effect Jan. 27, has been front-page news ever since.

It targeted three groups: refugees in general, who are blocked from entering the U.S. for the next 120 days; refugees from Syria, who may be barred indefinitely; and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, who are barred from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days.

This is technically not actually a Muslim ban: It affects citizens, regardless of faith, of several Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa but not to persons of Islamic faith who carry the passports of almost 200 other countries.

Still, most observers see an anti-Muslim animus informing the decision. The result has been intense fury from Democrats and discomfort among many Republicans.

Meanwhile, a federal district court judge in Seattle on Feb. 3 temporarily blocked the ban.

The administration continues to challenge that ruling and it may be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to render a final decision.

It should also be noted that most of the reaction has ignored the dismal foreign policy failures of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama which preceded this draconian move.

It has also, for partisan reasons, overlooked Obama’s own previous restrictions on the intake of refugees. (The countries affected by the edict were initially selected by the Obama administration.)

Two recent articles posted on line have helped place the issue in context: “The Refugee Ban and the Holocaust,” by Walter Russell Mead and Nicholas M. Gallagher, in the American Interest periodical of Jan. 28, 2017; and “The Self-righteous Backlash to Trump’s Immigration Ban Could Play into his Hands,” by Tom Gross, in the Spectator magazine, Jan. 31, 2017.

Mead, the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, a New York liberal arts institution, and Gallagher, who graduated from Oxford University in 2011, assert that “Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt has an American President done anything so cruel and bigoted.”

However, they argue that the failures of the Bush and Obama years “are father to Trump’s callous treatment of refugees.”

The best way to deal with refugee flows is to prevent them from happening, contend the authors. But, they conclude, Obama never took responsibility for his own repeated errors of judgment regarding the Syrian catastrophe, now entering its sixth year.

Gross, a journalist, international affairs commentator, and human rights campaigner specializing in the Middle East, also castigates Obama.

He, too, maintains that Trump’s executive order “is morally unacceptable (it amounts to collective punishment), strategically dubious (since many terrorists are home-grown or came from countries other than those seven),” and “has caused distress and uncertainty.” It sets an anti-immigrant tone, when immigrants can hugely benefit their new countries.

But Gross, like Mead and Gallagher, maintains that “the war in Syria descended into barbarity in part because President Obama encouraged the rebels, and the Sunni majority population of Syria who supported them, promising them arms and protection, and then abandoned them.”

As well, Obama went on to release billions of dollars in funds to the Iranian regime, whose forces and Shia militia in Syria have done much, if not most, of the killing there these past six years, leading many Syrians to seek sanctuary in Europe and beyond.

Why, Gross asks, were today’s critics largely silent when, during his time in office, Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in history, or when in 2011, Obama stopped admitting Iraqi refugees for six months while the vetting process was re-evaluated?

Obama also signed a 2015 law imposing tighter visa restrictions on foreigners who had traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan within the previous five years. Donald Trump is a latecomer to a tragedy which has been unfolding since 2011.

Vietnam War Changed a Traumatized America

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

At the beginning of 1967, the U.S. State Department announced that 5,008 Americans had been killed in Vietnam in 1966, fueling nationwide protests. But President Lyndon Johnson saw America’s credibility on the line and determined to press on.

The president had escalated the war in Vietnam in 1965 with broad but very shallow popular support. By the summer of 1967, the United States had 448,800 troops in Vietnam, draft calls exceeded 30,000 a month and some 13,000 Americans had been killed.

Yet the people in government, so sure they were, as the title of the 1972 book by David Halberstam indicates, “the best and the brightest,” refused to take heed.

Robert McNamara, a president of Ford Motor Company who became secretary of defence, “knew nothing about Asia, about poverty, about people, about American domestic politics,” wrote Halberstam.

The war had become a bloody stalemate and opposition to this senseless conflict was gathering steam.

At the start of that year, Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most prominent athlete in the world, fought induction into the U.S. Army on religious grounds and condemned the war. The antiwar movement was growing and now attracted highly visible new supporters like Martin Luther King Jr.

And even television – which in the U.S. at the time was basically limited to three major networks – finally began to take notice.

When “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” made its premiere on CBS Feb. 5, 1967, and grew in popularity, it demonstrated that mainstream American has begun to question the war.

Tom and Dick Smothers, until then two fairly unknown comedians and folk singers, began to challenge Johnson’s administration and its rationale for continuing the conflict.

The brothers even got CBS to break the 17-year-old network TV blacklisting of folk singer Pete Seeger, who had been a supporter of the Soviet Union, on Sept. 10, 1967.

The war became ever more destructive and American casualties kept increasing. Much of the American intelligentsia and literary community now opposed the conflict.

At the beginning of 1968, Noam Chomsky, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Gloria Steinem, William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Baez, Susan Sontag, Thomas Pynchon and James Baldwin joined more than 400 others in signing the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war.

For most other Americans, realization that it could not be won came with the Tet offensive.

On Jan. 31, 1968, some 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched a coordinated series of fierce attacks on more than 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, leader of the Communist People’s Army of Vietnam, planned the offensive in an attempt both to foment rebellion among the South Vietnamese population and encourage the U.S. to scale back its support of the Saigon regime.

Though American and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the Communist attacks, news coverage of the offensive (including the lengthy Battle of Huế) shocked and dismayed the American public and further eroded support for the war effort.

The attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the beginning of the slow American withdrawal.

On March 31, 1968, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election. That November, his vice-president Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate in the presidential election, lost to Republican Richard Nixon, who promised to end the war – though it would drag on for another seven years.

Meanwhile, on April 4, 1969 CBS fired the Smothers brothers, whose show had become ever more “radical.” In a very small way, I know how they felt.

In 1967-68 I was an MA student political science at McGill University in Montreal, and one of a number of teaching assistants in the Introduction to Political Science course.

Following Johnson’s resignation, I told the professor teaching the course that “the ruling class” had “fired” Johnson. She was so angry that she fired me!

Maybe my statement smacked of hyperbole, but I still think that, in a sense, I was right.
Today, one would find few defenders of that war.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Does NATO Need to be Restructured?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

After British Prime Minister Theresa May met newly-elected American President Donald Trump Jan. 27, she said she felt assured that both countries retain an “unshakable commitment” to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But is it really that certain? After all, during the recent presidential campaign, Trump had suggested that the military alliance is “obsolete” and that the United States might not come to the aid of countries that don’t meet targets for their own defence spending.

In response to a question about potential Russian aggression towards the Baltic states, Trump told the New York Times in an interview last July that if Moscow attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

He accused European allies of bring free riders and taking advantage of what he called an era of American largess.

NATO was founded in 1949 as a way for American troops to protect a war-shattered Europe from aggression by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. It was also designed to prevent a potentially resurgent Germany from engaging in future assaults against its neighbours.

As one cynic suggested, it was designed to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

Today Europe is quite capable of shaping and paying for its own security, but NATO’s structure remains unchanged. The United States still pays nearly three-quarters of its budget. The European members, on the other hand, have always been leery about heavy conventional defence expenditures.

According to NATO statistics, the U.S. spent an estimated $664 billion on defence in 2016, more than double the amount all the other 27 NATO countries spent between them, even though their combined gross domestic product (GDP) tops that of the U.S.

Only five of NATO’s 28 members -- the U.S., Greece, Poland, Estonia and Great Britain -- meet the alliance’s target of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence. Washington spends the highest proportion of its GDP on defense, at 3.61 per cent.

Canada spends less than one per cent annually and would need to spend an extra $20 billion per year to make the two per cent target.

Why has Washington gone along with this for half a century? It’s because the U.S. did not want to surrender control over the continent’s security, fearing that Europeans might otherwise seek conciliation with Russia.

Russia may be seen as a destabilizing force in Europe or as simply defending its border regions. Either way, it is more of a challenge for Europeans than North Americans.

The international order is now in a state of flux. Starting with China and Russia, many countries resent America’s leadership role.

 For that matter, many Americans have also tired of it and are questioning the nature and extent of their nation’s involvement in the world. They wonder why they need to play such an outsize role on the world stage.

Trump has tapped into this feeling. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” he has proclaimed.

A neo-isolationist, in his inaugural address the new president contended that the U.S. has for too long “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.”

Trump promised to put “America first.” So he is not averse to making deals with Russia should that benefit the country.

In a joint interview with the Times of London and the German publication Bild shortly before taking office, he suggested a bargain that would ease sanctions on Russia in exchange for nuclear arms cuts and cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State.

Trump also restated his doubts about NATO, “because it was designed many, many years ago.” From Moscow’s point of view, a reduction of NATO’s military presence near Russia’s borders would be welcomed. Stay tuned.

Role of Religion Expands in Russia

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
On Jan. 28 some 2,000 Russians rallied in St. Petersburg to protest plans by the city authorities to give a landmark cathedral back to the Russian Orthodox Church, amid an increasingly passionate debate over the relationship between the church and state.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral dates back to 1818, when construction began on the orders of Tsar Alexander I. It took 40 years to construct.

It has been under state control since 1931, a time when religion was under increasing attack by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. The Communists stripped it of its religious trappings and installed an anti-religion museum inside.

“We won’t give St. Isaac’s to the church. We want to save it as a museum,” Boris Vishnevsky, a local lawmaker, told the protesters. But he will probably lose the battle.

It’s indicative of the increasingly significant role of the church in Russian life, especially under President Vladimir Putin. In cultural and social affairs he has collaborated closely with the Church, appealing to traditional values to help tighten his grip on society.

There are some 150 million adherents to Russian Orthodoxy estimated worldwide, about half of the 300 million estimated adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Russians have been Orthodox Christians for more than a millennium.

According to some accounts, in 988 Prince Vladimir of Kievan Russia, a forerunner of today’s state, was baptised. He was apparently impressed by the dazzling worship his ambassadors described seeing in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire.

As the world’s largest Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate boasts more than 30,000 parishes, but only about half of them are based in the Russian Federation itself.

And those beyond the country’s borders are part of Putin’s “soft power,” as they adhere to the teachings of Moscow and are opposed to Western liberalism.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the focus was at first on the reform or destruction of the old system, rather than on any clear vision of what Russia should become.

Russia is “an idea-centric country,” asserts Arkady Ostrovsky, a Russian-born journalist who has spent fifteen years reporting from Moscow, first for the Financial Times and then for the Economist.

His book The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War traces the battles over the country’s history. “The liberals and their hard-line opponents fought over the past as if they were fighting for natural resources,” he writes.

And after a quarter century, Russians are still confronting their cultural and religious future, and struggling to define an emerging “Russian idea.”

Hence the return to religion, welcomed by Putin as part of a broader push by the Kremlin to assert itself as both the legitimate heir to and master of “Holy Russia,” a state great and strong.

“The church has become an instrument of the Russian state. It is used to extend and legitimize the interests of the Kremlin,” according to Sergei Chapnin, who is the former editor of the official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate.

In December he was dismissed for criticizing the Patriarchate’s policies and calling it “a church of empire.”

The Orthodox “are now Russian patriots first, and everything else second,” Chapnin stated in a Jan. 5 interview with Rosbalt, a St. Petersburg-based news agency. He sees a “new hybrid religion,” a mix of Orthodox traditions, Soviet nostalgia, and “the dream for a strong empire,” emerging.

“This fusion leads to the formation of a post-Soviet civil religion, which exploits Orthodox tradition but in fact is not Orthodoxy.”

Chapnin places much of the blame on Patriarch Kirill, who became head of the church eight years ago. He endorsed Putin’s election in 2012, stating his presidency was like “a miracle of God.”

Speaking to the State Duma, Russia’s parliament, on Jan. 26, Kirill called on Russians “not to forget about our common national hero, Prince Vladimir, equal to the apostles, whose spiritual children we all remain, no matter what happens on the international scene.”

The patriarch’s voice “resonates across the public space,” Chapnin writes, while “all others are mostly silent, not daring to go beyond brief comments.”

Monday, January 30, 2017

How Will President Trump Deal with China's Leader Xi Jinping?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

An intensely nationalistic state, a resurgent China is set to face a new American president who seems willing to confront it economically and perhaps militarily. Beijing will certainly be up for the battle.

For all but the period known to the Chinese as the “century of humiliation” -- from the First Opium War in 1839 to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 -- when European and Japanese imperialism overturned the existing order, China was at the center of East Asia for thousands of years.

Other states in the region acknowledged its dominance via the tribute system. But then China was humbled and invaded, with large areas under foreign control or domination.

Consequently, much of Beijing’s foreign policy in the past seven decades has been about restoring the country’s rightful place at the center of regional, and perhaps global, affairs.

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China is aiming to become the paramount power in the South China and East China seas, a worrisome development to its neighbours -- in particular, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

It has been engaged in “island building” as a means of asserting sovereignty over wide stretches of maritime territory.

Xi, the son of a first-generation Communist leader, has become the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping and perhaps even Mao Zedong.

Last year, Xi became commander-in-chief of the Chinese armed forces. At the Communist Party Congress in 2012 he had already been chosen as the general secretary of the party. Four months later, Xi stepped into the state presidency.

He is also chair of the Central Military Commission, and is modernizing and re-organizing China’s armed forces.

Xi is projecting China’s power into the wider world. He has made numerous foreign state visits in recent years, and launched the “One Belt, One Road” programme to spread Chinese influence through Asia and into Europe. China now has major economic ties with states throughout Africa as well.

But China’s expansion into the seas of East and South Asia has led to regional instability, now compounded by uncertainties about how Trump’s administration will act.

Trump has been in contact with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, predictably angering Beijing, which considers the island Chinese territory. Washington cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, recognizing the Communist mainland rulers in Beijing as the sole government of “One China.”

Trump also invited Taiwanese representatives to his inauguration. Former premier Yu Shyi-kun led an 11-strong team to the ceremony, and remarked that U.S.-Taiwan ties were at an “historic high.”

The new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has warned China about its expansionist policies.

“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed,” he told members of the U.S. Senate Jan. 11.

Washington has long asked China to halt its massive dredging and island building in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. But Tillerson’s warning that the United States would block China’s access to the contested islands could raise the danger of a military clash.

As author and Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash wrote in London’s Guardian newspaper Jan. 21, “do Trump and Xi have the wisdom, statecraft, sound advice and, not least, domestic political elbow room to step back from the brink?”

Is Donald Trump an Illegitimate President?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Donald J. Trump is now president of the United States…or is he?

Apparently, many Democrats don’t think so.

Not wishing to tarnish the American “brand” of democracy by stating that the American people voted for the “wrong” person, they instead insist that Trump only managed to defeat Hillary Clinton because of the machinations of the Russians and FBI Director James Comey – as if those by themselves could swing an entire election.

A large number of actors, journalists, pundits and entertainers refuse to accept him as their head of state, and refused his invitation to the inauguration.

Others openly mock him or brand him an authoritarian danger to the republic. A typical example was Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globe Awards Jan. 8 in Los Angeles.

There were also major demonstrations against the new president, in the nation and around the world. A Women’s March in Washington Jan. 21 drew about 500,000 people.

Some, in Russian hats, marched with signs calling Trump “Putin's Puppet” and “Kremlin employee of the month.” One woman carried a sign reading “Trump is a Ruskie,” apparently not realizing the irony of using a phrase similar to those employed by right-wing anti-Communist McCarthyites in the 1950s.

Starting with John Lewis, a member of the Democratic caucus from Georgia in the House of Representatives, some lawmakers have openly branded Trump as “illegitimate.”

Lewis told journalist Chuck Todd in an interview on “Meet the Press” Jan. 15 that “the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.” He called it a “conspiracy.”

To make this point as clearly as possible, more than 65 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the inauguration.

Even before Trump assumed office, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents about his potential conflicts of interest, and it released a seven-point plan to challenge every aspect of his agenda.

In fact the effort to impeach Trump is already underway, led by two liberal advocacy groups, Free Speech for People and RootsAction, which are making their case on Trump’s insistence on maintaining ownership of his luxury hotel and golf course business while in office.

It’s also unprecedented that the Obamas will continue to live in Washington. No president in recent memory has stayed in the capital after their term ended; the custom has been for the outgoing tenant of the White House to leave immediately, so as not to prove a distraction to the incoming incumbent.

The last president to stay in Washington after leaving office was Woodrow Wilson, in 1920, and he was incapacitated by a stroke.

But things are different now. Clearly, if Democrats don’t accept Trump as their chief executive, they might in effect be setting up the equivalent of a “government-in-exile,” centred around Obama and Clinton. She remains a heroine, unjustly robbed of her rightful place in history.

Maybe the Obama’s new home, a few kilometres from the White House, will become the equivalent of a 19th century salon for Democrats to gather, resembling the royal court of a “pretender” to the throne exiled in another European kingdom.

Such was the case with the Stuart monarchs in Britain, who became “pretenders” after being overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

After all, if Trump is a Russian puppet, the Democrats must continue to serve as the “true” face of America – the way Charles de Gaulle and his Free French movement based in London defied the Nazi collaborationist regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain after the fall of France during the Second World War.

Certainly Obama will be by far the most politically active ex-president in U.S. history. He told reporters at his final news conference that he finds some ideas advanced by Trump so alarming that it may draw him back into the fray.

This “government-in-exile,” including people from the massive Clinton Foundation, will increasingly be portrayed in the international media as the legitimate voice of the American people. And they will do their utmost to remove Trump from office through impeachment proceedings.