Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, June 29, 2015

Many of Our Cultural Institutions are in the U.S.

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer 

Have you ever wondered why most Canadian cities have fewer cultural institutions than they ought to? It’s because we “outsource” much of our cultural life. 

Most Canadians not only speak the same language as our neighbours in the United States, but we also share, to a very large degree, a common culture. We watch the same films and television shows, read the same books, and follow the same sports. And most large northern American cities are easily accessible to us.

In fact, since we mostly live in an east to west band close to the border, big cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and even San Francisco, are often closer to us, depending on where we live, than other Canadian cities.

If you live in the Maritimes, it’s easier to get to Boston than to Calgary or Vancouver. Torontonians are not that far from New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Manitobans can get to Chicago as easily as to Toronto.

No one in Australia or Britain will spend just a weekend in a great American city, the way we can.

From southern Ontario, it’s fairly simple to visit Chicago, with attractions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Chicago Cultural Center. The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute is home to an archeology museum and research center. 

There is classical music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Someone in Saint John or Halifax can drive to Boston without difficulty. There are some 40 museums in the greater Boston area, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Isabella Gardner Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts.   

The city is home to a number of professional theatre companies, as well as the Opera Company of Boston and the Boston Ballet. The Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras perform at Symphony Hall.

The many world-class universities for which Boston is famous house on their campuses museums and galleries, such as the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis and the Fogg Museum of Art at Harvard.

Philadelphia, too, has an abundance of history and culture. The city’s museums include the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum.

The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Philadelphia Orchestra, while the Academy of Music hosts the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is a theatre, dance and world music venue. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is an internationally renowned educational and research institution.

It’s ridiculous to even begin to name all the various attractions in New York City – it is arguably the cultural and entertainment capital of the world.

We need only to think of the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the City of New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Frick Collection, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Morgan Library and Museum.

And there are wonderful institutions outside Manhattan – the Brooklyn Museum is the city’s second largest in physical size and holds an art collection with roughly 1.5 million works.

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic. As for live theatre, the list is endless. Some 40 or so theatres make up what we call Broadway; as well, there are the smaller venues known as Off-Broadway and even Off-Off-Broadway. So there’s something for everyone.

Nothing can match the grandeur of Washington, DC, and its numerous museums and monuments along the National Mall.

The National Air and Space Museum, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of American History, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of the American Indian, International Spy Museum, the journalism Newseum, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provide a cornucopia of riches.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts produces and presents theatre, dance, ballet, and is home to the National Symphony Orchestra. 

A Calgarian may find it just as simple to head to San Francisco as to travel thousands of kilometres east to Toronto. The Museum of Modern Art contains 20th century and contemporary pieces. The De Young and the Asian Art Museums have significant anthropological and non-European holdings.

The San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Ballet all perform at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.

These cities offer an incredible wealth of culture – and all within fairly easy reach of most Canadians.

Friday, June 26, 2015

When White Minority Declared Independent State

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

A photo of Dylann Roof, the man who murdered nine people at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, shows him wearing a jacket adorned with the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, two now defunct white supremacist states . The latter is today’s Zimbabwe.

Founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1889 and ruled by his British South Africa Company, it became the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia after the end of Company rule in 1923, though it never gained full Dominion status.

White settlers were a minority of the population, which comprised mainly the African Shona and Ndebele peoples, but they retained the levers of economic, political and social control.
By the 1960s, much of Africa had attained independence, and London made plans to institute

Black majority rule in the colony. In a pre-emptive move, Rhodesia’s white government, under Ian Smith, issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence on Nov. 11, 1965. Some 220,000 white Rhodesians would continue to enjoy privileges over nearly four million black Rhodesians.

Sanctions against the unrecognized state were imposed by most of the world community, though neighbouring South Africa and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique continued trading with it. 

Rhodesia descended into a war fought between the regime and two resistance movements, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), mainly Shona, and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), supported by the Ndebele. 

Black political leaders were arrested and jailed en masse and the regime routinely employed torture to obtain information from real or suspected political activists.

But armed resistance from the guerrilla movements continued. One of the biggest rebel victories was a 1978 rocket attack on Rhodesia’s strategic oil reserve. The rockets hit the fuel tanks in Salisbury (today’s Harare), wiping out the reserve in a single blow.  

The resistance movements were supported by the UN and most of Africa’s sovereign countries, including, after 1975, newly-free Mozambique. The government finally conceded to forming a bi-racial government in 1978. 

In December 1979, Smith was replaced by the moderate Bishop Abel Muzorewa, a Shona and leader of the United African National Council, and the country was renamed Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

But ZANU and ZAPU refused to accept this and the war continued. Britain used its formal position as the colonial power to convene a peace conference in London in 1979. Elections held in 1980 brought Mugabe to power as prime minister of the newly-independent Zimbabwe.

The new constitution reserved 20 out of 100 seats for whites in the House of Assembly and 8 out of 40 seats in the Senate. The government in 1987 eliminated the seats set aside for whites and replaced the office of prime minister with an executive president. In 1990 the government abolished the Senate.

Mugabe has ruled the country ever since.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

In the Annals of Genocide, the Holocaust Has No Parallel

By Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax, NS] Chronicle Herald

Though the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was passed in 1948, it was virtually ignored for decades. Has the pendulum now swung too far in the other direction?

In recent times the term genocide, coined as a response to the attempt to exterminate the word’s Jewish population by the Nazis, has begun to lose much of its original meaning. 

Many of the events so described today were the result of inter-ethnic massacres, as in Rwanda or Darfur, where each side at one time or another engaged in violence against the other.

Or else the atrocities were the horrific by-products of war, where the stronger party felt the other was a “fifth column” supporting its enemies. That was the accusation brought by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians in the First World War.

And we all know of the mass destruction of various peoples in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas, by European conquerors. 

The term “cultural genocide” is now used to describe Canada’s shameful and misguided attempt at the forced assimilation of aboriginal peoples. Similar events occurred in Australia and the United States.

In Southwest Africa, now Namibia, the German colonial authorities nearly exterminated the Herero before the First World War. And while the Namibian example is particularly terrible, it differs only in degree, not in kind, from what all the colonial powers were doing.

Communists were responsible for mass murder based on ideological madness: Joseph Stalin’s enforced starvation of Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens during collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s, Mao Zhedong’s slaughter of untold millions in Communist China between 1949 and 1976, and Cambodian leader Pol Pot’s murder of at least 1.5 million of his own people in the 1970s, fall into this category. They were all considered “class enemies.”

The Holocaust is different than all of these, in any case, in that the entire basis of a world view – National Socialism or Nazism – revolved around the absolute world-historical necessity of cleansing the world of a terrible menace – “the Jews,” deemed carriers of evil, like viruses or rats. 

It was a metaphysical idea that hardly involved “real” flesh-and-blood Jews, though they were the ones who paid the price. It was more like the witchcraft paranoia of earlier times.
So, though the Nazis also killed millions of other civilians, as well as over three million Soviet prisoners of war, those were war crimes, but not genocide.

The Holocaust was not a matter of settling scores between enemies, as in the Yugoslav wars and mutual “ethnic cleansing” among Albanian Kosovars, Muslim Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs in the 1990s, or the desire for plunder. It was the culmination of a centuries-old, and meticulously crafted, ideology – anti-Semitism – which had now reached the final stage of “eliminationism.” 

In none of the other cases did the perpetrators deem it an absolute requirement to rid the entire planet of their foes – the deeds were more contingent on specific conditions and limited in scope. In fact the Rwandan massacres were in the nature of a massive pogrom, the state hardly had a role in it – neighbours killed neighbours with machetes or burned them alive. 

Other than the Kristallnacht events in 1938, ordinary Germans did not slaughter their Jewish neighbours or destroy their properties; the Holocaust to come a few years later was carried out methodically by a massive bureaucracy created for that very purpose. It was industrial murder.

It is true that the Holocaust might not have happened had there not been a war, but then the war itself was made “necessary,” in the mind of Hitler, to eradicate the control by “world Jewry” of, among other states, the Soviet Union.

Of course this doesn’t mean that these other barbarities were any less loathsome or less tragic for the people murdered. But they were not the same as the Holocaust.

So if we are now to apply the word genocide to all these other events, perhaps we should differentiate between them and the destruction of the Jews – and just use the word Holocaust for the latter.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Madagascar is Seldom in the News

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Situated 400 kilometres off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, at 587,713 square kilometres, is the world’s fourth-largest island. 

It was first settled by Austronesian people who arrived from Borneo, the large southeast Asian island, about 2,000 years ago. The country’s population of 23.8 million includes the more than two million living in the capital, Antananarivo. 

Though there are 18 ethnic groups on Madagascar, Malagasy is spoken throughout the island. French is also an official language.

Malagasy society has long been polarized between the politically and economically advantaged Austronesian highlanders, mainly Betsileo and Merina, and the various peoples, mostly of African origin, along the coasts. 

The Betsileo are Roman Catholics whereas the Merina are Protestants, due to the early 19th century proselytisation efforts of the London Missionary Society, working under the patronage of Merina King Radama I.

Merina monarchs ruled the island prior to its incorporation into the French Empire, and under French rule they retained their supremacy in education, business, and the professions.

The coastal peoples, known as côtiers, felt deprived of the education, power, and wealth concentrated inland.

In 1895–96, the French annexed the island; the Merina monarchy was abolished in 1897. The island’s population chafed under French rule, and a 1947 uprising killed upwards of 80,000 people.

(One bizarre aside: Following the fall of France in 1940, Nazi Germany briefly considered transporting some four million Jews from Europe to Madagascar.)

The island achieved independence in 1960 as the Malagasy Republic, and Philibert Tsiranana, founder of the Social Democratic Party of Madagascar and the Comoros (PSD), became president. (It reverted to the name Madagascar in 1975.) 

But his pro-French policies ultimately terminated his rule. Following massive protests and strikes, the military ousted him in 1972. After a period of instability, which saw three military men in power, they selected Didier Ratsiraka as head of state in 1975. 

Ratsiraka, who founded his Association for the Rebirth of Madagascar (AREMA), ushered in the isolationist, Marxist-inspired Second Republic, resulting in the rapid collapse of the economy and a sharp decline in living standards. French military and naval forces were expelled from the country and French commercial concerns nationalized.

He also instituted the policy of “Malagachisation,” intended to phase out the use of the French language in public life in favour of Malagasy.             
By 1991 Ratsiraka faced growing opposition and, following his government’s attacks on demonstrators, he stepped down. Free multi-party elections were then held, bringing Albert Zafy of the National Union for Democracy and Development (UNDD) to power in a Third Republic in 1993. 

But his tenure was marred by economic decline and allegations of corruption. Also, Zafy’s administration was dominated by Merina, thereby tipping the delicate ethnic balance established under previous regimes. 

This resulted in his impeachment in 1996, and Ratsiraka was voted back into power on a platform of decentralization and economic reforms.

The 2001 presidential election between Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana, the mayor of Antananarivo and candidate of I Love Madagascar (TIM), nearly caused a civil war, as both claimed victory. 

Ratsiraka supporters cut major transport routes from the port city of Toamasina to the capital city, a Ravalomanana stronghold. Ethnic differences also played a role, since Ratsiraka was from the coastal Betsimisaraka tribe, while Ravalomanana was a highland Merina.

After a seven-month standoff, Ravalomanana was declared the winner. Though he won a second term in 2006, by 2009 protests over increasing restrictions on opposition activities resulted in his handing over power to the military. They conferred the presidency on the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, a member of Young Malagasies Determined (TGV). 

In 2010 a new constitution established a Fourth Republic and elections were held in 2013. The presidency was won by former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina of the New Forces for Madagascar (HVM), who beat 32 other competitors.

The endless political crises have taken a heavy toll on the economy. Madagascar ranks amongst the world’s poorest countries -- 92 per cent of Malagasy live on less than $2 per day. Poverty and the competition for agricultural land have put pressure on the island’s dwindling forests, home to much of its wildlife. Locusts, famine and floods are all disasters recently faced by the country. 

Political instability continues -- lawmakers recently tried to impeach the president. Things will not improve until Madagascar resolves its unstable, and sometimes violent, political system.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Eritreans Flee Repressive Country by Thousands

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Eritrea, which gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a decades-long insurgency led by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), has become one of the most repressive countries on earth.

Situated on the Horn of Africa, with an area of 117,600 square kilometres, its 6.3 million people include nine recognized ethnic groups, the largest being the Tigrinya, at 55 per cent, and the Tigre at 30 per cent.

Christianity arrived in the fourth century and today Eastern Rite Coptic Orthodox Christians make up almost 60 per cent of the population. The remainder are mainly Sunni Muslims. The highland region is mostly Christian while Muslims predominate in the east and west lowlands.

Although the struggle against Ethiopia was initially led by the Muslim-dominated Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), it was eventually supplanted by the predominantly Christian EPLF.

Eritrea fought a border war against its former rulers between1998 and 2000; the two countries suffered tens of thousands of casualties. According to a ruling by an international commission in The Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia.

Since that conflict, the nation has become a highly militarized, one party state with severe restrictions over the press, speech, and even movement. Its human rights record has come under criticism, due to the government’s oppression of its own people, who suffer from malnourishment and economic destitution. 

On June 8, a 500 page United Nations report accused Eritrea’s government of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service, and forced labour. It also indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are widespread.

Eritrea is dominated by President Isaias Afwerki, a Tigrinyan who is leader of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, successor to the EPLF. He has ruled the east African country since its independence.

The report charged him with operating a system of “ruthless repression” and “pervasive state control” on “a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere.”

Amnesty International believes that at least 10,000 political prisoners have been imprisoned by the government. Reporters Without Borders has ranked Eritrea last in their Press Freedom Index, below even North Korea.

The country’s legislature has not met in a decade, and there is no published national budget. A constitution was ratified in 1997 but has never been implemented.

Given this reality, Eritreans are second only to Syrians in risking the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean in search of a better life. Thousands flee their country every month; 22 per cent of the people arriving by boat to Europe are Eritreans. 

Last November, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of Eritreans seeking asylum in Europe had nearly tripled over the first 10 months of the year, rising from 13,000 over the same period in 2013 to nearly 37,000 in 2014.

It won’t stop until conditions improve dramatically back home.Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Angola's Revolution is Long Behind It

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Angola may be the world’s richest failed state. This large southwestern African state of 19 million people has had a disastrous history.

The Portuguese arrived in 1575 and remained in power for four centuries. The capital, Luanda, was established in 1587, and the slave trade became the basis of the economy. More than a million people were shipped across the Atlantic to Portugal’s colony of Brazil.

Even after the abolition of slavery in 1875, Angola’s plantations worked on a system of forced labour.

In the 1950s and 1960s three rival guerrilla groups were formed to fight for Angolan independence.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was founded in 1956. In the following year the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) was set up. And in 1966 the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) was established.

When a leftwing coup in Lisbon overthrew Portugal’s autocratic regime in 1974, the new government declared its intention to grant its colonies freedom without delay.

Angola thus found itself a sovereign state in 1975, unprepared for independence. For the next twenty-seven years, as the rival movements fought for control of the country, the country fell into one of the most destructive civil wars in modern history.

The UNITA rebels, backed by the United States and South Africa, were led by Jonas Savimbi. The Marxist MPLA was led by Agostinho Neto, who later became the country’s first President, and had support from the Soviet Union. Holden Roberto ran the FNLA, the weakest of the three, with some Chinese backing.

All three used ethnicity to rally support. The UNITA and FNLA were largely rural, with UNITA deriving its strength from the majority Ovimbundu and Chokwe ethnic groups in central and southern Angola, while the FNLA was rooted among the Bakongo people in the north.

The MPLA’s base included the Ambundu ethnic group and the educated lusophone multiracial Mestiqos of the capital city. They managed to hold Luanda, thanks to Cuban President Fidel Castro, who sent large contingents of Cuban troops to Angola on its behalf.

But the demise of the Communist bloc forced the MPLA to give up its adherence to Marxism-Leninism in 1991. Elections held in 1992 saw the MPLA beat UNITA, but Savimbi refused to accept the result and the civil war resumed. The hostilities ended only in 2002, when assassins killed Savimbi.

Up to 1.5 million lives were lost, and another four million people displaced, during the more than a quarter century of fighting.

Though a Marxist, Neto had understood that his regime wouldn’t survive without the money coming in from the petroleum companies that had discovered oil prior to independence.

This policy continued under José Eduardo dos Santos, who became the head of the MPLA in 1979, after Neto died. He has been president ever since.

The country now produces 1.8 million barrels of oil a day. Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, the French company Total, and BP all have significant operations in Angola.

Oil revenues, which account for more than ninety per cent of Angola’s foreign exchange earnings, have brought unimaginable wealth to its political elite – the presidential cronies, generals, and their families.

The president has been accused of ignoring the economic and social needs of Angola and focusing his efforts on amassing wealth for his family. Isabel dos Santos, his daughter, is said to be worth more than three billion dollars.

Diamonds are another source of wealth. In May journalist Rafael Marques de Morais accused seven generals of being linked to murder, torture and land grabs in Angola’s lucrative diamond fields.

Yet Angola remains one of the world’s least-developed nations. Half of Angolans live on less than two dollars a day, infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world, and the average life expectancy, at 52, is among the lowest. The roads are so poor that farms often burn crops, because they cannot get them to market before they rot.

Because of widespread malnutrition, more than one-quarter of Angolan children are physically stunted. Rural sanitation facilities are rare and malaria accounts for more than a quarter of all childhood deaths. Yet with falling world oil prices, the government has proposed a one-third cut in the health budget this year.

Much of Angola’s oil wealth lies in Cabinda province, which is separated from the rest of Angola by a narrow strip of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But a decades-long separatist conflict simmers in the enclave.

Should the world price of oil continue to decline, Angola’s kleptocrats might find themselves in trouble, though they have probably stashed away most of their wealth abroad. It certainly hasn’t trickled down to the masses.