Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Barry Bartmann: In Appreciation

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Professor Barry Bartmann, who was my friend and colleague in the Political Science Department  at UPEI, passed away Aug. 21. He would have turned 74 this September.

Barry was an undergraduate at Waterloo Lutheran (now Wilfrid Laurier) University and obtained his MA and PhD in political science at the University of Western Ontario and the London School of Economics.

Barry travelled widely – he’s the only person I know who went through both Checkpoint Charlie between east and west Berlin during the Cold war, and the Mandelbaum Gate in the then divided city of Jerusalem, between Israel and Jordan, before 1967.

But he especially loved the small, often overlooked and overshadowed, countries of the world. 

Of very few academics can it be said that they almost single-handedly created a new field in their discipline, but it was true of Barry. After he arrived at UPEI in 1987, he was instrumental in developing Island Studies, the examination of small island jurisdictions such as Barbados, Fiji, Mauritius, and many others. He helped organize the Island Studies minor at UPEI (1999), and the Master of Arts in Island Studies (2003).

His passion for Island Studies came through in his work; his international scholarship was highly regarded. He provided specialist advice to various North Atlantic jurisdictions, including Constitutional Committees and Governments of the Aland Islands, the Faroes, and Iceland.

Barry was a recognized authority on the international relations of small (or micro) states, those very small countries usually ignored by most scholars in comparative politics and international relations, places such as Andorra, Lichtenstein, and San Marino. 

As well, Barry analyzed the role of non-recognized states – among many, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Somaliland, Transnistria, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- in the international community, and he co-edited the book De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty. He helped organize, and he delivered papers, at many international conferences on these fields.

Unlike many in the social sciences, Barry was also an excellent writer, and his articles were a joy to read. UPEI, and the wider academic community, has indeed lost an erudite scholar – as well as a wonderful cook!

It should also be noted that Barry was a dedicated and outstanding teacher. His many students always held him in very high regard and enjoyed immensely his vast knowledge of the subject matter he taught – and it was a very wide range, indeed. They will miss him.

Monday, August 31, 2015

How Effective is the International Criminal Court?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
When U.S. president Barack Obama visited Kenya, his father’s homeland, in July, he was greeted by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta – a man who has been accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

The ICC, based in The Hague, is the court of last resort for prosecution of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed after July 1, 2002, when its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, entered into force. 

As of this year, the Court has 123 states acknowledging its authority. Since it was formed, it has opened investigations in eight African states – Libya, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Mali, Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Since the court has so far brought cases only against Africans, this has led to accusations of bias. 

However, it is also conducting formal preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Nigeria, Palestine and Ukraine.

But its record is spotty. So far, the ICC has been unable to bring to trial, among others, President Kenyatta, Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, Saif Gadhafi, son of the former Libyan dictator, and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, along with radio journalist Josiah Sang are accused of crimes against humanity for instigating ethnic violence in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 Kenyan presidential election. 

An estimated 1,200 people were killed and as many as 650,000 were forced to flee their homes. Yet he and his henchmen remain free. Kenya has argued that a head of state should be exempt from prosecution for the duration of his term and so refused to cooperate. 

The proceedings against Kenyatta were formally closed last December after prosecutors could not show that they had sufficient evidence to proceed, though the case against Ruto remains open. 

Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor, cited obstruction and witness intimidation as causes. But appellate judges at the court have now issued an order directing the trial court to re-examine one aspect of the case: whether Kenyatta’s government had actively obstructed the original prosecution.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, is a rebel group which originated in northern Uganda. Rape, torture, and murder became its hallmarks. The ranks of the LRA were filled in large part by children, who were kidnapped and brainwashed into service with the group. 

Though increasingly isolated as he hides in disputed territory on the borders of Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Congo, Kony has managed to elude capture.

Meanwhile, a court in the Libyan capital of Tripoli has sentenced Saif Gadhafi to death. He is being held captive by a militia in the northwestern city of Zintan. The ICC has sought to extradite Mr. Qaddafi for trial in The Hague, in part because of concerns that he could not receive a fair trial in Libya.

Omar al-Bashir, the leader of Sudan, continues to thumb his nose at the Court – with the help of other African leaders. Bashir was in South Africa in June, yet he was permitted to leave without being arrested.

He had travelled to the country for an African Union summit chaired by the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, and flew back to Sudan from a military airport just outside Pretoria, as a local court was hearing an application that would force the South African government to arrest him.

Yet, though South Africa is a member of the ICC, its government defied the longstanding arrest warrant for Bashir, who has been charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. The UN estimates that 300,000 people have died in the area since 2003.

The failure of the South African government to arrest the Sudanese president is a betrayal of Nelson Mandela’s legacy, stated Abiodun Williams, a former adviser to UN Secretaries-General Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan.

But South African President Jacob Zuma’s decision to let Bashir leave the country underscores the already strained relationship between the ICC and many African leaders. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Vietnam: A Resilient Country in Asia

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

From 1940 to 1975, the Vietnamese people were almost constantly at war and fighting for their national independence, first against Japan, then France, and finally the United States. There was massive destruction of the environment; millions died.

Yet its powerful sense of national cohesion and culture based on ethnic homogeneity has made Vietnam arguably one of the most resilient nations on earth. Rising from the devastation of war, it is today one of the world’s economic success stories.

At first, the victorious Communists in the post-1975 state, which reunified North and South Vietnam, instituted top-down central state planning and collectivized agriculture. Under the command economy, the government decided targets and prices, input supplies, domestic wholesale and retail trade, and international trade.

All of this led to predictably negative results. But things began to change in the 1980s.

The impending collapse of the Soviet-led Communist bloc, plus continuing difficulties with neighbouring China (including a short but fierce border war in 1979), meant that Vietnam increasingly had to open itself up to the wider world.

In 1986, the “doi moi” (renovation) strategy was introduced, lifting restrictions on small private enterprises, and welcoming foreign direct investment in labour-intensive manufacturing.

Large state farms were divided into a market-oriented smallholder system, which immediately increased agricultural output. The country officially became a “socialist-oriented market economy.”

By the late 1990s, the success of the reforms ushered in was evident. More than 30,000 private businesses had been created, and the economy was growing at an annual rate of more than seven per cent. Small entrepreneurs produced a boom in local markets.

Foreign investment increased, especially following the establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1995 and a bilateral trade deal in 2000 that opened American markets to Vietnamese goods. Vietnam also joined the World Trade Organization in 2007.

The European Union and Vietnam this year signed a free trade agreement which will remove nearly all tariffs on goods traded between them.

A vigorous export economy, the creation of more opportunities for small enterprises, and investment in agriculture has resulted in rising prosperity. Improved public services in education and health followed.

Instead of food shortages, the country achieved national food security and has become a major exporter of agricultural commodities such as rice and coffee.

Poverty has fallen from 58 per cent of the population in 1993 to under 20 per cent today.

Excessive bureaucracy and corruption do remain problems, and pockets of poverty persist, especially in the central highlands, home of the country’s ethnic minorities. Though 15 per cent of the population, they constitute 40 per cent of the poor.

More investment in transport and communications to improve market access, plus better education, would go a long way to alleviate this problem.

There is also a widening urban-rural gap, since much investment has gone to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

The Vietnamese will no doubt overcome these obstacles as well.

Monday, August 24, 2015

French National Front Tries to Improve Image

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Has the National Front, the far-right French party, truly shed its anti-Semitic carapace, or is this a good cop-bad cop routine?

On Aug. 20, the party’s founder and longtime leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was expelled from its ranks at the insistence of his daughter Marine, the current head of the NF. 

They had already been feuding for months, and Jean-Marie had already been suspended in May for saying that he saw the Holocaust as a “detail of history.”

Le Pen in turn remarked that he was “deeply shocked, hurt, and the victim of a political witch-hunt,” and would not support Marine in the 2017 presidential election, which she thinks she has a chance of winning. “To be persecuted by your daughter, is very difficult,” he added.

Since she replaced her father in 2011, Marine has been trying to broaden the party’s base to include people uneasy at the way France has been handling its economy and immigration policies. 

In particular, she wants to attract French Jews, increasingly upset by attacks from radical Islamists. The Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre last January is still fresh in their minds.

Marine has tried to steer the NF away from the overt racism and anti-Semitism of its past. The party did well in elections to the European parliament last year, and in French municipal elections more recently.

On the other hand, Jean-Marie, who created the party on 1972, has kept making statements casting doubt on the veracity of the Holocaust; he has also continued to insist that those who led the collaborationist Vichy regime in the Second World War were patriots. 

He has contended that the wartime collaborator Marshal Philippe P├ętain was not a “traitor.” 

In 2007 he told the newspaper Le Monde that “you can't dispute the inequality of the races.” More recently, he said that France should get along with Russia to save the “white world.”

These and other remarks have prompted Marine to accuse him of trying to “rescue himself from obscurity.”

Florian Philippot, one of the five vice presidents of the NF and one of the main advisors of Marine Le Pen, said that Jean-Marie Le Pen went “from provocation to provocation” in a “work of destruction.” So the rift does seem genuine.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. They have come mainly from its former colonies in north and west Africa. The country’s tradition of secularism in recent years has been challenged, as efforts to integrate Muslims into the country’s culture have led to controversy over headscarves, halal food, and the construction of mosques.

Author Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, Submission, published earlier this year, imagines France in 2022 as a country ruled by a Muslim president, in which there are numerous conversions to Islam, widespread polygamy, and creeping sharia. 

Accused of undue provocation, Houellebecq said, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, “Marine Le Pen doesn’t need me.”

Is Corbyn Britain's Next Labour Party Leader?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

In the late 19th century, the German Marxist August Bebel observed that anti-Jewish prejudice was “the socialism of fools.” Is Jeremy Corbyn demonstrating the accuracy of this phrase yet again?

A far-left Labour Party member of parliament in Britain since 1983, Corbyn is in the running for the leadership of the party, following the resignation of Ed Miliband in the wake of last May’s general election. The new leader will be announced on Sept. 12. 

Opinion surveys suggest that Corbyn will beat his more moderate or centrist rivals: fellow MPs Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. 

Corbyn is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International, and the Stop the war Coalition. He writes a weekly column in the Morning Star, the newspaper founded as the Daily Worker by the British Communist Party in 1930.

He represents the constituency of Islington North, the less posh part of Islington, a gentrified area of London known for its trendy restaurants and fashionable inhabitants. 

Corbyn began the race as a dark horse but has gained ground on the back of a social media campaign and backing from a number of large unions. This has put more mainstream Labourites in a panic.

Corbyn has also been attacked by the Jewish Chronicle, Britain’s oldest Jewish newspaper, which claims that he has associated with “Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites.”

The newspaper said it was certain it spoke for the vast majority of British Jews in “expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr. Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.”

A Jewish politician Labour Party, Ivan Lewis, a former chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Federation, said the views are cause for “serious concern.”

Should this surprise us? Not really.

In the 1920s and 1930s, many European socialists, including Benito Mussolini himself, started their political careers on the left. They were attracted to fascism because, like the ideologies of the left, it wanted to do away with a corrupt “bourgeois democracy” and usher in a new age.

In Britain, Sir Oswald Mosley, a rising star in the Labour Party in the 1920s, founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932 and became an acolyte of Hitler and Mussolini. So this is nothing new.

Corbyn has been alleged, by its founder, to have donated money to Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), a group that publishes open anti-Semitism, run by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and Corbyn has regularly attended its annual conferences.

Corbyn’s team has previously rejected claims of any links between Corbyn and Eisen, saying “anyone can call themselves a ‘long-time associate’ when in fact that is not the case. Paul Eisen clearly holds some of the most extreme views that are entirely his, and Jeremy totally opposes them and disassociates himself from them.”

Corbyn has also failed to condemn the anti-Semitic posters and banners that dominate the annual Al-Quds Day rally in London, sponsored by the Stop the War Coalition, which he chairs. 

And he has referred to supporters of both Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends” when he hosted them in Parliament. He explained that he extended his invitation to the aforementioned groups, and spoke of them glowingly, because, he contended, all sides need to be involved in the peace process.

Corbyn also wrote to the Church of England authorities to defend Reverend Stephen Sizer, a vicar banned from social media because of his habit of posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, telling them that Reverend Sizer was “under attack” because he had “dared to speak out over Zionism.” Sizer is a proponent of the theory that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks.

In response to the Jewish Chronicle editorial, Corbyn released a statement saying he was “proud to represent a multicultural constituency of people from all over the world and to speak at every opportunity of understanding between Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths.”

But Tony Blair, the Labour prime minister between 1997 and 2007, in a newspaper article published Aug. 13, wrote that “the Labour party is in danger more mortal today than at any point in the over 100 years of its existence.” If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader, “It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

Corbyn has promised a “new kind of politics” if he wins the contest, but maybe it’s just the return of a discredited older politics. Is this really going to be the face of British Labour?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jimmy Carter Brought Common Era to Close

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
The news that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, now 90 years old, is ailing brings to mind an earlier era in American political life – one before we had the internet, twitter,  and 24/7 all-news cable TV.

Carter won the presidency in 1976 when money – the necessity to raise tens of millions of dollars  – was not yet the be-all and end-all of running for office.

His presidency brought down the curtain on a period when presidents were not yet larger-than-life figures, semi-emperors catered to, both in office and later, by their subjects.

Carter had more in common with predecessors like Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson, than like his successors. After those men retired, they lived quiet lives and didn’t try to become wealthy.

Like them, Carter didn’t take advantage of his office after he left the White House. He didn’t use his status like an ATM machine, becoming rich from giving speeches and setting up dodgy foundations in order to make millions of dollars.

He also didn’t try to create a political dynasty, the way the Bushes and Clintons have. 

He was a modest man -- though, as Winston Churchill said about his successor, Clement Attlee, he had much to be modest about -- and on the whole, his presidency has been judged a failure.

He was the first incumbent to lose an election since Herbert Hoover in 1932, who was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt at the height of the Great Depression.

Carter could be a scold -- he certainly didn’t have Ronald Reagan’s sunny disposition. Maybe that’s part of the reason he lost to the Gipper. Carter’s famous “malaise speech” of July 15, 1979, during the second oil crisis of the 1970s, was all gloom and doom.

“The solution of our energy crisis can also help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country,” the president said, asking Americans to join him in adapting to a new age of limits.

It didn’t go over well, but perhaps he will have turned out to be right.

We shouldn’t forget that Carter had one major foreign policy success – the Camp David agreement that resulted in the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel signed on March 26, 1979 between Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel. 

Despite all the violence and mayhem in the Middle East since then, it has, somewhat amazingly, held up.

Carter won the Nobel Peace prize in 2002 for his commitment to finding peaceful solutions to international conflicts and his work with human rights and democracy initiatives.

In the end, it was Iran that brought Carter down. The coming to power of a bizarre theocracy under Ayatollah Ruyollah Khomeini in February 1979, and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and abduction of the 52 American hostages that November, made him look weak and indecisive. 

Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages in April 1980 also went awry. During the operation, three of eight helicopters failed, crippling the crucial airborne plans. 

During the withdrawal one of the retreating helicopters collided with one of six C-130 transport planes, killing eight soldiers and injuring five. 

The hostages were not released for another 270 days. All told, they were held for 444 days.

In hindsight, we can see that relations with Iran have been a problem no president since then – be it Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama – has managed to handle effectively.

And I don’t think Carter would have signed a deal that paves the way for a nuclear-armed Iran some 15 years hence, if not sooner.