Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Miraculous Resurgence, Resilience of Modern Israel

By Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax, NS] Chronicle Herald
 
Seventy years ago the State of Israel came into being. It is a miracle that Israel was born, just three years after the greatest Jewish tragedy, the Holocaust, had ended, and that it has endured in the way that it has.

On April 18th, Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary under the banner “A legacy of innovation.” (The state was declared on May 14, 1948, but the anniversary varies by year in the western calendar because it is based on the Hebrew one.)

It was a near-run thing: In November 1947, one day prior to the expected United Nations vote on partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the CIA urged President Harry Truman not to throw his weight behind the idea. 

America would have to defend the new Jewish state when it faltered, the CIA’s secret memorandum warned, adding that “the Jews will be able to hold out no longer than two years.”

Today, of course, Israel has the most advanced army in the region. It is also the West’s only reliable ally in the Middle East.

“The people kept faith with the land throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom,” declared David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, as he read out its declaration of independence in Tel Aviv.

The state was born in war: that very day, Arab armies from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria attacked the fledgling nation. Within Palestine itself, there had already been continuous Arab-Jewish violence once the British government had announced it would terminate its Mandate.

Ten months of fighting ended in an armistice in 1949. More wars would follow: in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, as well as continuous violence and terrorism within the borders of the state itself.

Yet Israel has become a modern, prosperous nation. The “ingathering of the exiles” is no longer a dream: In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about five per cent of the world’s Jews. 

Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 per cent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this is now the world’s largest Jewish community.

A visitor to the country would be astounded at its infrastructure. A worldwide center for technology, it has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S.

No other post-colonial state has remained a democracy while granting its people a developed-world standard of living. 

In the International Monetary Fund’s 2018 forecasts for GDP per capita, Israel, at $40,762, is 23rd out of 193 states -- just behind France and New Zealand, and just ahead of Japan and the United Kingdom.

Speaking at the ceremonies marking the anniversary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that no one would “extinguish” Israel’s “light.”

“All the ancient peoples who were exiled from their lands vanished and scattered all over the place. Only we, the Jewish people, who were like a leaf blown away in the storm of exile, refused to disappear and remained faithful to Zion,” he said.

Seventy years after a Star of David was first featured on its flag, the country remains an inspiration to many people across the world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Did the Syria Attack Make Sense?


By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal
 
The United States, Britain, and France on April 13 fired cruise missiles at three sites linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

It was, they declared, in response to the Assad regime’s reported chemical attack April 7 in Douma.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed support for the strikes by its three member states.

Canada, too, “supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom and France to take action”, Prime Minister Trudeau said. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland added that it was “clear to Canada” that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack.

But the reaction to the attacks is playing out differently in Britain and France.

The leader of the British opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, criticized Prime Minister Teresa May, arguing that “bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace.”He called the attack “legally questionable.”

Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that May was wrong not to seek parliamentary consent. 

“Riding the coattails of an erratic U.S. president is no substitute for a mandate from the House of Commons,” he remarked.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, tweeted: “Air strikes have not resolved situation in Syria so far.” She stated that foreign policy should be set by the British Parliament, not Washington.

Many Britons still remember Tony Blair’s decision in 2003 to join George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has also faced criticism, mainly from the political left and right.

The leader of the left-wing France Insoumise (France Unbowed) Party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, accused Macron of attacking Syria without proof of chemical weapons use and without a United Nations mandate, a European Union agreement or a vote of the French Parliament.

“This is a North American adventure of revenge, an irresponsible escalation,” he declared. “France deserves better than this role. It must be the force of international order and peace.”

Marine Le Pen, the head of the Rassemblement National (National Rally), the new name for the National Front, said much the same. France had lost a chance to “appear on the international scene as an independent power.” The party’s deputy leader, Nicolas Bay, called Macron “a vassal” of the U.S.

American policy towards the Syrian war does seem to be incoherent. First of all, why make a chemical attack that killed less than 50 people different in kind, not just in degree, from the half million already dead via “conventional” weapons? 

These were not really “weapons of mass destruction,” unlike atomic or biological weapons. This has become a fetish and excuse for military action.

Second, what exactly is the U.S. accomplishing? When Hitler bombed London or when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the actions were part of larger war aims. 

They didn’t do it as just a one-time “lesson” and then went home. Theywere trying to win a war.

Is Washington trying to overthrow Assad? If so, they have to do more than shoot missiles at him every few months. 

Trump has indicated that the American aim all along has been to destroy the Islamic State and other Islamist groups. But obviously what’s left of these groups benefit from weakening Assad. 

The only thing that makes sense is that the Americans, British and French were warning Russia that they can do to Sevastopol, St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad what they just did in Syria.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Polish Underground in Nazi-Occupied Europe


By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
 
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the doomed battle by Polish Jews against the Nazi murderers, which began on April 19, 1943, it is also important that we re-evaluate the role of the Polish underground during the Holocaust.

In his book The Polish Underground and the Jews 1939-1945, Joshua D. Zimmerman, a professor of history at Yeshiva University in New York, maintains that the reaction of the Polish underground to the ongoing catastrophe of Jews trapped in the ghettos varied, some elements being more sympathetic than others. 

As historian Peter Hayes of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has suggested in Why? Explaining the Holocaust, the Poles who actively helped to hide Jews and those who persecuted them were actually both minorities. 

The Germans made concealing Jews a crime punishable by death for everyone living in a house where Jews were discovered. Yet it is estimated that some 200,000 Poles were engaged in helping Jews despite the threat of execution. 

Poland had no collaborationist regime, and the London-based Polish government-in-exile included the participation of Jewish representatives on its governing council.

This strengthened the support for the Jews from within the government, especially as it needed Allied support, and so had portray their struggle for Poland as a democratic one.

The Social Committee to Aid the Jewish Population, later the Zegota Council, was formed on Sept. 17, 1942. 

A clandestine organization, it ran an extensive network of welfare activities, disseminated information in Poland and abroad regarding the ongoing mass murder of Jews, and demanded strong action against those who denounced Jews. 

The major Polish underground force, the Home Army (AK), by the end of 1942 numbering 200,000 soldiers, at first had counseled Jews against fighting back in cities and camps. 

But the Warsaw Ghetto Jews in 1943 established a fighting organization. The AK had undergone a change of heart at this time. Its commander, General Stefan Rowecki authorized the transfer of arms, ammunition, and explosives to the ghetto beginning in late January 1943. These were essential in the battle to come.

Rowecki came to the conclusion that Jewish resistance groups inside ghettos deserved, and as citizens of Poland were entitled to, assistance. He also approved or ordered actions on behalf of the ghetto fighters. Some AK soldiers would even join the battle.

When the armed uprising began, news was sent to the outside world, praising the ghetto fighters.  The underground also asked Poles to help any Jews fleeing the ghetto. A Krakow paper called the German action “an attack on Poland itself.” 

The AK had already created a Jewish Department on Feb. 1, 1942, distributing funds and passing on Jewish correspondence to London.

In late 1942 an AK courier, Jan Karski, was smuggled in and out of the Warsaw ghetto. He then traveled to London where he delivered a report to the Polish government-in-exile, describing what he had seen. 

The clandestine press of the Home Army was mostly favorable towards the Jews, reporting accurately on crimes committed not only by Germans but also by szmalcownicy, Polish blackmailers.

The top authorities of the underground issued powerful condemnations of their activities. On May 6, 1943, a declaration was printed in the largest circulation underground papers, condemning them as traitors who would be put to death. Special Civil Courts were created to prosecute collaborators.

Meanwhile, the final German “action” had begun on April 19. The ghetto population had constructed subterranean bunkers and shelters in preparation for an uprising and had barricaded themselves in these hideouts, taking the Germans by surprise. 

At least13,000 ghetto fighters were killed in the battle, almost half burnt alive in collapsing buildings set on fire by the Nazis. The Home Army called the struggle “worthy of emulation.”

Last month, Polish officials held ceremonies honoring Poles who gave shelter and aid to Jews during the Holocaust, as the country for the first time marked a new national holiday in their memory.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said helping Jews at that time was “one of the most glorious pages of Polish history.”

The First Urban Uprising in Nazi-Occupied Europe

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
This year’s Yom HaShoa, the commemoration of the Holocaust, includes events around the world marking the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which began on April 19, 1943.

It was the first popular uprising in a city in Nazi-occupied Europe, and, against incredible odds, lasted almost a month.

A year after invading Poland, Nazi Germany set up a ghetto in the heart of the occupied Polish capital in October 1940. Nearly half a million Polish Jews were confined in its squalid quarters, measuring just three square kilometres.

Between July 22 and Sept. 21 of 1942, some 260,000 inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. They were mainly the elderly or children.

After the deportations to Treblinka between 55,000 to 60,000 Jews, mainly younger people, remained in the ghetto and they were concentrated in a few building blocs.

They began to establish a fighting underground organization. Representatives of three Zionist youth movements, Hashomer Hatzair, Dror, and Akiva, established the first cell of the new organization. Members of the left-wing Poalei Tsion party joined them in October 1942. 

The Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) was later joined by the non-Zionist Jewish Labour Bund and the Communists. The commander was 23 year old Mordechai Anielewicz of Hashomer Hatzair. They gained some help from the Polish Communist-led People’s Army (GL) militia.

The Revisionist Zionist youth movement Betar established its own fighting organization, the Jewish Military Union (ZZW); some of their arms were acquired from the mainstream underground Home Army (AK).

The final German “action” began on April 19. The ghetto population had constructed subterranean bunkers and shelters in preparation for an uprising and had barricaded themselves in these hideouts, taking the Germans by surprise. 

The ZOB scattered its positions throughout the ghetto, while the ZZW did most of its fighting at Muranowska Square, impeding the Germans’ attempts to penetrate their defenses. 

In response, the Germans began to systematically burn down buildings, turning the ghetto into a firetrap. The Jews fought valiantly for a month but by May 16 the Germans had crushed the uprising and the ghetto had been burned to the ground.

At least13,000 ghetto fighters were killed in the battle, almost half burnt alive in the collapsing buildings set on fire by the Nazis. 

Surviving ghetto residents were deported to concentration camps, though some managed to escape through underground sewers and took part in the larger Polish rising in the city that began on Aug. 1, 1944.

On April 19, during the battle in the ghetto, the ZZW had raised two flags atop the highest building in the ghetto: the red-and-white Polish Eagle and the blue-and-white Star of David. 

They were visible in much of the city and many Polish partisans were moved by the gesture. The Polish flag had not been displayed openly since the fall of Poland in 1939. The Home Army called the struggle “worthy of emulation.”

In his last message, dated April 23, Anielewicz wrote: “The dream of my life has risen to become fact. Self-defense in the ghetto will have been a reality. Jewish armed resistance and revenge are facts. I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising became an example for Jews in other ghettos and camps and there were smaller revolts elsewhere in Poland. 

My mother’s two brothers were part of the one in Czestochowa. After it ended they fled into a nearby forest, where they were hunted down and shot by the Nazi SS.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Tinderbox of Global Conflicts


By Henry Srebrnik, [St John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

Watching the BBC World News a few days ago, I happened to note one of those scrolls that move by at the bottom of the screen. It read “Experts: Are We Headed for a Third World War?” 

I'm afraid these people are not just hysterics. The second world war began almost 80 years ago, and now the entire post-1945 world order has broken down.

In turn, there are smoldering conflicts in several “hot spots.” That war could result in one or more of them is far from impossible.

It is clear the Americans are spoiling for a fight with Russia. Everything points in that direction -- the strident, ceaseless drumbeat of attacks blaming Moscow for everything from “interfering” in elections everywhere and being a “malign influence” around the world, down to poisoning an ex-Russian spy living in England (no proof required).

The U.S. wasn’t this aggressive towards the old Soviet Union during the Cold War. Maybe they didn’t expect Russia to revive after 1991 and are angry, having expected, as the world’s now- hegemonic power, to have a free hand around the globe.

In the Middle East, the Syrian Civil War keeps drawing more and more countries into its whirlpool. 

Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, Turkey and the U.S. all are now involved to some degree or another.

Sooner or later, even if inadvertently, some of these countries will come to blows, either on the battlefield or in the air. 

Will American face off against Russians? What about Israelis against Iranians and their Lebanese Hezbollah proxies? And if Turkey continues its incursions into the Kurdish north, will they confront Americans supporting Kurds?

While Palestinians in Gaza try to enter Israel en masse to highlight their desire for a right of return to Palestine, Hezbollah’s tens of thousands of missiles in Lebanon are pointed at the Jewish state.

If they really do attack and turn much of Tel Aviv into ashes, Israel will undoubtedly prompt massive retaliation with great carnage. This is would result in an all-out conflagration in the region.

In fact, could the truly unthinkable even happen? I refer to Israel’s so-called “Samson Option,” the name given to the country’s “last resort” decision to use nuclear weapons if much of the state were destroyed.

The name is a reference to the Old Testament Israelite judge Samson, who destroyed a Philistine temple, killing himself but also thousands of Philistines.

Meanwhile, we should not discount the possibility of civil srife within the United States. If they win the 2018 Congressional midterm elections, the Democrats in the House of Representatives will impeach Donald Trump. A Democrat-controlled Senate could then remove him from office. 

Having lost power, the divided Republican Party may begin to implode. On the other hand, flush with power, the Democrats, using their catchwords “diversity” and “inclusion,” will in fact do the opposite, further marginalizing the white Christian heartland that supported Donald Trump.

In turn, these people could conceivably begin a low-level insurrection along the lines we’ve seen in other deeply divided societies, like eastern Ukraine.At that point, all bets would be off on election results being recognized as legitimate.Over time, the country is becoming more tribal -- politically and socially -- not less.

In fact, the 2020 presidential election might produce actual violence in the United States.Clearly we are living in not just interesting, but very interesting, times.

How Strong is the American-Israeli Relationship?


By Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary, AB] Jewish Free Press
 
The relationship between Israel and the United States is, at the moment, very strong – but for how long?

It has not always been as close as it is today. Until the late 1960s, the relationship was actually quite limited. Only in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967 did it begin to evolve into the strategic “special relationship” of today.

Today it encompasses military, political, economic, diplomatic, and cultural relations.

Economically, the United States is Israel’s single biggest trading partner. Militarily, total American assistance to Israel up to 2016 has amounted to $124 billion, making it the largest recipient of American military aid in the entire post-1945 period. And since 1981, this has been in the form of grants, not loans. 

Hari Sastry, the Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources at the State Department, announced on Feb. 12 that Israel will receive $3.3 billion in funding under President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request.

He noted that Israel will receive a bump of $200 million in aid under the proposed budget. Last September the two nations signed a ten-year memorandum of understanding providing $38 billion in defence aid through 2028.

U.S. aid has constituted 17-20 per cent of Israel’s defence budget in recent years. Also, Israel generally has access to the latest American military technologies.

Washington also shields Israel diplomatically, in the United Nations and elsewhere, and it has used its veto on the Security Council to block anti-Israeli resolutions numerous times.

Also, while the Obama administration perceived Iran as part of the solution to Middle East instability, now Washington is defining Tehran as a contributor to the region’s problems. 

This of course is the Israeli view as well; it fears growing Iranian power as an existential threat to its very existence.

But will the American-Israeli relationship remain as robust as it is today? Some analysts foresee future changes that may prove detrimental to it.

Israel’s image as a liberal democracy has been increasingly called into question. For growing segments of the American population, Israel’s character as a vibrant, peace-loving democracy is no longer a given.

American support for Israel has been historically bipartisan. But that’s no longer the case. Republicans and conservatives are now far more supportive of Israel, by wide margins, than liberals and Democrats.

On Jan. 23, the Pew Survey Center released a study confirming that the partisan divide in Middle East sympathies is now wider than at any point since 1978. 

Currently, 79 per cent of Republicans say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27 per cent of Democrats.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), long the foremost lobby group on behalf of the Jewish state, also faces increasing difficulty. 

The perception that AIPAC represents a consensus among American Jews has always been a key to its political influence. Its annual policy conference in early March tried to highlight its commitment to bipartisan support for Israel, but that is crumbling.

There has also been a significant decline in support for Israel among younger Americans. Israel’s image has become one of a brutal occupier. Some 25 per cent of American students believe Israel to be an apartheid state.

Even younger American Jews have become more distant. Whereas more than half of older members of the community consider Israel a very important component of their Jewish identity, this holds true for just a third of younger people. 

In any case, low birth rates and assimilation means the American Jewish community will become relatively more marginal in the U.S. in the future. 

The alliance between Israeli leaders and Christian evangelicals may also be weakening. 

Groups such as Christians United for Israel, advocating views that are in agreement with the Israeli right, have had a major influence on American foreign policy. 

Protestants like these believe that God has conveyed a universal message by means of a particular people and a particular land, whose particularity is never to be superseded.

However, recent polls indicate that younger American evangelicals are growing less attached to Israel. 

Falling support among U.S. evangelicals younger than 30 “ought to keep every Israeli awake at night,” remarked Yoav Fromer, who teaches politics at Tel Aviv University.

At the same time, Hispanics and the religiously unaffiliated, for both of whom Israel is a low priority, is a growing segment of the U.S. population.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Anti-Russian Hysteria Grips Western Countries

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Are we back in a new Cold War? On March 4, Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a nerve agent called Novichok, developed by Kremlin scientists several decades ago. 

Skripal, a Russian, had been arrested in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain's MI6 and released in 2010 as part of a prisoner swap. He has been living in Britain ever since.

The British immediately claimed that the Russian government was behind this and Foreign secretary Boris Johnson likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler.

Since then, 28 countries, including Canada, have joined Britain in expelling more than 150 Russian diplomats. Russia has responded in kind.

Was Vladimir Putin involved? We don’t really know. And the British certainly won’t allow Moscow to conduct its own investigation. 

So all of this has happened without, at the moment, a shred of proof. In fact scientists at Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory admitted on April 3 that they have not been able to say where the deadly agent was manufactured.

We’ve seen plenty of “fake news” in the past: remember the American denials regarding the downing of an American U-2 spy plane over Soviet airspace in 1960? The ongoing lies about the Vietnam War during the 1960s? The 2003 fabrication about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? 

First of all, if the Russians really did want Skripal dead, why employ a nerve agent? Why not just murder him in a faked robbery?

Why wasn’t he executed while he was in Kremlin custody? Why wait until eight years after Skripal had been sent to England?  

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, almost everything that has gone wrong has been blamed on Russian “meddling.” So why would Russia make things worse by murdering a now-harmless exile? 

Putin, no fool, would have known what the political ramifications of this would be on relations with the west.

I’d think it more likely that someone who hates Putin, and somehow got access to the poison, was behind this. They would know the murder of Skripal would produce a deeper split between Russia and the west. 

Moscow claims they are being framed, in order to stir up Russophobia. It remains easy to tap into the anti-Russian feelings that have been part of western culture for centuries. The “bad Russian bear” stereotype is not dead.

Indeed, the reaction has been totally over the top -- it’s as if the western powers were just waiting for an excuse to mount a big anti-Russian campaign. But why? There’s an old Roman question: Cui bono? Who benefits?

There are many who hate the fact that Moscow took back the Crimea -- though it is historically and demographically Russian and should never have been handed to Ukraine in the first place. 

They’re also angry that Russia is no longer the pushover it was in the 1990s, when NATO attacked Serbia. Now it’s the Russians asserting their power on the world stage, in Syria and elsewhere.

Perhaps even more important, ever since the 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, there are worries that the European Union may disintegrate, because of the furor over Muslim migrants. 

The EU has very skilfully asserted control over large parts of eastern Europe and the former USSR. But now Hungary, Poland, and even the Czech Republic, have all been veering towards a Euroskeptic, pro-Russian stance, because their national identity is at risk. 

Austria, France, Germany and Italy have seen the rise of right-wing parties that favour a less confrontational attitude towards Moscow.

This had to be stopped by the European political elites in Brussels. The best way, of course, was to create anti-Russian hysteria.

It has also allowed the anti-Trump forces in the U.S. to continue to tighten the political noose around the president.

After all, any further increase in anti-Russian sentiment will continue to play favourably into their narrative of Trump as a dangerous Russian stooge.

Meanwhile, on April 4, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the efforts of “Russian propagandists” to “smear” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland factored into the Canadian decision to expel four of the country’s diplomats.

Last year, the Russians had revealed that Freeland’s grandfather had been a Nazi collaborator editing an anti-Semitic newspaper in wartime Krakow, something that Freeland had at first tried to dismiss as “fake news.”

Most of the former Warsaw Pact countries are now in NATO and the EU, and Russia’s defence budget is a tenth of that of the U.S. 

But as Serge Halimi, editorial director of the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, reminds us in the April edition, “a good enemy is for life.”

Two Francophone African States in Trouble

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

In tropical Africa the French domain was larger than that of any other power, extending from southern Algeria to the Congo, and east to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. 

The African populations in French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa had the legal status of subjects and did not enjoy political and civil rights. 

They had to endure forced labour, imprisonment without trial, and taxation without representation. Autocratic colonial rule did little to build a democratic culture.

They all attained independence, starting in 1958, but most remain economically poor and saddled with weak political institutions.

Mali is somewhat better known to Canadians of late, because of Ottawa’s decision to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in that torn country. Two of its francophone neighbours fare little better.

In next-door Niger, thousands of protesters descended on Niamey, the capital, in March, to denounce a new finance law they deemed “anti-social” for imposing taxes that they feared would raise living costs for citizens, while subsidizing the country’s utilities companies. 

Since October, opponents and supporters of the law have taken to the streets over the issue. Such grievances had already led to uprisings that precipitated a 2010 coup against President Mamadou Tandja.

The authorities have now imprisoned activists, journalists and opposition leaders for allegedly inciting rebellion.  Some have now been killed by the security forces of President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in 2011.

He won a second term in 2016 through elections that U.S. and European officials declared free and fair despite numerous irregularities. Presidential contender Hama Amadou, for example, was seized on charges of baby trafficking. An opposition boycott followed.

As in Mali, the Tuareg ethnic group has periodically rebelled against the central government in response to political and economic marginalization.

But Issoufou needn’t worry, because he is propped up by both the United States and the European Union. Washington uses Niger as a base for counter-terrorism activities against Islamist terrorists in the Sahel region – four American soldiers were killed in Niger last October. 

And the EU needs him block migration from the northern Nigerien city of Agadez, as it is a gateway to the Sahara, Libya, the Mediterranean and, ultimately, to Europe. 

In 2016, therefore, the EU increased its economic aid to Niger, with a $635 million package, in return for Issoufou keeping a lid on migration.

Things are far worse in the misnamed Central African Republic, where years of rebellion, mismanagement and sectarian violence have left President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s government unable to exert much authority beyond the capital, Bangui. 

More than a dozen armed groups and a local militias control about 80 per cent of the country. At least 600,000 people have been uprooted from their homes, and another half-million have fled into Chad and Cameroun.

Today’s internal wars stem from the nationwide outbreak of armed conflict in 2013, when the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and primarily Christian militias known as anti-Balaka fought back. 

A United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA) deployed about 10,050 military peacekeepers and 2,000 police across parts of the country in 2014, but has struggled to establish security and protect civilians. 

In fact the crisis has since intensified since the Seleka alliance, which lacks a unified hierarchy, has disintegrated into competing factions. 

The Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, a Seleka faction, has carried out some of the worst attacks. Fighters from the Central African Patriotic Movement, another Seleka faction,  have also been implicated in massacres.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) and a Special Criminal Court continue to investigate crimes committed in the country. Last October UN officials raised alarms about “early warning signs of genocide.”

Some analysts have referred to the Central African Republic as, not just a failed state, but a “phantom” state.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

A Demand for Justice

By Henry and Patricia Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The Guardian has done an excellent job in bringing the public’s attention to the sad plight of the Munves, as Jim fights P.E.I. bureaucrats in order to bring his wife Barbara back home from a nursing facility where she is being confined against her will. 

Following your initial news story, there has been an outpouring of support for them, and many letters have been published. It’s exactly what the function of a newspaper should be.

We would like to add our voices to the chorus of Islanders who demand justice for them. We have known Jim and Barbara since coming to Prince Edward Island 25 years ago, and would like to mention something about them that none of the other letter writers have touched upon.

Jim served in the U.S. Army fighting Hitler in World War II. He was in the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion of the Fourth Armoured Division in General George Patton’s Third Army.

During severe shelling by the Nazis in Lorraine, near the German border, in December 1944, his outfit took heavy casualties, and Jim was seriously wounded on Dec. 1. 

Strapped onto a stretcher, he was taken behind the lines, stabilized, and then sent, first, to a hospital in Paris, and then onto another medical centre near Birmingham, England, to recover. He spent three months there before he was sent back to the U.S.

Barbara, then in England, spent many a night in a bomb shelter in the naval town of Portsmouth, as it was being bombed by German aircraft.

With Jim’s loving encouragement, Barbara has written and published two novels under her maiden name, Barbara Parsons. They are based on her life in her native England and on her experiences working for many years, around the world, in the British Diplomatic Service.

Today, Barbara’s right even to leave her ward at the Atlantic Baptist Home has been revoked without warning, and she is deprived of  the  meaningful and stimulating activity that she has been accustomed to her entire adult life.

It is rather ironic that people who fought for our freedom should now be deprived of theirs by small-minded administrators.

Monday, April 02, 2018

South Sudan's Brutal Civil War

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Civil war erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, an ethnic Neur, of fomenting a coup. 

The violence immediately took on an ethnic character. Soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group, one of the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan, aligned with President Kiir and those from the Nuer ethnic group, the other largest ethnic group, supported Machar.

At the time the country was only two years old, having finally liberated itself from rule by the Sudanese regime in Khartoum after decades of warfare.

Since then, well over 50,000 people have died in the conflict, more than two million have fled to neighbouring countries and almost two million more are internally displaced, despite the presence of 17,000 UN peacekeepers in the country. 

Armed groups have targeted civilians along ethnic lines, committed rape and sexual violence, destroyed property and looted villages, and recruited children into their ranks.

Under the threat of international sanctions and following several rounds of negotiations Kiir had signed a peace agreement with Machar in August 2015 and the latter returned to the capital, Juba, in April 2016 after spending more than two years outside of the country. 

But soon after his return, violence broke out again between government forces and opposition factions and Machar again fled the country.

The Sudanese parties to the war signed another cease-fire deal in December 2017 but have not honored their commitment to end violence. In the latest example, the country’s military forces captured the rebel-held town of Lasu. 

Adama Dieng, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special adviser for the prevention of genocide, has intensified the call for an end to violence in South Sudan, following sustained diplomatic pressure from the African Union on South Sudanese leaders.

Both the government and rebels have done very little to discipline individuals committing atrocities in the four-year conflict in South Sudan, he indicated, adding that the country is suffering from what he called the “total impunity of armed men who have embraced sexual violence as a systematic weapon of war.”

Diplomats believe real pressure for a deal to be implemented must come from neighboring states. Instead, Dieng remarked, Uganda and Kenya are contributing to the conflict.

He said large quantities of weapons and ammunition are flowing into South Sudan through those countries. “International partners have to start targeting the accomplices, intermediaries of the South Sudanese parties.”

Yet Uganda, which sent troops to fight on the side of the government of South Sudan in the early stages of the war, is still feeding the conflict with weapons, according to Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who visited the region in January.

That’s because there are multiple and longstanding ties between Uganda and South Sudan. Since colonial times and the establishment of central governments, the two territories have shared a long border, traversing the home areas of several ethnic groups.

Uganda’s President Yoveri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement had close ties with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the guerilla group that won independence for South Sudan and is now the country’s army. Kiir had become its commander in 2005.

The SPLM/A was allowed to operate inside Uganda, where hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese lived in refugee camps. The links are clearly deep.

So the barbarities continue. Investigators from the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan have reported that more than 40 senior military officers and officials, including three state governors, should be prosecuted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

For Sovereign States, Borders Matter


By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

A building that burns to the ground leaves behind smoldering embers that fester and can burst into flames. And so has been the case with the rubble that was Yugoslavia.

In the 1990s two major fires were ignited, in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. And even now, border disputes remain a source of tension among the seven successor states that emerged out of the ruins of that once united country.

In 1992, the Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia decided that the unmarked boundaries among the newly formed states should become their international borders. But of course that didn’t settle things.

Various other border disputes continue to simmer in the region, mainly involving Croatia, which has border problems with each of its neighbours except Hungary.

The country is defined by its long coastline and lengthy land borders. When it was part of communist Yugoslavia everything was held together by the Belgrade regime. Now Croatia has five separate international borders and numerous boundary squabbles.

Slovenia and Croatia tried to formalize their maritime and land boundaries in bilateral talks, but could not come to an agreement. After Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004, it blocked Croatia’s accession for years.

In 2009, Croatia agreed to let an arbitration court decide the dispute, which allowed Zagreb to become an EU member in 2013.

What is at stake? A 670-kilometre stretch of land of land south of the Dragonja River, in the northern part of the Istrian peninsula, along with 19 square kilometres of maritime territory in the Bay of Piran in the northern Adriatic Sea.

Croatia claims half of the bay, and with the coast of Italy just few miles north, that claim would not give Slovenia a passage wide enough to be in international waters, through which its ships have to pass to reach Koper, its sole Adriatic port.

Slovenia claimed that the land border is south of the Dragonja, while Croatia insisted the border is on the river itself.

The conflict went before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2012, and the tribunal awarded most of the contested waters in the bay to Slovenia last June, granting it direct access to international waters via a 18.5 nautical-kilometre corridor crossing Croatian waters.

Croatia was granted contested areas along the Dragonja and a few smaller rivers.

Slovenia accepted the ruling, but Croatia refused. On Dec. 19 Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar met with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković in  Zagreb, but neither budged.

Croatia’s most contentious quarrel is with Serbia. The two countries fought a war in the 1990s and remain bitter rivals. Their fight is over a 323-kilometre stretch of land near the Danube River.

Does the border run down the middle of the Danube, as Serbia says, or along an older route of the river, as Croatia claims?

Croatia wants the boundary to reflect the course of the Danube that existed in the 19th century, before engineering works altered its course. The size of the territory in dispute, on the eastern side of the river, is about140 square kilometres, now under Serbian control.

Croatia has threatened to block Serbian accession to the EU until this is settled.

Along its border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia disputes two locations: the town of Hrvatska Kostajnica, and the Klek Peninsula, a 20 kilometre-long Bosnian strip of the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

While Zagreb agrees it mainly belongs to its neighbour, it argues that the very tip should belong to Croatia, together with two islands next to it.

Serbia too has a dispute over the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, along the Drina River.

As for Montenegro, the disputed area with Croatia concerns the Adriatic Sea border at the Prevlaka Peninsula, at the very southern tip of Croatia.

The problem with Kosovo, which Serbia does not recognise at all as an independent state, is far greater. While Serbian authorities insist it is not an international border, Kosovo considers it one dividing two sovereign entities.

Kosovo also has an unresolved dispute with Montenegro over the Cakorr and Belluha mountain peaks.

Macedonia is the only former Yugoslav republic to emerge as an independent state without border disputes. But neighbouring Greece refuses to recognize Macedonia’s very name, contending that it indicates that Skopje has territorial claims over Greece’s own northern region of the same name.

Even in our globalized world, in the Balkans borders and territory still matter.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Corruption Imperils Brazil's Democracy


By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

Brazilian political, cultural, and economic future will be shaped by the October 2018 presidential election.

But the nation, plagued by crime and corruption, is fertile ground for demagogues, due to the widespread distrust of politicians.

President Michel Temer of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement took over after corruption charges drove former president Dilma Rousseff from office in August 2016.

He has been facing a stiff challenge in his bid for a four-year term from former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party.

But da Silva may himself be barred from running because of his own corruption conviction. He was sentenced to more than nine years imprisonment last July and it was upheld by an appeals court in January. 

A 2010 law bars candidates whose convictions have been upheld by an appeals court from running for office for eight years.

Other major hopefuls are right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party, a former military officer who fulminates against corruption, crime and “moral decadence,” and environmentalist Marina Silva of the Sustainability Network, who combines an anti-corruption message with a centrist economic platform.

Officials from the judiciary and law enforcement are teaming up to try to prevent voters from being “misled,” arguing that freedom of speech cannot come at the cost of a tainted election.

They argue that the right to free speech cannot come at the expense of an illegitimate outcome. 

Judicial and law enforcement officials have called on Congress to pass a law establishing clear rules and penalties for “fake news.”

Maybe they’re just afraid Brazilians are less enamoured of democracy these days, given the stories of violence and corruption that fill the media. 

Brazil’s political scandal, known as Lava Jato (“Car Wash”), now in its fifth year, has reached an astonishing scale. Politicians, bankers, businessmen and judges conspired to steal vast sums from the state, regardless of who was in office. 

No fewer than 20 different political parties have had members implicated. More than 200 people have reportedly been charged with crimes, including two former Brazilian presidents, the heads of both houses of Brazil’s Congress, more than 90 lawmakers and one third of Temer’s cabinet. 

The value of bribes paid as part of this scandal is estimated at about $2 billion. Temer himself narrowly avoided being prosecuted on corruption charges. And he is running again, some suggest, to retain immunity from a criminal indictment. 

Meanwhile, crime has become so pervasive in Rio de Janeiro that the military has taken over security in the city until December.

Rather than view the move as an invasion, many violence-weary residents of the favelas, or shantytowns, welcomed it. 

There were 6,731 violent deaths in Rio de Janeiro State in 2017, a 7.5 per cent increase from the previous year. At least 120 police officers were killed, including many in confrontations with drug traffickers.

In 2016, the country registered a record rate of 29.9 homicides for every 100,000 people,  nearly six times that of the United States.

This has even led to some nostalgia for the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. Some Brazilians see them as champions of public order.

An estimated 43 per cent of the population supports a temporary revival of military control, according to a Sept. 9, 2017 poll by the Instituto Parana Pesquisas. The figure is especially high among young people. It’s come to this.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why Are We Going to Mali?


By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal
Mali, a former French colony in the Sahel region of west Africa, is torn by religious and tribal conflicts that aren’t amenable to a quick fix – if at all. It is a failed state, one with various militant groups controlling vast swaths of territory. 

Yet Canada has now decided to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission in a place, unfortunately, where there is no peace to keep. 

Canada will send six helicopters to Mali to help with medical evacuations and the transporting of United Nations troops and supplies.

Mali’s problems go back decades. In the early 1990s the nomadic Tuareg in the north, a Berber people, began an insurgency. It gathered pace in 2007 and after the end of the Libyan Civil War in 2011 an influx of weaponry led to the Tuaregs gaining strength.

By 2012 separatists fighting to make the area an independent homeland called Azawad had taken control of the region.

Mali’s president was then ousted in an army coup, and Islamist groups took advantage of the chaos to impose their own rule in the area.

The government of Mali asked for French help and much of the north, including the fabled city of Timbuktou, was recaptured. But despite sporadic ceasefire agreements between government forces and insurgents, violence remains endemic. 

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was established by the Security Council in 2013. Some 12,600 UN peacekeeping troops officially took over responsibility for patrolling the country's north from France.

As of mid-February, MINUSMA had suffered 162 fatalities, and 80 per cent of the force’s resources are spent on self-protection from northern separatists and Islamic extremists. Things will get worse ahead of presidential elections scheduled for July.

Ottawa will also take the opportunity to increase the number of peacekeepers who are women among the 200 to 250 Canadian military personnel to be deployed to Mali.

Is this just virtue-signaling without regard for unforeseen consequences? Mali is the most dangerous UN mission in the world.

The country is “characterized by worsening human rights, food insecurity and daring attacks on mission forces,” Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN’s under-secretary general for peacekeeping, indicated in his Jan. 23 report.

Most of Mali’s armed groups today fall into one of two major coalitions: the pro-government Platform and the pro-separatist Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). 

The CMA is mainly Tuareg, while Platform is anti-Tuareg.  Islamists have also created a new Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Canada’s mission, aimed at the JNIM, may anger local populations that actually feel more secure under the Islamists.

Last October, four American soldiers were killed in neighbouring Niger, near the Mali border, by Islamists who attacked their convoy. They were hoping to locate an American who had been kidnapped in Mali.

Let’s hope Canadian forces don’t join the list of casualties in this volatile Sahel region.
Mali’s descent into chaos also demonstrates the overly optimistic view many academics take regarding the evolution of political tolerance in many states around the world.

In “Religion, Democracy, and the ‘Twin Tolerations’,” published by the eminent Columbia University political science professor Alfred Stepan in 2000, the country was described as having an “electorally competitive” system. 

“Rethinking Islam and Democracy,” written by Robert Hefner, an anthropologist at Boston University twelve years later, concurred with Stepan’s contention that Mali was an electoral “overachiever” relative to its level of economic development, and concluded that it had “no democracy deficit whatsoever.”

This is, as we now know, was very far from the truth.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Neoliberalism Led to Populism in Eastern Europe


By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
The term “neoliberalism” has come to describe laissez-faire ideas in economic thought. It refers to the anti-tax, anti-government, and anti-labour union agenda that arose in western democracies in the 1980s.

It led to the global market economy that now dominates the world. Our politics and culture serve the needs of a global capitalism requiring the free flow of capital, goods, mobile labour, and market-friendly state policies.

Under this new international regime, as policed by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and global banks, getting the economy in order through deep cuts in public spending, elimination of state-owned economic enterprises, and open access for trade and capital became an inescapable necessity.

Today’s politics concerns itself less with justice than with growth rates, credit ratings, and investment climates, while equality dissolves into market competition.

So contends Wendy Brown, professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the 2015 book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution

This type of alienation among citizens has led to a “revolt of the masses,” bringing to power Donald Trump in the United States and resulting in the Brexit vote  in Britain to leave the European Union in 2016. Voters are losing faith in democratic institutions and norms.

The effects of neoliberalism in Eastern Europe, which only emerged from a Communist “command economy” less than three decades ago, has been even more severe.

As they emerged from Soviet domination, these countries were promised a “transition” to become prosperous free societies like Western Europe within a decade or two. Favouring anything less than open borders, they were told, was xenophobic and racist.

Instead they are now divided between the cosmopolitan and the national, between those who have benefited from economic globalization and those who haven’t, and between political elites and the citizenries who rage against them.

The “sudden rise and ignominious fall” of the liberal project is a central theme of a 2017 book by John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

“The elite of eastern Europe now lives at the level of their western European counterparts. But the problem of underdevelopment in the region stems from the failure of the elite to pull the mass of people into prosperity,” he writes in Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams

Such economic disparities have disrupted, Feffer notes, “the conventional narrative of eastern Europe proceeding smoothly in one direction toward some steady state of market liberalism.”

Entire classes of people in the region -- pensioners, industrial workers, collective farmers – “were simply incapable of accommodating the profound shifts taking place in their society.”

After its post-communist transition, Poland cleaved into two parts that Poles refer to as “Poland A” and “Poland B.” It’s a term I heard when I visited Poland last summer.

After 1989 and the implementation of a series of economic reforms that many called “shock therapy,” Poland A, mainly urban, took off economically. 

But Poland B, encompassing the poorer, older parts of the population, many clustered in the countryside, fell further behind, unable to compete economically.

This was evident when I spent time in cities: Warsaw and Krakow seemed wealthy and youthful, and smaller cities like Czestochowa, my birthplace, seemed fine. 

Further east, though, this is not the case: Hence the rise of the Polish right-wing Law and Justice Party, which came to power in 2014. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, its leader, has called Poland’s entry into the European Union “self-annihilation.”

PiS Prime Minister Beata Szydlo contended in 2015 that the liberal elites criticizing PiS for its actions were doing so for “the defense of bank lobbies and foreign corporations” which “got rich at the expense of Poles.”

In Hungary we see Victor Orban, who became the country’s leader in 2010, transforming his once-liberal Fidecz-Hungarian Civil Alliance into a populist movement, in response to the failed promise of transition. To his right is Jobbik, an even more nationalistic party.

He has created an “illiberal democracy” of competitive authoritarianism. He rails against perceived threats such as the European Union, migrants, international economic institutions, and transnational NGOs.

Even in the Czech Republic, traditionally a model democracy, populists are in the ascendency. Recent parliamentary and presidential elections saw major gains by the right-wing politicians Andrej Babis and Milos Zeman.

Poland and Hungary are already considered to be on their way out of the democratic camp; now the Czechs will join them.

These fault lines seem to run through much of the region.

Russia's Jewish Autonomus Region Celebrates 90th Anniversary

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
On March 28, 1928, nine decades ago, the Soviet Union approved the choice of Birobidzhan, a sparsely populated area of 36,490 square kilometres in the Soviet far east, as a “national Jewish entity.”

On the border with China, it was seven time zones east of Moscow and a six-day journey away on the Trans-Siberian railway.

By May 1928 the first groups of Jewish settlers from cities and villages in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine arrived in the region. By 1932 25,000 Jews were living there. 

To encourage further settlement, in 1934 Birobidzhan was elevated to a Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Region), where Jews could pursue cultural autonomy in a “socialist framework.” As a Communist entity, religious Judaism was frowned upon. 

The capital city was also called Birobidzhan, and Yiddish was the official language. A Yiddish newspaper, the Birobidzhaner Shtern, was launched, and a Yiddish theater founded. 

The work of the police department, courts and city administration was carried out at least partially in Yiddish.

By 1939, almost 18,000 Jews lived in the region – some 16 per cent of the overall population.
This “Red Zion” was established partly as a Soviet alternative to the Zionist project in British-ruled Palestine. 

Another reason was an attempt to try to attract overseas Jewish financial support and investment. Some settlers came from places like Argentina, Canada, the United States, and even Mandatory Palestine itself.

This Russian rival to Zionism was short-lived, though. The region was shaken by Soviet leader JosephStalin’s purges in the late 1930s. Much of the local party leadership was executed and expressions of Jewishness were discouraged.

The region enjoyed another influx of Jews following the Second World War. These were people ho had escaped the Holocaust in the Europeanp o the USSR and had no homes to which to return. 

The local Jewish population peaked at some 50,000, but Birobidzhan was again hit by growing Soviet anti-Semitism in the late 1940s. The new purges were followed by decades of neglect.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, most remaining Jews left Birobidzhan, the majority for Israel.

Today the population of the area, still officially called the Jewish Autonomous Region, is barely one per cent Jewish, but the authorities cultivate the memory of Jewish customs and history and even hope to attract new Jewish migrants.

If the local government gets its way, more Jews would move to the region. Birobidzhan’s proximity to China could provide advantages for businesses wanting to penetrate the Chinese market.

The region has an extensive border with northern China along the Amur River – about 600 kilometres. The first railway bridge across the river, linking the two countries, is being built and trade with China is what makes the local economy function.

I have published two books on the Canadian and American activists who supported the Jewish Autonomous Region from the 1920s through the early 1950s and so know quite a bit about the region.

In a way my research has come full circle. I recently sent my extensive microfiche collection, comprising about 400 microfiche transparencies, which I used when writing my books, to Nikolai Borodulin in New York, who works on Soviet Jewish issues. 

He is Russian-born, and now works n the United States, and he has sent off the collection, plus other materials , to the state library in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. 

They will copy these and therefore have a complete set of the complete run of the three Yiddish-language pro-Birobidzhan magazines, published from 1924 to 1951, in the collection.

Stalin had destroyed most of the library’s holdings after 1948, when the second wave of anti-Semitic repression enveloped the region.  It’s nice to think they’ll be back “home.”