Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, September 19, 2016

9/11 Attack: 15 Years Later

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

It’s become de rigueur: every Sept. 11 since 2001, Americans commemorate the most devastating foreign attack on American soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the Second World War. All told, more than 3,000 Americans died that Tuesday.

The eight-acre memorial quadrant, with its 400 trees, at Ground Zero in New York, site of the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, is now a place made sacred through tragic loss.

But how has this affected the struggle to defeat Islamist attempts to undermine America? It’s a mixed bag.

On the one hand, al-Qaeda, the perpetrator, is much weakened and has been unable to launch another major operation against the U.S. The mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was himself killed in Pakistan in 2011.

But this has come at a tremendous cost. In the last 15 years, over 6,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more have returned home with physical and mental injuries.

Also, perhaps due to the ensuing destabilization of large parts of the Arab world, other groups have emerged which may prove even more deadly. The Islamic State, which controls huge chunks of territory, is just one of many.

“The threat is actually worse: It has metastasized and spread geographically,” according to Richard Clarke, a former terrorism adviser to three presidents.

“Today there are probably 100,000 people in the various terrorist groups around the world, and that’s much larger than anything we had 15 years ago,” he warned.

Domestically, the fabric of American society was changed utterly, and debates no one could have imagined before 2001, including Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country, are now part of the national conversation.

It’s true that the only significant acts of terrorism in the past 15 years have involved so-called “lone wolves” inspired by the Islamic State, as the recent killings in Boston, San Bernardino, California and Orlando, Florida, demonstrated.

They targeted places of limited strategic value such as night clubs and conference centres, which cannot readily be protected.

These perpetrators have in most cases lived under the radar. These attacks can neither be deterred nor reliably detected beforehand, and have been enormously effective in sowing fear and panic.

In fact, so jittery have Americans become that when erroneous reports of gunfire spread like wildfire at Los Angeles International Airport in late August, a veritable stampede ensued as passengers fled outside.

So when politicians, including Barack Obama, insist that terrorists will not change “how we conduct our lives,” that’s just whistling past the graveyard.

America’s involvement in the War on Terror resulted in a dramatic change in attitudes and concerns about safety and vigilance. It ushered in a new generation of policies like the Patriot Act, often at the expense of civil liberties.

The act expanded federal powers to keep tabs on personal information, through a vast, clandestine network of phone and web surveillance.

Today, some 4,000 federal, state, and local organizations take part in domestic counter-terrorism efforts; the National Security Agency alone employs about 30,000 people. Americans have by now spent an estimated $1trillion on enhanced security.

Two months after the attacks, Congress federalized airport security by creating the Transportation Security Administration. Additional security steps tacked on a significant amount of travel time for the average passenger, while infringing on privacy rights.

In many ways, thanks to Sept. 11, 2001, Americans now live in a world closer to that of George Orwell’s “1984.”

The "Pay-to-Play" Foundation

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Despite news about her health, Hillary Clinton remains determined to become president of the United States.

In fact, though Clinton may have been Barack Obama’s Secretary of State only between 2009 and 2013, that didn’t stop her from running what is in effect a shadow foreign office, under the aegis of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Begun in 1997, the Foundation has amassed roughly $2 billion, including huge amounts from foreign potentates and plutocrats. It has been funded almost entirely by donors, and to the extent anyone in the Clinton family provided money, it was largely through speaking fees for Bill or Hillary Clinton.

The Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.

At least 180 contributors to the Clinton Foundation lobbied the State Department while Hillary Clinton ran it. She met with representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that donated as much as $170 million to the Clinton charity.

The countries include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei, and Algeria. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself donated between $10 and $25 million – and Clinton approved a $29 billion sale of fighter jets to the country.

Such requests would often come through Douglas Band, a long-time Bill Clinton aide, who routed them to Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and confidante, Huma Abedin.

In addition to being on Hillary Clinton’s personal payroll, Abedin received money from the Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded in part by Band.

For example, in 2009 Band asked Abedin if Clinton could meet with “our good friend” Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin al-Khalifa of Bahrain. Salman, who had given the foundation $32 million, met with Clinton, who later approved a $630 million arms sale to Bahrain.

That same year Band also sought to arrange a meeting for Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian real estate developer with vast business interests who donated between $1 million and $5 million.

Chagoury was once a senior adviser to Nigeria’s longtime dictator Sani Abacha and in 2001 admitted assisting the family of the deceased despot in transferring $300 million into foreign bank accounts.

This and numerous other exchanges “illustrate the way the Clintons’ international network of friends and donors was able to get access to Hillary Clinton and her inner circle during her tenure running the State Department,” stated an Aug. 22 Washington Post article by Spencer Hsu and Tom Hamburger.

Between September 2011 and November 2012, Douglas E. Schoen, a former political consultant for Mr. Clinton, arranged about a dozen meetings with State Department officials with or on behalf of Victor Pinchuk, a steel magnate whose father-in-law, Leonid Kuchma, was president of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005. Kuchma’s government had been widely criticized for corruption and the murder of journalists.

Pinchuk, who has directed between $10 million and $25 million to the Foundation, has been invited to dinner at the Clintons’ home, lent his private plane to the Clintons, and traveled to Los Angeles in 2011 to attend Mr. Clinton’s 65th birthday celebration.

In 2012 daughter Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, visited Kyiv at Pinchick’s invitation.

A year later, the Commerce Department began investigating complaints that Pinchuk’s company, Interpipe, was part of a consortium of firms that had illegally dumped a type of steel tube on the American market at artificially low prices.

The Clintons have been pals with the wealthy and powerful almost from the time Bill Clinton left office in 2001.

Frank Giustra, a billionaire mining magnate from Vancouver, met Bill Clinton in 2005 aboard his private jet, which he had lent the former president for a trip to South America. Before long, Giustra had pledged $100 million.

In Colombia, where his investments included oil, timber, and coal mines, Giustra dined one evening in 2010 with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who both met with Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, the next day.

Soon after, one company in which Giustra held a stake acquired the right to cut timber in a biologically diverse forest, and another was granted valuable oil drilling rights.

A similar situation unfolded in Kazakhstan that year, when Giustra and Clinton dined with the country’s authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Days later, Giustra’s mining company signed an agreement giving it stakes in three state-run uranium mines.

Connect the dots.

Monday, September 12, 2016

In Gabon, A Disputed Election is Nothing New

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
In 1990, while I was teaching political science at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, a friend at the school was granted a Fulbright Fellowship to spend a year at Université Omar Bongo in Libreville, in the West African country of Gabon.

He was shocked at what he found: a state in the hands of a kleptocratic coterie of wealthy supporters of then President Omar Bongo Ondimba, and soldiers with automatic weapons patrolling the university that bore his name.

A quarter century later, the same family rules Gabon and things have become, if anything, even worse.

Omar Bongo, as head of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), assumed the presidency in 1967, seven years after independence from France. He would rule until his death in 2009, winning six often disputed elections.

In 2003 the constitution was amended to repeal term limits. At the time of his death, he was Africa’s longest-serving head of state.

Ali Bongo Ondimba, his son, has been president since, winning power in 2009 in a violence-marred election. During his father’s rule, he had been minister of foreign affairs from 1989 to 1991, and minister of defence from 1999 to 2009.

The most recent presidential election was held on Aug. 27, and Bongo was declared the winner, with 49.8 per cent of the vote. His rival Jean Ping, a former chairman of the African Union who won the endorsement of the main opposition Front for Political Change coalition, came second with 48.2 per cent.

Ping disputed the result after the official announcement that Bongo had won by fewer than 6,000 votes. Ping came first in six out of nine provinces but the result in Bongo’s home province of Haut-Ogooue, where turnout was 99.9 per cent and 95 per cent of the votes were for the president, was clearly fraudulent.

Turnout in the other provinces was between 45 and 71 per cent, with a nationwide turnout of 59.4 percent.

“The Gabonese people and the world can clearly see the fraud, lies and manipulation,” declared Ping. He added that contesting the results through Gabon’s constitutional court, the official channel for complaints, was pointless.

Ping had once been one of Omar Bongo’s closest allies and was considered one of the most powerful figures in Gabon; he had served as Bongo’s foreign minister from 1999 to 2008. But he resigned from the PDG two years ago, becoming Ali Bongo’s main rival.

Ping said that the presidential guard attacked his party’s headquarters. Police also arrested more than 1,100 people after nights of riots and looting by protestors in Libreville.

Abundant petroleum and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. But inequality in income distribution leaves a third of its 1.5 million people mired in poverty.

Ali Bongo’s presidency has been overshadowed by a long-running French investigation into the Bongo family’s assets. Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his time in office, and was accused of embezzling oil revenues and bribery.

The family owns some 40 sumptuous properties in Paris and elsewhere in France. There were revelations in 2015 of secret Monaco bank accounts of more than 30 million euros.
Critics had long accused the former president of running the country as his private property.
This unfortunately seems par for the course in many African states.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The History of Israeli-African Relations

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu’s successful visit to four east African countries – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia -- earlier this summer, we might recall the ups and downs of the Jewish state’s seven decades long relationship with the continent it borders to its southwest.

In the first two decades of Israel’s independence, the nation worked assiduously at establishing a presence in newly sovereign African countries. After all, the Jewish state had itself emerged from colonial control in 1948.

Israel was involved in multiple foreign-aid projects in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s as part of its quest to gain political allies and determine its place in the decolonized world.

Israel dispatched diplomats across the continent, opening two dozen embassies. The first was opened in Accra, Ghana, when that country attained independence. Soon Israeli ambassadors operated in 33 countries and the country was, for a period, a major aid donor. Israel had at times the second-largest diplomatic presence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Not long afterwards, then foreign minister Golda Meir made a five-week trip to Africa and had the first high-level discussions with African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, William Tubman, and Felix Houphouet-Boigny.z

She believed that Israel had experience in nation-building that could be a model for the Africans.

“Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves,” she wrote in her autobiography My Life.

Israel could be a role model because it “had been forced to find solutions to the kinds of problems that large, wealthy, powerful states had never encountered.” She added that “we had something we wanted to pass on to nations that were even younger and less experienced than ourselves.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion told the Knesset in 1960 that “Our aid to the new countries” is not a matter of philanthropy. “We are no less in need of the fraternity of friendship of the new nations than they are of our assistance.”

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Israel sent experts in agriculture and development and helped establish agricultural cooperatives, youth training programs, medical infrastructure and joint industrial enterprises in a number of sub-Saharan countries.

Given the number of eye diseases on the continent, ophthalmology became Israel’s largest and longest-lasting medical aid program.

In 1962, Newsweek magazine called the Israeli program “one of the strangest unofficial alliances in the world.” But all that began to change as the Israeli-Arab conflict drove a wedge between African countries and the Jewish state.

Pressure from Arab nations, promising aid, and accentuated by the 1967 and 1973 wars between Israel and its neighbors, led most African states to cut their relations with Jerusalem.

Between June 12, 1967, and November 13, 1973, 29 African states broke relations with Israel; many also gave the Palestine Liberation Organization diplomatic status. After the Yom Kippur War, only Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel.

In November 1975, the nadir in Israeli-African relations came when 19 African countries voted in favor of the infamous United Nations General Assembly resolution identifying Zionism with racism, although five African countries -- Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Malawi, Swaziland, and the Central African Republic -- voted against the draft and sixteen other African countries abstained.

But since the 1980s, diplomatic relations with Sub-Saharan countries have been gradually renewed. By the late 1990s, official ties had been re-established with forty countries south of the Sahara, including a number of Muslim-majority states.

In June 2004, Israel and Ethiopia signed an agreement for cultural, educational and scientific cooperation, as well as a convention eliminating double taxation.

In April 2008, a trade agreement signalled a significant upgrading of Israeli aid to Africa. The joint declaration on trade and economic cooperation was signed in Jerusalem by government ministers from the African nations of Rwanda, Burundi, Benin and Liberia and Israel’s Minister of Trade and Industry Eli Yishai.

It included an Israeli commitment to help the African countries build infrastructure and technology, while also seeking to open new export markets for Israeli industries.

Since its establishment in 2008, Innovation Africa, an Israeli organization dedicated to improving the lives of rural villagers in Africa, has provided the people they serve with access to many Israeli technologies. Solar panels and drip irrigation systems have been installed in Malawan, Ugandan, Tanzanian, and South African villages.

In 2011, Israel formalized diplomatic relations with the newly established country of South Sudan. Additionally, it renewed its ties with Ghana after nearly four decades. In November 2012, Israel provided the University of Ghana with a $217 million loan to construct a 600-bed teaching hospital at Legon.

In May 2014, the Africa-Israel Initiative was launched in Ghana, with the expressed goal of lobbying and advocating for Israel’s strength and survival.

The Israeli Embassy in Senegal inaugurated a drip-irrigation farm project in the Senegalese city of Fatick in December 2014. Israeli firm Gigawatt Global began a project to increase solar energy capacity in Rwanda during February 2014.

On July 20 of this year, Israel resumed diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guinea, the small, overwhelmingly Muslim country in West Africa that had also cut ties with the Jewish state in 1967.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold also met President Idriss Déby of Chad on July 14 at his presidential palace in the city of Fada, in the heart of the Saharan desert. The country had severed diplomatic ties with Jerusalem in the 1970s.

 “Israel is calling on the countries that still haven’t renewed diplomatic relations to follow in Guinea’s footsteps so that we can work together to the benefit of all peoples in the region,” remarked Gold.

And during his African trip Netanyahu announced the intention of Tanzania to open its first-ever embassy in Tel Aviv. He also said the leaders of his host countries vowed publicly to push for Israel to regain observer status at the African Union. Chad this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union.

All of this is good news.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Is Trump Part of "Alt-Right" Movement?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
Ever since he entered the race to become the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump has been accused of being a bigot, a racist, an anti-Semite, a xenophobe, a nativist, a right-wing populist, and a fascist.

He has been compared to, among others, Benito Mussolini, Juan Peron, Vladimir Putin, even Hitler, as well as notorious Americans of the past such as Huey Long, Father Coughlin and George Wallace.

David Duke, the Louisiana neo-Nazi and one-time Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, expresses approval of Trump’s positions. He told National Public Radio that “nobody will be more supportive of his legislative agenda, his supreme court agenda, than I will.”

The leader of the American Nazi Party, Rocky Suhayda, has asserted that the election of Trump as president would present “a real opportunity for people like white nationalists” to start “acting intelligently.”

This is not good news for Trump, because Hillary Clinton is doing her best to associate him with the so-called “alt-right” movement.

On Aug. 25, in an address in Reno, NV, Clinton accused Trump of submitting to an “emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.”

“Alt-right” is short for “alternative right,” to distinguish the movement from mainstream conservatism. The movement is largely a rebranding of various white supremacist groups whose essential character is one of strident ethno-nationalism.

It rejects “political correctness,” multiculturalism, diversity, and a globalist philosophy it considers elitist and anti-Western, and it is often associated with efforts to preserve “white identity.” It also opposes feminism, gay rights, and gun control.

It began with a speech the “paleo-conservative” writer Paul Gottfried gave in 2008, following the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.

Gottfried, a retired professor of humanities at Elizabeth College in Elizabethtown, PA., called for an “alternative right” that could defeat “the neoconservative-controlled conservative establishment.”

That idea was soon adopted by the “identitarian” nationalist Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, and its Radix Journal, founded  in 2012.

Spencer, who went to the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, maintains that white Americans need to “resist our dispossession.” In an interview with the Associated Press at the Republican National Convention last July, he advocated removing Blacks, Hispanics and Jews from the country.

Kevin MacDonald, a former psychology professor at California State University in Long Beach, CA, and an alt-right theorist, remarked that “white people in America are becoming a minority that is increasingly being victimized, and there’s a cost to multiculturalism and immigration.”

Another alt-right supporter, Jared Taylor, holds degrees from Yale and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, and is the founder of the American Renaissance online magazine, which he started in 1990 as part of his New Century Foundation.

He asks, rhetorically, “Do you really believe that a future Afro-Hispanic-Caribbean-Asiatic America will be anything like the America your ancestors built?”

The website Breitbart News Network has become a popular outlet for alt-right views. Stephen Bannon, who has been serving as its executive chairman, was named the Trump campaign’s chief executive on Aug. 17.

It is true that Trump’s “America First” campaign slogan has attracted many on the alt-right, drawn in particular to his pledges to deport the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally and to temporarily bar foreign Muslims from the U.S.

But Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks has responded to charges that Trump has encouraged the movement by stating that he has “never used or condoned that term and continues to disavow any groups or individuals associated with a message of hate.”

Fethullah Gulen on Israel and Jews

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
 
The reclusive Turkish cleric who heads Turkey’s influential Hizmet (Service) movement has become front-page news since the abortive coup in Turkey.

Fethullah Gulen, who lives in semi-seclusion in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, has been accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of masterminding the July 15 attempt to overthrow him.

Gulen has denied any involvement. “My message to the Turkish people is never to view any military intervention positively,” he stated, “because through military intervention, democracy cannot be achieved.”

The 75-year-old imam began preaching in the Aegean city of Izmir in the 1970s, and soon began urging his followers to “move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers.”

In 2000 Turkey’s authorities, under the secular government of Bulent Ecevit, charged him with plotting to overthrow the government but he had moved to United States two years earlier. A Turkish court acquitted the preacher of the charges in 2003, but he remained in the U.S.

As a fellow moderate Islamist, Gulen at first backed Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party, helping it to its electoral victories after 2002.

But in 2013 the alliance began to come apart, as police investigations into government corruption were blamed by Erdogan on Gulan.

Erdogan has compared Gulen and his supporters to a virus and a medieval cult of assassins. An official from Erdogan’s ruling AKP called the Gulen movement a fifth column.

Gulen and Erdogan had an earlier confrontation in 2010 over the Israeli commando raid that May on the Mavi Marmara, one of six civilian ships of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” organized by the Free Gaza Movement, a coalition which included the Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH).

They were trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed, and Turkish-Israeli relations have only recently recovered, paving the way for the restoration of full diplomatic ties.

While Erdogan angrily denounced the Israeli action, Gulen criticized the organizers’ failure to reach an accommodation with Israel.

“What I saw was not pretty, it was ugly,” he told the Wall Street Journal on June 4, 2010. Gulen described their conduct as “a sign of defying authority and will not lead to fruitful matters.”

American Jewish organizations have been somewhat wary of Gulen, particularly because of past sermons and writings that Joshua Hendrick, a sociologist at Baltimore’s Loyola University, described as highlighting Jews as a crafty, wily group of people.

“This intelligent tribe has put forth many things throughout history in the name of science and thought,” Gulen wrote in a 1995 book. “But these have always been offered in the form of poisoned honey and have been presented to the world as such.” He added that they had an “incurable enmity to Islam and Muslims.”

His supporters today, however, describe Gulen as a moderate Muslim cleric who champions interfaith tolerance and dialogue.

Gulen does seem to have moderated his views towards Jews and Christians, and now condemns anti-Semitism. In the late 1990s, he met at least twice with senior delegations from the Anti-Defamation League.

“Gulen talked about his moderation regarding Islam, the Jews, Israel, and expressed reasonable and non-extremist views,” Kenneth Jacobson, who currently serves as the ADL’s deputy national director, recalled in 2005 about his first encounter with Gulen.

In 1998, Gulen met with Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron in Istanbul, a visit that came about at the initiative of the cultural attaché in the Israeli consulate. This was the first time that a chief rabbi came on an official visit from Israel to Turkey.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine in August 2013, Gulen stated that “I had a chance to get to know practitioners of non-Muslim faiths better, and I felt a need to revise my expressions from earlier periods.

“I realized and then stated that the critiques and condemnations that are found in the Quran or prophetic tradition are not targeted against people who belong to a religious group,” but “can be found in any person.”


Monday, August 29, 2016

Slovenia a Successful Balkan Nation



Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
Lucky is the country that is rarely in the news! That certainly applies to the small former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia in the Balkans.

Insofar as many people have lately heard of it, it’s because Donald Trump’s wife Melania comes from there. 

Even now, it’s often confused with the central European nation of Slovakia.

Bordering Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Italy, the two million people of Slovenia are almost all ethnic Slovenes who speak their native Slovenian. Roman Catholicism constitutes the religion of 97 per cent of the population.

Among the most homogeneous countries in Europe, Slovenia largely escaped the brutalities that engulfed the breakup of Yugoslavia, mainly because there were no large minorities within its borders who wished to secede and join another of its former states. 

That was not the case elsewhere, where many Croats, Serbs, and Kosovar Albanians, suddenly found themselves stuck in new countries they didn’t want to live in.

The Slovene lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the latter’s dissolution at the end of the First World War. In 1918, the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new multinational state, which was named Yugoslavia in 1929. 

After World War II, Slovenia became a republic of the renewed, and Communist, Yugoslavia. As that country disintegrated, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war.

Save for a territorial dispute with Croatia over the waters of the Piran Gulf in the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia has no quarrels with its neighbours. So, with few ethnic or religious issues, and given its historical ties to Western Europe, Slovenia had no trouble joining both NATO and the European Union in 2004. 

In 2007 it also became the first former Communist country to make the euro its currency, and in 2010 it joined the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the global association of high-income developed countries committed to democracy and market economy.

Slovenia’s education system ranks as the 12th best in the world and 4th best in the EU, and significantly higher than the OECD average. More than 85 per cent of adults have completed secondary education and literacy is almost universal. In terms of health, life expectancy at birth is almost 80 years.

A highly educated workforce and a well-developed infrastructure makes for a vibrant economy. Per capita income in Slovenia is US$31,007 in purchasing power parity, making it the second richest of the Slavic countries, behind the Czech Republic.

A parliamentary republic, Slovenia’s largely ceremonial president is directly elected by absolute majority popular vote, in two rounds if needed, for a five-year term. Social Democrat Borut Pahor was elected president with 67.4 per cent of the vote in 2012, defeating incumbent President Danilo Turk.

The bicameral parliament consists of the 40-member National Council, primarily an advisory body with limited legislative power, and the National Assembly, with 88 members  directly elected in single-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote, and two directly elected in special constituencies for Italian and Hungarian minorities by simple majority vote, all for four-year terms.

The most recent elections were held in 2014, with a new party, the Modern Centre, formed by Miro Cerar, winning 34.6 per cent of the vote and 36 seats, followed by the Slovenian Democratic Party with 20.7 per cent and 21 seats. 

Cerar then assumed the office of prime minister, heading a three-party coalition that includes the Democratic Party of Pensioners and the Social Democrats.


The Lucky Microstates

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Microstates are very small independent countries usually functioning in close, but voluntary, association with their respective larger neighbour or neighbours. Jurisdictions with little territory and a small population, they nevertheless share most of the features of larger states, including sovereignty and international recognition.

The political science literature on microstates demonstrates, in the words of the late Austrian economist and philosopher Leopold Kohr, that “small is beautiful.” But paradoxically, small may also be safe, as Europe’s microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and San Marino have shown. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is also sometimes referred to as a microstate, but at 576,000 people, it is far larger than the others.

These states have been autonomous or independent for most of their centuries-long history and were rarely attacked. They were situated in places offering shelter from invasion, and all but Monaco are landlocked. As a result, political and military powers left them alone.

But that by itself would not have sufficed. For centuries, a combination of political skill, resilience and even luck allowed them to survive Europe’s political conflicts.

As Barry Bartmann pointed out in an article published in 2013, “If the microstates had not entered into unequal alliances with larger neighbours, they most probably would have simply disappeared from the political map of Europe. In fact, their continual presence was widely perceived as a ‘historical accident.’”

The Principality of Andorra, population 85,000, a feudal remnant high in the Pyrenees, has been a separate polity since 1278, under the joint rule of French and Spanish overlords. Since 1993 Andorra has been a parliamentary democracy, but it maintains two co-princes, one being France’s elected head of state, currently Francois Holland, and the other being the Spanish Bishop of Urgell, Joan Enric Vives i Sicília.

The Principality of Liechtenstein, population almost 37,000, was created in 1719 as a fief for the wealthy Austrian House of Liechtenstein. Owing to its geographic position between Austria and Switzerland, it was not swallowed up during the unification of Germany in the 19th century. Prince Hans-Adam II is the current monarch.

The Principality of Monaco on the French Riviera has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since the 13th century, and achieved full independence in 1860. Its 37,000 people are led by Prince Albert II.

The Republic of San Marino is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. Founded in 301, it is the last survivor of a large number of self-governing Italian communes from the Middle Ages. Its 31,000 citizens survived the unification of Italy in the 19th century, largely owing to its remote location in a valley of the Apennines.

San Marino has two heads of state, from different political parties, known as the Captains Regent, elected every six months by the the country's parliament. The two current occupants are Massimo Andrea Ugolini and Gian Nicola Berti.

The Second World War was challenging for these states. Andorra, situated between Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain and the pro-Nazi Vichy government in France, managed to remain neutral and was an important smuggling route from Spain into France. The French Resistance used the country as part of their route to get downed airmen out of France.

In 1919, Liechtenstein and Switzerland signed a treaty under which Switzerland assumed responsibility for Liechtenstein's diplomacy and defense.

Although Liechtenstein, like Switzerland, remained largely unaffected by the war, the conflict resulted in the royal family losing its possessions in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. After the war, Czechoslovakia and Poland considered these lands German property and took possession of them.

Monaco remained neutral, and after the Nazi occupation of France, Monaco’s Prince Louis II expressed his support for the German-backed Vichy regime. The Italians, however, invaded the country first in 1940 and then again in 1942.

Later in the war, Nazi troops ousted the Italians and occupied Monaco in turn. Allied troops liberated the country in 1944.

San Marino, too, remained neutral, though surrounded by Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy. However, it was the target of a British bombing raid in 1944 and was briefly occupied by first the Germans and later the Allies that year, but soon was returned to local control.

Given the enormity of the European conflict, all four of these polities survived fairly well, despite their Lilliputian size.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Turkey: One Month After Coup Attempt

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
A month has passed since the July 15 failed coup in Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continued to consolidate his power.

Indeed, not since the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern Turkish Republic, has any figure dominated the country for as long as Erdogan has.

Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who has lived in the United States since 1999, is accused of being the mastermind behind the failed coup attempt. The ensuing purge of suspected “Gulenists” has seen some 82,000 people fired or suspended from their jobs as academics, judges, and military officials.

Even a national idol like Hakan Sukur, who in 2002 was part of the Turkish soccer team that made it all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup, and was elected to parliament in 2011 on Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), has now gone into hiding, accused of being part of Gulen’s movement.

Angry at the lack of western sympathy, and Washington’s continued unwillingness to extradite Gulen to Turkey, Erdogan is mending fences with a fellow autocrat. Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed him to St. Petersburg on Aug. 9.

Why the sudden turnabout? After all, Russia and Turkey were nearly at war with one another just a few months ago. In November, the Turks shot down a Russian jet that had entered their airspace from Syria, and the two countries are on diametrically opposite sides of the Syrian conflict.

But Erdogan has decided that he wants less contact with the liberal democracies of Europe and America, according to journalist Anne Applebaum. After all, these are “states that believe in the legal norms which Erdogan wants to repress, states that might support the people Erdogan wants to lock up,” she noted in a Washington Post commentary.

The Russian president spoke at some length about restoring Russian-Turkish trade, resuming energy projects, lifting restrictions on tourism and reopening Russia’s construction sector to Turkish firms and workers.

Sanctions imposed by the Kremlin last autumn have hurt. Turkish exports to Russia dropped by 60 per cent in the first half of the year.

Erdogan sees around him a web of conspiracies and threats. Indeed, many around him are convinced that the United States was itself involved in the attempt to remove him.

Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag has said that Washington would be sacrificing its alliance with Ankara to a “terrorist” if it were to refuse to extradite Gulen. He told the state-run Anadolu Agency that anti-American sentiment in Turkey is reaching “its peak” over the issue and risks turning into hatred.

Bozdag’s remarks, which imply that Washington knew what was coming and did nothing, are being echoed by the pro-Erdogan media.

The president continues to move forward with his long-term project: the rejection of secular Kemalism in what he defines as the “New Turkey” – in actuality, a reversion to the glories of its Ottoman past as a Muslim empire.

Two Albanian-Majority Countries Fear Growth of Islamism

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The Muslim populations of the two Balkan ethnic-majority Albanian states have historically practised a moderate form of Sunni Islam. In Albania and Kosovo, some fear that this may be changing.

Despite a centuries-old tradition of religious tolerance among Albania’s 2.8 million people, the Islamic State (ISIS) has found a small but devoted following.

More than 100 Albanians have traveled to the Middle East to join the terrorist group, and a few have gained prominence.

Their call to Islamist militancy has been echoed by a handful of ultra-conservative mosques that have sprung up in Albania in recent years, some of them built with help from Islamic charities and missionaries from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region.

Ironically, for nearly 50 years until the collapse of communism in 1990, the country’s Marxist leaders proclaimed Albania to be the world’s first atheist state, officially banning religious observances and persecuting imams and priests.

But the fall of Communism provided an opening for extremists. Islamic charities, some with the backing of oil-rich Gulf kingdoms, began building mosques and madrassas. Young students were offered scholarships to study theology under the tutelage of fundamentalist clerics in Saudi Arabia.

In the past decade, Albania has witnessed a proliferation of independent mosques, unaffiliated with the Muslim Community of Albania, the organization that presides over the country’s moderate worship centers.

Extremist messages find fertile ground in poorer neighborhoods and villages, where official corruption is high and unemployment among young adults often exceeds 40 per cent.

“Religion has never been the problem here; it’s education. It’s the lack of a developed civil society. And it’s poverty, especially in the remote areas,” Ylli Manjani, the country’s justice minister, remarked in an interview with the Washington Post.

Albania’s government has now passed laws forbidding participation in the Islamic State, and the security services have cracked down on recruits making the trek to Iraq and Syria. Some mosques were closed or forced to change leadership.

Three clerics and six others were sentenced in May to prison terms of up to 18 years for encouraging young Albanians to embrace violent jihad.

In Kosovo, whose 1.8 million mostly ethnic Albanians were liberated by NATO from Serbian domination in 1999, extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudis and others have also transformed a once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism.

Newly-arrived clerics sought to overtake the Islamic Community of Kosovo, an organization that for generations has been the custodian of the tolerant form of Islam that was practiced in the region.

Saudi-sponsored charities often paid salaries and overhead costs, and financed courses in religion, as well as English and computer classes. Many were funded by Al Waqf al Islami, a Saudi organization that was one of 19 eventually closed by investigators.

Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil.

 “They promoted political Islam,” according to Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police, who spoke to the New York Times. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature.”

Some 200 Kosovars took advantage of scholarships after the war to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Many returned with missionary zeal.

Kosovo now has 240 mosques built since the 1999 war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism.

The influence of the radical clerics reached its apex with the war in Syria, as they extolled the virtues of jihad and urged young people to go there.

Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars, including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children, who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

Kosovo’s interior minister, Skender Hyseni, recently reprimanded some of the senior religious officials.

“I told them they were doing a great disservice to their country,” he stated. “Kosovo is by definition, by Constitution, a secular society. There has always been historically an unspoken interreligious tolerance among Albanians here, and we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

It won’t be easy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Growing Ethnic Polarization is Dominating U.S. Elections

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax] Chronicle Herald

The presidential race is bringing out some of the worst aspects of politics in the U.S. by pitting different demographic groups against each other.

This year, for the first time in decades, overt white nationalism has become a factor in national politics.

Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s former communications director, says the Republican Party is now essentially driven “by a set of white identity politics.”

Donald Trump’s followers are overwhelmingly white. Opposition views him as illegitimate for his nativist nationalism and resistance to multiculturalism. These groups are completely in Hillary Clinton’s camp. The Democratic Party is more than a choice; it is their “home.”

We are beginning to see the kind of ethnic polarization in America that ruins countries. In such places, there is no overarching sense of common identity or culture, but rather antagonistic groups living side by side.

In such societies, political parties become vehicles of ethnic groups, regardless of platforms or names. Even those leaders who would rather place stress on economic or other issues have frequently found it easier to mobilize people along ethnic lines.

Once parties are organized on ethnic lines voters will vote for the party that represents their group, regardless of the individuals running for office.

So Fiji has “ethnic Fijian” and “Indo-Fijian” parties, Guyana “Afro-Guyanese” and “Indo-Guyanese” parties, Sri Lanka “Tamil” and “Sinhalese” parties, and so on.

In Africa, with its artificial states, a host of parties serve as vehicles for competing ethnicities. Even the United Kingdom now has Scottish and Welsh parties (as well as Catholic and Protestant ones in Northern Ireland).

How many votes would the Zionist Likud get among Israeli Arabs, even if they were promised the moon? How many Israeli Jews vote for Balad and Hadash, two of the four Arab parties that comprise the Joint List, an Israeli Arab political grouping?

In ethnically divided party systems we get “outbidding.” Parties at the extremes create ever greater polarization in the political system.

As Carleton University political science professor Stephen Saideman notes, “Political leaders competing for support from an ethnically homogeneous group have really strong incentives to demonize outgroups to gain political support.” Governance becomes very difficult across this divide.

Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a white, working-class party with its epicenter in the South and interior West. The Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites, along with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of cities.

This divide will widen. According to the American National Election Studies, the white percentage of the national vote has dropped steadily from around 95 per cent in 1948-1960 to 73 per cent by 2012. By 2055, whites will be in the minority and no longer a viable mainstream for American politics. Democrats represent growing demographic groups, not shrinking ones like the white working class.

In California, race-based voting is creating a one-party state. Republicans, the de facto white party, can no longer win power there due to a massive demographic shift.

In 1940, 90 per cent of Californians were white and the GOP carried the state reliably in presidential elections. Today more than 60 per cent of the state is non-white, with Latinos set to become a majority by 2050. They are already a majority of youth. So California is now solidly Democratic.

Welcome to the world of ethnic hostility, where election results, in the words of political scientist Donald Horowitz, become little more than a census count of competing ethnicities.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Will Victims of Genocide Obtain Justice?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
On May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court found General Efrain Rios Montt, former de facto head of state, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during his 17-month rule in 1982 and 1983. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

In a country long mired in corruption and lacking accountability, an ongoing civil war had pitted Marxist guerrillas against the murderous regimes that governed it. Before it finally ended in 1996, some 200,000 Guatemalans were killed and missing during the conflict, making it one of Latin America's most violent wars in modern history.

Indigenous Mayas suffered disproportionately, as his government deliberately targeted thousands of indigenous people suspected of harboring sympathies for, supporting, or participating in the rebel movement.

The court described the nature of the violence deployed against the indigenous Maya Ixil people  as including indiscriminate massacres, rape and sexual violence against women, infanticide, the destruction of crops to induce starvation, the abduction of children, and the forcible displacement and relocation of surviving populations into militarized “model villages.”

The court found that the crimes were committed as part of a systematic plan to destroy the Maya Ixil as a group. Racism, the tribunal found, was one of the causes of the genocide. Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Sebastian Elgueta, representing Amnesty International, stated that “With this conviction, Guatemala leads by example in a region where entrenched impunity for past crimes sadly remains the norm.”

The Washington-based Center for Legal Action for Human Rights (CALDH), the non-governmental human rights organization behind the Rios Montt genocide case, declared that the judgment “confirms what has been claimed over the past 30 years, and acknowledges that crimes against humanity should be punished in order to ensure that they never again occur.”

The Guatemalan army high command had planned and launched a series of operations that transformed counterinsurgency into acts of genocide. For example, it perpetrated the Finca San Francisco massacre on July 17, 1982, as part of its scorched earth policy. CALDH mobilized massacre survivors to become participants in the trial.

CALDH had filed petitions on behalf of victims before the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Its Guatemala office interviewed victims’ family members, prepared affidavits, reviewed court records, conducted investigations of court procedures and wrote reports.

The trial and verdict were hailed as an example of justice for Latin America and the world. The region leads the world in efforts to prosecute perpetrators of gross violations of human rights in domestic courts.

But Rios Mont’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal, and the country’s Constitutional Court struck down the conviction on procedural grounds.

On March 16 of this year, a Guatemalan court convened for a new trial. But due to the former dictator’s advanced age – he is 90 years old –and medical and psychiatric condition, the special proceeding can determine his guilt or innocence, but would not result in any punishment if he is convicted.

Nonetheless, the very fact that the initial trial took place at all is historically and politically significant. The trial involved approximately one thousand volunteers from a dozen countries who acted as “international accompaniers.” Their physical presence served to deter political violence against local human rights defenders and witnesses.

Even after the abrogation of the guilty verdict against Rios Montt, young people from the group Sons and Daughters of the Disappeared issued the following statement: “More than a failure, this can breathe life into our ongoing fight for justice.”

Pier 21 Was a Gateway to Canada

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

On July 28, 1948, my parents arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, with me in tow, as displaced persons following the Second World War. I had turned three years old during the voyage.

We travelled on a Greek ship, the Nea Hellas, that had left Genoa in Italy earlier that month. Most of the passengers were seasick; I apparently was not.

My parents were Polish Jews whose families had all been murdered by the Nazis. Miraculously, though they spent much of the war in HASAG, a Nazi concentration camp located in their hometown, Czestochowa, they both survived the war.

They were liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 15, 1945, and I was born six months later, in the same city.

With no families left in Europe, they left Poland in 1946 and the three of us spent the next two years in a displaced persons camp near Munich, until we were able, thanks to my father’s sister, who had had left for Montreal before the Holocaust, to emigrate to Canada.

And so, like tens of thousands of other refugees, our first sight of this new country was at Pier 21, in Halifax. From there, we travelled by train to our new home in Montreal.

The former ocean liner terminal and immigration shed was the gateway to Canada for some one million immigrants between 1928 and 1971. As well, it served as the departure point for 368,000 Canadian military personnel during the Second World War. Some 50,000 war brides and their 22,000 children also passed through Pier 21.

The post-war period was in characterized by enormous numbers of immigrants from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as east Europeans.

An official from Cunard Steamships had declared that “Halifax will have the finest immigration facilities of any port in the world” after reviewing the terminals, and a reporter described his introduction to the new Pier 21 in 1928 as a “tour of revelation.”

For almost 30 years after it closed as an entry for immigrants, the old buildings were used by various other institutions. In 1998, a private community historical group, the Pier 21 Society, obtained a lease for the space from the Halifax Port Authority to construct a museum, using a combination of private and public funds.

It opened on July 1, Canada Day, in 1999. Ruth Goldbloom, president of the Pier 21 Society, called the opening “payment of our greatest national debt to the millions of Canadians who made this great country what it is today.”

In 2011, the operations of the Pier 21 Society were taken over by the newly-created Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Today a National Historic Site, it is one of the city’s premier attractions for visitors. More than 78,000 people experienced the museum in 2014-15.

Pier 21 has both a physical artifact collection and a vast oral history collection. It currently holds 2,000 stories, 500 oral history interviews, 700 donated books, 300 films, and thousands of archival images and scans of immigration and other documents.

Many of the resources can be found on its website and all can be accessed by contacting Pier 21’s Scotiabank Family History Centre.

The Pier 21 story collection has broadened from those who actually passed through Pier 21’s doors, to include stories about immigration from all points of entry from the early beginnings of Canada (including First Nations) and concentrating on all immigration from 1867 to the present.

Oral historians conduct oral history interviews onsite and occasionally in different centres across Canada.

The image collection includes thousands of scanned newspaper clippings, immigration related documents and ship memorabilia, as well as digital photos donated by individual families and organizations.

I have visited the Museum twice, most recently in early August, and walked through the very doors through which my parents and I entered Canada. I found it a very emotional experience and must admit I choked up both times during the guided tours I was on.


Monday, August 08, 2016

Greece Continues to Struggle Economically

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
Poor Greece! Caught, in the words of London-based writer and translator Noonie Minogue, “in a steely grip between Brussels in the north and refugees to the south,” it remains Europe’s economic and political problem child.

The country has never recovered from the 2008 Great Recession. Things have been so bad these past few years that even poets are weighing on its financial crisis.

Penguin recently published Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, an anthology of works edited by Karen Van Dyck, a professor of Modern Greek Literature at New York’s Columbia University, dealing with the catastrophic situation.

By 2013, more than a third of Greeks were living below the poverty line. By 2014, government wages and pensions had been cut 12 times in four years.

The economy has shrunk by a quarter in the last five years. More than 27 per cent of Greeks are unemployed. About 55 per cent of young people, particularly those in the areas of technology and education, have left Greece to find work elsewhere.

At least 40 per cent of children were living in poverty in 2014, and the number is now approaching 50 per cent. Public debt is the highest in Europe, over 180 per cent of GDP.

Greece is now at the mercy of its creditors. In June, the Board of Directors of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the bailout fund for the 19 members of the European Union that use the euro as their common currency, authorized handing 7.5 billion euros, or $8.4 billion, in bailout aid to Greece, allowing the country to keep paying its bills in the coming months.

Greece also won additional pledges of debt relief from the Eurozone finance ministers, helping to ease concerns about another crisis.

In July of 2015, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to accept austerity measures in order to receive a bailout. Germany had threatened to oust Greece from the European Union and the euro if it didn’t deliver on austerity measures.

The Eurozone finance ministers, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund had demanded deep budget cuts and steep tax increases. They required Greece to overhaul its economy by streamlining the government, ending tax evasion and making Greece an easier place to do business.

The recent aid has involved yet further painful reforms and austerity measures, including higher taxes on coffee, alcohol, fuel and other goods.

There is also a measure creating a privatization fund to sell off state assets and utilities, including public transport companies, the post office and the state power corporation.

As former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis wrote in a New York Times commentary in May, “Greece’s hospitals are running out of basic necessities, while our universities cannot even afford to provide toilet paper in their restrooms. In Athens these days, only the soup kitchens are flourishing.”

Varoufakis, who has now also published And the Weak Suffer What They Must?, a book on the crisis, was removed as finance minister by Tsipras last year for refusing to yield to the bailout demands.

Greece’s economy this year is set to shrink by a further 0.3 percent. Still, people have not lost hope. “In all of the misery and mess, new poetry is everywhere, too large and too various a body of writing to fit neatly on either side of any ideological rift,” concludes Van Dyck.

Turkey's President is Obsessed with Fethullah Gulen

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The reclusive Turkish cleric who heads Turkey’s influential Hizmet (Service) movement has become front-page news since the abortive coup in Turkey.

Fethullah Gulen, who lives in semi-seclusion in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, has been accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of masterminding the July 15 attempt to overthrow him.

Erdogan called the failed military coup a “clear crime of treason” and intimated that the plotters should receive the death penalty, a practice abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Turkey has announced it had seized more than 2,250 social, educational, or health care institutions and facilities that it claims pose a threat to national security.

The government has now either purged or detained some 35,000 members of the military, security forces, judiciary, and teaching profession, in an effort to remove Gulen loyalists.

More than 1,000 members of the Turkish military, including 127 generals and 32 admirals, were also dismissed, charged with involvement in the plot – about a third of the country’s top military officers.

Almost 1,600 university deans have also been ordered to resign and half a dozen university presidents have been fired or detained. Turkey also issued a blanket travel ban on all academics.

Altogether, the purges have left at least 10,000 people in jail and about 50,000 fired or suspended.

Among those detained were two Canadian imams, Ilhan Erdem of Ottawa and Davud Hanci of Calgary, accused of ties to Hizmet.

Turkey also widened its crackdown on news outlets sympathetic to Gulen. The Turkish government ordered the closing of more than 100 media outlets, including newspapers, publishing companies and television channels, and detention warrants have been issued for at least 80 journalists suspected of having ties to Gulen.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim likened Gulen’s followers to a “parallel terrorist organization” and urged Washington not to “harbour this terrorist any longer. He is of no benefit to humanity, he is of no benefit to Islam.”

Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup. “My message to the Turkish people is never to view any military intervention positively,” he stated, “because through military intervention, democracy cannot be achieved.”

The 75-year-old imam began preaching in the Aegean city of Izmir in the 1970s, and soon began urging his followers to “move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers.”

In 2000 Turkey’s authorities, under the secular government of Bulent Ecevit, charged him with plotting to overthrow the government but he had moved to United States two years earlier. A Turkish court acquitted the preacher of the charges in 2003, but he remained in the U.S.

The Gulen movement contends that it runs more than 2,000 educational premises, including charter schools, university departments, language centers and religious courses, in 160 countries.

It also controls billion-dollar business interests such as media companies, banks and construction firms.

As a fellow moderate Islamist, Gulen at first backed Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party, helping it to its electoral victories after 2002.

But in 2013 the alliance began to come apart, as police investigations into government corruption that implicated members of Erdogan’s cabinet and other close associates were blamed by Erdogan on Gulan.

Mass arrests were carried out as part of the inquiry. Infuriated, Erdogan has been Gulen’s bitter enemy ever since.

Gulen’s supporters describe him as a moderate Muslim cleric who champions interfaith tolerance and dialogue and espouses a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with democracy.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine in August 2013, Gulen said that “I had a chance to get to know practitioners of non-Muslim faiths better, and I felt a need to revise my expressions from earlier periods.”

He told journalist Jamie Tarabay that “I have not done anything that I did not believe to be in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed.”

No matter. As Brian Klaas, a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, wrote in Foreign Affairs, Erdogan will continue to use the failed plot “as a pretext to accelerate his relentless despotic practice of jailing journalists, silencing dissent, and ruling with a hardening fist.”


Monday, August 01, 2016

The Totalitarian Terror That Once Enveloped China

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
 
Fifty years ago this August, the cataclysmic madness known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began to unfold in China. By the time it ended a decade later, it had taken millions of lives and ruined many millions more.

Books were burned, people tortured, “bourgeois” art destroyed, universities shut down, and students and professors banished to the countryside to work and be “re-educated” into a proper understanding of Marxist Mao-Zedong-Thought by peasants.

The Cultural Revolution continued until Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and it left in its wake a country torn by violence and poverty.

China’s Communists were already engaged in a doctrinal war with the Soviet Union as to the proper course of Communist development. Mao worried that, if left unchecked, China’s party apparatchiks would also follow the Soviet model, which he considered a betrayal of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism.

Believing that China’s Communist leaders were taking the party, and China itself, in the wrong direction, Mao decided to call on the nation’s youth to purge the “impure” elements of Chinese society and revive the revolutionary spirit that had led to the formation of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao ordered a massive assault on the institutions built by 17 years of Communist rule, including the intellectual and social remnants of the past.

The full-scale beginning of the terror began at a meeting of the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party that began on August 1, 1966, when Mao accused party leaders of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit.

On Aug. 12 it passed a document calling for “a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a deeper and more extensive stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country.”

 Charged with being “capitalist roaders” and “revisionists,” President Liu Shaoqi and other Communist leaders were removed from power. Liu died in prison three years later.

Soon, students formed paramilitary groups called Red Guards and attacked and harassed academics and intellectuals. A personality cult quickly sprang up around Mao, as mobs began to wave the famous “Little Red Book” of Mao’s sayings while creating bedlam throughout the country.

The book, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, included statements on subjects such as class struggle, “correcting mistaken ideas” and the “mass line,” a key tenet of Maoist doctrine.

The Red Guards were determined to destroy the “four olds -- old habits, manners, custom, and culture.” They set out to eradicate the old culture by force in order that a new “proletarian class nature” might emerge.

The Red Guards splintered into zealous rival factions battling for ideological dominance, and many Chinese cities reached the brink of anarchy.  Many engaged in witch hunts or the settling of personal scores.

The resulting paralysis completely disrupted the urban economy. In many regions, the People’s Liberation Army was forced to restore a semblance of order.

Mao’s radical allies, who became known as the Gang of Four, led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, wanted to push even further to the left and to continue purging “class enemies.”

However, the Tangshan earthquake of July 1976, which killed 240,000, provided proof for many Chinese that those in power had lost the “mandate from heaven.”

Indeed, the Chairman died in September 1976 and a more moderate group, led by Deng Xiaoping, who had himself been purged during the first phase of the Cultural Revolution, ousted and imprisoned the Gang of Four, setting China on the road it would henceforth follow.

At least 1.5 million people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, though some estimates, including deaths from starvation, run much higher. Millions of others suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or general humiliation.

Individuals who experienced the Cultural Revolution while in their teens and early twenties were denied an education and suffered from that deficiency for their entire lives.

In 1981, the Communist Party declared that the Cultural Revolution was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

A social movement had degenerated into chaos. It took many decades for China to recover from the mass hysteria and tragedy.

Yet, as the Australian author and critic Clive James recently observed sarcastically, there are still some professors in western universities who think that Communists like Mao “must have been serious about bettering the lot of mankind because they killed so many of their own citizens.”

Has Iceland Recovered from the Great Recession?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
On June 25, Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson was elected head of state of Iceland with 39.1 per cent of the vote, defeating three other candidates.

Along with his wife Eliza Reid, who grew up outside of Ottawa, and their four children, he moves into the island nation’s presidential palace this month. Reid met Johannesson when they were both studying history at Oxford University in England.

This remote North Atlantic island nation, whose 332,000 citizens are ethnically virtually homogenous, boasts of being the world’s oldest democracy, its most literate nation, and most successful welfare state. It has a language and a history and a culture entirely its own.

 But the country was hit hard by the Great Recession of 2008, and endured a financial crisis with the collapse of several of the country’s commercial banks in the 2008 Great Recession. Since that time, the political class has been viewed with suspicion.

Until recently, Johannesson had taught history at the University of Iceland and had never held public office. This actually proved a plus earlier this year, when Iceland was roiled by further financial scandals.

Johannesson’s knowledge of the country’s institutions would prove invaluable amid the turmoil of the Panama Papers leak of the more than 11.5 million financial and legal records from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which involved both the incumbent prime minister and president.

The papers, made public in April, detail financial and attorney-client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, showing the tax-avoidance arrangements of the rich and famous around the world.

In the leaked documents, Icelanders, learned that Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was linked to offshore accounts in the British Virgin Islands. The wife of President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was also named in the leaks.

Gunnlaugsson was accused of a conflict of interest for failing to disclose his involvement in a company that held interests in failed Icelandic banks his government oversees.

Though both men insisted that they had done nothing illegal, and the president denied knowing about his wife’s business affairs, the prime minister resigned in April, replaced by Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, who had been the agriculture minister, and the president announced in May that he would not be running for a sixth term.

In the ensuing presidential election, Johannesson explained to journalist Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker magazine , “with my expertise in the history of the Presidency, I was able to describe to people what options the President had, and, as it happened, this was at a stage when there was nobody sweeping the electorate behind him or her, and the sort of trickle of support I felt to run turned into a flood.”

As for the economy, the country had made an amazing recovery since 2008, fuelled mainly by the fisheries and by a boom in tourism, whose share of foreign exchange earnings grew from 19 per cent to 28 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

Iceland is not a member of the European Union and Johannesson is opposed to joining it. He asserted that the result of the Brexit vote in Britain to leave the EU is “better for us Icelanders,” implying that the European Economic Area agreement that non-EU members Norway and Iceland have with the EU could play a more important role with the United Kingdom on board.


The Totalitarian Terror That Once Enveloped China

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Fifty years ago this August, the cataclysmic madness known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began to unfold in China. By the time it ended a decade later, it had taken millions of lives and ruined many millions more.

Books were burned, people tortured, “bourgeois” art destroyed, universities shut down, and students and professors banished to the countryside to work and be “re-educated” into a proper understanding of Marxist Mao-Zedong-Thought by peasants.

The Cultural Revolution continued until Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and it left in its wake a country torn by violence and poverty.

China’s Communists were already engaged in a doctrinal war with the Soviet Union as to the proper course of Communist development. Mao worried that, if left unchecked, China’s party apparatchiks would also follow the Soviet model, which he considered a betrayal of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism.

Believing that China’s Communist leaders were taking the party, and China itself, in the wrong direction, Mao decided to call on the nation’s youth to purge the “impure” elements of Chinese society and revive the revolutionary spirit that had led to the formation of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao ordered a massive assault on the institutions built by 17 years of Communist rule, including the intellectual and social remnants of the past.

The full-scale beginning of the terror began at a meeting of the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party that began on August 1, 1966, when Mao accused party leaders of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit.

On Aug. 12 it passed a document calling for “a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a deeper and more extensive stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country.”

 Charged with being “capitalist roaders” and “revisionists,” President Liu Shaoqi and other Communist leaders were removed from power. Liu died in prison three years later.

Soon, students formed paramilitary groups called Red Guards and attacked and harassed academics and intellectuals. A personality cult quickly sprang up around Mao, as mobs began to wave the famous “Little Red Book” of Mao’s sayings while creating bedlam throughout the country.

The book, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, included statements on subjects such as class struggle, “correcting mistaken ideas” and the “mass line,” a key tenet of Maoist doctrine.

The Red Guards were determined to destroy the “four olds -- old habits, manners, custom, and culture.” They set out to eradicate the old culture by force in order that a new “proletarian class nature” might emerge.

The Red Guards splintered into zealous rival factions battling for ideological dominance, and many Chinese cities reached the brink of anarchy.  Many engaged in witch hunts or the settling of personal scores.

The resulting paralysis completely disrupted the urban economy. In many regions, the People’s Liberation Army was forced to restore a semblance of order.

Mao’s radical allies, who became known as the Gang of Four, led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, wanted to push even further to the left and to continue purging “class enemies.”

However, the Tangshan earthquake of July 1976, which killed 240,000, provided proof for many Chinese that those in power had lost the “mandate from heaven.”

Indeed, the Chairman died in September 1976 and a more moderate group, led by Deng Xiaoping, who had himself been purged during the first phase of the Cultural Revolution, ousted and imprisoned the Gang of Four, setting China on the road it would henceforth follow.

At least 1.5 million people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, though some estimates, including deaths from starvation, run much higher. Millions of others suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or general humiliation.

Individuals who experienced the Cultural Revolution while in their teens and early twenties were denied an education and suffered from that deficiency for their entire lives.

In 1981, the Communist Party declared that the Cultural Revolution was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

A social movement had degenerated into chaos. It took many decades for China to recover from the mass hysteria and tragedy.

Yet, as the Australian author and critic Clive James recently observed sarcastically, there are still some professors in western universities who think that Communists like Mao “must have been serious about bettering the lot of mankind because they killed so many of their own citizens.”