Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, December 27, 2010

Should Ideology of Human Rights Trump Nationalism?

Henry Srebrnik, (Summerside, PEI) Journal-Pioneer

In the last few decades, a consensus has emerged among our political elites, in government, the media, and academia, regarding the proper character of the state.

They increasingly have come to regard as illegitimate states which are founded on the basis of ethnic or religious nationhood, as opposed to the civic-territorial or multicultural model found in present-day Canada or the United States.

Increasingly critical of the classical nation-state, they reject the notion that each self-defined group is entitled, as part of its patrimony and place in the world, a particular space it can call its own homeland.

Indeed, they have come to define nationalism itself as a variant of racist intolerance, a political pathology that leads inexorably to the narrowest of so-called “tribalism.”

The older paradigm of nationhood, one grounded in an exclusionary ethno-nationalism, has in their eyes been largely discredited. In its stead has arisen the paradigm of a state with a universalist vision based on international human rights ideology.

That is why the Turks of Northern Cyprus, the Maronites of Lebanon, the Kurds in the Arab world and the Chechens in the Russian Federation, among many others, have been unable to obtain recognition as identifiable national groups, though they are no less deserving of statehood than the Japanese, Finns or Bulgarians, or even the Slovenes or Estonians, all of whom were fortunate enough to have developed as recognizable states or at least as units within a federation, with recognizable boundaries -- and hence “made it” before the doors were shut on further self-determination based on the principle of nationality.

Our modern leaders, it would seem, are nostalgic for such failed testaments to multinationalism as the old Austro-Hungarian, tsarist Russian and Turkish empires!

The western elevation of human rights has led to the privileging of individual values over those of nations, denigrating states and disparaging nationalism.

People support the notion that the rights of the individual and of minorities take moral precedence over the rights of majorities and the state.

And if safeguarding those rights impinges on the sovereignty of a state, so be it.

Multilateral intervention against a sovereign state deemed to be in violation of human rights is now considered permissible.

“Human-rights abuse” has replaced the “red menace” of cold war days as the enemy of civilised values.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nazi Germany Fought Many Different Wars in WW II

Henry Srebrnik, [Toronto] Jewish Tribune

A recently published book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, is a new account of the horrors inflicted on the populations of eastern Europe during World War II. It reinforces my view that the 1939-1945 war in Europe was two, perhaps even three, separate conflicts, with Hitler’s Germany the state involved in all of them.

In the east, especially after Hitler’s 1941 attack on the Soviet Union, the conflict was ideologically driven by the very bedrock tenets of Nazism. It was a genocidal “race” war, with social Darwinism applied to its fullest. Hitler’s racial doctrines were so important to him that it led him to abrogate the pact he had opportunistically signed with Joseph Stalin two years earlier – and one from which he was benefitting.

Poland and the various component parts of the European Soviet Union were to be simply wiped out, not just as states, but even as peoples, to make room for German lebensraum. These peoples were considered “sub-humans.” The war was total – and so, of course, would be the Soviet and partisan reaction.

This was ground zero of the Holocaust: the mass murder of Jews and other civilians by German firing squads, and the construction of the gigantic extermination centres in occupied Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau , Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka, to which Jews, Roma, Soviet soldiers, Communists, and other “undesirables” were deported from all parts of Europe and asphyxiated by the millions.

In central Europe, though, there was, so to speak, more nuance in the way Hitler treated various ethnic nations. The Czech lands, considered historically German, became the “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia,” but were not totally absorbed into the German Reich. Slovakia and Croatia (including Bosnia and Herzegovina) were created as new states with the demise of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia– ironically, here Hitler served as the midwife of ultra-nationalist aspirations. 

As for Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, Hitler played the diplomat in attempting to referee all of their competing irredentist claims so as to keep them all on side as German allies.
For example, in the interest of maintaining close political ties with both Budapest and Bucharest, Berlin retained the Banat region of northern Serbia following the defeat of Yugoslavia, as a potential bargaining chip with these countries, both of which desired to annex the area.

In 1940-1941, Hungary had much of Transylvania returned to it, as well as parts of Slovakia and the former Yugoslavia, recreating the Greater Hungary of pre-World War I.

The Romanians, who had now lost part of Transylvania to Hungary, were compensated by Hitler with Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (taken from Romania by Stalin in 1940), as well as lands further east, which they named Transnistria. 

The Bulgarians grabbed a piece of Romania known as Southern Dobruja (which had once belonged to Bulgaria), most of Yugoslav Macedonia, and Greek Thrace.
In cooperation with Hitler’s ally Italy, a Greater Albania was also formed, including Kosovo and parts of western Macedonia.

In all of these various diplomatic machinations, Hitler played the role of a “benign” chess master, creating his “New Order” in Europe.

Hitler was even more solicitous of the feelings of the “racially acceptable” peoples of western Europe, mostly conquered by 1940. 

He regarded the Dutch as part of the Aryan Herrenvolk and Holland was controlled by a civilian German governor. Even after Denmark’s defeat, Hitler continued to regard the country as a sovereign state and allowed the Danish Government to continue to function under the close supervision of the German Foreign Ministry. The Nazis even allowed free and open parliamentary elections there in 1943! 

And though France was vanquished in a matter of weeks in May-June 1940, the armistice which was signed with Nazi Germany by the new pro-fascist Vichy regime was respected. Germany treated it as a sovereign state, allowing it limited military and naval forces. 

Most French citizens went about their normal business, though German troops occupied the northern half of the country. Indeed, Vichy was recognized even by the Allied powers; Canada only terminated diplomatic relations in November 1942.

So in the west the war, certainly until 1943-1944, was largely something that was taking place thousands of miles to the east.

What Hitler demanded of all these various subservient entities was that they subscribe to his two main aims: vanquishing Bolshevism and the “Jewish race.” This was, for him, the litmus test of their loyalty. In that sense, the total war being waged in the east impacted Jews, Communists, and other “enemies” of the Reich even in central and western Europe. 

Most of these governments – often on their own volition, as in France – deported Jews to the killing centres the Nazis had set up in devastated Poland; Bulgaria and Denmark were, unfortunately, the only exceptions. As well, pro-Nazi volunteers in these countries formed SS divisions to support the race war in the east. Even fascist Spain, officially neutral, helped in this endeavour.

Finally, there were two powers that throughout the war remained unconquered and, along with the Soviet Union, would eventually defeat the madman: Great Britain and the United States.

In terms of Hitler’s hierarchy of races, the British were “Aryans” and he admired them. From his point of view, it was they, not Germany, who were responsible for not “coming to their senses” and joining his struggle in the east. During the 1939-1940 “phony war” period, there were many peace overtures made to Britain. It was Winston Churchill, not Hitler, who refused to “see reason,” as far as the Nazis were concerned.

As for the United States, Hitler, basically a Eurocentric, had paid them little attention until 1941 and was in effect dragged into war with America because of the foolish behaviour of his Japanese allies.

In a sense, Hitler saw the war with Britain and America as almost a distraction, something that got in the way of his ideological master plan: the elimination of the Jews, Roma, and a large part of the Slavic population in the east.

For the Nazis, the war that really counted and would be pursued with the utmost genocidal ferocity until the very end in May 1945 was the one against the Judaeo-Bolshevik “bacillus” that had threatened to destroy “European civilization” – as Hitler defined it, of course.

The Nazi madness would lead to the Communist takeover of eastern Europe after the war. So the horrors that befell that part of the continent did not really end until 1989-1991.

Friday, December 10, 2010

China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is Really the Sixth “Stan”

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI]

In 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart, the five central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, sometimes called the “five stans,” became sovereign states.

They were all part of a largely Turkic Muslim civilization that had flourished in the region for hundreds of years, until conquered by tsarist Russia in the 18th-19th centuries. They had acquired their current borders as Soviet republics.

However, there is a sixth “stan” that has proved less fortunate, because it ended up as part of China rather than Russia.

The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the far west of the People’s Republic of China is more than 1.6 million square kilometres in area and borders Russia, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, and the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. An arid region that historically was called East Turkestan, it has oil reserves and is China’s largest natural gas-producing region.

The region is the historic homeland of the Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim people. While the Russians were conquering western Turkistan, the Chinese Empire gained control over eastern Turkestan as the culmination of a long struggle that began in the seventeenth century.

The Uighurs, not pleased to find themselves subservient to Imperial Han Chinese rule from far-off Beijing, in 1864 rebelled in various Xinjiang cities. They were quashed with incredible cruelty.

In the 1930s, the weak Chinese Republic faced another rebellion, when a short-lived Islamic Republic of East Turkestan was declared in 1933. It was crushed a year later.

In 1944, as China was fighting Japan, factions within Xinjiang again declared independence, this time under the auspices of the Soviet Union, and created the second East Turkistan Republic. But in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took over the territory and declared it a Chinese province. In October 1955, Xinjiang became classified as an autonomous region.

In recent decades, as the area developed economically, Han Chinese moved in and took the better jobs and housing. Around 90 percent of Xinjiang’s population were Uighurs in 1949; now it is estimated that they make up only about 45 per cent of its 21,590,000 people, though they remain a majority in western Xinjiang.

This has sparked resentment and calls for independence. In the 1990s, separatist groups in Xinjiang began frequent attacks against the Chinese government. The most prominent of these groups is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, founded in 1993. Other factions want to create a secular Uighurstan state.

In July 2009, ethnic tension between the Han and Uighur led to severe riots in the capital city of Urumqi. According to Chinese state media, at least 150 people were killed, and more than 800  injured. The riots were reportedly sparked by a Uighur protest over the ethnically motivated killing of two Uighur workers in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

World attention has tended to focus on another oppressed ethnic group under Chinese rule, the Tibetans. Their spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, has generated international awareness for their cause. But the plight of the Uighurs should command equal attention.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Elections Not Always the Answer for Troubled Countries

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

This past Sunday, November 28, three countries with little in the way of democratic political culture held elections, with all too predictable results. One is in the Middle East, another in the Caribbean, and the third in west Africa.

In all three, the ruling group sought to make sure, through various forms of fraud and intimidation, that it would win. In all three, the losers cried foul and claimed there were widespread irregularities.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, now in power for almost 30 years, arranged to have his National Democratic Party win parliamentary elections. 

Mubarak had begun cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist group that represents Egypt’s only substantial opposition, earlier this year. At least 1,200 supporters had been arrested, and in the weeks leading up to the vote, rallies by Brotherhood candidates, running as independents, were broken up and some were barred from running altogether. Their supporters were beaten up as they arrived at the polls to vote.

In Haiti, outgoing president Ren
é Préval wanted to make sure that his chosen successor, Unity Party candidate Jude Célestin, would triumph. There was considerable pre-election violence in this tragic country, already struggling with the aftermath of a horrific earthquake and a more recent outbreak of cholera. 

The populist Lavalas Party had already been barred from running in the election. Of the 18 other candidates in the race, 12 rejected the process as fraudulent and described ballot boxes stuffed and voters opposing Célestin turned away. This was no surprise-- elections in Haiti have frequently been marked by chaos. Riots have followed the voting.

In the ethnically torn Ivory Coast, the presidential vote was marred by bloodshed that left at least seven people dead amid accusations of cheating on both sides. 

The vote was a close-fought contest between Laurent Gbagbo, a southern Christian who has held on to power since his term expired in 2005, and ex-prime minister Alassane Ouattara, from the largely Muslim north.

Gbagbo’s supporters consider Ouattara responsible for a 2002 revolt that divided the country, while Ouattara’s backers maintain that they attempted to seize power because northerners were treated as second-class citizens.

The rivals accused each other of irregularities at polling stations; both sides claimed their followers were barred from casting their votes.

Columbia University political scientist Jack Snyder, in his book From Voting to Violence, challenges the American dogma that voting is a political panacea regardless of conditions or circumstances. He argues that promoting elections often produces serious conflict in places where critical preconditions, such as the rule of law and a free press, are not present. 

Oxford University economist Paul Collier, in Wars, Guns, and Votes, agrees: without a system of checks and balances, he writes, elections have led to widespread corruption and nations mired in ethnic politics. Democracy in such places is simply a faç
ade, he concludes.

Violence often follows such elections, just as it does before the voting. Sometimes things become so polarized that the military steps in -- so an election becomes the prelude to a coup!

Instead of providing a mandate, and political legitimacy for the winners, these so-called elections only exacerbate the deep ethnic, religious and ideological hatreds in these countries.

Isn't it time we stopped making a fetish out of elections in corrupt oligarchies or ethnic tinderboxes, from Honduras to Sri Lanka, from Afghanistan to Nigeria? The dictators and strong-men only pay lip service to elections as a way of placating western countries.

Of course, this poses a far more difficult problem: how can true democracy ever take root in such states?