Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, March 27, 2017

Scottish Nationalism Since Brexit

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

While the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the European Union last June, one of its component nations, Scotland, voted no.

Overall, 52 per cent of voters in the country voted to leave the EU, with 48 per cent voting to remain, but in Scotland, 62 per cent voted to remain, with 38 per cent voting to get out.

Scottish nationalism has been on the upswing over the past two decades.  It had achieved a major victory with the devolution referendum of 1997. An overwhelming “yes” vote gave Scotland the power to form its own parliament.

By 2016 the Scottish National Party had won its third successive victory in elections to the Holyrood assembly in Edinburgh, with 63 of the 129 seats.

Today the SNP serves as the government of Scotland. It also controls 54 of the 59 Scottish seats in the Westminster House of Commons.

Its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, a lawyer, has been serving as first minister since 2014. After the Brexit vote, she said she planned to begin discussions with the 28-member bloc to “protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU and our place in the single market.”

She also announced a twin-track approach, preparing for a fresh independence referendum within two years, while at the same time as investigating whether Scotland could be granted some form of associative status by the EU while remaining part of the UK.

On March 13 Sturgeon announced that she wanted a vote to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of the following year. That would coincide with the expected conclusion of the UK’s Brexit negotiations.

In the referendum held in September 2014, Scotland rejected independence by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, leading to the resignation of Sturgeon’s predecessor, Alex Salmond.

Why would Scotland seek independence yet wish to be part of an even larger entity? Under the Act of Union, the 1707 act joining Scotland’s and England’s parliaments, Scotland exists in an “incorporating” union with England and Wales, not in a federal or confederal one.

In an incorporating union of unequal size it’s likely that the larger partner will dominate the smaller.  As one nationalist put it, “London doesn’t care what Scotland thinks.” In the EU, by contrast, each member is an equal partner and has an equal voice.

Although the differences are sometimes exaggerated, political scientists have theorized a dichotomy between “civic” and “ethnic” nationalism. The SNP is considered an advocate of the first version.

While ethnic nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, faith, and ethnic ancestry, civic ones value freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. They are open to all within its borders who identify with it and are part of its economic and political fabric.

We should remember that majority antipathy to minorities is not intrinsic to nationalism but depends on which form nationalism takes.

Since Scotland was an independent kingdom for centuries, and has always had clearly defined borders – only one on land – the SNP has not had to deal with questions as to who belongs to the Scottish nation.

The simple answer is: everyone north of the English border, no one outside of the country.

The Solway-Tweed line between England and Scotland was legally established in 1237 and with minor adjustments since, it remains the border today. It is one of the oldest extant boundaries in the world.

Membership in the Scottish nation is to be defined not by blood but by voluntary attachment to Scotland and participation in its civic life. The SNP has rejected an exclusionary jingoistic “Braveheart” nationalism.

All residents of Scotland had the right to vote in the 2014 referendum on independence, while those Scots who live outside Scotland, even if within the UK, could not.

The party has been rewarded with support from ethnic minorities; indeed, Scots of Asian descent actually support independence at a higher rate than the rest of the population.

As well, it has been remarkably effective at bridging the historic rifts within Scotland. The sectarian rivalry between ethnic Scots Protestants and Irish Catholics had been deeper than anywhere else in Britain, as bitterly reflected in the Rangers and Celtic soccer teams in Glasgow. Similar divides in Northern Ireland, on the other hand, remain unresolved.

The SNP’s success was due predominantly to appeals to the material self-interest of Scots, partly driven by the discovery of major oil fields in Scottish waters, rather than to the revival of historic sentiments of distinct identity.

As a consequence, Scottish nationalism is more a matter of economics and politics than culture.

Why Putin Remains Wary of America

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
The Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra, in his new book, Age of Anger: A History of the Present, describes how “an army of Americanizers invaded Russia” following the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

These free-market theorists, convinced that laissez faire economics had won the cold war, proceeded to convince Russia’s new ruler, the buffoonish Boris Yeltsin, to administer economic shock therapy to a country still in a political shambles. It was, to use a Russian term, a new “time of troubles.”

Much blame for this calamity has been laid on by Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economics professor and an exponent of “transition economics” in Eastern Europe and Russia, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. Russians, just emerging from 75 years of Communism, were now to become guinea pigs, victims of American hubris.

The transfer of wealth from the Russian state to individuals began when President Yeltsin kick-started Russia’s privatization era in 1992.

With a small army of American advisers, he began selling off Soviet era assets. Vouchers worth 10,000 roubles each were given to 144 million citizens, entitling them to a share in Russia’s major enterprises.

But most cash-strapped workers, not seeing much value in them anyway, sold their vouchers immediately for cash. Privatization of assets went to a handful of well-connected politicians and bureaucrats who came to control the economy as a whole.

They had amassed a huge number of shares by 1995, and hence, the post-Soviet oligarchy was born. The work of 70 years of Soviet labor went to the pockets of two or three dozen people.

According to one estimate, approximately $200 billion worth of state property was transferred to private hands for a total of $7 billion.

Not surprisingly, post-Communist Russia degenerated into gangster capitalism and political despotism. Oligarchic clans filled the vacuum with private armies, political machines and newspapers.

Over the course of the 1990s, living standards collapsed. Russia’s GDP fell by 50 per cent, fully 30 per cent of the population fell into poverty, the mortality rate increased by 50 per cent, life expectancy for men was cut by six years, and the crime rate skyrocketed.

“Shock therapy” punished ordinary Russians as prices soared, factories stalled and the welfare state disintegrated.

These disasters culminated in the destruction of the rouble, which lost 70 per cent of its value in August 1998.

It was a depression worse than the one suffered in western countries in the 1930s. Less than a year before, Anatoly Chubais, the Russian politician and businessman who was responsible for privatization in Russia as an influential member of Boris Yeltsin's administration in the early 1990s, was being praised by the Economist magazine for his “dynamism, guile and vision.”

Though today reviled for organizing the fire sale of his country to oligarchs, Chubais landed on his feet: he is now a venture capitalist, a member of the Advisory Council for the JPMorgan Chase Bank and a member of the global board of advisers at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By the time the 1996 presidential election came around, Yeltsin’s popularity had plummeted, and he was in danger of being defeated by the resurgent Communists.

But a team of American political strategists came to Russia to turn his electoral prospects around (no doubt with the blessing of Bill Clinton’s White House).

The group worked in hiding on the 11th floor of the Kremlin's lavish President Hotel in downtown Moscow, laying out an American-style campaign to counter the public sentiment running against Yeltsin. He prevailed – though there were claims that the election was fraudulent.

Clinton funneled massive amounts in American “aid” to Yeltsin’s kleptocracy, most of which wound up in the oligarchs’ foreign bank accounts.

Though Yeltsin narrowly avoided losing in 1996, by 1999 he was so hated and ill that he agreed to step down – on condition he be granted immunity from prosecution for the corruption through which he, his family, and various cronies, had amassed great wealth.

We know what happened after that. The chaos and mass suffering under Yeltsin helped to turn a dour former KGB operative, Vladimir Putin, into Russia’s unlikely saviour.

Putin has driven most of the oligarchs out of power and into exile, and re-established a strong authoritarian state; for that reason, many Russians consider him a “good tsar.”

A somewhat less crass and triumphalist approach on the part of western powers would have saved the humiliation that paved the way for Putin.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Story of Chrystia Freeland's Grandfather

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

I’ll lay my cards on the table: I have never been particularly fond of Chrystia Freeland’s attitude towards the Russian Federation.

I was aware that her family originates in the western part of Ukraine, inhabited by anti-Russian nationalists largely Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) by religion, where collaboration with the German invaders was a major issue in the Second World War.

It never would have occurred to me, though, that her grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, ran a Ukrainian newspaper in Nazi-occupied Cracow, Poland, on behalf of the Hitler regime.

Before the war, he was a young journalist in Lviv, then a part of Poland. Having graduated from university with a degree in law and political science, he started work for the Ukrainian-language daily Dilo (Deed).

In 1939, as the Germans and Soviets attacked Poland, Lviv fell to the Russians, and Chomiak fled for Crakow, in the German zone of occupation, where he became editor of Krakivtsi Visti (Cracow News), in a plant confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish-owned paper.

Chomiak’s work was directly supervised by Emil Gassner, the head of the Nazi press department there. It contained numerous anti-Semitic stories and revelled at German triumphs over the Allies in the early stages of the conflict. Other writers have now provided excerpts of his enthusiasm for “cleansing” various cities, including Kyiv, of Jews.

All this, while millions of Jews were being slaughtered in nearby death camps such as Belzec and Auschwitz.

So enmeshed was he with the Nazi Generalgouvernment headed by Hans Frank, that in the last stages of the war, he fled west with the retreating Nazis, and continued editing the paper from Vienna, until the final collapse of the Third Reich.

All this has now become public knowledge, along with the fact that Freeland not only kept quiet about this – understandable – but also fabricated her grandfather’s biography to make him appear a simple Ukrainian patriot opposed to both Stalin and Hitler, one who struggled “to return freedom and democracy to Ukraine,” rather than an enthusiastic collaborator.

My own life story is one almost the exact opposite. My parents were Polish Jews from Czestochowa, whose entire families in Europe were wiped out in the Holocaust. They were themselves in a Nazi concentration camp until liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945; I would otherwise not be alive today.

So clearly I have a very different perspective regarding the Russians, though I would never consider myself an apologist for Stalin’s (or Vladimir Putin’s) crimes, and I have in fact written a number of books regarding the naiveté of those Jews who allowed their anti-fascist sympathies to blind them to those crimes.

It needn’t have to be said that Chrystia Freeland, born long after the war ended, is not responsible for her grandfather’s war crimes, though it might have stood her in better stead had she condemned these long ago, especially once she entered public life, when they were bound to be unearthed sooner or later. She has known the truth for some two decades.

In other words, the problem isn't that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator -- she can't, obviously, be blamed for this -- but that she defended him, in essence serving as a propagandist and purveyor of what people nowadays call “fake news.”

Yet not only have some sympathized with Freeland’s own rewriting of her grandfather’s history, they also try to turn the tables against the Russians by portraying Freeland as a victim.

One article in Maclean’s magazine, for example, suggested that the Russians have been trying to discredit Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, “with a smear job about her grandparents.” (A smear, though, usually implies libellous accusations; this story turns out to be true.)

None of our Canadian political parties have made any statements either. No, we can’t demand that Trudeau fire Freeland, despite her dissembling and attempts to turn this into a story of Russian attacks on her. But surely our leaders should at the least state their disappointment in her lack of candor.

Of course the post-2014 Ukrainian regime, its support coming mainly from western Ukraine, itself passed a law in 2015 that grants recognition, as fighters for Ukrainian Independence, to Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

They have been designated “defenders of the fatherland.” Streets have been renamed and statutes erected for Bandera.

These organizations were allied for much of the war with Hitler and participated in the massacres of many thousands of Jewish and Polish civilians. Poland itself has protested their rehabilitation.

Democratization Fails in Cambodia

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

One of the most horrific genocides of the twentieth century took place between 1975 and 1978 in the southeast Asian nation of Cambodia.

A Maoist group known as the Khmer Rouge captured power in the wake of the American withdrawal from Vietnam. Neighbouring Cambodia had also been devastated by the war, leaving a vacuum for Maoist guerrillas to take control.

The new regime dismantled modern society in its quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia. Their totalitarian policies forced the relocation of the population from urban centers to the countryside, torture, mass executions, malnutrition, and the use of forced labour. Those wearing glasses were executed as “intellectuals.”

“To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss,” declared the murderers. Starving prisoners kept in dank cells would catch and eat cockroaches and rats – but only when guards were not looking, lest they be beaten.

By the time they were ousted by Vietnamese troops in late 1978, the Khmer Rouge had managed to kill at least two million of their own compatriots, about a quarter of the overall population. Cambodia’s “killing fields” became notorious throughout the world.

Even then, the Maoists withdrew to the Thailand-Cambodia border and remained active there for 15 more years thanks to military and financial support from China.

Has the country managed to recover from such horrors? Yes and no. Justice has been meted out only slowly and sparingly.

Only in January of 2001 did the National Assembly pass legislation to try members of the murderous former regime.

A tribunal known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was formed five years later, following an agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations to prosecute senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

A complex hybrid court, it combines elements of international and domestic law and its members include both local and foreign judges.

But it has been criticized, as only three people have been convicted so far. Many other mass murderers had already died, including Pol Pot, who had led the Khmer Rouge since 1963 and became the country’s leader in 1975, “Year Zero,” when it was renamed Democratic Kampuchea.

The current government, which includes many former Khmer Rouge officials, has fought efforts to prosecute anyone beyond the Khmer Rouge’s senior leaders and one notorious prison chief.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier, has warned that more trials would cause fresh outbreaks of civil war and chaos.

Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), nearly defeated Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in a 2013 general election.

They charge the prime minister, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, with attempts to weaken his rivals before local elections this coming June and a general election in 2018.

Some opposition politicians have been assaulted and even murdered. Kem Ley, a political commentator was shot dead last July; CNRP president Sam Rainsy described the murder as “state-sponsored terrorism.”

In February, though, he quit as CNRP leader in the face of increasing government pressure. This came as Hun Sen announced he will introduce a new law that would dissolve political parties if their leaders are convicted of domestic crimes.

Sam Rainsy has numerous defamation lawsuits to his name, and many are still pending trial. He has been in exile in France since late 2015. Hence his decision to step down; he has been replaced by Kem Sokha.

The forthcoming elections, it is clear, will do little to further the emergence of democratic ideals, reform-minded elites, and pro-democratic institutions in this tragic country.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Leonard Woolf Was an Early Opponent of Empire

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press
Today, Leonard Woolf is remembered, if at all, as Virginia (neé Stephen) Woolf’s husband. 

But he was himself a man of many parts, and one of these was as a servant of the British imperial order in the South Asian island colony of Ceylon – today’s Sri Lanka.

Born in November 1880, to Marie de Jongh and Sidney Woolf, a barrister, Leonard was the third of nine siblings. The family was solidly bourgeois, Jewish but not religious, and even after Sidney Woolf’s early death, when Leonard was just 11, they managed to live in relative comfort.

Woolf attended St. Paul’s School in London and then went to Trinity College, Cambridge University, in 1899. There he made friends with people who would over the next few decades become the core of the progressive and bohemian Bloomsbury Group, named after the London neighbourhood near the British Museum.

He never dwelled upon the anti-Semitism of the English culture of his times, but it set him apart as an outsider even among his intimates; his nickname was “the rabbi.” The best-known figures of the Bloomsbury group were all capable of appalling examples of casual anti-Semitism. Even Virginia told friends she was marrying “a penniless Jew.”

When he graduated from Cambridge in 1904, and now a liberal intellectual, Woolf joined the Colonial Civil Service and was sent to Ceylon, to assume the first of three posts in the Ceylon Civil Service.

For the next seven years he served in three of its nine provinces, while also travelling around the country for various purposes, at one point supervising the Pearl Fishery in the Gulf of Mannar. 

Promoted to Assistant Government Agent, in 1908 he was put in charge of running his own district in south-east Ceylon, Hanbantota Province, which contained 100,000 people. 

Woolf taught himself Sinhalese and Tamil and he travelled all over his district, dealing with agriculture, justice, public health, road-building, taxation and petty problems of every kind.

His acute observations of the customs and behaviour in the Sinhalese, Tamil and Anglo-Indian cultures of the country would all appear in his five-volume autobiography, of which Growing: An Autobiography of the Years 1904 to 1911, published in 1961, was the second volume.

In 1913, back in England and now married to the non-Jewish Virginia, he wrote a novel, The Village in the Jungle, described by the British writer and broadcaster Nicholas Rankin in 2014 as “the first novel in English literature to be written from the indigenous point of view rather than the coloniser’s.”

The book is well known in Sri Lanka, where it is seen as a sociological or ethnographic description of south-east Ceylon in the early 1900s. 

He went on to publish studies of imperialism and act as Secretary of the Labour Party’s Advisory Committee on International and Imperial Questions. He ran, unsuccessfully, for Parliament for the party in 1922.

Along with Virginia, he founded the Hogarth Press, and he was an editor at several journals, as well as a director of the New Statesman. After Virginia’s suicide in 1941, he traveled, wrote his memoirs, and gardened until his death at 88 in 1969.

Woolf admitted to having been “a very innocent, unconscious imperialist” upon arrival in Ceylon. What grew was his recognition of the absurdity in “a people of one civilisation and mode of life trying to impose its rule upon an entirely different civilisation and mode of life.” When he returned to England on leave in 1911, he resigned from the Colonial Civil Service.

He was in a sense an early proponent of what we might today call “Huntingtonianism”-- named for political scientist Samuel Huntington’s famous thesis outlined in his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, where he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural lines.
Ceylon gained its independence in 1948 but would eventually become embroiled in a brutal decades-long civil war between its Hindu Tamil and Buddhist Sinhalese people in which at least 80,000 victims perished – a victim of its own “clash of civilizations.”

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bilingualism Roils the Politics of Cameroun

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Canada is not the only country to have grappled with issues around official bilingualism over the decades.

In Africa, with its multitude of ethnic groups, most states include large numbers of peoples speaking different languages. As well, the language of the former colonial power – usually English, French or Portuguese – often has official status.

This becomes even more complex when a state is a union of two former colonies whose rulers were different European powers. In one case, the central African country known as Cameroun in French and Cameroon in English, this has caused much difficulty of late.

Once a German colony, the territory was divided between France and Great Britain after the First World War. Approximately 80 per cent of the country went to the French, with the remaining 20 per cent to the British.

In 1960, the French-administered part became independent as the Republic of Cameroun. A year later, following a referendum in the British territory, the southern part of British Cameroons voted to form a federal state with Cameroun, while the northern area became a region of neighbouring Nigeria.

Cameroun is a member of both the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, and French and English are the official languages, but the country is more closely bound to France, on which it relies for defence and guidance in foreign policy.

There are approximately 250 other languages spoken by the 24 million Cameroonians.
Because the two sections had been divided by language through colonial rule, it has had a negative effect on how the country is run today. It may be officially bilingual, but – as is the case in Canada – most of the population is not.

Cameroun has been plagued by constitutional disputes and complaints from English speakers who say the government gives them fewer resources and generally fails to represent their interests.

The language barrier has been one of the largest problems in regards to employment. With French predominating, it becomes much harder for an English speaking Cameroonian to be granted a government job if their proficiency in French is not good enough.

Ndang Azang-Njaah, a first-generation American whose parents are anglophone Cameroonians, feels that bilingualism “only serves to divide and cause greater rifts between the anglophone Cameroonian and francophone Cameroonians alike.”

This has recently come to a head. Lawyers have long put up with laws that aren’t translated into their native English.

Last fall, after another new law, regarding business transactions, was not translated, lawyers in Bamenda, a city in the northwest, organized a demonstration to protest to the government in the capital, Yaoundé.

It is dominated by the French-speaking majority that has long slighted their English-speaking region. Paul Biya, a francophone, has been president since 1982, regularly winning elections in which the opposition has alleged voting irregularities and fraud.

By December, the protests had turned violent. Security forces used live ammunition to disperse demonstrations in Bamenda. The unrest, the worst in almost a decade, comes as Biya appears intent on trying to extend his rule, the fourth-longest on the continent, in elections next year.

The secret to Biya’s ability to stay in power is a divide-and-rule policy that has split Cameroun along ethnic and regional lines.

Cameroun ranks 145 out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index, with the judicial system, government and the education and health sectors all severely affected by graft, according to the Berlin-based organization.

In recent weeks, dozens of protesters have been arrested and moved to Yaoundé. Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, the president of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, and Fontem Neba, the group’s secretary general, were arrested, and the group declared illegal, on Jan. 17.

The government’s heavy-handed response, which includes shutting down access to the internet in anglophone areas, has revived calls in the English-speaking area to break away from the rest of the country.

In English-speaking towns recently the population seems to disappear on some days, as life is suspended, in a form of protest called Operation Ghost Town.

Is it possible to establish a stable representative democracy in a truly multilingual society? John Stuart Mill, the eminent British political philosopher, thought not.

“Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist,” he contended in his 1861 book Considerations on Representative Government. Only a few countries, like Canada and Switzerland, have managed it.

Chrystia Freeland and the Complexities of History

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

On March 8, the Globe and Mail reported that “Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has known for more than two decades that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in Nazi-occupied Poland.”

Her grandfather, Michael Chomiak, was a Nazi propagandist for Krakivski Visti (Crakow News), supervised by German intelligence officer Emil Gassert. Its printing presses and offices were confiscated by the Germans from a Jewish publisher, who was later murdered at the Belzec concentration camp.

The paper was a mouthpiece for the Nazi regime, circulated among ethnic Ukrainians living under the “Generalgouvernement” of Hans Frank, Hitler’s Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories.

That area of Poland, known as Galicia, had been contested between Germans, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians over the decades, and Hitler was playing them off against each other. But it doesn’t excuse collaboration with the Nazis – though some Chomiaks defenders are using that excuse to portray his as simply a Ukrainian nationist defending his own people.

What are the sources for the information that Freeland’s grandfather worked for the Nazis? No, it isn’t something cooked up in Moscow.

The Ukraine Archival Records held by the Province of Alberta has a whole file on Chomiak, including his own details about his days editing the newspaper Krakivski Visti.

Chomiak noted he edited the paper first in Crakow, Poland and then in Vienna, after he had to flee with his Nazis colleagues as the Russians advanced into Poland.

Yet as of March 7, Freeland was falsely claiming this story was Russian disinformation,
even though she had helped edit the monograph Krakivski Visti and the Jews, 1943, written by her uncle John Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, and published in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies in 1996.

Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, a day earlier, had the gall to claim that Canada has to be “alert” to these Russian tactics.

The Globe and Mail also reported that an official in Freeland’s office had denied the minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator.

All of my family in Europe were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators, and I don’t appreciate being told that this story is simply about “Vladimir Putin trying to make Chrystia Freeland look bad.” (And by the way, my own parents were freed from a Nazi concentration camp by the Red Army in 1945.)

You can’t reduce this to the simple Russian skulduggery known as kompromat -- after all, the story is true! And as Richard Nixon found out, it’s the cover-up that kills you.

Freeland, as soon as she entered politics, should have known this would eventually emerge and should have “got ahead of the story,” as they say.

Freeland lied about this and should now condemn what happened. Her grandfather ran a Nazi newspaper not that far from the Auschwitz death camp where millions perished.

Just pooh-poohing it as Putin propaganda is like saying the Holocaust is no big deal when a Trudeau cabinet minister is involved! Even Marine Le Pen kicked out her own anti-Semitic father from the National Front.

The Jewish community won’t see this as something minor. Freeland’s grandfather was part of the machine that murdered six million Jews. It’s not “ancient history.”

Also, although clearly no one blames her, or even her mother, both born after the war, for what happened in wartime Cracow, she did obviously imbibe very hostile views of the Russians, as was no doubt the case of many of the refugees that fled Ukraine as the Soviets reconquered it.

It’s important to remember that the problem isn’t that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator -- she can’t, obviously, be blamed for this -- but that she defended him, while knowing the truth.

My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939, she has stated. But Chomiak did not flee in 1939. He moved to Cracow, to become editor of a virulently anti-Semitic pro-Nazi paper, and remained a collaborator until the end of the war.

And today's Kyiv government, which she lauds, is, in my mind, in some ways a continuation of that ideology.

Monday, March 06, 2017

China's Relations With Africa Continue to Evolve

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

China’s economic ties to Africa have evolved in the past decade, and continue to grow.

In early February, a newly-built 750-kilometre railway line connecting Djibouti, on the Red Sea, to Addis Ababa, capital of landlocked Ethiopia, began operations.

China designed the system, supplied the trains and imported hundreds of engineers for the six years it took to plan and build it. Chinese banks provided nearly all the financing, which came to $ 4 billion. Djiboutian and Ethiopian laborers were hired to lay tracks and dig tunnels.

The system will be operated by Chinese conductors for five years and then turned over to local citizens, many of them trained in China.

“It is indeed a historic moment, a pride for our nations and peoples,” remarked Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister of Ethiopia. “This line will change the social and economic landscape of our two countries.” Ethiopia depends on Djibouti’s ports for 90 per cent of its foreign trade.

China is also investing another $14 billion into projects in Djibouti, including three ports, two airports, coal-fired power plants, and a pipeline that will bring water from Ethiopia.

Chinese has also provided loans to Djibouti’s heavily indebted government, amounting to 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

They came with strings attached: China is constructing its first overseas naval base here -- just a few kilometres from one of the largest and most important American installations.

Nor are Chinese firms confining their activities to a few states on the Horn of Africa.

They are constructing new ports, highways and airports across the continent, including a rail link between the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa that will open later this year; and an urban transit system for the Nigerian city of Lagos.

The spectacular scale and speed of China’s domestic renewable energy capacity development and technology has also been followed by the growing involvement of China in the development and transfer of renewable energy technologies on the continent.

In South Africa, for example, Chinese firms have become increasingly significant in the diffusion of renewable energy technology.

The growing relationship leads to opportunities for China and Africa to collaborate on the achievement of the latter’s Agenda 2063 and African Mining Vision.

In 2013, Africa’s political leaders rededicated themselves to the Pan-African vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”

The Agenda 2063 document that emerged included an extensive outline of African development experiences, analysis of challenges and opportunities, as well as a review of national plans, regional and continental frameworks and technical studies.

China is prominent in these plans. Beijing has been providing development assistance in different sectors of the African economy, most notably in infrastructure, telecommunication, energy generation and supply, manufacturing, and industry, as well as the agriculture sectors.

China has allocated $7.5 billion of development assistance to 51 African countries through more than 2,500 development projects.

The sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in December 2015, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, noted that China’s overall investment in Africa increased to $ 32.35 billion in 2015 with over 3,000 Chinese companies operating across the continent.

And China pledged to donate $60 billion to a development fund for African countries.

When the African Union adopted the Africa Mining Vision in 2009, it looked to create a transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development.

Chinese investment into this key sector provides expanded opportunities for accelerated economic diversification throughout Africa.

China’s formal commitment to collaboration in mineral resource development has been reiterated in various forums, including FOCAC, emphasising the importance of giving high priority to helping African countries turn their advantages in energy and resources into development strengths.

“African leaders should capitalize on their partnership with China, leveraging their partner’s anticipated growing interest in the continent’s mineral resources to further their strategic development objectives,” indicated  South African Professor Cristelle Maurin of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Chinese Studies.

The African Mining Vision has offered a framework for China to translate official pledges into concrete action.  It is now up to African leaders to identify the fundamental development problems and challenges to make the most of this opportunity.

Socialist Revival in Southern Europe

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The 2008 financial crisis has caused tremendous economic hardship in southern Europe, with Greece and Spain, in particular, affected. Massive unemployment, especially among the young, continues to persist.

The unemployment rate for young people in Greece stood at 45.7 per cent at the end of last year, more than double the overall rate of 23 per cent. There are similar figures for Spain, with the youth unemployment rate, at 42.9 per cent, far more than the 18.6 per cent overall.

This has led to dire consequences, as an entire cohort sees its prospects dwindle. As a result, parties of the left have gained traction.

Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) is a Greek political party that was established in 2004 as an alliance of left-wing parties which, in 2013, became a unified party.

In the January 2015 elections, running on an anti-austerity platform, Syriza obtained 36.3 per cent of the vote, attaining 149 out of the 300 seats and becoming the largest party in the Greek parliament.

When 25 Syriza legislators rejected the terms of the Greek debt bailout and bolted the party in August 2015, the party lost its majority and called new elections a month later. It won 145 seats and re-established its coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), resulting in 155 seats.

Podemos (translated as Together We Can) is a Spanish left-wing political party established in March 2014, formed in response to growing economic inequality and the high levels of unemployment.

It is harnessing the widespread discontent caused by the hard economic times and major corruption cases involving Spain’s traditional political parties.

Podemos advocates the renegotiation of austerity measures. Its platform also emphasizes poverty reduction via a basic income for everyone.

In the December 2015 parliamentary elections, it obtained 21 per cent of the vote, and became the third largest parliamentary party by obtaining 69 of 350 seats.

As no party won a majority, new elections were called for June 2016. Podemos joined forces with other left-wing parties, including the Communists, to form the Unidos Podemos (United We Can) alliance.

Disappointing its supporters, Unidos Podemos got 71 seats, behind the 137 won by the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the 85 won by their rival on the left, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

These new leftist parties face major challenges. There is no more blatant example of the European left’s inability to be leftist than Greece.

Though Syriza that promised to thwart European Union austerity policies, it has been compelled, under threat of expulsion from the Eurozone, to adopt an agenda that is anything but leftist: privatizations, increased taxes, pension cuts and stringent fiscal targets.

Hardline ministers who had criticised these policies were replaced by moderate technocrats. The party’s supporters are frustrated, and have engaged in demonstrations.

As a result, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may be preparing to call early elections this year. He warned international lenders on Feb. 10 not to heap new burdens on Greece but he still hopes a bailout review with them would end well.

In Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the PP heads a minority government as he attempts to pass a budget and stay in power. His political rival, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a former political science professor, won’t make that easy.

“A political crisis is a moment for daring,” Iglesias has asserted. “This is a party of the 21st century that advances alongside the people, while other parties are entrenched in the institutions,” Iglesias declared in a fiery speech on Feb. 12.

The post-2008 crisis among some of the 19 Eurozone countries that use the Euro as their common currency created a devastating debt problem that upended the economies of Greece and Spain.

The result has been low growth, high unemployment, and hopelessness. It will take a lot effort to turn things around.