Neither Russia nor the West is contemplating going to war over Ukraine. There is far too much to lose for both sides for this to be a serious proposition. However, until the West changes a mindset which cannot conceive of a world in which its hegemony does not hold sway, crises such as the one that has unfolded in Ukraine will continue to occur, along with the dangers inherent in them.
The vote taken by the Crimean Parliament to apply to join the Russian Federation and to hold a referendum on March 16 to give the Crimean people the opportunity to vote on the move, effectively restores democratic rights to millions of people whose rights in this regard were violated by events in Kiev. As things stand Ukraine’s constitution does not exist. It has been ripped up and trampled upon, setting a dangerous precedent in the process. Restoring some semblance of a democratic and political process to the country is vital, especially as with each day that passes without any clear political framework in place the risk of violence grows. The vote taken by the Crimean Parliament and the announcement of a referendum is therefore a welcome development.
Whether or not Crimea does secede and is accepted as a part of the Russian Federation, it is undeniable that the reckless disregard for democracy and constitutional rights demonstrated by the West in this crisis has brought us to where we are now. Despite the concerted campaign of demonisation waged in the western media against Russian president, Vladimir Putin, this is a fact that cannot be denied. In Kiev there are now neo-Nazis occupying positions of power in government. Members of the far right Svodba Party occupy five ministerial posts, including that of deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. Taking ten ministerial portfolios are members of the Fatherland Party, the party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from prison by her supporters during the coup, where she was serving time for corruption whilst in office. Deputy Leader of Fatherland, Olexander Turchynov, is the interim President of the new administration in Kiev. He played a key role in the Maidan Square protests and was under investigation by the police for helping organise attacks on the police. He has previously held important posts in the Ukrainian government, including head of the country’s security service and deputy prime minister. He was implicated in the corruption case against Tymoshenko, accused of destroying documents linking her to organised crime while head of security in 2005.
Meanwhile, in the streets of Kiev and other parts of western Ukraine members of the militant far right neo-Nazi organisation, Right Sector, are a ubiquitous presence, patrolling in military style uniforms, faces covered with masks, wielding guns and weapons stolen from the police during the disturbances leading up to the toppling of Yanukovych. Members of this organisation took part in gun battles against the police in Kiev and are known to be actively pressing for conflict with Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population, whom they consider an alien presence in the country.
It is undeniable that within the ranks of the aforementioned parties and political organisations are individuals who adhere to the ideology against which 25-30 million Russians, Ukrainians, and other peoples of the former Soviet Union sacrificed their lives during the Second World War. Are we now saying that fascism and neo-Nazism is to be considered the same as any other political doctrine or ideology in Europe? Are we now saying that it is acceptable for barbarism to be normalised, legitimised, and respected?
These are pertinent questions to be asked of politicians in Washington, London, and Brussels, whose support for the interim government in Kiev must count as the appeasement of fascism in our time. Indeed, not only have they given a government that includes fascists their political support, the announcement by the Obama administration that it is to seek congressional approval for an IMF aid package to Ukraine, in conjunction with the EU’s decision to kick in with its own sizeable bailout, means they are also determined to give it financial support.
Yet, as mentioned, being rolled out by commentators in the West over the past week of the crisis has been the shameful mitigation of the fascist element within the new government in Kiev in favour of anti-Russian propaganda, wherein Vladimir Putin has been held up as a dictator intent on violating Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. In truth the reverse is the case, with Moscow responding to the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty by the West via its proxies in western Ukraine and thereby forestalling the very real prospect of civil conflict otherwise.
Given the reckless actions of people such US Senator John McCain and the EU’s foreign affairs representative, Catherine Ashton, in stoking up tensions in Ukraine prior to the toppling of the Yanukovych government in Kiev, it is difficult to imagine what they thought they were doing. On this evidence statesmanship in the West is a dying craft, replaced by political adventurism and stunts.
Crimea joining the Russian Federation may the inevitable outcome to this crisis. If so, it should not come as a surprise. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that what is unfolding is a continuation of the realignment in Eastern Europe that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The key difference between then and now is that Russia has recovered and is able to push back against western expansion, whether in the Middle East vis-à-vis Syria, or up to its own borders vis-à-vis Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine at present
The sooner that Washington and its allies get used to the fact that the age of unipolarity is over the better it will be not only for the people of Ukraine but the entire world. Fukuyama was wrong. History doesn’t end, it flows inexorably.
China published a report on the United States‘ human rights record last Friday.
“The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2013″ was released by the Information Office of the State Council, China’s cabinet, in response to “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013″ made public by the U.S. State Department on Thursday.
China’s report states that there were serious human rights problems in the U.S in 2013, with the situation deteriorating in many fields:
THE WORLD THROUGH PRISM
The U.S. government spies on its own citizens to a “massive and unrestrained” degree, the report says.
The report calls the U.S. PRISM surveillance program, a vast, long-term mechanism for spying on private citizens both at home and abroad, “a blatant violation of international law” and says it “seriously infringes human rights.”
The U.S. intelligence services, by virtue of data provided by Internet and telecom companies — including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo — “recklessly” track citizens’ private contacts and social activities.
KILLER ROBOTS AND DEAD CONVENTIONS
The report quantifies drone strikes by the U.S. in countries, including Pakistan and Yemen, which have caused heavy civilian casualties. In Pakistan alone, since 2004, the U.S. has carried out 376 drone strikes killing 926 civilians.
The U.S. has not ratified, or participated in, a series of core UN conventions on human rights, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT
Solitary confinement is prevalent in the U.S., the report says.
In U.S. prisons, inmates in solitary confinement are enclosed in cramped cells with poor ventilation and little or no natural light, isolated from other prisoners; a situation that takes it toll on inmates’ physical and mental health.
About 80,000 U.S. prisoners are in solitary confinement. Some have been held in solitary confinement for over 40 years.
RAMPANT GUN VIOLENCE
The rampant U.S. gun culture breeds violence that results in the death of 11,000 Americans every year.
The report cites figures from the FBI that state firearms were used in 69.3 percent of the nation’s murders, 41 percent of robberies, and 21.8 percent of aggravated assaults.
In 2013, 137 people were killed in 30 mass murder events (four or more deaths each).
A rampage in the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington D.C. left 12 people dead, according to the report.
UNEMPLOYMENT AND HOMELESSNESS
“The U.S. still faces a grave employment situation with its unemployment rate still high,” the report says.
Unemployment for low-income families has topped 21 percent. The homeless population in the U.S. has climbed 16 percent from 2011 to 2013.
There are also many child laborers in the agricultural sector in the U.S. and their physical and mental health is seriously compromised, the report says.
Friday’s report was the 15th such annual report published by China.
Do you remember 1984-85? Digging deeper for the miners. Frankie Goes to Hollywood at number one. Everton win the league championship. And a medium-sized t-shirt was ample big enough. For those whose principles have endured the test of time it all seems just like yesterday and Tony Blair only a bad dream.
The strike ended up as a defeat, there is no point avoiding that awkward and painful fact. But that doesn’t mean it hardly matters, then or now. This was twelve months of communities across Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Kent, the North-East of England, South Wales, Scotland and elsewhere effectively under police siege. Miners Support Groups twinning metropolitan Britain with coalfield towns and villages. Convoys of trucks full of seasonal hampers to brighten up Christmas for miners families’ who had already endured 10 months on strike. Women against Pit Closures projecting a powerful message of solidarity on and beyond the strike picket lines. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners connecting social movements and identity politics to a common cause. Bands and stand-up comedy mobilised to put on benefit after benefit to raise not only much needed funds but the case for the miners too. Keep on keeping on kept on for twelve magnificent months.
Prolonged and courageous. British politics hadn’t seen anything quite like it for a generation or more and in terms of industrial action nothing like it since either. In the late 1970s the historian Eric Hobsbawm had provocatively argued for an analysis he called The Forward March of Labour Halted. The decade after the miners strike we were to discover not only had it been halted but it had turned decisively rightwards too. A decade after the miners strike had begun in ’84 this process saw Tony Blair elected Labour leader and the symbolic, yet politically significant dumping of Labour’s Clause IV commitment to common ownership as its model of society. As we would soon learn, things could only get bitter.
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It’s time. Time for the new blogs.
5. MarxistWorld.net (Socialist Party/CWI)
6. Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups (Unaligned)
9. Organising My Thoughts (Unaligned)
Only a small number of new offerings for February/March – other things have got in the way of trawling the interwebs. If you know of any new blogs that haven’t featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email or Twitter. Please note I’m looking for blogs that have started within the last 12 months. The new blog round up appears on the first Sunday of every month, and is also cross-posted to A Very Public Sociologist.
Here we reprint ARTHUR SCARGILL’s front page article from Wednesday March 28 1984, explaining the scale of the injustice facing the striking workers
It is not just an explosion of miners’ feelings that is taking place. Something far deeper has been set in motion, touching a chord throughout society.
Other trade unionists, the unemployed, women, businessmen – and, yes, even some Tories – have contacted me over the past few days, offering and giving support to the miners.
Simply put, a realisation is now dawning that the National Union of Mineworkers is engaged in a social and industrial Battle of Britain. Any initial feelings of hostility are rapidly evaporating.
The knowledge has sunk in that if [head of the National Coal Board Ian] MacGregor gets away with destroying tens of thousands of miners’ jobs in a single year, then absolutely nothing and no-one is safe from the madcap ruinous policies of this government.
Total strangers – non-miners and miners alike -stop me in the street and say: “You’ve got to win this one, I’ve got a lad at home and what chance will he have of a job when he leaves school…?”
What they are really saying is that they want to end the rule of fear which dominates this land.
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Although rarely read today Thomas Babbington Macauley, has had a towering influence on English and British political culture. (He was of course also, in a sense, the grandfather of the modern Indian nation-state, for without his reforms to create a pan-Indian English speaking civil service and education system, an Indian penal code and Indian civil service code, there would have been no common community of experience across the diverse colonies of the sub-continent upon which to found the Indian national consciousness that later grow into a political movement that successfully challenged British rule.)
Politically, Macauley was a dogmatic Whig of his own day; but his account of English history, published in the masterful multi-volume History of England from the Accession of James II embraces a broader view, but one that nevertheless contains a highly ideological approach to sovereignty and constitutionality. During the 19th century it is no exaggeration to say that Macauley’s partisan Whig view of English history became embedded as the common sense of the nation, and that the legacy lives to this day.
Macauley’s England is exemplary and virtuous, where respect for constitutionality and the rule of law combines with the concepts of enlightenment and the obligation of government to promote economic and cultural progress. (Macauley was also influential among American Whigs, and their successor party the Republicans, who held a similar outlook.)
The Whig view of history is that sovereignty lies with the English parliament, who fought a war to reject the tyranny of absolute monarchy, and that the constitutional settlement of 1688 restored the power of the crown only within the limits of the law. The English parliament has as its successor the British parliament and only through the process of sending Scottish and Irish MPs to the English parliament did that institution become the British parliament.
Consistent with that Whig view, the departure of Scottish MPs would not divide or disturb its constitutional continuity with the parliament that invited William III to become King.
Most English people, for good or ill, conflate Englishness and Britishness as the same thing, notwithstanding a relatively distinct experience of British consciousness for English people, somewhat separate from that felt by Scots, Welsh or Irish citizens of the UK. Explicit expressions of Englishness that are specifically counterposed to Britishness are broadly confined to the 90 minute patriots. English people tend to assume that the interests of the UK and the interests of England are the same thing, that is why devolution to the other nations of the UK has been so valuable.
The indivisible and foundational sovereignty of the parliament is a common assumption shared from such diverse figures as Tony Benn to the late Enoch Powell, and is one of the complex cultural and political strands that finds expression, to take one example, in euro-skepticism in the Conservative and UKIP parties. In so far as sovereignty is mediated or surrendered to the EU, then whatever the legal and practical complications, the political assumption is that this is revocable and contingent on its continued support from the British parliament.
Adam Tomkins makes the point that should Scotland become independent (iScotland), then legally it would become a new state, and that the UK without iScotland (the rest of the UK – rUK) would legally be the successor state.
This is not only certainly right in law, contrary to the claim by some Scottish nationalists, but also matches the political and cultural assumptions of the English, that are thoroughly Macauleyite. Or as Gloria Gaynor would put it, the assumption of most English people towards an independent Scotland would be “I got along without you, before I met you, I’ll get along without you now”. Indeed one of the stand out aspects of the current debate over Scottish independence is the deafening indifference by ordinary people south of the border.
The danger is that the Scottish Government’s pitch for independence, described in their white paper, Scotland’s Future , which was published November 2013 makes a number of assumptions about the future co-operation of a rUK government with iSoctland that would be politically unthinkable for the English to accept, in the event of disunion.
In my view, there is no prospect whatsoever that rUK politicians negotiating the terms of secession, should Scotland vote to leave the UK, would make any concessions that impeded the future sovereignty or independence of the British parliament, and any concessions made at all would only be those overwhelmingly both in England’s actual and perceived interests. I appreciate that England is not the only component of the UK, but in this issue it would be the dominant component, and public opinion in England is deeply wedded to the current constitution, with or without Scotland’s participation in it.
The legal position is that assets and liabilities would be proportionately divided in the event of independence, but institutions of the UK state would continue to belong to rUK. The Scottish nationalists are playing a dangerous game in expecting anything else, because this legal position is completely aligned with the popular perception in England, and probably in Wales and among unionists in Northern Ireland. We have already seen over the issue of the currency claims that Scotland is being “bullied” by Westminster politicians, with a hardly hidden subtext of antagonism towards the English.
Scottish victimhood is hard to take seriously, as not only were the hands of Scotland’s colonialist sons dipped in the blood of Empire as deeply as the English, but it was Scottish slave traders who enriched Glasgow, it was the Scottish parliament that voted for union, it was Scottish aristocrats that cleared the highlands, and it was Scottish unionists who flocked to the colours to defend the union from Jacobite rebellion. Indeed it was Sir Walter Scott more than any other cultural figure, who popularised the dominant conceits of English national history!
The Scottish Government’s pitch for independence, described in their white paper, Scotland’s Future , which was published November 2013 makes a number of assumptions about the future co-operation of a rUK government with iSoctland that would I believe be politically unthinkable for the English to accept in the event of disunion.
There is a case for Scottish independence that can be made, the position of the Scotland’s Future white paper is not that reasoned case; it is instead seasoned with unrealistic expectations, and contingent upon concessions from rUK that would not be consistent with the future self-interest of the British state, nor consistent with the political aspirations of the English.
As G.K Chesterton wrote, there is a sleeping giant to consider:
Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
The Edinburgh Agreement stipulates that in the event of disunion, the government of rUK and the government of iScotland will negotiate; however it would be a terrible miscalculation to believe that the British government, beholden to English perceptions and self interest, would do anything other than drive a hard bargain.
While Scottish nationalists understandably advocate what they see as the best interests of Scotland, they cannot complain if English (and Welsh and Irish) politicians advocate the best interests of the UK. The outcome may not be what Alex Salmond expects.
The danger of Scottish nationalists seeking to present themselves as aggrieved victims of English bullying is that they might awake the giant, and precipitate a change in English attitudes from indifference to hostility.
The political firestorm that has erupted in light of revelations regarding letters sent to Irish republicans implicated in various paramilitary operations during the Troubles – referred to as On the Runs – by the British government granting them de facto immunity from prosecution, is merely the latest symptom of the deepening malaise that has gripped the Irish peace process recently.
Regardless of this latest crisis, however, the point should not be lost. Implicit in the peace process was the acknowledgement and recognition that it had been a political conflict, in which those involved were motivated by political not criminal aims.
A particular sore point for the political establishment is the rights of the families of the victims of paramilitary violence to justice. It was pressure on this level which prompted David Cameron to rush headlong into announcing a judicial review into the letters and the entire policy with respect to On the Runs. It is undoubtedly a hard pill to swallow for any family member or loved one of someone killed by paramilitary violence to see their killer or killers escape justice. Here, though, there is a danger in losing sight of the overriding objective of the Good Friday Agreement in ensuring that there are no more families left grieving as a result of conflict and violence.
Innocent civilians were killed by all sides during the conflict – by republican and loyalist paramilitaries, and by the British army and other crown forces. Though it may be hard for many to accept, members of the IRA and other republican paramilitary groups believed that the conflict was a legitimate war of national liberation to free six counties in the North of Ireland from foreign occupation. And even though abandoning violence in favour of a political process, they continue to believe it. This in no way implies justification for atrocities committed by republicans during the Troubles. The Hyde Park bombing in 1982, which has been revisited as a result of the current crisis, resulted in the deaths of four British soldiers and seven horses, while 31 civilians were injured, some seriously. It was a horrific attack which at the time met with widespread revulsion. Indeed, the images of horses lying dead on the ground covered in tarpaulin still manage to evoke strong emotions.
But the consequences of such horrific violence have to be separated out from the politics involved. War is indeed politics by other means and the concerted and relentless attempt by the unionist political establishment to criminalise the republican movement over this and the conflict in general is nothing more than political opportunism. Revisiting the history of the conflict, painting those involved on the republican/nationalist side as terrorists who were engaged in acts of mass murder and wholesale criminality, we see a growing crisis within unionism over the perception that nationalist and republican communities have gained from the peace process at their expense.
Accusations from loyalists on the ground that nationalist communities in the province have received more from central government by way of grants for community and development projects have fed a growing sense of resentment. There is also a prevalent belief that Protestant tradition within the province is under threat as nationalists/Catholics gain more political influence and parity.
This was recently played out when Belfast City Council voted to restrict the flying of the Union Jack over Belfast City Hall to specific holidays and special occasions, as is the case in towns and cities throughout the mainland. The response from loyalists was weeks of illegal and disruptive street protests, involving violence. The annual parades season every summer also continues to be a period of tension, as loyalists refuse to compromise over what they consider is their right to march close to nationalist communities regardless of the provocative nature of what are triumphalist displays of Protestant militancy.
The lack of cohesion within unionist and loyalist communities has produced a crisis of leadership whereby a growing disconnect between the political leadership and the people they are meant to lead is at breaking point. This was evident during the aforementioned flag protests, when rather than take steps to calm the situation and end the disruption, unionist politicians were actively encouraging them, doing so in an attempt to maintain or gain credibility with those to whom republicans and Catholics remain enemies to be vanquished rather than partners in a peace process.
The only beneficiaries of this attitude are the extreme elements on either side, those who would like nothing more than a return to conflict. Dissident republicanism has gained traction, especially among alienated youth within republican communities, over the past few years, and crises such as this latest one can only feed a rising disenchantment with the status quo.
Those peace walls aren’t coming down any time soon.