— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for May, 2011

The G8 and the Arab Awakening

Group of 8 leaders wrapped up their two-day summit in Deauville, France, on Friday [, 27 May] by comparing the “Arab spring” to the fall of the Berlin Wall and promising up to $40 billion in aid to Tunisia and Egypt for their fight for democracy. Jeffrey Brown reports on the summit’s conclusion and ongoing unrest around the Arab world (27 May 2011).

The Director General of the Al Jazeera network Wadah Khanfar explains that the “popular revolutions now sweeping the region are long overdue. Yet in some ways, they could not have come before now. These are uprisings whose sons and daughters are well educated and idealistic enough to envision a better future, yet realistic enough to work for it without falling into despair. These revolutions are led by the Internet generation, for whom equality of voice and influence is the norm. Their leaders’ influence is the product of their own effort, determination and skill, unconstrained by rigid ideologies and extremism. It is now clear to all that the modern, post-colonial Arab state has failed miserably, even in what it believed it was best at: Maintaining security and stability. Over the decades, Arab interior ministers and police chiefs devoted enormous resources and expertise to monitoring and spying on their own people. Yet now, the security machineries in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have disintegrated in short order, while the rest of
the authoritarian and repressive regimes in the region can see the writing on the wall. These revolutions have exposed not just the failure of traditional politicians but also the moral, political and economic bankruptcy of the old Arab elites. Those elites not only attempted to control their own people, but also sought to shape and taint the views of news media in the region and across the world. Indeed, it should surprise no one that so many Western analysts, researchers, journalists and government experts failed to recognise the obvious signs of Arab youth movements that would soon erupt into revolutions capable of bringing down some of the most pro-Western regimes in the Middle East. That failure has exposed a profound lack of understanding in the West of Arab region”.[1]

With obvious pride in his voice, Khanfar continues that “[t]hese unfolding transformations have been less of a surprise for us at Al Jazeera. Since our launch nearly 15 years ago, we have chosen to keep close to the Arab street, gauging its pulse and reflecting its
aspirations. It was clear to us that a revolution was in the making, and it was happening far from the gaze of a tame and superficial establishment media that allied itself with the powerful centre – on the assumption that the centre is always safer and more important. Many media outlets in the region failed to recognise what was happening among the Arab grass roots. Keen to conduct
interviews with high-level officials and ever willing to cover repetitious news conferences, they remained oblivious to what was happening on the ground”.[2]


[1] Wadah Khanfar, “We saw the Arab revolutions coming” Al Jazeera (01 March 2011). http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/03/2011317269573443.html.

[2] Wadah Khanfar, “We saw the Arab revolutions coming”.

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Anti-Austerity Protesters in Spain

 

Anti-austerity protesters camping out in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol have voted to continue their campaign. Thousands of  people, angry at political corruption, welfare cuts and soaring unemployment are refusing to leave despite warnings from the government to go. The protesters, sometimes called “the indignant”, have become increasingly entrenched in the square since they
began occupying it on May 15. Originally organised to target local elections last week, the mainly young-people-protest is staying put.

 

The BBC adds that the ‘protesters, calling themselves “los indignados” [the indignant] and “15-M”, are demanding jobs, better living standards, a fairer system of democracy and changes to the centre-left Socialist government’s austerity plans. Voters delivered a crushing defeat to the Socialists in local elections a week ago. The tent city protesters have organised themselves into groups to look after food, cleaning and publicity. In Barcelona, dozens of protesters were hurt when police cleared protesters from
the Plaza de Catalunya on Friday [,27 May]. The police action came on the eve of Barcelona’s football final in the Champions League, when big crowds of fans were expected in the streets. But many protesters returned to the square later and the Barcelona rally is continuing. Thousands of protesters are also camping out in the cities of Seville, Valencia and Logrono. But in Toledo, protesters have decided to pack up a similar tent city and leave. On Sunday night, police in Paris dismantled tents erected by protesters in Place de la Bastille who gathered to show their solidarity with the Spanish protesters. A crowd of about 1,000 was dispersed by police in the square, a Paris landmark as symbolic as Madrid’s Puerta del Sol’.[1]

 


[1] “Spain: Protesters vote to stay in Madrid tent city” BBC News (30 March 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13593016.

Obama’s New Polish Model for Democracy and Spain’s Troubled Democracy

On Saturday, 28 May 2011, President Barack Obama in Warsaw praised Poland as an example for aspiring democracies in the Middle East and elsewhere. As VOA’s Kent Klein reports from the Polish capital, the president also reassured Poles  about the US commitment to ensuring their security.

Meanwhile, another EU country is going through its difficulties regarding democracy, with some people even trying intimate a link with the events happening in the Middle East and North Africa: a ‘single misspelled sign in Arabic proclaiming revolution flutters amid all the others in Spanish demanding everything from world peace to social justice on a large wall in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square’.[i]  A 37-year old audio-visual producer, Ivan Martinoz, acting as a spokesman for the protesters, significantly declared: “Of course many of us had a lot of sympathy with the Arab revolutions and it is close in time . . . We looked at Iceland, for example. That was a great inspiration, how the people in such a small country rose up twice and threw out the government because they did not want to pay for the debt of the banks”.[ii]  In the Abu Dhabi Media company’s first English-language publication The National, Ferry Biedermann says that “Europeans, the young in particular, are just now waking up to the jarring consequences of years of austerity after the 2008 financial crisis. In Spain, unemployment has rocketed to some 21 per cent of the population overall and more than 30 per cent among the under-30s. Add to that dissatisfaction with what is seen as an ossified and unresponsive
political class in many countries, a housing crisis as people lose homes they can no longer afford, and a growing gap between rich and poor and there lies a recipe for a hot European summer”.[iii]

Biedermann notes that the “protesters in Spain like to fashion themselves as revolutionaries and employ the language of the international antiglobalisation movement as well as left-wing and environmental groups. But there is no hard-core, militant youth in evidence in the Puerta del Sol and non-violence is emphasised at every turn”, just like had been the case on Tahrir Square earlier this year.[iv]  But, whereas the Tahrir Square protest were likely orchestrated by forces keen to employ the new media as a tool to mobilise the young and disenchanted,[v] the Spanish protests seem to have erupted more or less spontaneously.


[i] Ferry Biedermann, “Spain misses out on most lessons of Arab spring”  The National (29 May 2011).  http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/spain-misses-out-on-most-lessons-of-arab-spring.

[ii] Ferry Biedermann, “Spain misses out on most lessons of Arab spring”.

[iii] Ferry Biedermann, “Spain misses out on most lessons of Arab spring”.

[iv] Ferry Biedermann, “Spain misses out on most lessons of Arab spring”.

[v] C. Erimtan, “Behind the scenes of Egypt’s revolution” Hürriyet Daily News (27 February 2011). http://tiny.cc/fz7tf.

Extreme Weather Consistent with Climate Change

The powerful tornadoes and other extreme weather events that have cut swaths of destruction across the United States over the past month have prompted many to wonder if they are part of a new trend. Are these violent storms the result of climate change, or can they be explained as normal weather variations (27 May 2011).

The End of BBC Türkçe: The Global Outreach of British Austerity Measures

The other day I listened to the final broadcast of BBC Türkçe on the Turkish radio station  NTV Radyo: ‘BBC Radio’s Turkish Service [ended] on May 27 after 72 years of continuous programs following a serious of British government cuts to their funding. Although the Turkish service will continue online and on television, funding cuts to the British broadcaster by the David Cameron government mean the radio service will be taken off the air before the end of the month [of May 2011]. As part of the financial cuts, three employees at the BBC’s Turkish service are voluntarily leaving their jobs while two others are being laid off. There are 19 employees in total at the service. Noting that the British government slashed the BBC World Service’s budget by 25 percent, Murat Nişancıoğlu, the deputy director and editor for BBC Turkish, said the budget cuts for his group were more than the average at 27 percent, Anatolia reported’.[1]  At the end of January, the BBC reported that it ‘plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services. Staff have been informed that up to 650 jobs will be lost from a workforce of 2,400 over the next three years. The Macedonian, Albanian and Serbian services will be axed, as will English for the Caribbean and Portuguese for Africa, in a bid to save £46m a year. The BBC estimates audiences will fall by more than 30 million, from 180 million to 150 million a week. Director general Mark Thompson said it was “a painful day” for the BBC’.[2] 

 

The MP Denis MacShane makes a persuasive case: the “BBC World Service is far more than a bunch of journalists and a network of radio transmitters. It is Brand Britain abroad. The new film “The King’s Speech” tracks down radio dials transmitting to all the bits of the globe still coloured red in 1939. But the real service of the Bush House came after the war. Then in the Suez crisis, the world could hear that Labour stood against Eden’s foolish military adventure. It came in 1968, as Russian tanks rolled into Prague and across the communist world, a new generation of Havels and Walesa would tune into the BBC for reliable news instead of the bombastic propaganda of CIA-financed radio stations. In the 1970s, a young Polish activist, Gienek Smolar, came to work in Bush House. From his house in Ealing, he sent books and pamphlets to his pro-democracy friends in Poland and reported with scrupulous accuracy what was happening as the Polish resistance movement blossomed into Solidarity in Gdansk in 1980. That great workers’ uprising, like all revolts for democracy, did not come from nowhere. It needed networks and links and accurate information and that is what the BBC World Service provided. When I worked there as a graduate trainee in the 1970s, we covered the revolts in the Portuguese African empire that culminated in the collapse of Portugese fascism-lite in 1974. I was not allowed to write a line unless there were 3 sources for a fact. It was rigorous journalism that would be laughed at today when one tweet is enough to launch a news story on television. But that austere, disciplined, restrained, desire-to-tell-truth journalism meant the BBC was one shining source of factual honesty in a world full of propaganda. Even when years later as a Minister I tried to check football results via the BBC Online service in Beijing I found it blocked as the communist rulers of China are far more terrified of the BBC’s overseas operations than they are of a British prime minister who is too scared even to mention in public the name of the Chinese peace prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. I owe the World Service a personal debt. In 1982, I was arrested in Warsaw while running money to the underground Polish Solidarity union. For 24 hours I was shivering and frightened in a Polish police cell. But friends who had seen my arrest told a BBC reporter who put it out on the World Service. My cell door flung open and in came the British ambassador carrying the FCO emergency survival kit for an imprisoned leftist. It was a Harrods carrier bag with some Ryvita, a small jar of Marmite and 2 copies of Country Life. Last weekend I was in the Balkans where there is a terrible stand-off between Serbia and Kosovo that prevents stability in the region. In northern Kosovo, Serb mafia gangs working with their Albanian comrades rule over lawless territory organising trafficking of drugs, sex slaves and anything for criminal profit. Serbia and Kosovo need to talk to each other. But last week William Hague ordered the Serb and Albanian services of the World Service to be shut down. Language services come and go as do different means of transmitting news – radio, online, piggy-backing on FM or TV stations. But as Hague orders the amputation of 650 BBC World Service staff, Britain loses an irreplaceable asset. The BBC has not helped itself with the pharoahonic greed of its bosses awarding each other salaries five times that of the Prime Minister. But the war between the BBC and the new Government should be put aside to save the World Service. The BBC overseas broadcasts cost 0.5 per cent of the UK’s total overseas spend. Somewhere in the huge fees the Department for International Development has lavished on consultants, or the profligate waste of the military, or the wine cellars of the FCO there can be found the money to save the World Service. When William Hague ticked the cuts column as a new Foreign Secretary last summer he did not realise what damage would later appear. He can order a review now. He does not want to go down in history – a subject he cherishes – as the Foreign Secretary who presided over the silencing of Britain’s voice in the world”.[3]  Alas, it would appear that Mister Hague has no regard for posterity’s opinion or even British soft power on the world stage, and all that for a measly 0.5% “of the UK’s total overseas spend”. I don’t what has become of the plan to apply for a “grant from the US State Department” that was reported by RT last March,[4] but as it stands Turkish radio listeners will no longer be able to tune in to the BBC in Turkish . . . On the other hand, there will still be “the Voice of America in Turkish” to listen to in the wee hours of the day.[5] 


[1] “BBC Turkish radio service to sign off for last time due to cuts” Hürriyet Daily News (23 May 2011). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=bbc-radio-to-end-its-turkish-service-2011-05-23.

[2] “BBC World Service cuts outlined to staff” BBC News (26 January 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-12283356.

[3] Denis MacShane, “We All Owe Something to the BBC World Service” Stop the BBC World Service Cuts. http://www.savews.com/.

[4] “The BBC, the U.S. State Department and the Issue of Propaganda”A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (25 March 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/the-bbc-the-u-s-state-department-and-the-issue-of-propaganda/.

Milošević, Karadžić, Mladić and the Rape of Bosnia

  

Over the years, the recent wars in the Balkans have been all but forgotten. Still, positions remain as polarised as ever, with leftist apologists accusing the West of having demonised the now defunct Serb President Slobodan Milošević to serve its own aims and others bemoaning the fact that Serb atrocities have gone unpunished and were all but rewarded in the Dayton Peace Agreement. Some time ago, Karadžić was caught hiding in plain sight, while now his erstwhile buddy General Ratko Mladić has also been captured. It seems that Serb authorities eventually decided that more cordial relations with the EU are better than hiding a man, demonised by most yet also loved by many if not all Serbs as a hero who served the fatherland. Were the wars in former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia the result of Serb aggression cunningly exploited by Slobodan Milošević or was it really a case of age-old ethnic and religious hatreds and rivalries resurfacing after the death of Tito??? John Pilger offers this piece of insight: “Yugoslavia was a uniquely independent and multi-ethnic, if imperfect, federation that stood as a political and economic bridge in the Cold War. This was not acceptable to the expanding European Community, especially newly united Germany, which had begun a drive east to dominate its “natural market” in the Yugoslav provinces of Croatia and Slovenia. By the time the Europeans met at Maastricht in 1991, a secret deal had been struck; Germany recognised Croatia, and Yugoslavia was doomed. In Washington, the US ensured that the struggling Yugoslav economy was denied World Bank loans and the defunct Nato was reinvented as an enforcer”.[1]  A newly recognised independent Croatia was a danger to Serbia, the once-dominant part of the Yugoslav federation, which duly reacted in force. Prior to the Croatian move, Slovenia had already declared independence after having had to fight some minor battles (“Ten-Day War”). But the conflict between Croatia and Serbia was to lead to more unrest and effectively spelled the end of Bosnia as a multi-ethnic nation where “ethnically Muslim” inhabitants formed a slight majority. In a Yugoslav context, the term Muslim denoted an ethnic identity similar to the nouns Slovene, Croat, Serb, or Macedonian. The requisite Wikipedia entry tells us that ‘the Croatian War of Independence, began when Serbs in Croatia who were opposed to Croatian independence announced their secession from Croatia. Fighting in this region had actually begun weeks prior to the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. The move was triggered by a provision in the new Croatian Constitution that replaced the explicit reference to Serbs in Croatia as a “constituent nation” with a generic reference to all other nations, and was interpreted by Serbs as being reclassified as a “national minority”. The Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) was ideologically unitarian, though at this stage predominantly staffed by Serbs in its officer corps, thus it also opposed Croatian independence, siding with the Croatian Serb rebels. Since the JNA had disarmed the Territorial Units of the two northernmost republics, the fledgling Croatian state had to form its military from scratch . . . and was further hindered by an arms embargo imposed by the U.N. on the whole of Yugoslavia. The Croatian Serb rebels were unaffected by said embargo as they had the support of and access to supplies of the JNA. The border regions faced direct attacks from forces within Serbia and Montenegro, and saw the shelling of UNESCO world heritage site Dubrovnik, where the international press was criticised for focusing on the city’s architectural heritage, instead of reporting the destruction of Vukovar, a pivotal battle involving many civilian deaths’.[2]  And then, in ‘March 1991, the Karađorđevo agreement took place between Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević. The two presidents tried to reach an agreement on the disintegration process of Yugoslavia, but their main concern was Bosnia, or more precisely its partition’.[3] 

  

But rather than just another agreement between enemies, Milošević actively provoked the Serbs living in Bosnia by means of his henchman Arkan. The political scientist John Mueller expressed this fact most eloquently: “the violent conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia . . . were spawned not so much by the convulsive surging of ancient hatreds or by frenzies whipped up by demagogic politicians and the media as by the ministrations of small – sometimes very small – bands of opportunistic marauders recruited by political leaders and operating under their general guidance”.[4]  In case of the violence in Bosnia, Milošević recruited Željko Ražnatović, better known by his nom-de-guerre Arkan, to frighten Serbs living in Bosnia by means of staging raids supposedly carried out by Jihad-minded Muslims . . . Arkan’s Tigers, “recently empowered and unpoliced thugs”,[5] effectively turned the (ethnically) Muslim Bosnians into a Jihadist phalanx bent on “ethnically cleansing” their homeland. Bosnia’s population at the time consisted of 45% (“ethnic”) Muslims, 33% (Orthodox) Serbs and 18% (Catholic) Croats.[6]  This crazy idea that Bosnia was a place of Islamic radicalism in the heart of Yugoslavia also took root further afield as well. Evan Kohlmann’s 2004 book with the telling title Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network says it all.[7]  The book’s publisher describes this obvious work of fiction in these terms: ‘Terrorism analyst Evan F. Kohlmann unveils a new angle to the deadly international terrorist organization and reveals the root of its terror lies in the Bosnian War. He includes recently declassified American and European intelligence reports, secret Al-Qaida records and internal documents, and interviews with notorious figures such as London-based Bin Laden sympathizer Abu Hamza Al-Masri. This is the first book to uncover the secret history of how Europe was systematically infiltrated by the ranks of the most dangerous terrorist organization on earth, as told by the terrorists themselves and the daring investigators who have tirelessly tracked them over the past decade’.[8]  As I pointed out in an earlier entry: ‘Adam Curtis’ documentary The Power of Nightmares (2004) convincingly argues that the U.S. authorities fabricated a terrorist organisation named Al Qaeda based on the testimony of a former associate of Bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl’.[9]  In other words, the fabrication of one “myth” in the U.S. led to the construction of another conspiracy theory which was meant to further solidify the people’s fear of Muslims as people and Islam as a religion. This conspiracy theory was concocted by an ‘American terrorism consultant who has worked for the FBI and other governmental organizations. [Kohlmann] is a contributor to the Counterterrorism Blog, a senior investigator with The Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation, and a terrorism analyst for NBC News’,[10] which is an even more disturbing fact.

 

Back to Yugoslavia. In 1999, the BBC reported that ‘[p]aramilitary groups [“recently empowered and unpoliced thugs”] played key roles in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991-95 and were noted for their ruthlessness and cruelty. On the Serbian side, the two most important paramilitaries were the Tigers, led by Zeljko Raznatovic, generally known by his nom de guerre, Arkan, and Vojislav Seselj’s Chetniks’.[11]  And now, Ratko Mladić has finally been apprehended. The BBC described him as follows in 2008: ‘Ratko Mladić was Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s army chief throughout the Bosnian war. Along with Mr Karadzic, he came to symbolise the Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims and is one of the most wanted suspects from the Bosnia conflict. He has been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity – including the massacre of at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica in 1995. Having lived freely in Belgrade for some time, Mr Mladić disappeared from view when former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001. Starting in October 2004, former aides to Mr Mladić began surrendering to the war crimes tribunal, as Belgrade came under intense international pressure to co-operate. They included Radivoje Miletić and Milan Gvero, both accused of involvement in ethnic cleansing. Speculation mounted that Mr Mladic would soon be arrested when Radovan Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008’.[12]  On Thursday, 26 May 2011, the BBC summarily stated that ‘Gen Mladić, 69, was found in a village in northern Serbia where had been living under an assumed name’.[13]  From Belgrade, the BBC’s Mark Lowen writes that it “is hard to overstate the importance of this arrest here in Serbia. Many people feel the destiny of their country was held hostage by Ratko Mladic. Their hopes of joining the EU were ruled out by Brussels while Mladic was at large. I asked President Tadic if it was a coincidence that he was arrested while the EU was considering Serbia’s bid to join the bloc. He said the country had never calculated its search for Mladic – it was always determined to catch him. There is still an ultra-nationalist fringe here who see Mladic as a hero – they say he only ever defended Serb interests. But the new, emerging generation in Serbia seem to be tired of the past and its wars – they want to leave that behind and move forward to the future”.[14] 

  


[1] John Pilger, “Don’t Forget Yugoslavia” Information Clearing House (03 February 2009). http://www.islamtimes.org/vdcakynu149no.gt4.html.

[2] “Yugoslav Wars” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Wars.

[3] “Yugoslav Wars”.

[4] J. Mueller, “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’” International Security, 25, 1 (Summer 2000), p. 42. http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/tclim/F06_courses/banality_ethnic_war.pdf.

[5] J. Mueller, “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’”, p. 6.

[9] “Killing a Monster: OBL and the War on Terror” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (15 May 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/killing-a-monster-obl-and-the-war-on-terror/.

[10] “Evan Kohlmann” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Kohlmann.

[11] “Arkan: Feared and ruthless” BBC News (31 March 1999). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1998/kosovo2/308071.stm.

[12] “Profile: Ratko Mladic” BBC News (31 July 2008). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1423551.stm.

[13] “Ratko Mladic arrested: Bosnia war crimes suspect held” BBC News (26 May 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13561407.

[14] Mark Lowen, “Analysis” BBC News (26 May 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13561407.

The Arrest of Radko Mladic

Serbian President Boris Tadic says Europe’s most wanted war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic has been arrested. He said on Tuesday [, 24 May 2011]: On behalf of the Republic of Serbia we announce that Ratko Mladic has been arrested. His arrest has been sought by the UN War Crimes Tribunal For The Former Yugoslavia on suspicion of genocide. It was one of the conditions for Serbia joining the EU.

  

 

Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general wanted for alleged war crimes, including genocide, committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, has been arrested, Serbia has announced. He was first indicted in 1995 over the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in which around 10,000 people died. Rory Challands reports on mixed reactions among relatives of the massacres’ victims to Mladic’s arrest.