It’s not everyday we talk about Afghanistan. When we do, it’s often in passing, it’s mentioned as part of a laundry list of occupations we’re fighting against and then we usually move on. At least that’s been my experience.
I was suprised to read in the French daily Liberation this morning that the Spanish government is set to regularize some 600,000 non-status people in that country. The number falls short of the 800,000 initially promised by the Zapatero government – or the demand by immigrant/refugee rights movements to grant ‘Status for All’ – but it is still something to consider in the Canadian context. The numbers themselves tell a pretty convincing story as to the feasibility of such an initiative in Canada. Let’s hope Immigration Minister Joe Volpe is taking notes on the Spanish experience!
Consider the following: Spain’s population currently stands at an estimated 40,341,462 (July 2005 est.). The country has a GDP of $937.6 billion (2004 est.) or $23,300 (2004 est.) per capita and an unemployment rate of 10.4% (2004 est.). Spain’s total land area stands at 499,542 sq km, accounting for a population density of some 80.8 persons per sq km (2005 est.).
Canada, on the other hand, has a smaller population, standing at 32,805,041 (July 2005 est.). However, it has a GDP of $1.023 trillion (2004 est.) or $31,500 (2004 est.) per capita and an unemployment rate of 7% (2004). Canada’s total land mass is 9,093,507 sq km, accounting for a population density of 3.6 persons per sq km (2005 est.).
Given that Canada’s overall GDP is 9% bigger than Spain’s (or 26% times bigger in terms of GDP share per person), that the geographic area of this country is roughly 18 times the size of Spain (with a population density that is 22 times smaller), and that the entire estimated population of non-status people in Canada is only a third of those affected under the Spanish amnesty law (i.e. 200,000 in Canada vs. 600,000 being regularized in Spain), it is hard to believe that the Canadian government is hard pressed to grant the demand of ‘Status for All’ to immigrants and refugees in this country.
The government’s math just doesn’t add up. Even if we accept the erroneous logic of right-wing critics – i.e. that immigration somehow affects jobs (thus flying in the face of the fact that immigrants largely fill jobs that are left empty by resident labour forces) – we still find that Canada is in a much better position than Spain to afford lee-way for non-status people.
A number of groups in Canada are mobilizing with the demand for the regularization of all non-status persons, an end to deportations, an end to the detention of migrants, immigrants and refugees, and the abolition of security certificates. Solidarity Across Borders and No One is Illegal in Montreal are planning a 200 km march from Montreal to Ottawa this June 18-25 to press for these demands. To find out more about this and other campaigns for immigrant and refugee right currently active in Canada click here, here, and here.
Signs are increasing that attempts to legitimate an orderly transfer of power in the
The clashes in
Class antagonisms are also sharpening, with many perceiving the current re-assertion of central PA authority as an attempt to disarm the armed resistance groups whose recruitment base is largely centered in poorer areas and refugee camps. On Saturday, roughly 2500 unemployed workers in
And while tensions within Fatah are percolating, there are signs that the broader antagonism between the Islamic resistance movement in
CNN and other mainstream news agencies like the BBC are reporting a truce between the occupation forces and the Islamist wing of the Palestinian resistance, who’s ascent to the cease-fire came a little later than those of other armed factions. Interestingly, not all of the Brigades seem to share the same understandings of what a truce entails and it will be interesting to see for how long Abbas can play both the game the Americans and Israelis are expecting him to play while at the same time staving off the popular demands of his domestic constituency.
What follows is an interview with Nasser Aweis, one of the leaders of the Al-Aqsa Brigades who is currently being held in isolation in the Beer Saba’ prison. Aweis is originally from the Balata refugee camp, near Nablus, and is one of the camps best known political prisoners (arguably more popular than Hussam Khader, another well known and respected political prisoner in the camp). Nasser’s brother Mohamed Aweis was killed almost one year ago, at the end of February 2004, during clashes with the Israeli military. Most of Balata showed up for his funeral, illustrating the degree of respect the family enjoys in the camp. As a result of Nasser’s grassroots support, the family home is frequently made the object of Israeli military reprisals – raids that are part of the nearly daily attacks on Nablus and its surrounding camps. Nasser has also undergone considerable hardships in prison. Some recent articles on conditions at Beer Saba’ can be found here and here.
Anyway, in the interview he outlines pretty much the current position of the Al-Aqsa brigades on the ceasefire and the way they would like the coming months to play themselves out. Interestingly, he calls for a rejuvination of Fatah’s grassroots, a revival of the PLO, the inclusion of voices from the Diaspora during this critical juncture in the Palestinian struggle, and sticking to the ‘redlines’ of the national liberation movement – which in his formulation, echoing the thoughts of many, includes things like the right of return. He also advocates a closer dialogue with Hamas, while paying lipservice to Abu Mazen’s program (as formulated by the Brigades).
The document is interesting from a number of perspectives and I’m putting it out for commentary. The position of groups like the Al-Aqsa Brigades, Hamas, the PFLP, Hezbollah, and Moqtada Sadr’s militia in Iraq are interesting at the moment. They all seem to have gone quiet and are apparently reassessing their strategies in the coming period. It seems that key players in the region are furiously undertaking new calculations and trying to find a place for themselves in the ‘new’ Middle East being shaped by the recent elections in Palestine, Iraq, and of course in the United States.
An important measure of whether or not the resistance factions will get anything from the current bartering over Palestine will be the nature of the political prisoners released and to what extent they’ll be able to resist attempts by the PA, the Israelis and the USA to co-opt their leadership cadres (i.e. to what extent will the resistance factions insist on achieving the national goals they’ve set for themselves). It may be that many groups will be using this period as a means of rebuilding their movements – shifting the focus of the struggle to other arenas. As international solidarity activists we need to be prepared for the implications of such a shift. The interview with Nasser Aweis that follows touches on some of these issues, highlights some of the contradictions evident in the ‘mainstream’ of the resistance movement and points to potential areas of contention in the future that are worth taking into consideration.
Beer Saba’ Prison
Sunday, 30 January 2005
Nasser Aweis is the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He was born in 1970 and hails from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. He was arrested on 13 April 2002 and is being held in isolation in the Beer Saba’ prison.
[This article was translated into English from the French “Entretien Avec Naser Uways” which originally appeared on the website http://www.arab48.com].
On the origins of Fatah
“Many years prior to 1965, groups of young people having faith in the justness of their cause, issuing from the distress, suffering and exile of our people, met in order to forge a new path where defiance, initiative and action at the historical level were mixed in with each other. They founded the Fatah movement that has led the Palestinian struggle in all the stages of its exile, which saved our people from its defeatist state in order to create a people that can struggle for its liberty, [its right of] return and independence.
By its revolutionary action as a liberation movement, Fatah waged battles on all ideological and existential fronts in order to affirm the Palestinian identity, in order to present the Palestinians as human beings having rights and desiring life, liberty and an end to occupation and ignorance.”
On the Ideological Pluralism within the Fatah Movement
“Historically, the Fatah movement has grown to encapsulate all possible ideological orientations and visions, while doctrinaire groups also managed to emerge in the field of Palestinian political action. Due to its suppleness – resulting from its refusal to adopt a precise ideological line – we have witnessed within the movement discussions and dialogues, which where sometimes quiet and sometimes hot, between divergent positions, between those who wanted to pursue the resistance until the end and those who preached a reasonable pragmatism, between realists and dreamers, between those who proposed a tactical vision going through stages and those who proposed a broader strategic vision.
All these positions and divergences pushed Fatah to unify itself, to develop itself, to find solutions in order to escape the dangers of inaction and fossilization, through the continual search for active and realistic responses to the problems posed by the Palestinian situation, both in their regional and international dimensions.
It is by this spirit that the Fatah movement was led, from its first cells, to the stage of open military confrontations, to the attempts to find a realistic settlement to the Palestinian question in order to finally return to a stage of confrontations with the occupation – confrontations triggered by Israel’s aggression and its refusal to accept the consequences of a just peace, because, as an occupying power, it was unable to free itself of its oppressive mentality when confronted with a people that had decided to be free.”
Fatah, Power and the Growth of Anger
“But, for more than ten years now, the Fatah movement’s activists, supporters and militants are living the disappointments engendered by the [Palestinian] Authority, given that Fatah is responsible for the project of the Authority and its rule.
The lack of separation between Fatah and the Authority has served to widen the circle of disillusionment within the ranks of the movement. Voices were raised demanding reforms, to reinvigorate the organization, but all these calls and criticism were put to the side. This pushed many of Fatah’s cadres – especially those that knew the pain and suffering of the prisons and the darkness of cells – to seek a way out of this state of deceptions and to address the movement’s incapacity to respond to problems that were gripping it from within. They took the initiative of establishing the armed militia units of the Fatah movement, units that eventually became the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.”
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – The Beginings
“After a long series of consultations between sincere members of the movement, the Brigades were introduced in order to put to an end the anarchical positions prevailing in the thoughts of some people. The first consultations took place in order to put to an end the ideas of those who wanted to distance the movement from its resistance dimension.
The Brigades were founded in pursuit of the Fatah movement’s heritage of struggle and resistance. I remember how the martyr and founder of this movement Yasser Badawi would say: “We will make the Brigades into the sword of Fatah, the summit of Al-Asifa (the armed forces of Fatah), the heart and the conscience of the poor.” I also still remember how the symbol of the Brigades was conceived by one of its initial founders and leaders, starting from the symbol of Al-Asifa.
From this period the first big names of the Brigades emerged, those that through their discussions and consultations were seeking to create a corps within Fatah capable of meeting the challenges ahead. Many of these have fallen as martyrs since then (and there are many among this number), while others are found in the prisons of the occupation regime, in isolation, having to face-up to the arrogance of the occupation and its harsh judgments without loosing morale or the will to struggle. Others have continued the path of resistance, protected by our mothers and children.”
Why the Brigades?
“If the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were produced by the profound reflections of our people who were seeking to respond to the challenges confronting the nation and the movement, they have also acted as the avant-garde of our people, representing at the same time the peoples anger against the official cadres of the movement, cadres that have become a burden to the movement, that direct without directing, that profit without being useful, that stand at the back of the ranks instead of being at their forefront, seeking excuses, distant from the preoccupations of the grassroots of the movement and its activists, resigned to an outcome to which they say there is no alternative.
It is like an official cadre that served to prevent the rejuvenation of the movement and that furthermore contributed to restraining its popularity, since the official cadres have become incapable of reading the realities of the situation, the movement and the people. These cadres have become prisoners of old theses and slogans that the militants of the movement are tired of repeating. Of course, within this framework certain people have been protected, have worked and have innovated but without contributing to real change.
The Brigades thus also appeared as an expression of the state of anger against the Authority, which was accompanied by growing forms of structural corruption. The Authority tried to bring the PLO and Fatah and all other Palestinian organizations towards new positions, positions that represented lost causes. These flaws weren’t necessarily the result of [the Authority’s] establishment, but due to its implementation (which was extremely bad, and included a whole range of mistakes and experiments in which people who weren’t qualified for certain tasks were put in positions that touched every aspect of the lives of Palestinian citizens, including their security and lives). With the Brigades, we were able to strike a blow at, and put pressure on the corrupted ones, but the fear of an internal war and the incipient anarchy always brought us back to reflect on such a course of action.
The Al-Aqsa Brigades are not a spontaneous phenomenon, but represent a solid attitude in response to the Israeli aggression against our people. They are a clear message to the occupation, signaling the capacity of the movement to resort back to armed struggle when needed. It is not possible for us to stand around with our arms crossed while our people are being massacred everyday by the occupation forces. But if we say that the Brigades are for peace they are also against submission, and, in this battle, the Brigades have offered the best of their sons as martyrs, without hesitation, in order to achieve liberty, [the right of] return, and independence so that they have become like stars in the heavens above our homeland.”
Position Regarding the Ceasefire Proposals
“Many are asking themselves these days about the position of the Brigades concerning the evolution of the situation following Arafat’s death, the election of brother Mahmoud Abbas to the presidency of the Authority and the [Palestine Liberation] Organization, as well as brother Farouk Qaddoumi’s ascendancy to the presidency within Fatah, and we could all ask at this stage: Will the Brigades abandon the armed struggle? Has their existence run its course? Or are the Brigades a cadre that is independent of the will of the Fatah leadership? Will the Brigades accept once again a new cease-fire?
We all know that the Brigades weren’t created by a single decision and they will not be disbanded by a single decision. All of these crucial questions will find their answers as a function of the evolving situation. The Brigades are not an end-in-and-of-themselves, but a means.
We wanted to escape from a state of silence and move towards action, in order to put end to the occupation and achieve reforms within the Palestinian house, in order to lift the movement up again. That is why the Brigades cannot be disbanded by a simple decision, and why their activity will not cease as long as the occupation continues to target our people and our lands, as long as it assassinates our cadres, our youth, our children, our women and our elderly. Even though we in the Brigades have paid dearly for the Fatah movement and our just cause, we will be completely serious in analyzing what is put before us and consider any serious positions that offer a path for the future.
But we will not accept any ridiculous solutions. We will on the other hand support all efforts announced by Abu Mazen seeking reform, an end to the occupation, the maintenance of the national ‘red lines.’ We are once again willing to give a chance for political action, we will not be a stone obstructing all that is positive and fertile and which goes in the direction of the interests of our people.
But the occupation must know that the people have their loyal soldiers who will stay on guard to defend them and push back any aggression against them or any attempt to touch its leadership on the ground or the new political leadership. Within this framework, the leadership of the Brigades that is currently in prison appreciate the words of Zakaria Zubaidi affirming that any ceasefire will not take place until after the entire leadership of the Brigades on the ground is consulted. This includes both those leaders who are in prison as well as those without.
What do we want from the new leadership of Fatah, from the Authority and from the PLO? We are demanding that in the next phase we become firmly engaged in the electoral programs that were announced as the program of the Fatah movement. It is time to demand a settling of accounts with corrupted officials, to punish them, to prevent them from pursuing their policies. They are few in number, but their actions are huge and surpass the imagination.
It is time to restore order in the street, to supress weapons that don’t serve the resistance.
It is time to put an end to the actions of those who are profiting from the situation in order to take advantage of our citizens, their security and the source of their revenues.
It is time to see new faces in the ministries, capable people, real patriots.
It is time to put an end to clientelism, the wasting of public finances and frivolous spending practices that go towards those close to the court or are spent on illusory institutions.
It is time to return to the institution and primacy of the law. The citizen wants to see effective acts translated into reality. Abu Mazen shouldn’t allow those who are corrupt to mass themselves around him, because they are the assassins of all those who are sincere and a sickness killing all that is fertile.
We are asking for a new period to be initiated in every sense of the term. A period where that which is good is protected and that rejects what is bad, where the rights of people are protected, where people are equal before the law, where all the dossiers concerning the pillage and theft of Palestinian institutions are opened to scrutiny, where all the dossiers on the assassinations of the last few years and cases where the security of our citizens were endangered are opened.
We are asking for the reinforcement of national unity, to distance ourselves from the civil struggle [sic?], to reinforce democratic values by resorting to the ballot in order to elect the true representatives of our people, including all of its political components, classes and groups.
We are asking that now, more than ever, the leadership becomes concerned with equality, to put forward a program of real development in which the Palestinian individual becomes the pivot of this development by reinforcing his resistance and his creativity.
At the level of the PLO, it is necessary to convene and hold a national council. It is not acceptable for the PLO not to take into consideration our people that are in the Diaspora. There are important Palestinian communities that are suffering in the world from a lack of interest or concern, and that need to be realistically represented in such a national council.
It is equally necessary to pursue discussions and dialogue with our brothers in Hamas in order to reach a unified national program that will bring all of us to take part in the PLO, which remains the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, wherever they are found. Everyone must know that the PLO and its legitimacy are a red-line that
cannot be questioned; the legitimacy of the PLO has cost our people dearly over the course of some hard battles, a price that runs like a river flowing with the blood of our martyrs.
At the level of Fatah, we are demanding that the brothers Abu Mazen, Farouk Qaddoumi and Abu Maher Ghnaym act seriously in holding a general congress of the movement, to feed the movement and its institutions with new blood, and to finally do away with the concept of “member of the central committee or the revolutionary council until death.”
This congress will constitute at the same time a new step forward as well as provide continuity for the different generations of the movement, reversing the trend of the past in which generations within the movement were divided one from the other, where there was once a disconnect between the leadership and the organization.
Within this optic, Fatah must identify the challenges it will face in the coming legislative elections. It cannot put forward candidates that have hurt our people, candidates that have attacked its properties and security. The Fatah movement has a reserve of men, capable and sincere people that have looked at their own hands and that are clean from dirty money or the blood of our peoples’ children. We must absolutely avoid putting forward during the elections personalities that haven’t proven their capabilities in previous periods.”
Where Next for the Brigades?
“Without hesitations or stalling, we must give a chance for the political and internal actions that Abu Mazen has initiated. We consider that anybody who places obstacles in his way is somebody who seeks to maintain anarchy in an attempt to avoid the settling of accounts.
In reality, only the corrupted ones and the profiteers will try to
question the march of brother Abu Mazen and the political program proposed, which is the program of the Fatah movement – including all that this program means in terms of clarity, confidence and firmness.
The Brigades will always be, as they have been, unified around a single man, they will be present in the most difficult of conditions in order to act and take the initiative if necessary. They will be the respectful soldiers of decisions at important moments and the defenders of our people at the sign of any aggression. We will return to our studies, to our jobs and workplaces, but the Brigades will remain ready to act as soon as it appears that discussions with the enemy are leading nowhere, and there will be no ceasefire without the enemy paying the price.
That price is the withdrawal of the Israelis, the end of assassinations, the freeing of the prisoners, freedom for all organizations, the judgment of corrupt officials, the pursuit of internal reforms, the increased oversight of public moneys, the refusal of all partial solutions, the maintenance of the national red-lines, including a dignified life for the fighters who offered their life for the defense of liberty. It is a measure that must be executed in a way that the fighters can preserve their dignity and pride. It is not a point we can compromise on.
But does this mean that the Brigades will dismantle themselves or be disbanded? No, the Brigades as individuals are not finished as they are part of the people. The Brigades will be ready to act in all coming struggles following an Israeli aggression or attack.
Finally, it is necessary to say that the Fatah movement is currently living through a difficult period in which no one can confirm with certainty the source of problems. The situation seems to be indicating however that there are two choices before the movement: either it confront itself with its own reality and the reality of its people, through undertaking a serious and realistic critique of past practices and seeking a future through loyal and capable men (all the while marginalizing those who’ve acted improperly or sowed corruption in the movement), or it will face dissolution and vanish, which would be a hard shock to the Palestinian national movement, probably for several generations to come.”
I just wanted to quickly draw peoples attention to the first original production of the Balata Film Collective – part of BalataCamp.net (an exciting new initiative started by people from the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank/Palestine) – called Elections Under Occupation. The film gives voice to community members from Balata concerning the upcoming Palestinian elections (scheduled for this Sunday). The film draws attention in particular to the ‘red-lines’ refugees won’t cross. These aren’t oppinions that you will hear often, so I urge people to check out the film for a ground-level view of the elections and why any imposed ‘peace’ is likely to fail. I also urge people to spend some time on the BalataCamp.net website and get involved in supporting the groups work.
The Ukrainian crisis falls neatly into a long-standing mythology that a fraction of the left and a large majority of liberals in the West buy into each time the media decides to engage in a foreign policy morality tale. It is the same old story of the good – be it ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ or ‘self-determination’ – that ‘we’ bring to others. In fact this mythology is the dangerous product of a deep-seated racism in Western societies that still hasn’t come to terms with the legacy of colonialism, exploitation and genocide that ‘we’ have in reality imposed on ‘them.’
Ukrainian opposition poster shows a PORA jackboot stomping on an insect representing the current government and its supporters. Such racist dehumanization of opponents is a critical precursor to conflicts and is a hallmark of fascist movements.
US-backing for opposition forces in the Ukraine – which has already been exposed in some progressive and main-stream publications (see links below) – has been well documented. What hasn’t been addressed, however, is the way in which the reality of the situation on the ground has been obscured in the main-stream press in order to confirm old Cold War stereotypes and perpetuate the current mythologies of Empire globally. The ‘fairy tale’ of the Ukrainian elections is designed to legitimate attempts to reorder to post-Soviet space – through the agency of NATO, the IMF/World Bank, and civil society promotion outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID, the Open Society Institute, etc. – in ways that serve the geostrategic and economic interests of Empire.
Thus, while opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko has been represented as a liberal reformer and his opponent Viktor Yanukovych as the incarnation of Soviet style authoritarianism, the reality is quite different. Yuschenko essentially represents the modern face of a conservative Ukrainian nationalism that has been progressively revived in the western portions of the country since the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1990, while Yanukovych is little more than a typical post-Soviet petty-capitalist oligarch – of which there are dozens of examples of in the region (and that generally, although not in this case, enjoy the backing of Western policy makers).
In fact, the ‘reformer’ Yuschenko represents a social network that is closely tied to the interests of Western military geo-strategists, neo-liberal technocrats, Polish irredentists and Ukrainian conservative forces (including the Uniate church, which is closely aligned to the Vatican). The alliance of this constellation of forces with conservative tendencies in successive US administrations during the Cold War, and in its aftermath, is well documented. The ‘marriage’ of Yushchenko with this clique is actually literal in that his US-born wife, who is of Ukrainian decent, was a staffer in the Reagan White House. The general right-wing agenda of Yushchenko’s supporter base is illustrated by the prevalence of Bibles and crosses at opposition rallies, emphasis on the desire to purify ‘Ukraine’ from ‘filth’ and ‘corruption’ and Yuschenko’s own populist-nationalist-fundamentalist posturing when he swears himself in as the President of Ukraine with one hand on the Bible or when he insists that he will crush any moves towards regional autonomy by minorities in the country. John Laughland has done a remarkable job in highlighting the far-right wing and actually anti-semitic nature of much of Our Ukraine’s constituency.
Interestingly, Israel and pro-Israeli activists in the US administration – who denounce any criticism of Israel as anti-semitic – are turning a blind eye to the involvement of outright anti-Semites in the Yushchenko alliance. Yuliya Tymoshenko – the powerful gas baroness linked to Yushchenko – recently even ran an Op-Ed piece in Haaretz urging Israel’s support for ‘democratic’ forces in the Ukraine. Thus even in Israel silence has been nearly complete on the oppositions’ patchy track record with respect to Ukrainian anti-Semitism (thereby continuing a long-standing tradition among Israeli policy-makers in which the imperatives of realpolitik often trump the myth asserting that the Zionist project is an antidote to anti-Semitism). This also isn’t the first time that pro-Israeli figures in the US administration have turned a blind eye to allies in other parts of the world that openly professed anti-Semitic views. The pattern has already been well established throughout eastern Europe, the Balkans, in South America and among the former-apartheid regime in South Africa (going so far as lending US support to the regime of Croatia’s late president Franjo Tudjman, who was known for openly engaging in Holocaust denial in his book The Wastelands of History and reviving the projects and insignia of the fascist Ustasha regime from World War II).
The Yuschenko alliance in Ukraine, as Laughland and others have demonstrated, draws support from Rukh party activists, those of the Ukrainian National Defense Organization (UNSO), and the followers of Eduard Kovalenko. All of these forces reclaim the collaborationist past of Ukrainian fascists and SS soldiers who served in the Nazi-backed Galician Brigade during WWII and were implicated in mass-killings like those at Babi Yar. The Rukh Youth movement has agitated actively for the banning of the Ukrainian Communist Party – which is one of the largest Parliamentary forces in the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) – and has sought to impose a virulent right-wing agenda in Ukraine. Many followers of these movements have been found in the ranks of the NED funded Ukrainian ‘youth movement’ PORA that replicates the experience of OTPOR in Serbia and KMARA in Georgia (among others). This has been the general trend in Slovakia, Serbia, Belarus, and Georgia as well, where far-right wing and neo-Nazi youth formations were heavily implicated in the ‘pro-democracy student movements’ that our press continues to glorify (movements that enjoy a level of funding and official support that eclipses anything student activists here in North America could possibly imagine).
In fact, the principle dynamic that Yuschenko represents is that he favors the 100% incorporation of Ukraine into the Western military and strategic security apparatus that dominates Europe and 100% loyalty to the dictates of the IMF and World Bank (which he displayed while in charge of implementing the shock therapy that decimated living standards throughout country). This loyalty translates into the desire to see the complete eradication from Ukrainian soil of any tendencies and forces that favor a rapprochement with Russia, including restrictions on Russian language use, the Ukrainiazation of Russian names, the vilification of the Soviet past in its entirety, the substitution of Russia’s Black Sea fleet with a NATO force, and the construction of pipeline projects for Central Asian natural gas and oil that will by-pass Russia entirely.
Yuschenko, is also allied to former Defense Minister Yevyen Marchuk who was the architect of Ukraine’s involvement in the Iraq war and who was dismissed by Leonid Kuchma (the incumbent president) in September. Marchuk has since openly gone over to the side of the opposition, issuing a televised call to military units to refuse service and come on the side of the opposition in the aftermath of the elections. The dismissal of Marchuk may have been the straw that broke the proverbial ‘camel’s back’ in the relationship between US policy makers and the current Ukrainian administration since Kuchma’s initial ascension to the Ukrainian presidency in 1994.
US policy in the region was complicit in electoral fraud during the Clinton years, including turning a blind eye to the use of state media and police to secure Kuchma’s reelection in 1999 when the main challenger at the time was the head of the Ukrainian Communist Party Petro Symonenko (who campaigned on an openly anti-IMF and anti-NATO agenda). At the time Kuchma enjoyed full Western support, and serious election irregularities were simply ignored. Like many Western backed autocrats, after stealing elections in 1994 and 1999 Kuchma seems to have forgotten the hand that feeds him and got ahead of himself. In 2001 Kuchma signed an agreement to provide weapons to the Macedonian government – which was fighting a US-backed insurgency in the western portions of that country – and participated in the Parliament’s dismissal of then Prime Minister Yuschenko.
Since then the West has mobilized tremendous resources behind the Yuschenko-Tymoshenko-Moroz alignment in Ukrainian politics to dislodge Kuchma’s clan of oligarchs and impose a more pliant regime on the country. The fact that the 2004 presidential elections where much cleaner than the 1994 and 1999 presidential elections – see the British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) reports included below – is only secondary to the imperative that while the West “respects Ukraine’s right to choose its leaders, the direction of reforms must be preserved” (a formula for Ukrainian democracy which was defined by IMF managing director Horst Kohler during Yushchenko’s dismissal by the Ukrainian parliament in the spring of 2001).
As other commentators have pointed out, the whole program is identical to the project of Western intervention in Serbia, Georgia, Belarus, Slovakia, and was also attempted two years ago in Moldova (where raging right-wing anti-semites and fascist apologists were also used, although this time they weren’t minor coalition partners but key figures in the oppositions protests against the Communist government).
The point is not about the promotion of democracy in the former Soviet bloc, but identifying which leader will best represent US strategic and economic interests in the region and offering their regime full ideological support. Thus while the political class in most former Soviet states is generally pliant to the dictates of NATO on the strategic front, the IMF/World Bank on the economic front, and USAID, the Open Society Institute, the NED and other ‘civil society’ promotion agencies at the societal level, the ‘problem’ remains that many of these governments also acknowledge Russia as an important strategic, political, economic and cultural partner with which there is a shared past, and an affinity that sometimes includes linguistic, religious and cultural ties as well.
What distinguishes the Clinton and Bush administration approaches to the region is that while both sought to ensure the hegemony of local elites that were primarily sensitive to Western strategic and military considerations, while both favored the expansion of NATO and the redefinition of its role regardless of legitimate Russian concerns, and while both favored further capital interpenetration of the Ukrainian economy and its ‘globalization’ through IMF backed ‘shock therapy’, the Clinton administration was willing to tolerate some links to Russia as well (including the shady activities of some local oligarchs that blocked up full Western capital interpenetration). On the other hand the Bush team seems to be narrowly committed to a very anti-Russian agenda in the region that is a hang-over from the Cold War. Essentially, this translates into a policy that demands 100% loyalty to Washington’s geo-strategic vision for the region and zero-tolerance for any cooperation between Russian peoples and their one time co-nationals (even if such cooperation doesn’t necessarily threaten Western interests).
The blind hatred of Russia among some neo-conservatives even includes open support for Chechen separatists among the same US intellectual class that was critical in defining the terms of Washington’s global War on Terror. As an example of this, one only needs to look to ‘The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya’ whose website can be found at: http://www.peaceinchechnya.org/index.htm. You can read about the committees activities here: http://www.peaceinchechnya.org/about.htm and also peruse its membership list here: http://www.peaceinchechnya.org/about_members.htm. Notables include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Perle, Richard Pipes, Morton Abramowitz, Caspar Weinberger and a ton of other names I’m sure American readers who’ve been following US foreign policy over the years will recognize. The existence of this Committee illustrates that the current expansionist militarism in Washington has little to do with a ‘clash of civilizations’ but more precisely involves an attempt to impose an ideological vision of a free market global order regardless of the consequences. This is essentially Naomi Klein’s ‘Year Zero’ analysis for Iraq applied to the former Soviet bloc countries since the fall of communism in the early 1990s.
Therefore the crisis in Ukraine has little to do with ‘democracy’ but needs to be viewed instead as an intensely geopolitical event. The sentiment in much of the former Soviet east, and in those portions of the Ukraine that voted for Yanukovych, is that US policy makers are seeking to continue the Cold War conservative project of seeking to impose the dominion of a morally superior ‘civilization’ over the peoples of the ‘Asiatic’ east. Thus the terms of the current struggle in the Ukraine are framed by the Western press in the same polarized language that characterized the Cold War and that currently defines the War on Terrorism. Recent articles in the Russian media, including RIA Novosti and Pravda, have castigated the West for reviving such polarized concepts of regional politics and imposing a false and racialized choice on Ukrainians between a ‘democratic’ West and an ‘authoritarian’ East, instead of offering a solution in which all interests and stakeholders are acknowledged and given a say.
Two days ago more than 2.5-million people throughout the Donetsk region of the Ukraine marched in support of the Yanukovych campaign, with 200,000 converging on Lenin Square in the regional capital of Donetsk (most of these people are miners and their families that fear the region will be neglected under Yuschenko). Needless to say, this display of ‘people power’ – which isn’t funded by CIA fronts like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), or sketchy philanthropic outfits like George Soros’ Open Society Institute – was completely omitted by the Western press. The regions people were simply erased from the global consciousness by a virtual ‘disappearing’ act that neatly compliments the physical ‘disappearances’ practiced by authoritarian pro-Western regimes against dissidents in a number of countries (including the dictatorships of Central Asia).
In fact, this is the standard treatment that our press reserves for democratic forces and tendencies that express preferences contradicting those of the ruling elites in the West. Thus the demonstrations of the Haitian poor demanding that the democratically elected Aristide government be returned, or the struggle of democratic forces in the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi demanding that the popular will be respected are routinely ignored. The model is repeated in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, the Gulf States, Colombia etc. where the opposition forces calling for democratic change don’t have the luxury of staging rock concerts in public squares but can instead often be found languishing in resistance units somewhere in tropical jungles or forced into urban clandestine activity (in the best of cases), if they aren’t actually being tortured and massacred in ways gleaned from US or NATO training manuals (including boiling dissidents alive as has been known to happen under the orders of President Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan or the killing of peasants with chainsaws as is often done by Colombia’s brutal paramilitary forces).
Of course the ‘fairy-tale’ reality being presented to us by the press about the situation in the Ukraine is old, but I’m surprised how each time a fraction of the left and a large majority of liberals buy into the time-worn fairytales of ‘democracy’ that ‘we’ bring to others. I can only conclude that this is the product of a deep-seated racism in Western societies that still hasn’t come to terms with the legacy of genocide and colonialism that ‘we’ have in reality imposed on ‘them.’ The notion that ‘our’ contribution to ‘them’ has always been benevolent is the worst form of holocaust denial, and ensures ‘our’ continued perpetuation of human rights abuses in discursive constructs like ‘the East’ (let alone here at home, where the rights of indigenous people are still ignored completely).
Ukraine was not only the victim of Stalinist state planning in the 1930s, Nazi depredations in the 1940s, but is also currently suffering from neo-liberal technocracy in the 1990s (as have all the peoples of Eastern Europe). In fact it could be argued that more people died prematurely as a result of neo-liberal structural adjustment in the former Soviet bloc in the last 15 years than were killed in the Stalinist famines of the 1930s. On a global scale the impact of neo-liberalism – where 30,000 children die from preventable causes each day – is devastating. It is high-time that ‘we’ take ownership of ‘our’ own crimes and authoritarian legacies before lecturing others on theirs. In the case of the Ukraine this means exposing the tremendous double-standards and distortions of reality that have become routine in the reporting of the corporate media. Anything short of that is complicity in the continued perpetuation of the anti-democratic logics of neo-liberalism on a global scale.
Ukraine’s Election Crisis (Lee Sustar – Socialist Worker, December 2)
Truth and Consequence in Ukraine (Katrine Vanden Heuvel – The Nation, November 29)
How the US and Britain are Intervening In Ukraine’s Elections (John Laughland – The Spectator, November 28)
IMF Sponsored “Democracy” in The Ukraine (Michel Chossudovsky – Global Research, November 28)
The Revolution Televised (John Laughland – The Guardian, November 27)
Ukraine’s postmodern coup d’etat (Johanthan Steele – The Guardian, November 26)
US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev (Ian Traynor – The Guardian, November 26)
Ukrainian Crisis and Revival of Cold War Stereotypes (Vladimir Simonov – RIA Novosti, November 25)
I would also recommend that readers examine the following human-rights monitoring groups that follow the situation in the former Communist countries of eastern Europe very closely:
I got a curious email yesterday from a friend studying at Cambridge University who’s been involved in Palestine solidarity activism on UK campuses. Yesterday he got yet another job offer in his mailbox through the ‘Career Service’ listserve run by Cambridge (see the end of this blog entry for the full text of the offer). The position caught his eye because it related to Palestine. It seems like Adam Smith International, the spin off consultancy of the conservative Adam Smith Institute in the UK, is looking for a Refugee Policy Advisor to consult the Palestinian Authority on aspects of refugee policy. While the link between neo-liberal economics – with a Thatcherite accent – and Palestinian refugee rights may seem abstract, it makes perfect sense if we consider the actual objectives of the international community’s intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For those who have been following the Palestinian issue closely, this type of intervention and ‘advice’ on a crucial topic like refugee rights will come as no surprise. After all the ‘international community’ has been inching ever closer to an open endorsement of Sharon’s disengagement/annexationist plan since it was announced during the Likud party’s Herzaliya conference in December 2003. This last April, Sharon was invited to the White House and received full approval for ‘disengagement’ from the Bush Administration, including a willingness to overtake responsibility for the security situation in Gaza either directly or through regional proxies. This point was highlighted by Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, in a Washington Post article that he penned shortly after the Bush-Sharon summit. Indyk is a primary proponent of imposing an international trusteeship over the Palestinian ‘state’ (read Bantustan) that is scheduled to emerge sometime in the middle or near the end of the year 2005.
A key feature of the post-conflict nation building exercise that will be launched by the ‘international community’ in the newly created Bantustan – and whose first phase is the upcoming Palestinian ‘elections’, which are designed to legitimate Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen) as the new Palestinian President – is the implementation of a radical free-market model on the Palestinian people and the restructuring of the security services in a manner that will bring all armed factions under the control of pro-Western operatives. The aim will be to ensure that Palestine develops in ways that are favorable to the penetration of transnational capital in the Middle East while ensuring that the only armed Palestinians in the streets are those whose objective is the internal repression of the insurrectionary logics of the intifada. Essentially, the ‘international community’ is seeking to resume the Bantustan formula of the Oslo years, although this time on the territorial terms defined by the Israeli right-wing as represented by Sharon.
On the economic front the assets of the new ‘state’ will largely be managed by the IMF and World Bank. In the summer, the World Bank already prepared a study on how the assets that Israel will leave behind in the Gaza Strip should be managed. Instead of directly transferring the assets to the Palestinians, the World Bank suggested that they be transferred to an interim body that would be managed by technocrats drawn from its own ranks. Thus the involvement of outfits like the Adam Smith Institute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should come as no surprise as every post-conflict situation in which the ‘international community’ has intervened forcefully has featured the implementation of free-market logics on the colonized state as a central component of the new ‘peace-building.’ This was true in Bosnia – the first such massive intervention of the ‘international community’ in the post-Cold War era – and has been progressively refined in subsequent interventions in Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq (as well as in less publicized ‘peace agreements’ that the ‘international community’ has brokered or is trying to broker in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Solomon Islands, Somalia, etc.).
As I was researching Palestine related initiatives in Cambridge for this blog entry, I also came across ‘The Israel-Palestine Peacekeeping Forum’ which is a low-level initiative aimed at bringing together policy makers as well as security and intelligence officials from Israel, the PA, the US, UK, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the EU, the Arab League, NATO, the World Bank, the UN and a number of non-governmental organizations in order to examine the nature of third party involvement in any eventual settlement. The Forum is sponsored by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the International Development Research Centre (Canada), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden. Essentially, the work of the Forum translates into a low-level mechanism for fleshing out the details of how the proposed Palestinian Bantustan will be governed once in emerges in 2005 (for its most recent report click here). Such ‘semi-secretive’ forums were the basis of the failed Oslo accords, and it seems likely they will again be used as the primary vehicle for hashing out an agreement that will fail to address the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people or to meet their most basics rights, including the Right of Return (which is a central feature of any eventual settlement).
The outlines of the future security situation are thus slowly emerging and seeing the light of day. While the ‘international community’ would ideally like to see regional proxies like Egypt and Jordan stepping-in on the heals of an Israeli withdrawal to impose order in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively – the fact of the matter is that the internal weakness of these regimes may necessitate the assistance of other actors. The possibility that a NATO, or some other type of intervention force, will take over ‘security’ in the areas that will be ceded to a pliant pro-Western Palestinian regime is real. In fact, it was recently announced that NATO would include Israeli military forces in upcoming exercises for the first time in its history. This marks a noticeable expansion of NATO into the Middle East and North Africa that began with the establishment of the Alliance’s ‘Mediterranean Dialogue’ in 1994. The upcoming exercises will be a crucial means of testing modalities for eventual multilateral cooperation in areas of the occupied territories that are ceded to the PA. The NATO umbrella will essentially be used to provide a cover for increased Egyptian-Israeli-Jordanian cooperation in the security field and could eventually translate into the means by which the trans-Atlantic rift created by the Iraq war can be healed. Within such a context, in which the Palestinian issue is being subcontracted to the ‘international community,’ it should come as no surprise that outfits like the Adam Smith Institute are seen as credible interlocutors for Palestinian refugees.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: “Careers Service”
Subject: CLICK Dev/Research ADAM SMITH INTERNATIONAL Refugee Policy Adviser
Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 12:30:43 -0000
CLICK is NOT a vacancy list – don’t miss our full vacancy listings
FutureJobs & JobsNow published weekly in hard copy or via the website at
ADAM SMITH INTERNATIONAL
Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 17:23:39 +0000
From: Forced Migration List
Subject: Job announcement: Refugee policy adviser, Ramallah
Adam Smith International wishes to recruit an adviser on Refugees Policy to work at
its aid project in Ramallah, in the West Bank.
The purpose of the project is to provide expert professional advice to Palestinian
ministries and institutions on a range of issues related to the development of a
future Palestinian state.
Candidates must have:
– At least three years experience advising on, or analysing, the Palestinian Refugee
– Excellent academic qualifications in a relevant subject
– Very strong reading, writing and speaking skills in English and fluency in Arabic
– A detailed understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
– Substantial experience of working in teams, liaising with other organisations and
delivering work to tight deadlines.
Compensation will be above average for the development sector.
Please send a covering letter and CV to: