Existence is resistance

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 8:48

Even with an explicitly discriminatory policy in place, designed to force Palestinians to break the rules or leave the country, nearly all continue to apply for permits, paying the extortionate fees, using the system rather than fighting against it.

My experiences in Palestine offered up a lot of opportunities for writing on resistance to state crime. Every day Palestinians struggle against discriminatory policies and threats to their livelihoods by both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli state. There is no end to the impunity and barbarity with which these are executed and they remain an integral part of the structure and grounds on which the State of Israel is currently built.

The recent passing of the Jewish State Bill by Benjamin Netanyahu defines Israel as ‘the nation state of the Jewish people’, which if successfully enshrined in Israeli law will once and for all determine all non-Jews as second class citizens, and potentially further excuse all actions taken by the state that perpetrate this already popular view. The little protection that Palestinians are currently afforded by the Israeli justice system will be eradicated and there will be infinite scope for a gratuitous interpretation of the idea of a state built exclusively for a single religious group. This highly controversial bill has caused significant rifts within the Israeli parliament and among Israeli academics as it serves to completely deny Palestinians living in Israel even the pretence of equal rights.

From within the complex combination of civil and military rule that exists in Israel and the West Bank, where one people fall under one authority and another fall under a different authority, all within a tiny area of land, emerge impressively advanced and skilled forms of resistance that provide an incredible insight into how a population with 60 years of practice continues to resist crimes committed by a powerful and hostile state.

In the West Bank, where the proximity of settlements to Palestinian towns is unnerving, there is a heavy Israeli military presence. In Hebron particularly there are four military personnel to each settler and consequently considerably more violence, arrests and incursions against the Palestinian population in the city and surrounding area.

Palestinians continue to resist crimes against their humanity, freedom and right to equality before the law, all of which are aimed at pushing them out of the country or alternatively segregating them into impoverished and powerless communities. This is clear simply from looking at historical and current maps of the region that show the strategic building of settlements over the years. Resistance to these crimes must then take the form of perpetuating their existence as a united people whilst also maintaining ‘normal life’ without normalising the occupation. Speaking to Palestinians living in both the West Bank and Israel I discovered how difficult this was in the circumstances; to stay united against so many opposing ideals and to continue resisting without losing the little freedom you have.

Crimes committed by the state of Israel are plenty, but one that arises constantly is the theft of land and housing and the policies surrounding Palestinian permits and demolition. Israel recently brought back the policy of punitive house demolitions that was previously abandoned due to its ineffectiveness at preventing ‘acts of terror’. Punitive acts by the state without trial are crimes in themselves and this is just the icing on the cake for most inhabitants of rural Palestine and Jerusalem, some of whom have had their entire communities destroyed over 70 times without the return of such a policy.

Needless to say, the effort at rebuilding entire villages is striking. Each time a village or house is destroyed, it is rebuilt, again and again and again, peacefully declaring that they  will not be bullied out of their homes or off their land and demonstrating the absolute steadfastness present in so much Palestinian resistance. Israeli forces use chemical sprays to destroy farmland and bulldozers to destroy structures and revoke or deny permits for houses that have been lived in for decades by the same family, making legal residence impossible. The state has also made it almost impossible to attain permits to build and they are incredibly expensive to apply for, often taking years of appeals and tens of thousands of shekels. It is common in many areas to be left with 10 minutes to retrieve your possessions and leave your home to a waiting bulldozer, and it is particularly disturbing to witness the ensuing Israeli settlement or road that is built on the seized land. It is also often used as a tactic that is designed to make life intolerable and encourage emigration away from the area altogether. The permit system itself is legally flawed, however, the acts of violence and destruction aimed at civilians and committed by the military violate both human rights and the Geneva conventions.

Even with this explicitly discriminatory policy in place that is designed to force Palestinians to break the rules or leave the country, nearly all continue to apply for permits, paying the extortionate fees, using the system rather than fighting against it. This has the desired effect of ensuring Israel has no defence for what it does, even within its own discriminatory system, and simultaneously shows the process for what it really is; a tool for mass displacement. If Israel is breaking its own rules, and if following the rules leads to the same outcome as fighting against them, then there is a fault with the system and only Israel is to blame for that.

My time in Palestine taught me a lot, particularly the importance of how Palestinians feel they are seen by the international community. It is unsurprising with Israel’s global propaganda machine at work, that Palestinians feel the need to disseminate their side of the story and eradicate the harmful effects of decades of twisted rhetoric. Therefore, if Israel is recognised as to blame for something they have done, then part of the battle is already won.

The Right of Return is still high on the list of nearly all Palestinian organisations fighting against the occupation. It is a key demand of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which was started in Palestine a few years ago, and the refusal of which continues to be a violation of international law. There are 355,000 internal refugees in Palestine and millions more around the world, yet none have been granted the right of return which is enshrined in international law. Although Palestine has no army and no trade with the outside world that could enable the civilian population to arm themselves on any large scale, Israel insists that it is at war with terrorists in the West Bank, and after 40 years is still implementing a state of emergency-like situation. It is almost impossible for West Bank residents to travel into Israel and the Palestinian Authority complies with Israel’s security forces without question. This makes it impossible to justify the refusal of the right of return on the basis that there is still a conflict, although this would be the only legal reason why it might not be implemented. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of refugees still live in impoverished camps on the edge of the largest cities, suffering intense military presence and high levels of arrest and violence. Young men are often involved in violently resisting the military incursions and arrests of their friends and family, and there is a strong sense that there is nothing to lose in protecting their communities in this way.

I was extremely surprised, when I visited Aida Camp on the edge of Bethlehem, to find that it was a short walk from the idyllic architecture of the city. Not only that but it had a large, impressive entrance adorned with a key that had travelled the world and returned with thousands of signatures of support. It was not a slum as I was expecting, though clearly very poor, but instead more like a gated town. I found the same with the camps on the edge of Ramallah. They appeared to be part of the city, yet always with large entrances advertising the status of those inside.

The denial of a human right by a state that is not your own is a personal and vindictive act, and it is clear that no matter how many generations are born into the camps and how many have never visited their original homes, the residents in them will never integrate into the cities they border and will never stop demanding their right of return. Even though refugees in the West Bank suffer harsher retribution and higher levels of military violence and arrest, there is no desire to give up their status as refugees. Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation for generations. They know how beneficial it is for Israel that they disappear and relieve them of this burden, but they also know that as long as they remain visible, Israel and the international community cannot forget their existence and may one day allow them their right to go home. This steadfastness and determination is partly fed by the fact that the home carries a lot more weight for Palestinians than it does in western culture. Land and home are a family’s roots and belong absolutely to their owners, not only as a possession, but as their connection to the entire land.

Crimes committed by the Israeli state are not only strategic, they are also vindictive and reactionary, especially on ground level. This often means the common arrest of children, administrative detention that can extend to years, brutal violence and murder. This often erratic and unprovoked behaviour leads smaller communities to protest on a weekly basis, which leads in turn to violent repression and violent resistance. Communities are dwindling in size and in some almost all the young men are in prison or dead. However, it is not surprising to see such injustice answered with anger and the throwing of stones by an emasculated and fatherless youth. Palestinians have no desire to fight the third strongest army in the world with stones. It is simply a means of expressing anger at the injustice surrounding them, and should be taken as such. However, there are conscious acts of resistance happening in these same communities: the documentation of military and settler violence.

Although they were not the first, Youth Against Settlements began filming soldiers in Hebron in order to publicise their criminal acts, and the effectiveness of such tactics has caused the trend to spread. Not only does a camera give the international community a window into the truth, it also causes the perpetrator to feel apprehensive and therefore more reserved in his actions. Israeli soldiers are mostly very young and have not had to judge their individual behaviour for a global audience before. It is also the case that Palestinians cannot prevent the IDF from doing what they come to do as they are mostly children and completely unarmed. However, Palestinians have learnt more than anyone that the international community is key in its struggle against occupation, and documentation serves that purpose perfectly.

Many locals have taken up this role during protests and incursions and the amount of documentation of the crimes committed by soldiers and the impunity with which they operate is astounding. Even though it is dangerous to point a camera at hostile armed youths - many have been arrested without charge, beaten and even killed - they continue to resist on a weekly basis, making the IDF’s work as uncomfortable as possible.

Although the residue of impunity has already begun to trickle down, so that soldiers fear less now they see that there are no consequences to their actions, even when they are filmed - the effect of a camera in your face while you commit a violent crime against another person will have a psychological effect on such young soldiers.   

Palestinian resistance is almost exclusively non-violent. There is no benefit to giving a hostile state a reason to commit its crimes and this knowledge governs almost all forms of organised and individual resistance in Palestine. My experiences there taught me that, to a certain extent, it is possible to achieve a kind of normality under occupation. But whether or not this is attained, Palestinians continue to effectively resist crimes committed by Israel, having more of an effect on Israeli policy and strategy and the impunity with which it behaves than any member of the international community or the UN. As long as Palestinians continue to resist complete eradication and maintain support from states around the world, they are successfully resisting the unlawful objectives of the Israeli State.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Rejecting victimhood: the case for Palestinian resistance Palestinian resistance, the necessity of three fronts The heavy presence of Jerusalem Light Rail: why Palestinian protesters attacked the tracks On strategies of spatial resistance in Palestine Country or region:  Israel Palestine Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics
Categories: les flux rss

CEDAW and the quest of Iranian women for gender equality

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 8:33

A basic right for Iranian women could be guaranteed within an Islamic framework of governance provided those in government were inclined to interpret the faith in the spirit of equality, says Shirin Ebadi.

Iran's moderate president Hassan Rouhani has a chance to enact one of his campaign promises to promote women’s right by signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW urges its signatories to address laws, practices and customs that discriminate against women.

Today, 18 December, CEDAW turns 35. Since its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1979 it has been ratified by188 countries. This global majority includes 51 Muslim countries that are party to the Convention.

Today gender equality is considered a universal norm and is easy for governments to accept. Nevertheless CEDAW and its internationally-accepted understanding of equality remain controversial in some parts of the Muslim world. This is especially true in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 In Iran, conservative politicians and religious figures reject the universal approach for gender equality in CEDAW and instead propose their own “Islamic” alternative. Indeed, according to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, it was the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that elevated women to their rightful place in Iran.  He has said, “Islam introduces Fatima [the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad] the outstanding and distinguished celestial being—as a model and an ideal for Muslim women.” Using Fatima as the role model, Iran’s Leader and other members of the conservative religious establishment promoted the idea that women and men are equal parts of God’s creation but that the two genders have manifestly different social roles and duties.

This view results in a host of blatantly discriminatory practices that affect women in their public and private lives. For example, in courts the monetary damages for causing the death of a women is half that of a man’s. A women’s testimony is also worth half of that of a man’s and women are barred from being judges. Women should cover themselves with hijab. Within the family, husbands have the legal power to control whether their wives can hold a job or obtain a passport and travel out of the country. Iranian woman cannot pass their nationality onto her child if their father is not Iranian. Men are granted automatic guardianship to children.

To some religious leaders and conservative politicians these laws reflect social roles where women, while spiritually equal to men, are not charged with the same level of social, economic, and political responsibility, and thus are not given agency in these fields. So for them, CEDAW’s notion of equality in all areas of life is at odds with Islam.

But these views are not as clear cut in Iran as some want us to believe. Indeed women’s rights have always been seen as a challenge to the ruling ideology. Iran’s governmental institutions are supposed to be grounded in Shi’ite Islam. Doctrinally, however, Shi’ite Islam is supposed to allow for different interpretations. Grand Ayatollahs can and do offer variant interpretations on Islam and women’s rights, including ones that support the framework of ideas found in CEDAW. As the Nobel Peace laureate and women's rights activist, Shirin Ebadi, says, "a basic right for women could be guaranteed within an Islamic framework of governance provided those in government were inclined to interpret the faith in the spirit of equality."  

And it is not insignificant that nearly every Muslim country worldwide has ratified CEDAW.  Perhaps the real reason Iran has not ratified the Convention has less to do with religion, and more to do with the fact that women’s rights are in conflict with the interests of the predominantly male political elite.

Ratification of CEDAW will give advocates of women’s rights a framework that they can invoke when pushing for better policies and laws. Moreover, with ratification the State will submitted itself to review by UN bodies. This process has led to substantial legal reforms in Muslim countries, like Morocco and Egypt, which have improved the status of women.

To be fair, Iranian officials have discussed ratifying CEDAW during two distinct periods in Iran. First, between1995–1997, toward the end of the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, For Rafsanjani however, the economic and social reconstruction of the country after the Iran-Iraq War took priority over women’s rights, and ratification never gained much momentum.

CEDAW remerged between 1999–2003 during the “reform era,” born out of the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Reformists pledged then to advance civil and political rights within an Islamic framework. As part of a series of progressive legislative measures, the reformist-dominated Sixth Parliament actually ratified CEDAW. However, the Guardian Council, which is charged with vetting and approving all legalisation to ensure compatibility with Iran’s Constitution and Islamic precepts, rejected the bill. The Council cited supposed religious objections, but never actually specified what those objections were.

Last year, the victory of Rouhani, a moderate cleric, renewed some hope. Rouhani’s campaign promised to determine why CEDAW was rejected and eventually ratify it. In fact, in his first press conference as president, Rouhani stressed that the goal of women should be to remove all “primitive behaviour” which inhibits greater participation by women in public life and just ensures the appointment of “token” female ministers. While this was in part a defence of the lack of women in his cabinet, Rouhani’s echoing of CEDAW’s broad challenge to legal and customary gender discrimination is grounds for guarded optimism.

For now, however, the large conservative majority in the current Parliament is a clear obstacle to movement on the Convention. However, if moderate and reformist politicians regain the majority in the 2016 Parliamentary elections, then there could be a new push for Iran to ratify CEDAW. The Parliament will, nonetheless, be subject to oversight by the Guardian Council, which will not only vet any bill to ratify CEDAW, it will vet the Parliamentary candidates before they can even be allowed to run for office. In turn the conservative religious establishment will continue to maintain considerable power within the political sphere.

These political challenges are why the President must start to develop the legal and religious ground work for CEDAW ratification now. If he honours his promises and the country joins CEDAW we will be on the road to significant changes in the legal status of women in Iran.

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Shirin Ebadi: who defines Islam? Iran: a 'bloody stain' on the nation The framework of democracy is human rights law Progressive Muslims in a world of ISIS and Islamophobes Due diligence for women's human rights: transgressing conventional lines The rightful place of gender equality within Islam The right to have rights: resisting fundamentalist orders Global mechanism, regional solution: ending forced sterilisation Decoding the “DNA of Patriarchy” in Muslim family laws Musawah: solidarity in diversity A rare victory for women's rights in Iran Making human rights for women a reality A tangled web: the politics of gender in Turkey Young feminists: resisting the tide of fundamentalisms Your fatwa does not apply here 'Soft law' and hard choices: a conversation with Gita Sahgal Country or region:  Iran Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Equality
Categories: les flux rss

In Israel and the occupied territories, discrimination is enshrined in the law

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 8:10

Under the two legal systems, an Israeli settler and a Palestinian, accused of the same crime, will be treated, and sentenced, very differently.

One of many separation walls dividing Israel and Palestine. Flickr/In November five Israelis were killed and eight wounded when two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem. Israeli police shot the attackers dead at the scene and Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the assailant’s houses be demolished.

The family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the young Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and burnt to death in July, have also called for the homes of the Israelis who killed Mohammed to be demolished, though it is highly unlikely they will be. Such is the nature of Israel’s unequal application of the law.

News that Israel discriminates between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. Just last month the Israeli government voted to make all ratified Israeli civilian law passed through the Knesset apply to settlers. Most of the legislation on criminal law, tax law and military conscription already does, despite the international consensus that settlements are illegal. Around 350,000 settlers currently reside in the occupied West Bank yet for what it’s worth article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

Knesset member Orit Struck, who drafted the bill, lives in one of these illegal settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron. Critics of Struck’s bill have said that applying civilian law to the West Bank would be a solid step towards the annexation of the occupied territories adding that it “legalises occupation”. Presumably, this is Struck’s intention.

In order to justify the bill, senior right-wing MKs have argued that the current split system – that Israelis in Israel are governed by different laws than Israelis in the West Bank - is “unacceptable from a democratic point of view” and have said it leads to discrimination against Israelis living in the occupied territories.

But what about Palestinians living in the West Bank? Article 66 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has adopted, states that non-political military courts can be established for residents in the occupied territory. Palestinians in the West Bank are therefore subject to Israeli military law. Under the two legal systems, an Israeli settler and a Palestinian, accused of the same crime, will be treated, and sentenced, very differently.

Palestinian children, shackled and accused of throwing stones, have also been brought before these courts. The Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies says that some 308,000 Palestinians have been detained within Israeli jails since the First Intifada in 1987.

Under military law Palestinians are threatened with arbitrary arrest, detention and are denied freedom of movement. As American-Israeli lawyer Emil Schaeffer points out, whilst an Israeli settler must be brought before a judge in less than 24 hours a Palestinian may be interrogated for up to eight days before he or she sees a judge.

In a military court Palestinians may be denied access to a lawyer for up to 90 days, yet within the Israeli legal system a meeting with a lawyer must be granted immediately. Within the military courts there is little internal supervision and consequently little public scrutiny.

The list continues, as does the system of legalised separation, discrimination and ultimately the guarantee of rights based on nationality. This segregated system goes far beyond the occupied territories of the West Bank.

On the other side of the concrete separation barrier that has sectioned off the West Bank, Palestinians living in Israel face a raft of laws that discriminate against them. According to Adalah, there are 50 laws in place that discriminate against Palestinians citizens of Israel from access to land to state budget resources.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Law of Return, which grants Jewish people across the world the right to live in Israel and gain citizenship. In the drive to bump up the numbers, free flights have been offered, as have financial benefits and tax breaks. On arrival accommodation is sometimes offered in annexed East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the seven million Palestinian refugees across the world are not only denied the right to return to their land, but also Palestinian citizens of Israel are not allowed to bring their husbands and wives from the occupied territories to live with them. So one group is actively encouraged, whilst the other is denied their basic rights.

In recent weeks a proposed law, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has whipped up much controversy thanks to the controversial nature of the bill, part of which would mean the dropping of Arabic as a second language.

Like the bill that seeks to apply Israeli civilian law wholeheartedly to settlers in the West Bank, the Jewish nation-state bill is part of an ongoing system of discrimination against Palestinians, which has long rendered them second-class citizens. Little by little it is being enshrined in the law, which ultimately means discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians can continue.

Israel’s system of formal and informal discrimination reaches into all aspects of Palestinian’s lives, from separate housing in the West Bank to separate roads, schools and hospitals. It even infiltrates personal lives.

Whilst Israel regularly passes discriminatory laws, they clearly have little regard for international law - or at least, the parts of it that don’t suit them. As a signatory to some of the most important human rights and humanitarian law statutes, they should be held accountable for their discriminatory policies; which undoubtedly constitute grave breeches.

Country or region:  Israel Palestine Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government Equality International politics
Categories: les flux rss

The evolution of Palestinian resistance: a need to reassess

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 8:08

Ending the 1967 occupation is insufficient. Rather, Palestinian resistance should seek the decolonization of all of historic Palestine.

This barrier has been labelled an 'apartheid wall' by Palestinian NGOs, It is deemed by Israeli's to be a security measure and divide between Palestinian and Israeli people. Flickr/Jacob Rask. Some rights reserved.

The debate about the legitimacy, or even legality, of resistance is frequently associated with discussion of racist regimes, colonialism and occupation. For peoples living under cruel domination, resistance becomes necessary when it becomes evident to them that there is no government or law to protect them from oppression.

Palestinian resistance takes many forms: organized weekly protests in villages; armed struggle; youth confronting raiding Israeli armored jeeps in their villages and refugee camps; and the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign. All forms of resistance should be complementary to each other and not be considered mutually exclusive in terms of legitimacy. It is necessary to clarify who and what the resistance should be directed against, along with its ultimate goals.

The most effective resistance should aim for a comprehensive solution towards remedying the wrongs of Zionism, which sought the removal of the indigenous Palestinian population and aimed to replace them with Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The best remedy to restore the rights of all Palestinians is to eradicate the resulting Zionist institutions and to grant citizenship and equal rights for all inhabitants living in historic Palestine.

This means that ending the 1967 occupation is insufficient. Rather, Palestinian resistance should seek the decolonization of all of historic Palestine. There are over 6 million Palestinian in the diaspora waiting to exercise their legal Right of Return. There are roughly 1.4 million Palestinians living in the State of Israel under discriminatory laws. There are 4.5 million Palestinians living under a brutal occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many are stateless and stripped of their nationality and property rights, while others suffer daily violations of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

All Palestinians deserve a remedial solution: legally, morally and ethically. Natural rights of equality, justice and freedom are incontestable and should form the basis of the Palestinian resistance movement.

The demand for equal rights as a remedy for past injustices is inclusive and fair. To focus only on Palestinian resistance from the historical point of the 1967 occupation ignores the demands and rights of over half of the Palestinian people who live outside the borders of what is now being acknowledged as the “State of Palestine.” This obfuscates the root of the oppression because it is a fragmented, disconnected and unviable remnant of historic Palestine.

Indeed, Palestinian resistance predates 1948, when Zionist militias forcibly displaced nearly 80% of the indigenous Palestinian population and established the State of Israel, known to Palestinians as the Nakba. Palestinian resistance began with a series of revolts against the British Mandate, when it became clear to the Palestinians what the British Mandate was implementing—the removal and replacement of the indigenous Palestinian population. Despite assurances that the 1917 Balfour Declaration—Britain’s written promise to the Jews to create a home for them in Palestine—did not intend to displace the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, considerable tensions arose between the Palestinian Arabs and the mass influx of European Jews. After all, these new immigrants were vying to establish a new State in the midst of the Palestinians, and the British plan intended to change the demographics of the population of Palestine. In 1917, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian Arab population was 92% and the Jewish population was 6%. The British established and implemented an unlimited immigration policy for Jews from European countries in order to ensure that the Arab Palestinians became a minority over the next few decades.

Settler colonialism is never a peaceful venture. Naturally, the colonizer uses violence and the colonized responds in kind. During the British Mandate, it was clear that resistance should be directed against both the Zionists who were planning to take their place and the British who were implementing the plan. With the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, and the creation of the State of Israel, the Zionists ensured the transformation of Palestinian lands into a Jewish majority through massacres, forced transfer of entire villages and military rule. In order to guarantee that the Palestinians transferred out of the new State did not return to their homes and villages, it defended the newly acquired territories with military might and enacted numerous new “laws” such as the infiltration law, which criminalized attempts by Palestinians to return to their villages. The new Zionist State set up courts, enacted legislation and continued violently enforcing the settler-colonialist project despite promising the world that it was a peace-loving country. In reality, the Israeli government has continued a series of systematic discriminatory policies against its own citizens based on ethnic origin and religion and continues to annex territory through violence and apartheid-like practices of herding and confining Palestinians into tiny fragmented enclaves.

After the 1967 war and the capture of the remaining parts of Palestine from Jordan and Egypt, this Zionist movement took an advanced leap towards transforming Palestine into Eretz-Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The international community and the United Nations immediately cried foul to the capture of additional territory by force. Colonization of Palestinian lands was acceptable in 1948, but not in 1967. The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 242, demanding a withdrawal from “territories occupied in the recent conflict.” This narrowed the struggle from return to demanding withdrawal of Israeli forces from the additional lands Israel captured in 1967.

The Zionist settler-colonial project upped the ante with the newly captured territories and the Palestinians resisted en masse with two Intifadas in 1987 and 2000. However, the resistance focused on ending the occupation rather than return and liberation.

Today, Israel has involved another actor to assist in its colonization of the remaining Palestinian lands: the Palestinian Authority (PA). With the creation of the Israeli-approved, EU-US and Arab States-funded PA in 1994, the settler colonial project took a new approach, offering limited self-rule on a portion of Palestine while settling as much land as they can. Like the Bantusans of the South African Apartheid government, Israel offered an elite group political power and legitimized its program of remove-and-replace. Only this time, the PA provided security and legitimacy in its own Bantustan. Israel retained ultimate control of the arrangement. Israel and the United States control the Palestinian security forces. This includes approving police officers and intelligence agents, and limiting their weapons. Even the estimated 27% of the PA budget spent on security is funded mostly by the United States, which also trains the security forces in the suppression of Palestinian resistance.

Seen by Palestinians as corrupt and collaborating with Israel in their oppression, the PA is leading the Palestinians down a dangerous path. Claiming to represent Palestinian interests, over 6 million Palestinians are excluded in the struggle against settler-colonialism because they live as displaced refugees outside the borders of the proposed Palestinian State. Meanwhile, those who live under PA rule are subject to violence and intimidation if they try to resist the continuing colonization of what remains of Palestine. Palestinian police are dispatched to protect the illegal Israeli settlements when protests take place. Palestinian prisoners rotate between Palestinian and Israeli prisons.

To be effective, it is important to reflect upon the history of the resistance, to understand the shift that the settler-colonialism project has taken, and to identify the actors it has employed to continue its activities, even if that involves Palestinians themselves. Collaborators are nothing new to resistance movements. Yet when it takes place under what appears to be a legitimate government, it is time to reassess and regroup before the resistance is even further reduced to defending an even smaller remnant of the land and peoples.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Palestine's statehood options: a dialogue BDS and the politics of ‘radical’ gestures Gaza reconstruction package: should taxpayers be concerned? What the EU should be telling Palestinian leaders Why Israel attacked so many Palestinian civilian targets during the 2014 offensive The Israeli public and the Gaza war: supporting the armed effort, doubting the strategic outcome After this Gaza war: what directions for Israel and Palestine? Philip Gourevitch’s ‘honest voice’: problems with liberal Zionism Israel, Hamas and the making of the New Arab World Forget about taming or disarming Hamas: cut it a deal it can’t refuse Why I am an anti-Zionist Jew Palestine: the pursuit of justice Forgotten lessons: Palestine and the British empire Country or region:  Israel Palestine UK Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics
Categories: les flux rss

On the verge of failure or success: the complex relationship of Europe and migration

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 7:43

This International Migrants Day, the warm solidarity shown by local populations is at odds with the attempts of European institutions to criminalise people on arrival. And there are signs of progress.

Commemoration of refugee migrants who died in the Mediterranean. Stefano Ronchini /Demotix. All rights reserved.There are those who die trying to reach Europe’s borders, escaping from poverty, violence, famine, dictatorships, wars, persecution, in search of a dignified life. There are those who are detained, who experience human rights abuses while being detained or while waiting for their legal status to be determined. There are those who make it, who are inside the borders and in transit, from their point of arrival, trying to reach their final destination.

Those who have reached their final destination, having overcome the dangerous journey and all it comes with, have only just begun, because a residency permit does not necessarily mean a home, employment, or becoming part of the local community.

The journey of a migrant can be a long, lonely, confusing and dangerous one, and their stories often go untold, their struggles unnoticed because detention centres, reception facilities, even housing, are mostly strategically located on the outskirts of cities. Out of sight, out of mind.

We were involved in coordinating the Transeuropa Caravans project, carried out by the transnational membership organization, European Alternatives, ahead of the European Parliament elections in the first semester of 2014, and this project went directly to these locations, to meet with migrants who came to Europe through various means and for different reasons, and speak to some of the admirable, dedicated individuals fighting for them, working to help them make sense of the system and find a dignified life. Their stories deserve a far better ending.

A new migration policy for Europe and the Mediterranean region

In terms of political framework at a European level, there is much progress to be made. From advocating for the closure of detention centres throughout Europe and exploring alternatives to administrative detention and human rights violations that take place in them, to reviewing the ‘Return Directive’ and trying to find collaborative responses to the growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean - work must be focused on highlighting many areas where concrete policy change is urgently needed.

The Strategic guidelines for the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice included in the draft European Council Conclusions of June 2014 aim to replace the “Stockholm Programme” which expires in December 2014. It is one of the most recent and specific instruments, which sets the political orientation regarding a series of policies including immigration and asylum. These guidelines should offer a pathway for future policy development in the coming years, but they risk representing yet another “missed opportunity”. The next legislative phase seems to be focused on the consolidation and implementation of existing rules, while humanitarian crises are mounting within the European neighborhood and public skepticism towards both the European project and governments’ approaches to immigration is also increasing, as the results of the last European parliamentary elections made evident.

A focal point for migration issues, with a sufficient mandate and clear responsibilities, is now necessary to embody all the voices so far misrepresented from throughout Europe and beyond. Europe can neither postpone nor ignore any longer the adoption of concrete measures and responses to the continuous search for better living conditions that govern migration flows between economically unequal countries and regions which almost every day now  result in the tragic shipwrecks that occur in the Mediterranean sea.

This is especially urgent in a time when we are seeing unprecedented numbers of deaths and tragedies at Europe’s borders, a hardening in migration policy in all European countries as well as in negative attitudes towards the ‘other’ influenced by prejudice and discrimination.

Relevant EU instruments such as legislation, policy measures and operational programmes could be precious resources in this response but they are not yet fit for purpose in effectively tackling current problems and emergencies. The will of Europe is the will of national governments. Accordingly, the scope of action granted to the European Commission and EU agencies is the scope assigned to them by the Member States. For a common policy to release its full potential, part of the EU acquis could be improved to better fit with the changing characteristics of migration flows. Despite the Temporary Protection Directive 2001/55/EC, and Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC (on Refugees and Subsidiary Protection), nowadays at least 60 different non-harmonised forms of protection status exist, making it more difficult to examine the situation in each country or to ensure the respect of minimum protection standards for migrants.

On October 3, 2013, 368 migrants (many of whom have never been identified) died after having crossed the Mediterranean in a perilous boat a few meters from the coast of Lampedusa. This provoked a wave of indignation everywhere and threw a shadow of shame and powerlessness over Europe. Some national legislations do not make a definitive distinction between those providing humanitarian assistance or rescue at sea and those defined as “facilitators of unauthorised entries”. This created an added burden for the local population providing assistance to people in such distress. Such wide solidarity shown by the local populations is at odds with the attempts of the institutions to criminalise people on their arrival without differentiating their status.

In many EU Member States asylum seekers are treated as criminals and subject to long periods of detention usually in inhuman conditions, whatever their status may be. Operations of border patrolling run under FRONTEX coordination do not do enough, it is alleged, to abide by European Fundamental Rights protection measures. Migrants are all too often deprived of their right to apply for international protection in a safe place.

After the EU elections, many experts on migration and integration issues started to point out what was needed to guide the future work of the Commission concerning EU citizenship, freedom of movement and immigration, both as separate and autonomous dossiers, but also  as interlinked, if one thinks of immigration and freedom of movement in terms of the mobility of people to and within the EU. The idea of grouping them into one big portfolio - “Citizenship and Mobility” – has also been called for by Jean-Claude Juncker. Right after his nomination as President of the European Commission on 15 July 2014, he called for a new common policy on migration, referring to the increasing death toll in Mediterranean Sea as evidence that a more humanitarian approach is urgently needed at the European level.

Juncker stated his intention of entrusting this new Commissioner with special responsibilities on migration, which he duly did a few weeks later, to address not only Member States but also the third countries concerned. A proposal for an even more specifically-oriented new Commissioner on Mediterranean issues has also been under discussion over the past six months. This represents an important gathering of expectations around the urgent need for a new migration policy, matched with the political will to effect concrete legal and policy developments at international and European level.

The ‘hidden’ potential of migrant integration beyond a few virtuous cities 

The language of policy often seems detached from the realities on the ground, and migration discourse throughout Europe rarely shows the human face of migration. The aim of the Transeuropa Caravans was precisely this; collecting and representing a wide range of voices who often go unheard by politicians, understanding the needs which aren’t being met by the state as well as exploring solutions which aren’t being supported by institutions.

Creating a bridge between migrants and those working with them and policy and decision makers can be the only solution to ensure that policy change will have an impact in the right places. From our visits to towns such as Riace (southern Italy) which boasts a particular model of outreach replicated in still very few exemplary European cities, or to Katerini (Greece) and Terras da Costa (Portugal), home to communitarian kitchens, it became obvious that citizens themselves can and already are doing much to create sustainable development plans at the local level, in some cases without placing any kind of financial or administrative burden on governments.

Hidden below the surface of the migrant squats of Calais, the handicraft production laboratories of Riace, the greenhouses where migrants work in the hinterland of Eboli, the registration centre of Sofia, and asylum centre in Poland, the journey of the Caravans provided a unique opportunity to be part of a different conversation, distant from the current debates taking place at national and European levels.

This way, during our intensive journey with the Transeuropa Caravans we really had a concrete opportunity to see and report on this ‘hidden’ face and how calls for a comprehensive overhaul of European migration policies are increasingly widespread and vocal as a result. The number of individuals coming to Europe, living through the cycle from arrival and transit to making a home, as well as those working with them to help them create settled, dignified lives, are ever growing. The tragedies can be avoided. These tragedies have increased the speed of convergence of European NGOs and civil society movements around demands for concrete policy change.

It remains extremely important and urgent to strengthen the advocacy capacities of all NGOs and their networks involved in this work, while also inspiring other, often weaker and less visible, movements to take part in common actions on these issues at a transnational level. All the voiceless and courageous people who are now beginning to make themselves heard will not shrink from this commitment. It is our duty to be on their side.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Generosity and solidarity Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics
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The gunship archipelago

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 5:30

The growth of secretive floating armouries raises a challenge to maritime security worldwide. 

The MV Sinbad is a vessel of 250 gross tonnage, originally built as a fisheries patrol-boat in Sweden in 1981. With a crew of ten it is usually to be found in international waters, most recently in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Fujairah, one of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There, MV Sinbad is not protecting local fisheries but acting as a floating armoury supporting anti-piracy operations by the Sri-Lankan-based Avant Guard Maritime Services. The latter is a "private maritime security company", and itself an offshoot of Sri Lanka’s largest private military company.

The MV Sinbad is identified on the company’s website as one of three floating armouries, used to support a number of commercial anti-piracy protection schemes operating principally in the Arabian Sea. As such, its purpose is clear. But where it touches the recent trend towards floating armouries outside of territorial waters - a development that is little known outside specialist maritime-security circles - a far more murky aspect emerges.

Even the number of boats involved is far from clear. Some maritime-security companies sub-contract the running of the boats to other companies, making it likelier that boats are registered in countries different to those where the original contracting companies are licenced. Moreover, some of the countries in which the ships are flagged have little capacity for inspecting or controlling the use of the armouries, adding to the risks for everyone involved (see "Floating arsenals: The boats full of guns for hire against pirates", BBC, 18 December 2014).

A war in the shadows

A new report from the Omega Research Foundation sheds much needed light on this situation. Floating Armouries and other technical approaches to maritime security: implications and risks published on 17 December, 2014, was in turn commissioned by the Remote Control Project. 

This group researches and critiques the worldwide trend towards "remote" war involving the increased use of special forces and armed drones, as well as the rapid recent growth of private-military companies. In all these areas, the project is concerned both with the lack of transparency and debate and an even more fundamental question: whether the new developments actually work to improve security.  

The Remote Control Project was established in 2013. It is funded by the Network for Social Change and hosted by Oxford Research Group. In investigating the extent of the move towards remote warfare, it has uncovered a particular tendency towards the sometimes unaccountable use of private companies seeking to keep their profile as low as possible. In the course of the Omega research it has become clear that the issue of floating armouries needs much more attention, not least by the governments that are licencing the companies.

The number of armouries has risen because of the increased problem of piracy, primarily in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea but also in parts of southeast Asia and, more recently, the Gulf of Guinea off west Africa. In some cases naval forces are involved in trying to control piracy, but many shipping companies prefer to hire private companies to guard their ships. This entails a further complication: the security personnel involved naturally require weapons, but states often are dislike having private armouries on their territory. One answer to this dilemma is to deploy the guards on the high seas, outside any national jurisdiction.

The floating armouries themselves are not purpose-built but may be adapted from former tugs, research-vessels or patrol-boats (and in one case even a roll-on/roll-off ferry). There is no binding international agreement for them to have standardised internal storage such as strongrooms; yet they can carry large quantities of semi-automatic and automatic assault-rifles, semi-automatic pistols and shotguns, as well as body-armour and night-vision equipment.

Some of the states wherein the armouries are registered may be "flags of convenience", their capability to inspect ships minimal. That problem is heightened since up to half of the known floating armouries may be so flagged - yet the precise number is unclear, because only some of the armouries are operated by companies keen to follow accepted standards and to be open about what they do.

Omega’s report collates various sources which together suggest that between ten and twenty ships were active in 2012. A United Nations report identifying eighteen ships owned by thirteen states. More recently, a report from Britain's foreign office in 2014 put the figure at thirty-one, while Omega's supplementary research has now identified thirty-two (fifteen of them registered under flags of convenience).

An international effort

In themselves, these findings do not mean that any of the companies are acting illegally. The problem is much more one of the lack of national and international standards covering such issues as effective record-keeping, secure storage, and assurances that weapons cannot be diverted. The fact that so many of the ships are anchored close to unstable and even ungoverned territories increases concerns over these matters. Omega makes the point that if the ships were located onshore the states concerned would almost certainly exert much tighter controls.

Of the many recommendations in Omega’s report, the key one is that an intergovernmental body “should be mandated to review existing control regimes that may be applicable to the regulation of floating armouries and then regulate, monitor and inspect the armouries”. The obvious body is the International Maritime Organisation, a UN special agency which is headquartered in London. This, however, would require both political will and funding from UN member-states.

More generally, the issue of floating armouries is yet another indication of the trend towards the privatisation of security. The process is both incremental and largely unnoticed - evidence of which is the very fact that so very few people are even aware of the existence of these armouries. In this context it is welcome that some governments, not least in New Delhi, are showing concern. Omega’s report should contribute to spreading awareness of the problem and to the need for coordinated effort to address it. 

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Omega Research Foundation

Floating Armouries and other technical approaches to maritime security: implications and risks

Remote Control Project

Network for Social Change 

Oxford Research Group

Maritime Security Review

International Maritime Organisation

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto, 3rd edition, 2010)

Related stories:  Britain in Bahrain: eyes wide shut Islamic State vs its far enemy Afghanistan-Iraq: back to the future The tale of the useful bulldozer Islamic State: power of belief Remote control, a new way of war The drone-casualty-law-civic nexus Remote control: light on new war Topics:  Conflict Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
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Fed up of wind turbines? On Cameron, climate change and the culture war

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 1:26

As Cameron panders to UKIP on climate change, environmentalists are being caught in a culture war.

Klondike wind farm, Wikimedia

A Survation poll late last year showed that 70% of people backed wind farms being built near them. There was a clear majority in favour across people voting for all parties, with 81.1% of Liberal Democrat voters, 74.6% of Labour voters, 60.8% of Conservative voters, and 57.8% of those intending to vote for UKIP saying they would be happy to see wind farms near them. The figure for Greens wasn't recorded, but it seems safe to assume it's a majority.

Another poll, reported in the FT in April this year, said that most people, by a humphing great margin of 3:1, would rather have a wind farm near them than a fracking rig. Another survey in May this year found wind power to be, by a long way, the most popular form of energy in the UK. Again, supporters of all parties tended to be in favour. I could go on. Polling evidence and academic surveys have consistently told the same story. Wind power is the most popular form of energy in the UK.

I say this because, yesterday, David Cameron declared “people are fed up with wind turbines”. Which people? He doesn't say. Evidence for their anger? Who knows. Despite this, he re-announced a moratorium on subsidies for onshore wind-farms if the Tories get a majority in May, and said instead he would offer significant tax cuts for fracking.

In normal circumstances, this policy would amount to nothing less than a direct assault on the future. Announcing it two days after the end of the Lima climate conference makes him look like a clown on the global stage. Fortunately, his international stature is so pathetic I doubt anyone noticed. Doing all this not because he believes that there is some technical problem with wind energy, but because he believes “people” to be fed up, despite those same people reporting that they aren't at all, is remarkable.

There are two potential explanations for his declaration. The first is that he's been leant on by the hydrocarbon industry. The second is that Cameron is throwing some red meat to his activists. Because, whilst there is very little support for them among the population in general, there exists a network of NIMBY campaign groups across the country, protesting against wind energy in their areas.

Among them are cranks who claim to be suffering from the non-existent 'wind turbine syndrome', people who have moved somewhere for the view and are sad to see it changed, home-owners concerned about house prices falling, and, most importantly, culture-war right-wingers who see wind-farms as the mast-head of history, sailing towards a pinko-and-green-politically-correct future and sinking the Britannia they love beneath the waves. Like all activists, they tend to be happy to pick up any argument which supports their cause – some of which are powerful, others of which are nonsense. Perhaps the most prominent of the nonsense arguments is the climate change denial almost invariably found woven into the stories these groups tell.

For politicians, sometimes it makes sense to support a minority position if it is one that is held strongly by the people who might campaign for them – and if those who strongly disagree with it will never vote for them anyway. The “people” to whom Cameron refers when he says “people are fed up” are not “the British people as a whole”. They are clusters of conservative activists in a few rural constituencies, who are currently at risk of defecting to Britain's version of the Tea Party as the climate becomes a key battle line in the emerging culture-war. UKIP, of course, are passionately anti-wind and vocal climate change deniers.

These people have long posed a challenge for Cameron. When he first became leader, it seemed clear what his strategy was: he would give his radical neoliberal ideology both a pink-wash and a green-wash. Back then, everyone was at it. BP rebranded themselves as “Beyond Petrolium”. BAE Systems advertised how the lethal weapons they produced were respectful to the environment, and, the 2006 local elections, David Cameron declared that people should “vote blue to go green”. (Similarly, just as LGBT rights have been used to justify the Iraq War and the actions of the Israeli government, Cameron used his support for things like equal marriage to add a compassionate face to his violent economic policies).

His problem, though, as with so many things, is UKIP. The global economic crisis unleashed a new wave of culture-war, and in a dying empire like Britain, it's no surprise that people are keen to cling to what they see as signifiers of past glory. The social-conservative part of the Conservative coalition has started to break away, given a party to vote for which more accurately reflects their views. Feminist, anti-racist and LGBT activists are more than familiar with this culture-war, and are accustomed to standing and fighting, and, often, to winning. But, interestingly, the environmental movement has often seemed slower to understand what's happening to it and who it's up against.

On this subject, George Marshall is fascinating. As he points out, polling in the States shows that attitudes to climate change are already a more consistent signifier of generally conservative values than opinions about abortion or gun control. To his mind this is a dangerous situation that indicates that believing or not believing in climate change is not just a product of holding left of right wing values, but has become a key marker of their identity. Climate scepticism is now not something conservatives do, it is something they are.

As the same culture-war raises its head in Britain, the Conservatives in the UK face the same challenge as their Republican friends in the US: they can keep the anti-science zealots who make up their base on board, and risk alienating the rest of the population, or they can wave goodbye to the right, and risk battling it out with Labour and the Lib Dems on a crowded centre ground.

For those who would rather the planet didn't fry, there are two (not mutually exclusive) solutions.

The first is to turn weak supporters of renewable energy into strong supporters. In practice, attitudes to what are seen as social issues are often shaped by material and economic circumstances. Where communities have control over wind-farms, they are much more popular. In Denmark, where community ownership of wind-farms is much more common (hundreds of thousands of people in the country are members of wind energy co-ops), there is much less community resistance to the turbines. Afterall, it's the community themselves who are building and profiting from them.

The second is to dig trenches and fight out the culture war. The Roger Scruton fans in the green movement, who argue that small “c” conservatives are natural bedfellows of environmentalists because they want to conserve things, are plain and simple wrong about where their key allies lie.

As Naomi Klein has pointed out in her new book, when conservatives come to the conclusion that action on climate change will require not preservation, but radical change, they are right. The comfortably off, older, right wing middle classes of the Western world are the people who have most vested interest in maintaining the status quo for the short term and least interest in the reforms needed to avert climate disaster.

And this applies as much to broader environmental questions as it does to the climate. The landscapes which anti-wind activists and their ilk seek to conserve are not biodiverse wildlife havens so much as barren-wastelands, cleared of troublesome creatures and peasant-farmers centuries ago. It's the job of environmentalists to re-wild, not conserve Britain's manmade wet-deserts; to bring back commons where now there is enclosure, to let the wild-lands grow where now they are mown.

The conservative vision of countryside is one with neither howling wolf nor peasant-farmer; no undergrowth, no wetlands, no wildlife, no riff-raff. What they want to conserve is a manicured golf-course-island where life is slowly dying off but they are in charge, able to look out and feel proud. Environmentalism is about the opposite - about reviving the land, restoring it to a magnificent chaos capable of supporting life, not controlling and preserving it as, slowly, the life is washed out of it.

The young, the left and liberals are, on the other hand, largely up for the changes that are needed, or at least capable of being persuaded. That bracket includes a significant majority of people in the country – people willing to listen to the case for radical action. The small minority may have the current Prime Minister pandering to it, but that is more a sign of his weakness than their strength.

None of this, of course, is to say that we shouldn't try to win-over conservatives. But let's not pretend that we already agree with them: we don't. And they know that better than we do. Wind power, the climate and the broader environment will become a more and more important part of the culture war in Britain over the next few years. It's a war environmentalists can win. We must.

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Categories: les flux rss

Education prepares you for life, not just a career

Open Democracy News Analysis - 18. December 2014 - 0:11

Corporate culture needs skilled workers trained to do the job. It fears the questioning of values that education encourages.

It still worries me, the accusing look of resentment on the girl’s face as she snatched the book I had bagged for her. I was on the tills at a Cambridge bookshop. A schoolgirl—fourteen, fifteen—came forward to buy what was almost certainly a set book for her exams. She had to read the book to pass the exam to do further study to qualify for the job. It was not a pleasure: it was a duty, and one she deeply resented. Or so I surmise. If I’m right, then the girl regarded her studies as an obstacle to be overcome, an impediment in her progress towards the job that pays and has responsibilities and prospects. The alternative possibility, that her studies would offer her the resources she was going to need in her work and in her life, was not considered. What did her eyes say? ‘Just give me the fucking book.’

There is a remarkable, if rarely noted, agreement among educators that education is not simply about passing exams. From the crustiest, gowned Classics master to the Social Studies experimentalist in blue-jeans there is the common conviction that education is a foundation for a life beyond the examination hall. Or, at least, that has been the case. Today government and media routinely confuse education with vocational training. Education may contain its vocational element, but not exclusively. It was—I daren’t say is—about training the mind.

When I was a student I visited a cousin who was reading a book I was reading for my course. He was simply working his way through the Fontana Modern Masters series, as I was to do. We knew something of each other’s interests. We had interests in common. You didn’t go to study one subject and nothing else. You went to broaden your knowledge base, and to develop a range of personal faculties. That was a given, surely?  There was as much to be learned outside of the seminar room as there was within it. Perhaps there was more to be learned beyond the curricula. The thought of just going in for lectures, and then going home at the weekend, well, just wasn’t done. There was a community of varying interests but with a common purpose.

And what was that purpose? To explore the options available in terms of culture and leisure pursuits, in terms of political and religious commitment, and in terms of working life. What are students searching for? Direction. Even when pursuing a vocational course there are many ways that might be approached. A job, in any case, need not be a career. To expand your capabilities you need to be widely informed, to be variously skilled, and to be both flexible and directed at the same time. The ideal of education is to create that possibility within the individual.

The student brings, or ought to bring, a questioning attitude, but one that balances scepticism with belief. The cynic or the fanatic is an intellectual and moral failure. The ideal is to dream of things that are not and say, ‘Why not?’ Knowledge is what is offered. Imagination is what students must discover for themselves.

The process does not stop at graduation. That piece of paper is only provisional. In my experience the world is not interested in how well qualified you are. The world wants to know how capable you are, and how able you are to continue learning. The habit of mind that constructs a hierarchy of formal achievement is applicable only to a limited set of applications by functionaries who make a virtue of their limitations.

Administrative tasks can be performed by the appropriately trained. But social development requires creative thinking rather than text-book conventions. The manual of instruction is not the last word. It is the starting-point, the foundation of the imaginative leap, the strategic plan, the experimental venture. But the manual does not cover the contingencies. They can be dealt with not according to the rule but according to the circumstance. Understanding the difference and being able to apply that understanding is the mark not of the qualified functionary but of a disciplined and purposive intellect.

Society can function without imagination, but only as a machine. It does not possess the living organisms that can adapt according to circumstance. That, surely, was the quintessential flaw in the Soviet model. Moral failings could be rectified, but the mechanism at a practical level was obsolete. The West, riding so high now, threatens to go the same way.

It was a pertinent criticism of industrial capitalism that it required people to act as robots. The justification was that the material abundance created was available to all. That remains the justification of corporate capitalism. Another kind of robot is required, not the physical labourer but the technician. You see them everywhere, operating the machines that serve the financial and commercial sectors, of course, but the health and welfare and transport and leisure sectors. Everything is done by a click of the mouse. You are not required to think: the machine will do that for you.

Technology, of course, can offer so much. I am not writing this with a quill by candlelight. On the other hand, later I shall be reading a book, a biography of Visconti, to improve my Italian. I shall make a note of the current Maggi Hambling exhibition. The preferred options of corporate capitalism would be something to do with a Hollywood blockbuster and some populist art of the shallow gesture. I shall not be arrested for my preferences, but the distance from the accepted mainstream is clear enough to anyone who is aware of our media, including those areas dedicated to a public service ideal.

One of the purposes of public culture is to consider critically what enters the public realm. Affirmation without consideration leads nowhere. One of the virtues of a liberal culture is the liberty to propose alternatives to the current wisdom. A liberty and a duty. To lose that frame of mind is to lose the saving grace of contemporary Western society. All claim to the legitimacy of convention is lost if conformity becomes the norm of discourse in the public realm.

Where is the source of free exchange in public utterance? It surely is to be found in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and ideas. Sustained concentration, far from dulling the mind, stimulates the appetite for creative thinking. The discipline required, however, conflicts with the culture of sensation, technique and the immediate gratification of ephemeral desire. The ideal course of study in corporate capitalism is technical or managerial training instilled by the acceptance of received ideas. The language is not the language of enquiry. The rewards of obedience are high in terms of status and wealth. Without a credible alternative to materialism, thoughts and values are incapable and may be disregarded. And they are.

The idea of a liberal education has not vanished, but it is diminished by the demands of the market for a unified structure. Tradition and precedent have been sidelined into nostalgia. Social co-operation and common wealth have been eradicated. We are one class now, aren’t we, in an arc of opportunities? The only remaining problems are to do with race and gender. The answers may look progressive. The language used is progressive, but the purpose is to remove all obstacles to monolithic unity. We are all in one great community, thinking alike, talking alike and acting together for a common purpose which is freedom and fun. Who could ask for anything more?

It is the world of the young, probably single, and without responsibilities. Ambition is paramount. The feelgood of being comfortable and free is an evident plus. Freedom means travel and limitless credit. Comfort means designer commodities. It is felt to be so obviously better than anything on offer to previous generations. And what is obvious should not be questioned.

The desire to ask the deeper questions may come later if it comes at all. When the need arises one needs the resources to fulfil the desire. This is something that cannot be bought, that is not subject to fashion, that is not something taught in a module. The sense of absence can be very disillusioning. Cynicism, especially when redundancy looms, is the likely outcome.

The scenario does not suggest a society at ease with itself. The gradual erosion of a liberal education has been marked for so long now that it cannot be attributed to one source. In part it was willed by political leaders who had little more than volition. In part it was created by a simplistic media myth of a free world. But its growth was not inevitable. It came into its own in the vacuum where once there was ideological debate. The corporate sector does not offer intellectual and cultural development. It does not welcome personal initiative nourished by a broad field of vision.

There is, however, sufficient plurality to suggest that alternatives may be found. There is even the possibility of a consensus against philistine management culture and its monotonous soundtrack. Neither RADA nor Sandhurst could operate without valuing initiative and enriched personal resources. From different and opposing traditions the progressive and the traditionalist may be capable of uniting against crass materialism and the narrowing of focus that produces resentful teenagers who wouldn’t be seen dead in a Cambridge bookshop if their course didn’t depend on it.   

Categories: les flux rss

Generosity and solidarity

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 23:29

The hard work of steering a liberal course through refugee policy will require solidarity on a global scale. We must never lose sight of the entire chain of events involved in forced displacements.

Migrant camp, Calais. Demotix/Matthew Aslett. All rights reserved.Let us discuss the central liberal concerns that arise from thinking through refugee policy. The first, and most important, is that the international community should not consider refugee flows as isolated, causeless, phenomena. Out of concern for refugees, governments must work on root causes, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts, as well as worldwide respect for human rights. In opposition to this broad principle, many of the most dramatic refugee flows of the last decade have been the direct result of misguided policies that sought to promote regime change by force, thereby creating conflicts that spun out of control, causing extensive damage to complex social and political arrangements. Refugees are but the natural result of such endeavours.

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, for instance, legitimate humanitarian reasons for intervention have been offered. However, little attention has been paid to collateral damage and unintended consequences. Intervening countries, of course, normally do not have to deal directly with the burden of refugee protection. It is relatively easy for them to act irresponsibly, under the assumption that the United Nations, in coordination with impoverished, affected countries – vulnerable, therefore, to political and financial pressure – will do whatever is needed to help those displaced by war or persecution. This kind of refugee policy may be literally ‘cynical’. There is no polite way to describe countries who have harmed civilian populations, through the myopic use of force, and later try to stand as their protectors, simply through the deployment of donations. A liberal, more honest approach, on the other hand, would be based on the principle that complex issues such as those relating to the construction of stable and democratic nation-states worldwide cannot be worked out by force; those issues, fundamental to the debate about the prevention of refugee flows, demand diplomacy, hard work and a lot of patience.

Secondly, once the Pandora’s box is open, no matter how or by whom, refugees must have the right to flee and find protection absolutely respected. There can be no excuses: non-refoulement must be regarded as a sacred principle, regardless of risks or costs. It is important to emphasize, however, that such an important principle must be upheld by the entire international community. The first receiving country, in that sense, represents an aggregate; that country, no matter how poor or isolated, should feel confident that it will not remain alone in doing what it is right. We are talking here about solidarity on a truly global scale. We are talking about a shared concern for the prevalence of international law.

It is important to remember that non-refoulement is obviously not enough. Refugees must not only be accepted, but also integrated with generosity. Refugee camps, therefore, should be regarded, at best, as a strictly temporary reaction to unexpected flows of people, never as a permanent solution to displacement. Effective liberal solutions include local integration or repatriation to a third country. In both cases, refugees should have the right to work, to have their professional and academic qualifications recognized, to receive equal pay for equal work, to access public services and to move freely within the host country and abroad. At the heart of this is the assumption that refugees should be given the opportunity to thrive. They will often need help at the beginning, but they should not be seen as a permanent burden. They may actually become an asset, if given the chance to contribute to the economic and cultural life of their hosts. 

A final concern I would like to emphasize is related to the end of refugee status. When the conditions that led to flight are over, and if many years have past, refugees should have the option to remain where they are, especially when strong ties with the host country are in place. A liberal perspective, by definition, acknowledges facts and rewards individual efforts. Permanent residence or naturalization should be offered, therefore, to refugees that have integrated or that have lost connection with their former country of residence and feel that ‘home’ is the place where they are living. For children born in exile, this point is especially important.

For refugees who decide to return, there are many other issues. It may happen, for instance, that the place where they used to live has become occupied by others. Mechanisms should be in place to correct those situations, with care not to recreate tensions that lead to conflict and displacement. Rights that were violated, in other words, should be restored. At the same time, it is essential to avoid the logic of revenge. Building trust, after difficult times, is a delicate task that demands tolerance. At the same time, the lack of punishment for war crimes sends a deeply troubling signal, and makes difficult the construction of a professional, law abiding army in post-conflict situations.

The international community should support reconstruction efforts – with care, however, not to dictate terms of complex political settlements under naive assumptions. Politics is not made only with those we agree with. Western powers, moreover, are not always neutral. It is an important part of self-determination that the right to make mistakes and find solutions to those mistakes, without undue interference from outside, is protected.

At the current juncture, these elements are critical for the construction of a truly comprehensive liberal approach to refugee policy. We must have in our sights the entire chain of events related to forced displacement. This is work that requires the promotion of rights at every point where they may be violated, with an appreciation that we are dealing with a complex phenomenon that requires action on multiple fronts. 

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Daddy, is it going to flood again?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 18:03

When people have gone through something like flooding, sometimes they can find it hard to talk about what's causing the climate to change...

A few days’ worth of non-stop rain is pretty normal at this time of year, but as I decked my six year-old out head to toe in wet weather gear for the fourth consecutive morning recently, she looked up to me and asked, “is it going to flood again?”

After two winters of extended flooding in a row, when this year’s rains began my daughter wasn’t the only one asking this question in our community. The spectre of more school and road closures, and sandbags and portable toilets set up in flooded streets loomed large in many conversations.

I’ve spent the last year visiting other communities around the UK impacted by flooding and discussing the devastating impacts - both physical and emotional - through a series of workshops. And of course, as someone who cares about and works on climate change, I’ve also discussed where the day-to-day experience of small communities hit by such monumental events fits into the global experience.

Not surprisingly, most people who’ve given up their time to come to these sessions ‘get’ climate change, but far fewer would fit into an ‘eco-warrior’ stereotype, while some are the absolute antithesis of a climate change campaigner. While there was overwhelming consensus that climate change was playing a significant role in UK flooding, there was a real sense of social silence around talking about the issue to anyone outside of their peer group. And this was seen as a serious problem. How can communities truly plan to cope with future events if a key driver for flooding isn’t discussed or included in plans? How can new defences be built high enough if rising sea levels or increasing sudden rainfall isn’t being considered? As these events become more common, should we use the methods we’ve used in the recent past or is it necessary to step back and see the bigger picture?

These questions came up repeatedly and a key element of the workshops was to explore the practical actions participants could take to make their communities more resilient. But another vital area was the training we offered in how to start breaking the climate silence people experienced around them. Not in a preachy or inappropriate way, but one that starts with personal experience and allows all members of a group to see the importance of factoring in climate change to create more robust communities.  

Hopefully we won’t see a repeat of last year’s flooding, and those people I’ve met who are still not in their homes will move back soon, but COIN’s work helping people hit by flooding talk about climate change is still very necessary and I hope that we can continue to offer such vital community support.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Meet Malcolm, the man defending his town from the rising seas Flood water - the silent, indiscriminate burglar
Categories: les flux rss

The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 16:40

Jimmy Mubenga died under restraint by three G4S guards. Extreme racist texts found on two of the guards’ phones were withheld from the jury who yesterday cleared all three men of manslaughter. (Warning: this piece contains highly offensive language)

Jimmy Mubenga with his youngest child

Here’s a joke:

“What’s the difference between a cricket bat and a teatowel? Fuck all. They both wrap round a Muslim’s head nicely. Happy St George’s Day.”

That was one of 65 extremely racist texts found on the mobile phone of Terrence Hughes, one of three G4S guards acquitted yesterday of the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga.

Jimmy Mubenga, a healthy 46 year old, the father of five children, died on a British Airways plane at Heathrow Airport on the evening of 12 October, 2010. He was being deported to Angola, escorted by guards from G4S, a security company working under contract to the Home Office. Last year an inquest jury found that Mubenga had been “unlawfully killed”, that one or more of the guards had pushed or held him down “in an unlawful manner” and that the guards “would have known that they would have caused Mr Mubenga harm in their actions, if not serious harm”.

The Crown Prosecution Service charged the three guards — Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52, and Stuart Tribelnig, 39 — with manslaughter. At their trial an Old Bailey jury was told that fellow passengers had heard Jimmy Mubenga cry out “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned to his seat while handcuffed from behind. The defendants insisted they heard no such cries. They said they had not pushed his head down in a position known to risk asphyxia. Yesterday an Old Bailey jury acquitted them of manslaughter.

Hughes’s racist texts, and others found on Stuart Tribelnig’s mobile, were not revealed to the Old Bailey jurors who cleared the three men. That’s because defence lawyers had argued that hearing about the racist material would “release an unpredictable cloud of prejudice” in the jury, preventing a fair trial. The judge ruled that the racist texts were inadmissible. So too was the fact of the unlawful killing verdict and the Coroner’s report which concluded that there was an “unhealthy culture” in the G4S workforce and “endemic racism”.

The Coroner, Karon Monaghan QC, had written: “It seems unlikely that endemic racism would not impact at all on service provision. It was not possible to explore at the Inquest the true extent of racist opinion or tolerance amongst DCOs [Detainee Custody Officers] or more widely. However, there was enough evidence to cause real concern, particularly at the possibility that such racism might find reflection in race-based antipathy towards detainees and deportees and that in turn might manifest itself in inappropriate treatment of them. As it was put by one witness, the potential impact on detainees of a racist culture is that detainees and deportees are not ‘personalized.This may, self-evidently, result in a lack of empathy and respect for their dignity and humanity potentially putting their safety at risk, especially if force is used against them. It is for that reason that the subject properly forms part of this Report.”

The jury in the criminal trial were not to know any of this.

The barrister Frances Webber, in an illuminating post at Institute of Race Relations News, writes:
“The exclusion of relevant evidence meant that the case actually lacked part of its context, and the defence suggestions that Mubenga was indeed too big, strong and vociferous and helped to bring about his own demise, won the day. And although the guards denied any unlawful or dangerous restraint, the sub-text was that if they did do anything untoward it was because of a lack of training and therefore outside of their individual culpability.”

Here’s another text from Terrence Hughes’s phone:

“I went to my local the other day only to find a black barman. So I said give me a drink nig nog. He said that’s a bit racist, come round here and see how like it. So we swapped places and he said give me a drink you mother fucking white honkey cunt. I said sorry mate we don't serve niggers!”

And here’s another:

“Have you noticed that if you re-arrange the letters in illegal immigrants and add just a few more letters it spells out fuck off and go home you free-loading, benefit-grabbing, kid-producing, violent, non-English-speaking, cock suckers and take those hairy-faced, sandal-wearing, bomb-making, goat-fucking, smelly rag head bastards with you. How weird is that?”

And here’s another:

“I went to my local the other day only to find a black barman. So I said give me a drink nig nog. He said that's a bit racist, come round here and see how like it. So we swapped places and he said give me a drink you mother fucking white honkey cunt. I said sorry mate we don't serve niggers!”

And there’s more:

“Can you spare just £2? Ranji is a 9-year old boy living in India. He has just one leg, one arm and one eye. Each day he has to ride seven miles to school along a narrow road on a rusty bike with bent wheels, no brakes and only one pedal. If you send just £2 we will send you the video. It's fucking hilarious.”

And more:

“Ku Klux Klan bloke has just had his Rottweiler upgraded and chipped. It is now up to ten niggerbytes per second.”

And more:

“Had a water fight with the Paki kids in the street. Their high-powered water pistols are no match for my freshly boiled kettle.”

And more:

“I’m voting for the Icelandic volcano party. It’s done more to stop immigration in the last five days than Labour has in the last ten years.”

In all 65 extremely racist texts were found on Terrence Hughes’s phone.

In the months after Mubenga’s death Hughes posted on his Facebook page an image of a dark-skinned man sitting on a plane with his seatbelt positioned above his shoulder and the question: “Come on then what's wrong with this pick???”

Hughes’s Facebook friends chipped in comments. Here’s one:

“He hasn't got two hairy arsed escorts either side of him, no cuffs and not shouting, ‘Kill me now I'm not a hanimal’.”

Here’s another: 

 “Such a dumb fuck this bloke, first time on a plane and no Engrish.”

Hughes was questioned about this in front of the inquest jury. He said: “I have never used any racist language at work,” and “I’ve never told a racist joke to anyone.”

Hughes was also asked at the inquest about a disciplinary tribunal that followed a complaint by a woman being returned to Congo. The woman, Miss Batola, claimed that Hughes had whispered in her ear: “You’re an animal. Go back to the bush where you belong.”

Hughes denied saying those words. He said: “if I called her an animal, I may have used the term in stop behaving and I never actually said that I said it. I said if I did say it, it would have been in that type of context. . . .if I did say it, I might have said it in that way because she was trying to bite me.”

Miss Batola had claimed that Hughes apologised for calling her an animal. At the inquest Hughes said: “I apologised to her, yes, because we used handcuffs on her and I don’t like using handcuffs on ladies.”

No racist texts were found on Colin Kaler’s mobile.

Stuart Tribelnig had lots of them. At the inquest, the Coroner asked him to read out four of them.

Here’s the first:

“We’ve sent the Pakistanis 70 million in aid. The Yanks have sent them 90 million. The Irish have sent them Michael Flatley's DVD to teach the fuckers how to do River Dance.”

Next: 

“I walked past a blind black guy begging in the street. He said, ‘Any change, mate?’ I said, ‘Nope, you're still a nigger’.”

Next: 

“I’ve just lost my job as a life guard at the local swimming pool. Apparently tapping the bombing sign as a family of Muslims walked past is not acceptable.”

And another: 

 “I’ve just been sacked from my new job from the wines and spirits section at Asda. A Muslim came in and asked me to recommend a good port. I said, ‘Dover, now fuck off’.”

Tribelnig admitted forwarding two texts to G4S colleagues. “They’re just jokes that did the rounds,” he explained.

The Coroner asked him: “Did you think they were funny?”

“No,” he said.

Then why forward them?

“I don’t know,” Tribelnig said. “I can only put it down to an unthinking moment.”

The Coroner said: “The contents of those messages  suggest a certain disrespect, to put it mildly, towards black people?”

“Yes,” said Tribelnig.

“Is that . .  something that you generally hold as a view?”

“No,” he replied. “I have close relationships with many people from varying different cultures. My partner’s sister’s husband and her children are black so there are black people within my family circle.”

Frances Webber notes: “Following the acquittal, the judge told the jury that they were not to be concerned if they later read about material that was ruled inadmissible at the trial.” She asks: “What should we make of this advice?”


Please donate to OurKingdom here to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.

  • Notes:
  • You can find a sample of Stuart Tribelnig’s texts here in the transcript of Day 3 of the inquest (15 May 2013: pages 225 to 231).
  • There’s a sample of Terrence Hughes’s 65-strong cache of racist texts here in Day 5’s transcript (17 May 2013: pages 105 to 115).
  • The quotes relating to Hughes’s disciplinary tribunal are here (17 May 2013: page 149).
  • Hughes has been referred to in the press and in legal documents variously as Terence Hughes, Terrence Hughes and Terry Hughes.
Sideboxes Related stories:  Jimmy Mubenga and the shame of British Airways Lord Ramsbotham attacks 'perverse' decision not to prosecute G4S over Mubenga death The lonely death of Jimmy Mubenga Woman stands naked on airport runway, takes overdose
Categories: les flux rss

Eastern Ukraine: the humanity behind the headlines

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 15:15

The government in Kyiv, aid organisations and the international community must work together to address the humanitarian crisis created by the fighting in the east.

Commissioner for human rights hears plight of IDPs in Ukraine from open Security on Vimeo.

News reports from the conflict in eastern Ukraine are full of grim increases in the statistics of the dead, injured, and displaced, of ceasefires which quickly break down and movements of heavy weaponry. The headlines make one aware that Ukraine is at war but they do not always show the effects on ordinary people.

I recently visited the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. I went to Krasnoarmiysk, a town of 70,000 people in a mining region, 30km from the front line. I also went to the smaller industrial town of Kurakhove (population 20,000), 15km west of rebel-held Donetsk, the regional capital. Each town was without running water for five months this year, including the summer, and the clatter of shelling nearby still keeps people from sleeping. Krasnoarmiysk itself experienced serious unrest in the spring and two men were shot dead during incidents near City Hall on 11 May.

Those I met, who included displaced persons—many of them pensioners—and the local officials and others working to help them, told me that there was much weariness from months of insecurity and fighting, and that some people had become too indifferent to their fate to bother going to the shelters. Most longed for peace.

I also went to Dnipropetrovsk, a large city in a region which has received some 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The country’s capital, Kyiv, and its surrounding region are hosting some 60,000 more. There are now at least half a million IDPs in Ukraine and the figure keeps growing.

Centres and camps

While some have moved in with friends or family, thousands are living in collective centres hastily adapted from company hostels and schools or rapidly winterised summer camps. Some have already found work, but most survive on the goodwill of volunteers and donations from Ukraine’s civil society.

I praise the relentless efforts of those providing much-needed assistance to these vulnerable groups but their efforts alone will not be enough to ensure durable solutions for the increasing number of displaced persons arriving from the conflict-affected regions. Many are waiting for the Ukrainian government to begin paying promised allowances and put forward a plan for their long-term integration.    

Little attention has been paid to the lives of those traumatised, uprooted and abandoned.

 We still have only a fragmentary picture of life in rebel-held areas. The primary sources of information are individuals fleeing from the east and the reports of a few international organisations and humanitarian groups which have intermittent access on the ground. In the context of an information war, media reports are often contradictory.

From the people I met, I heard stories of extreme hardship—even hunger—among vulnerable groups in those regions. They include the elderly and persons with disabilities, as well as those living in prisons, psychiatric hospitals and care homes—some of which have no running water, heat or electricity and very few remaining (and unpaid) staff. Imagine living in an unheated building when temperatures are 18 degrees below zero Centigrade, which was the case when I was there.

This deprivation explains the appalling conditions the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Reuters journalists recently encountered in the psychiatric hospital in Slovyanoserbsk (Luhansk region), where 49 patients have died since August. Only six of the 180 staff remained in the hospital, and they had received no salary nor their patients any pensions for six months. Apparently, dozens of similar cases can be found in institutions in the conflict-affected areas.

Not forgotten

These are the people behind the headlines and they must not be forgotten. The conflict in eastern Ukraine and its geopolitical dimension echoing the cold war have been the main focus of chancelleries, businesspeople and media outlets in Europe. Little attention has been paid to the lives of those traumatised, uprooted and abandoned. It is time to turn to them and help them live in a dignified manner.

What can be done? As the Ukrainian government has no access to the rebel-held territories, it should work with the international organisations and humanitarian groups which do have such access to reach the most vulnerable. It should also adopt a flexible approach in paying pensions to persons arriving from the rebel-held areas.

The international community, including all those who are involved in providing aid to the affected regions, should do its utmost to ensure that aid reaches those who are in need, and generously assist Ukraine in meeting the humanitarian and integration needs of its IDPs.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Putin’s International Brigades Poroshenko's choices Country or region:  Ukraine Topics:  Conflict International politics
Categories: les flux rss

Help us save the NHS - Christmas Appeal

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 13:00

For anyone who loves the NHS, it is time to act. We don’t have much time to reverse the destructive reforms already underwayWe urgently need your support.

We're sure you’re as worried about what’s happening to the NHS as we are. Wheels are already in motion that will affect all of our futures. But if we work together, we can save the NHS we know and love. Support our campaign and we will fight to get it back. 

Pre-election promises to protect NHS funding have been broken.

A&Es, wards and nurses are being cut across the country. NHS hospitals are in the red, and turning to private patients to try and fill the financial black hole. Waiting times for everyone else are growing.

NHS nurses, doctors and other healthcare staff —the heart of the NHS—are being demonised by government ministers even as they do a heroic job. Many of the most experienced nurses are leaving. Four out of five GPs don’t believe their practice will survive the next ten years.

Politicians and corporate-financed ‘think tanks’ are more confidently asserting that the only way to solve this crisis is to start charging patients.

None of this is necessary or sensible. The NHS was, until 2010, the most cost-efficient health service in the world.

Rather than preserve this most precious national asset our government is quietly destroying it, handing it over to private healthcare and insurance companies under the guise of the 'NHS' logo.

Private healthcare now has the right to bid for any part of the NHS they fancy. The first fully privatised NHS hospital, Hinchingbroke (majority owned by major Conservative party donors) has been heavily criticised by regulators–but the government is now rolling out similar privatised arrangements across the country.

Privatisation adds hugely to administration costs - at least £5billion a year.

The NHS will not survive this sustained attack much longer. The public should be in no doubt about where we’re being led: an insurance-based system delivered by private companies, for profit: a soft version of the disastrous US system.

For anyone who loves the NHS, it is time to act. We don’t have much time to reverse the destructive reforms already underway. We urgently need your support.

What we do and how you can help

Please donate whatever you can afford - however large or small, a one off or recurring donation really makes a difference. Share our articles, and sign up to our newsletter. Help us publicise what the mainstream media is reluctant to cover. 

We need you to back us all the way. The government has declared war on the NHS. With your support, we will fight back and protect it. Here's what your help would do:

1. You can help us cover what no one else will.

Since January 2013, OurNHS has been the leading publisher campaigning to preserve the NHS as a nationalised service owned for and by the English public but we cannot continue our work without funding support.

2. You can help our work continue to make a difference.

Our work has been picked up by the Guardian, the Independent, the Mail, the Telegraph and the Mirror, and has been cited in Parliament. Our editor, Caroline Molloy, has appeared on local and national BBC TV and radio, independent radio, and in the tabloid and broadsheet media to discuss the NHS reforms. In just 18 months we have published over 360 articles investigating what is being done to the NHS and how we can rescue it.

3. You can help us provide a platform for those who dare to speak out.

We have published many of the leading NHS academics, doctors, campaigners and activists, including leading NHS campaigner Professor Allyson Pollock; former Health Secretary Lord David Owen; Professor Colin Leys, author of ‘Plot Against the NHS’; Deputy Chair of the British Medical Association Kailash Chand OBE; Dr Jonathan Tomlinson of Keep Our NHS Public; Director of War on Want John Hilary; John Lister head of Health Emergency; Dr Jacky Davis, Editor of NHS SOS; leading privatisation critic Dr Lucy Reynolds, former Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green, and former head of the Royal College of GPs Clare Gerada, 

“OurNHS is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to know what his happening in the NHS. They have regular incisive and authoritative contributors with well-resourced references. I regularly read the articles to get an unbiased view of the disastrous changes occurring to our NHS. I hope they keep up the good work and I fully support all that they do." (Dr David Wrigley, BMA Central Council member)

4. You can help us campaign in the public interest.

OurNHS is not aligned with any political party, and is hosted by the globally recognised, not-for-profit publisher, openDemocracy.net. We work with Keep Our NHS Public, 38 Degrees, NHS Support Federation, SpinWatch and False Economy, among whom we are the only dedicated publisher. We work with campaigners across the country, putting people in touch, producing campaigning guidance, speaking at events and helping campaigners understand the changes being implemented.

5. Help us make an impact now, when it’s most crucial.

The 2015 general election will be critical for the NHS. We want to make the NHS a central issue of the campaign, to pressure all parties to commit to a genuine national health service, and to help the public understand the issues so that they can hold their MPs to account

6. No one else will do what we do. You can help us keep going.

We are currently funded by donations from the public and from a small number of funding bodies but we are struggling to stay afloat. We employ only one member of staff, our superb editor and writer, Caroline Molloy. We need your help to ensure we can employ Caroline at least as far as the vital general election, and hopefully beyond. OurNHS has been a key voice opposing these NHS reforms but it needs your support to continue.

The NHS is being stolen from the public before our eyes. We want your help to stop that happening. Please make a contribution: donate, share our articles. It's your health service being stolen.

Categories: les flux rss

The rouble crisis in Siberia

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 12:56

As the rouble collapses, residents of Tomsk have long memories — from Black Tuesday 1994 to Black Tuesday 2014.

 

Tomsk is a provincial city in the best sense of the word. Indeed, as the largest centre for education and science on the other side of the Urals, it is often called the most European city in Siberia. As for living standards and income, Tomsk is usually found mid-table in the list of Russian cities with populations over 500,000. If you want to take Russia’s ‘temperature,' Tomsk is a good place to do it. So how do Siberians see the current economic crisis, its causes, and how do they plan to react?

Black Tuesday, 1994

The rouble crashed for the first time in Russian history on 11 October 1994, better known as ‘Black Tuesday.’ In the course of a single day, the national currency lost 27% of its value against the dollar. This fall did not last long, however, and the rouble regained its former value within three days. This sudden plunge smacked of panic more than anything else, and its consequences were ultimately limited. In the provinces, these events had little impact, and hardly anybody remembers this period nowadays. The far more serious crisis of 1998 wiped the first Black Tuesday from Russian memory.

‘Back then, people just didn’t understand what to do with money in principle. We didn’t know how to live under capitalism, and we had high hopes for the reforms. At the start, it seemed that we were home free — democracy had arrived, and soon enough we’d be living just like Europe. But it didn’t turn out that way,’ says pensioner Vladimir Fedorov, who worked as a foreman at Tomsk’s Sibkabel factory during the 1990s.

‘It was like a Mexican soap opera: the dollar’s up, the dollar’s down, Yeltsin promising that everything’s going to be fine.’

‘Inflation was mad, the factory could hardly make ends meet, and our wages were always being delayed. Sure, we’d heard that the dollar was very strong right. But what did that mean to us? Nobody had any roubles, let alone foreign currency. The only thing left to do was watch the news. It was like a Mexican soap opera: the dollar’s up, the dollar’s down, Yeltsin promising that everything’s going to be fine. People were buying privatisation vouchers with their hard-earned money or shares in [pyramid scheme] MMM, which promised incredible rates. People were naïve back then. People weren’t ready for capitalism. In the 1990s, the situation in Russia was harsh, and if you remember that time, no crisis is going to put the wind up you. We survived back then, and we’ll survive now. To be sure, we’ll have to give up some things. But now most people have got at least something to their name: everyone’s learnt to put money away for a rainy day.’

August 1998

But many people remember the August 1998 crisis. In that month the exchange rate was roughly six roubles to the dollar. By 1 January 1999, one dollar cost 21 roubles. Russia’s ever-changing government (four different prime ministers in one year) had been conducting an extremely shortsighted and inept economic policy, trying to plug holes in a deficit-ridden budget with the help of loose credit and high-yielding state bonds. This led to the first default on domestic public debt in world history: many Russian banks closed, and many people lost their savings yet again.

The difficult economic situation was compounded by complete political chaos. Controlled by a communist majority, the State Duma openly opposed the Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and was preparing to impeach him for waging an illegal war in Chechnya. The constant reshuffle of prime ministers did not contribute either to solving the country’s economic problems.

Nevertheless, the situation turned out to be rather profitable for those Tomsk residents who managed to retrieve their savings from the banks in time.

‘We didn’t have any foreign currency. I was working in a research institute, and my husband was teaching at the university. Our wages were very low. We only had enough to provide for ourselves and our kids. We had no money to save,’ remembers Valentina Sukhareva, who is now retired. But in 1998, Valentina was working as a senior researcher. ‘My son had just finished studying oil and gas production at university, and had started working shifts at oil rigs in Tyumen region. The oil business paid very well for that time. You just couldn’t find that type of money in Tomsk back then. We changed half of his wages into dollars and put it in the bank. After four years, we had something like $30,000.

My son rang and said: “Mum, we have to take the money out of the bank.”

‘When the dollar jumped to twice its value in the course of a few days in August 1998, people began to say that the banks were all going to crash. My son was at work when it happened, and he rang and said: “Mum, we have to take the money out of the bank.” I went to the bank. There was a crowd in front of it, and security guards were standing by the entrance. They weren’t letting anyone in, telling people “Come back tomorrow.” I stood there for a bit, and then I thought, well, what have we got to lose? I went up to the security guards and said: “If you don’t want a problem with the FSB, then you better let me in.” It was a complete bluff, of course. But what can you do if you’re desperate? The guards believed me for some reason, and the bank gave us all of our money in dollars over several days. Thanks to the exchange rate, we bought a two-room apartment for our son straight away. Now the mood is more optimistic. The 1998 crisis taught us that you can’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Our family has savings both in dollars and roubles. We don’t have a lot of them. But still, it gives us some confidence.’

Black Tuesday, 2014

All the same, Russia in 2014 is quite a different country than Russia in 1998. The 1998 crisis was preceded by years of radical economic, political and social change that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. While economic crises had a particularly sharp impact during the 1990s on the whole of the population because the majority of Russians were just as poor as one another, during the 2000s, the Russian economy managed not only to stabilise itself, but also put on some weight. In this climate, a new middle class began to form, with a new way of life and new values. And although debate continues on how to define the middle class in Russia, 47% of people living in cities consider themselves members of this new class.

Now a generation of people have grown up in Russia, which are accustomed to a different standard of living. The Russian middle class can now afford at least one trip abroad per year, and a car, as well as other purchases, which go well beyond the basics. Most people living in cities have a stable income, property and savings. Unlike 16 years ago, in 2014, it’s not survival that’s at stake.

The old Siberian city of Tomsk is famous for its wooden architecture. (c) Shutterstock/Madruaga Verde.

Unlike 16 years ago, in 2014, it’s not survival that’s at stake.

To put it in numbers, in 1998 the average monthly wage for Tomsk was 760 roubles (£72 before the default, £32 after August). Now the average monthly wage for Tomsk region is 29,000 roubles (£280 as of 17/12/2014), which is slightly less than the average for Russia as a whole. Even taking inflation into account, over the years, the difference in incomes is tangible.

Another important difference between these crises is that the 1998 collapse was accompanied by outright government ineptitude. While Yeltsin had become a figure of pity, today, the approval ratings of Putin remain consistently high. According to a Levada Centre survey in late November, 58% of respondents would like to see Putin as president beyond 2018. For the moment, apparently, even the falling rouble cannot shake that approval.

But with the rouble in freefall, nobody is prepared to forecast what will happen next. On the whole, however, Tomsk residents remain calm.

‘I think it’s too early to talk about the consequences of the crisis just yet. We’re only at the beginning of it,’ says entrepreneur Alexei Kolosov, who owns a chain of homeware shops in Tomsk. Kolosov started his own business almost 20 years ago and has been through all the usual problems of small and medium businesses in Russia. ‘Only one thing is clear: whoever knew that this situation was coming beforehand had time to get their bearings, change their money into foreign currency and other assets. Those who didn’t have time… Well, they were too late.

‘I think it’s too early to talk about the consequences of the crisis just yet. We’re only at the beginning of it’

‘Now everyone in business is playing the waiting game. Nobody wants to make any sudden moves or projections. But from my own experience, I can say that we got through 1998 okay. We were focused on selling quality goods, mostly from Europe, and we certainly felt the change in the exchange rate. And so we had to find a balance: how high can we raise prices without losing customers? Of course, our profit margin contracted, but we were making enough to keep the business going and even expand slightly. We’ll use the same strategy now and take decisions according to the changing situation.’

Independent experts, however, give distinctly less rosy projections. Business consultant Nadezhda Dreval, for example, who consults different companies in Tomsk on marketing, advertising, business strategy and human resources: ‘Suppliers have raised their prices, and so businesses aren’t expecting a crisis, but have rather already encountered it. Not everyone has money to invest, and for many, whatever money they had is already invested. Exchanging roubles for dollars makes little sense in this situation. Right now they’re putting money into products.

‘Even halfway through November, several suppliers have raised prices on their remaining goods. Some of my clients are buying up equipment and furniture. They’re ordering expensive advertising equipment made from imported materials — this can still be bought at old prices. Others are cutting their margins in order to keep clients. Some companies are trying to retrieve debts from manufacturing firms for the last three to four months. Moreover, these negotiations have already reached the level of payment in kind. When people shift to bartering, it’s always a worrying symptom for business; and our local businessmen are already prepared to accept goods with a short shelf-life so as to receive at least some form of payment.’

Hundreds of companies are likely to go under in these conditions.

Hundreds of companies are likely to go under in these conditions. Nobody is going to raise wages — ‘Be glad you have a job at all’ is the philosophy. Delays in salary and wages are also unavoidable given the delays in payment between businesses. And, as prices rise, there will also be unexpected and short-term falls in prices due to barter payments: companies will sell off goods cheaply to claw back their money more quickly.

Even if a miracle does happen and the exchange rate returns, let us say, to 40-45 roubles to the dollar by next spring, business will not lower its prices significantly, but will try to build a foreign currency ‘cushion’ and adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

Patriots and liberals

Many Russians agree that the economic crisis is connected to events in Ukraine. But when it comes to the question of responsibility for the current situation, opinions differ.

Some sections of society believe that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine’s internal conflict was the right decision. They support the President’s position and the government’s current domestic policy. After the annexation of Crimea in March, there has been an unprecedented explosion of patriotism in Russia; and feelings of pride in one’s country trump any sense of anxiety over the future. One can sum up the opinion of the overwhelming majority of people as follows: ‘Russia should defend its interests at all costs. It needs to show that it’s strong, independent and that we are a great power.’ Supporters of this point of view accuse the West of aggression against Russia; and they believe the rouble’s fall is the result of intentional manipulation by outside forces.

‘Russia should defend its interests at all costs. It needs to show that it’s strong, independent and that we are a great power.’

Other people believe that Russia has enough of its own problems, and that the government’s current policy hits the Russian people hardest. Before intervening in the affairs of another state, Russia’s leadership should have thought long and hard about the results of this kind of intervention. However, the percentage of people dissatisfied with the actions of the Russian authorities is considerably less than those in favour; and their opinion is lost amidst the atmosphere of patriotic euphoria. Critically minded citizens are, on the whole, drawn from the intelligentsia and young, educated city-dwellers from the middle class.

Given that Tomsk is Siberia’s education hub, the percentage of liberally minded residents has always been higher on average than the rest of the country. But all the same, there are still considerable numbers of ‘patriots’ here in Tomsk.

An immunity of sorts

The current situation could best be called a state of anxious expectation. Many people in Tomsk – in many parts of Russia – are yet to feel the impact of the economic crisis; and the rising exchange rate remains, for the meantime, a more or less abstract figure. People who have large amounts of savings usually follow the forecasts closely. Indeed, there were people already converting their savings into foreign currency back in the spring, just as the global outlook took a turn for the worse. Those with smaller amounts of savings will likely keep what little they have in roubles.

While there are stockpiles of goods already paid for, vendors won’t risk raising prices too high in the run up to New Year. Moreover, the pre-holiday consumer boom is just about to hit. In Tomsk, price rises on basic goods are also keeping within the limits of inflation norms. However, the price of gadgets and computer equipment has already shot up.

Before, when people had no experience of consumerism, the list of things necessary to survive consisted simply of ‘soap, salt and matches’ (as the Russian saying goes); today, the list of ‘necessary’ purchases looks different. Consumers are looking to buy imported goods — footwear, clothes, computers, plumbing and electrical goods, even cars, and all of these may become significantly more expensive. Nevertheless, years of relative prosperity have inspired some confidence: basic goods may well become more expensive, but they will still be found on the shelves.

Since the beginning of perestroika in 1985, Russian history has periodically lurched from crisis to crisis. And in the intervening period, Russians have developed an immunity of sorts. On the one hand, there is that Russian pessimism: ‘Anything can happen in our country.’ And on the other, there is a certain confidence that always accompanies the pessimism: ‘Yes, anything can happen. But we’ve survived worse times than this, and we’ll survive this crisis too.’

Standfirst image: (c) Shuttershock.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Russia's new media law The battle for the Siberian harvest Russians are not bothered by Western sanctions Country or region:  Russia City:  Tomsk Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
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Ebola and global health politics: an open letter

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 12:48

The human toll from the Ebola outbreak is all too evident. A more proactive global health policy is needed to avoid its repetition.

Scanning electron micrograph of the virus growing on a kidney epithelial cell from the African green monkey. Flickr / NIAID. Some rights reserved.

The Ebola outbreak in west Africa has brought to light important issues and tensions in global health, ranging from the institutions created to service the international community—such as the World Health Organisation (WHO)—to the roles of governments, politics and ideas in determining how, where and what health issues are addressed. Failings in the management of, and response to, the outbreak have sparked a debate about the efficacy of global health governance.

This is a necessary debate for the global health community to have. When the time comes, we believe that analysts of global health politics and international relations have several valuable insights to draw, to help learn the lessons.

Exceptional

First, on institutional reform: the outbreak has been an exceptional event. It should not be assumed that lessons drawn from this single event can provide a template for redesigning the everyday workings and agenda of an institution such as the WHO.

The WHO has certainly made mistakes in the Ebola response, and these need to be recognised and addressed. This is not the only metric by which this institution should be judged, however. Nor should Ebola be used politically as an opportunity further to undermine the WHO.

Secondly, on institutional innovation: we have observed recent calls for the creation of a new international ‘rapid-response’ agency for health emergencies. Clearly in some cases rapid response is of the utmost importance, and enhanced rapid-response co-ordination and capacity is needed.

Emphasising rapid response to the detriment of other solutions is problematic, however, inasmuch as it is by its nature ill-suited to building long-term solutions to deep-seated problems. The international community must also be careful that creating such a body may be counterproductive, by shifting attention away from the important task of strengthening in-country health systems, which are best placed to be first-line responders to health emergencies.

Nor should Ebola be used politically as an opportunity further to undermine the WHO.

Thirdly, on the relationship between global health governance and national health systems: any investigation into institutional failings in the response to Ebola in 2014 must be cognisant of the wider system of global health governance which has dominated questions of African health reform since 2000. A knee-jerk ‘blame game’ of ‘who did not do what when they should’ will only provide a veneer of accountability. Instead, we need a systematic unravelling of why health systems were so poorly developed in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Here, reflecting on the impact of the goal-oriented mentality underpinning the Millennium Development Goals agenda cannot be avoided. We must also consider the roles of the actors (state and non-state) that have supposedly been responsible for supporting these health systems, and what they could have done better. The results of such analyses could go some way to providing the basis for thinking about how to build a more sustainable model of global health governance.

Politics

Fourthly, on the centrality of politics to all institutions: attempting to separate politics from the technical workings of institutions is a useless exercise—and a potentially dangerous one. All global health institutions are engaged in the management of resources, expectations and the interests of myriad state and non-state actors. They have to engage in political brokering, negotiation, leadership and policy design and implementation.

The idea that international institutions can or should be ‘apolitical’ has only contributed to limiting their agency, whilst obscuring the real politicking that occurs within and between these institutions. ‘Politics’ is not the problem, and it must be part of the solution.

Frail institutions: this health centre in Sierra Leone depends on a range of stakeholders. Flickr / European Commission DG ECHO. Some rights reserved.

Fifthly, on power and inequalities: contrary to a much-repeated refrain, disease does know borders. These borders may be those that separate nation-states from one another, but they can also be cultural, racial, economic or gendered.

Access to information and adequate healthcare, as well as exposure to health risk, is not equally shared but rather dependent on a multitude of local, national and international divisions—not least inequalities in power and wealth. These need to be acknowledged, understood and deconstructed if we are to finally make good on the promise of delivering ‘health for all’.

The recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa—the latest in a depressing series of outbreaks in this region in recent decades—has highlighted the extent to which global health policy has become reactive rather than proactive. A failure to take bold political action in addressing the concerns we have highlighted in this letter will mean that the global health community will remain ill-equipped to respond to future outbreaks, still less to prevent them occurring.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Ebola, human rights, and poverty – making the links The ebola crisis: exposing the failures of local and global governance Ebola: between public health and private profit Topics:  Science
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"The biggest denationalisation of health services ever announced by a health minister"

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 12:27

More hospitals - potentially all of them - will be run outside the NHS as so-called "mutuals", the government announced this week. Nine have already set out down this path but who really benefits from "mutualisation"?

John Lewis - often held up as an example of 'mutualism' 

 The 1946 NHS Act transferred all voluntary, charity and municipal hospitals to the NHS. This was the nationalisation of hospitals. The British state finanically underwrote these hospitals, investing billions since in their rebuilding and extension, and giving us  guaranteed continuity of service.  As Nye Bevan said, the pre-war “patchquilt of mutualisms” could not fulfil the NHS founding principles of providing a comprehensive and universal health service. The social solidarity that underpins the NHS is the fact that we – all of us – own the NHS and its hospitals.

But now, more hospitals will be run “outside of the NHS” by “mutuals”, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told the Telegraph this week. He did not “see a line” he wasn’t prepared to cross, in terms of how many hospitals might  be allowed to transfer out of the NHS.

Assisted by health minister Norman Lamb and Kings Fund chief Chris Ham, Maude has already been quietly purusing this agenda - what one expert health commentator recently called “the biggest denationalisation of health services ever suggested by a health minister.”

In July this year Norman Lamb and Francis Maude wrote to the chief executives of NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts (FTs) asking them to consider joining the “Mutuals in Health” programme and offering a share of £1m for ten “pathfinder” trusts to investigate becoming mutuals.

It was a policy that appeared to have been killed off back in 2011. The 2010 Coalition NHS White Paper announced the Conservative intention to end the concept of publiclly owned hospitals, suggesting that “As all NHS trusts become foundation trusts, staff will have an opportunity to transform their organisations into employee-led social enterprises that they themselves control.”

The government said that this would create the “largest social enterprise sector in the world” (ignoring the fact that half the hospitals in the US are  ‘nonprofit’, the US term for a social enterprise).

But in 2011, the government was forced to drop this aspect of their controversial NHS plans, admitting that those who responded to its White Paper consultation were “generally not supportive” of turning hospitals into social enterprises, also known as  mutuals. It said it had “concluded that staff-only membership would not be compatible with the foundation trust model” that the government supported.

But now, the recently announced list of ‘pathfinder trusts’ to explore mutual status, includes seven FTs.

Mutualism

Prof Chris Ham of the Kings Fund provides the veneer of academic support for the idea. He suggests in a report commissioned by Lamb  that NHS organisations could become not-for-profit organisations with property owned by the public, or in some other way asset locked.

Clearly, NHS hospitals are already not-for-profit with the assets owned by the public. Ham provides no evidence of any benefits mutuals will provide, or how they will solve the problems the NHS faces.

Ham asserts that the “mutualism” process is “bottom up organisational change” even though the 6 weeks that Trusts had to apply for the pathfinder programme gave no time for, and did not require, staff or public consultation, let alone approval. Previous attempts at taking health services out of the NHS as ‘mutuals’have been rejected by staff and public - when they’ve had a say.

Ham says that trusts that leave the NHS and become mutuals would be:

“staff-owned and led organisations, through legal forms such as a community interest company or community benefit society… “ where staff  “typically own a nominal ownership stake, such as a £1 share, and have a strong governance role, including rights to appoint a proportion of the non-executives, to determine board members’ pay, and to dismiss the Chair or CEO if a significant majority vote in favour.”

But Foundation Trust governors already have these governance powers  (except executive director pay) and he gives no reason why mutuals are “better” than Foundation Trusts.

In an FT more than half of governors must be elected by the public and/or patients and at least three must be elected by staff.

Ham’s suggestion removes the public and patients entirely from the governance of FTs. The Care Quality Commissions rejected this proposal in 2010 , saying such “staff-only models without patient and public involvement could be at odds with public accountability”.

While Ham shroud-waves throughout his report about the dangers of Mid Staffs it was clear that it was the public, not the staff, who “blew the whistle” on poor care there. It seems bizarre, and perhaps sinister, that Ham chooses to exclude the public and patients from the governance of his mutuals.

What are mutuals, anyway?

There is no existing clear definition of a mutual. Ham’s report flits around making all kinds of claims for them, whilst making no solid attempt at defining them. Norman Lamb, the Care Minister, is rather coy in defining “mutualism” too, merely saying “Fundamentally I believe in diversity, I don’t believe in there being a single model”.

But in the announcement of the successful Pathfinder Trusts, Lamb makes the startling statement that in his opinion:

“becoming a mutual could be an “alternative to privatisation” for trusts”.

Startling because - as HSJ add innocently - up to now there have been “no suggestion that trusts could or should be privatised” by any government minister.

Lamb has let the cat out of the bag. There is a very real intent to privatise hospitals - and mutuals are to be presented as an alternative to it.

Lamb’s puppet master, Francis Maude, well known for his missionary fever to denationalise public services as “mutuals”, is more honest about what they are.

 “mutualisation is a form of privatisation”

This is strikingly accurate. A mutual is a private company because it is not owned by the public. Creating a mutual from a public sector organisation is taking a public service and moving it into the private sector, which is the definition of privatisation.

Is it fair to see mutuals as merely a politically expedient form of privatisation?

Perhaps it is, given Maude’s admission, given experience to date - and given the  remarkable lack of detail about any other aspect of what a mutual would actually look like in practice.

Mutuals could include the assets (ie buildings) or just the services. The value of the hospital buildings, divided up between staff, is more than many of their annual salaries, so its hard to see how any but the best paid could afford to buy a share. Perhaps the government intends to retain ownership of the property and other assets, perhaps through a government owned company like NHS Property Services Ltd? One of the mistakes of PFI is exactly this separation of the facilities and clinical care: a PFI hospital is owned and operated by a private company with no input from the clinical staff. 

Other questions remain moot, too. Their shares could be tradeable - or not. If tradeable, it’s not a mutual in the commonly understood sense, but outright privatisation. But if they arenot tradeable, they have no value. The lesson from the demutualisation of building societies is that people prefer cash that they can spend rather than shares. Ham’s idea of a token payment of £1 is just that, a token. It gives employees no greater feeling of ownership.

And mutuals could - are commonly understood to be - a profit share, where the annual surplus is shared in some way between staff.

But in healthcare, this is highly contentious. Any “profit” is money that has not been spent on patients - should it be spent on bonuses for staff, rather than reserved for treating patients in future?

Two of the trusts applying for pathfinder status make vast surpluses: Moorfields and Norfolk & Norwich. Last year Moorfields (a world famous specialist eye hospital) made a financial surplus of £11m. Moorfields also made 12% of its income (£21m out of £174m) from private patients.

In 2010 the chief executive of Moorfields justified its private patient income thus:

“Without profits [from private patients] our ability to invest in our clinical services would be seriously constrained ....”

If the whole point of a mutual is to “profit share” amongst (particularly the better paid) employees will the NHS services that depend on being subsidised by those profits, survive?

Ham says, however:

“Staff in mutuals delivering NHS services tend not to hold a substantive financial stake in their organisation or necessarily receive a share of profits”

Which makes you wonder what makes them a mutual?

The last moot point is that so-called mutuals   could allow for considerable private investment - or not. The hints are there - the announcement of the pathfinders says they will explore “hurdles” to mutualisation including “access to capital”, HSJ reports .

Mutual Joint Ventures

Francis Maude talks about mutuals and “mutual joint ventures” fairly interchangeably. He defines mutual joint ventures as “A co-owned joint venture to deliver public services, bringing together public service employees and private sector partners, may harness the best of both worlds in a new form of partnership.”

The first such joint venture was created in 2012, when the government transferred the Civil Service pension scheme to a company called MyCSP. The government called it a “mutual” after giving employees 25% of the shares, keeping 35% and selling the remaining 40% to a private company, Equiniti. But in October this year, the government decided to sell 11% of the total company from its share to Equiniti, conveniently pushing their holdings up to 51% of the company and majority ownership. Maude still calls it a mutual, though.  Mutual Failures

A similar trick has been played by Circle Holdings. Circle run the first NHS hospital to be franchised out. Maude calls it a “mutual”, because the original “Partnership” structure gave consultants and GPs just under 50% of the “Partnership”. Recent restructuring of the company (“Project Reset”) mean that now “staff” only own 25%. Ultimate control, however, always resided with an offshore Holding Company majority owned by private equity firms.  

In spite of claims in the right wing Press, Circle is not a successful company. In 2012 Circle had to beg its shareholders for £46m of cash, on threat of insolvency. It got the money - but it’s still struggling to balance the books - and delivering poor service to boot, even as it’s held up as an exemplar of a health ‘mutual’.

The Cabinet Office pages present mutuals as a panacea,  But in truth they are private companies and are subject to all the pressures and failings that are found in private companies.

Cornwall has been a testbed of privatisation. The failings of Serco as their out-of-hours provider are well known. But less well known is that the community services provider is a so-called mutual, and it is failing too:

“In Cornwall, Peninsula Community Health, a non-profit staff operated company that runs 14 community hospitals, is seeking a rescue through merger with Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust.”

The social enterprise cannot balance their books. They reported a deficit of £328k this year. The local Lib Dem MP, Andrew George, said “the best outcome would be putting the whole community health sector back in public hands”.

Then there’s Central Surrey Health (CSH), regarded as one of the “successes” of mutuals and social enterprises. It had a fundamental weakness: its reliance on an assumption that its NHS origins meant it would still get NHS contracts. This assumption came crashing down when it lost a £500m contract to Virgin. CSH is reported to have failed in its tender because it could not provide a £10m bond as surety; the company was just too small to have access to such capital.

The Pathfinder Trusts

The trusts interested in becoming mutuals, as recently announced by HSJ, are:

•        Cheshire and Wirral Partnership Foundation Trust

•        Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital Foundation Trust

•        Moorfields Eye Hospital Foundation Trust

•        Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust

•        Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust

•        Oxleas Foundation Trust

•        Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust

•        Tameside Hospital Foundation Trust

•        University Hospitals of Leicester Trust

Given past failures of the ‘mutual’ model, what exactly are the criteria along which this ragbag of Trusts have been selected as possibly making a success of it?Strong commitment to public and staff engagement and accountability?

Not really.

The Oxleas mental health trust - which has been thinking about the mutual path for a while and was  cited in Ham’s Kings Fund report on the subject - recently closed down two units without consulting patients relatives adequately. One of the units was re-opened when patients and relatives complained.

In Norfolk and Suffolk, the redesign of mental health services in the area has spurred on the campaign “Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Crisis”, supported by 2,100 people.

When these trusts leave the NHS to become mutuals they will find it far easier to close facilities because it will no longer be accountable to the public.

High quality performance delivery?

Not really.

The latest A&E wait time figures show that Surrey and Sussex missed the four hour waiting target  for A&E, with only 94.6% of A&E patients being seen in under four hours. They are under “unprecedented pressure”, say recent press reports.

Norfolk and Norwich is worse, with only 87.3% of patients in its type 1 A&E waiting less than four hours. It is also performing badly in other areas, with a rise in cancelled operations. And at UHL only 80.6% of A&E patients wait less than four hours.

Tameside’s A&E was the only one of the acute Pathfinders to (just) achieve the four hour A&E waiting time target in the latest figures.

But only at the expense of quality. In a 2014 survey of A&Es quality across the country, conducted by the quality regulator the CQC there were two Pathfinder trusts at the bottom of the list: Tameside, tenth from the bottom) and UHL at the bottom. None of the pathfinders came in the top ten. In fact they all scored either average or worse than average on all the key questions asked by the CQC, with the exception of Moorfields which scored ‘better than average’ on just two criteria, “patient understanding and involvement” and “emotional support”.

Can hospitals failing so badly survive on their own as a separate company? One has to wonder if the management would be far better to concentrate on running their hospital well, than pursuing a departure out of the NHS.

Perhaps, strong financial performance is the critera?

Not really.

Four of the trusts are in financially dire straits - Norfolk & Suffolk and Surrey & Sussex Mental Health Trusts, Tameside Foundation Trust, and University Hospitals Leicester all have unsustainable debts. They are among the large number of trusts currently relying on central government bailouts totalling £630m this year.

University Hospitals Leicester (UHL) for example has a debt of £40m and an annual deficit of £17m this year.

Surrey and Sussex has been reliant on regular government bailouts since 2006, when the government loaned it £56m of public money, with further payouts since. The trust admits it has serious liquidity problems (that is, not much cash in the bank to pay for day-to-day costs) and is one of a dozen trusts in England with finances this bad.

Norfolk and Suffolk is currently being investigated by the financial and competition regulator Monitor because it is forecast to end the financial year with a £2.3m deficit. Earlier this year social workers at the Trust wrote to Lamb (whose constituency is nearby) warning that “a lack of inpatient beds for patients meant they could ‘no longer operate on a legal basis’”.

As denationalised mutuals outside the NHS, commissioned but not owned by the government, the government will have no responsibility to keep these bailouts going. Indeed, to underwrite mutuals in this way would be state aid to a private company contrary to EU regulations.

So who will make up the shortfall if the hospital makes a loss? Its employees?

At a time when we know that the NHS will be underfunded for at least the next five years it is unlikely that given the choice, any employee will want to take on risks like this.

Even Trusts in surplus - like Norfolk and Norwich, which has an unusally monopolistic grip on its catchment area - have risks staff are unlikely to want to take on. Last year it made a £5m surplus.  Clearly this £5m is mutualisable, but would the employees also want to mutualised the £1.1bn PFI debt?

A Spectator report into mutualising local authority services quoted a management consultant as saying “We found they only really worked if the local authority continued to provide financial and capacity support and occasionally assets, which defeats the object.”

Hidden agendas?

Is mutualism merely an opportunity for the government to wash its hands of trusts whose quality and finances are failing? Perhaps into the grip of predatory asset stripping investors posing as white knights?

Or perhaps for profitable bits of those trusts to wash their hands of the rest of their trust?

Several of the pathfinder trusts - including 3 out of the 4 with the most perilous finances - float the possibility of mutualising only ‘parts of’ their services. Cardiology seems a particular favourite.

This is in line with Ham’s suggestion that:

“A variation would be to enable the establishment of an employee owned and led mutual for a particular group of services or as a joint venture bringing together services from different organisations to develop more integrated care.”

For example, Ham would be in favour of the cardiac ward in a hospital being run by a “mutual” of cardiologists, profit sharing the surplus. At an operational level this would hinder nurses widening their experience since to move to another ward they will have to apply for another job with another company.

But more fundamentally, it’s wrong. Some specialities like orthopaedics generate surpluses which are used to subsidise other services, like paediatrics, that are run at a loss. So “mutualising” an orthopaedic ward will result in the paediatric ward closing.

Do staff want mutuals?

It’s perhaps not surprising that the Mutuals in Health programme has not required Pathfinder applicants to seek staff support - only senior executive buy-in. Previous attempts have shown little staff support.

A Spectator article quoted a management consultant on mutuals delivering local authority services explained why:

“The nature of most public sector workers is a desire for stability, limited risk, and work/life balance; so their desire to do what’s required to make a mutual work is fairly limited, given that it doesn’t really increase your earnings. We found the drive was always from the top, and staff appetite was low, which isn’t really how it should work.”

Ham goes to great lengths to try and convince us that it is better for employees t work for a mutual.

But it’s hard to see the benefit for nurses and low paid NHS staff. They’re still in a hierarchy…

When their services are transferred to new ‘mutual’ providers, they are done so under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) law (TUPE), which offer little real protection for terms and conditions.

And the time limited nature of the ‘provider contract’ (usually three years) means they could soon face further transfer on the whim of the CCG - perhaps to a more corporate provider such as Virgin.

Public sector mutuals can only generate small surpluses and the various forms of profit share used (usually based on a proportion of salary) benefit management and high paid clinicians more than the majority of fairly low paid staff. One has to question whether the interest from some managers to turn their hospitals into mutuals are more about their pay packet than their patients.

The mutual offers no protection for the nurse’s job, nor guarantees that the nurse will always “benefit” from the mutualism. In short, mutualism is a sham. It means very little, and worse, it puts a friendly face on privatisation.

Conclusions

We have yet to see whether the so-called pathfinders will become “mutuals” and if they do, what model they will choose.

It is likely that two or three of the mental health providers (Cheshire and Wirral, Norfolk and Suffolk, or Oxleas) will become mutuals because mental health provision is the classic “Cinderella service”, overlooked by most. Something like 30% of mental health is already delivered by the private sector, proving that NHS services can be privatised without the public noticing.  Though the current mental health crisis caused by shortage of available mental health beds calls into question whether further privatisation, and the further cost-cutting and lack of control and accountability that entails, is really the solution Norman Lamb should be considering.

Moorfields is “perfect” in every way: it has no performance issues, no great financial liabilities and it generates an annual surplus. Further, it is one of the most privatised NHS trusts anyway, since 12% of its income comes from private patients. It would give Lamb-Ham-Maude a perfect poster child trust to “prove” that mutuals are a “good thing”. The problem is that Moorfields is a specialist trust and is extremely unusual, so it would be dishonest of any politician to use them as an example.

The acute trusts are a different matter. The government would be extremely stupid to mutualise acute trusts. This is friendly advice to them: acute trusts have A&Es and do not have an ability to “choose” patients. They are very sensitive to conditions out of their control: outbreaks of norovirus, flu, and bad weather. This means they can be thrown unexpectedly into financial crisis. No community can withstand a failure of its acute trust, and for that reason, acute trusts have to be underwritten by the government, which means they cannot be mutuals. If Lamb-Ham-Maude attempt a way of public underwriting acute mutuals then it would inevitably fall foul of EU state aid rules.

The Tories and Liberal democrats want NHS hospitals to leave the NHS whether you believe Lambs description as mutualism being “an alternative to privatisation” or Maude’s “mutualism is a form of privatisation”. However, we have heard nothing from the Labour party. Is the Labour party, the founders of the nationalised NHS, in favour of hospitals leaving the NHS? In a speech for the Labour National Policy Forum in 2010 Ed Miliband said:

“What are the solutions for the future that I am interested in? I am interested in mutual solutions to some of the issues we face in our public services. To community ownership of our public services. To public services where people don’t feel, both users and those working in them, like cogs in the machine which to [sic] often they do. And also we have to be the people who stand up for local democracy and local control over public services as well.”

This sounds remarkably like the statements made by Lamb. A lot has happened since then and it may be that Ed has now realised that public ownership is important to public service delivery. If that is the case then it would be good for him to say this, and pledge to reverse any mutualising of NHS hospitals that has happened under the current government.

Like this piece? Please donate to OurNHS here to help keep us producing the NHS stories that matter. Thank you. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  We all already own the NHS - the latest 'mutual' spin is about taking it out of our hands Should we turn the NHS into co-ops and mutuals?
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Pakistan school attack: years of inaction led to this atrocity

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 11:48

The Peshawar atrocity did not come out of a clear blue sky--the foreboding context an inert, corrupt state ambivalent towards violence, hardly functioning public institutions and unregulated madrasas.

Protesters gather in the wake of the attack. EPA/T Mughal.

The shock waves from the brutal attack that claimed the lives of more than 130 children in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar are being felt around the world. The Taliban assault, which began on Tuesday morning, has claimed the lives of at least 141 people. Across social media people expressed their horror and sympathy. From Pakistan to the UK, relatives of children attending the Army Public School were anxiously awaiting news.

The attack is one of the worst in nearly a decade of unabated violence in the country, which has killed more than 55,000 Pakistanismost of them civilians. The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, has confirmed that it was responsible and said the school was hit in response to army operations taking place in the tribal areas.

Background

Over the past six months, since a full-fledged military operation called Zarb-e-Azbwas launched, hundreds of Taliban fighters have been killed. This has involved bombing the North Waziristan and Khyber areas in a bid to stamp out insurgencies. Zarb-e-Azb followed the failure of talks between the Taliban and the government and an attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi which left 39 dead, including all 10 gunmen.

The operation has been regarded as successful so far. The main hubs of militant activity have been cleared from North Waziristan and Khyber. Last week, the army gave the go-ahead for civilian authorities to start returning more than one million displaced people to North Waziristan.

But while the military side of the operation has met its targets, the political contribution made by successive governments has been less than satisfactory. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML), in power since 2013, has long argued that dialogue with the Taliban is the preferred option, but this has meant failing to take any real ownership of the war raging regardless. Days after Zarb-e-Azb started, protesters associated with the political party Pakistan Awami Tehrik were killed in a violent clash with the Punjab police in Lahore, setting the stage for major political turmoil.

The situation worsened after Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party started to accuse the PML government of fraud in the elections of May 2013. Since August 2014, the PTI has continued to carry out protests, sit-ins and shut-downs in major cities. For its part, the government has failed to resolve the issue through meaningful negotiations.

Failure to act

There has been a consistent lack of political will and seriousness on the part of the government to implement Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws. Not a single convicted terrorist has so far been punished, even though Pakistan carries the death penalty for such crimes.

According to experts, a backlog of cases, the absence of a proper mechanism to monitor religious schools, the proliferation of mobile phones in prisons, over-reliance on witnesses rather than forensics by the police and a lack of information-sharing between civil and military intelligence agencies are just some of the major weaknesses and problems encountered in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism investigations.

Institutionalised corruption and political interference have also seriously undermined the capacity of civilian law-enforcement agencies to tackle the terrorist threat. The government administrations have therefore proved poorly equipped to cope with the demands of unconventional warfare and have failed to dismantle sleeper-cells within the country.

This attack is likely to have serious repercussions within and beyond Pakistani territory. The domestic public—already fed up with perennial energy crisis and rising inflation—is bound to lose whatever faith it may have had in the government’s approach to tackling internal-security threats. None of this bodes well for the democratic process in a country which has seen 32 years of military rule since its creation 67 years ago.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Between Scylla and Charybdis: life in Pakistan’s tribal frontier Country or region:  Pakistan City:  Peshawar Topics:  Conflict
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What does the ‘New Turkey’ stand for?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 11:40

Through multiple New Turkeys, the country seems not to have settled as yet on its political course. Turkey is always new, forever young, never passing the stage of puberty.

Tear Gas used near Taksim Square, İstanbul, June 2013. Alan Hiditch/Flickr. Some rights reserved.We may not always have a reason to expect something to improve on its previous performance. However, the irresistible allure of novelty excites us and pushes to look beyond what we take for granted. Long before neurobiologists discovered this effect, politicians, including Turkish ones, employed it in political discourse. Although the discourse of 'New Turkey' has gained more currency under the Justice and Development Party (or AK Party) that has ruled since 2002, this motto has become the hope and dream of Turkish society for more than a century. In this regard, one may ask: How new is New Turkey?

A constant state of newness

The term 'New Turkey' was widely circulated in the Second Constitutional Era (1908-1922), when the Young Turks forced Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II to restore the constitutional monarchy and the Committee of Union and Progress ascended in politics. This takeover initially ushered in a new energy and was received by the Turks as “the birth of a new Turkey.” When referring to the Istanbul government, phrases such as “[the] highest officials of the New Turkey,” “the younger men of the New Turkey,” or “the new Turkey, the young Turkey of Union and Progress” were frequently cited (New York Times, August 1, 1909; February 21, 1909; September 27, 1911). Neither World War I nor the Turkish Independence War (1919-1922) halted the rhetoric of “New Turkey”. Local newspapers in the United States also referred to “the new Turkey which has replaced the ‘Sick Man of Europe’,” or the Anatolian city Bursa, which, so-to-say, “may become the capital of New Turkey, if Constantinople is taken away from her” (The Daily Ardmoreite, January 2, 1920; The Morning Tulsa Daily World, December 23, 1922).

The Daily Ardmoreite (Oklahoma), January 2nd 1920.

Another 'New Turkey'

When the young Turkish Republic was proclaimed in Ankara on October 29, 1923, 'New Turkey' identified the new republican regime in Ankara instead of the late Ottoman constitutional monarchy in Istanbul. Admiral Lambert Bristol, who served as the United States’ High Commissioner to Turkey between 1919 and 1927, celebrated it, stating, “there will be a new Turkey in Europe which will surprise everyone.” In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, dated April 25, 1926, Armenian Arshag Mahedian responded to this optimism: “It is always ‘there will be a new Turkey.’ This has been repeated for centuries, but Turkey has not made any progress.”

The New York Times, March 8th 1936

In the 1920s, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the use of the term 'New Turkey' became more commonplace. Usually written with both words capitalized and no article, New Turkey now signified a clearly separate entity marked by the Turks’ departure from an Ottoman-Islamic past and adherence to a new secular national culture, e.g. “Pragmatism is the ruling philosophy of New Turkey” (New York Times, July 4, 1926), or “A Woman [Novelist Halide Edip] speaks for the New Turkey” (New York Times, July 29, 1928). Unveiled women and Atatürk’s statue in Ulus, Ankara, became the symbols of this New Turkey. In January 1930, Turkey instituted its first national beauty contest and then participated in the international one, something unimaginable in the Ottoman past. The Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet, announced that New Turkey liberated women and was displaying its most beautiful girl on the international stage.

The New York Times, May 30th 1936

A new country and nation was in the making, as journalist Rose Lee observed: “New Turkey progresses at high speed. Under the guidance of Mustapha Kemal the nation is reorganizing its life along modern lines […] The tranquility of old is gone and throughout the country there resound the rumblings of progress” (New York Times, May 30, 1926). Certainly, “New Turkey” was not a label that only foreign observers were using to refer to the Istanbul or Ankara governments. New Turkey illustrated a new fervour in early 1920s Anatolia. Ziya Gökalp, the ideologue of Turkish nationalism, collected his editorials in the daily Yeni Türkiye (New Turkey), all written in July 1923—shortly before the proclamation of the republic—in a book, titled Yeni Türkiye’nin Hedefleri (Goals of New Turkey). Those goals mainly covered equality among races, nations, genders, and social classes.

One can trace the term of New Turkey in the archives of the Turkish parliament. In a session on June 2, 1929, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tevfik Rüştü, declared that “New Turkey” had totally settled her boundaries with all her neighbours. In another session, dated May 28, 1934, Member of Parliament Refik Şevket Bey states that Ankara refers to “a new central government born out the faith of the nation to demonstrate New Turkey’s faith, ideal, attitude and civilization.” Interestingly, foreign governments also also used this term in official documents. In the parliamentary session, dated November 13, 1930, a letter from the Greek Parliament was read out that addressed, “the National Parliament of New Turkey.” It is interesting to observe, even years after the proclamation of the Republic, the country is still referred to as New Turkey.

In the parliamentary record, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is clearly declared the founder of New Turkey (Yeni Türkiye’nin banisi). This echoes the manner in which Atatürk had been described in the international media: “Mustapha Kemal, Builder of the New Turkey,” or “Kemal Ataturk, maker of new Turkey” (New York Times, April 19, 1931; April 2, 1939). Adolf Hitler was quoted as describing Atatürk as “the great genius who created the new Turkey” (New York Times, May 5, 1941).

The Times (London), May 19th 1978

Newer than ever

Newness was not limited to the early 1920s and 1930s. Decades later, New Turkey has remained a source of attraction, an ideal to all. When the centre right Democrat Party was closed down after the 1960 coup d’état, the New Turkey Party (Yeni Türkiye Partisi) was founded in 1961 in line with the party-affiliated newspaper New Turkey. Interestingly, 2002 witnessed the formation of another short-lived New Turkey Party, yet with a centre-left leaning this time.

Most recently, it was Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party that employed the discourse of New Turkey. The promise of a liberal democratic country became an ideal to be aspired to for many including the disadvantaged groups of the military-dominated Kemalist regime, such as the Kurds, Islamists, and Alevis.

New Turkey as empty signifier

So, one can discern three main phases in this constant state of newness: Union and Progress Turkey, Kemal Atatürk’s Turkey, and Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey. They have several features in common, moreover, which cannot be adequately treated here. Firstly, in the hands of all those politicians, New Turkey has been turned into an “empty signifier.” Signifiers are any words or images with referents, and the more specific a signifier is, the more it can be contested. Conversely, empty signifiers, devoid of agreed upon meaning, are difficult to contest. In Ernest Laclau’s terms, politicians striving for political hegemony may skilfully present their particular demand as universal via empty signifiers such as “order,” “justice,” or “peace,” desired by all, but invested with different, sometimes conflicting, meanings.

The ambiguous nature of an empty signifier may bring heterogeneous actors and practices together. To varying degrees, the discourse of New Turkey has encompassed contradictory premises in all three phases respectively: liberal and fascist, socialist and capitalist, democratic and authoritarian. Nevertheless, in all its ambiguity and inconsistency, it has also been used as a self-explanatory category: New Turkey must be desired because it is new and the old must go. In order to mobilize greater mass appeal or to attract more international recognition and support, New Turkey has served as a utopia, something discrete and ambivalent, but an appealing dream for all.

Once the empty signifier has been fixed in line with their demands, political actors sustain their political hegemony and their adversaries are turned into the enemies of the nation. Any opponent then appears to be a reactionary or traitor who cannot digest the progress toward New Turkey. While the 1920 Law of Treason had been used to eliminate the opposition in the early republican period, President Erdoğan and his circle frequently employ the same discourse and label any dissenting view as treasonous.

Moreover, the utopia of New Turkey works to justify present misdeeds under the specific circumstances of “transition.” In the early republican period, many opposition political actors and social figures were jailed, exiled, or executed in that never-ending “transition” period in order to consolidate the Kemalist Revolution. When responding to major challenges from the 2013 Gezi protests to the December 17 corruption probe, the AK Party government employed suppression and intervened in judicial processes with the same excuse of “transition”. In order to clear the path toward Turkey’s advanced democracy (ileri demokrasi) in the future, one has to apply harsh measures.

Thus, in a recent effort to justify those non-democratic measures from curtailing the social media to firing and rotating thousands of judges and police, Etyen Mahcupyan, Advisor to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, quite recently declared that the party had been forced to venture outside the law after the December 17 corruption probe, since this was an attempt to overthrow the government.

Finally, Turks have learned that transition never ends. Throughout its history, Turkey seems to be in a constant state of transition, but never achieving the ideal it is constantly striving for. One cannot ignore the political success of Turkish modernization compared to the progress or otherwise of its neighbours. However, through multiple New Turkeys, the country seems not to have settled as yet on its political course. Turkey is always new, forever young, never passing the stage of puberty.

To be more concise, the motto of New Turkey indeed comprises both the present and future tenses. In the AK Party leaders’ discourse, for instance, Turkey has already changed under their rule and there is no room for the practices of the 'Old Turkey', such as military tutelage or elitism. Yet, when it comes to political failure or non-democratic practices, New Turkey turns into a bright ideal that the government is striving for, and voters should support the AK Party until that very last corner is turned.

Parmenides said some 2500 years ago “ex nihilo nihil fit”, or in Shakespeare’s King Lear’s words “nothing will come of nothing.” How new, then, is New Turkey? Despite the premises of a new order, in practice we only observe some repercussions of the old regime, albeit in different flavours.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Turkey cannot be a global power until it is a stable democracy Is Turkey's foreign policy based on democratic values – or pan-Islamist ideology? Turkey has elections, but not democracy The Ayatollah's second coming: critical reflections on a 'non-interview' Reconciling the AKP's vision of Turkey Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics
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Turkey: tarnished democratic credentials imperil regional stability

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 11:37

Turkey's human rights credentials should be a foreign policy priority for everyone, not just the capitals of so-called consolidated democracies interested only in hosting Erdoğan at expensive dinner tables. 

This article is a response to a conversation between Richard Falk and Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which took place on 28th September–see part 1part 2part 3 and part 4. There was much internal debate at openDemocracy about whether or not to publish the series. Read the Editor in Chief's reasons for doing so here, along with the many other responses to Davutoğlu published in this series, listed to the right under 'Related Articles'.

Gezi Park, June 13, 2014. Meg Rutherford/Flickr. Some rights reserved.On September 25, 2015, Erdoğan remonstrated with the international community for conferring legitimacy on Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, whom, according to a recently released HRW report carried out a carefully planned attack on largely peaceful pro-Morsi protests at the Rab’a al-Adawiya Square from July 3-August 14 2013 and caused the death of more than 1000 protestors. Erdoğan's remarks addressing Middle Eastern leaders notorious for their gross human rights violations is actually the continuation of a trend, where he regularly chastises Bashar Al-Assad or Benjamin Netanyahu.

Erdoğan is barely aware of how his democratic reputation at home has tarnished his credibility abroad. Defending the death of 11 citizens and the injuries of almost 8000 demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests in summer 2013, Erdoğan praised the actions of the police and called it a “heroic saga.”

Under Erdoğan’s flagship, the Turkish government embarked on a further crackdown on civic freedoms on December 3, as the Parliament accepted the draconian Security Bill which, according to their rationale, “consolidated state authority” and “increased the powers of the police”. On December 14, with the newborn repressive law, more than a dozen journalists, including the editor of the daily Zaman newspaper, were arrested along with the head of Samanyolu broadcasting group. As I am writing these lines on December 16, 35 football fans are being tried on coup plot charges without any substantiate evidence of violent activity or criminal conduct. Yes, Turkey has turned into a Putinesque paranoia where even football fans are thought to be conspiring against  the state.

During their 12 year rule, and increasingly over the past few years, the AKP government has implemented a bluntly majoritarian understanding of democracy where the ballot box took precedence over participatory democracy and rule of law. The AKP government’s growing intolerance of dissent was institutionalized with legal measures undertaken after the Gezi Park protests.  

In January, in an attempt to prevent corruption investigations against high level government officials, the government undertook new legal measures to curb the independence of the judiciary and undermine the rule of law. In April 2014, the government introduced a new law granting immunity from persecution for the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), raising concerns that intelligence personnel will be prevented from being held accountable for gross human rights violations. In September, a week after Turkey hosted the 9th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the Parliament took extra measures that deepened restrictions on expressing dissent online and allowed for intensified surveillance of users. At its current state, the Turkish legal and policy framework allows for unprecedented arbitrary and unwarranted restrictions on the right to participation in political public life.

Given the state of his political credentials at home, it was hard to understand why Erdoğan, a government official notorious for rampant political corruption and growing authoritarian tendencies, was given the floor at the UN General Assembly where he could criticize other leaders for their human rights violations. Diplomacy once again failed hundreds of human rights defenders and political activists in Turkey who ambitiously work to reform the existing political structure, at the expense of blatant government surveillance and routine judicial harassment.

The accession talks between the EU and Turkey, which for many was the legal guarantee of reforming the existing policy and legal framework, is merely a bureaucratic joke at the moment. Due to its lack of commitment to prioritizing Turkey’s human rights performance in all bilateral relations, the EU is also complicit in the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey, as it failed to show commitment to opening and discussing Chapter 23 of the EU Acquis concerning Justice and Fundamental Rights. The US also failed to speak on the deadly police violence and the government’s abhorrent failure to protect which resulted in the death of 42 people in just one week during the Kobane protests.

It must be realized that maintaining a stable human rights regime in Turkey is key in sustaining stability in a regional context, especially at a time where Middle Eastern politics is at a critical juncture. So why aren't Turkey’s human rights credentials a foreign policy priority for everyone? 

Instead of hosting Erdoğan at expensive dinner tables in capitals of so-called consolidated democracies, world leaders should speak up on his deplorable leadership, which is driving a whole country and consequently the entire region into a obscure future.

Sideboxes Related stories:  How do Turkish citizens participate in decision-making? Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics
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Turkey cannot be a global power until it is a stable democracy

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 11:37

On the rise of Turkey, its messy foreign policy, and the AKP's internal 'enemies'–Richard Falk's discussion with the Turkish PM provokes more questions than answers.

This article is a response to a conversation between Richard Falk and Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which took place on 28th September–see part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4. There was much internal debate at openDemocracy about whether or not to publish the series. Read the Editor in Chief's reasons for doing so here, along with the many other responses to Davutoğlu published in this series, listed to the right under 'Related Articles'.

The names of miners who died are laid out at a protest in Istanbul following the Soma mine disaster, the worst such disaster in Turkey’s history, and one that raises questions about the so-called taşeron (subcontractor) system. Demotix/Şebnem Köken. All rights reserved. 

Richard Falk’s detailed conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu offers a window into the thinking and self-perceptions of the ruling elite at a critical moment in this increasingly important regional powerhouse’s troubled history. Clearly intending to deal with many of his critics and various speculations regarding the origins of his party’s policies and general direction of his country’s immediate future, Davutoğlu provides scrupulous mini essay-like responses to Falk’s questions. However, these responses provoke more questions than they answer.

Although there are many points that I could draw on as examples of the kind of provocation which unfolds as a result, I want to briefly discuss four below.    

1) The AKP’s 'record of economic success' 

Davutoglu claims: “During our years, the world economy has been mainly declining, but despite a serious economic recession our per capita income has actually increased rather dramatically.” 

The AKP's success and popularity during the past 12 years is indeed closely linked to the fact that the Turkish economy has achieved significant growth during the past 10 to 15 years. With an impressive growth spurt, Turkey has been placed among the top 10 emerging economies in the world alongside the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Turkey's per capita income tripled within the decade that the AKP has been in power.  

The AKP's leaders seem to have taken the credit for Turkey’s economic rise personally. However, it should be obvious to anyone who understands how the global economy works that this economic progress is to be attributed to a longer term–maybe decades long–period of development. If we take account of the projections made by major global institutions like the UN and the IMF, or analyses put forward by key academic experts, such as Paul Kennedy, Turkey was clearly already, by the early 1990s, being heralded as one of the top 10 emerging stars.

Such projections were based on the population dynamics, growth potential and geographical capacities of these states and an identified major shift in the world economy for the benefit of a number of emerging economies–BRICS and others–including Turkey. Even in 1987, there was a reference in a major work to this economic trend. So, to some extent, the AKP government could be said to have found itself in the right time and the right place, rather than creating the conditions that led to the country's economic growth. 

Even though the relationship between the economic/social development of a country and the democratization of its political system is considerably more complex than a simple one-to-one relationship, there is a fragile but essential link between being a strong economic power and establishing a stable democratic system in the long run. One does not survive long without the other. 

Today, Turkey is a rising economic power, with its internationally competitive companies turning the youthful nation into an entrepreneurial hub, tapping cash-rich export markets in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East, while attracting billions of investment dollars in return. But all this progress will require a stable and functioning democracy to survive. It is not possible for Turkey to be a respectable and responsible world power without achieving fully functioning democratic status, including freedom of expression and democratic rights. There is no exception to this. All existing evidence from the transition countries point to this same conclusion. Turkey will become a real global power only when its economic progress is matched by a strong, stable and functioning democratic system.

2) Turkey’s 'active foreign policy'

The prime minister claims that the AKP's foreign policy “became a success story not only for the state, but also for individual Turkish citizens”. 

It is certainly the case that Turkey's foreign policy reflects a more active and confident approach on the part of the government in the past 10 years, in parallel to the country becoming more prosperous and increasingly stronger in the global arena. A policy, which popularly came to be known as “zero problems with neighbours”, has been the centrepiece of Davutoğlu's 'new' foreign policy agenda. Before the escalation of the Syrian crisis, the new proactive foreign policy of the AKP government achieved some success: Ankara first developed close relations with the Syrian regime to the level of a strategic partnership, and closer economic and political ties were initiated with Iran and Russia.

But the situation in Syria proved much more complicated and difficult for Ankara to handle. The crisis has exposed weaknesses in Davutoğlu's claims that Turkey is a significant regional power working for peace and stability. With the Turkish authorities providing the so-called rebels in Syria with an unchecked and poorly overseen support base in Turkey, Turkey has effectively become a warring side in the bloody civil war in Syria. Turkey’s Syria policy has become an unmitigated disaster, and Davutoglu’s nicely crafted analysis has turned into quite a mess: 'strategic depth' is now a great strategic failure. 

In Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood regime having fallen from power and Turkey's prime minister openly taking sides against the new (military) regime, Turkey's prestige as the stable and strong regional negotiator evaporated into thin air. Many in the region, and beyond, now consider Turkey as standing on the side of a Sunni crusade against the Syrian regime. Starting with its "zero problems" policy, Turkey has ended up antagonizing almost all its neighbours and moving rapidly to a situation of "zero friendship" in the Middle East. Davutoğlu's government now faces a Frankenstein’s monster, as the growth of IS in Syria and Iraq is increasingly threatening Turkey’s internal stability. 

3) The 'parallel state' and a 'Gülenist conspiracy'

Davutoğlu refers to 'the parallel state' in some detail, meaning the influential movement led by the exiled religious leader Fetullah Gülen, and blames “Gülen loyalists” for infiltrating “into positions of influence in the government bureaucracy”.  

Once Freud used the term "narcissism of small difference" to explain that in a relationship, there can be a need to find, and even exaggerate, small differences in order to preserve a feeling of separateness and self. In other words, one's social (and political) identity often lies in small differences, and this difference is asserted against what is in common in order to achieve a superficial sense of one's own uniqueness.

The current ongoing conflict between the AKP leadership and the Gülen movement reminds me of this term. Despite the intensity of the clash, in particular during the last six months, I do not see any significant principal differences between two camps, neither on ideological or political grounds. Both groups are pro-Islamic, in favour of faith-based communities worldwide, and both share a common belief in the free market economy, private entrepreneurship, cherishing upward-socio-economic mobility.

Both sides share the same conservative frame of reference on almost all social and cultural issues. More important, the bulk of the supporters of both sides emanate from the same group of people: the lower and middle classes in Anatolia, who had been marginalized by secular regimes since the beginning of the republic, despite the fact that this group has always represented a clear majority of Turkey's population.

So, in my opinion, the current conflict stems from a power struggle in the commanding heights of the establishment, and is not necessarily fuelled by different political, economic and ideological interests. Therefore, it is rather superficial to present this as a major conflict. What is at stake are positions of power in the state structure in order to safeguard certain key political and economic interests.

4) 'We are accountable because we won three elections'

Davutoğlu refers heavily to his party’s success in three consecutive elections by increasing its majority, and presents this as a clear indication of his government’s accountability. 

Democracy is not only about elections every four or five years. It is essentially a means for the people to choose their leaders and to hold their leaders accountable for their policies and their conduct in office. In a democracy, the people are sovereign. They are the highest form of political authority, not their elected political leaders. Power flows from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily. Within a democracy, the people are free to criticise their elected leaders and representatives, and to observe how they conduct the business of government. Elected representatives at the national and local levels ought regularly to listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions. 

However, after a period of 12 years under AKP rule, we see in Turkey an increasingly authoritarian, more explicitly religious, and obsessively neoliberal system. This has been quite evident since 2011, with the start of violent repression of public protests, jailing of journalists on suspicion of conspiring with terrorists, and pressure being put upon newspaper owners to sack critical journalists. This increasingly authoritarian stance seems to have been sanctioned because millions of people, 53 per cent in the most recent elections, in Turkey’s representational democracy, had given their power to Davutoğlu’s party.

But with the emergence of the recent protest movements, which began in Taksim Gezi Park one and a half years ago, a line has been crossed. The young protesters in Taksim Square have already achieved a significant goal: to show the urgent need to go back to basics and ensure that the fundamental tenets of individual freedom and democracy function in Turkey. If a significant number of people are not allowed to express their views freely and to demonstrate peacefully and if their attempts to express their opposition are met with such heavy brutality, then this is not a proper democracy.

Sideboxes Related stories:  What does the ‘New Turkey’ stand for? Is Turkey's foreign policy based on democratic values – or pan-Islamist ideology? Turkey has elections, but not democracy Reconciling the AKP's vision of Turkey The Ayatollah's second coming: critical reflections on a 'non-interview' Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics
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