The Squares and Beyond: a brief introduction

Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. July 2015 - 10:30

On 3 – 4 July 2015, the London School of Economics together with openDemocracy, hosted an international workshop titled Moving on from the Squares that brought together a wide range of actors including academics, movement activists, representatives of NGOs, foundations and think tanks along with political party activists and journalists for roundtable discussions and debates on the challenges in democratising politics; how the square movements have developed in the intervening years; and the relationship of movements with other civil society actors including NGOs, trade unions, political parties and the media.

The workshop, together with this webpage, is the outcome of an editorial partnership between myself, Armine Ishkanian (LSE – Department of Social Policy) and Rosemary Bechler, openDemocracy Editor and the Can Europe make it? team. This partnership builds upon and substantially extends the reach and scope of the findings from the Reclaiming democracy in the square: interpreting the movements of 2011-2012 research project I led together with Marlies Glasius from the University of Amsterdam (report). What is distinctive about this editorial partnership is that it brings together academic rigour, depth and an already engaged network of activists with the editors who have the skills to create a wider conversation.

The workshop was organised around three roundtables. A chaired discussion between roundtable panellists was opened up to all participants. This format allowed for a lively discussion about the exceptionalism or ‘newness’ of these movements and their continuities with past movements; the commonalities and differences between movements across the globe; the challenges facing movements as they seek to influence wider policy and political developments; and the relationship between movement activists and NGOs, political parties and trade unions. 

Antonis Vradis joins the discussion from Athens. (Armine Ishkanian - All rights reserved).

There was wide agreement among both academics and non-academics, that academics should strive to communicate and disseminate their research more broadly. Currently there is much public debate about “liberating” research from the publishing industry’s paywalls so as to make that knowledge more freely available and although we cannot make the full articles available via openDemocracy, we hope at least to share the best ideas and debates with the oD readers.

We live in a time of deep reconfigurations and social upheaval. It has been five years since the start of a major global movements’ wave when masses of people, feeling unrepresented by those who govern or claim to represent them took to the streets and squares to voice their anger, indignation, and demands for a more equal and just future.  While new movements continue to emerge, many questions remain about the broader or longer term impact and achievements of the protest movements from 2010. 

The issues and problems which brought people into the streets and squares in the first place, whether in Athens, Cairo, Madrid, or New York City, have not been adequately addressed let alone resolved.  The anger and indignation with the lack of democracy and social justice as well as the persistent corruption and inequality which fuelled the initial demonstrations remain.

The main aim of this editorial partnership is to create a platform which will be an open, transnational space to share academic research more broadly and to encourage on-going discussion both between the movements and about them, together with the challenges they face in democratising our politics.

Categories: les flux rss

Window on the Middle East - July 28, 2015

Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. July 2015 - 9:54

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. 

  • Seven trends dominating Egyptian media
  • North Sinai and Egyptian media
  • Tunisia – tug of war?
  • Falling apart: a glimpse of life in Cairo
  • Whatever is happening to the Egyptians? (Part three)
  • Seven trends dominating Egyptian media

    By Ahmed Magdy Youssef

    Hussein Tallal/Demotix. All rights reserved.

    July 3 marks the two year anniversary of the ‘popular’ ouster of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi.

    It’s quite evident that Egypt’s state-run and privately owned media outlets are trapped in a web of biases; embracing president Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his regime's perspective as they step into ethical and professional quandaries. Moreover, the imprisonment of journalists nationwide has reached a record high, mostly for reasons pertinent to their reporting.

    In such a climate of frenzied bias, it's of perennial interest to observe the trends that have dominated the country's media landscape over the past two years, most notably during Sisi's first year in power.

    1. Sex scandals and sorcery

    Earlier this year the editor-in-chief of Tahrir News, Ibrahim Mansour, suggested that the government was giving direct instructions to media outlets to "cover sex scandals and other silly issues" to distract people from politics. Mansour's statement came a few weeks after 26 men were arrested during a televised raid on a Cairo public bathhouse.

    The televised documentation of this raid couldn't have been possible without a tip off, because images of half naked men were broadcast as they were being arrested. TV journalist, Mona Iraqi, who covered the incident, hosts a program on the pro-government satellite channel Al-Qahira wal-nas. Coincidentally, the cases of "habitual debauchery" against these men were later dismissed.

    Ironically, this same TV journalist, who unearthed "the biggest den of perversions in the heart of Cairo," posted a tweet few days ago in support of LGBT rights.

    Similarly in mid-2014, another Egyptian talk show host, Reham Saeed, kicked an atheist guest off her live show for expressing scepticism of Islam. In the same year Saeed, in a desperate bid for TV ratings, brought "demonically possessed" children to television screens in an attempt to unabashedly tackle the nitty-gritty details of twins that turn into cats at night.

    2. Graphic images

    It's patently obvious that image selection has always been an ethical dilemma for journalists across the globe. In other words, it's deemed unethical to publish disturbing images of the dead and wounded. Taken in this light and in the throes of Egypt's war on terror’, some local media outlets resorted to republishing graphic images released by the military, which depict corpses of militants killed in Sinai by soldiers.

    Al-Youm Al-Sabea, Al-Bawaba and Al-Watan  newspapers among others, sided with the government and focused their coverage on extolling the army's soldiers and documenting their victory. This trend has been reiterated more than once over the past two years of Sinai’s festering clashes.

    3. In-credible sources

    No one can deny the ever-rising media trend, in an age of web-based journalism, of relying on stories sourced from other journalists. However, all the blemishes and flaws of this trend have appeared in Egypt's local media, especially during bomb raids against ISIS in Libya in retaliation to the beheading of Egyptian Copts by a local franchise of the Islamic State.

    The Kuwaiti writer and journalist, Fajer Al-Saeed, with her controversial tweets on Egyptian Air Force attacks in Libya is but a one example of this. After some of her predictions were accurate, she became a credible and reliable source for local media outlets. Being a conduit for secret information, just after the air strikes Al-Saeed kept posting tweets revealing alleged Egyptian military operations against ISIS in Libya in detail.

    Egyptian media adopted all Al-Saeed's tweets and used them as if they were sourced from a military spokesman. Al-Watan, Al-Fajr, Al-Youm Al-Sabea and Al-Dostour, among other Egyptian newspapers, copied the tweets verbatim.

    4. Slamming foreign media

    After security forces cleared two pro-Morsi sit-ins in August 2013, Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) issued an English-language statement to foreign media excoriating their coverage of the events. The statement criticised foreign reporters of steering away from "objectivity" and "neutrality”, especially in their description of Morsi's ouster as a military coup and not an expression of popular will. Consequently, local media outlets adopted the government’s viewpoints.

    The same trend was reiterated a few days ago when militants linked to ISIS attacked the military in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. In an interview with state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, the military's spokesman, Brigadier General Mohamed Samir, said the army “was fighting two wars": against the militants and the media.

    Associated Press and other foreign news agencies said 64 Egyptian troops had been killed, whilst the army put the number at seventeen. As a result, General Samir reprimanded foreign agencies and other media outlets for reducing people’s morale by overestimating the number of dead soldiers.

    Unfortunately, numerous local media outlets sided with the government and launched a deliberate attack against foreign agencies in an attempt to diminish the latter's credibility and reliability. Ironically, the privately owned newspaper Al-Watan published an article titled "five professional mistakes foreign newspapers made in covering Sinai's events".

    5. Siding with the state

    Under former president Mubarak, journalists were divided into two camps, either with the president or the opposition, but today most journalists are siding with the military government.

    The Guardian recently published an article that highlighted the number of Egyptian TV presenters and journalists who are now mouthpieces for the government.

    For example, Ahmed Moussa, one of the most popular TV presenters in the country, expressed his unconditional support for the military and president saying: "I would say anything the military tells me to say out of duty and respect for the institution". Similarly, TV host Mahmoud Saad said: "the military should never ever be covered...You have to let them decide what to say and when to say it. You don't know what will hurt national security."

    Moreover, in an interview with Saba’a Ayam magazine, Egyptian talk-show host Wael El-Ebrashy said: "It's inappropriate to use the term objectivity nowadays; the country is in a state of war against terror. We can't be unbiased; we should all side with our country so peace and stability can prevail once more."

    Given the fact that there’s a media blackout and almost fourty percent of the population is illiterate, parochial TV presenters are now shaping public opinion.

    6. Media moguls and self-censorship

    In the wake of January 25th Revolution, many Egyptian privately owned newspapers, TV channels and news websites were taking advantage of the atmosphere of chaos that afflicted the country at that time. These outlets instil a spurious sense of media freedom. However, Egyptian media is far from liberalised; these newly established media platforms are funded by the same cadre of well-known moguls who are aligned with the regime.

    To illustrate, both Reem Maged and Yousry Foda, the two outspoken TV hosts who were known for their fierce criticism of the army and government, disappeared from screens shortly after Morsi's fall in 2013. ONTV’s owner, Naguib Sawiris, however, explicitly denied receiving any instructions from authorities to suspend Reem Maged's show, claiming that the reason was lack of funding from advertisements.

    TV presenter Hafez Mirazi and the prominent political satirist Bassem Youssef also had their programs suspended. CBC pulled Bassem Youssef off air in November 2013, even though his program had the highest viewership in the Arab world.

    7. Curtailing press freedom

    Journalists have faced unprecedented repression over the past two years, especially during Sisi's first year in power. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists recently issued a report claiming that there are 18 journalists currently incarcerated—the highest number of journalists behind bars since it began keeping records in 1990. Most of these journalists are being accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The most outstanding case was that of the three journalists working for Al-Jazeera: Peter Greste, an Australian citizen, Mohamed Adel Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian national.

    They were arrested in late 2013 for "spreading false news and helping the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood." After spending more than a year in prison, Fahmy and Mohamed were freed on bail; nearly a fortnight after their Australian colleague was deported. On the whole, Freedom House watchdog group ranked Egypt 73 out of 100 in press freedom in 2015, compared to rankings of 68 in 2014 and 62 in 2013.

    Though official censorship is not a tool the government has yet blatantly practiced, in May 2015 privately-owned Al-Watan newspaper was briefly shut down over a headline that was supposedly offensive to President Sisi. The newspaper’s front page headline was changed from Seven entities stronger than Sisi” to “Seven entities stronger than reform.” An opinion piece by the newspaper’s managing editor, Alaa al-Ghatrify, was also censored. The newspaper was permitted to republish but only after the headline was adjusted and the column removed.

    On the flip side, despite the fact that the 2014 Egyptian constitution includes several positive provisions related to freedom of expression, access to information and the media in general, there are still articles that can be used to put journalists behind bars.

    These press laws and penal codes will reach a crescendo when a new anti-terrorism law is approved. This law will make publishing news that counters the official version of events in terrorism-related cases a crime punishable with prison sentences.

    One can only hope that one day Egypt's media outlets will cherish the values of truth, objectivity, accuracy, and accountability, along with independence and freedom of expression.

    North Sinai and Egyptian media

    By Rayna Stamboliyska

    Terrorist attacks have shaken Egypt to mark the second anniversary of the military coup—or at least this is what some claim. One wonders if it would have been any different had Morsi remained in power, as @salamamoussa points out in this tweet.

    One reason it is doubtful that the 3 July anniversary is the motive behind the attack are recent encouragements by ISIS to intensify attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. ISIS was coming anyway—Morsi, Sisi or otherwise—and as we know their horrors are not restricted to Egypt.

    As the situation continues to unfold, it is not the time to speculate about the ISIS affiliates' reasons for these fierce attacks. As usual (maybe even more than usual), rumors are flying around with beefed up images and numbers. Seeing that the great people from reported.ly are busy with the Greek Euro crisis, I decided to sum up a few of my findings.

    What exactly happened

    Around 9:15 AM CEST, I spotted a tweet by SkyNewsArabia saying that thirty Egyptian Army personnel had been killed and injured as North Sinai militants attacked Sheikh Zuweid. Muhamad Sabry, an Egyptian photojournalist based in North Sinai, had reported this earlier. This was alarming, as on 9 June, militants had already fired rockets at an airport in Sinai used by international peacekeeping forces. If confirmed, yesterday morning’s attack in Sinai would be the first major attack since January 2015, when the ISIS affiliate there, Wilayat Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis), launched terrorist attacks killing tens of people.

    The attacks were quickly described as “gun fire” and “car bombing”. There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties for quite some time. The Egyptian Army spokesperson first announced that ten soldiers were dead or injured, and 22 assailants dead. According to the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram, there had been no official death toll because ambulances had trouble reaching the injured and killed for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. Then, things like this surfaced:

    A suicide car bomb had exploded in a military checkpoint in Abu Rifai, located near Sheikh Zuweid. Things then escalated quickly as multiple IEDs were reported along with militants besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s police station and Egyptian F-16 army jets started flying over the area. Meanwhile, Mohannad Sabry, a Cairo-based freelance journalist, reported on events in Sheikh Zuweid:

    According to army officials, two checkpoints were completely destroyed, one by the aforementioned suicide car bomb and the other by mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. About 70 fighters simultaneously attacked these targets. A local news agency in Sinai reported that an Apache helicopter had been hit by militant fire and withdrawn (also reported by an “IS fanboy” eyewitness). The terrorist militants had also planted landmines on different streets in Sheikh Zuweid to prevent military vehicles from advancing. Of course, in the midst of this it is the civilians who suffer the most…

    The terrorists’ goal is apparently to have full control over Sheikh Zuweid and to “to eradicate the military’s presence in Sinai”. The militants were said to have taken two military tanks, but I was not able to confirm this. The second captured military checkpoint was Abu Higag. Given the way the attack seems to have unfolded — suicide car bombs in multiple locations, RPGs on rooftops, IEDs and mobile weaponry (including 4WD vehicles with mounted machine guns) in various locations across a 60,000 inhabitant city —the assault is highly coordinated.

    The violence spread to Al-Arish, North Sinai’s 'capital' city, and Rafah where explosions were reported. Reports at 3:30 PM CEST indicate that at least 35 people had been killed in the on-going attacks. Israel closed the Nitzana and Kerem Shalom border crossings with Egypt. Some ISIS fanboys were also cheering “we are coming for the Zionists” and “Sinai will be a Jewish cemetery” (I would rather not link to the tweets, there's no need to give these sick people more visibility).

    And then, around noon CEST, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack saying that its militants had mounted 15 simultaneous attacks on military sites, including “martyrdom operations” on Al-Arish’s officers club and two checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid “in a blessed invasion”:

    The statement also highlights that “eleven checkpoints and a police station in Sheikh Zuweid were attacked by militants using missiles”. A second statement was issued shortly after the first one, claiming that Wilayat Sinai “had besieged Sheikh Zuweid’s police station”. Ahram Online reported they had also “destroyed two military tanks and attacked four checkpoints using mortar rounds”:

    A local woman and her 15 year-old daughter were killed, and five people from one family injured in the on-going clashes. People from Sheikh Zuweid also reported that militants were roaming the streets in vehicles with ISIS flags. Locals having witnessed the attacks report:

    There were reports about Egyptian soldiers being taken hostage by militants, which I could not confirm. Policemen are however trapped in a besieged police station. In addition to the scale and coordination of the attack, what’s new is that Wilayat Sinai seems to aim to control land, not just raid the area.

    From reactions on Twitter, with the Arabic hashtag for #SheikhZuweid trending, the operation is also a huge propaganda win for Wilayat Sinai and, vicariously, for ISIS. And if reports are accurate, the militants have gotten hold of major arms caches and have taken soldiers as prisoners.

    Fake imagery spreads as the situation evolves

    Tabloid Youm7 chose this awful moment to spread fake images of the attack:

    They apparently decided that because people were reporting about terrorists firing RPGs from a building’s roof, they should publish a picture of a suspicious looking bearded man high up on a building. I checked it out and three minutes later, these are the results I found:

    Then, super conveniently, a video emerged entitled “(VIDEO) Moment car bomb explodes in military post in North Sinai, Egypt”:

    It was a fake: the video was first released back in 2013. Egyptian outlet El-Balad had posted a screenshot of it on 12 September 2013 describing it as a failed suicide car bomb attack on a military checkpoint in Al-Arish, North Sinai. El-Balad added that the car belonged to a bank and had been stolen three days prior to the attack. Lastly, the video itself was apparently first published by user ‘GlobalLeaks News’ on YouTube back in 2013.

    And while we were all following conflicting reports over the exact death toll, @JanusThe2 posted this:

    Sigh. There are many occurrences of this image, as seen from Google search, most of them from 12 November 2014:

    Friendly warning: do not click on these links if you happen to find them online. Images accompanying ones of IEDs are extremely graphic.

    Youm7 strikes again, quoting Sky News Arabia on the “60 martyrs from the [Egyptian] security forces” with this image:

    This image is from a piece that listed the “30 Most Powerful Private Security Companies in the World”, dated 11 January 2014. The image, ill-sourced back to a Russian website, is associated with a PMC named the Northbridge Services Group.

    It is also Masrawy’s turn to go through a swift verification process. They posted this tweet on this piece:

     The image from the tweet is not one from today’s attack, although I could not find much on it:

    The image Masrawy used in the news piece and which bears a caption along the lines of “Security services impose curfew in Sheikh Zuweid” is from 2013, if not before (as seen on this Iranian website):

    In Cairo, reports indicated that Fast Reaction Forces and Central Security were deployed “in preparation for any acts of violence”.

    These are the reports that surfaced in the first half of 1 July 2015.

    How will Egypt's forthcoming anti-terrorism legislation impact what looks like an escalation of violence? Difficult to say, especially with the glaring lack of independent media, which is misinforming and keeping the people of Egypt in the dark.

    Tunisia – tug of war?

    By Oussama Kardi

    Thousands of people rally against terrorism in Tunisia. Hamideddine Bouali/Demotix. All rights reserved.

    When Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight on that fateful day in December 2010, he had no inkling that his act of self-immolation would engulf an entire region in sweeping protests. Yet four and half years on, as Seifeddine Rezgui calmly and meticulously gunned down his victims on a Sousse beach, we can safely assume that the wider consequences of his actions were not lost on him.

    The attack on the Sousse beach, in which 38 tourists tragically lost their lives, was not just an attack on visiting westerners. It was an attack on the brave hotel workers and their industry, who desperately tried to shield their guests from the raging bullets of the murderous gunman. It was an attack on a hardworking builder, who courageously launched missiles of bricks and tiles, succeeding in knocking the gunman down to enable security forces to catch up to him. It was also an attack on Tunisia as whole, orchestrated to wreak havoc on a country that has come so far after overturning decades of dictatorship.

    Since 2011, Tunisia has emerged as the sole success story of the Arab Spring. We waited with bated breath as Egypt flirted with democracy, before returning unrewarded to the tradition of tough military rule. We watched as Libya succumbed to violent struggles of power, the combination of weapons and a lack of authority proving a deadly cocktail for a country once showing promise. And we witnessed as Syria and Yemen slid deeper into the throes of civil war, providing a fertile ground for extremist elements to thrive. Through this all, Tunisia has shone brightly as the beacon of hope in the Arab world, principally guided beyond pitfalls by the willingness of the Islamist Ennahdha party to pursue compromise and conciliation across the political spectrum.

    In January 2014, Tunisia earned praise for adopting a progressive constitution, enshrining the rights that were fought for in the Jasmine revolution. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, urged the people of Tunisia “to continue to inspire the world as they did some three years ago, and serve as an example for dialogue and compromise in resolving political disputes across the region and beyond”.

    Tunisia has proved to the world that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy, marking the successful transition from despotism through two free and fair elections. Tunisians have placed their faith in the ballot box, despite attempts to steer them down a path well-trodden on by its neighbours. They have faced political assassinations, stagnating numbers of tourists and political deadlocks. All have threatened to derail Tunisia’s democratic transition, but none as much as this recent tragedy.

    According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism contributed to 15.2 percent of Tunisia’s GDP in 2014, directly supporting 230,500 jobs and employing 6.8 percent of the total workforce. This attack sought to destroy the Tunisian economy, deliberately leaving it vulnerable to the tentacles of the extremists who feed on those with nothing.

    Tunisia is now at a crossroads, facing the largest challenge to its democratic transition yet. How should it respond to such an atrocity without undermining the rights and freedoms that have been so resolutely fought for? Can Tunisia now negotiate the thin fine line of liberty and security without resorting to methods that characterise the old guard?

    The horror that we witnessed was not simply confined to a stretch of white sand in Sousse, but it is a symptom of a growing terrorist threat that has gripped the world. It is an international phenomenon that requires an international response, and that includes supporting and reinforcing Tunisia’s security and stability.

    Tunisia is stuck in a tug of war between those who wish it well, and those who wish it hell. If we in the west are truly the champions of freedom and liberty, then we must support those who have demonstrated their willingness to journey down the path of democracy. By murdering innocent tourists, Seifeddine Rezgui sought to extinguish the flames of hope and optimism that were ignited over four years ago. We must not allow this to happen.

    This piece was first published on Al Huffington Post on 10th July 2015.

    Falling apart: a glimpse of life in Cairo

    By Maged Mandour

    Adham Khorshed/Demotix. All rights reserved.

    It has been almost seven years since I decided to leave my home, the once great city of Cairo. Since I moved to Europe I have been noticing changes in the city and its inhabitants, changes both subtle and sinister. This is, of course, to be expected, considering that the country went through the 'Arab Spring'. On my visit this time around, however, I found the change a lot more profound, and it struck me deeper than ever before.

    Everything familiar is now gone; I feel like a stranger in my own city and neighbourhood. Four years after the start of the Egyptian revolt, and two years after the success of the counter-revolution, the city is lost to me.

    This is a personal account of my experience on my last visit to my old home, and what it felt like to be in a country with the overbearing presence of a military dictatorship.

    I had coffee with a friend and she asked me, “what is the most noticeable change you can see in the country?” I answered without hesitation, “poverty”. By this I do not mean poverty in the sense of a statistic, rather in sense of an increased level of social poverty among those considered economically comfortable.

    Among the Egyptian middle class—the class I belong to—I noticed many indifferent and extremely demotivated faces. There is definitely a general deterioration in living standards. Traditional Egyptian middle class lifestyles, which were relatively comfortable, seem to have all but evaporated, especially for the younger generation, who are, due to economic hardship, being subsidised by their parents—often even if they are married with children.

    The poor man in Egypt has become a two dimensional, almost fictional character.

    On the other hand, ‘real’ poverty is even more hidden, due to the increased segregation, classism, and isolation taking place across the city with the spread of gated residential compounds. The humanity and suffering of the poor, the vast majority of Egyptian society, has become nothing more than background noise to the upper and middle classes. The poor man in Egypt has become no more than a two dimensional, almost fictional character.

    Interestingly, this was reflected in television commercials during the holy month of Ramadan. Traditionally, these commercials are focused on food, as food consumption rises in Ramadan. However, food commercials are now non-existent. They have been replaced with commercials for residential compounds, places to isolate oneself from the city and from the poor of the city; commercials asking for donations to help the poor and sick, a way for the middle class to appease a guilty conscience; and propaganda for the new regime.

    This dehumanisation of the poor is coupled with an unprecedented hike in consumerism, and the need to own the latest status symbols in a way that defies logic and basic rational economic behavior.  The ‘need’ for iPhones, iPads, let alone designer brands has become paramount. I saw children no older than five years old holding their own iPads, which cost more than one-month’s salary of one of their parents. But what I found interesting is that when I discussed this with a friend, his reply was that social appearances needed to be kept up for the sake of the children.

    Another more vivid example is the proliferation of new schools. All the schools we (my generation) attended are no longer good enough. Now children attend “international” schools that charge extortionate fees very few can afford, as it has become necessary for social status reasons. These schools not only charge astronomical fees, even by European standards, but are also very selective. They require, for example, knowledge of the English language (not Arabic) before the child is even enrolled, a contradiction to say the least.

    These examples reflect the increased class segregation of Egyptian society, with the elite becoming narrower and their status symbols isolating them from the rest of society. This trend reached its zenith after the 2011 protests, when the upper classes attempted to shield themselves from the masses. The power of the middle class is waning as they yearn to join the upper classes but are unable to, so they try to compete in terms of status symbols.

    I had an interesting discussion with a taxi driver about the increased ‘stability’ of the country. When I asked him what he meant by “stability,” he referred to the lack of protests and strikes. He referred to the crackdown that led to such “stability” as a positive development. This struck me deeply.

    In Egypt, it seems that the suffering of thousands in prisons and mass death sentences are the concern of a small minority. Society is in denial about the events that occurred after the coup in 2013. In certain cases, major societal segments were complicit in these events; by either turning a blind eye or actively endorsing and defending them. Once again, those behind bars become two-dimensional characters whose suffering is their own.

    The full scale of the human tragedy that is taking place in the country is like the elephant in the room nobody wants to acknowledge. Even the polarisation that one would expect to see and feel in the streets of the city is almost non-existent. It has all been driven underground by severe governmental and social repression, with major social segments repressing one another.  

    Finally comes the condition of my closest friends, middle class Egyptians, who are now in their late twenties and early thirties. Most of them have not reached stable financial positions, nor stable personal lives. The reasons for this are varied. The abundance of labour and the high levels of unemployment are depressing wages, and their salaries have not increased sufficiently to keep up with the rising costs of living and the increasing demand for social and status symbols to preserve their place among the ‘elites’.  

    In addition, the monopolistic nature of the Egyptian economy makes prices inelastic, and lower demands do not push prices down for both basic and non-basic goods. Thus, life has become more expensive, social demands are higher, and as such, leaving home becomes almost impossible.

    The focus on social prestige has become paramount.

    Also, on the personal level, divorce rates and failed relationships have reached very high levels. The increased focus on status symbols and the commodification of marriage, where the groom is expected to meet a number of increasingly arduous financial and status obligations, has turned human relationships into financial transactions.

    The focus on status and social prestige has become paramount, while the human element has faded away. In other words, there is an increased dehumanisation of relationships between men and women in Egypt, a process that has led to greater levels of social instability, divorce and broken homes. This has spread among the middle classes due to an increased urge to join the upper classes and the need to distance themselves from the lower classes. 

    In the end, one can safely conclude that the failure of the Egyptian revolt has accelerated these trends. I cannot recognise the city any more nor can I connect with the people the way I used to. I am slowly but surely becoming a foreigner in my own country; a strange sense of estrangement from the place you love the most.

    This feeling, however, is not unique to me. It is prevalent among the Egyptians who never left the country and are struggling with the trauma of social upheaval, massacres, and repression. A trauma that they themselves have not yet acknowledged, and more importantly have not understood the dimensions and depth of. There is a sense of alienation from oneself, a promotion of the worst in us. There is also a strange sense of both material and spiritual decay in the city. Things are literally falling apart.  

    Whatever is happening to the Egyptians? (Part three)

    By Aliyah Tarek

    Cairo International Book Fair. Mahmood Shahiin/Demotix. All rights reserved.

    I have been following Hesham Shafick’s articles on the evolution of the upper-middle class in Egypt (Whatever is happening to the Egyptians, parts one and two) and have been pondering the questions asked at the end of the second article:

    “Why did the new upper middle-class choose to isolate itself from the country to which they belong? Was this a deliberate choice or rather enforced by exogenous political and market forces?

    The answers to these questions have become more evident since Shafick and Saad asked them. A quick review of newspaper headlines, television ads, and social media will reveal the political role this new class plays.

    Members of this class are members of the same foundations that broadcast advertisements asking for donations for the poor in Upper Egypt or for the children’s cancer hospital. These ads were at an all time high with everyone glued to Ramadan television series, and are broadcast seconds after compounds like "Mountain Views' projection of the suffering of classy humans who live around barbarians in need of an escape;” as Shafick and Saad put it.

    Thus, this class will happily pay 5 EGP to save a cancer patient or feed a needy family, but will also pay millions to live far away from them. What is bewildering is that it does not see the contradiction between the two ads. This love-hate relationship it has with the rest of Egyptian society, of course, serves the interests of the political-ruling class perfectly. The lower classes, however, can’t even afford to think of contributing 5 EGP towards a charitable cause or buying a flat in Cairo, let alone a villa on the north coast, as they struggle to put food on the table for their families.

    A brief history

    Nasser’s socialist era had public spending at its core, making state sponsored jobs and subsidised goods available. 

    During Sadat’s rule, the economic crisis that followed the oil boom compelled him to give up Nasser’s socialist policies and cut back on state spending—since there wasn’t enough of a tax-base to support government programs. Sadat sided with market tycoons, with the goal of supporting an empty state treasury with their taxes. His infamous infitah policies opened up Egypt’s economy to capitalist practices. Thus, in one way or another, he reinstated the old bourgeoisie that Nasser had dismantled.

    Sadat lived the worst of his nightmares three years before his assassination. The streets were full of bread-rioters condemning cuts on subsidies and the Nasserists rocked his throne with the January 1977 riots. It was obvious that Sadat had failed politically and economically. His excessive ease in dealings with business tycoons made him lose control over the economy, as the Ottoman Khedives did from the Pashas. The economy weakened and the tax collection authority was plundered.

    Mubarak had to account for Sadat’s political and economic failures, but the international order and government capabilities stopped him from taking the Nasserist route. He created a class that could contest the socioeconomic power of Sadat’s Pashas (old bourgeoisie), while not aligning themselves with the Nasserist opposition.

    This is the class of gated communities. They have compassion towards the society to which they once belonged (lived amongst, befriended, etc. as Shafick’s article highlights), but are not part of anymore. The political elites’ survival became dependent on playing favourites with this class. The goal was to provide special privileges in return for loyalty.

    This class is safely ‘gated’ as far away as possible from workers and peasants, but are not enemies of the proletariat. Most importantly, they speak both languages: they are members of the bourgeoisie who live in A-class gated communities, but can still relate to the national agenda and their middle-class ‘ancestors’.

    Sisi’s policies show inclinations to Mubarak’s. Again, it doesn’t seem to be a choice as much as it is an obligation due to Egypt’s current political situation.

    Sisi needs to isolate this upper-middle class as much as he can to avoid any threats of an uprising. Thus gated communities boom, the new capital (at least as an idea), and other pro-rich projects continue to evolve. But he also needs the funds to feed and silence the masses; thus the creation of the Ta7ya Masr fund and the boom in charity organizations are a necessity. 

    Conclusion

    In a nutshell, all leaders take the steps necessary to generate legitimacy for the survival of their regime; Nasser enlarged the public sphere, Sadat nurtured the old bourgeoisie, Mubarak started a strategy of segregation and Sisi seems to be following in his footsteps.

    Here I propose a synthesis between Shafick’s and Galal Amin’s arguments. The first affirms that the whole isolation process revolves around the upper-middle class’ psychology. Today’s generations are growing up in gated communities and attending private educational institutions; they are subconsciously following their families’ footsteps and will remain alienated from the rest of society, in an attempt to maintain their privilege. As such, the upper middle class can be safely classified as a class that is living a false consciousness, alienated from the struggles of the lower middle class. However, this did not occur organically; political influences acted as a catalyst.

    This is where Amin complements Shafick’s argument. I can imagine Amin echoing Clinton’s funny slogan “it is the economy, stupid.” It is the economy, or rather the political economy that created the demand. Samer Soliman would say: “the state systematically segregated the society” (refer to his classic, The Autumn of Dictatorship). This new class began to develop this “orientalist” perception of the less-privileged “other”; a mixture of disdain and sympathy (which Shafick vividly depicted).

    This phenomenon was not triggered by western “orientalist” values—the majority of gated communities in the US belong to the upper class not the upper middle class—but rather an intended political strategic tactic to generate legitimacy for Mubarak’s regime.

    The regime in power intentionally re-structured the classes, and Mubarak’s government played an active role in the stratification of Egyptian society and elevated citizens to the status of upper middle class in return for loyalty and support.

    It has yet to be seen how Sisi’s current regime influences and/or identifies with the upper middle class. However, Mubarak’s shadow still lingers within the upper middle class and it doesn’t seem to be fading.

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Seven trends dominating Egyptian media North Sinai and Egyptian media Tunisia – tug of war? Falling apart: a glimpse of life in Cairo Whatever is happening to the Egyptians? (Part three) Country or region:  Egypt Tunisia Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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    Are humanitarian aid and professional ambition mutually exclusive?

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. July 2015 - 8:30

    The professionalization of human rights organizations is only effective if management adapts their strategies. An amateur mentality simply will not work. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on internationalizing human rights organizations. Français

    Carrie Oelberger's concerns that the professionalization of human rights organizations is shifting the values of its employees are not without merit. As first a line manager, and then the human resources director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—an organization that protects victims of international and internal armed conflicts, and is a three-time Nobel Prize Laureate—I have certainly seen this evolution of career advancement and the tensions that can arise. However, many of the changes she discusses are not only positive, but highly necessary. Amateurism in international human rights work doesn’t benefit anyone.

    In 1980, as a young doctor coming out of university, I joined the ICRC to work in a district hospital in Cambodia. I was motivated by a desire to discover the world and assist people in need. We were a group of Swiss expatriates trained on the job to achieve one of the greatest assistance actions since World War II; the logistician had architect training, the doctor in charge had two years of surgery experience in Switzerland, and the person responsible for emergency food relief had a literature degree. Together we invented our work using our motivation, experience and common sense.

    After this term, I caught the humanitarian “bug” and ended up giving the ICRC more than 30 years of my life. During this period, humanitarian action became fully professionalized and internationalized. In 2013, during my last term in Bangkok, I worked with professionals from Azerbaijan, India, Ireland, France, the Philippines and, of course, Thailand.

    Now, standards exist in all areas, impact measures are the rule, and performance indicators are essential in the planning process. This was necessary in a world that has become more connected and more demanding, but also more complex, unpredictable and dangerous. Today, humanitarian interventions are more exposed to the public eye, and both donors and recipients have the right to demand accountability. It is no longer enough to "do your best". We owe the people we are assisting an intervention that meets professional excellence criteria, and we owe our donors the assurance that their money is managed with utmost rigor. Now, standards exist in all areas, impact measures are the rule, and performance indicators are essential in the planning process.

    But does this shift from an “amateur” to a more “professional” style mean that humanitarian and human rights organizations may become less effective than in the past? Does it mean that people in need may perhaps have received less assistance or protection? Overall, I do not think so. That said, there are new constraints and risks of which we must be aware and manage.

    In 1980, we were amateurs working closely together. Today, there is a danger of fragmentation of operations between several areas of expertise: lawyers, doctors, engineers, and others, each in their field with their own frame of reference. But in the complex emergencies we face, the problems are global, and so must be the answers. Good coordination between specialists is essential. Training and career management must give professionals the feeling that they are part of a whole to which they all contribute. This is also the role of field managers, who have become much more important than they were 30 years ago. Knowing how to work together as a highly diversified team is a skill that international organizations must acquire and develop.

    One of Oelberger’s concerns is that professionals are less altruistically-motivated and more concerned by managing their own career. The research that she mentions shows that intellectual stimulation, learning and professional developments are key to job satisfaction. She is right on this point. As an example, I remember a young delegate responsible for the protection of detainees in Kabul, who asked me to change his job, saying: "I love my job, but I do not learn anything new and I am not improving myself anymore."

    But I believe that this attitude is also the consequence of a more competitive labour market, where we are all forced to pay more attention to our career path and consequently expect (rightly) our hierarchy to be concerned by the development of our competencies. Organizations must take this into account and managers must dedicate time to training their staff and to keeping an open dialogue with them on their future.

    In the extreme situations in which ICRC intervenes, those affected need professionally delivered assistance. They also, however, need an international presence, a gesture, or a word that restores hope and dignity. The authorities with whom our employees deal with are not only sensitive to technical arguments, but also to the power of conviction. Our people do not only have to be competent professionals, but also strong personalities. In 1992, the head physician of a hospital in Azerbaijan reminded me of this when I introduced myself as an ICRC doctor, saying sharply: "I do not care about your organization and your title. Who are you, you?" This is one reason why ICRC places major importance on the evaluation of social and relational skills in the recruitment process.


    Flickr/International Committee of the Red Cross (Some rights reserved)

    An ICRC medical team operates on a wounded combatant in South Sudan.

    Finally, humanitarian and human rights organizations often act in unstructured and unpredictable situations. Professional skills are not always enough. We must leave some room for creativity and personal initiative, which must start from the field. Although we need competent experts, we need to know how to keep adventurous personalities who think outside the box. These people may be difficult to manage in everyday life, but they will make a difference in extreme situations.

    After all, it was Louis Haefliguer, who in August 1945, as ICRC delegate at Mauthausen concentration camps, disregarded instructions and convinced SS guards not to execute Himmler's order to blow up all installations, saving more than 40,000 deportees, It was Henry Dunant, a mystic dreamer who ended up bankrupt and had to leave his city of Geneva, but whose initiative of treating the wounded of both sides in the battle of Solferino in 1859 inspired the humanitarian laws of modern warfare.

    The humanitarian world needs also people like this. And it is certainly worth the effort to recruit and retain some of them.

    Overall, I am pleased with the professionalism and progressive internationalization of ICRC staff. I am convinced that it was beneficial for the humanitarian sector and for the people we are trying to help and protect. But this evolution is positive only if international organizations fully accept it by assuming its constraints and risks, and adapt employee management accordingly.

    If human rights organizations want to motivate their professionals and reap the full benefit of their expertise, they should review the recruitment process, develop continuous training programs, make career management more transparent and above all, keep managers accountable in their "team building" role when managing a diverse group of people.

    We cannot hire professionals while keeping an amateur management mentality. Humanitarian professionals may have a genuine desire to help, but most also want to advance in their careers. Why can’t they do both?

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    The overwhelming whiteness of Portland's World Naked Bike Ride

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. July 2015 - 8:00

    Seeing a mass of drunk and high naked white people celebrating their newfound liberty with police officers standing guard is a slap to the face. 

    Participants at the World Naked Bike Ride. Credit: Demotix/Jeff Rudoff.

    I was born naked and brown.

    My ancestors on my father’s side were also born naked and brown. They felt no shame for dressing for the hot temperatures of their tribal soil.

    But I was not born in the tribal lands of my Central American ancestors. I was born into the whitest of white places: Portland, Oregon.

    Over the years Portland has come to prize itself as one of the most liberal cities in America. You can smoke weed, marry a person of the same gender, have a beer at the movie theater, and pay for a cuddle all in the same day. For most people these liberties have come to define what it means to be ‘weird’ and liberal in Portland.

    Once a year, in late June, you can even take off all of your clothes and ride your bicycle butt naked to give a big ‘fuck you’ to the world, or maybe just to declare a newfound security in your nudity.

    The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) in Portland is not something that I’ve ever participated in, and although it could be conceivable that as some indigenous ancestral throwback I might want to join in, I sure as hell don’t.

    Let me explain why.

    Oregon has a history of passive racism. Over the course of Oregon’s short statehood there has been legislation which has prohibited people of African descent from entering the state, Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning land, and an indigenous population that has been erased from the green pastures of the Pacific Northwest.

    Most Portland residents don't know that Oregon, and Portland specifically, also served as the western front for the Ku Klux Klan during its most powerful era, with over 14,000 members statewide circa 1922. The culmination of these factors has helped to make Oregon one of the whitest places in the world.

    Given its historical limitations, the naked bike ride in Portland has been an overwhelmingly white activity by proxy, not intentionally, but no doubt as a consequence of historical and structural racism. 

    White people nowadays didn’t have a direct hand in that legislation or history but should consider taking a moment to recognize how and why Portland is so white. White people should also consider how and why the naked bike ride itself turned out to be such an overwhelmingly white activity.

    In 2003 WNBR founder Conrad Schmidt picked up on the idea of using nudity to draw attention to an anti-fossil fuel cause to Vancouver BC, and the idea spread throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 2004 Portland activists picked up the naked bike ride protest model to join in the protest of dependence on blood-oil and the US conflict in Iraq. There is no doubt that the visual mass of naked bodies on the roadway was an effective and shocking method for promoting a political message in a normally clothing-conservative United States. Local and national media flocked to the controversy and the protest gained much praise as a radical action.

    Unfortunately in Portland and across the US, the political message of the first American naked bike rides has been lost. Despite continued US involvement in conflict zoned, oil rich parts of the Middle East, the shock and social taboo associated with the nudity of the protest has been re-centered as the focus. Many now participate in the naked bike ride as a proclamation against body shaming and ridding naked bodies of a sexualized stigma, which was a common theme amongst earlier Western European nudist movements. 

    Ironically, in trying to maintain a degree of radicalism by not purchasing city permits or providing a preplanned route, Portland organizers now force a mass idling of motor vehicles which further exacerbates carbon pollution.

    Portland’s naked bike ride has also in recent years been treated as more of a celebration than a protest action, leading it to become a throwback to its pan-European roots. Open drug and alcohol consumption are now a standard expectation within the ride, further expanding nudism as a leisurely pursuit rather than an intentional element of a radical, politically motivated protest.

    Portland as of 2015 has had the largest number of participants of any city in the US. The City of Portland itself has not yet attempted to shut down the ride, perhaps because the annual event has become an attention grabbing part of local culture. In recent years it has even been informally facilitated by the Portland Police. Cops now stand guard to protect the bicyclists from angry drivers and pedestrians who find they are unable to cross the 10,000 strong mass of nude bodies, who can take over an hour to pass. 

    Having the cops involved has discredited the radicalism of the ride and prevented access to it from communities of color. Historically, we have plenty of reason to be distrusting of law enforcement. Even the normally conservative Oregonian newspaper has picked up coverage of the WNBR and published narratives written by participants that describe the range of emotions riders experience in openly exposing their nude bodies to the world for the first time.

    Photographs of majority white participants are scattered across Portland’s various news sources and could easily be mistaken for photographs taken at Coachella or the Burning Man festival. This celebratory aspect of the ride has also in recent years brought with it trendy festival fads, including the appropriation of indigenous culture in the form of headdresses and quasi-Native American style body paint and garb. 

    I have personally witnessed this insensitivity and have consciously decided that this is where I draw the line. Wasn’t nudity always cited as an indicator of savagery by Western European colonizers? And wasn’t nudity often one of the primary justifications for both African enslavement and indigenous tribal genocide? Considering my own identity, I cannot help but be bothered by all this. 

    After a lifetime of experiencing police profiling, seeing a mass of drunk and high naked white people celebrating their newfound liberty with those same police officers standing guard is a slap to the face. 

    I recognize that participants in the ride may experience a degree of personal growth with regards to body image and their nude bodies’ relation to the world, but like the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest, the radical message of the ride has been lost to a mass of stark naked whiteness. 

    Perhaps it is not the kind of whiteness that covers the face with a white hood, but the kind of whiteness which doesn’t even realize that a white hood is covering the face at all.

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    No broadcaster is an island

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. July 2015 - 7:30

    The fragility of the BBC’s independence from the state cannot continue to be ignored. Nor can its overall future be discussed in a silo.


    James Murdoch. Image: Flicker/ IAB UK

    4 January 1981: a day as fateful for the BBC as 30 July 1954 when the Television Act, breaking its broadcasting monopoly, received the royal assent; or 1 January 1927, when that monopoly was established by a royal charter transforming the British Broadcasting Company into a corporation.

    On that day, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, entertained Rupert Murdoch to a secret tête-à-tête lunch at which a change-making deal was struck. In the opinion of Harold Evans, it led to ‘a coup that transformed the relationship between British politics and journalism. … She was trailing in the polls, caught in a recession she had inherited, eager for an assured cheerleader at a difficult time. Her guest had an agenda too.’ He wanted to add The Times and The Sunday Times to the News of the World and the Sun, which he already owned, and was concerned about competition regulations. She assured him that he need not be. The Times could be his.

    Murdoch’s control of 40 per cent of UK national newspaper circulation followed this useful lunch. Well, why not? If all competition law does is count, then 40 per cent is not a monopoly. Sky Television was added in 1983 and again, why not? Television isn’t newspapers. Any assumption that a market place of ideas with a plurality of voices was a necessity for a democracy was revealed as a shibboleth. It was not, after all, the eighteenth century anymore and such outmoded notions had no place in that brave neo-liberal dawn. And so the BBC, which was a broadcasting monopoly in 1927 and opened to competition in 1954, faces today’s death-threat.

    A ‘public’ consultation

    During the 2015 election that returned him to office, David Cameron had dismissed a BBC news story about him as ‘rubbish.’ ‘I’m going to close them down after the election,’ he promised. The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, wondered about the threat: ‘Joke? Expression of frustration? All three? No one could be sure’. But on 11 May, 2015, it became clearer. Cameron gave the culture, media and sport portfolio to John Whittingdale, a man dubbed ‘a sound right-winger and a devoted Thatcherite’ (Anderson), once ‘Thatcher’s toy boy’ (Higgins) and now ‘the Tory minister for Murdoch’ (Holmes). 

    Fifty days after that, following talks with George Osborne, the BBC’s director general, Lord Hall, was informed that the cost of free licenses for the over-75s - a Blairite pre-election bribe of 2001 now running at some £630 million a year - would, in the future, be shouldered by the corporation itself. Even for an organisation with a £3.7 billion annual income, this could not be thought small change. Then, on 17 July Whittingdale unveiled a green paper – a consultation document: BBC Charter Review: A Public Consultation.

    ‘Being funded by a universal hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered and obliged to try and offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market […] The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.’

    These words are not found in the green paper, they were spoken by James Murdoch in his notorious MacTaggart lecture in 2009. Whittingdale, in introducing his report, is more emollient, but the echoes are clear:

    what should the BBC be trying to achieve in an age where consumer choice is now far more extensive than it has been before? What should its scale and scope be in the light of those aims and how far it affects others in television, radio and online?’

    And who but the Murdochs and their fellow media oligarchs can he have in mind when he writes of the BBC ‘affecting others in (not merely consuming) broadcasting? 

    No broadcaster is an island, each is a piece of the media continent, as is every media platform – the newly electronic as well as the time-honoured press. It is now clear that the mutually beneficial relationship sealed that January day 34 years ago meant no good to the BBC – how much is only now finally becoming clear. It was damaging not only in the obvious sense that another significant percentage of its audience was about to be lost. More worryingly, Murdoch’s political hold over the politicians in turn implied that their hold over the BBC could be unduly influenced in his favour. But we choose not see that. Harold Evans told the Toronto Star he was ‘astonished by the lack of curiosity about a shocking story [e.g. the 1981 secret Thatcher/Murdoch concordat] that has been lying around on the pavement like a gold coin waiting for somebody to pick it up’. He should not be.

    Shields down

    Until Whittingdale, cognitive dissonance had more or less allowed us to ignore the implications of the BBC’s charter and agreement. We pay little attention to the fact that the minister is mentioned 78 times in the 61 pages of the current agreement. Among other powers, he chooses and pays the BBC’s trustees.

    We, though, believed that a force-field known as ‘conventions’ protects the BBC and its ‘independence’; and perhaps even after the summer of 2015 some still do. Yet ‘constitutional conventions’ are, according to A. V. Dicey, who invented the concept in the nineteenth century, ‘fictions … the most fanciful dreams of Alice in Wonderland’. The black-letter law enables threats like Cameron’s, but trusting the ‘conventions’ is all the BBC actually has to protect it. And, long before the very public assault of 2015, our faith in the reality of the ‘conventions’ could only be sustained by ignoring all evidence to the contrary. The secrecies of power-broking - such as private luncheons at Chequers - made this easy. Things come to light but usually decades later and with the non-effect expressed by Evans. 

    It is, for example, rumored that Thatcher consulted Murdoch on the appointment of Marmaduke (Duke) Hussey as chair of the BBC board of governors in 1986. His first major act was to sack the director general, Alasdair Milne. Milne was defenestrated after years of Thatcherite hostility which began, just after his appointment in 1982, with her backbenches frothing with indignation that the BBC news, in reporting the Falklands War, spoke of ‘British troops’ and not ‘our forces’. Official historian Jean Seaton describes Murdoch’s intervention as ‘extraordinary’ as, indeed, it was; but what is truly extraordinary it that all these incidents are greeted with such insouciance.

    The drip of stories does not stop with Murdoch’s lunch and Milne’s fall. For example, there is DG Greg Dyke’s defenestration in January 2004 over Andrew Gilligan’s Today report on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. We knew about it quickly enough but, so far, it is hard to know exactly if, on this occasion, the BBC was pushed or jumped of its own accord. It could well have jumped. It has form in this regard. Astonishingly for an organisation that vaunts its ‘independence’, undercutting it can start with the BBC leadership itself ‘seeking guidance’ from Westminster. 

    Consider DG Sir Ian Trethowan’s servile shopping of a groundbreaking Panorama on MI5 in 1981 to the spooks and then, at their behest, in banning it. Or Lord Normanbrook, the chair of the governors, running to the Home Office in 1965 to check if the vivid anti-nuclear drama, The War Game, was OK to broadcast (It wasn’t.) Or DG Sir Ian Jacob putting the frighteners on any current affairs producer tackling the nuclear issue in 1955. Or the prevention of Lord Beveridge coming to the microphone in 1942 to explain his (best-selling) report on welfare, that crucial template of the post-war social settlement. Or, the de facto neutering of the somewhat radical talks department in 1934 on the eve of that decade’s charter renewal for fear that its record might cause difficulties. Or (starting as one means to go on) the founding DG, John Reith, not allowing the unions on air for the nine days of the 1926 general strike – ‘the strike having been declared illegal.’

    To be fair, there are even lesser well-known contrary occasions where the BBC is recorded as having spoken truth to power. Most notable is chairman Charles Hill’s initial defiance of the home secretary, Reginald Maudling’s attempt to stifle the reporting of the troubles in Ulster in 1972. And, no doubt, day-to-day, unreported improper interferences are resisted in, shall we say, a Paxmanesque style. But, even though it prides itself on being a ‘trusted’ news source, it is hard when reviewing such of the record as can be known not to see a thread of pusillanimity running through it.

    The BBC does not seem to have within its DNA much of a ‘publish and be damned’ instinct. To say that ‘it has become pathologically risk-averse’ is, in the light of history, to give it rather more credit than it is due. It has always tended to timorous caution but, certainly since the Hitler war created the circumstances in which it was eventually allowed to shine, it has been Teflon-coated. The current DG Lord Hall need not expect to be contradicted, except by the flicker of evidence, when he talks in public of the BBC news ‘ethos, and the hard discipline of BBC training and neutrality’.

    He who pays the piper

    It is a mark of extreme radicalism, it would seem, to challenge this rhetoric. Yet these glimmers of impropriety smack of the relationship of politicians and the media in eighteenth century Hanoverian Britain – but, when it comes to the BBC, ‘smack’ is all we allow them to do. We no longer smell the stench that necessarily accompanies any financial bond between government and media. 

    Robert Walpole, thus far Britain’s longest-serving premier (1721-1742) was a byword for corruption, not least because of his financial relationship to the press. A free press was held in high esteem: ‘the Palladium of all the civil, political and religious rights of an Englishman’. But it was utterly subverted by Walpole and his cronies through the stamp duty, manipulation of the mails and ‘subsidies’. In the 1730s, he used £50,000 – £4.25million in today’s money – to bribe toady editors and hacks. That we may be in the slightest echoing such goings with, dare one say, the licence fee is beyond the pale.

    Hanoverian corruption? Do me a turn (as my father-in-law used to say)! Doesn’t happen here anymore: despite the MPs’ expenses racket, Britain is still perceived as the fourteenth least corrupt nation on earth. And, of course, at stake here is not the corruption of personal enrichment but that of power and influence. The licence fee system might involve the passing of large sums of money from the state to an organ of opinion, but any resemblance to Walpole’s recycling of taxation into subsidies is deemed merely coincidental. Nevertheless, tax money, however, hypothecated or not, is as much the Achilles’ heel of the BBC’s independence as it was of any eighteenth century denizen of Grub Street. 

    And, suddenly, thanks to Whittingdale, in 2015 that truth becomes unavoidable. To the toxicity of Cameron-style attacks over news coverage is now added the faux-naïf complaint about popularity. Well, not a complaint we understand, merely a reasonable query: why use tax money to produce programming which private entities can provide? It is a question that the BBC is hard pressed to answer and before the Second World War, it did so, essentially, by not making much of a fist of low-brow programming.

    ‘A jam session?’ the controller of programmes, queried his staff in 1938, ‘we must introduce some sort of supervision to prevent this sort of thing.’ Hitler helped the BBC’s ‘Light Entertainment’ to have a brilliant war, only to fall back towards elitism with the peace. The head of drama in the late 1940s dismissed an innocuous radio soap as being ‘socially corrupting by its monstrous flattery of the ego of the “common man”’. ‘Auntie’ BBC was only laid to rest in the 1960s under the pressure of competition.

    Ever since John Reith escaped the clutches of the postmaster general in 1928 by promising never to cause any trouble, any parliamentary non-news related complaints about programming – sex and violence, say – have been squatted away by the government of the day as not being its business. Moreover, has any MP ever risen in the House of Commons to complain that the corporation is planning yet another dramatisation of Austin when Thomas Love Peacock remains untouched? Whittingdale echoes this apparent non-interventionism, upon which rests the corporation’s political independence, when he says: ‘Even if I wanted to close down Strictly Come Dancing, which I don’t, it would be completely wrong of the government to try and decide which programmes the BBC should make and which it shouldn’t’. 

    But it is disingenuous to pretend that without popularity the licence fee is not endangered. He who pays the piper calls the tune, after all. Indeed, if the BBC cedes its hard won capacity for light entertainment and is forced to retreat into a Reithian elitist ghetto, as sure as night follows day, it would be ‘completely’ right for the politicians to abolish a tax on operating a receiver, which is what the license fee is, when the proceeds go only to one broadcaster who isn’t used by the majority of those paying the tax. And, whoops, there goes the BBC! 

    John Whittingdale says: ‘We also need to ask some hard questions in charter review if we are to ensure the future success of the BBC, and indeed UK broadcasting’, but the agenda of charter renewal does not come close to addressing them, not least because ‘UK broadcasting’ is involved and UK broadcasters include media conglomerates. The last time we asked hard questions of them, at the feet of Lord Leveson, there followed no answers. The best we do in looking beyond the BBC silo are Ofcom’s public service reviews but even they restrict the definition of broadcasting competition to the BBC, ITV, C4, C5 and SC4. This has the Orwellian result of making the BBC the monopolist. News International, remember, is no such thing – it is not, curiously, even a public service broadcaster.

    The BBC’s mission, as the BBC Charter Review reminds us, is to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. When we are assured in the consultation document that: ‘[t]he government is, therefore, committed both to the future of the BBC and to its underlying Reithian mission’ an eyebrow can surely be raised. The information function, at its heart the news service, is compromised by the public funding source being controlled by politicians – and they are themselves not truly independent of the BBC’s rivals. And it is those last who demand that the BBC cease and desist from entertaining. That leaves, in the broadest sense, education, but that function drips elitism and elitism is fatal to the universality of the licence fee. 

    That need not be, of course. If we were dealing with the marketplace of ideas rather than just the marketplace, the principle of a hypothecated tax – or some other public subvention – could by defended. As it is, Tony Hall is right to protest: ‘I don’t think we are just there to be a market failure BBC’, although that role could be an honourable one. In 1927, one of John Reith’s most brilliant early moves was to save the Henry Wood Promenade concerts from collapse because of the withdrawal of commercial sponsorship. In the same spirit, in March 2014, Tony Hall announced close ‘partnerships’ with the National Theatre, the Tate Gallery, the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, the Royal Academy and Glyndebourne. To be such a hub could well justify the use of public funds. But not in today’s cold neo-liberal light. As it is, the implicit invitation to play the market failure role is a poisoned chalice. 

    Despite five pages in the consultation document on ‘the BBC’s values’ and ‘the BBC’s public purposes’, there is, in truth, little here beyond lip-service about the quality and value of culture. No proposed examination of the BBC’s need to compete to protect its claim in the public purse. No inquiry into the market’s failures (how could there be?). The only thing that truly matters here are questions that ‘persist around the distinctiveness of the programmes the BBC delivers, and whether it uses its broad purposes to act in too commercial a way, chasing ratings rather than delivering distinctive, quality programming that other providers would not.’ James Murdoch would not disagree.

    To talk only of the BBC’s governance, finance and management failings in a converged digitised multiplatform, internationalised, conglomerate-dominated world is to be rearranging the deckchairs. No broadcaster is an island, so how can any policy remotely pertinent to long-term realities emerge from such limited exercises as this? Above all, how can we square the market, with so limited a number of ‘speakers’, with the market place of ideas where creating a cacophony of voices is the objective? 

    Unless we can answer that, the bell tolls, and not just for the BBC.

    This is an edited extract of a chapter from the forthcoming book: 

    The BBC Today: Future Uncertain. Ed. John Mair, Professor Richard Tait and Professor Richard Lance Keeble. Abramis Bury St Edmunds: 5 September 2015

    Isbn: 9781845496562

    (Copies available from mid august from Richard@arimapublishing.co.uk and on Amazon)

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Time to fight for the BBC BBC Charter renewal: invisible actors and critical friends The BBC and the Tories: is it war? Reimagining, not diluting the BBC in the next decade The Whittingdale Eight: war or wisdom for the BBC? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Why selling healthcare isn't like selling underwear

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. July 2015 - 7:24

    The last thing the NHS needs is another supermarket-man selling 'market' solutions.

    Former Marks & Spencer Sir Stuart Rose, hired by Cameron to advise the NHS, has reported back.

    The health service could learn from the management practices of the big high-street chains, he told us.

    NHS boss Simon Stevens responded grouchily that “the complexity of managing the NHS was greater than that of selling underwear”. 

    More ‘market’ ideology, more ‘free market’, is the last thing the NHS needs.

    Healthcare cannot be marketed and run like M&S.

    Nobody disagrees that the NHS has got to be cost-effective. But purchasing care services from private providers with shareholders demanding profits can only lead to increased costs or reduced quality of care – or both.

    If there is one lesson we can take from the last ten years it is that the NHS does not need another dose of advice from commercial companies, especially when it tells us our health service needs to be run like a “supermarket”. 

    Healthcare is not like buying underwear.

    You don’t know when or whether you'll need healthcare – but if you do, the care can be prohibitively costly. Only a small minority of people can afford to pay major medical costs out of their own pocket.

    And healthcare is that it is complicated, and you cannot rely on experience or comparison shopping. That is why doctors follow an ethical code, and why we expect more from them than from bakers or M&S.

    But private companies like Virgin and Care UK aren’t in business to promote your health – they are there to make a profit. There’s far more money in safe, elective procedures, like hip, knee, heart or cataract surgery than in unpredictable emergency treatment or labour intensive care for the chronically ill (unless you cut corners on the numbers and skill of your staff, of course).

    So healthcare cannot be sold like a commodity in supermarket. It must be largely paid for by some kind of central taxation like the NHS, or an insurance scheme like in the US. In either situation, someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what is affordable. Choice and competition is nonsense when it comes to healthcare.

    For the last two decades, the leaders of all major political parties have been wedded to the idea that healthcare should be run as a ‘market’. Do they really believe that chosen private healthcare firms will treat all patients fairly, and not just select those based on the criteria of how much profit will be made? The ‘commissioning’ system makes it easy for private providers to cherry-pick tasks to maximise profit and minimise costs. From the perspective of patients and taxpayers this bias is highly undesirable – a recipe for overcharging, over-treatment and corner-cutting on safety.

    There are no evidence-based examples of successful healthcare systems relying on the principles of the free market.

    People like Sir Stuart Rose who say that the market is the answer to achieving better outcomes for health are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence.

    The NHS faces huge challenges. A continuous evolution is needed, with greater responsiveness and accountability.

    But a high-quality and efficient NHS will never be achieved using the market forces of creative destruction.

    It is time to reject the market ideology that has plagued the NHS for more than 30 years and wasted billions of pounds, and move forward with a depoliticised NHS, a publicly funded, provided, comprehensive and accountable healthcare system based on co-operation, collaboration and the social contract between doctors and patients.

    Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Why does the UK need a constitutional convention? An interview with Anthony Barnett

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 23:11

    Phil England asks Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy, about the UK's constitutional crisis and the relevance of Iceland's constitutional convention.

    In what sense is the UK experiencing a constitutional crisis? What is the most compelling argument for the UK to embark on a process for creating a new constitution?

    There are three sets of arguments, each compelling in different ways. First, the negative one: the existing system is effectively broken, demoralising and generates distrust and bad government over the long term. Second, the positive: that this is the way for the British and in particular the English to articulate who we are in the modern world – to ‘constitute’ ourselves after imperialism with a democratic constitution, rooted in a convention process, that sets out our aspirations as a country, refreshing a long constitutional culture. Tackling both the breakdown and the need for renewal will have a very positive impact in addressing the chronic problems of democratic government in the UK. Yes, this is part of a general crisis of democratic government everywhere, due to lots of factors associated with the rise of corporate power and globalisation hollowing out a void in representative democracy, but the UK is an acute example. Paradoxically, because we do not have a codified constitution the way could be open to one that embraces all the gains made possible by the digital revolution.

    So there’s a negative argument that we have an incoherent and now damaging constitution and a positive argument that creating a new one can address the demoralisation, xenophobia, chauvinism and fear which lace through this country’s sense of itself.

    The third argument for embarking on a new constitution is that the breakdown of the old order and lack of belief in the public realm have led the security state to modernise and strengthen itself undemocratically, in terms of surveillance and control, using the ‘war on terror’ as a cover. This is a dangerous extension of the constitutional issues facing the UK and needs a response by society as a whole.

    What would you point to as evidence for this broken constitutional process and distrust that you refer to?

    First, a health warning. It is like looking at a railway system whose signals break down, whose timetable few believe, whose engines belch smoke. We need a new railway! But to describe the examples, as you ask, means getting technical as we peer inside the engines. It is very important to do this, while never forgetting that it is the system as a whole that matters.

    We had a strong and coherent constitution anchored in the absolute sovereignty of the crown in Parliament. That wasn’t a mere legal formula of A.V.  Dicey and others in the 19th century, they worked hard to understand and describe realities. Britain’s was an imperial parliament that could draw borders across the world. Also the centre,  ‘the crown in parliament’, consisted of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, each with real powers. Furthermore, it was integrated with a coherent, imperial set of institutions: the army, the church, the permanent civil service, at the apex of which was the crown. Its political economy was the unique gentlemanly capitalism of the City, and by gentlemanly I don’t mean that it was gentle but that it had strong moral rules to prevent corruption. A man’s word was his bond. And this proved extremely profitable not least with a global insurance market. This unified constitutional order was a kind of parliamentary absolutism and its defenders were very clear that it wasn’t a democracy in the American sense. But they prided themselves in the way they ensured the consent of the people to the system as a whole. You hear many educated people and smart journalists these days saying “we don’t have a constitution”. The Victorians would have been appalled at such ignorance, the constitution was the apple of their eye. From Coleridge to Maitland they wrote at length seeking to explain its unique achievements.

    Today it is a shattered thing. The most recent example:  The three main Westminster political leaders in the run-up to the Scottish referendum signed a “Vow” (written in fact by a previous prime minister Gordon Brown) saying that the Scottish Parliament “is permanent”. This means that the Scottish parliament – which came into existence through a referendum – exists based on the will of the Scottish people and cannot be abolished by Westminster without the assent of the Scottish people. Now if you are legalistic you can argue that on paper Westminster has not removed its sovereign or unilateral capacity to abolish Holyrood. But Dicey and Co were scholars of reality. In fact Westminster is no longer sovereign over the existence of the Scottish parliament. A fundamental principle of Victorian rule is now a dead parrot.

    So the singular system of sovereignty is broken. Historically, it was broken when we joined the European Union and shared sovereignty with Europe. The coming referendum on membership of the EU will be an interesting moment. It is possible that England – they will try to make it the UK but in fact it will be England – might withdraw from the EU. If so, the English will regain sovereignty in a fashion. But it is very unlikely to happen. And if it does not happen membership of a system with shared sovereignty will become a permanent feature terminating the old order. Furthermore the UK with an un-codified constitution will exist within an actually codifying constitutional arrangement – the EU. This must make the British constitution ever more vulnerable; and people’s fear that they don’t know who rules them, or how, entirely justified.

    Another apparently technical but actually principled question relates to the judges. The Victorian traditional constitution held that parliament is sovereign and that the courts couldn’t even ‘read’ Hansard, which is the name for the proceedings of parliament, to interpret legislation - as this would mean their judging parliament. This convention has been long overturned by the decisions of the higher courts. But take a look at the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005. This created what is now called our Supreme Court (removing the senior judges from the House of Lords). Section One of the Act refers to “the existing constitutional principle of the rule of law”.  Parliament passed this. But how does this constitutional principle sit with the constitutional principle of the supremacy of parliament? Does it now follow that that if parliament passed a statute law which in the view of the Supreme Court undermined the principle of the rule of law, it should be declared unlawful? 

    For example, the Blair government tried to pass a piece of legislation saying that nobody seeking asylum would have the right to appeal against a decision on the grounds that the decision had been improperly carried out: it would have explicitly deprived them of the right of judicial review. The Commons to its shame passed it but House of Lords did not. However, Lord Woolf [Lord Chief Justice 2000-2005] told the Labour government not to pass that legislation, which would have possibly deprived people of their freedom without proper recourse to law. Quite possibly it would have breached the principle of the rule of law. Or take the legislation that is currently in place about what are called secret trials - there’s a lot of resistance to the implementation of this in the actual courts. If somebody was deprived of their liberty through a process whereby they’ve not actually been able to hear the evidence against them, which might now be possible, it is within the realm of possibility that the legislation which enabled this to happen would be challenged and could be struck down by the Supreme Court as having breached the now constitutional principle of the rule of law.

    Lord Bingham, who was Lord Chief Justice 1996-2000, gave a lecture about the implications in 2006 and John Jackson has set out the arguments in openDemocracy. Simply put, what happens to the constitutional principle of the sovereignty of parliament if parliament has said that it is bound by the constitutional principle of the rule of law? If parliament says it acts under the rule of law this implies there is a set of rules – the rule of law – that is higher than the sovereignty of parliament as parliament acts within its framework.  

    Today, therefore, the UK’s constitution – the Westminster system if you like - is constitutionally incoherent. It is a profound mess. Not just in terms of territory with Scotland or sharing sovereignty with the EU but at the heart of its own sovereignty.

    All this might seem to be abstract and unimportant in terms of popular politics.  But I suspect the confusion over the true nature of our government ‘trickles down’. It gives an edge to the hysteria in the media as to what kind of country we are, or for example, to the BBC not being sure what it is for. We don’t know what the rules are because nobody knows what the rules are, because the basic rules no longer make sense.

    The immediate source of all this was the far-reaching set of reforms the Labour government passed between 1997 and 2001, a set of very profound constitutional changes: A Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Mayor of London (all created by referendums); the independence of the Bank of England; the Freedom of Information Act; abolishing hereditary peers; the Human Rights Act; while at the same time refusing to offer the country a new settlement which made sense of these changes. The result was a disintegration of the old order which left the Executive with even more unaccountable power than before.

    It’s a paradox. Wherever the reforms really decentralised power, whether to nations, judges or media using FoI requests, they worked. But from the point of view of old Westminster the success of partial reforms threatened the centre even more. A constitutional disintegration is taking place which is being compensated for by a modernisation of the deep state, the security services and surveillance which are, in my opinion, now the most immediate threat to our democracy, such as it is.

    So you’re locating the crisis as being at the heart of the institutions of government themselves because of the lack of clarity around the relationships between them and who has the power. How do you think the newly elected Conservative government intends to address these issues?

    This is a question I’m wrestling with and I’m not quite sure what the answer is yet.   One aspect of the election – which you may regard as a very sad aspect – is that ‘the system’ of the English state worked. The system won. A profoundly undemocratic electoral process generates decisive results from very indecisive voting. In 2005 it gave us a ‘majority’ Labour government on 35% of the popular vote. Now it has again delivered the State into the hands of a single party with a so-called mandate. That party therefore believes it has a right to do what it wants. There is still an acceptance by the British people that this is how we do things; it is, alas, seen as legitimate. So you could sit back and say, ‘Well, the system works. There is no constitutional crisis.’ And that is what we’re witnessing.

    The Conservatives may feel there are constitutional problems, such as the need for better representation of England, but they see these as being solved by the majority bestowed on them by the electoral system. However to get where they are they’ve made various promises. One of these is the European referendum.

    They want to stay in the EU. So do I. I think what our government ought to say is ‘this means we are going to become a different kind of country’. But the Tories will argue that they have now ‘renegotiated’ terms and this means it is in the “interests of Britain” to stay in Europe and, furthermore, that our sovereignty will not be fundamentally challenged. In my view they will seek to stay in Europe dishonestly by claiming that our country is unchanged by such membership.

    And here the UKIP arguments of Douglas Carswell, while I don’t agree with his conclusion, are honest. I mean I think we should share sovereignty with the European Union and he’s against that. But he sees the issues truthfully. The government will pretend that significant sovereignty is not being shared and that we don’t need to worry about it. Theirs is an argument made in bad faith. It will probably win and if it does Britain will continue to suffer from a toxic constitutional culture.

    Second, the Tories are in a real difficulty with replacing the Human Rights Act, if it means in any way withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. For a start they are going to come up against the way the Scottish parliament and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland have the Human Rights Act as an integral part of their legislation. The Northern Ireland question is as important as Scotland here. It’s another obscure yet systemic constitutional conundrum.

     And they’ve just put that off in the sense that it didn’t appear in the Queen’s speech…

    They’ve put it off challenging the Human Rights Act for the moment but they’re still committed.

    One solution is for them to propose a federal constitution for the UK. This would allow a proper offer to Scotland as well as England. Being Tories they would seek to codify the existing constitution from above. From their point of view this would be intelligent and could be quite popular. It would also rub in the lost opportunity for the left, one which Ed Miliband, following Gordon Brown, threw away.

    The Conservatives are perfectly capable of taking a wholescale initiative of this kind. But it runs a very big risk of having to let go. It is also difficult to see how you could constitutionalise the House of Lords. But they will not want to replace the House of Lords because it’s a wonderful vehicle for their own vested interests and network of legal corruption. Why should a group of people that have the British state in their hands possibly want to let go of it? Unless they are democrats. So in all likelihood they will reproduce the Blair-Brown approach of wanting to renovate the constitution while retaining the monopoly of power they are exercising in Westminster.

    So, to try to answer your question, although the Tories have inherited the acute constitutional issues I have described it is likely they too will see them as tactical questions which they’ve got to get around or get past. They’ve got to win this referendum, fix those Human Rights, manage northern devolution, roll out English wallpaper in the Commons, but avoid a new constitutional settlement.

    However, there’s Scotland. If you look at what’s happened in constitutional terms, it’s absolutely amazing. The British state has kept itself going through first-past-the-post, which resolved the divisions that exist within the country into extremely ‘strong’ governments. In a way the system lived by first-past-the-post. Now, in Scotland, it has died through first-past-the-post. Both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party would have a significant number of MPs from Scotland if there was a proportional electoral system and there would even be Lib Dem MPs. But in Scotland first-past-the-post has wiped them out. Because this has happened so suddenly, thanks to the winner-takes-all character of first-past-the-post, neither the London media nor the Westminster politicians have absorbed what this means. They still think of the SNP as outriders who may have come today but will go tomorrow. They are, however, the governing party in Scotland and have been for eight years, occupying the space of European style social democracy vacated by Labour. The result is that Labour will never recover north of the border. Perhaps in the long term – 15-20 years – the Conservatives may do so but only if there is a Scottish Conservative Party not a unionist Conservative Party. All of which means there is no longer any party of the Union represented across the Union. All constitutions are determined by how they are lived, all the more so if they are uncodified. The destruction of the Westminster representation of the three main union parties across the whole of the second country of the Union poses a hugely difficult constitutional challenge because  there is a dynamic now in play. First-past-the-post functions as a brutal unifying force as it vaporizes smaller parties. It was the old system’s form of gravity. In 2015 its impact was reversed and it is dividing Britain, it has become a centripedal not a centrifugal force.

     Should the Labour Party be in favour of proportional representation in order to shore up their influence in Scotland?

    Labour should be in favour of PR because it’s a democratic electoral system and not for instrumental reasons. UKIP is in favour of it because it’s wiped out without it; it should have 80 seats with its 14% of the vote. In Scotland, the SNP got nearly 1.5 million votes and 56 MPs in May’s general election, Labour got over 700,000 votes in Scotland and just one MP. In terms of democracy the UK system is obscene. However, as I have said, it is used to force a coherence that hitherto has prevented not intensified disintegration. It still does in England but it is breaking apart the Union.

    But it breeds dissatisfaction.

    It may indeed breed dissatisfaction.  Lord Hailsham, who was Lord Chancellor under Heath and again under Thatcher, complained about an “elected dictatorship” in 1974 when the Tories lost. But he did not persist in his criticism when they won. So, yes, it breeds dissatisfaction but ‘dissatisfaction’ is just a form of whinging which can be easily ‘managed’. What has happened with Scotland is quite different. What previously kept things together in a forceful and unfair fashion, now is rending them apart - also in a forceful and unfair fashion. Labour will have to face up to the fact that it is now an English party.

    So what do you think are the prospects for a citizen-led convention process in the UK and to what extent would the parties that are now in opposition be in support of such a process?

    I think the prospects – which looked relatively promising before the election with the possibility of another hung parliament – are now unpromising. You have to face up to the fact that we’re probably looking at another ten years of Tory rule.  And the Tories are unlikely to open up the political system along these lines. It isn’t in their nature or character it would seem.

    So the question then is ‘What are the prospects of the opposition parties calling for it?’ The SNP said that if it won the independence referendum it would have a popular-based constitutional convention in Scotland. It’s very unlikely now that it’s the third largest party in the Westminster parliament that it will seek to support a convention process for Britain.

    The Liberal Democrats are, I think, dead in the water and unlikely to survive as a party. They could come out for a constitutional process of this kind. They ought to do so. It could give them a different, distinctive approach that might resuscitate them were anyone to believe them. [Note: since the interview on which this article is based took place, the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has introduced a Constitutional Convention Bill in the House of Lords.] So what influence it would have is a hard to judge.

    Will a new Labour leader and the Labour Party seek to embrace a process of this kind? I think it’s probably inconceivable under the leadership of Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper who are creatures of the Blair-Brown years. It’s conceivable that a new leader from the new generation seeking a way forward could embrace these arguments. [Note: the interview on which this article is based took place before Jeremy Corbyn MP joined the Labour Party leadership contest]. But it’s quite profoundly against the Labour experience. Labour is a party of traditional government and it wants to get back in to govern in a traditional way. A call for a constitutional convention along the lines of some kind of Icelandic model but with the participation of some politicians would demand the Labour Party becoming a genuinely pluralist party, i.e. one that is not seeking to govern alone anymore. It would mean it becoming a party not seeking sole power, whose calling is no longer to capture the state in a single leap as it has done in ‘64, ‘97 and ‘45. Is this in Labour’s culture? It’s not what its about. So it’s quite hard to see how Labour could embrace such a cause.

    The point is that calling for a democratic constitutional convention is about governing differently. Gordon Brown was enamored of the idea of a written constitution but he conceived of it as his personal policy. Probably, he wanted to write it himself! He wasn’t able to let go and trust in a process generated from outside parliament. He made Michael Wills a Minister of Justice and allowed him to argue the case but never supported it himself.

    It would mean abandoning the patronising , corporate, unified Labourist approach. There are a very few individuals like Graham Allen MP who have understood this. It’s a very profound change in the whole culture of government and that’s why I think it can’t be done by a leader who has been formed in government. The party would have to have a different relationship to the public.

    Next, the Greens. The Greens are the one growing party who have adopted this kind of constitutional approach and could implement it in a serious and effective fashion. They could become the party for constitutional democracy.

    Finally, UKIP. A popular convention, a peoples’ process, must include 14% of the voters. Their one MP, Douglas Carswell, has written The End of Politics, probably the most sustained argument for popular-based democracy that any politician  currently in parliament has produced. He really is for letting go. The reason why he was regarded as a ‘maverick’ in the Conservative Party was that he believed in what he said when he said he was a democrat! He is also a modern democrat in terms of using the internet and making a reality of decentralisation and participation.

    Yet it’s difficult to see – even though Carswell might be an interesting figure – that the people who fund UKIP like Richard Desmond owner of the Daily Express who gave them £1.3 million pounds before the last election would be interested in the party supporting a citizen-led constitutional convention process.

    Sure, the commercial interests that seek to buy parties like UKIP are not looking for a relatively wise, self-confident democracy that would be able to govern the market in a way that is fair. But supporters of UKIP, with their sense of distrusting the political class, their sense that rules are being changed without them having any say, cannot be excluded from a democratic convention. It may be that it doesn’t produce the kind of outcomes you would like but then you have to say, ‘fine, that is democracy.’ It is true that a deliberative convention needs to protect itself from poisonous campaigns by the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. But we should embrace with enthusiasm the fact that millions of working class people now think the electoral system stinks.

    Let me add this about UKIP and its five million voters. It may not survive the referendum, which is likely to be a ‘Yes’. But as in Scotland the losing side can be energized creatively if the winning side is fundamentally defensive and even dishonest. It is possible that UKIP could emerge by 2020 as the main working class party of England led by a woman who has read Carswell’s books, i.e. not Nigel Farage, and is modern and forward-looking and not showing an ankle to racism and homophobia. A party, in other words, seen by many as being to the left of the Labour Party and committed to a lot more democracy. I’d like this party, if such a one emerges, to be the Greens but whether or not it is depends a great deal on what happens in Europe itself in the wake of the Greek crisis.

    So the Greens and UKIP. What about other civil society actors who might play an important role in pushing for a new constitution written by the people for the people?

    Labour should be. Or there could be an alliance of forces, mayors etc. I think it will be a very popular idea. The heart of the argument is that the restructuring of the way Britain is ruled – whether it is inside or outside of Europe – is that it needs a new constitutional settlement. We need it so people can believe in what the country is about. And we need it because the existing structure is broken. We need it to defend our liberty from arbitrary power. That’s what we should be pushing for and arguing for.

    A convention because you cannot leave it to parliament to rewrite a system in which it has such an enormous vested interest. Of course, Parliament as a legislature may well be strengthened in any democratic constitution, as the existing one is crippled by the Executive. But both symbolically and because it is the Executive itself that will be threatened by being held to account, the Commons cannot be the body that creates the new order.  We need the House of Commons and the House of Lords to legislate into existence a democratic convention empowered to propose a new constitution articulated in a referendum (which may have a number of questions). They need to legislate in advance that the outcome of the referendum will become our new constitutional framework. This then will be founded on popular sovereignty rather than the sovereignty of parliament, that is rooted in the epoch of absolutism. Stuart White has set out the issues of a convention with admirable clarity.

    Is that the lesson that we can take away from what happened in Iceland where the parliament set in motion a process whereby it was the citizens who drafted a new constitution for their country?

    One of the things that Iceland shows is that well-run deliberative processes can create constitutional assemblies representative of the people that come through with the sets of rules and principles of government. Regular people have the wisdom to do this just as juries have the wisdom to come to views in trials. It has to be process driven. It is not ‘a mob’. People have the capacity to take these decisions.

    Iceland also shows that you need to engage with the politicians so that this process is seen as a solution for them and not simply against them. Also, politicians need to grant a constitutional convention the power to call a binding referendum. Otherwise they will sabotage it.

    That’s a difficult one if, as you suggest, we end up with an extended period of Tory rule. Is there a role for civil society here? Is there any way people and popular pressure can help move this up the agenda?

    Enormous opportunities are going to open up because of the incoherence of Tory policy. But it means making a ‘knight’s move’ not just saying ‘I’m opposed to austerity’ – in the way, for example, the Peoples’ Assembly have done with no fresh thinking about democracy. People are still thinking along the old tramlines, that’s the problem. So if there was a movement against austerity and a movement against the £12 billion of welfare cuts, linked to a view on the EU referendum and the defence of human rights and modern liberty, all articulated in a call for a citizens constitutional settlement, then you could have a very powerful civil society movement which could sweep Labour and the Lib Dems along with it. But you’d need imaginative political organisation to do that.

    That’s an interesting prospect.

    The heart of the argument is this. You can no more get liberty or democratic outcomes, from the British state than you can get milk from a vulture (as Neal Ascherson once said). So those people who are engaging in different civil society movements and NGOs whether its on taxation, poverty, stopping austerity, saving the NHS, electoral reform, against surveillance, or even the reform of Europe, should understand that part of the problem they’re up against is the nature of the British state. Labour has always said that the solution for progressives is to capture the British state. This is the Fabian answer: capture the state and deploy its powers to progressive advantage. The Lib Dems too. But long experience shows that here in the UK the State captures you. What works for neo-liberalism does not work for those who want to tame corporate power. We have to have a democratic, constitutional state for there to be any hope of either modern liberty of a democratic economic outcome. It is not a guarantee, of course. It is simply a necessary pre-condition. At the same time it is the only way to address the disintegration of self-belief in our society. 

    You could argue then that Tory rule could offer an extended opportunity to explore such an alliance because of what is likely to be ongoing constitutional incoherence. Not so much a “democratic moment” as a five-year opportunity to get our act together…

    That seems like a nice way of wrapping it up.

    (Note: This interview is based on an original conversation between Phil England and Anthony Barnett but has been revised for publication.)

    See The Independent for Phil England's accompanying overview of the current situation in Iceland.

    Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

    The Great Charter Convention – an open, public debate on where arbitrary power lies in the UK today and how we should contest and contain it.

    Related stories:  From here to democracy, open letter to Ed Miliband Iceland's unfinished revolution? An interview with Hordur Torfason Changing the way politics works: an interview with Katrin Oddsdottir Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Video debate - the wealth dellusion

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 23:11

    Do we need a more equal society, and a global tax on wealth, or does wealth benefit us all as a driver of investment and growth?

    Watch more videos on iai.tv Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Russia is swimming in oil

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 20:13

    Russia’s oil industry lacks the infrastructure to avoid spills and leaks; and the environmental consequences are horrific.

     

    Russian oil giant Rosneft has dumped on us northerners once again. It’s unlikely that anyone apart from the locals would have heard about the pipeline which burst on the outskirts of Nefteyugansk if not for photos of the aftermath on social media.

    The pictures were taken by Andrei Seleznyov, a light aircraft pilot; and the local media, swiftly followed by national TV and press, picked them up after they appeared online on 27 June.

    Burst pipes

    The burst had in fact taken place several days before on 23 June. The pipeline, lying along the bed of a channel at a depth of around three metres, burst at a point about a kilometre outside town, covering a four hectare area of water with a one-millimetre-thick iridescent film.

    Nefteyugansk oil spill. Picture taken by Andrei Seleznyov.

    This, at least, was the estimate of the damage made by inspectors from Russia’s environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, who visited the site on 2 July, accompanied by the deputy CEO of the Rosneft subsidiary responsible for the pipeline, as well as two independent observers.

    According to the Environmental Ministry, the real extent of the spill was in fact impossible to assess. High water levels led to the further dispersal of oil, some of which ended up on the channel’s banks and in the gardens of neighbouring houses. Environmental officers are confident that floating booms will prevent the oil flowing into the nearby massive river Ob, but the real size of the slicks, both in rivers and on dry land, will become clear only after the lifting of gale warnings in the area.

    The real extent of the spill was in fact impossible to assess

    For the moment, no one will even hazard a guess at the overall scale of the disaster – apart, that is, from Rosneft’s vice-president Michael Leontyev, who combines his day job with a Kremlin spin doctor role.

    From Leontyev’s office in Moscow, the spill appears localised, even minimal: ‘the leak was very small, but later, heavy rain carried some of the oil into a reservoir.’ This claim conflicts with a statement from the Emergencies Ministry, reported on regional TV, according to which it flowed out of the reservoir again, but the volume of the spill was still unknown.

    Leontyev’s response to this was that ‘it was no longer oil’ but some undefined ‘film’ that would not be easy to remove, but could be cleared within a week.

    The clean-up is postponed

    Leontyev and his company didn’t, however, finish the job in a week. On 3 July, the Emergency Ministry’s regional team, which was also involved in the clean-up, told TASS news agency that the operation had been postponed until 7 July because of the bad weather – the technology used to clear oil spills requires high air temperatures.

    A week later, a new date of 20 July was announced. The emergency team told TASS that ‘much of the work has been done’, and indeed, by that point, 118 cubic metres of oil had been removed. Fifteen floating booms, with an overall length in excess of four kilometres, had been installed to prevent further dispersal of the oil. But, probably due to the continuing high water levels, the process took longer than expected, and on 22 July there was still no further news from either the Emergencies Ministries or Rosneft.

    On 21 July, the news agencies announced that two senior Rosneft managers had been sacked. There was no reference to whether this was connected to the oil spill.

    Nefteyugansk's river port. Ales Antonovich / WikiMedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

    The residents of Nefteyugansk, and indeed the whole region of Khanty-Mansiisk, have been more down-to-earth in their assessment. Unsurprising: they’re closer to the disaster than the political commentators.

    In the words of one blogger: ‘now they’re not just flooding us, but flooding us with oil. There’ll be no more bathing, no more fish; nothing will grow in our gardens.’ The public mood is generally one of fury, with the occasional burst of irony: ‘Putin the Great has kept his promise: Russians are swimming in oil. Even the Emirates can’t match it.’

    ‘There’ll be no more bathing, no more fish; nothing will grow in our gardens.’

    Stanislav Meshcheryakov, deputy head of the Department of Industrial Ecology at Moscow’s Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, thinks that it will take Rosneft several years to clean up the contaminated area (if it were actually to try).

    ‘I don’t know how much oil ended up in the river, and how much on its banks,’ Mescheryakov told Nakanune.ru. ‘But it will affect the entire food chain, from microorganisms through small crustaceans eaten by fish. And people will also catch the oil-contaminated fish’.

    Meshcheryakov believes that the floating film of oil will deprive fish of oxygen and that they will lose their food supply: ‘we can clean the banks using synthetic microorganisms. But in one place there will be 5% oil per m², and in another, 50%. The microorganisms will deal with the 5% areas in one season, but larger concentrations will require two or three, which will be very costly’.

    A region covered in oil

    Leontyev is right in saying that nothing unusual has happened in Nefteyugansk. For Rosneft, it is a perfectly normal situation.

    It is not just Russian sources that put the company at the top of the accident league. Greenpeace and global statistics confirm it – Rosneft is responsible for 10,000 oil spills a year. An inspection conducted by Rosprirodnadzor three years ago concluded that it accounted for 75% of leaks in the Khanty-Mansiisk region of western Siberia, where Nefteyugansk is situated.

    After a visit to the area in 2012, Environmental Minister Yuri Trutnev wrote that ‘the earth is practically covered in oil. It was not a question of finding contaminated areas – we had a problem finding any unpolluted ones. There are oil rivers, oil lakes, oil ponds – all the carelessly spilt detritus from accidents’.

    ‘It was not a question of finding contaminated areas – we had a problem finding any uncontaminated ones’

    In 2013, Rosneft consolidated its position as king of the spills: the regional environmental watchdog reported that its subsidiaries were responsible for 2,188 accidents (95% of all pipeline bursts in the region). There are as yet no statistics available online for last year and this, but if you search online for ‘Rosneft, accidents’, you will find numerous results.

    Rosneft is also active in other regions. Sakhalin Environmental Watch, a non-governmental organisation, was immediately able to bring me up to date on spills at oil wells owned by a Rosneft subsidiary on this far eastern edge of Russia.

    On 7 May this year, an internal pipeline burst at the Mongi oilfield in the Nogliki district. The oil leaked into the Nelbutu River, which flows into the central part of Nyisky Bay on the Sea of Okhotsk. The spill is a mere 200-300 metres away from the Dagi Springs, a popular tourist destination and regional natural park. Local people are saying that the oil has seriously polluted not only the river but also a part of the bay; and both Rosprirodnadzor and the Emergencies Ministry have been informed.

    The previous day, another spill had been discovered, at the Ekhabi Vostochoye oilfield belonging to the same Rosneft subsidiary in the Okhinsky district of the island of Sakhalin. The oil had been leaking since March, and it is still unclear whether its source has been located.

    Several thousand square metres of oil-polluted soil have also been found on both banks of a creek that flows into Ekhabi Bay – also on Sakhalin, which has only a narrow outlet into the Sea of Okhotsk. The oil is continuing to flow into the creek, and from there, into the bay. Here, any accurate assessment of the extent of the pollution is hindered by the fact that the oil is spreading out under a thick layer of snow.

    Sakhalin Environmental Watch suspects that the oilmen have not informed any government agencies of this spill, and so they have themselves reported it to the public prosecutor’s office, the Emergencies Ministry and Rosprirodnadzor. In 2010 and 2012, there were a number of similar leaks and spills in the district. And one notable incident took place last year, when the Ura.ru news website reported that ‘in Nizhevartovsk, oil might start coming out of your tap; there has been a spill next to the water intake from the reservoir.’

    Historic legacy – or excuse

    ‘Oil might start coming out of your tap; there has been a spill next to the water intake from the reservoir’

    Meanwhile, Mikhail Leontyev explains his company’s trail of environmental destruction with suitable spin:

    ‘We had these wonderful oil companies such as Yukos and TNK-BP, with businesslike owners whose aim was to make as much money as possible, so they paid little attention to infrastructure. This is our historic legacy. This is why we have all these unfortunate oil leaks and spills, but we are fighting back. It’s no big tragedy’.

    The truth of this statement can be gauged by the following: Environmental Ministry statistics for 2012 show that the company which spent the most on environmental compliance was TNK-BP (26.1 billion roubles, or £292.7m), while the company that spent the least (8.6 billion roubles less, to be exact) was Rosneft.

    It was the downfall of Yukos that gave Rosneft its opportunity a decade or so ago. In 2003, Yukos’s owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on a charge of fraud, and in 2005, he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. When the company’s assets were seized by the government and auctioned off, Rosneft, a small state-owned company at the time, was able to acquire most of them at a fraction of their value. By 2005, Rosneft had become Russia's second-largest producer of oil and gas. In 2013 it acquired its rival TNK-BP as well.

    The spectre of Yukos still haunts the bureaucrats of Khanty-Mansiisk. Last winter, Nefteyugansk suffered a series of breakdowns in its utilities, leaving many residents without heating.

    But the main problem, according to Ura-ru, is not burst pipes. The local residents’ taps produce not water, but a cloudy, greasy substance, and sometimes even a black liquid bearing a distinct resemblance to crude oil. The regional and municipal authorities say that the problems go back to the time when Yukos practically owned the town.

    The locals, however, are sceptical: in a letter to Vladimir Putin, they wrote ‘our water quality has been deteriorating year on year for a decade now. Our tap water is not only undrinkable; we cannot even wash in it’.

    Rosprirodnadzor has now opened an administrative case against Rosneft for violating regulations governing bodies of water, which may lead to their contamination and obstruction. If found guilty, the officials in charge may face a fine of 30-40,000 roubles (£320-430): the official monthly salary of Rosneft’s CEO Igor Sechin is 500-700 times that sum.

    The investigation of the incident is now in the hands of the Khanty-Mansiisk public prosecutor, whose press officer Inga Snatkina told me: it is still too early to talk about the extent of the damage or who is responsible for it. The results of the investigation, she says, should be known by the end of July.

    Sideboxes Related stories:  The problems of environmental activism in Russia Discounting the future of climate change in Russia Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Russia is swimming in oil

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 20:13

    Russia’s oil industry lacks the infrastructure to avoid spills and leaks; and the environmental consequences are horrific.

     

    Russian oil giant Rosneft has dumped on us northerners once again. It’s unlikely that anyone apart from the locals would have heard about the pipeline which burst on the outskirts of Nefteyugansk if not for photos of the aftermath on social media.

    The pictures were taken by Andrei Seleznyov, a light aircraft pilot; and the local media, swiftly followed by national TV and press, picked them up after they appeared online on 27 June.

    Burst pipes

    The burst had in fact taken place several days before on 23 June. The pipeline, lying along the bed of a channel at a depth of around three metres, burst at a point about a kilometre outside town, covering a four hectare area of water with a one-millimetre-thick iridescent film.

    Nefteyugansk oil spill. Picture taken by Andrei Seleznyov.

    This, at least, was the estimate of the damage made by inspectors from Russia’s environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, who visited the site on 2 July, accompanied by the deputy CEO of the Rosneft subsidiary responsible for the pipeline, as well as two independent observers.

    According to the Environmental Ministry, the real extent of the spill was in fact impossible to assess. High water levels led to the further dispersal of oil, some of which ended up on the channel’s banks and in the gardens of neighbouring houses. Environmental officers are confident that floating booms will prevent the oil flowing into the nearby massive river Ob, but the real size of the slicks, both in rivers and on dry land, will become clear only after the lifting of gale warnings in the area.

    The real extent of the spill was in fact impossible to assess

    For the moment, no one will even hazard a guess at the overall scale of the disaster – apart, that is, from Rosneft’s vice-president Michael Leontyev, who combines his day job with a Kremlin spin doctor role.

    From Leontyev’s office in Moscow, the spill appears localised, even minimal: ‘the leak was very small, but later, heavy rain carried some of the oil into a reservoir.’ This claim conflicts with a statement from the Emergencies Ministry, reported on regional TV, according to which it flowed out of the reservoir again, but the volume of the spill was still unknown.

    Leontyev’s response to this was that ‘it was no longer oil’ but some undefined ‘film’ that would not be easy to remove, but could be cleared within a week.

    The clean-up is postponed

    Leontyev and his company didn’t, however, finish the job in a week. On 3 July, the Emergency Ministry’s regional team, which was also involved in the clean-up, told TASS news agency that the operation had been postponed until 7 July because of the bad weather – the technology used to clear oil spills requires high air temperatures.

    A week later, a new date of 20 July was announced. The emergency team told TASS that ‘much of the work has been done’, and indeed, by that point, 118 cubic metres of oil had been removed. Fifteen floating booms, with an overall length in excess of four kilometres, had been installed to prevent further dispersal of the oil. But, probably due to the continuing high water levels, the process took longer than expected, and on 22 July there was still no further news from either the Emergencies Ministries or Rosneft.

    On 21 July, the news agencies announced that two senior Rosneft managers had been sacked. There was no reference to whether this was connected to the oil spill.

    Nefteyugansk's river port. Ales Antonovich / WikiMedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

    The residents of Nefteyugansk, and indeed the whole region of Khanty-Mansiisk, have been more down-to-earth in their assessment. Unsurprising: they’re closer to the disaster than the political commentators.

    In the words of one blogger: ‘now they’re not just flooding us, but flooding us with oil. There’ll be no more bathing, no more fish; nothing will grow in our gardens.’ The public mood is generally one of fury, with the occasional burst of irony: ‘Putin the Great has kept his promise: Russians are swimming in oil. Even the Emirates can’t match it.’

    ‘There’ll be no more bathing, no more fish; nothing will grow in our gardens.’

    Stanislav Meshcheryakov, deputy head of the Department of Industrial Ecology at Moscow’s Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, thinks that it will take Rosneft several years to clean up the contaminated area (if it were actually to try).

    ‘I don’t know how much oil ended up in the river, and how much on its banks,’ Mescheryakov told Nakanune.ru. ‘But it will affect the entire food chain, from microorganisms through small crustaceans eaten by fish. And people will also catch the oil-contaminated fish’.

    Meshcheryakov believes that the floating film of oil will deprive fish of oxygen and that they will lose their food supply: ‘we can clean the banks using synthetic microorganisms. But in one place there will be 5% oil per m², and in another, 50%. The microorganisms will deal with the 5% areas in one season, but larger concentrations will require two or three, which will be very costly’.

    A region covered in oil

    Leontyev is right in saying that nothing unusual has happened in Nefteyugansk. For Rosneft, it is a perfectly normal situation.

    It is not just Russian sources that put the company at the top of the accident league. Greenpeace and global statistics confirm it – Rosneft is responsible for 10,000 oil spills a year. An inspection conducted by Rosprirodnadzor three years ago concluded that it accounted for 75% of leaks in the Khanty-Mansiisk region of western Siberia, where Nefteyugansk is situated.

    After a visit to the area in 2012, Environmental Minister Yuri Trutnev wrote that ‘the earth is practically covered in oil. It was not a question of finding contaminated areas – we had a problem finding any unpolluted ones. There are oil rivers, oil lakes, oil ponds – all the carelessly spilt detritus from accidents’.

    ‘It was not a question of finding contaminated areas – we had a problem finding any uncontaminated ones’

    In 2013, Rosneft consolidated its position as king of the spills: the regional environmental watchdog reported that its subsidiaries were responsible for 2,188 accidents (95% of all pipeline bursts in the region). There are as yet no statistics available online for last year and this, but if you search online for ‘Rosneft, accidents’, you will find numerous results.

    Rosneft is also active in other regions. Sakhalin Environmental Watch, a non-governmental organisation, was immediately able to bring me up to date on spills at oil wells owned by a Rosneft subsidiary on this far eastern edge of Russia.

    On 7 May this year, an internal pipeline burst at the Mongi oilfield in the Nogliki district. The oil leaked into the Nelbutu River, which flows into the central part of Nyisky Bay on the Sea of Okhotsk. The spill is a mere 200-300 metres away from the Dagi Springs, a popular tourist destination and regional natural park. Local people are saying that the oil has seriously polluted not only the river but also a part of the bay; and both Rosprirodnadzor and the Emergencies Ministry have been informed.

    The previous day, another spill had been discovered, at the Ekhabi Vostochoye oilfield belonging to the same Rosneft subsidiary in the Okhinsky district of the island of Sakhalin. The oil had been leaking since March, and it is still unclear whether its source has been located.

    Several thousand square metres of oil-polluted soil have also been found on both banks of a creek that flows into Ekhabi Bay – also on Sakhalin, which has only a narrow outlet into the Sea of Okhotsk. The oil is continuing to flow into the creek, and from there, into the bay. Here, any accurate assessment of the extent of the pollution is hindered by the fact that the oil is spreading out under a thick layer of snow.

    Sakhalin Environmental Watch suspects that the oilmen have not informed any government agencies of this spill, and so they have themselves reported it to the public prosecutor’s office, the Emergencies Ministry and Rosprirodnadzor. In 2010 and 2012, there were a number of similar leaks and spills in the district. And one notable incident took place last year, when the Ura.ru news website reported that ‘in Nizhevartovsk, oil might start coming out of your tap; there has been a spill next to the water intake from the reservoir.’

    Historic legacy – or excuse

    ‘Oil might start coming out of your tap; there has been a spill next to the water intake from the reservoir’

    Meanwhile, Mikhail Leontyev explains his company’s trail of environmental destruction with suitable spin:

    ‘We had these wonderful oil companies such as Yukos and TNK-BP, with businesslike owners whose aim was to make as much money as possible, so they paid little attention to infrastructure. This is our historic legacy. This is why we have all these unfortunate oil leaks and spills, but we are fighting back. It’s no big tragedy’.

    The truth of this statement can be gauged by the following: Environmental Ministry statistics for 2012 show that the company which spent the most on environmental compliance was TNK-BP (26.1 billion roubles, or £292.7m), while the company that spent the least (8.6 billion roubles less, to be exact) was Rosneft.

    It was the downfall of Yukos that gave Rosneft its opportunity a decade or so ago. In 2003, Yukos’s owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on a charge of fraud, and in 2005, he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. When the company’s assets were seized by the government and auctioned off, Rosneft, a small state-owned company at the time, was able to acquire most of them at a fraction of their value. By 2005, Rosneft had become Russia's second-largest producer of oil and gas. In 2013 it acquired its rival TNK-BP as well.

    The spectre of Yukos still haunts the bureaucrats of Khanty-Mansiisk. Last winter, Nefteyugansk suffered a series of breakdowns in its utilities, leaving many residents without heating.

    But the main problem, according to Ura-ru, is not burst pipes. The local residents’ taps produce not water, but a cloudy, greasy substance, and sometimes even a black liquid bearing a distinct resemblance to crude oil. The regional and municipal authorities say that the problems go back to the time when Yukos practically owned the town.

    The locals, however, are sceptical: in a letter to Vladimir Putin, they wrote ‘our water quality has been deteriorating year on year for a decade now. Our tap water is not only undrinkable; we cannot even wash in it’.

    Rosprirodnadzor has now opened an administrative case against Rosneft for violating regulations governing bodies of water, which may lead to their contamination and obstruction. If found guilty, the officials in charge may face a fine of 30-40,000 roubles (£320-430): the official monthly salary of Rosneft’s CEO Igor Sechin is 500-700 times that sum.

    The investigation of the incident is now in the hands of the Khanty-Mansiisk public prosecutor, whose press officer Inga Snatkina told me: it is still too early to talk about the extent of the damage or who is responsible for it. The results of the investigation, she says, should be known by the end of July.

    Sideboxes Related stories:  The problems of environmental activism in Russia Discounting the future of climate change in Russia Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Neoliberal realpolitik: choking others in our name

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 19:29

    This lack of lived experience with the violence of our state entails an almost inevitable blindness to the deepening divide between those our states protect and those whose life it represses, expels, and humiliates.

    July 9: ATM queue near Greek pro-EU rally with homeless man. Demotix/Chrissa Giannakoudi. All rights reserved.The project of Europe has transformed from one of collective liberation from war, poverty and brutality to one of nauseating inhumanity for the sake of maintaining our comfort and welfare. This is presented to us as an a-political matter: not an ideological choice made by politicians, but an economic necessity carried out pragmatically. In the process, there is an Orwellian inversion of terms, such that the failure of the euro is presented as success, oligarchy is presented as politically representative, democratic protest as disruptive and irrelevant, human suffering as a side-issue, sovereignty as the freedom to agree and submit, austerity as realistic, our self-interest as the same as that of banks and the corporate-political elite, and alternatives as non-existent.

    In other words, the neoliberalization of Europe is being presented to us as the solution to the very disorder and violence it itself produces. The policies, relations, privileges and humiliations this entails are driven by an alliance of north European politicians, global financial institutions and transnational corporations. These present the profit they derive from this arrangement as a form of disinterested ‘good management’ practice. The only future they can imagine is that of their own hegemony, a hegemony they imagine as gentle and noble. The fact that, like any hegemony, it can only be held in place by dint of force and destruction – descending at moments to ferocious barbarity – is literally unimagineable and unspeakable.

    Deadly fractures

    So, one of the most striking features of Europe’s Greek crisis has been the sludge of self-deceptive thinking sustaining Europe’s top negotiators with Greece. In a recent interview, Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister and head of the European Council, countered the widespread criticism that he has heard:

    “I can’t accept this argument, that someone was punished, especially Tsipras or Greece. The whole process was about assistance to Greece … When we discuss facts, deeds and numbers, this is the only number on the table: €80bn for Greek assistance, and quite soft conditions. Not only [soft] financial conditions, but political conditions — in fact, without collateral. Come on: what is the reason to claim it’s something humiliating for Greece, or this is punishment for Tsipras?”

    With friends like these, who needs enemies? The comment is striking not only for what it tells of Tusk’s position, but for getting to the heart of the fundamental questions about Europe that have been laid bare by the Greek crisis.

    Like so many crises, the conflict over how best to address the economic conditions of Greece did not so much come into existence ex nihilo as rudely tear away the veil of politeness masking evolved fractures, tensions and corruptions at work for many years.

    Fractures: over the question of how to relate the incommensurable social, political, economic and idealist yearnings of the European project; questions over how to distribute and direct the mass of power at Europe’s center; over the place of democratic principles and the agonistic politics they produce; over how to engage the national and cultural differences within Europe’s bounds and, ultimately, over the value of human life to Europe.

    After all, Tusk’s distance – and that of the entire Troika and Eurogroup - from the Greek people is literally deadly.

    Just to recap some numbers that have been common knowledge but which Tusk brackets - austerity measures imposed since 2010 have meant Greek minimum wages slashed by 20%, pensions and wages by up to 50%, while increasing unemployment to 25%; cutbacks in the health sector so deep they have led to exponential rises in infant deaths, HIV, and malaria; a near-doubling of suicides and a 250% increase in depression; and a host of obstacles for Greeks requiring medicine and medical care, from closing hospitals and shortages of medication to insufficient wages to pay for the medicines and care that are available. The more than 40 free community health clinics run and staffed by volunteers that have sprung up across country are both admirable and completely inadequate to the crisis. 100,000 businesses have gone bankrupt, 200,000 Greeks have emigrated, 50% of youth are unemployed. The lower middle class is being wiped out. Homelessness, previously negligible, has surged to more than 20,000 former homeowners without jobs or permanent shelter, while 30% of all Greeks are now living below poverty levels. 

    The new measures demanded by the Troika, measures Tusk played an important role in pushing on Greece, will make this worse still. Knowing all this and calling it “soft” while forcing the new measures on the Greeks against their express, democratic will is gratuitous, vicious inhumanity.

    Indeed, in another Europe, a Europe we have yet to make, this would be criminal.

    It would be criminal precisely for the reason that bad policies by politicians are not: the policies of the Troika and the Eurogroup have no political or democratic legitimacy but were born of informal alliances and backroom agreements by a small oligarchic clique, a center of power answerable to no one. Under such conditions – of governance without normative or democratic grounding – legal culpability is essential if we in any fashion take the notion of a humane, rather than vicious, Europe seriously.

    It is as if there is a vast, insurmountable wall: on one side stands Tusk with his single essential number -  €80 billion in aid – which he would like to have make any and all other numbers irrelevant. This side corresponds to the future Europe Schäuble has proposed, along the lines of an intensified political and economic union of the “powerful and disciplined” under German leadership and shorn of the euro’s southern appendages. On the other side stand the living, breathing human beings who will be made to pay for all this with their health, homes, labor, minds, bodies, social and political lives.

    Beyond left and right?

    Crucially, the European political parties that once would have resisted this – Labour and Christian Democrats – now have either joined in or simply stand aside. So, the head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, is a member of the once-powerful Dutch Labour Party that has shrunk precipitously since it has joined the Liberals in a coalition.  A loyal ally of Merkel and Schäuble – known to some as their “water carrier” – and a firm believer in the neutrality of neoliberal policies “beyond Left and Right”, Dijsselbloem’s clashes with Varoufakis during negotiations were notorious. Praised by Dutch media for being “stubborn as an ox” and cheered for standing with the greats of Europe, Dijsselbloem has been one of the fiercest implementers of the demands on Greece, deeply convinced of the irrelevance of all for which Labour once stood.

    This has cleared the way for a radical politics of dehumanization. A Neoliberal realpolitik. A realpolitik that in the name of Europe negates the Europe that gave birth to it: the Europe of democracy, solidarity and equality.

    One of the most striking statements Tusk makes in his interview is to warn us of the dangers of radicalizing anti-European ideologies that he perceives on the Left as well as Right. It reminds him, he says, of the darkest moments in European history when radicals of all stripes made common cause.

    What Tusk misses is that this radicalization – most especially the growing aversion of the Left and progressives more generally to Europe – is a reactive radicalization, a response to a radical Neoliberalism which he himself represents and enforces.

    In contrast to neoliberalization at the national level in democratic countries, the conditions imposed by the Troika and Eurogroup on Greece go much farther, much more quickly. They are both radical and revolutionary in forcing policies on Greece explicitly against the democratic wishes of the Greeks through the use of raw and unselfconscious threat (if the Greeks do not do what is demanded of them Europe will blow up their banking system).

    Sustaining this endeavor is the fantasy that the economic policies of the Troika supersede politics itself. Tusk himself asserts that there are no alternatives. The neoliberal conceit is precisely this: that its policies are not politics but the neutral application of invariant, impersonal and transcendent economic mechanisms. (A standpoint that suggests a striking relation of filiation between Neoliberalism and Marxism in this regard.) Tusk and his ilk fail to perceive how destructive of the social, civic, and ethical fabric of our societies these policies are because they are not destructive to their own social, civic and political rights, their own access to justice. Indeed, if anything, they expand them.

    A Faustian bargain

    In other words, Greece has exposed the raw split between Europe’s ethical and political core. While Europe’s formal ethics are those of inclusive human equality in diversity, dignity and security, the political ideology is one of socio-economic precarity and inequality, harsh realist politics, nationalist chauvinism, Calvinist discipline and punishment. Two visions for the future of Europe are increasingly clearly delineated: one which follows Schäuble’s fantasies for an intensified political and economic union of Europe’s rich few and another that reconfigures a future Europe along the lines of its original values, willing to pay the price, quite literally, that it will take to make Europe more egalitarian, inclusive, diverse and humane.

    At its most reductive, this is an economic calculation that conceives of wealth and value according to a highly limited set of monetary and financial terms, a calculation that, as it were, reduces the value of human life and a nation’s capital to the strength of the euro. The alternative is a calculus that understands wealth to entail not money and finance as such, so much as cultural, social, political, and environmental welfare. It is the question of whether Europe’s economic riches are to be at the service of its welfare, broadly and humanely conceived, or whether such dynamic welfare is to be sacrificed for a punishing, raw economy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

    This condition in which we find ourselves marks the coming to fruition of arguments and policies tried out elsewhere for the last three decades and now making their way into Europe’s heartland. Until now, their objects have been those most distant from us: far away, in Third World countries subjected to the rapacious incisions of the IMF and World Bank; closer by in the East Bloc countries subjected to a ferocious liberalization after the Cold War; and closer yet, along our borders, extending into the inner reaches of our cities, in the regimes that have sprung up to control, exploit and expel poor people from beyond Europe when and where they seek entry into what is considered to be “ours”.

    Until now, the preeminent guinea pigs of neoliberal realpolitik in Europe have been those who are not yet, are not completely or will never be the citizens of Europe.

    The Faustian bargain offered by Neoliberalism has been that of increasing Europeans’ socio-economic precarity – displacing national states’ commitment to the welfare of the people by a concern for the welfare of corporations, banks, trade and financial flows – in exchange for maintaining a chauvinist commitment to national identity and cultural superiority.

    This comes at a time when national cultural and racial identities have been under pressure from two fronts: the global market and global migration. The market, to the extent that it is translated by national elites into projects of self-enrichment, is largely experienced as a domestic phenomenon connected to international flows. Migration, to the extent that it is translated by national elites into existential threats to the future of the nation, is largely experienced as an external invasion of alien bodies, races, ideas and lifeworlds.    

    Another way of putting this is this: given the choice between multiculturalism and marketization, our societies have overwhelmingly and rather consistently preferred the insecurities of the neoliberal market to the precarities of diversity.

    The fact that this is the deal being made has largely been hidden from our societies by the fact that it is bodies conceived as brown, alien, poor and Muslim – and correspondingly dangerous – that have been made to feel the most intense impact of Neoliberal policies. Precisely for this reason, those who are white and (still) middle class can imagine that neoliberalism entails the disciplining of the other to the benefit of its own welfare, even at the moment that its own welfare is shrinking.

    Just numbers

    Demonstration in Rome against migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean. Demotix/ Giuseppe Ciccia. All rights reserved.We see this in its most extreme form at Europe’s external borders, where the poverty of those who attempt to enter is sufficient, in and of itself, to justify their increasingly brutal and deadly exclusion. No other argument is needed today, other than simply their economic inferiority as this is linked, according to our society’s common sense, to the inferiority of their race, culture and religion. If only they would make their culture more like our own, they would not be poor, not need to migrate, not bother and threaten us.

    In this way, the deaths of the 20,000 migrants who have perished on Europe’s iron doorstep in the face of ever more stringent surveillance, policing, and legislation – barbed wire fences slicing feet, hands, grazing any bit of brown skin, border guards beating those they catch; whole seas and generations of fish fed on their drowned bodies; roads stained by their truck-crushed carcasses – all these dead are said to have only themselves to blame.

    As do, it is said, the countless others transported across the continent, to be fed into our sexual, agricultural, construction, and service machines, while they are milked for the profit to be squeezed from their bodies’ needs for sleep, food and shelter; if, at least, they do not want to become one of the thousands informally hunted down, harassed, beaten, raped and killed across our continent’s cities and countryside. Or simply forgotten, for years on end, in isolated asylum centers, to the point that they go mad, become ill, kill themselves or threaten others.

    There is no way to tell this story without it sounding overdramatized and emotional. Precisely because we already know all this. By now, this is just background noise to the public lives of our societies, a newsflash here and there, more faceless bodies and little more than bodies pressing in at our borders. Our politicians, our news, our legislation has been drained of affect towards undocumented migrants. They have no names, no faces and do not speak a tongue we know. As far as our politics are concerned, they are just numbers.

    Much like Greece today.

    That is to say: part of the shock of the moment is to see a European country and people treated as if they are a dark Third World (Muslim) one. To see the Greeks treated as a people that do not deserve to be European and must prove their intent to reform, to be disciplined, to earn our good graces. As a people that does not deserve the full palette of recognition, dignity, democratic self-assertion, and protection from exploitation that are the birthright of (white, middle-class, elite) Europeans. The invisible boundary that divided the world between the West and the poor, brown, Muslim Rest has been breached.

    Which is not to say Europe has not been practicing. On those who live in between. The poor, brown and Muslim semi-citizens of our inner cities.

    A few days before the Greek crisis broke, another crisis erupted in the Netherlands. The police in The Hague killed a brown man, a visitor from Aruba, one of the Dutch kingdom’s four countries. Mitch Henriquez was just leaving a summer music festival, being rowdy with his friends. The police told him to tone it down and move on. A minute later five policemen were sitting on him, then put him in the car in handcuffs to take him to the station. The next day he was dead.

    The Public Prosecutor’s Office sent out a press release. It said that Mitch Henriquez had become unwell in the car, the officers had tried to reanimate him, but that this had ultimately failed. None of this was of interest to any news media – as Holland’s one Black TV show host tweeted.

    Until a video appeared.

    On the video, one of the officers is choking Henriquez. By the time, the officers massed on his body step away, he is unconscious, head lolling, handcuffed body limp. The police do not do anything to care for him and keep at bay anyone else wanting to go to his aid. The video suddenly exposes for all to see that the police killed him and then blatantly lied to cover their tracks.

    July 4:100 protesters at death of Mitch Henriquez in police custody arrested. Demotix/ Geronimo Matulessy. All rights reserved.Protests are organized by anti-fascists, anti-racists and others, concerned citizens. They gather not in the neighborhood where the killing happened, but slightly to the west, in front of the police station of the “Painter’s Neighborhood.” Its streets named for the famous artists in Dutch history, the recent history of the neighborhood itself is rather infamous. One of the most thoroughly poor in all the Netherlands, struggling with unemployment, physical degradation, social isolation, and criminality, it has regularly been in the news. Its sizable pre-war Jewish population decimated, it has since the 1980s become home to 110 nationalities, many of them Muslim, many others Hindustani (the descendants of labourers brought from India to Suriname in the late nineteenth century).

    A reporter last year secured the neighbourhood’s infamy by revealing that one area was dominated by orthodox Muslims who harassed anyone not abiding by their strict rules of dress, behaviour and consumption. Even people walking their dogs were scared. And the police did not dare to interfere. The area was dubbed a “Little Caliphate” and the “Sharia Triangle.” Days after the article appeared, Dutch ministers and politicians appeared as well to inspect this travesty. It became international news, there were debates in Parliament: it was a national scandal. Some ISIS supporters from outside the neighbourhood thought this was a good moment and place to demonstrate their affiliation. A nationalist Dutch far-right group immediately countered with its own plans. For publicists, politicians, media and people across the land, the Sharia Triangle became Holland’s name for all it feared: Islamic orthodoxy and Islamic radicalism; recruitment of youth for Jihad in the Middle East; women’s religious and cultural oppression; the erasure of Dutch culture, norms and neighborhoods by immigrant ones; the creation of parallel societies and legal systems; and migrant criminality.

    And then it was discovered the entire article was made up.

    Completely made up. By a Hindustani-Dutch journalist who in recent years had become expert at delivering the quotes and stories his editors wanted, especially ones relating to minorities to which white journalists lacked access, by inventing sources no one could trace. No such thing as a Sharia Triangle existed anywhere in the Painters’ Neighborhood or in The Hague or in the Netherlands. Nowhere.

    Crucially, what was not news during all this time, was the repressive profiling, surveillance and violence applied by the police to discipline and punish residents in the Painters’ Neighborhood. In an interview the city’s Chief of Police implied that Moroccans were barbarians, genetically predisposed to be more violent. A local grassroots organization in the Painters’ Neighborhood, the “Action Committee to Restore Trust” had begun collecting accounts of police violence and harassment in an attempt to get authorities at the national level to address the problem. Stories of spontaneous police violence – broken bones, hernias, bruised ribs, torn ligaments, wounded men repeatedly untreated for hours, then dumped barefoot on the street; stories of denigrating insults and populist racism; and stories of active collusion, obstruction and harassment of residents by police when residents lodged complaints. Local journalists, taking an interest in these stories, investigated too: their documentaries, news reports and articles supported the stories.

    But these were not a scandal. They were not even national news. Any more than the killing of a young Hindustani man running from police in The Hague some years ago was national news. So most Dutch do not know about those stories or those documentaries, much less about the former police officers who have publicly confirmed the violence, harassment and racism they saw within the police force when they worked in this neighbourhood.

    The first reaction of the mayor, Jozias van Aartsen and the Chief of Police to the killing of Mitch Henriquez, then, was to deny fervently that this had anything to do with structural police racism or violence or that any such problem even existed. When pushed to explain the riots, the mayor blamed the heat wave. And Ramadan. And, as an afterthought, unemployment. He added, rather nonsensically, that actually Muslims were not allowed to riot during Ramadan. In any and all cases, racism had nothing to do with what happened, he declared. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte called the rioters “stupid morons,” declared their behaviour unacceptable and squarely supported – he said looking directly into the camera at one point – authority, the police and the mayor.

    The denials infuriated those concerned with what happened even more. Night by night, the protests grew, turned into riots, people pouring into the Painters’ Neighborhood from Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and farther afield. Plate glass windows were smashed, a theatre trashed, lighter fluid poured on policemen, stones and bottles thrown, bus stops and refuse burned on the streets. For the first time, the Netherlands had its own riots against police brutality and racism, joining Ferguson, Baltimore, Tel Aviv, Paris, London, Stockholm, Ürümqi, Singapore. The city was forced to bring in police from other cities, a general curfew was announced for the neighbourhood and mass arrests were carried out: all men, women, and children found outside locked up. Since then the police have been tracking down all the rioters and protesters they can find, going to cities across the land: in some cases in groups of 6 and 8, in plainclothes and their faces covered, to grab those they have identified; in other cases breaking roughly into homes late at night and early in the morning to nab others.

    A few days later the Greek protests against Europe’s austerity regime erupted. 

                   *                                  *                                   *

    One of the distinctive aspects of a hegemonic, repressive system is that it presents itself as the solution to the chaos it itself creates. It is no different with Neoliberalism.

    There is a deep fundamental blindness in our society to the violence that is being committed in its name, whether that name is “Europe” of “The Netherlands” or “The Hague.” Blindness by those living in white, middle-class European society, to the increasingly segregated, discriminated, hyper-surveilled, harassed and policed lives of those living in poor “black” neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods we need to understand both in the urban and in the continental sense.

    Within the context of a neoliberal Europe, “Greece” is a backward neighborhood. Think of the culturalist clichés of Greece: lazy, corrupt, recalcitrant, disruptive, irrational and dangerous to the future of Europe. Think of the treatment of the Greeks: the legislature bereft of its national sovereignty, forced to agree with any and all policing policies handed to it by the Troika, the people’s democratic right to representation, legitimation and protest pushed aside. Increasingly, full civil and social rights at both the local and the (inter)national levels are imagined to be the rights only of those conceived as economically “productive.” Rights are treated as something earned, like and alongside income, rather than inherent. Correspondingly, those dependent on the state, a drain on “our welfare”, see a cut-back in their rights, along with a cut-back in state support and welfare.

    Austerity entails not just economic belt-tightening, but also a constriction in the civil rights a state extends to its economically “backward” citizens and in the social life that it allows them. (We might recall here not only the structural disruption and harassment of youth hanging out on the streets or the police’s forced entries into homes that offer no resistance, but also a number of court cases now making the rounds in the Netherlands on whether those receiving benefits from the Dutch state – grandparents caring for their grandchildren and parents visiting their children while at work – are criminally negligeant in not reporting such family life as “work” to the Dutch state for which they are expected to demand payment, pay taxes and reduce their state benefits.)

    This structural blindness of our media, politicians, pundits and scholars – ensconced in a lack of contact and context – will make the stories that occasionally spurt out of these neighborhoods intuitively feel like an exception rather than like everyday life. Certainly not like our everyday life and relation to our state, our politicians and our police. This lack of lived experience with the violence of our state entails an almost inevitable blindness to the deepening divide between those our states protect and those whose life it represses, expels, and humiliates. A blindness even to the fact that our state and our society expels, represses and humiliates those who are economically vulnerable, who are brown, who are Muslim in the name of safeguarding us and our interests, whether or not we agree to that.

    Much like Tusk was blind to the violence austerity has brought to Greece, in our name.

                  *                                     *                                   *

    Malta. Coast guards unload body of migrant drowned in Mediterranean. Demotix/ Christian Mangion. All rights reserved.Each of these crises have very particular histories, different actors and institutions, all played out at different scales. None will be entirely or even easily comparable to any other. Yet still, the basic mechanism is one that we must see, namely this: our welfare is being traded for their equality.

    We have no way to speak of this in a serious and engaged public fashion. And that silence is deadly. Time and again, this is the basic failure of our politicians, media and pundits: they do not see what is happening, they cannot name it. They think the choice is between order and disorder; between respect for the law and its violation.

    What they do not see is that this disorder and lawlessness they perceive mimics the disorder of the power they represent. In The Hague: a local police force that for years has been making its own laws, violating the law and has put itself above the law. In Europe: an informal group, elected by none, making its own laws, violating international sovereignty, and putting itself above the law. In all cases, that is to say, at all the levels at which today we experience the reorganization of our lives – in our neighbourhoods, our work, our social life, our national systems and the European project itself – the effect is to discipline and suppress those formally enfranchised but informally disenfranchised by a neoliberal realpolitik that couples power, force and rights to economic success.

    For a long time, we have not wanted to choose. We have wanted to maintain both our welfare and their equality and thought this was possible. The riots in our cities and Europe’s crisis with Greece make clear, however, that we do have to choose if we do not want things to get worse before they get better. Which will come first: our welfare or their democratic equality? For how long will we let our states choke others in our name?

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Embracing the dissenting Jew (from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv) Charlie Hebdo – one week later The Goebbels effect Country or region:  EU Greece Netherlands Italy Topics:  Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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    Neoliberal realpolitik: choking others in our name

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 19:29

    This lack of lived experience with the violence of our state entails an almost inevitable blindness to the deepening divide between those our states protect and those whose life it represses, expels, and humiliates.

    July 9: ATM queue near Greek pro-EU rally with homeless man. Demotix/Chrissa Giannakoudi. All rights reserved.The project of Europe has transformed from one of collective liberation from war, poverty and brutality to one of nauseating inhumanity for the sake of maintaining our comfort and welfare. This is presented to us as an a-political matter: not an ideological choice made by politicians, but an economic necessity carried out pragmatically. In the process, there is an Orwellian inversion of terms, such that the failure of the euro is presented as success, oligarchy is presented as politically representative, democratic protest as disruptive and irrelevant, human suffering as a side-issue, sovereignty as the freedom to agree and submit, austerity as realistic, our self-interest as the same as that of banks and the corporate-political elite, and alternatives as non-existent.

    In other words, the neoliberalization of Europe is being presented to us as the solution to the very disorder and violence it itself produces. The policies, relations, privileges and humiliations this entails are driven by an alliance of north European politicians, global financial institutions and transnational corporations. These present the profit they derive from this arrangement as a form of disinterested ‘good management’ practice. The only future they can imagine is that of their own hegemony, a hegemony they imagine as gentle and noble. The fact that, like any hegemony, it can only be held in place by dint of force and destruction – descending at moments to ferocious barbarity – is literally unimagineable and unspeakable.

    Deadly fractures

    So, one of the most striking features of Europe’s Greek crisis has been the sludge of self-deceptive thinking sustaining Europe’s top negotiators with Greece. In a recent interview, Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister and head of the European Council, countered the widespread criticism that he has heard:

    “I can’t accept this argument, that someone was punished, especially Tsipras or Greece. The whole process was about assistance to Greece … When we discuss facts, deeds and numbers, this is the only number on the table: €80bn for Greek assistance, and quite soft conditions. Not only [soft] financial conditions, but political conditions — in fact, without collateral. Come on: what is the reason to claim it’s something humiliating for Greece, or this is punishment for Tsipras?”

    With friends like these, who needs enemies? The comment is striking not only for what it tells of Tusk’s position, but for getting to the heart of the fundamental questions about Europe that have been laid bare by the Greek crisis.

    Like so many crises, the conflict over how best to address the economic conditions of Greece did not so much come into existence ex nihilo as rudely tear away the veil of politeness masking evolved fractures, tensions and corruptions at work for many years.

    Fractures: over the question of how to relate the incommensurable social, political, economic and idealist yearnings of the European project; questions over how to distribute and direct the mass of power at Europe’s center; over the place of democratic principles and the agonistic politics they produce; over how to engage the national and cultural differences within Europe’s bounds and, ultimately, over the value of human life to Europe.

    After all, Tusk’s distance – and that of the entire Troika and Eurogroup - from the Greek people is literally deadly.

    Just to recap some numbers that have been common knowledge but which Tusk brackets - austerity measures imposed since 2010 have meant Greek minimum wages slashed by 20%, pensions and wages by up to 50%, while increasing unemployment to 25%; cutbacks in the health sector so deep they have led to exponential rises in infant deaths, HIV, and malaria; a near-doubling of suicides and a 250% increase in depression; and a host of obstacles for Greeks requiring medicine and medical care, from closing hospitals and shortages of medication to insufficient wages to pay for the medicines and care that are available. The more than 40 free community health clinics run and staffed by volunteers that have sprung up across country are both admirable and completely inadequate to the crisis. 100,000 businesses have gone bankrupt, 200,000 Greeks have emigrated, 50% of youth are unemployed. The lower middle class is being wiped out. Homelessness, previously negligible, has surged to more than 20,000 former homeowners without jobs or permanent shelter, while 30% of all Greeks are now living below poverty levels. 

    The new measures demanded by the Troika, measures Tusk played an important role in pushing on Greece, will make this worse still. Knowing all this and calling it “soft” while forcing the new measures on the Greeks against their express, democratic will is gratuitous, vicious inhumanity.

    Indeed, in another Europe, a Europe we have yet to make, this would be criminal.

    It would be criminal precisely for the reason that bad policies by politicians are not: the policies of the Troika and the Eurogroup have no political or democratic legitimacy but were born of informal alliances and backroom agreements by a small oligarchic clique, a center of power answerable to no one. Under such conditions – of governance without normative or democratic grounding – legal culpability is essential if we in any fashion take the notion of a humane, rather than vicious, Europe seriously.

    It is as if there is a vast, insurmountable wall: on one side stands Tusk with his single essential number -  €80 billion in aid – which he would like to have make any and all other numbers irrelevant. This side corresponds to the future Europe Schäuble has proposed, along the lines of an intensified political and economic union of the “powerful and disciplined” under German leadership and shorn of the euro’s southern appendages. On the other side stand the living, breathing human beings who will be made to pay for all this with their health, homes, labor, minds, bodies, social and political lives.

    Beyond left and right?

    Crucially, the European political parties that once would have resisted this – Labour and Christian Democrats – now have either joined in or simply stand aside. So, the head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, is a member of the once-powerful Dutch Labour Party that has shrunk precipitously since it has joined the Liberals in a coalition.  A loyal ally of Merkel and Schäuble – known to some as their “water carrier” – and a firm believer in the neutrality of neoliberal policies “beyond Left and Right”, Dijsselbloem’s clashes with Varoufakis during negotiations were notorious. Praised by Dutch media for being “stubborn as an ox” and cheered for standing with the greats of Europe, Dijsselbloem has been one of the fiercest implementers of the demands on Greece, deeply convinced of the irrelevance of all for which Labour once stood.

    This has cleared the way for a radical politics of dehumanization. A Neoliberal realpolitik. A realpolitik that in the name of Europe negates the Europe that gave birth to it: the Europe of democracy, solidarity and equality.

    One of the most striking statements Tusk makes in his interview is to warn us of the dangers of radicalizing anti-European ideologies that he perceives on the Left as well as Right. It reminds him, he says, of the darkest moments in European history when radicals of all stripes made common cause.

    What Tusk misses is that this radicalization – most especially the growing aversion of the Left and progressives more generally to Europe – is a reactive radicalization, a response to a radical Neoliberalism which he himself represents and enforces.

    In contrast to neoliberalization at the national level in democratic countries, the conditions imposed by the Troika and Eurogroup on Greece go much farther, much more quickly. They are both radical and revolutionary in forcing policies on Greece explicitly against the democratic wishes of the Greeks through the use of raw and unselfconscious threat (if the Greeks do not do what is demanded of them Europe will blow up their banking system).

    Sustaining this endeavor is the fantasy that the economic policies of the Troika supersede politics itself. Tusk himself asserts that there are no alternatives. The neoliberal conceit is precisely this: that its policies are not politics but the neutral application of invariant, impersonal and transcendent economic mechanisms. (A standpoint that suggests a striking relation of filiation between Neoliberalism and Marxism in this regard.) Tusk and his ilk fail to perceive how destructive of the social, civic, and ethical fabric of our societies these policies are because they are not destructive to their own social, civic and political rights, their own access to justice. Indeed, if anything, they expand them.

    A Faustian bargain

    In other words, Greece has exposed the raw split between Europe’s ethical and political core. While Europe’s formal ethics are those of inclusive human equality in diversity, dignity and security, the political ideology is one of socio-economic precarity and inequality, harsh realist politics, nationalist chauvinism, Calvinist discipline and punishment. Two visions for the future of Europe are increasingly clearly delineated: one which follows Schäuble’s fantasies for an intensified political and economic union of Europe’s rich few and another that reconfigures a future Europe along the lines of its original values, willing to pay the price, quite literally, that it will take to make Europe more egalitarian, inclusive, diverse and humane.

    At its most reductive, this is an economic calculation that conceives of wealth and value according to a highly limited set of monetary and financial terms, a calculation that, as it were, reduces the value of human life and a nation’s capital to the strength of the euro. The alternative is a calculus that understands wealth to entail not money and finance as such, so much as cultural, social, political, and environmental welfare. It is the question of whether Europe’s economic riches are to be at the service of its welfare, broadly and humanely conceived, or whether such dynamic welfare is to be sacrificed for a punishing, raw economy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

    This condition in which we find ourselves marks the coming to fruition of arguments and policies tried out elsewhere for the last three decades and now making their way into Europe’s heartland. Until now, their objects have been those most distant from us: far away, in Third World countries subjected to the rapacious incisions of the IMF and World Bank; closer by in the East Bloc countries subjected to a ferocious liberalization after the Cold War; and closer yet, along our borders, extending into the inner reaches of our cities, in the regimes that have sprung up to control, exploit and expel poor people from beyond Europe when and where they seek entry into what is considered to be “ours”.

    Until now, the preeminent guinea pigs of neoliberal realpolitik in Europe have been those who are not yet, are not completely or will never be the citizens of Europe.

    The Faustian bargain offered by Neoliberalism has been that of increasing Europeans’ socio-economic precarity – displacing national states’ commitment to the welfare of the people by a concern for the welfare of corporations, banks, trade and financial flows – in exchange for maintaining a chauvinist commitment to national identity and cultural superiority.

    This comes at a time when national cultural and racial identities have been under pressure from two fronts: the global market and global migration. The market, to the extent that it is translated by national elites into projects of self-enrichment, is largely experienced as a domestic phenomenon connected to international flows. Migration, to the extent that it is translated by national elites into existential threats to the future of the nation, is largely experienced as an external invasion of alien bodies, races, ideas and lifeworlds.    

    Another way of putting this is this: given the choice between multiculturalism and marketization, our societies have overwhelmingly and rather consistently preferred the insecurities of the neoliberal market to the precarities of diversity.

    The fact that this is the deal being made has largely been hidden from our societies by the fact that it is bodies conceived as brown, alien, poor and Muslim – and correspondingly dangerous – that have been made to feel the most intense impact of Neoliberal policies. Precisely for this reason, those who are white and (still) middle class can imagine that neoliberalism entails the disciplining of the other to the benefit of its own welfare, even at the moment that its own welfare is shrinking.

    Just numbers

    Demonstration in Rome against migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean. Demotix/ Giuseppe Ciccia. All rights reserved.We see this in its most extreme form at Europe’s external borders, where the poverty of those who attempt to enter is sufficient, in and of itself, to justify their increasingly brutal and deadly exclusion. No other argument is needed today, other than simply their economic inferiority as this is linked, according to our society’s common sense, to the inferiority of their race, culture and religion. If only they would make their culture more like our own, they would not be poor, not need to migrate, not bother and threaten us.

    In this way, the deaths of the 20,000 migrants who have perished on Europe’s iron doorstep in the face of ever more stringent surveillance, policing, and legislation – barbed wire fences slicing feet, hands, grazing any bit of brown skin, border guards beating those they catch; whole seas and generations of fish fed on their drowned bodies; roads stained by their truck-crushed carcasses – all these dead are said to have only themselves to blame.

    As do, it is said, the countless others transported across the continent, to be fed into our sexual, agricultural, construction, and service machines, while they are milked for the profit to be squeezed from their bodies’ needs for sleep, food and shelter; if, at least, they do not want to become one of the thousands informally hunted down, harassed, beaten, raped and killed across our continent’s cities and countryside. Or simply forgotten, for years on end, in isolated asylum centers, to the point that they go mad, become ill, kill themselves or threaten others.

    There is no way to tell this story without it sounding overdramatized and emotional. Precisely because we already know all this. By now, this is just background noise to the public lives of our societies, a newsflash here and there, more faceless bodies and little more than bodies pressing in at our borders. Our politicians, our news, our legislation has been drained of affect towards undocumented migrants. They have no names, no faces and do not speak a tongue we know. As far as our politics are concerned, they are just numbers.

    Much like Greece today.

    That is to say: part of the shock of the moment is to see a European country and people treated as if they are a dark Third World (Muslim) one. To see the Greeks treated as a people that do not deserve to be European and must prove their intent to reform, to be disciplined, to earn our good graces. As a people that does not deserve the full palette of recognition, dignity, democratic self-assertion, and protection from exploitation that are the birthright of (white, middle-class, elite) Europeans. The invisible boundary that divided the world between the West and the poor, brown, Muslim Rest has been breached.

    Which is not to say Europe has not been practicing. On those who live in between. The poor, brown and Muslim semi-citizens of our inner cities.

    A few days before the Greek crisis broke, another crisis erupted in the Netherlands. The police in The Hague killed a brown man, a visitor from Aruba, one of the Dutch kingdom’s four countries. Mitch Henriquez was just leaving a summer music festival, being rowdy with his friends. The police told him to tone it down and move on. A minute later five policemen were sitting on him, then put him in the car in handcuffs to take him to the station. The next day he was dead.

    The Public Prosecutor’s Office sent out a press release. It said that Mitch Henriquez had become unwell in the car, the officers had tried to reanimate him, but that this had ultimately failed. None of this was of interest to any news media – as Holland’s one Black TV show host tweeted.

    Until a video appeared.

    On the video, one of the officers is choking Henriquez. By the time, the officers massed on his body step away, he is unconscious, head lolling, handcuffed body limp. The police do not do anything to care for him and keep at bay anyone else wanting to go to his aid. The video suddenly exposes for all to see that the police killed him and then blatantly lied to cover their tracks.

    July 4:100 protesters at death of Mitch Henriquez in police custody arrested. Demotix/ Geronimo Matulessy. All rights reserved.Protests are organized by anti-fascists, anti-racists and others, concerned citizens. They gather not in the neighborhood where the killing happened, but slightly to the west, in front of the police station of the “Painter’s Neighborhood.” Its streets named for the famous artists in Dutch history, the recent history of the neighborhood itself is rather infamous. One of the most thoroughly poor in all the Netherlands, struggling with unemployment, physical degradation, social isolation, and criminality, it has regularly been in the news. Its sizable pre-war Jewish population decimated, it has since the 1980s become home to 110 nationalities, many of them Muslim, many others Hindustani (the descendants of labourers brought from India to Suriname in the late nineteenth century).

    A reporter last year secured the neighbourhood’s infamy by revealing that one area was dominated by orthodox Muslims who harassed anyone not abiding by their strict rules of dress, behaviour and consumption. Even people walking their dogs were scared. And the police did not dare to interfere. The area was dubbed a “Little Caliphate” and the “Sharia Triangle.” Days after the article appeared, Dutch ministers and politicians appeared as well to inspect this travesty. It became international news, there were debates in Parliament: it was a national scandal. Some ISIS supporters from outside the neighbourhood thought this was a good moment and place to demonstrate their affiliation. A nationalist Dutch far-right group immediately countered with its own plans. For publicists, politicians, media and people across the land, the Sharia Triangle became Holland’s name for all it feared: Islamic orthodoxy and Islamic radicalism; recruitment of youth for Jihad in the Middle East; women’s religious and cultural oppression; the erasure of Dutch culture, norms and neighborhoods by immigrant ones; the creation of parallel societies and legal systems; and migrant criminality.

    And then it was discovered the entire article was made up.

    Completely made up. By a Hindustani-Dutch journalist who in recent years had become expert at delivering the quotes and stories his editors wanted, especially ones relating to minorities to which white journalists lacked access, by inventing sources no one could trace. No such thing as a Sharia Triangle existed anywhere in the Painters’ Neighborhood or in The Hague or in the Netherlands. Nowhere.

    Crucially, what was not news during all this time, was the repressive profiling, surveillance and violence applied by the police to discipline and punish residents in the Painters’ Neighborhood. In an interview the city’s Chief of Police implied that Moroccans were barbarians, genetically predisposed to be more violent. A local grassroots organization in the Painters’ Neighborhood, the “Action Committee to Restore Trust” had begun collecting accounts of police violence and harassment in an attempt to get authorities at the national level to address the problem. Stories of spontaneous police violence – broken bones, hernias, bruised ribs, torn ligaments, wounded men repeatedly untreated for hours, then dumped barefoot on the street; stories of denigrating insults and populist racism; and stories of active collusion, obstruction and harassment of residents by police when residents lodged complaints. Local journalists, taking an interest in these stories, investigated too: their documentaries, news reports and articles supported the stories.

    But these were not a scandal. They were not even national news. Any more than the killing of a young Hindustani man running from police in The Hague some years ago was national news. So most Dutch do not know about those stories or those documentaries, much less about the former police officers who have publicly confirmed the violence, harassment and racism they saw within the police force when they worked in this neighbourhood.

    The first reaction of the mayor, Jozias van Aartsen and the Chief of Police to the killing of Mitch Henriquez, then, was to deny fervently that this had anything to do with structural police racism or violence or that any such problem even existed. When pushed to explain the riots, the mayor blamed the heat wave. And Ramadan. And, as an afterthought, unemployment. He added, rather nonsensically, that actually Muslims were not allowed to riot during Ramadan. In any and all cases, racism had nothing to do with what happened, he declared. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte called the rioters “stupid morons,” declared their behaviour unacceptable and squarely supported – he said looking directly into the camera at one point – authority, the police and the mayor.

    The denials infuriated those concerned with what happened even more. Night by night, the protests grew, turned into riots, people pouring into the Painters’ Neighborhood from Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and farther afield. Plate glass windows were smashed, a theatre trashed, lighter fluid poured on policemen, stones and bottles thrown, bus stops and refuse burned on the streets. For the first time, the Netherlands had its own riots against police brutality and racism, joining Ferguson, Baltimore, Tel Aviv, Paris, London, Stockholm, Ürümqi, Singapore. The city was forced to bring in police from other cities, a general curfew was announced for the neighbourhood and mass arrests were carried out: all men, women, and children found outside locked up. Since then the police have been tracking down all the rioters and protesters they can find, going to cities across the land: in some cases in groups of 6 and 8, in plainclothes and their faces covered, to grab those they have identified; in other cases breaking roughly into homes late at night and early in the morning to nab others.

    A few days later the Greek protests against Europe’s austerity regime erupted. 

                   *                                  *                                   *

    One of the distinctive aspects of a hegemonic, repressive system is that it presents itself as the solution to the chaos it itself creates. It is no different with Neoliberalism.

    There is a deep fundamental blindness in our society to the violence that is being committed in its name, whether that name is “Europe” of “The Netherlands” or “The Hague.” Blindness by those living in white, middle-class European society, to the increasingly segregated, discriminated, hyper-surveilled, harassed and policed lives of those living in poor “black” neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods we need to understand both in the urban and in the continental sense.

    Within the context of a neoliberal Europe, “Greece” is a backward neighborhood. Think of the culturalist clichés of Greece: lazy, corrupt, recalcitrant, disruptive, irrational and dangerous to the future of Europe. Think of the treatment of the Greeks: the legislature bereft of its national sovereignty, forced to agree with any and all policing policies handed to it by the Troika, the people’s democratic right to representation, legitimation and protest pushed aside. Increasingly, full civil and social rights at both the local and the (inter)national levels are imagined to be the rights only of those conceived as economically “productive.” Rights are treated as something earned, like and alongside income, rather than inherent. Correspondingly, those dependent on the state, a drain on “our welfare”, see a cut-back in their rights, along with a cut-back in state support and welfare.

    Austerity entails not just economic belt-tightening, but also a constriction in the civil rights a state extends to its economically “backward” citizens and in the social life that it allows them. (We might recall here not only the structural disruption and harassment of youth hanging out on the streets or the police’s forced entries into homes that offer no resistance, but also a number of court cases now making the rounds in the Netherlands on whether those receiving benefits from the Dutch state – grandparents caring for their grandchildren and parents visiting their children while at work – are criminally negligeant in not reporting such family life as “work” to the Dutch state for which they are expected to demand payment, pay taxes and reduce their state benefits.)

    This structural blindness of our media, politicians, pundits and scholars – ensconced in a lack of contact and context – will make the stories that occasionally spurt out of these neighborhoods intuitively feel like an exception rather than like everyday life. Certainly not like our everyday life and relation to our state, our politicians and our police. This lack of lived experience with the violence of our state entails an almost inevitable blindness to the deepening divide between those our states protect and those whose life it represses, expels, and humiliates. A blindness even to the fact that our state and our society expels, represses and humiliates those who are economically vulnerable, who are brown, who are Muslim in the name of safeguarding us and our interests, whether or not we agree to that.

    Much like Tusk was blind to the violence austerity has brought to Greece, in our name.

                  *                                     *                                   *

    Malta. Coast guards unload body of migrant drowned in Mediterranean. Demotix/ Christian Mangion. All rights reserved.Each of these crises have very particular histories, different actors and institutions, all played out at different scales. None will be entirely or even easily comparable to any other. Yet still, the basic mechanism is one that we must see, namely this: our welfare is being traded for their equality.

    We have no way to speak of this in a serious and engaged public fashion. And that silence is deadly. Time and again, this is the basic failure of our politicians, media and pundits: they do not see what is happening, they cannot name it. They think the choice is between order and disorder; between respect for the law and its violation.

    What they do not see is that this disorder and lawlessness they perceive mimics the disorder of the power they represent. In The Hague: a local police force that for years has been making its own laws, violating the law and has put itself above the law. In Europe: an informal group, elected by none, making its own laws, violating international sovereignty, and putting itself above the law. In all cases, that is to say, at all the levels at which today we experience the reorganization of our lives – in our neighbourhoods, our work, our social life, our national systems and the European project itself – the effect is to discipline and suppress those formally enfranchised but informally disenfranchised by a neoliberal realpolitik that couples power, force and rights to economic success.

    For a long time, we have not wanted to choose. We have wanted to maintain both our welfare and their equality and thought this was possible. The riots in our cities and Europe’s crisis with Greece make clear, however, that we do have to choose if we do not want things to get worse before they get better. Which will come first: our welfare or their democratic equality? For how long will we let our states choke others in our name?

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Embracing the dissenting Jew (from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv) Charlie Hebdo – one week later The Goebbels effect Country or region:  EU Greece Netherlands Italy Topics:  Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Ukrainian refugees in Russia receive a mixed welcome

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 16:54

    Many people took refuge in Russia after fleeing eastern Ukraine last summer. Their experiences are far from uniform.

     

    While the West thinks Russia is fighting a war with Ukraine, and Moscow calls the conflict a ‘civil war’, civilians continue to flee the combat zone in eastern Ukraine.

    Last summer, many people made their way to the border crossing at Rostov, and from there—across Russia.

    Ukrainians have been coming to work in Russia for a long time. If you take into account labour migrants from Ukraine (of which there are 3.6m), there are almost five million Ukrainians living in Russia. And for many Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens, Moscow was the only place they could move after the outbreak of war in the east.

    But how have Ukrainians fared here, in a country where ‘Banderites’ (followers of Stepan Bandera) and ‘supporters of Maidan’ are far from popular?

    Give evidence or else

    At the start of July, Sergei, 25, who left for Moscow after war broke out in south eastern Ukraine, received a call from the district Prosecutor’s Office.

    They invited Sergei to give evidence as part of a criminal investigation into war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military in Donbas. If Sergei didn’t co-operate, they said sternly, he would be issued a summons.

    Moscow sky-line. Yuree Markevich / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

    ‘The questions were like: have you heard anything about the use of weapons, which aren’t sanctioned by the OSCE? Have I, my property or my family suffered as a result of the war?’ remembers Sergei.

    ‘After every question, I wrote that I didn’t know anything, or if I did, I found it out from the press, and then signed my name,’ explains Sergei, one of many Ukrainians in Moscow who have received these invitations. ‘I was told they want to question as many people as possible, and then send the case to court. Straight off, the investigator said that this was all a formality.’

    Sergei comes from the port city of Nikolaev (Mykolaiv) on the Black Sea coast, and he is sure that the prosecutor’s office found his telephone number via the Federal Migration Service (FMS), who have a record of him.

    ‘They didn’t ask any informal questions, they just asked me what I plan to do next,’ remembers Sergey.

    ‘I told them [the investigators] the truth: I want to stay here and work. No one asked why I came here. Obviously, no one wants to die in a war. Some people go to Europe, other people come here, and then there are those who are buried somewhere in Odessa. A friend of mine went to fight as a volunteer. He died on his first mission.’

    ‘There’s no work for us here’

    Sergei left his home town of Nikolaev just as the draft was kicking in. Indeed, despite the fact Sergei was a student and is exempt from military service, a draft summons was delivered to his address shortly after he moved to Moscow.

    Sergei tells me that many of his acquaintances fled to Moscow to avoid the draft. People are sympathetic to his plight, he notes, when he tells them where he’s come from and why he left.

    Nikolaev is a rail and sea transport hub on Ukraine's Black Sea coast. Torpedolov Ukraine / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

    However, in a new town, and with Ukrainian citizenship, people aren’t having much luck when it comes to jobs: they have to choose between working as a loader or a courier.

    Employers want Russian citizens. For them, Ukrainians are labour migrants just like citizens of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan—the traditional means of low-skilled labour. As a result, Sergey hasn’t managed to find a job, and now makes his money by busking.

    ‘There’s no work for us here,’ says Sergei. ‘One guy, he’s over 50, left so he didn’t have to fight. He’s an engineer, but the only work for people like us is unskilled labour—bring this, bring that. But still, it’s better than being at the front. At the start, they told us they’d mobilise us for a month, then six months. The lads who wound up in the army last year are still there.’

    Regardless of the conflict in Ukraine’s south east, Sergei doesn’t consider himself a ‘traitor’, although he admits that his friends who stayed behind have called him one.

    ‘They called me a renegade, of course. I had one really unpleasant conversation with a neighbour when he saw a picture of me on Red Square. Another one asked me not to shoot at them after I’m called up to the DPR [Donetsk People's Republic] militia, but I’m not planning on joining them at all.’ Sergei was never interested in politics, and saying that he isn’t planning to return to Nikolaev any time soon.

    All of Sergei’s relatives have left Nikolaev, though his mother recently visited home. ‘She went back,’ Sergei tells me. ‘She said that the local television had changed its tune. Before, everyone said they were against Russia, but now they criticise the new government too. The country is in crisis, default, pensions aren’t being paid.'

    ‘A neighbour of ours, a school teacher, lost her job after she refused to sign a document saying she would instill a real national spirit in her students, that’s how they got her. On the whole, I don’t miss that Ukraine.’

    ‘Later that night they started to shell our side of town’

    So far, it seems the Prosecutor’s Office is only searching for witnesses in Moscow. Refugees living in other cities have not been questioned.

    For instance, Tatyana Sukhinova, 34, who now lives in the small village of Luknovo some 300km east of Moscow. Originally from Amvrosievka, a town halfway between the Russian border and Donetsk, Tatyana is from a mixed Russian-Ukrainian family.

    Amvrosievka has been shelled since 15 June 2014 (both sides have blamed one another). ‘I was at my mum’s dacha [country house] at the time,’ Tatyana remembers, ‘and later that night they started to shell our side of town. There were Ukes [Ukrainians] with guns all over town. You’d be walking along and you wouldn’t know whether you’d get home or not. Everyone was scared, praying that their house wouldn’t be shelled and that they’d remain alive.’

    Tatyana decided to evacuate after a shell hit her home. ‘I remember the border crossing clearly, the moment itself. Back then loads of people wanted to get across in time—some by bus, others by car. People, including us, were traveling without even knowing where they were going.

    ‘When I crossed the border, I felt a pain in my heart: where am I going, what will happen next, how I’m going to look after my children, how will we live. My eyes were constantly full of tears, though I tried not to cry. Not a happy time whatsoever.’

    Tatyana arrived in Moscow a month later, and migration service officials requested she fill in a pile of documents. She had to negotiate a place for her children Snezhana and Valentin on her own. ‘It was only thanks to some good people that my children didn’t have to sleep on the street, and I could get my bearings,’ Tatyana recalls. 

    ‘People say we’re the reason there’s a crisis in Russia’

    After the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbas, when thousands of people made their way to central Ukraine or neighbouring regions in Russia, numerous volunteer initiatives were set up to help refugees. For several months, refugees from the war lived in tents while volunteers identified potential housing for them. Several of these projects are also involved in supporting the unrecognised republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.

    Today, Sofia, Tatyana’s 14-year-old daughter, is waiting for her mother in Rostov, the largest city near the border between Russia and Ukraine. 

    When the refugees tried to cross, the border guards didn’t let Tatyana’s older daughter through: Sofia has her father’s surname, and she didn’t have a document certifying his permission. 

    Soon, Tatyana will go to Rostov to collect her daughter, and then on to the border crossing in order to extend her migration card, otherwise she faces a fine. Tatyana also has to travel to Amvrosievka to receive her children’s school certificates: without them, Sofia will have to repeat the seventh grade.

    ‘If I’m honest, I really don’t know how we’re going to survive’ 

    Meanwhile, Tatyana has to receive a temporary residence permit before September. She has to undergo a medical examination and sit exams on Russian history, language, and literature. 

    The examination costs 2,700 roubles (£28) per individual family member, and the tests will come to 7,500 roubles (£79) in total: money this family doesn’t have. ‘If I’m honest, I really don’t know how we’re going to survive,’ says Tatyana, a single mother. ‘I can’t find the money we need to continue living in Russia.’

    Tatyana earns 5,000 roubles (£52) per month working as a seamstress at a linen factory, and she earns extra, waitressing at two cafes on the highway. Here, she receives 350 roubles (£3.70) a day for waitressing, washing dishes and cleaning.

    Tatyana couldn’t find work immediately. She lost her job at a plastic bottle factory due to the economic crisis: her employers prefer to keep the local workers. ‘We are living in another country and among different people, who hate us, and it seems like it’s a bad dream. There are thousands of people like us in every town. You just want to wake up and return to your old life. We aren’t having an easy time of it here, of course, but there’s no way back for us either.'

    ‘The hardest thing in my life is losing everything: home, friends, family,’ Tatyana reflects. ‘And to find yourself in another country where nobody needs you, apart from your children. Here in Russia, wherever I work, there are people who say we’re [Ukrainians] the reason there’s a crisis in Russia. And now we’ve come in droves, asking for help.

    ‘At first, even my kids had conflicts with their new classmates—they’d overheard their parents. Some people hate the fact that Ukrainians have come here en masse. They accuse me of being responsible for the unemployment rate, and that Putin is sending truckloads of humanitarian aid to the Ukrainians instead of helping his own people and his own state. Although to be fair, people helped us in the beginning with firewood and getting the kids into school.’

    ‘This is all fascism’ 

    Many refugees or the volunteers who help them refused to comment: they’re afraid of ‘provocations’. 

    For instance, one woman who left Donestk for Russia has been attacked from the other side: ‘I posted an announcement on the internet. Someone rang me on the pretext of helping me and asked for my address. Then they called us traitors, and promised to come with guns and get my children.’

    ‘This is all fascism,’ says Anastasiya Bykova. ‘Fascism, that’s the current situation in Ukraine.’ Bykova, 27, left the town of Slavyansk (Slovyansk) with her children after the separatists surrendered the town in July 2014. 

    Anastastiya Bykova (centre). Image courtesy of the author.

    Now, Anastasiya lives with other refugees in Serpukhov, a small town between Moscow and Tula. Despite her Russian sympathies, Anastasiya was denied official refugee status, and as a result she cannot find permanent employment.

    But the Prosecutor’s Office decided to get in touch all the same—perhaps given how close Serpukhov is to Moscow. ‘Our conversation started with a request to inform them of the last 10 years of my life, right up to how old I was when I gave birth, who the father was, why we divorced, what I’d lost and how I got here. 

    ‘They even asked about my previous husbands’ dates of birth. It was like I was at confession for two hours. Well, I told them that I’d realised back in May [2014] that this was real war. But all the same we weren’t ready to leave.’

    ‘Let’s just say that people don’t want to talk about this’ 

    It is not only Ukrainian refugees that are finding life difficult. In late July, Russia’s Federation Council publicised the so-called ‘patriotic stop list’, which declares 12 organisations ‘undesirable’, invites the justice ministries to investigate their activities, and stipulates fines and even prison time for people co-operating with them. 

    Aside from Open Society Foundations and the National Foundation for Democracy, the Ukrainian World Congress (Toronto) and the Ukrainian World Coordination Council (Kyiv) were also included on this list. The Ukrainian World Congress has partner organisations in 34 countries, including Russia. 

    Vladimir Girzhov. Image courtesy of the author.

    These developments have left some people in an uncertain situation. As Viktor Girzhov, co-chairman of Ukrainians of Moscow, explains, the Congress and Council co-ordinate activities all over the world, including a partnership with his organisation. Girzhov says that his group’s relationship with these organisations is no more than a partnership, and as part of this, he travels to meetings once a year. 

    Girzhov doesn’t receive a penny from foreign funding, and the last grant was given to hold a cultural festival in 2009. ‘You need to look at things how they really are, we’re not involved in any subversive activities,’ says Girzhov. 

    ‘But now they’ve searched the library of Ukrainian literature. The Ministry of Justice has refused us registration twice. We don’t doubt that they’ll refuse us again.

    ‘In the Far East, they sacked a choir manager after she visited Maidan, and in order for the choir to continue, they demanded she come out against the events in Kiev. I haven’t met any “curators”, but some people have had phone calls, and have been invited to meetings. Let’s just say that people don’t want to talk about this.’

    ‘There’s a tension in society, like before a storm’

    Everyone, it seems, has decided to lay low. No demonstrations are being held. Activists say that many people from Ukrainian organisations have left the regions, places like Tatarstan and Ekaterinburg. 

    ‘People who made their position clear before have gone quiet,’ admits Girzhov. ‘And that’s when you consider that we don’t conduct political activities, which could subvert Russia’s independence. After all, we’re all citizens of Russia. We just identify ourselves as Ukrainians, who speak their native language at home, and who observe tradition.’

    Girzhov says that the authorities are yet to demand demonstrations of loyalty from local Ukrainians. Instead, public officials are concerned only with preventing conflict.

    Girzhov is a frequent guest on Russian state television. Indeed, it’s thanks to Girzhov that discussion on talk shows is possible: often guests come on with exactly the same position.

    ‘On an everyday level, it feels like attitudes have gotten worse,’ says Girzhov. ‘There’s a tension in society, like before a storm. People who didn’t say anything against Ukrainians before are now very negative.'

    ‘They’re pleased that Russia took Crimea. For them, Russia should have taken almost all of Ukraine. You can find people who think like this even among distant relatives of mine. Just imagine: people who’ve lived for centuries together, who’ve fought together, are now at each other’s throats. The war in Donbas, Crimea, both of these events have divided Russian society.'

    ‘This is an abyss you just can’t cross. Now we have to build bridges. It seems like the search for enemies among Ukrainians has lost its shine. Compared to the annexation of Crimea last year, people are a bit tired of all this now.’

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Samara: ripples from the Ukrainian storm Will the patriotic stop list kill Russia’s NGOs? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Ukrainian refugees in Russia receive a mixed welcome

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 16:54

    Many people took refuge in Russia after fleeing eastern Ukraine last summer. Their experiences are far from uniform.

    While the West thinks Russia is fighting a war with Ukraine, and Moscow calls the conflict a ‘civil war’, civilians continue to flee the combat zone in eastern Ukraine.

    Last summer, many people made their way to the border crossing at Rostov, and from there—across Russia.

    Ukrainians have been coming to work in Russia for a long time. If you take into account labour migrants from Ukraine (of which there are 3.6m), there are almost five million Ukrainians living in Russia. And for many Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens, Moscow was the only place they could move after the outbreak of war in the east.

    But how have Ukrainians fared here, in a country where ‘Banderites’ (followers of Stepan Bandera) and ‘supporters of Maidan’ are far from popular?

    Give evidence or else

    At the start of July, Sergei, 25, who left for Moscow after war broke out in south eastern Ukraine, received a call from the district Prosecutor’s Office.

    They invited Sergei to give evidence as part of a criminal investigation into war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military in Donbas. If Sergei didn’t co-operate, they said sternly, he would be issued a summons.

    Moscow sky-line. Yuree Markevich / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

    ‘The questions were like: have you heard anything about the use of weapons, which aren’t sanctioned by the OSCE? Have I, my property or my family suffered as a result of the war?’ remembers Sergei.

    ‘After every question I wrote that I didn’t know anything, or if I did, I found out from the press, and then signed my name,’ explains Sergei, one of many Ukrainians in Moscow who have received these invitations. ‘I was told they want to question as many people as possible, and then send the case to court. The investigator said straight off that this was all a formality.’

    Sergei comes from the port city of Nikolaev (Mykolaiv) on the Black Sea coast, and he is sure that the prosecutor’s office found his telephone number via the Federal Migration Service (FMS), who have a record of him.

    ‘They didn’t ask any informal questions, they just asked me what I plan to do next,’ remembers Sergey.

    ‘I told them [the investigators] the truth: I want to stay here and work. No one asked why I came here. Obviously, no one wants to die in a war. Some people go to Europe, other people come here, and then there are those who are buried somewhere in Odessa. A friend of mine went to fight as a volunteer. He died on his first mission.’

    ‘There’s no work for us here’

    Sergei left his home town of Nikolaev just as the draft was kicking in. Indeed, despite the fact Sergei was a student and is exempt from military service, a draft summons was delivered to his address shortly after he moved to Moscow.

    Sergei tells me that many of his acquaintances fled to Moscow to avoid the draft. People are sympathetic to his plight, he notes, when he tells them where he’s come from and why he left.

    Nikolaev is a rail and sea transport hub on Ukraine's Black Sea coast. Torpedolov Ukraine / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

    However, in this new town, with Ukrainian citizenship, people aren’t having much luck when it comes to jobs: they have to choose between working as a loader or a courier. Employers want Russian citizens. For them, Ukrainians are labour migrants just like citizens of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan—the traditional means of low-skilled labour. As a result, Sergey hasn’t managed to find a job, and now makes his money by busking.

    ‘There’s no work for us here,’ says Sergei. ‘One guy, he’s over 50, left so he didn’t have to fight. He’s an engineer, but the only work for people like us is unskilled labour—bring this, bring that. But still, it’s better than being at the front. At the start, they told us they’d mobilise us for a month, then six months. The lads who wound up in the army last year are still there.’

    Regardless of the conflict in Ukraine’s south east, Sergei doesn’t consider himself a ‘traitor’, although he admits that his friends who stayed behind have called him one.

    ‘They called me a renegade, of course. I had one really unpleasant conversation with a neighbour when he saw a picture of me on Red Square. Another one asked me not to shoot at them after I’m called up to the DPR [Donetsk People's Republic] militia, but I’m not planning on joining them at all.’ Sergei was never interested in politics, and saying that he isn’t planning to return to Nikolaev any time soon.

    All of Sergei’s relatives have left Nikolaev, though his mother recently visited home. ‘She went back,’ Sergei tells me. ‘She said that the local television had changed its tune. Before, everyone said they were against Russia, but now they criticise the new government too. The country is in crisis, default, pensions aren’t being paid.'

    ‘A neighbour of ours, a school teacher, lost her job after she refused to sign a document saying she would instill a real national spirit in her students, that’s how they got her. On the whole, I don’t miss that Ukraine.’

    ‘Later that night they started to shell our side of town’

    So far, it seems the Prosecutor’s Office is only searching for witnesses in Moscow. Refugees living in other cities have not been questioned.

    For instance, Tatyana Sukhinova, 34, who now lives in the small village of Luknovo some 300km east of Moscow. Originally from Amvrosievka, a town halfway between the Russian border and Donetsk, Tatyana is from a mixed Russian-Ukrainian family.

    Amvrosievka has been shelled since 15 June 2014 (both sides have blamed one another). ‘I was at my mum’s dacha [country house] at the time,’ Tatyana remembers, ‘and later that night they started to shell our side of town. There were Ukes [Ukrainians] with guns all over town. You’d be walking along and you wouldn’t know whether you’d get home or not. Everyone was scared, praying that their house wouldn’t be shelled and that they’d remain alive.’

    Tatyana decided to evacuate after a shell hit her home. ‘I remember the border crossing clearly, the moment itself. Back then loads of people wanted to get across in time—some by bus, others by car. People, including us, were traveling without even knowing where they were going.

    ‘When I crossed the border, I felt a pain in my heart: where am I going, what will happen next, how I’m going to look after my children, how will we live. My eyes were constantly full of tears, though I tried not to cry. Not a happy time whatsoever.’

    Tatyana arrived in Moscow a month later, and migration service officials requested she fill in a pile of documents. She had to negotiate a place for her children Snezhana and Valentin on her own. ‘It was only thanks to some good people that my children didn’t have to sleep on the street, and I could get my bearings,’ Tatyana recalls. 

    ‘People say we’re the reason there’s a crisis in Russia’

    After the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbas, when thousands of people made their way to central Ukraine or neighbouring regions in Russia, numerous volunteer initiatives were set up to help refugees. For several months, refugees from the war lived in tents while volunteers identified potential housing for them. Several of these projects are also involved in supporting the unrecognised republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.

    Today, Sofia, Tatyana’s 14-year-old daughter, is waiting for her mother in Rostov, the largest city near the border between Russia and Ukraine. 

    When the refugees tried to cross, the border guards didn’t let Tatyana’s older daughter through: Sofia has her father’s surname, and she didn’t have a document certifying his permission. 

    Soon, Tatyana will go to Rostov to collect her daughter, and then on to the border crossing in order to extend her migration card, otherwise she faces a fine. Tatyana also has to travel to Amvrosievka to receive her children’s school certificates: without them, Sofia will have to repeat the seventh grade.

    ‘If I’m honest, I really don’t know how we’re going to survive’ 

    Meanwhile, Tatyana has to receive a temporary residence permit before September. She has to undergo a medical examination and sit exams on Russian history, language, and literature. 

    The examination costs 2,700 roubles (£28) per individual family member, and the tests will come to 7,500 roubles (£79) in total: money this family doesn’t have. ‘If I’m honest, I really don’t know how we’re going to survive,’ says Tatyana, a single mother. ‘I can’t find the money we need to continue living in Russia.’

    Tatyana earns 5,000 roubles (£52) per month working as a seamstress at a linen factory, and she earns extra, waitressing at two cafes on the highway. Here, she receives 350 roubles (£3.70) a day for waitressing, washing dishes and cleaning.

    Tatyana couldn’t find work immediately. She lost her job at a plastic bottle factory due to the economic crisis: her employers prefer to keep the local workers. ‘We are living in another country and among different people, who hate us, and it seems like it’s a bad dream. There are thousands of people like us in every town. You just want to wake up and return to your old life. We aren’t having an easy time of it here, of course, but there’s no way back for us either.'

    ‘The hardest thing in my life is losing everything: home, friends, family,’ Tatyana reflects. ‘And to find yourself in another country where nobody needs you, apart from your children. Here in Russia, wherever I work, there are people who say we’re [Ukrainians] the reason there’s a crisis in Russia. And now we’ve come in droves, asking for help.

    ‘At first, even my kids had conflicts with their new classmates—they’d overheard their parents. Some people hate the fact that Ukrainians have come here en masse. They accuse me of being responsible for the unemployment rate, and that Putin is sending truckloads of humanitarian aid to the Ukrainians instead of helping his own people and his own state. Although to be fair, people helped us in the beginning with firewood and getting the kids into school.’

    ‘This is all fascism’ 

    Many refugees or the volunteers who help them refused to comment: they’re afraid of ‘provocations’. 

    For instance, one woman who left Donestk for Russia has been attacked from the other side: ‘I posted an announcement on the internet. Someone rang me on the pretext of helping me and asked for my address. Then they called us traitors, and promised to come with guns and get my children.’

    ‘This is all fascism,’ says Anastasiya Bykova. ‘Fascism, that’s the current situation in Ukraine.’ Bykova, 27, left the town of Slavyansk (Slovyansk) with her children after the separatists surrendered the town in July 2014. 

    Anastastiya Bykova (centre). Image courtesy of the author.

    Now, Anastasiya lives with other refugees in Serpukhov, a small town between Moscow and Tula. Despite her Russian sympathies, Anastasiya was denied official refugee status, and as a result she cannot find permanent employment.

    But the Prosecutor’s Office decided to get in touch all the same—perhaps given how close Serpukhov is to Moscow. ‘Our conversation started with a request to inform them of the last 10 years of my life, right up to how old I was when I gave birth, who the father was, why we divorced, what I’d lost and how I got here. 

    ‘They even asked about my previous husbands’ dates of birth. It was like I was at confession for two hours. Well, I told them that I’d realised back in May [2014] that this was real war. But all the same we weren’t ready to leave.’

    ‘Let’s just say that people don’t want to talk about this’ 

    It is not only Ukrainian refugees that are finding life difficult. In late July, Russia’s Federation Council publicised the so-called ‘patriotic stop list’, which declares 12 organisations ‘undesirable’, invites the justice ministries to investigate their activities, and stipulates fines and even prison time for people co-operating with them. 

    Aside from Open Society Foundations and the National Foundation for Democracy, the Ukrainian World Congress (Toronto) and the Ukrainian World Coordination Council (Kyiv) were also included on this list. The Ukrainian World Congress has partner organisations in 34 countries, including Russia. 

    Vladimir Girzhov. Image courtesy of the author.

    This has left some people in an uncertain situation. As Viktor Girzhov, co-chairman of Ukrainians of Moscow, explains, the Congress and Council co-ordinate activities all over the world. Girzhov says that his group’s relationship with these organisations is no more than a partnership, and as part of this, he travels to meetings once a year. 

    Girzhov doesn’t receive a penny from foreign funding, and the last grant was given to hold a cultural festival in 2009. ‘You need to look at things how they really are, we’re not involved in any subversive activities,’ says Girzhov. 

    ‘But now they’ve searched the library of Ukrainian literature. The Ministry of Justice has refused us registration twice. We don’t doubt that they’ll refuse us again.

    ‘In the Far East, they sacked a choir manager after she visited Maidan, and in order for the choir to continue, they demanded she come out against the events in Kiev. I haven’t met any “curators”, but some people have had phone calls, and have been invited to meetings. Let’s just say that people don’t want to talk about this.’

    ‘There’s a tension in society, like before a storm’

    Everyone, it seems, has decided to lay low. No demonstrations are being held. Activists say that many people from Ukrainian organisations have left the regions, places like Tatarstan and Ekaterinburg. 

    ‘People who made their position clear before have gone quiet,’ admits Girzhov. ‘And that’s when you consider that we don’t conduct political activities, which could subvert Russia’s independence. After all, we’re all citizens of Russia. We just identify ourselves as Ukrainians, who speak their native language at home, and who observe tradition.’

    Girzhov says that the authorities are yet to demand demonstrations of loyalty from local Ukrainians. Instead, public officials are concerned only with preventing conflict.

    Girzhov is a frequent guest on Russian state television. Indeed, it’s thanks to Girzhov that discussion on talk shows is possible: often guests come on with exactly the same position.

    ‘On an everyday level, it feels like attitudes have gotten worse,’ says Girzhov. ‘There’s a tension in society, like before a storm. People who didn’t say anything against Ukrainians before are now very negative.'

    ‘They’re pleased that Russia took Crimea. For them, Russia should have taken almost all of Ukraine. You can find people who think like this even among distant relatives of mine. Just imagine: people who’ve lived for centuries together, who’ve fought together, are now at each other’s throats. The war in Donbas, Crimea, both of these events have divided Russian society.'

    ‘This is an abyss you just can’t cross. Now we have to build bridges. It seems like the search for enemies among Ukrainians has lost its shine. Compared to the annexation of Crimea last year, people are a bit tired of all this now.’

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Samara: ripples from the Ukrainian storm Will the patriotic stop list kill Russia’s NGOs? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    'Building A Better Future Through Civic Partnership'

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 16:04

    The Centre for Inclusive Futures is a small London-based development agency with the mission of supporting efforts to develop sustainable communities which include everyone as equal citizens.

    Its director, David Towell, has published a series of short articles which aspire to offer resources for local leaders actively engaged in advancing this mission. It has recently issued Building A Better Future Through Civic Partnership, a pamphlet which offers a framework for civil society associations and local government to work together in improving their localities.

    Other resources include Networking For Social Change, a complementary pamphlet (based on fieldwork in Colombia), and a full review of Robin Hambleton's excellent book Leading The Inclusive City. This and other material is available on-line in the Library of the Centre for Welfare Reform here.

    Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    'Building A Better Future Through Civic Partnership'

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 16:04

    The Centre for Inclusive Futures is a small London-based development agency with the mission of supporting efforts to develop sustainable communities which include everyone as equal citizens.

    Its director, David Towell, has published a series of short articles which aspire to offer resources for local leaders actively engaged in advancing this mission. It has recently issued Building A Better Future Through Civic Partnership, a pamphlet which offers a framework for civil society associations and local government to work together in improving their localities.

    Other resources include Networking For Social Change, a complementary pamphlet (based on fieldwork in Colombia), and a full review of Robin Hambleton's excellent book Leading The Inclusive City. This and other material is available on-line in the Library of the Centre for Welfare Reform here.

    Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Does the Polish left have a future?

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 15:31

    Poland’s left-wing parties have formed an electoral alliance to contest October's parliamentary election. However, the as-yet-unnamed coalition still faces formidable obstacles.

    Janusz Palikot in Bydgoszcz June 2013. Wikimedia/public domain.

    The rise and fall of Mr Palikot

    The Polish left is in deep crisis. For the last decade the political scene has been dominated by the centrist Civic Platform (PO), currently the main governing party, and the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main opposition grouping. Although it remains the main party on the left, the once-powerful communist successor Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which governed the country from 1993-97 and 2001-5, has been in the doldrums since its support collapsed in the 2005 parliamentary election, following a series of spectacular high level corruption scandals. At the most recent 2011 parliamentary poll the party suffered its worst ever defeat slumping to fifth place with only 8% of the vote.

    At the same time, a centre-left challenger emerged in the form of the anti-clerical liberal Palikot Movement (RP), created at the end of 2010 by Janusz Palikot, a controversial and flamboyant businessman and one-time Civic Platform parliamentarian, which came from nowhere to finish third in the 2011 election with just over 10% of the vote. However, Mr Palikot’s party failed to capitalise on its success, struggling with its political identity and finding it difficult to decide whether it was really a left-wing party at all or more of an economically and socially liberal centrist grouping.

    While Mr Palikot clearly had a talent for attracting substantial media interest, many Poles regarded him as an unpredictable maverick who would use coarse, often brutal, rhetoric, and they soon grew tired of his erratic behaviour and political zig-zags.

    At the end of 2013, Mr Palikot tried to re-invent his party as ‘Your Movement’ (TR). He promised to tone down the strong anti-clericalism and social liberalism on which his earlier electoral success was based while placing greater emphasis on free-market economics. He also tried to broaden his party’s appeal by contesting the May 2014 European Parliament (EP) election as part of the centre-left ‘Europa Plus’ electoral coalition. Palikot hoped to benefit from the (at least nominal) sponsorship of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a very popular Democratic Left Alliance-backed two-term President of Poland (1995-2005), who many commentators saw as one of the few politicians with the potential to transform the Polish left’s electoral fortunes.

    Re-branding the party further confused its remaining supporters, however. Furthermore, Mr Kwaśniewski’s involvement in ‘Europa Plus’ was half-hearted to say the least and, on occasion, he appeared more of a liability than an asset. In the event, the coalition finished seventh in the EP poll securing only 3.6% of the votes, while Your Movement’s parliamentary caucus imploded as most of its deputies defected to other parties.

    Presidential election disaster

    Meanwhile, Leszek Miller, party leader from 1997-2004, took over the leadership of the Democratic Left Alliance following its 2011 election drubbing. Miller is a wily political operator who, in his heyday, led the party to victory in the 2001 parliamentary election and served as prime minister from 2001-2004, overseeing Poland’s accession to the EU.

    Nonetheless, in spite of seeing off the challenge from Mr Palikot and emerging once again as the main standard bearer of the left, the Alliance continued to lag well behind the two main parties in the polls. It secured third place in the EP election but with only 9.4% of the vote (compared with 12.3% in 2009). 

    Worse was to come in last November’s local elections when the party finished fourth in the regional assembly polls (the best indicator of national party support), seeing its vote share slump from 15.2% in 2010 to only 8.8%. Critics argued that Miller looked increasingly like a figure from a by-gone era who lacked any clear strategic vision of how to expand the party’s support beyond its declining base of older voters linked to the previous communist regime. 

    Knowing that they faced almost-certain defeat, the Alliance struggled to find high profile, party-aligned figures willing to contest May’s presidential election. They ended up selecting a political unknown, 35-year-old historian and TV personality Magdalena Ogórek, as its candidate. Ogórek’s candidacy was designed to freshen-up the party’s image and open it up to a new generation of voters. Ogórek tried to portray herself as an anti-establishment figure who could articulate the concerns of the alienated Polish youth. However, although she generated huge media interest, much of this was due to her striking appearance and, lacking any real political experience, she ran a poor campaign that was dogged by controversy from the outset.

    Ogórek was much derided for her reluctance to answer questions in press conferences and give extended national media interviews. Her policy statements included a controversial pledge to re-write Polish law from scratch. She also disorientated left-wing and socially liberal voters by appearing to champion free market economic policies and taking an ambiguous stance on moral-cultural issues such as abortion and the role of the Catholic Church in public life. Although happy to draw on the Alliance’s funds and local organisational structures, Ogórek ran her campaign almost completely independently of the party and ended up distancing herself from the left by refusing to answer questions about whom she had voted for in the past.

    In the event, Ogórek obtained a humiliating 2.4% of the vote, the party’s worst ever performance in a national election. Miller, on the other hand, managed to see off a potential revolt against his leadership and forced his most high profile critic, former leader Grzegorz Napieralski, out of the party. Palikot’s performance was even worse, finishing seventh with only 1.4%.

    Two former Palikot Movement deputies who stood as independent left-wing candidates - veteran feminist campaigner Wanda Nowicka, who was supported by the small Labour Union (UP), and Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first trans-sexual parliamentarian and candidate of the tiny Green party (Zieloni) - could not even collect the 100,000 signatures required to get on the ballot paper.

    Searching for left unity

    The presidential election catastrophe - together with polls suggesting that no left-wing grouping, not even the Democratic Left Alliance, would cross the 5% threshold required for parties to secure parliamentary representation - confirmed the sense of deep crisis on the left. It seemed to convince many of its younger leaders that their only hope was to put aside their differences and contest the October 25th parliamentary election on a united ticket.

    The unity initiative was sponsored by the All-Poland Trade Union Agreement (OPZZ) federation, which has its origins in the previous regime. The initiative culminated in the Democratic Left Alliance, Your Movement and the Greens (joined later by other, smaller left-wing groupings) forming an electoral coalition known provisionally as the ‘United Left’ (Zjednoczona Lewica) on the basis of a rather vague 15-point minimum programme, whose details are not yet known.

    However, the United Left still faces a number of formidable obstacles. Firstly, a number of smaller left-wing parties have disassociated themselves from the initiative. These include the ‘Red-and-Whites’ (Biało-Czerwoni) - a new grouping set up last month by Mr Napieralski and former Your Movement spokesman Andrzej Rozenek, who resigned from the party following allegations of financial irregularities against Mr Palikot - and the ‘Together’ (Razem) party formed by a number of young, radical left intellectuals and modelled on the Spanish ‘Podemos’ movement.

    Both groupings refuse to be associated with any unity initiatives sponsored by the Democratic Left Alliance whom they accuse of having discredited the left. Although organisationally and financially stronger than any other left-wing grouping, during its eight years in office the Alliance neglected many issues important to the left. It also lacks credibility among many potential centre-left voters who view the party as simply an unprincipled life raft for former communist regime functionaries. 

    Moreover, because its weakness is the consequence of many years of ideological and personal divisions, the Polish left is characterised by deep animosities between its main protagonists. Indeed, such unity initiatives have often foundered on competing ambitions and personal rivalries, and the really tough negotiations, over the composition of the candidate lists are still to come. 

    Even if this difficult issue can be resolved, the problem with contesting the election as an electoral alliance is, apart from the fact that the new grouping lacks name recognition among voters, that under Poland’s election rules, a coalition needs to cross a higher 8% threshold to secure parliamentary representation.

    One way around this would be to register as a civic ‘electoral committee’ which would only be subject to a 5% threshold. This would not, however, be eligible for the generous state funding available to parties that secure more than 3% of the vote. Finally, even if it enters parliament, the left will still be a marginal actor; although, depending on how the battle between the two main parties plays out, it may emerge as a potential junior governing coalition partner.

    More broadly, while various surveys have put the number of Poles who identify themselves as being on the left at around 25-30%, the bigger, over-arching electoral-strategic challenge is to develop an appeal that can bring together its two potential bases of support: socially liberal and economically leftist voters.

    The kind of socially liberal voters who tend to be younger and better-off, prioritise moral-cultural issues, who would, in Western Europe, incline naturally towards left-wing parties, in Poland are often quite economically liberal as well. They were at one time Mr Palikot’s core electorate and many of them still support Civic Platform. Indeed, some analysts argue that the ruling party ‘borrowed’ many of these potential centre-left voters, who supported the grouping, as the most effective way of keeping Law and Justice out of office, and has no intention of giving them back!

    The economically leftist electorate, on the other hand, tends to be older and more culturally conservative. For this reason many of those who are nostalgic for the job security and guaranteed social minimum that they associate with the former communist regime often incline towards supporting right-wing parties such as Law and Justice.

    Arguably the only deep social roots that the Polish left, and Democratic Left Alliance in particular, have are among those steadily declining sections of the electorate that have some kind of sentiment towards, or interests linking them to, the previous regime, such as families connected to the military and former security services.

    Is a new formula needed?

    After a decade in the political wilderness, the Polish left is in dire straits and haunted by the spectre of an ‘Irish scenario’: where two centrist, broadly liberal-conservative parties dominate the political scene with the left a permanently marginalised third force. Indeed, there is a real possibility that there will be no left-wing parties represented in the Polish parliament after the October parliamentary election.

    The best that the Democratic Left Alliance, and Polish left more generally, can realistically hope for is that they recover enough ground to be a junior partner in a two or three-party Civic Platform-led coalition government. Indeed, some commenters argue that the demise of the Democratic Left Alliance and current left-wing elites is both inevitable and even desirable.

    Furthermore, they argue that the left needs to develop a completely new political formula and set of leaders - such as Barbara Nowacka, Your Movement’s media-friendly co-chair, who is tipped by many as a future leader of the Polish left - if it is renew itself and develop an effective long-term challenge to the Civic Platform-Law and Justice duopoly.

    If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Polish presidential election: the Left decides which Right wins Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Does the Polish left have a future?

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 15:31

    Poland’s left-wing parties have formed an electoral alliance to contest October's parliamentary election. However, the as-yet-unnamed coalition still faces formidable obstacles.

    Janusz Palikot in Bydgoszcz June 2013. Wikimedia/public domain.

    The rise and fall of Mr Palikot

    The Polish left is in deep crisis. For the last decade the political scene has been dominated by the centrist Civic Platform (PO), currently the main governing party, and the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main opposition grouping. Although it remains the main party on the left, the once-powerful communist successor Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which governed the country from 1993-97 and 2001-5, has been in the doldrums since its support collapsed in the 2005 parliamentary election, following a series of spectacular high level corruption scandals. At the most recent 2011 parliamentary poll the party suffered its worst ever defeat slumping to fifth place with only 8% of the vote.

    At the same time, a centre-left challenger emerged in the form of the anti-clerical liberal Palikot Movement (RP), created at the end of 2010 by Janusz Palikot, a controversial and flamboyant businessman and one-time Civic Platform parliamentarian, which came from nowhere to finish third in the 2011 election with just over 10% of the vote. However, Mr Palikot’s party failed to capitalise on its success, struggling with its political identity and finding it difficult to decide whether it was really a left-wing party at all or more of an economically and socially liberal centrist grouping.

    While Mr Palikot clearly had a talent for attracting substantial media interest, many Poles regarded him as an unpredictable maverick who would use coarse, often brutal, rhetoric, and they soon grew tired of his erratic behaviour and political zig-zags.

    At the end of 2013, Mr Palikot tried to re-invent his party as ‘Your Movement’ (TR). He promised to tone down the strong anti-clericalism and social liberalism on which his earlier electoral success was based while placing greater emphasis on free-market economics. He also tried to broaden his party’s appeal by contesting the May 2014 European Parliament (EP) election as part of the centre-left ‘Europa Plus’ electoral coalition. Palikot hoped to benefit from the (at least nominal) sponsorship of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a very popular Democratic Left Alliance-backed two-term President of Poland (1995-2005), who many commentators saw as one of the few politicians with the potential to transform the Polish left’s electoral fortunes.

    Re-branding the party further confused its remaining supporters, however. Furthermore, Mr Kwaśniewski’s involvement in ‘Europa Plus’ was half-hearted to say the least and, on occasion, he appeared more of a liability than an asset. In the event, the coalition finished seventh in the EP poll securing only 3.6% of the votes, while Your Movement’s parliamentary caucus imploded as most of its deputies defected to other parties.

    Presidential election disaster

    Meanwhile, Leszek Miller, party leader from 1997-2004, took over the leadership of the Democratic Left Alliance following its 2011 election drubbing. Miller is a wily political operator who, in his heyday, led the party to victory in the 2001 parliamentary election and served as prime minister from 2001-2004, overseeing Poland’s accession to the EU.

    Nonetheless, in spite of seeing off the challenge from Mr Palikot and emerging once again as the main standard bearer of the left, the Alliance continued to lag well behind the two main parties in the polls. It secured third place in the EP election but with only 9.4% of the vote (compared with 12.3% in 2009). 

    Worse was to come in last November’s local elections when the party finished fourth in the regional assembly polls (the best indicator of national party support), seeing its vote share slump from 15.2% in 2010 to only 8.8%. Critics argued that Miller looked increasingly like a figure from a by-gone era who lacked any clear strategic vision of how to expand the party’s support beyond its declining base of older voters linked to the previous communist regime. 

    Knowing that they faced almost-certain defeat, the Alliance struggled to find high profile, party-aligned figures willing to contest May’s presidential election. They ended up selecting a political unknown, 35-year-old historian and TV personality Magdalena Ogórek, as its candidate. Ogórek’s candidacy was designed to freshen-up the party’s image and open it up to a new generation of voters. Ogórek tried to portray herself as an anti-establishment figure who could articulate the concerns of the alienated Polish youth. However, although she generated huge media interest, much of this was due to her striking appearance and, lacking any real political experience, she ran a poor campaign that was dogged by controversy from the outset.

    Ogórek was much derided for her reluctance to answer questions in press conferences and give extended national media interviews. Her policy statements included a controversial pledge to re-write Polish law from scratch. She also disorientated left-wing and socially liberal voters by appearing to champion free market economic policies and taking an ambiguous stance on moral-cultural issues such as abortion and the role of the Catholic Church in public life. Although happy to draw on the Alliance’s funds and local organisational structures, Ogórek ran her campaign almost completely independently of the party and ended up distancing herself from the left by refusing to answer questions about whom she had voted for in the past.

    In the event, Ogórek obtained a humiliating 2.4% of the vote, the party’s worst ever performance in a national election. Miller, on the other hand, managed to see off a potential revolt against his leadership and forced his most high profile critic, former leader Grzegorz Napieralski, out of the party. Palikot’s performance was even worse, finishing seventh with only 1.4%.

    Two former Palikot Movement deputies who stood as independent left-wing candidates - veteran feminist campaigner Wanda Nowicka, who was supported by the small Labour Union (UP), and Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first trans-sexual parliamentarian and candidate of the tiny Green party (Zieloni) - could not even collect the 100,000 signatures required to get on the ballot paper.

    Searching for left unity

    The presidential election catastrophe - together with polls suggesting that no left-wing grouping, not even the Democratic Left Alliance, would cross the 5% threshold required for parties to secure parliamentary representation - confirmed the sense of deep crisis on the left. It seemed to convince many of its younger leaders that their only hope was to put aside their differences and contest the October 25th parliamentary election on a united ticket.

    The unity initiative was sponsored by the All-Poland Trade Union Agreement (OPZZ) federation, which has its origins in the previous regime. The initiative culminated in the Democratic Left Alliance, Your Movement and the Greens (joined later by other, smaller left-wing groupings) forming an electoral coalition known provisionally as the ‘United Left’ (Zjednoczona Lewica) on the basis of a rather vague 15-point minimum programme, whose details are not yet known.

    However, the United Left still faces a number of formidable obstacles. Firstly, a number of smaller left-wing parties have disassociated themselves from the initiative. These include the ‘Red-and-Whites’ (Biało-Czerwoni) - a new grouping set up last month by Mr Napieralski and former Your Movement spokesman Andrzej Rozenek, who resigned from the party following allegations of financial irregularities against Mr Palikot - and the ‘Together’ (Razem) party formed by a number of young, radical left intellectuals and modelled on the Spanish ‘Podemos’ movement.

    Both groupings refuse to be associated with any unity initiatives sponsored by the Democratic Left Alliance whom they accuse of having discredited the left. Although organisationally and financially stronger than any other left-wing grouping, during its eight years in office the Alliance neglected many issues important to the left. It also lacks credibility among many potential centre-left voters who view the party as simply an unprincipled life raft for former communist regime functionaries. 

    Moreover, because its weakness is the consequence of many years of ideological and personal divisions, the Polish left is characterised by deep animosities between its main protagonists. Indeed, such unity initiatives have often foundered on competing ambitions and personal rivalries, and the really tough negotiations, over the composition of the candidate lists are still to come. 

    Even if this difficult issue can be resolved, the problem with contesting the election as an electoral alliance is, apart from the fact that the new grouping lacks name recognition among voters, that under Poland’s election rules, a coalition needs to cross a higher 8% threshold to secure parliamentary representation.

    One way around this would be to register as a civic ‘electoral committee’ which would only be subject to a 5% threshold. This would not, however, be eligible for the generous state funding available to parties that secure more than 3% of the vote. Finally, even if it enters parliament, the left will still be a marginal actor; although, depending on how the battle between the two main parties plays out, it may emerge as a potential junior governing coalition partner.

    More broadly, while various surveys have put the number of Poles who identify themselves as being on the left at around 25-30%, the bigger, over-arching electoral-strategic challenge is to develop an appeal that can bring together its two potential bases of support: socially liberal and economically leftist voters.

    The kind of socially liberal voters who tend to be younger and better-off, prioritise moral-cultural issues, who would, in Western Europe, incline naturally towards left-wing parties, in Poland are often quite economically liberal as well. They were at one time Mr Palikot’s core electorate and many of them still support Civic Platform. Indeed, some analysts argue that the ruling party ‘borrowed’ many of these potential centre-left voters, who supported the grouping, as the most effective way of keeping Law and Justice out of office, and has no intention of giving them back!

    The economically leftist electorate, on the other hand, tends to be older and more culturally conservative. For this reason many of those who are nostalgic for the job security and guaranteed social minimum that they associate with the former communist regime often incline towards supporting right-wing parties such as Law and Justice.

    Arguably the only deep social roots that the Polish left, and Democratic Left Alliance in particular, have are among those steadily declining sections of the electorate that have some kind of sentiment towards, or interests linking them to, the previous regime, such as families connected to the military and former security services.

    Is a new formula needed?

    After a decade in the political wilderness, the Polish left is in dire straits and haunted by the spectre of an ‘Irish scenario’: where two centrist, broadly liberal-conservative parties dominate the political scene with the left a permanently marginalised third force. Indeed, there is a real possibility that there will be no left-wing parties represented in the Polish parliament after the October parliamentary election.

    The best that the Democratic Left Alliance, and Polish left more generally, can realistically hope for is that they recover enough ground to be a junior partner in a two or three-party Civic Platform-led coalition government. Indeed, some commenters argue that the demise of the Democratic Left Alliance and current left-wing elites is both inevitable and even desirable.

    Furthermore, they argue that the left needs to develop a completely new political formula and set of leaders - such as Barbara Nowacka, Your Movement’s media-friendly co-chair, who is tipped by many as a future leader of the Polish left - if it is renew itself and develop an effective long-term challenge to the Civic Platform-Law and Justice duopoly.

    If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Polish presidential election: the Left decides which Right wins Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Dozens of fathers among migrants to be forcibly deported tonight

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 15:00

    Men with strong family ties to the UK are being forcibly removed on ghost flights, leaving pregnant partners and young children behind.

    A coach pulls up at the plane, Stansted Airport 21:51, July 28, 2015 (PIC Daniel Trilling)

    UPDATE 21:24 Thursday 28 July: Unity Centre report that Fred, mentioned in this piece, has been occupying the roof of the courtyard at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre for the past couple of hours. Whenever Home Office officials try to come near him, he is threatening to jump, Unity says. A mattress has been placed in the courtyard below him: He has been living in the UK for more than 13 years, since he was 11 years old, and he knows no one in Sierra Leone where they are trying to remove him to. Yesterday Fred told Unity: “I am 24 years old and I have never been this scared in all my life.”

    PUBLISHED 16:00 Thursday 28 July: The Home Office is preparing to deport dozens of west African migrants on a specially chartered aircraft leaving Stansted tonight, bound for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gabon. Immigration officials have reportedly detained hundreds of people this month ahead of the flight.

    Many of the men booked on the flight are being separated from pregnant partners and young children, according to volunteers at the Unity Centre, Glasgow, who have spoken to deportees. They say that the the men, being held in London immigration lock-ups, expressed “terror and desperation at the prospect of being separated from established lives in the UK”. 

    Anthony* has a wife and two-year-old child who both have the right to remain in the UK. “We lost a baby in 2008, we visit the burial site regularly. They are trying to take me away from this,” Anthony told the Unity Centre. “Every time I call my wife my son is crying. It is very disheartening that a country that preaches human rights all over the world can do this. How can you split me from my family?”

    The Home Office claims Anthony poses a risk to society, after he was arrested for working without permission in 2010. Anthony said he was just trying to support his family.

    Another man booked on the flight, George, said: “I have been here for 11 years and I just don’t know what to do. I have nowhere else to go and I am not leaving my fiancée.” His partner is three months pregnant. She is an EU citizen, and the couple have an ongoing application to stay here under European laws.

    Charter Flight by Oviyan for Corporate Watch

    David will be separated from his pregnant partner, who is British. David told the Unity Centre, “I can’t believe that they won’t even let me see my daughter being born. I haven’t committed any crime in the UK.”

    Roland is being taken to Ghana tonight, leaving behind his daughter and sick partner after spending eight months in immigration detention. He says: “I can’t live without my daughter, she’s my everything, she’s my world. I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t know anyone back home.”

    Tom, who is being separated from his child, said: “The conditions here are appalling because the way we are being treated is just like animals. They don’t even practice human rights and people need to know about this.”

    One man booked on the flight, Steven, wanted to highlight what his fellow deportees were going through: “It is evil. That is the only adjective I can use to describe what is happening. People have families here. They have children here. They pay their taxes. They pay everything. Now because of one silly thing they want to take away people’s right of being with their family.”

    Fred, 24, faces deportation to Sierra Leone tonight, even though it is a country that the UK Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel, “except for those involved in the direct response to the Ebola outbreak”.

    Fred said: “I have never been this scared in all my life”. He says he knows no one in Sierra Leone, and has lived in the UK since he was 11. He is being deported solely on the basis of intelligence supplied by the Metropolitan Police to immigration officials under Operation Nexus. That’s a joint police and Home Office scheme that puts Border Agency staff into police custody suites and permits the deportation of people only suspected of crime, without any judicial process.

    The Home Office started removing migrants by charter flights from secret locations in 2001. Up until March last year, almost 30,000 people had been removed by 800 flights, according to a Home Office response to an inquiry made under the Freedom of Information Act. The flights continued for a decade before independent inspectors were allowed on board, in 2011.

    The first reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons were not reassuring. On a deportation to Nigeria, a flight plan which the Home Office curiously code-names 'Operation Majestic', “inspectors were very concerned at the highly offensive and sometimes racist language they heard staff use between themselves. Quite apart from the offence this language may have caused to those who overheard it, it suggested a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude that did not give confidence that had a more serious incident occurred, it would always have been effectively dealt with.”

    Three years after that flight, Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick reported on the findings from a follow-up inspection:

    “While there were some noticeable improvements, especially in the attitudes and language of escort staff, several of our recommendations have had to be repeated verbatim this time. The distress of detainees undergoing removal is evident from the behaviours and accounts outlined in this report.”

    That report detailed the case of Ms D, a mentally ill Nigerian woman. When she heard that they were going to deport her, she told them she “had nothing in Nigeria” and threatened to kill herself if sent back. Ms D, “was at the extreme of non-compliance, resisting at every point and spitting at anyone who spoke to her”. So to get her out of the country, Home Office contractors placed her in “leg restraints for 10 hours 5 minutes and in handcuffs for 14 hours 30 minutes, continuously in each case.”

    Then: “Her head was restrained continuously for more than 45 minutes without sufficient testing of her compliance; her arms were restrained by some staff (but not others) throughout the flight, which was unnecessary; and at one point pain compliance was used when restraint would have sufficed.”

    According to the Chief Inspector’s report: “Half an hour later, she was sitting on the tarmac in front of the plane with nobody communicating with her. She took all the medication, including anti-psychotic drugs that the [Home Office] paramedics had handed to the local officials who had then passed it to Ms D.” 

    “Nigerian officials subsequently said that Ms D was unfit to remain in Nigeria and wanted her to return to the UK. They brought her to the foot of the aircraft front steps unclothed except for a towel around her shoulders as she had ripped her clothes off.”

    “Up to 30 local officials surrounded the foot of the stairs, one of whom pushed Ms D forward. She fell on to the stairs, grabbed the handrail and began to struggle. The aircraft commander, additional Tascor staff, pilot and paramedic all said that Ms D was unfit to fly and needed hospital attention, and approximately half hour later, an ambulance arrived.” (Tascor is the escort company, part of Capita).

    Ms D was taken to a local hospital and, according to the Home Office, “discharged on the same day”. The inspectors, “do not know what happened thereafter, or whether any dialogue has taken place between the Nigerian and British governments about the way that the incident was handled.”

    Those terrible things happened when a team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons was watching, and taking notes. Who knows what goes on when there are no independent witnesses aboard?

    *Note: All names have been changed. Thanks to Oviyan for his illustration. 

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Woman stands naked on airport runway, takes overdose The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told British government hires private jet to deport hunger-striker Isa Muazu Security industry provides medics for UK deportation flights When you've been tortured does it matter who your torturer was? Fail and prosper: how privatisation really works The national shame that is healthcare in UK immigration detention Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

    Dozens of fathers among migrants to be forcibly deported tonight

    Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. July 2015 - 15:00

    Men with strong family ties to the UK are being forcibly removed on ghost flights, leaving pregnant partners and young children behind.

    Charter Flight by Oviyan for Corporate Watch

    The Home Office is preparing to deport dozens of west African migrants on a specially chartered aircraft leaving Stansted tonight, bound for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gabon. Immigration officials have reportedly detained hundreds of people this month ahead of the flight.

    Many of the men booked on the flight are being separated from pregnant partners and young children, according to volunteers at the Unity Centre, Glasgow, who have spoken to deportees. They say that the the men, being held in London immigration lock-ups, expressed “terror and desperation at the prospect of being separated from established lives in the UK”. 

    Anthony* has a wife and two-year-old child who both have the right to remain in the UK. “We lost a baby in 2008, we visit the burial site regularly. They are trying to take me away from this,” Anthony told the Unity Centre. “Every time I call my wife my son is crying. It is very disheartening that a country that preaches human rights all over the world can do this. How can you split me from my family?”

    The Home Office claims Anthony poses a risk to society, after he was arrested for working without permission in 2010. Anthony said he was just trying to support his family.

    Another man booked on the flight, George, said: “I have been here for 11 years and I just don’t know what to do. I have nowhere else to go and I am not leaving my fiancée.” His partner is three months pregnant. She is an EU citizen, and the couple have an ongoing application to stay here under European laws.

    David will be separated from his pregnant partner, who is British. David told the Unity Centre, “I can’t believe that they won’t even let me see my daughter being born. I haven’t committed any crime in the UK.”

    Roland is being taken to Ghana tonight, leaving behind his daughter and sick partner after spending eight months in immigration detention. He says: “I can’t live without my daughter, she’s my everything, she’s my world. I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t know anyone back home.”

    Tom, who is being separated from his child, said: “The conditions here are appalling because the way we are being treated is just like animals. They don’t even practice human rights and people need to know about this.”

    One man booked on the flight, Steven, wanted to highlight what his fellow deportees were going through: “It is evil. That is the only adjective I can use to describe what is happening. People have families here. They have children here. They pay their taxes. They pay everything. Now because of one silly thing they want to take away people’s right of being with their family.”

    Fred, 24, faces deportation to Sierra Leone tonight, even though it is a country that the UK Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel, “except for those involved in the direct response to the Ebola outbreak”.

    Fred said: “I have never been this scared in all my life”. He says he knows no one in Sierra Leone, and has lived in the UK since he was 11. He is being deported solely on the basis of intelligence supplied by the Metropolitan Police to immigration officials under Operation Nexus. That’s a joint police and Home Office scheme that puts Border Agency staff into police custody suites and permits the deportation of people only suspected of crime, without any judicial process.

    The Home Office started removing migrants by charter flights from secret locations in 2001. Up until March last year, almost 30,000 people had been removed by 800 flights, according to a Home Office response to an inquiry made under the Freedom of Information Act. The flights continued for a decade before independent inspectors were allowed on board, in 2011.

    The first reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons were not reassuring. On a deportation to Nigeria, a flight plan which the Home Office curiously code-names 'Operation Majestic', “inspectors were very concerned at the highly offensive and sometimes racist language they heard staff use between themselves. Quite apart from the offence this language may have caused to those who overheard it, it suggested a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude that did not give confidence that had a more serious incident occurred, it would always have been effectively dealt with.”

    Three years after that flight, Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick reported on the findings from a follow-up inspection:

    “While there were some noticeable improvements, especially in the attitudes and language of escort staff, several of our recommendations have had to be repeated verbatim this time. The distress of detainees undergoing removal is evident from the behaviours and accounts outlined in this report.”

    That report detailed the case of Ms D, a mentally ill Nigerian woman. When she heard that they were going to deport her, she told them she “had nothing in Nigeria” and threatened to kill herself if sent back. Ms D, “was at the extreme of non-compliance, resisting at every point and spitting at anyone who spoke to her”. So to get her out of the country, Home Office contractors placed her in “leg restraints for 10 hours 5 minutes and in handcuffs for 14 hours 30 minutes, continuously in each case.”

    Then: “Her head was restrained continuously for more than 45 minutes without sufficient testing of her compliance; her arms were restrained by some staff (but not others) throughout the flight, which was unnecessary; and at one point pain compliance was used when restraint would have sufficed.”

    According to the Chief Inspector’s report: “Half an hour later, she was sitting on the tarmac in front of the plane with nobody communicating with her. She took all the medication, including anti-psychotic drugs that the [Home Office] paramedics had handed to the local officials who had then passed it to Ms D.” 

    “Nigerian officials subsequently said that Ms D was unfit to remain in Nigeria and wanted her to return to the UK. They brought her to the foot of the aircraft front steps unclothed except for a towel around her shoulders as she had ripped her clothes off.”

    “Up to 30 local officials surrounded the foot of the stairs, one of whom pushed Ms D forward. She fell on to the stairs, grabbed the handrail and began to struggle. The aircraft commander, additional Tascor staff, pilot and paramedic all said that Ms D was unfit to fly and needed hospital attention, and approximately half hour later, an ambulance arrived.” (Tascor is the escort company, part of Capita).

    Ms D was taken to a local hospital and, according to the Home Office, “discharged on the same day”. The inspectors, “do not know what happened thereafter, or whether any dialogue has taken place between the Nigerian and British governments about the way that the incident was handled.”

    Those terrible things happened when a team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons was watching, and taking notes. Who knows what goes on when there are no independent witnesses aboard?

    *Note: All names have been changed. Thanks to Oviyan for his illustration. 

    Sideboxes Related stories:  Woman stands naked on airport runway, takes overdose The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told British government hires private jet to deport hunger-striker Isa Muazu Security industry provides medics for UK deportation flights When you've been tortured does it matter who your torturer was? Fail and prosper: how privatisation really works The national shame that is healthcare in UK immigration detention Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
    Categories: les flux rss

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