Neal Ascherson https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/1594/all/democracy-protest/implacable_2950.jsp cached version 18/04/2018 05:19:53 en Is Britishness a generous thing, or has it damaged England? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/neal-ascherson-peter-oborne/is-britishness-generous-thing-or-has-it-damaged-england <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The Daily Telegraph's Peter Oborne and Scottish writer Neal Ascherson discuss national identity in light of the approaching referendum on Scottish independence. </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>The following is a transcript from this morning's Today programme, presented by Jim Naughtie. The Daily Telegraph's Peter Oborne and Scottish writer Neal Ascherson discuss national identity in light of the approaching referendum on Scottish independence. &nbsp;</strong></p><p><em>Jim Naughtie:&nbsp;What do you think England should think about the current imbroglio?</em></p><p>Neal Ascherson: They should welcome the end of a unified British state (not entirely unified anymore) because I think England has been in the long-term damaged by Britishness, and I think the departure of Scotland (as a lot of English people seem to see in a dim way) would be a liberation for England.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><em>JN: When you say departure, do you mean some kind of full independence rather than greater autonomy within a UK framework (known as devo max)?</em></p> <p>NA: I think either. But the fact that fiscal autonomy for Scotland, that Scotland would no longer appear to be a burden on English finances (it's a bit of a myth but nonetheless its widely believed), that would liberate the English to look at their own political structures and economic and social structures, in a new way.</p><p><em>JN:&nbsp;Peter Oborne do you agree with that?</em></p> <p>Peter Oborne: I think it's terribly sad what Neal Ascherson is saying. I don't think there's a conflict between Englishness and Britishness. But I do think the British identity elevates us, makes us more generous, more tolerant - and that doesn't just imply to England, where the English identity can often be rather selfish, inward-looking, you listen to these Tory voices, 'We can be in power forever if Scotland becomes independent', there's something very mean-minded about that, and all the economic voices, you know, we're spending money on Scotland: actually Britishness is a fantastically generous thing, it's a big thing.&nbsp;</p><p><em>JN:&nbsp;Neal?</em></p> <p>NA: I don't believe this thing about a one-party-state eventuating if Scotland left the Union. I think the idea that England by itself would be Tory for all time to come is not the case. I think that would be a huge challenge to ordinary English people to say that being a bit nationalistic about England and seeing our nation for what it is, is not something that should be left to football hooligans and people with the St George's Cross painted on their faces. It's something which middle-class, intellectual, intelligent, energetic, politically-minded people in England should get stuck into and start having an English idea about what the nation should be.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><em>JN:&nbsp;Do you think, Peter, that this is a process, whether it ends in Scottish independence, or in what we call devo max, one way of another, that is now inexorable?</em></p> <p>PO: Not at all, and I think one of the problems is that nobody yet has tried to defend the British idea: its about tolerance, decency, defence of the underdog. We came together against the -&nbsp;I can see you looking quizzically -</p><p><em>JN:&nbsp;...no I'm intrigued..</em></p><p>PO: You're looking quizzically at that.&nbsp;The idea that Britishness is about defending the underdog. We fought Hitler, we abolished slavery, we did this together. Scotland and England were both impoverished places before the Act of Union, as you a Scotsman who has a big British presence should be aware, should have the generosity to acknowledge.</p> <p><em>JN:&nbsp;I'm not taking a line on this, I'm interested, I'm intrigued by what you're saying.&nbsp;</em>&nbsp;</p> <p>PO: If you look at Scotland or England before the Act of Union we were narrow, on the margins of the world. Look what happened after the Act of Union, Edinburgh suddenly became a bit like Wittgenstein's Vienna - an absolute haven of talent and brilliance.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>JN:&nbsp;Voltaire said it was the most civilized city in Europe.</em></p> <p>PO: I think that if we England, if you Scotland, if Wales, Ireland, go our separate ways we'll diminish ourselves and we'll narrow our identities.&nbsp;</p><p><em>JN:&nbsp;Neal?</em></p> <p>NA: The difficulty about Britishness and British values, which Gordon Brown had a long crack at saying 'let's define what British values are', and he and some of his acolytes came up with a long list and they were all English values, and none the worse for that. If you say that tolerance...</p><p>?: (<em>indistinct</em>)</p> <p>NA: ...Who invented political tolerance? The English invented it, it's something which has taken roots with some difficulty in Scottish politics.&nbsp;</p> <p>PO: Hume was a Scottish philosopher, a British philosopher I would say.&nbsp;</p> <p>ENDS</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> England </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Scotland </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> </div> </div> uk uk Scotland England UK Culture Democracy and government Economics For England's Sake! Neal Ascherson Peter Oborne Tue, 17 Jan 2012 16:11:40 +0000 Neal Ascherson and Peter Oborne 63713 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A democracy of journalists https://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/democracy-of-journalists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The stramash over abuse of power and standards at Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp should reinvigorate the idea of journalists’ self-regulation, says Neal Ascherson. </div> </div> </div> <p>Who should regulate the media? Who should control the press? The commentariat agonises, as if the choice was between state control through some autocratic press law or a new Press Complaints Commission redecorated with false teeth. But there is another way. Let journalists regulate themselves.</p><p>Absurd? Wouldn’t this - to borrow Gordon Brown’s image – be inviting the rats to run the sewage industry? Not so. Imagine the <em>News of the World</em> running under a written agreement between staff and management which laid down explicit ethical standards, which banned criminal methods of newsgathering and which guaranteed immunity to journalists who refused to obey orders contrary to those standards and to their consciences. Which gave journalists a right of veto over the appointment and dismissal of editors. Which defined the political stance of the paper, and allowed the staff to defy a proprietor who tried to change it.</p><p>Let’s have a little democracy in the media. Even in the Murdoch papers, the number of journalists who are irretrievably lawless and callous is quite small. Most of the disasters at the <em>News of the World</em> happened because its editors treated their staff in the style of Muammar Gaddafi.</p><p>Some journalists found that arrogance thrilling (we are the most sceptical of professions, but also one of the most passive). Others balked at what they were expected to do, and were fired. Most saw things which told them that it would all end in tears, but shrugged and carried on with the job. Had that group of men and women been allowed an opinion, a protected right to say <em>No</em>! at critical moments, their paper would still be on the newsagents’ stands.<br /><em></em></p><p><em>The Fall of the House of Murdoch</em> is such melodrama – the tumbrils rattling daily to the guillotine, the enquiries and apologies sprouting like morning mushrooms, the politicians gabbling excuses, the pompous police commanders watching their trousers fall about their ankles - that the sheer spectacle makes it hard to plan ahead. But there’s an intense, incoherent feeling that phone-hacking, intimidation and bribery cannot be the best way to give the people the news. “The media can’t go on like this” - that old, familiar cry again. But how should they go on? And if journalism should be reined in, who should hold the reins?</p><p>All suggestions seem ridiculous or repellent. A new “regulatory body”? Laws passed by parliament to protect the privacy of the rich and powerful, or criminalising the printing of untruths? At the end of that road waits a chamber of licensed journalists - who can have their licences withdrawn for disrespect or “irresponsibility”. And such proposals assume the existence of a muscular state which can grip the flow of news as firmly if it were an adjustable bath-tap. In the day of the internet, this is belief in fairies.</p><p>So what about self-regulation by the hacks themselves - through journalists’ democracy? It may at first sound like a winsome lefty fantasy. But it’s not. It’s been tried and some variants of it have worked.</p><p><strong>The right of no</strong></p><p>In the 1970s, the Free Communications Group set about encouraging newsroom democracy in the British media. The <em>Times</em> set up an ‘editorial consultative committee’ composed of the editor and his team with twelve members chosen by the journalists. The <em>Guardian</em> agreed to have elected union representatives on the board and on the Scott Trust; the London staff demanded a veto over major editorial appointments (except for the editor). Similar initiatives began to take shape at the <em>Observer</em>, the <em>Sunday Times</em> and the <em>Daily Mirror</em>, and in some BBC news outfits.</p><p>Almost none of this survived in Britain. The onward march of Rupert Murdoch into Times Newspapers (1981) and the reign of Margaret Thatcher crushed all such experiments. The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association fought frantically to preserve the divine and absolute sovereignty of editors (qualified, naturally, by their subservience to owners), and covertly threatened the main funder of the Free Communications Group into cutting off its money. (“The FCG is a worse menace to a free press than the print unions“).<br /><br />But it was in continental Europe that the idea took off. In France, the “Paris May” saw the state broadcaster - ORTF - fall under a high-spirited, short-lived form of “workers’ control”. <em>Le Monde</em> adopted a complicated democratic constitution, fragments of which still survive. There were similar experiments in Italy in the 1970s. But it was West Germany that became the success story for “journalists’ power“. All over the country, newspapers, magazines and some broadcasters established democratic “constitutions” - the so-called <em>Statutenbewegung</em>. The movement went so far that a draft press law - never finally passed - would have required all media to accept “statutes” guaranteeing journalists a set of basic rights and a share in editorial control.<br /><br />While each model was individual, there was a common pattern. Each publication’s journalist staff would draw up a “statute” and present it to management, backed by the (usually unspoken) threat of industrial action if it was rejected. The staff would then elect an “editorial council” (<em>Redaktionsrat</em>) to represent the journalists in all major editorial and management decisions.<br /><br />A statute would usually begin with a wordy definition of what the publication was about: “independent … progressive liberal principles… an open democratic society“. Then there would follow a vital clause. This one comes from the <em>Stern</em> magazine agreement: “No staff member or contributor shall be obliged to do, write or be responsible for anything contrary to his (sic) own convictions. He shall suffer no disadvantages from a refusal“.<br /><br />Then came matters of control. Most of them were negative: rights of veto. Publishers and proprietors could nominate an editor, but no appointment or dismissal would be valid if two-thirds of the journalists voted against it. Much the same usually applied to senior editorial appointments.<br /><br />Almost all statutes insisted that the editorial council must be informed and consulted before any change of ownership took place - but stopped short of demanding a veto. There were better ways, in those radical years, of resisting a noxious takeover. In 1969, a proposal to sell <em>Stern</em> to a German equivalent of Richard Desmond collapsed when the entire staff signed a resolution stating that they would resign of the deal went through. <em>Le Monde’s</em> journalists, in contrast, protected their paper by securing half the voting shares in the company for an “employees’ cooperative“. Their example was soon followed by other French publications. <br /><br />Admittedly, these bold schemes happened in a time of political energy, imagination and optimism which now seems impossibly distant. Journalists back then were worried about changes in the structure of their industry, which seemed to threaten not only their jobs but their independence and their freedom to publish what they knew.<br /><br />New “multimedia concerns” were bursting into the market - international conglomerates combining print journalism, radio and television, publishing and perhaps hotel chains and nickel mines as well. These giants were taking over smaller, more traditional companies whose single interest had been their newspapers. But the new owners, preoccupied with so many diverse activities, cared about corporate profit at the expense of journalistic quality. The traditional “sovereignty” of editors was already becoming a bad joke, as proprietors forced them to take their titles downmarket. So, if an editor was becoming the captive of management, wasn’t it the duty of the journalists to march in and reinforce his or her independence?<br /><br />But they didn’t win. That is why we are in this crisis now. In the 1980s, the concentration of media ownership plunged ahead. The new proprietors - Robert Maxwell, Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch - imposed a tyrannical editorial culture, operated by mafia-like enforcers who demanded obedience or death. The National Union of Journalists, always dubious about “newsroom democracy” ideas, fought bravely against closures, sacking and victimisations, but could not halt or reverse these changes. A few upmarket newspapers kept out of the hands of the tycoons. The rest saw their standards slide.<br /><br /><strong>The rats and the <em>Rat</em></strong><br /><br />The Murdoch crisis is a revelation, but not a revolution. It shows with horrible clarity how corrupted public authority has become in Britain. But it may well change nothing. In a few years, politicians will be finding another media empire to cower before; the market in illegal information will pick up merrily; the British public will resume its bad habit of reading rubbish papers which are far less intelligent than their readers.<br /><br />And yet the Murdochs’ fall leaves a hole, a chance. “Something must be done to regulate the media”. New laws to limit cross-media ownership could be one good outcome. But another, more imaginative, would be to promote self-regulation by the journalists themselves.<br /><br />Don’t leave regulation to home secretaries, interior ministers, policemen or multimedia billionaire owners. That would produce a press corps of white mice. As the great reporter Nicholas Tomalin said, journalists need “rat-like cunning” to do their job. But rats are intelligent animals. And, given a chance, they can organise themselves to keep society clean.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. For many years he was foreign correspondent and then columnist for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <a href="http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/book/king-incorporated-leopold-ii-and-the-congo/1279504/"><em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a> (1963; Granta, 1999); <a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html"><em>The Struggles for Poland</em></a> (Random House, 1988); <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/blacksea"><em>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Strauss &amp; Giroux, 1996); and <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/stonevoices"><em>Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)</p><p>Also by Neal Ascherson in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p> <p>"<a href="faith-aboutfaith/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" (1 April 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="democracy-caucasus/georgia_2678.jsp">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (15 July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="democracy-protest/solidarity_2806.jsp">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>" (6 September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="democracy-protest/implacable_2950.jsp">Victory's lost sister - the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" (21 October 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="conflict-europe_islam/cartoons_3242.jsp">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (6 February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="conflict-terrorism/torture_3314.jsp">Torture: from regress to redress</a>" (1 March 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland's anguish</a>" (11 January 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="conflict-protest/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world</a>" (25 January 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp">Who needs a constitution?</a>" (22 May 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="article/globalisation/the_polish_march_students_workers_and_1968">The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968</a>" (1 February 2008)</p> <p>"<a href="article/after-the-war-recognising-reality-in-abkhazia-and-georgia">After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia</a>" (15 August 2008)</p> <p>"<a href="article/email/conor-cruise-obrien-the-irascible-angel">Conor Cruise O'Brien: the irascible angel</a>" (22 December 2008)</p> <p>"<a href="neal-ascherson/1989-how-it-ended">1989: how it ended</a>" (4 November 2009)</p> <p>"<a href="neal-ascherson/charles-de-gaulle-remembered">Charles de Gaulle remembered</a>" (18 June 2009)</p><p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/abkhazia-and-south-caucasus-west%E2%80%99s-choice">Abkhazia and the Caucasus: the west's choice</a>" (6 August 2010)</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> uk Civil society Democracy and government media & the net future of europe democracy & power europe Britain vs Murdoch Neal Ascherson Mon, 18 Jul 2011 16:33:17 +0000 Neal Ascherson 60480 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Abkhazia and the Caucasus: the west’s choice https://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/abkhazia-and-south-caucasus-west%E2%80%99s-choice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 refroze a region. The small Black Sea nation of Abkhazia is the key to its unblocking, says Neal Ascherson. </div> </div> </div> <p>“The gentle art of losing face / May one day save the human race” <br /><br />This was a favourite saying of Hans Blix, when he was head of the United Nations inspection <a href="http://www.orsam.org.tr/en/ourstaff.aspx">commission</a> in Iraq. He repeated it, no doubt sometimes under his breath, as he tried to persuade George W Bush and Tony Blair to back away from their proclamations that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”.&nbsp; <br /><br />But they preferred to save face and, as history will probably judge, to <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/24/iraq11">lose</a> Iraq, rather than admit that they might be mistaken. Today, there are several other places in the world where losing face - tearing up a&nbsp; bad policy - might well save a fair few members of the human race. One is <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/afghanistan-impossible-choice">Afghanistan</a>. Another is the south Caucasus. <br /><br />It is now two years since, on the night of 7-8 August 2008, the Georgians <a href="http://iwpr.net/report-news/eyewitness-carnage-tskhninvali">bombarded</a> Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, and the Russians responded by pouring their tanks into Georgia. The “who started it” <a href="http://www.ceiig.ch/Report.html">question</a> is still argued, but the heat has mostly gone out of it. Outside Georgia and Russia, the general view these days shares out the blame. The Georgian president, <a href="http://www.president.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&amp;sec_id=215">Mikheil Saakashvili’s</a> decision to attack was crazily provocative, while the Russians - who had been praying for just such a provocation - behaved unforgivably by turning retaliation into a crime of international aggression. But the question which now matters is how to clear up the mess that war left behind. <br /><br /><strong>The closing window</strong><br /><br />The mess has now congealed into hard-baked confrontation. On 5 July 2010, the United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton returned to Georgia to <a href="http://georgia.usembassy.gov/programs-and-events/embassy-news-2010/secretary-clinton-visits-tbilisi-july-5.html">reaffirm</a> American commitment to Georgia, and to challenge the Russians to&nbsp; end “the occupation of two breakaway Georgian regions” (South Ossetia and Abkhazia). This&nbsp; position, the so-called “defence of Georgia’s territorial integrity” has been maintained by the US, Nato and the European Union since the end of the August 2008 <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/alittlewarthatshooktheworld">conflict</a>. The “breakaway regions” phrase is still parroted almost daily by western politicians and journalists. To back away from this stance in public would certainly require a courageous loss of face. And yet&nbsp; the “territorial integrity” line is false, useless and dangerous (see “<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/after-the-war-recognising-reality-in-abkhazia-and-georgia">After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia</a>”, 15 August 2008). <br /><br />Neither of these territories&nbsp; - both ethnically distinct - wanted to be part of Georgia when the Georgians declared independence in 1991. Both fought vicious wars against Georgian encroachment in the next few years. Both have now been effectively independent for&nbsp; over fifteen ears, and there is no <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-georgia-russia-conflict-lost-territory-found-nation">prospect</a> of a Tbilisi government taking control of them except by the use of armed force. As that would precipitate another, perhaps even a deeper and more savage Russian invasion of Georgia, it is out of the question. American or <a href="http://new.interpressnews.ge/en/politics/18850-united-kingdom-supports-georgias-sovereignty-and-territorial-integrity.html">British</a> talk of “restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity” is therefore nonsense: at best hypocritical, at worst suicidally ignorant. <br /><br />But the differences between South Ossetia and <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abkhazia_map-fr.svg">Abkhazia</a> matter too. South Ossetia, with a mere 70,000 people, is not really a proposition. Its people, if they were ever allowed a free choice, would probably reject independence and join their North Ossetian relatives in the Russian Federation. <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3261059.stm">Abkhazia</a>, in contrast, has a <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_3525.jsp">plausible</a> future. It has about 250,000 inhabitants, the most beautiful stretch of the entire Black Sea coast, and rich sub-tropical agriculture. Most importantly, its people want to make a reality of their independence. They have no intention of&nbsp; letting the Georgians conquer them. To prevent that, they accept the presence of Russian troops and warships. But neither do they <a href="http://www.carnegieendowment.org/events/?fa=eventDetail&amp;id=2862">want</a> to become just one more slatternly Russian colony. They would like Abkhazia to become a small, free, prosperous Black Sea state with close links to Europe. <br /><br />That ought to be what the rest of the world wants for Abkhazia too. If “restoring” Georgian rule is a fantasy, then the next best thing must be to prevent Abkhazia falling irrevocably under Russian control. The window to achieve that is still open, but growing smaller all the time. An agreement for <a href="http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/After_the_War-14780">permanent</a> Russian naval and military bases at Ochamchira and Gudauta was negotiated this spring; Russian state railways have taken <a href="http://asbarez.com/62604/abkhazia-hands-airport-railway-to-russian-management/">control</a> of the line from the frontier near Sochi to the resort of Gagra, and a Russian trade delegation is now in Abkhazia discussing “joint” economic development. <br /><br />The immediate need is for the west to establish direct contact with Abkhazia - economic, social and cultural - and to secure sea access to Abkhazian ports. For over a <a href="http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/georgia-abkhazia/chronology.php">decade</a> after the independence war of <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_archive_4018.jsp">1992-93</a>, Abkhazia lived under a stifling international blockade, in which Russia took a leading part. Now, after Russia’s formal <a href="http://english.pravda.ru/russia/kremlin/26-08-2008/106214-russia_ossetia_abkhazia-0">recognition</a> of Abkhaz independence in August 2008, the little nation should on paper be free to open its own contacts with the outside world. It has so far failed to do so, partly because of furious Georgian objections but also because the Abkhazian government has been deplorably nervous of doing anything which might upset its Russian protectors. <br /><br />Turkey, now in the mood to <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/mariano-aguirre/iran-turkey-brazil-new-global-balance">explore</a> new foreign policies, has recently begun to develop an “unofficial” relationship with Abkhazia which may reduce the latter’s dependence on Russia. There has been a large Abkhaz <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav030909b.shtml">diaspora</a> in Turkey since the 19th century, and some of its enterprising members have begun to invest and even settle in the “old country”. The European Union ought to <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/katinka-barysch/eastern-europes-great-game">risk</a> Georgian protests and launch a modest contact programme - environment, health, theatres, education - which would help Abkhazia out of isolation. <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/55476/www.consilium.europa.eu/showpage.aspx?id=1037&amp;lang=EN">Peter Semneby</a>, the wise Swede who is the European Union’s special representative for the south Caucasus, has <a href="http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=15318879&amp;PageNum=15">spoken</a> of “engagement without recognition”. <br /><br /><strong>The escape-route</strong><br /><br />It’s a good time to&nbsp; change policy. Firstly, because there is&nbsp; growing realisation in Georgia itself that the two territories cannot be “recovered”. Mikheil Saakashvili’s government is still totally obdurate. But moderate opponents like <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20101">Irakli Alasania</a>, who negotiated with the Abkhazians in 2008, have said that the problems can be resolved by direct talks, and that “the Abkhazian side’s goal also is to create conditions for long-term stability”. And, as <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/author/donald-rayfield">Donald Rayfield</a> reports on <strong>openDemocracy</strong>, Georgian interest has shifted away from sacrificial posturing towards the thrills of economic transformation and money-making (see “<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/donald-rayfield/georgia-two-years-on-future-beyond-war">Georgia, two years on: a future beyond war</a>”, 5 August 2010). <br /><br />Secondly, because the west’s non-recognition of the territories, its stolid endorsement of the “breakaway regions” line is doing Georgia no favours. A nation thirled to <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/abhazia-and-south-ossetia-a-year-on">impossible</a> territorial claims which merely enrage its neighbours is a trapped nation, dependent on more powerful allies who may one day tire of those claims and leave their <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/Georgia_Coming_Back_In_From_The_Cold_/2106948.html">client</a> in the lurch. <br /><br />Sterile <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22555">talks</a> plod on. At Geneva, the discussion on “security and stability in Transcaucasia” has just held its twelfth <a href="http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=15350845&amp;PageNum=0">session</a>. The Abkhazians want an all-round agreement to renounce the use of force. The Georgians, trying to ignore the Abkhazians as <a href="http://www.unpo.org/members/7854">unrecognised</a> unpersons, say they will only sign an agreement with Russia. The Russians - sensibly - suggest that they all sign an agreement; but unilaterally, with international organisations such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (<a href="http://www.osce.org/georgia/13265.html">OSCE</a>) and not with each other. Nothing happens. <br /><br />Everyone, it seems, is gripped in the drying mud of frantic attitudes <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-guns-of-august-non-event-with-consequences">struck</a> two years ago. And yet any outsider can sketch an escape-route. America, impatient to reset relations with Russia, <a href="http://www.abkhazworld.com/headlines/502-abkhaz-president-responds-to-obama-administration-occupation-claim.html">stops</a> backing Saakashvili’s <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22569">rhetoric</a> and persuades Georgia to accept irreversible reality. The European Union opens a sub-recognition contact-programme with Abkhazia, and halts its absorption by Russia. Georgia follows the EU example, reopening transport, trade and cultural <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61639">links</a> with Abhkazia. Some of the Georgian and <a href="http://www.omniglot.com/writing/mingrelian.htm">Mingrelian</a> refugees who <a href="http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/georgia">fled</a> Abkhazia in 1993 begin to return, on condition that they recognise Abkhazia’s independence and take its citizenship. Abkhazia learns to welcome them as fellow-citizens, not saboteurs and subversives. <br /><br />The end product? A warm, even intimate relationship between two independent states in the south Caucasus - one larger, one smaller. Perhaps even a special relationship, for in the end the two societies have much in common. All it takes is the gentle art of losing face. But in the Caucasus, that’s an art with no teachers.&nbsp; <br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>BBC - <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/europe/2008/georgia_russia_conflict/default.stm">Georgia-Russia conflict </a></p> <p>Neal Ascherson, "<a href="http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n23/asch01_.html">A Chance to Join the World</a>", <em>London Review of Books</em>, 4 December 2008)</p><p><a href="http://www.therepublicofabkhazia.org/">Republic of Abkhazia</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.georgianbiography.com/index.html" target="_blank">Dictionary of Georgian National Biography&nbsp; </a></p> <p><a href="http://www.iwpr.net/">Institute for War and Peace Reporting </a></p> <p><a href="http://www.abkhazworld.com/">Abkhaz World</a></p> <p><a href="http://georgiamediacentre.com/">Georgian International Media Centre</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.berghof-center.org/std_page.php?LANG=e&amp;id=181&amp;parent=10">Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Dialogue </a></p> <p>Ronald Grigor Suny, <a href="http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=20864"><em>The Making of the Georgian Nation </em></a>(Indiana University Press, 1994)</p> <p><a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/">Civil Georgia</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.geotimes.ge/"><em>Georgia Times </em></a></p> <p>Vicken Cheterian, <em><a href="http://www.hurstpub.co.uk/BookDetails.aspx?BookId=500">War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia's Troubled Frontier</a></em> (C Hurst, 2009)&nbsp;</p> <p>Bruno Coppieters &amp; Robert Legvold, <a href="http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&amp;tid=10656"><em>Statehood and Security: Georgia after the Rose Revolution</em></a> (MIT Press, 2005)</p> <p>Ronald D Asmus, <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/alittlewarthatshooktheworld"><em>A Little War that Shook the World: Georgia, Russia, and the Future of the West </em></a>(Palgrave, 2010)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. For many years he was foreign correspondent and then columnist for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <a href="http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/book/king-incorporated-leopold-ii-and-the-congo/1279504/"><em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a> (1963; Granta, 1999); <a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html"><em>The Struggles for Poland</em></a> (Random House, 1988); <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/blacksea"><em>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Strauss &amp; Giroux, 1996); and <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/stonevoices"><em>Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)</p> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-aboutfaith/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" (1 April 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-caucasus/georgia_2678.jsp">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (15 July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/solidarity_2806.jsp">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>" (6 September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/implacable_2950.jsp">Victory's lost sister - the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" (21 October 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-europe_islam/cartoons_3242.jsp">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (6 February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-terrorism/torture_3314.jsp">Torture: from regress to redress</a>" (1 March 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland's anguish</a>" (11 January 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-protest/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world</a>" (25 January 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp">Who needs a constitution?</a>" (22 May 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/globalisation/the_polish_march_students_workers_and_1968">The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968</a>" (1 February 2008)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/after-the-war-recognising-reality-in-abkhazia-and-georgia">After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia</a>" (15 August 2008)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/conor-cruise-obrien-the-irascible-angel">Conor Cruise O'Brien: the irascible angel</a>" (22 December 2008)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/1989-how-it-ended">1989: how it ended</a>" (4 November 2009)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/charles-de-gaulle-remembered">Charles de Gaulle remembered</a>" (18 June 2009)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/donald-rayfield/georgia-two-years-on-future-beyond-war">Georgia, two years on: a future beyond war</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_future_3983.jsp">Abkhazia: land in limbo</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/georgia-after-war-the-political-landscape">Georgia after war: the political landscape </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/mikheil_saakashvili_s_bitter_victory">Mikheil Saakashvili’s bitter victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/caucasus_fractures/the-russia-georgia-tinderbox">The Russia-Georgia tinderbox </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_archive_4018.jsp">Abkhazia&#039;s archive: fire of war, ashes of history</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democracy-caucasus/russia_georgia_3961.jsp">Georgia and Russia: with you, without you</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/south-ossetia-the-avoidable-tragedy">South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/georgia-and-russia-again">Georgia and Russia, again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/georgia_s_arms_race">Georgia’s arms race</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/abhazia-and-south-ossetia-a-year-on">Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a year on</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/georgia_politics_after_revolution">Georgia: politics after revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/abkhazia-georgia-and-history-a-response">Abkhazia, Georgia, and history: a response </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/democracy_power/caucasus_fractures/georgia_democratic_stalemate">Georgia’s democratic stalemate</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/georgia-abkhazia-russia-the-war-option">Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/russian-war-and-georgian-democracy">Russian war and Georgian democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/after-the-georgia-war-the-challenge-to-citizen-action">After the Georgia war: the challenge to citizen action</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/europe-and-the-georgia-russia-conflict">Europe and the Georgia-Russia conflict</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-world-after-the-russia-georgia-war">The world after the Russia-Georgia war </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/georgia-the-rose-revolution-s-forgotten-legacy">Georgia&#039;s forgotten legacy </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/georgia-pluralistic-feudalism">Georgia&#039;s pluralistic feudalism: a frontline report</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-guns-of-august-non-event-with-consequences">The guns of August: non-event with consequences</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/russia-and-the-georgia-war-the-great-power-trap">Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Abkhazia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Abkhazia Conflict Democracy and government International politics caucasus: regional fractures democracy & power russia & eurasia europe Neal Ascherson Fri, 06 Aug 2010 22:58:47 +0000 Neal Ascherson 55476 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Charles de Gaulle remembered https://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/charles-de-gaulle-remembered <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A London radio broadcast on 18 June 1940 by an unknown French officer altered history’s course. It was also the first act in Charles de Gaulle’s extraordinary thirty-year role as national-political leader and embodiment of “a certain idea of France”. Neal Ascherson traverses a landscape of memory - from Greenock to Paris, Algiers to Warsaw - to recall his encounters with a colossus of French and European history. </div> </div> </div> <P>It’s seventy years since a reedy, strained voice came from the BBC in London, telling the French to fight on.&nbsp;Almost nobody in France <A href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8747121.stm">heard</a> it. Almost nobody in France had heard of General Charles de Gaulle, either.&nbsp;It was not even a great speech,&nbsp;but rather a set of quite disjointed, sometimes&nbsp;disconcerting remarks. But those who did hear the broadcast of 18 June 1940 picked out what mattered, and were astonished.</p> <P>“Is defeat final? No!”&nbsp;France was&nbsp; not alone. De Gaulle repeated that line: “<EM>La France n’est pas seule!</em>” With American and British&nbsp; industrial&nbsp;might, Germany could be overwhelmed. The&nbsp;tank-commander in him was speaking.&nbsp;“Vanquished today by mechanical force,&nbsp;in the future we will be able to overcome by a superior mechanical force”. He, General de Gaulle, was now in London. He <A href="http://www.charles-de-gaulle.org/pages/l-homme/dossiers-thematiques/1940-1944-la-seconde-guerre-mondiale/l-appel-du-18-juin/documents/l-appel-du-18-juin-1940.php">asked</a> French “officers, soldiers, engineers and specialised workers”&nbsp;to make contact with him.</p> <P>That was the&nbsp;Appeal of&nbsp;the Eighteenth of June 1940.&nbsp;A few days later, de Gaulle spoke again, and this time was heard much more widely. His oratory improved.&nbsp;Nonetheless, almost all the French soldiers and sailors stranded in Britain after&nbsp;Marshal Pétain’s surrender&nbsp;chose repatriation rather than Gaullist exile.&nbsp;One could go home&nbsp;to mum, or one could&nbsp;stay on to be bombed in this cold, perfidious country&nbsp;which&nbsp; - as they saw it - had deserted the French army at Dunkirk and then murdered the French navy at Mers-el-Kébir.&nbsp;In the summer of 1940, this choice seemed like a French no-brainer.</p> <P>And yet de Gaulle won through.&nbsp;The tiny&nbsp;faithful remnant who stuck by him gradually grew much larger. The <A href="http://www.appeldu18juin70eme.org/70eme-anniversaire">appeal</a>, dropped across France by the Royal Air Force,&nbsp;became a clandestine message of hope,&nbsp;then a call to resist and eventually a sacred text in the myth of post-war France.</p> <P>De Gaulle’s place in that myth, under the Cross of Lorraine,&nbsp;was finally secured&nbsp;when he stalked in triumph down the Champs Elysées in August 1944, while Nôtre-Dame was still echoing with the shots of&nbsp;German snipers.&nbsp;But looking back across his <A href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/gaulle_charles_de.shtml">life</a>,&nbsp;it’s probably true that there was never a time when most Frenchwomen and Frenchmen approved of him.&nbsp;He dominated by simply refusing to get out of the way.&nbsp;Even in the years when he was sulking at <A href="http://www.memorial-charlesdegaulle.fr/en/musee-presentation.html">home</a> at Colombey-les-deux-Églises,&nbsp;he was still somehow in the way -&nbsp; the long-nosed elephant in the sitting-room of the possible.</p> <P><STRONG>On history's back</strong></p> <P>He came and went in my own life. Sometimes I thought of him as a soldier to follow, sometimes as a&nbsp; great enemy&nbsp;with his big feet on democracy’s neck.&nbsp; When I was a child, he had come from London to inspect the Free French navy at Greenock, on the lower Clyde in west-central Scotland,&nbsp;and there was a big fuss among the French officers we knew. All I really remember is Françoise, daughter of the&nbsp;French base-commander. She was at school with my sister. Françoise had her&nbsp;black hair madly frizzed up and stuffed with ribbons in order to&nbsp;curtsey and present the general with a bouquet. There was a piece about Françoise in the <EM>Greenock Telegraph</em>.&nbsp;After de Gaulle’s visit, I conceded that she was a wee cracker.&nbsp;That was her opinion, too.</p> <P>My next contact was fifteen years later. I was a journalist on holiday in Paris, and it was May 1958.&nbsp;Violent mutiny broke out in Algiers. The parachute generals prepared to invade France, to muck out the dirty byre of democracy and replace it with discipline. Insane mobs&nbsp;swirled about Paris, gabbling about Algerians rallying to France, and <EM>tous français de Dunkerque à Tamanrasset</em>.&nbsp;One night,&nbsp;the paras seized Corsica.&nbsp;Leaflets from a fascistic “Committee of Public Safety” were flying about the pavements in Toulouse.</p> <P>By now, I had been attached to Darsie Gillie,&nbsp;the exuberant old Jacobite&nbsp;who was the <EM>Manchester Guardian</em> man in Paris. His friend Graham Greene rushed round, and we went for a walk in the&nbsp;Tuileries gardens while Greene chattered excitedly about the rebel generals in Algiers whom he had known in Indochina.&nbsp;But my job was not to stay in Paris with Darsie but to cover the provinces.</p> <P>Rushing about the land from Toulouse to Lille, from&nbsp;Colmar to Avignon,&nbsp;I saw the first signs of a revolution. French society in those days was still shaped by 19th-century divisions: a perforated sheet of paper with one half red, the other white. Everyone knew which side they would be on when the paper was parted along the&nbsp; perforation, and who to kill when the barricades went up.&nbsp;Especially in small towns,&nbsp;I saw the paper starting to tear. On one side, the Reds: those who believed in the Republic&nbsp;“united and indivisible”, in various forms of socialism, in lay state schooling and in the slogan <EM>le fascisme ne passera pas</em>! On the other side were the Whites: the pious&nbsp;and the propertied who sent their children to&nbsp;religious “free schools”, who hated the Republic as godless and without respect for order, who privately&nbsp;regarded&nbsp;the wartime Resistance as Communist-run banditry.</p> <P>Slowly, France was sundering once more along these antique faultlines. But then de Gaulle reappeared, after a decade of dudgeon at Colombey. At first,&nbsp; the Red side saw him as a right-wing dictator,&nbsp;opening the gates to the parachutists from Algiers. I thought so too.&nbsp;The&nbsp;trade unions prepared themselves for civil war.&nbsp;Then they hesitated.&nbsp;Soon after seizing power, de Gaulle grew evasive about the promises he had made to the Algiers mob. He was moving in a different direction.&nbsp;Jacques Soustelle, the cunning anthropologist who had <A href="http://fh.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/short/20/3/276?rss=1&amp;ssource=mfc">helped</a> him to power on the assumption that he supported the Algiers putschists,&nbsp;dashed round to see him. For a long time,&nbsp; he was left waiting in the hall. Then the General materialised at the top of a dark steep stairway. “<EM>Alors, Soustelle</em>!” (Nobody could pronounce&nbsp;<EM>alors</em> like de Gaulle).&nbsp;“<EM>Alors</em>, you have seen me!” He turned his back and vanished again.</p> <P>Things grew less alarming. De Gaulle took a <A href="http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?ParagraphID=olj">grip</a>. The Algiers officers were stuffed back into their box. And then de Gaulle, this profoundly conservative&nbsp; figure with “a certain idea of France”, an eternal France,&nbsp;went on to destroy for ever the old Red/White political and social pattern which had defined France since about 1830, perhaps since the Great Revolution. He created the Fifth Republic. It was - still <A href="http://www.fsu.edu/~icffs/event_fifthrepublic.html">is</a> - authoritarian, with heavy presidential powers. But it broke open doors in education,&nbsp;economic regulation, farming subsidies and much else, which meant that in the ten years between 1958 and 1968, France changed more than it had changed in the previous century.</p> <P>Soon, the Algiers box burst open again. There was another putsch, another threat that the mainland would be invaded by mutineers for whom de Gaulle had <A href="http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ac92#3126">now</a> become the arch-traitor.&nbsp;I stood in a crowded cafe watching the black-and-white TV&nbsp;as that big face leaned towards us: “<EM>Françaises! Français! Aidez-moi</em>!”&nbsp;Afterwards, we went across the river to the Petit-Palais and signed on for rifles,&nbsp;volunteers for the defence of Paris.</p> <P>What were we preparing to defend?&nbsp;Democracy?&nbsp;Not exactly.&nbsp;De Gaulle belonged&nbsp;to a very European class of ruler, the “Man on the White Horse”. These figures,&nbsp;who flourished mainly between about 1850 and 1945,&nbsp;were authoritarians who had arrived in power by&nbsp;usually unconstitutional means. Most of them had military or naval backgrounds. Their politics were patriotic, sometimes xenophobic, and they presented themselves as somehow incarnating “national character”.&nbsp;Their attitude to parliamentary democracy&nbsp; varied widely, between disgusted tolerance to dismissive impatience. Dictators?&nbsp; Not&nbsp;in the&nbsp;Hitler-Stalin-Mussolini model of absolute power enforced by state terror. But&nbsp;leading opposition to them could be dangerous, for&nbsp;politicians or editors.</p> <P><STRONG>The arc of power </strong></p> <P>De Gaulle reminded me of&nbsp;Józef Pilsudski, a classic White Horseman who had <A href="http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/pilsudski.htm">led</a> Poland back to independence in 1918 and then&nbsp;dominated it, erratically, until his death in 1935.&nbsp;He had retreated in a sulk to his own Colombey at Sulejówek,&nbsp;but when he came riding back in 1926 to snatch full power, there was much more bloodshed than de Gaulle caused in 1958. Verbally, <A href="http://www.pilsudski.org/English/Institute/Who-Who.htm">Pilsudski</a> was irascible and could be coarse. De Gaulle, in contrast,&nbsp;preserved glacial good manners. He had his own sinister squad of goons and heavies (the “Barbouzes”), but&nbsp;- unlike the Pole - he did not throw his opponents into internment-camps.</p> <P>The two men had known each other slightly.&nbsp;Charles de Gaulle had been a young officer on the French military mission to Poland in 1920, during the Polish-Soviet war. When he returned to Poland on a delirious state visit in 1966,&nbsp;some in Warsaw still remembered him. Known as <EM>Duzy Karolek</em> (Long Charlie), he could be seen on Sundays after Mass, a stork-like figure striding along fashionable Nowy Swiat with a tiny&nbsp;packet of cake from Blikle, the best <EM>patissier</em>,&nbsp;dangling from his gloved finger.&nbsp;I never found out the name of the Countess he was going to visit, but some very old Varsovians think they know.</p> <P>I went with his press party on that 1966 trip.&nbsp;The&nbsp;Poles were blissful: de Gaulle was the first European leader of a free country to visit them. Young men and some women wore imitations of his <EM>képi</em> military cap; known as a Degolówka, it was all the rage for months. The West Germans were furious, especially when he visited the once-German town of Hindenburg, which had become Zabrze, and boomed that it was <EM>la ville la plus polonaise de la Pologne</em>! (the most Polish town in Poland).</p> <P>That was overstating things. But de Gaulle grew very emotional in Poland, which he seemed to regard as a beautiful damsel he had once loved. Perhaps he was thinking of the pretty Countess waiting for her cake.&nbsp;But the idea was also in line with his Man-on-White-Horse habit of personalising nations, usually as females.</p> <P>Convinced that these nation-characters&nbsp;never really change, he grew dogmatic,&nbsp;sometimes blindly perverse,&nbsp;abut how other countries would behave. He was quite wrong about East Germany, which he perhaps imagined as some sort of Prussian Valkyrie in a breastplate.&nbsp;In a conversation with André Malraux about&nbsp;“the two Germanies”, he declared absurdly that “East Germany is the stronger. She will devour the other!”</p> <P>But about Britain – or England, as he liked to call her – he was more perceptive than the British like to admit. He admired the dogged courage and confidence, but identified the streak of&nbsp;ruthless national egoism (“British interests”) which would always make <EM>Angleterre</em> an uncertain partner. He also saw that the link between Britain and the United States&nbsp; was not simply rational, a matter of alliances and purposes, but something existential,&nbsp;an element inextricably lodged in the bone-marrow of&nbsp;London’s&nbsp;reactions to the outside world.&nbsp;That country could never be&nbsp;wholeheartedly committed to any united Europe.&nbsp;His vetoes on British entry to the European Economic Community, in 1963 and 1967,&nbsp;were futile in the short term. But the insight behind them has repeatedly turned out to be well-founded.</p> <P>He grew older and more remote.&nbsp;On two occasions, I was allowed to attend what were called “press conferences” in the Elysée.&nbsp;These were at once awesome and ridiculous.&nbsp;In a dark, thickly decorated salon, rows of tiny gilt chairs were set out&nbsp; under the chandelier. Trusted French journalists occupied the front seats. No questions were allowed, certainly not from foreigners. Instead, the president delivered two or three long speeches, apparently in response to prearranged enquiries commissioned from tame hacks.</p> <P>Then came the&nbsp;<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/institutions/may_68_remember_or_forget">upheavals</a> of May 1968. I arrived from Berlin with a bunch of German revolutionaries, to find that for the first time Charles de Gaulle and his Olympian style had become a joke. Nobody feared him, up to the moment when his nerve broke and he fled to the French army in Germany. He had no&nbsp;idea what was going on, describing events with the archaic term <EM>chienlit</em>, which can mean either shitting in one’s bed or&nbsp;sharing it with a dog. The Paris students were baffled by the expression, but it made them laugh and prompted some fine cartoons.&nbsp;I went back to <A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the_1968_debate_in_germany">Germany</a>, to discover much later that&nbsp;de Gaulle’s government had declared me a subversive agitator and prohibited immigrant.</p> <P><STRONG>The builder and the seer</strong></p> <P>That was my last encounter with him and his arrangements. His <A href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/28/newsid_2500000/2500927.stm">departure</a> in 1969 was inglorious, and he died almost at once.&nbsp;But de Gaulle’s&nbsp;Fifth Republic,&nbsp;though shaken by the 1968 events, has withstood the storms for over fifty years. The believer in <EM>la France éternelle</em> did paradoxically found a quite new France.&nbsp;And his foreign policies,&nbsp;often resented by&nbsp;France’s neighbours as bullying arrogance,&nbsp;have made the present European Union possible. De Gaulle’s 1963 treaty with Konrad Adenauer&nbsp;forged the Franco-German axle around which Europe still spins. And he persuaded the French to think of a united Europe as a French&nbsp;<EM>grand projet</em>,&nbsp;a design which would ensure the cultural and political pre-eminence&nbsp;of France throughout the continent. The euro, seen that way, is a prouder French symbol than the <EM>franc</em>.</p> <P>De Gaulle was a colossus for most of my life.&nbsp;Sometimes&nbsp;he was malign, sometimes worth dying for,&nbsp;sometimes maddeningly aloof and conceited. But I think of the scene when the Frenchwomen who had survived Ravensbrück were brought out of the train in Paris. De Gaulle was supposed to make a triumphalist speech of welcome, but when he saw them, he could only weep. I remember him looking out over sunlit crowds in Normandy and calling out in a strong voice to “<EM>votre belle et nombreuse jeunesse</em>”.&nbsp;And I think of his prose, for - like Pilsudski - he was a marvellous writer. This is what he wrote about the <A href="http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?groupid=2566&amp;HistoryID=ab03&amp;gtrack=pthc">fate</a> of his country seventy years ago&nbsp;this month:</p> <P>“Old age is a shipwreck. So that we should be spared nothing, the old age of Marshal Pétain&nbsp;would soon be identified with the shipwreck of France”.</p> <P>The man who wrote that understood the tempests of his century well.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Jonathan Fenby, <A href="http://books.simonandschuster.co.uk/General/Jonathan-Fenby/9780857200679"><EM>The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved </em></a>(Simon and Schuster, 2010)</p> <P><A href="http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/programme/charles-de-gaulle-london-and-the-resistance-1940-2010">Charles de Gaulle, London and the Resistance</a> (<EM>Institut Francais</em>, London, 15-18 June 2010)</p> <P><A href="http://www.appeldu18juin70eme.org/">18 June 1940, 70th annversary</a></p> <P><EM><EM><A href="http://www.elysee.fr/elysee/elysee.fr/anglais/the_elysee_palace/history_of_the_elysee_palace/history_of_the_elysee_palace.20248.html"><EM><EM>Élysée palace</em></em></a></em></em></p> <P>Roderick Kedward, <A href="http://www.booksonfrance.com/books/24108/Roderick-Kedward/La-Vie-En-Bleu/"><EM>La Vie en Bleu: France and the French since 1900</em></a> (Penguin, 2006)</p> <P>Sébastien Albertelli, <A href="http://www.charles-de-gaulle.org/pages/posts/atlas-de-la-france-libre-de-gaulle-et-la-france-libre-une-aventure-politique139.php"><EM>Atlas de la France Libre: De Gaulle et la France Libre, une aventure politique</em></a> (Editions Autrement, 2010)</p> <P><EM><BR /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. For many years he was foreign correspondent and then columnist for the (London) <EM>Observer</em>. Among his books are <A href="http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/book/king-incorporated-leopold-ii-and-the-congo/1279504/"><EM>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a> (1963; Granta, 1999); <A href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html"><EM>The Struggles for Poland</em></a> (Random House, 1988); <A href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/blacksea"><EM>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Strauss &amp; Giroux, 1996); and <A href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/stonevoices"><EM>Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)</p> <P>Also by Neal Ascherson in <STRONG>openDemocracy</strong>:</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-aboutfaith/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" (1 April 2005)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-caucasus/georgia_2678.jsp">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (15 July 2005)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/solidarity_2806.jsp">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>" (6 September 2005)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/implacable_2950.jsp">Victory's lost sister - the wreck of the <EM>Implacable</em></a>" (21 October 2005)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-europe_islam/cartoons_3242.jsp">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (6 February 2006)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-terrorism/torture_3314.jsp">Torture: from regress to redress</a>" (1 March 2006)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland's anguish</a>" (11 January 2007)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-protest/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world</a>" (25 January 2007)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp">Who needs a constitution?</a>" (22 May 2007)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/globalisation/the_polish_march_students_workers_and_1968">The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968</a>" (1 February 2008)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/after-the-war-recognising-reality-in-abkhazia-and-georgia">After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia</a>" (15 August 2008)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/conor-cruise-obrien-the-irascible-angel">Conor Cruise O'Brien: the irascible angel</a>" (22 December 2008)</p> <P>"<A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/1989-how-it-ended">1989: how it ended</a>" (4 November 2009)</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> uk France Democracy and government International politics people democracy & power france europe Neal Ascherson Fri, 18 Jun 2010 22:56:37 +0000 Neal Ascherson 54766 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Neal Ascherson https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/neal-ascherson <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Neal Ascherson </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Neal </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ascherson </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-country"> <div class="field-label">Country:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <P>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. For many years he was foreign correspondent and then columnist for the (London) <EM>Observer</em>. Among his books are <A href="http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/book/king-incorporated-leopold-ii-and-the-congo/1279504/"><EM>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a> (1963; Granta, 1999); <A href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html"><EM>The Struggles for Poland</em></a> (Random House, 1988); <A href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/blacksea"><EM>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Strauss &amp; Giroux, 1996); and <A href="http://us.macmillan.com/academictrade/stonevoices"><EM>Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. For many years he was foreign correspondent and then columnist for the (London) &lt;em&gt;Observer&lt;/em&gt;. Among his books are &lt;a href=http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/book/king-incorporated-leopold-ii-and-the-congo/1279504/&gt;&lt;em&gt;The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo&lt;/em&gt;&lt;/a&gt; (1963; Granta, 1999); &lt;a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html&gt;&lt;em&gt;The Struggles for Poland&lt;/em&gt;&lt;/a&gt; (Random House, 1988); &lt;a href=http://us.macmillan.com/blacksea&gt;&lt;em&gt;Black Sea&lt;/em&gt;&lt;/a&gt; (Farrar, Strauss &amp; Giroux, 1996); and &lt;a href=http://us.macmillan.com/stonevoices&gt;&lt;em&gt;Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland&lt;/em&gt;&lt;/a&gt; (Granta, 2003) </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Article license:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Neal Ascherson Thu, 17 Jun 2010 01:37:25 +0000 Neal Ascherson 53219 at https://www.opendemocracy.net 1989: how it ended https://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/1989-how-it-ended <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The wave of change across east-central Europe in 1989 was a real revolution - but with one missing feature. Neal Ascherson recalls a time of surprise and exhiliration. </div> </div> </div> <P class="Body">What amazes me now is how long it took us - we in the west - to see what was happening. For journalists, it was a case of a great story blotting out a world-changing one. The communist regimes of Europe were transforming themselves, quarrelling openly. In the first part of that <A href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7961732.stm">year</a>, the East Germans snarled at the Poles, the Hungarians&nbsp; hinted that they would license free political parties, the Czechoslovak regime became slightly more tolerant to protest demonstrations. It was all very exciting. Careful sources cultivated over years were suddenly becoming wildly indiscreet, while <A href="http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/content/politicalscience/9780192880529/toc.html">Mikhail Gorbachev</a> and his spokesmen muttered about “the Sinatra doctrine” (“I did it my way”).&nbsp; But it would be naive, wouldn't it, to think the Soviets meant literally that any communist country could now take any course without fear of Soviet tanks.</p> <P class="Body">So we thought that several nations - Poland, Hungary at least - would become almost free societies, communist in name and Warsaw Pact allegiance, but&nbsp; democratic in their tolerance of diversity. The <A href="http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/exhibits/intro/gdr">East Germans</a> and the Czechs would become angry and isolated,&nbsp; but would not succumb to the new freedoms around them. Above all, Moscow would never let go of Germany.&nbsp; Communism in Europe was braindead, but still had huge muscles.</p> <P class="Body">It wasn't until June that I realised what was <A href="http://www.berlin1989.com/histoire11.php?lang=EN">underway</a>. In the Europejski Hotel in Warsaw, we&nbsp; journalists read the inrush of election-result printouts and realised - suddenly - that&nbsp; Polish communism had collapsed. And even <A href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-polish-summer-1989-a-farewell-salute">then</a>, realising that a non-communist Polish government was about to upset the whole balance of Europe, we did not quite get it. Even then, none of us understood that the whole <A href="http://www.randomhouse.com/acmart/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679747802"><EM>imperium</em></a> from the Bug to the Rhine was no more than an old wasps' nest hanging from a roof - dried-out, abandoned by the stinging hordes, ready to fly to dust at a blow.</p> <P class="Body">But the people did <A href="http://www.goethe.de/ges/pok/dos/dos/mau/auf/en4739050.htm">get</a> it.&nbsp; They had lost something - not exactly their fear, but their patience. Suddenly it seemed unbearable to go on <A href="http://www.euranet.eu/eng/Dossier/The-fall-of-Communism">accepting</a> these systems, these portly little idiots in their blue suits, for another year, and then&nbsp; for another day, another hour. That special sort of impatience is the <A href="http://www.kingsmembers.org/news/28787/A-time-when-hope-replaced-repression-Ascherson-recalls.htm">power-surge</a> of revolution. As they poured into the streets in Leipzig and Prague and&nbsp; Tbilisi and Riga, did they think they might be shot? Yes, possibly. In <A href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7986282.stm">Georgia</a> and Latvia and Lithuania, many were. But, with their patience, the people in the street had also lost their respect for the men with guns, the portly idiots in uniform. They could kill, but they were no longer real. A <A href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7972232.stm">future</a> without them had all at once become very real.</p> <P class="Body">We know so much more now about <A href="http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/exhibits/intro/1989revolutions">how</a> 1989 happened. The fall of the wall was consequence, not&nbsp; cause: it was made inevitable by the opening of the <A href="http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/Infoservice/Presse/Reden/2009/090209-bmRunderTisch.html">Polish Round Table</a> the year before. Above all, by <A href="http://www.gorby.ru/en/rubrs.asp?rubr_id=310">Gorbachev</a>, who went round Europe and the world unlocking the gates and telling everyone that the tanks would not come. Western diplomats and journalists didn't take him seriously. The party leaderships beyond the Elbe did, and they knew real fear.</p> <P>It was a real revolution. But with one missing feature. That is the feeling in a people that “We have done it once, and if the new lot let us down, we can do it again!” It was that proud, menacing confidence which made the French revolution special. But it's not around in 21st-century Europe. After 1989, the people handed over liberty to the experts. Will they ever want it back?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-hayes/1989-moment-legacy-future">1989: moment, legacy, future </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-polish-summer-1989-a-farewell-salute">The Polish summer, 1989: a farewell salute</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/what-was-communism">What was communism? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/anthony-barnett/our-normal-revolutions-1989-and-change-in-our-time">Our normal revolutions: 1989 and change in our time</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> Neal Ascherson Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:27:39 +0000 Neal Ascherson 48906 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Conor Cruise O'Brien, the irascible angel https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/conor-cruise-obrien-the-irascible-angel <p> The great Conor Cruise O&#39;Brien climbed unsteadily onto a table in the senior staff club of Edinburgh University. We had all spent most of the day with him, arguing (it was in the late 1970s) about Scottish devolution. Conor had been obstinate, witty and useless, his phobia about all European nationalisms rendering him deaf to any suggestion that these demure Scottish aspirations were not yet another blood-and-soil crusade for ethnic exclusivity. There had followed a big lunch with much quaffing and mockery. He was meant to go to a waiting taxi, to conduct an interview with Radio Clyde. Instead, he mounted the table, and shouted in a high, ringing voice: &quot;I am Griboyedov!&quot;  </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> John Horgan, &quot;<a href="/article/email/conor-cruise-o-brien-a-protean-figure">Conor Cruise O&#39;Brien, a protean figure</a>&quot; (22 December 2008)</span>I never liked him better. No, he was not <a href="http://www.russia-ic.com/people/general/g/118/">Alexander Griboyedov</a>, the author of <em>Woe from Wit</em>. But something bound them together across over a century. The pen and the sword. Why should the artist and scholar not also be the man of action, the writer who was not afraid to tie his beliefs to a bayonet or to serve as the counsellor of a world-changing prince? Griboyedov had put down his pen at the Tsar&#39;s command and gone to <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/diplomacyandmurderintehran">serve</a> his emperor. First in the Caucasus, where he married the beautiful Georgian princess, <a href="http://achp.si.edu/chavchavadze/ninochav.html">Nino Chavchavadze</a>. Then in the Russian embassy in Tehran, on whose steps he was torn to pieces in 1829 by a <em>Shi&#39;a</em> mob. </p> <p> Conor Cruise O&#39;Brien, who died on 18 December 2008 at the age of 91, could have remained a literary critic of dazzling originality. Instead he took up the sword for <a href="http://www.dhf.uu.se/dh_about.html">Dag Hammarskjöld</a> in 1960, and commanded the United Nations force in Katanga, a secessionist southern province of the newly <a href="http://www.terra.es/personal2/monolith/congokin.htm">independent</a> Republic of Congo; he was fired on and fired back, and lost the battle in a noble cause. The fact that he, the author of <em>Maria Cross</em> and so many other elegant reviews of intellectual history, should have picked up the gun and gone out to make history himself - that filled him with a burning, lifelong pride. He and Griboyedov had <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/conor-cruise-obrien-irish-intellectual-with-a-long-career-as-journalist-politician-literary-critic-and-public-servant-1205024.html">crossed</a> a line which their peers in the work of the mind hesitated to cross in case they were defiled. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) Observer.<br /> <br /> Among his books are <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75"><em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a> (1963; Granta, 1999)<br /> <br /> <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (Random House, 1988)<br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028"><em>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996; reprinted 2007), and <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980"><em><br /> <br /> Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)<br /> <br /> Among Neal Ascherson&#39;s many articles in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>&quot; (1 April 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (15 July 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>&quot; (6 September 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2950">Victory&#39;s lost sister - the wreck of the Implacable</a>&quot; (21 October 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>&quot; (6 February 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>&quot; (1 March 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland&#39;s anguish</a>&quot; (11 January 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-journalismwar/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world</a>&quot; (25 January 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp">Who needs a constitution?</a>&quot; (22 May 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/the_polish_march_students_workers_and_1968">The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968</a>&quot; (1 February 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/after-the-war-recognising-reality-in-abkhazia-and-georgia">After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia</a>&quot; (15 August 2008) </span>I think, all the same, that he must have been disconcerted to discover which of his <a href="http://www.allbookstores.com/search?type=any&amp;q=conor+cruise+o%2527brien&amp;Go.x=0&amp;Go.y=0&amp;Go=Go">books</a> and plays made the most lasting impact. It&#39;s the large, illustrated, almost coffee-table-sized book on <a href="http://www.allbookstores.com/book/9780090857906/Conor_Cruise_O%2527Brien/United_Nations:sacred_Drama.html"><em>The United Nations: Sacred Drama</em></a>. Written from his own experience as Ireland&#39;s ambassador there, it is in one sense a <a href="http://www.unhistory.org/CD/OBrien.html">witness</a> to the UN&#39;s impotence and to its helplessness before American pressure in the cold-war decades. But in another way, the book uncovers and exalts the significance of the UN as theatre - a forum not for democratic decisions by some  global government, but for the majestic <a href="http://www.ispa.org/ideas/obrien.html">drama</a> of passions, emotions and historical memories which is displayed there, enactments which are in themselves releases of pity, terror and truth which are deeply necessary to their actors. It is not surprising that this book, published so long ago, has now become a favourite reference for post-modern, post-processual students of political action as ceremony and theatre.  </p> <p> <strong>A risk taken</strong> </p> <p> I remember another moment: looking down from the ship&#39;s rail in a cold, wet Irish dawn and seeing Conor waiting on the quay at Dun Laoghaire. Rudi Dutschke, once the orator and ideologist of the West Berlin students&#39; uprising, had been a fugitive across Europe since he was <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,546913,00.html">shot</a> in the head by a rightwing fanatic in April 1968. Now, in 1971, after Dutschke had found <a href="http://www.1968andallthat.net/node/212">refuge</a> in Britain for many months, the British home secretary was preparing to <a href="http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1971/jan/19/rudi-dutschke">deport</a> him. The only hope was to hide him somewhere where his passport would not be required and yet the arm of the London special branch would not reach. Conor offered his home. I booked a passage for Rudi, Gretchen and their small children, Hosea Che and Polly, under the name of &quot;Drucker&quot; and brought them by train and ferry to Dublin. Conor bundled us into his old car, and soon we were drinking hot tea in his and Mairi&#39;s kitchen at Howth. </p> <p> It was the early 1970s. In sheltering a wounded fugitive blacklisted as a revolutionary menace all over the western world, Conor was taking a huge risk with his political reputation in Ireland. But, though no revolutionary himself, he had none the less learned during his UN years to call imperialism by its name, especially the American species. At that level, the two men had something in common. But above all Conor felt a generous disgust at the British government&#39;s persecution of this helpless man. This was a risk he enjoyed taking. It brought back bold memories. Driving me to the airport,  he rounded a corner and hit a tree blown over in the night&#39;s gales. He laughed happily.  &quot;<em>C&#39;est le Congo!&quot; </em> </p> <p> Later I worked under him, when he edited the <em>Observer</em>. He was great company, but better in the pub laughing with the county Clare barman than in the editorial conferences. Then and later, he did things which upset and sometimes shocked me. Worst, at a personal level, was his censorship and then suppression of the wonderful <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/mary-holland-730549.html">Mary Holland</a>, whose despatches from Northern Ireland he detested. A clear case of shooting the bad-news messenger, this folly proceeded from his incandescent hatred of militant Irish Republicanism. </p> <p> Later still, I clashed with him over the events at Southampton University in 1986; the price of gathering a worldwide assembly of archaeologists to found a new <a href="http://www.worldarchaeologicalcongress.org/site/about_hist.php">World Archaeological Congress</a> had been to disinvite South African archaeologists and observe the current academic boycott of that country. Conor thought this a disgraceful surrender of academic freedom to political correctness; I wrote columns defending the decision, and soon collided with Conor again over his decision to go to South Africa and take up a teaching post at &quot;Wits&quot; in Johannesburg.  His angry blindness to the just cause of Scottish devolution continued to be a no-man&#39;s-land between us, a zone littered with unexploded cluster-bombs. </p> <p> <strong>A right claimed</strong> </p> <p> Looking back on all these contradictions, the shape-shiftings of this modern Griboyedov, many trails lead <a href="http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2008/1218/breaking92.htm">back</a> to Ireland. Like some other intellectuals from his land, his perspective on the world was brilliant until it intersected with domestic politics  and inherited &quot;faded-flag&quot; vendettas.  Then it became Dublinkered. He was &quot;born a Catholic&quot;, as they say, but above all Conor - like the great <a href="http://www.irishwriters-online.com/hubertbutler.html">Hubert Butler</a> -  lived for the principle that Irish Protestants call &quot;the right of private judgment&quot;. It&#39;s a Swiftean principle, but in Conor&#39;s mind all its enemies became allied in one Satanic host of lies, repression, thievery and ethnic violence. His contempt for Charles Haughey, the shady giant of <a href="http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryWorld/Irish/?view=usa&amp;ci=9780198204749">Fianna Fáil</a> politics, was grand when he jested about carrying a clove of garlic when he met the <em>taoiseach</em> (did Conor really say on TV that  &quot;if I were given to Spoonerisms, I would describe my opponent as a shining wit&quot;?), but spread into a withering impatience with all his critics. A man who was once able instantly to understand why <a href="http://www.versobooks.com/books/cdef/d-titles/de_witte_lumumba.shtml">Patrice Lumumba</a> or Rudi Dutschke struggled against imperialism let his loathing of Irish Republicanism swell into uncritical rejection of all nationalisms all over the globe - with his own eccentric <a href="http://openlibrary.org/b/OL7660694M">exception</a> made for Zionism. </p> <p> It&#39;s too easy to say that Conor loved being &quot;contrary&quot;, and merely <a href="http://www.independent.ie/obituaries/cruiser-crusade-targeted-haughey-in-gubu-years-1581925.html">enjoyed</a> shocking the nearest orthodoxy. He had a huge mind, seeing over the heads and shoulders of the crowd. I think he went to unexplored places where nobody had thought to seek a foothold. To become an Ulster Unionist (of a kind) and a supporter of partition and yet a proud defender of Ireland&#39;s independence and not in any way &quot;a Brit&quot; -  he thought room might be found there to stand up and keep his balance. He may have been wrong there. This irascible angel (who wrote a play called <em>Murderous Angels</em>) was no good at dancing on the point of pins. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> people Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal email Mon, 22 Dec 2008 14:37:07 +0000 Neal Ascherson 47064 at https://www.opendemocracy.net After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/after-the-war-recognising-reality-in-abkhazia-and-georgia <p> The Russian soldiers are not the worst. They have won their victory, and now hang about Georgia mopping up. Much more terrible are the civilians and volunteers who come behind the soldiers, the big-bellied men with guns, knives and army jackets thrown over their T-shirts. They are doing the murdering, the looting and burning, the &quot;cleansing&quot; as they drive the last Georgians out of South Ossetia. The flight of the Georgian army has let them into Georgian <a href="http://go.hrw.com/atlas/norm_htm/georgrep.htm">territory</a> as far as Gori, so they are following and killing them there. </p> <p> They are Ossetians, helped by savage warriors from other nationalities in the northern Caucasus and by ultra-patriotic Russian &quot;Cossacks&quot;. A year <a href="http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3548517,00.html">ago</a>, most of these Ossetians probably lived in neighbourly peace with the local Georgians in the next village. But the spark of war ignites madness. The <a href="http://www.ecmi.de/emap/m_caucasus.html">neighbours</a> become &quot;other&quot;: traitors, spies, saboteurs, snipers. They must be rooted out, exterminated. </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> <a href="/russia">opendemocracy&#39;s Russia section</a> reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war <br /> <br /> Among <strong>openDemocracy&#39;s </strong>articles on Georgian politics and the region:<br /> <br /> Neal Ascherson, &quot;<a href="/node/2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (15 July 2005)<br /> <br /> Donald Rayfield, &quot;<a href="/democracy-caucasus/russia_georgia_3961.jsp">Georgia and Russia: with you, without you</a>&quot; (3 October 2006) <br /> <br /> Robert Parsons, &quot;<a href="/democracy-caucasus/georgia_russia_3972.jsp">Russia and Georgia: a lover&#39;s revenge</a>&quot; (6 October 2006)<br /> <br /> George Hewitt, &quot;<a href="/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_future_3983.jsp">Abkhazia: land in limbo</a>&quot; (10 October 2006) <br /> <br /> Vicken Cheterian, &quot;<a href="/conflicts/caucasus_fractures/georgia_military">Georgia&#39;s arms race</a>&quot; (4 July 2007) <br /> <br /> Alexander Rondeli, &quot;<a href="/article/conflicts/caucasus/georgia_after_revolution">Georgia: politics after revolution</a>&quot; (14 November 2007)<br /> <br /> Robert Parsons, &quot;<a href="/article/conflicts/caucasus/georgia_elections">Georgia&#39;s race to the summit</a>&quot; (4 January 2008)<br /> <br /> Robert Parsons, &quot;<a href="/article/conflicts/mikheil_saakashvili_bitter_victory">Mikheil Saakashvili&#39;s bitter victory</a>&quot; (11 January 2008) <br /> <br /> Jonathan Wheatley, &quot;<a href="/article/democracy_power/caucasus_fractures/georgia_democratic_stalemate">Georgia&#39;s democratic stalemate</a>&quot; (14 April 2008) <br /> <br /> Robert Parsons, &quot;<a href="/article/georgia-abkhazia-russia-the-war-option">Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option</a>&quot; (13 May 2008)<br /> <br /> Thomas de Waal, &quot;<a href="/article/caucasus_fractures/the-russia-georgia-tinderbox">The Russia-Georgia tinderbox</a>&quot; (16 May 2008)<br /> <br /> Alexander Rondeli, &quot;<a href="/article/georgia-s-search-for-coexistence">Georgia&#39;s search for itself</a>&quot; (8 July 2008)<br /> <br /> Thomas de Waal, &quot;<a href="/article/south-ossetia-the-avoidable-tragedy">South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy</a>&quot; (11 August 2008)<br /> <br /> Ghia Nodia, &quot;<a href="/article/georgia-under-fire-the-power-of-russian-resentment">The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future</a>&quot; (12 August 2008)<br /> <br /> Donald Rayfield, &quot;T<a href="/article/the-georgia-russia-conflict-lost-territory-found-nation">he Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation</a>&quot; (13 August 2008) </p> <p> The gunmen are Ossetians - but if Mikheil Saakashvili&#39;s surprise <a href="/article/south-ossetia-the-avoidable-tragedy#comments_for_node">attack</a> on 7-8 August 2008 had succeeded, they would be Georgians and their victims would be Ossetians. The first outrush of Ossetian refugees from the fighting in Tskhinvali, before the Russian army arrived and turned the tide, claimed that Georgian atrocities against them had already started. Now the outrush is Georgian, heading the other way as their houses burn, as the smoke and the sound of gunfire rise over the trees. The Ossetian fugitives may soon return to their homes, wrecked as many of them are. For the Georgians, there is no such hope. They will become helpless, homeless &quot;<a href="http://www.internal-displacement.org/idmc/website/countries.nsf/(httpEnvelopes)/234CB919545031A9C12571D2004E4F73?OpenDocument">IDPs</a>&quot; - internally-displaced persons. They will be crowded into dirty huts and abandoned factory-buildings with scores of thousands of older IDPs who have been rotting on the fringe of Georgian society since the early <a href="http://www.georgianbiography.com/history10.html">1990s</a>. </p> <p> For all this has happened before. That is the worst thing about the tragic war over South Ossetia. The impetuous, almost crazy Georgian resort to force, the appeal to Russian armed strength to counter that force, Russia seizing a chance to weaken and humiliate Georgia and compromise its independence, the terrible crimes carried out by civilians of the winning side against the helpless families of the losing side, the ethnic cleansing by fire and bullet, the torrent of desperate <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/In_Georgia_Humanitarian_Concerns_Come_Into_Focus/1191426.html">refugees</a> - all these horrors already happened here only fifteen years ago. </p> <p> <strong>The Abkhazia precedent</strong> </p> <p> The fighting in <a href="http://www.kafkas.org.tr/english/bgkafkas/abkhazia.htm">Abkhazia</a> began in 1992. Before then, nearly half the population of this beautiful stretch of Black Sea coast had been Georgians or Mingrelians from western Georgia. Most of them were recent settlers, planted in Abkhazia by Stalin and his successors. The rest were a mix of Abkhazians, Armenians, <a href="http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_ell_1_09/08/2003_32859">Greeks</a> and Russians. </p> <p> The trouble <a href="http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=1250&amp;l=1">began</a> when the Soviet Union broke up. Georgia moved to full independence, asserting that Abkhazia was part of its territory. The <a href="http://www.omniglot.com/writing/abkhaz.htm">Abkhazians</a> - much like the southern Ossetians - retorted that they had once been a separate Soviet republic with a direct connection to Moscow. Association with Georgia within the Soviet framework had been one thing; downgrading to an ethnic minority directly and exclusively ruled from Tbilisi was quite another. Agitation grew. </p> <p> Then in August 1992 the Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, suddenly flung the army against Abkhazia. Like Mikheil Saakashvili sixteen years later to the month, he tried to reassert control by bombarding and seizing the capital, Sukhum. Violent fighting broke out. In the <a href="http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/georgia-abkhazia/chronology.php">war </a>that followed, Russian weaponry and air-strikes helped tiny Abkhazia - with less than a tenth of Georgia&#39;s population - to an unexpected victory in September 1993. </p> <p> When it was over, Abkhazia&#39;s towns and infrastructure lay in <a href="/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_archive_4018.jsp">ruins</a>. As in <a href="http://www.kafkas.org.tr/english/bgkafkas/bukaf_gosetya.html">South Ossetia</a> today, atrocities followed the fighting troops. At first it was the Georgian militias who did their worst against non-Georgian civilians. But then, as the war turned their way, Abkhazian paramilitaries and the wild north-Caucasus volunteers who had swarmed in to help them took indiscriminate vengeance. </p> <p> Who committed worse crimes? Each side still blames the other. But almost the entire Georgian and Mingrelian population, some 150,000 people, fled with the Georgian army. Many of them live in <a href="http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/52570/2008/07/14-124246-1.htm">bleak </a>refugee settlements to this day. A few have returned to the southern Abkhazian province of Gali, but security there is poor. Many go to their fields by day, and return to Georgian territory at night. </p> <p> <strong>The upper hand</strong> </p> <p> The point of this history is that nobody learned anything from it - nobody except the Russians. So history has repeated itself. In the <a href="http://www.cipdd.org/index.php?lang_id=ENG&amp;sec_id=65">years </a>that followed, Georgian politicians failed to see that only imaginative diplomacy, not bombardment by rockets, might bring about some kind of rapprochement with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. </p> <p> The Abkhazians, independent but recognised by nobody, have no choice but to accept unofficial Russian hegemony. But at heart they resent it. They dream of escaping into the big world outside, into genuine independence. <a href="http://www.president.gov.ge/?l=E&amp;m=1&amp;sm=3">President Saakashvili,</a> when he came to power, had the opportunity to exploit that resentment by making a fresh start with Abkhazia. If he had accepted some version of its sovereignty (an elastic term in that part of the world), reopened trade and transport links, and offered an exchange of apologies, something might have changed. </p> <p> A few gestures and proposals were made. But the Abkhaz leaders, grimly suspicious, rejected them all as eyewash. Saakashvili, they insisted, was a nationalist demagogue who intended to rearm and to recapture both Abkhazia and smaller South Ossetia by force. Now they are entitled to say: &quot;We told you so&quot;. What happened on 8 August and afterwards surprised nobody in Sukhum. </p> <p> What, now, should western politicians do about Georgia? The first aim, clearly, is to strengthen the ceasefire and negotiate Russian military withdrawal from &quot;Georgia proper&quot;. The problem there is that it is not yet sure what Russian intentions are. To smash the Georgian armed forces and then to destroy their tanks, guns, aircraft and ships - that is happening now. </p> <p> But it may be that Russia wants more. The Russian <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/Did_Russia_Plan_Its_War_In_Georgia__/1191460.html">plan</a> may be to force a new bilateral treaty on a broken and humiliated Georgia, quite possibly giving back to the Russians one or more of the military <a href="http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2372264">bases</a> which they have been evacuating in stages during this decade. That in turn requires the fall of President Saakashvili, and the Russians clearly hope that defeat has turned the Georgian people against him. But &quot;Misha&quot;, bouncy and impenitent, as yet shows no sign of being either broken or humiliated. </p> <p> <strong>The new ground</strong> </p> <p> The best thing that the west can now do is to stop talking about &quot;Georgian territorial integrity&quot;. It is dangerously absurd for politicians and the media (even the <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/europe/2008/georgia_russia_conflict/default.stm">BBC</a>) to describe South Ossetia and Abkhazia as &quot;breakaway regions of Georgia&quot;, as if their &quot;illegal secession&quot; can somehow be reversed. It cannot. That useless dream is long dead. The question now is quite different. It is how their independence can be recognised and made real. Only in that way can the outside world make it harder for Russia to use them as pawns, in the game of crippling Georgian freedom and reasserting imperial &quot;indirect rule&quot; over the whole Transcaucasus. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new"><strong>Neal Ascherson</strong> is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) Observer. Among his books are <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75"><em>The King I</em><em>n</em><em>corporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a><em> (1963; Granta, 1999), The Struggles for Poland</em> (Random House, 1988), <a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028"><em>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996; reprinted 2007), and <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980"><em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)</span><br /> It may not be possible to rescue South Ossetia, tiny and without resources, from becoming a Russian protectorate or even part of the Russian Federation - and most of its people seem to want that. But Abkhazia, with its once-flourishing holiday coast and its abundance of sub-tropical fruit and vegetables, can be a perfectly viable <a href="http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/catalog/book.htm?command=Search&amp;db=main.txt&amp;eqisbndata=009952046X">Black Sea</a> nation-state. The European Union has a new regional<a href="http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/catalog/book.htm?command=Search&amp;db=main.txt&amp;eqisbndata=009952046X"></a> neighbourhood programme, the <a href="http://www.blacksea-cbc.net/">Black Sea Basin Joint Operational Programme</a>. It&#39;s time for the EU to stop pretending that Abkhazia does not exist, to integrate it into the programme, and to give it vigorous help for reconstruction and development. </p> <p> And Georgia, that miraculous little <a href="http://www.georgianbiography.com/aboutgeorgia.html">nation</a> which contains some of the world&#39;s most talented people and some of its worst politicians, must change too. It is not Georgia which has been defeated, but a particular Georgian policy towards &quot;territorial integrity&quot;. This policy has again and again played into Russian hands, ending each time in bloodshed, the flight of weeping refugees and damage to Georgia&#39;s standing in the world. </p> <p> It&#39;s time for renunciation, which will hurt much less than many people expect. Now there is a chance to make a new start, in which a <a href="/article/the-georgia-russia-conflict-lost-territory-found-nation">revived</a> Georgia could become a model of peace and stability to reassure and inspire the whole southern Caucasus. True friends of Georgia must hope that the chance will not be missed. </p> oD Russia Conflict caucasus: regional fractures democracy & power conflicts russia & eurasia europe Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Tue, 19 Aug 2008 15:12:28 +0000 Neal Ascherson 45840 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968 https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/globalisation/the_polish_march_students_workers_and_1968 <p> The first student uprising in 1968, year of millennial hopes and young insurrections, took place in Warsaw. But the west&#39;s media commemorations of 1968 - selective, supercilious about such idealism, and yet faintly nervous in case a new generation feels tempted into imitation - overlook Poland entirely. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) Observer.<br /> <br /> Among his books are <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75"><em>The King I</em><em>n</em><em>corporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a><em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (Random House, 1988), <a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028"><em>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996; reprinted 2007), and <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980"><em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003)<br /> <br /> Also by Neal Ascherson on openDemocracy:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>&quot; (19 August 2004)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>&quot; (1 April 2005) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (15 July 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>&quot; (6 September 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2883">Poland&#39;s interregnum</a>&quot; (30 September 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/2950">Victory&#39;s lost sister - the wreck of the Implacable</a>&quot; (21 October 2005) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>&quot; (6 February 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>&quot; (17 February 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>&quot; (1 March 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflict-terrorism/dershowitz_3561.jsp">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>&quot; (18 May 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/3692">Scotophobia</a>&quot; (28 June 2006<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland&#39;s anguish</a>&quot; (11 January 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-journalismwar/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world</a>&quot; (25 January 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/globalization-kingdom/scotland_election_4602.jsp">Scotland&#39;s democratic shame</a>&quot;( 9 May 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp">Who needs a constitution?</a>&quot; (22 May 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/democracy_power/politics_protest/poland_election">Poland after PiS: handle with care</a>&quot; (26 October 2007</span>For TV&#39;s history programmes and newspapers&#39; Sunday supplements, it all happened in Paris, in Berkeley and (for the British media) in a few Vietnam demos in Grosvenor Square. And yet in Warsaw, that March, thousands of university students were battered down by police clubs and arrested, their teachers purged and exiled, in a battle for intellectual liberty against hopeless odds. </p> <p> Like many great European stories, it began with a theatre performance. Just forty years ago, on 30 January 1968, the <em>Teatr Narodowy</em> (National Theatre) opened its final <a href="http://www.narodowy.pl/play.php?id=11046">performance</a> of the classic verse drama <em>Forefathers&#39; Eve</em>, by the national <a href="http://www.mickiewicz.art.pl/">poet</a> Adam Mickiewicz. The director, <a href="http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=509">Kazimierz Dejmek</a>, had been told by the Communist Party culture bosses that the production must close, whatever the demand for tickets. Behind those bosses, pretty certainly, was the Soviet ambassador. </p> <p> <strong>The revolt</strong> </p> <p> The story begins back in late 1967. The National Theatre was instructed to lay on a special, splendid production to honour the fiftieth anniversary of the October revolution. Dejmek was a touchy genius with no fondness for Russian or Polish Bolsheviks. As one of his actors remembered in the approach to the anniversary, Dejmek took a stiff drink and said to a colleague: &quot;I&#39;ve had a party order (he used the Russian word <em>prikaz</em>) to do a big number for the October anniversary. OK, we&#39;ll do them fucking <em>Forefathers&#39; Eve!&quot;</em> </p> <p> The point is that <em><a href="http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/Dziady.html">Forefathers&#39; Eve</a> </em>is a mighty Romantic drama about spiritual transformation, human liberty, the struggle for independence and the martyrdom of the nation under Russian occupation. Written in the 1830s, it has been beloved by generations of Poles as an accurate account of their own suffering and humiliation under war, foreign domination and domestic tyrannies. It is devastating about Russians, about police states and about censorship. How Dejmek thought he could get away with it is a mystery. But he did, with Polish audiences frantically cheering the anti-Russian lines, until the authorities - and the ambassador - woke up. </p> <p> At first, the number of performances was cut. Then it was announced that the production would be pulled on 30 January. Vast crowds poured in to the last performance, many of them students without tickets, until the theatre was bursting. The great actor <a href="http://www.culture.pl/en/culture/artykuly/os_holoubek_gustaw">Gustaw Holoubek</a> gave the performance of his life. Awed, he remembered: &quot;It was like a bomb went off!&quot; The audience stormed out of the theatre as the curtain fell and marched through the streets to the monument of <a href="http://www.culture.pl/en/culture/artykuly/os_mickiewicz_adam">Adam Mickiewicz</a>, where they raised banners demanding that the play should go on and censorship be abolished. The police arrived and waded into them with batons. </p> <p> That was the beginning. All over Warsaw, petitions were signed and distributed complaining of censorship against <em>Forefathers&#39; Eve </em>and <a href="http://www.prawica.net/node/2873">protesting</a> at police brutality. In Warsaw University, rallies on the campus held in defence of the students arrested on 30 January at the monument were attacked by security police. More arrests followed. As the demonstrations grew larger, and began to spread to other universities across Poland, the authorities brought in lorry-loads of workers from the paramilitary &quot;factory defence&quot; units, armed with clubs, who beat up and scattered the demonstrators. </p> <p> In vain, students appealed to the workers to join them, on the grounds that they were defending workers&#39; interests by standing up for Article 83 of Poland&#39;s <a href="http://www.servat.unibe.ch/law/icl/pl01000_.html">constitution</a>, guaranteeing the rights of free expression and assembly. But the workers, who had been told that the students were privileged brats in the pay of West German intelligence agents, were not impressed. </p> <p> By March, the situation was out of control. The university demonstrations and the police violence used against them were escalating. Hundreds of students were arrested, and many were expelled or deprived of their bursaries. Among them were names later to be well-known, like those of Adam Michnik, a future hero of underground resistance, Solidarity leader and today Poland&#39;s best-known political commentator; Janek Litynski; Karol Modzelewski; and the much-loved and much-persecuted rebel <a href="http://www.kuron.pl/index_2.html">Jacek Kuron</a>. Many in the teaching staff, at Warsaw and elsewhere, now declared their support for their students; most were expelled from the Communist Party and lost their jobs. Among these was the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski (who eventually found refuge in Oxford) and the sociologist <a href="/author/Zygmunt_Bauman.jsp">Zygmunt Bauman</a>. </p> <p> A year later, looking back from western exile on all that had happened in 1968, Bauman (who was to resume his own academic <a href="http://www.magnespress.co.il/website_en/index.asp?action=author_page&amp;aet_id=1464">career</a> in Leeds) wrote that the Polish upheaval was &quot;to a significant extent a movement, of students but not really a student movement in the sense that it certainly was not motivated by students&#39; interests as a social category ...&quot; </p> <p> The insurgent movements in West Berlin, West Germany and Paris all originated as radical protests against authoritarian and &quot;reactionary&quot; structures and methods in the universities. The intellectuals of these &quot;revolutions&quot; interpreted the college revolts as the start of a &quot;long march through the institutions&quot; which would eventually bring down the bourgeois state itself. </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Among<strong> openDemocracy&#39;s </strong>many articles on<strong> </strong>Polish politics and governance:<br /> <br /> Adam Szostkiewicz, &quot;<strong><a href="/democracy-protest/poland_2858.jsp">The Polish lifeboat</a></strong>&quot; (22 September 2005)<br /> <br /> Karolina Gniewowska, &quot;<strong><a href="/democracy-protest/minefield_2863.jsp">The Polish minefield</a></strong>&quot; (23 September 2005)<br /> <br /> Marek Kohn, &quot;<strong><a href="/globalization-institutions_government/election_poland_2957.jsp">Poland&#39;s beacon for Europe</a></strong>&quot; (25 October 2005)<br /> <br /> Krzysztof Bobinski&quot;<strong><a href="/globalization-institutions_government/poland_populist_3737.jsp">Poland&#39;s populist caravan</a></strong>&quot; (14 July 2006)<br /> <br /> Krzysztof Bobinski, &quot;<strong><a href="/democracy_power/future_europe/poland_confusion">The Polish confusion</a></strong>&quot; (22 June 2007)<br /> <br /> Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/globalisation/institutions_government/poland_dictionary">The Polish dictionary</a></strong>&quot; (22 August 2007)<br /> <br /> Ivan Krastev, &quot;<strong><a href="/article/globalisation/institutions_government/populist_poland">Sleepless in Szczecin: what&#39;s the matter with Poland?</a></strong>&quot; (19 October 2007) </p> <p> The Polish students, in contrast, had no such agenda. They wanted democracy for the whole nation, and at once - a socialist democracy, but one based on essentially constitutional values of free speech, the end of censorship, the rule of law, the right of assembly. Across the hills in Czechoslovakia, <a href="http://www.oup.com/uk/orc/bin/9780198781646/01student/biographies/alexander_dubcek/">Alexander Dubcek </a>had launched his &quot;socialism with a human face&quot; reforms in January. The Warsaw students chanted: &quot;Poland is waiting for its Dubcek!&quot; </p> <p> <strong>The descent </strong> </p> <p> The Polish &quot;March events&quot; took place against the <a href="http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/longhist6.html">background</a> of a grotesque, often hysterical struggle for power within the ruling party, which had been raging for over a year. <a href="http://www.rev.hu/history_of_56/szerviz/kislex/biograf/gomulka_uk.htm">Wladyslaw Gomulka</a>, who had faced down Nikita Khrushchev in 1956 and forced him to reduce Soviet interference in Polish affairs, was now being challenged by the &quot;ultra-patriot&quot; Mieczyslaw Moczar, minister of the interior. Moczar&#39;s pitch was repellently crude. There were two sorts of Communist, he said. There were the &quot;partisans&quot;, true Poles like himself who had stayed on to fight in the underground against the Nazi occupation. Then there were the &quot;Muscovites&quot; - mostly Jews - who had fled to the Soviet Union and returned as Stalin&#39;s lackeys to undermine Poland&#39;s independence and staff the UB, the hated security police of the 1950s. Moczar had the gall to accuse Gomulka - who had a Jewish wife, but who had survived in Poland during the war - of supporting these &quot;Muscovites&quot;. </p> <p> When the student revolt began, both sides in this vendetta tried to exploit it. <a href="http://ips.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/2/143">Gomulka</a> disgraced himself with a speech denouncing the student activists as &quot;Zionist&quot; agents. Moczar and his henchmen launched an anti-Semitic campaign which infected the whole Polish bureaucracy, including schools, universities and the worlds of film, theatre and the media. By the end of the year, two-thirds of Poland&#39;s Jews - the remnant which had survived the Holocaust - had been <a href="http://www.wheatmark.com/merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&amp;Store_Code=BS&amp;Product_Code=1587362910">driven</a> into emigration. It was a scandal from which Poland&#39;s international reputation has never entirely recovered. </p> <p> Poland descended into chaos. For some months, nobody seemed to be in charge or to control events. But the Soviet Union, disturbed, finally intervened to support Gomulka. Polish troops took part in the infamous invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, and Gomulka was confirmed as party leader at a congress that November. The student leaders of March remained in prison, or fled abroad. </p> <p> What relevance did the &quot;March events&quot; have to the rebellions of the young elsewhere that year? In those days (how long ago they seem!) revolutionaries spoke intensely of the need for a fighting alliance between industrial workers and students. This alliance would be irresistible. Communists certainly thought so, which is why the post-1945 Communist regimes in Europe put so much ingenuity into keeping workers and intellectuals estranged from one another. </p> <p> In Warsaw in 1968, the estrangement worked: the loyal proletarians beat the daylights out of the protesting intellectuals. In West Germany, the well-paid working class (&quot;integrated&quot;) showed no inclination to join the students chanting for socialism in the street. In France, for a brief interval, organised labour did throw its weight behind the intellectual barricade-defenders of the &quot;Paris May&quot; and for that moment - before the French Communist Party lost its nerve and turned it all into a wage-round - the victory of a classic social revolution seemed possible. </p> <p> The aftermath in Poland was astonishing. Two years later, in 1970, a huge working-class insurrection broke out in the Baltic ports: Elblag, Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin. It was suppressed at the cost of hundreds of lives. The workers begged the students to help them, but the students stayed at home. The boot was on the other foot, and it was not until 1976 that a tiny group of intellectuals - some of them veterans of the March events - went to help another worker revolt in the city of Radom and set up the &quot;Committee for the Defence of Workers&quot; (<a href="http://www.greenwood.com/catalog/C4138.aspx">KOR</a>). This was to be the seed of the joint conspiracy of industrial workers and seditious intellectuals which was to break surface in 1980 in the shape of <a href="/node/2806">Solidarity</a>, the &quot;independent, self-managing trade union&quot;. The old revolutionaries were proved right at last. That cross-class alliance swept all before it. </p> <p> <strong>The flame</strong> </p> <p> The most difficult question is - why 1968? At first sight, the causes of the March events in Poland seem quite unlike the backgrounds to the Paris May, the anti-war movements in the United States, the campus occupations in West Germany, Britain or Italy. The same question hangs over the &quot;Prague spring&quot; the same year, whose energy came largely from student movements - especially when reform turned to resistance after the Soviet-led invasion on 21 August. Was there any connection, or was there simply &quot;something in the air&quot;? </p> <p> At the time and for years afterwards, rightwing commentators in the west insisted that there was no connection. They argued that, on the contrary, the &quot;red&quot; students of Paris and Berlin were trying to establish exactly the same Marxist tyranny which the young Czechs, Slovaks and Poles had been fighting to overthrow. </p> <p> But that was a hopelessly simple view. In the first place, the last thing revolutionaries like <a href="http://www.dhm.de/lemo/html/biografien/DutschkeRudi/">Rudi Dutschke</a> in Berlin or <a href="http://www.cohn-bendit.de/dcb2006/fe/pub/en/dany/lebenslauf">Daniel Cohn-Bendit </a>in Paris wanted was to imitate the Communist systems of east-central Europe, which they scorned as brutal dictatorships based on a Stalinist distortion of Marxism. Secondly, contacts between student movements across the cold-war lines did exist. </p> <p> I was the witness to several of these. In the early summer of 1968, a delegation from the West Berlin movement led by Dutschke came to Prague and worked out a framework agreement with radical students at the Charles University. Both sides recognised that their political contexts were very different, but both agreed on their ultimate goal: an egalitarian socialist republic based on direct workers&#39; control of production. </p> <p> The student revolt, as a coherent programme of action run by the &quot;Socialist Students&#39; League&quot;, had begun in West Berlin more than a year before, in early 1967. And the underground movement of Polish students in Warsaw University - the so-called <em>Kommandos</em> - had also formed at least a year before <em>Forefathers&#39;</em> <em>Eve</em> was closed down. I made contact with them in late 1967, and found a group of courageous heretic Marxists, under intense police harassment. Their campaigns were protests against censorship and illegal repression, and against the anti-Semitic propaganda already being spread by the regime. They were well aware of the new ideas current in West Berlin, and very interested in them - although their own fight was hardly against &quot;repressive tolerance&quot;. Once again, the vision of a free society based on workers&#39; self-management appealed strongly to them. Would conflict have broken out even if no play had been closed down? Almost certainly, but in the form of a proletarian insurrection for food, wages and justice like that which took place in the Baltic cities two years later. </p> <p> So there were convergences between east and west. They could be summed up as a common sense of impotence, projected by intellectuals onto working-class masses supposed to be imprisoned in a state of &quot;false consciousness&quot;. The Utopia of all their futures was a revolution in which external authority was torn down and people took direct control of their own working lives. And the shared, reckless impatience of the young finds voice in the words of a character in <em>Forefathers&#39; Eve</em>: </p> <p> &quot; ... Our nation is like lava, </p> <p> On the surface cold and hard, sordid and dry, </p> <p> Yet the buried fire still burns after a hundred years - </p> <p> Let&#39;s spit on that crust, and plunge through into the depths !&quot; </p> politics of protest 1968 Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Thu, 06 Mar 2008 22:49:50 +0000 Neal Ascherson 35718 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Poland after PiS: handle with care https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/poland_after_pis_handle_with_care <p> The result of the <a href="http://wybory2007.pkw.gov.pl/SJM/EN/WYN/M/index.htm">elections</a> in Poland on 21 October 2007 has left Poland&#39;s friends in western Europe exultant. The two years of government by Jaroslaw Kaczynski&#39;s Law &amp; Justice movement, supported by two of the nastiest and maddest coalition partners ever to share power in post-war Europe, are over. The young and urban voters overcame their distaste for politics and - in a massive <a href="http://wybory2007.pkw.gov.pl/SNT/EN/WYN/F/index.htm">turnout</a> - inflicted a thumping defeat on the government. Law &amp; Justice (<a href="http://www.pis.org.pl/main.php">PiS</a>, in its Polish acronym) will be replaced by the centre-right Civic Platform (<a href="http://www.platforma.org/">PO</a>), led by Donald Tusk, probably in coalition with the Polish Peasants&#39; Party (PSL). </p> <p> Abroad, there is vast <a href="http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10024487">relief</a>, shared by the overwhelming majority of the 2 million young Poles who have found work in western Europe since Poland&#39;s accession to the European Union in 2004. The PiS regime had become a continental embarrassment. Its domestic policies were bigoted and oppressive, from its anti-gay rhetoric to its ruthless, <a href="http://www.gazetawyborcza.pl/1,82049,4593239.html">witch-hunting</a> treatment of opponents as anti-Polish and potentially treacherous. Its style in foreign policy was often farcical in its crude nationalism, alienating both neighbouring states and the European Union. When Jaroslaw Kaczynski demanded that Poland&#39;s human losses under Nazi occupation should be added into the population count allotting voting strengths under the new European treaty, intelligent Poles hid their faces in their hands. When his twin brother Lech, who remains the nation&#39;s <a href="http://www.president.pl/x.node?id=479">president</a>, boycotted a vital meeting in Germany because a Berlin cartoonist had compared him to a potato, the same Poles didn&#39;t know whether to laugh or cry. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new"><strong>openDemocracy</strong> writers track Polish politics and governance:<br /> <br /> Adam Szostkiewicz, &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/poland_2858.jsp">The Polish lifeboat</a>&quot; (22 September 2005)<br /> <br /> Karolina Gniewowska, &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/minefield_2863.jsp">The Polish minefield</a>&quot; (23 September 2005)<br /> <br /> Marek Kohn, &quot;<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/election_poland_2957.jsp">Poland&#39;s beacon for Europe</a>&quot; (25 October 2005) <br /> <br /> Krzysztof Bobinski &quot;<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/poland_populist_3737.jsp">Poland&#39;s populist caravan</a>&quot; (14 July 2006)<br /> <br /> Krzysztof Bobinski, &quot;<a href="/democracy_power/future_europe/poland_confusion">The Polish confusion</a>&quot; (22 June 2007) <br /> <br /> Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, &quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/institutions_government/poland_dictionary">The Polish dictionary</a>&quot; (22 August 2007)<br /> <br /> Ivan Krastev, &quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/institutions_government/populist_poland">Sleepless in Sczeczin: what&#39;s the matter with Poland?</a>&quot; (19 October 2007)</span> </p> <p> Now it&#39;s <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/23/world/main3398210.shtml">over</a>. The new Platform government will be more &quot;European&quot; - i.e. less protectionist, more welcoming to free-market forces. At home, it will carry out what&#39;s described in a smart new word as <em>depisacja</em>. This could be riskily translated as &quot;taking the PiS out of everything&quot; - unpicking the web of political patronage with which the Kaczynski twins smothered all public appointments, and trying to <a href="http://www.polskieradio.pl/zagranica/gb/dokument.aspx?iid=64788">repair</a> the damage done to the rule of law. Abroad, Donald Tusk and his team will reassure Chancellor Angela Merkel that they do not regard the federal republic as Hitler&#39;s successors. They will cautiously retreat from the Kaczynskis&#39; reckless enthusiasm for President George W Bush by reducing Polish troops in Iraq (it&#39;s too late to reverse entirely the offer of missile defence bases in Poland, while Tusk will prefer to forget the CIA&#39;s use of Polish territory for &quot;extraordinary rendition&quot; and interrogations). At Brussels, they will try to undo Poland&#39;s <a href="http://www.economist.com/blogs/certainideasofeurope/2007/09/what_is_polands_eu_game.cfm">reputation</a> for obstructive &quot;national egoism&quot;, not least by resuming their approach to membership of the eurozone. </p> <p> <strong>The centuries&#39; traces </strong> </p> <p> Yet this is not quite the cloudless, happy return to democracy which it may seem in Paris, <a href="http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,2835506,00.html">Berlin</a> or London. The Kaczynski twins stood for something. They stood for a number of big facts and themes which will not go away. Their fatal style, often primitive and sometimes grotesque, does not mean that Tusk and the Platform - or any future Polish government - will not have to face these facts and themes too. </p> <p> Many - maybe most - of those who voted for Tusk did so because they could no longer stand the PiS regime, not because they loved the neo-liberal policies of the Platform. And those who voted for PiS on <a href="http://www.angus-reid.com/tracker/view/28190/kaczynski_twins_face_revamped_opposition">21 October</a>, still a third of the poll, remain a formidable, highly identifiable social block. They are the small farmers and peasants, the old, the people in pious remote areas, the great mass of unemployed workers and ordinary people who are the losers in the grand transition to capitalism. They live mostly in eastern Poland. The <a href="http://wybory2007.wp.pl/wynikimapa.html">map of election results</a> splits the country into two almost equal halves, pink for PiS and blue for the Platform. But - eerily - it is also a map of the 18th century partitions. The old Russian lands are solid pink, with two blue islands for the cities of Warsaw and Lodz. The &quot;German&quot; west and north is even more solidly blue. History in Poland is indelible. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new"><strong>Neal Ascherson</strong> is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75"><em>The King I</em><em>n</em><em>corporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em></a><em> </em>(1963; Granta, 1999), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (Random House, 1988), <a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028"><em>Black Sea</em></a> (Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996; reprinted 2007), and <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980"><em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em></a> (Granta, 2003) <br /> <br /> Among his articles on <strong>openDemocracy</strong>: &quot;<a href="/node/2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>&quot; (19 August 2004)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>&quot; (1 April 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (15 July 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>&quot; (6 September 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2883">Poland&#39;s interregnum</a>&quot; (30 September 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2950">Victory&#39;s lost sister - the wreck of the Implacable</a>&quot; (21 October 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>&quot; (6 February 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>&quot; (1 March 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/conflict-terrorism/dershowitz_3561.jsp">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>&quot; (18 May 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3692">Scotophobia</a>&quot; (28 June 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland&#39;s anguish</a>&quot; (11 January 2007) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-journalismwar/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world</a>&quot; (25 January 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/globalization-kingdom/scotland_election_4602.jsp">Scotland&#39;s democratic shame</a>&quot;( 9 May 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp">Who needs a constitution?</a>&quot; (22 May 2007) </span>Those &quot;eastern&quot; PiS voters have good reason to fear globalisation and the dissolving of the Polish state as the EU imposes free competition. Old-fashioned nationalism, meaning a jealously independent Poland which guards its frontiers, which protects all its children against misfortune and foreign interference, seems to them the obvious champion against &quot;cosmopolitan&quot; economic liberalism. Here is the alliance, which seems so strange in the west but so natural in <a href="/article/globalisation/institutions_government/populist_poland">post-communist Europe</a>, between nationalism and the &quot;socialist&quot; ideals of equality and the dignity of labour. </p> <p> The Kaczynskis seemed, by the end, to be heading for a one-party state. The PiS domination of the media, achieved by outrageous purging and political appointments, was almost worthy of <a href="/article/globalisation/Institutions_government/putin_forever">Vladimir Putin&#39;s</a> Russia. The Tusk government must now try to create a genuinely independent ethic for public service - and not just by <em>depisacja</em>. The hopelessly compromised National Broadcasting Committee, which reduced the award of radio and TV franchises to a pigsty of patronage, will probably be dissolved. </p> <p> And yet, in their distorted way, the twins were right to see that the post-communist Polish state has problems of weakness. As the political scientist <a href="http://www.uw.org.pl/wladze.php?id=24">Aleksander Smolar</a> (no friend of PiS) said in an interview on the eve of the election: &quot;it&#39;s the quality of the state - its efficiency, its cleanliness - and not so much the economy or foreign policy, which is the fundamental challenge facing Poland&quot;. The PiS regime was right to launch a campaign against corruption, ill-managed as it was. It was disastrously wrong to see the state&#39;s main problem as infiltration by cabals of ex-communists. </p> <p> <strong>Poland</strong><strong>&#39;s telescope</strong> </p> <p> In a supposedly globalised world, it&#39;s salutary to remember that what matters most about Poland&#39;s foreign policy is <a href="http://go.hrw.com/atlas/norm_htm/poland.htm">geography</a> - that the nation lies between Russia and Germany. The Kaczynskis tackled this the wrong way - by paranoid rudeness to both neighbours. Yet they had some justification. Germany&#39;s agreement with Russia on a new Baltic gas pipeline avoiding Poland, done without Polish agreement, was crass and awoke the worst historical memories, from the <a href="http://www.info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/maps/task4.html">18th-century partitions</a> to the Nazi-Soviet pact which abolished Poland in 1939. The government outraged Brussels by its repeated veto on EU:Russian agreements as long as the Russians were boycotting Polish food imports (as they still are). In my view, this veto was totally justified. The alternative was to let Poland slither into the &quot;near-abroad&quot; zone of Russian economic blackmail, so brutally illustrated by the plight of Ukraine and Georgia. These are realities which Donald Tusk now has to inherit. </p> <p> It may be that the European Union has still not grasped how momentous it was to <a href="/node/1878">receive</a> Poland into the union in 2004. With Polish accession, the EU moved into a quite new proximity to Russia and its &quot;near abroad&quot; in Ukraine and Belarus. Poland, whose experience of Russia is heavier, longer and more <a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html">intense</a> than that of any other European nation, is utterly committed to the fate of this region. Once, long ago, this commitment was imperialist. Today, it is about self-preservation, aiming to bring Ukraine and eventually Belarus forwards to stable democracy and membership of both Nato and the European Union. British, French and German diplomats fret about Poland being &quot;pushy&quot; and &quot;obstructive&quot; by constantly shoving the Ukrainian interest into all Brussels discussions, and by blocking agreements with <a href="http://www.polskieradio.pl/zagranica/gb/dokument.aspx?iid=64876">Russia</a> which have a quality of appeasement. But Poland, under PiS or Platform, cannot do otherwise. </p> <p> If western observers of Poland think such attitudes are mere national arrogance, they do not understand the union they have been living in since 2004. Poland in Europe, and in its position in Europe, is condemned to be an awkward, vigilant partner. If it is not awkward and does not shout rather than whisper deferentially, Poland will be overlooked and eventually trodden underfoot. True, the Kaczynski government did not just shout; it squalled and cursed until it made itself ridiculous. It was a terrible Polish government, and its fall is a brilliant day for democracy. But not all its enemies were ghosts. </p> democracy & power Globalisation institutions & government the politics of protest Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Fri, 26 Oct 2007 17:35:50 +0000 Neal Ascherson 34946 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed https://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-Literature/dershowitz_3561.jsp <p>The other night, I had the luck to see Arthur Miller&#39;s <em>The Crucible</em>, in an unforgettable London production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like all great plays, it gleams in different places as the years pass, and last week I was gripped by a strand in the dialogue which had not greatly touched me before. </p><p>Again and again, the Calvinist inquisitors scold the people of Salem for not realising that they are living in new times, in an era of quite different moral imperatives which make all the old rules and restraints obsolete. The devil is among us and stalking his victims, they said, and in this terrible emergency there is no place for traditional values of innocence, compunction or mercy. </p> <p>Next day I went to hear Eric Hobsbawm launch the <a href="http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lunchlectures/details.html" target="_blank">Birkbeck lecture series</a> on the theme of violence. Speaking on &quot;Public Order in an Age of Violence&quot;, he methodically dismantled precisely that inquisitors&#39; case that &quot;new times&quot; had dawned – this time, since September 2001, whose terror made irrelevant the legal and ethical norms of liberal democracy. </p> <p>History, <a href="http://www.bbk.ac.uk/news/20060412a" target="_blank">Hobsbawm said</a>, showed that there was nothing essentially new about the contemporary threat from terrorism. The threat itself, he went on, was serious but certainly not apocalyptic or terminal in its present form. But it suited certain states and political forces to pretend that the world had suddenly changed out of recognition, and they were using this false scenario of doom to cover the introduction of new rules of domestic and international practice which suited their own purposes. Hobsbawm concluded, as many others have done before him, that the measures taken to win the &quot;&#39;war on terror&quot; are more dangerous to liberty and democracy than terrorism itself.</p><div class="pull_quote_article"><div class="pull_quote"><p><strong>Neal Ascherson is discussing the book by Alan M Dershowitz, <em>Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways</em> (<a href="http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall05/006012.htm" target="_blank">WW Norton, 2006</a>) </strong></p></div><p><strong>The road to chaos</strong></p> <p>And a few days later, I began to read Alan M Dershowitz&#39;s new book, <em><a href="http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall05/006012.htm" target="_blank">Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways</a></em>. This one is about doctrines of pre-emptive and preventive war – and of pre-emptive and preventive &quot;targeted killing&quot; (selective assassination). Four years ago, he appalled much of the world with a book (<em><a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=0300101538" target="_blank">Why Terrorism Works</a></em>) and a number of articles in which he suggested – in tune with cruder pronouncements from the George W Bush administration - that a legal framework could be devised to regulate the use of torture in &quot;war on terror&quot; situations. </p> <p>He has now applied many of the same arguments to establishing what he calls &quot;a jurisprudence&quot; to regulate the resort to pre-emptive and preventive war and murder. And, like the ministers of <a href="http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_9780140247725,00.html" target="_blank">Salem</a>, he is in no doubt that we have entered new and Satanic times which render the old rules antique and obstructive: </p> <blockquote>&quot;The democratic world is experiencing a fundamental shift in its approach to controlling harmful conduct. We are moving away from our traditional reliance on deterrent and reactive approaches and toward more preventive and proactive approaches. This shift has enormous implications for civil liberties, human rights, criminal justice, national security, foreign policy and international law - implications that are not being sufficiently considered.&quot; </blockquote> <p>The United States, Dershowitz continues, now uses tactics which include &quot;…profiling, preventive detention, the gathering of preventive intelligence through rough interrogation and more expansive surveillance, targeting of potential terrorists for assassination, preemptive attacks on terrorist bases, and full-scale preventive war.&quot; But where, Dershowitz asks, is their &quot;firm basis in law, jurisprudence or morality&quot;? </p> <p>Once it was supposed that human activities should recognise the law and adapt themselves to it. Dershowitz thinks that the law should adapt itself to human activities. Putting his approach coarsely, torture and pre-emptive or preventive war or murder will clearly go on happening, so the law had better take its head out of the sand and <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">go there</a>. Once it has established a presence in these ugly areas, the law can then work out codes of rules and conditions for the proper use of the murder-missile, the electric-prod or the invasion of another state which might one day prove a danger. </p> <p>Dershowitz offers many such possible conditions in this book, and they are often quite restrictive and hard to fulfil. But <a href="http://ksgfaculty.harvard.edu/michael_ignatieff" target="_blank">Michael Ignatieff</a> put his finger on the weak joint in the whole approach when he wrote of Dershowitz&#39;s previous book: &quot;Judicialisation of torture, in my view, would lead to its &#39;banalisation&#39;, to torture becoming routine rather than an emergency exception&quot; (see Kenneth Roth and Minky Worden eds., <em><a href="http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2005/10/13/global11871.htm" target="_blank">Torture: A Human Rights Perspective</a></em>, Human Rights Watch, 2006). Much the same applies to &quot;judicialising&quot; the practice of pre-emptive or preventive attack. The knowledge that such attacks were in principle lawful, as long as certain conditions were met, would leave the exceptions helpless at the mercy of the rule. It would open the door to chaos and carnage. </p></div><div class="pull_quote_article"><div class="pull_quote"><p><strong>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em> (1963; <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75" target="_blank">Granta, 1999</a>), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html" target="_blank">Random House, 1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028" target="_blank">Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em> (<a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980" target="_blank">Granta, 2003</a>)</strong></p> <hr /> <p><strong>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>&quot; <br />(August 2004)</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>&quot; <br />(April 2005) </strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (July 2005)</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarność</a>&quot; (September 2005) </strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland&#39;s interregnum</a>&quot; (September 2005)</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory&#39;s</em> lost sister – the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>&quot; <br />(October 2005) </strong></p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>&quot; (February 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>&quot; (February 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>&quot; (March 2006)</p> </div><p><strong>The case for Israel</strong></p> <p><a href="http://www.alandershowitz.info/index_biography.html" target="_blank">Alan M Dershowitz</a> does polemic in glittering style: clever, agile and sometimes persuasive. He has no difficulty in showing that rulers in the past have often got their retaliation in first, to frustrate a genuinely imminent attack or merely to obliterate an adversary who might in future present a military threat. </p> <p>The cumulative and presumably intended effect of the book is to justify the actions of Israel and the United States. But Dershowitz does admit to mistakes. Israel was right to bomb and destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 (&quot;the paradigmatic example of a pure preventive … attack short of full-scale war&quot;&#39;), and justified in its pre-emptive attack on massing Arab forces in 1967 (&quot;a lawful instance of anticipatory self-defence&quot;), but much less so with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (&quot;its scope and duration exceeded by far any reasonable response to … threats&quot;). </p> <p>He also disapproves of America&#39;s preventive war against Iraq, but on the pragmatic grounds that both its self-defence and humanitarian excuses turned out false. (&quot;…No WMDs were found, and the invasion almost certainly caused more deaths among Iraqi civilians than Saddam Hussein was likely to have caused had he remained in power.&quot;) </p> <p>On Iran, he is more hawkish. Israel, he thinks, has the right to take pre-emptive action against Iranian nuclear facilities, and is entitled to expect support from the United States and the international community. The strike cannot be left to <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3106">Israel</a> alone. The dispersal of the nuclear centres into populated areas means that there would be huge civilian casualties and that the &quot;nascent&quot; Iranian <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3498">opposition</a> would be crushed. But &quot;demanding that Israel and the United States put the human rights of Iranians ahead of the lives of their own citizens and soldiers is both naïve and selfish…&quot;. </p> <p>Dershowitz is less self-assured about the case for preventive wars. Here he constantly relies on a really bad example: &quot;…if Hitler&#39;s Germany had been destroyed or disarmed by preventive military action, the world would never have experienced the horrors of Nazi aggression&quot;. But this particular &quot;if&quot; went threadbare and blew away years ago. The failure of France and Britain was not military – invading the Rhineland in 1935 would have made Iraq in 2003-6 look like a playground scuffle – but diplomatic: the failure to build a heavily-armed European security system around Germany. </p> <p>But Dershowitz is not much interested in deterrence or collective security. His hatred of the United Nations security council for its distrust of Israel is too intense. The security council&#39;s &quot;anachronistic mid-20th century view of international law precludes a democracy threatened with nuclear annihilation ... from taking proportional, preventive military action to dissipate the threat to its civilians…&quot; Instead, a nation is supposed to wait until it is attacked by terrorists before it responds. &quot;This unrealistic perversion of international law must be changed to take into account situations in which deterrence simply cannot be counted on to work…&quot;</p> <p>Waiting for UN action has been a prescription for disaster, according to Dershowitz. Sometimes, he says, unilateral action by a world power is the only way. On a very few occasions, and seen in retrospect, that has been true. But Dershowitz&#39;s lack of interest in international arrangements, or indeed in any nations apart from Israel and the United States arrayed against a vague, swarming mob of enemies and surrender-monkeys, is extraordinary. And yet it is other nations whose reaction to American and Israeli policies will decide – for instance – whether the 21st century&#39;s first nuclear conflict takes place in the middle east. </p> <p>To be fair, Dershowitz does at least glimpse the significance of the rest of the world when he quotes a warning by <a href="http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=1398&amp;l=1" target="_blank">Gareth Evans</a>, former Australian foreign minister, against acts of unilateral preventive self-defence: &quot;…What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, legitimising the prospect of preventive strikes in any number of volatile regions … To undermine so comprehensively the norm of non-intervention on which any system of global order must be painstakingly built is to invite a slide into anarchy&quot;. Evans is arguing that such decisions should be left to the security council rather than legitimised in general. Dershowitz merely retorts that no single jurisprudence can cover all situations, and repeats his contempt for the council. </p> <p>He examines various lists of conditions which an anticipatory attack or &quot;targeted assassination&quot; might have to fulfil to be legitimate. But Dershowitz is vague about where his jurisprudence would exist, who would adjudicate or enforce it, and whether anyone would take any notice of it. Indeed, at one point he asks disarmingly &quot;whether any jurisprudence … can really be expected to influence the actions of nations that believe themselves to be under the gun&quot;. </p> <p>As he dismisses any known supranational body, including the <a href="http://www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/igeneralinformation.htm" target="_blank">International Court of Justice</a>, as a possible mechanism for applying his jurisprudence, he has to fall back on individual governments: &quot;A widely accepted international jurisprudence will impose domestic constraints on the unilateral actions of democracies…&quot;. Unless, presumably, that country is &quot;under the gun&quot;, or imagines it is. And as Dershowitz appears to think that only democracies are entitled to use preventive or pre-emptive force, who decides which state is a democracy? </p></div><div class="pull_quote_article"><div class="pull_quote"><p><strong>openDemocracy writers debate pre-emptive force and intervention:</strong></p> <p><strong>Steven Lukes, &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=923">Sorry, Hitchens, this time it should be &#39;no&#39; to war</a>&quot; (27 January 2003)</strong></p> <p><strong>David Held, &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1065">Return to the state of nature</a>&quot; <br />(20 March 2003)</strong></p> <p><strong>Karin von Hippel, &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1145">American occupational hazards</a>&quot; <br />(10 April 2003)</strong></p> <p><strong>Herfried Münkler, &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1921">Kant&#39;s &#39;perpetual peace&#39;: utopia or political guide?</a>&quot; (27 May 2004)</strong></p> <p><strong>Pervez Hoodbhoy &amp; Zia Mian: &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3276">The nuclear complex: America, the bomb, and Osama bin Laden</a>&quot; <br />(16 February 2006)</strong></p> <p><strong>Mariano Aguirre, &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3408">Bush&#39;s security strategy: defend the nation, change the world</a>&quot; (31 March 2006) </strong></p> </div><p><strong>A murky resemblance</strong></p> <p>This is a curiously uneven book. It ranges from personal anecdotes – Dershowitz has actually watched guided missiles being radar-targeted on the cars of doomed Palestinians – to bursts of pet mathematical theory. He is proud that in his youth he worked out a matrix for estimating ethical risk (true and false positives and negatives), and he includes as an appendix a lawyerish paper he wrote thirty years ago which applies the matrix to &quot;preventive disbarment&quot;. </p> <p>Dershowitz also suggests, as a useful exercise, the quantifying by number of factors in pre-emptive/preventive decisions. &quot;Can a number be assigned to the likelihood that uninvolved persons may be killed or injured if targeted killing is attempted?&quot; On the &quot;uninvolved&quot; scale, a baby would score ten and an activist one, and a &quot;maximum total score would preclude action except in extraordinary situations, such as nuclear terrorism&quot;. </p> <p>That &quot;except&quot; shows the fatal unreality of this sort of game, and indeed of the whole <a href="http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/story.php?F=1657828_0501" target="_blank">Dershowitz approach</a>. The reason that no juristic code has emerged to cover pre-emptive attacks and murders, although they have been going on for thousands of years, is that they have always been regarded as disgraceful acts which no prince can be proud of. Justification for such attacks and murders has to be provided afterwards, case by case, and it has to be pretty good to be convincing.</p> <p>This is anything but neat, in an increasingly lawless age. George W Bush and Tony Blair would obviously prefer to be judged by the sincerity of their original perceptions of imminent threat from Saddam&#39;s Iraq, rather than by the bleeding wreckage of a situation which they made <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,920569,00.html" target="_blank">worse rather than better</a>. But they are being judged both on sincerity and results, rather than on compliance with some jurisprudential tick-box, and it is better so. <a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=0300087152" target="_blank">Humanity&#39;s</a> traditional detestation of preventive violence is as good a restraint as we are likely to get. </p> <p>If you disapprove of something, don&#39;t make laws for it. As <a href="http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/node/3" target="_blank">Dietrich Bonhoeffer</a> said: &quot;It&#39;s no good boarding the wrong train, and then running wildly down the corridor in the opposite direction&quot;. But perhaps Dershowitz doesn&#39;t really disapprove. Perhaps – in the most cynical interpretation of this book – he thinks that Israel and the United States are generally entitled to use anticipatory lethal violence, and he is calling for a &quot;jurisprudence&quot; simply to give those two states a cloak of international legitimacy whenever they follow their own unilateral – if not bilateral – interests. </p> <p>There are murky resemblances here to older doctrines of state. When Reinhard Heydrich called senior civil servants together at the <a href="http://www.ghwk.de/engl/kopfengl.htm" target="_blank">Wannsee conference</a>, in January 1942, he did not ask their advice on whether or not to carry through the holocaust. Instead, he wanted them to devise a legal and organisational framework within which the inconceivable – his programme for the murder of 11 million Jews – could be conceptualised as just another special government project, embedded in its own defined rules and exceptions. </p> <p>And Dershowitz&#39;s rhetoric about new times in which we must move from reactive to proactive behaviour – that too brings sinister echoes. All dictators, and some demagogues, like to maintain a climate of emergency in which they can reduce liberties and suppress critics in the name of &quot;hard measures for hard times&quot;. Hitler used the medical metaphor to proclaim that in times of terror and crisis, society must shift from passive to active mode. As he told the Nazi doctors, &quot;you are biological soldiers&quot; who are now – after millennia of restraint – allowed to launch pre-emptive attacks on genetic causes instead of merely treating symptoms. And in that proactive, life-and-death struggle against racial pollution, the old Hippocratic oath could be thrown away at last. </p> <p>These voices were also heard in Salem. Now they are heard in the debates over Iranian weaponry and Palestinian suicide-bombers. Those who preach new proactive moralities should only be approached with a clove of garlic, and that includes Professor Alan M Dershowitz. </p> </div> Conflict Culture literature democracy & terror arts & cultures conflicts Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Wed, 22 Aug 2007 09:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 3561 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who needs a constitution? https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-kingdom/constitution_need_4636.jsp <p>A British constitution - a real, written one? Gordon Brown has begun to open a portfolio of ideas as he approaches his prime-ministerial <a href="http://www.gordonbrownforbritain.com/" target="_blank">moment</a>, and this - we are told - is one of them. Is he serious? He is being supported by Jack Straw, veteran of many ministries and Brown&#39;s campaign-manager in what became (in the absence of a rival candidate) the latter&#39;s election-by-default to the Labour Party leadership. Straw&#39;s reputation for not backing losers thus gained another notch. Something may be up. </p><p>It&#39;s said that <a href="http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/about/ministerial_profiles/minprofile_brown.cfm" target="_blank">Gordon Brown</a> wants to set up a constitutional convention. This is an idea borrowed from Scotland, where the cross-party <a href="http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/holyrood/inquiry/sp205-02.htm" target="_blank">constitutional convention</a> established in 1989 was able to agree on the outlines of devolution and the future structure of a Scottish parliament, duly delivered by the Labour government elected in May 1997. But what, almost two decades on, would a British convention be able to agree on? </p><p>Its minimal outcome could be a bill of rights, doing little more than pasting existing human-rights legislation into an imposing new frame. Possibly it could invent a &quot;constitutional court&quot;, empowered to test new laws against the bill of rights and if necessary strike them down. Possibly it would include a modernisation of electoral law, introducing to United Kingdom elections a form of the proportional representation introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the post-1997 &quot;<a href="http://www.dca.gov.uk/constitution/devolution/ukdev.htm" target="_blank">devolution settlement</a>&quot;. </p><p>But this is not what the rest of the world calls a constitution. These <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2084487,00.html" target="_blank">adjustments</a> would be welcome but minor tweaks to what already exists. Nothing fundamental would change in the old United Kingdom power structure. And it&#39;s important to understand just how old and outdated that structure is. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p>openDemocracy&#39;s new blog &quot;<a href="http://ourkingdom.opendemocracy.net/">Our Kingdom</a>&quot; has contributions from members of parliament, freedom-of-information campaigners, journalists and analysts in a conversation on the future of Britain </p></div><p><strong>Memory vs contract</strong></p><p>It all goes back to the English 17th century (and the structure is essentially English, merely extended to Scotland after the <a href="http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/history/treatyofunion/index.htm" target="_blank">1707 Treaty of Union</a>). In 1688, the so-called &quot;glorious revolution&quot; overthrew the absolute monarchy. But in doing so, it simply transferred the principle of absolutism from the monarch to the parliament. To this day, parliament is absolute and sovereign in just the way that the Stuart kings wanted to be. Its decisions overrule all laws, and can be changed or revoked at a moment&#39;s notice. No &quot;rights&quot; can stand against the will of this sovereign parliament, which can assert or abolish them as it pleases. It also follows that no doctrine of popular sovereignty can exist in Britain. In this state, power flows from the top down, not upwards from the people to their governors. </p><p>It could be said that this is a constitution for tyranny, in theory giving a prime minister who dominates parliament unlimited, even dictatorial power. And yet England, later Great Britain, has on the whole been celebrated for the relative mildness and tolerance of its governance. For that, the British can thank the legacy of the earlier English revolution of the 1640s, which failed but left behind it a memory of militant democracy and equality. </p><p>This system worked well as a way of limiting royal power. But in a later age of mass democracy, as the state enormously expanded its intervention in society, it became oppressive and restrictive. Almost everywhere else in the world, and especially in continental Europe, the <a href="http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryWorld/European/General/%7E%7E/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4MDE5OTI1NDU2OQ" target="_blank">ideas of the Enlightenment</a> and the French and American revolutions had seeded &quot;republican&quot; constitutions. There, power was deemed to rise from the base of the pyramid and flow upwards (popular sovereignty). It culminated in a &quot;supreme law&quot; or written constitution which was above all other laws, parliaments or individuals, and which in effect spelled out the rights of the people - the terms of the contract which allowed a government to require obedience from its citizens. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p>Also in openDemocracy on Britain&#39;s political future: </p> <p>Christopher Harvie, &quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/union_scots_4252.jsp">Union in a State: a Scots eye</a>&quot; <br /> (16 January 2007) </p> <p> Roger Scruton, &quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/england_identity_4578.jsp">England: an identity in question</a>&quot; (1 May 2007) </p> <p>Anthony Barnett, &quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-kingdom/constitution_4609.jsp">What will Gordon Brown do now? </a>&quot; (11 May 2007) </p> <p>Tom Nairn, &quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-kingdom/not_life_4616.jsp">Not on your life</a>&quot; (15 May 2007)</p> </div><p><strong>The English exception</strong></p><p>So the English/British system of <a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/199901290019" target="_blank">parliamentary absolutism</a> is both archaic and unique. But, even today, very few people in England are aware of this isolation. The notion of a supreme constitution is quite unfamiliar and bewildering. A group of English students was recently asked on radio what a written constitution might do. They were puzzled. Some suggested that it might lay down enforceable policy targets - like maximum health-service waiting times. </p><p>Such lack of imagination, such ignorance of the power and energy of democratic institutions rooted in the sovereignty of the people, is widespread. No wonder that the English use the word &quot;republicanism&quot; as if it meant no more than &quot;getting rid of the monarchy&quot;, and had nothing to do with the democratic structures used by almost the whole modern world beyond the Channel. </p><p>Let me give an example. In 1986, <a href="http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page126.asp" target="_blank">Margaret Thatcher</a> abolished the metropolitan county councils, the elected big-city authorities which were almost all in Labour hands. In so doing, she abolished the Greater London Council, the democratically-elected government of a city with a bigger population than Hungary. Her authority for doing this was no more than a simple majority vote in the House of Commons. </p><p>There were loud <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/31/newsid_2530000/2530803.stm" target="_blank">protests</a>, of course. But the point is that, if she had done this in any other west European country, she would have been instantly impeached and arrested. She would have faced trial for an outrageous breach of the constitution and its guarantee of the citizens&#39; rights, a crime defined in most republics as &quot;high treason&quot;. Almost certainly, Mrs Thatcher would either have been sent to prison or allowed to bolt into exile. If the West German chancellor of the day, Helmut Kohl, had put Lower Saxony under direct rule and abolished its government, he would probably still be in Stammheim jail, along with the survivors of the Baader-Meinhof gang. But did anyone in London make that contrast? No, nobody. </p><p>So grafting a genuine written constitution onto Britain, as opposed to a flimsy sham, is going to be an extremely tough struggle. A constitution which is worth anything is not just a proclamation of civic rights in big letters. It is the keystone of an arch. It&#39;s the completing act of building a whole system of democratic institutions around the idea that power flows from the base upwards, that the people make the state, that governments are only hired to do what people can&#39;t do for themselves. </p><p>In the UK state, this means standing the whole antique power-structure on its head. It means smashing its 300-year-old tradition of centralism. It means tearing up and burning its tradition of official secrecy - that all knowledge belongs to the crown, unless the government chooses to make an exception. </p><p><strong>The arena of struggle</strong></p><p>Here it&#39;s worth noting that more and more blobs of constitutionalism have begun to float on the surface of the old English pond. The UK&#39;s membership of the European Union, agreeing to obey Brussels in certain matters, is really a constitutional document. So is the 1707 union treaty with Scotland and its new annexe, the <a href="http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/scotact.htm" target="_blank">1998 Scotland Act</a>. The Official Secrets Act is now qualified by freedom-of-information legislation, allowing British subjects to demand (not always to get) information which the state in unwilling to disclose. </p><p>A <a href="http://www.yourrights.org.uk/your-rights/the-human-rights-act/index.shtml" target="_blank">Human Rights Act</a> was passed in 1998, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into English law. And a big growth area for lawyers is &quot;judicial review&quot; cases, in which a court can strike down an official decision as incorrect or perverse. Here England is edging towards the notion of a supreme law, although the courts would not yet dream of trying to overturn an act of parliament. </p><p>But these are isolated blobs. Will they ever coagulate until the pond is covered by the single smooth surface of a written constitution? It all depends on the determination of Gordon Brown, as the incoming prime minister. Equally, though, it depends on why Brown wants a constitution and what he intends to use it for. If it&#39;s for general liberty, then good. If on the other hand it&#39;s designed to head off developments Brown does not fancy, such as the <a href="http://scottishfutures.typepad.com/" target="_blank">increasing independence</a> of Scotland and <a href="http://www.iwa.org.uk/" target="_blank">Wales</a>, then it will fail. </p><p>It&#39;s been said that Gordon Brown will be the best-read prime minister since William Gladstone. He belongs to a generation of Labour intellectuals who realised in the 1970s that constitutional change mattered. The first translations into English of the works of Antonio Gramsci, appeared in Scotland about then. They helped to convince Brown that the British left was competing in an institutional arena designed to ensure that it could never win. So that arena had to be replaced. </p><p>Suddenly programmes like decentralisation, the anchoring of human rights in law, even electoral reform ceased to be Liberal diversions from the socialist struggle. They became the conditions for a new Labour party to seize and hold <a href="/themes/article.jsp?id=3&amp;articleId=1093">political hegemony</a>. After the death of John Smith in May 1994, Brown became the driving force behind Labour&#39;s devolution plans, rammed through as the new government&#39;s first priority in 1997. Left to himself, it&#39;s unlikely that Tony Blair would have made the Scotland Act and the <a href="http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/wales/walesact.htm" target="_blank">Government of Wales Act</a> happen. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><strong>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em> (1963; <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75" target="_blank">Granta, 1999</a>), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html" target="_blank">Random House, 1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028" target="_blank">Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em> (<a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980" target="_blank">Granta, 2003</a>)</strong></p> <hr /> <p><strong>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>&quot; <br />(August 2004)</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>&quot; <br />(April 2005) </strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (July 2005)</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarnoœæ</a>&quot; (September 2005) </strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland&#39;s interregnum</a>&quot; (September 2005)</strong></p> <p><strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory&#39;s</em> lost sister – the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>&quot; <br />(October 2005) </strong></p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>&quot; (February 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>&quot; (February 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>&quot; (March 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3561">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>&quot; (May 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/scotophobia_3692.jsp">Scotophobia</a>&quot; <br />(28 June 2006)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland&#39;s anguish</a>&quot; <br />(11 January 2007)</p> <p>&quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-journalismwar/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapuœciñski: from Poland to the world</a>&quot; <br />(25 January 2007) </p> <p>&quot;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-kingdom/scotland_election_4602.jsp">Scotland&#39;s democratic shame</a>&quot; <br />(9 May 2007)</p> </div><p><strong>A matter of timing</strong></p><p>And now? Gordon Brown&#39;s motives, his underlying <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/constitution_4609.jsp">strategy</a>, will be decisive. Unfortunately, it looks as if his interest in constitutional reform has become subsumed in his recent <a href="http://www.fabian-society.org.uk/press_office/display.asp?cat=43&amp;id=474" target="_blank">campaign for &quot;Britishness&quot;</a>. At a moment when the idea of &quot;British identity&quot; is visibly losing its appeal in England as well as Scotland and Wales, and when polls suggest that more English people would like to end the union than Scots, Brown is battling to head off &quot;petty nationalism&quot; and restore an overarching British patriotism. The Union Jack will be planted on a brand-new British constitution which will list British values (whatever they may be), redefine the state, and firmly close the door on any further drifts towards Welsh or Scottish defection. </p><p>It won&#39;t work. It&#39;s too late. There is indeed a country which needs to be converted to the cause of a written constitution, but its name is England. Scotland, especially, is already a long way down that road and marching without assistance. Historically a more European nation, the Scots have preserved in their legal tradition the idea of <em>Lex Rex</em>, a written <a href="http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521581721" target="_blank">supreme law</a> to which both kings and parliaments must bow. In 1988, Scotland&#39;s Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs signed the &quot;claim of right&quot;, which says quite explicitly that in Scotland sovereignty rests with the people - the precise opposite of the Westminster doctrine of sovereignty.</p><p>Especially since the elections on 3 May 2007, which <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/vote2007/scottish_parliment/html/scoreboard_99999.stm" target="_blank">narrowly</a> gave government in Edinburgh to the Scottish National Party, there is no way to bring Scotland back into some constitutional uniformity with the rest of the UK. Even before the elections, pressure was building to expand the 1998 devolution settlement in two ways. Firstly, there are gathering demands to give the <a href="http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/home.htm" target="_blank">Holyrood parliamen</a>t more of the powers reserved to London (taxation and immigration among them). Secondly, there is growing conviction that the powers of Holyrood and the Scottish executive must be securely <a href="http://www.sundayherald.com/campaign/constitution/display.var.1411809.0.successful_government_cant_be_built_on_alex_salmonds_smile_alone.php">entrenched</a> in some sort of constitutional document. In short, a Scottish - not a British - constitution. </p><p>Gordon Brown, it&#39;s said, is implacably opposed to any further extension of Holyrood&#39;s range of government (even less &quot;placable&quot;, in fact, than David Cameron&#39;s Conservative Party). But he is heading into a dead end. If he wants to be remembered as a great prime minister, he should back out of his doomed &quot;Britishness&quot; <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/britain_3214.jsp">enterprise</a> and set off down a different path, leading towards places where he might succeed. </p><p>There are two such places. First, he should not hinder but help Scotland to move forward down this chosen track of increasing self-government. It may or may not end in formal independence. Probably it will. What is certain is that it&#39;s no longer possible to incorporate Scotland into grand designs for &quot;British&quot; institutions. </p><p>A &quot;union&quot; of sorts will survive, but made out of the myriad ties of family, work, memory and genuine affection which link the two nations. <a href="http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/chap_page.jsp?t_id=Defoe&amp;c_id=35" target="_blank">Daniel Defoe</a> wrote cynically that the 1707 union was &quot;divided Hearts, united States&quot;. But I suspect that, three centuries on, exactly the opposite will turn out to be true. </p><p>The other <em>grand project</em>, ensuring a Brown statue in the palace of Westminster, is to secure a written constitution for England - not for Britain. England is rediscovering its <a href="http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199245192&amp;view=00" target="_blank">identity</a>. To complete that rediscovery, England&#39;s institutions have to be dragged out of the 17th century and recast in the forms proper to a modern rights-based democracy. </p><p>That would be good for the English. But it would also be good for the rest of the world. Europe, especially, would at last have a common political language with a nation often admired but - in the spirit of its laws - always just out of touch. </p></div> democracy & power europe ourkingdom Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Best of 2007 Mon, 21 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 4636 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Scotland's democratic shame https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-institutions_government/scotland_election_4602.jsp <p>Scotland has a rich vocabulary for disastrous failures. Much of it has come into use in the aftermath of the elections to the nation&#39;s parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh on 3 May 2007. When Robert Burns remarked that &quot;The best laid schemes o&#39; Mice an&#39; Men / Gang aft agley&quot;, he was well aware how his country&#39;s grandest designs have a tendency to end wheels-up in the ditch. And he had the words for it. </p><p>Some commentators described the elections as a <em>guddle </em>(a fine word, derived from the splashy mess when you try to catch fish with your hands). Others spoke of a <em>fankle</em>, the word for a hopeless tangle of loops and knots in a fishing-line. And others again called the scene a <em>bourach</em>. That can mean a lot of things, starting with a rope-fetter to stop a cow kicking, but here it is a heap, a tumbled mess, a wagon which has overturned and shed its load all over the causeway. </p><p>This particular bourach consists of two tumbled messes, one upon another. The first is the utter confusion of the poll itself, which was so ill-conducted in so many different ways that its verdict scarcely carries authority. The second, far more important for the political future, is the failure of Scottish politicians to make a new government out of the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/05/04/nelections1004.xml" target="_blank">election results</a>. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p>openDemocracy's new blog "<a href="http://ourkingdom.wordpress.com/about-2/">Our Kingdom</a>" launches this week with contributions from Tom Nairn and Pat Kane (Scotland), John Osmond (Wales), Robin Wilson (Northern Ireland), and Peter Oborne and David Marquand (England)&#133; with, from its architect Anthony Barnett, a <a href="http://ourkingdom.wordpress.com/tag/britain/">scoop</a>!</p> <p>Also in openDemocracy on Scotland and Britain&#146;s new politics of nationality: </p> <p>David Hayes, "<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization/wallace_2774.jsp">William Wallace and reinventing Scotland</a>" <br />(23 August 2005) </p> <p>Stephen Howe, "Mad dogs and Ulstermen: the crisis of loyalism" (<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-protest/loyalism_2876.jsp">part one</a>, 28 September 2005; <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/loyalism_2885.jsp">part two</a>, 30 September 2005) </p> <p>Robin Wilson, "<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/ulster_2915.jsp">Northern Ireland&#146;s peace by peace</a>" <br /> (12 October 2005) </p> <p>Christopher Harvie, "<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/union_scots_4252.jsp">Union in a State: a Scots eye</a>" <br /> (16 January 2007) </p> <p> John Horgan, "<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/northern_ireland_4411.jsp">Northern Ireland: a view from the south</a>" (7 March 2007) </p> <p>Christopher Harvie, "<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/scotland_election_4551.jsp">Scotland's election, history&#146;s tides</a>" <br /> (23 April 2007) </p> <p> Roger Scruton, "<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/england_identity_4578.jsp">England: an identity in question</a>" (1 May 2007) </p> </div><p>When the chaos of the election process became clear, many Scots felt humiliated. &quot;The world will be laughing at us&quot;. Three guddles had added up to a terminal fankle. Firstly, postal votes went undelivered by the thousand. Secondly, the new computers hired to replace manual counting and give a faster result broke down all over Scotland. Many declarations were delayed by up to twelve hours as returning officers sent their exhausted staff home for the night. But thirdly, and gravest of all, the voters failed to <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article1756280.ece" target="_blank">cope</a> with the revised ballot-papers, redesigned from their familiar form because the governing Labour Party felt that the old lay-out discriminated against their own candidates.</p><p>The Scottish parliamentary elections use the &quot;additional member&quot; method (AMS), well-tried in many countries. It offers <a href="http://www.votescotland.com/stv/228.html" target="_blank">two votes</a>: a cross against the name of a local constituency candidate and a second one for a regional party list. But on top of that, the 2007 poll included a ballot-paper for local councillors, based on the unfamiliar &quot;single transferable vote&quot; method which requires the elector to number the candidates in order of preference. Unprepared and baffled, many Scots scattered their crosses in all the wrong places. </p><p>The outcome was that almost 142,000 votes were <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/6637387.stm" target="_blank">rejected</a> as incorrectly filled in (85,644 in the constituency vote and 56,247 from the regional list). In a small country where only 51% of the registered electorate turned out to vote, this meant that about 7% of the votes cast were disqualified. If the result of the election had not been so close, locally and nationally, this disaster might not have mattered so much. But when the last declarations had been made next day, and when the final computation of seats was made, the <a href="http://www.snp.org/" target="_blank">Scottish National Party</a> (SNP) had emerged as the largest party by only one single seat. </p><p>In sixteen out of the sixty-four constituency seats, the total of rejected votes was higher - often far higher - than the majority of the winning candidate. Understandably, there are already demands for recounts (by manual counting) and threats of legal challenges under European human-rights legislation. In other words, if only one single seat or list-place changes party hands through a recount, the SNP could lose even the minimal majority it won. It&#39;s arguable that the whole election should be declared invalid and rerun. But no leading politician dares to say that in public. </p><p><strong>The Holyrood tunnel</strong></p><p>So a bungled election leads to a tragic political impasse. Tragic, because this should - even for those who are not tempted by the idea of Scottish independence - have been one of those &quot;glad morning&quot; dawns of change. For the first time in about fifty years, the Labour Party has lost control of Scottish politics - at both national and local level. For the first time ever in its eighty years of existence, the Scottish National Party has broken through to become Scotland&#39;s leading political force, the winner of a democratic election. </p><p>There is no question about it: the SNP <a href="http://www.snp.org/press-releases/2006/snp-celebrate-success/" target="_blank">won</a> the campaign, and its leader, Alex Salmond, emerged in the last few months as the most convincing figure in Scottish politics. Equally, it&#39;s beyond question that Scottish Labour lost the campaign, putting up a sullen, negative showing under the leadership of the decent but increasingly bewildered <a href="http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Ministers/First-Minister" target="_blank">Jack McConnell</a>, the outgoing first minister. In contrast, the SNP slogan &quot;It&#39;s time&quot; seemed to catch an impatient readiness for change. </p><p style="line-height: 150%" class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em> (1963; <a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=75 target=_blank>Granta, 1999</a>), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html target=_blank>Random House, 1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href=http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028 target=_blank>Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em> (<a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=980 target=_blank>Granta, 2003</a>)</b></p> <hr color=#3399cc size=1 width=50px /> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>" <br />(August 2004)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" <br />(April 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263;</a>" (September 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland's interregnum</a>" (September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory's</em> lost sister &#150; the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" <br />(October 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>" (March 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3561">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>" (May 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/scotophobia_3692.jsp">Scotophobia</a>" <br />(28 June 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland's anguish</a>" <br />(11 January 2007)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-journalismwar/kapuscinski_4286.jsp">Ryszard Kapu&#347;ci&#324;ski: from Poland to the world</a>" <br />(25 January 2007) </p></div><p>But winning campaigns, even winning elections by a whisker, does not always add up to winning power. The SNP now finds itself in a trap. It has no overall parliamentary majority at <a href="http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/home.htm" target="_blank">Holyrood</a>. And its chances of finding enough coalition partners or allies to allow an SNP government to govern suddenly look remote. <a href="http://www.snp.org/people" target="_blank">Alex Salmond</a> is reduced to the prospect of a minority government, living from day to day, at the mercy of its enemies. </p><p>In the two previous Scottish parliaments (1999-2003 and 2003-07), the <a href="http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/" target="_blank">Liberal Democrats</a> were junior partners in coalition governments with the Labour Party. Now that Labour has been defeated, the Lib-Dems are the only plausible partners for the SNP. And yet they have flatly refused all Salmond&#39;s approaches. Their leader <a href="http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msp/membersPages/nicol_stephen/index.htm" target="_blank">Nicol Stephen</a> insists that negotiations are pointless until the SNP gives up its intention to hold a referendum on Scottish independence by 2010. </p><p>There is something very odd about this. At first, people thought Nicol Stephen was bluffing, trying to raise the price for his support. But he is not. And yet none of the reasons for his refusal make sense. </p><p>It&#39;s worth looking at the Lib-Dem case in detail:</p><blockquote><p>1. &quot;We are a Unionist party, and can have no part in any independence project&quot;.</p></blockquote><p>This is ridiculous for two reasons. </p><p>Firstly, because the Lib-Dems are actually a federalist party, not really a unionist one dedicated to the preservation of a centralising British state governed from London. They demand sweeping increases in Holyrood&#39;s power over finance, which under the British system would almost inevitably lead towards full independence. </p><p>Secondly, the grounds for opposing a referendum don&#39;t hold water. If the Scots do want Scotland to become an independent state, then blocking their opportunity to say so is a violation of democracy. If they don&#39;t want independence (and at present most do not) then a &quot;unionist&quot; party has nothing to fear from a referendum.</p><blockquote><p>2. &quot;The only referendum that counts is the vote on May 3rd - and by voting mainly for Unionist parties, the Scots have already rejected independence&quot;.</p></blockquote><p>This is a quite childish view of politics. &quot;Independence&quot; was not on the ballot-paper, and constitutional matters hardly ever direct people&#39;s choice between parties at elections. In Scotland, every politician knows that party loyalty doesn&#39;t tell you about a voter&#39;s views on the union. For many years, the biggest single block of pro-independence Scots was composed of committed Labour voters - although their party was rigidly unionist.</p><blockquote><p>3. &quot;The SNP won&#39;t compromise on their referendum; it&#39;s their only policy&quot;. </p></blockquote><p>Nobody believes this. Salmond, who originally wanted a one-question, yes-or-no ballot, now repeats that he would accept a multi-option referendum (making an absolute majority for independence almost impossible). He makes clear that the poll could be delayed for years. Finally, he would consent to parking the whole independence / referendum question with a cross-party constitutional convention, leaving the parliament free to get on with normal business. </p><p>The convention idea was also in the Lib-Dems&#39; <a href="http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/our-positive-programme-of-action" target="_blank">manifesto</a>. Neither is the &quot;one policy&quot; gibe true. The SNP does in fact have a detailed programme of reforms - many of which are close to the Lib-Dems&#39; own. As well as the constitutional convention, the SNP shares the Lib-Dem demands for expanded powers for Holyrood and a local income tax. Labour and the Tories would not touch either notion.</p><blockquote><p>4. &quot;The suspense of an independence referendum would overshadow the whole parliament, making coherent reforms impossible&quot;. </p></blockquote><p>There is no evidence whatever for this, especially since it&#39;s common knowledge how unlikely a &quot;yes&quot; majority for independence is at the moment. In any case, a referendum has to be decreed by Holyrood, and the SNP - even if it did form a coalition - would probably lose that vote. </p><p><strong>The power of suffocation</strong></p><p>It follows that, given the feebleness of Nicol Stephen&#39;s arguments, there must be some other reason for his stubborn refusal to seek a deal. In Scotland, a rather convincing conspiracy theory is gaining ground. This reports that an ambitious bargain has been struck between the two &quot;big beast&quot; Scots at Westminster: <a href="http://www.libdems.org.uk/party/people/rt-hon-sir-menzies-campbell-cbe-qc.html" target="_blank">Menzies Campbell</a>, leader of the British Liberal Democrats, and <a href="http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/about/ministerial_profiles/minprofile_brown.cfm" target="_blank">Gordon Brown</a>, soon to become Labour prime minister in succession to Tony Blair. </p><p>The terms would run like this. In Scotland, the Scottish Lib-Dems will boycott all contacts with Alex Salmond and instead join an unofficial &quot;unionist bloc&quot; of Labour, Tories and Lib-Dems at Holyrood. The bloc (already nicknamed &quot;the unholy alliance&quot;) would treat the SNP ministers as outlaws, despite their democratic mandate. It would oppose and frustrate every attempt they made to govern until the SNP-led Scottish executive collapsed and the <a href="http://www.politics.co.uk/news/party-politics/party-politics/snp-prepare-minority-government-$473122.htm" target="_blank">minority government</a> resigned. </p><p>In return, Gordon Brown would look kindly on the Liberal Democrats if - as seems possible - the next United Kingdom elections in 2009 destroy Labour&#39;s absolute majority and produce a hung parliament at Westminster. Then there could be a Lib-Lab coalition at the <a href="../globalization-institutions_government/britain_3214.jsp">British level</a>; and - if Brown is feeling especially grateful - some assurance that proportional representation would be introduced for Westminster elections. </p><p>And in Scotland, a third Lib-Lab coalition executive would be constructed. The Nats would be shown, once and for all, that they were aliens and intruders with no right to govern Scotland. No referendum would be allowed, and the independence idea would be discredited for ever. End of story, with everyone happy... </p><p>Could this frightful scenario really be taken seriously by anyone? It seems that it could. And yet it is not only a democratic disgrace. It is a script for uncontrollable political upheaval at some point in the future. The desire for change in Scotland is authentic. A steady current of opinion is moving towards wider self-government for Scotland, including fiscal autonomy - extensions of devolution which the UK framework and Prime Minister Gordon Brown may be unable to tolerate. </p><p>Pretending that all this isn&#39;t happening by suffocating its messenger - the SNP majority in the elections - is suicidally daft. The implication is that devolution amounts to a sham, and that the important decisions about Scotland - not just policy decisions but even the choice of which party governs in Edinburgh - are still taken behind closed doors in London. What conclusions are <a href="http://www.sundayherald.com/campaign/constitution/display.var.1384548.0.0.php" target="_blank">Scottish voters</a> supposed to draw from that? </p><p>So <a href="http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article2491827.ece" target="_blank">Alex Salmond</a> is left with no alternative. It&#39;s minority government or nothing. Westminster tradition sees this as un-British. In fact, there were two minority British governments as recently as the 1970s, both Labour. <a href="http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page129.asp" target="_blank">Harold Wilson</a> ran one in the immediate aftermath of the February 1974 elections. After Wilson resigned in March 1976, the narrow parliamentary majority of his successor <a href="http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page127.asp" target="_blank">James Callaghan</a> became ever tinier thanks to a series of by-election defeats over the next three years. To keep the wheels of government turning he had to rely on &quot;arrangements&quot; with the Liberals and - as it happens - the then sizeable SNP contingent to get its laws through. It has to be said that neither was a success story. Wilson gave up after a few months, and called fresh elections in November 1974 which gave him a working majority. Callaghan struggled on, until his failure to ratify Scottish devolution in 1979 moved the SNP MPs to bring him down. </p><p>But minority governments can survive, even get things done. All depends on the tolerance and responsibility of the opposition parties. And those who planned the Scottish parliament in the 1990s had a vision of a new sort of democratic assembly, far removed from obsolete Westminster patterns, whose watchword would be cooperation rather than confrontation. Party boundaries would be relaxed and party whips would not dragoon their flocks. </p><p>Some of that - although far from all - has become reality at Holyrood. But will the opposition parties remember those cooperative dreams as they close in on the helpless SNP? Alex Salmond&#39;s hope, even more urgent than holding that referendum, is to show the Scots that the SNP can govern sensibly, effectively and constructively. It does not look as if he will be allowed that chance. </p></div> democracy & power Globalisation europe ourkingdom institutions & government Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Tue, 08 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 4602 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world https://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-protest/kapuscinski_4286.jsp <p> The death of Ryszard Kapuściński on <a href="http://www.poland.pl/news/article,Kapu%C5%9Bci%C5%84ski_dies_in_Warsaw,id,255676.htm" target="_blank">23 January 2007</a> in Warsaw shocked friends, colleagues and readers all over the world. He was 74, but somehow we had all assumed that this small rugged man with the sly smile was indestructible. He had survived so much. The Soviet and then Nazi occupation of his homeland, twenty-seven (or was it twenty-eight?) revolutions and coups all over the world, escape from at least four executions and an near-lethal attack of cerebral malaria in Tanzania, even the smoke, alcohol and stress of a Polish journalist&#39;s life - none of these seemed to affect him. He grew a little quieter, as if intimidated by his own fame, but that was all. </p> Kapuściński was a rare writer in several ways. In the first place, he was a writer who became a news-agency <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&amp;grid=&amp;xml=/news/2007/01/25/db2502.xml" target="_blank">journalist</a> and yet preserved his literary talent intact, producing subtle and bewitching books after a lifetime of leg-work. He managed to keep his writer&#39;s third eye open while wrestling with the agency reporter&#39;s desperate daily and nightly struggle; the battle against updates and call-backs, telex machines which break down, and locked cable offices to which nobody has the key. He could do the curt style of press-agency cables, fact-based and frill-free, and yet his imagination stayed switched on, recording for future use significant details, ironies, characters, unexpected resemblances. <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote"> <p> <strong>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em> (1963; <a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=75" target="_blank">Granta, 1999</a>), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html" target="_blank">Random House, 1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href="http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028" target="_blank">Farrar, Straus &amp; Giroux, 1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em> (<a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980" target="_blank">Granta, 2003</a>)</strong> </p> <hr /> <p> <strong>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</strong> </p> <p> <strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>&quot; <br /> (August 2004)</strong> </p> <p> <strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>&quot; <br /> (April 2005) </strong> </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> <strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#39;s rocky road</a>&quot; (July 2005)</strong> </p> <p> <strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarnoœæ</a>&quot; (September 2005) </strong> </p> <p> <strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland&#39;s interregnum</a>&quot; (September 2005)</strong> </p> <p> <strong>&quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory&#39;s</em> lost sister – the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>&quot; <br /> (October 2005) </strong> </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>&quot; (February 2006) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>&quot; (February 2006) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>&quot; (March 2006) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3561">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>&quot; (May 2006) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/scotophobia_3692.jsp">Scotophobia</a>&quot; <br /> (28 June 2006) </p> <p> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp">Catholic Poland&#39;s anguish</a>&quot; <br /> (11 January 2007) </p> </div> <p> <strong>From reporting to parable</strong> </p> <p> But he was also the last practitioner of an old genre of writing: the <a href="http://www.granta.com/authors/114" target="_blank">literary globetrotter</a>. He was writing books and long feature pieces for readers in communist Poland, where foreign travel was the rarest of privileges. But generations before the Iron Curtain descended, the public of European countries whose culture was continental and often landlocked, rather than colonial and oceanic, were avid for exotic tales from strange places overseas. Some of these readers lived in provinces of the Habsburg empire; others - like Poland - had lost their independence and their direct channel to outside experience; others again, especially imperial Germany, were latecomers to the colonial scramble and hungry for tropical anecdotes. </p> <p> A throng of talented writers from central and eastern Europe took ship to provide their readers with the palm trees, crocodiles and cannibals they yearned for. The old colonial powers, Britain, France and the Netherlands in particular, had been feeding their publics with this sort of popular literature for generations. But now <a href="http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/karlmay.htm" target="_blank">Karl May</a> offered Germany noble savages, while <a href="http://www.thepress.purdue.edu/Books%20Pages/Book%20Descriptions/EgonKischSegel.asp" target="_blank">Egon Erwin Kisch</a> fed Czech and Austrian readers with dazzling reportage from distant continents. </p> <p> The fifty years of communist rule returned most of central and eastern Europe to a bleak isolation in which the adventures of the globetrotter - tailored by the censor - fed imaginations starving for travel and colour. Poland was a relatively tolerant province of the Soviet empire, and Ryszard Kapuściński was only the most <a href="http://www.culture.pl/en/culture/literatura" target="_blank">gifted</a> of a dozen writers and reporters licensed to roam the world and offer Poles at least a whiff of the great world outside. He became famous in his own country, long before his Ethiopian book <em>The Emperor</em> was published in English in 1983 and gave him an international reputation. </p> <p> <em>The Emperor</em>, based on interviews with courtiers of the fallen Haile Selassie, rescued for posterity an almost forgotten and yet historically decisive institution: a royal court with all its customs, its meaningful routines and ceremonies, and its subtle attitudes to power and influence. Kapuściński had already reported the Ethiopian military putsch of 1974 for his employers, the Polish Press Agency (<a href="http://www.pap.com.pl/polski/ogolnie/historia.html" target="_blank">PAP</a>), and knew his way around Addis Ababa. But as well as a reporter and chronicler, he was also a writer of political parables. </p> <p> <strong>Home truths from abroad</strong> </p> <p> The book about Haile Selassie and his court, and the history of the last days of that empire, was published in Poland in 1978. The idea for an instant book came from his publisher, and at first Kapuściński was reluctant. One African putsch was much like another: what could he write that was new? But then two things happened. The first was a typical writer&#39;s epiphany, a significant detail. He remembered a tiny dog which had nestled on Haile Selassie&#39;s lap, and the words of a palace servant: &quot;It was a little Japanese miniature dog, and its name was Lulu&quot;. Kapuściński recalled: &quot;When I had that absolutely simplest of sentences, I knew I had a book!&quot; </p> <p> The second impulse was more gradual. Writing about the futile &quot;development&quot; plans of the emperor in his final years, Kapuściński was increasingly reminded of what was happening in his own country. There matured in his head the idea of a trilogy, three works about rulers who had fancied that they could substitute economic progress for democracy. <em>The Emperor </em>was the first. Kapuściński wrote the second book - <em>Shah of Shahs</em> - a few years later. There was to be a third book, this time about Idi Amin and Uganda, but Kapuściński never finished it. </p> <p> His plan, pretty transparent at the time, was to debunk the regime of <a href="http://www.warsawvoice.pl/archiwum.phtml/12864/" target="_blank">Edward Gierek</a> in Poland in a way which would get past the censors. Gierek had come to power in 1970 and, after a brief honeymoon with relatively free expression, launched a programme for transforming the Polish economy and the life of Polish consumers which - he hoped - would render demands for democratic liberties irrelevant. As with Haile Selassie and the Shah of Iran, this project ended in catastrophe and social explosion: strikes, police repression, the collapse of the economy under foreign debts and finally the <a href="/democracy-protest/solidarity_2806.jsp">Solidarity revolution</a> of 1980. </p> <p> As for the Idi Amin book, it would seem that Kapuściński lost interest when it became clear, in the late 1980s, that the whole communist episode was coming to an ignominious close. His own explanation was that <em>perestroika</em> broke out next door in the Soviet Union while he was labouring over the manuscript, and there were suddenly more urgent and important things to report and analyse than the activities of an African dictator. </p> <p> He wrote studies of mighty leaders, but his reporting was founded on talking to the poor and the anonymous. He saw so much failure and tragedy, and yet he <a href="http://www.umich.edu/%7Eiinet/journal/vol6no1/kapuschinski.html" target="_blank">remained</a> an optimist. Kapuściński, like many young men in post-war Poland, began as an idealistic communist, soon to be disillusioned by the period of extreme Stalinism in the early 1950s. He was still trusted by the regime, who thought him suitable for the infinitely coveted job of a foreign correspondent, but his experience of the outside world completed his alienation and in 1980 he was a convinced supporter of Solidarity. </p> <p> In that summer of rebellion, a cryptic remark of his went around: &quot;At last, Poland is learning from its experience rather than from its mistakes&quot;. At the time, I thought that this was an empty observation - not least because so much of recent Polish experience had consisted of mistakes. Later, I came to see that he was talking about authenticity in politics, and suggesting that Soviet-style communism could never have sent down lasting roots into Polish society. </p> <p> There is a revealing passage near the end of <em>Shah of Shahs</em>, in which he describes the Shah&#39;s &quot;Great Civilisation&quot; as a rejected implant. &quot;The rejection ... once it begins, the process is irreversible. All it takes is for society to accept the conviction that the imposed form of society does more harm than good. Soon the discontent becomes manifest ... there will be no peace until the imposed, alien body is purged ... And yet there were noble intentions and lofty ideals behind the Great Civilisation. But people saw them only as caricatures.&quot; That was Ryszard Kapuściński&#39;s verdict on the 20th century, and on the 21st as well. The great totalitarian creeds have passed away, but the forcible implanting of alien social forms still happens all around us. </p> </div> Conflict conflicts democracy & power europe politics of protest journalism & war Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Thu, 25 Jan 2007 00:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 4286 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Catholic Poland's anguish https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/poland_church_4237.jsp <p>Last autumn in Poland, I went to visit the graves of two friends near Krak&oacute;w. They lay side by side in the little cemetery of the Benedictine monastery at Tyniec. The sun was warm; it was a still, golden day and the Vistula river at the foot of the hill seemed to drift rather than flow. </p><p>Both men, as 20th century Poles, had lived tormented, complex lives. Both, I think (though they never spoke of it), came from Jewish backgrounds but had lived their lives as devoted Catholics. One, an editor, had defied communist censorship and Vatican disapproval to run an intellectual Catholic weekly. The other, a journalist, had a more shadowed past; his mockery of everything except his own vision of his nation and his church had made some people suspect him - wrongly - of having no principles at all and acting as an informer to the secret police.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><p>Coming away, my companions pointed to a row of plain crosses where the Benedictine monks of Tyniec were buried. One of them bore the name of Brother Michalowski. No special mark on the cross suggested that this monk had not been as holy as his neighbours. But Brother Michalowski, I was told, had been revealed as a long-term paid agent for the secret police who had done infinite damage to his order, his church and his nation over many decades. </p><p>In 1968, for example, he had given shelter to a Czech couple who had fled over the mountains from the Soviet invasion in August that year. They confided to him their plans to reach the west by smuggling themselves onto a Swedish ship at the port of Gdynia. But their saintly protector passed this information to the <em>Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa</em>&nbsp;(Security Service / <a href="http://www.axisglobe.com/polish108.htm" target="_blank">SB</a>), who arrested the young Czechs on the quayside and ensured that they spent many years in prison. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em> (1963; <a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=75 target=_blank>Granta, 1999</a>), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html target=_blank>Random House, 1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href=http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028 target=_blank>Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em> (<a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=980 target=_blank>Granta, 2003</a>)</b></p> <hr color=#3399cc size=1 width=50px /> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>" <br />(August 2004)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" <br />(April 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#156;æ</a>" (September 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland's interregnum</a>" (September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory's</em> lost sister &#150; the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" <br />(October 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>" (March 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3561">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>" (May 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/scotophobia_3692.jsp">Scotophobia</a>" <br />(28 June 2006)</p></div><p><strong>A Warsaw storm</strong></p><p>The facts of Brother Michalowski&#39;s treachery only emerged after his death. He was luckier than Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus. A growing storm of media <a href="http://www.polskieradio.pl/polonia/article.asp?tId=46315&amp;j=2" target="_blank">revelations</a> about Wielgus&#39;s past as an SB informer culminated on Sunday 7 January 2006 in an incomparably Polish melodrama. In front of a completely unprepared congregation gathered to witness his installation as archbishop of Warsaw, which including the president of the republic (Lech Kaczynski) and the primate (Jozef Glemp), Wielgus announced that he was <a href="http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/84848.aspx" target="_blank">resigning</a> immediately. </p><p>Next day, the rector of the Wawel cathedral in Krakow, Father <a href="http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/08/news/poland.php" target="_blank">Janusz Bielanski</a>, surrendered to similar press stories about his collaboration with the secret police and resigned. And the storm blows on. </p><p>The daily paper <em>Dziennik</em> now says that it has a list of twelve names of senior church figures, at least one of them a bishop, who collaborated with the religious affairs division of the SB in 1978 in an unsuccessful attempt to influence the choice of the next primate of Poland. A Krak&oacute;w priest who specialises in researching SB files on the Catholic church, Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, says that he will <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/01/10/polish-church.html" target="_blank">publish</a> a book in mid-February listing thirty-nine clerical informers, including three current bishops. And so it goes on. </p><p>In immediate political terms, the spreading scandal obviously serves the aims of the present rightwing coalition government (headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of Lech). The platform of the leading party in the coalition, <em>Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc </em><em>(</em><a href="http://www.pis.org.pl/main.php" target="_blank">Law &amp; Justice / PiS</a>), is dominated by a raucous, populist campaign which warns that hidden communists and Russian agents are still in important positions, and asserts that the &quot;<a href="http://www.ce-review.org/00/30/rohozinska30.html" target="_blank">lustration</a>&quot; process supposed to keep former secret-police agents out of public life has completely failed. Exposing SB influence in the senior church hierarchy obviously helps to raise the <a href="http://www.humanrightshouse.org/dllvis5.asp?id=2937" target="_blank">temperature</a> of public panic - as long as the government does not overdo it by offending the faithful masses in what remains Europe&#39;s most Catholic nation.</p><p><strong>A church invincible, and fallible</strong></p><p>But how much of a revelation, really, are all these exposures of informers within the church? The problem is that Poland, over the last fifty years or so, has retreated into a fog of cognitive dissonance on this and other subjects. People have wanted to believe that everything is corrupt, and at the same time that everything is heroic. </p><p>It&#39;s fifty years since I first travelled in Poland, and I can confirm that collaboration by many priests and bishops with the security police was absolutely common knowledge then and has remained common knowledge ever since. And yet at the same time, Poles have also sanctified the Catholic church as the carrier and saviour of Polish national identity and culture through the darkest periods of wartime and <a href="http://www.kasprzyk.demon.co.uk/www/PostWar.html" target="_blank">post-war</a> oppression. In the communist decades, they spoke of the priesthood as a league of devoted, stainless patriots defending (as Father Jerzy Popieluszko used to say) &quot;Poland&#39;s thousand-year-old religion of love against the modern Bolshevik cult of atheism and hatred&quot;. </p><p><a href="http://www.polskieradio.pl/polonia/article.asp?tId=43465&amp;j=2" target="_blank">Father Popieluszko</a> was one who perfectly fitted that vision. He supported the Solidarity uprising in 1980, eluded clumsy SB attempts to compromise him (mostly with women), and was eventually murdered by officers of the SB religious affairs division in 1984. No wonder that in the early 1980s, as young men flocked to volunteer for the priesthood during the dark years of martial law, people said: &quot;In Poland, our army wears black&quot;. </p><p>So these two notions, of the church invincible and the church all too fallible, somehow coexisted in Polish minds. But the real division in the church was generational, between those who accepted that the communist state could not be overthrown and must be conciliated and those - the younger priesthood, especially - who thought that the state&#39;s authority was <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pope/interviews/ascherson.html" target="_blank">fragile</a> as well as corrupt and should be confronted. </p><p>It&#39;s ironic to recall the life of one of the great princes of the Polish church, cardinal and primate Stefan Wyszynski. By the time of his death in 1981, he was revered as the most steadfast and unbending antagonist of the communist system; next to <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-catholicchurch/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II</a> in Rome, he was the individual the Polish regime feared most. Yet even he had once fallen under Vatican suspicion of being a communist agent. </p><p>Arrested in 1953, he had been released by <a href="http://ips.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/2/143" target="_blank">Wladyslaw Gomulka</a>, the communist leader who in October 1956 defied Soviet power and introduced a brief period of relative liberty. Wyszynski and Gomulka reached a compromise unique in the Soviet empire: the church would respect the authority of the Marxist state and the Soviet alliance, and in return would regain its right to make its own appointments, to teach religion in schools and to publish an independent newspaper. </p><p>As Polish passions in those months seethed up towards insurrection, Wyszynski used all his authority to urge prudence and obedience to the state. In a famous sermon, he said that &quot;a man dies once and is quickly covered with glory, but he lives in difficulty, in hardship, pain and suffering for long years, and that is the greater heroism...&quot; But all these compromises with the &quot;Bolshevik, atheist&quot; state were regarded as scandalous by the Vatican, and Cardinal Wyszynski was treated almost as a communist collaborator when he visited the Holy See a few months later. </p><p>The Vatican has never shown much grasp of Polish realities, apart from the twenty-seven years when <a href="http://www.poland.gov.pl/?document=2435" target="_blank">Karol Wojtyla</a> wore the triple crown. Pope Benedict XVI went ahead and nominated Stanislaw Wielgus as archbishop in spite of warnings about his past. During the second world war, Pope Pius XII did little to stop the murderous persecution of the Polish church by the Nazi occupiers and ignored Polish Catholic appeals to protest against the extermination of the Jews.&nbsp; </p><p>And back in the 19th century, while Poland was <a href="http://www.polishroots.com/genpoland/polhistory.htm" target="_blank">partitioned</a> by foreign empires, the papacy supported &quot;order&quot; imposed by Prussian Lutheran kings or Russian Orthodox czars and condemned as dangerously &quot;liberal&quot; the freedom struggles of a Catholic nation. In other words, Polish popular reverence for the papacy, in the pathetic belief that the Vatican has always regarded Catholic Poland as the holy church&#39;s favourite child, is another venerable self-deception. </p><p><strong>The Polish web</strong></p><p>Two factors made police pressure on the church especially harsh in communist Poland. The first was the utterly bizarre and heretical status of the church after 1956: a huge, self-managing institution independent of party control and essentially hostile to the Marxist worldview. No other communist state would have tolerated this, but the price of the Polish compromise was the enormous time and <a href="http://ncrcafe.org/node/813" target="_blank">resources</a> which the state devoted to spying on the church, infiltrating or blackmailing its hierarchy and trying to influence its decisions.&nbsp; </p><p>The second factor behind this pressure was that the church had a great deal to lose, and the security men knew it. There was church property, of course, but even more precious was the right to minister to the Catholic faithful, to preach, to administer the sacraments and to preserve what remained of Christian influence in an officially atheist society. These are duties owed - in the religious view - not only to man but to God, and much compromise can be justified in order to preserve them. A bishop, warned that a seminary would be closed for &quot;health and safety&quot; reasons unless he agreed to give Colonel X monthly briefings on the opinions of diocesan clergy, was in a hard moral position. So, in a different way, was a parish priest being told by Captain Y that his affair with a local woman would be reported to his bishop, unless he gave the police a list of all his parishioners who listened to Radio Free Europe. </p><p>The church, in short, was hopelessly vulnerable. The episcopate, above all, had every motive to keep the parish priests under tight political control, in case they gave the SB a chance to intervene with threats or blackmail. In retrospect, it is amazing that some bishops - like Cardinal Wyszynski himself, or the irrepressible Bishop <a href="http://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?06PLAAAA01252862" target="_blank">Ignacy Tokarczuk</a> of Przemysl - were as defiant as they were. But other leaders, like Wyszynski&#39;s successor as primate, <a href="http://sunday.niedziela.pl/artykul.php?nr=200409&amp;dz=polska&amp;id_art=00070" target="_blank">Jozef Glemp</a>, exasperated democrats by their reluctance to stand up for human rights or defend clergy under attack for their political opinions.&nbsp; </p><p>Today, nearly twenty years since the collapse of the communist regime, it&#39;s hard to reconstruct the context in which priests became informers. Does it matter? Unfortunately, it does. The significance of all these old revelations is that they are pushing the authority of the Catholic church in Poland into a <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,458358,00.html" target="_blank">different</a>, qualified, diminished shape. Often, the individual cases are unfair. But in a historical perspective, it may be that the scandal of the church informers is doing to Poland what the long scandal over the abuse of children in church care did to Ireland: opening a painful passage towards modernity.&nbsp; </p></div> politics of protest democracy & power europe Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Thu, 11 Jan 2007 00:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 4237 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Catholic Poland's anguish https://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/catholic-polands-anguish <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>During the communist era, many Polish priests collaborated with the communist authorities and informed on ordinary Catholics - a fact that is being conveniently forgotten.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Last autumn in Poland, I went to visit the graves of two friends near Kraków. They lay side by side in the little cemetery of the Benedictine monastery at Tyniec. The sun was warm; it was a still, golden day and the Vistula river at the foot of the hill seemed to drift rather than flow.</p><p>Both men, as 20th century Poles, had lived tormented, complex lives. Both, I think (though they never spoke of it), came from Jewish backgrounds but had lived their lives as devoted Catholics. One, an editor, had defied communist censorship and Vatican disapproval to run an intellectual Catholic weekly. The other, a journalist, had a more shadowed past; his mockery of everything except his own vision of his nation and his church had made some people suspect him - wrongly - of having no principles at all and acting as an informer to the secret police.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Coming away, my companions pointed to a row of plain crosses where the Benedictine monks of Tyniec were buried. One of them bore the name of Brother Michalowski. No special mark on the cross suggested that this monk had not been as holy as his neighbours. But Brother Michalowski, I was told, had been revealed as a long-term paid agent for the secret police who had done infinite damage to his order, his church and his nation over many decades.</p><p>In 1968, for example, he had given shelter to a Czech couple who had fled over the mountains from the Soviet invasion in August that year. They confided to him their plans to reach the west by smuggling themselves onto a Swedish ship at the port of Gdynia. But their saintly protector passed this information to the&nbsp;<em>Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa</em>&nbsp;(Security Service /&nbsp;<a href="http://www.axisglobe.com/polish108.htm" target="_blank">SB</a>), who arrested the young Czechs on the quayside and ensured that they spent many years in prison.</p><h2><strong>A Warsaw storm</strong></h2><p>The facts of Brother Michalowski's treachery only emerged after his death. He was luckier than Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus. A growing storm of media&nbsp;<a href="http://www.polskieradio.pl/polonia/article.asp?tId=46315&amp;j=2" target="_blank">revelations</a>&nbsp;about Wielgus's past as an SB informer culminated on Sunday 7 January 2006 in an incomparably Polish melodrama. In front of a completely unprepared congregation gathered to witness his installation as archbishop of Warsaw, which including the president of the republic (Lech Kaczynski) and the primate (Jozef Glemp), Wielgus announced that he was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/84848.aspx" target="_blank">resigning</a>&nbsp;immediately.</p><p>Next day, the rector of the Wawel cathedral in Krakow, Father&nbsp;<a href="http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/08/news/poland.php" target="_blank">Janusz Bielanski</a>, surrendered to similar press stories about his collaboration with the secret police and resigned. And the storm blows on.</p><p>The daily paper&nbsp;<em>Dziennik</em>&nbsp;now says that it has a list of twelve names of senior church figures, at least one of them a bishop, who collaborated with the religious affairs division of the SB in 1978 in an unsuccessful attempt to influence the choice of the next primate of Poland. A Kraków priest who specialises in researching SB files on the Catholic church, Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, says that he will&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/01/10/polish-church.html" target="_blank">publish</a>&nbsp;a book in mid-February listing thirty-nine clerical informers, including three current bishops. And so it goes on.</p><p>In immediate political terms, the spreading scandal obviously serves the aims of the present rightwing coalition government (headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of Lech). The platform of the leading party in the coalition,&nbsp;<em>Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc&nbsp;</em><em>(</em><a href="http://www.pis.org.pl/main.php" target="_blank">Law &amp; Justice / PiS</a>), is dominated by a raucous, populist campaign which warns that hidden communists and Russian agents are still in important positions, and asserts that the "<a href="http://www.ce-review.org/00/30/rohozinska30.html" target="_blank">lustration</a>" process supposed to keep former secret-police agents out of public life has completely failed. Exposing SB influence in the senior church hierarchy obviously helps to raise the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.humanrightshouse.org/dllvis5.asp?id=2937" target="_blank">temperature</a>&nbsp;of public panic - as long as the government does not overdo it by offending the faithful masses in what remains Europe's most Catholic nation.</p><h2><strong>A church invincible, and fallible</strong></h2><p>But how much of a revelation, really, are all these exposures of informers within the church? The problem is that Poland, over the last fifty years or so, has retreated into a fog of cognitive dissonance on this and other subjects. People have wanted to believe that everything is corrupt, and at the same time that everything is heroic.</p><p>It's fifty years since I first travelled in Poland, and I can confirm that collaboration by many priests and bishops with the security police was absolutely common knowledge then and has remained common knowledge ever since. And yet at the same time, Poles have also sanctified the Catholic church as the carrier and saviour of Polish national identity and culture through the darkest periods of wartime and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.kasprzyk.demon.co.uk/www/PostWar.html" target="_blank">post-war</a>&nbsp;oppression. In the communist decades, they spoke of the priesthood as a league of devoted, stainless patriots defending (as Father Jerzy Popieluszko used to say) "Poland's thousand-year-old religion of love against the modern Bolshevik cult of atheism and hatred".</p><p><a href="http://www.polskieradio.pl/polonia/article.asp?tId=43465&amp;j=2" target="_blank">Father Popieluszko</a>&nbsp;was one who perfectly fitted that vision. He supported the Solidarity uprising in 1980, eluded clumsy SB attempts to compromise him (mostly with women), and was eventually murdered by officers of the SB religious affairs division in 1984. No wonder that in the early 1980s, as young men flocked to volunteer for the priesthood during the dark years of martial law, people said: "In Poland, our army wears black".</p><p>So these two notions, of the church invincible and the church all too fallible, somehow coexisted in Polish minds. But the real division in the church was generational, between those who accepted that the communist state could not be overthrown and must be conciliated and those - the younger priesthood, especially - who thought that the state's authority was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pope/interviews/ascherson.html" target="_blank">fragile</a>&nbsp;as well as corrupt and should be confronted.</p><p>It's ironic to recall the life of one of the great princes of the Polish church, cardinal and primate Stefan Wyszynski. By the time of his death in 1981, he was revered as the most steadfast and unbending antagonist of the communist system; next to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-catholicchurch/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II</a>&nbsp;in Rome, he was the individual the Polish regime feared most. Yet even he had once fallen under Vatican suspicion of being a communist agent.</p><p>Arrested in 1953, he had been released by&nbsp;<a href="http://ips.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/2/143" target="_blank">Wladyslaw Gomulka</a>, the communist leader who in October 1956 defied Soviet power and introduced a brief period of relative liberty. Wyszynski and Gomulka reached a compromise unique in the Soviet empire: the church would respect the authority of the Marxist state and the Soviet alliance, and in return would regain its right to make its own appointments, to teach religion in schools and to publish an independent newspaper.</p><p>As Polish passions in those months seethed up towards insurrection, Wyszynski used all his authority to urge prudence and obedience to the state. In a famous sermon, he said that "a man dies once and is quickly covered with glory, but he lives in difficulty, in hardship, pain and suffering for long years, and that is the greater heroism..." But all these compromises with the "Bolshevik, atheist" state were regarded as scandalous by the Vatican, and Cardinal Wyszynski was treated almost as a communist collaborator when he visited the Holy See a few months later.</p><p>The Vatican has never shown much grasp of Polish realities, apart from the twenty-seven years when&nbsp;<a href="http://www.poland.gov.pl/?document=2435" target="_blank">Karol Wojtyla</a>&nbsp;wore the triple crown. Pope Benedict XVI went ahead and nominated Stanislaw Wielgus as archbishop in spite of warnings about his past. During the second world war, Pope Pius XII did little to stop the murderous persecution of the Polish church by the Nazi occupiers and ignored Polish Catholic appeals to protest against the extermination of the Jews.&nbsp;</p><p>And back in the 19th century, while Poland was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.polishroots.com/genpoland/polhistory.htm" target="_blank">partitioned</a>&nbsp;by foreign empires, the papacy supported "order" imposed by Prussian Lutheran kings or Russian Orthodox czars and condemned as dangerously "liberal" the freedom struggles of a Catholic nation. In other words, Polish popular reverence for the papacy, in the pathetic belief that the Vatican has always regarded Catholic Poland as the holy church's favourite child, is another venerable self-deception.</p><h2><strong>The Polish web</strong></h2><p>Two factors made police pressure on the church especially harsh in communist Poland. The first was the utterly bizarre and heretical status of the church after 1956: a huge, self-managing institution independent of party control and essentially hostile to the Marxist worldview. No other communist state would have tolerated this, but the price of the Polish compromise was the enormous time and<a href="http://ncrcafe.org/node/813" target="_blank">resources</a>&nbsp;which the state devoted to spying on the church, infiltrating or blackmailing its hierarchy and trying to influence its decisions.&nbsp;</p><p>The second factor behind this pressure was that the church had a great deal to lose, and the security men knew it. There was church property, of course, but even more precious was the right to minister to the Catholic faithful, to preach, to administer the sacraments and to preserve what remained of Christian influence in an officially atheist society. These are duties owed - in the religious view - not only to man but to God, and much compromise can be justified in order to preserve them. A bishop, warned that a seminary would be closed for "health and safety" reasons unless he agreed to give Colonel X monthly briefings on the opinions of diocesan clergy, was in a hard moral position. So, in a different way, was a parish priest being told by Captain Y that his affair with a local woman would be reported to his bishop, unless he gave the police a list of all his parishioners who listened to Radio Free Europe.</p><p>The church, in short, was hopelessly vulnerable. The episcopate, above all, had every motive to keep the parish priests under tight political control, in case they gave the SB a chance to intervene with threats or blackmail. In retrospect, it is amazing that some bishops - like Cardinal Wyszynski himself, or the irrepressible Bishop&nbsp;<a href="http://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?06PLAAAA01252862" target="_blank">Ignacy Tokarczuk</a>&nbsp;of Przemysl - were as defiant as they were. But other leaders, like Wyszynski's successor as primate,&nbsp;<a href="http://sunday.niedziela.pl/artykul.php?nr=200409&amp;dz=polska&amp;id_art=00070" target="_blank">Jozef Glemp</a>, exasperated democrats by their reluctance to stand up for human rights or defend clergy under attack for their political opinions.&nbsp;</p><p>Today, nearly twenty years since the collapse of the communist regime, it's hard to reconstruct the context in which priests became informers. Does it matter? Unfortunately, it does. The significance of all these old revelations is that they are pushing the authority of the Catholic church in Poland into a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,458358,00.html" target="_blank">different</a>, qualified, diminished shape. Often, the individual cases are unfair. But in a historical perspective, it may be that the scandal of the church informers is doing to Poland what the long scandal over the abuse of children in church care did to Ireland: opening a painful passage towards modernity.&nbsp;</p> From our archive: the Catholic Church Neal Ascherson Thu, 11 Jan 2007 00:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 71683 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Scotophobia https://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/scotophobia_3692.jsp <p>In world-cup England, where the red-on-white flag of St George flaps from every window, car and pub railing, a little wind of Scotophobia has sprung up. The Scots, generally tolerated by the English as prickly but comical, have suddenly become unpopular. </p> <p>Some of the symptoms of Scotophobia are trivial. Others suggest real political problems emerging for the future. The English were genuinely hurt to hear that Scotland's first minister, Jack McConnell, was backing Paraguay against England in the first round of the world cup. Gordon Brown, the Scot who is <a href=http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/about/ministerial_profiles/minprofile_brown.cfm target=_blank>chancellor of the exchequer</a> and Tony Blair's designated successor as prime minister, was mocked for clumsy opportunism when he proclaimed that he was backing England. </p> <p>Nobody believed he meant it. And nobody in England had taken him too seriously when in January 2006 his keynote <a href=http://www.fabian-society.org.uk/press_office/news_latest_all.asp?pressid=520 target=_blank>speech</a> to a Fabian Society conference on the "future of Britishness" talked of "celebrating a British identity that is bigger than the sum of its parts" and <a href=http://www.fabian-society.org.uk/press_office/display.asp?id=533&type=news&cat=43 target=_blank>asked</a>: "what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in every garden?" </p> <p>A Union Jack on every British front lawn? That is so last century! The British flag is slightly naff these days. For the last ten years, between the Channel and the Scottish border, it's the cross of St George which has been making <a href=http://www.simonsays.com/subs/book.cfm?areaid=286&isbn=0743268733 target=_blank>English hearts</a> beat faster. </p> <p>As Conservative fortunes revive under the leadership of <a href=http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=challenge.home.page target=_blank>David Cameron</a>, the Tories concentrate on undermining the prestige of Gordon Brown, their next adversary. His Scottishness has become a target. On 24 June, the sturdily Tory <em>Daily Telegraph</em> published an <a href=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/graphics/2006/06/24/nscot24big.gif target=_blank>opinion poll</a> on attitudes to Scotland's supposed privileges in the United Kingdom. Its results were much to Tory taste. </p> <p>The English form almost 90% of the UK population, and no fewer than 70% of them thought that the rest of Britain "subsidised" Scotland unfairly (only 12% of Scots agreed). Over half the English respondents thought that Scottish MPs at Westminster should not be allowed to vote on matters that affect only England and Wales, given that Scotland now has its own parliament which controls education, health and other domestic matters in Scotland. </p> <p>This allowed the <em>Telegraph</em> to suggest that there was something unjust about letting an MP representing a Scottish constituency &#150; as <a href=http://www.ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/253 target=_blank>Gordon Brown</a> does &#150; to become the head of a British government. In a vitriolic <a href=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/06/24/dl2402.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2006/06/24/ixopinion.html target=_blank>leading article</a>, the paper accused the Scots of being "trapped in the squalor of dependency" and "reliant on handouts". The poll showed that the English were becoming aware of the anomalies. "Until recently, an English voter, hearing Gordon Brown's Fifeshire accent, would simply have said to himself 'Labour'; now, he says 'Scottish'. The lopsided devolution settlement has created a sense that the Scots are having their cake and yet guzzling away at it".</p> <p>Brown-baiting by the Tories is inevitable. Growing confusion grips the Labour Party as Tony Blair's reputation disintegrates, with no timetable for Gordon Brown to take his place in Downing Street. And yet there are deeper issues here, affecting the future of the increasingly ramshackle British state. </p> <p>Scottish devolution &#150; the restoration of a parliament after <a href=http://www.agh-attorneys.com/4_act_of_union_1707.htm target=_blank>300 years</a>, with control over most internal affairs &#150; did not lead on uncontrollably to the demand for full independence, as some feared (or hoped) that it would. But Scottish autonomy, as a new element in Britain's odd constitutional mix, has brought to the surface three unsolved and perhaps insoluble problems which lurk in the state's foundations. All interrelated, they are about centralisation, about the constitution and about the English question. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo</em> (1963; <a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=75 target=_blank>Granta, 1999</a>), <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html target=_blank>Random House, 1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href=http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028 target=_blank>Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the Search for Scotland</em> (<a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=980 target=_blank>Granta, 2003</a>)</b></p> <hr color=#3399cc size=1 width=50px /> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>" <br />(August 2004)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" <br />(April 2005) </p></div></div></p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263;</a>" (September 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland's interregnum</a>" (September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory's</em> lost sister &#150; the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" <br />(October 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3314">Torture: from regress to redress</a>" (March 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3561">The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed</a>" (May 2006)</p><p><b>A centralised state</b></p> <p>Great Britain was founded almost 300 years ago, on 16 January 1707, through the <a href=http://scottish.parliament.uk/corporate/history/SPTradition/treaty.htm target=_blank>treaty of union</a> between England and Scotland. It is a multinational state, although a very asymmetrical one. It is also an archaic state. Its central principle is the absolute sovereignty of parliament, the ancient principle of royal absolutism which was transferred to parliament after the 17th century English revolutions. </p> <p>This is why, in contrast to the rest of Europe and America, Britain has no formal constitution. The Enlightenment notion of a supreme law to which even an elected assembly is subordinate is quite alien to the British/English philosophy of power. So is the other Enlightenment principle of popular sovereignty, in which power resides with the people and is delegated upwards through democratic choices. </p> <p>This explains why Britain cannot become a <a href=http://www.federalunion.org.uk/uk/index.shtml target=_blank>federation</a>. It would mean giving parts of the state entrenched rights which parliament cannot override &#150; abandoning the principle that parliament is absolute. Scotland and Wales were granted a devolved parliament and an assembly in 1997. But in theory &#150; though it's almost unthinkable in practice &#150; the house of commons could abolish either or both legislatures any day by a majority of one. </p> <p>Political centralism has been suspended for Scotland and Wales. But fiscal centralism remains. Most European states with self-governing regions allow them some powers over taxation - the right to raise all or most of the money which the regional government spends. Britain does not. The Scottish executive (government) is financed by a block grant paid by the exchequer in London. All taxes are set, raised and distributed by Westminster, with the exception of the Scottish parliament's option to increase or reduce income tax by 3p in the pound &#150; a right never used. This block grant is calculated by a mechanism known as the "<a href=http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/Healthcare+funding+review+research+report+2~healthcare+funding+review+research+report+2+-+barnett target=_blank>Barnett formula</a>", and it is this system which is now under attack. </p> <p>In theory, the formula allots public spending to Scotland on a basis of population, which currently means that Edinburgh gets about 10.7% of the total spent in England. In practice, the Barnett formula takes some <a href=http://www.accaglobal.com/publications/public_eye/39/346212 target=_blank>account</a> of need &#150; and Scotland, with its remote areas, poor public health and housing and areas of acute poverty is needier than England. The situation now is that public spending per head in Scotland is about &pound;1,406 higher than in England. </p> <p>This is seen as unfair "subsidising" by some regions of England, such as the depressed northeast or London itself, whose mayor, <a href=http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/mayorbiog.jsp target=_blank>Ken Livingstone</a>, loudly complains that money desperately needed in Britain's capital is being unfairly squandered on the Scots. The critics object that the "population" criterion of the formula has been lost, and that Scotland's living standards are now closing the gap with England's. They demand that the block grant should be recalculated on the basis of need alone &#150; and reduced. </p> <p>In Scotland itself, there has been a growing sense that the parliament needs more powers. In particular, a government which does not raise its own revenue but has to haggle and beg for money from elsewhere has a deficit in democracy and accountability. This is now leading to increased calls across the Scottish political spectrum for taxation to be devolved. The <a href=http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/news/0603061.shtml target=_blank>Steel commission report</a>, produced in March 2006 by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, calls for "fiscal federalism", under which <a href=http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/holyrood/index.htm target=_blank>Holyrood</a> (the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh) could set its own rates of income and corporation tax to finance its own programmes. </p> <p>The <a href=http://www.snp.org/ target=_blank>Scottish National Party</a>, seeking full independence, also wants taxing power transferred to Edinburgh. Even among the Scottish Tories, there are free-market fundamentalists who regard a government which spends but cannot tax as an outrage. Scottish Labour, however, remains opposed to change, seeing fiscal autonomy as tantamount to independence. And the treasury in London, led by Gordon Brown, regards the notion of differential tax levels in different parts of the United Kingdom as blasphemy against the sacred tradition of "unitary demand management". </p> <p><b>The constitution</b></p> <p>The second problem is constitutional &#150; or parliamentary. At Westminster, Scottish MPs can vote on laws which only affect England &#150; educational reforms, for instance. Sometimes (in the present parliament, for instance) such bills rely on the votes of Scottish MPs to get passed through the house of commons, even when the majority of English MPs is opposed to them. At the same time, English MPs cannot vote on Scottish education or health, because these are devolved matters reserved for Holyrood. </p> <p>It's an anomaly, and it's unfair. But it arises because British devolution schemes are all lopsided. The English do not wish to have their own English parliament, to rank alongside the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish legislatures under the higher "federal" authority of a British parliament. There are grounds for this reluctance: the enormous population imbalance between England and the rest of the UK. Such a structure would be "asymmetrical" with a vengeance. </p> <p>But while the Westminster parliament remains also the British parliament, then it's an anomaly the English have to put up with. Back in 1886, Gladstone's great <a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/timelines/britain/vic_irish_homerule.shtml target=_blank>home-rule bill</a> for a devolved Ireland came to grief because so many MPs &#150; including many of his own Liberals &#150; refused to contemplate Irish MPs voting on English matters. The result was a century of rebellion, confrontation and bloodshed. </p> <p>Now the old arguments resurface, yet again. The problem is being used as a weapon to embarrass Gordon Brown before he succeeds Tony Blair. But there is more to it than party advantage. In 2004, an attempt to circumvent these pressures by granting English regions devolved self-government failed; voters in the northeast (where the proposals were first <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3984387.stm target=_blank>tested</a>) did not want it. </p> <p>Since then, talk about creating an English parliament has revived, though still on the margins of politics. The Tories are reluctant to take up the idea, even though an <a href=http://www.thecep.org.uk/ target=_blank>English parliament</a> would almost certainly be Conservative-dominated. Instead, they toy with the idea that Scottish MPs should be barred from voting on purely English legislation. This could have the weird result of a parliament with potentially two majorities: the Conservatives legislating for England, and a Labour government using Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs to impose its will on "British" matters such as defence, foreign policy or immigration. When is a government not a government? </p> <p><b>Englishness</b></p> <p>The third element in this confusion is the revival of "<a href=http://www.bris.ac.uk/english/undergraduate/current/year3/special-subject-units/englishness.html target=_blank>Englishness</a>". The English public have never quite grasped the distinction between a state and a nation, or between Britain and England. But now, seven years after devolution began to operate in Scotland and Wales, there are signs that a discontented English nationalism is beginning to emerge. </p> <p>The popularity of English flags means more than a passing outburst of football mania. Back in 1997, when vast crowds from all over England gathered in London to mourn the death of Princess Diana, it was striking that most of the mourners carried the St George's flag &#150; the flag of the heart, perhaps &#150; while Union Jacks were rare. Since then, although nothing like a coherent political <a href=http://www.englishdemocrats.org.uk/ target=_blank>movement</a> has emerged, it has become common to hear complaints that "the voice of England" is being ignored and <a href=http://www.westminsterbookshop.co.uk/shop/product.php/2748/0/ target=_blank>slighted</a>, through supposed financial privileges given to the Scots or through the presence of so many Scots in Tony Blair's governments. Increasingly, individual politicians take up this grievance, especially on the right, and there is growing pressure on the Tory leadership to "stand up for England". </p> <p>What will come of it all? At present, there is a Labour government in London and a Labour-led coalition ruling in Edinburgh. But there are Holyrood elections next year, and Westminster elections in 2009 at the latest. A decisive moment could arrive when Labour loses power at Westminster and a Tory government "down south" faces a Scottish government led by Labour or possibly the SNP. </p> <p>David Cameron, as prime minister, would not take up the embryonic cause of a separate parliament for England. And at the last elections in 2005, the Tories &#150; who have only one Westminster seat in Scotland &#150; avoided challenging the Barnett formula. But Cameron in power might decide to cut back the block grant for Scotland, or to <a href=http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=923702006 target=_blank>reshape</a> the formula on the basis of need (a highly political criterion, as no objective way of calculating need exists), or to scrap it altogether. At the same time, he would come under great pressure to limit the voting rights of Scottish MPs &#150; most of them Labour &#150; in the house of commons. </p> <p>This could lead to an English-Scottish confrontation, the first real test of <a href=http://scottish.parliament.uk/corporate/history/aDevolvedParliament/developments.htm target=_blank>devolution</a>. At present, there is no great enthusiasm in Scotland for moving on to full independence, although about a third of the electorate have for many years told pollsters that independence is their preferred option. But a political collision over finance would sharply raise the Scottish political temperature. If the Scots feel that they are being cheated by an English Tory government they did not vote for, the demand for control over taxation and more powers for Holyrood could become very popular. </p> <p>In a "normal" European country, this could be accommodated in a more decentralised federation (this month's <a href=http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/18/news/spain.php target=_blank>endorsement</a> of an "autonomy statute" for Catalonia, including recognition of its status as a "nation" and the granting of wider economic powers from the central government in Madrid, is an example). But Britain is not a normal state. Because of the archaic doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty (absolutism), there is no halfway house between devolution and independence. Reluctantly, the Scots may come to feel that independence is the simplest and least quarrelsome way to manage the relationship between Scotland and England &#150; much as the <a href=http://www.slovakia.org/history-breakup.htm target=_blank>Slovaks</a> did in 1993, when the Czechs grew tired of making further constitutional concessions. </p> <p>Almost three hundred years after the treaty of union, are we sliding towards a British version of that "<a href=http://www.radio.cz/en/article/63031 target=_blank>velvet divorce</a>"? The only British politician who has enough influence to tackle these problems in the next few years is Gordon Brown, the great Scot at Westminster. He has the intelligence for the task, but does he have the imagination or the courage? There is more at stake here than Brown's choice of football team. </p> Globalisation europe institutions & government Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Tue, 27 Jun 2006 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 3692 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Torture: from regress to redress https://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-terrorism/torture_3314.jsp <p>There was once a Religion of Progress. Can there be a Religion of Regress? I can't find another word to describe this strange sensation of sliding backwards which must afflict anyone with a middle-aged memory. It's like sitting in a train which begins to move in the wrong direction, and seeing again through the window landscapes and buildings passed long ago on the onward journey. </p> <p>Here once more are orthodox "bankers' economics", which had been discredited seventy years ago. Through the window reappears the notion of the poor as physically degenerate, whose breeding should be discouraged. Here again comes charity, as the proper way to help the less fortunate, and the right of the rich to buy better education, and the warnings that public services undermine virtuous self-reliance. And here we unbelievably are, settling down to discuss the <a href=http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/hrj/iss18/booknotes-Torture_.shtml target=_blank>morality of torture</a> as if we lived in the 18th century. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is discussing the book by Kenneth Roth & Minky Worden (eds.), <em>Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is it Ever O.K.?: A Human Rights Perspective</em> (<a href=http://www.thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task=view_title&metaproductid=1565 target=_blank>New Press/ Human Rights Watch, 2006</a>)</b></p></div><p>How on earth, after so many international conventions outlawing physical or mental torture in all circumstances, did we get back to this? The answer is that White House and Pentagon <em>jihadists</em> raised this issue from the grave. As <a href=http://www.globalstudies.uiuc.edu/speakers/ebadi.htm target=_blank>James Ross</a> writes in this book, "the September 11th attacks on the United States and the resulting 'war on terrorism' have resurrected the previously unthinkable topic of the legitimacy of state torture".</p> <p>Of course, the conventions did not remove torture from the world scene. It is still practised by interrogators and police in dozens of countries, as heartbreaking survivors recount in Human Rights Watch's new <a href=http://www.thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task=view_title&metaproductid=1565 target=_blank>book</a>. The "regress" is that societies which are not tyrannies but stable democracies can now begin a solemn <a href=http://www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521674611 target=_blank>debate</a> on torture's rights and wrongs. A few years ago, there would have seemed to be nothing here worth debating. And yet today, a state's wish to inflict agony, terror and spiritual devastation on its prisoners is presentable enough to be <a href=http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/misc/factsheet.htm target=_blank>admitted into our moral maze. </a></p> <p><a href=http://www.markdanner.com/nyreview/100704_abu.htm target=_blank>Abu Ghraib</a>, Guantánamo and "extraordinary rendition" all proceed from the distortion of human-rights doctrine to suit administration policies. <a href=http://www.hrw.org/about/bios/kroth.htm target=_blank>Kenneth Roth</a> of Human Rights Watch elaborates Ross's remark. "Suddenly &#133; torture and related mistreatment have become serious policy options for the United States &#133; Overly clever US government lawyers have tried to define away laws against torture. The Bush Administration claims latitude to abuse detainees that its predecessors would never have dared. To their great surprise, many Americans thus find themselves looking for guidance on the fundamental issues surrounding torture. What constitutes torture? Does it ever work? Is it ever morally acceptable?" </p> <p>Not only Americans are surprised. But if these questions are being asked again, then the answers must be <a href=http://www.indexonline.org/en/news/articles/2005/1/international-legitimising-torture-with-a-li.shtml target=_blank>found again</a>. Torture in Europe, for instance, used to be employed in criminal investigation by church and state, went out of fashion and was then revived in the 20th century in the cause of state security. Once torture was principally used to extract confessions, always blatantly unreliable and now seldom its main object. More effectively, torture is now used to obtain "intelligence" in the form of denunciations: the names of other witches, conspirators, "anti-state elements" or terrorists. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also in openDemocracy on the "return" of torture:</b></p> <p>Isabel Hilton, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1904">Torture: who gives the orders? </a>" (May 2004)</p> <p>Mariano Aguirre, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2679">Exporting democracy, revising torture: the complex missions of Michael Ignatieff</a>" <br />(July 2005)</p> <p>Clive Stafford Smith, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2749">Torture: an idea for our time</a>" (August 2005)</p> <p>Isabel Hilton, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3044">Guantánamo: the United States's torture</a>" (November 2005) </p> </div><p><b>States and morals</b></p> <p>The United Nations <a href=http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_cat39.htm target=_blank>Convention Against Torture</a> of 1984 defined torture as "the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental&#133;". Surprisingly, the United States Senate, in ratifying the convention a good seven years before 9/11, was already trying to draw a distinction between torture and coercive but lawful interrogation. This opened a fateful wriggle-room which the Bush administration was to enlarge, arguing (in an <a href=http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2004/040614-torture-guidelines.htm target=_blank>August 2002</a> memorandum, superseded in <a href=http://www.humanrightsfirst.com/us_law/etn/gonzales/index.asp#memos target=_blank>December 2004</a> after revelations from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo) that torture was the infliction of "pain equivalent to serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death". Anything below that line was merely "coercive interrogation".</p> <p>In a bleak but lucid contribution to this book, <a href=http://ksgfaculty.harvard.edu/Michael_Ignatieff target=_blank>Michael Ignatieff</a> takes a close look at this distinction. Human-rights activists, he says, want to deny it, classifying coercive interrogation and torture as a single practice which should be banned. Ignatieff is not so sure. They are different, at least for the victim, in that not all "coercive" techniques are outrageously cruel. "I could envisage withholding sleep, but not&#133;radical sleep deprivation. I could envisage interrogations that disorient and isolate subjects, but I cannot envisage accepting ones that bombard subjects with painful noise or that withhold from them all contact with medical or legal personnel." </p> <p>But Ignatieff ends by admitting that in practice, above all when a state &#150; like the United States - can detain in secret and at its pleasure, the distinction becomes academic. "I cannot see any clear way to manage coercive interrogation institutionally so that it does not degenerate into torture &#133; So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve both stress and distress&#133;"</p> <p>Anyone who opposes torturing terrorist suspects has to face the "ticking-bomb" argument. What if the captive knows where the bomb is, probably in a crowded building, and the timer-clock is running? Isn't the pain of one human being justified by the saving of the innocent many? Many contributors to this book take this challenge head-on. All deny that &#150; even in such extremity &#150; "torture can be OK". </p> <p>Ignatieff warns that "moral prohibition comes at a price". He would not inflict suffering, even in a "ticking-bomb" case. But he recognises that most people would probably not agree. "Following another terrorist attack that might have been prevented by the use of coercive interrogation, the price of my scruple might simply seem too high. That is a risk I am prepared to take &#133; Abstaining from the evil of torture is itself an exercise in moral hazard.." </p> <p><a href=http://cesr.org/node/view/276 target=_blank>Eitan Felner</a> is less hesitant. In Israel, he recalls, the "ticking bomb" argument induced the Landau commission in 1987 to legitimise "moderate physical pressure". The result was that torture (what was "moderate" supposed to mean?) became routine for thousands of Palestinian detainees until the Israeli supreme court banned it in 1999. </p> <p>Anyway, so Felner argues, the scenario is unreal. How often can an interrogator be certain that there really is a bomb, that it will explode if not defused in time, that the suspect is not part of a team out there who could be moving or altering the bomb, and so on? Without knowing all that and more, the moral licence for torture can't even be constructed. Juan Mendez, a survivor of torture during Argentina's "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2709">dirty war</a>", confirms Felner's argument. "Since (the security forces) are not in a position to know which of the people they hold knows where the supposed bomb is placed, they end up torturing many in the off-chance that at least one will give up some useful information". </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em><a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html target=_blank>The Struggles for Poland</a></em> (1988), <em><a href=http://semcoop.booksense.com/NASApp/store/Product;jsessionid=ahsVNZIMEZQ4?s=showproduct&isbn=0809015935 target=_blank>Black Sea</a></em> (1996), and <em><a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=980 target=_blank>Stone Voices: the search for Scotland</a></em> (Granta, 2003).</b></p> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>" <br />(August 2004)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" <br />(April 2005) </p></div></div></p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263;</a>" (September 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland's interregnum</a>" (September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory's</em> lost sister &#150; the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" <br />(October 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">A carnival of stupidity</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3280">Good Night, and Good Luck</a>" (February 2006)</p> <p>This book ranges widely. Cherie Booth writes eloquently about rape and sexual violence against women, and describes how the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia came to recognise rape as a crime against humanity (a detailed definition is now in the statue of the <a href=http://www.un.org/law/icc/statute/romefra.htm target=_blank>International Criminal Court</a>, which has been asked by the United Nations Security Council to address the systematic rapes in Darfur by the <em>janjaweed</em>). </p> <p><a href=http://www.frif.com/new2004/squa.html target=_blank>Marie-Monique Robin</a> suggests that American methods in the "war on terror" can be traced back to French doctrines of counterinsurgency war &#150; permitting the routine use of torture &#150; developed in the colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. She establishes a link. But I would suggest that French and American thinking both have roots in the old German concept of <em>Partisanenkrieg</em>. Elaborated by Nazi jurists with genocidal results, this defined a form of conflict in which "illegal combatants" were considered to have none of the protections of the Geneva Convention. This is precisely the "Rumsfeld language" of today. </p> <p><b>A spreading toxin</b></p> <p>The core of the book's case, though, is its aching sense of betrayal by United States policies. "Once the leading governmental defender of human rights around the world, the US government has become the most influential abuser" (Kenneth Roth). A devastating three-page table assembled by Tom Malinowski lists "torture techniques approved by the United States while condemned in other countries". Nine out of the ten detailed <a href=http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/11/21/usdom12069_txt.htm target=_blank>items</a> include the words: "Rumsfeld approved&#133;". The tenth, forcible submersion by "waterboarding", is "alleged to have been approved by the Central Intelligence Agency". </p> <p>And this abuse is an example, a toxin, which spreads. In a final chapter Kenneth Roth points to the failure of the European Union to "fill the leadership void left by Washington's embrace of coercive interrogation". Indeed, Britain is only one of many EU members who have been complicit in American rendition to "torture states", and in their own ways have begun to copy it. </p> <p>The Bush administration, says Roth, must accept that abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have been largely caused by official government policies. An independent commission should be set up to investigate what went wrong in interrogation, and to prescribe a return to international human-rights standards. </p> <p>"The torture and abuse of prisoners is an affront to the most basic American values". Yes, but who would have believed that a people with so deep a faith in progress would tolerate its government's slithering regress into one of the darkest regions of the past? That regress must halt, and America must move forward again. But who will halt it, and when, we do not yet know. </p> Conflict conflicts democracy & terror Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Wed, 01 Mar 2006 00:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 3314 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Good Night, and Good Luck https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-Film/good_night_3280.jsp <blockquote>"This instrument [television] can teach, can illuminate and can inspire. But it can only do so to the extent that human beings are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's only wires and lights in a box." </blockquote> <p>So said <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060123fa_fact1" target="_blank">Edward R. Murrow</a>, looking back on his career as an anchorman and commentator in the 1940s and 1950s for the American news station, CBS. At the peak of that career was his superb head-on challenge to <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/kbank/profiles/mccarthy/" target="_blank">Senator Joseph McCarthy</a>. In that duel, the Senator was given the right of reply and tried to smear Murrow as a fellow-travelling jackal concealing his own Commie-loving past. But that lying onslaught, launched before an audience of millions against America's best-loved communicator, marked the beginning of the Senator's decline. Murrow did not break McCarthy single-handed. That was done by the Senate itself, which finally turned on the great witch-hunter in December 1954. But Murrow's attack, concentrating on McCarthy's methods rather than on the truth of his allegations, gave an example of civil courage in the name of democracy and justice which encouraged others to follow. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/3280/images/GNGL-02304_s_250.jpg" alt="David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow</i></span> </div><p>George Clooney has made this episode into a passionate and gripping film, <em><a href="http://wip.warnerbros.com/goodnightgoodluck/" target="_blank">Good Night, and Good Luck</a></em>. It is shot entirely in black and white, which injects a 'period' urgency but &#150; better still &#150; allows Clooney to incorporate clips of archive showing McCarthy in venomous, bullying pursuit of his victims before his Senate sub-committee. He plays Fred Friendly, Ed Murrow's colleague, and David Strathairn acts Murrow himself &#150; tense, elegant, a cigarette invariably cocked between his fingers as he speaks to camera. </p><p>But this film, to its credit, isn't just another story of "dauntless journalist exposes wicked Establishment". Certainly, Murrow is up against big battalions: McCarthy's own rabid supporters in Congress, the FBI, the armed services, the corporate CBS sponsors terrified of controversy. His job is on the line. And yet the real subject here is not Murrow but television. No medium of communication has such mass impact. Yet none is more vulnerable to interference by power, whether state power or the influence of corporate capital, or to accusations that it is deficient in patriotism And none can reap such quick rewards &#150; access, sweetheart tax and licence favours &#150; as a television outfit which becomes the toady of a governing clique or party. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/3280/images/GNGL_003_250.jpg" alt="George Clooney" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>George Clooney as Fred Friendly</i></span> </div><p>In Clooney's version of CBS News in the 1950s, all these weaknesses are in play. Murrow says that television should illuminate or be a mere box of lights; the CBS management is not so sure of that. It's not simply fear of offending the advertisers and programme sponsors, rather that when the heat comes on, the executives lack confidence in the very identity of TV. In this film, the CBS president, Bill Taylor, finds himself under huge pressure to muzzle Murrow and pleads with him: "People want to enjoy themselves, they don't want a civics lesson!" And this lack of self-confidence, this instinct that television is primarily there to entertain rather than to alarm or preach, is present among many of the journalists too. </p><p>In <em>Good Night, and Good Luck</em>, Murrow and Friendly at first meet hesitation in the news team when it becomes clear that they are going to take on McCarthy. Some of the reluctance springs from fear. They know that if it all goes wrong and Ed leads them into disaster, CBS managers who hate the whole project will fire them with relish. They all glance back at their own political pasts, and a few of them admit to "pinko" traces which the Senator could use to destroy them and discredit CBS. One of them, the newscaster Don Hollenbeck, is denounced by the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Randolph_Hearst" target="_blank">Hearst press</a> as an old leftist, and commits suicide. But others are just not convinced that going after big dragons is television's job. Even Fred Friendly wonders at moments what the hell they are getting into. Murrow knows his comrade has these spasms of doubt, and makes a joke of it. "I always knew you were yellow", he growls. "Better than Red", says poor Friendly. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em><a href="http://www.halat.pl/poland.html" target="_blank">The Struggles for Poland</a></em> (1988), <em><a href="http://semcoop.booksense.com/NASApp/store/Product;jsessionid=ahsVNZIMEZQ4?s=showproduct&amp;isbn=0809015935" target="_blank">Black Sea</a></em> (1996), and <em><a href="http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&amp;product_id=980" target="_blank">Stone Voices: the search for Scotland</a></em><br /> (Granta, 2003). </b></p><p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy: </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">"From multiculturalism to where?"</a> <br />(August 2004) </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">"Pope John Paul II and democracy"</a> <br />(April 2005) </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">"Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road"</a> (July 2005) </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">"The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263;"</a> (September 2005) </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">"Poland's interregnum"</a> (September 2005) </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950">"<em>Victory's</em> lost sister &#150; the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em>"</a> <br />(October 2005) </p><p><a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3242">"A carnival of stupidity" </a> <br />(February 2006) </p></div><p>But the anger and vigour of Clooney's film are not really addressed to history. <em>Good Night, and Good Luck</em> is, very plainly, aimed at what is happening now in the United States. It is about the way in which this administration, in violating legal and constitutional norms and trampling over human rights and international law, has been able to intimidate or enlist a huge section of the media. </p><p>In a long and very frightening <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18730" target="_blank">article</a> in the <em>New York Review of Books</em>, Thomas Powers traces the steps by which President Bush has bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and secretly empowered the National Security Agency to "intercept the faxes, emails and phone conversations of Americans with blanket permission by the President." Powers gives credit to the <em>New York Times</em> for <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1216-01.htm" target="_blank">unearthing this story</a>. But it emerges that the paper &#150; "for reasons it has not clearly explained" &#150; sat on its discovery for several months over the period of the 2004 presidential election, which the revelation might well have affected. Publication came only after a meeting of the publisher and executive editor with the President &#150; at which it was apparently agreed to withhold certain details. </p><p>The American media have <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article.jsp?id=3&amp;debateId=77&amp;articleId=2588" target="_blank">not performed well</a> against the torrent of lies and news manipulation which has accompanied the whole "war on terror" and the occupation of Iraq. Newspapers, sensing the ultra-patriotic and credulous public mood after 9/11, have been cautious &#150; with some brave exceptions. Local radio stations have been overwhelmingly aggressive towards dissent. But television coverage and comment has been timid and indistinct at best. At worst &#150; as in the case of Fox News, which has taken the chance to offer itself to the administration as a 'loyal' public address system &#150; it has been simply servile. </p><p>In a crisis of truth, it's not enough to personalise the problem. That's a theme which runs all through this film. Ed Murrow himself is not shown as a stainless knight of disclosure. We find, for instance, that he discreetly avoided attacking McCarthy over Alger Hiss, at a time when Hiss's links to Soviet intelligence were nothing like as plain as we now know that they were .When the slandered Hollenbeck begs him for support, he backs off, saying that he can't afford to take on Hearst and McCarthy at once (we also see him questioning Liberace about his plans for marriage, which seems a pretty disingenuous piece of journalism). More importantly, Murrow is shown insisting, time and again, that the problem is not so much Joe McCarthy himself as a cowed American public which has submitted to his moral terrorism. McCarthy, he says, "did not create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it". On air, he quotes <em>Julius Caesar</em>: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / but in ourselves&#133;" </p><p>In the same programme, Murrow famously said: "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home". George Clooney offers this message to his fellow-Americans today. But where in the tame 21st century networks is the messenger who will deliver it? </p></div><div class="full_image"><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/3280/images/GNGL_009_565.jpg" alt="good night and good luck" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">Still from <i>Good Night, and Good Luck</i> <br />Watch the trailer for <i>Good Night, and Good Luck</i>, in <a href="http://greenroom-press.com/clients/Red%20Bus/theatrical/good_luck_and_good_night/movies/goodnightandgoodluck_trlr_med.mov" target="_blank">Quicktime</a>, <a href="http://greenroom-press.com/clients/Red%20Bus/theatrical/good_luck_and_good_night/movies/goodnightandgoodluck_trlr_med.rm" target="_blank">Real</a> or <a href="http://greenroom-press.com/clients/Red%20Bus/theatrical/good_luck_and_good_night/movies/goodnightandgoodluck_trlr_med.wmv" target="_blank">Windows Media</a> player</span></p></div> Culture arts & cultures democracy & power The Americas film american power & the world Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Fri, 17 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 3280 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A carnival of stupidity https://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-europe_islam/cartoons_3242.jsp <p>The affair of the Danish cartoons is both a scandal and a storm signal. It is scandalous, as a horrific carnival of stupidity, hypocrisy and manipulated outrage celebrated with equal enthusiasm in the Muslim world and in "liberal" Europe. It is a storm signal of worse to come. Five people in three countries have already <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4684652.stm target=_blank>died</a> in the last two furious days of riotous confrontation. But even if the tumult soon peaks and begins to subside, the world has been left a more <a href=http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,398532,00.html target=_blank>dangerous</a> place. </p> <p>Millions of peaceful Muslims, small farmers in Sumatra or Bengali waiters in European cities, are now inclined to listen more respectfully to those who tell them that the west and its leaders intend to exterminate Islam by slander and humiliation as preludes to war. Millions of Europeans, reading <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4684474.stm target=_blank>posters</a> like those carried by demonstrators in London on 3 February ("UK, you must pray &#150; 7/7 is on its way", with calls for the killing of British editors and broadcasters) are reluctantly wondering if any compromise is possible between democracy and the religious dogmatism of a minority. The city authorities of Rotterdam are about to <a href=http://www.expatica.com/source/site_article.asp?subchannel_id=19&story_id=27162&name=Verdonk's+folly target=_blank>decree</a> that only Dutch may be spoken in their streets. This week, rather fewer Dutch people will see this for the imbecile provocation that it is. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also in openDemocracy, Ulf Hedetoft examines recent shifts in Denmark's public discourse about immigrants, outsiders and strangers:</b></p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1563">'Cultural transformation': how Denmark faces immigration</a>" <br />(October 2003):</p> <p>"The external menace &#150; globalisation as represented by hordes of cultural aliens &#150; has entered into an unholy alliance with 'our own' elites, people elected to defend our interests and our collective historical destiny. It is this collusion which is allegedly putting the very future of Danishness in jeopardy."</p> <p>If you find this material enjoyable or provoking, please consider commenting on it in our <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/forums/forum.jspa?forumID=182">forums</a> &#150; and supporting <b>openDemocracy</b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue</p> </div><p><b>A slow-burning fuse</b></p> <p>The most curious thing about the affair is why the fuse burned so <a href=http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article343290.ece target=_blank>slowly</a>. It was on 30 September 2005, more than four months ago, that <em>Jyllands-Posten</em> in Copenhagen published the cartoons of Mohammed (heavily unfunny, but extremely rude). The newspaper was barging into an already running story, about the reluctance of Danish illustrators to contribute to a life of Mohammed for children. <em>Jyllands-Posten</em> is a rightwing paper, in tune with the present Danish government in its resentment of Muslim immigrants, and it meant to make trouble. There followed some small demonstrations, and several death threats to the cartoonists.</p> <p>None the less, the trouble could have been contained. The fatal element was the insistence of the prime minister, <a href=http://www.stm.dk/Index/mainstart.asp?o=19&n=1&h=6&s=2 target=_blank>Anders Fogh Rasmussen</a>, on posturing as a friend of liberty who knew how to stand up to repressive aliens. He brushed the protests from Danish Muslims aside. He then refused to receive the ambassadors of Islamic nations, who were demanding the prosecution of the newspaper. They reported back to their own publics on "Danish intransigence". </p> <p>By now, it was late October. The cartoons, accompanied by lurid stories of "persecution" were already trickling into the Islamic media bloodstream all over the world, carried by emails and a variety of websites. Late last year, a delegation of Danish <em>imams</em>, variously described as "extremist" or "conservative", left for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with a portfolio of "blasphemous" Danish cartoons, including some pornographic images which nobody in Denmark could remember seeing. </p> <p>More diplomatic protests were ignored in Copenhagen. But in Saudi Arabia, a campaign to boycott Danish goods broke out in late January, and the Saudi ambassador to Denmark was recalled on 26 January. Too late, <em><a href=http://www.jp.dk/meninger/ncartikel:aid=3527646 target=_blank>Jyllands-Posten</a></em> published its regrets for any offence the cartoons had given and Rasmussen agreed to speak to Muslim ambassadors, begging for calm. All over the Islamic world, taking the Saudi lead, anti-Danish outrage spilled into the streets. It was then that <em><a href=http://www2.rnw.nl/rnw/en/currentaffairs/ger060202?view=Standard target=_blank>France-Soir</a></em> and <em>Die Welt</em> in Germany, alleging that the Danes were surrendering to threats, published the cartoons, followed by papers in Norway, Spain, Italy and Ireland. The target of Muslim <a href=http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0206/p01s02-wogi.html target=_blank>anger</a> now became Europe itself. </p> <p>Was this a genuine moral contest between free expression in democratic societies and Islamic intolerance? "Freedom Go To Hell" read one of the London posters, and "Butcher Those Who Mock Islam". These were intolerable slogans, especially in Britain where &#150; astonishingly &#150; not one single newspaper has so far republished the cartoons. But motives are not that clear. On both sides, and not just among the Muslim public, ambitious agitators are trying to ventriloquise and <a href=http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=5&article_id=21654 target=_blank>appropriate</a> stacked-up feelings of insecurity and threat, as much as to make a stand on principle. </p> <p><b>The road from tolerance</b></p> <p>Freedom of expression has to be fought for and defended, in every European generation. But freedom should not be defended by a "'neocon" doctrine of pre-emptive strikes. Anyone who can read knows that portrayals of the prophet, even without insult, are profoundly upsetting to pious Muslims who are not necessarily at all "extreme" or "<em>Jihadist</em>". What <em>Jyllands-Posten</em> did was to publish something it knew would provoke Muslims (though it had no idea how much) in order to flaunt its own "liberal" credentials. That was unforgivable. </p> <p>In the same way, rights &#150; like the freedom of the press &#150; inherently offer us the right to decide when to use them. The grounds for that decision include common sense and prudence. I may have the right to throw away a cigarette near a pile of leaky petrol drums, but I will probably choose not to do so, and will be held criminally responsible for a conflagration. Publishing insulting cartoons of Mohammed at a moment haunted by suicide-bombings, fanatical murder and American-led war or threats of war in Muslim countries was an act of that kind. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em><a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html target=_blank>The Struggles for Poland</a></em> (1988), <em><a href=http://semcoop.booksense.com/NASApp/store/Product;jsessionid=ahsVNZIMEZQ4?s=showproduct&isbn=0809015935 target=_blank>Black Sea</a></em> (1996), and <em><a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=980 target=_blank>Stone Voices: the search for Scotland</a></em> (Granta, 2003).</b></p> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">From multiculturalism to where?</a>" <br />(August 2004)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a>" <br />(April 2005) </p></div></div></p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road</a>" (July 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263;</a>" (September 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">Poland's interregnum</a>" (September 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2950"><em>Victory's</em> lost sister &#150; the wreck of the <em>Implacable</em></a>" <br />(October 2005) </p> <p>Back in the noisy 1960s, <a href=http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/marcuse/ target=_blank>Herbert Marcuse</a> used to preach about "repressive tolerance". Something has gone wrong with the concept of tolerance in both Denmark and the Netherlands , where it has become not so much repressive as aggressive. Both these small nations have become used to being regarded as decent, liberal places, their democracies deeply rooted, their record of respect for human rights and individual liberty admired by the rest of the world. Everyone remembers how the Danes once saved their Jews from the Nazis, and how open <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2239">Holland</a> has been to life-experimenters and counter-cultures. In both nations, the idea that they are tolerant has been adopted as part of their identity. </p> <p>And yet this has now become an obstacle. The arrival of fresh waves of immigration, especially from north Africa and Asia, seems more <a href=http://www2.rnw.nl/rnw/en/features/dutchhorizons/curiousorange/050916co target=_blank>threatening</a> to the national culture than it would in their bigger European neighbours. Sharing an open society with others suddenly turned out to be problematic. </p> <p>At a recent conference in Copenhagen, I heard a Danish professor say that "Denmark has difficulty in accepting difference, or that other ways of being Danish can exist. This country has done well by sticking to a mono-ethnic model, and finds it hard to change". Mandana Zarrehparvar, from the <a href=http://www.humanrights.dk/departments/national/networksnatdepart/ target=_blank>Danish Institute of Human Rights</a>, is part-Iranian. She said: "Integration in Denmark has failed. There are no mosques, no Muslim graveyards, no Muslim councils. Denmark fancies itself a monocultural society, which it is not". </p> <p>The notion of multiculturalism, so popular in Britain, is rapidly <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1563">losing ground</a> in both these countries. The strangers, it's now said, must assimilate or leave before they swamp their hosts. But in both countries it's argued, paradoxically, that anti-immigrant policies are actually a defence of tolerance. Islam is presented as inherently intolerant, and therefore incompatible with <a href=http://www2.rnw.nl/rnw/en/currentaffairs/ned060204 target=_blank>Dutch</a> or Danish values. </p> <p>In short, both these ancient societies are struggling through a crisis of identity. And to assert that identity, marshalled round its supposed core value of tolerance, it has seemed necessary to show intolerance to others who are different. But is this anxiety really about Islam, its dislike of criticism or resistance to Enlightenment liberalism? Or is it, at root, no more than the hostility of a tightly-knit community to strangers who have arrived to share the family home? <em>Jyllands-Posten</em> suggests that its main concern has been for freedom and democracy. I doubt that. It has certainly damaged both of them. </p> Conflict Ideas conflicts faith & ideas europe democracy & terror europe & islam Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Mon, 06 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 3242 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fears and hopes https://www.opendemocracy.net/neal-ascherson/fears-and-hopes <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As <a href=" http://www.opendemocracy.net/author/isabel-hilton">Isabel Hilton</a> asks: What does 2006 have in store? (<a href=" http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-vision_reflections/futurology_3153.jsp#4">Part one</a>) </div> </div> </div> <p>For 2006, I fear:</p><p>That the hopeful people of Iraq who go out to vote against all the threats of death and destruction will see their country fall apart into new destruction created by foreign meddling and megalomaniac clerics;</p><p>That the provincial fools who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/articles/View.jsp?id=2642">rule Iran</a>&nbsp;will betray their long-suffering subjects, by driving the country into follies which will tempt Bush and the neocons to strike at them;</p><p>That Israel will press forward with the colonisation of the West Bank, until yet another Palestinian uprising and yet another wave of Israeli military reprisals postpones Palestinian statehood;</p><p>That China's growing&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/articles/View.jsp?id=3136">demand</a>&nbsp;for energy, raw materials and food will overwhelm all the world's efforts to conserve the rainforests and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels;</p><p>That the European Union will fail to replace its abortive “constitution” or to reconstruct the budget crippled – in the fiasco of the British presidency – by Tony Blair's unforgivable obsession with the rebate, and will begin to drift backwards towards disintegration;</p><p>That the Blair government, faced with more illegal outrages by the Bush presidency, will once again fail to protest and shame us with another display of hand-wringing servility.</p><p>For 2006, I hope:</p><p>That the people of China will gradually bring together all their countless acts of<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/articles/View.jsp?id=2859">protest</a>, in the factories and the countryside, into an unstoppable upheaval of democracy;</p><p>That the Israeli government will release Marwan Barghouti, and let him unite the Palestinian factions into a formidable, credible force which can make hard&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-debate_97/issue.jsp">bargains</a>but can guarantee that they will stick;</p><p>That the European Union will learn the lessons of the disastrous British presidency, and move towards the inevitable: an integrated core Europe which will insulate itself against British reluctance and intrigue;</p><p>That Lebanon will complete its liberation from Syrian&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/articles/View.jsp?id=3121">interference</a>;</p><p>That the Turkish people, in the name of a modern democracy, will at last challenge the forces of reaction, controlled by the military and intelligence nexus, which use ignorance and blind&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/articles/View.jsp?id=3118">chauvinism</a>&nbsp;to maintain their grip.</p> globalisation Neal Ascherson Thu, 22 Dec 2005 13:39:55 +0000 Neal Ascherson 62186 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Victory's lost sister - the wreck of the Implacable https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/implacable_2950.jsp <p>Two hundred years after the battle of Trafalgar, when Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated the combined fleets of France and Spain, Britain is enjoying a binge of patriotism and hero-worship. Cathedral organs rumble <em>Hearts of Oak</em>, sea-scouts tramp giggling to war memorials, the National Maritime Museum is running a superb &#147;<a href=http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.20017 target=_blank>Nelson:Napoleon&#148; exhibition</a>, and on BBC radio the usual voices debate whether Emma Hamilton was an intellectual or a tramp. And at the centre of it all is an old wooden ship.</p> <p> At the peak of the ceremonies, Queen Elizabeth II dines with her sea lords on board a huge oak-hulled vessel which now lies in dry dock at Portsmouth. HMS <em>Victory</em> was Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar and on her deck, at the height of the battle on <a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/trafalgar_waterloo/ target=_blank>21 October 1805</a>, Nelson was mortally wounded by the musket-ball of a French naval sniper. No wonder that <em>Victory</em>, the only surviving ship from the battle, is a national shrine. </p> <p> But within living memory, she was not the only survivor. The <em>HMS Implacable</em>, a seventy-four-gun warship of the line, still lay anchored off Falmouth and later off Portsmouth as a training vessel and a floating hostel for youth groups. But then the <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Admiralty target=_blank>Admiralty</a>, the authority commanding Britain&#146;s navy, grew tired of maintaining her elderly timbers and &#150; deaf to protests &#150; towed her out to sea and blew her to bits. </p> <p>Could the British &#150; obsessed with memories of their <a href=http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_0713994118,00.html target=_blank>martial past</a>, and world-renowned for their reluctance to throw any noble relic away &#150; could they, of all nations, have casually trashed one of the only two veterans of Trafalgar? They did indeed, and it's a story with long implications for public attitudes and the &#147;<a href=http://www.heritageandidentity.org.uk/feature.asp?article=1 target=_blank>heritage industry</a>&#148;. </p> <p>The <em>Implacable</em> started life as a French warship, built at Rochefort in 1797. It was as the <em>Duguay-Trouin</em>, named after Louis XIV's most daring admiral, that she fought at Trafalgar, part of a squadron commanded by Admiral Dumanoir which entered the fight at a late stage. The <em>Duguay-Trouin</em> was able to blast the heavily damaged <em>Victory</em> with a few broadsides, but Dumanoir soon saw that the battle was already lost. He recalled his squadron and headed north towards the safety of France. But off the Atlantic coast, a fortnight later, he was intercepted by a much stronger British naval force and battered into surrender. </p> <p>The <em>Duguay-Trouin</em> was brought back to Britain and renamed <em><a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/beyond/factsheets/makhist/makhist5_prog13b.shtml target=_blank>Implacable</a></em>. From now on, she fought the French, winning honours for her crew of 670 sailors and marines in the 1808-9 naval campaign in the <a href=http://www.duguaytrouin.freeserve.co.uk/Journals%20and%20Letters.htm#JOURNALSANDLETTERS target=_blank>Baltic</a>. After many years of peacetime service, <em>Implacable</em> fought once more in 1840 as the Royal Navy attacked and defeated an Egyptian (but French trained) fleet off the Syrian coast. Two years later, she was sailed home and &#147;paid off&#148; &#150; discharged from active fighting service &#150; and for much of the 19th century she did menial fetch-and-carry harbour duties at Portsmouth or served as a training ship. It took the Admiralty a very long time to admit that sail-training had become irrelevant in an age of steam-driven battleships, but when they finally did so &#150; in 1904, the eve of the centenary &#150; they put <em>Implacable</em> up for sale. </p> <p><b>A majestic burial</b></p> <p>By now, interest in relics of the past had expanded from an intellectual or sentimental pursuit to become an institutionalised public cult of national glory. HMS <em>Victory</em> and HMS <em>Implacable</em>, as the only two <a href=http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/mil/html/mh_054100_trafalgarbat.htm target=_blank>Trafalgar</a> survivors, became famous and venerated. But the preservation of &#147;heritage&#148; was not then perceived as part of the state's duties. The cost of conserving cathedrals, castles or old warships was considered to be the responsibility of civil society &#150; to be borne by rich individuals or by private bodies and corporations. And nobody had quite appreciated how expensive it is to maintain the complex structure of a large wooden ship, especially one which was already a century old and weakened by heavy seas, extreme temperatures, gunfire and all the other shocks to which a big sailing ship is exposed. The timbers rot, leak, grow insect-infested and warp. Extracting and treating or replacing them can be nightmarishly difficult. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also in openDemocracy, the cultural historian <a href=http://www.ntu.ac.uk/research/schoolofartscommunicationsandculture/academic%20profiles/7139.html target=_blank>Patrick Wright</a> tells a revealing story from an alternative current in Britain&#146;s &#147;heritage industry&#148;:</b></p> <p>&#147;The stone bomb&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1131">April 2003</a>)</p> <p>If you find this material valuable please consider supporting <b>openDemocracy</b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work and keep it free for all</p> </div><p><em>Victory</em>, as Nelson's flagship, had been saved as a memorial to him (and as flagship of the commander-in-chief, Portsmouth) as long ago as 1825. Meeting her costs was something the Admiralty could not avoid. But <em>Implacable</em> was another matter. The wealthy coal-magnate Geoffrey Cobb saved her from the breakers by enlisting the support of King Edward VII, but the next forty years saw a succession of vain appeals for a fund big enough to meet her maintenance costs out of its income. Rich as he was, Cobb could not afford to conserve and repair the ship on his own. He used the ship for youth training courses in seamanship, and over the years its structure <a href=http://www.falmouthmaritime.co.uk/id62.htm target=_blank>slowly decayed</a>.</p> <p>The Admiralty's behaviour was utterly self-contradictory. Unwilling to sell the ship to Cobb (although apparently prepared to sell it to a ship-breaker), they hung on to <em>Implacable</em> for decades while growing ever more anxious that the escalating costs of repair would eventually land on their own budget. During the second world war, <em>Implacable</em> lay at Portsmouth, near <em>Victory</em>. The bombs missed both ships, but <em>Implacable</em>'s maintenance was neglected and the hull deteriorated further. The Admiralty now began to claim that her condition had passed the point of no return, and announced that they intended to &#147;dispose&#148; of her. </p> <p>Once again, there were letters to the <em>Times</em>, and desperate appeals (supported as before by members of the royal family) for funds to save the old ship. But in post-1945 Britain private wealth was scarce, and public money's priority was reconstruction and debt-payment. The Admiralty declined to be moved by patriotic reproaches, while concerned bodies like the Society for Nautical Research were exhausted by their struggle to get the Admiralty to reopen <em>Victory</em> after the war as a public memorial. </p> <p>In the end, in late 1949, the friends of <em>Implacable</em> accepted defeat. But now came an exquisite episode in Britain's long practice of <a href=http://www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521437733 target=_blank>inventing tradition</a> and turning truly squalid occasions into pageantry. <em>Implacable</em>'s end, though decided by nothing more noble than a lack of cash, was transformed into a state funeral, a majestic burial at sea. </p> <p>First the carpenters sawed off the warship's <a href=http://www.nmm.ac.uk/site/request/setTemplate:singlecontent/contentTypeA/conWebDoc/contentId/219 target=_blank>figurehead</a>, a towering bust of Medusa with a headful of writhing serpents. Then they removed the whole ornamental stern, a double-decker gallery of windows separated by pilasters. (Both relics now occupy a single wall in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich). Finally, on 2 December 1949, the old <em>Implacable</em> was packed with explosive charges and loaded with 450 tons of iron ballast. Flying the white ensign and the French tricolour <a href=http://www.duguaytrouin.freeserve.co.uk/Last%20Voyage.html#Title target=_blank>side by side</a>, she was towed out to sea, escorted by modern warships carrying a party of admirals, sea lords and other senior naval staff. </p> <p>Somewhere out in the English Channel, south of the Owers lightship off the <a href=http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~genmaps/genfiles/COU_files/ENG/SSX/phillips_ssx_1892.htm target=_blank>Sussex coast</a>, the moment came. The escorting warships stopped their engines, flags were lowered to half-mast, a Royal Marine bugler in white gloves blew the Last Post, the admirals snapped to attention and came to the salute, and the charges were detonated. </p> <p>That should have been the end of <em>Implacable</em>. But it was not. The engineers had bungled. They had made the mistake of doubling the size of the explosive charges in order to &#147;make sure&#148;. As a result, the explosion blew the deck off, separating it from the rest of the ship which promptly sank. The deck, however, continued to float on the surface, the two flags still fluttering in the sea breeze. Deeply embarrassed, the escort vessels hung around this jaunty remnant, hoping vainly that it would break up, until the winter daylight began to fade and they were obliged to return to Portsmouth. </p> <p>Nothing more was heard of the <em>Implacable</em> for some days, until the planking of the upper deck washed up on the shores of France which the <em>Duguay-Trouin</em> had left 152 years before. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Neal Ascherson</b> is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the (London) <em>Observer</em>. Among his books are <em>The Struggles for Poland</em> (<a href=http://www.halat.pl/poland.html target=_blank>Random House,1988</a>), <em>Black Sea</em> (<a href=http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/academic/book/BookDisplay.asp?BookKey=513028 target=_blank>1996</a>), and <em>Stone Voices: the search for Scotland</em> (<a href=http://www.granta.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=980 target=_blank>Granta, 2003</a>).</p> <p>Also by Neal Ascherson in openDemocracy:</p> <p>&#147;From multiculturalism to where?&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">August 2004</a>)</p> <p>&#147;Pope John Paul II and democracy&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">April 2005</a>) </p> <p>&#147;Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&#146;s rocky road&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">July 2005</a>)</p> <p>&#147;The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263;&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">September 2005</a>)</p><p> </p><p>&#147;Poland&#146;s interregnum&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2883">September 2005</a>)</p> </div><p>There were long-term consequences. Those who wanted to save historic ships saw that they must organise themselves more effectively. A few years later, they managed (yet again with royal help, from Prince Philip) to save the old tea-clipper <em>Cutty Sark</em> and preserve her in a dry-dock at Greenwich. In 1970 the Maritime Trust was founded, followed in 1979 by the <a href=http://www.worldshiptrust.org/about.html target=_blank>World Ship Trust</a> which is now restoring over 400 historic vessels and has three times as many on its books. The motto of the World Ship Trust is &#147;<em>Implacable</em> &#150; Never Again&#148;.</p> <p><b>A sinking weight </b></p> <p>And yet the deed of the Admiralty in 1949 was important for another reason. Britain is a society obsessed by an authoritarian concept of &#147;heritage&#148;, which seems to demand that nothing be thrown away and that everything which goes out of use must be preserved. A sort of cultural constipation builds up, as more and more monuments, buildings, landscapes and collections of often trivial files are designated officially as &#147;heritage&#148;. And yet throwing away is one of the basic activities of a species which moves across the world leaving a wide trail of broken pottery, flint chippings, dented cookpots, cartridge cases and knickers with broken elastic. </p> <p>Humans junk more than they hoard. Any social institution has to excrete as well as ingest, if its metabolism is to <a href=http://www.21stcenturytrust.org/history.html target=_blank>keep working</a>. And in reality, institutions covertly do excrete. The shredder eats the dead executive's archives and &#150; at night &#150; figures creep out of museums carrying cartons of unwanted Roman potsherds to the skip. </p> <p>Governments now designate and commission &#147;heritage&#148; &#150; the schedule of what we are not supposed to throw away. But how do they &#147;de-designate&#148; things? That is what remains so fascinating about the fate of <em>Implacable</em>. This was a deliberate act of de-commissioning an item of national heritage, for once carried out by a public authority in public. The Admiralty may have been wrong. Maybe the ship could have been saved. But at least they were honest about what they were doing and why they felt entitled to do it. </p> </div></p> democracy & power europe politics of protest Neal Ascherson Original Copyright Thu, 20 Oct 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2950 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Poland's interregnum https://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/poland_2883.jsp <p>&#147;Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by two identical twins&#133;&#148; Until 25 September's parliamentary elections in Poland, that was the first line of a fairy tale. Then the two brothers Kaczynski, Jaroslaw and Lech, wrote the first page of a story in which Jaroslaw was prime minister and Lech was president.</p> <p>In the <a href=http://www.angus-reid.com/tracker/index.cfm?fuseaction=viewItem&itemID=7423 target=_blank>elections</a>, Jaroslaw's <em>Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc</em> (Law & Justice / PiS) movement surfed forward on a late surge of support and &#150; rather to its own surprise &#150; became the largest party in the next <em>Sejm</em> (parliament). In the presidential elections due on 9 October, Lech Kaczynski is currently running second in the opinion polls to Donald Tusk, of the <em>Platforma Obywatelska</em> (Civic Platform / PO), but he is catching up fast.</p> <p>Aged 56, the twins still look <a href=http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/twin-assault-on-polish-government/2005/09/25/1127586747127.html?oneclick=true target=_blank>unnervingly alike</a>. Both are pudgy, with tiny brown eyes and a permanent half-smile. They take the precaution of wearing different ties. But would Poland know if, one day, Jaroslaw decided to try the presidential chair and Lech appeared at a cabinet meeting? <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also about Poland&#146;s politics, society and foreign policy in openDemocracy:</b></p> <p>Krzysztof Bobinski, &#147;Poland&#146;s nervous &#145;return&#146; to Europe&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1878">April 2004</a>) </p> <p>Marek Matraszek, &#147;Ukraine, Poland, and a free world&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2251">December 2004</a>)</p> <p>Neal Ascherson, Pope John Paul II and democracy&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">April 2005</a>) </p> <p>Neal Ascherson, The victory and defeat of Solidarno&#347;&#263; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">September 2005</a>) </p> <p>Adam Szostkiewicz, &#147;The Polish lifeboat&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2858">September 2005</a>) </p> <p>Karolina Gniewowska, &#147;The Polish minefield&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2863">September 2005</a>)</p> <p>If you find this material valuable please consider supporting <b>openDemocracy</b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work and keep it free for all</p> </div><p>Fortunately, that won't happen. First, because the twins' personalities differ. Lech (who is also mayor of Warsaw) is more candid and straightforward; Jaroslaw is a highly intelligent schemer who is happier behind the throne than out under the lights. But second, because the twins don't think the Poles would long tolerate a dual monarchy. </p> <p>In reality, their <a href=http://www.warsawvoice.pl/view/9399 target=_blank>election success</a> has dropped the Kaczynskis into a prickly bush of choices. As leader of the biggest party, with 27% of the vote, Jaroslaw Kaczynski should be stepping forward as the next prime minister, to lead an inevitable coalition with the Platform (24.2%). Instead, he is stepping backwards. What if he did agree to lead the next government, and the voters then decided that one Kaczynski was enough and turned against his brother in the presidential poll? Or what if Lech lost the presidential race? Maybe he should get the job of prime minister as a consolation prize, allowing Jaroslaw to go back to the off-stage power-broking he prefers? What if Lech won? A surge of resentment against an all-powerful Kaczynski dynasty would burst out sooner rather than later. </p> <p>So Jaroslaw is trying to postpone any final decision. He wants to delay the final announcement of a prime minister and government until after the presidential result is known after the likely second round &#150; on 24 October at the latest. Meanwhile, he is putting forward an experienced but little-known politician, <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4288666.stm target=_blank>Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz</a>, as a provisional frontrunner to head a coalition government. Few people think that Marcinkiewicz will do more than keep the seat warm for one of the Kaczynski twins.</p> <p><b>The Polish looking-glass</b></p> <p>At first glance, and especially to a foreign eye, the two parties which did best in the election can appear similar. Both are broadly centre-right, and both draw their strength from new moods in the electorate. In contrast to the political alignments which have run Poland in the sixteen years since the collapse of communist one-party rule, these two are heirs neither to the post-communist tradition of the outgoing government nor to the post-Solidarity groups which alternated in power. But if they are similar in what they aren't, they have <a href=http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=worldNews&storyID=2005-09-29T142502Z_01_YUE948955_RTRUKOC_0_UK-POLAND.xml&archived=False target=_blank>little else</a> in common. </p> <p><a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens'_Platform target=_blank>Civic Platform</a> is essentially a liberal, or even neo-liberal party. Keen on &#147;healthy competition&#148;, the Platform adopted a trendy fashion among global economists: a &#147;flat tax&#148; which would take a fixed 15% from rich and poor alike. This proposal alone probably pulled the Platform down into second place, after starting ahead. But the Platform was also suspected by Catholic fundamentalists of being &#147;liberal&#148; on <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4084324.stm target=_blank>homosexuality</a> and abortion, while super-patriots accused its leaders of selling Poland's independence to the European Union. Platform supporters are generally younger, better educated and better-off than Law & Justice voters. Their shock when <a href=http://www.radio.com.pl/polonia/article.asp?tId=27498&j=2 target=_blank>Jan Rokita</a>, the Platform leader, failed to win and claim the prime ministership was painful. </p> <p>Law & Justice is a political species rare in northern Europe. It is Christian (in Poland meaning Catholic) but also &#147;social&#148;, in the sense that it distrusts the uncontrolled free market and approves of state intervention to protect the market's victims &#150; especially families. It believes, rather inconsistently, in a &#147;smaller state&#148; which at the same time does more for its citizens. </p> <p> <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_and_Justice target=_blank>Law & Justice</a> wants to reduce taxes but to spend more on police, on reform of the judiciary and courts and &#150; above all &#150; on the fight against the corruption which now disfigures Polish public life. It also calls for a constitutional reform, restoring some of its lost authority to the <a href=http://www.president.pl/x.node?id=436 target=_blank>presidency</a> of the republic. </p> <p>If there is a parallel in western Europe to PiS, it might be the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria. The CSU (traditionally the junior coalition partner of the far larger Christian Democratic Union) is also outspokenly Catholic, politically authoritarian and touchily patriotic. Both parties are absolutely non-liberal. In the 1980s, the CSU was horrified by Reagan-Thatcher <em>laissez-faire</em> policies, which it regarded as profoundly immoral and anti-human. </p> <p>The Kaczynskis' PiS is very much like that. Over Europe, it admires Tony Blair for his resistance to further EU integration, and the PiS has even suggested that it might wriggle out of Poland's obligation to join the eurozone. (As this was one of the undertakings required before Poland joined the EU last year, abrogating it would create pandemonium at Brussels and among the other 2004 entrants). </p> <p>But in domestic policy, the PiS detests the &#147;Blairite&#148; downsizing of the welfare state, and is suspicious of further privatisation and the &#147;freeing-up&#148; of the labour market &#150; all values which the rival Civic Platform supports. </p> <p> <b>Burying the ghosts</b></p> <p>It's all very un-western. In Britain, Germany or Scandinavia, the traditional left-right line-up placed conservatives and most liberals in favour of free trade and deregulated capitalism. Social democrats and socialists, on the other hand, relied on a powerful state to enforce social justice, and had protectionist instincts about international trade. But in post-communist Poland &#150; as in much of east-central Europe today &#150; that pattern has to be turned inside out. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b><a href=http://www.radio.cz/en/article/54735 target=_blank>Neal Ascherson</a>&#146;s writings on Poland include:</b></p> <p><a href=http://www.thenation.com/doc/19820911/singer target=_blank><em>The Polish August: The Self-limiting Revolution</em></a> (Penguin, 1981)</p> <p><a href=http://grunwald.iatp.by/pl/POLAND.htm target=_blank><em>The Struggles for Poland</em></a> (Michael Joseph, 1987)</p> <p>An excerpt from <em>The Struggles for Poland</em>:</p> <p>&#147;Too much emphasis on the oddity of Poland becomes destructive, hiding a nation under a crust of caricature. And in the end it is very misleading. In important ways, Poland &#150; one of the older European states &#150; has been more 'normal' than its younger neighbours...The modern Polish novelist Kazimierz Brandys once divided the world into countries with corpses under the floorboards &#150; including Germany and Russia &#150; 'and those like France and Poland which have no corpses to hide'. When a visitor commented that Poland was an abnormal country, he retorted: 'It is a perfectly normal country between two abnormal ones'.&#148; </p> </div><p>Here, it's the conservatives who are suspicious of the free market, deeply and sometimes rabidly nationalistic, hostile to the &#147;liberal&#148; philosophy of the European Union, and collectivist in their approach to society. And in contrast, it's what could once have been called the &#147;left&#148; in Poland &#150; the reformed communist party, and intellectuals who were advisors to the <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2806">once-mighty Solidarity</a> trade union &#150; which drove the country through the traumatic process of dismantling and privatising the centrally-planned economy, abolishing job security, opening Poland to competition and bringing the nation finally, in <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1878">May 2004</a>, into the European Union. </p> <p>The Kaczynskis lead the &#147;presentable&#148; wing of Polish conservatism. But to their right is a zoo of small, extremist parties, often paranoid in their worldview and egged on by the ultra-nationalist Radio Marija (whose listeners believe that Brussels, Washington and the Jews are conspiring to wipe out the Polish nation by spreading free abortion and homosexuality). </p> <p>Compared to them, PiS is moderate and responsible. But much of the fanatical religious-patriotic vote clearly went to the Kaczynski party. So, ironically but logically, did some of the old communist vote, utterly disillusioned by the capitalist policies of its own leadership. </p> <p>This background will make it hard to keep a PiS-PO coalition together. And what government can be confident of its own legitimacy, when less than half the electorate bothered to vote? All the same, as Adam Szostkiewicz wrote recently in <b>openDemocracy</b> (&#147;The Polish lifeboat&#148;, <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2858">22 September 2005</a>), these parliamentary elections marked a real turning-point.</p> <p>The murky period since 1989, dominated by post-communists ashamed of their past or by post-Solidarity parties ashamed of betraying the old <em>Solidarnosc</em> ideals, is <a href=http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/09/29/opinion/edpoland.php target=_blank>over</a> at last. Instead, Poland will now be governed by two powerful, reasonably normal centre-right parties, which are interested in living people rather than in ghosts from the 20th century. It is true that the Poles show an almost bottomless <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2863">contempt</a> for their own democratic politicians. But there are things they do believe in, and one of them is their membership of the European Union which more than 80% of opinion poll respondents approve. That is a talisman against any retreat into xenophobia. </p> <p>Poland will be a difficult, unpredictable European Union <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4282372.stm target=_blank>partner</a>. Polish domestic politics may well become more turbulent. But, with luck, these unlikely twins can open the windows of Polish politics and let in fresh air. </p> </div></p> Globalisation europe institutions & government Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Thu, 29 Sep 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2883 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The victory and defeat of Solidarnosc https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/solidarity_2806.jsp <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote"> <p> <strong>The images accompanying this article come from the Wyspa Institute of Art exhibition &ldquo;<a href="http://www.wyspa.webtop.pl/index_en.html" target="_blank">Dockwatchers</a>&rdquo; inside the Gda&#324;sk shipyard.</strong> </p> <p> <strong>From the exhibition catalogue: </strong> </p> <p> <strong>&ldquo;With &lsquo;Dockwatchers&rsquo;, happening alongside the official celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Solidarno&#347;&#263;, Wyspa targets beyond officially represented history. It asks about oral histories, cracks in memories, abandoned visions and desolated heroes. "Dockwatchers" addresses the person, the individual, caught up in political and historical processes, whose personal memory is inscribed in collective experiences, the official representations of history and various forms of commemoration and mythologisation.&rdquo; </strong> </p> </div> <p> Outside the shipyard gate, the voices of presidents, prime ministers and mayors boomed over the amplifiers. &ldquo;Solidarity twenty-five years on! From Solidarity to Freedom!&rdquo; Their tribune faced the gigantic steel monument raised by the Gda&#324;sk shipyard workers to the dead of the 1970 workers' uprising in the Baltic ports. </p> <p> The presidents of Poland, Hungary, Germany, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia and the European Commission were sitting there, sweating in the afternoon sun. So were <a href="http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/index.php?sec=1&amp;id=1" target="_blank">V&aacute;clav Havel</a> and <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/kbank/profiles/brzezinski/" target="_blank">Zbigniew Brzezinski</a>. And so was a chunky, grinning figure whose famous moustache has turned white. <a href="http://nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/1983/walesa-bio.html" target="_blank">Lech Wa&#322;&#281;sa</a>, the jobless electrician who led the great strike in August 1980 and became the first president of post-communist Poland, was enjoying his day. </p> <p> The crowds around the base of the monument were large, but not enormous. They were good-natured, but not impassioned. It was not hard to push through them and find a way into the shipyard itself. </p> </div> <p> Commemoration is a game with strict rules. Don't go back to &ldquo;where it really happened&rdquo; &ndash; unless you are prepared to play that game and act out the latest version of <em>what</em> &ldquo;really happened&rdquo;. And if you can't play, you are just a ghost. I walked slowly down what had been the main roadway from Gate Two. Most of the buildings which lined it have vanished, and many of the fabrication halls have vanished too, leaving open wasteland. It was very quiet, except for the distant loudspeaker <a href="http://www.solidarity.gov.pl/?document=53" target="_blank">echoes</a>. </p> <p> But then I recognised ahead of me an old redbrick building &ndash; the &ldquo;BHP&rdquo; or Health and Safety block. In there I spent days and nights in August 1980, as the strike leaders and the government negotiators fought over every clause of the &ldquo;Gda&#324;sk Agreements&rdquo;. Here was born the &ldquo;independent, self-managing trade union&rdquo; called Solidarno&#347;&#263;, out of the accord which for the first time <a href="http://nhs.needham.k12.ma.us/cur/Baker_00/2001_p6/baker_jl_al_sh_p6/solidarity.htm" target="_blank">broke</a> the power monopoly of a ruling communist party. </p> <p> The lawns and shrubbery outside the BHP are clean and empty. But I could see the ghosts: the hundreds of big, tired men in blue overalls sleeping on the grass, boots turned upwards, or smoking and eating green apples on the frail garden benches, or huddled together laughing over a smudgy strike bulletin. </p> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote_image"> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/2806/images/Marek_Sobczyk_Solidarity.jpg" border="0" alt="Museum of solidarity BHP" /><span class="image_caption">Marek Sobczyk / Museum of Solidarity, fragments (2005) </span> </div> <p> Inside, the place has become a museum. In the main hall where workers' delegations from the whole <a href="http://travel.yahoo.com/p-travelguide-577864-map_of_poland-i" target="_blank">Gda&#324;sk region</a> sat at ranks of tables (the &ldquo;Interfactory Strike Committee&rdquo; to which Lech Wa&#322;&#281;sa and his comrades were accountable), there are now showcases. Only the platform remains, with its long table under three icons &ndash; Lenin, the Polish eagle and the crucifix. Here, grinning with triumph, Wa&#322;&#281;sa signed the Gda&#324;sk agreement on 31 August 1980 with an outsize <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">John Paul II</a> souvenir pen. </p> <p> It's a good museum. But not a place for ghosts. The inner conference room, with its glass wall, through which we could watch the negotiations, has gone. So has the little caf&eacute; alcove, where I watched Wa&#322;&#281;sa arguing with a knot of colleagues while a baby daughter in a tartan dress bounced on his knee. How <a href="http://www.solidarity.gov.pl/?document=258" target="_blank">open</a> it all was, with the negotiations broadcast into the committee hall so that all delegates knew what was being done in their name! How the party and state delegation hated that openness! My God, how insanely tired everyone was after two weeks of living on sweet black tea, sausage and cigarettes, of sleeping rough on floors and lawns, of not knowing if the family was all right or if the Soviet armies were preparing to invade! </p> <p> Outside the yard gate that August, the city was terribly quiet and dark, its telephone lines to the rest of Poland cut and its transport on strike. Orange rust had begun to fleck the tramlines, and blades of grass were appearing between the cobbles. This was the work of big Henryka the tramdriver, delegate from the public transport garages. </p> <p> She kept standing up in the hall to insist that the fight must go on to the bitter end, because the small enterprises and the political prisoners must not be abandoned for the sake of a quick compromise. &ldquo;Till we are sure everyone is free and all enterprises are satisfied, no bus or train should move!&rdquo; They cheered her. Wa&#322;&#281;sa, in spite of his lust for bargaining and dealing, grew wary of crossing Henryka. In the end, she got her way. </p> <p> I met her again at the twenty-fifth anniversary commemorations. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/15/international/15fprofile.html?ex=1263531600&amp;en=eb0878a9cbdb61c3&amp;ei=5090&amp;partner=rssuserland" target="_blank">Henryka Krzywonos</a> hasn&rsquo;t changed a bit, except that she runs an adoption agency instead of driving streetcars. But she's the only leading militant who didn't try to make a political career for herself. And, facing her once more, I felt for the first and only moment in these celebrations a lump in my throat. </p> <p> Real revolutions bring anonymous men and women suddenly onto the stage, where they show their hidden powers. The Gda&#324;sk August, when unknown electricians and tram-drivers took the future of Europe into their hands, was <a href="http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/08/f07633b7-7dcc-49bc-a779-4e66cd07ee94.html" target="_blank">real</a> all right. But as a revolution, how successful was it? </p> <p> <strong>A contested legacy</strong> </p> <p> It's easy to say that the birth of Solidarity was &ldquo;the beginning of the end of 20th century totalitarianism&rdquo; (<a href="http://www.project-syndicate.org/series/22/description" target="_blank">Ralf Dahrendorf</a>), or &ldquo;on the scale of the American and French Revolutions and the independence of India&rdquo; (Brzezinski), or &ldquo;the greatest victory for freedom and democracy in a century&rdquo; (<a href="http://www.saakashvili.com/biography.html" target="_blank">President Mikheil Saakashvili</a> of Georgia). </p> <p> Easy, and in a proud measure, true. At Gda&#324;sk, the Soviet &ldquo;Titanic&rdquo; hit an iceberg which drove a fatal hole far below its waterline; and although it took everyone years to realise that the whole system was sinking, it sank. But having said that, the tale of historic triumph is only a part of the story. </p> <p> When the <a href="http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1696713,00.html" target="_blank">presidents and premiers</a> got to the shipyard gate, they found there not one but three competing events. One was the official celebration, preceded by a Mass at the monument. The second, held in a hall a few yards away, was an anti-ceremony. Here a group of 1980 veterans, including some of the bravest and most eloquent of the strike leaders, had called a congress to denounce the present Solidarity leadership. </p> <p> This group, headed by Wa&#322;&#281;sa's one-time associate <a href="http://paspartoo.w.interia.pl/gwiazda.htm" target="_blank">Andrzej Gwiazda</a> and by the crane-driver <a href="http://www.polishnews.com/text/politics/anna_walentynowicz_appeal.html" target="_blank">Anna Walentynowicz</a>, whose sacking was the pretext for starting the 1980 strike, accuses the union of having betrayed the Polish workers in whose name it was founded. The Gwiazda group attacks globalisation and free-market capitalism. But its members also warn of a creeping return of communism, which they fancy is being plotted by the post-communist left-wing alliance (<a href="http://www.terra.es/personal2/monolith/poland.htm" target="_blank">SLD</a>) that has governed Poland for the last few years. </p> <p> Above all, they allege that Lech Wa&#322;&#281;sa is a careerist traitor to Solidarity ideals, who sold out to crypto-communist politicians and once, long ago, acted as an informer code-named &ldquo;Bolek&rdquo; for the communist counter-intelligence service. When <a href="http://www.president.pl/x.node?id=437" target="_blank">President Aleksander Kwa&#347;niewski</a>, himself an ex-communist, arrived at the Mass, some people in the crowd whistled at him or chanted: &ldquo;Commie, out! Commie, out!''. </p> <p> And there was a third campaign competing for attention. This was the current workforce in the Gda&#324;sk shipyard. It was all too obvious that, as a group, they had not been asked to the &ldquo;official&rdquo; ceremony, let alone to the two-day conference &ldquo;<a href="http://www.radio.com.pl/polonia/article.asp?tId=26752&amp;j=2" target="_blank">From Solidarity to Freedom</a>&rdquo; held in Warsaw. The yard has been through a rough time since its days of glory twenty-five years ago: privatised, bankrupted, handed over to the management of its sister yard at nearby Gdynia and fiercely downsized. </p> </div> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote_image"> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/2806/images/Andrzej_Wajda_Man_Iron.jpg" border="0" alt="Man of Iron - workers fists from windows" /><span class="image_caption">Andrzej Wajda, Man of Iron (1981) [courtesy Film Polski]</span> </div> <p> Some 16,000 men and women were employed there in 1980, but only about 3,000 <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1752154,00.html" target="_blank">today</a>. Shipbuilding still happens, on a reduced scale, but the yard branch of &ldquo;Solidarity&rdquo; is in revolt. It is demanding the restoration of independence from the Gdynia firm and the punishment of certain managers for alleged corruption. Threats to occupy the museum building came to nothing, but large protest banners hung over the gate next to effigies of three managers in the pillory. </p> <p> The truth is that the Solidarity revolution <a href="http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/08/8b89d311-5067-4c03-9aa6-72500d1f986d.html" target="_blank">succeeded politically</a> but failed socially. It shattered the self-confidence of ruling communist parties, and provided an example of non-violent mass protest which is still studied and followed, most recently in Belgrade, Tbilisi, Kiev or in Bishkek. Earlier, it had influenced the peaceful mass movements in 1989 which overthrew despotism in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and the Baltic nations. </p> <p> And the memory of Gda&#324;sk in 1980 helped to inspire the Chinese students and workers who occupied Tiananmen square that year, only to be massacred by the army (whose officers had in turn been inspired by the martial-law putsch which suppressed Solidarity in <a href="http://www.pbs.org/weta/forcemorepowerful/poland/timeline.html" target="_blank">December 1981</a>). </p> <p> <strong>A different monument</strong> </p> <p> But it's hard now to remember that Solidarity was primarily a <a href="http://www.solidarnosc.org.pl/english/about/index.htm" target="_blank">trade union</a>. The Gda&#324;sk Agreement included what we would now call &ldquo;human rights&rdquo; provisions: trade-union independence and the right to strike, effective abolition of censorship, the broadcasting of Mass by state radio, the crucial limiting of the communist party's right to nominate to leading posts. Most of it, though, was concerned with the improvement of working conditions and pay, and with the rights of employees (down to recognising back pain as an occupational disease of dentists). </p> </div> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote"> <p> <strong>Also by <a href="http://www.granta.com/authors/64" target="_blank">Neal Ascherson</a> in openDemocracy:</strong> </p> <p> <strong> &ldquo;From multiculturalism to where?&rdquo; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">August 2004</a>) </strong> </p> <p> <strong> &ldquo;Pope John Paul II and democracy&rdquo; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">April 2005</a>) </strong> </p> <p> <strong> &ldquo;Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution&rsquo;s rocky road&rdquo; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2678">July 2005</a>) </strong> </p> <p> <strong>If you find this material valuable please consider supporting <strong>openDemocracy</strong> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work and keep it free for all</strong> </p> </div> <p> At the heart of the project was the idea of &ldquo;self-management&rdquo;, or workers' control. A vision deeply rooted in Poland's pre-communist labour tradition, this was the idea of occupation strikes which would become the nucleus of a quite new form of society &ndash; a decentralised producers' democracy, in which workers elected their own management and voted on their own production and pricing plans. </p> <p> In other words, Solidarity was not only the beginning of something but the end of something. This was the last great manifestation of European <a href="http://paspartoo.w.interia.pl/index.htm" target="_blank">anarcho-syndicalism</a>, the utopian dream of replacing the state with industrial democracy based at the place of work. Several of the intellectuals who advised the strikers at Gda&#324;sk, especially <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1241458,00.html" target="_blank">Jacek Kuro&#324;</a>, had written brilliantly (and clandestinely) about this vision. </p> <p> Reading my diaries and notes, I remember how intensely the &ldquo;<a href="http://www.pbs.org/weta/forcemorepowerful/poland/organization.html" target="_blank">self-managing society</a>&rdquo; was debated in the main hall, and in the smoky corridors. But nothing of that now remains. Unwittingly, Solidarity cleared the way towards a quite different social form: a liberal democracy based on extreme laissez-faire capitalism. And that society, as it emerged in Poland after 1989, destroyed the power of organised labour, brought about mass unemployment and left Polish employees almost helpless in the face of market forces. </p> <p> There is much bitterness, with unemployment in Poland at around 20%. Opposite the commemoration conference in Warsaw, the staff of the Europejski Hotel have all been summarily sacked and the hotel shut by new French owners, who treated a pay demand as insufferable cheek from the natives. &ldquo;Nobody wants to help us or stand up for us,&rdquo; I was told. &ldquo;Solidarity? Huh &ndash; the leaders are all too busy making money and careers for themselves!&rdquo; </p> </div> <p> A friend of mine who formed the first Solidarity union at Przemy&#347;l, on the Ukrainian border, went back there for the anniversary. He told me in horror: </p> <blockquote> &ldquo;They are all on the paranoid ultra-nationalist right now! They think that being in the <a href="http://www.poland.gov.pl/?document=458" target="_blank">European Union</a> is somehow a new partition of Poland. And they say that Brussels and the crypto-Communists in government are preparing a crusade for free abortion on demand. In order to wipe out the Polish nation.&rdquo; </blockquote> <p> He smiled painfully. &ldquo;The worst of it is a statistic. In 1980, we had 40,000 Solidarity members in that district. And now the district has just about 40,000 people unemployed&rdquo;. </p> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote_image"> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/2806/images/Janiszewski_Solidarnosc.jpg" border="0" alt="" /><span class="image_caption">Jerzy Janiszewski / Poster with Solidarno&#347;&#263; logo, artist's proof with signature of the author and Lech Walesa (Signum Foundation)</span> </div> <p> In the Warsaw streets, I noticed that ordinary people were not hanging out flags. But in glitzy new banks or office blocks, the foyer usually had a display of <a href="http://oregonstate.edu/freedomonthefence/history.html" target="_blank">Solidarity banners</a> and relics arranged by the publicity department. Solidarity, as one Polish intellectual said, &ldquo;has become the founding myth of the Third Polish Republic&rdquo; and the free, self-managing trade union has been <a href="http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,369978,00.html" target="_blank">reduced</a> to one more symbol of national unity. </p> <p> Privately, Poles betray a certain embarrassment when they look back to 1980. Poland has a long history of noble insurrections, all of which have been understood as moral acts. But where now is the moral legacy of 1980? Poland today is a vivid, dynamic country, whose economic success conceals awful social injustices and whose public life is disfigured by lurid corruption. The rich get richer, and the government which will probably emerge from this month's elections will make them richer still by replacing graduated taxation with a <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/09/04/nflat104.xml&amp;sSheet=/news/2005/09/04/ixhome.html" target="_blank">flat-rate poll tax</a>. </p> <p> This is a society uneasy about its own cohesion, burdened with a sense that the sense of equality and fraternity so boldly discovered twenty-five years ago has been wasted. Some Poles become aggressive, saying wildly that all politicians are traitors. I prefer the words of the writer <a href="http://www.eurozine.com/biography/Spiewak.html" target="_blank">Pawe&#322; &#346;piewak</a>. He told the commemoration conference in Warsaw: &ldquo;We shouldn't just be using this slogan &lsquo;From Solidarity to Freedom&rsquo;. It's more important now to get back to ethical values, and find our way &lsquo;From Freedom to Solidarity&rsquo;&rdquo;. </p> </div> democracy & power europe politics of protest Neal Ascherson Creative Commons normal Mon, 05 Sep 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2806 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-caucasus/georgia_2678.jsp <p> A few revolutions open the way to golden futures. All, without exception, open the path to golden pasts. Georgia&#39;s “rose revolution”, which brought young <a href="http://www.saakashvili.com/biography.html" target="_blank">Mikheil (“Misha”) Saakashvili</a> to the presidency eighteen months ago, is doing great things in that respect. </p> <p> Walking down <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shota_Rustaveli" target="_blank">Rustaveli</a> Avenue in Tbilisi recently, I found the novelist <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/03/europe_georgia0s_jubiliant_opposition/html/6.stm" target="_blank">Dato Turashvili</a> surrounded by uproar in a new shopping mall. He was organising a marathon read of Georgia&#39;s medieval epic, <em>The Knight in the Panther Skin</em> by <a href="http://sangha.net/countries/Georgia/shota.htm" target="_blank">Shota Rustaveli</a> (the avenue is named after him). Applauding shoppers sat in rows as a queue of volunteer children hopped up to the lectern to read their two minutes&#39; worth. Did they understand much of the <a href="http://www.omniglot.com/writing/georgian.htm" target="_blank">Old Georgian</a> words? Probably not, but that wasn&#39;t the point. This was a rite to celebrate cultural roots. </p> <p> Further down the avenue, I admired the new hangings over the National Museum door proclaiming: <a href="http://www.great-adventures.com/destinations/rep_georgia/colchis.html" target="_blank"><em>Colchis, Land of the Golden Fleece</em></a>. The latest finds of dazzling Iron Age gold ornament, from royal tombs at Vani, were on display. And inside I found that the two little hominid skulls from <a href="http://www.caucaz.com/home_uk/breve_contenu.php?id=170target=_blank">Dmanisi</a>, some 1.8 million years old, had been promoted in every sense. A huge poster behind them announces: <em>Georgia, Cradle of First Europeans</em>. Their faces, modelled from the skulls by a French artist, now have names: Zezva and Mzia. They also have a new taxonomic title – <em>Homo Georgeous</em> (sic). </p> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote"> <p> <strong>Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Georgia’s “rose revolution” and its aftermath, see our “<a href="/democracy-caucasus/debate.jsp">Caucasus: regional fractures</a>” debate. Among the highlights:</strong> </p> <p> <strong>George Hewitt, “Sakartvelo: roots of turmoil” (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1611">November 2003</a>)</strong> </p> <p> <strong>Alexander Rondeli, “Georgia: a rough road from the ‘rose revolution’ “ (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1619">December 2003</a>) </strong> </p> <p> <strong>Nino Nanava, “Mikhail Saakashvili: new romantic or modern realist?” (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1637">December 2003</a>) </strong> </p> <p> <strong>Sabine Freizer, “The pillars of Georgia’s political transition” (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=1732">February 2004</a>) </strong> </p> <p> <strong>If you find this material valuable please consider supporting <strong>openDemocracy</strong> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work and keep it free for all</strong> </p> </div> <p> The past, in short, is still thriving on the <a href="http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n05/asch01_.html" target="_blank">freedom</a> it gained in 2003. The future is looking less happy. The initial surge of joyous, patriotic confidence is gone, and so is the passion for Misha, who at first seemed to do nothing wrong. Instead, the capital is twitching with rumours, some plausible and others total phantasms, but all alarming. After the revolution of roses, the mood of unity and purpose suggested a <a href="http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/commonwealth/georgia_rel99.jpg" target="_blank">Georgia</a> which could stand up to any of its neighbours – even, at the diplomatic level, to Russia. The programmes for economic reform and the war on corruption would be hard but they could be won. But now, for the first time, things feel fragile. </p> <p> <strong>A spreading mistrust</strong> </p> <p> Take the absurd, yet sinister events on <a href="http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/cau/cau_200507_294_1_eng.txt" target="_blank">30 June 2005</a>. Three notorious Georgian all-in wrestlers, accused of extorting thousands of dollars, were refused bail when they appealed to the supreme court. Their supporters smashed up the courtroom furniture and then poured out to block the main avenue outside parliament. Some opposition MPs joined them. There were yells about “dictatorship”. </p> <p> Then heavily-armed special police rushed up and began to club and arrest the demonstrators. In parliament itself, opposition members punched government supporters and rolled about the aisles. A Caucasian farce? But nobody laughed, and many people shivered to see how easily <a href="http://www.tol.cz/look/TOL/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&amp;IdPublication=4&amp;NrIssue=124&amp;NrSection=4&amp;NrArticle=14290" target="_blank">political violence</a> had foamed back across the streets of Tbilisi. </p> <p> A Georgian said to me: “Look, it&#39;s not really about reform programmes. It&#39;s about state survival!” On the surface, this seems exaggerated. After all, some things have gone well. In Tbilisi, at least, the winter passed without serious power cuts: there was heating and light. Some of the worst monsters of state and private corruption have been arrested. Police pay and conditions have been improved – an essential anti-corruption measure – and a start has been made on giving Georgia a modern planning and banking infrastructure. </p> <p> An ambitious educational reform is going ahead, designed to remove unqualified teachers (but also purging perfectly good lecturers who had no chance to qualify). The 250,000 refugees who fled <a href="http://www.kafkas.org.tr/english/bgkafkas/bukaf_abhazya.html" target="_blank">Abkhazia</a> after the 1993 independence <a href="http://www.flashpoints.info/countries-conflicts/Abkhazia-Georgia/Abkhazia-Georgia_briefing_main.htm" target="_blank">war</a> are at last being offered permanent housing (they spent ten years fermenting their hatred in camps or derelict slums). There are funds in the treasury now, and more to come from oil transit royalties as Caspian oil crosses Georgia by pipeline on its way from Baku to Ceyhan in Turkey. </p> <p> There have been political successes too. In May 2004, Saakashvili regained control of the semi-seceded <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/georgia/ajaria/" target="_blank">Adzharia</a> region without firing a shot. Only a month ago, Georgia and Russia agreed on terms for the removal of Russia&#39;s last two bases on Georgian soil – “the end of 200 years of Russian military occupation”, boasted the defence minister, <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/gov/bio_oqruashvili_i.html" target="_blank">Irakli Okruashvili</a>. Conversations about a Georgian approach to Nato and (an even more distant prospect) to the <a href="http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/georgia/intro/" target="_blank">European Union</a> have at least produced friendly western oratory and many visits to Tbilisi. </p> </div> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote"> <p> <strong>Postscript (21 July 2005): Bush grenade suspect seized</strong> </p> <p> <strong>Ten weeks after the grenade was thrown at President Bush on 10 May, Georgian police finally arrested a 27-year old man – an ethnic Armenian called <a href="http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/07/5ed00417-3644-4846-b8f5-5f0a0d2ff2c7.html" target="_blank">Vladimir Arutyunian</a> - on the outskirts of Tbilisi on 20 July. The <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=10398" target="_blank">arrest</a> followed a gun battle and house siege, in which one policeman was killed and another wounded. Arutyunian was also wounded, but escaped into a wood where he was captured by anti-terrorist detectives.</strong> </p> </div> <p> Above all, Mikhail Saakashvili has snatched the imagination of the White House. The <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050510-2.html" target="_blank">ecstatic state visit</a> of President George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice in May scored two superlatives. It gathered the biggest crowd ever seen in living Georgian memory, to greet the president in the huge square at the end of Rustaveli Avenue. This provided Bush with the biggest, warmest welcome he has ever received in a foreign country. (It&#39;s true that somebody chucked a grenade at him, but it didn&#39;t go off. Although the grenade was thrown a dozen metres from the president, in a crowd scanned by a dozen film cameras, nobody has been arrested. Odd, that.) </p> <p> And yet there is this growing nervousness, this spreading mistrust. It&#39;s hard to source it precisely. But two things have contributed heavily. One was Misha&#39;s disastrous grab at the secessionist South Ossetia region a year ago, which ended in <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav071205.shtml" target="_blank">failure</a> and some dozen deaths. This dissipated all the “machismo” capital he had won by defying Russian threats and repossessing Adzharia three months earlier. </p> <p> The other was the death in February of the prime minister, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4232193.stm" target="_blank">Zurab Zhvania</a>, found dead with a friend in a Tbilisi apartment. Zhvania, an older man with more government experience, was felt to be the essential realist who kept the mercurial Misha&#39;s feet on the ground, and there is anxiety about how Saakashvili will handle crises without him. This will not be allayed by Misha’s long-trailed <a href="http://jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2370010" target="_blank">replacement</a> of the mayor of Tbilisi, Zurab Chiaberashvili, on 12 July, by Gigi Ugulava, civil-society activist and former leader of the <em>Kmara!</em> <a href="http://eng.kavkaz.memo.ru/orgtext/engorgdesc/id/656177.html" target="_blank">youth movement</a> that was central to the “rose revolution”. </p> <p> Inevitably, everyone knows for a fact that Zurab Zhvania was murdered – by gay bandits, by jealous colleagues, by Russian agents or by “Zviadists” (fanatical nationalists loyal to the memory of the late, mad president, Zviad Gamzakhurdia, who pitched Georgia into civil war in the early 1990s). More probably, he was killed by fumes from <a href="http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/cau/cau_200506_292_3_eng.txt" target="_blank">Georgian central heating</a>, but that&#39;s too boring to believe. </p> <p> <strong>Sakartvelo not at ease</strong> </p> <p> On Rustaveli, there is a poster showing a beaming crowd in assorted folk outfits. It&#39;s labelled (in English and Russian as well as Georgian) <em>Celebrating Georgia&#39;s Diversity</em>. But at present, people feel too aware of Georgia&#39;s ethnic diversity to celebrate it. National self-confidence has sagged, and there&#39;s a suspicion that the non-Georgian minorities are threatening the state with disintegration. </p> <p> Once, the guidebooks spoke of 5.3 million people of whom almost 80% were Georgian. Today, the population figure you hear in conversation is nearer <a href="http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/gg.html" target="_blank">4 million</a>, and the Georgians are alleged to form only 69% of it. In the civil wars and economic collapse of the 1990s, maybe half a million Georgians left the country, especially from Tbilisi. So far, in spite of the rose revolution, they have not come back. </p> <p> It&#39;s difficult to know the truth about such figures. Georgia has effectively lost <a href="http://www.unpo.org/member.php?arg=03" target="_blank">Abkhazia</a>, which has been de facto independent for over ten years. South Ossetia is much smaller but still defying Tbilisi&#39;s control. But the focus now is on two other <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/georgia/index.html" target="_blank">regions</a>: Kvemo Kartli, with a majority population of some 300,000 Azerbaijanis, and Samstkhe-Javakheti with a population of over 90,000 Armenians. </p> <p> Few in either <a href="http://www.stopvaw.org/Ethnic_Minorities21.html" target="_blank">minority</a> speak Georgian. The <a href="http://www.kvali.com/kvali/index.asp?obiektivi=show&amp;n=317" target="_blank">Azeris</a>, relatively “quiet”, are Muslims of highly conservative practice; almost all girls must leave school at 13 to marry. Among the <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav042205.shtml" target="_blank">Armenian minority</a>, in contrast, discontent is reaching boiling point. There is atrocious poverty and unemployment is around 80%. The current crisis in the region is over electricity bills, where an American-led power company has tried to extort payment by cutting off whole blocks and streets if one household defaults. “Let them live in darkness until they start paying for the electricity they use!” </p> <p> There have been riots, and the (Georgian) governor has threatened to call in troops. Meanwhile, the Armenians accuse the Georgians, rightly or wrongly, of seizing <a href="http://www.armenianow.com/eng/?go=pub&amp;id=626&amp;issue_id=72" target="_blank">Armenian churches</a> for the Georgian patriarchate. Worse still, the minorities are discovering that the higher-education reforms are setting a tough examination in Georgian language and literature as condition for university entrance. This is all ominous news. In the Caucasus, situations like this eventually blow up. </p> </div> <div class="pull_quote_article"> <div class="pull_quote"> <p> <strong>Also by Neal Ascherson in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</strong> </p> <p> <strong>“From multiculturalism to where?” (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2052">August 2004</a>)</strong> </p> <p> <strong>“Pope John Paul II and democracy” (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2399">April 2005</a>)</strong> </p> </div> <p> And everyone seems to carry a gun. This has been true since the 1990s, but there have been times when it was less obvious. My best Tbilisi friends&#39; car has a bullet-hole in the windscreen. They parked the car outside a theatre some weeks ago, and when they returned, they found the hole and a bullet stuck in the driver&#39;s seat. Then, the night before I left, their pretty daughter Tamara went to a birthday party in a restaurant. A man at the next table came over and asked her to dance. When she refused, he pulled a gun. When she refused again, he fired four rounds into the ceiling. When Tamara (being Georgian) still refused, he shrugged and marched off, stuffing the pistol back into his waistband. Nobody seems to have sent for the police. One doesn&#39;t. </p> <p> This is a <a href="http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=europe&amp;c=georgi" target="_blank">taut period</a> in Georgia. But the big hope which pulled Mikhail Saakashvili to power is not yet extinct. Grafting a capitalist infrastructure into a desperately poor and corrupt country, whose very unity is fragile, was always going to be slow. Things are starting to change, but as they do, the gap between glittering cities and dark villages – places where parents dream that their children might one day learn to tell the time and count coinage – grows wider. </p> <p> The answer is not just foreign money and protection. The Georgians themselves must make peace around and within their borders and that means, above all, a “land for peace” deal which recognises the fact of Abkhazia&#39;s independence. And, secondly, they must cherish the small democratic opposition which dares to criticise the <a href="http://www.caucaz.com/home_uk/breve_contenu.php?id=195" target="_blank">charming, erratic president</a> and his slapdash handling of power. Those who work in television, for example, say that restrictions on reporting have become tighter than they were under the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Shevardnadze" target="_blank">Eduard Shevardnadze</a> regime which Misha overthrew. Only the Georgians, in other words, can save their revolution. </p> <p> <table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="550" bgcolor="#99cccc"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> <strong>Further Links:</strong> </p> <p> <strong>Institute for War and Peace Reporting<br /> <a href="http://www.iwpr.net/home_index_new.html">http://www.iwpr.net/home_index_new.html</a></strong> </p> <p> <strong>Eurasianet<br /> <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/">http://www.eurasianet.org/</a></strong> </p> <p> <strong>Radio Free Europe - Caucasus Report <br /> <a href="http://www.rferl.org/reports/caucasus-report/default.asp">http://www.rferl.org/reports/caucasus-report/</a></strong> </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> </div> democracy & power europe caucasus: regional fractures Neal Ascherson Original Copyright Thu, 14 Jul 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2678 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A British letter to France: vote for Europe https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-europe_constitution/europeletter_2548.jsp <p>There is much talk in Britain of the advantages of a &#147;no&#148; to the European Constitution in the French referendum on May 29. Many suggest a rejection would be fortunate for Tony Blair, suddenly freed from the embarrassment of a British referendum which could turn out to be a dismal humiliation. To ask, and worry about, what it may mean for the wider picture is regarded as unsophisticated. </p> <p>Let us be unsophisticated for a moment. All across Europe we have just laid wreaths and shaken veterans&#146; hands to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. That, and the war which preceded it, are the essential inspiration for the historically unprecedented way of living together as peoples which is the European Union. </p> <p>The survival and political health of such a structure is a serious matter. We now take it for granted. But the Union is fragile and great political chances can be lost for a lifetime, and sometimes for ever. Rejection of the Constitution could prove fateful to a Union which, for all its deficiencies, is a beacon of peace, prosperity, and good political sense throughout the world. It has helped to establish free and stable societies among its neighbours, and is still doing so in countries traumatised by half a century of totalitarianism. </p> <p>The Constitution seeks to bring together the agreements which have underpinned the European Union since the first Treaty of Rome in 1957 and it does more than that. It enshrines citizens&#146; rights, adds provisions to make the newly-enlarged Union more democratic and effective, and carefully balances the EU social model with the flexibility needed to compete in a globalised market. </p> <p>We hope the French people will vote yes in the referendum on May 29. It will greatly encourage us, their fellow-Europeans, to campaign at home for the same result. </p> <p><em>Neal Ascherson; Christopher Bobinski; Richard Corbett (MEP, Labour spokesman for EU constitutional affairs)<em>; Brendan Donnelly (president, Federal Trust); Andrew Duff (MEP, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, constitutional affairs spokesman); Sue Garden; Timothy Garden (Liberal Democrat defence affairs spokesman): Kirsty Hughes: Will Hutton: Richard Laming (director, Federal Union): Phillip Souta: Edward Steen: Zygmunt Tyszkiewicz.</em></em></p> europe: after the constitution democracy & power europe Neal Ascherson Original Copyright Wed, 25 May 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2548 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Pope John Paul II and democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-aboutfaith/article_2399.jsp <p>Army officers are taught two ways of commanding a brigade or division in the field. One is Directive Control, which means laying down absolutely clear general orders and priorities and then letting junior commanders carry them out. The other is Order Command. This is sometimes called &#147;leading from the front&#148;, or &#150; less kindly &#150; obsessive interference in details. In Order Command, a general exercises hour-to-hour control to ensure that his operational orders are being precisely carried out, and may jump in at any moment to overrule orders given by a subordinate. </p> <p>The Catholic church resembles an army in a great many ways. Few popes, however, have staff-officer qualities. Traditionally, they neither make their general orders clear nor interfere with prelates who, at the operational level, are trying to keep the great show on the road. </p> <p>Pope John Paul II, in contrast, was a warrior commander. He set out on his long reign in 1978 with two perceptions, both of them requiring offensive action. The first was that the church was an organisational shambles which, if its discipline was allowed to deteriorate further, would enter a phase of final disintegration. The second was that there was a war on. This was a two-front war against materialism: one front against atheist Marxism and the other against the atomising, demoralising force of free-market capitalism. </p> <p>No pope in recent history has attacked his task with such energy and relish. But, like most generals, Karol Wojty&#322;a was not a model staff-college pupil. He did some Directive Control, especially at the start, but soon was provoked into a series of sensational Order Command episodes which appalled Catholic intellectuals. Dissent was treated like heresy, whether it came from individual theologians or entire religious orders. Conversely, he promoted and favoured some truly creepy lay groups and backwoods thaumaturges (Opus Dei or Padre Pio) who appeared to present no threat to his command structure. John Paul&#146;s response to the deluge of revelation about the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy was uncharacteristically weak, although he was old and sick when the full scale of this horror began to emerge. </p> <p>His campaign to restore authority and discipline to the church was certainly spectacular. But it is not clear that he achieved much beyond resigned obedience from thousands in the hierarchy who hoped that the next pontiff would be less controlling. Just as transitory, one can guess, will prove his tremendous effort to hold the traditional line on the &#147;sexual&#148; issues: divorce, abortion, contraception, the celibate priesthood and the ordination of women. He spoke with passion about the world&#146;s poor and their exploitation by the rich. But his rigid conservatism about contraception in the age of HIV/Aids, and his suppression of any hint of radical &#147;liberation theology&#148;, suggested that his grasp of reality in poor continents was often weak. </p> <p><b>The pope and democracy</b></p> <p>Much is now being written and recycled about John Paul II&#146;s supposed &#147;failure to understand&#148; the nature of western liberal society. In reality he understood the dynamics of society in western Europe or north America quite well, but disliked much of what he saw there. In return, he was disliked &#150; sometimes detested &#150; by reformers within or outwith the Church, who were also shocked by the materialism of their own societies but who could only understand his refusal to liberalise the church as brutal, reactionary authoritarianism. </p> <p>On his first visit to the United States, John Paul II was confronted by an impressive, widespread campaign which begged him to reconsider the ordination of women. The campaign produced evidence (how solid I do not know) to suggest that the majority of American Catholics favoured the change. The pope was completely unimpressed by this reasoning. Afterwards, a columnist suggested that he had been the first world figure to tell the American public that wanting something in a majority did not mean they ought to have it. </p> <p>This brings up the question of the late pope&#146;s attitude to democracy. He was in favour of it, as at least a huge improvement on the other thing (of which he had a lifetime&#146;s personal experience). He had reservations about the behaviour of elected professional politicians and of political parties, but they were reservations of the kind shared by all intelligent democrats. Again, such behaviour was a vast improvement on the behaviour of non-elected politicians in a one-party state. He certainly did not believe that <em>vox populi</em> was <em>vox Dei</em>. People could demand things they should not have or accuse the innocent on false grounds, and to credit one particular form of government with infallibility was idolatrous (unless, of course, it was the throne of St Peter). In short, although his style as pope was highly authoritarian, this did not lead him to support authoritarian politics. One of his closest friends, with whom he seems to have spent many cheerful evenings, was the late Sandro Pertini, president of Italy, old socialist and anti-fascist partisan fighter. </p> <p>Karol Wojty&#322;a certainly appreciated historic pomp, and on his visit to Canterbury in 1982, he was enormously impressed by the royal splendour and ceremonial which the Church of England laid on for him. But he had none of that repellent old-Catholic hankering for &#147;ordered&#148; hierarchical societies in which aristocrats and officers protected an innocent peasantry against socialists and Jews. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was immune to pious dictators and &#150; to the alarm of the Vatican bureaucracy &#150; intensely concerned with Judaism, the Jewish people and the church&#146;s disastrous history of anti-Semitism. </p> <p>Karol Wojty&#322;a called himself a &#147;pilgrim&#148;. He travelled incessantly, even when his mountaineer&#146;s constitution had finally broken down, and faced countless crowds which often numbered millions in almost every country on earth. But when he looked out over those crowds, asking himself what they wanted, &#147;democracy&#148; was probably not the first word which came to mind. He thought about human beings, or at least their social requirements on earth, in terms of rights and &#150; above all &#150; in terms of &#147;freedom&#148;. When they had secured rights and freedom, then bread and probably democracy might be the next points on the agenda. But that second pair of items were not really matters for the kingdom of God and his representative on earth. The first pair were. </p> <p><b>The pope and Poland</b></p> <p>Here the Polish background becomes all-important in understanding Wojty&#322;a&#146;s mind. He was brought up in a conservative-nationalist tradition, still possessed by the hypnotising mythology of Poland&#146;s long struggle to regain independence. At the core of this mythology was the 19th-century doctrine of &#147;messianism&#148;. Poland was presented as the collective reincarnation of Jesus Christ, destined to be crucified, to descend into the tomb and then to be resurrected in glory to redeem all nations by its sacrifice. Unmistakeable traces of national messianism recur in Wojty&#322;a&#146;s magnificent sermon-cycles (much better writing than his second-rate drama and poetry). And its influence left him with a uniquely Polish synthesis of patriotism and theology. </p> <p>Karol Wojty&#322;a saw God&#146;s human creation as composed of three concentric circles: the individual, the family, the nation. Each was God&#146;s work, and each was sacred. The tyrant who raised his sabre against a Christian nation was as blasphemous as when he raised it against a Christian family or a Christian woman or man. This was why Wojty&#322;a, on his pilgrimages, always knelt down to kiss the ground in piety when he arrived in a new nation. </p> <p>His first visit to Poland as pope, which took place in 1979, knocked a fatal hole in the credibility of the Communist regime. <em>Solidarno&#347;&#263;</em> (&#147;Solidarity&#148;) emerged the following year and, although it was temporarily crushed in 1981, it soon became clear that the hole below the waterline was extending to the other regimes in the Soviet &#147;outer empire&#148;. </p> <p> (A fondly-nurtured legend has it that in September 1980, when a Soviet invasion seemed imminent, the Pope warned the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, that if Poland were attacked he would move the Papacy and the Vatican to Kraków. So far, there is no evidence whatever for this story.) </p> <p>That 1979 &#147;pilgrimage&#148; was the first event in a process which ended ten years later in Warsaw, Prague and the fall of the Berlin wall. But the words which began that process did not include &#147;democracy&#148;. Spoken to a million people by the Unknown Soldier&#146;s tomb in Warsaw, they went like this: <blockquote>&#147;The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man &#133; Man cannot be understood apart from this community that is constituted by the nation &#133; It is therefore impossible without Christ to understand the history of the Polish nation, this great thousand-year old community that is so profoundly decisive for me and each one of us &#133; It is impossible without Christ to understand this city, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, that undertook in 1944 an unequal battle against the aggressor, a battle in which it was abandoned by the powers allied with it &#133;&#148;</blockquote></p> <p>He was talking not about democracy but about freedom. This included national freedom from foreign or foreign-managed repression; a cultural freedom in which &#147;Poland could be Poland&#148;; spiritual freedom from the regime&#146;s feeble pretence of atheism. As it happened, that freedom was established the following year through the most radical form of democracy: a trades-union revolution based on workers&#146; control of production through elected self-management committees. This did not bother Wojty&#322;a in the least, because <em>Solidarno&#347;&#263;</em> from the outset celebrated its fight for workers&#146; rights and civil liberty with daily masses. </p> <p><b>The pope and freedom</b></p> <p>But at heart he saw freedom as a means rather than an end. For this pope, the theological point of freedom was that it unlocked the right of the individual to be respected as an individual, and restored his or her right to choose by reason the correct path to follow: <blockquote>&#147;A human being is a free and reasonable being. He or she is a knowing and responsible subject. He or she can and must, with the power of personal thought, come to know the truth. He or she can and must choose and decide.&#148; </blockquote></p> <p>There is nothing new about this view of rights and freedom, which Catholic theology had developed centuries before President Jimmy Carter introduced the human-rights inventory into international relations, or before consumerism adopted a sue-them rights language suggesting that everyone was entitled to be beautiful and immortal. All the same, the impact of Wojty&#322;a&#146;s emphasis on rights and freedom owed something to timing. He was chosen as pope only three years after the Carter administration made human rights one of the basic concerns of the &#147;Helsinki process&#148;, which sought to overcome the dangers and the damage of the cold war. </p> <p>This impact was strongest in oppressed countries, weakest in the &#147;free world&#148;. Karol Wojty&#322;a had the gift of imparting to each member of a crowd &#150; often the subjects of regimes which had spent years treating them as mere granules in the social building aggregate &#150; a sense of being recognised as a unique and irreplaceable individual. This sudden revelation of worth and dignity was overwhelming. As I followed some of those pilgrimages, I often saw it happen, manifested in tears and the reaching out of arms. </p> <p>Was it just an orator&#146;s trick, the knack of making each listener in an audience think the speaker is talking only to him or her? I think it was more. This pope, who had once laboured with his hands and whose bishopric had included Auschwitz, understood the desperate human need to be recognised as a person. This is the right to respect, including self-respect, which comes next to the right to life. </p> <p>Is that self-respect, turning to mutual respect, a precondition for democracy? It has often turned out to be the precondition for freedom. As we have seen in &#147;soft&#148; revolutions from Prague to Kiev and Kyrgyzstan, liberty is nowadays won by obstinate self-confidence rather than by blood and barricades. But democracy? </p> <p>I would argue that Pope John Paul II saw democracy &#150; plural and/or open &#150; much as he saw freedom: as a means to an end. He valued choice as the expression of a moral being, not of a consumer or an elector, and I doubt if he fostered personal self-esteem in order to create worthier voters. His end, to which freedom and perhaps democracy were means, was much simpler and older: keeping open the possibility of free will, the option to choose God. After all, the man was a pope. </p> Ideas faith & ideas democracy in the catholic church? what about faith? Neal Ascherson Original Copyright Thu, 31 Mar 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2399 at https://www.opendemocracy.net From multiculturalism to where? https://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-multiculturalism/article_2052.jsp <p>In the mid-2oth century, one of humanity&#146;s worst periods, politics were about what we could become. Two collectivist ideologies about destiny claimed to be scientific. <a href=http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Marxism-Leninism target=_blank>Marxism-Leninism</a> was based on inevitable, universal laws of class development and conflict; <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi target=_blank>Nazi-Fascism</a> proclaimed inevitable laws of racial and biological development for one race alone. </p><p>Today, we think less about what we could all become. Instead, we worry more about how to live together as individuals in community. The whole world is on the move, migrating and hoping. The rich world, above all Europe and North America, faces the rising determination of a hundred latecomer nations who were once silent under the blanket of colonialism and backwardness. </p><p>How do we learn to live together, and at three levels: in an <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-6-27-1918.jsp>international system</a>, in individual nation-states, and &#150; most immediately and intimately &#150; in western cities which are increasingly the home and the goal of migrants from those &#147;delayed&#148; parts of the world? </p><p><strong>The ties that bind, and break</strong> </p><p>The rich world&#146;s current answer to this question is <a href=http://www.india-seminar.com/1999/484/484%20parekh.htm target=_blank>multiculturalism</a>. I argue that this ideal, although it is well-meaning and an improvement on previous recipes, has grown obsolete and is losing its relevance. </p><p>Multiculturalism presently dominates <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3599925.stm target=_blank>political discourse</a>. If there is to be a gleaming &#147;city on the hill&#148;, then &#150; in this age of migration and <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-3-52-1627.jsp target=_blank>human rights</a> &#150; it is held to be a city in which many ethnic communities live peacefully side by side, even celebrating each other&#146;s cultural traditions. </p><p>This vision replaces the older &#147;melting-pot&#148; image of assimilation, in which new arrivals simply vanish into the dominant national culture they find. Instead of the <a href=http://www.manhattan-institute.org/meltingpot/ target=_blank>melting-pot</a>, many western city managers now prefer to talk about the &#147;salad bowl&#148; &#150; a healthy, crunchy mixture of contrasts. </p><p>This sort of multiculturalism is also supposed to mean a decisive move away from the politics of ethnicity. But it does not. It is still contained within the notion of ethnicity. Multicultural politics certainly get away from the aim of assimilation, from the idea that ethnicity politics can only mean absorption into the enforced monopoly on power and culture of the majority ethnic group. But what is now being said is that ethnic nationalism can be tamed by a sort of &#147;equality proclamation&#148;. It sounds good to say that all ethnic nationalisms are born equal and as good as each other. But it is hardly a programme for action. <div><div class="pull_quote_article">Read Paul Gilroy&#146;s <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-1-111-2035.jsp><em>Multiculture and Melancholia</em></a> for a contrasting view of &#147;the strange career of multiculturalism&#148;</div><p>And how stable <em>is</em> multiculturalism? One of the saddest spectacles of recent years has been the way that ancient multicultural communities break up in violence and hatred. We have seen this in Europe &#150; most recently in the disintegration of Yugoslavia &#150; but it is going on all over the <a href=http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?0-385-72186-2 target=_blank>world</a>. </p><p>Why do people of different religions and cultures who have lived together in something like peace for centuries &#150; gossiping together as they wait at the village pump, their children sharing the same school bench and speaking one another&#146;s languages &#150; <a href=http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/8454.html target=_blank>suddenly discover</a> that they cannot bear to live together any more? </p><p>My hypothesis is a gloomy one. It&#146;s the experience of &#147;liberation&#148; which can be the fatal catalyst, precipitating particles of suspicion and cultural distaste into a hot, dark sludge of hatred. These suspicions were never entirely absent, even in mixed communities which seemed to rub along together tolerably for <a href=http://www.irr.org.uk/2002/april/ak000001.html target=_blank>generations</a>. There always remained a sense of otherness, of strange things which the neighbours might be doing or saying behind closed shutters or in their own shrines. </p><p>This sense was a shadow never quite absent from the apparently stable mixture of Azeris and Armenians in <a href=http://www.nyupress.org/product_info.php?cPath=&products_id=3252 target=_blank>Karabakh</a>, of Muslims and Orthodox Serbs in <a href=http://pup.princeton.edu/titles/5696.html target=_blank>Bosnia</a>, of Hindus and Muslims in British India, Jews and Arabs or Berbers in North Africa, Polynesians and Indians in Fiji &#133; the list is long, and growing. </p><p><strong>A democracy of separation</strong> </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article">For a story from the &#147;borders of difference&#148; see Maruf Khwaja&#146;s memoir <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-1-111-2051.jsp><em>Becoming Pakistani</em></a></div><p>The glue which held those communities together was fear. All those old multicultural societies lived under forms of arbitrary rule. They were subjects of a tsardom or a colonial empire or a <a href=http://www.bartleby.com/65/ca/caliphat.html target=_blank>caliphate</a> which governed by force and offered them few or no political rights. If mutual tolerance within such a community broke down into disorder, then everyone knew that a more or less brutal outside authority would send in its armed men to &#147;restore calm&#148;. All would suffer; nobody would be the winner. </p><p>But when that external pressure is removed &#150; by the fall of an empire, or the Soviet Union or <a href=http://cidc.library.cornell.edu/dof/yugoslavia/yugo.htm target=_blank>Tito&#146;s Yugoslavia</a> &#150; then the current of fear is switched off. &#147;Freedom&#148; tempts people to look at their neighbours in new, less forgiving ways. Culprits are sought to blame for historical wrongs, as liberated peoples begin to reinvent their past. And the arrival of &#147;democracy&#148; in such communities can divide rather than unite. </p><p>In the condition of plural democracy, people are invited to choose sides, to identify what divides them rather than what <a href=http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=0745622283 target=_blank>unites them</a>. In societies where no network of free local institutions, no civil society had been allowed to develop, the first difference which often comes to mind is not wealth or class or social function, but ethnicity. </p><p>Why does the sense of freedom translate into the wish to be free <em>alone</em> &#150; without the Other? As yet, no sociologist has a satisfying explanation. But all over the world, and especially in the last fifteen or twenty years, there has been <a href=http://balkansnet.org/ethnicl.html target=_blank>ethnic separation</a> as minorities have been driven from their homes. Unhappily, this is going to go on. The world is full of countries where governance has never been anything but arbitrary and in which the experience of liberation, or democratic revolution or whatever we like to call it, <a href=http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,920465,00.html target=_blank>is yet to come</a>. </p><p>More neighbours will find they cannot live together. There will be more floods of helpless refugees, millions more asylum-seeking families. Some, with the return of peace and the devoted work of volunteers on the ground, may eventually return home &#150; or their children may. Some will be consigned to the &#147;Gaza Archipelago &#147; of permanent refugee camps which already stud the globe. But many will end up in the <a href=http://www.africana.com/research/encarta/tt_1095.asp target=_blank><em>favelas</em></a> or tower-blocks of foreign cosmopolitan cities. </p><p><strong>After multiculturalism</strong> </p><p>And here the argument returns from the past to the present. From traditional mixed communities, we are back in the vast cities of modern Europe and America as they suck in migrants from every corner of the earth. Can those old forms of multiculturalism, in which ethnic groups stay distinct but live together peacefully, be reconstructed in <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-10-96-1178.jsp>London</a>, Berlin, Toronto, <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-10-96-1724.jsp>Istanbul</a>, <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-5-57-1910.jsp>Antwerp</a>? Yes, they can &#150; because after all they already exist in those &#147;salad-bowl&#148; cities. But they cannot exist forever, or even for long. The crucial point is this: western urban multiculturalism is not a destination. It is only a way-station on the road to something else. </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article">openDemocracy&#146;s <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/debate-10-96.jsp><em>People Flow</em> debate</a>, in collaboration with <a href=http://www.demos.co.uk/catalogue/peopleflow_page247.aspx target=_blank>Demos</a>, explores the possible impacts of mass migration on Europe over the next fifty years. Contributors include Theo Veenkamp, Saskia Sassen, Zrinka Bralo, Nigel Harris, Achilles Skordas, Ash Amin, and Liza Schuster</div><p>It is important to understand just how conservative the multiculturalist solution is. It is literally conservative, in that it tends to enfranchise the most reactionary and traditionalist elements in an ethnic group &#150; usually those of the older generation who want to enforce religious and cultural orthodoxy (in Britain, <a href=http://argument.independent.co.uk/regular_columnists/yasmin_alibhai_brown/ target=_blank>Yasmin Alibhai-Brown </a>is among those who write well about this). But it is also conservative in a wider sense. It tries to freeze-frame and render permanent a single moment in what is in reality a process of continuous change. </p><p>This is a battle which the elders cannot win. Cultural fusion is irresistibly taking place, in the context of these huge cosmopolitan cities and of continuing immigration. What lies ahead &#150; indeed, it&#146;s already emerging fast &#150; is what has been called <a href=http://www.qub.ac.uk/en/imperial/key-concepts/Hybridity.htm target=_blank>&#147;hybridity&#148;</a>. </p><p>This is a new kind of urban society. It is neither a bouquet of contrasting cultures nor the adoption of the patterns of the old indigenous majority, but a fresh synthesis. It is produced by the spread of the human-rights culture, by the dissolution of protected career structures in favour of a bewildering succession of short-term job opportunities, by intermarriage, and by all the other economic and social pressures which give priority to individual life-choices over group conformity. As Tom Nairn <a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-3-77-879.jsp>has put it</a>, hybridity means &#147;the acceptance of irrevocable mixture as starting-point, rather than as a problem&#148;. </p><p>Starting-point? Yes, because hybridity is unlikely to be a final destination either. </p><p>Beyond it comes yet another phase which can be called &#147;post-hybridity&#148;. <a href=http://www.granta.com/authors/842 target=_blank>Tom Nairn</a> has a very optimistic notion of how that will look: it will look political. In other words, once the emphasis on &#147;culture&#148; (read: cultural differences) has worn away, people will at last be free to get down to making new democratic arrangements. They can do so, because they will have freed themselves from old and oppressive regimes &#150; whether imperial, colonial or home-grown autocratic. But, more importantly, they will also have freed themselves from domination by the cultural and ethnic categories which for so long were held to be the basic texture of human associations. </p><p>Hybridity and whatever follows have many implications. One is geographical: the separation of the big hybrid city from its traditional role as &#147;capital&#148; of an extensive territory. It&#146;s easy to fancy the re-emergence of city-states; harder to imagine the political future of surrounding territory whose villages and small towns may still be almost mono-ethnic. Another implication for Europe is that political loyalty may become institutional rather than ethnic. Patriotism would be directed not to a flag or a people but to common achievements: a constitution, a legal code, even (as British chancellor <a href=http://www.guardian.co.uk/britain/article/0,2763,1256502,00.html target=_blank>Gordon Brown</a> once proposed) a National Health Service. </p><p>But the most important change would be the withering of culture-based politics. In their place may come a politics without boundaries and ethnic symbols. People would choose whatever they wanted to keep or celebrate from their Somali or Bengali or Kosovan tradition. But as citizens they would meet face to face, without qualifications, in a common human nature. </p><p></p></div></p> Culture arts & cultures europe multiculturalism: translating difference Neal Ascherson Original Copyright Wed, 18 Aug 2004 23:00:00 +0000 Neal Ascherson 2052 at https://www.opendemocracy.net