Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category
Update 11 July: The Greek parliament supported a so-called package of spending cuts, pension savings and tax increases with a majority of 251 votes in the 300-seat parliament. This is what the 61.3% ‘NO’ vote rejected six days ago! Naturally, this has set the stage for massive internal turmoil in Greece. Heavyweights of Syriza, parliament speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou and energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, and 15 other members either voted against the plan, abstained or were absent from the vote. Another 15 Syriza members of parliament said they also opposed the proposed measures and could reject them in future votes even though they supported prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his template of borrowed proposals. With breath-taking cynicism, the Syriza leader has presented this direct repudiation of the will of the Greek people as a “triumph of democracy”. Who is this man Tsipras working for?
Beyond the beggaring calculations made by the economists and financiers of the Troika and the ahistorical stubbornness of the Berlin-Paris ruling cliques who will still not deviate from their ‘austerity’ prescription, is the legitimacy of Greece’s claim to autonomy. “Autonomy, the willingness and capacity to question and change our collective laws, is a universal principle and one that should be at the heart of the European project,” writes Giorgos Kallis. “Greece’s disobedience to the rule of the markets is a universalistic call for reclaiming democracy for all Europe, not a particularist protection of its own backyard. This is not a demand for the rest of Europe to obey to Greece’s will, but a plea to listen, reflect and genuinely co-decide.” Ah but Berlin cannot abide any other will than its own.
It is finanzpolitik, or perhaps the political economy of occupation by austerity. Whatever it is called in Eurolingua it has proved politically effective for European elites in general to present the Greek problem as their own debt problem. Doing so has provided a powerful ideological and moral justification for the brutal austerity policies prescribed to the countries of the European ‘periphery’ (and especially Greece) in recent years. And so, as Thomas Fazi has narrated, Euro-leaders’ “deeply moral interpretation of the euro crisis – which pitted the profligate, debt-ridden wrongdoers of the periphery against the virtuous, responsible countries of the core – rapidly became conventional wisdom among European politicians, commentators and bureaucrats”.
On Sunday 5 July 2015 Europe was shown to be imprisoned by its institutions. But the people of Greece chose with dignity and in solidarity to expose the prison, and walk away.
The landslide ‘no’ (or OXI) vote in the 5 July referendum on austerity in Greece is an overwhelming repudiation of the European Union and the austerity agenda pursued all over Europe since the 2008 economic crisis. The weapon of austerity is the euro, and it works by wiping out genuine economic and social progress through productive systems composed largely of small and medium enterprises, because this weapon pries open these local ‘markets’ (a despised term) to raids by financial monopolies.
Such raids have the sanction of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank – together known as the troika which has waged war on the Greeks. The troika has waged such war as punishment (in the words of European politicians such as Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Martin Schulz, Wolfgang Schäuble and David Cameron) to the Greeks for their own failed design of the Euro in a system that is economically unsustainable and socially perverse.
“Shame on all those who have accepted the idea that the troika represents the European peoples,” wrote Samir Amin. “Shame on the governments that have installed in the presidency of ‘their Europe’ a Luxembourgian functionary in the service of a tax haven; installed in the management of ‘their central bank’ a character who made a career at Goldman Sachs, the bank associated with all the financial villainies of the century.”
The ‘OXI’ (no) in the referendum means the Greeks voted for a socially just distribution of the burdens for the sustainable reforms necessary in their country to fight corruption and nepotism. They voted for sustainable reconstruction and growth of their economic structures, to reduce military spending and for mandatory negotiations on debt restructuring. Those who so voted on 5 July were 61.3% of the Greek people, drawn largely from the working class and poorer layers of the population.
But what happens now?
There is not much belief that the Syriza government will fulfil the ‘no’ vote mandate and bring austerity to an end. Reportage via independent media say that most people fear there will be new austerity measures, which the mass of the population can no longer take.
Should the Greek Parliament approve talks on the new proposal (it may be acceptable to the Eurozone’s negotiators but has will still have to be approved by the European Parliament) there will be a short period during which the people of Greece will reflect on what is being done. They may decide to tolerate more ‘negotiation’, or not. They could rise up against a government that has gone back on its promises and disregarded their will as expressed in the referendum.
On the other hand Germany will balk at offering any debt relief. The European financial press (such as it is) is carrying reports that a section of German capitalist strategists are calculating that it is now cheaper to kick Greece out of the euro (provide a ‘humanitarian relief aid’ dollop) than continue to negotiate a formal bailout. A French publication reported that the Greek negotiation team was asked by Schäuble, “how much money do you want to leave the euro”, underlining how execrable the Euro political class has become.
These have been disastrous times for people in Greece. Salaries have been cut by half, taxes have increased eight times (not by 8% or 80% but eight times more), there are 1.5 million people unemployed and that is a full third of the working class, those who have jobs have often not been paid in weeks or months. There is misery and 60 euros as pension for those who can find 60 euros to draw out, but the Greeks want to their overthrow of austerity to be historic and permanent.
The victory of Syriza in the 25 January 2015 general election in Greece has triggered off genuine hope in Europe that changes for the better are possible. There was, for the world to witness through television cameras and to read via social media channels, an outpouring of joy on the streets of Athens when the Coalition of the Radical Left (which is what the acronym ‘syriza’ stands for) won 37.5% of the votes polled and 146 seats in the parliament.
The Syriza that has now formed the new government brings together a group of 13 radical and left-wing political groups and factions ranging from democratic socialist and green-oriented to communist, trotskyist and maoist leftists and even some anti-European groups. Regardless of their often divergent political trajectories, their joint solidarity is a remarkable achievement, not only for Greece but for Europe.
Already, the new Greek government is stamping upon Euro-politics a new voice. Syriza has spoken out against the EU partners over the statement that blames Russia for the recent attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol (Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria had voiced similar objections earlier). The new government, headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said bluntly that “… it is underlined that Greece does not consent to this statement”. The decisive ‘no’ from Syriza could inspire other countries to follow suit and oppose Brussels’ policies towards Russia on the Ukrainian crisis. Before the remarkable result in Greece, it was considered difficult in the EU to break ranks but now it is not unlikely that Hungary, Slovakia and Cyprus will find the courage to also say ‘no’ to the diktat from Brussels.
And that is one reason why Europe’s parties — conservative or socialist or some muddled admixture thereof – have become anxious at the electoral success of a genuine leftist party in one of the countries of the European Union. They see the success of Syriza as encouraging and emboldening growing leftist movements in larger countries, including Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and elsewhere, all countries whose citizens have been hurt by the iron heel of selective ‘austerity’ imposed by the European Parliament (in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund and Europe’s central banks). As does Syriza, these new movements in Europe reject the jaded and morally compromised parties that have been taking turns running European countries as adjuncts to the dictates of trans-national capital and the networks of global financiers.
The resounding victory in Greece has halted in its tracks the prevailing neo-liberal consensus in Europe that the way to ‘reform’ economies is to impose ‘austerity’, slash social programmes, hammer down wages, boost unemployment, and privatise functions that have long been public like transit, education, roads and and health care. This is after all a coalition whose manifesto stated, “The national debt is first and foremost a product of class relations, and is inhumane in its very essence. It is produced by the tax evasion of the wealthy, the looting of public funds, and the exorbitant procurement of military weapons and equipment.” Greece has spoken and all of Europe is changed.
India’s Republic Day in 2015 will also see the visit of the president of the USA, Barack Obama, accompanied by the usual large delegation of business persons, lobbyists and functionaries of the American government. They will use this visit to demand many things, and amongst the demands will be that the NDA-BJP government ‘reform’ all that is hindering the agriculture and food transformation in Bharat.
We must resist this with strength and perseverance. So far, the NDA-BJP government has not shown that it recognises or understands the threats and dangers, which are very very serious indeed. The American delegation will push this government to clear the way for genetically modified seed and crop (including in food staples such as cereals), for the further industrialisation and mechanisation of crop production (which will mean the removal of smallholder ‘kisans’ from their plots, all in the name of market efficiency), and the deepening of the food processing and food retail industries’ grip on what we eat.
The Prime Minister’s Office, the Union Cabinet and the seniormost bureaucrats of the major ministries involved must wake up to this threat and be firm against it. The signals from elsewhere are many and they are clear about what lies in store for Bharat if the NDA-BJP government at the centre and if state governments do not discharge their duty – which is, safeguard the sovereignty of Bharat.
Already in Europe, the German Environment Ministry is insisting on a complete ban on green genetic engineering in Germany. Under a new European Parliament directive, member states of the European Union will now be able to restrict or completely ban GMO cultivation within their borders. One of the leading proponents of such a legal ban in Germany is its Ministry of Agriculture, which also supports a national ban on cultivation.
Moreover, in a position paper from the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Minister Barbara Hendricks said she does not want to leave any back doors open for genetic engineering. The GMO law must be changed, so that controversial green genetic engineering cannot be used under any pretext in Germany, she stated in the document. “Green genetic engineering has turned out to be the wrong track,” Hendricks said. “It is risky for nature and the environment and is not desired by consumers.”
Worldwide, the project to fully industrialise global food production is far from complete, yet already it is responsible for most deforestation, most marine pollution, most coral reef destruction, much of greenhouse gas emissions, most habitat loss, most of the degradation of streams and rivers, most food insecurity, most immigration, most water depletion, and massive human health problems.
Under GM- and tech-centric industrial agriculture and food systems – which is what the Americans will demand from us – countries are becoming literally uninhabitable as a result of the social and ecological consequences.
Wherever industrial and genetically engineered agriculture is found, landscapes are left progressively emptier of life. Eventually, the soil turns either into mud that washes into the rivers or into dust that blows away on the wind. Industrial agriculture has no long term future and is ecological suicide. But those who profit from it cannot allow all this to become broadly understood – and unfortunately that has included our NDA-BJP government. That is why they have continued to peddle the lie of food scarcity in India, which the previous Congress government employed so recklessly.
The agriculture and food problem – which will become a more extreme problem for us if the Obama group is given its way – is closely interlinked with growing demand for land. Land is a lucrative investment and has fuelled the real estate boom in India for the last decade. But for our smallholder kisans it is the source of livelihood, as it is for our shepherd groups and tribal communities. Rising demand for land also harms the ecosystem – as is seen in each and every one of the 63 cities whose populations this year are at least one million. The more intensive the farming, the more damage it does to the environment. This is the main reason for the decline in biological diversity, above and below the ground.
The American push will be for agri-food systems in accordance with the new international trade agreements. These are nothing but colonial ways of thinking – that food should be produced for international export as a tool of foreign policy and to control populations (especially through GM) and as a byproduct financially benefit powerful corporations that act as agents of such colonial ways of thinking. Thus it is a direct assault on people’s sovereignty over their natural resources, farming systems and food access as well as their human right to dignified living standards free of exploitation and dependence.
Such treaties (such as the TTP which is facing opposition even amongst those the USA calls allies) are dangerous because they are negotiated in secret. But what has emerged (thanks to leaks) is appalling. Some of the texts in these treaties wants the outright patenting of plants and animals, many draft agreements come with severe punishments for farmers who break intellectual property laws, they deliberately undermine local agriculture (as seen with NAFTA), commons lands are proposed for privatisation, labelling of GM foods will be prohibited, and the governments of countries that try to undo the damage will be liable to be sued by the multi-national corporations. This is the extent of the danger facing Bharat, which will become more clear come Republic Day 2015.
The weekly is pugnaciously irreverent and its satire is biting. Charlie Hebdo, the publication, has been far more than the lampooning weekly with the wicked wit it has been described as. To be vulgar, provocative and offensive and to be so often was what made Charlie Hebdo so spot on about contemporary politics and society.
It wrestled with pen and ink for the freedom to be all this, and in so doing, strengthened also the freedom to protest. There were no taboos – to question, with cleverness and humour, and to reflect boldly the contradictions of society, through illustration and cartoon, were what the weekly did consummately well.
With these methods – much loved in France, well liked in those parts of neighbouring Europe – Charlie Hebdo explained some of the essence of democracy. And of freedom of expression, so dear to all journalists and commentators, whatever their medium.
For giving such a service, the journalists of Charlie Hebdo were murdered.
Tolerance is a value our societies strive to inculcate and practice, but there is no virtue in tolerating those who murder. The murderers of Charlie Hebdo are the foullest criminals, reeking cowards who must be prosecuted for they are rank criminals and not holy warriors, however they might choose to describe themselves.
This is a weekly that stood – never mind its irreverence and vulgarity – for freedom from fear, including the fear of being different, of speaking out, of questioning majority (and minority) beliefs.
As the thousands of placards and hand-written signs and poignant drawn tributes have collectively said – we are all Charlie Hebdo. #JeSuisCharlie
Members of the European Parliament have defeated a European Commission proposal to prevent member states from banning genetically modified crops on health and/or environmental grounds. The result of this vote means that national bans on GM crops, for environmental or health reasons, are allowed even if the EU approves genetically modified (GM) crops for cultivation.
The European Food and Safety Authority had approved GM for use in the EU, but a number of countries opposed to GM (like France) demanded the right to block crops under a principle known as ‘subsidiarity’, or devolution to individual countries.
The Greens/European Free Alliance has said that the vote by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) strengthens the grounds on which EU member countries could opt out from GMO authorisations under the proposed new system.
In a statement the Greens/European Free Alliance said: “No must mean no: countries wanting to opt out of GM authorisations must have a totally legally watertight framework for doing so. MEPs have also voted for the inclusion of mandatory measures to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops, with the myriad of issues this raises. The committee also rejected a proposal from EU governments, which would have obliged member states to directly request that corporations take them out of the scope of their GMO applications, before being allowed to opt out.”
However, the Greens are still very concerned that the new opt out scheme is a slippery slope for easing EU GMO authorisations and does not fundamentally change the flawed EU approval process in itself. Organisations, scientists, academics, political fronts and citizens’ alliances who do not want GM crop or food in their regions and countries nonetheless see an urgent need to reform the EU’s GMO authorisation process. On 03 November 2014, signatures from more than 160,000 European citizens were presented to the vice-chair of the Environment Committee calling on him to close these loopholes.
Currently, authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU member states in Council and, importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens. They have warned against a trade-off of easier EU authorisations against easier national bans. For the EU, the next step must be an EU-wide total ban and total rejection of GM crop, food, seed and technology in all its forms, otherwise the new proposal for EU GMO approvals is a Trojan horse which risks finally opening the door to GMOs despite citizens’ opposition, and which will keep open the route for GM/biotech companies to appeal against such bans (a route that European Greens and the many groups that have rejected GM want to shut once and for all).
Such a next step – which is the logical and moral next step for the European Parliament to take – is necessary to overturn completely the current arrangement which treats biotech companies and corporations at the same level as governments. Under the arrangement that existed till now (the ramifications of this week’s ‘no’ vote must still be examined) an EU member country which does not want GMO to be grown on its territory must request the biotech company (through the European Commission) that its territory be excluded from the geographical scope of the EU authorisation. Only if the country has applied for a ‘territorial exemption’ and been refused by the company is the country allowed to then implement a ban on GMO on its territory.
How utterly contemptuous of a country’s sovereign rights this arrangement was, and how it found its way into procedure illustrates dramatically the power and influence that the GM and biotech industry has come to wield in the EU – the decision of the geographical scope of an EU authorisation gave more weight to biotech/GM companies than to governments!
In the debate about GM crops, the argument that the biotech industry and their supporters always fall back on is that whether we like it or not, we are going to need them to feed the world. Genetic modification has, they assure us, the potential to produce crops with all sorts of wonderful traits: tolerance of drought, cold, salinity and flooding, resistance to insect pests, extra nutritional value, and more.
“But for the last 20 years, GM has singularly failed to convert that potential into reality,” the Institute for Science in Society has explained. “Almost all the GM crops grown have been modified to have one of two traits: tolerance of glyphosate-based herbicides and the ability to produce a Bt-toxin that can kill corn- and cotton pests. In the meantime, conventional breeding, often employing modern techniques such as marker-assisted breeding, has continued to deliver the goods. If our real goal is to feed the world, we should be taking resources away from GM and devoting them to other agricultural research that is less glamorous-sounding but more effective.”
The ‘celebration’ of the bringing down of the Berlin Wall (and the militarised border between the former East and West in Germany) is being held. Germany’s Christian Democrat-led government has marked the anniversary with many events, but the question ought to be: what are they celebrating? Is it the demise of communism? Is it the ‘victory’ of Western democracy? Or is it the fragile success of having steered without serious catastrophe a course that has become more unsustainable with every year for Germany’s 80.6 million?
These are the questions that do not hide behind the marketability of an event such as several thousand lit balloons in Berlin tracing the course of the Wall when it divided the city. The ‘installation’ will bring the tourists in, but little else for a city whose government – brazenly arm-in-arm with reckless property speculators – posed as being “poor but sexy” much to the disgust of Berliners.
It is difficult to slide away from the consequences of history. In the early euphoria following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany moved quickly to erase the scars of its Cold War division. “But East Germany’s legacy remains visible in statistics,” the weekly newspaper Die Zeit has commented, showing that German unification left scars that have not yet disappeared.
An editorial blog post related to the article observed: “The border still exists. Nearly exactly where it existed in reality, Germany is still divided in two. Until today, 25 years after the end of the imposed separation, there is an important demographic and economic imbalance, and there are also very different lifestyle habits.”
In the former eastern part of Germany, the income per capita is still considerably less than in what used to be old Federal Republic (the west), and farms are considerably bigger in the old German Democratic Republic (GDR) than in the old West Germany – the legacy of collective farming. Easterners also put their children in day care, and most get flu shots each year, and the eastern population is older.
Those older residents remember ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ more readily than do Germans elsewhere in Germany. These were the concept-words employed by Mikhail Gorbachev which made the reunification of Germany possible. The former leader of the Soviet Union (the USSR) returned to Berlin to speak at a forum organised to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the message he gave was weighed down by his disappointment with the West and was charged by his warning – delivered as clearly and precisely as when he was general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – that the new Cold War is the product of the current thinking of the West.
After the Berlin Wall was brought down and Germany began its process of reunification, the leaders of the western world were intoxicated with euphoria of triumph, and they adopted anti-Russian policies that eventually led to the current crisis, Gorbachev said.
“Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and a lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination in the world. And they refused to heed the word of caution from many of those present here,” he said. “The events of the past months are consequences of short-sighted policies of seeking to impose one’s will and fait accompli while ignoring the interests of one’s partners.”
Gorbachev gave a list of examples of those policies, including the expansion of NATO and the development of an anti-ballistic missile system, military interventions in Yugoslavia and Iraq, the west-backed secession of Kosovo, the crisis in Syria and others. The Ukrainian crisis is a “blister turning into a bleeding, festering wound,” he said.
Western policies toward Russia championed by Washington have led to the current crisis, and if the confrontation continues, Europe will be weakened and become irrelevant, said Gorbachev. “Instead of becoming a leader of change in a global world Europe has turned into an arena of political upheaval, of competition for the spheres of influence, and finally of military conflict. The consequence inevitably is Europe’s weakening at a time when other centres of power and influence are gaining momentum. If this continues, Europe will lose a strong voice in world affairs and gradually become irrelevant,” he said.
The anniversary of Mauerfall – the bringing down of the Berlin Wall and the militarised boundary between East and West Germany – has been employed by Zygmunt Bauman (professor emeritus of Sociology in the Universities of Leeds and Warsaw) to comment on the hopes of 1989 and the realities of 2014.
“We have seen a steady dismantling of the network of institutions intended to defend the victims of the increasingly deregulated greed-driven economy, and a growing public insensitivity to rampant social inequality, coupled with the incapacity of a rising number of citizens, now abandoned (since no longer viewed as a potential danger to capitalist order or a seedbed of social revolution) to fend for themselves as they might on their own glaringly inadequate resources and capabilities.”
This has resulted, Bauman continued, among the actual and prospective stake-holders of democracy, in a steady erosion of trust in the ability of democratic institutions to deliver on their promises: a stark contrast to the high hopes of the heady, optimistic aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. It has also resulted in an ever-widening gulf and a breakdown of communication between political elites and the man in the street.
“The ostensible triumph of the democratic mode of human co-existence, in practice brought a steady shrinking and fading of public trust in its potential accomplishments. Such unprepossessing and depressing effects struck, though in unequal measure, all member states of the European Union.”
Amongst the many commentaries in Berlin’s newspaper, one from taz – the short form of Die Tageszeitung – explains the cultural gulf between ‘ossis’ (from the east) and ‘wessis’ (from the former West Germany). “East Germans and immigrants were still commonly referred to as ‘foreigners’, both equally outsiders and underdogs in the West German perspective after the fall of the Wall. They dressed differently, had strange habits and foreign dialects and accents. But culturally East Germans had something in common with many immigrants – both came from societies in which the sense of community was very important.”
This was evident in everyday East Germany (the DDR). There were few telephones and not many public places in the GDR, and hence colleagues and friends met in their own flats and apartments. The result was that close neighborliness was well developed in many migrants at that time. They differed in this from the “distant West Germans”, who even 25 years ago preferred to met each other in cafes or restaurants rather than in their homes.
Twenty-five years after November 1989 what is Germany recalling? There are many unkept promises rued by a society in which the joy of being “wieder ein Volk” (once more a people) has been eroded by the finance politics of austerity and the creeping ruin of corporate control. At the time it looked so very different.
In 1986, in the journal Widersprüche (April 1986), the sociologist Timm Kunstreich commented: “Especially concerning the understanding and productivity in the seemingly petty bourgeois work ethic conceptions, the prominent idea is one of characteristic blocking of the transformation process in the GDR. The consequence of the reduction of the integral state is that the ‘proletarian’ company is pushed into the ground. To many social institutions such a proletarian society appears as ‘Prometheus in chains’, bound by a rigid state-partisan control machinery based on collectivism and planned democracy.”
What has been transformed, what is blocked and what remain cultural differences? Far too many of the German Volk (especially the youth) are a Prometheus bound despite reunification, the so-called free market and the removal of the spectre of communism. Every trait of the DDR/GDR that was reviled is seen again, 25 years later, through the employment of new tools of technology, finance, the marginalisation of local alternatives, the intrusion of the private sector into the domains of the state.
This has resulted in a stark and saddening contrast to the high hopes of the heady, optimistic aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. “Twenty five years ago people stormed a barbed-wired wall that epitomised their un-freedom, hoping that once that wall were down, democracy would guarantee them freedom and that freedom would assure their well-being. Twenty-five years after democracy is in a state of unprecedented (and all but unimaginable at that time) crisis,” Bauman has said. The lit balloons that today give Berlin a ghost wall are alas no more than the gaslight of a depression that is palpable, though in unequal measure, in all member states of the European Union.
With results from the 32 councils declared, the ‘no’ voters of Scotland carried referendum day and opted to stay in the union, that is, the United Kingdom. The margin – 55% ‘no’ to 45% ‘yes’ – still means that every other Scot wants independence of some sort from the UK and its London-centric Westminster government.
There are some immediate reliefs for London’s politicos who were besides themselves with worry until early today morning. The Union survives (but not in the same shape). Still, this means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN Security Council. It also means Scotland will get more devolution and David Cameron will not be forced out (which may be a disappointment to many more English people than the number of those who voted ‘yes’).
Those reliefs will not provide cheers until after this weekend. Monday morning, the United Kingdom will have to look back at the last few weeks of referendum mania, and the last few adrenalin and hope-filled days, and realise that the 307-year-old union must change course radically to stay in any shape at all (and even that will be on borrowed time). Here is why:
First, there has indeed been a victory for Scotland, for those who considered themselves patriots for voting ‘yes’ and for voting ‘no’. The victory is more devolution for Scotland. Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond (who is also the governor of Scotland) is the one who initiated the referendum campaign and who had wanted three options on the ballot papers: independence; the status quo; or more devolution for Scotland.
Until mid-year, the British government led by prime minister David Cameron accepted only the independence question, for more powers to the regional government in Edinburgh was rejected outright, and at the time they thought so, polls were showing a comfortable majority against ‘yes’ – as high as 65% in 2013. That advantage dropped steadily, with a shock poll in early September 2014 putting the ‘yes’ camp for the first time in the lead. This is when Cameron and the leaders of the two other main parties in Westminster – Labour and the Liberal-Democrats – signed a pledge to give more powers to Scotland if its voters chose ‘no’. Cameron and the other leaders – Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Labour party’s leader Ed Miliband – will now have to deliver on those promises and also face claims from the other regions – Wales, England and Northern Ireland – for more money and powers.
Second, the ‘yes’ camp had painstakingly put together the arguments its campaign needed to show that Scotland could be successful as an independent country. These arguments appealed to many and convinced a good number – just over 44% as it has turned out – to take the leap of faith and thereby stare down the ‘no’ placards which read, “It’s not worth the risk”. Where the SNP fell short was in convincing more Scots about the risks and how to hedge them. But even in falling short, the ‘yes’ camp has proved to UK (and to all those regions in Europe seeking self-determination) that to seek independence is a powerful and uplifting tonic, which is a substance in very short supply all over the continent.
In the end – for so the commentators and observers mutter – it is the respectable middle class in sober dress who have tended to vote ‘no’, and so have the Labour stalwarts of all ages for whom some idea of ‘solidarity’ is apparently more comforting and familiar than the gritty new business of making independence work and dealing with the more obvious contradictions of the Salmond plan. Scottish monetary union with the UK also meant an independent Scotland using the pound as its single currency, but having no control over it.
The Euro crisis taught Europeans that a monetary union without a political one is a debilitating project, and so the risks shrewdly exploited by the ‘no’ camp (and the banks and the petroleum industry, let’s not forget them) came to weigh more than placards. Even so, Scottish independence as an idea based upon an implicit assumption of Scottish national and ethnic uniqueness – incompatible with the British identity, as any gent in a kilt would swear – has been considerably strengthened, at the cost of the Westminster style of government, whose days are from today numbered.
Third, the nature of this long demise. Early on Saturday morning political scientists were already saying that for British politics, much thought now needs to be given to constitutional arrangements, that constitutional change will have to be delivered. Such work will have to begin on Monday morning to make a start towards reconciling all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local (however local chooses to define itself in the UK). It is not the kind of “epochal opportunity” that the SNP was waving overhead as a flag until yesterday, but it is for similar movements all over Europe, and the project in UK will be watched very carefully indeed in those countries and territories.
Salmond and the SNP will still govern Scotland until 2016 and the party will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a stronger pledge for full independence (a two-stage referendum was amongst the eminently sensible suggestion made earlier this year). The question of equality will be raised more pertinently than before – in the Linlithgow Palace, Scotland’s James V built an elaborate fountain to express his equal status with his English uncle, Henry VIII, and amongst the ruins the fountain survives as a vivid reminder of Scottish pride. As for the economics of independence, it was Salmond who told the BBC: “The central mistake that the ‘no’ campaign has made is to tell the people of Scotland that the land of Adam Smith is not capable of running its own matters financially.”
The Scottish ‘no’ therefore is but a punctuation mark in a strong statement of cultural identity that began to be written well over half a millennium ago. A more thoughtful UK may result, one whose political performers learn to understand the union they claim to love. If so, the Scots have indeed won.
Feckless EU politicians – the shallow brats of Brussels – have struck a deal between themselves and the agri-bio-technology corporations to sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the European Union. This group, greasy fingers firmly in each other’s pocketbooks, want to allow (under limited circumstances, they say) individual EU member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, but to boost GMO crops in the EU overall.
The so-called “compromise pact” is likely to make it easier for the manufacturers of GM crops to win approval while allowing some countries to ban them. Not surprisingly, as the British government slavishly follows the White House line on every matter (except fish-and-chips), the deal was welcomed by Britain, which in a typically obsequious statement said it hoped the pact would allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU.
Oddly, France’s agriculture ministry welcomed the “good news”, which coincided with a decision by the French constitutional court to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize. Just as oddly, Germany praised the deal for allowing “opt-outs”, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.
This pact came following what is called an indicative vote of EU Member State representatives – taken in a closed meeting (obviously). A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on June 12 and if agreed – very likely it will be – it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.
That approval (or not) may come in an environment riven by weaknesses in the EU’s GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA). There has also been chronic failure to implement an EU-wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime – to date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence (of GM and non-GM crops).
The significance of all this is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU. The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.
This is nonsense because under the proposed terms:
* Before banning an approved GMO crop EU Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory.
* If the companies refuse, Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk – which means that if the EU-wide assessment gives the nod to GM, the country must concur despite its own assessment and public opinion.
* EU Member States nevertheless still have specific grounds for a ban which can include aspects like protection of nature reserves, areas vulnerable to contamination, and socio-economic impacts. So EU ‘unity’ can be overridden, provided smaller and weaker EU members states assert that right.
Update: With the referendum complete, the Republic of Crimea has addressed the United Nations seeking recognition as a sovereign state and called on Russia to integrate it into the Russian Federation.
However, a spokesperson for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters the Crimea secession referendum will only exacerbate an “already complex and tense situation” and that the secretary-general is “deeply concerned and disappointed”. The UN position, as enunciated by Ki-moon, is for all parties to work for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, “including respecting Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty”.
This is uncalled for and a display of partisanship that is not in accordance with the UN Charter in the first place, not for an inter-governmental body that has written “democracy” and “democratic principles” into more resolutions, statements and declarations that one can count. The Crimea referendum was held in the presence of international observers, including those from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The respect for sovereignty that Ki-moon expects for Ukraine, is equally to be expected for the Crimean population, and indeed for the populations of Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. With these statements by Ki-moon, the role of the UN as a stabilising factor in international disputes comes into question. The embargos and restrictions and bans (collectively and incorrectly called ‘sanctions’ by the USA) against Russia are already coming into effect, despite advice from Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, that they should be discarded.
15 Mar: In the first place, this is a referendum to be undertaken (on Sunday, 16 March 2014) in Crimea, which is in Ukraine, and involves residents of Crimea, not the residents of ‘western’ nations (or allies) – as the ruling regimes in the ‘western nations’ have taken to labelling themselves – and not residents of Russia.
The United Nations Security Council, a lame-duck body that has been used numerous times in the last 40 years to issue a rubber-stamp for the imposition of punitive embargoes (called ‘sanctions’ in American English) and for the waging of ‘just’ war (or wars of ‘liberation’, wars of ‘peace-building’ and wars to uphold ‘democracy’), has just voted on a resolution that calls the Crimean referendum illegal.
Russia vetoed this resolution (China abstained) and the ‘western allies’ voted for it. That the UN Security Council met to even consider such a resolution is testament to its nakedly partisan nature – serve the interests of the USA and its EU allies. The UNSC has no business to decide whether or not a referendum held in a region (province, republic, autonomous or otherwise) of any country is legal or not.
Why so? This is because, in its own words, the “Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.”
A referendum is neither a threat to peace nor aggression, and there is no dispute involved that falls within the ambit of what the UNSC describes as dispute. The UNSC therefore, under the UN Charter, has no locus standi on a matter such as this.
The USA-drafted and USA-sponsored resolution that attempted to have declared the Crimea referendum ‘illegal’ should not have even been entertained. But instead, the USA and its EU allies sought to portray the referendum as “illegal, unjustified, and divisive. It will be administered under the barrel of a gun rather than under the eyes of international observers.”
So said Samantha Powers, the representative of the USA to the UN. Her words of staggering hypocrisy are exceeded only by the even more shameless hypocrisy of the US Secretary of State John Kerry on the matter, and by those of the president of the USA Barack Obama on the matter. America’s warmongering record since the end of World War Two stands as bloody counterpoint to the hypocritical disinformation being vomited out by the US government and being faithfully broadcast by pliant media.
The puppet government installed in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as a result of the regime change engineered by the USA and Germany, and several more ‘western’ allies, also voted in its ‘Verkhovna Rada’ (parliament) for early dissolution of Crimean parliament (as reported by Itar-Tass). The coup-imposed government has cut off financial links to Crimea, but has pledged not to attack the peninsula militarily.
Even while Samantha Powers was arranging hypocrisy in great putrid piles around a US-drafted resolution that is nothing but crude sabre-rattling, NATO began air drills with fighter jets in Poland (which borders Ukraine). Recently dispatched US jets took part in the exercises, with more lies from Washington’s military hawks claiming that the drills were planned before the unrest in Ukraine. John Kerry has already denounced the scheduled referendum in Crimea on secession from Ukraine and reintegration into Russia as a “backdoor annexation” which proves nothing more than his limited but vicious vocabulary.
Following the script of this phoney attempt at intervention through the UN Security Council – which also serves, in the twisted logic of the US-EU combine that fostered the Kiev coup and which is just as keen to foment a new conflict on Ukraine’s borders – it is not difficult to see the close-range reactions. The coup-installed government in Kiev will reject the results of the referendum and accuse Russia of violating international law by using its military might to ‘redraw Europe’s borders’ – with the ‘western nations’ ignoring their gory histories of redrawing borders in Africa, Asia and South America.
The government of Russia will angrily remind the world that these Ukrainian ‘authorities’ came to power as a result of a coup planned and carried out by pro-Western and anti-Russian extremists, inspired by the US and EU, and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are now facing discrimination and worse. NATO may even revive its old favourite scheme to install US missile defence systems in Central Europe (the old story was that these would protect NATO allies against ‘rogue states’ like Iran). ‘Sanctions’ will follow, a variant of the Cold War will once again settle over Europe.
But the finance and economics of this confrontation will change. The US and EU are intent on having some semblance of what they call a state in Ukraine in which to funnel billions of dollars and euros – that this economy even before the engineered coup was ramshackle and corrupt (run by oligarchs, now replaced by other oligarchs) does not seem to be a consideration. The pliant media assisted by faithful think-tanks who march to the drumbeat of the US State Department will paint this movement of speculative capital as being necessary to create a prosperous and democratic society. There will be no reference made to Yugoslavia, where the same set of tactics was used, and which didn’t work.
There are other differences. The opposition in Crimea to the USA-backed and fascist-led putsch of 22 February 2014 in Kiev has infuriated the US government in Washington and its EU ‘western’ allies. In Ukraine, the coup-installed government takes its orders from the International Monetary Fund and from Wall Street bankers (the source of or gatekeepers of the said billions) and is preparing a programme of savage austerity measures against the working class – of the same kind that has ruined labour in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (which has also ruined labour in the ‘western allies’ but that ruination has been hidden better).
These foul machinations will be obscured by a typhoon of propaganda. Already incendiary proposals are circulating in the American and the global financial media. In an article titled ‘How to Put Military Pressure on Russia’, the Wall Street Journal (the house organ of the Davos parasites) has called for arming Polish Air Force F-16 fighters with nuclear weapons (!) and stationing detachments of US ground troops in Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries.
This has been backed by thuggish statements from Kerry, who said this week that if the Crimean vote takes place “there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe” and that sanctions against Russia would “get ugly fast”. Al Capone would have welcomed Kerry’s brand of diplomacy. Not far behind however are German chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron. Also this week, Merkel said that planned EU sanctions are meant to cause “massive political and economic harm” to Russia, while Cameron promised, as any schoolyard bully does, that if we don’t “see Ukrainians and Russians talking to each other” (about what the USA and EU want, not about what the Ukrainians, Russians and Crimeans want) “then there are going to have to be consequences”.
The blatantly provocative and dangerously violent nature and tone of the pronouncements made by these heads of government and senior functionaries is to my mind in need of United Nations attention. Instead, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York that the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate and there was “a great risk of dangerous, downward spiral”. He urged Russia and Ukraine not to take “hasty measures” that “may impact the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Not a word by the UN sec-gen about the atrocious and dangerous misconduct by the heads of government of the ‘western nations’, by John Kerry, Barack Obama and Samantha Powers on this matter. So much for the ‘United’ part of the UN.
The grave and censorious tones being taken by the government of the USA and by the major economic powers of the European Union concerning the crisis in Ukraine ring out with stunning hypocrisy. It is with them – principally the United States of America and Germany – that the responsibility for the current crisis lies.
The governments of these countries and their allies systematically intervened, the object being to redirect popular dissatisfaction with the corrupt regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych so that ultra-right nationalist and fascist forces would be strengthened. The aim all along was regime change – a technique used to vicious efficiency in the Middle East – so that the plans for the isolation of Russia could be furthered.
There is no doubt, as emphasised by the International Committee of the Fourth International, that Russian president Vladimir Putin represents oligarchs who enriched themselves by plundering state industry following the dissolution of the USSR. “His regime is incapable of making any appeal to the Ukrainian working class or to progressive sentiment within the country. Instead, he seeks to whip up chauvinism both in Russia and eastern Ukraine, adding to the dangers of civil and sectarian warfare”.
However, the newest comments by the US Secretary of State John Kerry represent a new low in early 21st century international statecraft, for he possesses none. “What has already happened is a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Ukraine-Russia basing agreement,” Kerry told American television news channels. “Russia has engaged in a military act of aggression against another country and it has huge risks. It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”
Unsurprisingly, Kerry was not challenged by his interviewers to comment in terms of that statement on Washington’s own constant threats to use force and military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The RT news network quoted Marcus Papadopoulos, a political commentator, as asking, “Since when does the United States government genuinely subscribe and defend the concept of sovereignty and territorial integrity? They certainly are not doing that at the moment in Syria. They certainly did not do that when they attacked Libya. They certainly didn’t do that when they invaded Iraq. They certainly didn’t do that when they attacked Serbia over Kosovo and then later on recognised Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.”
Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements in Moscow, is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. In 2014 January and February 2014 he wrote two commentaries – before the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime and subsequent events. They are published at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and they offer insights into the Ukraine-Russia-Crimea crisis of 2014 February and March.
“Neither the authorities nor the opposition enjoy the support of the majority of the population, and more important, neither side has a programme that would give it any prospect of winning this support and of constructing a broad social base. The problem lies not only and not so much in the notorious antipathies of east and west in Ukraine, as in the absence even of any attempts to suggest a socio-economic program aimed at integrating society, improving the conditions of life, reducing unemployment and developing the economy,” Kagarlitsky had written.
In his view, on one side was the corrupt, irresponsible administration of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovich. And on the other were the nationalists and ultra-rightists, violent and aggressive, no less corrupt, and who in no way resemble democrats according to any understanding of the word.
It is against such a view of the Ukrainian mess (fostered by the European Union in collaboration with the USA) that the mounting alarms of the last few days ought to be seen. Already,there are reports of Russian leader Vladimir Putin having told US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation that Moscow reserved the right to protect its own interests and those of Russian speakers in the event of violence breaking out in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
And moreover that there are an estimated 675,000 Ukrainians who left for Russia in January and February, fearing the “revolutionary chaos” brewing in Ukraine, according to news reports quoting Russia’s Federal Border Guard Service. Russian officials have said they fear a growing humanitarian crisis and the Itar-Tass news agency cited the service as saying: “If ‘revolutionary chaos’ in Ukraine continues, hundreds of thousands of refugees will flow into bordering Russian regions.”
Why it has come to this becomes clearer from two recent interviews (published mid-February 2014) with members of the revolutionary left in Ukraine that shed light on the nature of the movement that overthrew the Viktor Yanukovich regime, and the attitude of the small Ukrainian left towards it. Excerpts of the interview were published by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. The first is with ‘Denis’ from a Kiev branch of a revolutionary syndicalist group, the Autonomous Workers Union (reposted from Pratele Komunizace) and the second is with Ilya Budraitskis, a Moscow-based socialist in Kiev (translated by RS21).
There is also an excellent summary by Suhail Ilyas who has outlined the main actors and possible courses that events in the Ukraine can take over the week to come. This sort of summary id decidedly difficult to provide, given the paucity of credible sources from Kiev and the Crimea, and the confusing nature of the relationships between so many blocs. But it is more valuable by far than the attempts by the major western media networks who proffer this new conflict as a Russia vs the USA plus EU struggle.