Weaning the Eastern European democratic resistance from the Yankee teat
[I've done it again. This one's a bit of a long one (seven pages in Word); You might want to print it off rather than give yourself eye pathologies]
News about the extent of the massacre in
UK foreign minister Jack Straw has at least gone some way condemning President Islam Karimov, but then he really couldn't do anything but, seeing as he not days before had only just seen off a formidable challenger for his Blackburn seat, Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, canned for criticising the fact the Karimov had a predilection for boiling his political opponents alive. Really, we have
'[T]he Uzbek people can keep on dying. They are not worth a lot of cash, so who cares? I travelled to Andijan a year ago to meet the opposition leaders, and kept in touch. I can give you a direct assurance that they are - or in many cases were - in no sense Islamist militants. They died an unwanted embarrassment to
foreign policy. We will doubtless hear some pious hypocrisies from Jack Straw. But when I was seeking funding to support the proto-democrats, the Foreign Office turned me down flat. US
will fund "human rights" training in US but not help for the democratic opposition, in contrast to its policy elsewhere in the former Uzbekistan Soviet Union. When Jon Purnell, the ambassador, last year attended the opening of a human rights centre in the Ferghana valley, he interrupted a local speaker criticising repression. Political points, Purnell opined, were not allowed.' US
Judging the situation by the American response to the biggest political slaughter in
'We've been very clear about the human rights situation there, been very factual about it, but unfortunately the facts are not pretty,' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
At the same time as the statement was issued, according to CNN, State referred reporters to a Department 'background note' from February outlining the
'The United States believes Uzbekistan "plays a pivotal role in the region" and "has developed a broad relationship covering political, human rights, military, nonproliferation, economic, trade, assistance, and related issues."
has been a strong partner of the Uzbekistan on foreign policy and security issues ranging from United States to Iraq , and nuclear proliferation to narcotics trafficking" and "is a strong supporter of Cuba military actions in U.S. and Afghanistan and of the global war against terror." Iraq
'The note says the
"values United States as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region. The Uzbekistan urges greater reform to promote long-term stability and prosperity. Registration of independent political parties and human rights non-governmental organizations would be an important step."' United States
Yes. That would be a good idea. But if it gets in the way of us retaining our vitally important air base on the Uzbek-Afghan border, then, um, well, just try not to boil quite so many towelheads, mmmkay?
At the conference, four documentaries were shown detailing various aspects of the cascade of Eastern rebellions over the last couple of years and activists from the youth and student groups that formed the backbone of the various democratic movements - Otpor (former Yugoslavia), Kmara (Georgia), Pora (Ukraine), Zubr (Belarus) and Mjaft (Albania) - gave talks on their own experiences. There were also individuals from Yox (
The second documentary, Anatomy of a Revolution - in fact an extended reportage for Correspondent, a long-form current affairs programme on Canada's twenty-four-hour news channel, CBC Newsworld - was an exposé of the role played by U.S. funding and training and the general cloak and dagger escapades of the various N.G.O.s engaged in what, it turns out, is officially termed 'democracy promotion'. The producer of the piece, Alex Shprintsen, is Canadian, but was born in the
But Mr. Shprintsen, who has been making documentaries in the former
The doc itself was quite good: there are interviews with Richard Miles, who was the chief of mission in the
The funding supports a variety of activities: the key one being the collection of independent exit polls to expose rigged election results - a task which is enormously expensive and one that individual activists by themselves would never be able to carry out. Secondarily there is the cost of the opposition materiel - posters, leaflets, Jumbotron TV screens, stages for rock bands and opposition politicians from which to compere rallies, and - in the case of the
So, far from being the fevered conspiracies of leftish tin-foil helmeteers (and, Lord knows, we have a few. Barely an evening's worth of campaigning on the left - or, worse still, witnessing what happens during an open mic session at a public meeting - will severely test one's support for care in the community), both the Americans and their protégés readily admit to there being a 'revolution' franchise applied in the East.
Mr. Shprintsen, was not attempting to denounce all this, but instead hopes that his documentary will convince viewers of
Interestingly, it was the young people from these groups who were more than cognizant of
Oleh Kyriyenko, of Pora, however, put the dilemma quite succinctly: 'If a child is dying and the only thing that can safe it is the kidney of a serial killer: would the mother refuse the kidney out of principle?'
Mr. Shprintsen chafed at this epigraph, blimpishly asking: 'Do we have to accept this characterisation of the
Interestingly, it later transpired that it was Oleh who posted my earlier essay on these youth groups on the Pora website, as he, in his words, very much agreed with what I wrote. So ner. Although I got the impression that there was a range of views on this subject amongst the activists. The way that Oleh came up with the analogy so quickly and precisely suggests to me that this was, or is, a discussion that the activists have regularly had amongst themselves.
Indeed, one of the elements that has been lost in all the discussion about the so-called 'McRevolutions' is that these groups are not monolithic, either internally or amongst each other. (I should probably say now, I am embarrassed that I came up with that term. The young people involved are so much more savvy and aware of the contradictions of their benefactor than sometimes even those critics, such as the mysteriously dodgy Guardian contributor John Laughland. These are not 'McRevolutions'. These young people are as committed to democratic change as the anti-globalisation/global justice movement is in the West)
The films about the various groups showed something that cannot be shown in all the reams of newspaper column inches and blog postings: what the kids actually looked like. This is not as frivolous a thing as might be imagined. There is a look to the anti-globalisation movement. Not everybody adheres to it, but you know that a certain combination of particular styles of t-shirts, piercings, baggy jeans, hoodies and kefiyehs works as something of a uniform. You can't always put your finger on it, but you know it when you see it, that sets them off from regular kids. There is also something of a uniform or outfit for student leaders and student unionists. They dress a little bit smarter. Maybe their shirts have collars, although they are likely to be untucked. They wear sweaters rather than hoodies. They haven't as many piercings, but they won't hide what ones they do have either. Occasionally they may where a suit - they certainly know to which occasions a suit should be worn - but it may be ill-fitting. Then there is the uniform of the aspiring young social democrat. The women dress in the same way that aspiring young conservative women dress, and the men have suits that not only fit, but they have a few of them, and Paul Smith ties and maybe even some cufflinks. There will be exceptions to all of these - the slobby Blairite and the GQ-reading member of the Hands off Venezuela Campaign (I, for example, may wear jeans around my bum, do own a hoodie and have a keffiyeh in my wardrobe, but the latter tends to make me look like a granny in a shawl and the hoodie somehow just doesn't work and, in the end, I end up wearing a lot of checked shirts and band t-shirts - which is some ways away from the strict anarchist black hoodie and cargo pants/combat trousers costume [Ooh! You're all in black! No one will notice you now! The police will never be able to pick you out of a crowd!] - but taken as an aggregate the uniform is unmistakable.
You can tell a lot from how activists dress. It is in this same way that the police plant in the room is always noticeable from his dough-nut bum and moustache. The Otpor guy dressed like a social democrat, the activists in the room dressed like student unionists; and the grunts in the films handing out the leaflets, doing the postering and graffiti spraying - they looked the same as every kid in
The offices out of which these revolutions were organised could have been any infoshop, musty leftie bookshop, squat, PIRG office, or local
A number of the activists in
These are, unmistakably, our kind of people.
Furthermore, while the outside world knows of this one, monolithic entity known variously as the anti-globalisation movement, we know amongst ourselves how riven with debate and even sectarianism we are. We are all opposed to neo-liberalism and the war, but there are thousands of answers to the question, 'What is to be done?' Thus why should we assume that all these groups and their members are monolithic in their resistance to authoritarian regimes? I can't be sure, but it seemed that the activists from Pora, Kmara and Yox were less comfortable with their Yankee erstwhile comrades than the others, but then again, there was another member of Pora in the audience in an
Within Pora itself, there are in fact two Poras: the Yellows and the Blacks. Diplomatically both groups say they were founded more or less at the same time, as when both Marconi and Popov simultaneously invented the radio (although one gets the impression, behind the diplomatic words, that the Blacks feel the Yellows copied them). Both opposed to Kuchmism and Yanukovych, they had a 'civil marriage' in August, 2004. If one can give a brief analysis of the distinction - and this is almost certainly an oversimplification - it is that the Blacks are more 'grassroots'-oriented, or 'civic', and the Yellows are more leadership-oriented, or 'political'. (At the same time there are activists that are both Yellow and Black. Confusing? No more so than the multiple, overlapping and contradictory loyalties one finds in your quotidian committee to save the local hospital or anti-war group)
Oleh publicly said that while there is a difference, they are united in their opposition to the former regime. However, himself a Black, Oleh later sent me a couple of links from the Black Pora website about an organizational conference on the future of Pora, at which was discussed the role of leaders, and, while he doesn't use this word himself, what we would describe as 'careerists', in a tone that is courteous but pointed and that will be familiar to those who have engaged in similar arguments within the anti-globalisation movement:
'In theory, any merger should lead to an increase in strength and power. On top of that both Pora’s nicely complemented one another – “blacks” had a broader “street” experience, “yellows” apparently were better in media relations.
'Nonetheless very soon the process of merging slowed down drastically. The “blacks” say it happened because the “yellows” did not adhere to one of the fundamental principles (by the way taken from “Otpor”) of the Civic Campaign – leaderless and horizontal structure. For instance it is frustrating that one of the coordinators of the “yellows” – Vladyslav Kaskiv (who is also a Chairman of NGO coalition “Freedom of Choice”) – keeps appearing in media as a leader or chairman of “PORA!” (while no surnames of the activists of “black” PORA! were ever released to the media except for the cases of arrested activists, when it was crucial to ask for help from the public - correction by “black” PORA!)
'“We are like sand” – explains one of the “PORA!” activists. “We consciously chose this niche, where nobody has an opportunity to take advantage of our movement”.
It seems that the Yellows want to form a political party taking advantage of the prestige Pora has won over the past year, while the Blacks want Pora to remain a clearinghouse for democracy activists in the rest of the region - especially for those activists in Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan - and remain a democratic watchdog - a 'Cerberus of democracy', as one activist puts it - in their own country, as Yanukovych and thousands of other 'Kuchmists' remain in office. Furthermore, it seems the Yellows have already made arrangements in this regard, angering their Black comrades in so doing:
'…leaders of the “yellows” [have] made their choice already – in favour of the last alternative. They have allegedly made phone calls to some regions and portrayed the perspectives of creating a party on the basis of “PORA!” offering to join. What one of the activists who made a presentation at the forum found most disturbing was a fact that complete outsiders were approached with those proposals in the regions, behind the backs of actual “PORA!” activists. In this respect an angry activist even said “it is a treachery!”'
[The author of the piece subsequently goes on to note that when Otpor transformed itself into a political party, it managed to win just 1.65 per cent of the vote]
Anyone event tangentially involved in the anti-globalisation movement will recognise these debates over leadership and taking part in parliamentary activity.
The Wave of Resistance conference was put on by the Alfred Mozer Foundation, a project of the PvDA, the Dutch Labour Party. The Foundation was established in 1990 to aid in the development of (social) democratic parties in
A number of commentators have pointed out that much of the funding for these groups does not in fact come from the
Freedom House, another of the groups offering funding and advice, is a non-partisan N.G.O. originally founded by Eleanor Roosevelt to promote democracy. However, over the years, as lobby-group watchdog Right Web, a project of the International Relations Center, an American progressive think-tank, has pointed out, Freedom House has overwhelmingly focused its attention on authoritarian regimes that are enemies of the
If we look still further, at those individuals who make up the group's board of trustees, we get a clearer picture of what sort of an organisation it is. James Woolsey, the former director of the C.I.A. and one of the country's main neo-conservatives, is Freedom House's chairman. Other members of the board include Samuel Huntington, the racist neo-con theorist and author of that neo-con bible, Clash of Civilisations; Diana Villiers Negroponte - guess whose wife she is; Jeane Kirkpatrick, a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under Reagan and famous for the 'Kirkpatrick Doctrine' - which posited that the U.S. should support authoritarian regimes so long as they were anti-Communist, one of the States' strongest supporters of the Argentine dictatorship of Gen. Galtieri, and a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (intriguingly, or not, she started out her career as a Marxist); Ken Adelmen, another of Reagan's ambassadors to the U.N., member of the Defense Policy Board, a signatory of the Project for a New American Century, regular commentator on Fox News and - wheels within wheels here - a trustee of George Soros' International Crisis Group; Steve Forbes, former Republican presidential candidate and editor of Forbes Magazine; and the person who used to be called the right-wing's Christopher Hitchens until Hitch claimed that mantle for himself, P.J. O'Rourke.
Freedom House is neo-con from slappable bald patch to gout-enlarged toe.
So, in a strict sense, it's true that some of the funding and advice does not come from the
The democracy movements in
But that is their concern. For us on the European left, this is all an embarrassment. Why should democracy groups in
Too many organisations of the European left, even if they did not openly support the U.S.S.R., were at a loss upon its collapse, and even now continue to be suspicious of opposition movements in the former Soviet Bloc. I remember during the Nato bombing of
Thankfully, for the most part these sorts are disappearing, and the anti-globalisation movement has no time for Stalinists of any description. But we have not done enough to welcome young activists from the East.
If for no other reason than to wean these activists from the Yankee teat, we must open our own organisations and meetings up to these genuine revolutionaries. We must make links and build solidarity with them. We must bend our organisations to help those still under the yoke of authoritarians such as Lukashenko in
At the very least, representatives from Otpor, Kmara, Zubr, Mjaft, Pora, and Yox should be invited to the next preparatory assembly (Paris, 19-18 December) for the 2006 European Social Forum in Athens. Perhaps some work can be done through the ESF Working Group for Integration of Central and Eastern European Countries. Any other conferences, organising meetings or protests that are appropriate should also be opened to these groups
Fighting demagogues today wherever they are is as much an act of the left as it was in