An anniversary story: Fall, dissolution, and political violence

Today, 9 November, celebrates another anniversary the Berlin Wall officially fell.

It has been commonly believed that the fall of the Wall was a peaceful one, and also marked a “peaceful” dissolution and transition of East Germany’s patron, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) – the Soviet Union – into independent countries (albeit now led by Russia in various iterations of economic/political organisations such as the Eurasian Customs Union).

That year of 1989, however, was really a different story, as were the years before and after.

Before November 1989, violence and death were  endemic to the crossing of the Berlin Wall – crossings from east to west. East German border guards were given a “licence to kill” to shoot at defectors, and more than a thousand people lost their lives.

In the years before 1989, as Soviet leaders were attempting to reform, there were riots in Kazakhstan based on a nascent ethnic nationalism, political protests in the Baltic states, and environmental demonstrations in Armenia. Then in April 1989, Soviet troops massacred demonstrators in the capital of Soviet Georgia, Tbilisi, which was followed by inter-ethnic violence in Georgia’s autonomous/breakaway territory of Abkhazia. In June 1989, riots again occurred in Kazakhstan.

After the fall of the Wall, in January 1990 ethnic tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis – which had been escalating for years prior – exploded into open warfare, killing Soviet soldiers in Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital) in the process. Gorbachev sent troops into Baku to regain control, but eventually Azerbaijan along with the other republics was to break from the Soviet Union.

T-80UD tanks in the Red square during the 1991 soviet coup d’etat attempt. Location: Northern ramp of Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge (not exactly Red Square, some 200 meters south from its formal southern edge, with Nabatnaya tower in sight)

– Photo and caption from Wikipedia (public domain).

The last major event was the failed hardliners’ coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, before the USSR fell proper.

Yes, there were many other non-violent, even peaceful events and incidents across the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European states. But it would be a mistake to forget the political violence that occurred, that the break-up of the Soviet Union was anything but peaceful, and that state and societal collapse is less straightforward, and more significant than most people expect.

Look at the state of play between Russia and Ukraine now, and international politics in general.

Thailand and Singapore – crises and…opportunities in 2015

Some interesting news and insights from two Southeast Asian countries.

Exclusive: Who's Really Behind Thailand’s Erawan Shrine Bomb Blast?

Experts investigate the Erawan shrine at the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 18, 2015. Image Credit: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

First, in Thailand, Shawn Crispin writes in The Diplomat exploring the possible deeper background, the players, and ultimately the causes of the Bangkok Erawan Shrine bombings, in ‘Who’s Really Behind Thailand’s Erawan Shrine Bomb Blast?

A security adviser with access to Thai intelligence reports says agents outside of the police are pursuing leads that indicate extensive Thai involvement in what appears on the surface to be a foreign-executed attack. Local intelligence cited by the adviser indicates that the plot was planned for over one year, before the Uyghur deportations but likely after the military’s May 2014 takeover. The adviser says the apparent Thai actors have concealed their identities in various ingenious ways, including the use of Internet-based communication applications that are knowingly difficult, if not impossible, for local intelligence agencies to track and detect.

Then, in Singapore, two different views of the Singaporean General (parliamentary) Elections with similar broad conclusions: see “No easy win for Singapore’s PAP” in The Diplomat again, and “In staid Singapore, a national election that could change its course” from the South China Morning Post.

No Easy Win for Singapore’s PAP

Image Credit: REUTERS/Edgar Su

“Bring the [ruling party’s lightning sigil] home”, states one placard above…because, you know, it was like a spy out in the cold, or stuck fighting senseless wars in a foreign land, or lost like sheep wandering a desert for 40 years…oh sorry, those are real issues.

Both articles conclude that the ruling PAP will form the next government.

Let’s then look at some of the main none-too-subtle differences, either by omission or commission/contradiction, and my token critique particularly of the SCMP article, in brackets.

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David Suzuki near 80 – “Getting old is actually quite liberating”

In Nuvo Magazine, an interesting profile piece on pioneering Canadian activist and writer David Suzuki, ‘Foundation of Change‘.

Today, most scientists agree that climate change, with its dire implications, is the most urgent challenge facing humankind. Global-warming deniers have taken on the taint of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Yet, Suzuki admits, we’ve made surprisingly little progress in persuading the public, and the politicians, that the path we’re on ends in disaster in a very few generations. The growth of carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from fossil fuel, remains a threat. Carbon in the atmosphere keeps accumulating. In 2014 the average global temperature was the highest ever recorded.

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Human terrains, all-too-human flaws

When I was in graduate school, I attended a guest lecture* on the the US military’s ‘Human Terrain System’ (HTS) that was being pioneered in Afghanistan from the second half of the 2000s. I found the concept and reality mildly interesting, and I thought it had some potential.

But in light of the US invasion of Iraq, I knew they still had a very long way to go, and I suspected that there were more problems than not. Somehow that feeling proved correct.

Ted Callahan, a United States Army Human Terrain Team social scientist, talking to local residents to investigate a tribal dispute in the village of Wum Kalay, Paktia Province, Afghanistan on Aug. 12, 2009. Credit Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

This article published by the New York Times last month, ‘The quiet demise of the Army’s plan to understand Afghanistan and Iraq‘, is a worth a read.

The author has written a book about it, titled The Tender Soldier.

The trope about Afghanistan being the “graveyard of empires” seems to hold true of ideas as well, including well-intentioned but ill-conceived ones.

*guest lecture: in my grad school, translated as “a talk within a compulsory conference that we had to attend in order to fulfil credits so that we could actually graduate.”

Other days of September (post-9/11 stories)

I’ve posted about ‘September 11’ before, here and here. This post includes other links and stories.

Perhaps what I remember most about that day in September 2001 was the sheer ordinariness of it all.

I had gone to bed that night where I was in the southern hemisphere, and awoke the next day, 12 September, feeling that nothing particularly of interest would affect me that day. Boy, was I wrong. 

The events of 11 September 2001 may not have changed the world; rather, as many commentators have argued, it re-defined the relationship of the pre-eminent world power, the United States, to the rest of the world.

Sadly, the US has been asserting its power and influence to the detriment of peoples in other states long before that. In the southern hemisphere, Latin America has suffered the worst of it for quite some time. One occurred on 11 September, 1973.

Other days: Chile, 1973

Remembrance at the 40th anniversary of the right-wing military coup on 11 September that overthrew Salvador Allende turned ugly as some protestors clashed with police. The basic message of human decency and rights should not be forgotten, however. The CIA-backed coup and regime resulted in horrific human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

As Americans remember Sept. 11, 2001 with video montages, scattered candlelight vigils, and an avalanche of #neverforget Facebook and Twitter posts, Chileans are remembering a different 9/11—Sept. 11, 1973, the day a CIA-backed military coup ousted a democratically elected president with a right-wing strongman.

Tensions in the South American country have been rising for weeks in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the morning in 1973 that Chile’s military, with the secret support of the United States, flew fighter jets over Santiago and bombed its own presidential palace. Within hours, Chilean President Salvador Allende—Latin America’s first popularly elected socialist president—was dead. He was replaced by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose regime killed, tortured, and exiled tens of thousands of Chileans. For the next 17 years, Chileans lived under an economically prosperous dictatorship that showed little regard for human rights.

The regime of Augusto Pinochet lasted nearly 20 years. In a country still split by that legacy, the sister of one of the regime’s victims

Reyes Manriquez noted that it is not usually the families of the victims that cause trouble for the police; often, it is young people who have no direct memory of the dictatorship.

“The families have lived through enough violence,” she said

There are other things that the younger generations and victim-families can do — strive towards making sure that such things can never happen again, in their own country as well as others.

Other links

On the Syrian crisis and the humanitarian-interventionist concept known as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, openDemocracy has published a series of articles:

“This week we are launching a series of articles that address the usefulness and relevance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine in the current debate over Syria. R2P was first proposed in 2001, in the wake of NATO’s controversial intervention in Kosovo.  As eventually endorsed by UN Member States in 2005, R2P provides that the international community, acting through the UN Security Council, should act decisively – including as a last resort through the use of force – to halt mass atrocities. But the divided Council’s manifest failure to do so in Syria – even in the face of mass atrocity, 100,000 killed, and millions forced to flee – calls into question the relevance of the doctrine, even as it reignites support for a more robust R2P to support non-UN authorized military action.

Justice in Conflict, on Syria, where not all deaths are treated equally:

Even if you have not watched the videos of the alleged chemical weapons attack, it is not difficult to understand the intense desire to do something about what is happening to civilians in the Syrian conflict. Tens of thousands of Syrians are now dead, and it is increasingly difficult for many to continue to look away from that conflict. But the fact that the United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have died begs the question: why the current intense need to punish Syrian actors for these particular deaths? Violating Syria’s sovereignty in response to deaths from the chemical weapons attack without a UN mandate is an illegal act just as is a military intervention launched outside the UN in response to these other deaths. So, despite the international law violations committed by Syrian actors against civilians throughout the conflict, why is the United States contemplating violating another set of international laws in this instance but not the others? Why act in the name of nearly 2000 deaths from chemical weapons and not for the tens of thousands killed by other means?

In The New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart writes about the cocoon that many American Jews unknowingly find themselves in:

I used to try, clumsily, to answer the assertions about Palestinians that so often consume the American Jewish conversation about Israel. But increasingly I give a terser reply: “Ask them.” That usually ends the conversation because in mainstream American Jewish circles, asking Palestinians to respond to the endless assertions that American Jews make about them is extremely rare. For the most part, Palestinians do not speak in American synagogues or write in the Jewish press. The organization Birthright, which since 1999 has taken almost 350,000 young Diaspora Jews—mostly Americans—to visit Israel, does not venture to Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Of the more than two hundred advertised speakers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference, two were Palestinians. By American Jewish standards, that’s high. The American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum earlier this year, which advertised sixty-four speakers, did not include a single Palestinian.

His earlier article, ‘The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment’, is worth a read too.

This blog is on (very) ‘partial blackout’…

…because I stand in solidarity. And I will also not be gagged.

They seek to move us; but we will not be moved.

For more information, see here:
http://www.petitions24.com/petition_for_the_immediate_withdrawal_of_the_licensing_regime

And here:
https://www.facebook.com/notes/free-my-internet/join-singapores-1st-internet-blackout-protest-130-websites-and-counting/583028208409283

cropped-cropped-starwars_avatar_forum_056.jpg

www.freemyinternet.com

Re-blogged: Critical pedagogies?

Image from and h/t The Disorder of Things

Re-blogged from The Disorder of Things.

Here’s something interesting:

“It would be strange for anyone to graduate from an IR programme not knowing what ‘Realism’ is (or not knowing the difference between a Carr and a Waltz, or a neo-conservative and a neo-classical). But understanding the state of the discipline isn’t the same thing as foregrounding its self-mythologies. We know, for example, that our current teaching doesn’t reflect the actual distribution of perspectives (recall that 16% of IR scholars call themselves Realists, but 37% of survey respondents use more than a quarter of their introductory courses teaching it). Let us have compulsory courses in the intellectual history of IR, but not a iterated call-and-response in which the critical always comes second. Perhaps this is a generational difference, perhaps one founded on the privilege of never being made to always progress through the ‘American Science’ in any any given argument. Either way, I want to suggest that we stop thinking of teaching as the job of conveying the same sense of embattlement against a Mainstream that frames critical IR’s story of itself. And, in the process, move from unapologetic to militant. To haunt the corridors and panels of that same Mainstream and demand explanations of why there is no empire in their course outlines.”