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.

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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.”

Sovereignty Without Territoriality?

A reference to James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed and Thongchai Winichakul’s Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation here.

Dart-Throwing Chimp

The concentration of manpower was the key to political power in premodern Southeast Asia… This overwhelming concern for obtaining and holding population at the core is shot through every aspect of precolonial statecraft. What Geertz says about Balinese political rivalries—that they were “a struggle more for men than for land”—could apply equally to all of mainland Southeast Asia. This principle animated the conduct of warfare, which was less a grab for distant territory than a quest for captives who could be resettled at the core… Early European officials were frequently astounded by the extremely vague demarcation of territories and provinces in their new colonies and puzzled by an administration of manpower that had little or nothing to do with territorial jurisdiction… As Thongchai Winichakul’s insightful book shows, the Siamese paid more attention to the manpower they could summon than to sovereignty over land that had no value in the absence…

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The new secessionist wave – Reflections on the crisis of the neo-liberal state

SEN Journal: Online Exclusives

As part of our current series on Scotland and secessionist movements, SEN Journal: Online Exclusives is excited to present this original piece by Professor Daniele Conversi, Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country and the Ikerbasque Foundation for Science, who has written about the wider issue of secessionist politics and the state.

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One can study the new secessionist wave in the West and elsewhere from a number of perspectives: by looking at how nationalist leaders mobilize their constituencies, at the form of the state, at the international dimension, and so on. However, I believe what is paramount is that we are witnessing a rather precipitous fall of political legitimacy of the neoliberal state. Beyond nationalism, this can be seen in the rapid rise of anti-system movements, like the M-15 or indignados (aka “outraged”) in Spain, Beppe Grillo’s direct democracy movement in Italy, the Occupy movement in the USA…

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“White Indians”

This is good.

n+1: White Indians. Excerpts:

Behind the scenes, the Indian American Center for Political Awareness (IACPA) recruited these deracinated Indians who were “discovering their roots” and sent them to work for American congressmen, quietly pushing Indian issues into the light of the new world order. In 1993, two years after the first neoliberal Indian economic reforms, Congress formed an India caucus. It began with eight members and now has 180. A founding project of the Indian lobby was to push the US away from its cold war alliance with Pakistan and toward an India that was becoming astoundingly “business-friendly” in the ’90s and, after September 11, could be counted on to contribute to the United States’ campaign against Islamic peoples. India’s 1998 nuclear tests briefly alarmed the US (while earning a congratulatory note from Israel), but two years later President Clinton signaled a shift in American policy with a much-feted visit to India. One of the India lobby’s greatest victories came in 2005, when the US finally signed the nuclear energy deal India had been pushing for since the ’90s. Another great success has been to squelch any discussion among American elites of the occupation of Kashmir — which India regards as a “bilateral” issue (i.e., between India and Pakistan) rather than an ongoing international crime. India, land of Gandhi, is now the world’s largest arms importer, with Russia and Israel as top partners. 

The cultural effects could be felt across the world. Bollywood, formerly the leading edge of third-world cinema, the one currency to survive the Sino-Soviet split, became, with the support of the Indian elite, a newly slick Hollywood craze. Indianness itself, for years a source of shame in the diaspora, became puffed with pride. Lahiri’s protagonist in her bestseller The Namesake, Nikhil “Gogol” Ganguly, takes a roots trip east and briefly swaps his white girlfriend for a mother-approved Indian. Less familiar to other kinds of white people, diaspora children in recent years have been subject to low-budget films like American Desi and ABCD (American-Born Confused Desi), coming-of-age stories in which deracinated teenage South Asians — never Muslim, usually male — learned to cast off their self-loathing and embrace Hinduism, arranged marriages, and bhangra dancing.

Kal Penn (right), with John Cho in the film ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’ (2004). The character of Kumar here and in the sequel is portrayed as the antithesis of the ‘white desi’ in America. Photo courtesy of n+1.

 

A happier image for the future is the desi stoner Kumar of the Harold and Kumar films, who may be the single best role model for generations of brown people otherwise condemned to going pre-med. Kumar, who uses his textbooks to roll joints, suggests the dual character of desi immigration.

An interesting book to read that’s related would be Hamid Dabashi’s Brown Skin, White Masks (Pluto Press, 2011).

2003 Invasion of Iraq – The ‘commemorative’ round-up (UPDATED)

Last month marked the 10th year (on 19 March 2003 to be exact) since the US-led invasion of Iraq, also known as the Iraq War. This is a war that has cost (for the United States at least) up to three trillion dollars and at least 190,000 deaths – military, ‘contractor’, and civilian(*).

Here is a selection of articles giving a broad overview of reflections.

Leading up to it, James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine ruminates on his initial and consistent opposition (good man!) to the George W. Bush administration’s and neo-conservatives’ folly. Fallows gives a seven-point commentary.

American academic and foreign policy wonk Daniel Drezner does some (perhaps necessary) navel-gazing about how US foreign policy has been affected since 19 March 2003. He has backed off from his initial support of the invasion, but still not repentant regarding the use of force – to achieve security, democracy, or whatever else. Does this then not make him a ‘chickenhawk‘?

And for the love of the gods, Dan, please stop using the phrase ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Oh look here, a ‘spade’! I call it what it really was – an INVASION. Of another sovereign state.

Where the neo-conservatives are not mentioned…
Former Ronald Reagan staffer, Republican, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan does even more navel-gazing about how the invasion has affected the US Republican Party. (Why do I say ‘navel-gazing’? Hint: No mention of the neo-conservative ‘wing’ – any one of them – and their role, anywhere. Yes, exactly.)

…And where they are
International relations scholar Robert Kelly posits a neo-con ‘theory’ (of international relations or otherwise) behind their justification of the war. Bear in mind that he’s not trying to justify it from their point of view, but rather to come up with a plausible explanation why they pushed so hard for war – and got it.

Personally, I think any such theories are hogwash, flawed to the point of ridiculousness. There are theories and ideologies that are appropriate for certain times, and others that are not. The ‘justifications’ for invading Iraq – including from the so-called liberal imperialists interventionists – belong to the latter category.

In the meantime, from author and former US State Department employee Peter Van Buren: the World’s. Largest. Embassy. Ever. will soon stand largely empty.

Taylor Marvin ruminates about learning The Wrong Lessons from Iraq.

Daniel Nexon goes more ‘macro’ into IR theory to discuss the over-arching cause of war between as a form of classic ‘interstate rivalry‘ and explores its specific dynamics.

John B. Judis reflects on what it was like to oppose the Iraq invasion in 2003, giving emphasis on the media and perceived credibility of political figures (hint: NOT George W. Bush).

There is also the US failure in Afghanistan, as seen by Stephen Walt. David Rothkopf contemplates the lessons learnt there and in Iraq, while Paul Rogers observes more broadly the ‘war on terror’ and the West’s inability to eliminate violent conflict [The US seems to be able to eliminate lots of human beings, though. I guess that’s why they think they’re ‘an exceptional nation’. – Ed.] (I’m kidding! There’s no ‘Editor’ for this blog.)

And a little blast from the past: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz wrote this in the run-up to the 2008 US presidential elections (Remember that one? Where’s the Hope and Change now?):

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ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

encirclingempire2013a

Encircling Empire Reports is a selection of essays, blog posts, and news reports covering a given time period, providing links and representative extracts or key passages from each resource, usually focusing on certain countries/continents and/or processes in each report. The focus of the reports ranges from imperialism discussed in broad strokes, to specific facets of imperialism: militarization and militarism; militainment; “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect”; regime-change; nation-building; counterinsurgency; state terrorism; the economics of empire; soft power, psychological operations, and strategic information operations; and, the ideologies and moral constructions of contemporary imperialist thought. In keeping with the dualistic theme–the empire that encircles us, and the encircling of empire by resistance and collapse–we also attempt to provide coverage of anti-imperialism, anti-war struggles, and the direct resistance against imperialist intervention, as well as covering the decline of U.S. and European geopolitical hegemony.

(When links expire–and they certainly will in many cases–either…

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