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.

From Iraq to Iraq: Political violence, recently

Protestors in Malaysia: The ‘969’ anti-Muslim movement in Burma has been identified as the main instigator of violence against Muslims in that country. Photo courtesy of ForeignPolicy.com

Some links related to and around news about political violence over the past few weeks:

AMERICA’S FALLUJAH LEGACY: WHITE PHOSPHOROUS, DEPLETED URANIUM: THE FATE OF IRAQ’S CHILDREN

FALLUJAH, Iraq, Apr 13, 2012 (IPS) – At Fallujah hospital they cannot offer any statistics on children born with birth defects – there are just too many. Parents don’t want to talk. “Families bury their newborn babies after they die without telling anyone,” says hospital spokesman Nadim al-Hadidi. “It’s all too shameful for them.”

“We recorded 672 cases in January but we know there were many more,” says Hadidi. He projects pictures on to a wall at his office: children born with no brain, no eyes, or with the intestines out of their body.


Contextualizing Media Claims in Boston – Registan.net

In attempting to place Tamerlan and Dzhohar Tsarnaev into the mould of the stereotypical “Islamic fundamentalist bomber,” the media used several facts and claims about the brothers that, in my opinion, don’t ring true or were taken out of the Chechen and post-Soviet context and, thus, were misunderstood. I would like to draw attention to several such facts (certainly not all) and clarify them. While these details may seem small, they helped to form an image of the Tsarnaev brothers in the public’s mind, simplifying complex motivations that may exist behind this attack. Words have connotations beyond their direct meanings, and so the choice of something as small as the wrong word can change how we perceive the facts: …


The wrong kind of Caucasian – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Ethnicity is often used to justify violent behaviour. But no ethnicity is inherently violent. Even if the Tsarnaevs aligned themselves with violent Chechen movements – and as of now, there is no evidence they did – treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence is irresponsible.

One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become “white” – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.

But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.

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The contemporary National Service conundrum (Part one of…infinity)

Two recent articles in Singapore’s TODAYonline caught my attention.

In the first, a commentary piece, Yolanda Chin discusses how and why National Service (NS, i.e. conscription) policies pertaining to male Permanent Residents (PRs) of the country should be changed, suggesting that such policies should adjust to the reality of “today’s new migrant” and complex, evolving social and global phenomena.

This, incidentally, comes on the backs of other ongoing issues regarding NS.

Now: Most male Singaporeans (especially) will notice the snazzy new digitalised camo uniforms, SAR-21 carbines, and the, uhh, fingerless gloves. Photo courtesy of TODAYonline.

Unlike today, the conscription of PRs was non-controversial when it was first introduced in the Enlistment Act of 1970.

There was no question then that citizens were better off than PRs; PRs were required to serve NS alongside citizens, even though state-sponsored benefits remained the exclusive preserve of citizens.

The readiness of these PRs to die for the defence of Singapore was due to the fact that they were stateless individuals displaced by Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, and they aspired for citizenship which few qualified for.


Statelessness was a condition
that allegedly led many (men) to consider – and fulfill – the obligations of citizenship then. Never mind that citizenship in a state should have been first and foremost seen and implemented as a human right, as per Article 15 of the UDHR – and not merely a framework for invoking a set of privileges and responsibilities in policymaking. (For further reading, case studies such as this on ‘Statelessness and the Benefits of Citizenship’ is useful to both get a broader picture as well as an idea of specific country situations.)

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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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Archaeology and UAVs

From “Archaeology and UAVs“:

The drones used in archaeology are not the large and frightening remote killing machines that make the news for their questionable use in air strikes by the United States Military. Instead, archaeological drones have their roots in the world of radio controlled hobbyist models and are frequently built from off-the-shelf components marketed primarily to radio control model enthusiasts.

H/t Duck of Minerva

Also: “The Error in the War on Terror“:

…From a military point of view it is better to lose a drone priced at about 37 million dollars than a pilot or crew.  I do not dispute this rationale, but what about the value of those who die in the drone’s wake? Drone strikes inevitably kill civilians from time to time, either due to faulty targeting or the fact that innocent people may be nearby suspected terrorists.  Every time a family mourns the loss of a victim, there is a recruiting tool for yet more terrorists.  Then there are the flight mishaps, especially when drones crash in or near civilian airports, as has been documented. Is it reasonable to expect that every identifiable terrorist can be taken out by a no-end-in-sight drone strategy?

“Your victories lift us up”: Belated International Women’s Day 2013 edition

In Kigali she wakes up
She makes a choice
In Hanoi, Natal, Ramallah.

In Tangier she takes a breath,
Lifts up her voice
In Lahore, La Paz, Kampala. 

Though she’s half a world away
Something in me wants to say 

We are one woman, you cry and I hear you
We are one woman, you hurt and I hurt too 
We are one woman, your hopes are mine

And we shall shine

– from One Woman, a song presented by UNWomen, 2013

It’s been over a week since the commeration of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March.

It was first celebrated in the early 1900s, and depending on your viewpoint or sense of history, it was either first officially celebrated in 1911 in western and central Europe or 1917 in Czarist Russia. In between these two years, in 1913 it was decided that IWD would be celebrated on 8 March according to the Gregorian calendar, which our modern, mainstream calendar is based on. The impetus for this was brought on by women representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and parliamentarians.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that 8 March was the date in Russia (or 23 February in the Julian calendar then used in that country) in 1917 when women began a strike in response to the death of over two million Russian soldiers killed during the course of the First World War, which was at the time still raging. Their strike helped to bring down the Czar’s rule, leading to a new government that eventually withdrew Russia from the conflict.

Although Russia became the nucleus of the Soviet empire, it did not stop its leaders from instituting – at the urging of the Communist revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai – the day as an official holiday within the Soviet Union.

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Grand Blog Tarkin

Pity the modern supervillain, Adam tells us. He’s a poor, decrepit figure, beholden to the deceptive whims of irrationality, distanced from the creative politics of his more practical predecessors. The grand image of global–or, better yet, multiversal–domination is a Mesopotamian artifact of superherodom.  The Joker’s low-tech banditry abounds in contemporary supervillainy, while Dalek “extermination” is little more than a charming, if impractical product of British public television. From a critical perspective, this shift is an unfortunate consequence of post-9/11 security cultures. If Judi Dench’s M is any indication–and s/he has been for a half-century–hero fandom should view the modern supervillain as a product of a more discreet Zeitgeist, of a less transparent, more opaque world of “shadows.” Hats off to Christopher Nolan, whose Joker is a mere interlude to Ra’s al-Ghul’s global League of Shadows, a happy marriage of Erik Prince (Bane, the mercenary) and young Emma Goldman…

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