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June 17, 2009
Guinea-Bissau hopes to stop cycle of political assassination

Soldiers outside military headquarters following an assassination in Guinea-Bissau. Photo: Marco Vernaschi, Pulitzer Center

Campaign season has begun in Guinea-Bissau, though it is muted due to continued concern following repeated assassinations.

Earlier this month, presidential candidate Baciro Dabo and former defense minister Helder Proenca were killed. Dabo was suspected of plotting a coup attempt.

The country’s president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, was brutally murdered on March 2, apparently in retaliation for a bomb attack that killed Army General Batista Tagme Na Waie. No suspects have been arrested in the president’s death.

Marco Vernaschi of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting recently returned from Guinea-Bissau and describes the country’s climate of violence.

I was drinking a coffee at Baiana when the Afropop music played by the local radio suddenly stopped. A frantic speaker was trying to report about a blast that had just killed a few soldiers, destroying the military headquarters.

I jumped in my car and drove toward the military compound. When I arrived everyone was shouting and running through the smoky ruins of the building. Bissau’s only ambulance was coming and going from the hospital to pick up the bodies of the victims. Four heavily armed soldiers pointing their AK-47 at my face discouraged me from taking photographs or asking questions. All they told me was that General Batista Tagme Na Wai, head of the army, had just been assassinated. I went back to the car and headed to the hospital.

On this night last February Bissau’s sleepy routine was broken. I made some phone calls to find out what was going on, even as the Minister of Defense arrived at the hospital and ordered the police to keep journalists away. After two hours trying to get information I left the hospital, heading to my hotel. At the reception everyone was trading theories. Someone said it was a coup d’etat, others that it was an accident, a bomb, or the beginning of another civil war. I went to my room and tried to sleep.

At six in the morning my friend and informant Vladimir, a reliable security man who works at the hotel, knocked on my door. He was frightened, and told me that the president had just been killed. When I asked him how he knew, he simply shook his head. I instantly left my room and went to the President’s house. Soldiers there were shooting in the air, to keep a little crowd of people away from the house.

A bunch of soldiers with machine guns and bazookas surrounded the block. The president’s armored Hummer was still parked in front of the house, the tires flat and its bulletproof windows shattered. The police cars from his escort were destroyed. A rocket shot from a bazooka had penetrated four walls, ending up in the president’s living room. Joao Bernardo Vieira was dead, after ruling Guinea Bissau for nearly a quarter of a century.

After a few hours waiting in front of the house I understand I wouldn’t have been allowed any access this day. A soldier came toward me and seized my camera to check if I had taken any pictures. Fortunately I had not, and he gave me the camera back. It was time to leave.

In just nine hours Guinea Bissau had lost both it president and the head of its army. Why so much violence? Was this double assassination the result of an old rivalry between Vieira and Tagme, or was it something more? The army’s spokesman, Zamora Induta, declared that the president had been killed by a group of renegade soldiers and that assailants using a bomb had assassinated General Tagme. He said there is no connection between the two deaths. Of course, nobody believed that this was so.

[…]The next day, I managed to visit the president’s house with my camera. One of his several cousins gives me a tour. He led me to the kitchen first, to show me where Nino Vieira was executed. The blood was all over the room. The machete was still on the floor and the bulletproof vest he always wore was on the chair where his wife sat during the questioning. All around there were hundreds of bullets from AK-47 and machine guns. The soldiers looted and destroyed the house. They took everything they could, including clothes and food.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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June 17, 2009
Change in Sudan must come from within

The International Criminal Court’s efforts to secure the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes are stalling.

On Tuesday, as the United Nations released a report accusing Sudan of serious human rights violations, a presidential advisor in Sudan said the country is ready for a fresh ceasefire in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court’s efforts to secure the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes are stalling, as critics say the indictment has rallied the African Union, Arab League and the Sudanese people around Bashir.

Andrew Natsios, a former Bush administration envoy to Sudan, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that “In their zeal to burnish the fledgling court’s credentials with such a high-profile case, the ICC’s prosecutors have weakened the institution.”

Worldfocus contributing blogger Abd al-Wahab Abdalla writes that Sudan is at a crossroads — and change must come from within, rather than from the international community:

Sudan is at the crossroads and we need to be fully cognizant which paths will lead us off the precipice. If we fail to pay attention to where we are going we will surely destroy ourselves.

I have been challenged on accountability for war crimes. The version of accountability preferred by the so-called international community and by those who slavishly follow it within the Sudanese counter-elite is just demonization of the ruling party and individuals within it. The named individuals may be responsible for crimes but to herald their prosecution as a serious response let alone a political programme is just another symptom of the reactionary infantilism that has overtaken too many of our comrades and former comrades. On the left we failed to take political Islamism seriously and for too long we blinded ourselves that it was irrational and transient and it would go away. We demonized it instead of trying to analyze it so that we could fight it properly. As a result we tamely went along with those who also demonized it for their own reasons and applauded whatever they did such as imposing punitive sanctions or indicting its leaders. This is a non-response which has surrendered our political agency.

The only kind of accountability that offers some kind of political solution is accountability under a state that exercises democratic sovereignty. If the head of state were dragged off to the Hague and prosecuted it would not make an iota of difference to the problems of Sudan. The only lesson that our elites will learn is, make sure you are covered by a friendly ally in Paris or Washington DC before you go ahead and commit your crimes.

The arbitrary international sanctions regime and the random and politicized way in which international organizations including the ICC demand accountability only makes this worse. They function as arbitrary power (and worse, external and factional arbitrary power) masquerading as law and as such make a mockery of the rule of law or judicial accountability just as much as the existing Sudanese judiciary. The question is, which comes first: an institutionalized rule of law system or a progressive developmental political economy which provides the substructure for an autonomous state and impartial rules? It has to be the other way round: the foundation must be there first. If liberal judicial institutions are parachuted into the existing realities they will just become more tools in the toolbox of plunder and rentierism for ruling elites and counter-elites. They will be another competing faction within a politicized and corrupt judiciary. Just as in a systemically corrupt political economy, an anti-corruption drive becomes a means of the ruling elite selectively punishing its enemies, so that “weeding out corruption” becomes a tool of corruption. Ditto for accountability without a Weberian state. The objective conditions must exist first. […]

The fundamental problem of Sudan is the nature of the state-bourgeoisie in power. The solution must arise from that self-same power centre. There is no counter-elite with strong enough roots in the social economy to challenge it. Only when we face this reality can we then begin to grasp the objective constraints on our political programme. […]

To read more, see the original post.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo’s under a Creative Commons license.

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June 16, 2009
An open letter to President Obama on Iran

There have been protests worldwide against the results of the Iranian election — including in France.

After election results in Iran declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner, many in and out of the country were quick to call foul. Protests ensued in the streets of Tehran and around the world.

President Obama has voiced “deep concerns” over accusations of election fraud, but has refused to denounce the election, saying “It is not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling […] in Iranian elections.”

In an open letter to President Obama, Worldfocus contributing blogger Nader Uskowi — a Washington-based Iran analyst and consultant — critiques the president’s approach to Iran.

Dear Mr. President,

I was an early supporter of your presidential campaign throughout the primaries and the general election. Along with hundreds of other supporters in Virginia, I worked tirelessly to deliver the state to you after more than 40 years of Republican presidential victories. I supported your vision of change on domestic and foreign policies, including your call to directly engage the Iranian government to abide by its obligations on the nuclear issue and to halt its support of terrorism.

Sir,

When confronted with the realities on the ground, any good policy or plan needs and must be revised. Your, and our, Iran policy is being challenged by the current realities in the country. In the past four days, the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad government has disregarded the aspirations of the citizens and their basic rights. The students and the youths of the country are being killed, injured and imprisoned. Iranian citizens are calling for change, inspired to a large degree by the message of hope that you, Mr. President, gave them in your Cairo speech.

Mr. President,

There is now a compelling new factor that needs to be added to process of normalization of relations with Iran: the government’s handling of the largest social and political movement in the history of the Islamic Republic. Our government must demand the government in Tehran to guarantee the safety and security of its citizens during their peaceful demonstrations against the outcome of the election.

Normalization of relations with Iran needs to recognize the realities on the ground, which have changed radically in the past few days by a social movement with historic proportions. The normalization process should proceed in a way that will not alienate millions of young citizens whose call for change was inspired by your message of hope. We cannot and should not limit the process to nuclear and terrorism issues. The Iranian people are crying out for change, reminiscent of our days of campaigning here in this country. We must take a moment to remember the broader principles of our democratic society, and support the millions of Iranian citizens that seek to acquire them.

Respectfully Yours,

Nader Uskowi

To read more, see the original post.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user h de c under a Creative Commons license.

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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June 15, 2009
Stable Somaliland in the shadow of lawless Somalia

 

The Victory Monument in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital.

Somaliland, a break-away region of north-western Somalia, has gone unrecognized by the international community since it declared independence 18 years ago.

Since then, the Somaliland region has remained more peaceful and stable than the Somali Republic, which has descended once again into chaos. While the world’s eyes are fixed on Somalia, Somaliland — and its 3.5 million people — linger in the periphery.

Tristan McConnell of the Pulitzer Center laments the lack of concern for the small, unrecognized Somaliland.

It’s a disconcerting experience to report from a place that doesn’t exist. 18-years ago Somaliland broke away from Somalia, its bigger, nastier neighbor. While that benighted nation has continued its descent into chaos, death and mayhem Somaliland has kept the peace and built a likeness of democracy.

But as Somalia’s anarchy is showered with money Somaliland is diligently ignored. In April donor nations pledged another $213-million to the besieged Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, that’s roughly seven times the annual budget of Somaliland’s entire government.

The reason is that Somaliland is unrecognized. It has most of the trappings of the modern nation-state: army, government bureaucracy, parliament and (limited) multi-party political system, legal system and functioning economy.

But not a single country in the world accepts Somaliland’s existence. The question constantly asked by politicians, businessmen, civil society activists, street traders and school children alike is, “Why?”

In the mean time Somaliland struggles on, isolated from the international financial institutions that could help transform the lives of its dirt poor people.

Part of the problem is that this chunk of stultifying semi-desert squeezed between Djibouti, Ethiopia, northern Somalia and the Gulf of Aden has little to offer the world: there are lots of sheep and goats, and maybe a little oil and some minerals but nothing much else.

In the absence of valuable resources Somaliland has to fall back on moral arguments – we are good neighbors, we are a stable country in a notoriously tough region, we are trying to be a good democracy, they say.

But moral arguments don’t carry much weight in the world of global realpolitik: Somalilanders (as they call themselves) can expect to be waiting a good while longer before the world accepts that they exist.

To read more, see the original post.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user tristam sparks under a Creative Commons license.

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June 11, 2009
Darfuris cry for justice, some African nations oppose Bashir’s arrest

Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

African member nations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethioipia this week to discuss their opposition to the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Last March, Bashir was indicted for crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture, pillage and displacement of citizens of the Darfur region of Sudan.

Semhar Araia is an African analyst and consultant. He discusses the wishes of the Darfuris and the goals of 19 African nations that oppose the indictment of Sudan’s president.

African Civil Society Demands More from Governments and African Union on ICC

As a two-day meeting between the 30 original African signatory countries to the ICC draws to a close, the peace-versus-justice debate continues to impact civilians on the ground and divide how Africa’s conflicts are addressed by advocates and policymakers.

This couldn’t be any more true than in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where peace advocates argue that if it weren’t for the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants on Joseph Kony, Thomas Lubanga and Bosco Ntaganda, greater prospects for peace might exist through a viable peace process and stronger support for traditional reconciliation mechanisms. Justice proponents, however, argue that the international judicial mechanisms, absent any legal or judicial system, are necessary to enforce the laws, punish the perpetrators, and implement a peace process.

In my personal conversations with Darfuris and other Sudanese, they felt strongly that the ICC was the only body they could trust to bring justice to their lives. Lacking a viable and internationally-supported peace process for Darfur and a fledgling North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, many Sudanese have lost confidence in the ability of the Khartoum government to provide its citizens with any fair or legitimate legal recourse. For them, that means living peacefully, free from harm, with greater representation in government, greater access to wealth and resources, compensation for the damages incurred and punishment for the perpetrators — including President Bashir.

Nearly 70 African civil society groups recently organized in Kampala and Cape Town to express their support for the ICC and Darfuri wishes, arguing that the Court plays a necessary role when their governments are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity. Recognizing that their governments originally were supportive of the Court’s creation, they now demand that those same African countries and institutions, including the African Union, show greater support for the ICC. […]

Nineteen African leaders met on June 8. Sadly, rather than heeding their people’s demands and cries for justice and legality, the group issued a statement calling for a suspension altogether of the ICC arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir.

So it seems that despite the people’s demands, and the fact that thirty of the original signatories to the Rome Statute were African, African leaders prefer making decisions regarding the ICC and Darfur not based on the people’s wishes, but on theirs. Let’s hope this week’s meeting in Addis Ababa bears a more fruitful result that supports the needs of the Darfuris, Ugandans, and Congolese civilians on the ground.

To read more, see the original post.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user  Ammar Abd Rabbo under a Creative Commons license.

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June 10, 2009
Pakistanis in shock after deadly hotel bombing

Pakistan suffers under constant threat of Taliban attacks.

On Tuesday, militants stormed the gates of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan, where they detonated explosives that killed at least 11 people.

The attack took place following threats by the Taliban to avenge the recent army offensive against the insurgents. Peshawar has been the site of frequent Taliban incursions as it is the capital of the North-West Frontier Province.

Faisal Kapadia is a freelance writer who lives in Karachi. He contributes to several blogs, including Deadpan Thoughts, where he reacts to the recent attack.

Peshawar Attacked

Its been 4 hours since the attack and still the rescuers are hard at work, in the dark digging up and out anyone that they can still find in the hotel. […]

The people of Pakistan are in shock — this is the third attack in so many weeks, each one brings more carnage and the realization that the war supposed to be fought far away in the mountains is now here in the streets of our cities.

Even now the police of our country are paralyzed having no forensics to trace our enemies and shoddy equipment. With a ratio of 1-500 plus civilians what security can they provide us?

Even now the politicians do their lip service promising “immediate investigations.” Funny, as we have still been unable to unmask the killer of our first PM or the last one. Investigations always continue…

Even now the analysis nation has switched on, Facebook statuses galore as people emote, what else can the poor sods do?

Even now despite all this the people of Pakistan have realized who the enemy is and with each attack we grow more united to stand together and take them on.

Even now we will go to work tomorrow and carry on as if nothing has happened, not because we are in denial only but because we are with repeated violence almost immune to any feeling towards it or the victims.

Even now with the utmost of loathing I have to realize there are people around me still who believe that the militants are right and it is us that is to blame for our sins.

They may maim us and kill us but they can never silence our voice.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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June 9, 2009
Lebanon reels from unexpected election results

Melani Cammett spoke with Worldfocus from Beirut during our online radio show on Lebanon’s election. She writes about election day and looks at how the results — an unexpected victory for the ruling pro-Western March 14 coalition — will play out domestically and abroad.

On election day in Lebanon, I visited multiple polling stations and attended election rallies and events organized by various parties.

The Future Movement’s pre-printed ballot for the Beirut III electoral district. The expansive font provides little space for voters to cross off candidate names and replace them with others. Photo: Melani Cammett

That morning, I started by accompanying a friend — I’ll call her “Mona” — to cast her ballot in predominantly Sunni Tarik el-Jedideh, a neighborhood in Beirut. As we approached the polling station, a rush of Future Movement [the party led by Saad Hariri that is a member of March 14] election workers appeared with lists of registered voters in the district. After obtaining Mona’s voter registration number, they handed her a pre-printed paper with the names of the Future Movement candidates in the Beirut III district and urged her to vote for the whole list without crossing off and replacing any names.

In Lebanon, there is no official ballot, enabling parties to print ballots that they distribute freely outside of polling stations. In addition, in this “open-list” system, voters have the right to cross off names of candidates [tashteeb] on a party list and replace them with the names of candidates running as independents or on other lists.

An avowed opponent of the sectarian political system — which allocates seats and other political and administrative offices by fixed quotas on a district-by-district basis — Mona waited for hours inside the crowded polling station to cast a blank ballot in order to express her opposition to the system. While she knew that her vote would not affect the results in this overwhelmingly pro-Hariri district, she, like others, felt that turning out to cast a null ballot was the most effective way to convey her opposition to the system and to its main protagonists.

Later, I visited a polling station in Haret Hreik, a municipality in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut known in the Western press as a “Hezbollah stronghold.” Outside of the precinct, representatives from the opposition parties, including the Christian FPM and Shi’i Amal Movement and Hezbollah, gave us pre-printed ballots with the names of the Opposition list candidates, while delegates from the March 14 coalition were nowhere to be found.

Election workers in Broumanna, Metn District. Photo: Melani Cammett

At around 6 p.m. — an hour before the polls were scheduled to close — we made a swing through the first and second Beirut districts, which could not have been more different. In Beirut I (district), where 91 percent of registered voters are Christians, competing March 8 and March 14 groups battled for control over the district’s five electoral seats reserved for Christians from various sects.

Meanwhile, in Beirut II, thanks to pre-election deals among party elites, candidates ran unopposed and, as a result, the district featured the lowest voter turnout in the country. As we drove by the precinct, party workers barely exerted themselves to throw pre-printed ballots into our open car windows, as they had done throughout the day in our visits to more competitive districts.

By this time, electoral precincts were preparing to shut down, polling companies were busy analyzing data from exit polls, and citizens across Lebanon were settling themselves in front of their television sets to watch the projected returns aired on local news channels. I decided to call it a day.

I awoke the next morning to discover the surprising news that the majority March 14 won by a significant margin with 71 seats — a 13-seat lead over the opposition. (Recall that most local polling companies had forecast at least a slim victory for the opposition.) Supporters celebrated throughout the day.

In Future Movement strongholds in West Beirut, Christian areas of Achrafieh with concentrations of Lebanese Forces and Kataeb supporters, and parts of Aley with many Druze backers of the March 14 coalition, I saw people dancing, singing, setting off fireworks, playing music, honking horns and celebrating. Leaders of the opposition parties were silent for most of the day, refraining from making statements about the unexpected results.

A Future Movement campaign billboard in Beirut: ‘[Vote] as it is [the full list], as long as the sky is blue.” Photo: Melani Cammett

In Lebanon’s complex political system, the end of the elections marks the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a long process of forming a new government, with bargaining both within and across the opposing coalitions over cabinet posts (and likely fractionalization within the main coalitions themselves).

The March 14 victory, however, does not give the majority unlimited license in the delicately calibrated Lebanese political system. With 57 out of 128 seats, the opposition retains well over the number of seats needed to block legislation on important issues (one-third plus one seat). Furthermore, although the FPM failed to garner as many seats as it hoped, it swept core Christian areas in Mount Lebanon, permitting Aoun to claim that he represents the majority of the Christian community.

On the international scale, the outcome of the elections has averted the feared confrontation between a Hezbollah-led government and the U.S. But Hezbollah and the FPM remain key players in the government and represent large components of Lebanese society.

At least rhetorically, leaders in the ruling majority have recognized this by expressing their commitment to a unity government. To help to avoid a potential impasse in Lebanese politics, international leaders will need to follow suit by emphasizing their commitment to working with all elements of the new government.

– Melani Cammett

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June 9, 2009
Rumors, confusion hinder battle against HIV in Cameroon

An educational poster in Africa provides facts on HIV/AIDS.

Health studies have shown that male circumcision can reduce the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

In Africa, several governments have implemented male circumcision as part of their AIDS prevention strategies. Most recently, Botswana launched a massive circumcision drive targeting nearly half a million men.

Steve Jackson works with COPAAP, an organization that fights the spread of HIV/AIDS in Cameroon. He writes on his blog to discuss the dangers of relying extensively on circumcision.

Circumcision is a red herring

I work for an organization in Cameroon that supports local villages in helping to stop the spread of AIDS while assisting people living with HIV/AIDS to hopefully have as normal lives as possible.

If you can imagine what we are battling with in terms of getting messages across — I have some issues with ABC (abstinence, be-faithful, condom).  Personally I’d go with condom, condom, condom and let people choose their own ideals — but I can work with this. Now even within that area I can show you this picture. This is proudly on display at a local Catholic church.  And people believe this stuff. Recently the Pope decided to pay this country a visit and told everyone that condoms were making the problem worse.

On top of that you have traditional healers — recently my boss told me of one that had claimed to have cured two AIDS patients. It turns out where it said “negative” on their medical records was next to Malaria not HIV. But these claims and rumors take hold. I haven’t seen it here but we’ve all heard African tales of how having sex with a virgin will cure you of AIDS. […]

I am saying this without any doubt at all — if you tell people that circumcision helps reduce the risk of AIDS then they will think they can have sex without danger.  The problem would get worse. […]There are already so many rumors and half truths and downright lies that people are entirely confused. People are already willing to risk sex with people they know to carry the disease.  You start telling them a simply surgical procedure will make them less likely to contract the disease and it will soon be widely understood that you CAN NOT become infected if you are circumcised.

And how would that circumcision take place?  It’s not like there are mobile, sterile, clinics on hand.  How long before it becomes an extension of the body mutilation that is practiced here?

In other words — how long before circumcision is carried out by a traditional healer, witch doctor, family member etc — in entirely unhygienic circumstances? Hugely painful for an adult — hugely dangerous for a child. […]

If you want to fight AIDS then you need foolproof methods.  It’s not enough to just lower the odds. […]

Truth is there [are] already perfectly good, cheap ways to defeat the spread of HIV/AIDS, we just have to stop the misinformation (much of it coming from the developed world) and commit to teaching the same methods and same practices.

There are already enough red herrings without introducing another one.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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June 8, 2009
Whites-only British party wins seats in European parliament

A BNP poster.

Britain’s left-wing Labour party, led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, suffered major losses in European parliamentary elections, fueled by anger over the economic crisis and the recent scandal over expenses claims.

Labour’s loss was the British National Party’s gain, to some extent. The BNP, a far-right, whites-only party, won some 8 percent of the vote and its first seats in the European parliament. Several mainstream politicians in Britain have condemned the BNP’s victory, and some staged a walkout during BNP leader Nick Griffin’s victory speech.

Marko Hoare is a senior research fellow at Kingston University specializing in the history of Europe. He writes at “Greater Surbitron” to argue against the BNP’s vision of his country.

We must defend our Britain and our immigrants

Today is a day of national shame for Britain: the fascist ‘British National Party’ (BNP) has won two seats in the European parliament, and 6.6 percent of the national vote. Led by the Holocaust-denying Nazi sympathiser Nick Griffin, who won one of the two seats, the BNP is an all-white party that calls for an immediate halt to all immigration to the UK and the repatriation of existing legal immigrants through ‘a system of voluntary resettlement’. It claims to be defending the British nation and the culture and interests of the ‘indigenous population’.

Of couse, the BNP vision of Britain is [u]nrecognisable to any civilised British person. It is a vision of [those] who still live fifty years or more in the past and are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of the twenty-first century multiethnic Britain that most of us are at home in and comfortable with. I grew up in London, and went to school in an inner-city comprehensive, where the children spoke 51 different first languages. In my first year at school, as far as I can remember, roughly three-quarters of the children were from partially or wholly non-white or immigrant families. And the proportion only increased. For the most part, the difference between a native and an immigrant in London is blurred or non-existent, and for most of us Londoners, almost everyone we know and love is at least party immigrant in their origins. A foreigner arrives here and, within a year or less, becomes a Londoner. It is the great, constantly changing ethnic mix of London, with new ethnic groups and individuals arriving continuously from all over the world, that makes this such an exciting, dynamic city to live in. An all-white Britain would be an alien world for Londoners, or for the inhabitants of any town or city in the country.

So when the fascists or their fellow-travellers say that immigration is ‘destroying traditional British culture’, they are lying. As a Londoner born and bred, I think I would know if my traditional culture were being destroyed by immigrants. And guess what ? It isn’t. The British culture that I grew up with is a culture that is inseparable from multiethicity, constantly rejuvenated by new waves of immigrants. What a joy it is, to discover the Nigerian community in Peckham, or the South Asian community in Alperton; to hear regularly Russian and Polish in the streets; to eat Somali and Eritrean food ! The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every summer in Notting Hill, the traditional centre of West Indian life in London, where I grew up, and has been running for fifty years. Inspired by the annual carnival in Trinidad and launched in response to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 – themselves incited by an earlier generation of fascists – it is an integral part of London’s cultural life. Without immigration, we would not have it. Ending immigration – were it possible – would prevent the emergence of other such cultural phenomena in the future.

This is not to agree with those ‘politically correct’ types who, in their cultural relativism, embrace a form of self-hating anti-white racism that is not much better than the racism of the BNP. There is not a ‘white culture’, ‘black culture’, ‘Asian culture’. etc.; there is our single, great British culture, in all its glorious, constantly evolving diversity. The cultural synthesis between ‘indigenous’ Britons and immigrants works both ways. It is not just a question of indigenous Britons benefiting culturally from immigration, but also of immigrants benefiting from contact with our great British culture. Every time a woman from Pakistan or Turkey, for example, takes advantage of British freedom to escape from an unwanted arranged marriage or oppressive and sexist parents and pursue her life as a free individual; every time Tamil, Tibetan or Chechen dissidents demonstrate here against regimes that persecutes their people back home, that is a triumph for Britain and something of which we should be proud. Immigrants are fuel for Britain’s economic and cultural growth; and Britain is a place of personal and political liberation for immigrants from less free societies.

The fascists would like to destroy our London and our Britain, and to substitute for them a London and a Britain based on uniformity; a uniformity based on the most retrograde and primitive elements of our ‘indigenous’ society. Such a Britain would be impossible to create, of couse, and the very attempt would necessarily involved pogroms and bloodshed on a scale never witnessed here before. To destroy London’s Arab Bayswater, Portuguese Golborne Road, Bengali Brick Lane, Soho Chinatown and so on, would be to destroy the whole city; an experiment in totalitarian violence of the kind practised by the Nazis and Communists. Nor would it stop there. Keeping ‘British culture’ uncontaminated by foreign influences would presumably mean keeping the British people hermetically sealed from the rest of the world: no pizzas or curries for us; no American music or films; no French or Italian clothes; no Japanese electronic goods. British culture cannot be separated from global culture, and only the most medieval of barbarians would try to do so.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user mia under a Creative Commons license.

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June 5, 2009
Russian industrial town meets economic crisis with defiance

Oksana Zagrebnyeva’s house in Lipetsk.

Russia has suffered massively from the economic crisis, going from 8 percent growth in 2008 to a 6.5 percent contraction this year. Unemployment has soard to 10.2 percent, a nine-year high. 

Oksana Zagrebnyeva of OpenDemocracy Russia shares her personal account of life in an industrial Russian town hard-hit by the economic slowdown.

Letters from Russia: Lipetsk

I moved to Lipetsk about a year ago.  It’s roughly 500 km south-west of Moscow.  […]Today Novolipetsk Steel (NLMK) carries on the 18th century Petrine tradition of the ironworks. The owner is Vladimir Lisin, one of the five richest men in Russia.  They are the main employer in the city:  they occupy a vast area of land and employ about 35,000 people.  On top of that many of their components are made to order in small and medium-sized Lipetsk factories, so that accounts for several thousands more jobs. 

Lipetsk and its region have felt the influence of the economic crisis more strongly than other cities and regions, because it’s a single-industry city and everything depends on NLMK.  They are short of orders, so their employees have felt the pinch too – many of them are not working a full day any more, some are working a short week and others have been retired or made redundant.  My friend’s mother worked has had her work cut back, so she’s earning less.  Her father worked in a factory which depended on orders from NLMK.  When the crisis started he was paid 4,000 ($130) instead of the usual 10,000 roubles ($324).  No explanation.  There are 4 people in that family, 3 are working.  By the New Year their total monthly income had dropped to  30,000 roubles ($971.5), half what it was before the crisis.  Many, though not all, have lost 30 – 50% of their income.

My husband worked at the Lipetsk Meat Processing Plant, where he was head of sales.  The enterprise ran on credit, as most of them do, and had no working capital of its own.  When the banks cut the credit line the directors started streamlining their expenditure by sacking people and cutting wages.  My husband was offered the possibility of working for 15,000 ($485.75) instead of 30,000 – or find another job.  His last working day there was 31 December.  What a way to start the new year!

[…]My husband and I live with his father in a block of flats built as temporary accommodation in the ’50s for workers at the Lipetsk Tractor Plant.

There are 8 flats in the block, which has been condemned – the pipes are in a terrible state, the roof is leaking and there are problems with the electricity. Lipetsk has dozens of buildings like ours: the people living in them are waiting their turn on the regional resettlement programme list. I don’t believe in miracles such as being resettled at someone else’s expense, so I decided to do some repairs to our hovel. It’s said that there’s nothing more permanent than the temporary and, as my mortgage dreams melted away in the crisis and I don’t want to take a flat and pay some unknown landlord rent, we going to put to rights what we’ve got.

On the whole I often think that we live in defiance.  In defiance of the crisis, the falling salaries and growing prices, in defiance of the fact that we can’t plan our budget.  And in defiance of everything I got married during the crisis – no pomp and ceremony, no banquet, just him and me.  During the crisis several of my friends have had babies and others (and I’ll let you in on a secret – me too) are planning to have them.  Some friends are intending to buy a house in the suburbs, others want a car and without any favourable credit facilities from the state.

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