Tag Archives: Europe

Guardian: “Catalonia’s separatists were jailed for sedition, but brought down by hubris” — Giles Tremlett

10 Nov

It could have been very different. But the 2017 declaration of independence threw away the campaign’s moral advantage.

Giles_Tremlett,_LGiles Tremlett

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‘Those now in jail will be hailed as martyrs to their cause and become an inspiration for future generations of separatists.’ Pro-independence protesters hold Catalan flags in Barcelona. Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images

[My emphases throughout]

Some things are impossible. Catalan independence is currently one of them. The stiff jail sentences handed down to the leaders of the separatist campaign that peaked in 2017 with a banned referendum, police violence and a fudged declaration of independence make that clearer than ever.

There are huge practical obstacles to independence, starting with the many hurdles written into Spain’s constitution. Overcoming these requires massive support in Catalonia itself; but the separatist leaders who orchestrated a head-on collision with the law never had anything like that. The jail sentences are for sedition, but their real problem is hubris.

That was already obvious on the streets of Barcelona and elsewhere when a unilateral proclamation of independence in the Catalan parliament on 27 October 2017 changed exactly nothing. It was, indeed, the day that an otherwise peaceful and often remarkable separatist campaign derailed itself.

A decision by the separatist Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to flee the country only served to underline that. Now living in Belgium, he was not among those sentenced on Monday, though an international arrest warrant has now been issued. The independence campaign embraced the tactics of civil disobedience, where people who deliberately flout the law know they may go to jail. This is often a key part of the process, since it provokes the outrage that brings change. The nine men and women sentenced to between nine and 13 years of prison have stuck honourably to that tradition. Puigdemont clearly has not.

Those now in jail will be hailed as martyrs to their cause and become an inspiration for future generations of separatists. In court, they were unrepentant. “I would do it all again,” said Jordi Cuixart [ok…], who received a nine-year sentence. As protesters reacted to the sentences by blockading Barcelona’s airport, it was not clear whether calls to avoid violence would be respected. After the events of 2017, the police response will be watched closely.

Yet the fury felt today by Catalan separatists is not shared in the rest of Spain, nor, more crucially, does it extend very far in the rest of Europe – where they had hoped to provoke a sudden flowering of sympathy. Their campaign, in other words, has failed. The only visible result is a divided Catalan society where explicit support for independence remains below 50%.

It could all have ended very differently. Separatists do best when, like the Brexiters who they sometimes resemble, they can claim to be victims of the status quo. In that sense, the police charges during the banned referendum of 1 October 2017 were a gift. The sight of helmeted, baton-wielding officers beating up peaceful voters played directly into their hands. The Spanish state looked, and behaved, like an ogre.

Separatism could have built on that. Instead, it threw its moral advantage away with the independence declaration.

The court sentences concentrate on the referendum and are harsher than expected, and some will argue about the definition of “sedition”, but there is no doubt that the law was deliberately broken. The Catalan parliament does not have the power to declare independence. Nor can it unilaterally call a binding referendum on the subject. In that sense, it is no different to, say, the Scottish parliament. When politicians break the law and cross lines set by the constitution, the courts tell them so. Just as Boris Johnson cannot arbitrarily suspend the Westminster parliament, so Puigdemont could not hold a referendum. And unlike Johnson (so far), his government ignored court rulings – and went ahead with the vote anyway.

Declaring independence ramped up the level of defiance. It was also dishonest, since it was based on a referendum in which only one side campaigned. “Remain in Spain” voters mostly boycotted the illegal vote and, inevitably, the “leave” side won. That is not a solid basis on which to announce an epoch-defining, existential change to the lives of all 7.6 million Catalans.

3500‘When politicians break the law and cross lines set by the constitution, the courts tell them.’ Carles Puigdemont. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

Spanish right-wingers are today gloating over the court’s sentencing. Yet they are part of the problem. The anti-Catalan rhetoric that has accompanied their periods in power has only served to boost separatism. And even the socialist left, which talks up the idea of a “pluri-national” Spain, has done little to make Spaniards in other parts of the country proud of the languages and cultures that coexist within it.

[The above is complete bullshit; there is no more decentralized, devolved, regional-cultural-rights-respecting country in Europe.  None.  See: “As prime minister, I refuse to let Catalan separatists undermine Spanish democracy” – Pedro Sánchez]

Paradoxically, an obvious solution is to hold a proper referendum. This would force Catalan voters to face reality. Just the idea of being expelled from the EU would probably be enough to secure a resounding victory for remain. So why won’t Spain do that? The country’s written constitution makes both a referendum and independence theoretically possible, in a process controlled from Madrid. In practical terms, however, it hands a blocking vote to 40% of the senate. Even when the left is in government, the right normally commands that. It will never permit a separate Catalonia.

Since independence is possible in theory, but currently impossible in practice, some separatists may conclude that only violence will achieve their aims. Police last month arrested a group that was allegedly planning to mark this decision with bomb attacks. That is the worst mistake separatists could make. At the first sight of bloodshed, support would likely shrink so far that their cause could take decades to recover.

Their only hope is to keep following the advice of the jailed regional MP and ex-president of the grassroots Catalan National Assembly, Jordi Sànchez. “Let’s express ourselves without fear and move forward, nonviolently, towards freedom,” he said. That is a very long journey.

Giles Tremlett is a journalist and author based in Madrid

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Guardian: “As prime minister, I refuse to let Catalan separatists undermine Spanish democracy” – Pedro Sánchez

10 Nov

My government will act with restraint and moderation to defend peaceful coexistence in our country

Pedro Sánchez is prime minister of Spain

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Demonstrators march in support of Catalonia remaining part of Spain, Barcelona, 27 October 2019. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

[my emphases throughout]

Europe, above all, is about freedom, peace and progress. We must move forward with these values and make it the leading model of integration and social justice, one that protects its citizens. The Europe that we aspire to, the Europe that we need, the Europe we are building is based on democratic stability within our states and cannot accept the unilateral breach of its integrity. The Europe we admire has been built on the principle of overlapping identities and equality for all citizens, and on the rejection of nationalist ideologies and extremism.

For this reason, the challenge of separatism in Catalonia, devised against and outside Spain’s constitutional framework – and silencing the majority of Catalans who are against independence – is a challenge for Europe and Europeans. Preserving these values in Catalonia today means protecting the open and democratic Europe for which we stand.

In 1978, Spain adopted a fully democratic constitution, thus escaping the long and dark shadow of dictatorship. That historic document was endorsed by almost 88% of voters in a referendum. In Catalonia, support and turnout were even higher: 90.5% of Catalans backed the new constitution. Today, the Democracy Index, published by the Economist, rates Spain as one of the world’s 20 full democracies.

Contemporary Spain is Europe’s second most decentralised country, and Catalonia enjoys some of the highest levels of regional self-governance on the continent, with wide-ranging devolved powers over crucial sectors such as media and public communication, health, education and prisons.

Today, however, Catalonia is associated with a profound crisis, caused by the unilateral breach of Spain’s constitutional order brought about by the region’s separatist leaders in the autumn of 2017. Catalonia’s leaders reneged on all the resolutions set out by the constitutional court, passed unconstitutional “disconnection” laws from the Spanish state, held an illegal referendum and declared a purported Catalan republic.

No state would ever allow the unilateral secession of a territory that forms part of its constitutional order. And no democrat should support the path taken by the separatist leaders, who won less than 48% of the votes cast in regional elections.

My government has promoted the expansion of rights and liberties and would never agree to even the smallest restriction of freedom of expression. The president of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalonia’s regional government), Quim Torra, is a radical separatist, but he is not prevented from expressing his views freely, despite the pain and damage they cause to peaceful coexistence in Catalonia. In Spain, everyone may express their opinions as they wish, provided that they do not promote and encourage criminal acts.

The supreme court recently ruled against nine separatist leaders charged for the illegal acts they carried out in the autumn of 2017. The court acted with the greatest transparency: the entire proceedings were televised live.

I fully respect those Catalan citizens who have peacefully exercised fundamental rights to protest and to strike against the ruling. But the organised and intentional acts of violence that have occurred across Catalonia in recent weeks are something else altogether and in no way represent the region’s tolerance and welcoming spirit.

5217A burning barricade in Barcelona, on 19 October 2019. Photograph: Manu Fernández/AP

The illegal effort to bring about Catalonia’s independence has followed a roadmap that is all too familiar in today’s Europe. It has used a web of lies, spun by fake news and viral messaging, to divide societies by exploiting the rhetoric of reaction to encourage polarisation and confrontation.

Recently, the president of the main pro-separatist association, Elisenda Paluzie, stated that images of violent clashes between protesters and police officers had “positive and negative effects” as they “lent visibility to the conflict” and “keep us in the international press”. But if we have learned anything from Europe’s painful and bloody history, it is that no political ambition can ever justify resorting to violence, much less the normalisation of violence as a political tool.

My government has responded with speed and proportion to restore peace and stability to Catalonia’s citizens, a majority of whom reject the current unstable impasse.

I call on the president of the Generalitat to condemn the violence fully and clearly, and to act as president of all Catalans, not only those who share his political beliefs.

I will not allow another extreme nationalist outbreak to undermine the success of Spanish democracy. In the discussion about the future of Catalonia, only the healing and coexistence of the Catalan people and society, not independence, is on the agenda. This is our main challenge: to ensure that all understand and accept that a unilateral path toward independence constitutes a direct affront to fundamental democratic principles.

At this moment, restraint and moderation are imperative. We will act with all the firmness needed to defend peaceful coexistence, all the while recognising that we have an opportunity to start a new chapter.

I know that there are open wounds, pain and frustration. But, despite this, there is an opportunity for dialogue and hope, recognising what we have achieved together and thinking about what we can do, together. I will never turn away from dialogue, but for this to happen the separatist leaders must abide by the constitution and respect the rule of law.

My government has positioned Spain at the forefront of the project of European integration and the fight against our greatest global challenges. These objectives transcend a nationalist vision, and we need Catalonia and Catalan society to help achieve them.

  • Pedro Sánchez is prime minister of Spain. This article was originally published by Project Syndicate

Erdoğan will send ISIS prisoners back to Europe

4 Nov

You know…  I half-hope he does do something like that, and maybe Americans and Frangistanis will get a reality check as to what Turkey’s about.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

“I demand either city-states or a universal imperium of humanity” — great line from Murtaza Mohammad Hussein

4 Nov

So great I put it on my homepage.

Murtaza Mohammad Hussain (@MazMHussain) does some great work at The Intercept (@TheIntercept), on a broad variety of issues.  Check him out.  Here he comments on an article from Foreign Policy on the Kurds and the nation-state that’s worth looking at.  Lifted the motto from there.  Whole text of FP piece by Malka Older pasted below.
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The Kurds Are the Nation-State’s Latest Victims

The global order has been stuck with states since 1648. It’s time to move on.

By Malka Older
 

October 31, 2019, 3:47 PM

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters patrol the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey on Oct. 31.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters patrol the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey on Oct. 31.  Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held areas of Syria is horrific and the decisions that led to it shameful. But it is also representative of a larger problem. The global system is built around sovereign states, and it shows. This is an enormous problem for groups that define themselves, or are defined by others, as distinct from the country within whose borders they happen to reside, and it’s also terrible as a framework for navigating the global politics of a rapidly changing world.

Sovereignty is usually traced back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which was pivotal in shifting conceptions of government toward a secular state with entire authority inside inviolable territorial borders. Designed as a diplomatic solution to catastrophic religious wars among feudal, monarchical territories, its tenets have persisted into the modern world largely due to the entrenched power of those states, jealously guarding their unfettered rule over their slice of geography. An arrangement of convenience between princes to end a religious war has become the be-all and end-all of the way the world is governed. Even as sovereigns in Europe fell, the idea of the nation came to the fore—with all its possibilities for excluding those who were not truly German or Italian or Polish. And even as European empires crumbled elsewhere in the world, they left behind a very particular view of nationhood.

Over the next several centuries, as the power of monarchy eroded and European countries needed something else to inspire loyalty among their citizens, the ideal of the nation-state—that the people within those arbitrary borders would feel some sort of collective identity—became popular. This led to more wars as European states expelled or converted anyone who didn’t fit their concept of nation: not French enough, not German enough, not Italian enough. They also spread this idea to their colonies, exporting successive waves of destructive conflicts.

Today, norms have shifted to a greater focus on individual rights, and power has eked out to nonstate players, but governments still harass, expel, and attempt to exterminate minority groups in the name of the nation-state ideal, and sovereignty still gives them carte blanche to do so.

The insistence on the nation-state as the only legitimate and legal actor on the world stage leaves substate groups vulnerable to exploitation, attack, and shady dealing.

The Kurds have been promised and denied so many times over the past century that it would be a wonder that they trusted anyone anymore if they had a choice. But the issue isn’t limited to the Kurds. In the news this week are Rohingya refugees stuck between two countries that don’t want them, Uighurs forced into detention camps, and Catalan protests for independence. History offers even more parallels, from the United States repeatedly breaking treaties with Native Americans to World War II, in which the United States was willing to go to war to protect the territorial integrity of France along with the people in it but was not willing to accept refugees fleeing the Holocaust. The nation-state system is designed to protect itself and its members, rather than people.

True, strong states screw over weaker states sometimes, too. But nonstate groups are at a particular disadvantage. Though they may hold de facto territory, they don’t hold it legally; they have no international rights to a military or to self-defense. They have no seat in international or supranational organizations, leaving them outside global decision-making and with no recourse in attempting to hold states accountable for their actions. Their leaders are not accorded head of state status, and they have no official diplomats. Since even the most generous autonomy statutes don’t confer the protections of statehood, separatist groups are often willing to risk high losses to win independence, fueling conflicts.

The global order provides more mechanisms for states to deal diplomatically with each other than with the people inside them. While interstate conflicts have fallen over the past 50 years, intrastate fighting has soared. These wars disrupt trade and world politics, weaken countries, and raise uncertainty in neighboring states. On the other hand, states have proved themselves adept at using substate actors to further their own interests within foreign countries while evading responsibility for it, from the United States arming the Contras in Nicaragua to Sudan and Chad supporting each other’s rebel movements.

The state-focused global order has shown itself poorly equipped to deal with these conflicts. States remain reluctant to break the collective agreement on the legitimacy of sovereignty. They are similarly reticent about adding more states to their exclusive club, in part because it might suggest to dissidents within their own area that renegotiation of borders is possible. Although a large number of states emerged from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and there have been a few more recent exceptions such as Timor-Leste and South Sudan, it remains difficult to garner international recognition for a new state. That leaves mediators attempting to convince vulnerable groups to settle for something less, in the face of all evidence that a recognized state is their best chance for security and self-determination.

There have been some efforts to mitigate the effects of sovereignty. The responsibility to protect movement posits that states must protect their citizens and that if they fail to do so, others can step in to assist. It is intended as a way to justify and streamline the use of U.N.-sanctioned force in saving populations from genocide or other attacks perpetrated by the government they are subject to, but so far at least it has not proved successful as a way of overcoming the reluctance to breach sovereignty.

Substate groups are not the only example that the system is failing. Nonstate actors from terrorist groups to multinational corporations have increasing impacts on global politics, and traditional geopolitical theory does not do a great job of dealing with them. Even for bilateral issues, the nation-state is not always the most useful unit of analysis.

Take the numerous headlines and articles proclaiming that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. To imagine this as a coherent national policy designed to attack the United States is not an accurate depiction of reality. Russia is not a democracy, and such interference is not aimed at, for example, winning territory from the United States. A more precise description would be that Russian elites attempted to tip the scales of U.S. leadership in order to win more modern spoils: unfettered soft power in their region, access to trade, and, notably, the ability to infringe on other countries’ sovereignty without consequences.

[my emphases throughout above]

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Yugo p.s. “So, this was Bosnia before the war?” Er…no.

3 Nov

That “self-determination” is just nationalism — and often a fiery, violent kind — writ small and wanting to be bigger, may be one of the most important issues we need to face in the 21st century.

Maybe the most frustrating, teeth-gritting moment of news coverage — in terms of the selective blessing of nationalisms and self-determinations — I’ve ever experienced was a BBC report, which unfortunately I haven’t been able to find and post, that aired on the July anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre the summer of 2016.

At the end of it the BBC reporter was interviewing a Bosnian man, in his forties maybe, selected for his Bosnian-ness — tall and handsome — whose father had been killed by a Serbian sniper in Sarajevo in the 90s.  In their interview on a bridge over the lovely, gurgling Miljacka, he talked about how he was happier that he was the child of that sniper victim and didn’t have to live with the conscience of being the child of that sniper instead.

He then pulled out a photo of his high school class:

“See…

“This guy was Serbian.  This guy was Croatian.  This guy was Croatian.  This guy was Bosnian.  This guy was Serbian…  That’s how it was then.”

“So,” says the dull-tool BBC reporter:

“This was Bosnia before the war?”

“Yes,”

says the Bosnian, shaking his head sadly with the weary, self-righteous pride of the victim,

“This was Bosnia before the war.”

No, buddy.  That wasn’t BOSNIA before the war.  That was YUGOSLAVIA before the war.  AND YOU DIDN’T WANT TO PART OF IT ANYMORE…

So, to paraphrase the identity-politics, American new “left” cliché: “Check your victimhood!”

Yugo ethnic breakdown

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

More indication that Catalonia is bringing YUGOSLAVIA up again as an object of moral reflection

3 Nov

Just one line in Guardian article Catalonia isn’t just Spain’s nightmare – it is Europe’s:

Old feuds are rekindled and jealousies revived. Hypocritical Britain cannot talk. It long opposed Irish separatism and denied devolution to Scotland and Wales, while it sent soldiers to aid the break-up of Yugoslavia. [my emphasis]

My hope is that there will be new de-villainizing discussions of certain past, led by a new review of Serbian actions in a dissolving Yugoslavia, or even early twentieth-century Ottomans/Turkey (might want to see my “Screamers:” Genocide: what is it and why do we need the term?“)

While we’re adjusting our moral compasses about whose self-determination is “cool” and whose isn’t, we might want to look at the role the public relations industry plays in so manipulating the image of political conflicts throughout the world.  And I don’t mean that as a metaphor: both Croatia and then Bosnia hired American public relations firms to push their cause during the Yugoslav War; this is covered extensively by Diana Johnstone in her Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions.  Unfortunately, since Johnstone’s thesis is that NATO aided and abetted the break-up of Yugoslavia as part of its plan to weaken a Serb-hegemonied Yugoslavia, which wouldn’t play along with NATO, the European Union or the post-communist, Neo-Liberal, New World Order; that is, that these forces wouldn’t tolerate, just like Stalin couldn’t, Yugoslavia’s fairly benign and most successful of communist states’ strength, and the power a post-communist, unified Yugoslavia would still hold — she’s dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or a crackpot.  Her argument, however, is perfectly documented and argued.

But even a good friend of mine who’s incredibly smart about and immersed in things Yugo said to me: “Really, Nick?  I dunno…  Diana John-stone…”

fool's

Yeah.  Diana John-stone.  Read it.

And next time you go back to your fun and Euro-spring-break memories of unbearably hip Barcelona, thing of how advertising and public relations got you to spend your tourist dollars there — and how that indirectly funded, both in terms of real and symbolic capital, the current crisis in Spain.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ha… Catalonia is finally getting the West to rethink what it did to YUGOSLAVIA!

10 Oct

Sapnish flag demonstrationProtesters hold a giant Spanish flag during a demonstration to support the unity of Spain on 8 October in Barcelona. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian has an interesting take on things in Spain: A dangerous time for Catalonia, Spain and the rest of Europe that is original in that it brings together commentators from different parts of Europe who each have their own particular p.o.v. on what’s going on in terms of secession and identity politics.  They’re each interesting in their way — though I expected Gerry Adams to have something more compelling to say and sort of can’t tell if he’s being ironic (David Cameron?).  The most important one for me, though, is the comment on Kosovo (though it also angers you because it took so long for someone to say this):

“Since Nato illegally bombed Serbia in 1999 to wrest control of Kosovo from the Balkan nation, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number of secessionist efforts around the world as borders have unravelled in Ukraine and elsewhere (Catalan president vows to press on with independence, 5 October). Western leaders should be ashamed at having encouraged the hopes of terrorists worldwide that borders can be changed and national sovereignty and international laws are meaningless if they can get Nato to support their cause. Get ready for a lot more trouble ahead.”

Dr Michael Pravica
Henderson, Nevada, USA

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Michael Eric Dayson: “Facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history.”

14 Aug

In a truly disturbing op-ed piece in the TimesCharlottesville and the Bigotocracy“, Dayson makes the same point I made in Ireland — Gimme a break; I can’t believe this is even up for discussion“.

dyson-master768White nationalists and neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Credit: Edu Bayer for The New York Times

“This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt. When black folk and others point that out, white bigots are aggrieved. They are especially offended when it is argued that slavery changed clothes during Reconstruction and got dressed up as freedom, only to keep menacing black folk as it did during Jim Crow. The bigotocracy is angry that slavery is seen as this nation’s original sin. And yet they remain depressingly and purposefully ignorant of what slavery was, how it happened, what it did to us, how it shaped race and the air and space between white and black folk, and the life and arc of white and black cultures.

“They [white supremacists] cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. [my emphasis] The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.””

From my post:

But everybody has to be better than somebody, or else you’re nobody.  So, just like Catalans have to think they’re really Mare-Nostrum-Provençal Iberians (3 ***) and not part of reactionary Black Legend Spain; or Neo-Greeks have to think that they’re better than their Balkan neighbors (especially Albanian “Turks”) because they think they’re the descendants of those Greeks; or the largely lower-middle class, Low Church or Presbyterian or Methodist Brits who fled their socioeconomic status back home and went out to India in the nineteenth century in order to be somebody, had to destroy the modus vivendi that had existed there between Company white-folk and Indians, creating an apartheid and religiously intolerant social system that laid the groundwork for the unbelievable blood-letting of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; or, perhaps history’s greatest example, poor whites in the American South (many, ironically, of Northern Irish Protestant origin) that had to terrorize Black freedmen back into their “place” because the one thing they had over them in the old South’s socioeconomic order, that they weren’t slaves, had been snatched away (and one swift look at the contemporary American political scene shows clear as day indications that they’re, essentially, STILL angry at that demotion in status); or French Algerians couldn’t stomach the idea of living in an independent Algeria where they would be on equal footing with Arab or Berber Algerians.  So Protestant Ulstermen couldn’t tolerate being part of an independent state with these Catholic savages.”

But since we’re talking about the dangerous, delusional myths people need to believe, I might as well take this moment and take one tiny issue with one point in Dyson’s piece:

“This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt.”

People might not like me saying this, or at least think it’s the wrong time.  Oh well…  Of course African slaves were made “to toil for no wages in American dirt.”  But they were not “stolen” from their African homeland; they were bought from other Africans.

Am I blaming the victim?  No.  But if that’s what it seems like, like a lot of people think I’m anti-semitically blaming the victim if I say that the idea that there’s only one God and everybody else’s is false, and on top of it that one God loves you more than anybody else, is bound to get you kinna disliked by those around you sooner or later, then that’s cool.  (Another favorite idea of mine: if Christianity makes Jews so uncomfortable, they shouldn’t have invented it.)

I wrote my M.A. thesis in Latin American Studies on Cuba, particularly on abolition, and the complex interaction between the Cuban wars of independence from Spain, a vicious struggle that lasted three decades from 1868 to 1898 when the United States stepped in and annexed all of Spain’s remaining colonies, and the abolitionist struggle to end both the slave trade and slavery itself (the Spanish slave trade ended in 1868, and slavery itself wasn’t abolished, and then only gradually, until 1886).  In brief, and with clear echoes in the American South, a creole class in Cuba was ambivalent about independence because they were afraid of being over-run by the Black Cuban majority, while a bourgeois pro-independence class didn’t think Cuba could be a democratic republic while so many Cubans were enslaved.  In the end they did what most ex-slave societies did: free the salves and import indentured workers from the English-speaking Caribbean and immigrants from Galicia, marginalizing native Black Cubans, so that all groups together could be kept in a state of seasonal semi-employment which kept wages depressed and created enmity between the ethnic groups that should have felt some socioeconomic solidarity.  Let’s not forget that the “Danza de los millones” — “the Dance of the Millions” — when sugar generated unprecedented wealth for Cuban planters, surpassing anything the nineteenth-century slave economy could produce, and made Cuba one of the richest countries in Latin America, when the beautiful Havana we now see was largely constructed — happened in the 1910s and 20s, decades after abolition.

My thesis involved a heavy dose from my advisor of reading in West African history.  So any one who knows something about that history knows that almost none to absolutely none of the Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere during the slave trade — by some estimates 12 million human beings — were hunted down by slave-hunters Kunta-Kinte-style; it would have been logistically impossible to carry so many people across the Atlantic by that method.  African slaves were bought in huge numbers, in en masse cargo-loads by European slave traders, from West African kingdoms who had enslaved them in the course of warfare between those kingdoms.  There’s a legitimate argument to be made that the European slave trade made warfare between those kingdoms so profitable that conflict between West African states became endemic.  Doesn’t absolve anybody though, not Africans, not Yankee do-gooders, who didn’t need slaves anymore because they had already gotten rich off the trade (as that great song from the musical “1776” points out: “Hail Boston! Hail Charleston! Who stinketh the most?” — see below) and could afford to get moral on the rest of us, not Protestants or Catholics or any Christians, or Muslims for that matter.

Here’s some other un-fun truths:

* Black slavery in the Muslim world never and nowhere reached the scale that it did in the Christian Western Hemisphere, but that may simply and largely be because the agro-industrial infrastructure was not present, not because Islam was more enlightened on the idea of slavery generally.  East Africa supplied the Muslim eastern Mediterranean and Arabian peninsula with plentiful slaves for centuries.  I don’t remember when the Ottomans abolished slavery, but I think it wasn’t even during the Tanzimat, but at some point in the 1908 constitutional revolution, i.e. early twentieth century.  I’m always amused at “religion of peace” Islam apologists who try and make us understand how many passages there are in Muslim scripture that deal with the fair and “humane” way to conduct war, and massacre/execution or enslavement, and I wanna think: “gee, if there are so many passages that deal with the right or wrong way to conduct war, and massacre/execution or enslavement then those things must be mighty important to this religion of peace.”

NO monotheism is innocent; let’s get that through our heads once and for all.

* I hate to burst the bubble of Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X’s souls, or that of the wacked Nation of Islam, but Islam was not the religion of your African ancestors.  (They may not have been called Cassius Clay, but it’s for sure that they weren’t called Muhammad Ali either.)  Islam took a while to penetrate as far south as the coastal regions of West Africa.  And actually, your ancestors almost certainly were the still polytheist inhabitants of the coast who might have been sold to European slave-traders by the newly Muslim kingdoms of the Sahel (currently Boko Haram country), the belt between the Sahara and the coastal jungle/savanna.  If Afro-Americans anywhere in the Western Hemisphere are at all interested in the religion of their ancestors, they should look to Cuban Santería or Brazilian Candomblé or Haitian Voudon to re-establish a historical connection; when I was researching Santería in the 90s in Brooklyn, there was a real culture war between those Black Americans who were attracted to the Cuban religion of Yoruba origins — an amazingly relaxed, open-minded group, since polytheism is an open system, where you got to experience great music and dance, once you got past the practice’s defensive boundaries — and those Black Americans who were recent converts to Islam: puritanical pains-in-the-ass, like most converts, who had learned enough Arabic to call everybody else Kafirs, and who irritated the Senegalese and Malian immigrants in New York to no end.

And Black Southern Baptist or Pentecostalist  Christianity may have originally been the “slaveowner’s religion,” but its “getting the spirit” is a purely African phenomenon that has its emotional-devotional roots in the same parts of West Africa as Santería/Candomblé/Vodoun.  Read the second to last chapter of James Baldwin‘s Go Tell it on the Mountain, which takes place in 1930s (I think) Harlem and then the last chapter of Maya Deren‘s Divine Horsemen on Haitian Vodoun.  They mirror each other totally and both pieces still blow me away whenever I read them with the closest possible artistic representation of deity possession, the most impressive discursive capturing of a completely non-discursive, intangible experience, that I know of.

Divine Horsemen

* Another bubble to burst is the “Kwaanza-ism” bubble. No African-American before President Obama had any connection to East Africa, Kenya, or Swahili.  Another geographical term — Africa — turned into a completely artificial cultural construct, as if anything that happens on the African continent is somehow connected to African-Americans.  The BBC is currently running a series on “The History of Africa” — so modest those folks over there — that, as had become common-place but I thought we had moved on from (turns out we haven’t), lumps together Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco into one “African” history instead of placing them in the history of the Greco-Roman-Christian-Arab-Muslim zone.  (Does anyone remember the height of this absurd argument: the Newsweek magazine cover with the picture of an Egyptian relief and the screaming caption: “Was Cleopatra Black?”  To Newsweek‘s credit, however, the article didn’t take its own title seriously and after going into an analysis of the African-American kulturkampf that gave rise to this question, ended simply with: “And Cleopatra?  She was Greek.”)

And does anybody still celebrate Kwaanza?

I always chuckle when people call Constantinople the city on two continents, as if the quarter-mile crossing of the Bosporus into “Asia” is some kind of massive, marked civilizational change, like the people in Kadiköy are Chinese or something because it’s in “Asia.”

Newsweek Cleopatra

This was a real train-of-thought, free-association post — many think that everything I write is — so thanks for sticking with me.  Below are some videos selections based on my continued free association process:


“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

“Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

“Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

“Strange Fruit” was written by Abel Meeropol, a real shayne Yid (beautiful Jew) if there ever was one.  Read the NPR story on him that I’ve linked to.  He also adopted the Rosenbergs‘ children, Robert and Michael, after that closetted scumbag Roy Cohn (a real self-hating Jew and queen if there ever was one) had their parents electrocuted.

6-abel-meeropol-robert-michael-with-train-set-1954-_wide-3cb2d45bee8bab3d344570df91679295419dbb20-s800-c85Abel Meeropol watches as his sons, Robert and Michael, play with a train set. Courtesy of Robert and Michael Meeropol

And Maya Deren’s beautiful documentary footage of Haitian Vodoun:

See also Talking Heads’ David Byrne’s beautiful documentary, Ilé Aiyé on Bahian Candomblé.  It’s the best introductory “text” I know.  In reference to the dancing, drumming and singing, and animal sacrifice, food, alcohol and tobacco offerings that are meant to bring the god (or orisha in Yoruba) down into possession of his or her devotee, the narration includes the precious line: “They threw a party for the gods — and the gods came.”

And — on a lighter note — the great Celia Cruz below singing “Guantanamera” (you have to watch her move…wasn’t it great when women were allowed to have bodies like that? and if you have any idea what those silly kids who appear at the end are doing, please share) a song based on a poem of José Martí‘s, Cuba’s national poet and a man revered by Cubans of every color and political stripe anywhere.  In the end, Black Cubans played a significant part in the Cuban struggle, personified most in the person of Antonio MaceoAs Celia sings: “Freedom was a trophy won for us by the mambí [largely Black guerilla fighters], with the words of Martí, and the machete of Maceo.”  Yikes.  The Cuban Wars of Independence were truly brutal, often really fought with machetes, the symbol of Afro-Cubans’ cane-cutting bondage become an instrument of rebellion, but Spain’s imperial ego simply did not want to let go of “la siempre fiel” — “the always loyal” — and extremely profitable island.  1898, the year Spain had to give in, was a year that became a byword for disaster for Spaniards, and Cuba was the most lamented loss; there’s still a common expression in Spain: “Más se perdió en Cuba” — “There was more lost in Cuba” — when you want to say that “oh well, things aren’t so bad, not, at least, compared to the loss of Cuba.”  Ironically, Cuban independence was followed by a massive wave of migration to the island from Spain, largely from Galicia and Asturias, so in a weird way Cuba is the most connected to Spain of Latin American countries; a great, very unresearched musicological subject is the reciprocal exchange of musical influences from Cuba to southern Spain, especially for the gypsies of Seville and Cádiz, both port cities that were gateways to the Americas or “the Indies”, the flamenco genre “rumba” being just one indicator.

Celia was an initiated Santería priestess of the Yoruba male fertility deity Changó (you have to move a little in your seat every time you hear or say his name or you see lightning); her performances often contained dance moves associated with Changó (you have to move a little in your seat every time you hear or say his name); whether she was “mounted” by him at the time — which is the expression used to indicate deity possession, de allí Maya Deren’s reference to “horsemen” — is something only she can have known, though mostly devotees have no memory of their trance after they come out of it.  Most salsa singers since have been initiates — have to stay competitive and you only can if the gods are helping you — and the improv vocabulary and dance gestures of salsa performances are heavily derived from Yoruba Santería.   There’s one video of her singing “Quimbara” (below) where I think it’s really happening — the bending down and touching of the floor especially.

Here:

Finally, a NikoBakos memory.  Mambí was a chain of 24-hour Cuban restaurants, Mambí #1, Mambí #2 — I think there were five of them all over once heavily Cuban Washington Heights and Inwood — that used to provide me and friends with some early morning, post-salsa sustenance.  The food, like the neighborhoods, had become pretty Dominican by then, but they still made a mean Cuban sandwich.  All the Cuban restaurants I knew as a kid in New York are now gone, in Manhattan and Brooklyn replaced by Dominican plantain places, and in Queens, by one more mediocre Colombian bakery.  Schiller’s on Rivington Street still makes a good Cuban sandwich, but it’s $18.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Fixing the “mistake…” Joining Europe… Doesn’t this sound familiar?

16 Sep

“We are fixing the 350-year old mistake — Ukraine is Europe,” Arseniy Yatsenuk, the prime minister, told the Parliament, known as the Rada.

From a Times article today — Ukraine Moves to Strengthen Ties With Europe, and Bolster Truce — about the Ukrainian parliament passing “a series of laws…meant to cement the country’s Western orientation while strengthening its truce with pro-Russian separatists in the southeast.”

Being considered on the inside of the bounds of European civilization is not just what every civilized nation should aspire to, but being in a position external to Europe was always a “mistake” — a misconception, we really are and always were Europeans — and now we’re righting that misconception.  Nationalism is always creating new fictions that it passes off as the restoration of a pre-Fall condition.  And everybody buys it.

Go to Donetsk or Luhansk, go to Dnepropetrovsk…or Khar’kov or Poltava even, and tell me you feel like you’re in a place that even remotely resembles what you call or think of as Europe!

UkraineMap

(click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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