— Fragments

The implosion of Yugoslavia was a geopolitical tragedy. Yugoslavia was a vibrant multicultural and multiethnic republic with a proud history. It had thrown off the yoke of Hitler and of Stalin. It was a rare socialist state that allowed worker-run enterprises, a mixed economy, and free emigration. It helped to found the Non-Aligned Movement which played an instrumental role in ending colonialism around the world.

As we know, in the 1990s Yugoslavia disintegrated in an orgy of vandalism. The rape of Bosnia, the massacre of Srebrenica, the cruelty of Operation Storm. The senselessness of the Yugoslav wars claimed more than 100,000 lives and ruined millions more. To what end? What was one country is now seven weak republics crippled by their hate for one another.

Yugoslavia wasn’t a paradise. The atrocities committed in two world wars meant that ethnic tensions among the south Slavic peoples certainly simmered throughout the post-war period. But the breakup of Yugoslavia was no mere tribal squabble.

The economy of Yugoslavia was severely punished by the oil shock of the 1970s. It never really recovered. By 1988, a debt and inflation crisis had brought the economy to a standstill and in order to obtain a $1.4 billion bailout from the IMF, the government imposed a policy of austerity. Suffice to say, the medicine did not cure the patient.

It was in this context that vain and cruel men like Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic were able to rise to power in their regions. Instead of working together to solve the nation’s problems, they shored up their narrow support by scapegoating their adversaries and appealing to the worst impulses of their followers. When Yugoslavia most needed statesmanship and courageous leadership, its political class destroyed the country for its own benefit.

Is this too simplistic an analysis? Perhaps. But let’s bear in mind that in 1984, as the world celebrated the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, no one would have guessed that just a decade later that the Jerusalem of Europe would be suffering a plague of mortar and sniper fire in a bloody siege. Yet it happened.

So what has this got to do with Spain? Nothing at all, is my sincerest hope.

Spain is a country haunted by an ugly history. The scars of the civil war of 1936-39 have not healed. In Navarre, the province where my father was born, fully 2% of the adult male population was murdered by reactionary repression during the war. After 75 years, my grandmother was still emotional as she described to me this summer how a boy from her village had been dragged from his home and executed without trial. This was terror.

If they want, right-wingers can complain too. One month ago, Santiago Carrillo, the historic leader of the Communist Party of Spain died without ever having been made to answer for his role in the slaughter of thousands of rebel officers at Paracuellos.

After the Franco dictatorship, during the twenty-five fat years between 1982 and 2007, Spain attained a spectacular prosperity. After centuries of exporting people, people actually went to Spain in search of a better life. Unimaginable!

Today, despite all the sporting success, the party is over. Unemployment is over 25%. More than half of young people are out of work, the state is bankrupt, and hunger once again stalks Spanish streets. The economy is getting worse. In the midst of this misery, Spain has become the most economically unequal country in the eurozone.

One might suppose that in this environment, the leaders of Spain would be desperately finding ways to revive the economy and rescue the country. Instead, headlines are dominated by the invective of Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, and Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia.

While bad relations between Madrid and Barcelona are nothing new, the intensity of the negative feelings is quite surprising, mostly because the disagreements between the two leaders on the fundamental question of economic recovery are minimal. Both are committed to policies of austerity and have slashed public spending, which increases the pain that their people feel every day. Both are unable to admit that Spain’s banking sector is totally insolvent. And of course, neither of them will to stand up to continuing German demands for further turns of the screw.

In the absence of a plan to fix what is together with Greece the worst-performing economy in the world, we are left with debates and analysis that lose contact with reality. “The problem is that the Catalans don’t speak Spanish!” says Ignacio Wert, national minister of education. “The problem is that we give too much money to Andalusia,” says President Mas, whose region grew wealthy from the labor of immigrant Andalusians.

Spain has many problems and it’s right for politicians to disagree on solutions. But it remains unclear how encouraging chauvinism and ridiculing solidarity addresses any of them. What can we say about Rajoy and Mas? That they are irresponsible and short sighted? Let’s remember, in 1990, that’s the worst we could have said about Milosevic and Tudjman.

Throughout the Spanish economic collapse, consumption of luxury goods has continued to rise. More Lladró figurines are being sold than ever. But the biggest luxury Spain allows itself is a political class that cares more for its own privileges than for the nation’s problems.


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NYC. July 1, 2012.


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Ethnic groups in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1991.


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I’m not a big consumer of fashion magazines. But there was a copy of Vogue on my coffee table, and in that issue was an extremely flattering profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of Bashar. It was early 2011, and between the commission of the article by Joan Juliet Buck and its printing, the Arab world erupted and Syria entered its current phase of violence.

Vogue has since removed the article from its site, but you can read it here. You can also listen to Buck’s subsequent repudiation of her article on NPR.

It’s an interesting example of how quickly opinion, and especially elite opinion, can change. Less than two years ago, the Assad regime was respectable enough for Asma and Bashar to sit down with Carla and Nico in the fifth summit between the Syrian and the French president. It was a good time, apparently.

In the Vogue article, the then French ambassador to Syria described Asma’s work thus, “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region.”

Today the position of the Syrian government that it is defending the state against terrorists is widely ridiculed in the Western press, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s not a new argument, and one that the West was happy to swallow in much less turbulent times.

I wonder who will be the next recipient of a Vogue puff piece to be revealed as actually being cruel and murderous. I’ll think about it as I read their profile of David and Samantha Cameron.


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Today I have been confronted with something extremely unpleasant – a bitter fight between two writers and thinkers I very much admire. George Monbiot, in his most recent article for The Guardian, argues that for leftists to reject the characterization of the Srebrenica Massacre as a genocide is an insult to the victims, an indictment of the the world left, and a case of genocide denialism.

The least pleasant part of Monbiot’s argument is his publication of private email correspondence with Noam Chomsky. In it, Monbiot presses Chomsky to disavow the opinions of Edward Herman (his collaborator on the classic Manufacturing Consent) and David Peterson on the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre, as expressed in their book, The Politics of Genocide (which I have not read). Chomsky, contributor of a foreword to their work, adamantly refuses to comply.

For Monbiot, the massacre of 8000 Bosniaks in 1995 constitutes an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” and therefore, a genocide. Of course Chomsky does not deny that the killings occurred, or that they constitute a major crime. In fact, the eminent linguist calls them “outright murders without provocation.”

The Srebrenica massacre was surely the ugliest week that Europe has known (on its own soil) since 1945. There is no question that the Bosnian Serb soldiers of Ratko Mladić killed those 8,000 people. What is unknown is the precise proportion of those who were killed by military assault, and those who were summarily executed after they had been captured. Does stating this fact make me a genocide denier? I entreat George Monbiot to supply me with the correct figures.

The thesis (as I understand it) of The Politics of Genocide is that the genocides that have been committed since 1945 have tended to be overlooked when they are perpetrated by Western powers, and harshly condemned when conducted by enemies. It is for this reason that Herman and Peterson have have suggested that the number of those actually executed (as opposed to killed in extremely unequal combat) might be 800 of the 8000 dead, and therefore perhaps not a crime on the scale of some of those that have committed in the name of freedom. Is this the same as denying the Ukrainian famine?

Chomsky, in his email exchange with Monbiot, takes the line that “The mass slaughter in Srebrenica, for example, is certainly a horror story and major crime, but to call it “genocide” so cheapens the word as to constitute virtual Holocaust denial, in my opinion.” Chomsky’s view is that Srebrenica cannot be compared with Treblinka or Sobibor. Is this so objectionable?

What we are left with is a difference of opinion. Monbiot prefers a strict definition of the term genocide, and Chomsky prefers to avoid its use almost entirely. But ultimately, in a free society, we must be allowed to ask the question, and answer it for ourselves: was the Srebrenica massacre a genocide?

Monbiot expresses great concern for the memory of the victims of Srebrenica. Rightly so. But what do those who were cruelly murdered care if they perished in a genocide or a mere massacre? The way to honor them is to see that the people who perpetrated the crime are brought to justice, and to work tirelessly to stop violations of human rights, wherever they occur.


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The Guardian’s polling expert Harry J Enten has written an interesting article, “Occupy Wall Street’s people power loses popularity.” Enten’s declaration that the Occupy movement is losing force is worthy of further investigation. For a statistical expert, he argues on the strength of very few facts.

Enten begins by writing that “any New Yorker can tell you that Occupy Wall Street was a force to be reckoned with in the fall of 2011.” Was it really? In 2011, did the Occupiers mobilize tens of thousands, oust a political leader, or effect any policy change? They did not.

Enten’s sole example of Occupy’s power at that time was his anecdote of being forced to abandon a taxi blocks from his destination in the financial district, due to blocked traffic. By this logic, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the Marathon are also “forces to be reckoned with.”

Occupy was a moral force. Its slogan “We are the 99%” and its symbolic attack on the whole world financial system had a huge impact on the imaginations of millions of people around the world and greatly unnerved the nation’s most powerful people. However, there is no question that in 2011, in New York City, it did not yet possess tangible political, economic, or physical force.

In November, Occupy was swept from Zuccotti Park. “You can’t be faulted,” Enten generously concedes, “if you believed that Occupy Wall Street forces would be back.” But you are “mostly wrong.”

Why just “mostly” wrong? Probably because two weeks ago, New York City witnessed the undeniable fact of its largest May Day protest in years, and it was Occupy Wall Street that inspired it. Enten dismisses the rally because “the police managed the protest with ease.” But why should a peaceful assembly of citizens be difficult to “manage?” He comments that May Day did not even “have the presence to cause even minor disruption.” Enten’s view of what makes a protest meaningful is perhaps unsurprising considering how much store he set by his own aborted taxi ride.

Enten wisely moves on to the safer terrain of opinion polls to make the argument that public support for Occupy has declined. Yet the first fact he points out is that “most pollsters have not even bothered to survey Americans on their view of Occupy since the end of the Zuccotti Park sit in.” But what does this matter? Just because pollsters are not interested in Occupy does not mean people do not care. Very few polls are conducted about The Avengers, baseball, or sex positions, but New Yorkers still think about all of them!

Finally we arrive at the meat and potatoes. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the percentage of Americans who say they are supporters of Occupy Wall Street has fallen since November from 29% to 16%. A Siena Research Institute survey shows that the number of New Yorkers with a favorable view of Occupy has fallen from 58% to 49% over approximately the same period.

Enten concludes by arguing that the Occupy Wall Street protests are unlikely to be important in the 2012 campaign. Why? It has to do with “the current numbers of protesters and, more importantly [emphasis mine], the percentage of the public that supports them.” Is Enten really arguing that poll results are more important than people marching in the street?

For the sake of argument, let us imagine that the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is right, and that 16% of American adults support Occupy. This is quite enormous! 16% of the population is not black, or latino, or Jewish, or Mormon, or gay, yet these minorities still have great political importance. And favorability of Occupy is three times as high in New York City, where people are much more likely to have actually come into personal contact with the movement. These are not the figures of irrelevance.

Perceptions of Occupy Wall Street have definitely changed since the fall. For example, in October, even Mitt Romney expressed sympathy with the protesters, saying, “I look at what’s happening on Wall Street and my view is, boy, I understand how those people feel.” Would he dare to say the same again today? As the Occupy movement becomes more explicitly anti-capitalist, it really should not come as a surprise that it might lose some support.

A year ago, Occupy Wall Street did not exist. The pollsters did not predict it. Yet the movement spread to hundreds of cities around the world, and energized all those who oppose bailouts for the banks and austerity for everyone else. Can the result of two polls really tell us all we need to know about the future of Occupy?

Harry J Enten does not have a crystal ball. He cannot forecast the future. He does not know what people think. What he should be able to do however, is to have the humility to think harder about the facts in front of him and to approach them like a true scientist, with a spirit of inquiry, instead of prejudgment.


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Aitor Karanka, assistant manager of Real Madrid, former Spain international, son of the Basque Country, has become part of José Mourinho’s “family.” The Special One has assured the world that wherever he goes, Karanka will follow.

Yesterday we were even blessed with the unnerving spectacle of Mourinho and his technical staff singing, “Karanka portugués, Karanka portugués.” Karanka is so loyal that he’s even switched nationalities, apparently.

But after watching the video, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another welcome, from the 1932 classic “Freaks.”

Is there a similarity here or is it just me?


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Dan Patterson and I recorded another episode of hard news, dirty politics, and civilized propaganda last night for KoPoint. We had an outstanding group in with us: Elisa Camahort Page, cofounder of BlogHer; Ellen Ratner, White House Bureau Chief for Talk Radio News Service, Josh Wolff of ShoutEm, and Deanna Zandt, media technologist and author.

It was a lively discussion, and you can find it here. Dan Patterson made a great Urtak about gay marriage, and you can always leave your own questions and answers below as well.


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I sent the last post to my father with the subject line “Very angry.” He replied that he thought I was angry because Puyol was going to miss the Eurocup, not about Syria.

I am not angry that Carles Puyol will miss the Eurocup, I am sad. I first really became aware of the Spain and Barcelona defender at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. First of all, in the great tradition of Spanish international footballers, Puyol is a pretty caveman-looking dude, strikingly so. His hair, which has gotten even longer over the years, was already out of control back then.

Immediately noticeable in Puyol’s play was his fierce desire to compete and to win. To watch him fearlessly launch his body in the path of shots and oncoming attackers made you believe that here was a player that aspired to more than Spain’s usual quarter-finals. When Spain was cruelly eliminated by South Korea, Puyol was one of the last with any energy left, throwing himself forward again and again, in search of the goal his team needed.

When he attacked, he was tremendous. Look at this goal he set up for Fernando Torres at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Impressive skill.

It’s true that in his early days, sometimes his enthusiasm led him into defensive blunders. But he settled down, became an absolute rock. Let us remember that in the three games of the knockout stage at Euro 2008, and the four games of the final stage of the 2010 World Cup, Spain let in precisely zero goals. Puyol was the boss of that defense.

He was pretty useful with his head too. Take that, Germans!

For a few months this year, Puyol was the champion of Spain, Europe, and the World with his club, and the champion of Europe and the World with Spain. That is an absolutely unprecedented achievement in world football. Puyol is one of the best defenders to have ever played.

Puyol has injured his knee, and will not play his 100th game for Spain at the Eurocup. It is a hard blow for him and for all football fans. At 34, it’s unlikely that he will play for Spain again in a major tournament, so there will be no more memories of that tremendous fighter in the red shirt. We will have to satisfy ourselves with the many beautiful moments he has given us.

Gracias campeón!


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The growing prospect of war in Syria is deeply disturbing. Something that further bothered me today was an ugly expression I came across for the first time – lethal aid. Apparently, John Kerry says we shouldn’t consider it yet, at least not until the unity of the Syrian opposition has been consolidated.

Lethal aid is clearly a derivative of “non-lethal aid,” an expression which itself seems to have been invented in March of this year. It describes the material support that the U.S. and its allies are giving Syrian rebels, support which does not extend to arms and ammunition at this time.

What are U.S. policymakers trying to do when they dress up their plans for Syria in language no one has ever heard? Are they trying to make it easier for the American people to understand what is going on, or are they obfuscating?

It seems clear that powerful sections of the U.S. foreign policy establishment desire war with Syria. John Kerry himself points out that removing Bashar al-Assad from power is the stated goal. The goal is explicitly not to protect the lives of Syrians. Which makes sense, because the two different objectives are at odds with each other.

Over the last year, Syria has known terrible violence. Yet it has been spared the destruction that comes with a true civil war. In fact, fewer people have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict than have perished in the war in Libya. But this does not really matter to men like John Kerry. The goal is to remove the leader of the Syrian state, irrespective of the cost.

Lethal aid will not improve the lives of the Syrian people. Lethal aid will do one thing – it will kill Syrians.


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