Two years ago, the rallying cry was "The people
demand social justice", which was more open ended, proving its tenuousness
in the question of Palestinian solidarity.
Two years ago, the Israeli public was beginning to stir
over the rising costs of living. What began with boycotts over the increasing
price of cottage cheese quickly turned into an encampment of Rothschild
Boulevard, reflective of rent prices that had risen unabated since 2005.
Demands (as well as signs and chants) echoed those of Israel's Arab neighbours
who had also been demanding cheaper food and gasoline, higher wages, affordable
housing, and better health and education systems. But while, in Egypt, Tunisia,
Libya, Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere, the one main unifying chant was the
downfall of the regime, the J14 (or Rothschild Rebellions) never did get around
to putting forward a One demand.
Though demands were posed disparately (and, of course,
different issues proved more salient in different encampments), many criticized
the protesters, who had been
expelled in October 2011 (and then again in late summer 2012), for having spent
the hot summer in tents with nothing to show for it.
That is until this past January, when Yair Lapid,
television journalist very sympathetic to the cause, unexpectedly came in
second in the polls. That Yair Lapid is now the Finance Minister asking the
public to accept http://feeds.feedburner.com/opendemocracybillion and billion in public spending cuts this year and
next by cutting social programmes and increasing taxes on the middle and lower
classes, has ensured, it seems, that the fruits of Spring will be protest once
more. This past Wednesday, some 15,000 took to the streets in Tel Aviv, in
Jerusalem and Haifa in demonstrations against Lapid's budget. No doubt familiar
faces, parties and sympathies. Here, Yair Lapid is more or less handing
activists their one demand on a platter: a more just budget.
Two years ago, the rallying cry was "The people
demand social justice", which was more open ended, proving its tenuousness
in the question of Palestinian solidarity. Instead, the focus was on unity, and
explicitly, the Rothschild camp was 'non-political'. As Greg Burris
the midst of J14 2011,
"The various left-leaning supporters of the
Rothschild Boulevard rebellion who defend the exclusion of the Palestinian
issue in the name of Israeli unity have it all wrong. Unity does not mean
coming together with occupation supporters and land-usurping settlers. Rather,
real unity would mean crossing that much tabooed Jewish-Arab,
It was an interesting sight to see in Tel Aviv on
Saturday night: the contingents of Arab-Israeli political parties in the midst
of a revival of the J14 movement, and the slogans calling Israel and Palestine
one Struggle. Whether J14 will again be co-opted or removed or maintain this
reconsidered formulation of unity, whether they will shift to a more open
framework of solidarity without parties, or decide on political alliances - a
Occupy Wall Street fashioned a call to arms of the 99
Percent, a declaration of identity which appeared on signs and in chants this
weekend. Maybe coalitions, and unity with it, are forming along alternative,
overlapping lines. With the Naqba's commemoration day this past week and
ongoing demonstrations surrounding the inclusion of Orthodox Jews in the
Israeli army, the politics of identity might come to mount great tidal shifts
in mainstream politics. We can't know what the summer will bring, but one thing
now seems certain: it will take shape in the streets.
Here we go again - London's atrocity exemplifies the banality of terrorism and the banality of the responses to terrorism
It is intolerable that John Reid, who secretly planned the appallingly misconcieved British invasion of Helmland with untold slaugter of Afghan deaths as well as some hundreds of British, should callously exploit yesterday's horrible murder in London by going on the BBC's Newsnight and calling for the total observation of all our data communications. As if he is a guardian of public safety!
Intolerable but sadly predictable. Much the worse terrorism that is taking place today is Islam on Islam in Syria and Iraq, even if the most technologically advanced has morphed into drones now covering the retreat of the West. The images of violence inspire violence in those already so disturbed. Their fanaticism feeds the status quo. The bloody idiot with a hatchet gesturing towards the body of the soldier he had just savaged mentioned David Cameron. This will do the Prime Minister's rating a lot of good, indeed it is just what he needs - to show that in times like these you don't turn to Farage in the Saloon bar (or Miliband calling for a better capitalism).
The day 9/11 occured we launched a debate in the newly born openDemocracy headlined, 'Is Terror the new Cold War?'. It was all too predictable. Paul Rogers warned that an occupation of Afghanistan would be defeated. Like others of us, he argued that Bin Laden wanted a US invasion of Iraq to boost al-Qaida. It was all too predicatable - and Bush got relelected. At least here, we hoped, were the worst to happen the local tradition of criminalising rather than politicising terrorism would calm rather than inflame the game of fundamentalism. But Blair announced, to the fury of some of his terrorism advisors, that with the London attacks of 2005, "The rules of the game have changed".
Now as members of the English Defence League, so-called, looking like males in burkas, turn out to protect our way of life, the Guardian indulges in tabloid sensationalism with a front page in its first edition blazing untruth from the mouth of a man who was evidently not warning us about the real danger we face - the influence of John Reid and his friends.
A concession or a ruse to ensure continued authoritarian rule? In the second of two articles examining changes in Russia's electoral architecture, Grigorii Golosov considers the recent relaxation of Russia's party registration rules.
Between 2004 and 2011, the Russian
government built a party system that it could control. Conditions
governing the registration of new parties were tightened, and existing parties
were destroyed wholesale (over 2004-8, the number dropped
from 46 to 7). Only one new party, ‘Just Cause’, was allowed to register, but
even that was formed from 3 parties that had earlier been removed from
The authoritarian turn was largely achieved by amending the 2005 law
‘On political parties’, first and foremost by ordaining that parties should
have 50,000 members, where previously the requirement had been for 10,000. Another important factor was the increasingly
stringent enforcement of the law, particularly noticeable in during mass compliance checks in 2006. At the beginning of 2011 the main political
players and the expert community recognised that registering a new political
party in Russia was a virtual impossibility and any attempts to do just that –
and not always by opposition parties either – were doomed to failure.
Hardly surprising, then, that the almost
total lack of freedom for political parties was a frequent, and easy, target
for opposition criticism. During the 2011 election campaign it was a major part
of denials that the election was fair or free, and the demonstrations after the
election resounded with calls for the registration procedures to be relaxed. Liberalising the law on political parties
could, therefore, be considered as one of the government’s most obvious
concessions to the protest movement.
Opinion poll results, however, show no
evidence that most Russians (including the opposition-minded) consider the
liberalization of this particular law an important plank in a potential
programme of reforms. Party-building as an important civil society priority is
obviously not high up on the list of desirables for most Russians, so this
concession has to be seen as aimed at the protest movement, which came into
being at the end of 2011.
rationale and strategies of authoritarian adjustment
The system of limited and controlled
political pluralism, which emerged at the end of 2007, was in many ways what produced
the positive (for the government) results in the 2007 parliamentary election
and municipal elections of 2007-11.
‘United Russia’ managed on the whole to gain an absolute (though often
qualified) majority in the legislative and municipal assemblies. This was done
through a combination of Vladimir Putin’s supporters voting sincerely,
administrative voter mobilization and outright electoral fraud, and resulted in
an absolute majority which meant that votes could be converted into seats.
'Even abiding by the rules of proportional elections,
the ruling party could gain 55-60% of the seats, having received only 35-40% of
But the system was already cracking at the
seams during the 2011 election for legislative assemblies, and the Duma
election results in the same year were less than satisfactory for the
government. This was because the artificial restrictions placed on the number
of parties meant that only 4 or 5 of the 7 had any chance of clearing the
electoral threshold and a satisfactory result for the authorities could only be
guaranteed if the ruling party, ‘United Russia’, took more than 50% of the
vote. In other cases the majority was made up through a coalition between
‘United Russia’ and parties for independent candidates. which would have been
very much at odds with the basic principles of the system in the preceding
Increased electoral fragmentation
represented a possible institutional way out of the situation. If a significant
part of the vote is not reflected in the number of seats, it becomes quite
likely that, even abiding by the rules of proportional elections, the ruling
party could gain 55-60% of the seats, having received only 35-40% of the vote.
But for this the level of electoral fragmentation has to be considerable, and
the increase must be achieved by mass voting for small parties, rather than a
more equal spread of votes between the big parties.
What happened in Russia in the 1990s showed
quite unambiguously that for this condition to be fulfilled several dozen
parties are needed. Another lesson which the government might have drawn from
the politics of this period is the importance of the so-called ‘spoiler’
parties i.e. those whose main function was to take votes away from the bigger
parties which might have been able to clear the electoral threshold.
The idea of relaxing the rules for the
registration of political parties was announced by Dmitry Medvedev in his 2011
address to the Federal Council. Here he set out the basic principle of
reform: the number of members a party needed to register would be drastically
reduced from 40,000 to 500. Another important idea contained in his address
related to the abolition of the need for the candidates to collect signatures
in order to register for any election, except a presidential. And indeed,
without this second idea the first could have turned out to be no more than a
fictitious measure, because the way the law operated in 2005-11 provided all
the conditions for removing new parties from elections on formal grounds (that
there were insufficient signatures, or they were not genuine). These legal amendments were formalised as
federal laws on 2 April and 2 May 2012.
Pop diva Alla Pugacheva at a congress of Mikhail Prokhorov's newly formed ‘Civic Platform’ party, one of the beneficiaries of the new 2012 law. Photo (cc) Wikimedia Commons/Elena lebedinskay
Both draft laws were introduced in the Duma
soon after Medvedev’s December address and they cleared all the procedures (up
to and including the President signing them off) in less than 4 months.
Moreover, during their passage through the Duma there were no significant
amendments such as might have contributed to any emasculation of the
can still be refused the right to register, and there are many possible grounds
Many of the deputies, including members of
the opposition factions, actively supported a considerable increase in the
numerical threshold for party registration as well as barriers to their
participation in elections, but these views were not taken into account in the
final version of the draft laws. The new laws became effective very soon after
they were passed, rather than in January 2013, as had been originally intended.
This shows the importance for the government of the strategic aspects of the
reform important, leading them to take no account of the deputies’ wishes.
Importantly, however, the new laws did not touch other potentially repressive amendments of the Law, introduced during the period 2001-05. Parties can still
be refused the right to register and there are many possible grounds for this,
including non-compliance with formal registration procedures and the view of
the registering body that the aims of the party do not accord with Russian
These were the reasons that were frequently
adduced for refusing a party registration before, so one might think that the
new laws could also make use of considerable restrictions with the aim of
limiting political pluralism. But there
is a difference: now it is a question of
how the law is enforced, whereas previously it was the law itself.
The process of creating new parties was
already under way before the new laws were passed and has brought about a
significant change in the Russian political landscape. Justice Ministry figures
for 21 May 2013 show that there are now 69 officially registered political
parties in Russia.
46 of these have been through the whole
registration cycle, which means that they have registered no fewer than 42
regional divisions, and been granted the right to take part in elections. So
the number of potential participants in an election has reached its highest
point since 2001. Some new parties have
been refused registration for one reason or another; others have seen the
process of their registration halted as, for instance, was the case in May this
year with the ‘People’s Alliance’, a party set up by supporters of Aleksey
overwhelming majority of new parties are the personal projects of little-known
politicians or other fictitious organisations obviously intended as
Few parties of any significance have been
allowed to register. The liberal section
of the Russian political spectrum includes the ‘Russian Republican Party’, the
‘Party of People’s Freedom’ (registered after intervention by the European
Court of Human Rights, before the
introduction of the new legislation), the ‘Civic Platform’ party (Mikhail
Prokhorov) and ‘Democratic Choice’ (Vladimir Milov). The overwhelming majority of new parties are the
personal projects of little-known politicians or fictitious organisations which
are obviously intended as spoilers. The
parties that stand out are those connected with the well-known Russian
political consultant, Andrey Bogdanov, who keeps a steady eye on the wishes of
the government. They were all among the
first to be registered, in May 2012.
They include parties appealing to all sections of the Russian
electorate, from the ‘Russian Democratic Party’ to the ‘Communist Party of
A provisional idea of the possible
political results arising from the enactment of the new legislation may be
gained from the regional and municipal elections of 14 October 2012. Across the
regions, from 11 to 19 parties were entitled to take part in these elections,
but only 13 of them did so on any appreciable scale.
In limbo. Registration of Alexei Navalny's ‘People’s
Alliance' was frozen by
the authorities earlier this May. Photo: peoplesalliance.ru
The most active were the parties which had
already established their organisational structure by the time of
registration. One of them was the
ecological party, the ‘Greens’; another has been in existence throughout most
of the post-Soviet period, the Health and Safety Party (SanEpidemNadzor – the
government body which issues licences to businesses if they comply with health
and safety requirements). Also playing an active part were the ‘Communists of
Russia’, a combination of many groups which have at one time or another fallen
out with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
The part played by the new parties in the
October elections was on the whole unsuccessful: they only managed to get
deputies elected in a very small number of municipal assemblies and failed
miserably in the regional assembly elections.
That being said, the overall numbers of votes gained by these parties
were in places fairly considerable (9.5% in the Krasnoyarsk region, 7.5% in
North Ossetia); analysis of electoral
data shows fairly clearly that as the number of parties grows, so does the
ratio of votes not converted to seats.
When considering the results of the October
elections, one cannot ignore the fact that ‘United Russia’ was on the whole
quite successful, while the other old parties’ share of the vote was much less
than in the elections of December 2011. This can be explained partly by the
fairly specific selection of regions in which elections were held and the
special efforts made by the Presidential Administration to ensure that the
results were good.
It is, however, clear that the new parties
are causing less damage to ‘United Russia’ than to the other old parties. This
is because the ruling party’s results are artificially hiked and because many
new parties act as spoilers targeting the Communist Party of the Russian
Federation and ‘Just Russia’. So the
strategy for improving performance data for
‘United Russia’ by increasing overall fragmentation does on the whole
deliver the expected results for the government.
and challenges for the democratic movement
For the moment it is clear that the results
of party reform correspond to the goals of authoritarian adjustment, but the
reform remains nevertheless the main achievement of the democratic movement in
Russia and contains considerable potential for liberalisation, which could be
realised in a more favourable political context.
For this reason special attention should be
paid to any attempts at amending the liberal provisions of the new law on
parties, in particular any new restrictions on the rights of party candidates
to take part in elections. Debates on
the new law on parliamentary elections gave fairly clear hints that a new
clampdown could be a possibility. Public opinion must be mobilised to ensure
that this does not happen, a complicated task, if one takes into consideration
that the idea for building new parties has been seriously discredited and is
regarded quite sceptically by many of the critically inclined.
Importantly, the new party landscape makes
nonsense of the voting for ‘any other party’ [than the ruling party, ed] which
was so successful in the 2011 December election.
The most serious challenge for supporters
of democracy is that they have not yet managed to make use of the
newly-liberalised party legislation for their own ends. The 14 October election
showed that the new democratic parties did not do at all well and, indeed,
their actual participation was only episodic. True, the ‘Civic Platform’ will
be participating in the next ‘single voting day’ on 8 September 2013 and there
are real grounds for hoping that it will be relatively successful in various
regions. But it is also clear that by September there will be an active network
of spoilers aimed at splitting the critically-minded vote. The democratic
parties and candidates must coordinate their activities, though the
organisational framework for this coordination does not yet exist.
Romanian media is in a sad state, with
newspapers losing stamina by the day and television channels shamelessly
blasting the political messages favored by their owners. Independent journalism
still exists, but can it reach beyond the more educated and resourceful?
Romanian media is not in a good state. Flickr/Laurentiu Nica. All rights reserved.
A dying press
journalists at one of Romania’s largest daily newspapers, Jurnalul National, were offered a Faustian bargain: take a 25 percent
salary cut or be demoted to a lesser “collaborator" status, and also give up their
authorship rights to the paper for the coming 50 years. To add insult to
injury, employees of this paper risk losing their jobs if they complain about
working conditions or contracts. They ended up organising an anonymous online
protest to let the world know about the terrible terms of the deal.
situation at Jurnalul is far from
unique. At competitor Adevarul,journalists were told last year to
either take a 15 percent cut in pay or move to "temporary collaborator" contracts; in addition, they were forced to commit to non-disclosure
agreements regarding the details of how their media company operated, otherwise risking to be fined 8,000 euros. Employees of other dailies have also seen
their already small salary payments delayed by months.
in Romania have been shrinking for years. In a country of 22 million people,
the four most important quality dailies were, at the end of 2012, printing
between 20,000 and 33,000 copies. Even the main tabloid, Libertatea, prints only 130,000 copies, a decrease compared to
course, is losing ground almost everywhere in the global north, locked in
competition with online and television news. The economic crisis has also dealt
a serious blow to Romanian newspapers: advertising money going to print media was
in 2010 almost three times less than in 2008 and less than half of 2006
investments. And there is one more factor to consider.
2007, when I was working for what was then perhaps Romania’s most respected
daily, Cotidianul, the owners organised a big meeting to discuss a new direction for the paper, which
had started losing money. We were introduced to the new management team, the
new marketing team, the new PR and sales strategy, the new format of the paper etc. - and then one of the most experienced journalists at the paper asked, “What
about us - the journalists - shall we discuss what we should do differently?”
To this, there was silence in the room. A long silence. And herein surely lies
one of the main reasons for the dramatic collapse of the press in Romania: the
lack of an editorial vision during these difficult times.
If and how
newspapers can survive the current transformation of the media landscape is still an open question, even in countries with a much more solid media
tradition than Romania. Yet contemporary Romanian media owners and managers
appear to have little interest and expertise to even start thinking about
serious strategies to survive.
media ownership following the collapse of the totalitarian regime of Ceausescu
in 1989 is sometimes depicted as having three waves: the excited early 1990s
when everyone in the streets was carrying a newspaper and the biggest dailies
reached a circulation of 2 million; in this period, newspapers were owned by star
journalists, which made both editorial and managerial decisions; then followed
a brief period of foreign ownership, which never really took a strong hold in
the Romanian market; finally, the current stage is that of local oligarchs
owning media outlets, including newspapers, and using them as tools to serve their
political and economic interests.
past couple of years, several important media owners have come to dominate both
the print and the TV market. Intact Media
Group, which includes Jurnalul
National and well-watched TV channels Antena
1 and Antena 3 (the latter being an
all-news channel), is owned by the family of politician Dan Voiculescu, a former
collaborator of Ceausescu’s Securitate and founder of the small but influential
Oil man and
banker Dinu Patriciu, who made a big part of his wealth off the
privatization of Romania’s main oil company and is an important member of
the Liberal Party (currently in government), founded, and owned until last year,
Adevarul Holding, which includes Adevarul and numerous other
One of Romania’s
richest businessmen, Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, who was sentenced to two years in
prison for fraud, owned until recently Realitatea
TV, one of the most influential all-news TV channels.
just some of the more prominent examples - but the ownership of most media
outlets in the country includes many colourful figures from the political and
owned by such figures have hardly performed well. The main interest of owners
has been to keep them going as part of their arsenal for various political
battles. Managerial teams were changed often to suit the ambitions of the
owners. Vision was missing, as were any insightful investments; the newspapers
are now often indebted to the businesses of their patrons. Better known
journalists left when they felt these pressures began to affect their
independence. Rank and file reporters followed suit when their salaries were
slashed. The few remaining ones are suffering from the types of pressures
described above. Observers of the media scene also note a
chronic deficit of well-trained journalists. All of these elements, along with
external pressures, have lead to the near collapse of the Romanian press.
Crooked television networks
Romanians, however, take their news from television and this is where the
interests of the owners play out even more powerfully. Romania’s
television market fluctuates wildly but on average this country has had over
five all-news TV channels over the past years, quite a lot for the overall
number of viewers. Television journalists are better paid but perhaps exposed to even bigger pressures.
past few years, Romania’s political life has been highly polarised, with two
main camps struggling for power. The centre-right Democratic Liberal Party -
allied to current President Traian Basescu - the main promoter of austerity
measures who lost governmental power last year. On the other side are the socialists
and liberals, who formed an anti-Basescu alliance, despite their (nominal)
ideological differences. They are currently in government.
networks vigorously followed the camps to which their owners belonged: Realitatea
TV and Antena 3 ferociously attacked the President’s camp, while B1TV and state
television (up to a point) defended him.
examples from the National Audiovisual Council, which monitors media practices,
help illustrate this. During the anti-austerity protests taking place in
Romania in January 2012, Antena 3 invited into its studios 20 representatives from
the government and 229 from the opposition parties with which owner Voiculescu
was aligned at the time. During local elections last year, Antena 3 invited
representatives of the Socialist-Liberal alliance 162 times to its debates,
with the governing party being invited only 64 times; Realitatea TV invited
representatives of the opposition 144 times and from the government just 61
times. The channels supporting Basescu generally favored representatives of the
President’s camp, although the disparity in numbers is less severe.
country’s current prime minister, Socialist Victor Ponta, whose popularity soared
as Basescu was promoting austerity measures, publicly thanked private TV
channels for helping him get to power.
say, real debate on issues concerning the public is lacking, with most time
being taken up by political bickering. According to the Audiovisual Council,
during the electoral campaign between May and June 2012, 49
percent of the time political debates aired was spent on inter-party
disputes and 28 percent of the time on covering the local elections. Less than
5 percent was spent discussing issues of public interest such as education,
health or the economy.
are disgusted with the TV channels and can predict what arguments they will hear when they turn on one channel or another. But they will also argue that
they hardly have a choice. All news programs are the same. While the national
TV channel, supported by the state, is slightly more balanced, it too is quite prone
to influences from whatever political force is in power, with management
usually changing after each election. At the moment, the loss making national
television is being restructured, with many staff being let go and many of its
conditions, quality journalism and investigations of public interest often crop
up in the most unexpected places. Gazeta
Sporturilor, a sports daily, has been building up a name as a respected
news source by conducting investigations into the (mis)use of public funds -
starting by looking at investments in sports centres. A few online outlets and
blogs keep up good standards and a few magazines with niche readership are
still going by either introducing paywalls (such as cultural weekly Dilema veche) or building a strong connection
with the readership and creating an original voice (Decat o Revista).
Yet most of
these channels are available only for the educated middle classes, who become
aware of these options and can afford to pay for online access or the more
costly magazine. The rest of Romanians face a disappointing choice. People are
aware that they are getting cheated but they hardly see any alternatives. The
media, whose job it should be to indicate some, is failing so strongly at its mission.
After serving in the US Army, and later as a diplomat, Colonel Ann Wright resigned her position in opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, 2003. She explains her opposition to the use of drones, and why any demilitarism plan for the planet must begin with the United States
Ten years ago, I resigned from my position in the United States
government in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. I
had worked in the U.S. government for most of my life, first in the Army
and Army Reserves, retiring as a colonel, and then as a diplomat. I
served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan,
Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone and Micronesia. I helped reopen the U.S.
Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001.
after serving in eight presidential administrations, beginning under
Lyndon Johnson during the war on Vietnam, I ended my career in the U.S.
government in opposition to another conflict—the war on Iraq.
decade after I stepped down as the deputy ambassador in the U.S.
Embassy in Mongolia, the war in Iraq is over for Americans, but
continues for Iraqis. The whirlwind of sectarian violence brought on by
the U.S. invasion and occupation continues to blow there.
war on Afghanistan is now in its 13th year and as the anniversary of my
resignation day approached, I found myself outside the gates of Creech
Air Force Base in Nevada, protesting war and, in particular, President
Obama’s killer drone programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and
The CIA drone attacks in the undeclared war on
Pakistan and the assassination of three American citizens by drone in
Yemen receive most of the media and congressional attention, while the
incredibly large number of drone strikes in Afghanistan has received scant
coverage—and that is why I was at Creech drone base.
Protesters outside Creech Air Force base. Photo (c) Ann Wright
2012 alone, the U.S. Air Force has acknowledged 492 drone
strikes/weapons releases in Afghanistan. A United Nations report states
that only 16 people were killed in those strikes.
In comparison, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates
that during the first four years of the Obama administration, the CIA
launched 313 drone strikes (the Bush administration launched 52 drone
strikes in Pakistan). Estimates of deaths of civilians in Pakistan range
from 411 to 884. Estimates on all deaths including militants in
Pakistan from drones range from 2,536 to 3,577. From
these statistics, one can assume that the number of civilian casualties
by drone attack in Afghanistan is severely under-reported.
U.S. Drone data. Image via the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.One
in four U.S. weapons releases in Afghanistan comes from drones. A
report from the Air Command of the U.S. Central Command reveals that
from 2010 through the first month of 2013, the Obama administration
ordered 1,109 weapons releases from drones. Data on drone strikes in
2009, the first year of the Obama administration, is not included in the
study. That report has now been removed from the U.S. Central Command
website, but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism captured the data in this chart before its removal.
drone base, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was the first of the
Air Force’s drone training and operations bases in the U.S, and
personnel there still control a large number of drone strikes in
drone programme has now expanded so that many more U.S. Air Force bases
have operational control of drones over Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia,
Libya and Mali. Whiteman in Missouri, Beale in California and Kirtland
in New Mexico are just a few of the 64 military bases in the U.S. that control, train or house drones.
and many other demonstrators were at the Creech main gate during the
morning and evening shift changes to challenge the continuing war in
Afghanistan, and the Obama administration’s use of drones, which have
killed so many civilians in that country.
Protester outside Creech Air Force base. Photo (c) Ann Wright
of my fellow Creech protesters and I were arrested in February this year at
CIA Director John Brennan’s confirmation hearing. We were detained for
“disrupting Congress” when we spoke out against his nomination because
of his key role in the CIA’s assassin drone program while he was
President Obama’s chief adviser on counterterrorism, a position that had
not required Senate confirmation in 2009.
As I mark my 10th year of challenging the war policies of the United States, elements of my March 19, 2003 resignation letter
to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell still ring true to me, even
though Bush is no longer president and the war on Iraq has nominally
disagree with the Administration’s policies on Iraq, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea and curtailment of civil
liberties in the U.S. itself,” I wrote. “I believe the Administration’s
policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer, place. I
feel obligated morally and professionally to set out my very deep and
firm concerns on these policies and to resign from government service as
I cannot defend or implement them.”
to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the
United States continues to spend more on military expenditures than the
next 10 countries combined. While the U.S. military expenditure fell by 6
per cent in real terms in 2012, it was still 69 per cent higher
than in 2001, when the ‘global war on terrorism’ began. While the U.S.
remained by far the world’s largest military spender,
its share of the total decreased to 39 percent, the first time it has
fallen below 40 percent since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in
demilitarism plan for the planet must begin with the United States. As
the number one military spender and arms exporter in the world, the
United States keeps the military-industrial complex functioning
worldwide. U.S. arms manufacturers have set up their manufacturing in as
many states as possible in order to buy the support of Congress. This
means that even when the Pentagon wants to shut down a weapon system,
like the F-22 fighter jet, it becomes nearly impossible to get Congress
to go along. And then, if the U.S. government does somehow manage to
start cutting back on procurement, the manufacturers can shift to
focusing on arms sales abroad.
Each year in April, activists around the world participate in the annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending
(GDAMS). This year, actions were held in more than 40 countries and 100 cities. There was street theater in Dhaka, demonstrations in Istanbul,
a parliamentary debate in Yaoundé, protests against military bases in
Okinawa, a peace village in Oslo, a high-level seminar at the UN in
Geneva, a flash mob in Oakland, Tax Day leafleting in Bethlehem, PA, a
“walk of shame” in Washington, DC, and more .
is up to us, the global citizens, to force our governments to reduce
and end the senseless spending on war and move to a world of dialogue
and conflict resolution without violence.
That is a monumental task, but one that we must continue to pursue with vigour for the health and safety of all on our planet.
Arendt, Jefferson and Maitland are three great thinkers who all shared a passion for the power of local democracy, its ability to bridge the distance of representation. As our political system breaks down, it's an idea we must consider once again.
by the word ‘democracy’ we mean ‘rule by the people’ or ‘power lodged with the
people’ it is obvious to most people that representative government is no
longer convincingly democratic. New élites possess the power and wealth of the
world: ‘the people’ are everywhere helpless victims of financial and power structures
that are closed off to them. With this in mind, may we hope for a more real
kind of democracy sometime in the future? This article is about one such idea.
Jefferson (1743-1826), F.W. Maitland (1850-1906) and Hannah Arendt (1906-75)
had something in common: an enthusiasm late in their lives for ‘council
democracy’. The idea of ‘council’ democracy is simple. Local people meet in
local assemblies to decide on local matters. They choose individuals from among
their number to participate in assemblies higher up. The process can be
repeated at many different levels, so that politicians are chosen by citizens
who know them personally, not by political parties.
idea is the complete opposite to the structure of political authority in
party-political ‘democracies’ where representatives are put forward by those in
power, managed by party organisations, excluding people at large from the
exercise of power.
three writers mentioned above each have a different take on ‘council democracy’
but they share one thing in common: although they are among the recognised
‘greats’ of Western thought, their enthusiasms for genuine and effective
democracy have been consigned to dustbins of neglect even among their admirers.
Jefferson was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Thirty years later, having completed two terms-of-office as President, he was
thoroughly disillusioned with the politics of the nation he had helped create.
In particular, he was disgusted at party politics: the need to belong to a
party was, he said, ‘the last degradation of a free and moral agent.’ In
letters to friends he developed the idea that the counties of the individual
States be divided into wards, which would effectively be ‘elementary republics’
where ‘the voice of the whole people would be fairly, fully, and peaceably
expressed, discussed and decided by the common reason’ of all citizens. His
idea stemmed from the townships of New England
where people regularly gathered to decide directly on matters of politics. The
tragedy was that Federal government had not developed from these democratic
institutions, from the bottom up, but from top down, from concentrations of
established power. In 1824 he wrote: ‘As Cato concluded every speech with the
words, Carthago delenda est, so do I every opinion, with the words
‘divide the counties into wards’.
W. Maitland is recognised as the greatest of all legal historians, and is
claimed by some as the greatest of all English historians. Towards the end of
his life he was pre-occupied with corporations as legally-recognised ‘persons’,
and how they can be used for good or bad. Their good use was to protect liberties,
both individual and communal; their bad use was for the operation of
overwhelming and exploitative power. For Maitland, it was the ‘great blunder of
English law’ and a ‘national misfortune’ that the villages and townships of England had not
become reservoirs of political independence and power. ‘It was a grave
misfortune that English lawyers thought themselves forbidden to see and nurse
into strength the flickering life of the village community.’ Maitland, like
Jefferson, saw in the township
of New England the
development of this form of government, so vulnerable to suppression by power
from above. ‘The township
of New England became a
thoroughly English person,’ he wrote. He ascribed its failed development in England to the
union of Church and State, so that local power became vested in ‘Parish,
Vestry, Church House and Church Wardens’ rather than ‘Town, Township,
Town-Meeting, Moot Hall and Town Wardens’. This made it easy for political
parties later to appropriate local power in the name (though not necessarily in
the interests) of ‘the people’.
last of our three writers, Hannah Arendt, developed the idea of ‘council
democracy’ more fully than the earlier two (Maitland died young, a projected
work on ‘The Damnability of Corporations’ not even begun.) In her book On
Revolution she put forward the idea that revolutions in the modern age have
followed a regular sequence, and that this sequence has been ignored or
suppressed in books by fashionable and conventional historians. The sequence
might be summarised thus:
Revolutionaries do not start the revolution, they merely hang around waiting
for it to happen.
2. When a revolution starts, local 'councils' immediately spring up: these are
genuine democratic formations. By sending delegates to the next level up, they
begin to build a genuine democratic structure.
3. The revolutionaries then move in with apparatuses of violence, often
assisted by support from outside. With backward-looking theories based on
models of absolute government, and with organisations of control and
suppression at-the-ready, they crush these nascent democracies and institute
copies of the ancien regime, only worse.
the Arab Spring provides fresh confirmation of Arendt’s idea. In Libya, for
instance, at the end of the internal war that ousted Gaddafi, local councils
immediately began to form, often initiated and managed by women, restoring
services, helping victims and re-building civil society. Meanwhile groups of
young men with guns, partly financed by foreign interests, were awaiting their
opportunities for taking power; and old patriarchs, accustomed to corruption
and violence, are offering their services as focal points for these groups of
armed young men.
there is no end to this kind of domination. Perhaps, if the ideas above were
more recognised, there is the possibility that one day they might be acted on
to vote for peace, we must first vote for voting systems which are 'peace-ful'.
Peter Emerson argues for consensus voting which allows for differences but
mutual respect, is inclusive, accurate, and very democratic
has become selfish. It should be a
collective process, a means by which individuals may campaign and vote for what
they think is best for everyone. Alas,
many use it on an individual basis, voting to benefit only themselves, even at
the expense of others.
with economic interests; hence pre-election budgets and so on. It ends in war, as politicians exploit our
motivations of greed or worse, fear. To
do so, they use simplistic and adversarial voting procedures.
So I want
to talk of some of the horrors of primitive voting procedures; to examine these
voting mechanisms; and then to describe a more ‘peace-ful’ democratic
horrific consequences of argument
post-electoral violence in Kenya and the 2010 war in Côte d'Ivoire were caused,
in part, by their winner-takes-all-loser-gets-nothing electoral systems. The voter was allowed only one preference,
so the vote was tribal.
was true “in the former Yugoslavia where all the wars started with a
referendum,” to quote Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo’s newspaper, 7.2.1999. Are you Serb or Croat? was one (paraphrased)
question. Partners in a mixed marriage
were thus, in effect, disenfranchised; as were any who wanted to vote for
compromise. As in war, so too in these
Balkan referendums, people had to (either abstain or) take sides.
invasion of Iraq was also caused, again in part, by a majority vote. The complicated subject of sanctions,
inspections, diplomacy and threats, was all reduced to just one proposal – Resolution 1441 – on which the 15
members of the UN Security Council
voted yes-or-no. France did not like
the phrase “serious consequences”; yet France voted in favour! The outcome, therefore, supposedly
unanimous, was anything but!
single preference election systems – as in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Bosnia – are
little more than sectarian headcounts.
In decision-making, it’s even worse. The two-option majority vote is Orwellian in its simplicity – ‘this’
good, ‘that’ bad. Secondly, it is the
most inaccurate measure of collective opinion ever invented. And thirdly, in societies undivided, it
tends to polarise; while in divided societies – like Northern Ireland – it
often exacerbates those divisions.
to summarise a complex problem into a choice of only two alternatives are
almost bound to distort. And when
voters cannot express their opinions accurately, as in the UN, the outcome itself cannot be
principle of majority rule may be fair – it is certainly better than an
opposite, minority rule. But the
practice – majority rule by majority vote, majoritarianism – is hopelessly
unfair, not least because you cannot identify a majority opinion by a majority
vote. It allows a faction in society to
dominate the minority, as was the case in Northern Ireland. While at its worst, it tempts that majority
into violence: when the Interahamwe launched its genocide
in Rwanda, they used the slogan “Rubanda Nyamwinshi – we are the
instances, then, a majority vote does not identify the “will of the majority” -
let alone the “will of the people”, it
identifies the will of those who wrote the question. No wonder umpteen dictators, from Napoleon to Saddam Hussein,
have used majority votes; it is to control and manipulate.
some more peaceful procedures.
Candidates in Papua New Guinea tend to be tribal, but the voters must
cast at least three preferences. So, in
seeking voters’ 2nd or 3rd preferences, candidates cross
the tribal divide; and so too, for a valid vote, do the voters. Lebanon is another example; each
constituency has as many contests as there are confessional groups, all the
parties must have candidates of each confession, and voters must vote for one
decision-making, in contrast, there have been very few attempts to reform the
(simple or weighted) majority vote.
Belgium (and Northern Ireland) use consociationalism which allows the
Flemings and Walloons (Unionists and Nationalists) an equal say, but it is
still majoritarian, still win-or-lose.
Accordingly, in 1986, still eight years before the cease-fire, we
brought Unionists and Sinn Féin et al together at a public meeting of
over 200 in Belfast, consensus voting was put to the test. It worked.
In 1991, we did it again, with electronic voting; furthermore, we had a
Bosnian present, and thus, six months before their war, we warned of the
dangers of any majority vote in that divided land.
cannot cross any divide – of gender, religion or ethnicity – if the voting
system allows only a single preference.
A ‘peace-ful’ system must allow the voters to rank their preferences. In an electoral system, fairness can be
enhanced if there is more than one winner – president and vice-president, say,
as originally in the US. While in
decision-making, fairness can be achieved by identifying the option with the
highest average preference; and an average involves every voter, not
just a majority of them. It is
win-win. And it
works like this. A problem arises – the
Northern Ireland constitutional question, for example, or let’s take Iraq. A debate is called. Members draw up proposals, which are then
set ‘on the table’ and, in summary, on a computer screen plus web-site. Initially, the US and UK, say, draw up one draft – option A. France proposes another, option B,
similar perhaps in all but one respect to A. Syria, a member in 2002, produces a completely different package,
option C. And so on. The debate ensues; amendments are suggested;
points are argued; composites are formed; and the list on the table is
constantly up-dated. When the debate
concludes, if only one option remains, that is taken as the consensus of
Council. If, as is more likely, a
number of options remains, the chair may call for a preference vote.
assume there are four options: A, B, CandD. If a country casts all four preferences, its
1st option gets 4 points, its 2nd gets 3, and so on. If another casts only two preferences, its 1st
option gets 2 points, and its 2nd gets 1. But no one country votes ‘against’ another’s proposal; all vote
only ‘for’, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
protagonist state knows that, to win, it needs lots of high preferences, a few
middle ones perhaps, but very few low ones. It is therefore worth its while to talk with its former (majoritarian)
opponents, to try and persuade them to give a higher preference. It is also in a country’s interest to cast a
full ballot, so to give its favourite option the maximum 4 points, but, in so
doing, it also acknowledges the validity of those other options. This points system of voting – the modified
Borda count, (mbc) – inherently
should be unselfish. When electing
representatives, voters should be asked to cast up to, say, six
preferences. And when parliament or the
electorate take complex and/or controversial decisions, the ballot paper should
contain from four to six options.
Compromise should always be possible.
voting allows for differences but mutual respect. It is inclusive, accurate, very democratic, ethno-colour blind
and, most important of all, ‘peace-ful’. It has been demonstrated and used many times in Northern Ireland but
also in Bosnia, Georgia and elsewhere.
politicians like to control things. Quite a few of them participated in the above consensus voting
demonstrations – they included members of the Irish parliament, members of the
European parliament and members of Stormont, and one future President, Michael
D Higgins. The subject, however, was
completely ignored by all concerned during the Belfast Peace Process. One can understand why many politicians are
reluctant to question majoritarianism; the silence of most in the media and
academia, however, is little short of irresponsible. Consensus voting could help, not only to resolve conflicts, but
also to prevent disputes descending into arguments or worse, war.
company G4S and its executives have got rich dismantling public services.
man called Nick Buckles retired, aged 52, with a fortune in excess of £20
million. He is not an inventor or an entrepreneur. He has not risked his own
capital. He is a company executive who has got rich from Britain's outsourcing
people spend more than £1
billion a year on public services supplied by G4S, the world's largest security
company. Last week G4S swallowed £18 million to run child maintenance services for the
Department of Work and Pensions, adding to the list of contracts they've been given by the Ministry of
Justice and the Home Office. G4S runs prisons and immigration centres, tags
offenders, manages NHS facilities under the Private Finance Initiative. They've even moved
executive Nick Buckles resisted calls to resign for his part in two spectacular
failures. In 2011 G4S had to scrap a £5
billion bid for a cleaning and catering business, squandering £50 million
in fees. Then came the Olympic fiasco. G4S failed to supply enough security
guards for the London Games. The government was forced to call in the Army.
the company said Goodbye to Nick Buckles.
won't feel the chill. Last year they paid him £1,185,551. He'll get £830,000
in lieu of notice. He's got a pension pot worth £10 million. He owns more than two
million G4S shares: that's another £5.5 million. Then he's got up to £19
million of shares in a tax avoidance device. Perfectly lawful, they call it the
G4S Employee Benefits Trust.
this generosity is approved by a committee chaired by former Metropolitan
Police Commissioner Lord Condon. Figuring it all out isn't easy. It takes
nearly 6000 words to explain in the company's annual report. (PDF)
public services pays well. But it's bad news for workers' pay and conditions.
The ethos of public service wilts. We can name some of the casualties.
died in 2010 after undergoing "restraint" by G4S security guards
during a forced deportation. His story raises questions about a casual
workforce and duty of care.
Last week at Isleworth Crown Court an inquest jury heard from Stuart Tribelnig, the G4S security guard in charge of restraining
Mubenga, an Angolan father of five who was healthy until the moment of his
Last year the
Crown Prosecution Service said it would not be prosecuting G4S for corporate
manslaughter. Former Prisons Inspector Lord Ramsbotham, who is leading an inquiry into the use of restraint, told the House of Lords:
the face of all the evidence that we have gathered, quite apart from all
the other evidence that was available, I find that CPS decision, at kindest,
went on: "Passengers reported hearing Mr Mubenga cry out that he could not
breathe and that the guards were killing him."
added: "There had been Home Office warnings to G4S in 2006 about the
dangers of using positional asphyxia."
Mubenga was not the first person to die after restraint by G4S. There was
fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt, who had refused to clean the sandwich toaster at
Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby in 2004. Ramsbotham told Peers:
Aboriginal elder Mr Ward was cooked to death in a G4S van with faulty air
conditioning in the western Australia goldfields in January 2008. Warnings had been ignored. In April 2011
G4S pleaded guilty to failing to ensure Mr Ward’s health and safety.
“there is only two or three major players,
typically sometimes only two people bidding for care and justice. And with . .
. our global expertise, in time we will become a winner in that market because
there's a lot of outsourcing opportunities and not many competitors operating
Here in Britain, John
Grayson, in these pages, has described the way in which the housing of asylum seekers has been contracted to G4S and then subcontracted to smaller private companies, adding layers of complication and cost, stretching even
further the distance between vulnerable people and the state which owes them a
duty of care, profit extracted from every layer.
Lately Grayson told the story of Angela
and her baby, bullied and harassed in frequent forced moves between filthy
Three years after the ECHR's decision in Oršuš and Others v. Croatia found "separate but equal" education to be unconstitutional, the Roma Education Fund traveled to Međimurje County in Croatia to see how the integration of Croat and Roma schoolchildren had progressed.
REF monitors in a classroom in Kuršanec, Croatia. Roma Education Fund/Tom Bass. All rights reserved.
To mark the third anniversary of the Oršuš and Others v. Croatia ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, the Roma Education Fund traveled to Međimurje County in Croatia as part of its regular monitoring of preschool integration projects. REF has been in partnership with the county and the Croatian Ministry of Education since 2010 as part of Croatia’s obligation to prevent discrimination against Roma in its school system.
Joining other landmark decisions by the ECHR in cases such as D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic and this year’s Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary, Oršuš found that Romani children’s rights had been violated in the Croatian school system. This judgement also adds weight to the judgments against other states in Central Europe that persist in allowing segregated schools and classes for Roma. If and how the states choose to act is another question due to the Court's limited powers of implementation. REF has been instrumental in providing models and policy solutions to what many people, including state representatives, often presuppose to be an intractable "Roma problem".
Čakovec: The county seat
Pressed between Slovenia and Hungary is a triangle of Croatian land surrounded by flood-prone river boundaries. Međimurje County is the northernmost, smallest, yet most densely populated Croatian county. It is home to approximately 120,000 people who work primarily in agriculture and also supply western economies with migrant labour. According to a 2001 census, there are less than 3,000 Roma living in the county; although the real number of Roma is estimated to be nearly 30,000 - the highest number of Roma anywhere in Croatia.
At the county seat of Čakovec, the prefect and local school officials assure us they are doing their utmost to provide Romani children in the area with quality, inclusive education. This willingness to change is only after much persuasion by REF in the aftermath of the county’s loss of face in the Oršuš case. Their "responsibility" is to create the preconditions for integration in primary schools within the framework of a two-year REF-led project.
“We have to live together,” says the prefect, “We have to work with children, parents and the majority population.”
The plants and binders seem to nod in perfect harmony with the lofty school and county officials. Do they really believe their schools to be islands of integration between the Mura and Drava rivers that hem in this region?
Teaching assistant at a Romani class in Kuršanec. Roma Education Fund/Tom Bass. All rights reserved.
Kuršanec: the new centre
We splash down rural roads and round snowy villages until we split off the main road at Kuršanec. A half kilometre beyond the village, with its looming church spire still in sight, we arrive at our first destination, Kuršanec Family Center, a new community facility adjoining the Romani settlement.
A group of Romani parents greet us inside; their children play in two classrooms across the hall. In the presence of the eavesdropping officials, the mums and dads assure us that they are satisfied with the new family center and the preschool preparation their children receive; indeed, knowing how to read and how to speak Croatian are real achievements for the children of Romani parents, many of whom did not even complete primary school.
It leaks out that things are not quite so rosy, especially when it comes to employment. There are few opportunities for any job more sustainable than casual labour in the agricultural sector.
One father says, “For them, we aren’t Roma, we’re Gypsies.”
Apparently, that’s enough in Međimurje to guarantee discrimination in the labour market and to qualify for every other kind of injustice and lack of public service – so much so that one mother claims that a better preschool in another locality demanded payment to enroll her child when absolutely no payment is necessary.
The officials point at their watches, declare the meeting over, and hustle us into the two classrooms. Lunch already has been served from the kitchen and the children are playing inside. One room is engaged with clusters of children working with tape, scissors, yarn, paper and glue – on the walls, series of snowmen and bunnies. In the adjoining classroom they’ve set up a store with a till and groceries. The children appear well cared for and the school appears to be comfy and cozy, with all the necessary amenities. But despite the proliferation of toys and learning tools, and the cordial atmosphere, no majority children from the village are enrolled; they’ve got their own school in the village and they are not attending. The teachers and officials smile together, satisfied.
Croat and Roma children learning together in Mursko Središće. Roma Education Fun/Tom Bass. All rights reserved.
Mursko Središće: our dream in action
We zigzag across the county to Mursko Središće, a small town huddled against the Slovenian border. The school is just seconds away from the border post, from Schengen, the EU and prosperity. Built before the First World War, the Maslačak (Dandelion) kindergarten is housed in an elegant building of large rooms and high ceilings.
REF’s Country Facilitator Biserka Tomljenović issues a short brief: “This is a great example of cooperation between the local community, REF, the county and the ministry; here, all children from the Roma community have been integrated fully into the city kindergarten since 2005. The city is paying for half of the price of preschool education and the other part is paid by the ministry. REF pays for transportation.”
We’re ushered inside and the school is teeming with a mixture of Romani and non-Romani children. They’re in the halls, in the bathrooms, on the staircase and in the classrooms, which are well-furnished and brimming with the children’s creative output.
With 33 Romani and 60 non-Romani pupils, Mursko Središće’s school is what REF speaks about when it advocates for integration and equality in education. And like all cases where improvements have been made, this hinges on local initiative and will, here embodied in the school principal, Radmila Baljak, a former refugee from the Balkan Wars, who wanted to make a difference in her adopted home town.
We huddle together with more staff in the teacher’s lounge. The circle is joined by Milorad Mihanovic, an elected representative of the Roma National Council in Croatia, whose children also have attended school here. “She was the only teacher who loved us Roma,” says Mihanovic, nodding at Ms. Baljak who then explains her motivations for leading the integration of the town’s preschool: “In the first month of the first year the situation was very sensitive with the majority parents. For the first two months we kept the children apart in the same building, we must admit, but after that we put them together. Since then it’s been getting better and better each year. In the first year we started with fifteen children, although there were more of them officially on the list but their attendance was uncertain, and now this has improved as well. We’re making great progress and the parents know that.”
Vice-principal Spomenka Cilar adds, “The majority parents put a lot of pressure on us. Some parents took their children away and enrolled them in a private kindergarten. But they began to change their minds the moment when the children, who were involved in the preschool here, were enrolled in the primary school. When the non-Romani parents saw the difference, how this works better, how there were no problems like they had previously, then they started to see it as a benefit for them, too. The city mayor and the cooperation of the county school officials were also crucial.”
Pribislavec: coping with change
A few kilometres across the fields from Čakovec is the village of Pribislavec, home to a prominent Neo-Gothic castle. The tower casts a shadow over the town hall, where two representatives of the local Romani community are waiting. Here in Pribislavec, Romani children are bussed daily from the settlement to the village preschool and back.
The words of Kristijan Balog, president of the Association of Young Roma of Croatia, come as a surprise.
“I think it would be good for the preschool programs to take place in the Romani settlement. I know that the results are achieved here as well, but I think that better results would be achieved there. I think it would be more rational economically to have it in the Roma settlement and use the funds for transportation for other things like meals.”
We try to counter by arguing that if the settlement has few if any public services then, by default, educational services will also be lacklustre. We advise that integration does not equal segregation in the Romani community. REF’s entire existence is based on eliminating the geographical and physical isolation of Romani communities from mainstream schools.
Kristijan says, “The same staff from here would work there. Integration is an ideal situation which we cannot achieve overnight. This group of preschool children is getting preschool or primary education in a class where there are only Romani children anyway, so it is a Roma-only group of preschoolers in the municipality building. I see no difference here. My opinion is that the costs would be lower if the school would be in the Roma settlement. Full integration is a completely different issue.”
Biserko adds, “I agree with Kristijan that our people got used to getting things for nothing. Now you give them a bus. Tomorrow they will ask for the teacher to come to their home.”
Kristijan wants to reassure us. “It may seem that we are against our own people. This isn’t true, we just see that the path we have taken, assuming responsibility as parents, directing our efforts towards our children's education. All other parents should do this as well; this is good for Roma, this will benefit the whole community.”
According to REF’s experiences, having a local Roma school is a common and contradictory demand from many communities and REF treads a fine line when deciding how to work with a community and how to meet its needs.
Until education systems reform, Romani schools in Romani settlements are going to stay Romani schools with inferior services and curricula. Virtually no majority parents will allow their children to attend Romani schools and would rather enroll them somewhere else; nor do they understand the benefit to their children learning in a multicultural environment in mainstream schools – as we will see at the next stop.
So far, no state has genuinely implemented such a program, and even the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights cannot persuade politicians held hostage by their constituents to act. What usually follows: lip service to the language of democracy, foot dragging in the halls of power and no commitment on the ground - budgetary, educational, or otherwise.
Meanwhile, Romani children face poor attendance, lower teaching standards, missing early childhood development goals, malnutrition, segregated schools or classrooms, culturally biased entry tests for schooling, a high risk of dropping out, and general exclusion from school life.
Afternoon nutrition program at a school in Gornji Hrašćan. Roma Education Fund/Tom Bass. All rights reserved.
Gornji Hrašćan: the spark
The site of spontaneous protests by disgruntled non-Romani parents at the start of the 2012 school year, the preschool at Gornji Hrašćan is a stone’s throw from the road.
Biserka Tomljenović describes the conflict: “The preschool start was delayed for two days - two very difficult days - but finally an agreement was made with the non-Roma parents. These were organised protests and the children were not allowed to enter the school. The entire road was blocked, the police were here, and it was a really tough incident this school year, but a lot of effort was made by Sonja Tošić Grlač [county school official], the principal and the county prefect.”
The majority’s grievances have been driven by the economic crisis and the perceived inequality in the distribution of social benefits, along with objections to the “Roma lifestyle,” leading to what is now the third public incident in Međimurje County against Roma integration.
After reaching a compromise in September, the school now works in two shifts. The morning shift for non-Romani children attending primary school and the afternoon shift of mostly Romani children in preschool program. The building, drab and featureless, looks in need of renovation. Inside cheerful children are queuing to wash their hands before their afternoon snack. In another room they’re squeezing one by one into a cardboard house or leafing through photo albums. The shelves are stacked with Duplo blocks, the walls are covered in their vivid pictures – a ghost, a devil, a clown, a troubadour.
The pedagogue says, “This is the third year of implementation of the preschool program at our school. This year we have 52 preschool pupils, 44 Romani children and eight Croatian children. They are divided into three groups and start the afternoon at 1 PM. In the morning it is a primary school. There is only one preschool in this municipality and it is too small to receive all the children in need.”
She adds more about the background to the protest, revealing what the conflict boils down to. She says, “The municipality of Trnovec to which this settlement belongs is angered by the fact that the Roma did not pay their communal expenses to take out the garbage.”
But that’s not all: “Many young Croatian parents are not working - they've lost their jobs and are living off a few thousand kuna per month. But the state gives very high amounts to the Roma every month and they are not working at all. This is one thing that causes conflict.”
What we uncover is a complex story, a protest like any other, its main message supposedly about Romani pupils dumbing down the majority in class, but with another subliminal message in the background, a mixture of envy and entitlement, of disenfranchisement and dispossession, as majority membership is no longer a guarantee in the tough economic realities of today.
No one speaks of this, and why would they, if they can claim they are making steps to change the situation.
The school principal Božena Dogša wants us to look on the bright side. She says, “There is no single child [from Parag] who does not attend a preschool program. Everyone aged six to seven is here. They are coming regularly by bus. The parents are very satisfied. We organize workshops with the parents in cooperation with ISSA [International Step by Step Association], so we are teaching parents how to be responsible, how to raise their child in a proactive way, and how to work with their children to achieve some skills. So when we compare the situation to ten years ago, it has improved a lot. Two groups come once a week. And four trainers from school, too. We have one group where all the parents are together, Roma and non-Roma. Despite the differences between them, they’re cooperating, they are exchanging their parenting and life experiences, even recipes.”
When asked if there is any progress, one of the school officials encapsulates the state of affairs better than anyone, “Ten years ago we had no problem because children did not go to school. Now we have them in school.”
Maybe so, but by the meeting’s close, no miracle changes the mood from defensive to cooperative; we’re shepherded down the steps and wave adieu, but not without one last word from Sonja Tošić Grlač, “We expect protests here next year. It is too soon, it takes time.”
Later, once we’ve been hustled into the school official’s favourite hunting lodge for a meal in Čakovec, one begins to get a sense of the scale of what needs to be changed for all Romani children to have access to inclusive, quality education: from the entire Romani population of Međimurje, only two Roma are university graduates, one of whom is unemployed, and only one Roma is currently attending university.
For them, it’s a choice, good will, altruism; for us, we have no other choice but to wrangle concessions in the courts and in the classroom if Romani children are to fulfill their rights to inclusive, quality education.
Celebrations to mark
the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war perform the function of collective forgetting.
If the country looked back at recommendations made in the past, Sri Lankans
might understand better how to go forward.
On 18 May 2013 the government of Sri Lanka ‘celebrated’ the
fourth Victory Day, or as the state-owned newspaper the Daily News referred to it, ‘Humanitarian Victory Day’. On the same
day in Vavuniya in the North, members of the public along with politicians
organised an event in memory of those who lost their lives during the last
stages of the armed conflict in 2009. The government ceremonies were a show of pomp,
military might and triumphalism. In these celebrations, although state forces that
lost their lives were remembered and honoured, any mention of civilians who
were killed and those who are still missing was absent.
This is not surprising. As Marita Sturken states in her paper on the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial and memorialisation in American society, ‘discourses of public
commemoration have become inextricably tied to the question of how war is
brought to a closure’. The commemoration events held on 18 May are an extension
into the post-war era of the ethos upon which the war strategy was founded, and
the manner in which the armed conflict was brought to an end.
An example of this is the government's plan to ‘erect nine
monumental Stupas (Buddhist commemorative monument) in each province of the
country in appreciation of the noble service rendered by the armed forces and
Police to defeat terrorism and bring lasting peace to the country’. The happy
union of militarisation and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is evident in the
message posted on the Ministry of Defence website, which calls for donations
for the building project and directs those with inquiries about the project to officers
at the Ministry of Defence, which is co-ordinating the project. The title of
the project is ‘Sandahiru Seya: The triumphant Stupa’.
At the crux of the government’s theory of reconciliation
lies the need to ‘move on’ and ‘bring closure’, all euphemisms for closing off public
discussion about violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the
last stages of the armed conflict. According to this theory, forgetting is an
integral aspect of bringing about reconciliation. On the contrary,
acknowledgment, remembering and memorialising are important components of any
reconciliation initiative, and should be viewed as forms of symbolic
reparation. As the report on ‘Memory and
Memorialisation in post-conflict Uganda’, published by the International Centre
for Transitional Justice, states, ‘Symbolic reparations aim to show
understanding of and empathy with pain and loss and acknowledge suffering and
Arthur Danto, quoted in Sturken, points out that, ‘We
erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that
we shall never forget. Monuments are not generally built to commemorate defeats;
the defeated dead are remembered in memorials. While a monument most often
signifies victory, a memorial refers to the life or lives sacrificed for a particular
set of values’.
The statues of soldiers, guns and armoured tanks that one
sees dotted all over the North are therefore monuments, built to remember the
great war victory, not memorials. Scant regard is paid to the need to
acknowledge and commemorate the loss of lives, property and livelihoods, and
the suffering and trauma of the war affected population, particularly those
caught in the last stages of the armed conflict. If anything, the use of the
word ‘celebration’ to describe the ceremonies on 18 May, defies the public to
even feel grief, let alone express it. Even families of the Sri Lanka armed
forces are expected to show only pride in and happiness about the achievements
of their departed family members; they too are expected not to express their loss,
loneliness and grief.
Like in most post-war contexts, the question of who can
be remembered is controversial. For instance, can families of slain LTTE cadres
engage in private memorial activities to remember their loved ones, not in
order to glorify or remember the LTTE, but to remember the individual as a
family member? On 18 May, the Daily News
quoted the Army Commander of the northern Vanni region, who declared that ‘Any citizen has the
right to commemorate their loved ones but no one can commemorate terrorists who
were disloyal to the government.’ Hence, families whose loved ones were members
of the LTTE (whether they joined voluntarily or were forcibly conscripted) will
likely not observe his or her death anniversary in a visible manner due to fear
of state censure and harassment, since the act is viewed as an act supportive
of the LTTE, and hence a threat to national security.
Even within communities the act of remembering and forgetting
can cause tension, conflict and animosity. For instance, former LTTE cadres
state that during the armed conflict they were willing to sacrifice their lives
for the armed struggle, yet now due to numerous reasons, including military
surveillance, their sacrifices are not remembered or respected by the Tamil
community, and they often receive little community support in re-integrating into
society. It could be argued that the sections of the Tamil community which
supported the LTTE are ‘forgetting’ due to fear of state retaliation, or did
the community always have a utilitarian relationship with the LTTE?
Many former cadres claim that at rehabilitation centres
they were instructed to forget the past. Yet, constant interrogation by the Sri
Lanka Army (SLA) and surveillance and monitoring of ex-cadres force them to
remember their past. Some cadres said ‘they asked us to forget the past and now
when we are trying to move forward, they won’t let us. They continue to ask us
about our time in the LTTE’.
Internecine violence has also not been forgotten by the Tamil
people. Even today, there are those who express anger towards the LTTE, as well
as non-LTTE armed groups that were responsible for violations in the past; this
is often directed towards former members of these groups who now hold positions
of power within the government. In terms of reparation, internecine violence
raises many complex questions. For instance, who apologises and provides
restitution for the violations committed by the LTTE and other Tamil armed
groups? Who apologises and provides restitution for the crimes committed
against the Muslim community by the LTTE? What is the role of Tamil political
parties, particularly members of these parties who were previously members of armed
groups? What about the right to reparation of the families of those who
disappeared during the JVP insurrection?
The discourse on post-war reconciliation has largely been
silent on the issue of reparations. According to the Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights ‘it is generally understood that the right to reparation
has a dual dimension under international law: (a) a substantive dimension to be
translated into the duty to provide redress for harm suffered in the form of
restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and, as the case may be,
guarantees of non-repetition; and (b) a procedural dimension as instrumental in
securing this substantive redress.’ It further states that ‘While, under
international law, gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international
humanitarian law give rise to a right to reparation for victims, implying a
duty on the State to make reparations, implementing this right and
corresponding duty is in essence a matter of domestic law and policy.’
Therefore, not only does the state have to accept that
gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international
humanitarian law have taken place but it also needs to acknowledge that doing
so is its duty and that persons who have suffered such violations have a right
to reparation. Contrast this with the President’s speech at the Victory Day
celebration in which he claimed external forces were attempting to destabilize
Sri Lanka through calls for ‘independence of the judiciary,
media freedom and human rights’.
Reparation initiatives seek to recognise victims as equal
citizens and include a variety of measures, both material (such as compensation
for lost property) and symbolic (public apologies and memorialisation), and
individual and collective measures. In contrast, the government’s strategy is
based on a notion of benevolence of the
victor towards the Tamil population, disregard of the need for a
political solution to the ethnic conflict, and the supposed provision of
On 18 May, the Tamil newspaper Thinakkural reported that a woman in the North had killed her three
young children and attempted to commit suicide due to what appears to be
extreme poverty and inability to care for the children. This illustrates the
lack of acknowledgment of the continuing marginalisation of the conflict-affected
population, which suffers poverty and systemic discrimination. Instead, the
conflict-affected population is afforded the opportunity to become part of the state
military apparatus, i.e., they are recruited into the army or absorbed into initiatives
implemented by the Civil Security Department that is within the purview of
the Ministry of Defence.
According to the Ministry of Defence, this is proof of
peace, reconciliation and a new life for those previously oppressed and
Looking back to move
The chapter on Restitution/Compensation in the report of
the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a Commission of
inquiry that was established by President Rajapaksa in 2010, is disappointingly
short, lacks depth and provides no definition of restitution or compensation.
By focusing only on the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries
Authority (REPPIA) and setting out its shortcomings, including lack of funds,
which prevent it from paying claims received, the Commission disregards other
forms of compensation/restitution that may be required and desirable.
In this regard, it is useful to study the recommendations
of past Presidential Commissions, some of which are surprisingly bold.
The Presidential Commission on Ethnic Violence 1981-1984 which
was established in 2001 and published its report in 2002, states that compensation
is a right and not charity and must be fair and adequate and not nominal or a
mere token. It reiterates that every effort must be made to restore the ‘human
dignity’ of victims, and that the victim should not be made to feel s/he is
receiving charity but is rightly receiving minimum legal dues. It even
recommends that delay in the discharge of this duty by the state should be
dealt with by the payment of simple legal interest on the amount of
compensation, and urges expeditious payments.
The 2001 Commission warns that, ‘For a nation already
confounded by political conflicts, ethnic confrontations and constitutional
turmoil, the mood for reconciliation can be unnecessarily edged away, by
failing to effectively support national reconciliation at the grass root as an
on-going process parallel to the peace negotiation.’ It also calls for the need
for public recognition of the trauma and suffering the victims had to endure.
The All Island Commission on Disappearances which was
established in 1998 and reported in 2001, focuses on symbolic
measures of reparation such as the construction of a wall of reconciliation
inscribed with the names of those dead and disappeared, whether victims of
subversive acts or acts of the security forces. It does not mention the LTTE or
the security forces by name, but lists Maaveerar (LTTE martyrs) cemeteries and the
memorial in Embilipitiya in the South to the students who disappeared during
the JVP insurrection, as examples of memorialisation. The Commission stresses the
need for national acknowledgment of the wrongs done, and recognises that another
insurrection is a possibility unless the needs of the affected persons are
With regard to compensation, it makes a bold
recommendation that it should be paid to all irrespective of categorisation of
the person as a terrorist, and recommends the amendment of the Public Administration
Circular that prohibits the granting of compensation if a court has declared a person
a terrorist. The Commission states that this is ‘morally incorrect’ as it
amounts to segregation of certain families of victims as ‘terrorist by
relationship’. It proposes that the entire society should share responsibility
for helping families of the affected and recommends a 2% tax towards this.
The Commission on Disappearances in the Western, Southern
and Sabaragamuwa Provinces which was established in January 1988 and published
its report in 1997 notes discrimination
in the payment of compensation in cases where a person was thought to be a
terrorist and states that ‘endemic
discriminatory practices are to the detriment of the well-being of dependents
of disappeared persons’. It points out that there is no definition of terrorist
provided by the state, resulting in the police providing clearance in this
regard, i.e., it is not a judicial determination.
The Commission also recommends that those who lost their
jobs due to time away from work due to searching for disappeared family members
should be re-instated if they could prove the period of absence was spent
trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the disappeared person. The Commission
calls for the reversal of proof in the case of custodial torture, and urges the
recognition of rape/sexual assault in custody as torture. It also notes
evidence of sexual violence and points out it is used as a tool to control a