CounterVortex https://countervortex.org Resisting the Downward Spiral Fri, 20 Mar 2020 05:39:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 https://countervortex.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/newsflash_logo-1-300x300.png CounterVortex https://countervortex.org 32 32 STALIN’S CAUCASUS CRIMES https://countervortex.org/stalins-caucasus-crimes/ https://countervortex.org/stalins-caucasus-crimes/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 04:59:23 +0000 https://countervortex.org/?p=19199 James Oliver explores for Euromaidan Press.]]> That Putin Wants You to Forget

by James Oliver, Euromaidan Press

On February 23, the Chechen and Ingush peoples of Russia’s North Caucasus commemorated a tragedy in their history—the start of the Soviet deportation in 1944. Initiated by Stalin and supervised by his intelligence chief Lavrentiy Beria, it was carried out by a force of approximately 120,000 NKVD officers that would round up and expel 478,479 people. Today, Vladimir Putin is trying to suppress this history.

Exploring the Caucasus is akin to exploring a mini-continent with its many diverse ethnic groups and cultures all contained within a small geographic region. Here the historical forces of East, North and South collide.

To the Northeast we have Kalmykia, the only majority Buddhist region in the whole of Europe. Like the Tatars, the Kalmyks were swept along from their far-east homeland to their present-day location by the might of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire. To the Northwest we have the Kuban. Formerly a majority Ukrainian area, the Kuban region has since been thoroughly Russified, its Ukrainian identity practically all but stamped out. Much of this is the result of the Holodomor as well as the policies of the Kremlin since. To the South we have Georgia, the birthplace of Stalin himself. According to one survey in 2013, half of all Georgians still possess “a positive attitude towards Stalin.” However, if you believe this BBC report, younger generations of Georgians are not as enthusiastic about the tyrant as their parents and grandparents. Surveys also show that the vast majority of Georgians want to join NATO and the EU, not surprising given what Putin did to Georgia in 2008.

North of Georgia we have the Russian-controlled Caucasus, home to many ethnic groups, including the Chechens, the Ingush, the Balkars, the Circassians. It is here that the legacy of Stalin’s policies loom large still today.

The Caucasus were one of the main focal points of the clashes between the Russian Empire and its great rival, the Ottoman Empire. The result was a cultural legacy of Islam among the aforementioned ethnic groups as well a continuing cultural sense of unease. Token resistance to the Russian annexations of the North Caucasus areas previously controlled by the Ottomans resulted in the Circassian genocide of 1854-56. General Nikolai Evdokimov, who led the Russian forces that conducted the genocide, described his actions as “ochishchenie.” This was perhaps the first instance where the term “cleansing” was used as a euphemism for genocide. In this genocide, an estimated 600,000 people succumbed to shooting, starvation and forced emigration—three quarters of the Circassian population. Under Stalin, things would not be any better for the peoples of the North Caucasus.

Between 1942-44 the North Caucasus once again played host to a clash of two empires—Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. What attracted the Germans to this part of the world was the allure of oil. Ninety percent of the oil supply for the Soviet Union came from the Caucasus, significantly Azerbaijan, whose capture would severely choke the Soviet war effort. Hitler considered the Caucasus to be of such high priority that he told his generals on June 1, 1942, “If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny, then I must end this war.” Although in the end he failed to capture Grozny, the Chechen capital, he continued the war. The reason for his failure is often attributed to Hitler splitting his forces in the name of capturing a city on a map he had noticed by chance. That city was called “Stalingrad.”

Other than the distraction of Stalingrad, the plans for capturing the Caucasus entailed a deep thrust to Grozny, which needed local collaborators. To this end, the Nazis printed numerous propaganda posters for a hearts-and-minds campaign waged to try and convince locals to join.

Simultaneously but unrelated to the German advance into Russia, an anti-communist insurgency erupted across the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. To be sure, the Germans would come to learn about it, and try to convince the Chechen rebels to join their side, but to little effect. But, as we have seen before, to Stalin the details mattered little; bogus pretexts for targeting entire ethnic groups, however, did. And to Lavrentiy Beria, the man who would personally oversee the punishing of the Chechen and Ingush peoples, they were all tantamount to “German saboteurs.”

This, together with their “anti-communism,” formed the pretextual basis for their deportation, which began on February 23, 1944. Beria and his NKVD officers rounded up and expelled 478,479 people from their homes and sent them to Kazakhstan and the Asiatic steppes. “Because no Chechens or Ingush were to be left behind, people who could not be moved were shot. Villages were burned to the ground everywhere; in some places, barns full of people were burned as well,” wrote historian Timothy Snyder.

This pretext was a recurring theme in Stalin’s deportations. On December 28, 1943, Supreme Soviet Presidium chairman Mikhail Kalinin signed a decree ordering wholesale deportation of the Kalmyks, another North Caucasus people, based on the assumption that “many Kalmyks [had] betrayed their Motherland” by assisting the Germans. Between 1943 and 1944 more than 120,000 Kalmyks were to be forced out of their homes. When the Soviets came to deport the Crimean Tatars in May 1944, they again used the same pretext, and expelled 200,000 Tatars.

Despite claims that USSR embraced “internationalism,” in reality nationality and ethnicity always mattered. It didn’t matter that many Kalmyks, Tatars or Chechens had fought in the Red Army too. In the words of historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Stalin “certainly carried all the traditional Georgian prejudices against the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus whom he was to deport.” And that’s not only true for the peoples of the Caucasus. Throughout his reign as ruler of the USSR, Stalin absorbed Russian nationalism, and by doing so absorbed all the traditional hatreds and prejudices against other peoples that went along with it.

 

The deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples was part of Stalin’s great deportation plan of ethnic minorities in the USSR:

900,000 Soviet Germans, 89,000 Finns deported in 1941 & 1942
69,267 Karachais deported to Central Asia 19 Nov 1943
91,919 Kalmyks deported to Siberia 28–29 Dec 1943
478,479 Chechen and Ingush peoples deported to Siberia on 23 Feb 1944
37,107 Balkars deported to Kazakstan on 8–9 Mar 1944
180,014 Crimean Tatars deported to Uzbekistan on 18–20 Mar 1944
91,095 Meshketian Turks deported from Soviet Georgia later in 1944
(Figures via Timothy Snyder).

These crimes against humanity form yet another stain against the former USSR and its predecessor, the Tsarist Russian Empire—both of which today’s Russian leader Vladimir Putin expressly admires. Against this background, it is unsurprising, then, that Putin has continued the legacy of repressive measures regarding any attempt at commemorating these historic events. This was evident in 2014, when Crimean Tatars were not allowed to mark the 70th Anniversary of the 1944 deportations. It was also evident when Putin banned a motion picture about the Chechen deportations on the grounds it was “historically false.”

It is precisely for these reasons, that the stories of Russia’s ethnic deportations are worth telling.

———

This story first appeared Feb. 26, 2015 on Euromaidan Press.

From our Daily Report:

Russia upholds Chechen-Ingush border agreement
CounterVortex, Dec. 16, 2018

Eid terror in Ingushetia (with background on North Caucasus deportations)
CounterVortex, Aug. 20, 2012

Circassians call for boycott of Sochi Olympics
CounterVortex, Feb. 1, 2014

Exiled Crimean Tatar TV threatened with silence
CounterVortex, Jan. 26, 2020

See also:

‘RUSSIAGATE,’ SYRIA AND THE LEFT
by Terry Burke
CounterVortex, June 2019

WAR IN UKRAINE
The View from the East Village
by Bill Weinberg, The Villager
CounterVortex, September 2016

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION IN RUSSIA
The Chechnya War and the Right Not to Kill
from War Resisters International
CounterVortex, February 2007

NAGORNO-KARABAKH:
Stalin’s Shadow Looms Over Trans-Caucasus Pipeline
by Rene Wadlow
CounterVortex, February 2007

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Feb, 23, 2020

]]>
https://countervortex.org/stalins-caucasus-crimes/feed/ 0
SQUAT CALABRIA https://countervortex.org/squat-calabria/ https://countervortex.org/squat-calabria/#respond Mon, 30 Dec 2019 02:37:36 +0000 https://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=19015 Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account for the Brooklyn Rail.]]> by Bill Weinberg, The Brooklyn Rail

The abandoned Hotel Centrale in downtown Cosenza, Italy, is a relic of ghastly 1970s-style retro-futuristic architecture, starkly at odds with the stately if decrepit medieval buildings of the city’s historic center, which begins just a few blocks away. But the Centrale has clearly been reclaimed by oppositional cultural forces.

The flag of Syria’s revolutionary Kurds flies from the roof. A multiculti congregation of scruffy youth hang out in the lobby—some Italian kids with dyed hair and a punk aesthetic, some young migrants from Africa and the Middle East. A hand-scrawled sign at the entrance reads “Hotel Centrale Occupato”—with the O in occupato slashed with a lightning bolt, making the squatter symbol. Below, it reads, “Mangia, riposa… e lotta!” Eat, rest… and fight!

The Centrale is one of six buildings in the provincial city that are under occupation by the local squatter network, Prendocasa Cosenza—literally, Taking House Cosenza. The group began reclaiming abandoned properties around Cosenza in 2011, especially opening housing for the migrants and refugees that began entering Italy and Europe in large numbers around this time. In addition to the Centrale, still technically under private ownership, two of the properties are owned by the Catholic church and the remaining three by either the municipal government or the regional government of Calabria—in the extreme south of Italy’s mainland, the proverbial toe of the boot, a traditionally marginalized part of the country.

Some 300 people are living in these reclaimed properties, and only one squat has been evicted by the police since the movement was launched. The municipal and regional governments tolerate the squatters, and the municipality is actually paying the church for use of its buildings by the migrants and their activist allies.

It remains to be seen how long this arrangement will last, given the recent political changes in Italy. The country’s far-right interior minister (and de facto ruler) Matteo Salvini was just removed from power in September as his coalition fractured and a new government was formed. But last November, he pushed through his draconian Decreto Salvini—explicitly aimed at two broadly overlapping groups: immigrants and squatters. In addition to restricting the rights of migrants and refugees to asylum and government aid, it imposes a five-year prison term for squatting.

The first squat eviction under the law sparked street-fighting in Turin, up at the other end of the country, in February. The squatters of Cosenza are waiting uneasily to see if Salvini’s fall will be a reprieve for them.

Rialzo

Pride in ‘Meticcia’
Across some overgrown train tracks from the Hotel Centrale is the Rialzo social center, in a squatted abandoned rail station. It was established in 2007 as a centro politico occupato autogestito (self-managed occupied political center, or CPOA), and brings together cultures of the many lands now disgorging their disenfranchised and usurped to Italy and Europe.

Rialzo mosque

A part of the Rialzo has been established as a makeshift mosque for migrants from Muslim lands—the only mosque in Cosenza. In the spring, Rialzo hosted a Nowruz celebration in solidarity with the rebel Kurds of Syria’s Rojava region. On the night I attended a squatter soirée there, a class in traditional West African drumming and dance was being led by a young teacher from Ivory Coast.

Rialzo

Some of the young Calabrese squatters at Rialzo recalled Salvini’s past as leader of the Northern League, who rose to prominence in the ‘90s by stigmatizing Italy’s South as an economic drain. The Northern League actually sought secession from Italy for the industrialized Po Valley. Having dropped its separatist pretensions and now renamed simply the League in a bid for national power, it today demonizes immigrants rather than Southerners. Prima gli Italiani—Italians First—was Salvini’s new slogan.

cozenza meticcia

But the kids at Rialzo have not forgotten his (recent) past. “Salvini is racist against African people but also racist against people from the South,” a young squatter named Roberto tells me. He points to a door painted brightly with the words “Cosenza Meticcia”—mixed, akin to the Spanish word mestizo. “Calabria is multicultural,” he says. “So many peoples passed through over the centuries—Greeks, Romans, Saracens [Arabs], Normans, Spanish, Arbresh [Albanians].” Going back to ancient times, he recalls that the Bruzzi or Bruttians, the local Italic tribe, resisted Rome. “We in Cosenza inherited that mentality,” he says wryly.

Rialzo mural

Battling the bureaucracy of detention
One of the murals at Rialzo depicts the local protests against the CIE—the Center for Identification and Expulsion, a prison-like camp for intercepted undocumented migrants, across the mountains to the west in the coastal city of Lamezia. It was closed in 2006 after a four-year protest campaign. A second CIE in Calabria, at Crotone, across the mountains to the east on the Ionian coast, was closed after an uprising at the camp in 2013. But there are still 10 such camps around Italy—including three in Sicily. They have recently been renamed CPRs, or Centers of Detention for Repatriation. The detained can be held at the CPRs for up to 18 months, usually followed by forced deportation.

The Italian government maintains a bureaucratic alphabet soup of agencies for every stage of processing migrants. Those deemed to have a credible case for asylum are held in a Reception Center for Asylum Seekers, or CARA. Once an asylum bid is filed and pending, the detainees are transferred to an Extraordinary Reception Center, or CAS. There are several of both in Calabria and Sicily. Those cleared as legitimate asylum applicants are released to the Protection System for Applicants, or SPRAR, with local branches often overseen by nonprofits. Those in the SPRAR system have freedom of movement and can apply for citizenship after five years.

A registered SPRAR facility in Cosenza is the Kasbah, which began as a community center in an occupied empty school building in 2001. It entered the SPRAR system in 2005, under contract to the Cosenza municipal government, with Interior Ministry oversight. The Kasbah’s Emilia Corea says the center has processed hundreds of asylum applicants, helping them to find housing and providing them with counseling and other aid. Most passed through Libya, a key transit point for migrants.

Corea works with the Kasbah’s multidisciplinary team for torture victims. “The big majority of those who were detained in Libya experienced torture, and that usually means sexual violence as well,” she says. “And they were already fleeing violence in their home countries. In Libya, human beings are business and are tortured for extortion,” Corea relates. “If they have no money, they are forced to work or sold.”

Many of those who have passed through the Kasbah were from Syria or Afghanistan, as well as conflicted or repressive African countries, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

And Corea says many of these people have been further traumatized in detention in Italy. Even at the CARA and CAS facilities, which are nowhere near as harsh as the CPRs, asylum seekers live in container housing within compounds heavily policed by the Carabinieri. “It’s very hard for someone who has been tortured by soldiers, coming from war-torn countries, and then experienced more violence in transit,” she says.

Worse, this system for aiding asylum seekers is to be phased out under the Salvini Decree. After the law took effect, several families were expelled onto the street from the CARA facility in Crotone—with winter approaching. “Subsidiary protection” and “humanitarian protection”—EU-recognized status afforded those who do not meet the criteria of refugee, but still have credible fear for their safety if deported to their homelands—are also to be phased out by the Salvini Decree. And under the new law, refugee status can be revoked for any crime.

Other means of legal immigration have been closing. Under the 2002 Bossi-Fini law, immigrants from outside the EU can enter only with an employment contract arranged through their embassies. Later, the Decreto Flussi (Flow Decree) imposed strict quotas on how many can enter from each country, of the kind that were imposed in the United States by the 1924 immigration law, and overturned in 1965 as a racist embarrassment.

The Interior Ministry officially provides each individual in the asylum system some 35 euros a day—but only some three euros go directly to them as pocket money. The rest goes to pay for provisioning and administration of the facility where they are being held. And Corea believes much of that is siphoned off into corruption networks. “The ‘Ndrangheta operates at every level of society,” she says, referring to Calabria’s notorious crime machine.

Nonetheless, Salvini and the right-wing press portray the asylum-seekers as an economic drain, and competitors for jobs. “Unemployment is a problem,” Corea says. “But it’s not migrants who are responsible for this, but politicians. The propaganda of the media is used to create a racist climate against migrants.”

Hotel occupato

From Ghana to Libya to Calabria
Translating for me in my interviews with the Prendo Casa folks is Omar Hossin, a clean-cut, reserved young man from Ghana with a pending asylum claim, now living at the Villa Savoia, one of the government buildings in Cosenza under squatter occupation. Hossin’s harrowing story, related without emotion as we hang out on the Corso Mazzini, the city’s pedestrian mall, is probably all too typical.

Ghana is seen as one of the more stable countries of West Africa, but even here there are numerous agrarian conflicts that win virtually no outside media coverage. Hossin relates that in 2013, when he was 16 years old, his father was killed on the orders of what he calls a local “king.” He is circumspect on the details, but apparently a land dispute was involved. There may have also been an ethnic dimension, as Hossin is of the Kotokoli people while the king (or traditional chieftain) was Ashanti—although he is not, he makes clear, speaking of the overall king of the Ashanti people in Ghana, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, but some lesser figure.

In any event, Hossin was sure that he was next and that he had to flee. “I felt they could find me anywhere in Ghana, and I had to get out of the country,” he says. He had saved some money working as a motorcycle mechanic, and made arrangements to cross the Sahara with people-smugglers, headed for Libya, where he was told he could find work. Ten days after leaving Ghana, he arrived in Tripoli, passing through the desert as a virtual captive of the armed smugglers.

Hossin found construction work in Tripoli, and lived in an unfinished building, allowed to stay in exchange for his labor. But the sound of gunfire often kept him awake at night. This was one of the periods when rival militias were fighting for control of the city. “I was running for my life in Ghana and now there was fighting again,” he says.

In July 2014, he decided to cross the Mediterranean, getting on an overcrowded boat with a group of fellow migrants and refugees—three-days passage in an uncovered outboard-motor craft not designed for the open sea. On the third day, things started to look bad. “The boat was about to sink, the motor was getting tired,” Hossin recalls.

They were rescued by the Italian navy and taken to Licata, Sicily, where they were given showers and medical attention at a reception center, presumably one of the CARA facilities since closed under the Salvini Decree. “I was happy to be there with no loss of life,” Hossin says.

After being screened, he was put on a chartered flight to Rome, where he was held in a camp, presumably a CAS. There were seven to a room, among some 30 at the facility. There were Italian classes, and during the day he had freedom of movement around the city. With the €2.50 daily pocket money he was given (sometimes delayed for weeks), he saved up enough to get a phone. On social media, he made a friend in Cosenza. He relocated there after his release from the camp in 2015.

With his asylum claim pending, he has been given a UN-issued passport. If his claim is accepted, he’ll be able to apply for Italian citizenship in five years, based on his employment prospects. Meanwhile, he has been working on local farms, doing housework, and squatting at the Villa Savoia in a room with a gas stove but no heat or hot water.

Squatting technically puts him afoul of the Salvini Decree, which could theoretically forfeit his asylum claim. Still, he is accepting of his circumstances. “It’s better than my time in Libya,” he says. “I’m not afraid someone will kill me.” He is sporadically in touch by phone with his mother, who is in hiding in Ghana.

prendocasa cosenza

Meet the New Boss?
Emilia Corea is only guardedly optimistic about the new regime in Italy, which brings together Salvini’s former coalition partners, the fuzzy populists of the Five Star Movement, with the center-left Democratic Party. “Salvini is no longer the interior minister, and this is the only good news,” she says. “The party that has ruled Italy with him until a month ago is still there. And more, it is going to rule the country with a party that in the past caused serious problems for people.”

She recalls that it was the Democratic Party’s Marco Minniti, as interior minister in 2017, who began the crackdown on NGOs operating vessels to save migrants imperiled on the Mediterranean crossing—a policy later pursued more aggressively by Salvini. It was also under the Democratic Party government that year that Italy began aiding the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrant boats, leading to a big drop in the number able to flee North Africa for Italian shores—from 180,000 in 2016 to just 23,000 last year. This policy was protested by Amnesty International as making Italy and its EU partners in the program “complicit” in the horrific abuses migrants face in Libya.

Corea sees a historical irony in the anti-immigrant atmosphere, which will clearly survive Salvini. “People don’t understand that in the past Italians were in the same position as migrants today,” she says. “100,000 Italians came to America because they could not live in Italy. They were subject in America to the same racist attitudes that migrants now face in Italy. But they have forgotten everything.”

———

Bill Weinberg is an award-winning 30-year veteran journalist in the fields of human rights, indigenous peoples, drug policy, ecology and war. He is the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2002), among other books. He is currently at work on a sequel about indigenous struggles in the Andean nations. He blogs daily on global politics from an anarchist perspective at CounterVortex.org

This story first appeared in the November 2019 edition of The Brooklyn Rail.

Photos by the author.

Resources:

The EU’s Complicity in Migrant Abuse in Libya
Amnesty International, Dec. 18, 2017

La Kasbah

Prendocasa Cosenza

From our Daily Report:

Calabrian connection in Brazil narco busts
CounterVortex, Sept. 18, 2019

Amnesty: EU complicit in violence against refugees
CounterVortex, March 18, 2019

UN tells migrants to leave Libya ‘transit center’
CounterVortex, Dec. 13, 2019

Libya: Europe ‘complicit’ in horrific abuses
CounterVortex, Dec. 13, 2017

Libya slave trade becomes political football
CounterVortex, Dec. 7, 2017

Libya: Black African migrants face ‘slave markets’
CounterVortex, April 17, 2017

Ghana: four killed in chieftaincy succession dispute
CounterVortex, Nov. 3, 2007

See also:

ROME SQUATTERS FACE CLAMPDOWN
by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate/The Villager
CounterVortex, September 2019

LEFT WAITING
Africans Caught in US-Mexico Migration Limbo
by Melisa Valenzuela, The New Humanitarian
CounterVortex, October 2019

I FOUGHT IN LIBYA
Please Don’t Call Us Terrorists
by Belal Younis, Middle East Eye
CounterVortex, May 2017

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Dec, 29, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/squat-calabria/feed/ 0
INDIA 2019 JOURNO-MURDER INDEX https://countervortex.org/2019-india-improves-journo-murder-index/ https://countervortex.org/2019-india-improves-journo-murder-index/#respond Fri, 20 Dec 2019 09:35:37 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18986 Nava Thakuria reports from Guwahati, in India's strife-torn northeast.]]> by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex

As the year 2019 is approaching the finish line, India appears to have improved its journalist murder index—with authorities counting only two slain in circumstances directly related to their work this year. Reporters Without Borders counts nearly 50 journalists killed for their work to date this year (compared to 95 in 2018), and India’s share has also gone down considerably—from six last year. Moreover, none of its neighbors except Pakistan and Afghanistan—that is, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Maldives, Tibet (under China) and Bhutan—have reported any incident of a scribe’s murder this year. Pakistan and Afghanistan topped the list of journo-murders in South Asia, with each country losing five journalists to assailants in 2019.

The two murders confirmed as being related to journalism in Inida were of Andhra Pradesh-based reporter K. Satyanarayana and Madhya Pradesh-based Chakresh Jain. Young reporter Satyanarayana, who worked for Telugu daily Andhra Jyothy, was hacked to death by assailants at Annavaram village in East Godavari district on the night of October 15. Local accounts reported that Satyanarayana was attacked on an earlier occasion too, and had informed to the police. Jain, a independent freelancer, died of serious burn injuries following a quarrel with the assailant at Shahgarh locality on June 19.

However, in several other cases it is yet to be confirmed that the victims were targeted for media activities. Others killed this year include Vijay Gupta, a Kanpur-based scribe shot in an apparent family dispute October 29; Radheyshyam Sharma, a Kushinagar-based journalist apparently murdered by neighbors on October 10; Ashish Dhiman, a Saharanpur-based photo-journalist shot dead along with his brother on August 18; Anand Narayan, a Mumbai reporter killed in attack at his home on June 4; and Nityanand Pandey, a magazine editor in Thane killed by an employee on March 17.

In a case that may warrant closer scrutiny, Kerala-based journalist K. Muhammed Basheer lost his life August 3 when he was mowed down by a running vehicle, driven by a senior government officer.

There were also some who survived. Bihar scribe Pradeep Mandal was targeted in an attack on July 28. He written a number of news stories exposing the local liquor mafia for Dainik Jagaran newspaper. A Guwahati-based scribe named Naresh Mitra died on December 9 after sustaining head injuries in a mysterious accident in the city.

If we discount the killing Naresh Mitra, the trouble-torn northeastern region of India—now being rocked by angry protests over the controversial new citizenship law—has evaded the murder of any journalist for two consecutive years. This is somewhat surprising, as the northeast is the scene of multiple armed insurgencies over demands for greater autonomy or independence. Among the northeastern states, Tripura reported the murder of five media workers between 2013 and 2017, while Assam and Manipur each witnessed their last killings of journalists in 2012.

For Indian working journalists, the year 2017 is recognized as a particularly deadly year, as 12 scribes were murdered or lost their lives in suspicious situations. Two of these cases were in Tripura.

In 2016, India witnessed the targeted killings of six scribes, whereas the previous year the country lost five journalists to assailants. Only two were slain in 2014, but the year before that was also particularly deadly; 11 journalists were killed in 2013,  including three from Tripura.

Various media rights bodies including Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), have come out with reports tracking the number of journalists murdered worldwide in 2019, which is the lowest death toll in 15 years. Those organizations demanded full investigations and punishment of the culprits.

These organizations also note that many more journalists have been the target of threats, assaults and imprisonment. Over 350 journalists were imprisoned worldwide in 2019, wuth China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Vietnam taking the lead.

———

Nava Thakuria is a wirter and media activist based in Guwahati, northeast India.

A different version of this story appears in India’s Counterview.

Photo: The slaying of newspaper publisher Gauri Lankesh in Karnataka state sparked protests across India in the bloody year of 2017. Credit: Indian Cultural Forum

Resources:

49 journalists murdered worldwide in 2019
Channel News Asia, Dec. 17

Reporters Without Borders

Committee to Protect Journalists

International Federation of Journalists

From our Daily Report:

Protests sweep India over citizenship law
CounterVortex, Dec. 15, 2019

See also:

HOW INDIA COMPLICATED KASHMIR DISPUTE
by L. Ali Khan, Jurist
CounterVortex, August 2019

AFTER GUARI LANKESH
Standing for the Human Rights of Journalists in India
by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, October 2017

ELUSIVE JUSTICE FOR ASSAM VICTIMS
by Nava Thakuria, World War 4 Report
CounterVortex, February 2016

ASSAM IN FLAMES
Jihad and Ethnic Conflict Heat Up India-Bangladesh Borderlands
by Nava Thakuria, World War 4 Report
CounterVortex, November 2008

—————————-

Special to CounterVortex, Dec, 20, 2019
Reprinting permissible with attribution

]]>
https://countervortex.org/2019-india-improves-journo-murder-index/feed/ 0
IDLIB RESISTS https://countervortex.org/idlib-resists/ https://countervortex.org/idlib-resists/#respond Sun, 10 Nov 2019 07:41:11 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18889 Leila Al Shami provides an account.]]> Syrian Resistance Stands Up Again—This Time Against Islamist Militia

by Leila Al Shami

Over the past few days a popular uprising has broken out across northern Syria’s Idlib against the hardline Islamist group that is militarily dominant in much of the province—Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam or HTS, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. The uprising began when HTS increased zakaat (taxes) on a number of goods and services including bread, electricity and olive oil.

In Kafar Takharim, a town in north-estern Idlib, which is dependent on olive oil production for income, locals refused to pay increased taxes and attempts by HTS to control the olive oil presses. The local council in Kafar Takharim has long resisted attempts at take over by the HTS-linked Salvation Government. Locals staged protests and stormed HTS- controlled olive presses and police stations, successfully evicting HTS from their community.

HTS surrounded the town and demanded that locals hand over a number of individuals who participated in the protests under threat of retaliation. The locals refused and determined to continue their resistance against the militants.

On November 6, HTS forces besieged the town and began attacking it with mortar and machine-gun fire, killing at least three people and injuring others. But the locals continued resisting, and all around Idlib towns and villages rose up in solidarity with Kafar Takharim, demanding that HTS and its leader Jolani leave the province. People took to the streets in Idlib city , Salqin, Maarat Al Nu’man, Darkush, Samarda, Ariha, Kurin, Armanaz and elsewhere. People from Armanaz and Idlib city began marching towards Kafar Takharim to try and break the siege but were blocked by HTS militants. On November 7, protesters from Salqin managed to break into the town from the north.

Popular resistance to HTS has been a regular occurrence in Idlib province and chants against Jolani are regularly heard at the anti-Assad regime protests which are held almost every Friday. Many see the group’s authoritarianism as no different from that of the regime.

HTS militants increased their control over the province in January following intense fighting with rebel groups. Since then HTS has attempted to impose control over civilian governance through the creation of the Salvation Government, which has taken over service provision, local councils and education—despite the widespread resistance of locals, who have courageously attempted to defend their autonomy and the democratic institutions they established following liberation from the regime.

People were further outraged by widespread arrests which have targeted civil society activists and media workers, some of whom are reported to have died under torture in HTS-run prisons. HTS is widely believed to have been behind the assassinations of Raed Fares and Hamoud Jneed in November 2018—key figures in revolutionary organizing in Idlib and involved in the popular independent radio station Radio Fresh.

In September, large-scale protests erupted against both HTS and the continuing aerial bombardment of the province by the regime and Russia. The regime intensified its assault on the province in April, conducting an aerial campaign against residential areas which has caused some half a million to flee, has killed over 1,000, and has directly targeted civilian infrastructure including over 50 hospitals and medical centres.

The dominant narrative promoted by the regime and supporters of Syrian fascism is that Idlib is a “terrorist enclave.” The presence of a few thousand extremist militants is presented as justification for the campaign of extermination waged against Idlib’s civilian population of some 3 million people, which includes 1 million children.

Today’s uprising should challenge this narrative. Syrians have continually resisted all forms of authoritarianism and sought to defend their autonomy and exercise their desire for freedom and democracy since 2011.

Despite being trapped between the regime and extremists, Idlib remains home to many inspiring civil initiatives and outpourings of creative resistance. Just a few weeks ago, 20-year-old rapper Amir Al Muarri released the fierce track “On All Fronts,” produced in Idlib. The video (which has subtitles in English, Spanish and Russian) provides a portrait of the province and the diversity of its residents who continue to survive and resist despite living under apocalyptic conditions. He spares no criticism for the brutality of the regime, the armed factions which have hijacked the revolution, and the foreign interventions of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

It’s people like Amir and the civilians risking their lives to protest today who are Syria’s future. Their experience defies lazy assumptions that the choice Syrians face is between a fascist regime and Al Qaeda. There’s always been a third option.

———

Leila Al-Shami has worked with the human rights movement in Syria and across in the Middle East. She is the co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (Pluto Press, 2016) and a founding member of Tahrir-ICN, a network that aimed to connect anti-authoritarian struggles across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

This story first appeared Nov.  9 on Leila’s blog.

Photo of demonstration at Maarat Al Nu’man via MMC

From our Daily Report:

Russia admits: Syria is test war for weaponry
CounterVortex, Sept. 27, 2019

Syria: Idlib displaced march on Turkish border
CounterVortex, June 1, 2019

New York City vigil for Raed Fares
CounterVortex, Dec. 11, 2014

Syria: al-Qaeda taking over Idlib governorate?
CounterVortex, Aug. 30, 2017

Syria: new popular uprising against al-Qaeda
CounterVortex, July 25, 2017

See also:

SYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE
Civilians trapped between Assad regime, foreign states and warlords
by Leila Al Shami, Fifth Estate
CounterVortex, July 2019

SYRIA’S NONVIOLENT FIGHTERS
Key to Ending the War
by Maria J. Stephan, Waging Nonviolence
CounterVortex, April 2017

SELF-ORGANIZATION IN THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION
by Mark Boothroyd, The Project
CounterVortex, September 2016

SYRIA’S INDEPENDENT MEDIA
A Bold Challenge to Extremism
by Julia Taleb, Waging Nonviolence
CounterVortex, May 2016

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Nov, 9, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/idlib-resists/feed/ 0
LEFT WAITING https://countervortex.org/left-waiting/ https://countervortex.org/left-waiting/#respond Thu, 24 Oct 2019 21:44:40 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18840 Melisa Valenzuela reports from Tapachula for The New Humanitarian.]]> Africans Caught in US-Mexico Migration Limbo

by Melisa Valenzuela, The New Humanitarian

For months, hundreds of African migrants and asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been camped out in tents in front of the main immigration detention facility in the town of Tapachula, in southern Mexico.

Most flew halfway around the world to Brazil, then made the dangerous journey north through the Darien Gap—a remote, roadless swath of jungle—before traversing Central America into Mexico in the hope of finally reaching the United States to claim asylum.

On reaching Tapachula, they found themselves corralled into a detention centre and told they couldn’t progress further without a permit that protects them for deportation and allows them to stay legally—permits that are harder to come by since Mexico agreed in June to help the United States limit the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.

Fearing deportation or that the permits will never come, a frustrated group of migrants—including hundreds of Africans—set off north this week only to be stopped shortly afterwards by Mexican national guard and police and returned to a holding facility.

Even if the Africans were to reach the US border and get to the front of the long queue, a recent policy—pushed by President Donald Trump and known as “Remain in Mexico”—means migrants hoping to seek asylum in the United States must await their fate in Mexico.

The US administration is also set to enforce a series of bilateral agreements that will bar people from applying if they don’t first apply for asylum in the Central American countries they travelled through: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The asylum-seekers could be deported back to the so-called “safe third country,” which critics say are not safe at all and would put many at renewed risk.

Pressure is growing on many of the Africans to claim asylum in Mexico, but several told The New Humanitarian they didn’t want to because of the lack of economic opportunities and a perception they could struggle with racist attitudes.

Even if they were to pursue asylum in Mexico, the system is already overwhelmed. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, asylum applications in Mexico rose from 2,100 in 2014 to 48,000 for the first eight months of 2019. Chiapas, the southern Mexican state and home to Tapachula, hosts 70 percent of those applicants.

According to the Mixed Migration Centre, an independent resource for data on migrants and asylum seekers, some 4,799 Africans were apprehended in Mexico between January and July this year—a fourfold increase over the same period in 2018. “Somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 [Africans] are currently stranded in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula,” it said.

———

For this film, video journalist Melisa Valenzuela travelled to Tapachula and spoke to asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon about their long journeys, their lives in limbo, and why they don’t want to stay in Mexico

This article first appeared Oct. 18 on The New Humanitarian.

Photo of protest at detention center in Tapachula from El Dictamen, Veracruz, Sept. 25

From our Daily Report:

SCOTUS allows enforcement of Trump asylum ban
CounterVortex, Sept. 12, 2019

Mexico: new security force to Guatemalan border
CounterVortex, June 8, 2019

See also:

ROME SQUATTERS AND MIGRANTS FACE CLAMPDOWN
by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate/The Villager
CounterVortex, September 2019

DISMANTLING POWER
Zapatista Presidential Candidate’s Vision to Transform Mexico from Below
by Benjamin Dangl, Toward Freedom
CounterVortex, August 2017

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Oct, 24, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/left-waiting/feed/ 0
ROME SQUATTERS FACE CLAMPDOWN https://countervortex.org/rome-squatters-face-clampdown/ https://countervortex.org/rome-squatters-face-clampdown/#respond Mon, 16 Sep 2019 07:56:49 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18734 de facto ruler) Matteo Salvini was just removed from power in a government shake-up—but not before passing his draconian "Salvini Law." In addition to restricting the rights of migrants and refugees to asylum and government aid, the Salvini Law imposes a five-year prison term for squatting. Italy's thousands of squatters—many of them displaced from their homelands in the Middle East, Africa and South America—are now in a precarious position. Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account from the squats and migrant enclaves of the Eternal City.]]> by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate/The Villager

It was a multicultural crowd that gathered in Rome’s Plaza San Silvestro to oppose the draconian Security Decree then pending in the Italian parliament. Popularly called the “Salvini Law” after Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (who appears to be the real power behind the government), the Security Decree was explicitly aimed at two broadly overlapping groups: immigrants and squatters.

Many of those in Plaza San Silvestro were both. One prominent banner read: DALLE MONTAGNE DEL KURDISTAN AL CUORE DI ROMA, ARARAT NON SI SGOBERA. “From the mountains of Kurdistan to the heart of Rome, Ararat will not be evicted.” It displayed painted images of a mighty mountain and an old industrial building. Flying above the banner was the red-star flag of Kurdish revolutionary movement in Turkey and Syria.

Ararat is, of course, the famous mountain in Turkey’s Kurdish east, but here it also refers to the Ararat Kurdish Cultural Center, one of Rome’s many squatted community centers, in a reclaimed industrial space in the city’s outlying Testaccio district. There was another contingent at the protest of Peruvian migrants living in a squatted building, and yet another of squatters from various Horn of Africa countries. The contingents clustered in groups, while the riot police and paramilitary Carabinieri formed a ring around the perimeter of the plaza.

The Salvini Law, in addition to restricting the rights of migrants and refugees to asylum and government aid, also imposes a five-year prison term for squatting. It was passed Nov. 29, 2018, just six days after the protest in Plaza San Silvestro. Italy’s thousands of squatters—many of them displaced from their homelands in the Middle East, Africa and South America—are now in a precarious position.

The first mass evictions under the law sparked street-fighting in Turin on Feb. 10 after police raided the squatted community center called El Asilo (The Asylum).

Ferment in San Lorenzo
Rome’s San Lorenzo neighborhood, just east of the historic center, may be next to feel the heat. This area of mixed decaying apartment buildings and abandoned light industry has the city’s highest density of occupazioni. as squats are called. In this area, they are mostly community centers in reclaimed abandoned properties—generally dubbed CSOAs, for centro sociale ocupato auto-gestito (self-managed occupied social centers).

Communia is a self-described spacio de mutuo soccorso (space of mutual aid) facing a thoroughfare on the edge of San Lorenzo. A banner above the entrance reads OMNIA SUNT COMMUNIA—Latin for “The Commons is All,” the slogan associated with Thomas Müntzer, the radical theologian who became a rebel leader during the German Peasants’ War of 1524–5. Pass through the gate, and a big mural portrait of the revolutionary cleric adorns the warehouse wall across the courtyard.

CommuniaYlena, one of the volunteers at Communia, sees the area’s occupazioni as threatened by economic forces even apart from the Salvini Law—along with the neighborhood’s traditional commons. As San Lorenzo is gentrified, “public streets are being closed by private developers,” she says.

The struggle for control of space was dealt a propaganda blow in October, with the death of Desireé Mariottini, 16, who was apparently given drugs before being sexually abused in a derelict building in San Lorenzo, and suffered an overdose. Three migrants from Senegal and Nigeria were arrested in the case, and Salvini personally visited San Lorenzo to rail against the “worms” infesting the district. The case helped lubricate passage of his Security Decree.

But Ylena sees the crime as related to the squeeze on wholesome places for youth and the disenfranchised to gather. “When something like this happens, they say something must be done. But we have been saying for years we need more community spaces,” she says. “Now they can say everything sucks here, so we can destroy everything and build new houses. So we are trying to get legalized.”

Communia has moved through various locations in San Lorenzo since its founding in 2013, before settling into its current complex of disused warehouses. It now hosts a café, library, art gallery, and a sartoria migrante—a workshop where mostly West African migrants make whimsical fashion items from recycled materials for sale in local markets. It is called Karaló Roma, from the word for “tailor” in the Mandinka language. Space is also provided for a group that offers legal counseling for migrants.

Communia is hoping to gain legal rights to occupancy of the space, which is still formally owned by the proprietors who abandoned it.

CommuniaEven amid the related threats of repression and gentrification, there is still a palpable sense of social ferment in San Lorenzo. Among the numerous CSOAs is a palestra popolare, or popular gymnasium where local rads can stay in shape for street actions. Radio Onda Rossa (Red Wave), a pirate station rooted in the Autonomist movement of the ’70s. has been on the air for almost 40 years. And in a narrow storefront on Via dei Campani, near ancient walls dating to Rome’s imperial era, is Anomalia anarchist bookstore. Founded in 1984, its private lower level houses the archives of Errico Malatesta’s Italian Anarchist Federation, dating back to the 1940s.

palestra populareMuseum of the Other and Elsewhere
Further east, in an outlying industrial area along the Via Prenestina, is one of Rome’s most public occupazioni, the Metropoliz. This won fame on the underground film circuit with its 2011 cinematic project Space Metropoliz, about squatters colonizing the Moon (a nod, if not an intentional one, to Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed). Filmed in the cavernous ex-factory, the flick is on YouTube, and has screened at film festivals in Italy and elsewhere.

metropolizEvery vast room in the rambling former salami plant is filled with bizarre artwork—murals on the walls, huge sculptures hanging from the ceilings, surreal, menacing or idealistic. Many are crafted from found industrial debris.

metropolizBut the upper floors are inhabited by mostly migrant families, laundry hung to dry in the corridors. In the canteen, where a big circle-A hangs above the kitchen doorway, a family of Peruvians is cooking up lunch fare: the typical Italian proletarian dish pasta fazool, and the traditional Peruvian specialty, papas a la Huancaína.

Giorgio de Finis, who directed the film and co-founded the squat, sits down with me over coffee in the canteen. “Many squats in Europe are inhabited by artists,” he says. “But this one is inhabited by families. Artists initiated it, but with the political intention to advance what we call the diritto a la città—the right to housing.” (Literally, the right to the city.)

The salami factory was abandoned in the ’80s, and the space was taken over in 2009 by a squatter movement called the Blocchi Precari Metropolitani—the Precarious Metropolitan Blocs, a reference to the uncertain social status of the disenfranchised. The year after the film came out, it was opened to the public as the Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz, or MAAM—the Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere. Amid the droves of alterno-tourists groking on the artwork, live some 200 migrants—from Peru, Morocco, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea—as well as some Italian families left unemployed and homeless in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, and several Romani families, otherwise forced to live in camps under what de Finis calls a “policy of ghettoization.”

But by the time the squatters moved in, the ex-factory had already been bought by the Salini Impregilo construction firm, which wants to build an apartment complex on the site. De Finis emphasizes that this development would not serve the communities now living in the Metropoliz.

Irene di Noto, another Metropoliz co-founder, sees the project as an experiment in a new form of social organization. “We want to go beyond the dichotomy between public and private,” she says. “What we call ‘public’ today is space not yet appropriated by the private. We want to establish space outside that dynamic—a space managed by citizens, as well as accessible to citizens.”

Acknowledging that Metropoliz has a weak claim to the space under the law, she says, “We speak not of legality but legitimacy—serving the bene comune [common good].”

metropolizDi Noto believes there are some 6,000 people living in some 100 squats across Rome, and criminalizing them will not address the social pressures that brought about this reality. “Rent control was abolished throughout Italy in the ’90s, and public housing has been sold off since then; there is less each year. Salvini’s ‘Italians first’ rhetoric and security law facilitate evictions.”

One of the slogans seen on banners at the rally in Plaza San Silvestro was SPEGNI LA MICCIA—”douse the fuse,” with the implication that the Salvini Law would put the country on a countdown to social explosion. Now that it has passed, the challenge facing Italy’s squatters is greater than ever.

———

Update: Matteo Salvini was removed from power as his coalition fractured and a new government was formed in September 2019. The new government brings together Salvini’s former coalition partners, the populist Five Star Movement, with the center-left Democratic Party. It remains to be seen if the new government will enforce the Salvini Law.

Portions of this article previously appeared in the Spring issue of Fifth Estate and the June 17 edition of The Villager.

Photos by the author. In bottom photo, Giorgio de Finis on far left and Irene di Noto in center.

Resources:

Communia Network

Libreria Anomalia

Umanità Nova

Space Metropoliz

See also:

TURKISH KURDISTAN: ERASURE OF A CULTURE
by Diego Cupolo, IRIN
CounterVortex, July 2018

POSITIVELY QUILCA STREET
Anarchist Scene Survives ‘Clean-Up’ in Lima, Peru
by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate
CounterVortex, March 2018

BLOODY CALABRIA
Criminal Networks Exploit Italy’s Anti-Immigrant Backlash
by Giulio D’Eramo, World War 4 Report
CounterVortex, March 2010

RISE OF THE CZECH FAR RIGHT
Neo-Nazis Exploit Growing Anti-Roma Racism
by Gwendolyn Albert, World War 4 Report
CounterVortex, July 2009

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Sept, 15, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/rome-squatters-face-clampdown/feed/ 0
HOW INDIA COMPLICATED KASHMIR DISPUTE https://countervortex.org/how-india-complicated-kashmir-dispute/ https://countervortex.org/how-india-complicated-kashmir-dispute/#respond Sat, 31 Aug 2019 06:22:31 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18673 L. Ali Khan, writing for Jurist, offers a legal and historical perspective on the crisis.]]> by L. Ali Khan, Jurist

In the first week of August 2019, the Indian Parliament passed, and the president signed, legislation to remove Articles 370 and 35A of the India Constitution. Article 370 preserved the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a princely state that has been forcibly divided up between India and Pakistan. Article 35A empowers the J&K state to determine its permanent residents.

The constitutionality of the legislation revoking Articles 370 and 35A has been challenged in the India Supreme Court.

By revoking Articles 370 and 35A, India has seemingly abandoned the notion of J&K state as a special territory deserving autonomy. However, as discussed below, the revocation complicates matters more than it resolves. The revocation does little to lawfully change the autonomy of the State or alter the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the revocation will foment domestic unrest and possibly an armed conflict between nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan.

The Kashmir Dispute
The Kashmir dispute surfaced soon after the 1947 partition of British India when the Hindu ruler of the J&K princely state acceded to India without consent of the predominantly Muslim population. Within a year of the partition, Pakistani tribesmen invaded and captured a substantial portion of the J&K state, which remains under their control.

At India’s behest in 1948 the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, passed a resolution proposing several measures, including “the withdrawal of tribesmen,” and the holding of “a free and impartial plebiscite” for determining “the question of the accession.”

Pakistan declined to give up its portion of J&K state. India declined to hold a plebiscite. Since then, the J&K state has remained divided between India and Pakistan.

In 1952, in view of the deadlock between India and Pakistan, India turned inward and entered into an agreement with the J&K state, known as the Delhi Agreement. The Agreement reaffirms “that sovereignty in all matters other than those specified in the Instrument of Accession continues to reside in the State.” The Agreement also recognizes the State’s authority to define the rights and privileges for its permanent residents.

In order to give effect to the Delhi Agreement, Articles 370 and 35A were enacted and placed in the India Constitution. This constitutional enactment brought peace between India and J&K state.

Internationally, however, India and Pakistan continued to claim the entire J&K state—but made little headway to resolve the dispute. Under the 1972 Simla Agreement, India and Pakistan made a commitment to resolve the Kashmir dispute through bilateral negotiations.

In addition to the accession duality, a third option has also developed, which argues for the sovereign independence of the J&K state, free from both India and Pakistan.

Far from offering a solution, the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A deepens the conflict even further since the Muslims of Kashmir, and especially radicalized youth, will protest the denial of autonomy. Pakistan will come under its own domestic pressure to “do something” while the Indian troops mistreat the people of Kashmir.

The J&K Constitution
The question remains whether the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A can lawfully change the autonomy of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (the “State”). In 1956, the J&K Constituent Assembly drafted a constitution for the State, reaffirming its own special status in the Union of India. The State constitution has incorporated the provisions of Articles 370 and 35A to preserve its own autonomy.

Part III (Sections 6-10) of the constitution lays out the qualifications, rights, and privileges of the “permanent residents” of the State. The residence provisions preserve J&K demographics and prevent the influx of people from other parts of India. They also limit who may lawfully vote in local elections, and own property.

The J&K constitution empowers the legislature to redefine and regulate permanent residents. However, any change in the definition, rights, and privileges of the permanent residents requires “not less than two-thirds” of the “total membership” of each house of the State’s bicameral legislature.

Given that the people of the State do not support the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, and given the local resistance to Indian troops, it is unlikely that the State legislature would expand the definition of permanent residents to permit immigrants from other parts of India. The “two-thirds” requirement poses a stiff barrier to any alteration of Part III of the State constitution.

This raises the question of whether the federal parliament can revoke the State constitution. There appears to be no such authority available under the Indian Constitution.

Furthermore, the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over J&K State has also been enshrined in the State constitution. Section 3 proclaims that the State of Jammu and Kashmir “is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India.” However, Section 4 defines the territory of the State as “all the territories which on the fifteenth day of August, 1947, were under the sovereignty or suzerainty of the Ruler of the State.” Since a substantial portion of the pre-1947 State is now under the control of Pakistan, the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan remains a lingering question under the State constitution.

Special Status
The Indian Constitution recognizes the special status of several states within the Union. In addition to J&K state, for example, Article 371A recognizes the “religious and social practices of the Nagas,” and protects the State of Nagaland’s “land and its resources” from the reach of federal legislation. Article 371G offers similar protections to the State of Mizoram.

As noted above, Articles 370 and 35A limit the power of the federal legislature to make laws for the J&K state. The federal legislature can make laws only with respect “to matters specified in the Instrument of Accession,” such as defense, external affairs, and communications (posts and telephones, etc.). On other matters, the Instrument of Accession retains the sovereignty of the State. This limit on federal powers forges the special status of the State.

Thus, Articles 370 and 35A are a federal commitment to safeguarding the terms of the Accession Instrument and the Delhi Agreement. By revoking these Articles, the federal government violates the terms of the Accession Instrument and the Delhi Agreement. The revocation takes away the sovereignty of the State that the Instrument and the Agreement confer on the State.

Furthermore, Section 147 of the J&K constitution prohibits the State legislature from “changing the provisions of the constitution of India as applicable in relation to the State.” Section 147 is a reference to Articles 370 and 35A, the only constitutional provisions of the India Constitution applicable to the State.

In view of the Accession Instrument and the Delhi Agreement, the Indian Supreme Court may rule that the federal government has no authority to revoke Articles 370 and 35A. The Court will most likely hold that the federal government cannot unilaterally amend or repeal any or all the provisions of the J&K constitution, without the consent of the State legislature.

Conclusion
Domestically, the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A does not alter the J&K autonomy protected under the Accession Instrument, the Delhi Agreement, and the State constitution. Internationally, the 1948 UN Security Council Resolutions and the 1972 Simla Agreement recognize the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan as an international dispute that cannot be unilaterally resolved but must be settled through a fair and impartial plebiscite or through some other bilateral agreement. Unfortunately, the heavily guarded border dividing the State, known as the line of control, continues to trigger skirmishes and threatens a possible all-out war—with potential for the use of nuclear weapons.

———

L. Ali Khan is the founder of Legal Scholar Academy and an emeritus professor of law at the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. He has written numerous scholarly articles and commentaries on international law. In addition, he has regularly contributed to Jurist since 2008.

This story first appeared Aug. 30 on Jurist.

Map via Wikipedia

From our Daily Report:

Militarization as Delhi prepares to dismantle Kashmir
CounterVortex, Aug. 5, 2019

India: Naga rebels divided over peace deal
CounterVortex, Sept. 12, 2015

See also:

SEEKING JUSTICE FOR GUJARAT GENOCIDE
Interview with Teesta Setalvad
by Andy Heintz, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, March 2018

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Aug, 30, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/how-india-complicated-kashmir-dispute/feed/ 0
ALGERIA: BOUTEFLEXIT COMPLETE. NOW WHAT? https://countervortex.org/algeria-bouteflexit-complete-now-what/ https://countervortex.org/algeria-bouteflexit-complete-now-what/#respond Fri, 02 Aug 2019 04:27:20 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18607 Faten Aggad reports from Algiers for African Arguments.]]> by Faten Aggad, African Arguments

It all started on February 16, with protests in the small town of Kherrata in eastern Algeria. Of all places, it had to be here to capture the symbolism of this “Algerian Renaissance”; Kherrata was one of three towns where the French massacred an estimated 45,000 people on May 8, 1945, giving impetus to the war that would eventually lead to Algeria’s independence in 1962.

From Kherrata, the protests quickly grew in numbers and presence. By February 22, they had spread across all districts of the country. Protestors marched every Friday, reminded through messages on WhatsApp and social media that the demonstrations should remain silmiya(peaceful). By April 2, this unrelenting pressure from the streets had made President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s position untenable. After 20 years in office, he resigned.

Why were the protesters successful? And where do we go from here?

No revolution happens in neat straight lines. It is a negotiation. The protests were triggered by Bouteflika’s announcement that he would run for a fifth term in the (now postponed) April 18 elections, but it was the nature of this movement that determined what followed and that will shape what happens next as we move to a transition period.

Political, massive and diverse
Algeria’s movement (Hirak) kicked off its campaign with two political demands: “no to a fifth term” and système dégage (“system, bugger off,” loosely translated). It was thus political from the start. The protests were not a response to price hikes or a specific instance of injustice. Rather, they had a clear target and clear demands: that Bouteflika and the system propping him up go. The political nature of these goals made it difficult for the establishment to respond quickly, as it had in previous years, by negotiating concessions such as subsidies or policy reforms.

Complicating things further was the scale of the Hirak. As of March, it was estimated to have mobilised 15 million people every Friday. These protesters emerged not just in metropoles such as Algiers but in every city from east to west, and from the Mediterranean coast to the far south. They counted among them every social and economic group, from rich to poor, and from the highly-educated to school drop-outs. In addition to the weekly Friday marches, professional groups also led their own protests: lawyers; university professors; architects; journalists, first from private media and then public media; and, for the first time in Algeria’s history, judges. Attempts to exploit ethnic identities (e.g. between Arab-speaking and Berber-speaking), a classic Bouteflika strategy, were massively rejected.

Interestingly, ideology did not play a role in the Hirak, helping it maintain its unity. This was unlike the protests in the early-1990s, which called for the establishment of an Islamic state, and preceded the electoral rise of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). By contrast, the Hirak focused on the notion of a Second Republic and insisted on rule of law. This republican character had one purpose: to avoid creating an institutional vacuum and risk plunging the country into chaos.

A crumbling house of cards
The nature and especially the size of the movement surprised the establishment. Algerians had come to be seen as docile by their leaders; a population, they felt, made up of a “lost generation” with no orientation and too divided to ask for change. In fact, the establishment was so confident that the president of the National Assembly (lower house of parliament), Moâd Bouchareb, responded to the February 22 protest by saying: “Bouteflika was sent by God in 1999…to those who want him gone, I say: sweet dreams and sleep tight.”

A few weeks of sustained pressure later, however, Algeria’s rulers began to panic. The first major proposal came on March 3, when Bouteflika promised to hold an “inclusive and consultative national conference” immediately after the elections. Consultations would focus on the country’s future direction and would form the foundation of a new constitution. He also promised to introduce policies to ensure the equal distribution of resources as well as specific measures to involve the youth.

The problem was that these promises were not new. In August 2012, months before his stroke, Bouteflika had given a speech declaring that his job was done and that it was time for a younger generation to take over. The promise to revise the constitution through a national dialogue had also been promised back in 2017.

Setting the tone for what would follow, the Hirak rejected consecutive proposals and reaffirmed the demand that Bouteflika and his entourage leave power.

At the same time, the movement penetrated further into labor unions whose leaders backed the president. Members of the largest trade union, General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), started challenging their leader who in one interview had looked to the sky when referring to Bouteflika as if he was god.

The same applies to the business sector, which realized change was imminent rather than necessarily being convinced of the desire for change. Among other things, its nervousness weakened the position of Ali Haddad, the head of the influential Forum of Business Leaders (FCE) and a key establishment figure who has captured state institutions to enrich himself. He has since been arrested trying to leave the country illegally.

Factions within political parties also started to break ranks. Four weeks into the protests, Bouteflika’s own party, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), declared its support for the movement and the need for change, but fell short of asking the president to leave. Members of the other coalition party, the Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND), also broke ranks with its leader, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

The key defection, however, came from Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, Algeria’s army chief and long-time Bouteflika ally. Feeling insecure about his position due to reported attempts of Bouteflika’s younger brother to sacrifice him in the process, Gaed Salah switched camps. On March 26, he called for the Constitutional Council to declare Bouteflika unfit for office in line with article 102 of the constitution. A week later, he repeated his demand, this time also citing articles 7 and 8 which say “the people shall be the source of all powers.”

Amidst mounting popular pressure, crumbling support networks, and criticisms from key allies, Bouteflika announced his resignation on April 2.

And now what?
The way forwards from here is not yet clear, but not due to the lack of proposals.

The first is that the transition stays squarely within the constitutional framework. This would mean the current president of Council of the Nation (upper house of the parliament) taking over and elections being held within 135 days. This option has been widely rejected, however, as it is seen as a way for the establishment to keep hold of power.

The second option therefore is to operate outside of the limits of the current constitution. This would involve establishing a constituent assembly backed by the population and composed of independent trusted figures. Its task would, firstly, be to nominate the transition government. It would also conduct consultations with a view to drafting a new constitution and organize the presidential election.

The process through which its representatives would be nominated, however, is a point of contention. Some call for elections (as we did in 1962 and as did Tunisia in 2011) in order to ensure the establishment cannot hijack the process. But many do not trust the independence of the existing electoral system, especially if the vote is organized by the new government that Bouteflika nominated the day before his resignation.

Which option prevails depends on several factors. First is the role of the army. As it now stands, the army does not seem to have the appetite to manage the process and repeat the scenario Algeria found itself in in the early 1990s. Furthermore, calls for it to return to the barracks indicate that while opinion was divided on whether the army should take a stand in the protests, there is consensus that it should play no role in the transition.

The Constitutional Council, whose president is seen to be very close to the Bouteflika clan, will also play an important role. That body will determine the eligibility of the current president of the Council of the Nation, whose nationality has been questioned, to be interim president. The constitution is clear that the president of the republic (elected or otherwise) should not hold dual citizenship.

Finally, the shape of the transition period depends on how the Hirak organizes. Until now, the movement was intentionally left decentralized to avoid it being undermined through attacks on its leaders, either by the government discrediting or arresting them. But the time now is ripe to move to Phase II.

With Bouteflika resigning it is clear that Algeria’s Renaissance has been ignited. For now, a representative constitutional assembly seems the only way to build on this and ensure a real transition. But until a genuine process is put in place, and aware that Bouteflika’s departure is just one stop on the journey, protesters are determined to keep marching every Friday.

Rendez-vous le Vendredi prochain… Till next Friday.

———

This story first rain April 4 on Africa Arguments.

Photo by the author.

Related:

In an Epic Standoff, Unarmed Algerians Get the Army to Blink
New York Times, July 29. 2019

Massacres of 8 May 1945—Historical Responsibility Haunts France
Algerie Presse Service via AllAfrica, May 7, 2019

From our Daily Report:

Algeria: Berber protesters defy flag ban
CounterVortex, July 1, 2019

Algeria’s victory: Arab Revolution reawakens?
CounterVortex, April 2, 2019

See also:

ALGERIA: NEW STAGING POST FOR MIGRANTS
by Saskia Houttuin and Eva Huson, IRIN
CounterVortex, November 2016

BERBER NEW YEAR IN A UKRAINIAN CHURCH
by Bill Weinberg, The Villager
CounterVortex, March 2016

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, Aug. 1, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/algeria-bouteflexit-complete-now-what/feed/ 0
SYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE https://countervortex.org/syria-from-revolution-to-quagmire/ https://countervortex.org/syria-from-revolution-to-quagmire/#respond Thu, 18 Jul 2019 05:28:58 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18567 Leila Al Shami writes for the North American anarchist journal Fifth Estate.]]> Civilians trapped between Assad regime, foreign states and warlords

by Leila Al Shami, Fifth Estate

If 2011 looked like the moment when people could unite, both within and across borders, to topple decades-old dictatorships with the demand for freedom and social justice, today looks like the moment of counter-revolutionary success. After eight years of increasingly brutal conflict in Syria, Bashar al-Assad still presides as president over a now destroyed, fragmented and traumatized country. The dominant narrative is that the war is nearing its end. States once vocally opposed to Assad now have other strategic concerns which take precedence over the victims of his savage efforts to hold onto power. Yet, on the ground, conditions are far from stable; civilians remain trapped and are paying the price for ongoing struggles for power and territory between the regime, foreign states and ideological warlords.

Trump’s announcement (by tweet) in December, that he planned to withdraw US troops from Syria, led to panic among many Syrians, and precipitated a new wave of jostling between international and regional powers. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have been working together with the US in the fight against ISIS and are now in control over a large territory in the north and east of the country, seemed to have been abandoned.

Without US backing, they are unlikely to maintain a presence in Arab-majority areas in eastern Syria, and Trump’s announcement sent waves of families fleeing SDF-controlled towns in the Deir Al Zour countryside towards opposition-controlled areas in the north. They fear that the regime and Iranian militias will take over and exact retribution on those perceived as dissidents.

Protests have broken out against the SDF in Manbij, Tabqa and Mansoura. People are angered by SDF negotiations with the regime, as well as long-standing resentments relating to a lack of adequate service provision, arbitrary arrests and forced conscription. Some have called upon Turkey to intervene to protect them. There is also the fear of ISIS resurgence.

Despite Trump’s boast that the terror group had been defeated, the war continues. On January 18, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that International Coalition war planes killed at least 15 civilians, including six children, in Al Baghouz Tahtani village in Deir Al Zour.

In Kurdish-majority areas, the fears are different. Turkey, long an enemy of Kurdish autonomy both at home and abroad, has announced its intention to intervene to establish a “safe-zone” in the northeast of the country.

Turkey’s main aim in Syria, even while ostensibly rebels in the fight against the regime, has been to prevent Kurdish control along its border and establish an area for returning Syrian refugees, some 3.5 million of whom are currently residing in Turkey.

Last year, Turkish and allied rebel forces took over Afrin, a Kurdish-majority area formerly under the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish mass organization in Syria, which Turkey considers a terrorist group. The occupying forces have carried out obscene acts of violence against the local population including the looting of Kurdish homes and businesses, forced displacements, kidnappings, assassinations and rape.

Kurdish leaders have rejected the idea of an expanded Turkish presence and instead have requested international protection. Without this, they may be faced with little choice but to negotiate the return of regime control and therefore place their faith in those that Kurds in their thousands rose up to overthrow in 2011.

Elsewhere the situation is no better. In January, the powerful hardline Islamist group Hayaat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) declared war on rebel groups and captured much of opposition-held territory in Idlib province, and parts of neighboring Aleppo and Hama. The HTS-affiliated Salvation Government, which has been accused of corruption, imposing hardline Islamist rule, widespread arrests and arbitrary killing of opponents (both civil activists and rebel fighters), is attempting to take over all civil institutions in these territories.

Local councils, Free Syria Police Forces, university students and medical workers have protested such attempts, stressing their independence and neutrality from any armed group. But western donors have withdrawn funding for civil society activities and humanitarian aid, fearing it may end up in HTS hands, a designated terrorist group, leaving the healthcare system and provision for internally displaced Syrians on the brink of collapse.

With HTS now in control of Idlib, Assad and Russia may break the ceasefire deal and justify an attack on the province in the name of the War on Terror, with disastrous consequences for the three million civilians who reside there. As I write, regime shells rain down on the small town of Maarat AlNu’man, famed for its resistance to both the Assad regime and HTS, leaving casualties and destruction.

Despite the desire of many countries to rid themselves of their “refugee problem” by suggesting that stability is returning, the situation in regime-controlled areas is also catastrophic. In Deraa in the south, and eastern Ghouta near Damascus, the return of the regime has meant a return of “the Kingdom of Silence and Fear.”

There are ongoing mass arrest campaigns and forced conscription to regime forces (despite amnesty deals which accompanied the “reconciliation” process for those who chose to stay rather than be forcibly displaced from their homes). Resistance to the regime has re-emerged in Deraa including protests, graffiti and assassinations of pro-regime fighters and local figures that were involved in the reconciliation process who are now accused of betrayal.

The living conditions in these areas are desperate as both international and local NGOs which provided services and employment opportunities in the face of local economic collapse, ceased operations following the regime takeover.

In regime-controlled Aleppo and Damascus, shortages of gas, oil and electricity, and the monopolization of goods and services by regime militia who are charging exorbitant prices, has led to widespread public criticism of the regime even among its loyalist support base. Many Syrians who fled or were forcibly displaced from their homes not only fear arrest if they return, but they often no longer have homes to return to.

Laws have been put in place to expropriate property in formerly rebel-held communities, and to transfer it to loyalist hands under the pretext of reconstruction and development. The working class suburbs which were hotbeds of resistance are to be turned over to luxury malls and high-end development, providing homes for those whose loyalty to the regime is not in question.

For many Syrians there can be no stability, much less peace, while those responsible for the country’s destruction remain in power. In recent months Syrian families have been learning the terrible fate of their loved ones, as the regime has issued death notices to civil registries of thousands of people who have been killed in regime detention.

Many of those killed were activists arrested in 2011 and 2012, including non-violent advocate Yahya Shurbaji and his brother Ma’an who were among 1,000 people from Daraya tortured to death in jail. Another executed was Layla Shweikani, a young woman from Chicago who travelled to Syria to help those displaced by the conflict and was detained in Damascus in 2016.

Tens of thousands of Syrians remain detained or disappeared. Syrians continue to demand justice and accountability for all those responsible for war crimes and mass human rights violations, yet the world seems increasingly impervious to their calls.

In Syria, and elsewhere in the region, revolutionary uprisings and inspiring experiments in grassroots democracy have been crushed by counter-revolutionary forces. Yet popular anger has not dissipated.

None of the factors which caused the uprisings have been resolved, and the situation has only deteriorated socially, politically and economically. Peace and freedom remain as elusive as ever.

———

Leila Al Shami is co-author, with Robin Yassin-Kassab, of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, Pluto Press 2018. She has worked with the human rights movement in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. This story first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Fifth Estate.

Since this story ran, the Assad regime has launched the feared offensive on Iblib province.

Photo of Idlib protest against bombardment via EA Worldview

From our Daily Report:

Waterworks, civil defense centers bombed in Idlib
CounterVortex, July 17, 2019

Syrian Democratic Forces fire on Arab protesters
CounterVortex, May 11, 2019

Turkish occupation builds wall through Afrin
CounterVortex, May 2, 2019

Trump’s Syria withdrawal: bad news for Kurds
CounterVortex, Dec. 19, 2018

Syria: UN urges information on disappeared
CounterVortex, Dec. 11, 2018

Propaganda and the accounting of death in Syria
CounterVortex, Aug. 10, 2018

Multiple forced population transfers in Syria
CounterVortex, May 5, 2018

See also:

‘RUSSIAGATE,’ SYRIA AND THE LEFT
by Terry Burke
CounterVortex, June 2019

THE ‘ANTI-IMPERIALISM’ OF FOOLS
by Leila Al Shami
CounterVortex, April 2018

—————————-

Reprinted by CounterVortex, July 17, 2019

]]>
https://countervortex.org/syria-from-revolution-to-quagmire/feed/ 0
‘RUSSIAGATE,’ SYRIA AND THE LEFT https://countervortex.org/russiagate-syria-and-the-left/ https://countervortex.org/russiagate-syria-and-the-left/#respond Thu, 27 Jun 2019 18:32:32 +0000 http://cvwp.countervortex.org/?p=18509 Terry Burke deconstructs this reality in a special for CounterVortex.]]> by Terry Burke

The last major national protest in the US was “Families Belong Together” in June 2018. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country demonstrated against the Trump administration’s policy of separating children and families at the border. People who had never protested before brought their families. It’s now a year later and the situation for immigrant families has only gotten worse. Where is the outrage?

Plans for ICE raids targeting millions of immigrants. Preparing military strikes on Iran. Pulling the US out of climate and arms-control treaties. Conniving with “alt-right” and ultra-nationalist movements around the world. Defying congressional subpoenas. Corrupt, incompetent people heading every federal agency. The list of destructive Trump policies and provocations seems endless.

Trump’s recent visit to London brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets. Where are the protests in the US? Where are the coalitions in the US organizing against Trump’s anti-democratic, inhumane policies? Where is the left?

Part of the problem is the enormous amount of disinformation that has been specifically directed at the left, disinformation that most of those targeted don’t recognize. The disinfo uses anti-imperialist language and is posted on “left” sites that usually have nominally accurate stories on issues such as Palestine, climate change, corporate corruption, and other questions of concern to progressives.

In addition to the disinfo media sites, authors respected by left have confused their readers by dismissing “Russiagate” as a hoax, claiming that Russian interference in the US elections has been greatly exaggerated to provide the Democrats an excuse for Clinton’s loss.

Eight years of steady disinformation on Syria have created a split in the peace movement. The enormous amount of time and energy spent debating Syria could have gone to building the peace movement instead of dividing it. The doubts raised repeatedly about Russian interference and Mueller’s investigation have weakened the opposition to Trump. Some people don’t know which news sources they can trust. Others restrict themselves only to sources that support their ideological line.

Steve Bannon famously said, “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” That is exactly what has happened. There are thousands of new media organizations on the internet—and a growing proportion are not what they seem.

As Syria solidarity activists, we have been struggling against extensive, sophisticated disinformation regarding Syria for years—and it’s largely not from the US mainstream media. Syria is not Iraq, where the New York Times helped Bush lead us into war with disinformation about weapons of mass destruction. Syria is not Kuwait, where there were false stories planted about babies torn from incubators by Iraqi troops.

The mainstream media articles “demonizing” Assad are fundamentally true—his regime is one of the world’s most repressive, with a vast police and prison torture system of historic proportions. Unlike in Iraq, and contrary to the propaganda claims, the US did not instigate a serious covert regime change operation in Syria. The US efforts in Syria are well documented in Shane Bauer’s recent two part article for Mother Jones. He writes that “American involvement in Syria has been as fragmented and volatile as the conflict itself.” In this ground-breaking article, he documents how the US has spent billions, initially aiding the Free Syrian Army, but ultimately focused on combating ISIS. It actually became policy to forbid US-backed groups from fighting Assad’s forces.

His article corroborates the stories of Syrians who oppose Assad: of a genuine uprising against a brutal dictator that was only later co-opted into a proxy war; of Assad bombing and starving civilians. In 2011, the Syrian people were caught up in the fervor of the Arab Spring and surprised themselves (and the CIA) by going to the streets in the hundreds of thousands, demonstrating for democracy, overcoming their deep fears of reprisal. And this civil resistance movement survives even now.

However, most of the peace movement in the US still doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Syrian people’s eight-year struggle against the Assad dictatorship. There have been so many articles in “progressive” media promoting Assad’s narrative of another US “regime change” effort that they have buried the voices of Syrians.

The voices of Syrian communists, anarchists, democracy activists, writers, artists, intellectuals, and nonviolence activists have rarely been represented in “progressive” media. The majority of these “progressive” media articles on Syria have been written by non-Syrians and they usually promote Assad’s line that he is protecting his sovereign country from US-backed terrorists.

Research from the University of Washington has shown how dominant the pro-Assad political messaging is from an “echo-system” of sites that follow Russian, Iranian and Syrian state media. Researchers examined twitter conversations about the White Helmets, the Syrian volunteer rescue group, in the summer of 2017. There were four times as many tweets from the “echo-system” as there were from other media sources. Articles from the “echo-system” claimed the White Helmets were a “propaganda construct,” “crisis actors” who staged events, and “that they worked with or were themselves terrorists.”

The UW study noted that this “echo-system” of sites claiming to be “independent” and “alternative” shared the same stories and writers. These sites include actual Russian state media outlets such as RT and Sputnik News as well as ostensibly “independent” sites that share their stories and slant, such as Global Research, Mint Press News, Free Thought Project, The Anti-Media, 21st Century Wire, Veterans Today, Zero Hedge, and many others.

For Syria activists, the UW research wasn’t a surprise. It confirmed our experiences over the last seven years, that our struggle to get the truth out was up against a substantial, coordinated disinformation effort. We were familiar with this “echo-system” well before the UW study. While these sites claim to be “independent,” their political line was almost always the same on Syria, Crimea, Putin, and Trump. They played a role in electing Trump by bashing Clinton, equating Clinton and Trump, going easy on Trump, and disparaging voting.

While such sites claim to be funded by their readers and ads, they actually have very few ads and do not disclose information on their funding sources. In 2013, a former writer at Mint Press News, Joey LeMay, told BuzzFeed News, “It was incredibly secretive.” The article goes on to say there were “barely any ads on the website, and whenever LeMay asked about where they got their money, ‘it was brushed off as a nonissue. I would go home feeling not squeaky clean,’ he said.”

The sites in this “echo-system” have all also posted numerous “Russiagate” articles. It’s understandable that progressives would question how extensive and effective Russian propaganda was in the 2016 elections. The mainstream media haven’t examined Russian propaganda that targets the left. The UW research has not been mentioned in either mainstream or progressive media. But it’s not an either/or proposition—we can criticize Clinton’s campaign and still acknowledge that Russian interference helped Trump win in an election where Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial margin.

The claim that a few Facebook ads bought with Russian rubles could have influenced the 2016 election may have seemed preposterous back in 2016. However, since then, there have been numerous exposés of Russia’s sophisticated use of social media and information warfare—something we had thought was mainly the province of our own CIA.

While Russian disinformation is a new concern for Americans, it’s not for Europeans. “Across the [European] continent, counterintelligence officials, legislators, researchers and journalists have devoted years—in some cases, decades—to the development of ways to counter Russian disinformation, hacking and trolling,” reported the Washington Post on June 15, 2017. There have been numerous articles on how Sweden, the Baltic states, Finland, Germany, France, Italy, and others are dealing with Russian cyber attempts to influence elections and sway popular opinion.

When well-known left writers like Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Norman Solomon, and Max Blumenthal immediately ridiculed the evidence of Russian interference back in 2016, it had a silencing effect. After that, few well-known left writers pursued the serious possibility of effective Russian involvement. In the two and a half years since Trump’s election, there have continued to be new articles and research on Russian bots, trolls, twitter campaigns, fake accounts, and continued Russian interference in the European Union. Dark Money author Jane Mayer has also written on how Russia helped elect Trump. But the “Russiagate” commentators of the left have ignored this information.

After Attorney General William Barr released his highly biased summary of the Robert Mueller investigation, which seemed to vindicate them, Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald, Stephen Cohen, Matt Taibbi, Aaron Mate, Paul Street in Counterpunch, and Katie Halper from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) castigated the US press for its extensive coverage of the Russia/Trump allegations.

However, they wrote nothing revising their Russiagate-is-a-hoax position after the subsequent release of the redacted Mueller report in April and Mueller’s public statement in May. The Mueller report explicitly documents extensive Russian interference in the 2016 elections, but they have refused to acknowledge this.

Greenwald wrote on April 18 that “the actions in which Trump engaged were simply not enough for Mueller to conclude that he was guilty of criminal obstruction.” After Mueller clearly stated on May 29 that he would not exonerate the president for obstruction of justice, Greenwald wrote a series of articles on Brazil and wrote nothing to correct his earlier misstatements about obstruction.

It is critical to understand that this dismissive “Russiagate” narrative is Trump’s narrative. By insisting for over two years that Russian interference was overblown, these authors have been defending the worst president in US history.

The UW-identified “echo-system” of “alternative” media sites has likewise had numerous articles promoting Russiagate skepticism and Barr’s disingenuous summary of the Mueller report. Global Research, Mint Press News, Free Thought Project, The Anti-Media, Zero Hedge, 21st Century Wire, Activist Post and others have also continued to argue  that Russiagate is a mere conspiracy theory, despite Mueller’s statement and all mounting information on Russian cyberwarfare.

Even Fox News occasionally departs from supporting Trump’s position on Russian interference, as summed up in a May 2019 Newsweek headline: “Fox News Legal Analyst Says Mueller Evidence Against Trump ‘Remarkably Similar’ to Nixon, Clinton Impeachment Charges.” But the left’s Russiagate skeptics have not conceded anything. Stephen Cohen recently wrote that Russiagate is the “most fraudulent political scandal in American history.”

The “echo-system” of course publishes little criticism of Putin’s Russia. They have many articles criticizing the US mainstream media, corporate ownership of US media, “censorship” by Facebook and YouTube… but nothing on the new law in Russia whereby people can be jailed for fifteen days for “disrespecting” the Russian government online. An open internet in the US means there are thousands of sites with articles criticizing the US, but even one site with critical articles in Russia could result in fines and jail time. The difference is dramatic, and there have been no articles from the Russiagate skeptics on this oppressive law.

It’s rarely mentioned that Hedges has had a weekly show on RT (formerly Russia Today) since June 2016, which is directly funded by the Russian government. He’s scathing in his criticism of the US, but it’s hard to find his criticisms of Russia. After the Barr summary, he chastised the US press for “one of the most shameful periods in modern American journalism,” yet somehow never mentions the Russian restrictions on “disrespecting the Russian government online.”

Rania Khalek is also paid by the Russian government. Her site In the Now is one of three that were recently exposed as being owned by RT. Facebook briefly took them down until a small mention of RT’s involvement was placed on the page—a mention most people will never notice.

It is difficult to determine the motivation of the writers in the “echo-system.” Kate Starbird at the University of Washington writes of the “echo-system” sites that their “efforts…consist of diverse individuals and organizations who are driven by a variety of different motivations (including political, financial, and ideological).”

There is a certain amount of hyperbole to the system’s Russiagate articles. The investigation is blamed for “Manufacturing War with Russia,” for “Endangering American Security,” for “Media Malpractice,” for being “This Generation’s WMD,” for “Target[ing] Any Dissent in US,” and so forth. When examining these authors’ lists of articles, one would prefer they had spent as much analysis on the dangers of a Trump presidency as they have on promoting their Russiagate thesis.

Stephen Cohen talks about the origins of the allegation that Trump was an agent of the Kremlin. Was it “begun somewhere high up in America by people who didn’t want a pro-détente president?” He suggests “that this originated with [John] Brennan and the CIA.” It is all speculation, with no corroborating evidence.

For a starkly different perspective, consult the scholar of authoritarianism Sarah Kendzior, or author Timothy Snyder’s interviews, for detailed documentation of Trump’s dealings with Russia. They have been warning for the last three years about the dangers of the US sliding into an autocracy under Trump. They have researched Trump’s ties to Russia in the decades before the 2016 elections, and have tried to warn us about what is coming.

Contrast Cohen’s speculation with Snyder’s detailed and factual information. Snyder is a Yale historian who wrote The Road to Unfreedom about Russia’s return to an authoritarian government under Putin and the rise of nationalism in Europe and America. He has put together a series of videos to explain what is happening here and internationally, rife with documentation. In a concise Twitter thread, he documents 50 very specific reasons (with citations) why Trump owes a debt to Putin. He discusses the people in Trump’s campaign and in the Trump administration: “It is astounding how many of them are more directly connected to the Russian Federation than to the US.”

Kendzior lived in Uzbekistan during its consolidation of autocratic rule. When she started covering the Trump campaign in 2016, it reminded her of what she’d seen from the regime in Uzbekistan. Her website and podcast Gaslit Nation, presented together with journalist Andrea Chalupa, is an unparalleled source of information about Trump and his Russian connections and crimes. Kendzior and Chalupa advocate impeachment hearings so that the country can learn the extent of these crimes.

Snyder and Kendzior have no doubts about the Trump-Russia collusion. There are other independent authors and researchers who are documenting and exposing what’s happening. Even without the Mueller report, there is an enormous amount of public information about Trump’s ties to the Kremlin, Russian interference, and the loss of our democracy.

When Syria solidarity activists first read the November 2016 Washington Post article about Russian propaganda influencing the 2016 elections, we were relieved. Finally the Russian propaganda we had struggled against for years was being exposed! We assumed the propaganda on Syria would also be exposed. We thought the propaganda sites on the internet would be discredited.

We didn’t anticipate that prominent left writers would immediately denounce the story of Russia’s propaganda effort as the “new McCarthyism,” and that they would still be defending this narrative two and a half years later, in the face of so much evidence.

We didn’t understand how difficult it would be for the techies at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to discern propaganda from the truth and how clumsy they would be in taking down sites—usually with almost no explanation, and occasionally taking down legitimate sites at the same time.

From our viewpoint as Syria solidarity activists, we are still in the same position now as we were in November 2016. Disinformation still dominates the internet. Syrian and Russian planes have been bombing civilians in Idlib for the last month, initially bombing 25 hospitals. While Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International have condemned the strikes on hospitals, sounding the alarm, there is little international pressure on Russia and Syria to end them. The “echo-system” of media sites is instead distracting the left with disinformationabout Assad’s 2018 chemical attack on civilians in Douma being supposedly “staged” by the rebels.

The persistent Russiagate articles from prominent left writers have many progressives feeling unsure what to believe. It has put us in the strange position of claiming that a former FBI director is more trustworthy than Chris Hedges or Stephen Cohen. But there is much more information validating what Mueller has reported than there is for the Russiagate skeptics and Trump.

There is no easy solution to the problem of massive disinformation on the internet. Certainly we should be listening to the voices of progressive Syrians, Venezuelans, Palestinians, Ukrainians, Sudanese—not media pages that follow Putin’s line. Information about who is funding web pages would be one step towards transparency. Independent university research labs could evaluate the accuracy of media sites.

Another voice we should be listening to now is the scholar of authoritarianism based in St. Louis: Sarah Kendzior says that Trump’s administration is a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government, and that he should be impeached. It’s time for us to be in the streets.

———

Terry Burke is an activist with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS) in Minneapolis

Photo: Mike Maguire via Flickr

From our Daily Report:

Yes, the Russians. Wake up and smell the vodka.
CounterVortex, Jan. 3, 2017

New spasm of Syria chemwar denial: don’t buy it
CounterVortex, June 6, 2019

Video:

Propaganda and the dystopia of social media
CounterVortex, Aug. 25, 2016

See also:

CRITIQUE OF GEOPOLITICS AND THE LEFT
An Interview with Veteran Journalist and Activist Bill Weinberg
by Jae Carico, Pontiac Tribune
CounterVortex, May 2019

IT’S NOT ABOUT ‘REGIME CHANGE’
A Brief Account of US Intervention in Syria
by Ani White, Fightback
CounterVortex, January 2019

—————————-

Special to CounterVortex, June  27, 2019
Reprinting permissible with attribution

]]>
https://countervortex.org/russiagate-syria-and-the-left/feed/ 0