politics of World War II
The May 24 shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, that left three dead, is greeted by the usual ridiculous bet-hedging. CNN typically writes: "The circumstances of the shooting have raised suspicions that it may have been an anti-Semitic attack, but no motive has been determined." Once an anti-Semitic motive is finally conceded, we will next be assured that it was the work of a lone nut with no organizational ties. How many commentators will tie the attack to the terrifyingly good showing that far-right "anti-Europe" paties made in the next day's EU parliamentary election? In France, Front National leader Marine Le Pen, daughter of xenophobic party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, boasted as the exit polls rolled in: "What has happened tonight is a massive rejection of the EU." In Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is on course to win, displacing Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives and burying their coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. (Globe & Mail, CBC) And think there's a wide gap between the "anti-Europe" ideologies of the Front National and UKIP and the anti-Semitic doctrines of classical fascism? Think again...
Ukraine's resurgent far right is sure providing plenty of fodder for the Russian propaganda machine that seeks to protray all Ukrainian nationalism as "fascism." Russia Today gleefully informs us that hundreds marched in the western city of Lviv last week to mark the anniversary of the formation of a Ukrainian SS division, which fought for the Nazis against the Soviet Union during World War II. Some 500 took to the streets to celebrate the creation of the SS Galician Division on April 28, 1943. Photos show marchers holding aloft banners with the division's insignia, a gold lion on a blue field (the national colors of Ukraine). The march culminated with a rally at the city's monument to Stepan Bandera, the wartime Ukrainian nationalist leader who briefly collaborated with the Nazis (although he had nothing to do with the Galician Division). But almost as ominous as the content of the RT report is its own terminology—refering to the city by its Soviet-era name of Lvov. Only the photo captions, lifted from AFP, use the contemporary name of Lviv. Some explanation is in order...
Ukraine's anarcho-syndicalist Autonomous Workers' Union has issued a "Statement on the Odessa Tragedy," calling the horrific May 2 violence there a "clash of right-wing combatants," with "football hooligans and Euromaidan self-defence on the one side; Stalinists, pro-Russian paramilitaries and local police force on the other." The clash climaxed when the pro-Russian ("Antimaidan") protesters fled into the city's Trade Union house, and barricaded the doors. The pro-Ukrainian forces besieged it; Molotov cocktails were thrown "both to and fro the roof of the building," which eventually went up in flames. Some 40 of those inside were killed, either burned or sufficating in the smoke.
Reuters reported May 5 that Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft stopped diesel shipments to Ukraine and Hungary last month "due to uncertainties over the pipe's ownership," with the Ukrainian prosecutor's office filing a claim of ownership over the Soviet-era duct. We are actually asked to believe that the stoppage is "unrelated to the Ukraine crisis." Meawnhile, Voice of Russia reports that Hungary is stepping in as the protector of minorities in the Zakarpatie region of western Ukraine (also rendered Transcarpathia). These are principally the ethnic Hungarians and the Rusyns (also rendered Ruthenians). The regional parliament, the Hungarian-Rusyn National Congress, is now seeking autonomous legislative powers under a proposed "Transcarpathian Regional Confederation of the Hungarian and Rusyn People." While ethnic Hungarians are considered a "national minority" in Ukraine, the Rusyns do not have such status, according to Denis Kiryukhin of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology. "Problems with the Rusyns have come up for several years already," Kiryukhin said. "That is the only ethnic minority in Ukraine, which Kiev has always refused to acknowledge. The relations between Rusyns and Ukrainians have been complicated and remain such to date." Despite the fact that Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship, Budapest has started issuing passports to residents of Zakarpatie—an open affront to Kiev.
In a slightly surreal case, Kyodo news agency reports April 20 that a Shanghai Maritime Court ordered the seizure of a vessel owned by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui OSK Lines at a port in Zhejiang province for failing to pay compensation in "a wartime contractual dispute." It seems that in 1936, Mitsui's predecessor, Daido Shipping Co, rented two ships on a one-year contract from China's Zhongwei Shipping Co. The ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and later sank at sea. The suit was brought against Mitsui by grandsons of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping, and has been batted around in China's courts for years. In 2012, the Supreme People's Court rejected Mitsui's petition for retrial, affirming the Maritime Court's finding that the company must pay. The decision to seize the ships now seems pretty clearly retaliation for Japanese cabinet minister Keiji Furuya's visit to the Yasukuni shrine days earlier. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself sent a "ritual offering" to the shrine ahead of Japan's spring festival, which starts this week. All of this is happening (again less than coincidentally) exactly as Japan has started construction of a military radar station on Yonaguni Island—just 150 kilometers from the disputed gas-rich Senkaku archipelago, claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. (Reuters, Singapore Today, Xinhua, BBC News)
More ominous headlines from Ukraine that only leave us wondering what to believe. Winning the prize for combining sensationalism with sloppy vagueness is (surprise) the New York Post, which warns: "Jews in east Ukraine forced to register with authorities." There are two serious problems with this headline. First, if you actually read the story, nobody has been "forced" to do anything—yet, at least. The demand was made in threatening leaflets, with no attempt at enforcement. Second, given the confused situation in east Ukraine, it is completely ambiguous who is indicated by the word "authorities." The "official" Urkainian government, or the Russian-backed separatists who claim to be in control? This is a rather critical point, given all the Russian propaganda about how the Kiev government is "fascist" and "anti-Semitic."
NATO on April 1 began a two-day exercise, briging more than 100 US Air Force personnel, along with F-15 fighter jets and a Germany-based Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) craft, to former Soviet air bases in Lithuania. Denmark is also sending six F16 fighter jets to the Baltic as part of an expanded NATO air policing mission, with regular patrols to begin May 1. The incidence of Russian jets flying close enough to Baltic airspace this year to prompt NATO jets being scrambled has increased to about once a week, according to Lithuania's defense ministry. NATO jets were scrambled about 40 times in both 2012 and 2013; in 2004, the year the Baltic republics joined NATO, it only happened once.
A group of some 50 gunmen seized control of parliament and government buildings in Simferopol, capital of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, raising Russian flags above them Feb. 27—just as the US warned Russia that military exercises planned near the border of Ukraine could "lead to miscalculation." With the top floor of the building occupied by the gunmen, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's future—whether to remain in Ukraine or join Russia. Earlier, in his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovich said he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament in Kiev meanwhile voted to send Yanukovich to The Hague to be tried over the violence that led to at least 82 deaths in Kiev last week. (AFP, The Guardian, BBC News, Globe & Mail, Feb. 27; The Guardian, Feb. 25)