Saturday, 6 December 2014

Freedom of Speech - Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

In Flanders Field

John McCrae's poem


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Ukraine's Dilemma - a proper debate

Let's start a real Ukrainian debate

English Pages, 22. 4. 2014

The difficult heritage of the past

The state of Ukraine today is a sad outcome of Stalin's attempts to mix up nations and boundaries, disrupt natural historical ties and create a new Soviet man by turning original nations into mere ethnic residua and historical leftovers. Taking it into consideration is the starting point of our thinking, something that is sadly missing in the political debates today.

The cacophony of commentaries and statements to recent Ukrainian developments misses the point that the first and foremost contribution to the current dramatic situation there is the obvious political, economic and social failure of Ukraine as an independent state. This failure, in our view, has been caused by the following factors:

1. Ukraine as we know it today, has no historical tradition of statehood, and in over twenty years of its existence the country failed to create a state that would be accepted by the bulk of its population. The state was not born out of its people's efforts to gain self-determination and sovereignty, it came into being through the dissolution of the Soviet Union by its political leadership, and emancipation of the artificial Soviet republics, created by Moscow in their then valid borders.

2. The largely passive population's anti-Moscow sentiment was exacerbated by Gorbachev's
perestroika and its catastrophic results. The local Soviet party nomenklatura also feared Yeltsin's policies aimed to crush the old system.

3. At the beginning of its independence, Ukraine functioned under the leadership of the Russian-speaking Soviet elite from the eastern part of the land as a sort of a Russian B-state, a part of the vast post Soviet space with enormous potential. At least on paper: 52 million people (second to Russia), its industrial base in the Donbas, the biggest agricultural potential on the European continent, the key ports of the Black Sea, Crimea, a relatively well educated elite and central Europe next to its door.

4. The new state emerged from an essentially artificial administrative portion of the Soviet totalitarian Union
that wanted to show the world how the national issue can be resolved once and for all by replacing individual nations with the „Soviet people“. The Russian and russified areas of the east and south of Ukraine (with three hundred years of Russian history behind them) were artificially linked to the originally Polish Galicia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia acquired by Stalin after World War II, lands that had never belonged to any of the old Slav states in the East.

5. The independent Ukrainian state did not exist before 1991, unless we consider as such the brief period of civil war after the 1917 October revolution, when unsuccessful attempts at Ukrainian independence featured such controversial figures as general Skoropadsky, atamans Machno and Petljura, or Stepan Bandera in World War II. Their legacy (anti-semitism, affinity to German Nazis), is considered very controversial outside the nationalistic western Ukraine.

6. Older historical traditions speak in favor of strong ties to Russia – the Kievan Rus period, the acceptance of orthodox Christianity, or the tradition of the Zaporozhian cossacs who fought the Turks and the Poles and brought Ukraine of the time into tsarist Russia. The common Russo-Ukrainian experience of the Soviet times as well as World War II created strong human, social, economic and political bonds that cannot be easily replaced.

7. More than twenty years of Ukrainian independence that followed, were not enough to create a common Ukrainian identity and convince the people of this very heterogenous land that independent Ukraine is the right social formation, fulfilling their national aspirations. Such ambition is seen in especially among ethnic Ukrainians living in the west (Galicia, Volhynia) who accentuate the tragic experience of the Soviet era (deportations, gulags, famine), harbor anti-Russian feelings and wish to build Ukraine as a Ukrainian nation state. The position of a „second“ Russian state as sought by Presidents Kravchuk and Kuchma is unacceptable to them. It is no coincidence that this backward and weak western part of Ukraine was the moving force behind the 2004 Orange Revolution as well as the Maidan protests in 2014. By overthrowing Yanukovych, the nationalist western part of the land assumed exclusive power attempting to disrupt the long, traditional Ukrainian ties to Russia, and replace it with exclusive orientation on the West, the EU and the United States. However, experience shows that western Ukraine is not strong enough to fulfill these plans – the economic weight of its eastern part so far prevailed every time.

Ukraine's Russians do not and cannot share the nationalist ambitions of western Ukrainians. The disruption of close ties with Russia, generally wealthier, more successful and orderly today, is unthinkable to them. They do not see the Soviet era as an occupation by a foreign power, they consider themselves as victors of World War II, not victims. Bandera's sympathizers are traitors and fascists in their eyes, a state built on such legacy is unacceptable. Like Russians, they mistrust the West and do not want to be part of blocks aimed against Russia. Militant anti-russism of western-Ukrainian nationalists is insulting and threatening to them. Due to the Soviet tradition, this part of the population has long been indifferent to national issues. However, present developments make this group more aware of national feelings and the mood among them is more and more antagonistic in that respect.

After twenty years of independence, Ukraine is a divided country on the threshold of economic bankruptcy. It is home to two nations with different and probably antagonistic visions of the future, two nations growing apart every day. Both these nations look up to the world outside with unrealistic expectations – one to the West, the other to Russia.

Ukraine in its current shape could have been saved by several decades of peaceful development with a modest and sophisticated foreign policy, respecting the geopolitical position of the country and gradually improving its economy and standard of living. None of that was in the cards for Ukraine. Attempts at radical change represent a fundamental threat in such a fragile, heterogenous and politically sensitive country. Unfortunately that is what is happening in Ukraine today, with all the risks it entails for Europe and the world.

Part II: Ukraine's failed transformation

As argued above, Ukraine was born after the downfall of Communism as an essentially non-historical state, cursed with a fundamental identity problem from day one. That has always been a serious hindrance in the country's development, and it remains so still today.

Western Europe and The United States, or rather the politicians in that part of the world, think it is okay, all it takes is to „introduce democracy and the state of law“. Till this day they have not learned anything from the fact the repeated attempts to „export democracy“ have failed and that even two decades of massive western support to Bosnia and Herzegovina, artificially created after the disintegration of Yugoslavia bore no fruit. Not to mention the Arab Spring.

Ukraine has not implemented a consistent post-Communist transformation, the way it was carried out in other post-Communist countries. There was no political transformation. No standard system of political parties was introduced, and the Ukrainian parliament is still not a standard parliament. Repeated TV footage of fist-fighting deputies gives a good example. The „Orange Revolution“ (inspired abroad, again) took place twenty years after our „velvet“ counterpart, but even this delay did not bring about the necessary change.

There was no consistent economic transformation, although the communist system was forsaken. The outcome of that was the seizure of the economy by oligarch clans, stagnation, industrial decay, high unemployment, continued dependence on Russia, etc. The comparison with Belarus is revealing, whether we like Mr. Lukashenko or not. After the fall of communism, both countries started out with comparable results, and today the per capita GDP in Belarus is 50 percent higher. This comparison is almost a „controlled experiment“. It is also plain to see that over 5 million people or 10 percent of Ukraine's population had left the country over the last twenty years.

The inexorable duels between Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych (leaving the minor players aside) led to no good. The enormous wealth of politicians and oligarchs as presented in the media is something unimaginable in Eastern Europe, much less in the Czech Republic.

The amount of frustration is high enough to see even for those who are not experts on Ukraine. At any rate, this is a fragile, unstable country easily vulnerable by outside interference. It does not have to be a military intervention, political interference is enough. All it takes is incitement of unrest, riots, plotting groups of population against one another, populist games against all local authorities, incitement of envy, mutual charges of corruption and theft, and last but not least the unleashing of nationalist conflicts or downright hatred.

We think all of the above has been going on in Ukraine. And still is.

Part III: What happened in Ukraine and around it

The Ukrainian dispute can be interpreted in a more simple and obvious way if we turn it into a model albeit schematic, where details disappear and the bare skeleton of the issue remains.

Model A: an authentic popular uprising seeking democracy, independence and association with Europe has taken place

This model is based on a probably correct thesis that Ukrainians are deeply and justifiably dissatisfied with the situation in their country. They see the reason for that in the actions of their incompetent and corrupt political representation (which they repeatedly choose in elections that have basic democratic characteristics despite all the existing problems), a government that refuses the EU association agreement instead of focusing on “bringing the country to Europe” and tough bargaining with Russia on gas prices and other things.

People stage authentic mass demonstrations in the streets. They do not mind weeks or months of freezing temperatures. When peaceful protests are not enough, the demonstrations get more intense spontaneously (although the government makes all kinds of concessions and takes no repressive action against them). The demonstrators are joined by trained and highly armed individuals as well as domestic and foreign organized groups, while Russian support to the movement is absent. There is general assumption that Russia is happy about this process of destabilization in this important neighboring country, if not directly supportive of it.

After the demonstrators score victory in the streets of Kiev, after the democratically elected president flees the country an allegedly truly popular government is created, Russia's army intervenes and occupies Crimea, just like Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 (its western part) or Brezhnev did in 1968 (this time entire Czechoslovakia). In 1939 and 1968 the democrats of the world did not protest strongly enough, therefore it has to be done properly now. Till the day democracy wins. The Hitler-Brezhnev-Putin line is plain to see and those who do not see it, did not see it then, either.

Model B: Dissatisfaction in Ukraine was used for a new confrontation of the West with Russia

Model B starts the same way as Model A. The Ukrainians are deeply and justifiably dissatisfied with the situation in their country and show it in various forms. However we are talking about a country that:

- is not authentic Europe (however difficult it is to define Europe's boundaries)

- is bordering Russia (though the actual borderline is not authentic)

- has been part of Russia or Russian dominated territory for decades

- has millions of Russians living in it (more than one third of its population) and has to find some sort of a modus vivendi with Russia and confirm it again and again.

This repeatedly surfacing crisis has been chosen as a pretext to bring about a new confrontation between the West and Russia, by all those who have a reason to despise Russia. These people have known full well that destabilization of an important (largest and most populous) neighbour is something that Russia cannot accept easily.

- that is why they have steered the existing dissatisfaction more and more towards Russia

- that is why they have backed the arguments coming from western Ukraine

- that is why they have fostered the conflict between western and eastern Ukraine, something that to a large extent amounts to a conflict between Ukrainians and Russians

- that is why they have misinterpreted real economic relations between Ukraine and Russia

- that is why they have painted the picture of Russia as an expanding superpower that is anxiously waiting for an opportunity to occupy Ukraine.

We are no passionate advocates of Russia and its leader and we know it would be na├»ve and absurd to be idealistic about long-term Russian interests, but we agree with the recent words of Henry Kissinger who said that “demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one”. This is exactly what is happening in the United States and Western Europe.

After the Kiev putsch was carried out (unconstitutionally for legalistic purists), after all those who dared have a different opinion faced brutal violence, after the de facto expulsion of the democratically elected president who did not dare act against violent demonstrators, and after the concerns of the Russian part of Ukrainian population started increasing steadily, the most specific and geographically limited, formally autonomous part of Ukraine – the Crimea – became subject to a referendum (clearly with consent and silent joy on the Russian part), in which an overwhelming part of the population took part, and resolutely expressed the wish of the population of Crimea to cease their association with Ukraine (where they never belonged before Khrushchev's intervention in 1954). It is obvious that these people did not feel like remaining in a vacuum and wished to return to Russia. It is equally obvious Russia can be happy about it (despite substantial short-term problems), but the sequence of events was different from what we find in mainstream media purporting that Russia annexed Crimea on its own will.

In line with its interests, the West interprets the fact that Crimea became part of Russia as an example of renewed Russian imperialism. In a recent conversation, a good friend of ours who has lived in Germany since the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, refused to listen to our arguments, but conceded one important fact: ever since the occupation of his homeland, his hatred towards Russia (although it should be hatred towards communism and the Soviet Union), has been so intense, that it prevents him from even reading traditional 19th century Russian literature. We consider this to be irrational, but our fear is that this is the mainstream interpretation of the Ukrainian situation and Russia's intentions in the Czech Republic, Europe and probably America, too. That is why our polemic is not in defense of Russia and its president, but an attempt to avert risky steps towards a new cold war of which we and our freedoms would be the inevitable victims.

This “model” description of two different views of the Ukrainian crisis can be further developed, supplemented or enriched, but we are convinced that it is good for basic orientation. Let us add that it is not surprising to us, that the majority of the Crimean population (consisting largely of Russians) does not wish to remain part of a state that is facing bankruptcy, and is being controlled more and more by people and groups from the western, i.e. non-Russian part of Ukraine, people whose dominant policy is to oppose Russia and the Russians. It is no surprise that the people of Crimea want to be part of the wealthier and more successful Russia.

It is equally important to see that the Ukrainian army in the Crimea hardly put up any resistance, allowed itself to be disarmed and largely crossed over to the other side – the Russian army. That is another illustration of the Ukrainian state's disintegration.

Part IV. Legalistic fundamentalism and “real life”

In connection with the continued disintegration of Ukraine – the separation of Crimea and its incorporation into Russia, the ongoing declarations of all kinds of separatist Russian “republics” and further demands for referenda aimed at separating other parts of eastern Ukraine – western commentators present various legal arguments asserting that such steps are in contradiction with the legal and constitutional framework of Ukraine today, and therefore illegal and unacceptable. This, too, has to be put in the appropriate context, without trying to look like experts on Ukrainian law. Because that is not the point.

These largely academic arguments may be correct when analysing the illegality of some of the separatist moves, but that is only one half of the truth. Real life is always ahead of the law and the law adjusts to it only retroactively. The changed reality induces new laws and these are by definition only temporary, too. Real life and real needs usually find their ways, and very seldom the legislative changes that come with them manage to keep up.

In recent history, there was only one case of a truly constitutional and legally implemented division of a state, namely that of the Czechoslovak federation. The disintegration of Yugoslavia, and later Serbia as well as the Soviet Union, was chaotic by nature, often taking place in confrontation and violence with many cases of fait accompli. There is no point in analysing that. The majority of modern countries in Europe and around the world have gained their independence as a result of a violent struggle, ignoring the law of the time. To deny the people this right by pointing out the illegality of separatism is impossible. Failing to accept that, we would have to deny the legality of the United States or indeed our own state, that was born in contradiction with the constitution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918, too.

International acceptance of the changing borders is not a legal issue first and foremost, it depends more on the actual balance of power in the country, region or the world. In that respect, modern times differ from ancient history only ever so slightly. Should we insist on international and legal assessment of this kind of changes, we would find ourselves in a fatal trap of double standards and contradictions.

It is clear that chaos, anarchy and economic crisis make it easy for the West as well as Russia to interfere in Ukrainian affairs. It is also not surprising that most ethnic Russians, dissatisfied with the unfavourable conditions in Ukraine and fearing the future, look up to the relatively wealthy, stable and powerful Russia. The fact that most of them have no reason for loyalty towards Ukraine, and massively speak out in favour of joining Russia in a referendum, can surprise only the most biased observer. There is therefore no reason to cast doubt over such stance by rejecting individual conditions of the respective referendum.

There is no way to maintain Ukraine's unity through legal arguments, laws and the constitution. It is equally impossible to do so through the very democratic procedures such as the elections, whether parliamentary or presidential. Should the west overpower the east in an election or vice versa, it will not be a solution even if the winner has a democratic majority and is therefore legitimate. Ukraine's future can only lie in the victory of a broad Ukraine-wide project satisfying both sides and that is increasingly improbable, given the escalating tensions and increasing outside pressures.

Part V. The abuse of Ukrainian developments for the acceleration of European unification (and weakening of democracy in Europe)

The Ukrainian developments will have a number of direct or indirect consequences in the short and long term, from the political as well as economic point of view.

Short-term consequences of the economic kind are obvious for the Czech Republic – a decreasing number of tourists from Russia and Ukraine, less business in spas of western Bohemia, the slowing down of certain economic and investment activities, possible complications in energy supplies from the East. That is certainly unpleasant for certain concrete Czech businesses, but probably not fatal for the country as a whole. Sooner or later activities of this kind will go back to the old levels. Again, we know it is difficult for those affected businesses who do business with Russia and Ukraine to take this relaxed position. They have to be worried and we do not expect the state to offer any compensation.

The non-economic consequences are worse and much more dangerous. International politics will be radicalized, there will be a new level of confrontation between the West and the East and the conflict between western Europe (that we will side with) and Putin's increasingly self-confident Russia will be ever sharper. This increased international tension is a definite disadvantage for the Czech Republic, a small country in the vicinity of the symbolic borderline between the East and the West, and we will pay for it.

The European political mainstream, represented by the elites in Brussels makes a calculation that the Ukrainian crisis can be used to strengthen European centralization and unification, especially the direction of a joint foreign policy (designed to silence the still differing foreign policies of individual EU states) and the creation of a joint European army, an idea resisted by most member states so far. This further toughening of European unification and centralization, which many of us consider unacceptable even today, goes against the real interests of the Czech Republic regardless of the fact that President Zeman thinks otherwise. We fear the limitation of civil rights, especially freedom of speech, and the freedom of dissent from official opinion.

A large part of the European political mainstream (although much less in Germany and even less in the south of the EU) tries, together with the United States, to turn Russia into a “bogey man” in the East, something that is in the American strategic interest. Ukraine is only a tool in that respect. That, too, is not in our interest and there are no benefits in it for us. Maybe there are some benefits there for a small group of the little Czech “neocons” who keep propping up their careers in the belated battles against communism and Russian imperialism, careers that are only made possible by the fact that parts of our population still lend their ears to such propaganda. It is clearly a surrogate activity, manifesting an obvious absence of a positive political agenda.
Whatever Putin's agenda might have been, conquest or disruption, it must have surprised him a great deal, that the massive Russian military incursion onto Ukrainian soil in the east has welded the Ukrainian national unity to an extent that no internal political agenda could have done.

Monday, 21 July 2014

MH17 - A Few Facts

A person by the name of Varun Vista composed an overview of arguments on internet, some of which I have copied here - worth (at this point in time, 21 July 2014) to copy, as the Russian claims are so ridiculous that one cringes.

Well here are some facts:

Russia claims a Ukrainian Su-25 shot down MH17.
1) MH17 was traveling at 33,000 feet.
2) The Su-25's is a ground attack jet with an altitude ceiling is 23,000 feet.
3) The Su-25 carries a single tiny AA missile incapable of air-to-air attacks.
4) The speed of a 777 at that altitude would outrun a SU-25
5) There was no comms from MH317 saying it was being trailed. (Black box will prove)
6) Someone from a Kremlin IP has been editing Wikipedia to increase the Su-25 ceiling. (They really are incredible these guys)

So ..... by the laws of physics, gravity and basic science the Russian theory is so impossible it's laughable.

Now let's layer on some additional facts.

1) There was a Buk SA-11 launcher pictured at Schizne, right by the shooting (deep inside rebel territory).
2) BUK SA-11s have complicated fire control systems - it's not one button, but tens of buttons you need to sequence to paint and intercept a target - not exactly the capability of an untrained peasant mad at Kiev, not even peasants who apparently have Grad launchers, T-72 tanks and MANPADS in their tool sheds.
3) Three BUK SA-11 launchers were pictured returning to Russia 24-48 hours after the incident.
4) A BUK SA-11 shot down an AN-26 just a few days earlier (which makes particular sense because AN-26s in this case are civilian registered, so if there was an IFF you'd have to turn it off ... and then paint a 777 without realizing it was civilian)
5) Pro-Russian separatists control the crash site and within an hour of the MH17 shoot down, they were boasting about shooting down a Ukrainian jet.
6) Pro-Russian separatists have denied OSCE monitors access and obstructed their efforts.
7) The black box was stripped off the wreckage and said to be going to Moscow before now apparently reaching Donetsk..
8) The behaviour of both terrorist rebels and Putin oozes "guilt" - truly uncivilized and despicable.
9) Putin could have stopped the circus at a snap of the fingers, but didn't. At worst he could have closed the border and
recalled FSB and arms; the result would be a total collapse of the rebel circus.

Oh and as for the theory it was Putin's jet they were aiming at... there must be something really powerful in the Donetsk milk that helps them see paint markings on planes flying 10km up in the sky.

Are you getting the picture? Russia's rebels shot the plane down and to date has blustered, obfuscated and done everything to hide its role and "useful idiots" (yes that's Putin's term for his foreign apologists!!!!) have swallowed the most ludicrous stories.

With a unanimous Security Council ruling and the black boxes in Malaysian hands, we are at the level we should have been on Friday, a day after the plane was ruthlessly shot down.

No, it was not a disaster or a terrible accident - it was a terrorist, criminal act; bloody murder.
That's what these East Ukrainians stand for - and let's not forget the disappearance of wallets, credit cards and vital clues from the crash site or the fact that a guy by the name Yanukovych and his 2 corrupt sons still sit in the background and pull their criminal strings using the robbed $$$Billions from the Ukrainian people.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Tolerance of Intolerance: Islamists, Global "Warming", Leftists - WAKE UP

This is a text written by the famous Bill Cosby "I'm 83 and Tired".
I have entered it unchanged, letting the famous man talk - but he speaks my words.

This should be required reading for every man, woman, and child in Jamaica,
the UK, United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and
to all the world...

"I'm 83 and I'm Tired"

I'm 83. Except for brief period in the 50's when I was doing my National
Service, I've worked hard since I was 17. Except for some serious
health challenges, I put in 50-hour weeks, and didn't call in sick in nearly
40 years. I made a reasonable salary; but I didn't inherit my job or my
income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, it looks as
though retirement was a bad idea; and I'm tired. Very tired.

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who
don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take
the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy
to earn it.

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every month I
can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and
daughters for their family "honour"; of Muslims rioting over some slight
offense; of Muslims murdering Christians and Jews because they aren't
"believers"; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning
teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; of Muslims mutilating the
genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and
Sharia law tells them to.

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries use our oil money to fund mosques
and madrassa Islamic schools to preach hate in Australia, New Zealand,
UK, America and Canada, while no one from these countries is allowed to
fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia or in any other
Arab country, to teach love and tolerance..

I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global
warming, which no one is allowed to debate.

I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help
support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ
rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses
or stick a needle in their arm while they tried to fight it off?

I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all
parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful
mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting
caught. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

I'm really tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and
actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination
or big-whatever for their problems.

I'm also tired and fed up with seeing young men and women in their teens and
early 20's be-deck themselves in tattoos and face studs, thereby making
themselves un-employable while they are claiming money from the Government.

Yes, I'm damn tired. But I'm also glad to be 83.. Because, mostly, I'm not
going to have to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for
my granddaughter and their children. Thank God I'm on the way out, and not
on the way in.

There is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us speaks up - NOW!

This is your chance to make a difference.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Russia and Ukraine for dummies

Russia's Propaganda War Will Backfire
By Mark Lawrence Schrad May. 28 2014 (see ref. below)

I have copied prof. Schrad's article as I thought it is the easiest read, completely uncomplicated article about Russia's major national and international blunder in the battle for the Ukrainian minds.

You may even call it "Russia and Ukraine for dummies"

President Vladimir Putin's recent turn from confrontation toward accommodation with Ukraine has put not only pro-Russian separatists in Donbass in an unenviable position, but Russia's lapdog media, too.

Ideally, the return of electoral legitimacy to Kiev with the May 25 elections should wind down Russia's anti-Ukrainian hysteria and vitriol, but the damage has already been done.

May gradually be replaced by homages to the eternal kinship of Russians and Ukrainians, the memory of this vitriol will endure, writes historian Mark Lawrence Schrad.

For the past few months Russian state-run media and the pro-Kremlin blogosphere that takes cues from it has intentionally and systematically misrepresented developments in Ukraine as part of the Kremlin's information war to foment discontent and instability there. Over that time, a number of discernible themes have emerged.

First, the interim government in Kiev was portrayed as illegitimate, having toppled the corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych illegally. Inconvenient details such as Yanukovych being formally removed from power by a supermajority of 328 on the 450-seat Ukrainian parliament — including a majority of Yanukovych's own Party of Regions — are conveniently omitted.

As an extension, the Ukrainian government has been portrayed in the media as either lacking broad public support or simply not legally existing. An illegitimate or absent Ukrainian government became a useful pretext for the Kremlin's illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea in the interest of protecting ethnic Russians there.

Second, to sharpen the good-versus-evil, us-versus-them distinction, purported Kremlin benevolence was contrasted with the malevolence of the protesters on Kiev's Maidan Square, which state-controlled media said consisted of Right Sector fascists, Banderites and neo-Nazis, intent on subordinating or exterminating ethnic Russians in Ukraine and beyond.

The subtle manipulations and outright lies have whipped their audiences in Russia and eastern Ukraine into a frenzy for an all-out battle for survival.

Sunday's Ukrainian election presented a formidable challenge to both of these propagandistic narratives. For one, a free and fair election endows the new government in Kiev with a domestic and international legitimacy that has been sorely lacking since government forces fired on Maidan protesters back in February.

Regardless of who would have come to power, it will be difficult for the Russian state-controlled media to continue the illegitimacy narrative, without concocting an even more elaborate and far-fetched conspiracy about the impact of low voter turnout in Donbass, or widespread electoral fraud even in the presence of international observers.

The "fascist" narrative will be even more difficult to sustain after May 25. Largely conforming to Ukrainian and international polls, as well as election-day exit polls, Ukraine's far-right candidates did not fare well: Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, received only 0.9 percent of the vote. Oleh Tyahnybok of the Svoboda Party captured all of 1.3 percent.

With all of the Ukrainian candidates that could conceivably be labeled fascist receiving less than 3 percent of the vote, dramatically less than far-right parties elsewhere in Europe, Russia's "Nazi Ukraine" narrative will be difficult to sustain.

What is more, billionaire and political independent Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's new president with 55 percent of the vote, is hardly a right-wing fascist.

Indeed, Poroshenko was one of the founders of the Party of Regions, the pro-Russian political party that brought Yanukovych to power in the first place. Having served in both the Yanukovych government and the pro-Western Orange Revolution government of Viktor Yushchenko, the milquetoast Poroshenko is the exact opposite of the divisive nationalist required by Russia's media narrative. 

While President Vladimir Putin has pulled back the Russian military forces looming on the border and struck a more accommodating stance to recognize and work with the new government, it will be far more difficult to bring his media attack dogs to heel.

Continuing to create outlandish yarns and farcical conspiracies will sacrifice whatever credibility Russian state-run media has left in the West; while recanting would be an implicit acknowledgement of the role Russian media played in intentionally fomenting international discord for the sake of Kremlin hubris.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, even before the results were tabulated, Russia's Channel One presented a screenshot of an official-looking website suggesting that the "fascist" Yarosh was — incomprehensibly — leading with 37 percent of the vote.

Whatever its genesis, the effect, along with baseless reports of low voter turnout and exaggeration of voting irregularities, is to continue to sow the seeds of doubt among its viewers about the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government.

Even a complete renunciation of this narrative by Russian state-run media would do little to dissuade the heavily armed, pro-Russian separatists in Donbass who have now long been primed for an all-out battle for survival with the alleged Nazis from Kiev.

Indeed, as research in social psychology tells us, when peoples' misconceptions are challenged by factual evidence, they do not just see the light and change their beliefs, but rather they double-down and believe even more in their misconceptions even more strongly.

This "backfire effect" does not bode well for a quick resolution to the instability in Donetsk. 
Of course, even if the Ukrainian situation stabilizes after the election, recent events will lead to many long-term political ramifications. Yet the Kremlin's instrumental use of state-run media to whip-up a militant furor for its own ends — both at home and in Ukraine — may be one of the longest-lasting implications precisely because it has cut the deepest.

Even though the labels of "Nazis," "fascists" and "Banderites" may gradually be replaced by more traditional homages to the eternal kinship of Russians and Ukrainians, the memory of this Russian vitriol will endure, especially when Ukrainians can easily revisit these narratives, enshrined in the eternal media archive that is the internet.

Future historians may one day write about how in 2014 Russia gained Crimea but lost Ukraine. The Kremlin's media war will play a large part in that story.

Mark Lawrence Schrad
is the author of "Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State", and
director of Russian studies and assistant professor of political science at
Villanova University.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Thorium for Dummies

The Problem.
IPCC has given birth to their newest recommendation concerning renewable energy - by some falsely called green energy. The key point here is, that until the full implementation of windmills, solar panels, tidal hydro-electric plants and other waste of money schemes has been achieved, not to forget lost time and destroyed landscapes, they “accept” that the use of nuclear energy (Uranium) as a stop-gap may be necessary.
Thank you, UN and IPCC.
They will in due time, of course, discover, that wind, water and sun never was supposed to be a feasible way to cover our energy needs 100% - but only after a massively wasted investment, destroyed landscapes, energy black-outs and lost opportunities have brought the economies of the West to its knees.
A lesson for the Lib Dems (Ed Davey), the Green parties all over Europe and generally all the hippie-politicians and idiots, who ignore the facts of science and who are unable to think beyond the capacity of a 1920’s farmer.

So let’s have a look at the alternative:

Thorium - background.
Thorium has been known since 1828, discovered by the Norwegian Esmark and further investigated by the Swede Berzelius, who named it after the Norse god of thunder, Thor.
It has caught our attention because of its radioactive characteristics, because it is available in abundance and because it is useful to the industry for a number of purposes (e.g. lenses) – but that’s irrelevant in this context.
However, as it cannot be used directly to make atomic weapons it has lingered in the periphery of our interest!
How human.
But some physicists have already since the 1940s understood, that it might be useful as fuel in a nuclear reactor.

Until we can replicate the Sun’s fusion process, nuclear reactors are based on fission of Uranium isotopes.
So far reducing (“enriching”) Uranium 238 to make Uranium 235 has been the normal approach. That’s what the Iranians have been busy doing. This has been attractive for decades, as Plutonium, one of the by-products, is useful for humans to create very large firecrackers!

However, one of the Thorium isotopes, Thorium-232, can be used to make Uranium-233, which is the proposed fission material in a Thorium reactor.

Some benefits of Thorium
The benefits of Thorium are quite substantial.
- There’s a lot of it. World-wide.
- The USA has enough Thorium to power the country for more than 1000 years and the assumed world wide deposits can keep civilisation running for many thousands of years – until ants and dolphins are ready to take over.
- Very little Plutonium is produced in a Thorium reactor.
- The nuclear waste is 100s or perhaps 1000 of times less, than what you will have from a Uranium reactor.
- Residual radioactivity becomes safe after just a couple of hundred years, i.e. storage problems solved.
- Once started, only more Thorium needs to be added, as it creates its own fuel.
- 1 ton of Thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tonnes Uranium or 3.5mill tonnes of coal at very little CO2 slip (basically during related processes such as mining)
- A Thorium reactor cannot go into melt-down.
This means clean, safe energy forever and no CO2 slip.
So what are we waiting for?

Some Disadvantages
- Reprocessing of Thorium to make it suitable for use in a reactor is difficult. The process is not yet firmly controlled
- The feasibility study and assessed implementation process is extremely expensive without certainty of success.
- Fuel production is likely to be very costly in the beginning
- It is possible to make Uranium-232 when preparing Thorium for fuel. U-232 is very radioactive (gamma rays) and further processing is required to make the desired U-233
In other words, the economics play a big role.

China seems to be ahead of everyone else, going it almost alone and even trying to gain property rights on the Thorium technology. In March 2014 they declared, that the original project plan to have a fully operational Thorium reactor up and running in 25 years would be shortened to 10 years. USA is “quietly co-operating with China.

At least 32 countries, e.g. India, are “looking” into the Thorium option and ostensibly the first “Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors” (LFTR – or MSR, Molten Salt Reactor) are now being built.

Typically for the UK, there’s too much chat going on. Research into Thorium is being characterised as “a useful fall back option”, although some proponents call it the “forgotten fuel”.
Get off your hands, UK!

It appears that within the next few years we will have a very good idea about, whether Thorium is the way ahead.
Once established the price per KWh will be a fraction of the cost of wind-energy (10% if considering the life span of the generator?) and an un-dangerous Thorium reactor will take up less than 400 Acres of land compared with the space required by wind mills for the same energy output: 250,000 Acres.

It seems to me that the £50mill invested in HS2 (High-Speed train connection between London and the Midlands) could be better used – with a much higher return.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Open Letter to David Coburn and Peter Hitchens on UKRAINE

Peter Hitchens recently identified the Ukrainian party SVOBODA as an uncouth fascist group and suggested we do not cooperate with Ukraine.
David Coburn became a willing messenger for the “Russian truth twisting masters” on R-TV, demonstrating a naive, antiquated, cold-war, isolationist attitude that is deeply disappointing as it comes from a party, that pretends to be a fresh appearance on the politically rather rotten scene.
Here are some thoughts for both of you.

It is quite clear that none of you have put your boots on Ukrainian soil and don’t understand the language. It is a little like the climate debate: if you don’t know the facts, all you can apply are your emotions and your political platform.
It doesn’t work.

When you have a large followership (Hitchens) and an aggressive novel political agenda (Coburn), a level of integrity, brains, understanding, diplomacy and flair are required.

Both of you transgressed.
When you immerse yourselves in the Ukrainian/Russian debacle as opinion influencers, you must be totally sure that you have your facts sorted out.

SVOBODA is indeed a nationalist party, but it would be wrong to let it stand for all things Ukrainian, just as it would be wrong to let BNP or EDL sign the UK.
Because we are dealing with a country, that never had a united national heart or a common history within reasonably well defined borders. The rest of us have developed national cohesion in the course of almost 1000 years. The ill defined “Ukraine” has been a ping-pong ball for hundreds of years, with a history that encompasses some of the territory being part of Russia, Poland, the Austrian/Hungarian Empire and Germany and then Russia again, every time with a new set of previously undefined borders.

When Germany and Russia divided Poland between them in 1939, West Ukraine, under Polish administration between the wars, became Russian for 2 years till 1941, a period in which they saw the Bolsheviks massacre intellectuals by the 1000s, followed by German terror against the Russians that hadn’t slipped away. East Ukraine, however, had remained Russian territory. Here Stalin’s collectivisation process in the 1930s caused the death of more than 6 million people during the so called Holodomor..
Hitler’s troops, therefore were received by many Ukrainians as liberators in June 1941, a fact that still has not been forgotten by parts of the population, where Russian suppression has been felt.

This rather violent track record resulted in a politically fragmented landscape with sometimes illogical allegiances. This can be quite difficult to understand for a Western mind, but it is a fact, that several attempts to create a homogeneous state with well defined borders have been attempted many times - all with a conspicuous lack of success and often with a bloody outcome.

SVOBODA is only one of many organisations who have tried to pull this split country together as a national state. If their methods and credo are a little different from what we might expect in our mature and settled western democracies, we only need to consider how various parts of Ukraine have been bullied from all sides, but in particular by the Russians, throughout the centuries.
SVOBODA was the first organisation to shout: “enough is enough” at the recent Maidan demonstrations – but what’s new? History shows that it is always a radical element that takes the lead on change. It was the communists in Denmark in 1940, who for three years made up the resistance. In England it was BNP and EDL, who had had enough of Islam – and the initially 1-programme party UKIP started life with a rather motley blend of nutters and intellectuals, before beginning to come of age and achieve credibility.

The argument that SVOBODA is part of the Ukrainian parliament, while BNP/EDL (or UKIP for that matter!) have no seats in the Commons, is neither here nor there. That is just a result of different election processes and a different history.
We are dealing with a country that since 1991 has started from the bottom, learning to deal with virtually everything from market economy to a democratic process. The soviet misadventure, Stalin’s killing machine, economic breakdown, oligarch asset-grab and Russia’s conscious attempts to dominate are not exactly an ideal spring board!
Beat that for a wooden spoon in the mouth at birth!

It is terribly easy for western couch politicians to criticise and judge a people while using own values as a basis. It doesn’t become easier, when, as for now, the Russian mis-information and frighteningly effective propaganda machine is rolled out while spreading the war-cry about fascists and racists. They have used this tactic against adversaries since 1917. If you haven’t been to Ukraine – and again the experience is widely different if you visit the east or the west of the country – and if you don’t speak the language or are able to follow the screaming debates on Russian or Ukrainian TV channels, then perhaps it is understandable that your judgements are skewed.
Those of us, who have been there many times in the last 15 years and who have been able to follow the discussions on local TV have a completely different experience of a population that is bullied by Russians – and who has had enough of it.

It is true that Ukraine has shot many holes in their own feet. Rampant corruption, economic drainage by the oligarchs and a failure to lift the population out of poverty – like in Russia itself, mind you – is the reality, while perhaps 10 mill of a population of 55 mill have drifted as homeless workers towards a better life in Western Europe. The greedy MPs of the RADA and the Russian orientated Yanukovych, an East Ukrainian convicted criminal, have slowly but surely incapacitated the country, sucking it dry.

Yeltsin’s Foreign Secretary Andrei Kozyrev, in a conversation with USA’s ex Foreign Secretary Talbot, recently said: “Stop talking about what Putin will do next. He has already done it through Yanukovych”. With this he meant slowly brought Ukraine to its knees, so that it would have difficulty operating as a normal autonomous state, i.e. dance to Russia’s whip.
But both of you should be clever enough to understand the outline of this story and the game being played, in particular as Russia today is led by a KGB general and because the shenanigans of the Orange revolution in 2004-5 were reasonably well reported and understood.

To knock Ukraine as being equal to SVOBODA or to turn up and play Russia’s game on the RT Eng. TV channel, being led into a mire of leading, damning questions while supporting the Russian misinformation machine, is naive at best – unforgivably stupid at worst.

And to talk about a “Russian sphere of influence” is old cold-war hat straight out of the Cuba crisis – completely irrelevant. In that case Poland and the Baltic states would also be in the direct “Russian sphere of interest” and beyond Western interest.
Is that what you mean, Mr. Coburn, and should we accept Putin’s next aggressive step?

Knocking EU on the RT channel was also a bad idea.
You are totally right, though; Ashton, Baroso, Schulz and the rest of the gang are a useless, incompetent lot – but right now it seems more important to stand together against Putin the bully and his dangerous game. You became a willing pawn in the theatre RT put up – classic divide and rule.
But still: it was EU countries who willingly received and treated many hundred of wounded from the Maidan protests!

But worst of all: no, it was not the EU that started the Maidan revolution, although surely they have fished in rich waters.
It was the ordinary people, who had grown sick and tired of corruption, being sucked dry and now seeing an opportunity, after the failed Orange Revolution, to obtain a reasonable standard of living and a future for their children through turning towards Western Europe.
You should try experiencing the abject rural poverty in both Ukraine and Russia. A visit would make you understand, that if Ukraine’s future lays with Russia, as Yanukovych suddenly claimed, all hope for the future would be left behind.
That was simply too much for a people, who has the same right as the rest of us to see their aspirations become reality. We know: it was our friends and their children on the barricades for 3 months – a sacrifice you will probably never understand.

Does it not mirror some of the thoughts UKIP have in terms of the UK, manacled by the EU and with a deep desire to get out while pursuing a better life?
You should be the first to understand, Mr. Coburn. The world has changed; the people are taking over from the politicians in Ukraine and here as in other countries, but it seems to me that UKIP has a long way to go in terms of understanding the international political game-play. Lack of knowledge is dangerous and not an excuse, lack of learning from the past is unforgivable and isolating ourselves is not an option.

It may well be that SVOBODA has the wrong colour at the moment – and suddenly it is OK what the EU says? But with time this will change, as the Ukrainians learn the democratic game. I am fully aware that Eastern Europe is rather racist, but that goes for e.g. France and Austria as well! The West has turned anti Jewish, judged from the huge number of resolutions against Israel, the only near-east democratic state, as compared to the number of anti-Palestinian resolutions (none!)

Many Ukrainians – like the rest of us – dream of a prosperous freedom, self determination, one law of the land and peace. Most East Ukrainians have no idea what the West has to offer – they even stand gawping when they look at the progress in Lviv.
Don’t you think the tumultuous events around Ukraine deserve our attention and support and concerted effort in rejecting the many ghosts from the past that suddenly have arisen to haunt us these days?

Yes to Europe – no to EU – and welcome to the freedom searching Ukrainians, if they are willing to take the responsibility. (God help them if they manage to enter the EU-union!).
But do stay clear of R TV in the future.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Global Warming. Really?

The Washington Post

The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway

Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes.

Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.

Oh, by the way: this report was from November 2, 1922, as reported by the AP and published in The Washington Post - 90+ years ago!