Saturday, December 31, 2005

You're Nick-ed, Agent Langman!

An MI6 station boss who had been operating under diplomatic cover in Greece has been recalled to London after being named by the Greek weekly magazine To Proto Thema, reporting a case of alleged torture and brutality to Palistani workers secretly arrested in Greece.

Attempts by the British goverment to keep Nicholas Langman's name quiet, with D-notices to newspaper editors requesting silence, have been defied by the Morning Star (December 30), and by various blogs and websites. Now Nicholas John Andrew Langman, to give him his full name, is reported to be back on British soil, although the Foreign Office claimed the Greek allegations were "unfounded".

The case concerns more than two dozen Pakistani workers kidnapped from their homes in Athens and the north-west town of Ioannina, following the July 7 London bombings. According to a complaint lodged with lawyers by seven of those detained, they were seized on July 10, by agents of the Greek secret service, EYP, and taken away, bound and hooded, to a secret place for interrogation. They were eventually released without charge

" A police officer violently struck me twice as I lay on the ground. I asked him for water and he again struck me. Then, he gave me a kick. He wanted to know the circumstances in which I would have used my mobile to contact people I knew in London and parents in Pakistan ", testified Gul Nawaz, 32 years old, and living in Athens for the past three years.

"They asked me whether I had ties with Al-Qaida. I answered them that no, that I was Moslem and that I had come to Greece to nourish my wife and my three children left in Pakistan ", adds Mohammed Munir, who according to his deposition was maltreated on several occasions during his captivity.

Greek security police allegedly beat and tortured the men to "show off" to the British officer conducting the questioning. A dark-skinned British agent was in charge, according to the accounts. One prisoner was threatened with a pistol that was shoved in his mouth. After being held for a week on average, without access to a lawyer, the captives were eventually dumped, blindfolded, in the middle of the night in central Athens.

"Our jailors told us that our families in Pakistan would suffer reprisals if we speak about what had happened to us ", Munir says.
"It seems that secret services were acting in a way that was not at all legal", said Greek former MEP Michaelis Papayannakis, "And from what we know this is not the first time that this has happened." (Greece urged to investigate MI6 torture link, Guardian, December 28)

Greece Minister for Justice Anastasis Papaligouras, opened an investigation. But his colleague George Voulgarakis, who supervises the intelligence services, formally denied that the interrogations had happened. The EYP has reportedly been working with the British Special Branch since they collaborated in breaking up the 17 November terrorist group responsible for the assassination of Britain's military attache in Athens, Stephen Sanders. There was also some sharing of expertise to counter possible terrorism or hooliganism at the Olympics.

But an operation like the one described must have been approved by the head of government, Costas Karamanlis, according to To Proto Thema.

The "D-notice" system by which editors are requested to withold information in the interests of "national security", is voluntary, but most British papers loyally obeyed this one, as they usually do. Even in international media and on the internet information was not easy to come by. No doubt we will be self-righteously told now that the MI6 man's life could be at risk if he is identified. As though any state or terrorist organisation wishing to pursue MI6 agents would not be capable of reading the Greek weekly, or making their own researches! But it is a guiding rule of British official "secrecy" that whatever foreigners may know or allege, nothing must be allowed that might add credance to their allegations for the British public.


Answers to Our Quirky Quiz

'BIG JIM' LARKIN, founder of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, commemorated by statue in O'Connel Street, Dublin.
The building in the background is the General Post Office where another famous socialist, James Connolly, founder of the Citizen Army, held out in the 1916 Easter Rising.

(right) rear view of the house-that-isn't on Leinster Gardens in London W2. (See London Lights, q.2).

The Year that Was

1) 216,000 people were killed or disappeared in the
Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, according to an Associated Press assessment based on government and relief agency figures. The UN said its total of dead and missing was 223,492.

2) George Galloway MP

3) Including the bombers, 56 people were killed in London on July 7.

4) Gate Gourmet, which supplies airline meals for British Airways. The company is part of Texas Pacific, which also own Burger King.

5) Poland

6) 3.5 million

7) France

8)The Israel Labour Party

9)Ariel Sharon



1)Charlie Chaplin

2) Maurice Chevalier

3)Heraclitus (about 535-475 BC)

4) Lillian Hellmann (replying to sub-poena from the House Un-American Activities committee)

5) Alice Walker

What's in a name?

1) James Larkin

2) Billy Connolly

3)James Connolly

4) James Keir-Hardie

5) Iago, if canonised, becomes Santiago, as in Santiago de Compastella, in Galicia, a popular place for pilgrimage. That's St.James in English, as in "St.James infirmary Blues".

Noms de plume, noms de guerre

1) Tito

2) George Eliot

3)Sholem Aleichem, whose "Tevye der Milchiger" was turned into the musical Fiddler on the Roof

4)Achad HaAm, lit. "One of the People".

5) Julio Antonio Mella, Cuban communist, and some claim, Trotskyist, though his name is celebrated in Cuba today. Newspapers implicated Mella's comrade Tina Modotti in his 1929 shooting. There is still argument whether Mella was murdered by Stalinist agent Vittorio Vidali, or someone hired by Cuban dictator General Machado.

The place in question

1) Philadelphia.

2) Los Angeles

3) Pakistan


5) United States

Watch your language


2) Andorra



5) 9 million

Thanks for the Memory

1) Spike Milligan

2) Simone Signoret

3) David Niven

4)Edward Said

5)Rudolf Rocker

London Lights

1) Dick Whittington's cat (outside the Whittington hospital)

2) There's no such house. When the Metropolitan Railway was being cut through property owners insisted that a facade be erected to hide the place where it broke the line of the street. (see rear view above)

3) The Westbourne river, culveted except where it was damned to form the Serpentine.

4) As a St.Pancras councillor, GBS campaigned, against fierce opposition, for the provision of public toilets for women workers in Camden Town.

5) Little Venice is by the Grand Union Canal basin, in London W9. Hugo Chavez is president of Venezuela ( 'little Venice', said to have been so called by explorer Amerigo Vespucci when he saw native dwellings on stilts above the water).


Happy New Year in 2006!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Whose history? What "identity"?

Back in 1974 I was interviewed for a history teaching job at a school in Essex. It seemed a pleasant place. They showed me around, treated me to a pint and pie up the pub, then took me back for the interview. It seemed to be going OK, till one of the three men interviewing me asked:
"Supposing a pupil came to you and said What's the point of all this history, Sir? It's all in the past;and we want to learn about the future, and new things...' How would you answer that?"

I answered that I would say, if you wanted to know about the future, and how things could change, it helped to look at how things had changed in the past, to learn how things change.

The immediate follow-up question came from another staff member: "Do you have any particular political convictions?"

I thought that was an impressive leap. "Yes," I acknowledged, then paused. I'd recently heard a fellow I knew at Lancaster saying how impressed an interview panel had been by his articulate opinions. But he was younger than me, and maybe his interviewers had felt safer indulging him, or maybe (besides having attained a better degree) he'd just been lucky. I did not know the politics of my interviewers, why should they hear mine?

I smiled at them, raising my eyebrows slightly as though expecting a further question. There was a silence. Then the head cleared his throat. "I think what Mr.Higginbotham was concerned about was whether your political convictions would influence the way you taught history."

"Oh no," I assured them, earnestly, "It is my job to teach the students to think, not to tell them what to think"..

They did not seem convinced, still less reassured. Somehow I didn't feel they were worried lest I be a member of the Conservative Club. Still, I might have made a good impression as a reasonably intelligent and conscientious person.

That evening I told a couple of friends, Alan Clinton and Geoff Pilling, about the perspicacious interviewer who had recognised in my view of history a political outlook. They appeared concerned only at my naievety. "You've been fingered", said Geoff simply.

Whatever the explanation, I didn't get the job and I didn't go into teaching.

Perhaps I could have answered that question about why bother learning history just as honestly and without inviting questions about my world outlook by saying "because it's fun".
Not always, it depends on the teacher, but it can be.

In my first year at Salford Grammar School, in a class which like me had come via Secondary Moderns first, we had a history teacher called Mr.Morgan, who somehow managed to infect us all with his enthusiasm for Roman Britain. This wasn't Bath or St.Albans but Salford with its dark satanic mills and grimy soot-engrained Victorian public buildings. The Heritage Industry had yet to replace our industrial heritage. So it was without helpful signs that myself and a mate, following up a remark from Mr.Morgan, walked up and down the road at Knott Mill one Saturday morning till we found the right builders yard, and asked the man on the gate to allow us through to look under a railway arch at a heap of stones and clay - remains of the wall that once guarded Roman Manchester.

It wasn't much. Not like the historic buildings or ruins one saw in books or on holiday. But it was ours. A gateway from our immediate surroundings to another dimension. I reckon Mr.Morgan deserves some credit for opening our minds to such possibilities. It used to be said that the pub doors offered "the quickest way out of Salford", though nowadays alcohol is only one "mind altering" way of escape. But history not only offers an alternative cure for big city claustrophobia without needing government health warnings; it raises one's sights, to see that the "real world" in which our opportunist politicians say we have got to live is not fixed. It has not always been like this and there is no reason to suppose it must always be so. Great powers and empires can pass away just like the Romans.

So maybe the teaching of history as "fun" can also be subversive. It might not commend itself to those who relegate the subject to "an increasingly marginal role" in both primary and secondary schools, because of "a perception that it has only limited relevance to many pupils' future working lives". (a report from the British government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority).

I've had experience of this business of "education" to fit the supposed requirements of our "future working lives". ( Notice, little importance is attached to our time outside work -which for many of us is the nearest we get to any kind of human life). In my case, I blame the Russians. The moment they sent up that sputnik someone decided (as someone did when the Prussians showed what their artillerymen could do in 1870 -hence our Education Act) that Britain needed to catch up on science and technology. So Class 3T at Salford got a new timetable - no art, no music, no English Lit, not even Biology or Woodwork (which I didn't miss), but lots of Metalwork, Maths and Physics. Of course Salford, and Britain, still had a big engineering industry back then. Before Thatcherism, and globalization.

So hard fitting students for "future working lives", or the needs of industry, when the industrialists have no idea what the future will bring, or whether they'll be in business next year, maybe next week.

But even before the 1870 Education Act, there came the 1867 Reform Act, enfranchising working men as citizens, and in 1868 the Trades Union Congress met for the first time. Those who taught and produced text books of History for schools were aware that, like the teachers of Religious Studies, they had a part to play in turning out not just factory hands and fitters, but loyal, patriotic, law-abiding citizens. (see History for Their Masters, by Valerie E.Chanceller, and The Use and Abuse of History, by Marc Ferro, for a comparative wider view). But like trying to turn us all out as industrial cogs, it has not always worked.

Max Hastings, author of half a dozen books on subjects like the SS Reich Division, is concerned that history teachers and syllabuses pay more attention to British, more particularly English history. "This is the country of Drake and Pepys, not Shaka Zulu", he writes. (Guardian, Tuesday December 27). Not the country of Hume or Livingstone. Of course we invaded the country of Shaka Zulu, though the blighter put up a resistance. Hastings concedes that "the Muslim peoples of the Middle East sustained higher cultural values than the crusaders" (though in my experience they're more likely to get a mention when the Maths teacher is introducing algebra than in history lessons); "But the world's development in the past 500 years has been dominated, for good or ill, by what westerners have thought and done". Indeed, like Hitler, for example.

Taking up the white man's burden, Hastings sees the proper task of history teaching as "developing a sense of British cultural identity". Referring to the need to install this in schoolchildren of West Indian and Muslim origin (as though their families were not often better educated about Britain than their white neigbours), he complains that "The British educational establishment is today defeatist about reconciling new Britons to our sense of cultural identity".

Oddly enough, as an example of what ought to be, Hastings says "a Washington historian told me recently that he often sees tears in the eyes of young Korean and Mexican Americans when he reads Lincoln's Gettysburg address to them". Perhaps they were in tears at the thought of how far America is from equality or eradicating racism. But at least it can acknowledge it is largely an immigrant country.

As a grandson of immigrants I can relate to those Korean and Mexican kids. As a child, having thought of Richard the Lionheart as a hero, I was troubled to learn in cheder (Jewish religious class) that he was a villain who slaughtered defenceless Jews. Could history have more than one interpretation? Heavy stuff for a nine year old. My Irish pals had a similar problem with Cromwell.

But having heard about the pogroms my grandparents escaped, I was also told by my parents when we went "to town", the centre of Manchester, about the Peterloo massacre in 1819. Those weavers and their families standing up for their rights became also part of my history. And I found it easy to make a connection between that and Sharpeville in 1960.

Talking of Gettysburg, I was proud to learn of the Lancashire workers who despite their privation while cotton was blocked, stood by the North against slavery, when their rulers inclined to back the plantation owners. I wonder how divisions like that fit Mr.Hasting's "cultural identity"? It was a Conservative prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who coined the phrase "Two Nations", to describe British society.

I was inspired to learn that the Chartists held rallies on Kersal moor where we played as kids, and that my city was birthplace of Robert Owen's Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. From the local to the global. On the same day that the Guardian published Max Hastings' views on history in education, it carried an article by George Monbiot, "The Turks haven't learned the British way of denying past atrocities". Looking at the trial of Turkish wroter Orhan Pamiuk, charged with "denigrating Turkishness" by writing about the massacres of Armenians and Kurds,Monbiot moves on to consider recent books dealing with British atrocities in Kenya.

The soldiers were told they could shoot anyone they liked "provided they were black". Elkins's evidence suggests that more than 100,000 Kikuyu were either killed or died of disease and starvation in the camps. David Anderson documents the hanging of 1,090 suspected rebels: far more than the French executed in Algeria.

I remember hearing about Hola camp, but not much. I don't remember any demonstrations about that or about Aden. I wonder if our free press will ever feel free to report such things happening, and when they will be taught about in schools.
As Monbiot asks: "It is not illegal to discuss the millions who were killed under empire. So why do so few people know about them?"

Now there's a question to ask. Perhaps those in charge of the history syllabi (?) and recruitment of history teachers might comment, if not editors like Mr.Max Hastings. But "Have you any political convictions, Mr.Pottins?" What a silly question!"

for Max Hastings article:,,1674044,00.html

For letters about it:,,1674217,00.html

For George Monbiot article:,,1674478,00.html


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Chanukamas! Yuletide Quiz

Here's a holiday
Quiz to keep your kop busy as the turkey and latkes go down,
get a conversation going (or keep the kids quiet)

What's odd about this mystery address in London W2?
(see question in last round)

The year that was:

1) Approximately how many people were killed in the tsnunami that swept Indian ocean countries on December 26, 2004?

2) Who gained the Bethnal Green and Bow seat from Labour in the British general election of May 5, 2005?

3) How many people were killed by the bombings on public transport in London on July 7?

4) What company sparked a stoppage halting British Airways flights from Heathrow in August by sacking 800 workers?

5) In what country did the conservative Law and Justice party win elections on September 25 (its anti-gay founder going on to become president on October 24)?

6) The Kashmir earthquake on October 8 left 87,350 people dead, according to Pakistan government estimates. But approximately how many people were made homelesss as winter approached?

7) What country's government adopted Exceptional Laws in November, after youth riots had led to 1,500 arrests?

8) Of which political party did Moroccan-born Amir Peretz become leader on November 9?

9)Who decided to form a new political party called "Kadima"?

10) In which country was Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism(MAS) elected president on December 18?

And now to some general (?) knowledge:


Who said:-
1) "All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl".
2) "Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative".
3) "You cannot step twice in the same river".
4) "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to this year's fashions".
5) "It just seems clear to me that as long as we are all here, it's pretty clear that the struggle is to share the planet, rather than divide it".

What's in a Name?

1) Which famous Irish trade union leader was popularly known as "Big Jim"?
2) Which famous Scottish comedian is nicknamed the "Big Yin"?
3) How might the names of the first two give you the name of an Edinburgh-born socialist and hero of the Irish freedom struggle?
4) Which former Scottish miner, sharing his first name with 3, was elected socialist MP for West Ham South in 1892, and became a founder of the Independent Labour Party.
5) How might a pilgrimage to a canonised character in Othello lead you to a hospital with the Blues?

Noms de plume, noms de guerre

1) By what name did Joseph Broz become better known?
2) Under what name did Mary Ann Evans write her novels?
3) Under what pen name did Sholem Ya'akov Rabinowitz become better known, and write about a milkman (who never did become a rich man).
4) Asher Ginzberg did much to revive Hebrew culture, but under what pseudonym?
5) Nicanor McPartland was born in Cuba in 1903 and killed in Mexico in 1929 By what name was he better known?

The Place in Question

1) Of which city did comic WC Fields say he had been there once, "but it was closed"?
2) What did crime writer Raymond Chandler describe as "a big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup".
3) What country, according to cricketer Ian Botham, interviewed in 1984, was "The sort of place everyone should send his mother- in- law for a month, all expenses paid."
4) Of living in what city did judge Sir Melford Stevenson say it was "a totally incomprehensible choice for any free human being to make".
5) What country allegedly passed "from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between"

Watch your language!

1) Besides German, French and Italian, what other laguage is spoken in Switzerland?
2) Catalan is spoken in Catalonia and the Balearics, but what country has it as an official language?
3) What language is often referred to by its speakers as "Mame Loshen" (lit."mother tongue"?
4) What Semitic language uses a Latin alphabet?
5) About how many people speak Zulu as their native language?

Thanks for the Memory

Whose memoirs were published as
1) Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall
2) Nostalgia isn't what it used to be
3) Bring on the Empty Horses
4) Out of Place
5) The London Years

London lights (odd but interesting)

1) What famous animal is honoured by a statue outside a hospital near Archway tube station?
( Clue -think of the pantomine season.)
2) Why, if you said you lived at 23 or 24 Leinster Gardens W2 (see photo), would you be assumed to be giving a false address?
3) What starts in Kilburn and comes out in Hyde Park before going on to cross Sloane Square station and eventually reach the Thames? (clue you'll find its name to a district and station on the Hammersmith and City Line).
4) Why might women visiting Camden Lock have given thanks, with relief, to George Bernard Shaw?
5) How might a district near Maida Vale be connected with Hugo Chavez?


Friday, December 23, 2005

Jerusalem Report: Europe's Responsibility

MORE than 40 organisations, including War on Want, European Jews for Just Peace, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Jewish Socialists' Group, have protested the European Union (EU) foreign ministers' decision to shelve a report on Israeli annexation measures around Jerusalem.

European Jews for Just Peace says that by burying their heads in the sand European ministers are taking co-responsibility for what Israel is doing to residents of East Jerusalem. To counter suppression of the report the organisations have sent it to MPs and the media and will publish it on their own websites.

The EU report, drawn up during Britain's presidency of the EU by British diplomats in Ramallah and East Jerusalem, warned that Israel was forestalling future peace negotiations, by turning its illegal annexation of Arab East Jerusalem into a fact, by making it near impossible for Arab citizens to obtain building and work permits; cutting the city off from the rest of the occupied territories with its so-called "security" wall; and slicing the Palestinian West Bank in two by expanding the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.

Charging the Israeli government with violation of the internationally agreed "road map" for peace and of international law, the mission report urged the EU and European governments to take steps to counteract this, such as holding meetings with the Palestinian Authority in East Jerusalem.

Details of the report were leaked and publicised by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which opposes the Israeli government's use of demolitions for "collective punishment" of Palestinians and, in combination with restriction of permits, as a way to drive people out of areas, in a form of "ethnic cleansing".

Dan Judelson of the European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP) wrote to the EU president Manuel Barroso on December 8, expressing concern that the EU was not publishing and acting on its report. "Israel seeks delay in which to establish, build and expand 'facts on the ground' - illegal de facto annexation of land -and in this instance the EU is providing it."

Despite this, on December 12 the EU Foreign Ministers decided to shelve the report at the urgeing of foreign policy chief Javier Solana and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said " The political landscape has altered within Israel - there is a general election in a few months time,." Like Shimon Peres, the Blair government is getting behind Ariel Sharon. New Labour has put paid to any old ideas about British traditions of "sympathy for the underdog"

As for "changing landscapes", the day after the ministers' decision the Israeli government announced that 300 new homes would be built at the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.

Palestinians too are due to hold elections, on January 25. The Islamic movement Hamas did well in recent local elections, gaining 70 per cent of the vote in Nablus, once a stronghold of secular Palestinian nationalism. To reinforce its self-claimed authority in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has said it won't allow ballot boxes in the city because it objects to Hamas taking part. Nor will it allow east Jerusalem residents to vote by post as they did in previous elections under iterim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

Just to add to the impression that the EU is backing this bullying, it has threatened to withold funds from the Palestinian authority if Hamas is allowed to participate. By contrast, we might note that a poll published on December 21 showed 50 per cent of Israelis would favour peace negotiations with Hamas, despite its association with terror bombings and supposed aim to destroy the Zionist state.

"This shows an Israeli awareness of what is going on in the Palestinian public, that Hamas is serious about its intention to play a role in Palestinian politics," said Ya'acov Shamir of the Hebrew University, who conducted the survey. "We cannot prevent this, and the public understands that."

We might expect European diplomats to understand it too; and to realise that whereas giving people a chance to take part in free elections and be recognised as equals encourages a reasonable willingness to compromise, treating them as colonial subjects who cannot be trusted to decide for themselves only pushes people, particularly the militant young, towards despair and ever more violence.

Should Europe be held responsible for assisting peace in the Middle East, and giving the Palestinian people reasons for hope, as well as material help? Yes, history makes it responsible. Without the British Balfour Declaration (made both to counter Jewish support for the Russian revolution and ease Britain's way to the Palestine.Mandate), there would be no "Jewish National Home". And without what happened to Jews in Europe (as well as America's closed doors to refugees) there would have been no massive move by Jews to settle there.

The UN sought to remove the problem by voting for partition of Palestine. As Afif Safieh said, Palestinians became "Hitler's last victims". In the 1950s, the German Federal Republic acknowledged its share of responsibility by the reparations agreement with Israel (under-written by the United States, and weakening opposition to German re-armamemt, as well as providing German industry with a safe market). It is only right now to recognise a debt to the Palestinians.

It is also one way in which Europe can assert its independence from an arrogant US policy, and possibly compel some more constructive thinking in Washington. If European Union Foreign Ministers have the will, that is. They could do well to consider that when Turkey obtains EU membership, the Middle East will be a closer neighbour than it is now. With freedom and the chance to rebuild and develop, it could be a good neighbour to have.

They should have listened to their missions in Palestine, published their report and acted on it. By suppressing it these supposedly "responsible" ministers are behaving irresponsibly, while the non-governmental organisations and peace campaigners are acting responsibly, for truth, peace and justice. By publishing the report they are exposing the fact that governments which don't trust us with information are themselves not to be trusted with anything.

for further information:
en francais:

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Srebrenica and the French Connection

Srebrenica and the French Connection

FIVE members of a Serb special police force unit have gone on trial in Belgrade, charged with murdering Bosniac civilians after the fall of Srebrenica. The 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre this year saw renewed efforts by various people to prove there was no massacre, or that it was exagerrated, or that the victims brought it upon themselves.

The several thousand women in Bosnia missing and mourning husbands, brothers and sons have apparently been deluded by Western propaganda, or else they, being Muslims, are not to be trusted; having boarded their coaches on a shopping trip to Tuzla, then like "bogus asylum seekers" they invented their losses and suffering to prey on people's sympathies and the "sosh".

Remains being dug up from the killing fields were planted to delude us, rather as the Almighty sowed fossils to make ye of little Faith believe in evolution and so forth. Anyway, Serb forces having bulldozed, ploughed and harrowed your husbands' remains several times, they are scatterd beyond recognition, so where is your proof whose they are? .

What you thought was a siege was illusion, the town was wageing war all around. Besides, the Americans were flying in planeloads of arms to Tuzla, even if the skies were silent and the airport under UN control, it's just that the Bosnian army decided not to use them, they wanted to lose their towns to get the world's sympathy that's all. So what if it did them no good?

Oddly enough. while the revisionist chorus was trying to get in tune, a different note entirely was sounded by, of all people, Serb Radical Party leader (or vojvod, that is Duce), Vojtslav Seselj, from the Hague. Appearing in defence of former president Slobodan Milosevic, his far-Right coalition partner announced that the Srebrenica massacre had been committed by a group of "foreign mercenaries close to the French secret service".

This startling allegation brought welcome light relief to a Hague tribunal audience desperate for a laugh. It was particularly surprising considering that Seselj's biggest buddy on the European scene was France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Besides, France, or at any rate, the French military and political establishment, frequently showed a soft spot for Serb nationalism during and after the Bosnian conflict.

Reminding us of the way the UN forces handed Patrice Lumumba over to his enemies, French troops under UN command, escorting Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Hakija Turajlic opened the doors of their armoured pesonnel carrier at a Serb nationalist roadblock, near Sarajevo airport, allowing the Serbs to kill minister Turajlic, on January 8, 1993. A British armoured unit that had arrived at the roadblock was ordered away by the French commander, and French reinforcements remained 400 yards away, before the shooting took place. The UN "protection" force (UNPROFOR) command would not allow Bosnian authorities to investigate the incident.
At the end of November 1994 French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe went with Britain's Douglas Hurd to negotiate with Milosevic, and according to some press reports, offered the Serb leader a free hand in eastern Bosnia, including besieged towns like Gorazde and Srebrenica.

After the war, the Hague war crimes tribunal was set up. Its head, justice Louise Arbour, told le Monde (15 December, 1997) : "Most of the war criminals in Bosnia can be found in the French sector, that's where they feel safe. We are facing total inertia on the part of the French authorities. This is a concerted policy". Foreign Minister Hubert Vodrine denied this, but as concerned French organisations pointed out, two figures facing the most serious charges, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, resided in the Pale area under French occupation.

French Defence Minister Alain Richard dismissed the Hague tribunal as a "show trial", and advised French officers who had served with UNPROFOR not to atend as witnesses.
In 1994, a retired general, Pierre-Marie Gallois had written to Karadzic regretting his "incapacity to stand beside you in the battle". In 1998 it was reported that French officers arriving in Bosnia were being encouraged to liaise with Bosnian Serb nationalists, and that a colonel had told them the Serbs were "sacrificed" in the Dayton peace agreement, and a "a rising Muslim tide" was threatening to engulf Europe. A Major Herve Goumelon was recalled from Bosnia after complaints that his frequent meetings with Karadzic helped the war criminal evade arrest.

In October 1998 a French officer attached to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Major Pierre-Henri Bunel, was arrested, accused of passing classified information on planned NATO air strikes and other information to Colonel Jovan Mihailovic of Serbian military intelligence, during the Kosova intervention. Fellow officers demonstrated outside military headquarters, not because they thought he was innocent, but because they agreed with him. They bore a banner reading "THE ARMY WITH THE SERBS - FREE MAJOR BUNEL!"

There was more than just the prejudices of the officer caste at work in Bosnia. The end of the Cold War against the Soviet Union had released underlying conflicts and rivalries among imperialist powers, from the new "scramble for Africa" to the rough geopolitical alignment that led up to the First World War. Then Germany's drang nach osten, in alliance with Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Turkish Empire, was confronted by an alliance of Britain, France, Serbia and Russia. Cast your mind back to fifth form history, and you might remember the Baghdad Railway, as well as a little shooting incident in a city called Sarajevo.

It's said that when thieves fall out, honest people prosper. But too many on the Left - even those who liked to dub the old Soviet Union "state capitalism" or worse - have reverted to an obsolete Cold War model which attempts to explain imperialism not as the "highest stage of capitalism" (q.v Lenin), with all the contradictions and conflicts that entails, but a united, monolithic and wickedly conspiratorial force. The imperialists plan, and wage wars "for oil" (treated merely as a strategic commodity, not a profitable lever for commercial advantage) , we can but protest.

In the case of ex-Yugoslavia, they were supposedly inventing atrocities just for an excuse to destroy "socialism" -as though Milosevic and his fascist allies were defending it, rather than grabbing the lot, robbing the exchequer and privatising.

Anything which complicated the picture, such as intra-imperialist conflict, was rejected. Please don't trouble our poor flock with anything that requires them to think. The outburst from Milosevic and his ally Seselj blaming "French mercenaries" for Srebrenica shows how desperate they must be. Fantastic or not, it ought to make people think. But as one SWP academic asked some years back, when confronted over the presence of Seselj's emigre supporters on a London peace march, where they threatened and attacked socialists, "who is Seselj?" Only most don't even ask. And some of the "Morning Star-linists" ' Srebrenica revisionists, true to the Red-Brown tradition, probably don't even care.

French Connection II

NOW to the real events which Seselj seized on for his allegations. On September 1 this year the Sarajevo newspaper Slobodna Bosna carried a feature length interview with a former member of the 10th commando detachment, attached to the Army of Republika Srpska, commanded by General Ratko Mladic. A member of the same unit, Drazen Erdemovic, was convicted by the Hague court for his part in the Srebrenica massacre.

The man who was interviewed testified that the unit was originally formed under Yugoslav command, as a specialist detachment trained in commando operations and sabotage. They were not Serb nationalists - in fact most were not even Serbs to begin with - but professionals, proud of their skills, and like pirates, they expected rewards.

"We had carried out a raid to destroy a bridge on the Buk, you see, that was 40km from Vezuca towards Zenica, and we were suposed to get 20,000 dollars for the raid. The money arrived in Doboj, in the hands of the military security officer, Mirko Slavuljica. But of that money we only got 100 dollars apiece, the rest was probably shared out by Slavuljica and the other top brass."

The interviewee claimed his group had been sent on an unsuccessful mission to mine a dam on 16 July 1995 when Drazen Erdemovic led another group from the same detachment to Srebrenica.
"When we came back to Bijeljina and met the other group, they told me what they'd done at Srebrenica. They came with money and gold that they'd collected from the people they'd shot, it was worth about 4,000 marks, mainly rings and chains. We went for a drink together."
(interview article translated in the September-November 2005 Bosnia Report, published by the Bosnian Institute, see their site ).

From Bosnia, the commando went off in 1998 to more remunerative operations in Zaire, Kosova and Macedonia. Everything was organised by a Serb called Jugo Petrusic and a Russian called Sergej. "I spent three months in Zaire and earned about 16,000 dollars. ..." There were 80 of them, drawn from the 10th commando and from Serbian special units. "We fought for President Mobutu. We were fools. If we'd fought for the rebels, we'd have stayed longer and earned more."

In 1999, after actions from Kosova against Albanian targets - the Pauk(Spider) battalion, still subsidised with French money, perhaps from the Foreign Legion, was accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate Milosevic. This led to more being learned about Jugo Petrusic. Born in Serbia, he had served in the French Foreign Legion, and claims to have served in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Zaire, before coming back to Yugoslavia in 1992 with the French UNPROFOR contingent.

Reputed to have four passports, three wives, millions in foreign bank accounts and property in Paris, he worked for the French secret service DST, supposedly combatting "Muslim extremists". As soon as the fighting in Bosnia ended he began recruiting men like the veterans of the 10th detachment for mercenary service in Zaire.

When people are lamenting the wars and atrocities in Africa, few apart from people like the African Liberation Solidarity Campaign(ALISC) get around to asking where the weapons come from, or recognising that these are imperialism's proxy wars. Death and misery for Africans, profits and power for Western companies, and careers for mercenaries, even if some like our Yugoslav commando complain that they were cheated of earnings by their bosses. But the row and recriminations from Serbian nationalists have flashed a light on the continued responsibility of the old colonial powers for fostering barbarism in Africa, and in parts of Europe too. .

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Scorpions on trial in Belgrade

FIVE men have gone in trial in Belgrade, charged with the murder of six Bosnians, including a teenage boy, taken prisoner at Srebrenica. The trial comes after campaigning both by Srebrenica survivors and Serbs who want a reckoning with the criminals in their midst.
It results particularly from the showing on television in June of a 1995 video showing six people from Srebrenica being lined up and machine gunned on a hillside. Slobodan Meidic, the commander of the Serb Scorpions unit, alleged to have carried out this killing, told the Belgrade court on Tuesday (December 20) that he would have killed the Serb soldier who filmed it "like a rabbit" if he had known the footage would become public.
Medic denies ordering the killing of civilians, claiming his men were out of control when they decided to avenge killings by Muslim soldiers. So who were the Scorpions?
In 1991, a Serb soldier serving with the Yugoslav People's Army(JNA) discovered that apart from himself and the unit commander, an ethnic German, the rest of his unit had removed the Yugoslav Red Star from their caps, replacing it with the white eagle badge of Serbian nationalism.
The unit was about to go into action at Vukovar, an industrial city in Croatia with a mixed population.
Having besieged and battered this city, Milosevic's army, no longer the army of the Yugoslav people or "brotherhood and unity" (the old communist partisans' slogan) went in with hosts of irregular Serb nationalist gangs behind them, killing and pillaging. More than 400 patients and staff from the Vukovar hospital were taken away and killed.
I heard about the Vukovar siege from Radi, a Serbian Trotskyist comrade, whose brother was that lone soldier with the red star, who managed to stop the fellows in his unit joining in the orgy of barbarities after the siege.
"If you want to save the unity of Yugoslavia", he told a London left-wing audience, replying to someone who raised that as an aim, "you don't do it by destroying a city like Vukovar, and you don't bombard the national library of Sarajevo with incendiary shells." Later, my friend Radi was denied a visa to come and speak again in Britain, while the Tory government invited Radovan Karadzic, and MPs like John Reid (now Labour's Defence Secretary) took subsidised trips to meet with Serb nationalists.
Otherwise Radi could have answered another myth (popular both with Tories and Stalinists), that the war in ex-Yugoslavia was all the Germans' fault again, because Germany "encouraged" the break-up by recognising Croatia, and Britain just followed for reasons to do with the European Union. For the truth is the shells were raining on Vukovar before the German government recognition, and Bosnia-Hercegovina only decided to secede after the JPA used its positions there to bombard the UN Heritage city of Dubrovnik.
Perhaps the Croats and Bosnians were supposed to take all this in friendly spirit, if only they hadn't been encouraged to resist by beastly Germans. Or perhaps non-recognition would have made it easier for H.M. government et al to say the war was an internal Yugoslav matter, just like Russia's problems in Chechnya.
Among those who went into Slavonia after Vukovar fell were Arkan's Serb Volunteer Guard (which shared its name with the Second World War Nazi formation led by Ljotic) and another group run by a high-ranking Serb police officer called Radovan Stojcic. Becoming part of the official forces of the "Republika Srpska Krajina", they became known as the Scorpions, favouring a Czech handgun of that name which comes with a silencer, not a battlefield weapon perhaps but handy for armed robberies and executions. Their badge was a yellow scorpion on black background.
Soon the Scorpions had special tasks, like guarding an oilfield, and various profitable sidelines,
from smuggling oil and cigarettes to supplying Slavonian oak timber for Milosevic's summer dacha. They were sent on wider ranging missions, taking part with others such as Arkan's men in the massacre at Srebrenica, and enlisting as reserves for the Serb police's Special Anti-Terrorist 9sic) unit, in Kosova. They were sent to a place called Podujevo:
"As soon as they arrived, they went into the first Albanian hose that looked promising. The outcome: fourteen dead civilians including women and children, a gold cigarette lighter, a handgun and a few DM. Several Scorpions took part in the massacre..."
(from a report in Vreme, Belgrade, 9 June 2005)



Sunday, December 18, 2005

M is for Monopoly, Murder, Monowitz....and Monica

"Our friendship with the SS is proving very profitable". Otto Ambros, expert in synthetic rubber and poison gas, writing to Fritz Ter Meer. Sentenced at Nuremberg for war crimes they were soon back in business. (picture from 'The Crime and Punishment of IG Farben', by Joseph Borkin, published by Andre Deutsch, 1979).

M is for Monopoly, Murder and Monowitz...

I watched the final episode of the BBC2 series on Auschwitz last week. There's a follow-up discussion promised in the new year. In the final episode there was a bit about the survivors who lost everything, family, health, and whatever possessions they had owned.
Their difficulty or lack of material compensation was rightly contrasted with the way their persecutors and those who had gained from their suffering could continue to do well.

The SS veterans had their pensions, and shared the affluence of the "German Miracle". Shots of SS veterans rally, and of waiter serving prosperous bourgeois gentlemen at restaurant.

There was a wry vignette about an Auschwitz survivor returning to his native village and finding someone living in his house, with his furniture, denying he'd done anything wrong in acquiring things. The new occupant was convinced the Jew must have hidden some wealth about the place.
When the survivor returned some time later he found the house in ruins, and learned from neighbours that the late occupant had become obsessed with this belief, and stopped working, spending all his time tearing the home to pieces looking for this treasure that never existed.
It was a charming tale of justice.

But I was disappointed by this episode, because it did not mention IG Farben. This was the big German chemical monopoly combine that set up its own concentration camp at Monowitz alongside Auschwitz, exploiting slave labourers for its Buna factory. "Our new friendship with the SS is proving very profitable," wrote Otto Ambros of IG Farben to colleague Fritz Ter Meer. Many prisoners were worked to death, or weeded out in "selections" for the death camp at Birkenau. Zyklon B, the form of prussic acid used in the gas chambers was produced by Degesch, an IG Farben subsidiary.

After the war, IG Farben directors went on trial, and the combine was broken up. But IG Farben had enjoyed strong links with powerful US interests like Standard Oil and their friends in high places. Besides, the Cold War meant rebuilding capitalist industry in West Germany.
Soon men like Otto Ambros and Fritz Ter Meer who had been directly involved in the crimes at Auschwitz were out of jail and back in the boardrooms. By the 1950s each of the IG Farben constituents -Hoechst, Bayer, and BASF -was bigger and more profitable than the combine had been.

Perhaps a bit much to pack into that final episode. But having made a remark about those who did well from the concentration camps, the documentary makers led me to think we would hear at least a mention of IG Farben. Even if it's not as amusing as the deluded peasant who ripped the house to pieces. I've dropped a line to the BBC on this. Maybe we'll see something in the discussion programme.

Monica and her Unknown Soviet Soldier

AMONG our group of mostly British-born young Jews, Monica, who went out with Alan the youth leader was different. It wasn't just her accent.

One day, someone - it might have been me - must have said something critical of the Soviet military in eastern Europe. This was a few years after the Hungarian uprising.

"I don't want to hear anything against the Russians", said Monica, unexpectedly. "I was an eight-year old child when the Russians liberated us at Auschwitz. A Red Army soldier gave me my first piece of chocolate from his rations".

Before that I had known nothing about Monica's background. I don't think she said much else. We did not ask her any questions. This was not just one of those sentimental Stalinist fellow-travellers you heard singing how we should all be grateful to the Soviet Union. I don't remember Monica ever talking about politics, or telling us about her experiences. I think she married Alan and they settled on a kibbutz in Galilee, probably Amiad or Kfar Hanassi.

Just occasionally over the years, perhaps when watching some documentary with old grey newsreel clips of the Red Army marching in ranks, I've remembered Monica and her soldier. Was he a Russian, or maybe a Jew, Ukrainian or Uzbek or Armenian? (Did you know Soviet Armenians had the highest percentage of posthumous awards for gallantry?)

I wouldn't have thought the Soviet troops had many bars of chocolate. This wasn't your jeep-born GIs liberating Europe with chewing gum, nylons and Hershey bars (sorry to friends Stateside for that stereotype). This bit of chocolate must have meant all the more. It certainly meant everything to an eight-year old girl from behind the wire getting her first taste of human kindness.

I thought about Monica and her soldier again last week, watching the final episode of the BBC 2 series on Auschwitz. They interviewed a woman in Israel, who had also been a little girl in Auschwitz, and remembered fleeing with her mother from brutalised Russian soldiers intent on raping every woman or girl, including those they had just liberated, as though these had not suffered enough from the Nazis.

I don't doubt this woman was telling the truth. So I'm sure was Monica. I'm glad the BBC film included the woman's testimony, because it's right to remember these things, even if they upset those who prefer simplified pictures of good and evil to facing the complexity of the real world and human behaviour.

But I wish they had also interviewed Monica. For the sake of that unknown, kind, Soviet soldier, who did not dishonour his red star badge.
"Out of the strong came something sweet".

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Friday, December 16, 2005

EU shelves report -and respect

A report drawn up for the European Union (EU), by British diplomats working from Jerusalem, dealt with a controversial issue that has been common knowledge to Israelis and Palestinians, and anyone familiar with the country, for some time, namely, the "clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact".

The document, which was leaked to the media last month, noted inter alia:
the near-completion of the barrier around east Jerusalem, far from the Green Line;the construction and expansion of illegal settlements, by private entities and the Israeli government, in and around East Jerusalem; the demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits (which are all but unobtainable); stricter enforcement of rules separating Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem from those resident in the West Bank, including a reduction of working permits; and discriminatory taxation, expenditure and building permit policy by the Jerusalem municipality.

It went on to observe that: The plan to expand the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim into the so-called "E1" area, east of Jerusalem, threatens to complete the encircling of the city by Jewish settlements, dividing the West Bank into two separate geographical areas.

When the barrier has been completed, Israel will control access to and from East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank beyond. This will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinians.

The report for the EU did not just complain. but made some proposals as to what European governments and the EU could do about it, including helping the Palestinian Authority(PA) to gain recognition:

Request the Israeli Government to halt discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially concerning working permits, building permits, house demolitions, taxation and expenditure.
The EU might consider and assess the implications and feasibility of excluding East Jerusalem from certain EU/Israel co-operation activities.
On an operational level:
Organise political meetings with the PA in East Jerusalem, including meetings at ministerial level.

In the past Palestinians have appreciated the presence of British diplomatic representatives in East Jerusalem willing to keep an ear to the ground and an eye on what's happening to people under occupation. This report was welcomed not only by Palestinians but by Israeli peace campaigners, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions(ICAHD). European Jews for Just Peace (EJJP) also welcomed it but expressed concern that the EU was reportedly suppressing or delaying its own report.

In a letter to EU president Manuel Barroso on December 8, EJJP spokesperson Dan Judelson wrote:

What is so perplexing is that the report makes explicit the deliberate policy of Israel and its profoundly iniquitous treatment of non Jewish residents of East Jerusalem. Israel seeks delay in which to establish, build and expand "facts on the ground" – illegal de facto annexation of land - and in this instance, the EU is providing it.

This is not some dry abstract land gain. Israel’s actions – as Ariel Sharon’s comments when signing the contract for the passenger transit system referred to above make explicit – are designed to "build, expand and strengthen [Jerusalem] as the eternal capital of the Jews and the unified capital of the state of Israel".

This would put a final status agreement on Jerusalem beyond the boundaries of what is possible. The establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State would be unachievable. A two state solution would be out of the question.

Dan Judelson's letter concluded with a warning:
We believe that firm, timely and honest action by the European Union on this issue is required. Inaction raises questions of credibility. Without action, the conflict will intensify, not dissipate. Lives – more lives – will be lost.

So what have the EU ministers done?
A controversial report that accuses Israel of rushing to annexe Arab areas of East Jerusalem was shelved by European foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday out of sensitivity to Israel. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, persuaded ministers to drop the report when he warned that Europe's influence over Israel would be severely undermined if it were to be published. The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, whose diplomats in East Jerusalem drafted the report as part of Britain's EU presidency, announced the climbdown at a meeting of EU foreign ministers. "The political landscape has altered within Israel - there is a general election in a few months time," he said of Ariel Sharon's decision to form a new political party ahead of elections on March 28. "So we thought it was appropriate not to endorse or to publish the document, but instead to continue to make representations about our concerns in the normal way."
Tuesday December 13, 2005_The Guardian_ (

The question people are asking now is what evidence there is that "Europe's influence", or representations made "in the normal way", have any effect on the Israeli government's policies, or achieve anything for the rights of the Palestinians?

We might note that New Labour's Jack Straw is far more solicitous for Ariel Sharon's chances than for Amir Peretz, the new leader of Israeli Labour Party, who is being discouraged from hopes of winning, let alone attempting to bring a real change in Israeli policy such as might advance his supporters' aspirations.

But that's by the way.
More important, East Jerusalem, illegally annexed by Israel, is not an internal Israeli matter, any more than are the other occupied territories. Palestinians also have elections coming before the end of January. Fatah, divided now between old established figures and new leaders, is facing a challenge from Hamas. Will EU and British readiness to bend over and appease Israeli expansion encourage Palestinians to place their faith in democratic and diplomatic strategies, or make them turn to more extreme means in desparation?

I'm not a diplomat but ...We''ll just have to hope people don't respond to the EU's betrayal in the obvious way. Or, as the EJJP warned, more lives will be lost.
As for European Union and British standing in the Middle East, whatever respect might have been painstakingly earned by representatives in the field has been thrown away by Jack Straw and Javier Solana in no time. Doesn't it make you proud? Twenty years ago, when I was on a visit to Bedouin in the Negev, an old man asked me not to take offence, "but your British government is our greatest misfortune". I assured him that I wasn't offended, that it was our greatest misfortune too. We laughed and shook hands. Mrs.Thatcher was in government then. I didn't think she'd last. Little did we know she'd leave her Straw.

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Behnam's art shows up two governments' inhumanity

This is Freedom, as depicted by an imaginative and clearly talented young artist in the Sixth Form at Quintin Kyneston school, in St.John's Wood, London.
Not surprisingly, 18-year old Behnam has been offered a place at the St.Martin's School of Art.
But right now he has other things than A-levels to worry about.
The British government wants to deport Behnam and his younger brother with their mother to Iran, where his father has already been detained on political charges. The family originally came to Britain quite legitimately, when Behnam's Dad was working here for a shipping company. Before his latest arrest, the father managed to warn the family to stay in this country.

But it seems the British Home Office does not care. As a result the family face great danger. Both Behnam and his mother, Masoumeh, have been tried and sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Iran on charges of association with an illegal group, the People's Moujahadin. Behnam has been sentenced to prison for five years, Massoumeh to seven years. They have also been warned that they will receive lashes, believed to be 70 in Behnam's case and 100 in Massoumeh's.

Fellow students at Quintin Kynaston have taken time in their lunch break to demonstrate in front of the school in solidarity with Behnam, and they may march on parliament. Teachers circulated a petition in support of the family's appeal to the Home Office.

This weekend, 17-18 December, there's an exhibition of Behnam's paintings at 37A, Broadhurst Gardens, NW6, which is not far from Finchley Road tube station.

Seven days after this, Home Secretary Charles Clarke, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and other MPs will give an exhibition of another kind, in hypocrisy, as they sit down with their families to dinner, supposedly celebrating in honour of another family who found "no room at the Inn" under an oppressive regime.
Peace and goodwill to all Men, Amen.

To ask the Home Office to explain about this, you could e-mail: The staff are bound to have time on their hands at this time of the year.

You could also try a nice message to Mr.Clarke himself at:

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

How Britain treats the Iranian regime's opponents

IRAN'S hardline President Ahmadinejad has declared doubts in the Nazi Holocaust and suggested that if it were true, the Jewish state should have been set up in Austria and Germany.
"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

This followed earlier talk about "wiping Israel off the map".
Palestinians have already rejected the Iranian leader's belligerent speeches. Iran's own diplomats abroad have tried to play down their significance. Iranian left-wingers and democrats say the president's demagoguy is a desperate effort to divert attention from economic failures and working-class unrest in Iran. Ahmadinejad's muddled speeches may enthuse his crowds, but they give far more delight to Iran's imperialist enemies, as well as the Zionists. Falsely designating Iran part of the "Arab world", an Israeli Foreign Office spokesman referred to the latter supporting Holocaust denial. Anything to divert attention from what Israel is doing, and depict the occupier as once more threatened with annihilation.

For Bush and Blair, whose peoples are fed up with the lies that took them to war in Iraq, and the bloody cost of occupation, it is much easier to prepare for the next war if the other side's leader keeps making the warlike speeches. But while the British and US governments are admonsihing Iran, what are they doing to the Iranian regime's opponents?

I recently received this appeal from a London teacher:

"As Refugee Coordinator at a London secondary school, I am dealing with an urgent case involving one of our sixth form students, Behnam, his younger brother, also a student at the school, and their mother, under threat of deportation to Iran.What they actually face is deportation to prison, torture and possible death.
I have known Behnam for almost 3 years since his arrival at the school. He is a delightful, popular young man, an exceptionally talented artist, much of whose work reflects his open-minded approach to matters such as politics and religion.
In April this year two of Behnam's friends were arrested at Behnam's family's home in Iran. They had been printing and distributing anti-regime literature. Three days later Behnam's father was arrested on arrival at Teheran Airport. After being interrogated and beaten Behnam's father was released following the payment of money. He phoned his wife in London, warning her that she and Behnam were wanted by the authorities and could not return to Iran. He was subsequently re-arrested and his present whereabouts are unknown. The family claimed asylum in the UK, but, despite evidence that included authenticated documents from the Iranian court, their story was not believed and their claim was rejected. It again failed on appeal.

A further appeal has been lodged to a tribunal but it is not yet known if this will even be heard.Their position is now one of great danger. Both Behnam and his mother, Masoumeh, have been tried and sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Iran on charges of association with an illegal group. Behnam has been sentenced to prison for 5 years, Massoumeh to 7 years. Even more shocking is that they have been warned that they will receive lashes, believed to be 70 in Behnam's case and 100 in Massoumeh's. Knowing the people concerned I cannot see how they could undergo such a brutal ordeal.

The family are at real risk of deportation to Iran. A campaign is being launched to stop this. As a first step please sign the attached petition and circulate. It should be returned asap to the address at the bottom. I have also attached an example of Behnam's art for you to see. He was only 16 when he painted this striking representaion of freedom.I am competely dismayed and outraged by the suffering this lovely family are going through at the hands, not only, of the Iranian authorities, but also of the British Home Office whose motto is "BUILDING A SAFE, JUST AND TOLERANT SOCIETY".

If you would like to get involved in the campaign please let me know.On behalf of the family, thanks for your support.
Pauline Levis
Refugee & Asylum-seeker Coordinator
Quintin Kynaston School, Westminster

I have forwarded this appeal to various people. Meanwhile, I am pleased to see that some 150 sixth-form students at Quintin Kynaston, which is near Swiss Cottage, walked out during their lunch break one day last week to hoist a big banner saying: "Behnam Must Stay!"
"I think it is the brutal treatment he awaits if he is forced to leave that has shocked the students into action," said Sixth Form head Lindsay Rolfe, adding that Behnam had already been offered a place at St.Martin's Art college. Holding the banner, Aya Chenaim, 17, said news of the deportation threat had come "like a smack in the face".
"The whole school is going to help him - this is just the first demonstration".
(Camden New Journal, 8 December).

Maybe it's time for a school trip to the House of Commons and the Home Office. That way the protest over Behnam and his family might get just a bit of media coverage, on television, to counter the daily diet of attacks on asylum seekers which is served to the British public in tabloid newspapers.

Now another case, brought to my attention by anti-racist (and ant-Zionist) campaigner and socialist Tony Greenstein, in Brighton, and here reported courtesy of SchNews, a Brighton-based alternative news source:

Amir Hassan, an Iranian web journalist, was arrested in a dawn raid on November 15th by Police and Immigration Officers, after the failure of his initial asylum application. He was served deportation papers and taken to Colnbrook, the brand new privatised detention centre near Heathrow.
Amir has been in Brighton for a year and in that time has made many friends and connections. As soon as he was arrested a campaign started. Over thirty people attended the first meeting. "Friends of Amir" includes supporters from the Migrant English Project, where Amir was studying, and the Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers' Centre.
A campaigner for Friends of Amir told SchNEWS, "The Home Office illegally abused Amir's rights. They totally ignored the evidence which showed that Amir would be imprisoned on his return to Iran. They claimed that deportation papers had been served on Amir and his solicitor five days before his arrest. This was totally untrue on both counts."
The Home Office refused to believe that Amir faced perseceution in Iran despite evidence showing that one person was sentenced to six months imprisonment simply for helping him to escape. Amir's case exposes the hypocrisy of Neo Labour which condemns the regime in Iran on the one hand and then happily returns those who flees its clutches back to the claws of that very same regime.
Journalism in Iran is a risky business, especially for using the Internet to disseminate news the regime doesn't like. This October, an article from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) reported that 20 European news agencies had protested the arrest of 5 Iranian journalists, all of whom had been savagely tortured and whipped with electric cables before being paraded on television to announce that their jailors had been "as gentle as kittens". Since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005, repression of journalists and web bloggers has increased. RWB also details how the Iranian regime is intensifying its attempts to control the Internet and using a private company to develop sophisticated software to ban unapproved sites. Those who seek to find ways around these bans are the subject of fierce persecution.
Amir ran the first private Internet company and web service in Iran. When the State decided to clamp down on Internet use and confiscate his company's equipment, Amir protested; the result was his arrest on two occasions and an assault by a state employee and threats to his life.
In December 2004 Amir sought refuge in Britain. Once in the UK, the Home Office denied Amir protection at his asylum hearing despite him being wanted in Iran and in grave danger of being incarcerated for his activities as a liberal journalist. Given that the use of torture, execution and maiming are common in the Iranian judicial system, especially when the offence is deemed political, his life is in real danger.
Campaigners got Amir decent legal representation and petitioned his MP Celia Barlow. She contacted the Home Office and secured a three day stay while the case was reviewed. Despite this, an attempt was made to deport Amir at 4.00 am on Thursday 17th November. This was prevented only by the intervention of one of his neighbours, a teacher at Brighton & Hove City College, who drove to Heathrow in the middle of the night to intervene and literally thrust the relevant papers on the Immigration Service. In a letter to supporters Celia Barlow said, "Either intentionally or unintentionally I have been misled by the Home Office..."
Another honest mistake from the Home Office then.
Pressure was sustained with pickets outside the Home Office as Amir was shuttled between three detention centres, eventually arriving at Dungavel in Scotland last Saturday. Finally on Tuesday 29th, Amir was released without bail until his second application for asylum is considered. He still faces the legal battle for refugee status, is still at risk of being detained and deported, but is at least back in Brighton with his friends and supporters.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Geography, and Knowing your Place

Norman Wisdom solves world crisis.

SOME years ago I was browsing in a Job Centre within sight of Big Ben when I spotted a job card on which the only qualifications required seemed to be British nationality and parentage. On enquiring I was told to write to the government department concerned. Being not so much optimistic as desperate at the time, I did. As a result, much to my surprise, a few months and an application form later, I stepped into an elegant stuccoed terrace house near St.James' Park and sat down to an aptitude test.
I had better go careful on detail as the government is swinging out with the Official Secrets Act, But anyway, you'll be relieved to know that my codebreaking skills, fieldcraft and small arms expertise were not examined. I just had to play an amusing computer game juggling supposed room users among a set of meeting rooms on a diagram, do some sums, and proof-read columns of figures.
Friends, and even more my late beloved parents oleh b'shalom, would be surpised to hear I passed.

But then came a short preliminary interview, just to see if I was worth sending before the proper interview panel. "You mention that you are interested in better understanding between nations. What do you mean by that?" The interviewer's expression of distaste did not look too encouraging As to my mention of visits to Israel and Bosnia to illustrate my interest in world affairs, this seemed to strike her as highly suspect. And that wasn't all.

"Under 'administrative experience' you say that you took part in a committee arranging a trade union conference. ... Do you think trade unions have any place in the modern world?"
She affects incredulity. I say, affecting a sage statesmanlike air, that yes, people do need representation in the workplace and it can make for better relations. I sense she is not impressed.

It gets trickier. The Department is part of the civil service, the interviewer explains, and has to work with the governemnt of the day, regardless of its political complexion. Sounds fair enough.
"We can't let our own political views influence us...Do you have any strong political convictions yourself?"

"Well", I drawl, trying to sound old and wise again, "when I was young I thought things were simple, but as I get older I realise the world is more complex, and there's more than one side to the story...." The interviewer seems about to yawn as I waffle on. OK, better give her something. "I suppose you could say I'm still a socialist of sorts...."

"You realise the panel will take a dim view of that!"
Oh well, and there I was nearly forgetting that in Britain "no politics" means being safely conservative.

On to easier questions. How well would I get on working with younger people, would I wear a tie, what did I think I could contribute to the job? I venture to say that I am industrious, resilient, have a sense of humour, and ....
"My knowledge of geography might come in handy"

"You'll get no chance to use that here!"

I'm not sure if her indignant tone is genuine or meant to test my afore-mentioned sense of humour. I can't resist a slight grin as I remember the moment in "Carlton Brown of the FO" when they are desperately searching through dusty old maps to find out where on earth a suddenly-important island is.

A day or so later I heard that I had not got the job. Pity. I wasn't seriously expecting to save the world or set Britain's policies right, but it had seemed a nice place to work, and sorting out who went into which room might have been fun, even if my status might have been like Norman Wisdom in that other film, coming to work among the mandarins, with his sandwiches and flask in a carrier-bag marked in biro "E II R" Still, I wouldn't have to struggle into a tie.

Talking to a mate in the pub, he laughs when I get to the geography bit. "Of course, you know that Giles works in that Department don't you?"


Giles is a young chap who comes in the same pub, nice chap, always looks neat and smart, white collars and dark tie, trim moustache, an expert on military bands I'm told, but I'd taken his place in the pub quiz team when he was dumped for too many duff answers.

It occurs to us then that there is method in the ministry's madness. So long as you have a fellow who can put the files in order or take a message, you don't want them taking too much interest in the places the files are about, or which airport someone is 'phoning from. Or you might indeed have someone with opinions, even a "security risk". Worse, on hearing Sir Montague Ffortescue-Smythe saying he doesn't know where some godforsaken island is, or confusing his Slovenia and Slovakia, say, a lowly menial might forget their place, and seek to advise or correct their better - and such lese majesty, as we know, could seriously undermine society. (I know, I've sometimes made the mistake of trying to be helpful in other jobs, it's a good way of getting to the top - of the redundancy list).

So there you have it kids, make sure you do well in history and geography at school, and you'll probably not get a job, but you can be the toast of your pub quiz team and the smartest guy in the Labour Exchange (or Job Centres as they're now amusingly described).

What brought on this story? Well apart from it being one I wanted to tell, I've just been reading how residents of Balmore Street in Dundee, Scotland, were bemused to recieve a glossy consultation pack describing a proposed controlled parking zone and 20mph speed limit with "traffic calming" (speed humps) and inviting their comments. Most thought it was a bit daft asking, since the proposals were from Camden council in north London, and related to Balmore Street in Highgate - only 500 miles south from them. (Bungled humps mailshot to Dundee really takes the cake Camden New Journal, December 8).

Reminds me of when I was working for Associated Electrical Industries(AEI) and someone reputedly put the wrong labels on a packing case so that a huge piece of switchgear equipment was shipped out to Singapore when it should only have gone to Walthamstow power station. Mind you, I could not verify that story whereas the Camden mailshot seems genuine. AEI was eventually taken over and shut, but Camden's mistake will be paid for by council taxpayers.

What I find hard to imagine when I read stories like this is someone labelling all this mail and someone franking it for the post and nobody apparently noticing anything wrong or stopping to ask about it. "Computer error" -clot at the keyboards I suppose. Mind you have you heard some of the daft answers you get people giving on quiz games these days? And they've nearly all got good jobs, at least when they say what they do at the start I haven't even got a clue what it means half the time.
I'm getting old.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Coming up Rosen

Perhaps best-known these days for poetry
for children and presenting BBC Radio Four's children's books programme Treasure Islands, Michael Rosen makes a welcome return to the Red Rose club in Finsbury Park, north London, on December 11. I've dug out this old pic of him appearing there in a benefit some years back, was it for Yesh Gvul?
(Israeli reservists who refused to serve in Lebanon or the Occupied Territories)
Perhaps someone with a better memory than mine will remind us.
Mike Rosen's humourous poetry and appearance on comedy bills should not mislead you. He has had more than his share of tzorres with illness in the family. And the same political commitment that brings Mike plenty of invitations to perform or speak at peace rallies and similar events was seen by some people with power as reason enough to block his career path, despite his talents.

Having done well at Oxford, where he studied literature, wrote plays and acted, Mike was taken on as a graduate trainee at the BBC. He made no secret of his left-wing views, and John Laird who recruited him saw no reason why this should bar him from employment with the Corporation.
Others thought otherwise.

Sir Ian Trethowan, then Managing Director of BBC Radio and later Director General, asked Laird why he was appointing "reds" and "commies" as trainees.

"They're not communists," replied Laird. "They're independent socialists and dissidents. Besides, all the bright young people are left-wing these days."

"Oh, they're all the same to me, " said Trethowan. "They're all commies. I can't believe that there weren't some bright right-wing people."

(Blacklist, The inside story of political vetting, Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Hogarth Press, 1988).

Mike Rosen was sacked in 1972, and told that no department would offer him a job. It turned out two departments, Arts Features and Further Education, had wanted to employ him but were told they could not for "security reasons". Mike's experiences at the BBC, which may ring a bell with anyone who has come up against similar treatment anywhere, inspired this poem:-

The Job

After a long interview
Rosen was asked to see a man
with garters on his shirt sleeves
who kept opening and shutting a filing cabinet
and saying, We cherish our rebels.
Then he said, We'll go nap, now scoot.

Rosen discovered
that this meant he had been given the job.

Rosen met Roger in Staff Training every three months.
Roger told Rosen that he was doing very well.

Roger told Rosen that though he was doing very well
there didn't seem to be quite so many openings.

Rosen told Roger that some people in other departments
were keen he should work there.

Roger told Rosen that it looked interesting
but Rosen wouldn't like it.

Roger told Rosen to apply for Staff jobs.
Rosen heard he had got one of these.

Roger told Rosen that sadly, this was not the case.
Roger sent Rosen home on full pay.

Roger rang Rosen up once a week to say everyone
was doing what they could.

After several months
Roger told Rosen he had to meet Head of Staff Training.

HST said he was very glad to have had Rosen on board
but thought that it would be better if Rosen went freelance.

It took Rosen the time it takes
to walk from Broadcasting House to Oxford Circus
to realise he had been sacked.

Twelve years later Rosen opened the paper
and read that MI5 had thought it unwise
that Rosen be given a job.
Rosen thought about
Roger's kind honest face
Rosen speculated about:
Roger's brain,
Roger's promotion prospects,
Roger's mortgage.

(from You are, aren't you, poems by Michael Rosen,
published by Mushoom Bookshop and Jewish Socialist publications, 1993).

Things may have changed, but it must have taken real talent and persistence to overcome early discouragement and obstruction.

Getting back to the comedy, as part of an evening to celebrate 50 issues of Jewish Socialist magazine (launched twenty years ago), Michael Rosen will be appearing along with comics Ivor Dembina, Jeremy Hardy, Jeff D.Hunter and Matt Kirshen, quite a star line-up, at the Red Rose club, on Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, on Sunday evening, December 11.

Also performing will be a youthful Klezmer band called the Rock n'Rollmops.

The show starts at 8.30pm but its best to get there before 8pm to get a seat and if you want, a drink. Tickets are £8/£6 and you can book in advance by phoning the Red Rose on 020 7281 3051 to go on the reservation list. Turn up 7.30pm to pay and pick up your ticket(s).

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