Archive for the ‘History’ category

Notes on South Ossetia

Agost 13, 2008

 

It has taken barely a couple of months to see Russia’s response to Western support for Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It is still too early, however, to assess what has actually happened in South Ossetia during these last days, who started what and who provoked whom: the showdown still belongs to high politics’ secretive sphere, that only (some) history books can reliably capture while it remains elusive to everyday journalistic mist. Waiting for the truth to slowly unravel, we can only reckon with what we know for sure:

• Georgia does not have a bigger moral claim on South Ossetia than Russia does. Let us remember that Georgia banned all regional political parties in South Ossetia in 1990 –a difficult time indeed, but also a decisive one for shaping new bonds-, what actually poisoned relations and eventually triggered war in the region as Soviet Union collapsed. True, the Russian Federation has been distributing passports throughout both Georgia’s breakaway regions in order to make up an excuse for defense: that is the infamous game we know assertive countries play. Knowing –as everybody else should- that support for Georgian rule is far from being majoritarian in South Ossetia, Russia ( it would be more appropriate to say ‘The Kremlin’ or ‘The hidden masters of the country’ ) strikes on Georgia and not on Estonia (a NATO member), where – by twisting history, as most often – it could more consistently claim that it has ‘Russian citizens’ to protect from ruthless western rule.

• We do not understand why Kosovo can become independent and South Ossetia cannot. Especially because their relative status inside the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia was very much equivalent: an autonomous region Kosovo (inside Serbia, but only from 1974 onwards) and an autonomous oblast South Ossetia (inside Georgia, from 1922). Those who hold different positions on each of them should explain whether they privilege consistence or rather geostrategic interests. Russia, by getting militarily involved -masterly and by ‘surprise’- and in its element when it comes to contradictory moral reasoning, aims also to stress the weaknesses of the West. Democratic on paper, but tremendously tentative and energy dependent. Paradoxically, it also shows Russia’s increasing, exacerbating isolation. As Europe enlarges by conviction and seduction, Russia must resort to military action, as it always has done in order to grow in size. Most probably the final showdown will take place in the battle for the Ukraine, whose outcome will be decisive for the future of Europe. Let us not forget, in addition, Russia’s massive problem in terms of population: it does not cease to shrink ( even though it has a net in-flow of migrants ) and it does not cease to head for Moscow, and therefore westwards. With an overall life expectancy for men barely over sixty (a lower figure than in empoverished Pakistan) the federation faces a pathological health problem. Furthermore, the  Muslim share of the population is clearly growing at a higher rate than the Christian one: a trend that does not seem to herald easy times for a tightening of centralist rule.

• Georgia’s claim on Abkhazia has, on the contrary, more solid grounds (at least on ethnical basis). After the war in the 90s, an estimated 100,000 ethnical Georgians fled the region, turning upside down its demographics (Abkhazians became again a majority after one century of being a minority). These refugees are still waiting to return home. It is also true that demographics had already been severely distorted during the first Soviet years: massive industrial immigration gave Georgians an unprecedented and dubious political supremacy in the region.

• It has become a universal habit to draw comparisons with Munich 1938 and Sudetenland any time there is an invasion or a perceived threat: a misleading common place that risks ending up wearing down true lessons from history. Especially because it has now become more than clear that Hitler was very much frustrated at Munich results (and at their actual masterminder, Hermann Goering ) since what he actually longed for was to unleash war already that very year. Therefore, Chamberlain should bear little blame: with or without appeasement, there would have been WWII.  Sudetenland was a region with an overwhelming majority of German speaking population that was being treated with little respect by the Czechoslovak government after WWI. The real historical failure of the Western powers was not to stop, together with preemptive action, the following invasion of the whole of Checoslovaquia.

We believe the best solution to all this turmoil would be that South Ossetia held an internationally recognized referendum that most surely would set the region under autonomous Russian rule. As far as Abkhazia is concerned, the issue of the Georgian refugees should be addressed before allowing any referendum whatsoever to go through. After that, NATO should speed up Georgia’s accession-within days-, with or without Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia inside Georgia. We are aware of Europe’s deep dependencies in terms of energy, but it is undeniable that a sovereign state has the right to join a military organization whose main goal is to ensure global peace by means of deterrence, at any moment and in any circumstance.

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Transsilvània: la realitat i la memòria

Agost 1, 2008

 

L’any 1416 la vila transsilvana de Braşov/ Krunen/ Kronstadt/ Brasso’/ Corona va oferir presents de blat, argent i aviram a un cert Emaus d’Egipte i als seus 220 companyons que, asseguren, provenien de contrades llunyanes i llegendàries. El 1418 el mateix grup ja havia arribat a Hamburg: tot això ens explica una incerta nota citada en 1890 per Heinrich von Wlislocki, escrutador exhaustiu dels costums de les gents de Erdély/ Transilvania / Ardeal / Siebenbürgen . El nombre oficial de Gitanos a Romania és, encara avui, sempre sospitosament baix: llegim que a Braşov només un 0.76% admet pertànyer a aquesta ètnia. Però el viatger assedegat, bellugant-se pels pobles dels voltants, hi troba encara i sempre a l’entrada els colors i els gestos i també la confusió,el desordre i el moviment que des d’infant ha après a associar amb aquestes gents : llur coneixement sobre manipulació i soldatge de metalls, juntament amb la fabricació d’armes, els hi va merèixer des d’antic la protecció reial a Transsilvània. Però és inqüestionable que avui gaudeixen de poquíssim suport popular a la regió, i llur entestament en encomanar-se als costums i coneixements atàvics els porta cap a un aïllament cada cop més dramàtic i complex, gairebé irreconciliable, perduts entre tradició i realitat. De fet, llur origen exacte, tot i que identificat amb l’actual Índia o Sri Lanka per raons genètiques, roman misteriós, així com el de les denominacions que han rebut històricament: italians (zingari), francesos (tsiganes), alemanys i neerlandesos(zigeuner), hongaresos (cigány), russos (Цыган) i gairebé tots els pobles d’Europa els anomenen a partir del mot grec athinganoi ,o ‘intocables’, i es debat vivament si el significat te’ connotacions negatives heretades de la casta de provinença, o més aviat fa referència a antics privilegis medievals atorgats per Bizantins i Venecians a les costes gregues. D’altres, com els castellans (gitano) o els anglesos (gypsy), prefereixen el mot llegendari que els relaciona erròniament amb els Egiptans (Egipcis), com passava a Braşov el 1416.

Però no és certament la provinença dels Cigánys/ Ţigan/ Zigeuner  l’únic debat sobre el passat d’aquesta terra balcànica de caràcter i ànima incerts i canviants, disputats i contesos, i que els romanís anomenen/anomenaven Ardyalo. A Transsilvània i en especial, sobre Transsilvània, ja fa més de dos segles que els historiadors estan immersos de ple en una batalla per la memòria: perquè la realitat quotidiana, abans fugissera i múltiple- com tan sovint a l’Est del Rin-, va quedar esculpida de forma potser indeleble desprès de les dues grans guerres i la dictadura del segle XX. Així ho aprecia el pelegrí modern tot arribant a Braşov, porta meridional de la regió, tramuntant els Carpats des de Bucarest: ens reben les barriades de matriu d’estampació que encara abunden com més ens endinsem cap a l’Est, amb brogit de cartells colorits i vida de campi qui pugui, d’esquenes a la formositat, aquesta paraula avui tan estranya i antiga a les llengües romàniques germanes de l’Oest, però que a Braşov (on avui el Romanès governa incontestat) segueix vivíssima per a la més senzilla i humil de les impressions, de les apreciacions, utilitzada a totes les escomeses als bars i als carrers. Fromos! Què bonic!

La batalla per la memòria comença per esbrinar qui hi va arribar primer: romanesos o hongaresos? Una qüestió allunyada de les latituds occidentals d’Europa, però que a Nord dels Balcans penetra tots els estrats culturals. L’evidència científica (absoluta preeminència de les arrels finoúgriques en la toponímia original d’aquestes contrades i gairebé nul•la d’origen llatí ) sembla orientar l’origen cultural i geogràfic del poble romanès lluny de l’antic regne preromà de Dàcia (que incloïa l’actual Erdély), tot i que els dominis administratius odierns de l’Estat de Romania hi coincideixen quasi en la seva totalitat. Però la complexitat d’aquest passat, anònim i durant molts segles fora de la història impresa ( primer text escrit només en 1521, adreçat precisament al llavors batlle de Braşov, Johannes Benkner, avisant d’una imminent invasió Otomana des de Walachia ), introdueix el dubte i la vaga sospita d’una continuïtat ètnica des de temps Daco-Romans (cultures que varen conviure només 2 segles, fet que dificulta una assimilació cultural complerta), reforçats pel caràcter de llengua geogràficament aïllada. El viatger romànic, especialment l’italià, reconeix sons i entonacions amb una freqüència colpidora: però a mesura que l’estada avança, comencen a manifestar-se mots essencials d’origen aliè i llunyà, sobretot eslaus i albanesos, alguns de tan cabdals a Ardeal com ‘neu’ ( Zapada, d’una arrel pan-eslava que significa ‘caure’) . Molts mots romanesos considerats preromans tenen correspondència en albanès (llengua indoeuropea de branca aïllada), però és gairebé impossible associar-los a un segur origen Daci. Aquesta doble influència recolza una teoria migratòria des de Sud-Oest, sota pressió Otomana: és innegable que el batec de l’element romanès a Ardeal comença a intensificar-se a partir dels segle XIII, gairebé sempre sense suport estatal al darrera. Ardeal o Erdély, llavors ? Mentre els hongaresos tenen una clara explicacio’ per haver escollit aquest nom (Erdo-elve significa “més enllà de la forest” en Hongarès contemporani, i Erdo-elu n’era la forma antiga), el nom romanès roman entre les boires etimològiques, tret si acceptem que és un evident préstec fonètic de la llengua magiar. Però la uniformitat ètnica dels magiars també es dissol com més retrocedim: l’any 1438 es va signar a Erdély la Unio Trium Nationi, pacte per preservar drets polítics entre la noblesa hongaresa, els Saxons i els Szekelys, poble d’origen controvertit, avui aïllat i llunya’ de les fronteres estatals hongareses, confós i difuminat en la denominació genèrica de magiar, però en aquella època encara clarament identificat com una altra ‘nació’ (Avui formen el 45% de la població ‘hongaresa’ a Transsilvania). I és que, com totes les terres riques de veritat, Transsilvània te’ encara molts noms i convidats: a l’època en que els assentaments de gents i costums es movien amb la mateixa freqüència i fase que les ràtzies i incursions de terribles invasors orientals, els reis feien precs a estrangers per repoblar contrades devastades. Així, al segle XII, és com van arribar els Saxons a Braşov, quan llavors aquest nom encara no existia i la van batejar Kronstadt, o més aviat Krunen, en llur dialecte: els havia convidat el rei Hongarès Géza II per defensar les fronteres meridionals del regne. En realitat, no tots els Saxons venien de Saxònia, així com no tots els alemanys d’avui són en realitat ‘alamans’. Els ecos i les seves simplificacions es propaguen, com es va propagar i estendre el nom que els nous colons van donar a la terra d’acollida ( Siebenbürgen, o ‘set burgs’, entre els quals també el nostre, que avui ha esdevingut ciutat ): tant que la seva fortuna desafia, a l’Europa central, la del nom d’arrel hongaresa o Romanesa. Quasi tots els Eslaus tradueixen directament ( polonesos Siedmiogród, bulgars Sedmogradsko, etc ), i neerlandesos i asquenasites, de parles germanes, construeixen variants sonores ( Zevenburgen, Zibenbergen ).

I és que cal invocar i anhelar la nit per copsar l’ànima extingida de Kronstadt. Amb la fosca abatent-se sobre la vila , desprès del sopar ric en carns i brous (les Ciorbes – o sopes – de batec eslau) , el pelegrí camina pels carrerons deserts al voltant de la Schwarze Kirche i les portes del nucli emmurallat, que van ser propietat exclusiva dels poderosos, hongaresos i saxons, i que avui fan d’últim, agònic refugi dels darrers cognoms d’ecos germànics als timbres de les cases (metges, notaris, advocats,…). A Brasso’ varem conèixer també una vella dama hongaresa de 93 anys que, nascuda a Mures i desprès de 50 anys de vida a la ciutat no ha volgut mai aprendre a comunicar-se en Romanès: com una anciana princesa despullada del seu tron, potser va pensar que aquesta era la millor manera de no cedir enfront del poble camperol i invasiu, preferint l’anacrònic francès- la llengua dels tsars russos del segle XIX- per comunicar-se amb els seus alumnes de solfejo i amb els darrers afrancesats de la majoria local, cada cop més uniforme, més estatal, més occidental. Els hongaresos pertanyen històricament a aquells pobles que consideren poder exigir més drets per a ells que per als altres, em diuen els meus informadors romanesos. I de fet, tot tramuntant el segle XIX i aprofitant la llavors recent creació bicèfala Austro-Hongaresa,  es van llençar afamegats cap a una arrogant ‘ magiarització ’ col•lectiva; els gegantescs censos de l’Imperi, dècada rere dècada, van començar a reflectir l’avenç de la llengua imperial: a Braşov es va passar d’un 13.4% de població de parla hongaresa en 1850 fins a un 43.3% en 1910. Però van ser ells, els magiars, amb l’empenta i l’orgull que transmet el record de qui en el passat va ser rei i va decidir les lleis i llur interpretació, els qui van encetar la revolta del 89, les primeres manifestacions de la qual van començar a una altra vila polièdrica, Timişoara/ Temesvár/ Temeschburg, tan propera de la ferment, multiètnica Vojvodina, i també d’una altra antiga joia perduda dels Hongaresos, la que era Pozsony/ Preßburg i avui és només Bratislava, la ‘Germanor dels Eslaus’, nom que sembla tancar les portes per sempre a tots aquells pobles i parles que la van enriquir en el passat i que amaga l’ànima antiga i recent de la vila. I és que 3 milions i mig d’hongaresos havien quedat ‘fora de casa’ tot de cop en 1920: és la commoció de Trianon, encara avui copsable en l’imaginari d’aquest poble, que aquí a Brasso’ es manifesta en les seves extremes, indefinides fronteres meridionals que tants  i tants magiars consideren com Terra Irredenta. I cap al final dels sopars de gola remullada, s’intueix també l’espectre latent de la desaparició, tan arrelat a l’Europa que mira cap a l’Orient, i que ja assetja definitivament els Saxons. Un espectre que va nodrir-se en l’allargada ombra de la dictadura comunista: ‘Desprès de la revolució…’, és el preludi que torna cíclicament abans de les narracions generoses. Tots els visitants demanen incansablement per Ceausescu (màxim impulsor de la teoria de la continuïtat Daco-Romana per justificar la seva venjativa espiral homogeneïtzadora des de finals dels 60): com era la vida sota el seu règim? Què es podia menjar? Què es podia fer? I l’escola? I els bars? I la televisió? I les idees? Un pungent observador em fa notar :” We should rather talk about the 10.000 idiots that made it possible for him to reach out where he would have never been able alone…” Reflexions sobre els homes que fan possible qualsevol mena de règim polític, i sobre les posteriors dificultats, universals, de la vertadera democràcia per desfermar-se.

Abans de marxar, un aïllat i esperançador senyal a tocar de la Plaça de l’Ajuntament (on gairebé tots els pelegrins d’Europa hi troben temple): una farmàcia amb retolació trilingüe, que fotografiem amb instintiva emoció com a rar testimoni quotidià, viu, palpitant, de continuïtat històrica i civilització.

Politics of shame

Abril 6, 2008

The chief prosecutor of the Turkish Constitutional court is determined to ban the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which currently democratically holds both the presidency and the government of the country. It was the expected counterattack from the secularist establishment after its recent loss of grip on power to the hands of ‘mild’ Islamists: a decisive battle whose outcome will most surely shape the future of a land built on the remains of multicultural and polyglot Ottoman Empire, where several souls still cohabitate.  But both, establishment and challengers, agree on the basics: the supreme importance of the Turkish nation, ensured by a Constitution written by the Generals after a coup in 1980. So most surely their quarrel will wipe off those who do not feel (or did not feel until they were indoctrinated or offered no other alternative) represented by either of the disputers.  For instance, the Kurds: a couple of quotations from the European’s commission (always a moderate and funambulist observer, let us recall) Turkey 2006 Progress Report will suffice to prove such statement:

 

“Children whose mother tongue is not Turkish cannot learn their mother tongue in the Turkish public schooling system. Such education can only be made by private education institutions. As concerns Kurdish all such courses were closed down in 2004. Therefore, there are no possibilities to learn Kurdish today in the public or private schooling system. Furthermore, there are no measures taken to facilitate access to public services for those who do not speak Turkish.”[…]”As reported above, according to the Law on Political Parties, the use of languages other than Turkish is illegal in political life. The court case against the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) regarding a speech in Kurdish continues”.

 

It is important to bear in mind that, though Kurds make up about 14-15% of the  population of the Republic of Turkey, already only less than half of this share is able to speak Kurdish (5 million at most, a key fact very rarely highlighted by the international press). The rest, in statistically relevant terms, speaks only Turkish. Private institutions in Kurdish closed down in 2004 because of low attendance rates: with southeastern Turkey (where Kurds mostly concentrate) being the least developed region of the country, together with decades of enforced Turkish education (rightly perceived as mandatory to operate inside the country), restricting the teaching of Kurdish to private institutions was a mastery move of the Establishment. Just to give a glimpse of the inequalities: while in Ankara there is a doctor for every 317 persons and 487 in Istanbul, in Mus (a far eastern province with a majority of Kurdish population), there are 3629 persons for each doctor. In Agri, home of one of the fiercest Kurdish revolts in 1927, the ratio is 4196 to 1.

 

Also the chronology of revolts sheds light on the weakening, fading force of the Kurdish community : the Treaty of Sevres in 1920, after the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, seemed to herald an independent future for Turkish Kurdistan, but history eventually crystallized in Treaty of Lausanne which ensured Turkish rule on it. Rebellions spread: 1920, 1925, 1927, 1937-38. All were crushed. After that, a very long silence, a very long isolation. Until the initially Marxist PKK was founded in the seventies. This led to increasing military frenzy in the region: a peak of 200,000 deployed Turkish security forces was reached in 1993. We want to believe these chilling images from 2008 are not common place nowadays in Turkish Kurdistan. Rebellions continue, but assimilation has probably reached a point of no return : though Kurdish is still the indigenous language of southeastern Turkey (belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family),  more than half of the Turkish Kurds cannot speak it anymore.

 

 In fact, though PKK is still active in its armed struggle and getting advantage of Iraqi Kurdistan’s recently gained autonomy, vote in last general elections showed very significant support for Erdogan’s and Gul’s AKP among ordinary Kurdish population ( more than 50% ). The reason pointed out by analysts is the focus of AKP on Islam ( a true bond between Kurds and Turks): enough to draw the attention of people tired of struggling and unrest; and probably unaware of how much their culture is being eroded and watered down as years and decades go by.  It is a fact that many, many educated Kurds have it difficult when expressing abstract ideas in a language that has for 80 years been, and still is, restricted to home use. Certainly we cannot ask all Kurds to behave as Leyla Zan: the politician who in 1994 dared, after taking the oath of loyalty in Parliament in Turkish, pronouncing a couple of words in Kurdish (the last sentence you can hear in this video). Initially protected by parliamentary immunity, after her Democratic Party was dissolved, she was imprisoned and only released in 2004 after sustained pressure from the EU.

 

And then, in February 2008, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, the hope, together with Abdulla Gul, for a more tolerant Turkey, went on official visit to Germany, home of some 2.6 million Turks, that is, 3.2% of the population: he first met Chancellor Merkel and told her “Knowledge knows no borders”. And then “For immigrants to speak better German, they have to be able to speak their own mother tongue first”. And then the solution: Germany, he said, should have no problem in funding “Turkish high schools and universities”. And he suggested hiring teachers from Turkey to ease up the task. Afterwards he went to Cologne, historical stronghold of German Catholicism, where he gathered about 20.000 Turkish immigrants in a stadium, many, many more than any current German politician would ever manage to do with ethnic Germans. He said to them:” Assimilation is a crime against Humanity”, and then “It is your natural right to teach your children in their mother tongue.”

 

Mr. Erdogan is the democratically elected prime minister of a country which bears the responsibility of representing a major share of a complex, vibrant culture that stretches its roots from Siberia through deep into Asia till the Anatolian peninsula (The Turkic people). He might be a devote Muslim and an expert on Islam, but certainly missed some elementary lessons of logics at school: we do not want to believe an ordinarily intelligent man would ever use such miserable rhetoric otherwise.

 

Katakombenschulen

gener 13, 2008

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El 15 de juliol de 1923 el senador italià Ettore Tolomei va presentar al teatre cívic de Bozen (Sud Tirol) el seu programa d’italianització de la regió que des de llavors l’oficialitat italiana insisteix en anomenar Alto Adige (denominació inventada per l’administració napoleònica en el segle XIX, “Haut-Adige”). Aquesta contrada, habitada des del segle V A.D. bàsicament per 2 grups lingüístics (romànic-ladí, el més antigament establert però al que avui pertany només un 4% de la població, i germànic, avui un 70%) , va ser part del botí de guerra que els italians van rebre com a conseqüència del Tractat de Saint-Germain-en-Laye que va cloure la Primera Guerra Mundial amb Austria l’any 1919. L’objectiu d’aquesta proposta era la progressiva assimilació de la cultura germànica, les lleis i l’economia de la regió a la pressuposada cultura única de l’Estat Italià, llavors sota recent control feixista. El Gran Consell Feixista va aprovar el programa per unanimitat i el va executar en gairebé tots els seus punts, mitjançant la Legge Gentile. Aquí n’enunciem els trets bàsics (cal recordar que el darrer cens, realitzat per l’imperi Austro-hongarès just abans de la Gran Guerra en 1910, donava només un 3% de població de parla italiana):

• Substitució de l’administració publica per una de parla italiana preferiblement monolingüe
• Abolició de la premsa en llengua alemanya
• Abolició de totes les entitats financeres de llengua alemanya
• Augment i reforçament de la presència de les forces armades i policials a la província
• Instauració de l’Italià com a llengua única d’ensenyament a les escoles bressol, primàries i secundàries
• Substitució de la toponímia regional per una d’italianitzada preparada pel mateix Tolomei- molt abans de que el feixisme arribés al poder- en el seu Prontuario dei nomi locali dell’Alto Adige, on, a partir de la molt incomplerta toponímia llatina de 2000 anys abans, o traduint directament de l’alemany, va generar 16.735 noms italianitzats de viles, llacs, masos, boscs i turons. (Aquests noms són avui encara quotidianament emprats pels habitants de parla italiana, així com per l’administració estatal, ara trilingüe)
• Encoratjament de la immigració provinent d’altres regions de la península itàlica

Amb aquest panorama la cultura de les valls va haver d’anar a cercar refugi a les catacumbes i profunditats, és a dir, fora de l’oficialitat, com cíclicament la Història obliga. I així, alguns homes – una minoria- van fer possible que la transmissió de la identitat col•lectiva esdevingués subterrània, que s’amagués per no desaparèixer, per continuar bellugant-se, per no cedir almenys internament: una silenciosa lliçó de resistència que es va dir Katakombenschulen. Es tractava sobretot de que els nens no perdessin la capacitat d’escriure en la seva llengua materna, però també de mantenir la tradició oral, encara que fossin senzilles cançons de Nadal .Va arribar fins a uns 30.000 infants, amb instructors tan laics com religiosos, alguns dels quals van ser empresonats i processats.

Però el drama va arribar al seu paroxisme l’any 1939, quan els règims nacionalsocialista i feixista van pactar les Opzioni/Option: als ciutadans del Sud Tirol se’ls donava l’opció d’emigrar cap al Reich i esdevenir ciutadans alemanys, o restar a la regió i llavors declarar fidelitat absoluta al Duce. El 31/12/1939 va expirar el termini: 166488 (‘optanti’) van decidir marxar cap al Reich i 63017 van decidir quedar-se ( ‘Dableibers’ ). Entre aquests últims, molts de parla alemanya que veien l’abandonament de les terres dels avantpassats com la pitjor humiliació possible. La comunitat germanòfona va fracturar-se amb una trencadissa d’odi e incomprensió entre aquells que van prendre decisions diferents. La guerra i les dificultats logístiques que sempre li estan associades van impedir, de totes maneres, que la majoria dels ‘optanti’ marxés efectivament: només un 60000 ho van fer, dels que molt pocs van tornar i si mai ho van fer va ser molt desprès d’acabada la guerra.

Avui, desprès d’una turbulenta segona meitat de segle- amb grups terroristes inclosos-, la província del SudTirol gaudeix d’una autonomia fiscal i cultural molt superior a la de Catalunya, amb una capacitat de recaptació de gairebé tots els impostos de fins al 90%, desprès del darrer pacte estatutari el 1972 que li confereix un estatus d’autonomia únic a Itàlia. El SudTirol és també ja la segona província més rica en PIB/ càpita, només superada per la Val d’Aosta (una altra regió històricament de parla no italiana). L’administració estatal es configura a partir de la distribució ètnica: tots els habitants de més de catorze anys han de declarar la seva pertinença a un determinat grup lingüístic; en funció del cens que se’n deriva s’assignen les places de funcionaris. Això dóna a la comunitat germanòfona un control gairebé absolut sobre l’administració: l’ SVP, partit democristia’ majoritari al que els italofons (demogràficament en reculada des de l’acord de Schengen) no poden inscriure’s, ha guanyat totes les eleccions des del 1948. És molt cert que el SudTirol gaudeix ara de més autonomia de la que tindria si algun dia pertanyés a Àustria (Estat federal, però només de façana : és en realitat molt centralitzat). L’SVP sembla haver acceptat aquesta realitat, però les pressions secessionistes encara estan vives.

El que no trobem acceptable és el victimisme i la queixa creixent de la comunitat de parla italiana – encara molt majoritària a la capital Bolzano/Bozen ( 73% al 2001), tot i que el 1910 el 94% de la població de la ciutat era germanòfona-. Les dificultats humanes associades al fet de ser minoria cultural són indubtables i universals, independentment dels fets històrics que les han generades. Però les gents de parla italiana no tenen, a parer meu, cap dret moral sobre aquesta regió: són ells els que haurien de sentir-se privilegiats en termes d’oficialitat de la seva llengua i de poder viure en una regió amb tants avantatges respecte a les altres.

El fet que avui la província gaudeixi d’una sòlida i organitzada classe mitjana benestant i burgesa, i que el govern italià hagi sabut corregir parcialment la ignomínia de la que és hereu, no pot fer oblidar el drama, terrible, del segle passat. En una recent entrevista a la BBC sobre la situació als Balcans deia Lord Ashdown, ex-Alt Representant de Bòsnia-Hercegovina, que desprès dels fets de 1999, Kosova no podia continuar estant sota control del govern serbi perquè aquest havia perdut la capacitat pràctica i moral de governar la regió (‘the practical and moral capacity’), així com els britànics amb Irlanda a començaments del segle passat, desprès de dos-cents anys d’abusos. Més enllà d’estar d’acord o no amb l’imminent declaració d’independència de Kosova – segurament no sols reconduïble als fets de fa 10 anys, donada la complexitat migratòria a la regió durant el segle passat i finals del XIX-, sorprèn que un diplomàtic del seu calibre s’atreveixi a afirmar una cosa semblant: molts pocs mandataris embolcats en banderes estatals gosen, o més aviat volen, reconèixer-ho públicament.

Saakashvili: make or break

Novembre 17, 2007

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As the Soviet Union approached breakdown, its borders became inflamed with former republics trying to find their place in the new political scenario, some struggling to escape from Russian surveillance-Baltic Republics-, others conspiring with it to seek greater independence-South Ossetia, Abkhazia-. This was particularly true for the Caucasus, a region of major strategic importance that has been a constant focus of destabilization and unrest during the last three centuries where it has served as battleground for confrontation between Russia, former Ottoman Empire and the West. Among the bloodiest recent conflicts, the carnage of Chechnia, a dramatic and brutal showdown that Vladimir Putin eventually sorted out by shattering the region to pieces with little distinction between civilians and combatants. In Georgia, transition has been smoother so far: a corrupted government led by former Soviet Union Foreign Affairs minister Edward Shevernadze collapsed in 2003 and a new young leader emerged from the Rose revolution, the pro-western and urbane Mikhail Saakashvili. After a landslide victory in general elections in 2003 (96.2% of the vote), he built up a government of extremely young ministers and officials determined to root out widespread corruption and embarked on a series of liberalizing reforms that have yielded impressive, sustained double digit growth during last years -though unevenly distributed and with inflation getting out of hand. That is why news from last week came as a shock: after six days of massive demonstrations organized by all opposition parties in the capital Tiblisi (estimates of more than 50.000 in a country of less than 5 millions), Saakashvili imposed state of emergency and shut down private TV stations, on grounds-not yet proved- that opponents backed by Russia were plotting a coup. The day after, he called for early elections on the 5th of January.

What brought Georgia to this point? How can a president take office with overwhelming support and end up being forced to clampdown demonstrators and to modify his agenda in order to content the opposition, barely 4 years later ? It all started with a government cabinet rearrangement in 2006. Irakli Okruashvili ,then Minister of Defense and originally a close ally of Saakashvili, was appointed Minister of Economic Development, resigning a week afterwards. He then founded a new political party, heavily criticizing the president and his practices, but in 2007, he was arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering and abuse of office while Georgia’s Minister of Defense. Okruashvili, a controversial character, has been playing with fire retracting and unretracting from heavy accusations against Saakashvili: he has accused him of planning to murder the Georgian Tychoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, now a possible candidate in elections next January. But this crossed fire, together with growing divide between rich and poor, seem to have helped gathering non negligible support against Mr.Saakashvili, erupting in the demonstrations last week.
Why does Mikhail Saakashvili, already an arch-rival for Moscow, have so many powerful internal enemies? Russia does not seem to have much to do with it all, at least until the contrary is proven. In fact, if a new president emerges from the opposition campaign, chances are that he will not be Pro-Russian. Just to give an example: after the ominous and shameful-because unjustified and evidenceless in a global scale- Russian ban on Georgian wine and water in 2006, Georgia admitted some falsified wine had been exported in the past to Russia, but not to other countries-which never complained of low standards-, because, then Defense Minister Okruashvili stated, some producers “were able to export wine there which would never be sold, for example, in Europe because even if you export – excuse me for this expression – feces to Russia it can be sold there”. Anti Russianism seems to be a cohesive force rather than a dividing drive in Georgia.

Saakashvili’s task is surely no easy one. Leading a country under constant strain to escape long-lasting Russian interference, while at a time having to quell internal centrifugal turmoil from breakaway regions as Abkhazia-where about 200,000 Georgians are waiting to return home after civil war in the nineties, see outrageous demographics – and South Ossetia, in addition to pushing through an ambitious agenda of economic reforms, can be too much even for the stakanovist, ambitious, multi lingual current president. The mystery, even after reading western-minded reports, is why and how he managed to generate such a fierce opposition in so short a time, and why so many people believe the apparently dodgy Okruashvili. A close analysis of Mr.Saakashvili recent statements may help shedding light on it: he has repeatedly insisted that one of the main principles of his life is the fight against corruption. It is notorious that leaders or officials who make the uprooting of corruption their first priority often risk ending up tearing the country in two-like in Italy, for instance-, and even more dangerous, winding up themselves into privileged ruling and enclosed radicalism and sectarianism. This web page makes no secret it considers battle against corruption one of the most important and decisive tasks in politics, one of those driving principles applicable everywhere, every time. The problem is, as ever, how to better tackle the issue: there approaches may vary quite significantly. Fighting against corruption –especially in countries transitioning from controlled markets to free ones-always involves structural elimination of old, die-hard habits which might have convened a significant part of the society. The funambulist’s skills are much required in convincing or forcing this old guard to step down, but also in deterring new tycoons from proliferating like locusts seeking for quick enrichment. It is the task of a responsible governor to make this transition as smooth as possible while, at a time, showing sufficient assertiveness to be able to push through actual, measurable reform.
Also the fact that Saakashvili’s government was constituted from the very beginning with extremely young members may have played an important role: ambition is known to itch harder among people who have yet to face major defeats throughout their political life and are still seeking their limits, and it is also often incompatible with patience and moderation. A 96.2% victory is necessarily dictated by temporary euphoria and it should not be forgotten that Shaakasvili was elected as consensus candidate for all opposition parties after the Rose revolution.
Europe again, pushing in favour of Georgia’s candidacy to NATO-top priority in Saakashvili’s foreign agenda-, could give a hand. Russia is essential in terms of energy policies-and therefore many in Europe do not want to anger it too much-, but also moral principles should be at the core of the strategy.

The president must have felt the breath of his opponents very close, according to the aggressive response he inflicted to demonstrators. He must have had the impression that the situation was getting out of hand and this is indeed a worrying precedent.Also Human Rights issues are far from being fixed -but let us remember that Saakashvili started his career as a Human Rights lawyer. Decolonization processes -Russia has still military basis in Georgia- are never solved in just one political term, and reforms necessarily anger those who do not directly benefit from them and rather feel their downsides. Saakashvili needs to build greater consensus around his presidency: on one hand such early election may limit the opposition’s ability to campaign properly; on the other too divided a vote may weaken the country’s ability to operate in such troubled waters. What sometimes Western Countries fail to grasp is the sheer complexity of breaking away from assertive colossus like Russia, obsessed with the constant weaving of security webs around its borders, regardless of the methods employed –like issuing a massive number of Russian passports to citizens of breakaway regions-. In such scenarios, skilful and moderate, transition-minded leaders are certainly needed, but at a certain point, courage and determination become the paramount ingredients, in order to get through as the decisive gamble with history approaches.

The long journey towards Democracy

Novembre 4, 2007

Sulhattin Onen is or was a Kurdish citizen of the Republic of Turkey and used to own a mini-bus in the eastern province of Diyarbakır . He was sentenced to 9 months in prison in 2002 on charges of having repeatedly played a Kurdish popular song in his mini-bus in 1999, after a brief 20 minutes journey from Cinar to Amed in which his last remaining passenger turned out to be a non commissioned Turkish official. In fact, in order to make up a proper trial, the judiciary cooked up an alleged and unspecified support of Mr.Onen to the PKK, the Kurdish Party of Workers, an armed organization who has recently killed several Turkish soldiers along the inflamed border with Iraki Kurdistan, prompting the Turkish Parliament to pass a resolution to give free way to military operations across the border. This was actually also a reaction to another resolution the House of Representatives of the USA had just passed the week before branding the slaughter of more than 1 million Christian Armenians in between 1915-1923 as Genocide, which according to a UN declaration of 1948 stands for “to destroy in whole, or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. In this ominous cataclysm of history, a non negligible chunk of the atrocities was undoubtedly carried out by soldiers of Kurdish ethnic adscription, the very same as that of our Sulhattin, who became unemployed after having to sell his bus for getting entangled with Turkish officialdom. But asking for recognition of the facts of 1915 can get you far more than unemployed: Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, was assassinated by a ‘solitary’ ultra-nationalist in Istanbul last January for his ceaseless effort in campaigning to unveil the truth. We should not be that surprised: Article 301 of the current Constitution of the secular Republic of Turkey ( dictated by the generals after their last coup in 1980) states the following:

1.A person who publicly denigrates Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.
2.A person who publicly denigrates the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security organizations shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.
3.In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country the punishment shall be increased by one third.
4.Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime.

Rather staggering. There are also other men, still alive, who have dared challenging these statements: most of them in exile, like Taner Akçam, who escaped prison and fled to Germany in the seventies, where he became an acknowledged historian. In a six-hours long debate in Turkey in front of a nationwide audience-an incredible event -, a couple of years ago, he stated: “If you can’t bring yourself to describe it as a genocide, call it a massacre…”. This is not the kind of stuff one can easily hear against Turkishness on TV. The problem with history, is that we have to rely on historians, but the ‘general idea’ -precisely the one absorbed by society- is often imposed by officialdom and establishment, who decides what to remember, what to forget, and what to interpret. This is the very idea on which Robert Fisk wrote his The Great War for Civilisation: a collection of articles related to the Middle East in which he embarks on a constant condemnation of how facts are changed and easily forgot. The most moving one is undoubtedly the one devoted to the Armenians: Fisk visits in Beirut the last survivors to the holocaust, that were all less than ten years old when darkness descended. The book is outstandingly interesting precisely because Fisk knows too much and has no establishment to protect: that’s why after the reading is over one gets the impression he is against everybody and everything who has had the thinnest slice of power, regardless of their background or location. That is probably how things end up being when one knows way too much but has no power to take a single political decision.
However, should one compromise when one country is suspicious of Genocide? How far can human kind stretch its capacity of negotiating on grounds of general interest and strategic stability? Does memory really matter, or only if it does not bother any major player in the global arena? Are there really people and cultures who deserve full attention and others who can just be forgot because they do not have powerful enough lobbies around the world to promote laws in parliaments? Is the recognition of a Genocide really a matter of lobbying?
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On the other hand, is it sensible to pass the law that denounces the Genocide the Turks have never admitted precisely at the very moment where Turkey is threatening with an invasion of northern Irak, fearful of the unleashing of freedom in one region of the always denied Kurdistan? How should adult and responsible countries treat those who obviously still behave like angry children in a gang, still nowadays relying on blackmailing to achieve its goals? Or is it no blackmailing to tell a country that wants to recognize what almost all serious historians have no doubts about, that if they do so then all armament contracts will go lost as it has already happened to France several times? Or that access to military bases will be denied, after profiting for decades of military help from the United States? Why does almost everybody in this world know about the Nazi concentration camps but Armenian slaughtering is still matter of debate and maybe only the consequence of massive deportation? So, even assuming this appallingly wrong misinterpretation, if you die in gas chamber , then it is worse that if you starve to death in your forced way to the deserts of Syria and Irak where you never on earth had wanted to go to? Have we not already waited way too long to start fixing this issue, now that there are no more living witnesses and therefore Turkey will have more room for the old trick of dirtying the facts on the grounds that nobody knows for sure since nobody is there anymore to tell the truth? And the most terrifying question of all, how does the writer of this article-certainly very interested in history, but by no means a proven historian at all, as it is not Mr.Fisk either-know that the Jewish Holocaust was real and also the Armenian? Or maybe was it just the first? And why not just the second? Let us remember our old friend Richelieu once again, in Testament Politique (here in English translation):”In politics, he who has the power often has the right, and he who is weak can only with difficulty keep from being wrong in the opinion of the majority of the world”

But let us try to settle down ideas, since what ultimately matters is to find a decent solution for this living shame from the last century. I believe that Europe should try its best to get Turkey in the Union provided this implies Turkey will abandon all its totally unacceptable behaviours and hypernationalism. This does not mean of course to start playing with ultimatums: such tactics very rarely work. The Economist hinted on a recent article on the matter that it should be up to the Turks themselves to come to terms with the past horror: but, as they themselves suggest, with Article 301 still applicable on Constitutional basis, it is hard to imagine that light can be shed on the Turkish educational system to gradually bring hystorical awareness to surface. It is more than clear the Turkish officialdom is looking for compromise so that popular belief regards the Genocide as inevitable tragedy due to war conditions. I firmly believe that if eventually this is the agreed solution it will be a major blow for Democracy in the European Union. It may work for a while, so that the potentially powerful neighbour does not get upset and Europe can take advantage of new prosperous markets, but in the end it will lead to new tragedy, inevitably, as it always happens when countries do not come to terms with their past wrongdoings, and therefore grow arrogant and threatening. But this does not mean Turkey has to be put to its knees: remember the Versailles agreements in 1919, which might have been fair from a moral point of view, but that actually accelerated the path towards new and vaster annihilation. I think, unlikely as it may seem, that the new political agenda in Turkey can lead to positive debate that eventually helps the country become a truly democratic place-at least as truly as in Western Europe, where we acknowledge there is still a long way forward to reach ‘real democracy’ as well. Abdula Gul, the new president, although extremely firm in his irate reaction against the House of Representatives decision, could lead a moderate, gradual process towards a less hawkish, more open-minded Turkey. Sometimes the most difficult task in politics is start to believe in those that may make the change possible, even if they currently look tremendously far from acceptable standards. I believe it is Europe’s duty , with its modernizing pressure, to make this happen. It is a bold gamble, I admit: we live through a unique period of history, especially inside European Union, in which internal conflict seem to be frozen forever, because of the still vivid memories of WWII and the massive destructive power of new weaponry, both acting as consistent deterrents. But especially for the first, nobody knows for how long its shadow is going to be felt accross the continent, once its last survivors will not be there anymore . Especially if we are dealing with a country that up to very recently has shown firm belief in military, unilateral solutions for cohabitation problems, dismissing any negotiated solution. That is why partial solutions are so dangerous: Turkey needs to open itself to the world, and stop seeing enemies everywhere, both inside and outside. This is not a task for impatients: it is again a long haul strategy, and Europe cannot afford to leave Turkey ashore.

The saddest thing of it all, however, is that a mere 4% of Armenian citizens believe that recognition of the Genocide of their people almost one century ago is among the major problems the country faces, as a recent poll showed. On the contrary, this seems to be top priority on the agenda of the Armenian diaspora, precisely the offspring of those whose families were massacred, but also people mostly not brought up under brain-washing Soviet Union. As ever, with very few exceptions, extreme poverty and despair push people to focus on immediate needs, leaving moral issues for better off times. Precisely because of this, countries which have so far managed to develop sufficient welfare as to have enough time to debate moral issues should take their share of responsibility more than ever

Fin août, début septembre

Setembre 1, 2007

I spent this last week in Paris for job reasons. Eventually, I managed to visit some spots of the city for a couple of hours before heading back for Belgium. I found myself very much in a World War II mindset, most probably under the effects of my recent readings on the matter. Close to Pont de l’Alma, about to get on my car, the visit finished, I was struck by a small official board with the words de Gaulle wanted printed on posters spread across London. It was 1940:
A TOUS LES FRANCAIS

La France a perdu une bataille !

Mais la France n’a pas perdu la guerre !

Des gouvernants de rencontre ont pu capituler, cédant à la panique, oubliant l’honneur, livrant le pays à la servitude. Cependant, rien n’est perdu !

Rien n’est perdu, parce que cette guerre est une guerre mondiale. Dans l’univers libre, des forces immenses n’ont pas encore donné. Un jour, ces forces écraseront l’ennemi. Il faut que la France, ce jour-là, soit présente à la victoire. Alors, elle retrouvera sa liberté et sa grandeur. Tel est mon but, mon seul but !

Voilà pourquoi je convie tous les Français, où qu’ils se trouvent, à s’unir à moi dans l’action, dans le sacrifice et dans l’espérance.

Notre Patrie est en péril de mort.

Luttons tous pour la sauver !

VIVE LA FRANCE !

Général de Gaulle, Quartier Général, 4, Carlton Gardens, London, S.W.I.

This very much nationalist speech is however remarkable for an overriding reason. Beyond the necessary populist stream, there is the fundamental insight of being right about history, even when having to face the very officialdom of your country. The ability of grasping what the majority, even the government, is unable to. The will of being radical in his conviction even in despair, the strength in adversity, the skill in cheering up his people, the mastery in telling and explaining a way out to the current misery. And also his uniquely true maniqueism, nowadays so banalized. I also kept for myself this “gouvernants de rencontre”, that led my thought to catalan latitudes.

Already in the car, Sarkozy had just delivered his speech over his second bunch of economical reforms since he took office, at the Jobgivers official convention. Two days before he had been in Corsica, where he met some victims of blackmailing and announced his policy towards the island. It is difficult I can agree on hardly anything with him on Corsica, an island in the very centre of the Mediterranian that 200 years ago had barely heard a word of French and that nowadays has been almost entirely ‘frenchized’ (and also modernised, it is true, but all Europe has, I want to stress). But his words sounded convincing, as almost everything he says, especially if you are a foreigner and may not know details behind the scenes. He stressed the weaknesses of the island, with its local mafias having little interest in cultural matters and much in transaction, zoning and property. He skilfully showed some open-mindness for dialogue, with regard to the families with local convicted spending their days in continental France, and hinting that he is ready to go very far if the island assumes that Corsica is a part of the Republic, invoking the magical concept of much needed solidarity. He also said he will be visiting it regularly, and even holding ministerial meetings (all previous Presidents of the Republic visited the island just once during their mandate). He also threatened, talking to state officials: “I want results, if they don’t come, ON CHANGE!” To sum it up, he is probably the most gifted European politician of the moment, as it already became clear to me during the final debate against Segolene Royal, in which he showed a mastery in dialectical speech and explanatory skills that I reckon rather rare in current days. I have heard a new book on him by Yasmina Reza is coming out. The title, L’Aube le soir ou la nuit hints that he hardly has a notion of the ‘day’, so absorbed is he in the frenzy he has embarked on.

It was also an important week in Turkey, with Abdula Gul and Recep Erdogan eventually succeeding after a long and complicated manoeuvre to get the first sworn in as President, in a bitter battle against secularist elite. I am far from being a specialist in this country, but there is little doubt this week’s event are really epoch-making. It is also true, I believe-beyond the undoubted skills of both Erdogan and Gul- that European Union helped keeping militaries home, unlike the last decades, in which they have overthrown up to 4 governments in order to protect Ataturk’s consigns. Not by direct mediation, just as pure equilibrium of forces. Now Turkey cannot behave as it used to. For this, and many other things, the European Union is worth it. It can really become a driving force against corruption and backwardness, through well employed solidarity from the West. It is a beautiful lesson of how changes can be brought about, so far with little violence and clashes .Gul, though of deeply Islamist and conservative origins-he married a girl half his age when he was 28, that his mother picked up for him-, is undoubtedly metropolitan and has already shown great ability for dialogue in the European scene, even calming down Erdogan when this had already lost his temper in negotiations for accession.

Back home I started gathering data on the puzzling issue of political abstentionism. It is really hard, apparently, to correlate low turnovers with any significant indicator-economic, social, cultural-. Indeed, only the UN “Human Development Index” (HDI) , that summarizes the degree of civilization reached in that country via complicated weighted contributions (I shall explain it in another post), seems to correlate well: higher HDI, higher turnover in general. But unfortunately, Finland, with one of the highest HDI in the world, does not have one of the more impressive records in terms of turnover. But at least I know something about abstentionist in the country I come from: in Catalonia we know for sure that the average abstentionist knows less about politics-and therefore about economy, institutions, society, solutions and suggestions to it,etc…- than the average voter. How to find out? Asking to match the name of the political leaders to the correct political party, a really easy task in principle, if you live in a modern country of course. Here the results(extract of an official survey from the Generalitat de Catalunya). What a pity that some commentators and ‘enlightened’ journalists support them claiming they are right in not voting, and that actually they are some kind of hidden consciousness of the land. Of course the government is failing if it does not get these people voting, but at least now we know that those who are voting are better prepared to do so that those who are not.The opposite would be indeed terrifying.

Finally, in high quality newspaper Les Echos-because they start with empirical evidence and data before embarking on reasonings-, a profound question for scientists that should truly matter in politics: “Les processus darwiniens de sélection sont-ils remplaçables par des modes altruistes n’exigeant pas la mort ou l’extinction?”

I per molts anys estimat Alexandre!