Monday, 31 July 2017

In the ruins of Magadh. By Ashutosh Bhardwaj

Kya isse kuch fark padega/
agar main kahun/
main Magadh ka nahin/
Avanti ka hun?
Magadh ke maane nahi jaoge
Avanti mein pehchane nahi jaoge

WHILE IT IS easier to decry Nitish Kumar’s BJP embrace as yet another instance of rotten politics, the Patna text demands a different reading. Here are eight propositions to decode its narrative.
One: Indian Politics is now an individualistic utilitarian act. It has moved beyond the Plato’s advice in The Republic that true politics is ethics in action. It now involves the art of managing multiple partners simultaneously, with the sole aim to maximising pleasure and power. It celebrates and legitimises narcissism. Many have practised this art before Nitish, he will also have his successors, some of whom will perform this art on him too.

Two: The Patna episode was not a drama, but a novel. Such political coups, because of their curious turns, are often termed as “dramatic”. In great novels, of Paul Auster’s for instance, even the most bizarre twists of life appear predetermined and inevitable. Indian politics has now the ability to deliver the most curious scenarios with routine ease. It no longer surprises us, but reveals itself in chilling banality. The drama is over. Indian politics is now a novel waiting for its generous writers.

We already have an illustrious novel to exemplify it. Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting begins with an 1948 incident in which the revered Communist leader and author Vladimir Clementis took off his cap and placed it on the fellow comrade and Prime Minster Klement Gottwald’s head before an applauding crowd of several thousands in Prague. The sky sprinkled fresh white snow over Prague as Czechoslovakia ushered into a historic moment. Soon after, Clementis was charged with sedition and executed. His cap still remained on Gottwald’s head, but few knew that it belonged to the persecuted leader.

Three: The phrase “U-turn” needs a review. We take many turns through our life, changing jobs, lovers and friends. Our choices often contradict each other. We move on, but quite often return to embrace those with whom we had a bitter separation. We can also lend some space to politicians to make such turns.

Four: His BJP embrace does not mean that Nitish is now “anti-corruption” but supports “lynching and communalism”. To assume that he was a staunch advocate of secularism until his resignation but lost these credentials thereafter is a misleading interpretation of the human mind… read more:

'I died in hell': sacrifice of war dead remembered at Passchendaele

As the sun went down on Ypres on Sunday, the shale grey stone floor of the old Belgian town’s Menin Gate, the world’s first memorial to those who fell but who were never found during the first world war, was slowly covered by more than 54,000 blood-red poppies falling from its high arch. There was a paper flower for each name engraved upon the vast gate.

A crowd numbering in the thousands, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Theresa May and the King and Queen of Belgium, Philippe and Mathilde, watched as the poppies drifted down in the still evening air. The young voices of the National Youth Choir of Scotland, standing below the gate’s 14-metre-high ceiling, sang the Ypres hymn: “O valiant hearts who to your glory came, / Through dust of conflict and through battle flame; / Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved; / Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.”

Poppies are released from the Menin Gate at the end of the wreath laying ceremony during More than 800,000 soldiers on both sides of the war died in the blood and mud of the Ypres salient between 1914 and 1918. Many marched on the so-called Menin road, on which the gate built in 1927 now stands, from Ypres town to the front lines. Still today, the remains of dozens of men are found every year in Flanders fields, identified initially by the colouring and markings of the boots in which they died. Of the three major battles in Ypres, however, it is the third and final, whose centenary will pass in the early hours of Monday, that bears the greatest infamy. “I died in hell – they called it Passchendaele,” the soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote of the carnage that raged from 31 July until 10 November 1917. Perhaps the first world war battle that is today most sharp in the collective British consciousness is the Somme, but at the time it was this battle, and this place, that was synonymous with the hopelessness and horror of what was playing out on foreign fields.

So it is, in this centenary period, that among the many battles and places, Passchendaele, and Ypres, have followed Gallipoli and the Somme, in being conferred by the British government with what is likely to be a last great act of remembrance, certainly in the presence of the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews of those who fought… read more:

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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Armed Forces veterans write open letter to PM Modi: Condemn targeting of Muslims, Dalits

Highlighting the recent attacks on Muslims and Dalits in the country, the veterans of the Indian Armed Forces have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing their distress and condemning the relentless vigilantism of the self-appointed protectors of Hinduism. In the letter, the veterans said they stand with the ‘Not in My Name’ campaign and that the Armed Forces stand for “Unity in Diversity”. They added the current situation in the country is that of fear, intimidation, hate and suspicion.

They said, “what is happening in our country today strikes at all that the Armed Forces, and indeed our Constitution, stand for. We are witness to unprecedented attacks on society at large by the relentless vigilantism of self-appointed protectors of Hinduism. We condemn the targeting of Muslims and Dalits. We condemn the clampdowns on free speech by attacks on media outlets, civil society groups, universities, journalists and scholars, through a campaign of branding them anti-national and unleashing violence against them while the State looks away.”

The letter has been signed by 114 veterans of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces comprise of the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force.

Here is the full text of the letter by the veterans:
We are a group of Veterans of the Indian Armed Forces who have spent our careers working for the security of our country. Collectively, our group holds no affiliation with any single political party, our only common commitment being to the Constitution of India.

It saddens us to write this letter, but current events in India have compelled us to register our dismay at the divisiveness that is gripping our country. We stand with the ‘Not in My Name’ campaign that mobilised thousands of citizens across the country to protest against the current climate of fear, intimidation, hate and suspicion.

The Armed Forces stand for “Unity in Diversity”. Differences in religion, language, caste, culture or any other marker of belonging have not mattered to the cohesion of the Armed Forces, and servicemen of different backgrounds have fought shoulder to shoulder in the defence of our nation, as they continue to do today. Throughout our service, a sense of openness, justice and fair play guided our actions. We are one family. Our heritage is like the multi-coloured quilt that is India, and we cherish this vibrant diversity.

However, what is happening in our country today strikes at all that the Armed Forces, and indeed our Constitution, stand for. We are witness to unprecedented attacks on society at large by the relentless vigilantism of self-appointed protectors of Hinduism. We condemn the targeting of Muslims and Dalits. We condemn the clampdowns on free speech by attacks on media outlets, civil society groups, universities, journalists and scholars, through a campaign of branding them anti-national and unleashing violence against them while the State looks away. 

We can no longer look away. We would be doing a disservice to our country if we do not stand up and speak for the liberal and secular values that our Constitution espouses. Our diversity is our greatest strength. Dissent is not treason; in fact, it is the essence of democracy.\

We urge the powers that be at the Centre and in the States to take note of our concerns and urgently act to uphold our Constitution, both in letter and in spirit.

See also

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Taslima Nasreen sent back from Aurangabad airport after protests

NB: The people who sabotaged Taslima's visit are the mirror-image of the Hindutva fanatics and their allies in communal politics. Here is a comment I made earlier in the year when the Jaipur Literature Festival was pressurised into banning her attendance: The hounding of Taslima Nasrin by the self-styled representatives of 'Muslim sentiment' is a shame and an abomination. It is as horrible as the persecution of M F Husain by the Hindu communalists. The bloodthirsty threats issued to her remind us of the fate of Pansare, Dabholkar and Kalburgi. She has every right to criticise the communalisation of Bangladeshi politics, as she has a right to criticise IslamNo religion is above criticism, and the freedom of religion does not imply that atheists be silenced. 
Read the full comment here. DS

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen was sent back from the airport in Aurangabad to Mumbai after protests by a group of people against her visit to the city, police said on Sunday. Nasreen landed at the Chikal thana Airport last evening by a flight from Mumbai. Police stopped the author from stepping out of the airport, where a crowd had gathered shouting slogans like “Taslima Go Back”. Deputy Commissioner of Police (zone-II) Rahul Shrirame said Nasreen was sent back to Mumbai by the next flight to avoid any “law and order problem” in this city in central Maharashtra.

The author was advised to abandon her visit to the city and she agreed to go back, the police officer said. Protesters had also gathered outside a hostel where Nasreen was to stay during her three-day visit. Police said they had come to know that the writer was planning to visit the world heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora besides other tourist spots in Aurangabad. The protest at the airport was led by Imtiyaz Jaleel, the AIMIM legislator from the Aurangabad central constituency.

Jaleel said her writings have “hurt” the religious sentiments of Muslims across the world. “We will not allow her to step on the soil of our city,” he said. Last month, the Union home ministry had extended her visa for one year, with effect from July 23, 2017. Nasreen, a citizen of Sweden, has been getting Indian visa on a continuous basis since 2004. The author is living in exile since she left Bangladesh in 1994 in the wake of threats to her by fundamentalist groups.

More posts on Taslima Nasreen

see also
Taslima Nasreen on censorship and free speech. I tried to say: 'Freedom of expression is again under attack in India. Penguin India should not have withdrawn Wendy's book 'The Hindus'. 
Taslima Nasreen - 'Religion Is The Biggest Bane For Any Democracy'. 
Arvind Kejriwal has sought support for his Aam Aadmi Party from a controversial Uttar Pradesh cleric who had issued a fatwa against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen some years ago. 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Slavoj Zizek on Christian conservatives' tolerance for vulgarity // Is the American republic built to withstand a malevolent president? By Michael Goldfarb

Public obscenity is sustained by a concealed moralism, its practitioners secretly believe they are fighting for a cause, and it is at this level that they should be attacked... To paraphrase the old Marx brothers joke, apropos Trump or Kaczynski: you look and act like a vulgar clown, but this should not deceive us – you really are a vulgar clown...

How to account for the strange fact that Donald Trump, a lewd and morally destitute person, the very opposite of Christian decency, can function as the chosen hero of the Christian conservatives? The explanation one usually hears is that, while Christian conservatives are well aware of the problematic character of Trump’s personality, they have chosen to ignore this side of things since what really matters to them is Trump’s agenda, especially his anti-abortion stance. If he succeeds in naming conservative new members of the Supreme Court, which will then overturn Roe v Wade, then this act will obliterate all his sins, it seems. But are things as simple as that? What if the very duality of Trump’s personality – his high moral stance accompanied by personal lewdness and vulgarities – is what makes him attractive to Christian conservatives? What if they secretly identify with this very duality? 

Exactly the same goes for Poland’s current de facto ruler Jaroslaw Kaczynski who, in a 1997 interview for Gazeta Wyborcza, inelegantly exclaimed: “It’s our f***ing turn” (“Teraz kurwa my”). This phrase (which then became a classic locus in Polish politics) can be vaguely translated as: “It’s our f***ing time, now we are in power, it’s our term”, but its literal meaning is more vulgar, something like: “Now it’s our time to f**k the whore” (after waiting in line in a brothel).  It’s important that this phrase was publicly uttered by a devout Catholic conservative, a protector of Christian morality: it’s the hidden obverse which effectively sustains Catholic “moral” politics.

A couple of months ago, Donald Trump was unflatteringly compared to a man who noisily defecates in the corner of a room in which a high-class drinking party is going on – but it is easy to see that the same holds for many leading politicians around the globe. Was Erdogan not defecating in public when, in a recent paranoiac outburst, he dismissed critics of his policy towards the Kurds as traitors and foreign agents?  Was Putin not defecating in public when (in a well-calculated public vulgarity apparently aimed at boosting his popularity at home) he threatened a critic of his Chechen politics with medical castration?

Friday, 28 July 2017

Book review - Linda Grant on Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate

Life and Fate was written in the late 1950's & confiscated by the Soviet authorities. It was published in the West in 1980, and in Russia in 1988. Grossman died in 1964. Linda Grant says of it: Novels fade, your immersion in their world turns into a faint dream, and then is forgotten. Only great literature grows in the imagination...and of its authorHe, like everyone else who survived the period of the 1937 show trials which liquidated the revolutionaries of 1917, came to understand that guilt and innocence are meaningless when the state decides the nature of reality. Life and Fate; Vintage 
2011, p. xv

Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed - while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end: Life and Fate

whenever we see the dawn of an eternal good... whenever we see this dawn, the blood of children and old people is always shed... Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer
Life and Fate, pp 390-394)

Grossman’s power derives at least in part from his intimate knowledge of every level of Soviet society. In Life and Fate, Grossman achieves what many other Soviet writers struggled but failed to achieve: a portrait of an entire age... In October 1960, against the advice of his two closest friends and confidants, Semyon Lipkin and Yekaterina Zabolotskaya, Grossman delivered the manuscript to the editors of Znamya. It was the height of Khrushchev’s ‘Thaw’ and Grossman seems to have believed that the novel could be published. In February 1961, three KGB officers came to the flat to confiscate the manuscript and any other related material, even carbon paper and typing ribbons. This is one of only two occasions when the Soviet authorities ‘arrested’ a book rather than a person; no other book, apart from The Gulag Archipelago, was ever considered so dangerous (from the translator, Robert Chandler’s Introduction)
Vasily Grossman with the Red Army in Schwerin, Germany, 1945

When Grossman submitted his manuscript in 1960 he was told it could not be published for 200 years. Two years later he was dead of stomach cancer, his novel confiscated, “arrested” as he said, for he had assaulted Soviet totalitarianism...

For Grossman, communism and fascism are ephemera. What matters, what endures, is the individual and the ordinary act of human kindness, indeed the often senseless act of kindness, as when an old Russian woman, about to hoist a brick in the face of a captured German soldier, instead finds to her own incomprehension that she has reached into her pocket and given him a piece of bread. And in the years to come, will still never be able to understand why she did it. Linda Grant

There are novels I have re-read after 30 or 40 years that have shocked me with ideas which evidently made such a strong impression they ceased to be someone else’s thoughts and became my own. After a lifetime of reading you become formed by books; you are partly an accumulation of others’ ideas. Every time I re-read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway I see how this brief but enormously influential novel, first read in my teens, created in me the sense of lightness and excitement when walking down a London street, or how the phrase “among the cabbages” would resonate as a fragment of a sentence about memory and longing.

But only one book had such a decisive impact that I can date to it a profound alteration in my worldview and even behaviour. I read Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate in 2003.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the lessons of Bihar

There is an irony in trying to interpret Nitish’s break with Lalu as some kind of watershed moment in Indian politics. Does it represent the death of secularism? Does it represent the death of regional parties? But the blunt truth is that this moment is not a watershed, but merely a reminder of the eternal realities of Indian democracy: Indian democracy is politics all the way down. Any attempts to frame its realities in terms of encrusted master narratives is largely wishful thinking. None of the protagonists in this drama can bear the load of any deeper meaning.

Nitish Kumar has always been a politician’s politician. This has manifested itself in many ways. His first instinct has always been survival. He now has an enviable track record of managing to remain an indispensable figure in Bihar politics. His second instinct, like many politicians in India, is to ensure a relatively weak internal party organisation that ensures he is never challenged from the inside. He has combined that with a personal outreach, recognition, popular touch and a relative absence of personal thuggery to remain an important figure. In Bihar, electoral secularism was a wise thing to hold onto, which he did. But he never had any qualms about the NDA. He has also managed to paradoxically combine both dependence on allies with his own indispensability. 

Third, he has always played within its limitations. There has been immense clamour for him to take a national role. But he has seldom overreached. He has been ambitious, but without any illusions about his ability to play a larger national role. And his instinct was probably right: Without an organisation of your own, without a pan Indian ideology, without years of national outreach, any national ambition is tantamount to making yourself vulnerable rather than strong.
Indian politics is littered with state leaders who thought they could easily become national figures. The expectation that he would position himself as an opposition figure was, therefore, extremely odd. As a good politician, he believed in social engineering. But unlike many politicians of the Mandal era who remain trapped in their social base, Nitish has continually improvised. He engineered the “coalition of extremes” in his last incarnation with the BJP. The main achievement of his stint as chief minister after 2005 was to give Bihar a government with a broad social base that allowed a modicum of governance to be restored. But the keen eye for a fluidity of social bases will always make ideological niceties harder to hold onto… read more:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Vyapam Scam Accused Allegedly Commits Suicide In Madhya Pradesh

Praveen Yadav, an accused in the high-profile (MPPEB) scam, allegedly committed suicide on Wednesday, by hanging himself at his residence in Madhya Pradesh's Morena. Praveen, a resident of Maharajpur village was charged in 2012 in connection with the Vyapam scam. More than 40 people associated with the scam have died since the story broke in 2013.

The deaths include accused and witnesses as well as a journalist who was investigating the story and have largely been under mysterious circumstances. The death includes the Dean of a Jabalpur Medical College Dr. Arun Sharma and the other is Aaj Tak journalist Akshay Singh, who was covering the scam. The scam involved 13 different exams conducted by Vyapam, for selection of medical students and state government employees (including food inspectors, transport constables, police personnel, school teachers, dairy supply officers and forest guards). The exams were taken by around 3.2 million students.

Cases of irregularities in these entrance tests had been reported since the mid-1990s, and the first FIR was filed in 2000. However, until 2009, such cases were not thought to be part of an organized ring. When major complaints surfaced in the pre-medical test (PMT) in 2009, the state government established a committee to investigate the matter. The committee released its report in 2011, and over a hundred people were arrested by the police.

More on Vyapam

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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Book review: Imagining Pakistan: Religion at the Origins of Nationalism

Sohaib I. Khan on Venkat Dhulipala’s Creating a New Medina
Dhulipala’s methodological posture is a refreshing departure from academic histories in which the saga of partition only unfolds through the hidden motives and intrigues of nationalist elites. At the very outset of the book, he therefore rejects the famous “bargaining counter” thesis that sees Pakistan as the unintended outcome of a failed political bargain by its founder 

Pakistan’s descent into violent forms of religious extremism has recently become the subject of best-selling books. Causal explanations for the country’s current state of crisis rely on either one or some combination of the following: incomplete modernization, persistent religious dogma and super-stition as impediments to secularization, disruptions in democratic rule by a strong military juntaAmerican interventionism and surrogate warfare, etc. For those not captive to a view of the present, the roots of Pakistan’s religious predicament may even be traced to the country’s inception with the partition of British India in 1947. Nationalist autobiographies of both Pakistan and India remember partition and its attendant violence in starkly different terms. Whereas for the former partition symbolizes the glory of sacrifice that earned Indian Muslims their independence in the form of a separate homeland, for the latter it marks a disruption of irrational communalist fervor in what was to be an anti-colonial liberation struggle for a united India. India and Pakistan became nation-states in 1947, but the historical consciousness that renders them immemorial draws on the originary violence of partition: the nation is consecrated once bonds of community are forged in the glory and tragedy of bloodshed.

In Venkat Dhulipala’s Creating a New Medina, Pakistan’s relationship to Islam is framed neither in terms of the security paradigm of the War on Terror nor the violent aftermath of partition. The book examines the earliest articulations of this relationship as formulated by politicians, the clergy, and journalists during the decade immediately preceding partition. Rather than anticipating the madness and chaos of partition as an inevitable outcome of the Pakistan movement, Dhulipala
tries to understand the goals and aspirations of the movement’s actors without judging them for the historical validity of their conclusions. In doing so, he challenges a widely-accepted view on Pakistan’s origins, one shared among historians of modern South Asia: Pakistan came into existence owing to a premature and hastily crafted nationalist scheme by Muslim elites during the British departure from India.

The Instigator: How MS Golwalkar’s virulent ideology underpins Modi’s India. By HARTOSH SINGH BAL

EVERY CULT OR ORGANISATION typically carries forward the legacy of its founder, and it is rare for those who build upon that legacy to exercise the same influence—let alone exceed it. But the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, has never been a typical organisation, and, in this regard too, it stands out. It was founded in 1925 by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, but it bears the far more emphatic stamp of his successor, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. While Hedgewar is referred to as Doctorji within the RSS, Golwalkar is known as Guruji.

Golwalkar took over as the RSS’s sarsanghchalak, or chief, after Hedgewar’s death, in 1940, and held the post till his own death, in 1973. When he assumed charge, the RSS—also known as the Sangh—was still establishing itself, and did not have a major presence outside Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Under him, the organisation passed through great turbulence: it played an incendiary role in the Partition violence, and was banned after the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. But under Golwalkar’s leadership, the RSS also set down its written constitution and began to expand beyond its shakhas, or local branches, and into front organisations such as the Jan Sangh in politics, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad among students, the Vishva Hindu Parishad in religion, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh among industrial workers.

By the time Golwalkar died, the RSS had extended across the entire country, and its network of allied organisations - the Sangh Parivar - had penetrated almost every aspect of Indian society. His ideological influence did not end with his death: Bunch of Thoughts, a text that distils the vast spread of Golwalkar’s writings and speeches, remains the Sangh’s bible to date. In 2004, MG Vaidya, currently the RSS’s leading ideologue, articulated what amounts to the organisation’s official view on Golwalkar. Vaidya, according to the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, “described Shri Guruji as the biggest gift to Hindu society in the 20th century. He said that the credit for today’s importance of the Sangh in national politics should be given to Shri Guruji, who worked tirelessly for spreading the Sangh work in every nook and corner of the country.”

Monday, 24 July 2017

Dunkirk Veteran Weeps At Film Premiere: ‘It Was Just Like I Was There Again’

Walking out of a Calgary, Canada, movie theater on Friday, where he’d just watched the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s highly acclaimed “Dunkirk,” 97-year-old war veteran Ken Sturdy was seen wiping tears from his eyes. “I never thought I’d see that again,” an emotional Sturdy, dressed in a jacket adorned with war medals and a military beret, told Canada’s Global News. “It was just like I was there again.” Sturdy, who is originally from Wales, is one of the few surviving World War II veterans who was at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. He was among the 330,000 Allied troops who were evacuated from the French town as Nazi forces made their advance. More than 100,000 British and French troops perished in the battle, according to the BBC.

“I was 20 when that happened, but watching the movie, I could see my old friends again,” said Sturdy, who added that he’d “lost so many of my buddies” over the course of WWII. Speaking after the film, Sturdy said he’d been moved to tears for another reason too.  “Tonight I cried because it’s never the end,” he said, referring to humanity’s inexplicable penchant for war. “We the human species, we are so intelligent and do such astonishing things. We can fly to the moon, but we still do stupid things.” Sturdy isn’t the only Dunkirk veteran who has seen and enjoyed the Nolan film since its release. George Wagner, a 96-year-old British WWII vet, told People magazine last week that the film was “very good” and “really realistic.”

“When I saw the film, I was brought back,” Wagner said. Some veterans have noted, however, that the film was actually “louder” than the actual event.  Actor Kenneth Branagh, who stars in the movie, said that about 30 veterans - all of them in their mid-90s - attended the U.K. premiere of the film. Speaking to late-night host Stephen Colbert, Branagh said the veterans praised the movie as being “exhilarating” and true-to-life, but said the film “was louder than the [real] battle.” “The noise of the bombs at Dunkirk did fall away in the air - it’s a massive, massive stretch of beach,” Branagh said. “But trapped in Chris Nolan’s amazing vision of this conflict, you can’t get away from the sound of the bombs.”

see also
The Republic of Silence – Jean-Paul Sartre on The Aftermath of War and Occupation (1944)
The Second World War in Colour – in pictures
The search for new time - Ahimsa in an age of permanent war

Poland's president Andrzej Duda to veto law that would have put supreme court under control of ruling party

Duda said he consulted many experts before making his decision, including lawyers, sociologists, politicians and philosophers. But he said the person who influenced him the most was Zofia Romaszewska, a leading anti-Communist dissident in the 1970s and 1980s. He said Romaszewska told him: “Mr President, I lived in a state where the prosecutor general had an unbelievably powerful position and could practically do everything. I would not like to go back to such a state.”

Poland’s president has said he will veto controversial judicial reforms that have sparked days of nationwide street protests and prompted the EU to threaten unprecedented sanctions. “I have decided to send back to parliament – in which case to veto – the law on the supreme court, as well as the law on the National Council of the Judiciary,” Andrzej Duda said in a televised announcement. “The law would not strengthen the sense of justice in society,” he added, explaining that his decision came after lengthy consultations with legal experts over the weekend. “These laws must be amended,” he said.

The reforms proposed by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) would have increased political control over Poland’s judiciary. They triggered an angry response from critics, who accused PiS of trying to curtail the independence of the courts. Duda’s declaration marks the first time that he has publicly split with Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of PiS. Since his inauguration, Duda has been seen as something of a Kaczyński puppet.

Some commentators are sceptical whether his apparent assertion of authority is authentic, or merely an attempt to quell the protests; cynics believe Duda will propose amendments that do little to address the main concerns about the legislation. But Duda insisted that political interference in the judiciary should not be up for discussion. Among the changes was a proposal to allow the attorney general, a position held by the justice minister, to be able to influence decisions by the supreme court.

“It should not be part of our tradition that the attorney general can interfere in the work of the supreme court,” Duda said… read more:

Saturday, 22 July 2017

"Neoliberalism" isn't a left-wing insult but a monstrous political system of inequality. By Sam Kriss // A strong new voice in resistance to Trump

The One Word Guaranteed to Make the Corporate Pundit Class Squirm
Neoliberalism is not particularly hard to define. It’s not only an ideology or a set of principles; it’s a system of practices, and an era, the one we’re living in now. What it means, over and above everything, is untrammeled ruling-class power, an end to the class-collaborationism of the post-war years and a vicious assault of the rich against the poor. This is achieved through market mechanisms, fiscal austerity and the penetration of capitalist relations into every possible facet of human life. It doesn’t mean that the role of the state vanishes—an essential precondition for neoliberalism is the destruction of working-class power and collective bargaining, and this has to be achieved, often brutally, through laws and their enforcement. There isn't just "some role for market forces" either, but their invasion into every fathomable social situation.

Warehouse workers are electronically monitored and made to compete against each other in efficiency rankings? This is neoliberalism. The young and unemployed are encouraged to build a "personal brand" and sell themselves as a product? This is neoliberalism. If you don’t like any of this, you’re encouraged to shop ethically, reduce your personal carbon footprint and consume vaguely antagonistic culture-commodities. This is neoliberalism.

The result of all this is that our society has become atomized: we see all our relations as essentially competitive, and the people around us as rivals for scarce goods; we are all, socially and existentially, alone. Everything we do is turned into a market transaction, a form of buying and selling. And this is because the free and unfettered market isn’t a neutral system for processing human interactions, but an instrument of class power… read more:

Amrit Dhillon - Routine abuse of Delhi's maids laid bare as class divide spills into violence

The standoff between cooks, cleaners, drivers and childminders of the rich, who last week stormed across the well-manicured lawns at Mahaguna Moderne in Noida, a Delhi suburb, has turned from violent to political. Dozens of people whom residents believe took part in the angry uprising have been sacked, and in response trade unions are calling for a boycott of all domestic help. There is fury at what has been seen as the high-handed approach of a government minister who arrived to talk to 
residents before making racial slurs against the rioters and refusing to meet slum dwellers.

The 100-strong group of protesters consisted of workers who enter the high-rise complex daily yet are forced to take different lifts and corridors to their employers, and even have to use different glasses and taps to drink water. When Zohra Bibi, a part-time maid, went missing, her husband went to the complex to demonstrate together with his relatives and friends. It is claimed that Mithul and Harshu Sethi and their children, for whom Bibi worked, were forced to lock themselves inside their bathroom for safety as the mob stormed into their huge condominium flat, damaging the marble walls and vandalising furniture.

The complex of plush apartments has manicured lawns, a clubhouse, a gym and tennis courts. But just 300 metres away lies a filthy, muddy lane with greenish-black monsoon puddles where the workers live in low, windowless tin sheds. Bricks and stones are used to hold down roofs, and water has to be carried in plastic cans from a nearby municipal tap. There are no toilets. The proximity of the luxury towers, which loom over the slum, is like a taunt. When night falls, the taunt becomes sharper as the lights come on in the flats while the hovels remain dark. 

These two extremes generally co-exist peacefully. But on the morning of 13 July, the workers’ simmering resentment against the contempt of their employers erupted. When Bibi, 30, failed to return home, her husband, Abdul Sattar, panicked. He gathered his neighbours and marched to the gates of Mahaguna Moderne, overpowering the security guards and heading inside. The violence was only quelled when the police arrived.

In the hours that followed, Bibi turned up safe and well. She claimed she had been hiding after being attacked in the Sethi’s home, while the family claim they chased her out of their house for stealing.
By what right did they demolish our livelihoods? Just because they are rich? Because I’m poor, do I have no rights? Bibi and her husband were not at home when the Guardian visited; their shack was padlocked. Talking to maids and drivers revealed the daily humiliations they face: not being allowed to use the toilets that they are responsible for cleaning; being frisked when they leave each day, to check for theft; one day’s leave a month; homes where the fridge is locked to prevent the maid from eating any food; being prevented by security guards from sitting on benches in the open areas.

“Work or leave. You’re not here to rest. That’s what they said,” explains Asha Devi, a part-time maid at the complex. She says her employer is a “good madam” but is always trying to exploit her. “When I’m finished with the cleaning, she says: ‘Can you massage my feet?’ Or she asks me to clean the fridge. And she won’t pay me extra.” Asked if she feels humiliated by the apartheid-style separate lifts for residents and workers, she shrugs. “What can I do? I am poor. I need the job to feed my children.” In the days after the violence, workers were dubbed “illegal immigrants”; most are from West Bengal, the majority Muslims. Workers were locked out of the complex until “security concerns” had been addressed. Other condominiums followed suit.

Then electricity and water supplies to the slums were cut off. The next morning, about 50 policemen arrived with a bulldozer and demolished the 50 or so makeshift tea stalls and shops selling fruit and vegetables that lined the main road from Mahaguna Moderne... read more:

Ann O'Loughlin - How the Trans-Siberian railway became the love train

Ann O’Loughlin set off across the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, looking for adventure and a chance to practise her Russian. Instead, she met a fascinating stranger in a leather jacket in the next carriage …

The Trans-Siberian railway, the greatest train journey in the world, is where our love story began.
When I booked a ticket on the Rossiya train to travel from west to east through different time zones, I expected a great adventure, to rub shoulders with people from a very different culture and to try out the small bit of Russian I had diligently studied. Never did I expect to meet the love of my life and say “I do” by the time the train skirted around the far edges of Lake Baikal and out of the city of Irkutsk in Siberia. Ours was a holiday romance like no other; love kindled on that great iron road put in place at the time of the tsar and which tracks across the former Soviet Union week in, week out. Over four days as the train trundled its way through the heart of Russia and in to Mongolia, two people who were adamant they were not looking for love, opened their hearts, fell madly in love, began planning a future, pledging to spend the rest of their lives together.
Ann O’Loughlin
 Ann O’Loughlin. Photograph: Ann O'Loughlin
It was the late 1980s, the era of glasnost and Gorbachev. I had stocked up on notebooks and pens to write a journal of my travels, and Tolstoy was stuffed in my rucksack for some light reading. John had packed notebooks and pens to sketch moments of his journey. But all these lofty notions were forgotten as we got to know each other and love blossomed.

The two of us, an Irishwoman and an Englishman, were travelling to China out of Moscow, a journey of 7,854km. John had caught my eye early on, tall with round John Lennon glasses and a leather jacket hanging over one shoulder. He was in the compartment beside mine; we first chatted as we stood in the corridor on a sweltering July day, the window down, the warm air rushing past us as the train made its way out of the gloomy industrial suburbs of Moscow; the grey city receding, the land folding away farther than the eye could see. Outside Moscow, picket-fenced dachas, the summer houses of the rich Muscovites, dotted the landscape before giving way to countryside and forest, thousands of miles before we reached Irkutsk in a journey that would take in big and small stations, all busy no matter the time of day or night.

To understand this great railway journey and enjoy it at its best, it is necessary to drop down a few gears and watch the world go by. The world on the train goes on at its own pace as it devours the railway miles, silver birch trees standing sentry along the line. The compartments in the carriage are small, so during the day as all the other passengers sit comfortably, it is easier to take up residence on the corridor pull-down seats by the windows. People stop and chat passing back and forth to the toilet or the samovar, where hot water is dispensed night and day... read more:

A love story: The Macedonian cop and an Iraqi refugee
Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi: What life was like serving Kim Jong-il and his heir

Donald Trump's Report Card: A Paralyzed, Scandal-Plagued Presidency That's Only Getting Worse. By Heather Digby Parton

He’s packed in more scandals, lies, errors and gaffes during this short period that any five presidents in their full four-year terms.  I feel like I’ve aged at least a decade since January. Each day is like a month. But it’s true. We are only at the six-month point and it’s time to take stock. Trump’s plans may not have had to come to full fruition but we can certainly judge whether or not this central promise of his American Carnage speech has born out:

In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over.

As usual, he was projecting his own weaknesses onto others. I think most people who had followed the presidential campaign understood that this was a very bold comment coming from Donald Trump. No one has ever complained or cast more blame on everyone but himself than he has, including a room full of wailing preschoolers badly in need of a nap. He is paralyzed, unable to take action because he has no idea what the job is, much less how to do it. His talk isn’t just empty, it’s completely unintelligible.

On inauguration day we didn’t yet know whether maybe the majesty of the office would change him or the institutions under which he had to operate would, at least, constrain him. There was always a suspicion that maybe he was more of an act than he let on. Now we know. It wasn’t an act.
President Donald Trump is exactly the same person he was on the campaign trail and in the many years of celebrity that preceded his entry into the race.  To those who said they liked him because “what you see is what you get,” he has fulfilled their desires. In their book the consistency of his dishonesty is a testament to his authenticity. The rest of us are horrified and appalled and it gets worse all the time.

For six months the White House has been in a nonstop rolling crisis. The gush of leaks from inside the administration is unprecedented. We still don’t know exactly what went on with the election interference but Trump and his associates seem to spend a whole lot of time with Russians — and the president now seems extremely agitated to find out that investigators are looking into his finances. His interview with the New York Times on Wednesday was shockingly incoherent but did seem to imply that he was seriously considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller and was pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. On Thursday we found out that Trump is contemplating using the presidential pardon power for himself and others (presumably his family). None of this is behavior one associates with a powerful leader who has nothing to hide... read more:

Friday, 21 July 2017

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk. By John Broich

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is likely to be the most widely seen or read depiction of history released in 2017. So how does a British historian who teaches and writes about World War II rate it as history? In terms of accuracy, it rates pretty highly. There are no big, glaring historical whoppers. The characters whom Nolan invents to serve his narrative purposes are realistic, and his scenes depict genuine events or hew close to firsthand accounts. And why not, since fiction could hardly outdo the drama and emotion of the reality? Nolan made clear that he intended the film to be a kind of history of an experience, and he succeeds about as well as any filmmaker could in conveying what it might have felt like to be on that beach...

Dunkirk Finds New Ways to Subvert the Tropes of the War Film

What’s missing from the film that a historian might add?
In the film, we see at least one French soldier who might be African. In fact, soldiers from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere were key to delaying the German attack. Other African soldiers made it to England and helped form the nucleus of the Free French forces that soon took the fight to the Axis. ..There were also four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps on those beaches. Observers said they were particularly cool under fire and well organized during the retreat. They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war. Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Why the obsession with airplane fuel? : Here, Nolan is dramatizing something central to the entire event. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was not able to provide a lot of help to the men trapped on the beach because of their fighters’ range. As the film depicts early on, pilots had to carefully conserve fuel on the Channel crossing and, even then, could only operate for less than an hour over Dunkirk itself. What happened far more often was that, while en route, fighters came upon German planes attacking the Royal Navy and had to battle them over the sea. This wasn’t comforting to the men trapped on the beach, but if the Royal Navy’s Destroyers were sunk (six of around 40 were), there would be no cover for the retreat. The RAF did battle German fighters and bombers over the three beaches of Calais, Dunkirk, and Ostend themselves, but a recurring theme in survivors’ accounts is that they never saw the RAF in the skies above them.

“Where the hell were you?”: This is reflected in one of the film’s final lines spoken by an evacuated soldier who sees another evacuee with pilot’s wings. In truth, pilots’ receptions were often far less kind. A pilot who bailed over Dunkirk beach had to fight to get on a boat. He was in the air again the day after his return to England.

Did the British really hold back ships and planes from the fight?: Yes. The British were rightly afraid of invasion with the developing collapse of France, and their main means of defense was the Royal Navy, not the Army. .. read more: