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Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

Another World

In Istanbul, Turkey on 30 April 2013 at 12:38
Occupy May Day, image via boingboing.net

Occupy May Day, image via boingboing.net

Istanbul, April 30

Dear people,

I finally made it to the Bosphorus, and beyond. On the Asian side of Istanbul I was welcomed by my brother Memed, whom some of you will remember from my account of the days in Acampada Sol.

On the way here, many people spoke to me about this great city, about what a fascinating place it is, about all the things I should see here. I politely smiled, and promised them I would. But I won’t. I’m not here for the Aya Sophia, the Topkapi palace etc. I’m here for the Mayday riots in Taksim Square.

To make me understand what it’s all about, Memed filled me in on some recent and contemporary Turkish history. It’s a different world, really. This is not Europe any more, and it never will be. Things in Greece may seem messy from a political point of view, but Turkey is ten times worse. The left wing is even more fragmented here, if ever such a thing was possible. The right wing is fragmented as well. Plus, there is a very strong religious dimension, and there is the ongoing war with the Kurds.

In parliament there are only four parties, because of a very high election treshold. Three of these parties are nationalist. One is more religious (the ruling one), one is racist, one is ‘kemalist’. The only real opposition comes from the Kurdish party, allied with the left wing.

For thirty years the government has fought a war against the Kurds, a very dirty one. It’s not like the Kurds have been treated as second rate citizens, rather they have been treated as non-citizens. Their culture and language has been systematically oppressed. Their sons and daughters tortured and killed. Only recently has the government initiated a peace process and started to make some concessions, like recognizing the Kurdish language.

Since last year, Kurdish rebels have held ground for the first time. The Turkish army is not in full control of the entire national territory any more. In politics as well, their position is not as strong as it used to be.

Ultimately, in Turkey, national sovereignty lies with the army. Their role is to protect the secular constitution of the state. Once every ten years or so, the Turkish army stages a coup, or threatens to do so, to stem potential shifts towards islamism or socialism.

But there are more dimensions. Nothing is what it seems in Turkish politics. The whole system is wrought with doublethink. Among the dozens of pythonesque left wing splinter groups you can find racists and fascists, you can find communists among the islamists, and you can find government infiltration everywhere. In Turkey there exists a shady concept called ‘Deep State’.

Deep State, if there is such a thing, can be viewed as an invisible hand, beyond democratic institutions, beyond the army even, which infiltrates and controls the political life of the nation against influences from the left and the Kurds and the islamists.

All in all, there is no way for a stranger, or even for a native, to fathom the depths of Turkish political intrigue.

In recent history, political struggle reached its zenith with a small scale civil war between rightists and leftists in the 1970s. Nationalist Grey Wolves and revolutionaries clashed on a daily basis. It escalated on Mayday 1977 with a massacre in Taksim Square when snipers fired at the crowd from the surrounding buildings. In 1980 the military staged a coup. It meant the end of the conflict and the start of another, against the Kurds in southeast Turkey. In 1982 the army wrote a new constitution and the country evolved towards a kind of controlled democracy. In the meantime, the war raged on. Thousands were killed, thousands were imprisoned without evidence, thousands were tortured.

By now, economically, Turkey is on the rise. Tourism is booming, a real estate bubble is in full swing. It will take a few years for it to burst, but until then the rising level of wealth will probably be enough to keep political convulsions in check. Maybe there will even be a form of peace with the Kurds.

The revolution has emigrated to the east, with the Kurdish struggle, but nonetheless, tomorrow the people will try to force their way into Taksim square in occasion of Mayday. The unions will be there, as will the students, the anarchists and the Kurds. The police will barricade the square, the army will be on standby. The government has prohibited access to the square, so clashes are most likely.

Strategically, an assault on Taksım doesn’t make any sense. Like in Italy, Mayday is a valve which allows protesters to ventilate their frustration, and make it a little easier for them to bear the daily oppression during the rest of the year.

The Global Revolution team will be there to cover the events. This is the real revolution we are working on. Whatever happens, it will be live, for the whole world to watch.

Check http://www.livestream.com/revoltistanbul

For global coverage http://www.globalrevolution.tv

For Spain http://www.spanishrevolution.tv

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Mythological Crisis

In Greece on 26 April 2013 at 16:03
Perseus arming for his quest, photo Wikipedia

Perseus arming for his quest, photo Wikipedia

Thessaloniki, April 26

Dear people,

After a sudden burst of anger following the reelection of the 88-year old president of the republic, the Italian Revolution fizzled out. The two major parties have embraced each other and will soon form a government that has three major priorities. One, protect the economic and legal interests of Silvio Berlusconi. Two, prevent the other political force from disintegrating as a result of a multi billion dollar scandal involving Italy’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena. And three, make sure that the Five Star Movement is neutralised in any way necessary. The establishment knows they will have to succeed. If they don’t, then sooner or later, they will all go down together.

In the meantime, I made my way down to Greece. I didn’t plan on visiting this country again, but here I am. It has been a year since we marched to Athens. Back then, we came from Italy, and from the looks of it, Greece was definitely in a bad shape. Now, I come from Bulgaria, and things are different. All things are relative, and Greece is doing great.

Circumstances, and custom, make me put my convictions to the test quite often. I try to keep questioning the things that many of us have been taking for granted. And this time, in Thessaloniki, I have come to the conclusion that there is no crisis. At all. You people have been fooled by corporate media and left wing propaganda. Come take a walk through Thessaloniki and marvel at all the tantalizing windows of the luxury shops. See the flashy cars drive by over the boulevards. Observe the dense crowd of fashionable youngsters shooting pictures with their latest model iPhone. Try to find a place on one of the many terraces of the expensive cafes: you will have a hard time, they are full, everywhere. This crisis is a myth, a Greek one.

Or is it? Some people say that the crisis is real. Those people haven’t been to Bulgaria, or to most other parts of the world. They say things used to be so much better in Greece a few years ago. For me, after witnessing the exuberant hedonism of Thessaloniki, it’s hard to imagine.

But let’s hypothesise that it’s true. There is a crisis. Greece is really suffering. And there is a reason for that. Over the last few decades, the Greeks have lived a lifestyle that they couldn’t afford. They have destroyed all their towns and villages and rebuilt them with cheap concrete. They have joined a currency that they never should have joined. And now that it’s payback time, they blame the powerful international institutions and/or the defenceless immigrants. Some of them blame the Germans. Undoubtedly there are some who blame the Turks. Only a few of them, the most courageous ones – and we have met these people, they are the best – acknowledge that the Greeks have only themselves to blame.

Or have they? Let’s hypothesise that this isn’t true either, that the Greeks themselves are not to blame. Let’s drop the guilt question all together, and ask ourselves what the Greeks are doing to solve the problem.

They resist. My god, they resist. And I have to give them credit for it. Many other peoples just abandon themselves to self pity, but the Greeks are always on the barricades. The trouble is that they are all fighting a different war.

Your average Greek is mad because he is not as rich as he was. He feels that the government (or whoever, the corporations, the Germans, the immigrants, the Turks) is looting his wallet, and he just wants to go back to the times when he lived a life that he couldn’t afford. Your nationalist Greek is usually a fascist. He thinks this crisis thing is about more than just money. He is convinced the Greeks are the greatest people on earth because of all the invaluable things that Greece has left the western world. He wants a national awakening, he wants the immigrants out, he wants to pick a fight with the Turks and he dreams of a renaissance of the great Byzantine empire.

Then you have the believers. They say there is only one god, his name is Karl Marx, and Lenin is his prophet. Others believe in the same god, but they say that his prophet is Trotzky, or Mao. Some even say that his prophet is Jozef Stalin. These churches don’t get along. And what’s more, they are split into numerous different sects, who all claim that their own interpretation of the words of the prophet is the only real one. The thing they share is their firm conviction that one day, god will come again to reward his faithful. The true believers will live in the earthly paradise of the workers and the peasants, and the sinners will be sent off to spend eternity in the gulags of Siberia.

Then you have your anarchists. They only believe in freedom. Some of them build a kind of theory around it, but most of them are nihilists. They go rioting whenever the opportunity arises, because it’s the only thing that gives any sense to their existence.

Finally, there are also people who are content with the situation as it is. These are mostly civil servants. Compared to the total population, there are a lot of them, many more than you would need. They have a job with a fixed salary and hardly a chance of ever losing it. They support the government, any government, because they know that a real change, for them, can only be a change for the worse.

All these spirits add up to different forces, pulling the country in opposite directions, with the result that everything is immobile. Maybe the only way to speak about it, the only way to understand it, is to turn it into a myth. A story in which the communists and the fascists and the anarchists and the politicians and the banks and the international institutions are all mythological monsters. A story in which common sense is the true hero. A hero destined to succumb, but nevertheless unyielding, to the bitter end.

There was one thing I saw here in Thessaloniki, which lifted up my spirits. A protest concert at the White Tower square on the seaside. Against the rising prices of utilities. People had photocopied their bills and hung them up as a kind of decoration. There was no big crowd, there was no police, but also, there were no signs of any political party. These were unaffiliated citizens, rocking for a better world.

#ItalianRevolution

In Italy on 21 April 2013 at 12:43
Sandro Pertini, president of Italy (1978-1985): "If a government doesn't do what the people want, it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary."

Sandro Pertini, president of Italy (1978-1985): “If a government doesn’t do what the people want, it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary.”

April 21, 1440 hrs

Dear people,

Imagine, in the UK, 2013, John Major returning to be prime minister. It sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Especially if you hypothesise him leading a government of the Conservatives and Labour combined. But in Italy, something like this is likely to happen. After striking a deal with Berlusconi over the presidency of the republic the Italian ‘Labour’ party is about to jump in bed with the media tycoon’s private political party and nominate Giovanni Amato as prime minister. Amato has already been prime minister of Italy in the 1990s.

This is one of the reasons why many Italians are exasperated. The faces never change. In other civilized countries, politics may be just as crappy, but at least your average politician leaves the scene after five or eight years, so you always have someone new to complain about. In Italy, governments come and go, parties change their names, but the people behind them, creating the problems, are always the same people who propose themselves to clean up the mess. They are not even elected. They are nominated by the party hierarchies.

Italy has known roughly two political generations since World War 2. The first one lasted for forty years, and is linked to the name Giulio Andreotti. The second one has been going on for  about twenty years, and is linked to the name Berlusconi. It’s doubtful whether the Italians will ever get rid of them. Berlusconi’s private doctor, the ex-mayor of Catania, has publicly declared to have made Berlusconi immortal. Andreotti as well, the 94-year old senator for life, is rumoured to be immortal because he has supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

These people are running Italy as their private property, in the interest of shady individuals and unincorporated organizations. They will not gladly allow new people into the club. Politicians in their fifties are considered babies, not to be taken seriously. Everyone else has to accept a society that is based on patriarchal clientelism, in which it doesn’t matter what you are capable of, but whom you are connected to. For educated youngsters there are only two options. Either you bow your head and you adapt, or you emigrate.

The re-election of an 88-year president is symbolic for a political class that is desperate to keep clinging onto power whatever it takes. For the establishment, the Five Star Movement is an enemy that needs to be neutralised, because it’s people powered, it could lift up the rocks of Italian politics and expose all the creepy life forms going about their dirty business undisturbed.

To make change in Italy, a few things need to happen. First, all these nauseating figures who have been recycling themselves for ages need to be prohibited to run for office again. Second, an independent and apolitical commission will need to look into their conduct to ascertain criminal responsibilities. But before this, the entire Italian political and judicial system will need to be trashed.

They say Italy has about as many laws as all other countries combined. It’s a jungle, which makes it particularly easy for anyone who is able to afford a good lawyer to remain out of prison. And indeed, the only people who actually go to prison are the immigrants and the drug addicts. The fat cats never will. Let me give you a comparison. Italy is like a computer with some old proprietary operating system installed, say Windows 3.1, and thousands upon thousands of patches to make it somewhat up to date. On top of that, you have thousands more of generally useless proprietary programs whose files are dispersed over completely arbirtrary folders. It results in the computer being unbearably slow and opaque.

Many politicians have promised to solve this problem. Berlusconi has, but never did. Monti has, but never did. All they did was add some more patches and programs. Of course there is only one real solution. A complete format of the hard drive – a revolution – followed by the installation of the latest version of an open source operating system that allows everybody to creatively participate. The processor speed, the country’s creative potential, is amazing. If it weren’t for all the crap that weighs it down, it would be the best.

A quote that went viral on Twitter last night, was a message by Italy’s most beloved president, Sandro Pertini: “If a government doesn’t do what the people want, then it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary.”

Today, the #ItalianRevolution continues. There is no other choice. The political class has to be swept away one way or another. The country’s hard drive needs to be formatted if Italy wants to live another renaissance.

Follow the livestream:

Tutti a Roma!

In Italy, Rome on 20 April 2013 at 18:25
Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

April 20, 2122 hrs

Dear people,

It’s going down, right now, in Rome.

Seven years ago, the Berlusconi party cried wolf when Giorgio Napolitano was elected president without Berlusconi’s consent. I still remember the headline of his personal newspaper. “As from today, the hammer and the sickle are flying over the presidential palace”, in reference to Napolitano once having been a member of the Italian Communist Party.

Now, Berlusconi has been one of the architects of Napolitano’s re-election, together with Mario Monti and left wing leader Bersani. They hadn’t been able to convince their backbenchers to agree on two other candidates who would guarantee the status quo – and impunity for Berlusconi – so they settled on the 88-year old incumbent president, simply because he hasn’t made trouble for anyone during his first mandate.

The Italian gerontocrats will do everything to cling on to power, and to prevent change from happening. Because they know that when it happens, they will all be swept away into the gutters of history, like had happened to the previous generation of Andreotti/Craxi over twenty years ago.

The people’s candidate, investigative journalist Milena Gabanelli, proposed by the Five Star Movement, had previously declined the honour. So the movement proposed the next on the list, professor Stefano Rodotà, by far the cleanest of all candidates, and as such, the most dangerous for the establishment.

If the left wing party had decided to vote Rodotà, it would have been a clear signal that they were willing to commit to change. But they are not. They prefer to strike deals with a criminal like Berlusconi and a banker like Mario Monti. It leaves the Italian people no option but to rise up and make revolution.

That is what’s happening at this moment. Tens of thousands of people are converging on parliament to demand an end to twenty years of backdoor deals, corruption, impunity and a sell-out of the country to organized crime.

Beppe Grillo is descending on Rome from Friuli and inviting everyone, anywhere, to join him, in order to sweep away the dinosaurs and pave the way for a new Italy.

Of course, he is very well aware of the eery historical comparison that a ‘March on Rome’ evokes… In October  1922, in the midst of the economic and social chaos that followed World War One, Benito Mussolini led his ‘blackshirts’ to the capital, demanding to form a government. The king, afraid more of the communists than of the fascists, consented…

There are hardly any fascists now any more, only the same old class of politicians against a people that is sick and tired of business as usual. So keep an eye on Rome, and if you’re there, join it. Now is the time, finally, to dump these decrepit politicians on the junk yard of history. It’s where they belong.

Watch the livestream:

The Basque 8

In Spain on 20 April 2013 at 12:19

Basque8_large

Sofia, April 20

Dear people,

If this had happened in Iran, China, Russia or Nigeria we would have the liberal press jumping on it. We would have human rights organizations starting campaigns of solidarity. Politicians would complacently point out how much more ‘civilized’ our western democracy is.

Alas, it’s happening in the Basque Country, right here in western Europe. Eight left wing activists have been sentenced to six years in prison for being members of the revolutionary pro-independence movement Segi. According to the Spanish authorities Segi is a terrorist organization, related to ETA. Which makes everyone who can be linked to the organization in any way a legitimate target for political persecution. Even if they are only distributing flyers. Spain is no better than Russia or China.

None of these people have ever set off a bomb. None of them have ever engaged in violent struggle. And yet, they are treated as terrorists.

I remember a long talk I had with a Basque comrade when we were marching to Brussels. According to him, the objective of the Spanish authorities is to stamp out left wing opposition in the Basque country by linking every radical party to ETA. This is what they are doing, with tacit consent of the right wing Basque nationalists.

The day before yesterday, in San Sebastian / Donostia, hundreds of people succesfully rallied around the Basque 8 to prevent them from being arrested. Yesterday, the ‘Ertzaintza’ – the mercenary Basque police at the service of the Spanish state – returned in massive numbers. It took them hours to tear down the human wall, before they could finally take the eight into custody.

Today, hundreds of people laid siege to the prison were the eight are held.

The Basque Eight are not terrorists. They are political prisoners. They should be released immediately.

At the moment, this story is running wild on the social media (#Basque8), but most information is still limited to the Basque language, which is not right. The Basques on the scene should swallow their pride and report on this in Spanish and English as well.

Their struggle is our struggle. We need to know. Injustice concerns us all.

 

Check out more info in English here

(Police action against human wall in San Sebastian, April 19)

 

Check also (in Basque):

http://irutxulo.hitza.info/2013/04/20/ekaitz-iberok-martuteneko-espetxetik-agurtu-du-herri-harresia/

http://paperekoa.berria.info/agenda/2013-04-20/034/002/albistegien_inapetentzia.htm

In English:

http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/our-basque-country-revolutionary-family.html

The Next Level

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 17 April 2013 at 11:19

LogoMareaCiudadana

Dear people,

Though I am lost in the backwaters of Europe, I keep following the events in Spain wherever I can. There is no way I can report on all things happening, because it’s simply too much. Sufficeth to say that evictions are being prevented every day, and demonstrations are being held at least every week. Recently there was a big demo in Madrid against the scandal-ridden monarchy, in favour of a third republic.

I hope to return to Spain soon, but before I do, I will inform you about how the movement is attempting to take the struggle to the next level.

Out of the primordial indignant chaos of the 15-M, various issue-centered waves have evolved, each adopting its own colour. The most prominent are the Green Wave (public education), the White Wave (public health care) and the Blue Wave (public water). There are many more waves concentrating on minor issues, and then there is the PAH, Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca, which coordinates the struggle against foreclosures and has a very strong presence all over Spain. Finally, there are the hundreds of popular assemblies in cities, villages and neighbourhoods that were born out of the occupations in 2011.

These local and thematic groups have united into a movement called Marea Ciudadana, or “Citizens’ Wave”. They have been pressurizing government with frequent marches on parliament, but since a couple of months they have also adopted a more confrontational tactic called ‘escrache’. Escraches, instead of targeting faceless institutions, are actions that target specific people (or parties) directly and personally.

You are a politician who has been taking bribes? Right, we won’t lament ourselves outside parliament, but we’ll come to your house. We’ll make noise under your windows, we will let all your neighbours know that you are scum. It’s a tactic that was first used in Argentina in the early 2000s to denounce politicians that had been responsible for atrocities committed by the military regime. It has been used in Uruguay, Peru and other Latin American countries, and since this spring it has been adopted by the PAH to denounce those politicians who represent the interests of the banks rather than those of the citizens.

In a certain sense, escrache is the enactment of a famous meme that was adopted by the movement in the early days of the revolution: ‘If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.’

The great leap forward of the movement is supposed to happen this spring. From June 23 to June 30 the “United Citizens’ Waves” intend to exercise popular sovereignty through plebiscite. The premise is the following. According to the Spanish Constitution “National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people, from whom all State powers emanate” (Article 1), and “Citizens have the right to participate in public affairs directly or through representatives freely elected in periodic elections by universal suffrage.” (Article 23).

Over the last 35 years people have tried to participate through representatives, but in the end it didn’t work out to their advantage. So now has come the time for citizens to participate in public affairs directly. They will drum up enough support to block privatizations, to end foreclosures by law, to reform the banking sector and to bring corrupt politicians to justice.

How this will work out in practice remains to be seen. But it’s going to be damn interesting to observe.

Of course, the skeptics will say that it can never work, direct democracy on this kind of scale. But you cannot know that until you try. And Spain is not the only place where direct democracy is being experimented. Another example is Italy.

Over the last few weeks, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been under heavy attack from the establishment and the press for his failure to cooperate with the gerontocracy that has been ruling Italy – in various disguises – since the age of dinosaurs. They want him to support a government of the so-called Democratic Party, but since he continues to refuse, they blame him for the current political stalemate.

On top of all this, a new president of the republic has to be elected by parliament. Usually this doesn’t happen in parliament, but in the corridors. The major parties try to find a compromise on some colourless ex-politician that will not cause them trouble in the seven years to come.

The Five Star Movement refuses to take part in these shady practices. They think the citizens ought to have a say in the election of their head of state and so they organized primaries online, open to all the members of the movement. They could propose any Italian citizen of more than fifty years of age (as the constitution requires). The winner, elected over two rounds, will be the official candidate that M5S members will propose and vote. Yesterday, the results came in. No politician, no Nobel prize winner, but an investigative journalist will be the people’s candidate for the presidency: Milena Gabanelli.

You have to know that journalism in Italy is of an embarrasingly low standard. I was reminded by that lately, when I returned to read Italian newspapers. Generally, Italian journalists seem to think that news reporting consists of quoting politicians. For example, something is going on, say a demonstration, then your average journalist won’t give you an account of what happened and why, but he or she will stuff the microphone in the face of some second-rate politicians from the left to the right and publish their sound bites. The facts don’t matter. All you get is talking heads, always the same, ad nauseam. If not, you have your intellectualoid balloons, who preach about the dire state of the nation in such hollow terms that they cannot possibly be accused of having a real opinion on the matter. In any case, a true journalist is very hard to find in Italy.

Milena Gabanelli is an exception. For fifteen years she has been digging deeply into all the dirt related to corruption, speculation, squander, inefficiency, bribery and all-out organized crime. Now, the usual tactic of the establishment to silence journalists who actually do their job in Italy, is to denounce them for diffamation. They hardly ever win, but it serves to scare the great majority into becoming faithful mercenaries of the system. Not so Milena Gabanelli. She is a courageous woman, with a profound knowledge of all of Italy’s problems. For this, justly, the members of the Five Star Movement have nominated her to become the country’s head of state.

We are entering an age in which direct participation of all the people in public affairs is becoming possible. We don’t need representatives any more. Let the skeptics say that it can’t be done, that’s it’s going to be a mess. We will try anyway. The mess can hardly be worse than the one that our so-called representatives have caused.

Eastern Bloc Blues

In #GlobalRevolution on 14 April 2013 at 12:16
Bulgarian protests, February 2013. Photo via Wikipedia

Bulgarian protests, February 2013. Photo via Wikipedia

Sofia, April 14

Dear people,

I was wondering, when I arrived here, ‘what is Bulgaria famous for?’ I couldn’t think of anything except for their umbrellas. And not even that. It’s not like they make umbrellas here, it’s just that one of the few times that the country received any attention in the international press was when dissident writer Georgi Markov was killed by the Bulgarian secret service in London in 1978. We saw a mediocre documentary on the subject in a Sofia art house the other day. Markov was one of Bulgaria’s most talented post-ww2 playwrites. He gained a good measure of success in his home country in the 50s and 60s. But any true artist is by definition a free thinker, so he was bound to come into conflict with the communist leadership. His plays became ever more critical of the regime. They got cancelled, and finally Markov defected to the west. During the 1970s he worked for the BBC and for Radio Free Europe, writing scripts for the Bulgarian branch of the station. His transmissions were entitled ‘In Absentia Reports’, and they took on the dictatorship in the most devastating way, through ridicule. Totalitarian regimes can stand criticism on some occasions, but they cannot stand to be made fun of. Sarcasm exposes them for what they really are. For this reason, they say, the Bulgarian leadership decided to eliminate Markov. They were most probably aided by the KGB, which supplied the slow working poison. While Markov was waiting for the bus on a London bridge, he suddenly felt a sharp sting, he looked around and saw someone picking up an umbrella, then hurrying to jump into a cab. That same evening he was hospitalized with high fever. Within a few days he died.

When communism collapsed over a decade later, all over the Eastern bloc the same thing happened. Communist party apparatchiks restyled themselves as democrats and looted national wealth in what was maybe one of the greatest robberies of all time. What used to be the Party, nominally working for the people, turned into a mafia of oligarchs with a fetish for money that dwarfed even the most greedy Wall Street bankers. For the people, it meant they lost the security of a job and the minimum sustenance needed to survive, and they acquired freedom. Freedom to speak their minds, freedom to emigrate overseas in search of fortune, freedom to starve on the streets.

The history of the shock transition still has to be written, because it is ongoing. But it’s clear that some countries have had less difficulties to adapt to mindless consumerism than others. Bulgaria has had a particularly hard time. Living standards are low, corruption is rampant, millions have left the country. Those who remain have little hope in themselves and their future. And yet, two months ago the people took to the streets and forced the government to resign. The reason was a sudden rise in electricity prices. In recent years, the electrical grid has been completely sold off to foreign companies. As local monopolies, they can demand any price they want, and so they do. The average income here is around 400 euros per month. A police officer told me that half of his income was absorbed by the electricity bill. That was last year. Then came a sudden ulterior increase in prices. In some places they doubled. No wonder that many riot police officers laid down their shields in solidarity when the people rose up.

The foreign press didn’t make serious mention of it – contrary to other famous occasions – but the situation is so desperate that five people have died by setting themselves on fire. The people demand the renationalisation of the electrical companies, an end to austerity measures, a serious fight against corruption and a general overhaul of the political system. But by resigning, prime minister Borisov (an ex-bodyguard of Bulgaria’s communist dictator Todor Zhivkov) has broken the momentum of the protest. There will be elections soon, but the Bulgarians’ faith in democracy is close to naught.

There are also people – natives – who say that the Bulgarians have only themselves blame. It’s an idea that may be extended to every other oppressed people, the Greeks, the Spanish, the Portuguese. If you want change, it’s not enough to participate in a demonstration, to topple a government, or even to make revolution. Real change requires dedication, effort, strength, endurance. Every day, every week, every year. It requires self esteem, the conviction that you – as an individual and as a people – are actually capable of making a difference, and willing to do so, however long it takes, against all odds, even against all better judgment. Most people don’t have this strength. So they give up, they get screwed over, they lament themselves and they start to blame others.

In Bulgaria there doesn’t seem to be much hope at the moment. But in Spain, two years after the start of the Spanish Revolution, popular resistance is as strong as ever. There are demonstrations every week, and the coming spring the Spanish people will take their struggle to the next level. They will exercise the sovereignty that the constitution has vested in them, and they will exercise it directly. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun.

Haemophilia

In #GlobalRevolution on 7 April 2013 at 18:22
Serbian Nationalists Occupying Belgrade

Serbian Nationalists Occupying Belgrade

Belgrade, April 7

Dear people,

Belgrade’s central square was occupied today. There were a few dozen tents, some chairs, tables, and a barbecue. And there was more. These people weren’t the usual hippies, occupying public space for a better world. They were nationalists, occupying Belgrade because they actually want to occupy Kosovo. Serbian nationalists have co-opted the Occupy movement’s most powerful symbol – the tent – because it signifies perseverance. It says ‘we are here and we ain’t leaving.’ And they linked it to their own symbols. National flags, military music, and orthodox icons of the holy virgin.

It was sickening. You do not want to be seen with these people. Everything about them warns you that they are dangerous. Give them a rifle, and they will happily march off to start killing Albanians, Croats, Muslims, Catholics, Gypsies, Jews, Gays, etc. Hell, they will kill each other if you can convince them that it’s for the good of the nation.

Unfortunately, this is easier than you might think. It is what happened in the late 1980s. Apart from the 1991 Gulf War, the Yugoslav wars were the first to be live televised. They were also the first wars that were in some sense caused by television.

After Milosevic’s 1989 Kosovo speech, the Serbian television started feeding nationalism to its viewers day after day, week after week, month after month.

By 1991, in the Serb view, the Croats had become Satan’s private bodyguard and the Bosnian Muslims were turned into their unholy subhuman sidekicks. Forty years of ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ had been unravelled by two years of effective propaganda.

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I myself have heard Serbs say that the Bosniaks in Srebrenica had gotten “what was coming to them”. (Some ten thousand Bosnian Muslims were murdered by Serb forces in the ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica. They were supposed to be protected by Dutch UN soldiers, but the Dutch were more interested in their own personal well-being. Under threat from general Mladic, they assisted in the separation of the men from the women and the kids. They were later celebrated by our future king William with a grand afterparty in Zagreb).

“Why did the Muslims got what they deserved?” I asked. The answer: “On Christmas day 1993, Muslims attacked the Serbian town of Kravica and massacred the population.” That was one. Another reason was because Muslims had been part of an SS division in World War 2 which had committed atrocities against Serbian partisans. Etc. etc. All the way back to 1389, the battle of Kosovo Polje.

The Balkans are suffering from a severe case of haemophilia. Blood doesn’t clot here. Never.

Throughout Belgrade you will find the date of 1389 in graffiti. For some nationalists, the battle of Kosovo Polje was the baptism of the Serbian nation, the blood that was spilled there made Kosovo irrevocably Serbian for ever and ever, amen.

This may sound ridiculous, and indeed, it is. British historian Eric Hobsbawm tried to compare this claim to something closer to home. It was, he argued, as if the Danes considered England to be forever Danish, because they settled part of the country in the Middle Ages. Or, my own comparison, it would be as if Morocco claimed Andalusia to be theirs, because it had been dominated by Muslims until 1492.

Nonsense of course, but some Serbians are literally dead serious. They are not going to get Kosovo back without a war, which will come some day, though I don’t see it happening for another generation or so.

And yet, however diametrically opposed I am to these nationalist lunatics, I still share their view that Kosovo independence is not a solution. Not for bogus historical motives, but a. because I don’t believe in borders, and more importantly b. because I think the international community is dangerously wrong in continuing to humiliate the Serbian people. They did the same thing to Germany after World War 1, and it caused nothing but trouble, like we all know.

So yes, this Balkan thing is far from settled. It probably never will be.

The positive thing is that the nationalist rally went almost completely abandoned. There were not even a thousand people present. Right now, the Serbs have other more pressing matters to worry about. High prices, inflation, unemployment, etc.

The negative thing is that it only takes a ruthlessly cynical leader and a few years of televised propaganda to convince the masses that all these problems are someone else’s fault, and that they will be solved once that someone else – and everybody like him – will “get what they deserve”.

The slogan says 'Defend Serbia'

The slogan says ‘Defend Serbia’

“Brotherhood and Unity”

In #GlobalRevolution on 5 April 2013 at 16:39
Kind regards from NATO

Kind regards from NATO

Belgrade, April 5

Dear people,

The trains are awesome in the East. The handwritten tickets. The fur-headed border guards. The lack of a hurry. The contrasts. I took a night train from Budapest to Belgrade and everything is different. Another language, another alphabet, another taste of christianity, another history.

There was something utterly depressing about Hungary. I found it exemplified in the sad face of Stephen, the national saint, in a statue on the hill of Buda. Hungary has been oppressed for centuries. Two failed revolutions is all they have to boost their national ego. It’s not enough. You can see it in the streets. People bow their heads. They don’t trust you, they don’t trust each other. They’re accustomed to think that anyone, even a relative, can be an informer for the secret police.

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St. Stephen in Budapest

The Serbians on the other hand are a proud and defiant people. Their history is marked by violent ups and downs. They conquered their independence from the Turks on their own. They liberated themselves from the Nazis, together with partisans from the rest of Yugoslavia. Most of all, they held their own against Stalin’s Soviet empire.

Yugoslav communism was generally not as a bad as it was elsewhere, and in Serbia it took ten more years to fall. Now, the nation is the last in Europe to be assimilated.

We went to the ‘House of Flowers’ yesterday to render homage to marshal Tito. A history student, an anthropology student, and me. Attached to the mausoleum there was the Museum of Yugoslav history. It was curious. There was no history. It was a temporary exhibition that had already closed. As far as Yugoslavia is concerned, nothing has happened.

Tito, born a Croat, was a partisan in World War 2 and went on to become dictator of Yugoslavia until his death in 1980. He was maybe the only communist leader who was widely respected in the East and the West. He was also a founding leader of the non-aligned nations.

The fact that Yugoslavia liberated itself in the closing stages of World War 2 (instead of being overrun by the Red Army) meant that the country could follow its own course, independent from Moscow. Naturally, Stalin didn’t like this. And he made various attempts to eliminate Tito like he had eliminated Trotsky (and millions of others). Tito’s official reaction was the following: “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle (…) If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.” After this, the Russians left Yugoslavia alone.

One of the main differences between Tito communism and Soviet communism lay in the self management of the workers. In other words, it was not the state who owned the factories, but the workers themselves, at least in theory. Also, Yugoslavia had good trade relations with East and West, which boosted the local industry and allowed for a standard of living that other communist countries could only dream of. Another important trait of Tito’s Yugoslavia was a complete repression of nationalism under the slogan ‘brotherhood and unity’.

It kept Yugoslavia together for as long a Tito was alive. Afterwards, during the 1980s, the union slowly deteriorated towards a breakup.

The two most important nations compromising the former Yugoslavia were Serbia and Croatia. Let’s take a look at the differences and similarities. The main differences are three. Croats are generally catholic, Serbs are orthodox. Croats use the Latin alphabet, Serbs primarily use the Cyrillic alphabet. Croatia, historically, has been more orientated towards (Nazi-)Germany, whereas Serbia has been orientated more towards (Soviet-)Russia.

The main similarity is that they speak the same language, Serbo-Croatian. But the funny thing is that since the breakup neither will admit that it’s the same language. What’s more, the Croats have started to invent new words to differentiate ‘Croatian’ from ‘Serbian’.

The differences don’t explain the sudden hatred that exploded between Serbs and Croats in the early 1990s. An explanation for this lies in the genocide of Serbs at the hands of fascist Croats during World War 2. When Hitler invaded the kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941, he divided Serbia and installed the infamous Ustaša puppet regime in Croatia. In addition to Jews and Gypsies, the Ustaša’s killed over 300.000 Serbs during the war.

When war broke out again in the 1990s, Germany actively favoured the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and the Serbs were usually painted as the bad guys by the media and the international community for trying to create a ‘Greater Serbia’ through ethnic cleansing. This went so far that ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Croatians – as had been meticulously planned and executed in the Krajina – was tacitly accepted and encouraged. Commentators generally failed to add the greater historical context of the conflict. At the time, the genocide of Serbs in WW2 was not even history. For many people, it was still part of their memory.

This doesn’t go to justify anything. It only helps to understand. And it makes it all the more amazing that Tito’s ‘brotherhood and unity’ policy managed to keep the country together for as long as it did. Currently, there is still a lot of nostalgia for the Tito era, especially in Serbia. “Tito was a magician”, you will hear people say. He alone could make Yugoslavia work.

The real breakup of Yugoslavia started and ended in Kosovo. Aside from all regional separatisms, the main responsible was Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Kosovo had been an autonomous province of Serbia since the 1970s. The territory was inhabited and governed by a majority of ethnic Albanians. With rising ethnic tensions in the 1980s, Serbs began to complain about maltreatment at the hands of the Albanian police force. In 1987, Milosevic visited the province, he heard the complaints and promised the Serbs, ‘You will not be beaten again’.

It was the beginning of his rise to power. Two years later, Milosevic organised a massive Serbian rally near Pristina to commemorate 600 years of the battle of Kosovo Polje between the Serbs and the Turks. The battle was an absolute bloodbath, which left both sides decimated. It meant the end of Serbian independence, but it also significantly slowed the Turkish advance in Europe. It would become a major event in Serbian national consciousness. In their view, the Serbs protected Europe with their blood.

There were over a million Serbs present at the rally, from all over Yugoslavia and beyond. Milosevic held a rousing speech, which unleashed Serbian nationalism. He paid lip service to Tito’s ‘brotherhood and unity’, but his true objective was to galvanise the Serbian nation. In doing so, he ominously foreshadowed ‘future battles’.

In twenty years time, with every conflict, a piece of the country was carved away with the blessing of the international community. Nowadays, you can cross all of the former Yugoslavia from Austria to Greece without passing by any Serb-controlled territory.

The Serbs rose up against Milosevic in the year 2000 and toppled him in what came to be known as the ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ (after a man who inspired the masses by charging the gate of the broadcasting tower with a bulldozer).

Now the country is torn between two different spirits. The liberals want to move towards membership of the EU, while the nationalist won’t forget the bombs that were dropped on Serbia by NATO in 1999.

An expression of this conflict was the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, the liberal prime minister and successor of Milosevic, in 2003.

The nationalists received another impulse when Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence in 2008. The province was recognised by almost every western nation. It wasn’t recognised by China, Russia, India and many other countries. In Europe, notably, it remains unrecognised by Spain and Greece.

The current government wants to start EU-membership talks as soon as possible, but Germany demands that Serbia stop supporting the Serbian minority in Kosovo and that it ‘normalise’ its relationship with the province.

‘Normalisation’ in practice means recognising Kosovo’s independence. Such a demand, coming from Germany, is the last in a long series of humiliations, and for many Serbians it will be very difficult to swallow.