Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Never Forget: 1999-2009 Nato's aggression against Yugoslavia

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few days but I have been busy taking part in and attending the various events in Serbia to mark the 10th anniversary of the illegal NATO aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Over the next month or so I’ll be posting plenty on this brutal war and its significance.

To kick off our series of posts on 1999- here’s my 2006 article from The Morning Star on how the road to Baghdad began in Belgrade - and how it won’t end there until supporters of US sponsored ‘humanitarian interventions’ start to see the bigger picture.

In the words of E.M. Forster: 'Only connect'.


Divide and conquer has been the classic Imperial strategy since Roman times.

Today’s Empire builders are no different. The particular genius of the modern neo-conservative project has been the use of the theory of ‘humanitarian intervention’, to co-opt liberal-left support for a centuries old project of conquest.

In 1990s it was the Serbs- and their “extreme nationalist” leader Slobodan Milosevic who posed the threat to peace and civilised values. In 2001 it was Mullah Omar and the Islamic hardliners of the Taliban. In 2003 it was the turn of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, with its deadly arsenal of WMD. Now its Iran’s President Ahmadenijad’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons which need to be countered.

Each time a sizeable section of the liberal-left has supported, not those attacked or threatened, but the aggressors. You might have thought that by now, the pattern would be clear to all. But the enduring success of the New World Order’s propaganda machine can be seen by the reaction of many on the left to Milosevic’s death.

Milosevic, a life-long socialist, was a man all true progressives should have mourned. A man steeped in partisan culture, (both his parents fought the Nazis in World War Two), he never once made a racist speech: the famous Kosovo Polje address of 1989 which his critics claimed whipped up ancient ethnic hatreds, was in fact a statement of support for multi-ethnic, socialist Yugoslavia. Far from being a rabid warmonger, the late Yugoslav leader was, in the words of Lord Owen ‘the only leader who consistently supported peace’ and ‘a man to whom any form of racism is anathema’.

The dismemberment of Yugoslavia was initiated not by Milosevic, but by the German decision to prematurely recognise the breakaway republics of Slovenia and Croatia, against all the norms of international law. And war in Bosnia would have been avoided too had US Ambassador Warren Zimmerman not personally intervened at the eleventh hour to sabotage the 1992 Lisbon Agreement which provided for the peaceful division of the republic. ‘If you don’t like it, why sign it’ Zimmerman told the hard-line Bosnian separatist leader Alija Izetbegovic, thereby lighting the touch paper to a conflict which would claim over 90,000 lives. Even after the 1995 Dayton agreement which ended the war in Bosnia, the Imperial appetite was not satiated.

Milosevic’s rump Yugoslavia had to be destroyed too, by providing weapons and training for a separatist terror group, the Kosovan Liberation Army. When the inevitable security clampdown from Belgrade came, the West was at hand to issue the ultimatum, producing a document at the Rambouillet Peace Conference, which as Defence Minister Lord Gilbert has conceded, was deliberately designed to be rejected by the Yugoslav delegation.

Why was it all done? Milosevic’s Yugoslavia was targeted not for ‘humanitarian’ reasons as many still believe, but simply because it got in the way. ‘In post Cold War Europe, no place remained for a large, independent minded socialist state that resisted globalisation', the words not of a left-wing conspiracy theorist, but George Kenney, an official at the Yugoslav office of the US State Department.

There's no doubting who has benefited from the wars which the West is happy to pin on Milosevic. One militarily and economically strong independent nation, has been replaced by a series of weak and divided World Bank/IMF/NATO protectorates. Western capital has unhindered access to raw materials and markets throughout the region, while in Kosovo, Camp Bondsteel, the U.S.'s biggest from scratch military base since the Vietnam war, jealously guards the route of the $1.3bn Trans Balkan AMBO pipeline, guaranteeing Western control of Caspian oil supplies.

It’s worth remembering that the very same people who clamoured most loudly for action against Milosevic in the 1990s, were those who were at the forefront of the propaganda war against Iraq a few years later. And today, the very same hawks are trying to convince us of the necessity of ‘strong action’ against Iran.

Among the members of the executive of the Balkan Action Committee, who lobbied for US involvement on the side of Izetbegovic in Bosnia, and then for full scale war against Milosevic’s Yugoslavia in 1999, are three names that will need no introduction: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. ‘It‘s either take action now, or lose the option of taking action’ was Perle’s recent comment on Iran: in addition to signing (along with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) a notorious letter to President Clinton in 1998 calling for a ‘comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime’, he also acted as adviser to Izetbegovic’s delegation at Dayton.

It’s time those who supported the military actions against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and the current 'strong' line on Iran, realised that the biggest danger to peace did not come from Slobodan Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein, or, now, from President Ahmadinejad, but from the serial warmongers who threatened them. The road to Baghdad began in the Balkans. But it won’t end there, unless the liberal-left supporters of U.S. sponsored “humanitarian” interventions start to see the bigger picture.

Friday, March 20, 2009

R.I.P: The 1.3 million casualties of Neo-Conservatism

Today is the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.

Let’s spare a moment to think of the 1.3 million people to have lost their lives since the invasion-Iraqi civilians, Iraqi soldiers, US and British soldiers.

And then let’s spare a moment to remember the lies we were told in order to justify this illegal war of aggression.

We are told by our masters today that we must ‘move on’ from Iraq.

But we must never do so until those who planned this supreme international crime are brought to justice.

The Wit and Wisdom of Brian Clough

Here’s my compilation of some of ‘Old Big ‘Ead’s greatest quotes, from the First Post.

I hope they raise a smile or two.

He was the most controversial, the most opinionated - and the most entertaining football manager of all time. Now Brian Clough's colourful career is being immortalised in a big screen adaptation of David Peace's book The Damned United, released on March 27.

It deals with Clough's 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United, and comes out just as ITV prepares to screen a major documentary about him, made with the help of his family.

This year also marks the fifth anniversary of his death and the 30th anniversary of perhaps his greatest achievement - the first of two consecutive European Cup triumphs with Nottingham Forest.

As a player, Clough was a promising and prolific striker with Sunderland who made two England appearances before his career was cut short by injury. But it was as a manager that he made his name, teaming up with Peter Taylor to form one of the greatest managerial partnerships in football history.


"Beckham? His wife can't sing and his barber can't cut hair."

"I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one."

"They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that particular job."

"Walk on water? I know most people out there will be saying that instead of walking on it, I should have taken more of it with my drinks. They are absolutely right."

"I can't even spell spaghetti never mind talk Italian. How could I tell an Italian to get the ball - he might grab mine."

"Trevor Brooking floats like a butterfly... And stings like one."

"Football hooligans? Well, there are the 92 club chairmen for a start."

"If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he'd have put grass up there."

"Academically, I was thick. I'm not sure school taught me that Columbus discovered America, I learned that in later life. Some people might wish he never had, because if they are the leading lights in this world, my God, they leave a lot to be desired."

"There are more hooligans in the House of Commons than at a football match."

"Players lose you games, not tactics. There's so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes."

"I'm sure the England selectors thought if they took me on and gave me the job, I'd want to run the show. They were shrewd, because that's exactly what I would have done."

"I'm not saying Brian Rice is pale and thin, but I'm telling you, the maid in the hotel re-made his bed without realising he was still in it."

"My wife said to me in bed 'God, your feet are cold'. I said 'You can call me Brian in bed, dear'."

"People wonder what kind of England manager Cloughie would have turned out to be. There’s only one answer - a bloody good one."

"Tell the fat poof I'll be out in a minute."

"If it meant getting three points on a Saturday I would shoot my grandmother. Not nastily, I would just hurt her."

"I don't believe in an afterlife. I am an avid reader of newspapers but I've yet to see proof of anyone dying and coming back after the funeral."

"I have no problem in having money in the bank, a large house and a Mercedes, and still being a socialist."

"If a player had said to Bill Shankly 'I've got to speak to my agent', Bill would have hit him. And I would have held him while he hit him."

"I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed. I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson R.I.P.

What a very sad story. A much-loved wife and mother of two dies at the age of 45 after a seemingly innocuous fall on a nursery ski-slope.

Above you can watch a slide show of stills featuring Natasha Richardson (and Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh) from that great 1980s Britfilm ‘A Month in the Country‘.
The video was made by 'annie2shoes' and you can see more of her excellent work here.

Among the many tributes to Ms Richardson, the one that caught my eye was from Martha Stewart:

'A real reminder of how precious life is and how quickly it can be gone.'

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wally of the Week: Bruce Anderson

Didn't think the man who said that it was "important that a horse should be killed most years and a jockey every ten years or so" in the Grand National, could write anything more stupid?

Then think again.

In his column in The Independent, Anderson says of the neocons:

It was natural that they should think in terms of universalising American values. That was not imperialism. It was generosity.

What next from Bruce, I wonder? An article on how Hitler's bombardment of Britain was motivated by a kindly desire for us Brits to enjoy the protection of Nazi smoking bans?

I wouldn't put anything past this complete and utter wally.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Battle for Our NHS

This column of mine appears in the Morning Star.

You can be fairly sure that when neoliberals tell us that such and such a "reform" will be good for us, they really mean that "reform" will be good for capital and not for the majority of the public.

The neoliberals said that selling off the railways would lead to better service and lower fares. They also said that privatising gas, electricity and water would reduce household bills. And now they would like us to believe that the establishment of polyclinics will improve health care.

Don't believe a word of it.

A 2008 King's Fund report said that polyclinics could pose "significant risks for patient care." It also found that "there is no evidence that larger GP practices deliver higher quality care than smaller ones and that "there is ... evidence that quality may be decreased in certain cases."

The report also warned that "a major centralisation of GP services into polyclinics would make it more difficult for patients to visit their GP, especially those living in rural areas."

In addition, a new study by Kent GP Dr Hendrik Beerstecher has found that average-sized GP surgeries are just as good as "super-surgeries" at providing extra services. He looked at 384 practices and found no difference between the range of extra services offered by standard surgeries and polyclinics.

"I am not sure why the government is pushing ahead with polyclinics. As the study shows, there is no evidence that they provide more services so why are we having them set up all across the country?" he asked.

Why indeed? The answer to Dr Beerstecher's question is that polyclinics make it easier for the government to further its objective of privatising the NHS by stealth.

Big corporations will be able to put in multiple bids to run the new polyclinics and, if the government's plans are allowed to go through, GP services will soon be in the hands of multinational corporations, such as the US company UnitedHealth.

Corporate-run polyclinics will put profit maximisation ahead of the interests of patients - dealing a fatal blow to the whole ethos of the NHS.

We must not let it happen.

DON'T think the neoliberal ideologues who have dominated the public discourse over the past 30 years will go down without a fight.

Despite the total discrediting of the "free market" economic system they advocate, a group of influential neoliberal think tanks are still trying to persuade us that the answer to the problems we face today is yet more "market-based solutions." One such think-tank is Reform.

Reform says its mission "is to set out a better way to deliver public services." And the director of Reform, a former Conservative policy wonk called Andrew Haldenby, wants "smaller government."

In a recent article, he enthused over a sentence in the new government white paper on public-sector reform which said that "a responsive state should withdraw from areas in which it is no longer needed."

There's no prizes for guessing which area Haldenby and his fellow neoliberal fanatics think the state should withdraw from.

In a recent report, Reform called for "radical change" in health-care provision in Britain, with "other insurers" allowed to join the system and the NHS replaced with a National Health Protection Service.

We all know who would benefit from such "radical" changes - it certainly wouldn't be you or I, dear reader.

Another fine mess...

WHAT would you do with £97 billion? You might have thought that any government or country which received such an enormous sum would be quite a prosperous place, with no need for IMF bail-outs or other rescue packages. Think again.

The Hungarian state has received 105bn euros in privatisation revenue for the years 1990-2007, a period during which thousands of publicly owned assets were sold off.

Pro-privatisation ideologues argued that selling off "inefficient" state-run enterprises and fully embracing a programme of "economic reform" would make Hungary a more prosperous country.

In fact, after 20 years of privatisation, Hungary's economic situation has worsened.

Despite the huge bonanza of privatisation revenue, the country's finances are in a parlous state.

Last autumn, the country received a 20bn euros (£18.6bn) international rescue package. Now, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany is calling for further help to bail-out his near-bankrupt country.

With the Hungarian health service in crisis due to a lack of government investment, the Hungarian people are, understandably asking a very simple question. Where did all the money go?

Still milking our railway

RECESSION? What recession? For British bus and train operator Arriva plc, the money keeps rolling in. The company, which runs public transport in 12 European countries including Britain, made pre-tax profits of £150m last year.

Its rail franchises, which now include the CrossCountry Aberdeen to Penzance route, brought in £837.8m - up 160 per cent on the previous 12 months - while its bus revenue jumped by 13 per cent to £922.4m.

Arriva is just one of a small handful of companies which has made extraordinary amounts of money due to the privatisation of public transport in Britain and abroad. And much of the money has come from public subsidies the company, in common with other private transport providers, receive from the taxpayer.

Around £2.5bn is handed over each year to Britain's bus companies, leading to the companies being labelled "subsidy junkies" by Graham Stringer MP of the transport select committee.

Instead of subsiding private companies, wouldn't it be more logical - and more economical for taxpayers - if the government simply brought back British Rail and the National Bus Company?

Thought for the Day

So for starting the stupidest war in modern history, and hurling thousands of tons of high explosive at the people of Iraq, George W. Bush gets a pension and a bodyguard and a library commemorating his years in office. And the man who threw two shoes at George W. Bush gets three years in jail. If this makes perfect sense to you, as it does to me, then you’re beginning to work out how the world works.

Peter Hitchens, The Mail on Sunday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Twenty years on from Dessie's finest hour

It's Gold Cup Day tomorrow- and it'll be exactly 20 years since the epic race of 1989, when the legendary Desert Orchid defeated 66-1 outsider Yahoo in one of the most stirring finishes to a big race ever seen.

I was lucky enough to have been at Cheltenham that day and even though I have been to hundreds of race meetings since, that cold, wet day in March 1989 will always be a special memory. Dessie looked a beaten horse on the run-in, but he rallied superbly to deny Yahoo in the closing strides.

The race also featured one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship I have ever witnessed, when jockey Tom Morgan, who had finished second, rode over to give the victorious Desert Orchid (who had just deprived him of a place in racing history) a loving pat.

Enjoy the video of one of the greatest horse races of all time.

The Miners Strike- 25 years on

The strike was a fight for jobs, but it was also a challenge to the market-driven restructuring of economic and social life already under way. It raised the alternative of a different Britain from the greed and individualism of the Thatcher years, rooted in solidarity and collective action. As the neoliberal order that Thatcher helped to build crumbles before us, that is a message that speaks to our times.

You can read the rest of Seumas Milne's brilliant piece on the long-term significance of the miners' strike, here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Letters of the Week: Stephen Nash & Phil Brand

Well, this week it's a dead-heat between these two gems:

In the Daily Express, Stephen Nash of Middle Barton, (in similar vein to this post from last week), writes:

So, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson is accusing Labour rebels and trade unions of ‘ideological‘ opposition to any partial sell-off of Royal Mail to a foreign buyer.

But in my view, it’s the EU that is ideological, and Mandelson is prepared to defy the will of the British people to do its bidding. Royal Mail, once envied and successful, is being systematically broken up in the name of competition. The history of privatised utilities and public services is one of greed, cherry-picking and profiteering. Inevitably, when there are shareholders and directors expecting dividends and bonuses, the result will be less service for more money.

While in the Morning Star, Phil Brand of London, writes:

In response to the letter regarding the trial of the Serbian generals in The Hague, I seem to remember Alan Clark MP referring to the "heroic" Kosovo Liberation Army as "thugs with drugs."
I appreciate that he was no friend of the left, but at least he saw them for what they were.
It is interesting how no KLA men are on trial for atrocities carried out in the 1999 Kosovo campaign in which the dismantling of Europe's last socialist state was undertaken by a NATO imperialist onslaught.

One point I would make response to Phil Brand’s excellent letter, which itself was in response to another great letter by Mark Holt, is that the generals in question were not serving Serbia, which did not then exist as a sovereign state, but the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It’s not a pedantic point, but an important one. The supporters of that deceitful and illegal war, like to portray the NATO action as a response to ‘Serbia’s aggression against Kosovo‘- pretending that a country named ‘Serbia’ had attacked a country named ‘Kosovo’ But that’s simply not true- Kosovo and Serbia were both part of the same country- Yugoslavia- and to talk of ‘Serbian‘ aggression against Kosovo is totally absurd. And very, very dishonest.

Those who opposed the illegal NATO action, should not fall into the trap of using the dishonest language of its supporters.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Let's make Tony Bliar answer for his crimes

Thank you to regular commenter 'Dan from Portsmouth' for pointing out that there is an online petition, organised by the Blair War Crimes Foundation (BWCF), calling for Tony Bliar to be indicted for war crimes. The petition sets out in detail the charges against Bliar relating to the illegal war against Iraq; let's hope a similar petition is soon up and running in relation to the illegal war against Yugoslavia in 1999.

You can sign the petition here. Please take the 20 seconds or so to do so and then email the link to your friends. The more people who sign the better (currently there are around 2,000 signatures).

Let's try and do all we can to make sure that this time next year, Bliar is not gallivanting round the world earning a fortune, but sitting in a small and none too comfortable prison cell.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Iraq and Yugoslavia: The Things They Said (1)

I don't know about the Ides of March, but if you're a country that doesn't kow-tow sufficiently to the demands of Uncle Sam and global capital, you've certainly got to beware being bombed back to the Stone Age in the month of March. In March 1999 it was Yugoslavia which got the B52 treatment, exactly four years later it was Iraq.

Both wars were illegal, both were fought on a fraudulent prospectus. And that's why those who engineered and propagandised for them repeatedly call for us to 'move on'. But 'move on' is what we must never do, certainly not until those responsible for those conflicts are held accountable for their actions in a court of law.

To mark both the 10th anniversary of the aggression against Yugoslavia and the 6th anniversary of the aggression against Iraq, I thought it would be appropriate to remind us of the things that the great and the good said about Yugoslavia and Iraq in the lead up to those conflicts.

To start, here's the letter which eight European leaders penned to several newspapers, stressing their support for the US stance on Iraq.

It's a classic propaganda piece which Dr Goebbels would have been proud of.

Here are some extracts:

"The transatlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regimes's persistent attempts to threaten world security"

"The Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security".

"We Europeans have reiterated our backing for Resolution 1441...In doing so, we sent a clear, firm and unequivocal message that we would rid the world of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction".

"Our goal is to safeguard world peaceby ensuring that this regime gives up its weapons of mass destruction".

It would be funny wouldn't it, if the results of this propaganda (up to 1m dead), were not so tragic.

And what happened, I hear you ask, to the writers of this letter?

Well, Tony Blair is now Middle East envoy, receiving $1m prizes for his "exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict".

Jose Barroso became EU President. While Vaclav Havel, the neocons favourite playwright, is still feted as a man of great 'wisdom'.

By rights none of the men who penned this letter should play any further part in public life. Either they genuinely believed that sanctions-devastated Iraq posed a 'clear threat to world security'(in which case they are too stupid to hold public office), or, they knew that the Iraqi 'threat' was bogus. In which case they are too dishonest to hold public office.

Which is it, chaps?

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Invisible Majority

In her excellent review of the National Theatre's new production, 'Burnt By the Sun', Madam Miaow (aka Anna Chen) writes:

Appealing to middle-classes everywhere, BBTS shares a nostalgia for the good old days ven ve danced and played music and sang and the house was alive with culture and Chekovian loveliness before the philistines came and took it all away, pass the vodka. You’d think this would be a chance to have a look at the contrary needs of two contending classes, especially as we may be entering our own pre-revolutionary period if Britain suffers a depression, but no. The workers and their case are nowhere to be seen. You don’t have to agree with the Russian revolution, but at least give us an idea that you understand the dynamics of it.

When it comes to portraying life under communism, workers and their case are sadly nowhere to be seen.

The everyday experiences of life of the majority under communism- are it seems not of interest to theatre producers and film makers. The perspective is always that of the rich and those who lost out from the political changes.

We are always supposed to sympathise with wealthy émigrés from communist countries - like ‘The White Countess’ and not with the majority of ordinary, working class people whose lives were undoubtedly improved by communism.

As my wife Zsuzsanna wrote in her First Post piece on ‘The White Countess’
"No one will deny that crimes were committed under Communism. But ordinary people got rather more back from the "Reds", than they ever did when the film industry's beloved "Whites" ran the show".

In the dominant narrative there is no attempt to explain how communist regimes were all different- no, they were all as totalitarian as each other- all were unspeakably evil and repressive. It’s not allowed to point out that some communist regimes eg Kadar’s Hungary and Tito's Yugoslavia, were actually more liberal than many of the regimes the west was bankrolling in the Cold War in the name of ‘freedom‘.

The fact (not that we're allowed to say it too loudly in the 'free democratic' world we live in), is that many millions of people lived perfectly happy lives under communism, as Zsuzsanna pointed out in her Guardian article on growing up in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s.

Trouble is though, they were the ‘wrong’ kind of people.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Wally of the Week: The Ideological Peter Mandelson

The business secretary (I refuse to call this corrupt, mega-creep 'Lord'), has accused unions who oppose the privatisation of the Royal Mail of fighting an 'ideological battle'.

Not only has Mandy once again shown his all-round wallyness, he's also made a spectacular effort to redefine the word 'chutzpah'.

For the ones fighting an 'ideological battle' on this issue are not the unions but fanatical neoliberals like Mandelson. Privatisation has proved a disaster for the British public and opposing it, far from being an 'ideological' position, is sheer common sense.

In the case of the railways, the British taxpayer pays around four-times more in subsidy to private rail companies that they did to the much-maligned British Rail.

Despite this enormous subsidy we still have by far and away the highest rail fares in Europe.

How can opposing this madness be labelled 'ideological'?

Neo-liberalism is a fundamentally dishonest ideology as its proponents deny that
it is an ideology at all. Instead they want us to believe that privatisation is
the norm and that anyone proposing public ownership is fighting an 'ideological battle'.

But the real ideologues are those, like Mandy, who won't rest until every single publicly owned asset is sold off.