Archive | February 17th, 2015

What Is Going on in the World?

Indonesian President Suharto (left) shakes hands with Jakarta military commander Major-General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin.

Indonesian President Suharto (left) shakes hands with Jakarta military commander Major-General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin. 

Could an international tribunal hold war criminals accountable?

Do ordinary people know what is going on in the world?

Suppose that a man kills one million people. Should the people of the world know about it? Of course they should know.

Putting aside the expected ironic comment of the ever present cynic who says that such things do not happen in the real world, let us examine if, indeed, such a crime is possible in the real world.

The man in the real world was named with a single name: Suharto. The country was Indonesia. The year was 1965. “Amid a boiling bloodbath that almost unnoticed took the lives of 400,000 lives … Indonesia has done a complete about-face (“Time” magazine, July 15, 1966, page 32. Emphasis added).”

About this, Noam Chomsky in his book “Year 501” writes: “The scale of the massacre is unknown. The CIA estimates 250,000 killed. The head of the Indonesia state security system later estimated the toll at over half a million; Amnesty International gave the figure of ‘many more than one million’.” (South End Press, 1993, page 122)

Any doubt that Suharto was chosen by the U.S. ignores the history of the 20th century. Also, Suharto was allowed by the U.S. to amass a huge fortune, in the order of $30 billion. And we allowed the U.S. to do that. By the way, for the Greeks of today it is instructive to know that this amount “is approximately the scale of the IMF rescue package (Noam Chomsky, “Propaganda and the Public Mind”, 2001, page 16).” [See note 2]

What is the actual percentage of the people of the world who have an adequate knowledge about Suharto and his crime, is a matter of scientific research. That some people have a vague knowledge about Suharto and probably the enormity of his crime, is rather logical to expect. However, this is not good enough for the majority of ordinary people to know in detail what is going on in the world. The emphasized word “detail” does not signify an “encyclopedic” knowledge, but a means to make any human, as a moral entity, not only to be aware of the crimes of the Suhartos of the world but to start thinking about doing something about it, in a collective way. Experience shows us that the knowledge of the details, as opposed to vague knowledge, builds in us the desire to act, and act in anger.

Here, it is necessary to examine what we mean by “Suhartos of the world”. Must we confine our anger and our acts only to Suharto-type monstrous killers, or broaden the range to include other types of “destructive” people?

I think that the best way to present an image of that range is by offering some examples:

1. Constantine Karamanlis

He was chosen by the U.S. in 1955 as the Prime Minister of Greece. Since then, up to his death in 1998, for 43 years he was involved in making Greece what it is today. For this, he has the ultimate honorific title expressed by the Greek word “ethnarch,” “leader of the nation,” in which the word “leader” [arch] denotes gigantic “greatness.”

Karamanlis is responsible for creating, as an instrument of the U.S., a situation that has brought an entire people, the Greek people of 11 million, to a deep and dangerous impasse. During the second half of the decade of 1940 the rightwing Greek government, armed by the U.S., murdered about 150,000 leftwing Greeks. The Left then reacted and started to revolt by building a revolutionary army. To subdue them the government drove the peasant population out of their villages in Northern Greece, where the fighting was taking place, in order to eliminate any logistical help that the peasants could give the revolutionaries.

As expected, the Rightists, under the supervision of General James Van Fleet of the U.S. Army, defeated the Leftists. However the accompanying result was that thousands of the displaced people gravitated towards Athens to survive. To house and give work to these thousands, in its turn, resulted to what one might call the “curse of the multistory apartment building”. [See Note 2]

Years ago a satellite picture of Athens was photo-interpreted as an area of the planet resembling a “rocky” surface. The concrete slabs of the roofs of the apartment buildings, forming an almost continuous surface, turned Athens into a monster-city which during the summer months becomes an “oven”; a bearable “martyrdom.” What is intolerable, is that the construction of these steel reinforced concrete buildings of six to eight floors have trapped the, by now, four million inhabitants of Athens in a very dangerous place to live in; weak buildings in a quake-prone place. Because, concrete is an intrinsically brittle material that fails during an earthquake, as shown by the historical experience of hundreds of thousands of deaths during the last one hundred years. For this monster-city and any future calamity that might take place in it during a strong quake, Karamanlis, the “ethnarch”, should be “remembered.”

Also, this moment there is this strangely “unchristian” problem: A Greek, let us say, bought an apartment in these buildings for two hundred thousand Euros, through a loan offered to him, essentially by foreign lenders, years ago. Today, a German or a Finn can buy that apartment for fifty thousand Euros. The Greeks, jobless and at the poverty limit, have to pay back the loan or go to prison. The questions to be answered on this matter are:

a) Is the German or the Finn aware of the immorality of such a transaction?

b) Herr Schaeuble, Frau Merkel, and Master Jeroen Dijsselbleom [that “gentle” man and kind “leader”], all of them educated and powerful people, are they aware of the following very important text of the U.S. State Department: “Mr. Dort commented that Greece will achieve economic viability at some level, and that we have to decide what that level will be.” That was in an August 4, 1949 memorandum of the State Department [868.6463/8-449, N.A.]. Mr. Dort was a State Department official at the time. On the basis of this text, can the above “troika” explain to us what happened in Greece during the 66 years that elapsed since 1942.

2.Jon Burge, “master torturer” policeman in Chicago. Burge, as a policeman for two decades tortured mostly black men in Chicago. For example: Anthony Holmes, a black man, spent 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit after he was tortured by Burge.

3. Franco of Spain

4. John Yoo, Professor of Law at Berkeley. Aficionado of torture during the W. Bush era.

5. Anne-Aymone Giscard d’Estaing, first-lady of France. In 1979 she got a diamond necklace as present from the African dictator Bokassa, who became famous for killing and eating his opponents.

6. Bokassa

7. The Bush gang: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Wolfowitz, Bolton, et al.

8. Lenin, Churchill, and other “great” men…

9. Alexander the Great, the “hero” of the West.

10. Pope Pius XII, the the crypto-Nazi Christian.

No need to go on. The image of the range of not only murderously “destructive” people, but also of amoral, yet powerful people, that dominate humanity and are equally “destructive,” is apparent enough. Furthermore, this range should include not only people that are alive today but also people that are dead, especially the dead.

So, if, as claimed above, the details of the deeds of these “destructive” humans should be  known to ordinary people, so that this awareness will motivate them to do “something”, how can these details be unearthed and made public?

My suggestion or proposal: Through a Nuremberg-like tribunal.

That already there was the Bertrand Russell Tribunal of November 1966 and its epigones, arguably testifies to the value of broadening the range from mostly rogue nations to individual miscreants. I think that the detailed history of the vile acts of a human is instinctively affecting intensely the mind of any ordinary person.

The Bertrand Russell Tribunal stated that: “We are not judges. We are witnesses. Our task is to make mankind bear witness to these terrible crimes and to unite humanity on the side of justice in Vietnam” [My italics]. Today, it is proposed, here, that we should be more than witnesses we  should have the motivation to not only learn what is going on in the world, but also to have the courage to act to change the world.

Here is an initial proposal for such a Nuremberg-like Tribunal, proposal which can be ameliorated and expanded by any fellow-ordinary man or woman in the world:

– Optional name: “World Tribunal” or “Ecumenical Tribunal.”

– Aim: To understand and change the world through the knowledge gained mostly form the process in the Tribunal of presenting the detailed biographical history of “destructive” people.

– Seat or headquarters of the Tribunal: Any place in the world or the internet.

– Choice of individuals to be “examined”: By the world, through the internet. Method of decision-making: majoritarian or other to be decided by the world.

– Continuous and persistent dissemination of the proceedings of the Tribunal to all the world.

– Continuous and persistent function of the Tribunal for as many decades as needed.

– Financing: By all ordinary people in the world [even by rich people that might, possibly, be honest].


Note 1: On December 7, 1975, Suharto invaded East Timor, as instructed by President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Killed were 200,000 Timorese, one third of the population, according to Amnesty international and Asia Watch. See “The Trial of Henry Kissinger”, Verso, 2001; the book by Christopher Hitchens]

Note 2: The way this building spree operated, which lasted for about 60 years,  is described in my ZNet Commentary, “The MIT ‘Offspring’!”, of December 10, 2011. Also, about 15 years after the driving of the Greek peasants out of their villages, the same method was applied in Vietnam against the Vietnamese peasants. Only, that time the peasants were not housed in steel reinforced concrete buildings but in concentration camps, the “strategic hamlets”. This was “baptized” as “urbanization” by the educated elites of the US.

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The War on Venezuela’s Democracy – A Thwarted Coup Attempt


This is a typical case of neoliberal Washington paid thugs and mercenaries false-flagging ‘undesired’ governments into chaos, for ‘regime change’ – and then being taken over by the US, subjugating the population to US dictate and stealing the country’s resources.

Being subjected to the constant stream of lies by the six Anglo-Saxon mega-media corporations controlling 90% of the western information – ‘news’ – system, it is easy to brainwash the western population into believing that the culprit is the Maduro government, exercising police repression.

We have seen it happen in Ukraine – where currently the Kiev Nazi government (sic) led civil war is killing thousands of citizens in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine, putting millions of people into absolute misery in a cold winter depriving them of energy and food – a million and a half refugees fleeing to Russia— and – who is the culprit, Mr. Putin, of course. Since the all dominant criminal lie and propaganda media machine is still to this day hiding the evidence, that the Maidan coup d’état in February 2014 was instigated and prepared during many years, and eventually directed and paid for by Washington and NATO.

A similar case is today’s formal accusation of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of obstructing the investigation into the 1994 attack of the Jewish center AMIA that killed 85 people. This alleged car bomb attack follows a very similar attack demolishing the Israeli embassy in 1992. Last week the chief prosecutor of the case, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment, hours before publicly testifying about an alleged cover up by President Cristina Fernandez. She was allegedly covering up Iran’s involvement in the devastation of the two buildings, again allegedly because of an oil for meat and food grain deal between Argentina and Iran may be at stake. All circumstantial evidence, even by anonymous witnesses, points to an agreement between Washington and Israel to blame Iran for the disaster, killing two birds with one stroke – incriminating the inconvenient Argentinian President with the objective of ‘regime change’, and demonizing once more Iran. Both of these deadly aggressions bear the hallmark of false flags, carried out or instigated by the CIA and Mosad.

Does it then come as a surprise that Washington is instigating, organizing and paying for civil unrest in Caracas and other major cities, stage by stage, leading eventually to a coup and control of the media, including TeleSur? – There is nothing new in this ‘procedure’. It is actually old and full with ancient dirt, repeated umpteen times around the globe over the last century – and the western bought presstitute media, including of neutral Switzerland, trumpets around the world that President Maduro is a dictator and clamps down on protesters. What a shameful lie – misguidance of public opinion, brainwashing people into supporting more crime by the empire.

May public consciousness finally wake up!

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Obama, Kashmir, and India’s “Perfect Genocide”


Welcome to Kashmir, the land known for its flowers, mountains and pristine lakes!

Obama, Kashmir, and India’s “Perfect Genocide”

But here, I am talking about an absolutely different Kashmir:

Welcome to the land of watchtowers and barbed wire, of military convoys, of torture and rape! Welcome to the place where India, the U.S. and Israel are continuously conducting their joint military exercises, while plotting in unison, the best strategy of how to oppress and “pacify” the local population.

Welcome to the land of 7,000 mass graves!

Welcome to a land of torture and extra-judicial executions, where at least 80,000 people have already died, most of them in just the last two decades.

Welcome to that exhausted land, where at least 8,000 people have been “disappeared” without a trace, where the entire female population of some border villages have been raped, where torture perpetrated by Indian security forces has reached an unimaginable level of brutality.

Maybe you have never heard about the crimes against humanity committed by the Indian forces in Kashmir or in the Northeast, and it is not surprising if you haven’t. Because India is like Indonesia, like Rwanda, Uganda or Ukraine — it is now a staunch ally of the West; virtually its client state. As a reward to the Indian rulers and elites, there is almost no criticism coming from the Western mainstream media. And all the Indian mass media now belongs to the right-wing business conglomerates, so there is no criticism coming from there, either!

What takes place in Kashmir is called genocide — by some, by many. But their voices are barely audible. Their voices are muffled, even silenced, by the Western and Indian regimes.

“By inviting President Obama to New Delhi, India betrayed BRICS, politically, economically and militarily,” explained Mr. Binu Matthew, editor of an influential alternative Indian web-based magazine Countercurrents, which operates from the southern state of Kerala (

For years, I actually tried to define India’s position in BRICS. My conclusion is increasingly straightforward: it does not belong there at all! Its social, economic, political and military stands are anti-BRICS, pro-business and pro-Western.

While Obama was visiting India in January 2015, I was actually working in Kashmir. In fact, exactly at the time when his Air Force One was touching down near New Delhi, I was supposed to be transiting at Indira Gandhi International Airport, en route from Kerala to Srinagar, Kashmir.

The madness of the Indian security apparatus in action has turned into something indescribable! Two maniacal countries — India and the United States, have joined their hands, as well as their paranoia.

My Air India flight had to circle in the air for an extra hour, before being allowed to land. And several days later, long after Obama departed, when I checked into the same hotel where the U.S. President had been staying (ITC Maurya), the place was still overflowing with those brave and beefed-up U.S. security apparatchiks and their confused Indian lackeys.

I was told that at its peak, there were approximately 1,600 members of the U.S. security, operating in the India’s capital. They brought everything with them, from surveillance equipment, to oxygen bombs, in order to “fight” the legendary New Delhi pollution and supply their Commander-in-Chief with clean, breathable air.

The Metro system was shut down, and snipers, both from local and foreign security forces occupied most of the high-rise buildings in the center.

In India, even without Obama’s visit, surveillance and “security” has become a national obsession. Outrageous “security” measures here are always justified by “terrorism” and by all other “threats” (most of them fabricated). The main reason why they exist is very simple: they serve the elites who are protecting themselves against the great majority of their own miserably poor, cheated and underprivileged citizens.

Obama got from his Indian sojourn exactly what he hoped for: both countries (or more precisely, their elites) are now moving closer and closer towards each other, both militarily (India is readily offering itself to the U.S. geo-political interests, particularly to the most important one, which is to ostracize, demonize and provoke China) and economically by maintaining a despotic market fundamentalist system, which is for the exclusive benefit of the upper classes, corporations and moneyed mobsters.

The mechanism is simple: India, which is actually a police state, oppresses the majority of its citizens on behalf of the Empire and its business interests. And in exchange it gets promoted as “the largest democracy on Earth.”

Its big boys are now finally getting what they have dreamt about ever since the collapse of the British Empire: acceptance to the exclusive Western imperialist club. When they were in charge there, the Brits put up warnings all over Sub-Continent: “No Indians and Dogs!” Such sleights are now conveniently forgotten. Everything Western is glorified.

“Let’s walk together!” declared Obama during his visit. He forgot to mention, where?

Now imagine what a police state based on thoroughly cynical principles and deceptions is capable of doing to an occupied territory, like Kashmir!

Parvez Imroz, the Director of “Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society,” explained to me during our meetings on the outskirts of Srinagar, in Kashmir:

India, being a growing regional power, with an increasingly free market open to the United States and other such states, has been emboldened by foreign powers.

The army since 1989 has resorted to war crimes as they have been given legal impunity, and seldom have any armed personnel been punished for crimes against humanity. The militarization in Jammu and Kashmir has affected all aspects of life and unfortunately the Indian media and civil society, with some exceptions, have also been extending the moral and political impunity to the army who they believe are fighting trans-border terrorism. The systematic disappearances, mass graves, and torture have been completely ignored by the Indian and international media.”

In New Delhi, I discussed the joint exercises of Indian, US and Israeli military forces, with a renowned independent documentary film-maker, Sanjay Kak. He concluded:

“When it comes to brutality, Indian forces could actually teach both Israel and United States quite a few things.”

It is easy to confirm it.

For several days, I worked in Kashmir, with two members of “Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society,” but also with reporters employed by large Western press agencies, as well as with prominent lawyers from New Delhi. The journalists and attorneys asked not to be identified in this report, for reasons of safety and fear of losing their jobs. But they readily shared their knowledge and contacts.

I visited the border region with Pakistan, near the city of Kupwara. I also worked in the city of Sopore, known for its resistance against what the majority of local people calls, “the occupation of Kasmire.” I worked in Srinagar and its vicinity, and in several other places. It is obvious that Kashmir is brutalized, and the loss of lives here is so high that it could easily qualify as genocide.

The torture of civilians accused of supporting the “Mujahedin,” is comparable only with other examples of the most outrageous atrocities, committed in the 20th century. There seems to be no justice for the victims.

I spoke to local people from the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, where more than 2 decades ago, the Indian military arrested all men, took them to a frozen creek and tortured them, then raped all the women in their houses, killing five, including a four-day old baby. This case is well documented, and the victims pressed charges, but no one had been punished as of yet.

I spoke to a man in Sopore, Hassan Bhat, who lost both of his sons. They were murdered at the age of 15. One was shot by a cop while he was buying a carton of milk at local grocery store, and the other, shot with a teargas canister when he was trying to hide in the river, scared of a confrontation between local youth and armed forces. No justice; no one had been punished, although Mr. Bhat knows the names of the officers who were in charge.

I was shown several photos, and the case of a man who was detained after being accused of sympathizing with the “Mujahedeen,” was explained to me. When he was not “too cooperative,” both his feet were cut off. He survived. Later, pieces of flesh were cut off from various parts of his body, cooked, and force-fed to him. He survived again. For years he has been pressing charges, but no one has been punished.

The methods of torture used in Kashmir includes driving nails into victim’s feet, amputations, electric shocks, burning of genitals and other parts of the body, and the removal of nails. Rape is a common form of torture.

All this is documented. Nothing is done.

Even in India itself, I spoke to several people who are aware of the situation.

Just today, in Darjeeling, West Bengal, my colleague explained:

“My friend’s brother confessed that when he recently served in Kashmir, he was in a special Gorkha unit, well known and hated for its brutality. A Mujahedeen fighter, in one of deep villages, killed one of their men. The soldiers did not inform their commander: they just went on the rampage, ‘killing literally everything that moved, from women and children, to dogs, cats and chickens’. None of them were punished. They were discharged without honors. No one was punished.”

Mr. Parvez Imroz concluded:

In order to suppress the struggle for freedom in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government has resorted to systematic and institutional repression. More than 700,000-strong, armed force has been pressed into service to neutralize the armed struggle and to control the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are seeking the right of self-determination which the government of India had promised before the United Nations in the 1948 and 1949 resolutions. The repression of the Indian state has been part of their policy. In this lie, even the judiciary is culpable, they as a wing of the State, have served the interests of the executive and not the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The international institutions, particularly western civil society and governments after 9/11 and because of Islamophobia and other interests, are completely ignoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Arundhati Roy, a famous Indian writer and activist, came to a similar conclusion two years earlier when she spoke on “Democracy Now”:

Today Kashmir is the most densely militarized zone in the world. India has something like 700,000 security forces there. And in the ’90s, early ’90s, the fight became — turned into an armed struggle, and since then, More than 70,000 people have died, maybe 100,000 tortured, more than 8,000 disappeared. I mean, we all talk a lot about Chile, Pinochet, but these numbers are far greater.”

Locals often compare Kashmir to Palestine, to the Intifada there, but they never fail to point out that their land is suffering a much worse fate, as many more people have died here, and under much more horrible circumstance. Kashmir is far from the cameras, and far from international scrutiny.

I met stone-throwing youth in Kashmir. I stood between them and the security forces. I managed to photograph the encounter. The intensity here was the same as I had witnessed in Palestine. But in Srinagar, I was alone. I was told: “Foreigners do not dare to come. The Indian media does not care and if it did come, perhaps it would have to face the wrath of the locals. And the local media is scared: whenever they come, they get beaten up by the security forces.”

Not long ago, a Mexican journalist dared, and was badly beaten by Indian police. When his case became known, the police apologized: “Sorry, he looked like a local. We though he was a Kashmiri.”

People, who dare to speak and write about the plight of Kashmir, are intimidated, deported, and even physically attacked. Some of the critics are ordinary individuals, while others are well-known figures:

Arundhati Roy is periodically threatened with sedition charges, lawsuits and life imprisonment.

Others, like the legendary radio host David Barsamian, got deported from India, no explanation was given.

In October 2011, a senior Supreme Court lawyer Mr. Prashant Bhushan (who drafted the “Lokpal Bill”) was brutally beaten in his chambers at the Supreme Court after he made comments on the human rights situation in Kashmir.

In Sopore, several people formed a circle around me, after dark, in front of a house that recently saw fighting between pro-independence fighters and the security forces.

“What would save Kashmir?” I asked.

A heroic but desperate battle, of 200 to 300 pro-independence fighters struggling against 700,000 members of the security forces, was not looking too promising.

“Only pressure from the international community can help,” I was told.

“BRICS,” I thought. The West was too busy admiring Indian oligarchs, the military top brass, and politicians who had recently just been considered to be responsible for some heinous crimes against humanity, including those committed in 2002 in the state of Gujarat!

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Turkish Women March against Attempted Rape, Murder of Student

A woman shouts slogans during a demostration in Istanbul against the murder of a young woman named Ozgecan Aslan.

A woman shouts slogans during a demostration in Istanbul against the murder of a young woman named Ozgecan Aslan. 

Some protesters stated that the issue was not “just another crime,” but a result of “systemic misogynist state policy.”

Hundreds of Turkish citizens marched in the streets of Mersin Saturday, a coastal city in the southeast of the country where 20-year-old student Özgecan Aslan was murdered in a bus driving her to school after resisting a rape attempt.

The protest started at Aslan’s funeral in Mersin when hundreds of women refused to remain in the back as ordered, but marched in the front instead carrying the coffin during the ceremony. In the two other main cities of the country, Ankara and Istanbul, demonstrations were also held with women carrying pictures of Aslan and other victims of gender violence. In the famous Taksim Square in Istanbul, they chanted, “You will never walk alone!”

On Feb. 11, a bus driver attempted to rape Aslan as she was on her way to university. She was the last passenger on board, apart from the driver’s father and his friend. While fighting against her assailant with pepper spray, she was stabbed to death and burned, according to her autopsy which was released after the three men were arrested.

Turkish women argued during the protest that this was not “just another criminal incident,” but a result of a systematic misogynist state policy, referring to recent conservative statements by government officials about womens’ rights – including their dressing style.

They also denounced that men found guilty of rape would only receive a minimum sentence, as rape is recognized as an act incited by women. In November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that women were not equal to men. He also suggested restricting access to abortion and the day-after pill, stating that Turkish women should have three children.

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Despite Ukraine Cease-Fire, Violence Continues

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on a military vehicle near Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on a military vehicle near Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine

The European Union has set sanctions against eastern Ukrainian rebels and Russians.

On the first day of a cease-fire between Kiev and rebel forces in eastern Ukraine Sunday, there was still extensive fighting.

The Ukrainian government accused the pro-Russian rebels of attacking the military 112 times in the first 24 hours of the cease-fire, mostly in Debaltseve. The rebels have said that they do not consider Debaltseve to part of the cease-fire.

“The Ukraine armed forces are fully observing the ceasefire regime but unfortunately in response we have received 112 … attacks in the past 24 hours from the terrorists of Donetsk and Lugansk,” said Ukraine’s foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin.

The rebels claim that the Ukrainian military have been shelling the hotly contested Donetsk airport.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, told AFP that “There is no question at the moment of us withdrawing heavy weapons” from the battle grounds because they were under attack by the pro-Russian militants.

The cease-fire was the result of an agreement reached between Russia, Ukraine, France and Britain last week and was supposed to begin on Sunday. A similar agreement came out of peace talks in September. That cease-fire fell apart within the first days of its implementation.

The European Union has set sanctions against pro-Russian rebel officials in Ukraine, as well as two Russian deputy defense ministers, for allegedly sending Russian troops and military support to the Ukrainian rebels. They are now subject to visa bans and their assets are frozen throughout the EU.

The Russian foreign ministry said these sanctions showed that “again the EU preferred to walk on a leash behind the ‘party of war’ in Kiev … Such decisions look especially ridiculous against the background of the Minsk [cease-fire] accords.”

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Gunmen Kill Mexican Activist Searching for the Disappeared

Medical examiners search for the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students in Cocula, Guerrero.

Medical examiners search for the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students in Cocula, Guerrero. | Photo: Attorney General of Mexico

The activist was trying to locate and identify disappeared relatives in mass graves located around Iguala.

A Mexican woman belonging to a group of activists searching their disappeared relatives in mass graves was murdered Friday in Iguala, state of Guerrero.

Two men on a motorbike shot activist Norma Bruno in the head in front of her three children, reported authorities. The murderers immmediately disappeared.

Bruno’s body was handed over to her family, who then blamed the federal authorities for their lack of control over the violence in Iguala.

Bruno belonged to the citizen committee Relatives of the Other Disappeared, created after the discovery of mass graves and corpses in the neighboring areas of Iguala, shortly after the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa teachers training college students.

Since Nov. 23, the committee, with the help of medical experts from the attorney general’s office, were able to locate and exhume 48 bodies in the hills of Iguala, including three bodies that were successfully identified and handed over to their families.

About 1,600 people have gone missing in the country during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, according to a recent report from a victims’ commission.

Several mass graves have been discovered in Guerrero since authorities and activists stepped up their search for the remaining 42 students who are still missing after being attacked by police and unidentified masked criminals in September 2014. Only one of the 43 Ayotzinapa students has been identified.

Demonstrations have been held across the country since September, with protesters demanding an end to government corruption after it was discovered that a local mayor and his wife were involved in the disappearance of the students.

The situation of the 43 disappeared students has become a symbol of the larger problems of government corruption and impunity in the country. Protesters have accused all levels of government—municpal, state and federal—of being responsible for the mass killings and disappearances of thousands of people across the country.

See more: Mexican Social Activist Found Dead in ‘Political Crime’





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142nd Colombian Journalist Killed since 1977

Since 1977, at least 142 journalists have been murdered in Colombia.

Since 1977, at least 142 journalists have been murdered in Colombia. 

The murdered journalist was recognized for his “critical kind of journalism.”

Renowned Colombian journalist Luis Peralta Cuellar, 63, was shot at least seven times and killed near his house Saturday evening, according to witnesses.

“Peralta was known for a critical kind of journalism,” stated the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP), which condemned the crime.

His wife, injured during the attack, was immediately taken from her home in El Doncello, Caqueta, to the nearest hospital. She is reportedly out of danger.

The famous reporter headed up the radio station Linda Estereo, a branch of Caracol Radio. The FLIP also revealed that the journalist had received death threats on a number of occasions. Peralta covered critical issues such as extractivism and administrative corruption

“Days before, Peralta had told his colleague that he had been threatened, without giving further details, nor filing a complaint with the police,” the journalism group stated.

The FLIP also recalled that in 2010 local police deactivated an explosive device, programmed to explode via a cellphone, left outside Peralta’s radio building.

Peralta had just announced his candidacy as the mayor of Doncello Friday, the first public position the journalist had considered.

Colombia celebrated the Day of the Journalist on Feb. 9. Since 1977, the FLIP has recorded 142 journalists murdered in the South American nation.

See more: 97 Journalists Killed in Mexico in Past 4 Years

UN Calls on an End to Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

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Interview with William Schabas, former Chair, UN Commission of Inquiry for 2014 I$raHell Attack on Gaza


by: Dr Richard Falk

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[Prefatory Note: I am posting an interview conducted by email in recent days with Professor William Schabas in the immediate aftermath of his resignation as Chair and Member of the three person Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council last August to investigate allegations of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as state crimes associated with Israel’s military attack on Gaza (code named by Israel as Operation Protective Edge) of July-August 2014. The depleted commission now consists of the remaining two members (Mary McGowan Davis of the United States as the newly designated Chair, and Doudou Diène of Senegal) and is due to submit its final report to the HRC in March; Professor Schabas, a distinguished specialist in international criminal law with a worldwide reputation is on the faculty of Middlesex University in London, had participated fully in planning the inquiry, the gathering of evidence, listening to witnesses. His exclusion from the drafting of the report deprives the Commission, and hence the HRC and the international community, of the member with the greatest professional credibility and reputation for no acceptable reason.

As has so often been the case when Israel faces the prospect of criticism it mounts an array of charges of bias directed at both prominent individuals and their institutional sponsors. This was my experience as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine during the entire period of 2008-2014 in which I was subject to continuous defamatory attacks, spearheaded by UN Watch, a notorious NGO that avoids the message while mounting a furious attack on the messenger, seeking to blacken my reputation by writing letters of personal denunciation to a variety of prominent persons, who took such tactics far more seriously than they deserved. Israel officially charged me with bias at the time of my appointment, including issuing a Foreign Ministry declaration of non-cooperation, implemented in December 2008 when I tried to enter Israel on a HRC mission on behalf of the UN and was expelled after being held in a detention cell overnight.

In September 2009 when the Goldstone Report was issued after an inquiry similar to the one that Scshabas was chairing, prompted by the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead). Richard Goldstone, a prominent liberal figure at the time but also a dedicated Zionist with close personal and professional connections to Israel, was put under pressure from the outset to decline the appointment, and Israel as in this case refused to allow the UN to enter Israel to carry out its fact finding mission in the most efficient manner. Although the Goldstone Report was fair and balanced, it was viciously attacked from the first moment of its presentation as ‘a blood libel’ against the Jewish people, and Goldstone personally was vilified by Israel’s most prominent political leaders, including the Prime Minister and President. This relentless pressure led Goldstone to retract on his own a crucial finding of the report as to the deliberate use of force by the IDF against Palestinian civilians, an action mainly discrediting of Goldstone himself, as the finding of the report continued to enjoy the support of the other three distinguished members of the inquiry group, including by Christine Chinkin of LSE, one of the world’s leading experts on international humanitarian law.

William Schabas’ resignation has its own disturbing specific context, although it bears the imprint of Israel’s determination and skill in mounting campaigns of bias to discredit whoever has had the professional willingness to present unpopular truths concerning allegations of state crimes by Israel arising out of its controversial uses of force in Gaza and overall unlawful occupation administration. As explained in the interview, Schabas was responding to Israeli charges of bias from the outset of his appointment, but with a recent emphasis on the fact that he had some years ago prepared as a modestly paid consultant a short technical report for the Palestinian Liberation Organization on the international law questions associated with a possible Palestinian application for membership in the International Criminal Court. Schabas’ attackers had gained enough traction in recent weeks to induce the President of the HRC to propose referring the question of Schabas’ bias to the UN Legal Affairs Office for resolution. Rather than see the work of the COI diverted and delayed by this side issue, Schabas chose to resign. As is usual in these cases, when a person who stands forth in public for truth and principle as Schabas has done since the beginning, there follows a flow of hate mail and death threats that appear to be the work of pro-Israeli extremists who consider critics of Israel as ‘Jew-haters’ or worse. It is important that those of us who seek a sustainable and just peace for the region stand in solidarity with William Schabas who knowingly stepped into this toxic environment because of his lifelong commitment to strengthening the role of international criminal law in protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. It is a shameful reality that Israel has been so successful in mounting these campaigns within the United Nations against its more visible critics, and by so doing divert needed attention from its own persistent and flagrant wrongdoing from the perspective of international law. ]

Interview with William Schabas, recently resigned under pressure as Chair of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to Investigate Allegations of State Crimes associated with Israel’s military attack on Gaza, code named Operation Protective Edge

  1. When you accepted the position of Chair of this Commission of Inquiry into allegations of criminality directed at Israel and Hamas in relation to Israel’s military operations in Gaza during July and August 2014, what were your hopes and worries? Were these borne out by your actual experience?

This was not the first time I have been asked to do something by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have never said no when asked. I am a loyal and enthusiastic supporter both of the High Commissioner and of the Human Rights Council. Thus, when initially requested by the High Commissioner if I would agree to have my name submitted as a candidate for the Commission and then by the President of the Human Rights Council if I would agree to be a member of the Commission I did not hesitate. I considered it an honour that both of them thought I could do this challenging job of participating in the Commission. I should add that I was never asked whether I would be the Chairman and only learned that I had been selected for that job when the announcement was made.

This was not the first such Commission. In particular, in a sense it follows in the footsteps of the Goldstone Commission. But there have been other inquiries since Goldstone and a huge amount of work conducted by special procedures of the Human Rights Council and by other UN institutions over the decades. When the most recent Commission of Inquiry was established, I think I believed that we would be a small piece in this much bigger mosaic of initiatives. I hoped the Commission would contribute both to justice and peace but my expectations were modest. On more than one occasion, I said that the difference between this Commission and its predecessors was that this time the International Criminal Court was standing in the wings. The State of Palestine had already begun ratifying international treaties. It acknowledged that accession to the Rome Statute was on its agenda.

  1. How did the work of COI proceed? Were you pleased with the workings of the undertaking as a whole? Do you expect that your resignation will have effects on the conclusions of the report, the reception of its findings, and their likely implementation?

I need to be very careful here because the Commission has not been very public in its activities. It has gathered a huge amount of material. It has also met with many individuals – victims, experts, human rights activists, UN officials, representatives of governments, diplomats – but these ‘hearings’ were not open to the public. Some of those who met with the Commission, in particular a delegation of Israelis that travelled to Geneva in January 2015, publicized their meetings with the Commission. But as a general rule, the identity of those who met with the Commission has not been divulged.

I regret not being able to contribute to the drafting of the report. That job was only beginning at the time of my resignation. I am confident that the professional staff of the Commission, consisting of a dozen specialists, and the two Commissioners will produce a fair and effective report.

Although Netanyahu has called my departure a victory, my own sense is that he has shot himself in the foot or, as they say on this side of the Atlantic, scored an own goal. His strategy seems to be based on the idea that he will be able to prevent the report from appearing. But I think he is very wrong here. Instead of keeping his powder dry, he has fired one of his best pieces of ammunition in order to eliminate me. Now, it is harder for him to attack the Commission and its report.

  1. Can you explain your rationale for resignation more fully? Were you influenced by the experience of Richard Goldstone and the Goldstone Report?

Were you not aware when you were approached that these issues of supposed ‘conflict of interest’ would be used to challenge your credibility in a defamatory manner? Was the decisive factor the unanticipated response of the President of the Human Rights Council to the contention about your consultancy with the PLO on Palestinian statehood?

There had been calls for me to resign from the moment I accepted the mandate in early August 2014. I did not ignore them but I concluded that they were not substantial. I do not think that I was biased or that there was a reasonable apprehension of bias. The allegation about the legal opinion I delivered to the PLO in October 2012 only emerged in late January. It seems the Israeli ambassador raised this informally with the President of the Human Rights Council who then drew it to my attention and asked me to explain, which I did. Subsequently, Israel made a formal complaint. The President proposed that legal advice from the United Nations in New York be requested in order to determine the procedure to follow in examining the complaint. The five-member Bureau of the Council agreed to this. Within minutes of its decision, I submitted my resignation.

I think that when there is an inquiry or investigation into the impartiality of a member of a tribunal or similar body, it is problematic for that body to proceed with other matters until the issue of impartiality is resolved. It was my own assessment that it would be difficult for the Commission to continue to work until my status had been determined. That was likely to take weeks. At best, it would distract the Commission from its important work at a crucial phase. At worst, it would prevent the Commission from completing its report by the March session, as it was required to do. Although I would have preferred to fight and defend myself from the unfair charges of conflict of interest, I considered that I had become an obstacle to the Commission completing its mandate. The least bad solution was for me to get out of the way.

Your question seems to imply that I should have seen all of this coming and extricated myself from the business much earlier. I cannot say I did not consider this in August when I saw how brutal and vicious the attacks on me had become. An important difficulty then was that already one of the three members who had been appointed had taken the step of withdrawing. Amal Clooney had initially been named along with myself and Doudou Diene. It seems there was some kind of misunderstanding. Within a few hours of the announcement of her appointment, she said that she could not serve. For me to withdraw subsequently would, I thought at the time, have been disastrous for the Human Rights Council. Bear in mind that the conflict in Gaza was still raging at the time. I decided that I would tough it out. I did not accept the charges of bias. It is easy today to second guess this. I should add that despite the nasty attacks from predictable directions, there was great support for the Commission of Inquiry. In September, the President of the Council reported to the plenary Human Rights Council. UN Watch and its friends howled about the composition of the Commission but there was no reaction from the members of the Council. In particular, on various occasions the European member states, who had abstained in the resolution establishing the Commission, reassured the three Commissioners of their support for its work and its activities.

  1. In retrospect, do you find any substance to the charges of bias or conflict of interest? How can one be both an expert on this subject-matter and not have some pre-existing opinions? Should not the proper test be one of professionalism and objectivity with respect to the evidence and applicable law? For instance, would a person who had been critical of Nazism or apartheid be rendered unfit to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity or racism?

The word ‘bias’ gets thrown around a lot in this discussion. My attackers constantly claimed that I was ‘biased’. All that they meant was that I had an opinion different from their own. When one talks about bias in the context of judicial independence and impartiality, the issue is not whether the individual in question has opinions that have been expressed in the past. Everyone has opinions. Some conceal them. Others, like myself, wear them on their sleeve. But bias only occurs when an individual charged with a task requiring fairness and impartiality is unable to set his or her opinions aside. There is absolutely no evidence to support such a charge against me on this basis.

Lawyers often talk about ‘perception of bias’ or ‘fear of bias’. This is more subjective. It will occur when someone has a close personal relationship with a litigant or when financial interests are involved. There is reasonable concern that someone placed in such circumstances would have difficulty being impartial. But again, there is nothing of the sort in my situation.

Until the issue of the legal opinion that I provided in 2012 for the PLO arose, the only serious charges against me concerned a couple of statements I had made about Netanyahu. They were presented out of context to suggest that I had some kind of obsession with the man. In one case I was reacting to Netanyahu’s attack on Richard Goldstone. Netanyahu had said that Goldstone was one of the greatest threats to the survival of Israel. I said that I thought Netanyahu was the greatest threat to Israel’s survival. In the other I was talking about double standards at the International Criminal Court. I cited Desmond Tutu, who had criticised the African focus of the Court and said that he wanted to see Tony Blair brought before it. I said that my choice would be Netanyahu. Otherwise, I had not really thought much about the man. I of course stand by what I said. I have never said that I regretted making those remarks. I have never retracted them. I had a right to say them.

Could the UN have found someone who would be qualified to work on a Commission of Inquiry who did not have opinions about Israel and Palestine? Perhaps. Is there a thoughtful, well-informed individual on the planet who does not have an opinion on this?

The Israeli complaint about the legal opinion I had done for the PLO precipitated the chain of events that led to my resignation. Israeli called it a blatant conflict of interest. That is simply wrong. I did the opinion about two years before my appointment. It concerned Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute. I’ve done this for other governments too, helping them to address the legal issues involved in joining the International Criminal Court. I’ll gladly do it for others too, including Israel and the United States, if they ask me. The legal opinion for the PLO was the work of a recognised expert in the field. Although the PLO later acceded to the Rome Statute, it seems it was unimpressed with my legal advice because it did not accede in 2012. But that’s the nature of a legal opinion. Political leaders respond to other imperatives, which is quite understandable. I was not giving the PLO political advice. I was not their advocate or lawyer. I was simply providing a technical service. From beginning to end the whole matter lasted a couple of weeks. I received the request by e-mail and delivered the opinion by e-mail. I was paid a modest amount for my work. This is not a conflict of interest.

I have been struck by the failure of those who have challenged my presence on the Commission to engage with the legal authorities. For example, in 2004 Israel applied to have Judge Elaraby removed from the International Court of Justice in the advisory opinion on the Wall. The application was dismissed almost unanimously by the Court. Judge Elaraby had been a senior diplomat in Egypt and had frequently expressed views about Israel and Palestine. Judge Elaraby had been legal advisor to Egypt for part of his career. He certainly gave legal opinions to Egypt about the conflict over the years.

An Israeli academic friend of mine has drawn my attention to Hersch Lauterpacht, who was a strong supporter of Israel. He even wrote a draft of the declaration of independence, and provided advice to the Zionist movement and the State of Israel at various times. He was elected a judge of the International Court of Justice. Lauterpacht sat in the Israel v. Bulgaria case, which was dismissed at a preliminary stage but with Lauterpacht in dissent. Israel didn’t object that time.

Your reference to a person with views on Nazism is of interest because this was precisely the argument raised by Eichmann against the Israeli judges. There was never any suggestion that the three judges, all of them German Jews, did not have strong views about the Holocaust. It was assumed that they did. How could that not be the case? The Supreme Court of Israel ruled that professional judges would set aside their opinions and judge in an impartial manner.

  1. On the basis of this experience, would you accept future assignments from the HRC or OHCHR? Were you a victim of a campaign of defamation waged by UN Watch, NGO Monitor, etc.?

Of course I will continue to serve the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These two institutions are central to the international protection of human rights.

The charges of bias against me were nothing more than a witch-hunt, something reminiscent of McCarthyism. Shortly after I was appointed, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach published full-page ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post attacking my appointment. These were full of vicious lies. They dealt with matters that had nothing whatsoever to do with the mandate of the Commission. For example, I was described as a ‘friend of Iran and its genocidal former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’. This is simply a lie. In 2012, I was a member of the Iran Truth Commission that condemned the Iranian regime for gross violations of human rights. In 2011, I accompanied filmmaker Sandra Schulberg to Tehran in order to show her film Nuremberg, Its Lesson for Today. I spoke there about the Holocaust to young Iranians, confronting denialism and anti-Semitism in the lion’s den, so to speak.


  1. Overall, what did you learn from this experience that bears on the role and limitations of the UN? Is the Israel/Palestine conflict a special case? What can be

done to depoliticize the process of such fact finding and policy making undertakings? Did the approach of the Canadian Government of not backing its own citizens play a role in making you more vulnerable to the Israeli pushback?

I think that Israel and Palestine is indeed a special case in UN activity because of the highly politicized context. Fact finding commissions dealing with Syria, Libya and North Korea simply do not confront the hysteria associated with Israel and Palestine. Israel argues that it is a victim of double standards at the Human Rights Council. But it is a beneficiary of double standards at the other Council. This is a nasty, toxic matter. But the job must be done. I hope that those who will be called upon to pursue these issues within the United Nations will not be intimidated by stories of the intense and vicious attacks to which I was subjected, including death threats and unceasing abuse on the internet, much of it quite vile, violent and even racist. The language employed by Israel’s leaders contributes to this terrible atmosphere and, at least indirectly, incites the more fanatical participants. Last week, Foreign Minister Liberman likened me to Cain, a man who murdered his own brother. I must confess to having punched my brothers a few times, when I was much younger, but I have never murdered anyone! The Israeli representative to the UN described me as ‘Dracula’. But such analogies only contribute to the violent tone of the discussions.

Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, denounced my appointment. I’m a Canadian citizen who has served his country in a variety of ways. I am an Officer in the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honours. The current government of Canada is run by a nasty, right-wing bunch who have greatly tarnished the country’s once rather noble position in the field of human rights. Their reactionary positions are well known within the Human Rights Council and, more generally, the United Nations. It would have been an embarrassment if Baird had approved of my appointment.

  1. On balance, how would you compare this COI with that chaired by Goldstone? My impression is that with Goldstone, there was a posture of noncooperation, but no public campaign until the report was issued, and then an ugly multi-level campaign took shape, and led to his partial retraction and total discrediting (especially as he acted without the support of the other three members with whom he apparently did not even consult). How should such COIs be structured in the future? (you may know that my successor as SR had no prior knowledge, and has made the position almost invisible, which may have been the intention).

I wish I had a good answer to your question. It is tempting to say that in the future, the UN should vet appointees in the way that US government officials vet judicial nominees and similar appointments. As you know, there is no shortage of judges in the US who get through congressional approval because they don’t seem to have ever had an opinion about abortion or capital punishment and similar issues. Maybe the UN can identify a similar cohort of human rights experts who have never had opinions on important issues. Given that the nature of human rights work involves participating in various forms of activism, that may prove more difficult than similar exercises in the US judiciary. And it is also likely to eliminate some of the best qualified candidates from the pool.

What I would like to see is more pushback on these wrong and unfair charges of bias and conflict of interest. Some clarification on what is and what is not acceptable would make things clearer. I would like to see some UN guidelines that spell out the fact that the mere fact of having expressed opinions about a situation or a crisis does not disqualify someone from being a member of a Commission of Inquiry or serving in some similar function. It could also be made clear that providing a legal opinion in the past on a matter not directly related to the subject-matter of a commission is not a conflict of interest. The charge of bias seems far too easy to throw around. When it gets before courts, as it did in the International Court of Justice and the Supreme Court of Israel, it doesn’t get much traction, however. Let us get more clarity on this within the UN so that demagogic charges of bias can be knocked out early.

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EU Is Back in the Greece Mode

Adelina Marini

There is no doubt that the EU is again in a Greek mode. The issue of the future of Greece has again overtaken the agenda of the EU summits and of the Eurogroup meetings and has returned the feeling of frustration that was forgotten for a while. The big difference from the last time, however, is that in 2009, when everything began, the main drama was the survival of the euro area, whereas now, five years later, the main drama is Greece to understand what everyone elese in the euro area have understood in the past four years, namely that the elections could very well be national but the economies no longer are. The world does not begin and does not end with a government nor a new government is a sufficient condition to rewrite the rules of a community ruled by 28 governments, parliaments and public opinions.

The debut of the new Greek government in the EU

The first participation of the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the European Council has completely lived up to the fears of many in EU of a political phenomenon like Syriza which is not based on any other ideology but unbacked opportunism. In EU there are populists and populists. They differ depending on the national culture and mentality and by the reasons for their appearance. In Bulgaria we have a saying, which is probably inspired by Greece, “Storm the olives”. It is used for people who are rushing to do something without having learned in advance what is that they are going to do, without having a clear plan or expectations from the consequences. Those are populists-nonrealists. People who have no connection with reality. Generally, populists promise voters things they want to hear. In most cases those are soft forms of populism. Syriza is a severe form of populism because it denies not only what had been agreed by previous legitimate governments but also the economic logic of a monetary union, no matter how imperfect it may be. Syriza behaves as if, indeed, the world starts from today and thanks to them.

The party has won the elections, expectedly, with unrealistic promises to remove all the institutions created during the crisis to save Greece and later all the other countries with financial problems. Greece has always been the patient zero, a different case because the crisis there was caused by many factors which in their majority are inherent – corrupt political elites, coiffured data to join the euro area, a violent street temper. Those are the reasons why the crisis hit the hardest in Greece. All the other factors (external), as Ireland and Portugal proved, can be resolved.

The aggressive wording of the far left party in the past days, including around the EU summit on 12 February has provoked in the Union some obvious or not so obvious jokes questioning the intellect of the new Greek government. For example, a senior EU official said that the technical work of the institutions “formerly known as the T-institutions (Troika)” has started. According to the source, the main discourse was political and the reading mode was abandoned but the time has come for a hard landing to the facts. And the facts are to be found in what “was previously known as the programme”, the source continued in the same spirit. The reasons for the jokes are that at his first press conference after his debut on European stage Alexis Tsipras repeated several times that the Troika is over and the programme no longer exists. “Forget it! There is no Troika. The Troika no longer exists. The programme no longer exists”, were Tsipras’s words in the packed Greek national briefing room in Brussels.

His was the most anticipated press conference. The interest of the journalists was huge but the Greek prime minister failed to say anything different than what he stated during the election campaign and later. However, there was a slight change of the tone. May be as a result of the clash with the hard facts. But this failed to compensate the confusion from Mr Tsipras’s controversial statements. On the one hand he said that the Troika and the memorandum were gone, but on the other hand he expected a “bridge agreement” to be concluded that would lead to a social contract with the European partners in the coming six months. He suggested that against such a contract Greece would have to commit to reforms, including such that ensure primary surplus in the budget (which is in the current programme and is expected this year), of the public administration, fight against corruption, reform of the judiciary and a technical solution for the debt. All of these things can be found in the former, according to Syriza, and the current, according to the EU, bailout programme.

Mr Tsipras was outraged by the claims of leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel or Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem that Greece did not present anything concrete. “Our proposal was very specific. Let’ s hear from them then what their proposal is about how Greece can go back to growth”. We are not pupils but equal partners, he emphasised and added that Greece had opinion of its own and its voice was heard in EU. Germany’s proposal, and Germany is no longer alone, is that Greece should continue with the commitments of past governments, to do reforms and to pay its debts. In an opinion in The Financial Times last week, Jurgen Stark, a former member of the ECB governing council, wrote that no one was dictating anything to anyone. “The political elites of the eurozone periphery are responsible for having lost access to the financial markets in 2010. Years of mismanagement and failure to observe the rule of law have led to increasing budget deficits and mounting debts”.

“It is not because of Germany that France is experiencing economic stagnation and Italy has suffered long-term recession. The problems are home made. They cannot be eliminated by the ECB or by fiscal stimulus”, Mr Stark added underscoring that the principle of individual responsibility applies to Europe too and this will remain so until there is a political union with a proper democratic control. The same position expressed many times Finance Minister Wolfgang Scheuble.

And although currently the work on Greece’s second bailout programme is frozen, legally it is still in force despite the statements of the Greek premier, said a well informed source in the EU. He gave the example of the Irish programme saying that no programme is static. In all of them changes are made depending on the economic context. The programme is not the holy book where nothing can be changed but, still, when changes are made we should be careful not to change the “theology” behind it, the source described the situation and again pointed at the Irish programme saying that it went through some serious changes “simply because there are intelligent people discussing the environment during a review”.

Tsipras circus

The frustration and irony are provoked by Greece’s behaviour in the past week in the EU. On the eve of the European Council on February 12th there was an extraordinary meeting of the Eurogroup the aim of which was to clarify what exactly Greece wants and negotiations to begin. After a several-hour marathon the negotiations ended without an agreement. Despite the huge expectations, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem came out with very exhausted or may be angry appearance and announced that he had nothing to say. Throughout the evening there were rumours that the Eurogroup worked on a text of an agreement. Moreover, according to various sources close to the meeting, everything was completely agreed which is why many of the ministers went home. What was only needed was the Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis to get the final approval by Athens. He did not get it. According to Premier Tsipras,

the decision to reject the text was collective and justified. He hoped that a decision would be found on Monday (February 16) when the Eurogroup is meeting again to discuss the Greek question.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission chief was sceptical, though, that it is possible to reach an agreement on 16 February because there is a lot to be done before that. In his words, there is an agreement with Greece on 70% of the programme. However, a very careful analysis has to be made of the remaining 30 per cent to see what can be changed and how. He underscored that if a fiscal measure is to be removed it has to be replaced by another to avoid violating the common fiscal goal. “I remain concerned ahead of the Monday meeting”, he concluded. And although all leaders expressed readiness for an agreement with Greece, their statements did not give much hope. Most critical was Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic whose country, too, is in a prolonged recession, with high unemployment and a mounting debt. “Our path is to see what we can do to help the people in Greece if Greece is the country that needs assistance the most, because I see that there are other countries that need help and which are less developed than Greece but are paying these bills”, the Croatian premier said before the beginning of the European Council last Thursday.

He underscored that the rules have to be respected and concluded that he does not trust those who are capable of building coalitions with the far right hinting of Syriza’s coalition partner – the party of the Independent Greeks who are known for their anti-migrant and anti-German stances. Also sceptical was Finland Prime Minister Alexander Stubb according to whom Greece should stick to the reform commitments, including tax avoidance, increasing tax collection, reform of the public sector. “The usual reforms”, he said and recalled that in the past five years a lot has been done to help Greece remain in the euro area. Similar positions defended also Lithuania President Grybauskaite and Estonia Prime Minister Taavi Roivas. “Keeping the commitments of previous governments is [an] absolute necessity”, he said. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, too, said that the member states should be disciplined and respect the rules. “Actions that violate the financial discipline should not be tolerated. It is not fair regarding the other countries”, he said.

An optimistic pessimism about the outcome of the Eurogroup

The Greek prime minister and his finance minister are optimists about today’s meeting of the Eurogroup. The EU, however, radiated pessimism. Slovakia Finance Minister Peter Kazimir tweeted last night that he was sceptical about an agreement on all details. “There are limits and the clock is ticking”, his tweet said. Why the rush was one of the questions some colleagues were asking in Brussels. The reason for the rush is that the extended rescue programme of Greece expires in the end of the month (28 February). If there is no solution, the Greek government will remain without cash. What makes the situation even more complicated and difficult is that not only an agreement on the relations between the EU (the euro area in particular) and Greece must be found but the Greek financial needs should also be assessed as this is not at all clear at this stage.

Since the work of the “organisation formerly known as the T-institutions” has been blocked, practically Greece’s creditors have no idea what has been done in the past months – what is the level of receipts, of spending and what would the country’s financial needs might be. According to The Financial Times, Greece will need a third programme the price tag of which will be 37.8 bn euros at best. The question is if the T-institutions do not know what the situation of Greece is at the moment do the Greek taxpayers know, especially bearing in mind that Tsipras does not miss to boost that he gets his power from the Greek people. At his press briefing after his first European Council, he did not miss to recall that the EU should respect democracy. But to what extent is this democracy based on real facts and not on rosy promises? And when Tsipras says that the EU should respect democracy and the election results, which in Greece have shown that voters do not want anymore austerity, is Greece aware that in Germany the voters said that they do not want anymore to save countries that refuse reforms?

So far, the result from the reforms that even until now were tough to implement, is positive. According to the winter economic forecast of the European Commission, made on the basis of strict implementation of the programme, the Greek economy is expected to grow by 2.5% this year and by 3.6% next year. As of this year the budget is expected to generate a surplus of 1.1% and next year of 1.6%. The Commission foresees if the programme is implemented, the Greek public debt to decline from 170.2% of GDP this year to 159.2% next year. The situation with the unemployment, too, is expected to i

mprove significantly. To some, the forecast could sound too rosy but the situation in Ireland and Portugal shows that optimism is grounded.

Therefore it is important to underscore the coincidence that while the Eurogroup will be seeking a solution to the latest Greek problem, the ministers of finance of the euro area will also discuss the formal request of the Portugal government to pay back more than half of its loans to the IMF earlier. Lisbon is expected to receive the approval of the Eurogroup. Portugal’s exit from the programme will follow the same principles and precedents of Ireland. So, Greece is facing the two sides of the same coin – some in the euro area are applying the cure in a constructive dialogue with the doctor whereas others are refusing the treatment, the doctor and everything. As the Portuguese economic daily Diário Económico commented last week, “this shows that there are alternatives to the new Greek government’s approach”. It is important to note also that the economic forecast for Portugal is not as rosy as for Greece. The expected growth of Portugal’s economy is not as big as for Greece – 1.6% this year and 1.7% in 2016. The budget of Portugal will continue to generate deficits, although within the limits of the Stability and Growth Pact and the tempo of debt reduction will be much slower than the Greek one.

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Putin Paranoia

Image result for Putin CARTOON
By Patrick J. Buchanan

Hopefully, the shaky truce between Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, brokered in Minsk by Angela Merkel, will hold.
For nothing good, but much evil, could come of broadening and lengthening this war that has cost the lives of 5,400 Ukrainians.

The longer it goes on, the greater the casualties, the more land Ukraine will lose, and the greater the likelihood Kiev will end up an amputated and bankrupt republic, a dependency the size of France on the doorstep of Europe.

Had no truce been achieved, 8,000 Ukrainian troops trapped in the Debaltseve pocket could have been forced to surrender or wiped out, causing a regime crisis in Kiev. U.S. weapons could have begun flowing in, setting the stage for a collision between Russia and the United States.

One understands Russia’s vital interest in retaining its Black Sea naval base in Crimea, and keeping Ukraine out of NATO. And one sees the vital interest of Ukraine in not losing the Donbas.

But what is America’s vital interest here?

Merkel says a great principle is at stake, that in post-Cold War Europe, borders are not to be changed by force.

That is idealistic, but is it realistic?

At the Cold War’s end, Yugoslavia split into seven nations, the USSR into 15. Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, even Slovenia briefly, had to fight to break free. So, too, did the statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in breaking from Georgia, and Transnistria from Moldova.

Inside Russia there are still minorities such as the Chechens who wish to break free. And in many of the new nations like Ukraine, there are ethnic Russians who want to go home.

Indeed, a spirit of secessionism pervades the continent of Europe.

But while London permitted the Scottish secessionists a vote, Madrid refuses to concede that right to the Basques or Catalans. And some of these ethnic minorities may one day fight to break free, as the Irish did a century ago.

Yet of all of the secessionist movements from the Atlantic to the Urals, none imperils a vital interest of the United States. None is really our business. And none justifies a war with Russia.

Indeed, what is it about this generation of Americans that makes us such compulsive meddlers in the affairs of nations we could not find on a map? Consider if you will our particular affliction: Putin paranoia.

Forty years ago, this writer was in Moscow with Richard Nixon on his last summit with Leonid Brezhnev.

It was not a contentious affair, though the USSR was then the command center of an immense empire that stretched from Berlin to the Bering Sea.

And when we are warned that Putin wishes to restore that USSR of 1974, and to reassemble that Soviet Empire of yesterday, have we really considered what that would require of him?

To restore the USSR, Putin would have to recapture Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, an area the size of the United States.

To resurrect the Soviet Empire, Putin would have to invade and occupy Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and then overrun Germany to the Elbe River.

How far along is Putin in re-establishing the empire of the czars and commissars? He has reannexed Crimea, which is roughly the size of Vermont, and which the Romanovs acquired in the 18th century.

Yet almost daily we hear the din from Capitol Hill, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!”

That there is bad blood between America and Putin is undeniable. And, indeed, Putin has his quarrels with us as well.

In his eyes, we took advantage of the dissolution of the USSR to move NATO into Eastern Europe and the Baltic republics. We used our color-coded revolutions to dump over pro-Russian regimes in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Yet beyond our mutual distrust, or even contempt, is there not common ground between us?

As the century unfolds, two clear and present dangers threaten U.S. strategic interests: the rising power of a covetous China and the spread of Islamic terrorism.

In dealing with both, Russia is a natural ally. China sees Siberia and the Russian Far East, with its shrinking population, as a storehouse of the resources Beijing needs.

And against the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and al-Qaida, Russia, which suffered in Beslan and Moscow what New York, London, Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen have suffered, is on our side.

During the Cold War, Russia was in thrall to an ideology hostile to all we believed in. She had rulers who commanded a world empire.

Yet we had presidents who could do business with Moscow.

If we could negotiate with neo-Stalinists issues as grave as the the Berlin Wall, and ballistic missiles in Cuba, why cannot we sit down with Vladimir Putin and discuss less earthshaking matters, such as whose flag should fly over Luhansk and Donetsk?

Posted in USA, Russia, UkraineComments Off on Putin Paranoia

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