23 November 2009

Berlin Wall Series: German Democratic Republic

The Berlin Wall itself was a response to one simple point. The abject failure of socialism to satisfy the citizens of the German Democratic Republic to want to stay. For with many east Germans able to receive west German television, and all able to receive western radio broadcasts, the contrast was clear. Coca-cola, the Beatles and capitalism were far more attractive than the dreary sameness of the GDR. Most importantly, if you had any degree of self motivation, ambition and desire to succeed, beyond shooting and spying on your fellow citizens, you had to leave.

In 1945, with the Red Army having taken around a third of conquered Germany. The remaining territories, which would be known as west Germany were occupied by American, British and (don’t laugh) French troops, until the Federal Republic of Germany was established in 1949.

Stalin’s plan was clear.
- In association with the Allies, a quarter of territory was taken for neighbouring states, including separating Austria once more.
- A third of east Germany’s industrial equipment and facilities were removed for use in the Soviet Union.
- The Red Army became firmly based in east Germany as the front line between east and west;
- East Germany would become the location of a new German society on Marxist-Leninist lines, rejecting the Nazi past.

Elections were held in the Red Army occupied east in 1946 for some form of local administration, and while past political parties (pre-Nazi) were legalised, Stalin forced the merger between the largest social democratic party and the communists, into the Socialist Unity Party. It won the election, given extensive Soviet propaganda, much based on fact, about the horrors of the Nazi era.

However, for women and girls in east Germany there wasn’t relief with the defeat of the Nazis. The Red Army unofficially tolerated widescale rape and sexual abuse of German women and girls in the years after the war. Conservative estimates put the number of female victims of the Soviet occupation at the hundreds of thousands. These stories have only been allowed to be told and confronted in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As the Soviet occupation continued, Stalin was concerned about Berlin. Berlin had been divided between American, British, French and Soviet zones, but surrounded by Soviet occupied east Germany. Three single access corridors were guaranteed by road and rail between the west German occupied zones and the Berlin equivalents. However, Stalin had decided this shouldn’t continue, and he wanted the west out of Berlin. He started having trains stopped and inspected on the corridor trips, and then demanded that land access be closed. This was due to frustration at the money being poured into west Germany under the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the Deutsche Mark, both of which he opposed. He closed land access and electricity supply to west Berlin on the pretext of there being no formal agreement between the allies on such corridors of access, the allied response was what is now known as the Berlin airlift. The subsequent months are well known, as planes flew every four minutes on average into Tempelhof airport, supplying food, fuel and other supplies to west Berliners. At the time, Berlin was still a devastated poor city, and malnutrition was not unknown at all in post war Germany. Stalin responded by offering “free food” to west Berliners to move east, few did. Ultimately, the airlift succeeded, Stalin blinked and land access was restored. 70 pilots are aircrew had died in crashes during the airlift, indicating the risk involved in aviation at the time.

A protest at the Brandenburg gate at Stalin’s attempts to form a single municipal government for Berlin (bear in mind no wall at the time), saw the start of the serious division of the city. Half a million rejected attempts at communist domination of the Berlin council. The response was for the Soviet sector to establish a communist local authority, whilst the western sectors remained under military control.

When the Federal Republic of Germany was declared, it incensed Stalin further. An independent liberal democratic German capitalist state, that would become a NATO ally and be at the front line of the Cold War was not how he envisaged Germany. So the German Democratic Republic was hastily created in the east, using east Berlin as its capital, although it was meant to nominally be Soviet territory.

“Don’t mention the war”, as east Germans were all told they are new socialist citizens. The official line for most was that they were members of the anti-fascist resistance. The Socialist Unity Party would lead a so-called “national front”, but in effect had a monopoly on political power.

The usual communist policies were introduced, with all property nationalised and almost all businesses state owned and controlled, except crafts. Walter Ulbricht was the Stalinist leader of the GDR, and he created the Stasi, the secret police that would be many times more pervasive than the Gestapo. 2.5% of the population worked as Stasi informers. Whilst the Nazis were militarily aggressive outside Germany, and genocidal maniacs, the communists were totalitarian towards their own on a grand scale.

In the early 1950s, large scale industrialisation was the focus, but a growing problem was the exodus west. By 1953, an average of 37,000 were migrating from east to west, as skilled and talented east Germans rejected the totalitarian society being inflicted upon them, so by the mid 1950s, the extensive land border between the two German states was sealed. This culminated in the Berlin Wall in 1961, as east Berliners were swelling west Berlin with talent, and getting passports as a result. By the time the wall was completed, east Germany had lost a quarter of its population since the war.

The ability to leave wasn’t the only response by east Germans. Increases in minimum production quotas saw workers strike in 1953 in what became known as the 1953 Uprising. Tens of thousands turned out to protest in east Berlin, before the police and army turned on them, arresting hundreds and killing up to 100. This was the first major uprising in the eastern bloc.

The subsequent years saw Stalinism rolled back slowly in the 1960s, Ulbricht followed Czechoslovakia in allowing more autonomy for industrial units, hiring management based on skills and ability, more than politics. Technical competence would be rewarded. The results were improved levels of production, but although Ulbricht supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, forces within the Socialist Unity Party were moving to overthrow him.

Erich Honecker conspired with Brezhnev to overthrow him on the pretext that he was moving away from Marxism-Leninism to a more pragmatic economic policy, although at the same time Ulbricht participated in discussions on normalising relations with western countries including the Federal Republic of Germany.

Honecker pushed Ulbricht to the sidelines in 1971, and refocused propaganda on Marxism Leninism. Meanwhile, the movements of Ulbricht on improving relations with the west continued, so by 1973 the Berlin and Basic Agreements saw significant changes in the relationship. Postal and telecommunication links were reopened, and greater freedom of movement for westerners to the east (though not vice versa). This allowed families divided by the Cold War to have some contact.

East Germany had a reputation for the highest standard of living in the communist bloc, which was true. Industrial production had become more oriented towards (poor quality) consumer goods, partly because there was so much awareness of the west through broadcasting. It was virtually impossible to enforce bans on listening or viewing foreign broadcasts, although the Stasi would certainly use evidence of such activities as a reason to harass.

One way the GDR pushed national pride was sports, with the tragic use of steroids and hothouse training conditions for GDR Olympic athletes. Arts and culture were focused on socialist realism, but from the 1970s on east German cinema also went beyond the stultifying Stalinist themes and had an unusual genre of American Western type films, which would have the native Americans as heroes against the imperialist USA. There was strong support for classical music, but also underground rock and pop music bands would appear, occasionally harassed by the authorities, influenced by Western broadcasts.

Ultimately, this pervasiveness of Western broadcasts meant that it became increasingly unsustainable for the GDR regime to resist change whilst perestroika was being carried out in the USSR. Notwithstanding that, Honecker insisted in carrying out 40th anniversary celebrations for the German Democratic Republic, months before he was removed and the Socialist Unity Party surrendered its monopoly on power.

Honecker had been inspired by Tiananmen Square and had ordered a “shoot to kill” policy to respond to protests which culminated in Leipzig. Fortunately, the military refused, and so the murderous tyranny he ran, ran out.

The fall of the wall has already been discussed, but the subsequent events demonstrated how weak and insubstantial the whole German Democratic Republic was. The Peaceful Revolution resulted in the first and only free elections in east Germany in March 1990, which ended months of protests calling for the reformed communists to leave power. The former communists got 16% of the vote, against 48% for a centre right coalition and 22% for the centreleft opposition. The result was for the GDR to be dissolved and for east Germany to be incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany.

A third of Germany had been shifted from a genocidal totalitarian nightmare to a more Orwellian totalitarian nightmare. No doubt the GDR was less murderous than Nazi Germany, but it did execute opponents, it executed those seeking to leave. It ran a prison state, it ruined the lives of many through psychological torment, and it wasted the lives of millions in stagnation and mediocrity. Most of all it showed the utter destruction of humanity in being a contrast between two systems. The difference in living standards made it clear, and the inability to censor broadcasts from the west meant east Germans knew only too well they had the raw deal, and all the state wanted to do is make sure they shut up and trusted the Party. East Germans were all “in it together”, but individually they were nothing, just a part of a machine. Aspiration and success would only be rewarded if it fitted in with the goals of the party, and east Germans had to go underground to have some sense of freedom.

East Germany was also the frontline of ambitions to destroy the west. The Red Army was there to be the footsoldiers for any future advance, and east Berlin sponsored terrorism in the west, with the Red Army Faction including the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang. Murderous thugs to the letter as they were.

Nothing in Europe exemplified more the economic, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of “really existing socialism” than east vs. west Germany. As JFK once said “at least we don’t have to build a wall to keep our people in”.

As a footnote, Erich Honecker fled to Moscow after the end of the Berlin Wall, to escape charges of conspiracy to murder - because he decided on the shoot to kill policy for escapees. He took refuge in the Chilean embassy, but extradited by the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin where he faced trial. However he was too ill for trial in 1993, so it was discontinued and he had his final year in Chile, dying of liver cancer.

His wife remains in Chile, she had been a Minister under the communist regime and she still argues life was better then.

20 November 2009

Berlin Wall Series: Bulgaria

By contrast to Czechoslovakia, it would be fair to say Bulgaria is for many a “far off country of which we know little”. Today it is a member of NATO and the EU, which would have been almost impossible to conceive 20 years ago.

However, Bulgaria’s importance is underestimated, being one of those countries on the “frontline” of the Iron Curtain bordering Greece and therefore NATO. Bulgaria isn’t known for having had any high profile attempts at resistance and liberalisation, like Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It isn’t the centre of Europe like Germany, and it did not have quite the megalomaniac like Romania.

Bulgaria’s status in World War 2 owes a lot to Tsar Boris III. He took the Bulgarian throne in 1918 after his father abdicated due to Bulgaria being on the losing side of World War 1. Bulgaria had faced reparations and loss of territory as a result. During the period of his reign Bulgaria swung between coups and plots from communists and militarists, culminating in a military coup in 1934 by the Zveno group. It established an authoritarian state abolishing political parties and trade unions, and attempting a corporatist economy. In other words state direction of private enterprise. The coup reduced Tsar Boris’s role to one of a figurehead, which he did not tolerate so he staged a monarchist counter coup in 1935. He appointed allies to be Prime Ministers, and in 1939 Bulgaria was neutral in the war, but within a year Boris III had allied himself with the Axis powers. Anti-Semitic laws were introduced barring Jews from intermarriage, government employment and from certain geographical areas. However, even the pro-German regime successfully resisted attempts to deport Bulgarian Jews en-masse.

The Bulgarian shift in favour of the Axis was in part due to the Axis offering to return land to Bulgaria that had been ceded to Romania and Yugoslavia. German troops used Bulgaria as a transit point, but Bulgaria notably never declared war on the USSR even after the German invasion. However in 1943, Boris died suddenly, and as his eldest son was only a child, governance effectively swung to a pro-German regency council.

The effect of the alliance with the Germans was to bolster support for a resistance movement, which the communists and the agrarian movement led. By 1944 both a lack of popular support and losses by the Axis, saw Ivan Bagrianov, a pro-Western politician, appointed by the Regency Council to seek peace with the Allies. However, neighbouring Romania, which had been with the Axis powers as well, turned towards the USSR, as the Red Army marched on. In early 1944 a new government was set up under the Fatherland Front, comprising communists, the authoritarian Zveno movement and anti-Nazi supporters, but this did not stem the Red Army from invading. The Fatherland Front government told the army to not resist and it allied itself with the USSR against Germany. Bulgaria fought with the Red Army to recapture what is now known as Yugoslav Macedonia and Serbia all the way to Hungary.

Following the end of the war, with Soviet backing, the communists in the government arrested many politicians and officials charging them of war crimes. The government was purged of past supporters of alliance with Germany, and an ally of Stalin, Georgi Dimitrov was appointed Prime Minister. A plebiscite was held to abolish the monarchy, which apparently got a 95% vote for such an abolition, and rigged elections were held in 1946. The agrarians and other anti-Nazi parties boycotted the elections in disgust. The young Tsar Simeon II was forced to flee, and a pro-communist government was installed before the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was established on Stalinist lines.

The early leaders, Dimitrov and Kolarov had died by 1950 and so leadership was effectively taken by Vulko Chervenkov who sought to rapidly industrialise the country. He attacked the Orthodox Church, put dissidents in labour camps, and imposed strict rule upon the country. He established a personality cult, and introduced free compulsory education and a public healthcare system. However, he had little support within the party so that once Stalin died, he was replaced as General Secretary and subsequently Prime Minister. He was replaced by the man who would dominate communist Bulgaria to the very end, Todor Zhivkov (that's his official website).

Zhivkov was previously a member of the resistance against the alliance with Germany, and subsequently a member of the Stalinist faction in the party, responsible for the forcible collectivisation of farms in a region he was in charge of. Over the subsequent years from 1954 to 1971 he consolidated rule around himself. He rejected Stalinism, allowing a nationalist view of Bulgaria, although he ceded claims to Slavic Macedonia to Yugoslavia. He bent with the wind, having been pro-Khrushchev, before becoming more hard line again under Brezhnev. He even strengthened relations with China in the late 1950s starting a brief and abortive “Great Leap Forward”. The Sino-Soviet split saw Zhivkov align himself with the USSR more, and he fended off a Stalinist coup.

However, this sort of leadership would mean Bulgarians would pay a price of uncertainty. As Czechoslovakia started a new economic policy, so would Bulgaria, under the Prague Spring saw central planning reasserted, and all those involved in running companies on a market basis would be arrested and purged. He closed down labour camps in the early 1960s, but changed the focus to having a Police state to arrest, frighten and monitor the public. However, unlike his neighbour Ceausescu he resisted having a personality cult, but he did establish a complex system of privileges of luxury goods and service for the elite and supporters to enjoy.

In the 1970s Zhivkov remained closely aligned with the USSR, and gained much material support as being at a frontline of the Cold War. Bulgaria made much foreign exchange by gaining cheap Soviet crude oil to refine and export at global market prices. Apparently Zhivkov even asked the USSR if Bulgaria could be a republic of the USSR, but Brezhnev rejected the request.

Zhivkov’s regime did not tolerate dissent, although in the field of the arts, as long as no political messages were given, his daughter Lyudmila promoted openness. Her sudden death at age 38 affected Zhivkov, and he took it out on ethnic Turks, banning the Turkish language and forcing all Bulgarian Turks to adopt Bulgarian names. His reputation dropped, and by the time Gorbachev had taken over Moscow, Zhivkov was elderly and more resistant to change. He had poured money into defence, increasing the size of the armed forces to be a loyal servant of Moscow.

Little had happened by 1989, but news of change in other eastern European states came through to Bulgarians via Radio Free Europe, BBC World Service and Voice of America, so Bulgarians became brave enough to hold protests in Sofia, ostensibly on environmental issues. The Communist Party sensing the need for change, overthrew Zhivkov on November 10 1989. He was replaced by Petar Mladenov who only distinguished himself by delaying the surrender of the communist monopoly on power by a few months. In June 1990 free elections were held, which were won by the reformed communists who had rejected authoritarian rule and had purged Zhivkov. Zhivkov was arrested and convicted of embezzling public funds, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He was put under house arrest, but was acquitted in his old age two years before his death in 1998.

Meanwhile Bulgaria slowly reformed its economy, as the Socialist Party (former communists) did not take dramatic steps to confront what needed to change, beyond political freedoms. In 1992 the government changed to the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces which engaged in mass privatisation by giving shares in government enterprises to citizens, which had mixed results, primarily as so many government enterprises were grossly underproductive, inefficient and so closed down. High unemployment in the 1990s saw governments change at every election, but eventually some stability ensued. Political freedoms were high, so Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. Most interestingly, the child Tsar, Simeon II, who was expelled by the communists in 1946, was elected in 2001, with his party winning many seats. The Tsar returned, Bulgaria became a new magnet for European property investors, and the poor forgotten land was never to turn east again.

18 November 2009

Berlin Wall Series: Czechoslovakia

A far off country of which we know little”.

The words of Neville Chamberlain to describe Czechoslovakia, when he disgraced the UK, and Édouard Daladier disgraced France disgraced by signing over the country to Hitler. Hitler carved it up, with half becoming “liebensraum” for Germany, and the rest a docile client state. This sacrifice of the people of Czechoslovakia (notwithstanding the pro-Nazi minority) was a disgrace, for a momentary period of peace, for all except those who lived in that country. Ultimately 345,000 people in Czechoslovakia perished in World War 2. It was taken from German control between 1944 and 1945 by the Red Army, which then deported over 2 million Germans, regardless of political affiliation, to occupied Germany.

Pre-war leader Edvard Benes had signed agreements with Stalin to restore the pre-Nazi government once Czechoslovakia had been recovered, and shortly after the end of the war, a national unity government was set up. One of its main actions was to expropriate property from alleged Nazi collaborators and redistribute it. Mob justice saw the innocent and those who resisted the Nazis tarred with the same brush.

However, Stalin did not let Czechoslovakia operate as a semi liberal democratic state for nothing at this point. There was much popular sympathy for the communists after the war. Why? Well, Britain and France were far from popular to put it mildly, having both shown willingness to sacrifice the country. This betrayal, combined with support for how Germans were being expelled and maltreated saw the communists win a plurality of the vote in the Czech region, but not the Slovak region. The resulting national unity government, with perhaps shades of Zimbabwe today, saw the communists taking control of half of the bureaucracy and exercising control over society through such control. Non-sympathisers progressively lost their jobs over time, with control of the economic and police portfolios meaning that discrimination against opponents of communism grew.

Nevertheless, it was clear from the beginning that communism in Czechoslovakia had a slightly more moderate flavour than many of its neighbours. When communist Prime Minister Klement Gottwald announced he was going to meet with the Americans about the Marshall Plan, Stalin responded swiftly. Gottwald wanted some neutrality between east and west, but was threatened with intervention. The communists were told to secure power firmly, so the security forces started clamping down on opposition parties and organisations claiming a coup was imminent. This suppression of freedom of speech and association caused the non-communists in the government to resign, seeking to precipitate an election. As the President was a non-communist, it was hoped he would dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. However President Benes did not, presumably under threat from Moscow.

The communists governed, with all other parties having withdrawn from government, and so they wrote a new constitution to grant a monopoly on power. President Benes refused to sign it, so resigned, causing a wave of Stalinist power to grip the country. Show trials were held of those who had been in past governments, as well as persecution of nationalists, Jews and those with “international” backgrounds. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned, and dozens executed. All businesses with more than 50 employees were nationalised, with remaining businesses granted “temporary concessions”. The economy was to be industrialised on a grand scale.

Meanwhile, Prague was to be host to the Stalin Monument (good story in this link about it), which took six years to complete and was the largest ever representation of Stalin. The sculptor killed himself before the unveiling. In 1956 student protests were repressed, and it was not until the early 1960s that the de-Stalinisation of Moscow started to be reflected in Prague. In 1962, the Stalin Monument was blown up by the regime, increasingly embarrassed by its presence, particularly while Prague itself had crumbling infrastructure. It having taken nearly 10 years for reformers to push the line of Khrushchev against the remaining Stalinists, progressively pushing them out of power.

In 1965 a New Economic Model was launched, with central planning reduced. Price mechanisms were to be reintroduced to guide production and consumption, with management allowed to make decisions on individual operations. President Novotny had somewhat resisted the changes, but was ultimately deposed by reformer Alexander Dubcek, as the party moved to continue its shift to more liberal government.

Dubcek moved to remove Stalinists from power, and censorship was lifted. A federal state would be created with freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed. He emphasised communist leadership and continued alliance with the USSR, but new political groups emerged.

The Prague Spring, and the Red Army troops who suppressed this blast of freedom in Czechoslovakia are a part of history. The bravery of those who stood up, as the Soviet Union, again, retook its empire, is well known. They greyness that came after, set the stage for 20 years of oppression. The other members of the Warsaw Pact connived to demand that the Communist Party ban non-communist organisations and reimpose censorship. Dubcek rejected it and the troops came. The public resisted, but Dubcek was arrested and taken to Moscow.

Czechs and Slovaks both knew only too well that their country was not their’s but Moscow’s. The communist party was purged of reformers, and around a third of its membership were removed. Censorship was reimposed, protestors and other organisers in support of the Prague Spring would be arrested swiftly. This included a playwright who had broadcast on dissident radio, called Vaclav Havel. He would be imprisoned several times over the following years.

Czechoslovakia returned to form, a loyal member of the Warsaw Pact. Freedom of speech and association were gone, but an underground movement remained. Gustav Husak was the joyless drone who brought back the grey oppression. Art, culture, even science were subordinated to the party, the economy returned to more centralised control, so was stagnating once more by the 1980s. Husak connected Czechoslovakia intimately with Moscow aligning itself explicitly on all foreign policy and economic policy. So much so, Husak didn’t know what he was getting himself in for when he committed the country to Perestroika, following Moscow’s lead, in 1987.

In December 1987, Husak resigned due to ill health, replaced with another drone, Milos Jakes. Czechoslovak perestroika involved some decentralisation of decision making, but little more. Yet in the same month, half a million Catholics signed a petition demanding religious freedom. In March 1988, what became known as the Candle Demonstration was held in Bratislava, nominally backing the petition. Of the 2000 protesting, about 100 were arrested. Demonstrations continued in late 1988 and early 1989, with people emboldened by openness in the USSR, and the regime felt unable to respond with great force.

The culmination of this was a demonstration in Bratislava by students calling for liberal democracy on November 16 1989, with a similar protest in Prague. Riot police broke up that protest, sparking further protests in response. Citizens had already heard what had happened in Poland and Hungary on the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. By November 20 half a million people were protesting in Prague, with a general strike held on the 27th. The next day the Communist Party announced it would relinquish its monopoly on power, and free elections would be held. The Velvet Revolution had occurred.

By the end of 1989, the government had resigned, the iron curtain torn up between Czechoslovakia and Austria and West Germany, (hastening the end of the East German regime), and Prague Spring reformer Alexander Dubcek was appointed Speaker, and Vaclav Havel President of Czechoslovakia. Free elections were held in June 1990.

The model for a peaceful revolution was there, in Prague, and like others, Czechoslovakia has not looked back. It split in 1993 into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, peacefully, eventually both pursuing liberal market economic reforms (Slovakia briefly had an isolationist nationalist government), with both joining NATO and the EU. Never again will the UK or France betray the Czechs and Slovaks.

Both states have achieved some relative economic success. Of those individuals involved, Dubcek sadly died in a car crash under suspicious circumstances (as he was to give evidence in a trial), and Havel was President until 2003, having completed two terms. and today is still a vibrant advocate for freedom. In Prague today the Museum of Communism tells the story of life during that era, the tragedies and the ridiculousness of so much. More recently, the Czech Supreme Court has been requested by the State Senate to dissolve the communist party for being unconstitutional, as it does not disown using violence to gain power.

Prague today is a beautiful historic city, and the people of both the Czech and Slovak republics are well and truly not looking back with nostalgia at their past of autocratic oppression and stark denial of humanity. Don't treat it as a far off country today. Both Prague and Bratislava are beautiful cities well worth a visit.

13 November 2009

Berlin Wall Season: Poland

Poland is perhaps the most unlucky of those countries in eastern Europe in the 20th century. It was, after all, the country Britain went to war for. It was Hitler's next step after having being appeased over Czechoslovakia. Poland had the bad luck of not only facing the onslaught, occupation and murder of the Nazis, but got little better from Stalin and lived under the jackboot of Moscow for another 50 years.

Of course the Nazis didn't takeover Poland on their own. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact saw the Red Army invade from the east in "defence" of Germany, after Germany staged a Polish "invasion". An action so improbable it is a wonder Hitler bothered.

Under the Nazis the Poles suffered dreadfully, with widespread plans to kill or deport most, with a small minority to remain as slaves. The words Warsaw Ghetto tell a tale of their own about the abysmal fate of Jews in Poland. Of 3 million Jews in Poland, 50,000 remained by 1945. The story of how the Soviets treated Poland during the war is less well known, but similarly brutal, with religion suppressed, mass executions and imprisonment, and a Stalinist totalitarian form of military rule imposed. The Katyn Massacre by the Soviet NKVD killed around 22,000 Poles.

Ultimately Germany broke with the pact with Moscow and invaded the USSR, and as losses mounted up Poland ended up being under total Red Army control at the end of the war. Stalin keenly instituted a communist government, annexing some eastern lands for the USSR, but in return taking some from Germany to give to a newly "independent" Poland.

Stalin promised free elections in Poland, but as support for the communists was low, vote rigging saw a carefully staged takeover of government, so that by 1949 there was legally a communist monopoly on power. Forced collectivisation and nationalisation progressed, although agriculture remained dominated by peasant farms. Art was forced to be Socialist Realist, education became Marxist-Leninist dominated, and a "communist" Catholic Church was sought to be created in order to undermine the strong Catholicism of the population, while oppressing the true church.

After the death of Stalin, tensions emerged between the pro-Stalinist and the more reformist wings of the party. It came to a head in 1956 with the Poznan strike , which followed the death of Stalinist PM Bolesław Bierut. 80 were killed at Poznan. The reformist wing of the party took hold, and it was agreed to raise wages, and reduce the degree of Stalinist control. As a result reformist Władysław Gomułka became party First Secretary, who condemned and expelled a Soviet Marshal, who ordered that troops open fire on the Poznan strikers, from the government. Gomulka made it clear Polish troops would resist if Soviet troops sought to overthrow the government.

Khrushchev saw this as the rumblings of revolution, but Gomulka took much effort to say Poland was not withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact, and it was not abandoning communism. Khruschev relented, but it was the news of this backdown by Soviet troops that inspired the events of the Hungarian uprising later that year. Gomulka's thaw saw an easing of repression against the church and less state control of the arts, culture and education. However, with the removal of Khrushchev, Soviet pressure grew and Gomulka relented in the 1960s. Persecution of the church, intellectuals and suspected opponents grew. This included an anti-semitic purge removing tens of thousands of Jews from their jobs, coinciding with the Six Day War. Polish troops also assisted in the suppression of the Prague Spring revolution. It culminated in protests in 1970 against massive price rises which were brutally suppressed, with 40 dead and many more injured.

Gomulka was removed, and replaced with Edward Gierek who sought and gained loans and aid from the West to subsidise a programme of supplying more consumer goods to the population. However, this proved unsustainable with massive price rises in 1976 seeing riots and protests. Opposition groups emerged which the regime did not seriously repress, aided significantly by Pope John Paul II being selected, providing a rallying point for many Poles in the church. This proved to be one of the significant steps toward unravelling the regime. Although the Carter Administration propped it up with a US$500 million loan in 1979, which undoubtedly helped sustain it. Although at the time it was clearly seen as the most moderate of the communist governments, given the growth of opposition organisations.

The Gdansk shipyards and Lech Walesa became the next trigger point for reform, with Walesa signing the now much forgotten Gdansk Agreement, which legalised Solidarity as an independent trade union, formally allowed freedom of speech to criticise government policy. By 1981 a quarter of the population had joined Solidarity, three times the number who were members of the Polish United Workers Party. However, the government was stuck. Prices had to rise because of the poor state of the economy and the inability to afford consumer goods otherwise, but this would have provoked widespread revolution.

So instead Poland got martial law under General Jaruzelski. Riot Police brutally suppressed protests, Solidarity was banned, and a tight control on speech, the media and association was implemented. The clock had gone back 25 years. The main justification for martial law was fear of Soviet invasion, which would indicate what would happen some years later when Gorbachev made it clear that Soviet allies would govern their own affairs. The economy stagnated, as Pole faced ration cards and declining living standards, until 1988 when martial law having been lifted some time before, the party opened talks with representatives of Solidarity.

Solidarity was legalised in April 1989, as talks progressed to significantly liberalise Polish political life, culminating in elections in June 1989 when a minority of Parliamentary seats were open to other parties. However that election demonstrated how unpopular the communists were, as Solidarity won all seats it contested and the communists failed to gain many votes in those it had reserved. The pressure built up for far reaching reform so that a Solidarity led government was sworn into office in September 1989, implementing radical reforms with the first fully free elections in 1990, with the end of the People's Republic of Poland.

Finally, after 60 years, Poland would be free. In 1999 Poland would join NATO and in 2004 the European Union. It had secured itself out of the Soviet/Russian sphere and would not look back. It being clear for so long that Poles had little appetite for communism and dictatorship, and that it only took the eyes of Moscow to turn away for Poles to be themselves.

12 November 2009

Berlin Wall Series: Hungary

Of the countries in the former Eastern bloc, Hungary was the first which unshackled itself progressively from Stalinist dictatorship, but was also one of the first to rise up against it in the 1950s. Hungarians didn’t want the imperialist dictatorship foisted upon them by Moscow, so it took little sign from Moscow that it would not intervene for Hungarians to organise, to challenge the Party, and for the Party to know that, in the hearts and minds of so many, it had already lost.

Stalin punished Hungary for being on the side of the Axis in World War 2. Hungary had been granted territory under the Munich Agreement and supported Nazi Germany, until serious setbacks in 1943 caused the Hungarian government to seek peace with the Allies. As a result, Germany staged a coup planting the particularly nasty fascist nationalist Ferenc Szalasi in power, who with great aplomb shipped hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to extermination camps, whilst ruthlessly persecuting opposition. However, the Red Army swept into the east of Hungary in the following year, equally ruthlessly taking land, murdering and raping civilians in their way. By this time Hungary was effectively a satellite of Berlin, so surrender by Germany was surrender by Hungary. Hungary lost all territory acquired under the Munich agreement, and some more to the USSR (now Ukraine), and half of the German minority living in Hungary were deported to Germany.

Initially Hungary was left to hold free elections, as Stalin believed Hungarian peasants would embrace communism. However, with only 17% of the vote, it became clear that “people power” would need to be imposed, so by 1948 the Red Army had coerced the government to accept more communist influence, set up the ruthless AVH (secret police) to occupy the former headquarters of Szalasi’s fascist Arrow Cross Party, with no hint of irony.

Stalin’s strongman was Matyas Rakosi, who terrorised the Social Democratic Party into merging with the Communist Party, to create a façade of “national unity” government with the so called Hungarian Workers’ Party. However, Rakosi was a loyal follower of Stalin, equally as ruthless and lives on as the man who invented the term “salami tactics” to describe how to deal with the opposition.

Rakosi executed 2000 and imprisoned over 100,000 over his time of rule, establishing primitive concentration camps and a cult of personality. The economy was bankrupted in part due to Soviet enforced reparation payments and also the forced collectivisation of the economy, with reports that by 1952 the average disposable income had dropped by one-third in three years.

However, the death of Stalin saw a power struggle between Rakosi and the reformist Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who sought more openness and less state control of the media and the economy. He advocated freedom of speech, more private sector involvement in the economy, and after the Treaty of Austria advocated a similar position for Hungary. Austria had been granted neutrality, and he sought the same for Hungary, meaning withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. Moscow promptly arranged for his comrades to put him out of his job.

Yet sparks had lit flames in the minds of some Hungarians, prompting the 1956 Revolution. For a brief period, Nagy led a reformist government, introducing a multi-party system, with freedom of speech, assembly and association, and declared withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. That was, until the USSR crushed it with tanks and guns. Thousands were killed and afterwards tens of thousands imprisoned for “crimes” of counter revolutionary behaviour. Imre Nagy was secretly tried and executed.

However, Hungarians would not forget. For over many years they could tune secretly to Radio Free Europe, BBC World Service and Voice of America. The new leader, Janos Kadar would reimpose authoritarian order, but not on the scale of Rakosi. Indeed, Hungarian communism would long be seen as more moderate than that of others with the view of Kadar that “those who are not against us are for us”, so the assumption was being that citizens were supportive of the government, unless the demonstrated otherwise. There was no longer Stalinist control of the arts and culture, and no personality cult surrounded Kadar. Collective economic units had more freedom to operate in different fields, and collective farms were permitted to have substantial privately owned plots. As a result, Hungary was better off economically than most other eastern bloc states. There is little doubt that this (relative) moderation, helped stem tension, but similarly when Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR went further, moderates in the Hungarian Workers’ Party saw their chance at reform.

By 1988, Kadar had aged, and was succeeded by Karoly Grosz who sought to undertake moderate reforms, but he himself was overshadowed as protests emerged, foreign travel restrictions lifted and the iron curtain was first removed, as barbed wire was taken down between Austria and Hungary. There were open calls for multi party elections, withdrawal of Soviet troops and in October 1989 the Hungarian Workers’ Party finally agreed to abolish its monopoly on political power. Most notably in June 1989, Imre Nagy was reburied and the 1956 Revolution was finally seen for what it was – Hungarians standing up against tyranny, and then murdered by the USSR with the complicity of their own.

Since then, Hungary has joined NATO and the European Union, and has not looked back. Today in Budapest you can visit the former headquarters of the AVH and Arrow Cross Party. It is the House of Terror, where the story of Hungary under both fascist and communist tyranny is told. At the outskirts in the hills, is Memento Park, where you can see the grotesque statues that used to populate parks and corners in Budapest, extolling communism.

Hungary has clearly not looked back from being one of the laboratories of socialism.

Remembrance Day

Lest we forget.

11 November 2009

Berlin Wall Season: Not important enough to Obama

German newsmagazine Der Spiegel notes that US President Barack Obama shelved apparent plans to attend the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, of which Toby Harnden at the Daily Telegraph said:

Perhaps Obama felt that celebrating the role of the United States in bringing down the wall would be a bit triumphalist and not quite in keeping with his wish to present America as a declining world power anxious to apologise for sundry historic misdeeds.

Hilary Clinton stood in his place, alongside Angela Merkel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Kofi Annan, Gordon Brown and Dmitri Medvedev.

Apparently the leader of the world's largest economy, strongest military power and free world throughout the Cold War didn't think it mattered enough.

Harnden notes Obama IS travelling to Norway to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course Obama has been to Berlin before. He did a campaign speech there before he was elected, which was seen as rather unusual given he was standing for election as President of the United States, not Germany, Europe or the world. Der Spiegel sarcastically referred to that speech as "People of the World - Look at Me". Noting that foreign press (as in non-American) were explicitly excluded from the press conference following that effort.

So on that note, and to follow Harnden's efforts, how about some words from some US Presidents who really did have an idea freedom...

(and though he called himself a doughnut accidentally) JFK was prescient and proud of what the US was standing for, back then.

Berlin Wall season: Stasi, UK style

The East German Stasi had the stereotypical German efficiency and thoroughness, for noting down every last detail in its surveillance operations. There was one Stasi officer for every 166 citizens, compared to one Gestapo officer for ever 2,000 under the Nazis.

So is it not notable to see the report today in the Daily Telegraph that while the UK government is abandoning a central database to gather details of ALL telecommunications traffic in the UK (all calls made, all SMS, all emails, all internet browsing) it is to legally require all telecommunications carriers and internet service providers to hold such information. Effectively privatising state surveillance functions, imposing a cost on them all.

Who will be able to access this?

653 central and local government bodies will be able to do so. All local authorities, Police, emergency services, prison governors.

Who won the Cold War?

Berlin Wall Season: Stability vs freedom

David Aaronovitch in the Times writes about those who comfortably live in the West and celebrate the "stability" of tyrannies.

I've seen this view before, "who are we to judge Iran", or "Cuba has the best health outcomes in Latin America" (because you can believe statistics from dictatorships), or "maybe they aren't ready for freedom yet" being one of my favourite "patronise the people who aren't free" phrases.

He damns both a book, and a forthcoming documentary series, both sourced from the BBC, for taking the view that maybe it's "for the best", for example making the absurd conclusion that because Cuba seems better off that Haiti, economically, then obviously Cuba has the better system. Ignoring, of course, that Haiti spent not far short of two generations under murderous dictatorships (which Mother Teresa happily provided succour) and has not recovered.

His conclusion of this moral relativism is damning:

if we shape the imagined world to the necessities of this “realism” by deploying the relativist declension: it isn’t so bad, we aren’t so much better, it may be what they want, their politics are intractable, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

And behind the new curtains of iron or velvet, the oppressed come to curse us for our complacency, damn us for our hypocrisy and lose hope in the possibilities of liberty.

For indeed, so many thought we would all have to live with the USSR and its satellite autocracies forever, when all it took was persistence, patience, hope, connections between the oppressed and friends in the West, to gradually pull more and more at what was binding together the corrupt edifices of totalitarianism, and they all came crumbling down.

Nothing terrifies the power holders in Beijing, Havana, Tehran, Minsk, Moscow, Pyongyang, Damascus, Malabo, Rangoon, etc. more than the knowledge that what keeps this from happening is the triumph of the fear they spread and the apathy it induces. At a certain point, the fear subsides, the apathy is overwhelmed, and the time comes for people to stare the cold dark machines of murder, called governments, in the eye and say, no more.

The only certainty is it is a matter of when, not if, and whether the response is a gun or surrender.

10 November 2009

Berlin Wall Season: Victims and Victors

The end of World War 2 was meant to be a victory of liberation from the hellfire of war on the European continent, and from the militaristic and genocidal tyranny of the Nazis and their allies in Italy, Croatia and elsewhere. For half of Europe it meant peace but only between states, not within. The United States initially took a fairly benign view of the Soviet Union and the Red Army’s presence across the east, Winston Churchill’s famous warning of an iron curtain being draped across Europe went largely unheeded, until the blockade of west Berlin made Stalin’s intentions too obvious to miss.

From then until 1988-1990, it was thought that the Cold War would go on forever, dictatorships always seem like that. So brutal and violent are the means to maintain control, it seems difficult to believe any could fall from that, but they did. There had been several attempts, most notably in East Germany in 1953, Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, to break from the cold bloody brutal reality of “really existing socialism”, all suppressed by the Red Army with the imperial cruelty from the dark ages.

However, once the USSR had opened up, Gorbachev had relented and let the rotten system be exposed for what it was, let people criticise and change, it became clear that none of the regimes in the east could cling to anything other than the lies and fear that were the currency of their trade. The loss in lives was not high compared to the mass murder of the Soviet Union, China or the Khmer Rouge, but the loss in life is incalculable. The lives stunted by socialism, the fear, the subterfuge, the destruction of ambition, and the corruption of talent. The talented either had to sell out to a system that wanted them to be slaves, fear for their very lives or flee. The broad masses need do little other than shut up, be obedient, and be grateful for having bread, a home and a job, for they were being constantly told how things were worse in the west, yet could hear and see for themselves a different story on illegally received TV and radio broadcasts.

The hypocritical vacuous United Nations which would speak endlessly about colonialism, be criticism South Africa for apartheid, and hounding Israel about the Palestinians, was compliant and tolerant of the evil empire’s tentacles directly controlling half of Europe. An empire that claimed it would economically and technically bury the west. A claim that is so laughable today it staggers to think of those who believed it could be true, right through the 1970s.

It was an experiment that failed every test it put forward for itself. Not only were the economies a failure, and totalitarianism placing the entire population in fear of the state, but it did not deliver the socialist goal of equality. For in every single state that claimed to be socialist, it delivered an elite living in luxury, enjoying large homes, security, overseas travel, goods and most of all, knowledge of the outside world. A vile repulsive grouping of supreme mediocrities, who lived the lives of the rich and wealthy, happily ready to gun down those who may threaten their “really existing socialism”.

The profit motive had been abandoned, commercialism almost completely extinguished, people working for the common good, and everyone in fear, whilst those in charge were corrupt and willing to spill blood to preserve what they had. One wonder why those who damn capitalism today don’t look to see that efforts to enforce a collectivist mindset become fertile fields for authoritarianism and corruption.

So today I begin a series on all of the countries stunted and corrupted by Marxism-Leninism in Europe. I do so in the order of those liberated. In that I will briefly describe how the regime came about, the perhaps most notable points in its history and how it all folded. It is history that children should all learn. For what the lesson should be is how entire countries became beholden to systems that made so many compliant, and willing to go along with it all. For as we all now, all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.

09 November 2009

Berlin Wall season

As the existence of the Berlin Wall had a significant impact on how I thought of freedom, as a child, this week I will be writing of the Wall, the countries behind the Iron Curtain and the events of 1989 and beyond that have changed Europe and the world for the better.

To start, here is Christopher Hitchens in Slate about what to learn. Take this piece, which may ring a distant bell in our ears:

This 20th anniversary has seen yet another crop of boring articles about how so many people, especially in former East Germany, are supposedly "nostalgic" for the security of the old Stalinist system. Such sentimental piffle—which got a good airing in that irritating movie Good Bye Lenin!—would not long survive a reading of another new book: Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Victor Sebestyen. Making effective use of archives opened since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Sebestyen describes the day in late October 1989 when the head of State Planning in the German Democratic Republic, Gerhard Schürer, presented the party leadership with the unvarnished economic news. "Nearly 60 per cent of East Germany's entire economic base could be written off as scrap, and productivity in mines and factories was nearly 50 per cent behind the West." Even more appalling was the 12-fold increase in the GDR's national debt—a situation so grotesque that it had been classified as a state secret lest loans from Western creditors dry up. "Just to avoid further indebtedness," wrote Schürer, "would mean a lowering next year of living standards by 25 to 30 per cent, and make the GDR ungovernable." So the wall came down just before the hermetic state that it enclosed would have imploded. I doubt that there would have been much "nostalgia" for that.

or how about this wonderful quote:

they wanted the unexciting objective of "normality"—a life not unlike that of Western Europe, where it was possible to express everyday criticism, register a vote, scrutinize a free press, and become a consumer as well as a producer. These unexciting demands were nonetheless revolutionary in their way, which gives you an idea of the utter failure and bankruptcy of the regimes that could not meet them. In 1988, in a public debate with a hack official of the Polish Communist Party, Lech Walesa won over the audience with his simple statement that "Europe moves by car, and we are trying to catch up with them by bike."

The waste of humanity for this 50 years of fear, sacrifice and oppression, the fact half of Europe was freed from one tyranny by another tyranny, and the so easily collapsed system once those with guns got consciences. It is a reason to never forget, and never forget those who so readily apologised for the prison states that are long confined to the slag heap of history.

08 November 2009

Scum of the week

Teenage girls try to mug a mother, so attack the woman's two year old daughter in London.

Images of the oxygen thieves are here. They are still at large.

I need say nothing more.

06 November 2009

Berlin - before and after 1989

14 images in the Daily Telegraph

The bleakness is almost invisible today.

The sideshows

So politicians like to take advantage of their salary and perks that come with it, some within the rules, some outside the rules.

Like you should be surprised. Of course it isn't quite on the grand scale of rorts that the British House of Commons has been, but still it demonstrates self seeking that people bizarrely think shouldn't occur from people meant to represent you.

Are you surprised the MSM spends so much attention on it? You shouldn't be. You see it has two characteristics that work so well for the modern reporter:

1. It's a scandal that people are interested in. It is something people can relate to.
2. It's incredibly easy to get the concept across. MP, gets paid a lot (well, to the average punter), gets overseas holidays, flying business class. It is an outrage.

However, as much as it gives sound reason to be a little cynical about them all, it is chicken feed in the scheme of things. It doesn't require much analysis, as a binary deal, it fits in with television especially, where TV news in essence likes to boil things down to an All Black test. Good vs bad. Right vs wrong. Simple.

You wont get any real debate about whether education should continue to be a compulsorily funded state system, or not. You wont get any real debate about whether the war on drugs is really the right response to the problems with P. You wont get any real debate about whether it makes sense for the state to own three power companies and a coal company. You wont get any real debate about whether spending half a billion dollars on electrifying Auckland's train system is good value for money. You wont get any real debate about climate change, whether New Zealand should sign up to something that far richer and larger CO2 emitters per capita are having little to do with.

In other words, debate about policy.

Too many in the MSM pander to a tabloid sensationalist view of politicians. However, do any ever ask "why should you trust these people to buy your health care" or "retirement income" or "accident insurance" or "kids' education" or "transport system" etc? Is it because you don't actually care, but just care about personalities? You're that vapid?

For you see, both Mr Hide and Mr Harawira are in part responsible for the current government and passing supply bills to do all of those things. If you get annoyed at these antics, and antics of past politicians of all colours, why do you keep thinking putting your trust in them is going to get better?

05 November 2009

A walk on the 5th of November in London

Some gentlemen and ladies are taking a stroll today in London.

It starts at 11.30am from Chandos Pub at 29, St. Martins Lane, London, WC2N 4ER. Where it is expected they will proceeds down Whitehall to Downing Street and then to Westminster Arms 9 Storey's Gate, SW1P 3AT at Noon.


Details here.

This is not a protest. It is Old Holborn's day out.

For more context, look here. It's an annual occasion.

UPDATE: I manage to scoot down to catch them at Whitehall and DID witness the attempted handing of a Carson Rose to a policeman at Downing Street, which was finally accepted. Images here

Highest CO2 emitters largely ignored

Further to my earlier post about how climate change negotiations arbitrarily categorise some rather wealthy countries as "developing" and vice versa, it might be better to think of this issue in terms of per capita CO2 emissions. After all, if reducing CO2 emissions matters, then why shouldn't the highest ones be considered the highest priority?

So what countries emit the most per capita? According to Wikipedia they are:

1. Qatar
2. United Arab Emirates
3. Kuwait
4. Bahrain
5. Aruba (a colony of the Netherlands)

So the top five are developing countries.

6. Luxembourg
7. Netherlands Antilles (colony of the Netherlands)
8. Trinidad & Tobago
9. United States
10. Canada

So only now do we get some countries that are considered to be industrialised.

So where does NZ fit in? NZ is 50th.

What developing countries (not territories) (by Kyoto Annex definition) are ahead of NZ in per capita emissions (besides the ones listed above)?

Saudi Arabia
South Korea
Equatorial Guinea
South Africa

So again, why should New Zealand sign up to do more than any of this lot, when the residents of all of these countries contribute more, per capita, than New Zealanders do?

Remember 9th of November

Boris Johnson writes in the Daily Telegraph how we should all remember the 9th of November - the day the Berlin Wall was breached for good.

He says:

It is precisely now, when the public mood is so bitter towards bankers, so hostile to profit, so seemingly brassed off with the very idea of wealth creation that we should remember how ghastly, grim and unworkable was the alternative – state-controlled socialism.

He said it was a moral disaster, a cultural and artistic wasteland and ... "It was a complete and utter environmental catastrophe, as anyone who travelled behind the Iron Curtain will remember. I don't just mean Chernobyl; I mean the cynical way in which socialist planning obliged human beings to endure the proximity of some of the filthiest factories in the world, the roiling clouds of smoke that seeded the warts and the cancers on the skin and in the lungs and the eyes of an innocent public."

"after an exhaustive test it was our system that triumphed, not just because of the material advantages of capitalism, but because a liberal free-market democracy has proved the best way of allowing individuals and families to realise their hopes, and to make something of their lives as independent and rounded moral agents. That is the freedom those crowds recognised and wanted in Berlin. It is the freedom of the human spirit, and it is worth infinitely more than some fancy BMW."

and then finally

"Remember, remember the 9th of November, and remember all the idiots – some now running this country – who supported communism in their youth. Peter Mandelson, Alistair Darling – how will you be celebrating the Fall of the Wall?"

Or indeed Keith Locke...

You may also read Richard Ebeling's piece on the Berlin Wall (Hat tip: Not PC Twitter):

"On this 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should remember all that it represented as a symbol of tyranny under which the individual was marked with the label: property of the state. He not only was controlled in everything he did and publically said, but his every movement was watched, commanded or restricted.

Freedom in all its forms – to speak, write, associate, and worship as we want; to pursue any occupation, profession, or private enterprise that inclination and opportunity suggests to us; and to visit, live, and work were our dreams and desires lead us to look for a better life – are precious things."

Remember, nobody was killed trying to move from the west to the east.

UPDATE: Mikhail Gorbachev reveals in the Daily Telegraph how he was advised he could have crushed the rebellion against the dictatorships in the Warsaw Pact countries, but refused because he believed in open democracy and feared World War 3 could have started from it.

He "quipped that he had "a good night's sleep" after the Wall was opened.

"I am very proud of the decision we made," he said. "The Wall did not simply fall – it was destroyed just as the Soviet Union was destroyed.""

The great shame must be that for all he did, so much has been rolled back in Russia, by a new generation of thuggish kleptocrats.

British Muslims for secular democracy

Yes, you read correctly. British Muslims now organised to defend the interests of the British constitutional system and freedoms.

On Saturday 31 October an Islamist group called Islam4UK had planned a demonstration to promote applying Shariah law in the UK. Its express purpose being the Islamification of British society. The group cancelled at the last minute, but a counter demonstration went ahead from British Muslims for Secular Democracy. More images of this can be seen here.

BMSD (don't get those letters round the wrong way!) expressly believes in the separation of religion and state, and for religions to flourish in the private voluntary sphere. While it intends to promote Islam and information about Islam, it strongly defends secular democracy, free speech, tolerance of other beliefs including atheists, and strong opposition to Islamism.

So if you wondered if British Muslims were predominantly either quietly acquiescent or secretly all wanting Shariah, this group aims to prove this wrong. May it grow and prosper and become the overwhelming voice for British citizens and residents who are proud of what the British legal-political system offers, and who happen to be practising Muslims in their private lives.

It is about time, and the posters that you can see come from images from the counter-demonstration on 31 October in London. In contrast to those who call for death to those who insult Islam, BMSD calls for debate and discussion.

Take this statement from Shaaz Mahboob, BMSD Vice Chair:

Our counter-demonstration is based on our belief in, and commitment to, those liberal values that define the British state, including legal and constitutional equality for all, equal rights for women and minorities, and religious freedom, including the right to be free of faith. We are turning out to defend all of these virtues of a secular democracy that Islam4UK so despises and daydream of taking away from the British public.

Be nice if the British government believed in them too.

30 years on, some Iranians are standing up

Every year on this day the Iranian Islamist dictatorship organises gangs of locals to shout "death to America" as they celebrate when, against all diplomatic convention, Islamist students stormed the US embassy and held its employees as hostages.

Even during war, embassies are either maintained or closed and staff/diplomats allowed to leave with some dignity. However no, the Iranian fanatics had "god" on their side and ransacked the place, and kept 52 terrified hostages for 444 days, helping to bring down the Carter Administration as a result of its weak response.

This year the same spectacle has been orchestrated by military dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but this time CNN reports 2,000 people protesting against the government:

At least 2,000 opposition supporters, sternly warned by authorities to stay home, marched defiantly at Haft-e-Tir Square, witnesses said. Many held up their hands in a V sign. Others shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," a slogan of protest. Police blocked all roads leading to the square, prompting massive traffic jams.

The Iranian Islamists have not cowered the population yet.

04 November 2009

How Copenhagen discriminates against the West

Now let's make a series of jumps, and say the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is about a problem, attributable to human emissions of CO2 and that the best way to solve it is through agreeing by international convention, for nation states to restrict emissions.

Bear with me on this, just assume this is all true.

Let's look at what countries would be bound by this. So called "industrialised economies and economies in transition" are the ones expected to shoulder most of the burden, on the basis that they have already "benefited" from using fossil fuels, emitting CO2 and clearing forests for habitation. So called "developing countries" are expected to should a far smaller burden. They were expected to do nothing under the Kyoto Agreement. This time they are expected to contribute to emission reduction targets, but should not have "their development" hindered.

The philosophy being that it is "unfair" for developing countries to not undertake the sort of economic development that industrialised countries have.

Bear with me further, and just assume this principle is fair.

What should define industrialised vs developing countries? A reasonable measure is GDP per capita, or rather what is produced in a country in goods and services divided by the population, converted into a standard currency such as the US$. There are variants using Purchasing Power Parity, but for the sake of simplicity, let's talk about GDP per Capita. A country with double the GDP per capita than New Zealand must surely be classified industrialised, right?

The countries listed as industrialised and in transition are (geographically broadly from west to east):
Canada, USA, all European Union member states (except Malta and Cyprus), Iceland, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Yes, that's it. Almost all of Europe, the two wealthy North American states, rich Australasia and Japan.

The GDP per capita range of these countries (using the IMF listings in Wikipedia for 2008) would be from US$133,044 per person in Luxembourg to US$3,910 per person in Ukraine. A very wide range indeed. Now it would be fair to argue Ukraine, Belarus, both having GDP per capita well under US$10,000 should not be in this category, but probably are due to Russia not wanting to be disadvantaged, but that is besides the point.

New Zealand, by the way, is at US$30,030 per person, above 14 others, but beneath 21

What's a developing country?

That is far more interesting. You see the developing country with the highest GDP per capita is Qatar. A country that has benefited hugely from exporting fossil fuels. It has a GDP per capita of US$93,204. More than THREE times that of New Zealand, yet will be expected to have a fraction of the obligations New Zealand will be signing up to. Some might say Qatar is still developing. Maybe, but then who gets the US$93,204 per annum per person if many Qataris aren't wealthy already?

It isn't the only one. Here's a list of other "developing countries" that will not have their economies hindered by the forthcoming Copenhagen agreement, all of which are wealthier per person per annum than New Zealand:

United Arab Emirates US$55,028 (oil in Abu Dhabi and a couple of fast growing airlines)
Kuwait US$45,290 (oil)
Singapore US$38,972 (just quietly keeps "developing country" status)
Brunei US$37,053 (oil)

All of these countries, all of which either make a lot of money from others emitting CO2, or running businesses that do so, a lot (like airlines).

However, that's not all. There are umpteen others that also are "developing" but are still within the ballpark of industrialised countries' wealth per head that are EU member states:

Israel US$28,409
Bahrain US27,248
Bahamas US$22,359
Oman US$21,646
Trinidad and Tobago US$19,870
South Korea US$19,136
Saudi Arabia US$18,855
Taiwan US$16,988
Equatorial Guinea US$14,941 (one guess that per capita isn't helpful in this place)
Antigua and Barbuda US$14,556
Libya US$14,479
Barbados US$13,314
Venezuela US$11,388

So why is this so? Why do a bunch of oil rich Arab states and what were once the "tiger" economies of East Asia get left out?

Why do environmentalists not call for those states to be treated as "industrialised" given they have per capita wealth similar to those that are classified as such, and indeed are often profligate users of oil, with subsidised domestic fuel and the like?

Could it just simply be that this whole agenda carries with it the old fashioned anti-colonial view that "the West must pay", and so even those who are much wealthier than many in the West can do nothing in return?

If so, why is New Zealand signing up to something that does not demand the reclassification of all countries that are within the GDP per capita range of "industrialised countries" as no longer being "developing"? Mexico, for example, has a higher per capita GDP than Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania. So why are the former communist bloc countries being expected to change far more radically than Mexico?

Will any industrialised countries blast open this blatantly anti-Western (and Japanese and Turkish) nonsense?

Simon Mann released from Equatorial Guinea

Simon Mann was part of a group of plotters planning to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea before the Mugabe regime caught them and handed them over. He had been sentenced to 34 years, with a £12 million fine, and has been released apparently on "humanitarian grounds".

It's a shame the coup hadn't succeeded. Equatorial Guinea is an appalling dictatorship. Its current leader is only good by comparison to his insane drug addled uncle, and there is little doubt its enormous oil riches are being pocketed by the President and his family.

UPDATE: Simon Mann is a two-faced prick, demanding his co-conspirators face "justice". He may have promised the regime to wage war against them, but to now be actively assisting for their arrest is just vile. Sir Mark Thatcher and Ely Calil are now under investigation in the UK under the Terrorism Act after the dictatorship sent a dossier from Malabo. Mann is assisting Scotland Yard. In other words, legislation designed to protect the UK may be used to protect a kleptocratic dictatorship instead.

Simon Mann. I'm glad you weren't killed, but now, you can go to hell.

Air NZ abandons Boeing for domestic routes

Just to show Air NZ's predominantly state ownership does not stop it from applying good commercial acumen, the NZ Herald reports that it has wisely chosen now to order replacements for its Boeing 737-300 fleet, which is almost exclusively used on main trunk domestic flights. Wise, because the global recession has meant deals are easier to get from the two main suppliers of replacements, Boeing and Airbus.

What it will mean is an end to the long history of Boeing 737s on domestic routes, which started in 1967 when the then NAC ordered them to replace the turboprop Vickers Viscount. That first generation set of 737s was at a time when 737s were not popular internationally, and there was a hard sell from a British delegation to order the now virtually forgotten BAC 1-11. Boeing proved its 737 was more promising, despite much British lobbying, and it was right. The Boeing 737, and its second and third generation derivatives has been the most successful airliner made ever, with over 6,000 produced and another 2,000 on order.

The BAC 1-11 sold 244, including bizarrely 22 built in Ceaucescu's Romania. A legacy of a deal signed in the late 1970s. NAC made the right choice.

Since then, the original fleet of 3 has expanded to 15 today, and has been renewed twice. Although Air NZ has tended to order the last of the line of versions about to go out of production. In 1985 the original Boeing 737-200 fleet bought under NAC were replaced with the updated Boeing 737-200 Advanced series (around the last ever made). In 1999 these in turn were replaced with the last Boeing 737-300 series ever made, which saw an end to the noisy 1960s generation turbofan engines well remembered by those living in Wellington's Eastern Suburbs because conversations would need to stop whilst they would take off.

The Boeing 737-300s remain in service today.

Boeing undoubtedly offered its "next generation" 737 series 700, 800 and 900, Airbus had an advantage in Air NZ already having A320s largely used to fly services across the Tasman and to Pacific Islands.

The choice of the A320 was made on price, and it enables economies to be made in having one type of aircraft. The A320 has two other advantages, it has a slightly wider cabin so enables slightly wider seats and aisle, but also carries standard cargo containers in its belly. The "next generation" 737 cannot do that, as its fuselage is still essentially based on the long out of production Boeing 707.

So good for Air NZ, new aircraft, with a lot more seats, more cargo capacity, at a good price, and economies of scale of having one small jet type.

Bad luck for Boeing having lost a sale for a loyal customer of over 40 years for its most successful type.

For passengers it should mean more seats that are slightly wider, perhaps a common fleet that may all have personal TV installed at seats and business class once more domestically perhaps (unless there will be domestic and international configuration A320s). Overall it means that in a few years time, Air NZ's entire jet fleet will be comparatively very young as the 747s and 767s are phased out over the next 5 years as well.

03 November 2009

Tough on crime, tough on rights

Not PC posts on the government's package of measures to get "tough on crime" and notes that Idiot Savant rightfully is worried about Judith Collins apparently being gleeful about the end of the burden of proof, obviously in relation to certain laws.

This all harks back to the political populism behind seeking to be tough on crime, something I happily support. What should this mean? Well it means you need to look at the whole process of resolving crime and dealing with criminals.

The first is to ensure the Police are focusing on crime according to its seriousness and crime that involves victims. This means crimes against the person are prioritised over property crimes, which are prioritised over crimes that are against no one.

The second is to ensure the Police have the tools available to do the job effectively but fairly. That does mean having access to records of all those convicted, it means having access to fingerprint records of convicts and DNA of convicts as well. It means being able to be issued with a search warrant or interception warrant if there are, on balance of probabilities, grounds to assume a serious crime is being carried out or planned by suspects. However, it also means disposing of evidence that proves nothing, and that includes the samples of those not convicted unless they wish to have it retained. The innocent should retain that status, rather than some murky halfway house of being "known to the Police".

Thirdly, the courts should have objective law behind them and fact finding processes so that juries and judges can make appropriate decisions based on legally obtained evidence. That means courts are not occupied by victimless crimes

Finally, sentencing should do what it is meant to do, protect the public and send a punitive message. Imprisonment exists to protect people from the perpetrator committing further crime, but must also be proportionate to the offence and the harm to the victim. Fines may be appropriate if the purpose is to punish someone who is unlikely to reoffend. Young offenders might be expected to be rehabilitated for a first time offence that is not a serious violent or sexual offence.

Debate around how best to manage the criminal justice system IS the primary area of public policy that would remain under a Libertarianz government.

Sadly, this government is seeking to use a sledgehammer to deal to crime, and it is doing so on the basis the Police like to do policy in this area - "let's get those bastards and give us the tools to do it, and you'll be right, you'll have nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong".

Let's be clear what we are talking about in the government proposals:
- Seizure of assets if you can't prove you obtained them legally. Imagine right now the effort you'd need to go to in proving how you afforded your last major purchase? Imagine now how the most sophisticated gangs would establish shell companies and manufacture invoices, receipts and the likes to ensure that they could prove enough. Most of all, ask yourself why anyone should have to prove innocence?
- Wide ranging powers to enter properties, without warrant, if the Police suspect a person who has committed an imprisonable offence is on the premises;
- Wide ranging powers to stop a vehicle, without warrant, if the Police suspect a person in the vehicle has committed an imprisonable offence;
- Wide ranging powers to enter properties, without warrant, if the Police suspect a person is about to commit a drug offence;
- Wide ranging powers to stop and search people in public, without warrant, if the Police suspect a person is carrying a weapon, including knife or a "disabling substance" (yes women, that means you carrying mace or similar);
- Wide ranging powers to search any vehicle, without warrant, if there are reasonable grounds to believe stolen property is within it;
- Powers for the Police to enter your property lawfully (i.e. unchallenged) and snoop using their eyes, ears and recording what was seen and heard;
- Powers for the Police to require you to provide passwords to access your computer and any data you store.. and so on.

More here

What needs to be asked is why this is justified, and what are the specific problems that mean obtaining search warrants is proving too problematic for the Police?

Judith Collins thinks you are protected because of judicial review, but frankly this has little credibility. Parliament is sovereign, when it takes away your rights, the courts are not likely to overturn this. The Bill of Rights Act is only useful for challenging interpretation of general provisions, but the specificity of statute can override this. Beyond that she thinks the media and democracy save your rights, but frankly the NZ mainstream media is not up to the job, as you'll see below. Besides, when the Police Minister cheers the end of the presumption of innocence, then you should be afraid.

Bear in mind of course, guilt till proven innocent is what the tax system is about (and Idiot Savant probably isn't going to campaign to change that is he?)

Following on, it is highly ironic that the president of the Police union Greg O'Connor says this:

"New Zealanders have got to wake up. P has done for this country what the Prohibition did in the US – it's entrenched organised crime."

History delivered an answer to that. Perhaps Mr. O'Connor might be asked to comment on this?

Oh and while we're at it, notice how the Dominion Post article above looks essentially like a government press release with nothing but comment from those supportive of it? Notice how Britton Broun (who was graduating three years ago) did not approach any opposition parties, defence lawyers or anyone else who might be able to comment differently on his little piece of agitprop?

Is this the free media Judith Collins relies upon for robust and vigorous debate and defence of our rights?

Caveat emptor on Destiny Church surely

That's all there is worth saying about this case from the Taranaki Daily News.

If you enter a relationship with someone who is deeply religious, or as a couple enter a deeply fundamentalist religion, and you find the religion gets between you and your partner, why should you be surprised?

Unless the church or your partner forced you, you have a mind. Use it. If you fail to do so, then caveat emptor (and with Density Church you most certainly are "buying").

As much as I have no time for religion personally, the fact remains it is voluntary for adults. The state is not. If you think Destiny Church is a rip off, then don't go and warn others to not go if you wish. If you think the government is a rip off, then your only choice is to complain, or leave to experience another one, which rips you off in a different way.

02 November 2009

Nats torture the disabled!

Well I'd think that if I got my NZ news from Idiot Savant, who says the Nats are cancelling the invalids benefit unless people work.

He said the invalids benefit "Its (sic) paid to terminal cancer patients, people with no limbs, and the totally blind." and a lot of others too of course, but no he wouldn't tell you that.

He says the Nats are forcing people off the benefit and "we will waste millions hounding these people, and millions more on pointless and humiliating medical tests to confirm that no, there haven't been any miracles, and that they still have cancer, motor neurone, paralysis, or whatever other condition robbed them of their career. As I said: sadism - and a particularly expensive and wasteful form of it."

What banal nonsense. It is propaganda hyperbole I'd expect to see from the North Koreans.

After all, he paints National as libertarian in a ruthless way, when it is nothing of the sort, in fact you can almost see the image he paints of cigar smoking cackling about how they are going to be mean to the common people today.

What was actually said by Bill English was "Effectively we have [more than] 80,000 people where officially the welfare system has said they won't work again. We think that's a waste of those people and of their potential so we want to look at how to encourage more people off those longer-term benefits"

Nothing radical there, but no Idiot Savant thinks they should be on welfare for life, and nothing should be done about it. He bends down and kisses the welfare state for being so generous and giving, and that means he personally washes himself from ever thinking about giving a rat's arse about the people who get welfare. The state does it - all is better, and don't even think about changing it.

Now if the Nats were talking about transforming the system so that people in future made provision for permanent disability through insurance, whilst ensuring those currently on invalids benefits retained those benefits and had no disadvantage from working, then I might get interested. As it goes, Bill English is doing a little more than just letting things be as they are.

However, it is too much for an old fashioned socialist worshipper of the welfare state to even THINK the state might encourage less dependency, by, for example, making invalids benefit abatement rates parallel with tax (i.e. for every dollar you earn, the benefit is abated by the tax paid on that dollar).

International welfare state logical if.....

you believe in the welfare state at all.

One of the latest little "hands in the air" scandals to hit Britain is the news about the 38,000 children in Poland receiving British child benefits because their parents are working in the UK.

The EU of course means that all European citizens are, well, European citizens. British, Irish, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Romanian or French, you are all entitled to live, work and claim health, education and welfare in whatever country you are in. So if you live and work in the UK, you can claim benefits for children that may be located elsewhere in the EU, at the UK rate. Now the vice versa would apply as well, but good luck to a Brit working in Poland and getting Polish benefits for their children (if there are any), because they will, understandably, be much lower.

The welfare state concept is based on the idea that we are all our "brothers' keepers", so that people who are in need of income assistance (or income at all) get it from the state, paid for compulsorily by you. Of course take it further and it is based on there being an unwritten, unconscious and unagreed obligation. Your very existence means you must pay for others to survive, and their very existence and poverty means they are "entitled" to welfare.

So the question comes, if it is good enough within border, why not internationally? After all Polish children are far more needy than most British children. Why stop there, why not have a global welfare state where taxes are taken from those with the ability to each according to their needs (you know where THAT came from don't you?)?

Isn't anything else racist, xenophobic and morally wrong? After all, if the welfare state is moral, it must surely be moral internationally. Couldn't those on the left argue that such trans-border poverty is "racist"?

The answer of course is no. It isn't moral to maintain the welfare state. It isn't moral to force people to pay others to have an income. The answer to Britain's dilemma of paying the welfare state of others is to phase out its own.

It could start by telling the EU it is eliminating payments to other countries, and then all new migrants are told they will never have a claim on welfare, in exchange for exemption from the PAYGO tax otherwise known as "national insurance". From then starts the long weaning process off of the welfare state, which will see support for the poor move from compulsion to choice, from the state to the private voluntary sector. However, nobody dare even talk of such a thing in the UK today.

Have we not learnt from 1989?

Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph asks:

"Why do the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the anniversary of which we have been commemorating in a low-key way, and the collapse of communism which followed feature so little in the education curriculum and in the popular renditions of modern history?"

Indeed. She thinks those who had responsibility for curriculums and many commentators were shocked by the sudden implosion of the political system that had kept half of Europe under its jackboot for nearly half a century.

She notes that while Marxism expected capitalism to collapse, it collapsed instead, at least in its most hardened forcefully imposed form, but capitalism simply cannot:

This brings us to the delusion permitted by historical ignorance about the present economic crisis: capitalism, whatever the BBC says, has not collapsed. The banking system very nearly did, but that is a different thing: the banks are simply businesses through which capital flows. They were badly run and they failed due to mismanagement. Capitalism was badly served. But it has not – and cannot – collapse for the same reason that it cannot be overthrown: because it is not a structure that is imposed from above whose perpetrators can be forcibly dislodged.

Yes, you see capitalism is about individuals, about them applying their minds to the world around them and seeing how they can offer people goods or services in exchange for money (or goods and services), and then paying others to provide them services (with minds and hands) to assist in that production. Capitalism is simply human.

She says that if there was a greater observation of what 1989 was about (perhaps especially in Europe where far too many were enthralled by the eastern bloc as offering an "alternative way") it would teach us far more of the risks of rejecting capitalism and the human condition:

"If we had dared to look long enough at the events that followed 1989, as have many of those Eastern European countries which lived through them – if we had produced the plays and films and television documentaries and school texts that they had actually deserved – we might now have a fuller appreciation of the terror that follows from the need to extirpate individualistic impulses. An ideology that attempts to re-engineer human nature in the name of the collective good did not, as its founders had believed, require just a "temporary dictatorship" but a permanent one that bred corruption, victimisation and – most paradoxically of all – a bleak, inexorable poverty both of material goods and of aspiration which eventually became intolerable."

Indeed, nothing must frustrate the left more than the current recession NOT being a collapse of capitalism and not causing people to embrace the reality evasion of Marxism. However, it is timely at the end of this year to remind us all, and the young who knew not of what things were like in eastern Europe, of what the brave people of those lands were seeking to escape in that year.

The cold bleak crushing brutality of the steamroller of socialism.