Monthly Archives: February 2013

Mediating notions of freedom: The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Radio Free Europe’s headquarters in Prague

Away from the physical wars of violence and destruction, a cultural war has taking been place since the end of World War II. I’m not referring to the phony cultural war of the Right versus Left or Conservative versus Liberal, I’m talking about the bombardment of other countries via the airwaves. The countries that are enduring this cultural bombardment are those in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East.  Some Eastern European countries are included… but not those that have already succumbed to the imperialist message of brotherhood through ‘free trade’.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same broadcaster and were, until 1970, directly funded  by the CIA. Their funding now comes directly from Congress but that doesn’t make them any less pernicious than they were previously. In the glory days of the Cold War, RFE/RL would broadcast messages about the wonders of Coca-Cola and other treats to the so-called Iron Curtain countries, but once the Berlin Wall fell, they turned their attention to those countries in Asia, which they believed were in need of ‘freedom’. The truth is altogether less altruistic and I will come to that later.

RFE/RL broadcasts to Iraq and Iran (no surprise). It claims not to beam its signal to Syria but I think, given the current situation there, it most probably does.

RFE began broadcasting in 1950 to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. RL began in 1951. It is interesting to note that in the same year that RFE was founded, the CIA covertly created the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

Here’s a clip from Crusade for Freedom. This is the same Orwellian freedom much beloved of our friends in the Liberty League and The Freedom Association,

The Crusade succeeded in convincing many Americans that the idea of freedom that was being mediated to them by domestic broadcasters was the ‘right’ freedom, and that this freedom should be ‘enjoyed’ by everyone.

While not exactly sinister, the Crusade for Freedom was unquestionably deceitful. Over almost twenty years, it repeatedly took advantage of American good will, expanding from a small, obscure program into a monstrous propaganda subterfuge. Crusade organizers instigated parades in small towns, complete with a shining Freedom Bell displayed along the streets. Organizers cast the bell at a foundry near where the Liberty Bell was originally created to enhance its propaganda value. They added other touches, too, appealing to people’s patriotic sentiments. The top of the Freedom Bell, for example, was circled with peace laurels, and the bottom was engraved with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. People were asked to sign Freedom Scrolls and donate Truth Dollars.

“Freedom Scrolls” and “Truth dollars”. What does that sound like to you?

RFE’s website tells us,

In the first years of the Cold War, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty adopted more confrontational editorial policies than other Western broadcasters. The broadcasts produced in accordance with these policies did not promote uprisings and, after 1953, emphasized evolutionary system change.

The original intention of RFE/RL was to inspire insurrection in the East but this failed to happen. Instead, the radios adopted a more softly softly approach through the use of culture.

In what came to be called “surrogate” broadcasting, RFE and RL provided an unbiased, professional substitute for the free media that countries behind the Iron Curtain lacked. Unlike other Western broadcasters, the programs focused on local news not covered in state-controlled domestic media as well as religion, science, sports, Western music and locally banned literature and music.

They claim that they provided “unbiased” news. Such news does not and never did exist.

The “radios” provided news, features and music aimed at communist and non-communist elites as well as the general population. RFE and RL also gave a voice to dissidents and opposition movements that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, would emerge as leaders of the new post-communist democracies.

Most Americans had no idea that their tax money was being used to support RFE/RL and many still don’t understand the role they played in the production of propaganda during Gulf War II and the occupation of Iraq.

But it’s not going all RFE’s way. Last October, the Voice of America website reported,

U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Liberty says it will end its radio broadcasts and move to digital platforms to comply with a new Russian law prohibiting foreign control of broadcast licenses.

In a Moscow Times article, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steve Korn says the station is adapting to new legal realities and changing technology and distribution systems.

Korn says Radio Liberty’s future lies in digital, Internet and social media, where it hopes to reach “young, urban and educated Russians” who “are at the forefront of change and who will lead Russia in the future.”  He says there was no alternative to compliance with Russian law.

The Voice of America (VOA) looks like a rival outfit but it is part of the same propaganda machine. The VOA includes the African continent in its broadcast orbit as well as the rest of the world. In the 1970s, I can remember once tuning in to the VOA in time for the news. The announcer told listeners that the news was in “Special English”. I always took that phrase to mean “code”. It actually means “American English for foreign speakers”.

English language lessons are part of the propaganda drive: through the teaching of a language one can inculcate in the listener the values of the culture from which that language comes.  In this case, the language is American English, which tells us that the cultural values of the dominant ideology in the United States will be passed on to the listener in a seemingly innocent manner. This is also true of the BBC World Service.

Chomsky and Herman (1989) say,

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

In the case of VOA, RFE and RL, they obviously function as American propaganda machines: they are supported by the government through taxation and private (and corporate) donations. While Chomsky and Herman wrote about the function of the media in advanced capitalist societies in which there exists a ‘free press’, it is important to understand how the American radios projected an image of America that was at ease with itself and in which there were no internal conflicts, racism or the surveillance of ‘subversives’. The American people were portrayed as unified and happy. But this was no more than an illusion for the American people and the world’s listeners, whose only knowledge of the US came from one of the radios. In Debordian terms, this is a spectacular image of the US that is being mediated to listeners. But is not the radios themselves that are spectacular, rather the social relations that exist between the listener and the radios are spectacular.

Indeed, Debord said,

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

The spectacular freedom articulated by the radios can only be achieved by the ‘opening up’ of markets so that the consumer goods can flow freely. Images of fast-food, high-spec gadgets and designer clothing are used to reinforce this mediated idea of freedom.

Let’s take the example of the Czech Republic, of which Pew Global said,

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project found broad-based Czech discontent with the country’s economic situation and the way democracy is working.


Nonetheless, the data also showed a strong commitment among Czechs to free markets and democratic values. Moreover, Czechs ranked high among their peers in the region in terms of happiness with the transition to free market economics and multiparty politics.

The Czech Republic was one of the first of the former Soviet Union’s satellite states to embrace the free market notion that had been mediated during the Cold War. It is likely that the idea of the “democratic values” of which Pew speaks were projected through the distorted lens of capitalist commodity production onto the Czech people through the radios.  The use of the slippery word “happiness” is instructive here and I would suggest that it has also been subjected to the process of spectacularization.  In other words, happiness comes through the consumption of freely available commodities, but for those without the means to consume such things there is no freedom. This is the ugly flipside of the freedom and democracy concepts that were articulated by the radios. The Shangri-La promised by RFE/RL/VOA exists only for the wealthy, who snapped up the former state industries, and the powerful political figures who capitalized on the vacuum left by the former rulers.

Now the transmitters have turned their signal to those parts of the world that have been hitherto untouched by the invisible hand of the market.

So for those who have yet to be touched by the joys of free market capitalism: your freedom will be mediated to you.


Debord, G. (2005) Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black and Red.

Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N. (1994) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, London: Vintage Books.

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Filed under Africa, Media, Middle East, propaganda, United States, World

Nightmare on King Street (Part 15)


Regular readers of this blog will know that H&F Tories are hypocrites. They protested at the government’s proposed closure of the borough’s accident and emergency departments. Then, last night, they voted to close them. This follows from Cllr Peter “Tory Boy” Graham’s attack on the council’s Labour group earlier this month. It didn’t take him long to do a complete volte face…well, it’s in the Tory DNA.

Here’s what Graham said on the local Tory blog,

Tonight, we have seen exactly what happens when you try to work with the Opposition: they throw it back in your face.

The one time we have a cross-party campaign, they try to yoke it to other issues and make it political.

It’s not as though we’ve failed to do our bit.

For the sake of my hospital, I climbed onto a platform bedecked in GMB flags; in front of a hundred Socialist Worker placards; in the company of Labour MPs, Christine Blower and the Middle Eastern Workers’ Solidarity Network. There they all were, arrayed with Andrew Slaughter to the left of the stage, while, as solitary representatives on the right, it was just me… and Cllr Cowan.

Here, Graham, attempts to take the moral high ground by getting in a thinly-veiled swipe at some of his favourite hate-figures. He desperately wants to become an MP. No question about it. He’s Greg Hands’s Commons researcher and H&F is where they prepare the most right-wing of politicians for the Best Club in Town. It’s his destiny and no doubt he thinks it’s his birthright too.

Only the Opposition could confuse a hospital, where doctors and nurses deal with emergencies, and a police station, where officers don’t.

There’s a clear difference: our hospitals are busy and their doors need to stay open if patients are to be treated; but with one visitor an hour, a bored desk officer could arrest himself for wasting police time.

He’s actually accusing the opposition of being stupid, but emergency services are being slashed and all this twerp can do is try and claim it’s all the opposition’s fault. But where does he get this feeble idea that the Labour group confused a police station for a hospital?

You will recall that former [Dear] Leader of the Council – now Deputy Mayor for Policing – Stephen Greenhalgh, wants to close police stations across London and replace them with a counter at the back of your local supermarket. Only recently Cllr Greg Smith unveiled a CCTV unit for the borough, which he claimed wouldn’t replace the numbers of officers on the beat. Policing is bad enough in the borough: 2 years ago I was burgled and not a single officer came out to see me. They told me to look on Ebay for my stolen property – seriously. Presumably this lot and their chums at Westminster would sign over our hospitals to Tesco if they could. Not content with shutting police stations, the Tory group is now in favour – after telling us they were opposed – of shutting down the A&E departments at the borough’s two hospitals.

But I have a second reason to be disappointed with the Opposition motion, particularly as I thought they’d understood the scale of the threat to Charing Cross.

What are you trying to say, Councillor?

Their motion just talks about the closure of the A&E, when the NHS wants to close the entire hospital.

This Graham fella’s nothing but a cheap pedant to be honest. Now we risk having no A&E services in the borough. If you need emergency care, you’ll have to schlepp over to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital or the West Middlesex Hospital… or is that closing too?

Here’s where he starts trying to extract political capital.

To listen to them, you would never know that the NHS budget is going up each year. You’d never know that it’s going up locally. And you’d certainly never know that official Labour Party policy, confirmed again and again by Andy Burnham, is to cut it.

Cut it – not increase it, or match the Government’s increases – but cut it.

Nor would you know that the Shaping a Healthier Future programme isn’t some nasty imposition of Andrew Lansley, genial as he is, but is part of the Nicholson Challenge, which was announced in 2009 under their government and featured in the Labour Party manifesto.

Then he snaps back into the default position of “it was the last Labour government”. But whatever those Blairite filth did while in power, is now being made 10 times worse by an incompetent and generally stupid government.

Madam Mayor, they can emote all they like, but their stance is the worst, shameless, knee-jerk, intellectually bankrupt, immature, hypocritical, self-indulgent examples of posturing I can recall.

That’s rich coming from a ruling party that first, campaigned against closures, then more or less voted in favour of them. As they used to say at the end of the 70s sitcom Soap, “Confused? You will be”! As for being “intellectually bankrupt”, I think I’ve proven that most, if not all, Tories suffer from this affliction. Immaturity seems to come naturally to them too.

We are not interested in posturing.

Au contraire, Tory Boy, your party colleagues are very much interested in posturing…and slashing… and cutting… and attacking the poor.

You mark my words, Graham will be selected for a nice safe seat in the Shires. It’s on the cards. Then, he’ll have to compete with Jacob Rees-Mogg for the title of the silliest toff in the Commons.

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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, London

Life on Hannan World (Part 7)

This morning as I was looking at my Twitter timeline, I saw a retweet that contained the following words, “Nazis, socialism, left, Dan Hannan” and I thought to myself, “The Lyin’ King is at it again”. To be honest, Hannan does this sort of thing at least once or twice a year to bait the Left. Yet, it is his fellow Tories that have often enjoyed fraternal relations with members of extreme right-wing parties. Some members of the National Front even drank at Conservative Clubs. Don’t tell Hannan or his simpleton friends that, because he’s the sort of person who would threaten to sue you for telling the truth.

Today’s blog is the usual drivel about how the Nazis were socialists because their name contained the word “socialist”. The blog title is “So total is the Left’s cultural ascendancy that no one likes to mention the socialist roots of fascism” and reveals in the author a desire for total right-wing hegemony that will displace what he sees as “Leftist control of culture and the media”.

The third paragraph contains the by now usual tropes presented as substitutes for solid evidence. The headline is also revealing for it indicates a desire on Hannan’s part to control discourse as well a culture. But cultural production in Britain is hegemonic. There is no getting away from it. Mainstream cultural output is controlled by an elite of Oxbridge graduates and former public schoolboys…like him.

Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers’ councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, ‘capitalism has run its course’.

You’ll notice how he opens this paragraph with “Almost everyone” – it’s so dishonest. It’s funny how he ignores how the Nazis smashed up socialist and communist meetings. For him the fact that Nazis claimed to be anti-capitalist is proof of their ‘socialism’. Naturally he ignores how the Nazis used the Jews as scapegoats and would often employ phrases like “International finance” as a means to link Jews with banking and capitalism. The Nazis were more than happy to support capitalism. IG Farben? Volkswagen?

One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty. You expect this level of analysis from Twitter mobs; you shouldn’t expect it from mainstream commentators.

This reads like paranoid nonsense. The point of this blog, as with so many others that he’s written, is to claim that the Nazis were never right-wing because – and he will never admit to this – they are on the same part of the right/left divide as his beloved Tory party and this will not do. It’s a toxic mix of wilful ideological ignorance, political immaturity and historical revisionism.

When did you last hear a reference to the BNP on the BBC without the epithet ‘far Right’? The terminology is deliberately tendentious. It doesn’t make anyone think any less of the BNP; but it does make them think less of the mainstream Right, because it implies that the BNP manifesto is somehow a more intense form of conservatism.

My bold. That’s because the BNP is a far-right party, Danny Boy. I wonder if he realizes how close the National Front and the Monday Club were in the 1970s and 1980s?  In 1973, the NF were moving to take over the Monday Club. Thatcher even stole some of their policies on immigration. Does that sound like socialism to you? No, it doesn’t to me either.

Just to sum up how confused his argument is, here’s the penultimate paragraph of this tour de merde.

Am I saying that the BNP is simply another form of Labour Party? No. That would be to repeat the error of the Twitter mob, only the other way around. There are obviously huge differences between what Nick Griffin stands for and what Ed Miliband stands for. Yes, the BNP has some policies in common with Labour, just as it has some policies in common with the Greens, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. Coincidence of policy does not establish consanguinity of doctrine.

The Cat gets the feeling that some tool on Twitter called The Lyin’ King and his government’s policies fascist and he got upset by this. To that, I would say: grow up.  But then, I would also ask him what other party has attacked the disabled in the way the Tories have? I can only think of one party: the Nazi Party. This paragraph, much like the rest of the blog is sophistry.

I just hope that Lefties who have read this far will have a sense of how conservatives feel when fascism is declared to be simply a point further along the spectrum from them. Whenever anyone points to the socialist roots of fascism, there are howls of outrage. Yet the people howling the loudest are often the first to claim some ideological link between fascism and conservatism. Perhaps both sides should give it a rest.

Again, Hannan wants to claim that the Nazis and fascists are not further down the political spectrum from the Tories. The left understands only too well that Stalinism is on the same side of the left-right divide as they are. It doesn’t mean that they’re the same, they just happen to be classified as “left-wing” for many reasons. The connections between the Tories and big business is little different to the Nazi’s corporatist policies. Indeed, Nazism is a marriage of state and corporate power. In socialism, there is no corporate power because all the means of production are owned by the workers. Under Nazism, trade unions were banned and socialists and communists were arrested and sent to work camps. I would wager that there are members on the government benches who would quite happily propose work camps for those who oppose them. When Thatcher was in power, she legislated the metropolitan councils out of existence, simply because they opposed her. I don’t recall a Labour government behaving in this way.

Finally, I wonder if The Lyin’ King spoken to his fellow Tory, Aidan Burley? I mean, why would someone on the Right fetishize Nazi iconography if the Nazis were “left-wing”? Over to you or one of your sock puppets, Danny…

Here’s an interesting link to an article about Eric Pickles and his time as Leader of Bradford City Council. It would seem the local branch of the Monday Club was more than happy to invite members of the BNP to one of its meetings.  Here’s a snippet,

That meeting attracted various eccentric far right factionalists, including members of John Tyndall’s neo-nazi British National Party. One particularly bizarre creature had come up from London in order to canvass support for the Monday Club’s governing council elections. He described black people in this country as “leeches, slugs and cockroaches, sucking off the blood of the country without sharing the Teutonic traditions of the British nation”.

The meeting also produced evidence of Murphy’s attempts to build links between the Monday Club and other far right groupings. Leaflets for the “English Solidarity Movement”, led by arch racist Lady Jane Birdwood, were made available to the audience. Birdwood is an ex Monday Clubber with links to the National Front and the British National Party.

Read it and weep, Danny!

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Filed under Journalism, Media, propaganda, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Looking forward to the Eastleigh by-election?

I don’t know if “looking forward” is the way to describe how I’m feeling about the Eastleigh by-election, but it promises to be one of the most interesting by-elections to have been announced in a while – especially given the circumstances that led to the seat becoming vacant.

So who will win this seat? UKIP thinks that it has a real chance but I’m not so sure. Last time they came in fourth behind Labour and polled 1,933 votes. While Labour’s man won just over 5,000. Labour has never won this seat nor has it done particularly well here either.  Eastleigh usually goes to the Tories and was won by the Lib Dem’s David Chidgey in 1994, following the mysterious death of Stephen Milligan (whose brother, Brian, works for the BBC). The Lib Dem victory happened at the height of the sleaze allegations that dogged John Major’s Tories. Now the Lib Dems are in government with the Tories, I can’t see how they can win this election. Moreover, I suspect the Tories will have a tough time here too.

My eyes have been drawn to the new National Health Action Party whose main campaign pledge is to work to save the NHS. There is a precedent for this: Dr Richard Taylor fought under the banner of Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern and won the Wyre Forest seat from Labour minister, David Lock. Given the depth of feeling over the NHS and in the wake of the Mid Staffs NHS trust scandal, the NHA Party could steal this seat from under the nose of the established parties. Labour is going to have a tough time.

The Labour candidate is the author and broadcaster, John O’Farrell. It’s pretty obvious that the party has selected a candidate based solely on personality rather than ideology. He also wrote jokes for Blair and Brown… make of that what you will. Now that may be applauded in some circles but, personally, I think it could backfire.

This Wikipedia page has the full list of candidates.

According to Ladbrokes, the NHA Party is 100/1 and they have the Lib Dems as 8/11 favourites.

Place your bets!

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Filed under Government & politics

Nazi Boy is reselected to fight Cannock Chase

Nazi Boy opens his mouth and the world comes crashing in. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

Nazi Boy opens his mouth and the world comes crashing in. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

The Jewish Chronicle reports that Aidan Burley has been reselected to fight Cannock Chase in the 2015 General Election.

He has been chosen despite the failure of the Conservative Party to release a promised report into his participation in the event, which took place at the Val Thorens ski-resort in late 2011.

A guest at the stag event was photographed wearing SS uniform, while there were also claims that attendees toasted SS leaders.

Mr Burley was reselected at a Cannock Chase Conservative Association meeting this week, after which association chairman Phil Jones said that the “overwhelming feeling” was that “since 2010 he has set a new standard as a constituency MP”.

He has a majority of 3,195, but is placed at number 50 on the Labour Party’s target list for 2015.

Sadly, it looks like it’s just The Cat and The Jewish Chronicle who are interested in the whereabouts of the French investigator’s report into Burley. The rest of Britain’s ‘free’ press seems to be eerily silent on this matter.

A majority of 3,195 isn’t massive and if Labour can make capital out of Nazi Boy’s fetish for Third Reich symbols, then they can’t fail.

Burley managed to upset many people last year when he tweeted to his followers that the Olympics opening ceremony was “lefty crap”. That’s ok, Herr Oberst, we don’t much care for Nazi crap around here either.

Here’s what local lad, Stan Collymore had to say to him.

“I’ll happily stand against you at the next election. You have no clue about our town or its people.”

Go on, Stan! Back of the net! Take his legs out!

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics

Owen Paterson: horsemeat and bullshit

Since the horsemeat scandal broke in the last week, we have seen more and more of Owen Paterson and the more I see of him, the less I feel convinced by him. Paterson’s appearances on television have been wooden to say the least. Next to Jeremy Hunt, Paterson is a politician who seems to exude incompetence from every pore.

I don’t know about you but Paterson looks like a man who shouldn’t be where he is. For all his expensive education, this is a man who doesn’t seem capable of tying his shoelaces let alone be put in charge of a government department. It’s also revealing that he’s now charge of a department, which is second only to the Northern Ireland Office in terms of the least-wanted of ministerial briefs. In fact, Paterson’s previous role was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. No offence to the Northern Irish but the Tories only send the least brightest and the least capable to the Northern Ireland Office. It is the political equivalent of internal exile. If you’re at the NI Office, then it’s likely that you’ve messed up somewhere or you just don’t cut the mustard.

If Paterson was moved from Northern Ireland to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, then it’s unlikely that Cameron sees him as a rising star and his chance of a shot at one of the great ministries of state is remote… which can only be a good thing. Having said that, the rest of the cabinet isn’t full of great talents but Paterson makes them look like intellectual giants.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics

Great blog from Robert Nielsen about the story of Noah’s Ark. This is quite timely given that many of those who voted against equal marriage in today’s Commons debate are of the belief that Eve (by extension all women) was created from one of Adam’s ribs. Like a lot of people who were subjected to Christian indoctrination as children, I found the story of Noah’s Ark hard to believe. I mean, how did he manage to stuff a large wooden boat full of every creature on earth? Zoologists are discovering new species of animal all the time. As for insects….well, there seems to be no mention of them.

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Filed under Religion, Society & culture

French special forces guarding uranium mines in Niger

Uranium mine in Niger. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

Uranium mine in Niger. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

What did I say a couple of weeks ago? That the French intervention in Mali was about more than shooting Islamist militants and indeed it is. When I was listening to the BBC World Service last night, my fears were confirmed when I heard that French special forces were now guarding uranium mines in Niger.

This was on  France 24 last week,

France is to deploy special forces to protect uranium mines belonging to French nuclear energy giant Areva in Niger, according to a report in a news magazine this week.

According to weekly Le Point, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has given the go-ahead for an elite team from France’s armed forces to reinforce local security at the company’s two sites in Niger, a former French colony.

The move comes amid a heightened security threat following a French-led offensive to drive Islamist separatists out of northern Mali, and the deadly hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, which militants said was in revenge for the French military intervention.

The US are about to base drones in Niger. Coincidence?

Here’s what the ever-reliable BBC had to say,

Niger has confirmed that French special forces are protecting one of the country’s biggest uranium mines.

President Mahamadou Issoufou told French media that security was being tightened at the Arlit mine after the recent hostage crisis in Algeria.

Despite having large deposits of uranium, gold and other minerals, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world.

After independence in 1960 its progress was stymied by political instability and a five-year drought, which devastated livestock and crops.

With little primary education, Niger has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Its health system is basic and disease is widespread.

After a break of a decade, Niger again experienced an insurgency by Tuareg rebels in the north in 2007.

Political instability only benefits France and other countries, who continue to exploit Niger’s mineral wealth and give nothing back to the country. One thing you can say about China is that they at least build infrastructure, Western nations take and give nothing in return. But we also know that Tuareg rebels have been fighting with the Nigerien (as opposed to the Nigerian government in Nigeria) government for decades as they have in Mali. This is a typical scene across the Sahel and it is barely mentioned in Western news reports.

I also heard  that 2,000 Chadian troops had joined French forces in Northern Mali. There is a precedence for this too. France first organized the Chadian army and its military works alongside it,this included the long civil war (1965 to 1979), which began with a peasant uprising. In that conflict, the Chadian government asked France to intervene. Does that sound familiar?

Yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show (sans le mal Andrew Marr, mais avec la minaudant Sian Williams en lieu), the war criminal Tony Blair gave his support to his ‘heir’, David Cameron.

Blair said: “I think we should acknowledge how difficult these decisions are.

“Sometimes in politics you come across a decision which the choice is very binary, you go this way or that way and whichever way you go the choice is very messy.

“If we engage with this, not just military but over a long period of time, in trying to help these countries, it is going to be very, very hard but I think personally the choice of disengaging is going to be even greater.”

Blair talks about choices being “binary”. Nothing is ever that simple, especially where geopolitics is concerned.

As you’d expect, the mining of uranium is hazardous.  Greenpeace produced a report in 2010 about the levels of atmospheric contamination as well as the dangers posed to those who work in the mines.

Watch this Greenpeace video.

I wonder if the French special forces realize what they’re dealing with? They’re not only guarding these mines but they’re being exposed to the health dangers too. I expect to hear stories of French soldiers being afflicted with mysterious ailments, which can all be traced to their time in Niger. But it’s the people who live near these mines who will continue to live with the consequences of the Areva’s mining operation and the French demand for nuclear energy. They don’t benefit from France’s intervention; they’re merely pawns in another great game.

For more on French military interventions on the African continent, read this.

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Filed under Africa, Chad, World

Telegraph blogs and the normalization of anti-Ziganism

The Roma Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The Roma & Sinti Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Pic courtesy of the BBC

A couple of years ago, I wrote how anti-Ziganism (racism against Roma, Sinti and other travellers) is still socially acceptable in Europe, while anti-Semitism is now seen as unacceptable (with certain exceptions – Hungary, for example). Since then, we’ve had the trashy Channel 4 series, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, where viewers were invited to gawp and poke fun at travellers. We’ve also had the mass eviction of travellers from the Dale farm site outside Basildon. This prompted a rash of anti-Ziganist comments from the usual quarters. “If they’re travellers, then why aren’t they travelling?”, was just one of the many bigoted comments made.

So today as I’m reading one of Damian Thompson’s blogs, I came across these two comments.

Anti-Ziganist comment on Torygraph

“Palfreman” talks about “real Romanians”. I wonder if he knows anything about Romania other than the drivel he’s read in the Tory-supporting press?  He/she/it talks about “repatriation to India”. Does that sound familiar? People said the same thing in the 1970s.  It’s the language of the National Front and the Monday Club. But “Dalek_1963’s” comment uses the same language as the Nazis used about the Jews and Roma in the 1930s and talks about them as a form of contamination. He/she/it describes them as “third world savages”. The real “savages” are the knuckle-draggers who want to create a “pure” British nation; a limited gene pool in which they can cling onto their congenital defects.

I reported both of these comments and wasn’t surprised to see that both of them were still there. This is free speech, Torygraph-style.

But here’s what prompted those comments.

How much of our anxiety about Romanians flooding into Britain is actually about Roma gipsies? It’s a sensitive topic, as I discovered at a seminar devoted to it at the LSE. The lecturer deplored the obstacles faced by illiterate Roma in Britain. I suggested they should learn to read. It was one of those “I’ll get my coat” moments. Luckily the Government agrees with me and is taking radical steps to address the problem. Roma are now exempt from library fines for overdue books. And if they borrow a book from one library they can return it to another. Which, when you think about it, definitely makes sense.

You will notice how Thompson universalizes illiteracy with the Roma. There are plenty of Britons who cannot read and many of them are in our prisons.  Does Thompson know this? If he does, he won’t let on. This fear of a “flood” of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria is not about those people per se, it’s about a disgust of the Roma; a people who have been persecuted for centuries.  Many perished in the Nazi death camps during WWII but there’s little mention of that in the Torygraph or elsewhere.

Last year, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, opened a memorial in Berlin to the Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust.  It has taken over 70 years for some kind of memorial to be built.

Meanwhile the abuse and persecution continues.


Filed under Anti-Ziganism, Bullying, Society & culture