Jump to content
The Education Forum

Jonathan Steele

Members
  • Content Count

    5
  • Joined

  • Last visited

About Jonathan Steele

  • Rank
    New Member
  1. Jonathan Steele

    Democracy in Ukraine

    The core of democracy is tolerance of other people's views. Whether it is Rosa Luxemburg's call for respecting the "freedom of people who think differently" or Winston Churchill's pride in British parliamentary debate, left and right agree on this principle. Alas, it is not much on display in Kiev. Egged on by their favourite, Viktor Yushchenko, crowds have been blocking the main government building and doing all they can to humiliate his rival, prime minister Viktor Yanukovich. Their man won the presidential election, but where is the respect for constitutional procedures they claim to support? In a minuscule way, I felt the same intolerance when I criticised the street protests in these columns a month ago. The flood of ferocious emails, mainly from Yushchenko fans, exceeded the response to anything I had written before. Although my article said Yushchenko would probably be a better president than Yanukovich and urged the EU to open its doors to Ukraine immediately (views that most of the Kiev protesters held), it caused outrage. I had dared to suggest that Yanukovich's voters were as genuine as Yushchenko's, and that Yushchenko's backers included oligarchs who had enriched themselves at the state's expense. Above all, it drew attention to the degree of funding by the US and other western governments for the campaign. The more polite emailers made the point that the vast crowds in Kiev's streets were fed up with corruption and electoral cheating, and foreign funding was irrelevant. Others claimed I had been bribed. Many were viciously anti-Russian (anti-Russianism is as unpleasant as anti-Americanism in my book). But the overwhelming reaction was a crude tone of "If you're not with us, you're against us". It tolerated no criticism, nuance or scope for reasoned disagreement. In short, no democracy. In spite of the anger it provoked, the article had benefits. It seemed to prompt a more balanced and less romantic tone in some foreign reporting. A few people went to listen to the hopes and fears of people in Donetsk and other non-Yushchenko areas. After all, assuming last Sunday's vote was free, 44% voted for Yanukovich - not exactly a trivial minority that can be swept aside by the political Darwinists who dismiss their opponents as "post-Soviet hold-outs and nostalgics" who will soon die off. Best of all, the piece was followed by a belated discussion of the role of foreign governments in elections. The way the US has exploited and financed "people's power", first in the Philippines in 1986, to a lesser extent in eastern Europe in 1989, and strongly in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine since 1999, came under the spotlight. As with "humanitarian interventionism", which was much debated in the 90s, "electoral interventionism" needs to be thrashed out. Why is so much of it selective? Why do western governments (for they are the prime interferers) that claim to be fostering democracy take only one side, rather than being above the fray? Why are only certain countries picked? Georgia, but not Azerbaijan. Serbia, but not Croatia. Zimbabwe, but not Egypt. Of course, it is a travesty to suggest, as some commentators do, that critics of this interventionism support dictators, despise their courageous opponents, or are ideological cynics. The issue is how foreign power is used and with what motives. More constructively, we ought to discuss alternatives. Calling for transparency and for "spies to keep out", as Timothy Garton Ash did in these pages recently, is not enough. The whole idea that foreign governments, with or without their intelligence agencies, should be involved so directly in choosing targets has to be questioned. The major role should go to the United Nations. For all its flaws, including the fact that it is often manipulated by the big powers itself, the UN is the only international institution with credible impartiality. Can it be empowered to work through a genuinely representative management board to foster electoral practice around the world? Will the west give money, but not insist on control? The Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance also has a reputation for fairness. It needs better funding. The Council for Europe could do more. There are many options, but the key point is this: democracy is too important to be left to individual governments with special agendas. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1381326,00.html
  2. Jonathan Steele

    Freedom Summer

    The voice on the line was polite but insistent. The FBI was conducting a nationwide manhunt for three men who had disappeared in Mississippi. My car had been found abandoned in suspicious circumstances in nearby Louisiana. Would I come immediately to explain why, and whether I knew anything about the men? The phone call was unnerving even though I had nothing to hide, and I hastened to obey the summons. Of course I knew that the men had gone missing: the case was rocking America that summer, exactly 40 years ago. America's turbulent civil rights decade was at its height and the missing men were three volunteer activists who had been helping black people stand up for their rights and register to vote in the Deep South's most violent state. They had been arrested by the deputy sheriff of Neshoba county on June 21, held for a few hours, and released after dark. Two days later their burned-out station wagon was discovered on a lonely road, but the men were nowhere to be found. James Chaney, 21, was a black Mississippian from Meridian, a city in the eastern part of the state. Micky Schwerner, 24, was a Jewish activist from New York City who had spent four months in Meridian, running various civil rights projects. Andrew Goodman, 20, came from an upper-middle-class New York family, and had arrived in Mississippi only the day before he went missing. Their terrible story was later turned into a film, Mississippi Burning. The three activists had disappeared a few hours after a cavalcade of 200 young people arrived in Mississippi for what was called the Freedom Summer. The term "human shields" was not yet in vogue but that is what we were. The idea was that as outsiders we might shame Mississippi's police and sheriffs into reducing their brutality. With the exception of a handful of foreigners such as myself, the roughly 800 volunteers were American - mostly students from prestigious Ivy League universities and other private colleges. We had to bring $500 for use as bail money in the very probable case of being arrested on trumped-up or minor charges. There were a few middle-class blacks but the majority were affluent whites, and firm believers in the American dream. In the deep south they were vilified as "outside agitators", as though they had no business to be there. They discovered another America, a society in which they were indeed foreigners. Here was a state where blacks made up 45% of the population but only 6% had managed to overcome the poll taxes, the unfairly administered literacy tests and violent reprisals, just to get on the register to exercise their American right to vote. Before we reached Mississippi we had attended a week-long orientation session at a college in Oxford, Ohio. The three men who went missing were on the course, too. Activists from the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee organised role-plays of redneck thugs beating up defenceless blacks to show us how to curl up and - with luck - avoid serious injury. We were advised of our legal rights. The instructors, dressed in blue denim overalls, included firebrands such as Stokely Carmichael and Marion Barry, who later became "black power" symbols. But there were quieter ones such as James Forman, who warned us that our presence in Mississippi would inevitably provoke violence, and that we should not provoke it further through sassy behaviour: "I may be killed. You may be killed. But Mississippi is not the place to start conducting constitutional law classes for policemen, many of whom don't have a fifth-grade education." We piled into cars and set off for Mississippi. I was assigned to Vicksburg, a town of around 25,000 people. Our headquarters was a rambling wooden house set high above a pot-holed road in one of the many black parts of town. The plan was to teach literacy and arithmetic in "freedom schools", run health clinics, and accompany local people to the courthouse to get registered. It was rather different from what I had expected of my Harkness postgraduate fellowship to study at Yale. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1241501,00.html
  3. Jonathan Steele

    Elections in Iraq

    Although Saddam was still a junior figure, it is a matter of record that the CIA station in Baghdad aided the coup which first brought the Ba'athists to power in 1963. But it was Reagan who, two decades later, turned US-Iraqi relations into a decisive wartime alliance. He sent a personal letter to Saddam Hussein in December 1983 offering help against Iran. The letter was hand-carried to Baghdad by Reagan's special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld. Reagan liked several things about Saddam. A firm anti-communist, he had banned the party and executed or imprisoned thousands of its members. The Iraqi leader was also a bulwark against the mullahs in Tehran and a promising point of pressure against Syria and its Hizbullah clients in Lebanon who had just destroyed the US Marine compound in Beirut, killing over 200 Americans. It is not surprising that the current international manoeuvring over Iraq is treated with suspicion grounded in that history. Iraqis regard their newly appointed government with scepticism. They see the difficulty France had at the United Nations in trying to persuade the Americans to allow Iraqis a veto over US offensives in places like Falluja. They note that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi did not even ask for a major Iraqi role until the French made it an issue. Iraqis remember that Allawi and his exile organisation, the Iraqi National Accord, were paid by the CIA. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1236211,00.html
  4. Jonathan Steele

    End of the Cold War: Gorbachev or Reagan?

    Reagan's policies towards the Soviet Union were hysterical and counter-productive. He put detente into deep freeze for several years with his insulting label "the evil empire". It led to overblown outrage over the downing by Soviet aircraft of a South Korean airliner that intruded into Russian air space. Moscow's action was inept, but if Reagan had not put the superpowers in collision, the Kremlin might have treated the wayward plane more calmly. Moscow's policies in the developing world were no less cynical than Reagan's. In Iran and Iraq they played both sides, tilting towards Saddam Hussein, in spite of his execution of communists. They feared Iran's Islamic fundamentalism as much as Washington did. But the cold war was not mainly about ideology, and certainly not freedom. It was a contest for power. By the time Reagan took office, some independent analysts and reporters with experience in the Soviet Union were arguing Moscow's power had peaked. The CIA was exaggerating the strength of the Soviet economy and the amount being spent on defence (shades of the recent fiasco over Iraq's WMD). The issue was hotly debated, and it was hard to reach the truth of events in a closed society. Those like myself who detected Soviet weakness had to struggle against the Kremlinological establishment, where traditional views were in a majority. But the record of Soviet behaviour suggested that, behind Brezhnev's rhetoric, Moscow had become disillusioned with its international achievements. Its Warsaw Pact allies were unreliable and had to be periodically invaded or threatened. In the Middle East, Moscow had few allies in spite of decades of trying to win friends through the supply of arms. Egypt had moved west, Syria saw that Russia had no clout on the central issue of Israel and Palestine, the Gulf states were suspicious, and only Yemen and Iraq seemed to offer a little hope. The Kremlin was losing heart, but its elderly leaders were too ill to draw the consequences. It took a younger leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to start the process of international withdrawal. High oil prices after 1973 had given Moscow a decade of easy money to finance its part in the US-Soviet arms race while also developing its industrial infrastructure. By the early 1980s the weakness of the consumer goods sector, the failure to reform agriculture, and the pressure for liberalisation coming from a policy elite which had travelled abroad as diplomats, engineers and journalists was about to break the surface. Reagan's Star Wars project did not bankrupt the Soviet Union into reform, as his admirers claim. In repeated statements as well as his budget allocations Gorbachev made it clear Moscow would not bother to match a dubious weapons system which could not give Washington "first-strike capability" for at least another 15 years, if ever. The Soviet Union imploded for internal reasons, not least the erratic way Gorbachev reacted to the contradictory processes set in motion by his own reforms. Reagan was merely an uncomprehending bystander. His acceptance in his second term of detente was a u-turn which millions of peace activists in Europe had been demanding. It was detente that made the end of the cold war possible, and without Reagan's blind anti-communism it could have come at least four years earlier. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1236211,00.html
  5. Jonathan Steele

    Ronald Reagan and the Cold War

    Although Saddam was still a junior figure, it is a matter of record that the CIA station in Baghdad aided the coup which first brought the Ba'athists to power in 1963. But it was Reagan who, two decades later, turned US-Iraqi relations into a decisive wartime alliance. He sent a personal letter to Saddam Hussein in December 1983 offering help against Iran. The letter was hand-carried to Baghdad by Reagan's special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld. Reagan liked several things about Saddam. A firm anti-communist, he had banned the party and executed or imprisoned thousands of its members. The Iraqi leader was also a bulwark against the mullahs in Tehran and a promising point of pressure against Syria and its Hizbullah clients in Lebanon who had just destroyed the US Marine compound in Beirut, killing over 200 Americans. It is not surprising that the current international manoeuvring over Iraq is treated with suspicion grounded in that history. Iraqis regard their newly appointed government with scepticism. They see the difficulty France had at the United Nations in trying to persuade the Americans to allow Iraqis a veto over US offensives in places like Falluja. They note that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi did not even ask for a major Iraqi role until the French made it an issue. Iraqis remember that Allawi and his exile organisation, the Iraqi National Accord, were paid by the CIA. Not just in Iraq but around the world, the hallmark of Reagan's presidency was anti-communist cynicism, masked by phoney rhetoric about freedom. In his first press conference as president he used quasi-biblical language to claim that Soviet leaders "reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat". It was one of the most extraordinary cases of the pot calling the kettle black. What could Saddam, let alone other Iraqis, have thought when it became known two years after Rumsfeld's first visit to Baghdad that Washington had secretly sold arms to the mullahs Iraq was fighting. Who had been lying and cheating? In the name of anti-communism everything was possible. Reagan invaded Grenada on the false premise that US students who had been there safely for months were suddenly in danger. Reagan armed thugs to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, even after it won internationally certified free elections in 1984. He made the US an outlaw by rejecting the world court judgments against its blockade of Nicaragua's coast. Reagan armed and trained Osama bin Laden and his followers in their Afghan jihad, and authorised the CIA to help to pay for the construction of the very tunnels in Tora Bora in which his one-time ally later successfully hid from US planes. On the grounds that Nelson Mandela's African National Congress was pro-communist, Reagan vetoed US congress bills putting sanctions on the apartheid regime the ANC was fighting. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1236211,00.html
×