Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Guantánamo Files

Craig Murray, “The Orchestration of Propaganda”

I have just witnessed the most remarkable operation in orchestration of propaganda in the UK in my lifetime. As I posted yesterday, the leaked Guantanamo files revealed a remarkable amount – that most detainees were completely innocent, that many were plainly fitted up by informants for cash, that people will say anything under torture, that ludicrous assertions were made by the US military, eg the possession of a watch was a clear indicator of bomb-making, and above all that nothing whatsoever could be proved against the vast majority of those held.

Today, with a quite amazing unanimity the mainstream British broadcast media have decided that none of the above analyses exist and the only thing worth reporting in the files is the assertion that 35 suspects received terror training in the UK. Both the BBC and Sky News were leading their broadcasts with the assertion of this highly dubious fact: here it is in Rupert Murdoch’s super soaraway Sun.

Given that the much more obvious lesson from the files is that this kind of information is untrue and from torture, informants, ridiculous deductions and prejudice, it really is an extraordinary thing that the entire British mainstream media today decided on this absolutely uniform presentation of the information. Nor has any of the outlets gone on to point out that not a single one of these 35 has actually been convicted of anything, and that many of them, like Moazzam Begg and the Tipton Three are demosntrably innocent, and that the British government is going to be paying quite a few of them compensation.

In fact the British media has today decided to report in precisely the same terms the least plausible imaginable interpretation of the large amount of material released. The only possible explanation is that somebody has issued a central guidance as to how the catalogue of shame which is the Guantanamo files should be twisted instead to support the narrative of the War on Terror.

Of all the bad things I have lived through, to me this is the most chilling Orwellian development I have experienced in my country; it feels like a crucial tipping point in our movement away from meaningful democracy.

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The Guardian, “The Guantánamo Files”

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Crushing the Right to Protest (Alfie Meadows Charged with “Violent Disorder”)

The UK seems to have decided to join the Russian Federation in the race to the (police-state) bottom…

Take a deep breath, and don’t let it out until you’ve finished this sentence: the Metropolitan Police are charging Alfie Meadows with ‘violent disorder’. Now you can collect your jaw from the floor.

Alfie Meadows is the student who was beaten so badly by police that he had to undergo serious brain surgery. He was also, reportedly, denied an ambulance by police for a considerable period of time. When he finally boarded an ambulance, police attempted to prevent the ambulance from delivering him to Charing Cross hospital on the grounds that the hospital was reserved for the treatment of injured rozzers, not their victims. This happened on the afternoon of 9th December, Day X 3, the day of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees when tens of thousands protested in Westminster and across the country. It was on that evening, you may recall, that police engaged in a particularly nasty, punitive ‘kettle’ of protesters on Westminster Bridge. Alfie Meadows was beaten across the skull by a policeman with a baton, but is being charged for an offence that carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Eleven people have been charged with various offenses under the Public Order Act by the ‘Operation Malone’ unit of the Metropolitan Police. The unit in question was set up with 80 officers solely to investigate the student protests, and as such represents a massive outlay just to arrest people who are either innocent of any crime, or at most guilty of very minor ones. The inclusion of Alfie Meadows on the charge sheet is clearly politicised, bearing in mind the IPCC’s ongoing investigation into the case. One also has to take into account the recent High Court decision that the kettling of G20 protesters was illegal, which could and should result in thousands suing the police. But it’s also typical of the police’s way of handling cases where they may be vulnerable. You might recall the example of Jake Smith, who was arrested after the Gaza protests in 2009. The case collapsed when it was disclosed that the footage showed, not Jake Smith engaging in ‘violent disorder’, but rather the police engaging in a violent attack on Jake Smith.

Of course, everything that is done by the state with reference to the student protests has a wider social mission, which is to preemptively criminalise the coming social struggles and validate the police’s pre-meditated violence. Take the case of Edward Woolard, the 18 year old who dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof of Tory HQ. He was disgracefully given a sentence of 32 months. This was longer than the sentence handed out to some rapists, though no one was harmed. The judge’s homily explained that the court was “sending out a very clear message to anyone minded to behave in this way that an offence of this seriousness will not be tolerated”. Of course, sending out ‘messages’, or rather heavily moralised threats, is what the criminal justice system does by nature. And we get the message alright.

Yes, they beat someone’s skull in. Yes, this was part of a series of violent tactics deployed by police, which included assaults on young boys, and teenaged girls. Yes, if the protests had continued, and the police had continued with their tactics, they probably would have killed someone just as they killed Ian Tomlinson. We’ll be lucky if, in the next few years, they don’t kill another protester. And their very clear message is that whatever happens, just as they did with Jean Charles de Menezes and the Koyair brothers, they will always find a way to blame the victim, exonerate or protect the guilty, and continue as before.

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Reaction to the charges brought against Alfie and the others yesterday has been, in the main and entirely reasonably, a combination of bewilderment and anger. The only places I can see where people haven’t responding in this way have been on an anonymous police blog and a similarly anonymous police forum, where posters are desperately trying to cling on to ‘rumours’ that Alfie was hit by a ‘concrete block’ and not by a police truncheon (rumours generated by those sites in the first place). It’s pathetic, but predictable and suitably cowardly that active (though nameless) members of the police force would be so desperate that they would resort to such weaselly and baseless insinuations. Similarly the idea that there’s something ‘suspicious’ about Alfie’s ‘silence’ in the past few months: well, a combination of recovering from major brain surgery, a major IPCC investigation and legal advice might have something to do with it -but hey, unless the spectacle gets fed constantly I guess people start to forget that there’s life beyond the internet and TV…and seriously, ACAB, fuck the CO19 with their shoot to kill policy for the royal wedding, fuck banning people from the city they live in and fuck the version of a fearful world that cops inhabit and try daily harder to bring into existence for everyone else.

The charges brought against Alfie and the others are purely politically motivated in every respect, from the timing, to the charges themselves, to the specific people they picked on. Anyone who still believes (or ever believed) that the police are in anyway related to justice has got to wake up and quickly: similarly, how long can it go on that the IPCC never, ever finds against the police in any serious way? Something’s got to give and hopefully before we see yet more unchecked police arrogance and unpunished brutality towards those exercising their desire to protest freely.

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In what can only be described as a colossally misjudged act of PR, the Metropolitan police have decided to charge several of the student protesters arrested in the wake of last year’s demonstrations with violent disorder, affray and criminal damage. They include Alfie Meadows, the student who had to have brain surgery after he was allegedly hit with a truncheon.

These are serious charges which carry potentially heavy jail sentences. Their timing does not seem to be coincidental. The hearing dates for those arrested had been set for late May and June; they have now been moved forward. But to what end? This weekend will see not only the royal wedding, of course, but also 1 May protests stretched across a four-day holiday (for some, anyway).

By charging these allegedly dangerous individuals and banning them from Westminster and the City for the next week, the Met can reassure the public that they are pre-emptively protecting them from a violent social menace – despite the fact that none of the protesters have yet been found guilty of anything.

But apart from the crudeness of such tactics, does this kind of political policing achieve anything more than public disgust at such underhandedness? The police seem to be operating under the misapprehension that the recent protests have been led by identifiable leaders who can then be picked out, thus leaving crowds bereft of direction. What the protests at Millbank, Whitehall and elsewhere demonstrated, however, was that this assumption is increasingly wrong. A mass movement doesn’t need to rely on charismatic figureheads for strength.

Protesters at recent demos know very well what the coalition is doing to students and workers alike, and that so many of them are prepared to stand up to the government and those paid to violently enforce their policies is clearly causing consternation, and more repressive responses, among the powers that be.

Alleging protester violence rather than questioning their own dangerous tactics, such as kettling, the police can try to put potential protesters off; they can try to make those with families afraid to march with their children (though the huge TUC march last month provided plenty of evidence that this tactic isn’t working); and they can intimidate those who may never have protested before.

At the same time the police (some of whom work for “counter-terrorism”) are creating large groups of criminalised youth, largely young men between 15 and 25, some of whom are students trying to save their EMA and their chance to afford university in a few years’ time. Fingerprints are taken, names and faces noted, and photos of those “wanted” are splashed all over the media, destroying anonymity and carrying the implicit message that if you protest, for any reason, we can and will destroy your future.

Many of those arrested for the first time are unaware of their legal rights, coerced into accepting cautions and distressed at the thought of bringing disrepute to their families, schools and colleges. At the same time the expense to taxpayers created by heavyhanded policing and high-profile arrests is immense.

But there are ways of fighting back. One student arrested in a dawn raid after the 24 November protest, Bryan Simpson, has set up a campaign which is holding a rally in Glasgow on 29 April.

A new campaign group, Defend the Right to Protest, has been launched with the support of John McDonnell MP, Naomi Klein, Tony Benn and others. There are many in Britain who may not ever want to attend a protest, but they’d be certain they’d want to live in a country in which people could protest. This pre-emptive criminalisation of protesters and the propagandistic tactics of intimidating future protesters is a worrying sign of things to come.

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Free Ai Weiwei (petition)

Avaaz.Org

Dear friends,

World-famous and beloved Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been “disappeared” by China’s state security forces. Every trace of Ai’s life and art has been erased from the Chinese internet, and his only hope may be a global outcry for his release.

Fearful of the pro-democracy protests sweeping the world, the government has cracked down on hundreds of free-thinking Chinese artists, intellectuals, students and citizens. But across the world, artists and art-lovers have begun to speak out in solidarity with Ai.

Chinese elites are major buyers of contemporary art, and are now planning a huge art fair in Beijing. If international galleries and artists stay away from China until Ai is freed, they’ll send shockwaves through the regime. Let’s build a massive global wave of support for top gallerists and artists to stop exhibiting in China until Ai Weiwei is released. We’ll deliver it at the upcoming Venice Biennale exhibition:

http://www2.avaaz.org/en/artists_for_ai_weiwei/?vl

Dozens of galleries and artists from over 15 countries are now gearing up for the Beijing International Art Expo and other shows. We’ll present our petition to all the prominent galleries and artists, and log their responses on our website, mobilizing the art world to take a strong stand on behalf of Ai and all the free-thinking citizens who have been jailed.

China sometimes seems immune to international pressure, but art-activism could work. When sports stars stayed away from South Africa they got the attention of the brutal apartheid regime, hastening Nelson Mandela’s release. Together with international artists and dealers we may now be able to achieve the same effect.

Ai Weiwei’s crime has been to speak out against corruption and injustice in China. He resigned on principle from the team designing the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic stadium, criticized corruption behind poorly built schools that killed children in the Sichuan earthquake, and expressed hope the democratic revolutions in the Middle East might lead to change in China. Now noone knows where he is being held or why. Let’s call on artists and galleries to come together to free Ai Wei Wei:

http://www2.avaaz.org/en/artists_for_ai_weiwei/?vl

Ai Wei Wei’s parents spent 16 years in a prison labour camp for their principles. At that time China was isolated from the world, but now times have changed. Our voices count — let’s use them now for Ai and China’s free-thinking artists, and the new China they’re striving to create.

With hope,

Alex, Ricken, Maria Paz, Morgan and the whole Avaaz team

SOURCES

BBC — Chinese Artist Held for Economic Crimes

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12994785

NYTimes — China Takes Dissident Artist Into Custody

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/world/asia/04china.html

The Guardian — Cultural Revolutionary

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/jul/06/art.china

CNN — A Dangerous mix of art and politics

http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/04/26/chiu.aiweiwei.arrest/

The Atlantic — The Art of Bubbles: How Sotheby’s Predicts the World Economy

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/04/the-art-of-bubbles-how-sothebys-predicts-the-world-economy/236852/


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Vinci: Get Out of Khimki Forest!

“Ultimate Fighting in Khimki Forest,” 19 April 2011, Khimki Forest, Moscow Region. Video by Oleg Kozyrev, special for Echo of Moscow Radio

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Russian Anti-Corruption Movement, Backed By 20,000 Worldwide, Demands Major EU Corporation Pull Out of Illegal Forest Clearing


Before its annual shareholders meeting, individuals in 161 countries call on Vinci, one of the EU’s largest corporations, to end its involvement in Moscow-St. Petersburg Highway project until human rights abuses and environmental destruction are addressed.

27 April 2011 — Russian activists leading one of their country’s biggest protest movements in years are accusing Vinci, a Paris-based global construction firm, of complicity with human rights abuses and corruption perpetuated by government officials.

More than 20,000 people from 161 countries have signed their petition, started on the online social action platform Change.org, to denounce Vinci’s involvement in the toll highway project through Khimki Forest. Supporters plan to present the petition at Vinci’s annual shareholders meeting in Paris on May 2. They are asking Vinci to end its involvement in the project, unless Russian officials will reconsider several available alternative routes that go through industrial areas and would spare the legally protected forest land.

Police arrested and temporarily imprisoned 11 members of the Save Khimki Forest Movement last week as they peacefully protested ongoing illegal clearing in Khimki. Four days later security officers beat and robbed a local journalist on the scene. The ancient forest in the outskirts of Moscow is the site of an unlikely four-year battle to stop construction of a €1 billion toll highway through this forest.

Vinci, the only foreign firm involved in the concession deal to build the highway, is party to a new agreement that could allow construction of the controversial Khimki segment to proceed within weeks or even days.

The Save Khimki Forest Movement’s campaign has, in just one month, become one of the most popular global petitions on Change.org and has garnered additional support from Avaaz, the largest activism community in the world, as well a number of civil society organizations throughout Europe. This week, protest actions are being held by supporters around the world, including in Moscow, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Bremen, Prague, Mexico City, Klin, and Khimki, before Vinci’s shareholders meeting.

So far, Vinci has washed its hands of responsibility for the litany of documented abuses surrounding the project. In just one example, two journalists who exposed the corrupt officials involved were beaten badly in 2008 and 2010; one, Mikhail Beketov, is today in a wheelchair and unable to speak.

“We are asking Vinci to demand President Medvedev spare the forest and seriously address the abuses that have occurred. There are many alternative routes available. By doing nothing, Vinci will destroy a more than 200-year-old forest against the will of the Russian people,”said Khimki resident Yevgenia Chirikova, the leading figure of the movement. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden personally awarded her a “Woman of Courage” award in his visit to Russia this year.

“Sixty six percent of Russian citizens are against the project. But no one hears them. Vinci is also supporting outrageous corruption among our government officials that led to this selected route,” said Yaroslav Nikitenko, one of the leading activists.

Their work to save Khimki Forest gained national momentum as it became symbolic of larger issues of corruption, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in Russia. Last summer, about 5,000 protesters demonstrated in Moscow, spurring President Medvedev to halt the project until he approved it again in December.

French MEP Michèle Rivasi, a member of Green-EFA Group, also called on Vinci to take action this week. “The battle for Khimki forest in Russia is a symbol for the green movement. Russian activists are not only fighting to protect their forest and their environment, they are also fighting against corruption, censorship, violation of laws and human rights, oppression against civil society… Since the beginning, this project has been done without any real public participation, what is going against essential and basic rules of democracy. The Green-EFA group in the European Parliament has supported them since the beginning, and it’s particularly shocking to see a French company – Vinci – participating to this harmful project. I ask Russian authorities to stop violence against activists and Vinci to withdraw from this project,” she said.

Vinci is holding its annual shareholders meeting in Paris on May 2, and this effort is timed as a last-ditch appeal to the corporation to take a stand before the old-growth Khimki Forest—an area ecologists say is crucial to the environmental health of Moscow—is lost forever.

Contacts:

Save Khimki Forest Movement (MOSCOW): Yaroslav Nikitenko
+7-916-743-3759, metst13@gmail.com, (Russian, English)

Save Khimki Forest Movement (MOSCOW): Yevgenia Chirikova
+7-925-500-8236, ecmoru@gmail.com, (Russian, English)

Change.org (WASHINGTON, D.C.): Jess Leber, Environmental Editor
+1-516-658-9606, jess@change.org (English)

Contact for French MEP Michèle Rivasi, Group of the Greens/European
Free Alliance (BRUSSELS):
Michele.rivasi@europarl.europa.eu
+32-2-2845397

Contact for Vinci (PARIS):
Tel.: +33-1 47 16 45 39, +33-1 47 16 35 00

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“The Police and Its Laws in Khimki Forest,” 23 April 2011, Tolstoy Park, Khimki (Moscow Region). Video by Oleg Kozyrev, special for Echo of Moscow Radio

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“Talk to an Iraqi” (This American Life)

This American Life, “Talk to an Iraqi,” Part I:

This American Life, “Talk to an Iraqi,” Part II:

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What Does It Mean to Say “No”? Negativity Now (Saint Petersburg)

artesliberales.spbu.ru

18 April 2011

What Does It Mean to Say “No”? Negativity Now (conference)

Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St.Petersburg State University (former Smolny College)
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment, 11, room 248

Is it easy to say no – to reject something, deny something, or accept the loss? Philosophy of the last two centuries draws attention to the paradox of negation which cannot help but reaffirm what it pretends rejecting. Nevertheless, at least since Hegel, “negativity,” a real force that enables a logical negation, is considered to be essential to the modern epoch. All major concepts of modernity — subjectivity, democracy, freedom, revolution — include a positive evaluation of the negative. We insist on the irreducible difference, on indeterminate openness, on the decisive break with the past and on the marvelous ability to constantly overcome itself. But this very same negativity has another, depressing face: the epoch of negativity risks, as Nietzsche said, “willing nothing” and therefore wills “the nothing” in absence of a better option.

Today, in retrospect, the twentieth century appears to us as a search for a “true,” absolute negativity, which would not have anything positive in it and would represent a pure nothing or a pure disjuncture. In spite of these attempts, the cause of negativity has so far been lost on the political and institutional level to the force of positivism and consensus. Hence the current resurgence of interest in this notion. Perhaps, after summarizing twentieth-century reflection on the negative, we will be able to think how to institutionalize it.

Program of the Conference

  • 14:00-15:00 Artemy Magun “Why negativity matters? A brief history of the question”
  • 15:00-16:00 Mladen Dolar “Hegel and Freud”
  • 16:00-16:30 Coffee break
  • 16:30-17:30  Benjamin Noys “Economies of negativity”
  • 17:30-17:45 Coffee break
  • 17:45-18:45 Keti Chukhrov “Adorno and the negativity in modernism”
  • 18:45-19:00 Coffee-break
  • 19:00-20:00  Oxana Timofeeva “Negative animality”
  • 20:00-21:30 Drinks and snacks

Talks will be held in English.

For more information:

E-mail: director [DOT] collegium [AT] smolny [DOT] org

Tel: (+7-812) 320-0727

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International Leaking Roofs Day (Saint Petersburg)

ROOF LEAKS UNITE RESIDENTS
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
April 13, 2011 (Issue # 1651)

Residents, artists and anarchists united Sunday to protest the St. Petersburg authorities’ failure to deal with housing issues by celebrating the fictitious International Leaking Roofs Day in the courtyard of a 19th-century building on Kolomenskaya Ulitsa.

The celebration, which included a discussion, an outdoor art exhibition and tea party, was organized by Verkhotura art group, one of whose members, Polina Zaslavskaya, lives in the building.

“The main idea was that people should unite and organize themselves to fight the problem, rather than deal with it alone,” Zaslavskaya said.

“And we came up with this humorous form: An exhibition, to invite artists to unite and tackle the problem with their artistic means. The housing problem is a common one; it doesn’t matter what you do, the main thing is to do it all together.”

Called “Everything Leaks and Everything Abides,” the art exhibition featured satirical posters criticizing the city’s housing services for the lack of transparency and alleged corruption, as well as documenting the effects of leaking roofs — a problem that affects thousands of the city’s households.

Zaslavskaya painted a series of watercolors with titles such as “Roof Pierced By a Crowbar,” “Electrical Wiring Has Burnt Out” and “Leak in the Kitchen. A Hot Water Pipe Burst in the Attic.”

The anarchists — some of whom held a regular Food Not Bombs event nearby, distributing free vegan food to underprivileged and homeless people — provided vegan snacks and hot tea as well as background music.

According to Zaslavskaya, the date was chosen to mark the first anniversary since the roof of her building, located at 38/40 Kolomenskaya Ulitsa, first started to leak. Despite promises from St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko to fix city roofs, the leaks returned last winter.

Zaslavskaya attributes this to corruption and inefficiency. “When such housing horror occurs, when things are on the verge of catastrophe, it immediately becomes clear to everybody how everything works,” she said.

“The Housing Code was issued back in 2005, but it still doesn’t work. City Hall came up with the “St. Petersburg Roofs” program in which they replaced old roofs with new ones, but it made things even worse because they were poorly made.

“It’s an example of solidarity among thieves and completely insane corruption, because incredible amounts of money are just draining away.”

The exhibition’s title, “Everything Leaks and Everything Abides,” is a play on words on Heraclitis’ quote “Everything flows and nothing abides” (in Russian, there is one word for both “leak” and “flow”), and was used on a poster that Zaslavskaya and her friends made for a rally against leaking roofs last month.

“The residents asked us to do something like ‘Valya, Fix Our Roof,’ which was an almost supplicating tone,” she said.

“I don’t know how productive that is. Quite the opposite, I think it makes sense to say, ‘Let’s battle, let’s unite, let’s organize ourselves and take everything over.’ There should be moods like that.”

Zaslavskaya believes that outdoor art events could overcome alienation and unite people — at least the residents of a specific building.

“There are severe problems now, and they can be used to try and stir up people,” she said.

“To overcome total loneliness and isolation, because I think it’s sad.”

Photos by Sergey Chernov. They are used here with his permission.

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