SACW - 26 Feb 2018 | Arms sales data / Suffragettes & Mahatma Gandhi / Afghan Mental Hospital / Sri Lanka's past / Pakistan - India: Escalating Border War / India: Neelabh Mishra (1960 - 2018) / Russian theatre / East European Populism

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Sun Feb 25 13:07:41 EST 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 26 February 2018 - No. 2973 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. SIPRI Data on 100 Companies Selling Most Arms in the World - A Chart by AFP
2. How the Suffragettes influenced Mahatma Gandhi | Ramachandra Guha
3. India: Neelabh Mishra (1960 - 2018) - the ethical and public spirited journalist passes on, he will be widely remembered
4. India: Direct benefit transfer (DBT) Scheme for food subsidy despite huge opposition in Jharkhand - Mass protest planned on 26 Feb 2018
5. Who is responsible for India’s Partition and Kashmir Imbroglio ? Ram Puniyani
6. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India; BJP govt in Haryana hell bent on introducing hindu religious prayer in school
 - India: Anand Mohan J and Somya Lakhani on the high price of inter-faith marriages
 - [Ram Rajya Rath Yatra: Politics for power - Ram Puniyani's artile in Hindi]
 - India: Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks - Karnataka’s Success Story | Suresh Bhat
 - India: Adityanath Hate CD, Found in Sealed Records a Decade Later, Was Never Sent for Forensics
 - N Gopalaswami, Head of RSS Education Wing to Select India’s 20 ‘World Class Institutes’ |
 - What was Tariq Ramdan the rape accused islamist doing in Dec 2017 at Al Jamia al-Islamiya of Santapuram, Kerala India
 - India: Amid tensions with BJP and a row within, Hindu Yuva Vahini grows in UP
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
7. Afghanistan's Lone Psychiatric Hospital Reveals Mental Health Crisis Fueled By War | Samantha Raphelson
8. The fear inside us: Confronting Sri Lanka's past | Aljazeera
9. Burma: Generals Prep $15M of New Fencing For Border With Bangladesh | Htet Naing Zaw
10. Bangladesh worried about influx of Bangalis from Assam
11. Are factories better in Bangladesh after Rana Plaza? That depends on who you ask | Andrea Crossan and Jasmine Garsd
12. Kashmir: Pakistan and India exchange artillery fire amid escalation in dispute | Fayaz Bukhari
[ + related news]
13. Into the Woods : Thomas Jones on the Italian Election
14. How Russian theatre is speaking truth to power | Viv Groskop
15. Review: Dafnos on Camus and Lebourg, 'Far-Right Politics in Europe'
16. How Eastern European Populism is Different | Sławomir Sierakowski

1. SIPRI Data on 100 Companies Selling Most Arms in the World - A Chart by AFP

Their [Suffragettes] struggles left a mark on the techniques of protest used by the Mahatma in South Africa

Senior journalist and editor-in-chief of National Herald, Neelabh Mishra, passed away on February 24 at a Chennai Hospital

Overwhelming Popular Opposition to the DBT Experiment in Jharkhand
Glitches in the system have deprived people of nearly half of their food rations in the last four months. When they do get their rations, people spend 12 hours collecting them, on average. Most people are opposed to  (...)

Political tendencies not only distort and ‘present the past’ to suit their political agenda; they can go to any extent to even lie about the events and their interpretation. ‘Facts are sacred; opinions are free’ should have been the dictum for all those commenting on them, but as they say for the likes of Modi, ‘all is fair in love and war’. To promote his personal ambitions and to enhance the impact of his political agenda

 - India; BJP govt in Haryana hell bent on introducing hindu religious prayer in school
 - India: Anand Mohan J and Somya Lakhani on the high price of inter-faith marriages
 - [Ram Rajya Rath Yatra: Politics for power - Ram Puniyani's artile in Hindi]
 - India: Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks - Karnataka’s Success Story | Suresh Bhat
 - India: Adityanath Hate CD, Found in Sealed Records a Decade Later, Was Never Sent for Forensics
 - N Gopalaswami, Head of RSS Education Wing to Select India’s 20 ‘World Class Institutes’ |
 - What was Tariq Ramdan the rape accused islamist doing in Dec 2017 at Al Jamia al-Islamiya of Santapuram, Kerala India
 - India: Amid tensions with BJP and a row within, Hindu Yuva Vahini grows in UP

 -> available via:
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
National Public Radio (NPR)
February 14, 2018

An Afghan patient sits in a yard at the only mental health rehabilitation center in the city of Herat in April 2014.
Aref Karimi /AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 40 years of violent conflict is driving a growing mental health crisis in Afghanistan.

While accurate data on mental health issues are not available in Afghanistan, the World Health Organization estimates more than a million Afghans suffer from depressive disorders and over 1.2 million suffer from anxiety disorders. The WHO says the actual numbers are likely much higher. The mental health toll signifies a hidden consequence of war that is often overshadowed by bombed-out buildings and loss of life.

Afghanistan has only one high-security psychiatric facility, where many of the patients are often chained and sedated. The Red Crescent Secure Psychiatric Institution houses almost 300 patients considered to be the "most dangerous," says Sahar Zand, a reporter for the BBC who reported from the facility in Herat, the third-largest city in the country.

While some patients in the hospital showed symptoms of mental health problems in childhood, "the majority of people are actually in there because they have developed psychological problems during the war because of Afghanistan's recent history," she tells Here & Now's Lisa Mullins.

There are few treatment options in Afghanistan for those with mental health issues, according to the World Health Organization. The government has recently stepped up efforts to train and employ mental health professionals, but there are still barriers to treatment, such as the cultural stigma surrounding mental illness.

"There is an urgent need for increased investment towards supporting mental health interventions in Afghanistan to ensure support is available for people with mental health disorders," Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, a WHO representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement last year. "We need to treat mental health with the urgency it deserves."

Some people in the Red Crescent psychiatric hospital say they shouldn't even be there, Zand says, but because there is a lack of adequate outpatient mental health services, they remain.

"I'm not crazy. I'm sane," one woman told Zand. "What am I doing in this madhouse? It's horrible. I beg you to get me out of here."

It's hard to be accepted into the hospital, but it's even harder to get out once patients receive sufficient treatment, Zand says. Many patients are stuck in the hospital because their family was either killed in the conflict or migrated to neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Pakistan. More than 2.5 million of the world's refugees are from Afghanistan, the second-largest refugee population behind Syria, according to World Bank data.

"Even thinking about it now — it still sends shivers down my spine — is the fact that some of the patients in there are actually cured," Zand says. "As long as they take their medication, they would no longer be a threat to the society. ... But for these patients to get discharged, somebody needs to come and pick them up."

As a result, patients with severe psychological problems, such as psychosis, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, who could thrive outside of the hospital, are "basically stuck in there forever," she says.

Among the patients are former terrorists, militants and others who lost family members in the conflict, Zand says. They come from all different walks of life, but most of them are in the hospital as a direct result of the war.

In an outdoor courtyard, Zand met two men who were chained together: a former Taliban fighter and his enemy, a former mujahideen. The two men are bound together by their illnesses, she says.

"No matter who you are, where you come from, what your religion, ideology, race, whatever it is, war is ugly, and it doesn't just leave behind destroyed buildings or corpses," Zand says. "It leaves behind a long-term effect on people's minds. And this is something that gets passed down generations and can actually have very long-term, horrific effects."

4 Feb 2018

As Sri Lanka marks 70 years of independence, the nation has a long road ahead in tackling post-war reconciliation.

In his film Demons in Paradise, Tamil filmmaker Jude Ratnam revisits Sri Lanka's uneasy past [Screengab/Al Jazeera]
more on Tamil Tigers

At first, the tall, brooding silhouette at her doorstep was unrecognisable.

After more than three decades, Sellaiah Manoranjan, an ex-Tamil fighter, returned to a house in Jaffna where he and his family once sought refuge from the Sri Lankan military.

It reminded his Sinhalese host of the time she risked her own safety by offering shelter to this Tamil family in the beginning of the country's 26-year civil war.

"We're still alive, aren't we, my boy?" she asked, patting Manoranjan on his shoulder, as if he was still a teenager. "They harassed us because we supported Tamils. But we protected them anyway."

Manoranjan has returned with his nephew Jude Ratnam, a filmmaker who is retracing his uncle's experiences to get closer to understanding not only the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, but also the infighting and power struggle within Tamil separatist groups that characterised their quest for a separate homeland.

A history of discrimination

After gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Sri Lanka became embroiled in a struggle between the Sinhalese majority ethnic group and the minority Tamils.

Despite the British Raj over Sri Lanka being largely coloured by the divide-and-rule strategy, figures from the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka were appointed to high-ranking civil services jobs and played an important role in the governance of the island.

But in 1948, administrative power fell into the hands of the Sinhalese, who began an onslaught of legislative discrimination against the Tamil population.

The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 denied citizenship to Sri Lankans of Indian descent (Tamils were largely of Indian descent). Then, in 1956, the Sinhala Only Act made Sinhalese the only official language of Sri Lanka. In the 1970s, importing Tamil language books, magazines and films from the Tamil cultural hub of Tamil Nadu in India, was also outlawed.

"Once political parties dominated by the Sinhalese majority got entrenched, they pushed through certain policies that had an effect on the everyday life of Tamils and made them feel marginalised," said Nira Wickramasinghe, professor of modern South Asian studies at Leiden University.

"This was seen as an affront to the idea of equal citizenship and created a situation that radicalised the youth and led to a feeling of discontent that was channelled into anti-state movements," she told Al Jazeera.

    Once political parties dominated by the Sinhalese majority got entrenched, they pushed through certain policies that had an effect on the everyday life of Tamils and made them feel marginalised.

    Nira Wickramasinghe, professor of modern South Asian studies at Leiden University

Calls for the right to Tamil self-determination, reflected in the 1977 parliamentary elections, were brushed aside when the Sri Lankan government responded with an amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, prohibiting peaceful advocacy of independence.

Four years later, in 1981, an irreversible blow to Tamil culture and history at the hands of an organised Sinhalese mob saw the Jaffna library set on fire. Over 95,000 Tamil historical texts and manuscripts were burned to ashes.

Sri Lanka's Black July

In July 1983, a group of Tamil fighters ambushed a contingent of the Sri Lankan military, killing 13 soldiers. The incident sparked the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, and a bloody civil war broke out that left more than 100,000 dead and around 800,000 displaced.

"That night in July 1983, the whole capital was set on fire," recalls Ratnam, referring to what is widely remembered in Sri Lankan history as "Black July".

When the dust settled, thousands of Tamils had been displaced from their homes and their businesses uprooted. Many Tamils were forced to migrate to the northern parts of the country, mainly to the city of Jaffna.

    Just as we were arriving in the north of the country, the Tamil fighters began to organise themselves to take up arms. The Tamil guerrillas' fight for an independent state began.

    Jude Ratnam, filmmaker

Ratnam was still a child when they fled the violence, but he remembers his father walking helplessly up and down the platform as his family boarded the train from Colombo to Jaffna.

"That picture is deeply etched into my memory," he said. "That night, I didn't realise we were fleeing Colombo as refugees. We went to the north where the majority of Tamils were already living."

"Just as we were arriving in the north of the country, the Tamil fighters began to organise themselves to take up arms. The Tamil guerrillas' fight for an independent state began," Ratnam said.

Manoranjan reconnects with the lady who sheltered his family from the Sri Lankan army three decades ago. [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

A rebellion divided

Under the banner of Tamil Eelam, the struggle for a separate homeland for the Tamils, the resistance fractured before it could present itself to be a viable opposition for the state.

"All the names I heard as a child, Tigers, TELO, PLOTE, EPDP, EPRLF, EROS, were those of the various Tamil militant groups," Ratnam said. "I was proud of those names."

Pride soon turned into fear as infighting started within the group.

"They [Tamil Tigers] were killing all those who opposed them, one by one," said Manoranjan, who was a member of the National Liberation Front of Tamileelam (NLFT). It was a "small political group" that stood for "socialist revolution" and a group that inevitably was overshadowed by the more violent and menacing Tigers.

"In the early 1980s, you had a streamlining of the [Tamil resistance] groups. The Tigers really consolidated their hegemony as the dominant group and physically eliminated most of its rivals," Wickramasinghe told Al Jazeera.

"The TT consolidated its place quite violently. There wasn't a rallying around in an organic way, it was a battleground for who would become the representative of this movement," she said.

The struggle for Tamil Eelam was quashed in 2009, when, after weeks of intense fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the chief Tamil leader was shot and killed by security forces.

    The Tigers really consolidated their hegemony as the dominant group and physically eliminated most of its rivals.

    Nira Wickramasinghe, professor of modern South Asian studies at Leiden University

'The fear is ready to come back'

Almost nine years after the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka is still grappling with its recent past. Many challenges remain unresolved and many of the physical, emotional and psychological wounds of war remain unhealed.

According to Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch's South Asia director, successive governments have failed to properly address issues raised by the conflict.

"Immediately after the war, the government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa was unwilling to address concerns around violations of laws of war," she said.

"Those seeking accountability and answers were under severe pressure with the government cracking down on freedom of expression. Those suspected of any connection or sympathy with the Tamil Tigers were subjected to arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and severe torture, including sexual abuse, in custody," Ganguly told Al Jazeera.

In March 2017, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN Rights Council that "the consistent failure to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes appears to reflect a broader reluctance or fear to take action against members of the security forces."

The current government stresses it has indeed been involved in efforts to address some of the concerns regarding its role in the civil war. In that light, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena appears to contradict key findings from a UN investigation into the country's civil war, released in September 2015.

"Today, in our country, we're asked to move forward, forgetting the past," said Ratnam.

"Almost all traces of the war have been wiped out. Everyone wants to believe the country will develop, whatever the means. We are asked to deny our identities in order to move forward. But I know that that fear, which is buried deep inside us is ready to come back to the surface and it could happen at any moment."

The Irrawaddy
23 February 2018

NAYPYITAW — The Upper House of Parliament on Thursday heard the Home Affairs Ministry’s 20 billion kyats ($15 million) plan to raise several more kilometers of fencing along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh and carry out other related work.

Home Affairs Deputy Minister Major General Aung Soe told the Upper House session that the money would come from the president’s emergency fund and be handed over to the Ministry of Defense to carry out the work in Rakhine State. He asked the session to make a record of the project, which it did.

With the president’s approval, the fund can be appropriated without approval from Parliament.

Fencing was built along 204 km of Myanmar’s 295-km border with Bangladesh in three phases between 2009 and 2015.

“In phase four, an 11.5-mile [18.5-km] fence was put up along the border during the 2016-17 fiscal year. Another 3.2-mile Y-shaped fence topped with barbed wire coils is being built during the 2017-18 fiscal year. Fencing will have been put up along 14.7 miles of border when that work is completed,” Maj-Gen Aung Soe said.

The 20 billion kyats from the president’s emergency fund will be used to build a Y-shaped fences topped with barbed wire coils along an additional 18.5 km this fiscal year along with other related infrastructure including a 12.2-meter-wide patrol route along the fence, 161 reinforced concrete conduits and eight buildings including three warehouses.

“The old fences are not strong enough and people can cross over them or remove them. However, we don’t yet know about [the quality of] the new fences. We want better fences so that people from the other side cannot enter illegally. If the fence cannot prevent people on the other side of the border from entering illegally, it will be a waste of money to build a fence. It is the responsibility of the ministries to spend the funding effectively,” said lawmaker U Pe Than, of Rakhine State’s Myebon Township.

U Pe Than, a central executive committee member of the Arakan National Party, said the project would be adequately funded but stressed that the ministries had to spend the money effectively because the fence was key to preventing illegal immigration and the threat from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

The Upper House also made a record of another 1 billion kyats from the president’s emergency fund that the Border Affairs Ministry will use to upgrade two gravel roads connecting Ngakhuya to Zetipyin and the Kyikanpyin junction to the Kyaukpyinseik camp in Rakhine State’s Hla Phoe Khaung Village. The two roads are a combined 18.5 km in length.

Border Affairs Deputy Minister Major General Than Htut told the session that the road upgrades would contribute not only to the border area’s security but also to transportation, health, social affairs and the education of local people.

The Implementation Committee for Recommendations of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission led by Kofi Annan had instructed authorities to upgrade the roads.

Defense Deputy Minister Major General Myint New said his ministry would also spend 5 billion kyats from the emergency fund on renovating 882 buildings belonging to the military’s Western Command that were damaged by Cyclone Mora.

“The damage caused by the natural disaster was inspected by proper teams and 882 out of 1,009 buildings hit by the cyclone will be repaired in the first phase during the 2017-18 fiscal year,” he said.

“The president’s emergency fund was known as the reserve fund in the past,” explained U Khin Cho of the Lower House Public Accounts Committee. “If the president approves, the fund can be spent without seeking the approval of Parliament. However, it is necessary to inform Parliament of the spending.”

Translated from Burmese by Myint Win Thein.

Htet Naing Zaw The Irrawaddy Htet Naing Zaw is Senior Reporter at the Burmese edition of The Irrawaddy.

Dhaka Tribune, February 22, 2018

Tribune Desk

File photo: Women stand next to policemen as they wait to check their names on the draft list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at an NRC centre in Chandamari village in Goalpara district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, January 2, 2018 Reuters

The situation in Assam is threatening India-Bangladesh ties, Bangladesh government officials said

The ongoing process of the National Register of Citizens in India’s Assam state may result in a mass displacement of Bangalis from the region and create another refugee crisis for Bangladesh, senior officials of the Bangladesh government said on Wednesday.

According to the Indian national daily The Hindu, officials during their New Delhi visit said the situation in Assam was “threatening” India-Bangladesh ties and would be exploited by “anti-India elements and Islamic fundamentalists” who are opposing the Awami League rule.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Media Affairs Adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury said the citizenship issue would be “another disappointment after the setback on the Teesta water sharing agreement.”

He said Bangladesh believes India should think of its ties with the country before going ahead with “the full implementation of the citizens register in Assam.”

He further said if the process led to the exodus of a section of the Bangali population of Assam “it would trigger another Rohingya-like refugee crisis.”

The Hindu reports that Bangladeshi policy-makers agreed that the failure to conclude the Teesta water sharing agreement between Dhaka and New Delhi “has been disappointing and the ongoing process in Assam will complicate the situation further.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated the same sentiment on Tuesday, saying it was sad that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not want to allow the Teesta deal.

The report further said these observations have gained significance as a section of the ruling party believes that India has not reciprocated the prime minister’s support on “counter-insurgency steps in the northeastern states.”

The officials reportedly said the Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina, “without any expectation of reciprocity,” supported India in apprehending ULFA leaders who had taken refuge in Bangladesh. However, all that effort will go in vain, undoing bilateral cooperation, if there is a new refugee flow from Assam.

With two major floods in 2017 and the Rohingya crisis, further turmoil caused by the citizen register in Assam will add to the volatility of the country ahead of the general polls, the officials added.

They further said the citizen register in Assam was “reminiscent of the communalism of the 1940s.”

Public Radio International - The World
December 06, 2017 · 7:00 PM EST

Garment workers

These are garment workers at a factory making denim jeans. 

Ismail Ferdous/PRI

What if she hadn’t lost her shoe that day? Arati Baladas wonders about this sometimes.

Baladas is 20, and she sometimes replays in her mind that moment on April 24, 2013,  when she scrambled to find her missing sandal, as the walls and the ceiling around her crumbled.

She was working at her sewing machine when she heard a loud bang. She says the building “shivered.” Her supervisor told everyone to run.

Baladas who often slipped her shoes off at work, searched for her sandal. “Just run!” her supervisor said. She sprinted, and tripped. She doesn’t remember anything else.

Close up of a young woman wearing a red shawl.

Former garment worker Arati Baladas at her home outside of Dhaka.

Ismail Ferdous/PRI

On that morning, the Rana Plaza garment factory complex became a pile of rubble.

“I was under a dead body,” Baladas says.

The images of the collapsed Rana Plaza show a pile of cement and iron rods tangled with human limbs and fabric. Fabric that was destined to be made into clothing for big-brand stores. Baladas was trapped under all that, her leg stuck under another worker’s body.

By the time she woke up to the sound of rescuers, Baladas had been buried for three days. Her mother, who worked at the same factory, died in the collapse. Baladas was taken to the hospital, where they had to amputate her leg.

The Rana Plaza collapse was the deadliest accident in garment industry history. The final death toll was over 1,000 and approximately 2,500 people were injured.

The building had not been built for thousands of workers operating heavy machinery. Additional floors had been added illegally. The day before the collapse, managers found deep fissures in the structure.

Now where Rana Plaza used to be, it’s just an empty lot with overgrown bushes and mounds of garbage.

Empty lot with shrubs growing in the open area where Rana Plaza used to be.

The empty lot where the Rana Plaza factory complex was located before it collapsed in 2013.

Ismail Ferdous/PRI

Every morning, thousands of workers, mostly women, walk past it on the way to garment factories.

Adrian Rodriguez is the merchandising manager at the Waymart Factory in Dhaka. At Waymart, workers make clothing for Debenhams and Next, two British retailers.

Manager Adrian Rodriguez oversees a factory of 800 garment workers.

Manager Adrian Rodriguez oversees a factory of 800 garment workers.

Ismail Ferdous/PRI

“Buyers have become more alert than before,” says Rodriguez. He says that after Rana Plaza, retailers changed the way they did business with factories in Bangladesh.

“They will send the compliance team to check the building team,” he explains. “And to check the building safety, the electrical safety, the structural safety … How compliant we are, whether we are giving proper facilities to the workers, whether the workers are happy. So, overall, buyers are more pushy now, for safety.”

And he says, Rana Plaza taught the industry two things: First, as much as consumers love a bargain, they don’t want blood on their hands. And second, Bangladeshi factory owners are learning the value of a happy worker.

“They have seen that if they’re behaving better with the employees, if they are giving better facilities, they are getting the products out better.”

Out on the production floor, rows of workers, almost all women, hunch over their tables, their needles ricocheting through denim. This is not a cushy job. The hours are long. The work is repetitive and physically draining.

Garment factory worker making denim jeans.

Garment factory worker making denim jeans for a British retailer.

Ismail Ferdous/PRI

It’s warm and the fans seem to just push hot air around. And the building has been checked by structural engineers.

These are all great improvements. And yet, activists say, there’s a long way to go.

“These jobs are not [jobs] with respect,” says Kalpona Akter. “These jobs have no dignity.”

Akter worked in garment factories as a child. She’s now a union leader, And she understands what a delicate battle this is. Twenty percent of this country’s gross domestic product comes from garment production.

She says that European companies like Adidas and H&M have tried to improve work conditions by signing something called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. In it, they promise they won’t do business with factories that aren’t up to safety standards.

Rob Wayss is the executive director and acting chief safety inspector for the accord.

“Since 2013, we've been inspecting about 1,800 factories that produce garments in Bangladesh, identifying safety hazards — fire, electric and structural safety hazards. And we've been working with the signatory companies and unions and the factory owners and the technical people that the factories have on staff are [hired] to fix all the safety hazards and to monitor that they're being fixed and reporting whether they're being fixed or not.”

Wayss says inspectors identify hazards and also train workers on how to respond in the event of an emergency.

“We do these programs at factories where production stops for an hour or so and the workers assemble at different points in the factory, and we [train] safety trainers that deliver about a 40-minute session on essentials and safety essentials and safety in garment factories [on] how to evacuate a building in the event of an emergency or in the event of a fire.”

The Bangladesh Accord is a legally binding agreement.

Labor organizer Kalpona Akter says it’s made a difference.

“To give you an example, up to 2013, every year, [on] average, 200 workers would die. [In] 2016 ... it was zero.”

Getting the big North American brands to be better about safety has been a challenge.

They didn’t sign the accord. Instead, they created something called, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Unlike the accord, it’s not legally binding, and it’s been criticized for having less teeth.

Nearly 2,000 factories are covered by the alliance and the accord. But there are thousands of factories manufacturing garments that are not part of either agreement.

Ultimately, Akter says, it isn’t just the responsibility of clothing brands. Or even of factory owners. The buck stops with the consumer.

“Start with the store managers. Ask him, ‘I want to know more about this worker. Are they paid a living wage? Are they safe?’”

Arati Baladas doesn’t think factories in Bangladesh are any safer now than when the Rana Plaza building collapsed on her. She says she’ll never go back to the factory. And no child of hers will go, either. But in Bangladesh, almost all roads lead to garment work. What else is there?

Sometimes at night, Baladas says a strange itch wakes her up. Phantom limb feelings are common in amputees. She swears she can feel her toes. She reaches down, only to find there is nothing.

[ + related news]
The Independent [UK]
25 February 2018

Altercation prompts fears over 15-year-old ceasefire between nuclear-armed rivals

The Independent Online
[photo] Indian army soldiers carry a box containing bulletproof shields near the site of a gunbattle with suspected militants in Srinagar earlier in February Reuters
India and Pakistan have exchanged artillery fire in the disputed Kashmir region forcing hundreds of people to flee, police in Indian Kashmir said, raising fresh doubts about a 15-year-old ceasefire between the nuclear-armed rivals in the area.
It was not clear what triggered the latest fighting on Saturday in the Uri sector on the so-called Line of Control (LoC) that divides the mostly Muslim Himalayan region.
But tension has been running high since an attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir this month in which six soldiers were killed.

India blamed Pakistan for the attack and said it would make its rival pay for the "misadventure".
Police superintendent Imtiaz Hussain said artillery shells fired by the Pakistan army fell in the Uri area and hundreds of villagers had fled from their homes.
Indian forces returned artillery fire, an Indian officer said, the first time the heavy guns had been used since a 2003 ceasefire along the disputed frontier.
The two armies have been exchanging intermittent small-arms and mortar fire over the past couple of years as ties deteriorated.
Hussain said Pakistani authorities made announcements from a mosque advising villagers living close to the LoC on the Indian side to flee, saying the situation was bad.

About 700 people were sheltering at a school in Uri, he said.
India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947. The neighbours both claim the region in full but rule it in part.
Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned the firing and said in a statement 17 Pakistani civilians had been killed by Indian fire along the LoC this year.
India accuses Pakistan of orchestrating a separatist revolt in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Muslim Pakistan denies giving material support to the fighters and calls for talks to resolve what it regards as the core disagreement between it and India.



According to some locals, Pakistani army used public address system informing people living near the LOC to leave their homes.
Naseer Ganai


Traders body in Mussoorie asks garment sellers from Kashmir to leave town

PTI | Jan 21, 2018

o o o

The Christian Science Monitor


Young Kashmiri sportswomen are pushing boundaries in everything from rugby to karate. It's a source of both empowerment and escape in a region where opposition to Indian rule often flares into violence.	

    Fahad Shah

February 15, 2018 Srinagar, India-controlled Kashmir—A few years ago, when Insha Bashir Mir began playing cricket in her neighborhood playground, she was ridiculed by neighbors who told her not to play a “boy’s game.”

But then, as now, she ignored that derision by remembering her father’s words: “Don’t answer people with your mouth, but through your bat.”

Ms. Mir, now a student at Government Women’s College in Baramulla – 40 miles north of the state capital, Srinagar – is daughter of a businessman father and homemaker mother, both of whom enthusiastically support her passion.

She’s part of new generation of local girls showing their mettle in sports, from rugby and soccer to karate. That alone is boundary-pushing. But that trend is especially meaningful here in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where opposition to Indian rule has simmered for decades and often burst into violence. Increasingly, young Kashmiris are involved, from schoolgirl stone-throwers to teenage rebel fighters. In Jammu and Kashmir state, where curfews and internet blackouts are frequent, more boys and girls alike are finding an empowering outlet through athletics.

It’s a trend officials are encouraging, with investments in previously neglected facilities and sports programs – and one that may serve as a simplified sign of peace. But the lessons on the playing field are still welcome for many teens, particularly girls, though they continue to combat stereotypes game by game. The more that people adopt Mir's and her teammates’ perspective that gender is no handicap, she says, the more optimistic she is about her generation’s future.  
Shattered glass: How much do you know about these barrier-busting women?

“We are in [the] 21st century and we shouldn’t be living like ancient times,” she says. “Girls who can carry a broom can also pick up a bat.”

Region in turmoil

Conflict-torn Kashmir is a disputed territory, claimed by both India and Pakistan; polls suggest that most residents support independence. Estimates of the death toll over the past three decades run into the tens of thousands. Today, youth are at the forefront of the movement, joining street protests and insurgency groups. Indian forces and police killed more than 200 rebels in 2017, the highest in recent years, but civilians bear a heavy cost as well: over 200 were killed in the past two years, and more than 15,000 wounded.

Right alongside, however, has been a rise in sportswomen. Last year, nearly 90,000 players from around the region participated in sports, “and almost half of them are girls,” says Waheed Ur Rehman Para, the secretary of Jammu and Kashmir State’s Sports Council.

“When I carry my cricket bat in my hand, I forget who I am, I forget my food, everything. I can do anything for cricket,” Mir says.

Since 2016, when the death of a popular rebel leader reignited unrest, the government has periodically imposed curfews and internet blackouts to quell protests. But that doesn’t stop sports, says Irtiqa Ayoub, a player and assistant coach for the state rugby team. She practiced at home, but “I still go out during curfew or protests to give training to fresher players,” says Ms. Ayoub, a student at the University of Kashmir who also runs 10 rugby clubs.

She learns from her trainees, too. To the many aspiring rugby players who message her on social media – boys and girls – her frequent reply is: “You’re most welcome. Whenever you have time, come and I will teach you.”

Budding support

Until recently, funding for sports infrastructure was hardly a priority. But since the 2016 uprising, both the Indian and regional governments have taken an interest in sports as a way to shift young people’s focus from the fiery conflict. The state is brimming with youth: Almost 70 percent of the population is younger than 35, according to the 2011 census, and about 20 percent in their teens and early 20s.

Sports can be a source of integration in a fragmented state, Mr. Para says. “We need to offer space to youth, and sports is an option. The government finds sports a meaningful means to improve leadership, sportsmanship, and team spirit among children,” he says. “There are people excelling in sports across the world. We want to figure on that global sports map, [because] it has nothing to do with guns or conflict.”

In the past, athletics facilities were simple, Mir says. Without proper facilities or a coach, she learned cricket skills by watching professional matches on television – especially with her favorite star, former Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni – or when she traveled outside the state and asked senior cricketers for tips. Now there is better infrastructure, Mir says, and officials have promised a new playing ground. But there’s still much to be done.

“We are so different from other girls in sports; it looks like we are coming from some old century,” she says. “We also need opportunities.”

Mubashir Hassan, coach and director of the State Cricket Academy, says that with the surge of interest in sports, infrastructure is getting better. He has been coaching both girls and boys at the academy, and wants the government to focus more on rural areas, in particular.

“We have raw talent but don’t have adequate facilities yet,” says Mr. Hassan. “And girls have started from scratch, so it has to be given some time before it blooms.”

'As long as I'm alive'

But there are benefits of sports for girls and society alike, Hassan says. “I think sports is conflict-neutral, like education. It is an effective part of your growth. You grow mentally.”

Many teen sports events have been organized by police. Athletics “will engage youth so that they do not get into drugs, don’t take up guns,” state police chief Shesh Paul Vaid said last September, during a rowing contest in Srinagar; “[it is] very sad to see bloodshed and sadness on the faces of the youth.”

In Para’s opinion, however, sports can’t do much for peace – but peace can boost sports, and the region’s young sportswomen, as they continue to push against stereotypes.

In Mir’s estimation, more than two-thirds of people “think girls should work inside homes and not be into sports.”

“Girls are often humiliated and harassed,” she adds. “Once while playing a cricket match many boys at the playground passed lewd comments and abuses at us, but we continued our game.”  

Her efforts have paid off: Mir recently played in the region’s first-ever twenty-overs format Women’s Cricket Championship. Ayoub has also made a name for herself, winning gold and silver medals in national championships – and seen support grow. Originally, neighbors told her father not to let her go into sports, “but my father said, ‘No, I trust my daughter. She will do well,’ ” she remembers.

“Rugby is in my blood,” she says. “I won’t let anyone snatch an opportunity from me to play. I will continue as long as I’m alive.”

Thomas Jones on the Italian Election
London Review of Books
Vol. 40 No. 5 · 8 March 2018
page 20 | 2100 words

I recently discovered that when my friend Giovanni was a boy scout, the leader of his troop was none other than Matteo Renzi. I asked what he had been like. Giovanni shrugged. ‘Com’è,’ he said. (‘As he is.’) He wouldn’t be drawn further. When Renzi was prime minister, his scouting career – he’s still a keen supporter of the movement – was a source of much mirth in the Italian press. A photo of him with his backpack and neckerchief, laughing merrily, circulated alongside a severe picture of Vladimir Putin in his KGB uniform. One of these politicians was to be taken seriously, the comparison implied, and one was not. Renzi’s supporters might plausibly argue that there are reasons to prefer the boy scout over the secret policeman, but given the standing of his Partito Democratico (PD) in the last polls before we head into the general election on 4 March (22 per cent and falling) it’s hard not to think that he’s led them deep into the woods with a broken compass and no idea which way to turn to get them out again: certainly not to the left; but should they go dead ahead, or further to the right – or can we pretend there’s no difference? Meanwhile, the stragglers at the back – who happen to include the speakers of both houses of parliament, as well as three former party leaders – have broken away from the rest of the troop, and are striking out on their own; but no one can agree whether they are heading to the left or just going backwards. Meanwhile, as the scouts frantically rub sticks together in the hope of generating a spark, night is falling, and the forces of xenophobic nationalism are gathering.

Renzi has never been a member of parliament, or led his party to victory in a general election. The last time Italy went to the polls, in February 2013, a centre-left coalition of ten parties led by the PD, then in the care of Pier Luigi Bersani, scraped to a majority in the lower house, thanks to the bonus seats awarded, since 2005, to the first-placed party or coalition. But no one gained control of the Senate. Bersani tried and failed to form a government with Beppe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), which had won more votes than the PD alone but fewer than the centre-left coalition as a whole. He then tried and failed – not least because of manoeuvring by Renzi, who had lost heavily to Bersani in a primary to determine the leader of the coalition – to persuade deputies and senators to vote for Romano Prodi as president of the Republic when Giorgio Napolitano’s term came to an end in April 2013. Prodi, humiliated, dropped out of the race. Napolitano agreed to stand for a second term, and Bersaniresigned as leader of the PD. His deputy, Enrico Letta, became prime minister at the head of a grand coalition government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà, but without several of the parties whose presence in the centre-left coalition going into the election had ensured its narrow but decisive victory over the M5S in the lower house.

The PdL split in November 2013 after Berlusconi failed to get its ministers to quit the government. In December, the constitutional court ruled that the electoral system was unconstitutional, and the current parliament – which lacked legitimacy, having been elected according to an illegitimate system – should remain in session for only as long as it took to establish a new electoral system that was in line with the constitution. Meanwhile, Renzi was elected leader of the PD. In February 2014, Letta resigned as prime minister and Renzi took over. The Italian prime minister, whose official title is ‘presidente del consiglio dei ministri’, i.e. leader of the cabinet, is appointed by the president of the Republic; as head of the executive, he – and it always has been a ‘he’ – doesn’t technically need to be a member of the legislature. Renzi’s extracameral elevation was unusual, but not unprecedented: in 1993, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, governor of the Bank of Italy since 1979, was appointed prime minister at the head of a technical government.

A new electoral law was passed in 2015, but parliament wasn’t dissolved. Renzi called a referendum on the next stage of electoral reform, which included reducing the powers of the senate, and said he’d resign if it didn’t pass, which immediately turned it into a referendum on his leadership – unsurprising, really, considering that no one outside his party had voted for him to be prime minister. He duly lost and duly resigned, to be replaced by his foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni. But he clung onto the leadership of the PD, and goes into this general election hoping to be prime minister again. I don’t think this is what Gramsci meant by optimism of the will.

Left-wing PD deputies, at loggerheads with Renzi, started to abandon the party in 2015. The most substantial exodus came a year ago, when Bersani, Massimo D’Alema (prime minister for 18 months in the late 1990s) and others quit to form the Movimento Democratico e Progressista. It is now the largest party in the Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal) coalition, contesting the election on a platform to the left of the PD, under the leadership of the ex-PD speaker of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, who has identified Jeremy Corbyn as a model to follow. The two factions aren’t holding back from attacking one another. Renzi has accused D’Alema and Bersani of trying to destroy the PD, and said that a vote for the LeU is a vote for the Lega Nord. Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and a senior figure in the LeU, has said that a vote for the PD is a vote for Berlusconi, whose revenant Forza Italia is the largest party in a right-wing coalition that’s leading the polls with close to 40 per cent. Berlusconi is banned from holding public office until 2019, but he’s contesting that in the European Court of Human Rights, and contesting the election anyway, presenting himself as an elder statesman, a safe pair of hands.

His coalition is routinely described as ‘centre-right’, but there’s nothing of the centre about it. The second biggest party in it is the Lega Nord, which was founded thirty years ago on a platform of independence for the fantasy land of Padania – Italy north of the river Po – in the hope of unshackling the country’s wealthy northern regions from the dead weight of Rome and the unprosperous south. But in recent years, under the leadership of Matteo Salvini, it has more or less entirely abandoned that project and repositioned itself as a national (and nationalist) party. The Lega used to direct its contempt at its fellow citizens from the Mezzogiorno; now that it wants their votes, it has turned its hatred further south, and is running an unabashedly racist, anti-immigration campaign, promising to put ‘Italians first’ and to deport hundreds of thousands of African migrants.

It isn’t a promise they’ll be able to deliver on, even if they do come to power, any more than Berlusconi is likely to be able to deliver on his promise of a flat rate of income tax, which he’s wanted for as long as he’s been in politics. But that doesn’t mean the Lega’s racist rhetoric doesn’t have consequences. On 3 February, a man who’d stood for the party in local elections last year drove through the town of Macerata, in Le Marche, shooting at black people. He imagined he was avenging the death of a young Roman woman a few days earlier; a Nigerian man had been arrested in connection with her murder. On 20 February, a left-wing activist was stabbed at a political rally in Perugia. The right doesn’t have a monopoly on political violence: in Palermo, the leader of the neo-fascist Forza Nuova was tied up and beaten by left-wing militants. On 22 February, meanwhile, the police turned water cannon and tear gas on anti-fascist protesters trying to disrupt a speech by the leader of CasaPound, yet another small neo-fascist party, which attracts press attention out of all proportion to its level of support among the general public. (A few years ago Ezra Pound’s daughter took them to court to try to stop them taking her father’s name in vain; she lost.)


The biggest single party is still the M5S. It was created as an anti-establishment movement in 2009, but since acquiring positions of real power has come to look more like just another political party, as corrupt and venal as all the others. The M5S mayors of Rome and Turin have not only run incompetent administrations but are under investigation for fraud. Still, it has some way to go before it’s as thoroughly tainted in voters’ eyes as either – take your pick, depending on your politics – Berlusconi or the PD. One M5S supporter I spoke to – just turned fifty, he has always voted for parties to the left of the PD’s current position – said that their programme is, for him, a left-wing programme: more money on health and education, sustainable public transport, renewable energy, publicly owned utilities … What about the ius soli? The proposed law, finally defeated in the Senate just before Christmas, would have made it much easier for the children of immigrants to get Italian citizenship. On the day of the vote, none of the M5S senators showed up (they weren’t the only ones, admittedly), which meant there wasn’t a quorum, and the bill was abandoned. Yes, the M5S supporter agreed, the ius soli is the right thing to do, but it isn’t for Italy alone to pass such a law; it’s something that the whole of Europe needs to do. He isn’t wrong; but still, Italy could have led the way. And with an ageing population and low birth rate, the country needs more young citizens. The ius soli would have been a better starting point for a solution to Italy’s long-term problems than neo-fascist fantasies of mass deportation.

Given the state of the opinion polls – and their general unreliability; they were off in 2013, exaggerating the PD’s chances – it’s impossible to say what the outcome of the election will be, even in terms of how many seats each party is likely to get. And that’s before the horse-trading begins as they attempt to form a government. Both Renzi and Berlusconi have ruled out a grand coalition, and said that the only answer to an inconclusive result is another election. Jean-Claude Juncker was reported as saying that ‘we must prepare for the worst scenario,’ by which he meant Italy having ‘no operational government’ (though I can think of several scenarios a lot worse than that, many of them emblazoned on posters across the country: ‘Salvini Premier’, for example). Gentiloni – who has been strangely absent, for a sitting prime minister, from the cut-and-thrust of the campaign trail, though he has been held up by both Napolitano and Prodi as the best hope for a stable future – made soothing noises, and Juncker issued a bland official statement:

    Elections are a moment of democracy, and this applies to Italy – a country that is very close to my heart. On 4 March the Italians will go to the polls and cast their votes. Whatever the outcome, I am confident that we will have a government that makes sure that Italy remains a central player in Europe and in shaping its future.

But the Italian stock exchange, which had been outperforming other European bourses, took a hit, and the spread between German and Italian bonds grew by a few points.

It may yet turn out that a more significant date than 4 March 2018 will be 31 October 2019, when Italy’s most powerful man, Mario Draghi, steps down as president of the European Central Bank. In July 2012, Draghi said the ECB would do ‘whatever it takes’ to save the euro. Under the programme of quantitative easing begun in 2015, the ECB has bought pretty much all Italian bonds issued since then. And no one wants to think about what may happen when it stops.

23 February

Nearly two decades into the age of Putin, the battle for the soul of the Moscow stage rages on
by Viv Groskop
Financial Times
February 23, 2018

One of the most striking points in any play is the loudest laugh. When that moment comes during Smile Upon Us, Lord, on a chilly January night at the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow, it's intensely surprising. The jester of the piece delivers a trio of traditional Jewish jokes, ending on a zinger. "What do you think of the government?" "Same way as I think of my wife," comes the reply. "I love the government. I fear the government." A pause for the punchline. "I want another government." The entire theatre erupts. So much for Moscow being gripped by a lack of a sense of humour.

To read the news outside Russia, you'd think that any political jokes would fall flat in Moscow and that theatre listings must be full of one-man shows extolling the greatness of one V Putin. (They're not.) In Russia, no matter the limitations, theatre still really matters. The repertoires of Moscow's theatres are packed with challenging and interesting choices, and box-office numbers have never been better. As Vakhtangov producer Oksana Nemchuk puts it: "Art is an important part of national thinking. It's more truthful than what you can pick up from the news."

With Russia's elections just weeks away and the Trump-Russia inquiry looking more Dostoyevskian by the day, surely there has never been a more important time to understand what makes Russians laugh and cry. Looking at the surface of things culturally in Russia, it's often hard to know what's funny and what's tragic. In January the British comedy The Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci, had its distribution certificate withdrawn in Russia, in effect banning the film. One politician, Yelena Drapeko, told RBK News she had "never seen anything so disgusting in my life". Last year a Russian cinema chain cancelled screenings of the epic film Matilda, a dramatisation of the love affair between the last tsar Nicholas II and his mistress, following protests by a group calling themselves Christian State, Holy Russia. The message? You can't criticise Stalin. And you can't criticise the tsar. You couldn't make it up.

Recent headlines from the theatre world are equally disturbing. Since August 2017, Kirill Serebrennikov, an acclaimed director and head of the progressive Gogol Centre, has been under house arrest, accused of embezzling over £1m in government funds. Many see his detention as symbolising a political crackdown on the arts. The Bolshoi Theatre premiere of his ballet Nureyev, about the life of the dancer, was delayed by five months. When it was eventually staged, Serebrennikov was unable to attend because of his house arrest. The opposition TV channel Dozhd reported that a priest who acts as a spiritual adviser to Putin had complained about Serebrennikov's film The Student, a critique of the Orthodox Church. These allegations were denied.

It is against this fevered cultural backdrop that the Vakhtangov Theatre brings Smile Upon Us, Lord, a production packed with black humour, double meanings and allegory, to the Barbican Theatre in London next week. The story of Jewish Lithuanians in the early 1900s, it became part of this influential theatre's repertoire in 2013 and is a hit in Moscow.

It's a fascinating choice to bring this production to the UK: it's ambitious, experimental, bold and a real departure from the classic glamour of the theatre's last outing in London in 2015, a lavish production of Eugene Onegin complete with a (stuffed) dancing bear. Eugene Onegin opened to five-star reviews, the English surtitles proving no barrier to audience appreciation. (Although the producer Oksana Nemchuk happily admits that their London audience is made up of at least 50 per cent Russians, thrilled to see their own language spoken on the British stage.)

A meditation on the fate of the Jews in the early 20th century, Smile Upon Us, Lord tells the story of a stonecutter called Efraim (masterfully played by Sergey Makovetsky, an actor as at home on stage as on screen and beloved by Russians). Efraim makes the journey from his shtetl to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in search of his son, who is awaiting trial for the attempted assassination of the governor-general. He picks up two companions en route and they all face dangers that clearly prefigure those faced by the Jewish people in the years to come.

Yes, it is pretty upsetting, in case you were wondering. But there are also a lot of jokes. Highlights include the fool/jester, played by Viktor Dobronravov (who was young Onegin in their last Barbican production), and a skittish, loony she-goat, played by Yulia Rutberg. (Yes, I did just say she-goat. Like British theatre, Russian theatre can do bonkers rather brilliantly.)

The play is adapted from two novels by Lithuanian writer Grigory Kanovich and is directed by the Vakhtangov's artistic director Rimas Tuminas, also a Lithuanian. Trailing rave reviews from outings in Boston and New York, it has an inconclusive, open-ended narrative reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. As Efraim sets off on his travels riding atop a caravan of rubble, suitcases and wardrobes that vividly conjures up the Holocaust, you watch with a sense of dread as you know that he can only be headed to a very bad place indeed.

At the end of the performance I saw in Moscow in January, Muscovites rushed to the footlights to hand flowers and carrier bags of gifts to their favourite actors. This always happens at Russian plays and it's entertaining to watch: a fan will step back and discreetly lower the bouquet if the wrong actor steps forward for it. I've always been sceptical about this adulatory behaviour and I later asked the producer if the theatre ever provides flowers for the audience. She was horrified that anyone would think such a terrible thing. "Of course not! People do it because they want to." She lowered her voice. "It's a mark of profound respect. And don't let the actors hear you say that. They'll be ever so upset."

It's hard for a cynical westerner to understand just how significant the theatre has always been for Russians. And still is to this day. In 2018, business is booming. Like most Moscow theatres, the Vakhtangov sells an astonishing average of 97 per cent of tickets to each one of the 100 performances it puts on every month across six stages. During the interval of Smile Upon Us, Lord, young Instagrammers queued up to take selfies with cast portraits in the foyer. (Not even with the cast. With their photographs.) While some of the crowd were clearly moneyed and wouldn't look out of place in a Paris or New York theatre, there was a Soviet vibe that has persisted. It's not old-fashioned or sad to dress up for the theatre, almost in a self-consciously ostentatious way. I watched a man closely resembling a 1970s cabaret version of Lech Walesa, complete with (non-ironic) walrus moustache, lilac ruffle shirt and purple velvet suit and matching bow tie, treat himself to a caviar sandwich.

This is an audience drawn from the growing middle class. In a city where the average civil servant earns $2,000 a month (according to Rosstat, Russia's federal statistics agency), theatre tickets roughly cost between 100 roubles (£1.20) and 7,000 roubles (£85). The Lech Walesa lookalike might go to the theatre a couple of times a month.

When I met Kirill Krok, the general manager of the Vakhtangov, in his office over Russian chocolates and espresso (which he proudly made himself with a pod coffee machine), he was open about how the theatre operates. Some £6m of the Vakhtangov's annual income is ticket sales, Krok says; £5m is government subsidy. On the question of political interference, he says quickly: "The minister of culture is in charge. But we are free to put on whatever we want." Their tradition is firmly based in what we call repertory theatre: a repertoire of productions performed on a rotating basis. Smile Upon Us, Lord has, for example, been in the theatre's repertoire for five years and might have an outing several times a month. This could go on for years, with audience demand dictating the lifespan of a play.

This system means it's hard to get new work premiered in Moscow. (Rep lends itself better to classics.) And it also means that audiences tend not to read as much into the political meanings of plays as we might, because the play has not been scheduled to come out at a specific time, with the assumed short shelf-life that a West End play would have. Nonetheless some of the lines in Smile Upon Us, Lord made me raise an eyebrow: "Thoughts have been replaced by bullets." "We would be better off as animals - they suffer less." But producer Oksana Nemchuk says Russian audiences interpret the play's themes far more generally: "For us, it's a story about humanity and parenthood. The symbols are universal."

The other interesting story behind the Vakhtangov is also glossed over. The artistic director is Lithuanian. Everything about the play is Lithuanian. And the producer is Ukrainian. In the current climate in Moscow - where flights to Kiev, Ukraine, are suspended in a three-year trade war - a play telling the story of a former Soviet republic, directed by someone from that former republic...It's an interesting choice during difficult times. Lithuania very happily joined the EU in 2004. (Bear in mind that the very idea of Ukraine joining the EU is a massive headache for Russia.)

According to the official political narrative, relations between Lithuania and Russia are not uncomplicated: in January Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry's spokesperson, accused Lithuanian politicians of wanting to "settle historic accounts with Russia". Add to this the fact that the Lithuanian authorities are currently enforcing a blacklist of 49 Russians suspected of human rights violations, corruption or money laundering, a list modelled on the US's 2012 Magnitsky Act. (This law bars Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses from entering the US; Trump's ambiguous attitude to it is used - both at home and abroad - as an indication of his stance towards Russia.)

In this context, this play is symbolic of something that is difficult for us to understand outside of Russia: there is more room than we might think for collaborative work and for a plurality of views. Of course, it would be surprising if a Moscow theatre mounted a production about Ukrainian independence right now (at the very least, I suspect this would be commercial suicide, rather like staging an earnestly pro-Remain play outside of London). But producing a play that is controversial, difficult and verging on the political? Not as taboo as you might imagine.

In Moscow, the stage is not exactly a place of dissent, but it's not doffing its cap to the establishment either. Productions of the work of Michael Frayn and Tom Stoppard are regularly staged. Current productions in Moscow include a musical Pride and Prejudice, a political satire based on The Brothers Karamazov, and a stage version of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, all at the Moscow Art Theatre. At the Satirikon there's Othello, a Russian take on Pygmalion called (rather hilariously) London Show, and an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground by Konstantin Raikin, son of the great Soviet theatre actor Arkady Raikin. Yes, there is an emphasis on looking back and re-examining the past. But, still, there is room for controversy and suggestion. In 2016, the same Konstantin Raikin gave an uncompromising speech for the human-rights organisation PEN America that referred to the "hideous attack on artistic freedom" that Russia was facing. It is possible to voice these thoughts and still perform.

However. Some believe the premiere of the Bolshoi Ballet's Nureyev was delayed in oblique reference to the 2013 law prohibiting "promotion of homosexuality". (The production did not seek to obscure any of the well-known details about Nureyev's biography, including his sexuality, and caused a minor scandal by flashing up a giant full-frontal Richard Avedon portrait of the dancer for - gasp - several seconds.) Writing in The Moscow Times last month, cultural critic Yury Saprykin concluded that "cultural figures feel compelled to censor themselves" and referenced "the new conflict between the Russian state and the creative elite". The rules are hazy, he added. The punishment for violating them is not.

The playwright Valery Pecheykin is one of the few who have gone on the record to suggest that the Serebrennikov case is not about financial impropriety - it's about artistic control: "Things look very different from our point of view." He said that Serebrennikov is one of the only directors to stage "provocative, independent, tolerant works" that "cover the full range of human sexuality". At the eventual premiere of Nureyev in December, present in the audience in dark glasses was another reminder of the complications of working in the arts in Russia: Sergei Filin, the former Bolshoi director who was the victim of an acid attack in 2013 that left his sight permanently damaged. All Moscow's cultural and political elite were in attendance and there was a 15-minute standing ovation. Putin, though, was absent. He is apparently not a fan of theatre.

There's got to be some level of self-censorship when you're working in this environment. I put this question to Sergei Ostrovsky, a lawyer, keen theatregoer and co-chair of Pushkin House, the centre for Russian culture in London. He agrees that despite occasional outbursts, the Moscow theatre scene gives off the impression of not wanting to rock the boat. It doesn't see political provocation as its job: it wants to put on productions that appeal to its audience. That means nothing too controversial. "Yes, call it a form of self-censorship or a conflict of interest," says Ostrovsky. "Even liberal-minded theatres are financed by the state to a large extent. There are also plenty of vocal and aggressive interest groups (religious, political, etc) that consider theatre important enough to direct their efforts - often their anger - at it."

The ensemble cast of Smile Upon Us, Lord floats serenely above all these concerns, showing off some highly impressive clowning skills, soaking up the crowd's appreciation and embodying the Vakhtangov Theatre's stated mission: "To deal with complex moral issues" and "awaken warm human feelings in the audience". The actor and director Yevgeny Vakhtangov, who originally founded the theatre in 1920, would be proud. His motto? "The quality to develop in an actor is courage." In these complicated times, it might come in handy.

The Vakhtangov Theatre's 'Smile Upon Us, Lord' is at the Barbican Theatre, London, from February 28-March 3.
 Jean-Yves Camus, Nicolas Lebourg. Far-Right Politics in Europe. Translated by Jane Marie Todd. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2017. 310 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-97153-0.

Reviewed by Andreas Dafnos (University of Sheffield)
Published on H-Nationalism (February, 2018)
Commissioned by Caner Tekin

The Far Right and the influence it exerts on both domestic and international political systems have attracted increasing attention in recent years. Although there exists an abundance of scholarly work on the ebbs and flows of this diverse phenomenon, Far-Right Politics in Europe by Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg is a useful addition to the existing literature due to its meticulous investigation of the numerous Far Right factions that have been developed over time and across space. With a predominant focus on the European continent, the book defies easy explanations and can, more generally, be approached as an answer to the voices that indiscriminately tend to treat the Far Right as a single and unified entity.

The introductory chapter, titled “How the Far Right Came into Being,” covers a large part of the book. This comes as no surprise however, as a fundamental premise of the book is that the modern Far Right can be better understood if viewed through a historical lens. Therefore, Camus and Lebourg position the unit of their analysis in French history and specifically in the workings of the Constituent Assembly at the end of the eighteenth century. They trace the origins of Far Right thought, which was at the time portrayed as a plea for the restoration of the ancien régime by counterrevolution advocates. The chapter invites the reader to delve into the social processes that influenced the trajectory of the Far Right since that moment, showing how “the first globalization” of Europe allowed ideas and people to disseminate across geographic territories (p. 7). A recurring theme refers to this constant exchange of ideas and the tendency of the Far Right to adopt beliefs that may even belong to different political leanings along its own ideological lines. Another interesting observation is the realization that some of the dominant traits of the Far Right today cannot be considered idiosyncrasies of our era; in fact, national populism is shown to have been part of the French system for the last 130 years. Camus and Lebourg convincingly argue that the developments of the Far Right in terms of its ideological and organizational synthesis cannot be explained if context and time are omitted from analysis.

Chapter 1 turns its attention to the period after the Second World War, providing a detailed overview of the difficulties faced particularly by those groups that were closer to Fascism and Nazism. The Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) is mentioned here, and this is important because academic work has often attributed the transformation of several like-minded groups to the catalytic role MSI has played. But what stands out in this chapter is the effort of the Far Right to build networks beyond national borders, since “immediately after the collapse of the Axis powers, Fascist militants saw a united Europe as the justification for their previous positions” (p. 64). Camus and Lebourg illustrate, for example, how these attempts led to the New European Order (NEO), an organization that decided to divert from Nazism and to adopt a discourse for the defense of neo-racism, marking a critical moment for the history of the Far Right as “that discourse would have many incarnations and transmutations” (p. 74). Another movement with the same purpose of establishing European presence is Jeune Europe (JE), which is also discussed at length due to its innovative nature. The chapter concludes with an important observation that “despite the desire of Fascist movements, a supranational and social reorientation has not really taken hold. Their efforts have not been fruitless, however, because, their innovations were useful to both populist and neorightist factions” (p. 96).

The next chapter deals with the role of white power and the role of race as driving forces for the actions of some Far Right groups. Here the discussion revolves around neo-Nazi groups that are “more cultural than political in nature” (p. 101), placing emphasis on the skinhead movement. It is interesting to see how this type of movement developed across Europe, in a period of time that the “proletariat was deconstructing” (p. 104). The authors explain that, among others, indoctrination through music and participation in violent practices are key characteristics of a Far Right skinhead, and then proceed to a more eloquent exploration of how violence is articulated through the activities of neo-Nazi groups. This section shows the extent of influence that the American Far Right had on its European counterparts. As one would expect at this point, there are references to the lone wolf strategy, which “should not be confused (as it often is) with the question of self-radicalization” (p. 110), and The Turner Diaries (1978), an influential book that is based on the principle of the struggle for race. Once more the narration of the authors is strengthened by the use of various case studies, helping the reader engage with the material of this section. 

Much has been written in the academic literature about the impact that the New Right had on ideological aspects of the modern Far Right, mainly as this was expressed through the idea of ethnopluralism that “every individual is attached to an ethnocultural group that would protect its identity by avoiding racial mixing” (p. 130). In chapter 3, the reader has the opportunity to engage with an important moment in the history of the Far Right. Camus and Lebourg exemplify that the New Right or Nouvelle Droite (as is often mentioned) is an amalgamation of intellectual groups and personalities that cannot, however, be assumed uniform. A key figure is GRECE (Groupe de Recherches et d'Études pour la Civilisation Européenne), which occupies a central place in this chapter. It is also interesting to see that the reason why the New Right emerged was “the organizational failure to build a European nationalist party in France” (p. 127). Once more the interplay between groups is evident as well as the influence of historic events (for example, May 1968) on the development of the Far Right. The ability of the authors to attain accuracy is outstanding, and this is evident, for example, in their narration on neopaganism and the New Right or the impact of Julius Evola’s theories.    

Chapter 4 dissects the relationship between religious fundamentalism and the Far Right, beginning with the intriguing observation that faith should not be associated with extremism, since it embraces the qualities of “freedom of conscience,” the antithesis to dogmatism, and takes an “interest in individual rights” (p. 152). However, the authors show how ideological stances can be fused into paths of multiple interpretations, signifying in this way the complexity of reality. This might explain, for instance, why compared to Catholics more Protestants vote for a Far Right party. Camus and Lebourg also define terms that seem to be conflated (see, for instance, on page 159 the differences between integrists and traditionalists), while a large section looks into the association between integrism and the National Front. Even the issue of the Jewish Far Right is raised and addressed toward the last pages, describing its true dimensions.

On the other hand, scholars keen on learning more about populism will find chapter 5 interesting, where the term is analyzed in depth. The chapter shows how populist questions came to the forefront and dominated the political debate. Indicative of this is the speech of Enoch Powell in 1968, which assigned blame to nonwhite immigrants and asked for their repatriation. The latter combined with the impact of the New Right thinking, as discussed previously, helps the reader understand that the evolution of the Far Right is the result of multiple factors. The chapter also offers a compelling account of successful and failed cases, showing that populism is no panacea for success, and that political groups may face insurmountable obstacles and challenges when they put the populist model into practice. Particular emphasis has been finally placed on the so-called neopulist shift that was determined by “the geopolitical crisis subsequent to September 11, 2001, and the socioeconomic recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis” (p. 196). The description of the Dutch case reveals how this shift can materialize.

The last chapter investigates the Far Right in Eastern European countries. Although it is debatable within academia to what extent the Eastern European Far Right can be compared to its Western counterparts, Camus and Lebourg make clear at the outset that “the eastern part of the continent must not be understood in terms of Western assumptions” (p. 210). What the authors find particularly interesting is the fact that some of the prewar ideologies did not lose their significance during the Communist era and appeared again after the collapse of the regimes. The chapter also familiarizes the reader with the ideas of one of the most important figures of Russian neo-nationalism, Aleksandr Dugin, and his concept of neo-Eurasianism, which “reconciles the two theoretical elements of George Sorel’s thought: myth and utopia” (p. 227). What is more, the analytical prism under which numerous countries (for example, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, to name a few) are being approached sheds light not only on the peculiarities of Eastern European Far Right groups but also on the composition of their base of support.

Finally, despite the fact that one could raise objections about the labels that have been used (for example, radical Far Right and national populism) or feel that some points are being obscured by the detailed description of events, this book is essential reading for those aspiring to understand the Far Right. In essence, readers have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Far Right groups that encompass varying degrees of radicalism, and to look into their differences, overlaps, influences, and evolution up to the present time.

by Sławomir Sierakowski
(Project Syndicate, January 31, 2018)

Only in Europe’s post-communist east do populists routinely beat traditional parties in elections. Of 15 Eastern European countries, populist parties currently hold power in seven, belong to the ruling coalition in two more, and are the main opposition force in three.

WARSAW – In 2016, the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency created an impression that Eastern European-style populism was engulfing the West. In reality, the situation in Western Europe and the United States is starkly different.

As political scientists Martin Eiermann, Yascha Mounk, and Limor Goultchin of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change have shown, only in Europe’s post-communist east do populists routinely beat traditional parties in elections. Of 15 Eastern European countries, populist parties currently hold power in seven, belong to the ruling coalition in two more, and are the main opposition force in three.

Eiermann, Mounk, and Goultchin also point out that whereas populist parties captured 20% or more of the vote in only two Eastern European countries in 2000, today they have done so in ten countries. In Poland, populist parties have gone from winning a mere 0.1% of the vote in 2000 to holding a parliamentary majority under the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s current government. And in Hungary, support for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has at times exceeded 70%.

Aside from hard data, we need to consider the underlying social and political factors that have made populism so much stronger in Eastern Europe. For starters, Eastern Europe lacks the tradition of checks and balances that has long safeguarded Western democracy. Unlike PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, Poland’s de facto ruler, Trump does not ignore judicial decisions or sic the security services on the opposition.

Or consider Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. Mueller was appointed by US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a government functionary who is subordinate to Trump within the executive branch. But while Trump has the authority to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, he wouldn’t dare do so. The same cannot be said for Kaczyński.

Another major difference is that Eastern Europeans tend to hold more materialist attitudes than Westerners, who have moved beyond concerns about physical security to embrace what sociologist Ronald Inglehart calls post-materialist values. One aspect of this difference is that Eastern European societies are more vulnerable to attacks on abstract liberal institutions such as freedom of speech and judicial independence.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, liberalism in Eastern Europe is a Western import. Notwithstanding the Trump and Brexit phenomena, the US and the UK have deeply embedded cultures of political and social liberalism. In Eastern Europe, civil society is not just weaker; it is also more focused on areas such as charity, religion, and leisure, rather than political issues.

Moreover, in the vastly different political landscape of Europe’s post-communist states, the left is either very weak or completely absent from the political mainstream. The political dividing line, then, is not between left and right, but between right and wrong. As a result, Eastern Europe is much more prone to the “friend or foe” dichotomy conceived by the anti-liberal German political and legal theorist Carl Schmitt. Each side conceives of itself as the only real representative of the nation, and treats its opponents as illegitimate alternatives, who should be disenfranchised, not merely defeated.

Another major difference between Eastern and Western European populists is that the former can count on support not only from the working class, but also from the middle class. According to research conducted by Maciej Gdula of the Institute of Advanced Study in Warsaw, political attitudes in Poland do not align with whether one benefited or lost out during the country’s post-communist economic transformation. The ruling party’s electorate includes many who are generally satisfied with their lives, and are keeping up with the country’s development.

For such voters, the appeal of the populist’s message lies in its provision of an overarching narrative in which to organize positive and negative experiences. This creates a sense of purpose, as it ties voters more strongly to the party. Voters do not develop their own opinions about the courts, refugees, or the opposition based on their own experiences. Instead, they listen to the leader, adjusting their views according to their political choices.

The success of the PiS, therefore, is rooted not in frustrated voters’ economic interests. For the working class, the desire for a sense of community is the major consideration. For their middle-class counterparts, it is the satisfaction that arises not from material wealth, but from pointing to someone who is perceived as inferior, from refugees to depraved elites to cliquish judges. Orbán and Kaczyński are experts in capitalizing on this longing.

It is worth asking if populism will come to define the true cultural – and, in turn, political – boundaries of the European Union. If Polish or Hungarian politics proves more similar to the politics of Russia than of France or Austria, does that mean the EU’s borders are overextended? Could it be that their place is with Russia, rather than with Western Europe? Are the EU’s borders therefore impossible to maintain in the long run?

I hope not, but these are troubling questions. And only Eastern Europeans themselves can settle them.

Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement, is Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.


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