Monday, 31 May 2010
Monday, 24 May 2010
Kistanje is a pleasant and lovely town in the centre of the Bukovica region in northern Dalmatia, that holds a special place in my heart. However, it's been getting a bit of bad press last month, and it's all due to street signs!
You see, national minorities in areas of Croatia where they make up the majority have a right to bilingual signs and the choice to name streets after famous people from their areas and historic events that are celebrated by their community. Recently, the town council in Kistanje has been mulling over which streets to rename and after whom. However, it has not been plain sailing, and it has caused a heated debate and controversy. (See here on Slobodna Dalmacija)
When you go round towns and cities in Croatia, you will always find streets named after the country's wartime president Franjo Tuđman and other controversial individuals like Ante Starčević, and not long ago, there were streets named after Ustaše like Mile Budak (they've since been removed). For Serbs who have returned to Croatia or regularly visit there hometowns and villages, such street signs represent an insult to their national identity and collective memory. They aren't bothered too much by streets named after medieval kings like King Zvonimir or Tomislav, but they would rather see streets in places where their people are in the majority bear the names of famous local Serbs.
In Kistanje, ethnic Serb town councillors have proposed their plan of renaming streets and squares in Kistanje after local Serbs. Ethnic Croat town councillors do approve of some of their proposed name changes, but strongly disapprove over changing Franjo Tuđman's street in the centre of the town leading out to the city of Knin further east.
Most of the ethnic Croats living in Kistanje are Janjevci, who were invited by Tuđman from Kosovo, from whence they came, to settle into houses abandoned by Serbs following the war, as part of his own "humane resettlement" programme in the 90s. Following the return of many Serbs to Kistanje and the restoration of their ownership of their property, a new housing settlement, simply known as 'Novo Naselje', was built for these Janjevci. Not long ago however, Janjevci living in that settlement have protested over their living conditions, raising their grievances about the state of their settlement, the muddy state of streets there, and complaining how the ethnic Serb officials have shown no real interest in helping them.
Most vocal for changing street names in Kistanje is councillor Božo Šuša, member of the Democratic Party of Serbs ('Demokratske partije Srba', DPS), who is one of the authors of the proposal. He has raised his dissatisfaction at the speed of the implementation of article 13 of the consititutional law for the rights of minorities, guaranteeing minorities the right to name "settlements, streets and squares [after] people and events that are significant to the national minority" in Croatia (see the Consitutional law for ethnic minority rights here in Croatian). Veljko Džakula, leader of Šuša's DPS, has also questioned, "Why does 'Franjo Tuđman street' and 'Ante Starčević [street]' have to be everywhere?"
In response to Šuša's - and even Džakula's - comments, there was a protest by Croatian veterans from the recent war led by Tomislav Čolak on Kistanje's town square. Not a Serb was in sight, as Mr. Čolak was asserting that "every place in Croatia will have in its centre streets named after Croatia's fathers" like Ante Starčević and Franjo Tuđman, even dictating to Serbs who they should or shouldn't have streets named after! Unbelievable. Other than that, he resorted to personally inquiring from Mr. Šuša of his whereabout on 4th August, 1995, which is a common ploy used against Serbs in Croatia. (You can hear his superficially mild yet verbally arrogant speach here, followed by a statement by another veteran calling for municipalities like Kistanje to be abolished due to concerns of bureaucracy!)
This looks like a classic case of "two worlds colliding" as far as post-war, inter-ethnic relations are concerned: one community looks at the world in one way, while the other looks at everything in a completely different way! Serbs would like to see street signes bearing Tuđman's name to bear different names, as they have a very low opinion of the late president based on their experiences of his policies towards them, and don't wish to be reminded of him in their hometowns, which sounds reasonable enough. However, many Croats see Tuđman as the man who brought their country independence from Yugoslavia, who fought to win its freedom from Serbian aggressors - a term offensive to Croatian Serbs who fought against the Republic of Croatia. As far as they're concerned, he is a Croatian national hero, even though he proved himself not to be a champion of human rights, and even allowed corruption to flourish after the war! Not surprisingly, any initiative to demote their war-time leader, such as this one with the street names, is nothing short of a "provocation" by Serbs.
This is understandable in plases in the world traumatised by war, in particularly inter-ethnic conflict in the Balkans. But what's worse, and is evident in this case, is the inconsiderate nature of Mr. Čolak, however gentle his tone of voice was, and others like him who wish to impose their view of history and their ideas of how things should be done upon others, even though they know that people in the Serb community don't agree with them. Firstly, he reiterates his view of history, which he has a right to do since he fought for his country Croatia, but then he proceeds to tell Serbs what's good for them and what's not! How bewildering.
The Serbs in Croatia find themselves in a morally difficult position. They do feel the stigmatisation against their people and the scorn of their Croat neighbours over the war-time antics of some of their co-ethnics, which includes serious war crimes against non-Serbs. Those responsible for such offences should be brought to justice, but many still walk free, and that contributes to the hostility that many Croats still feel towards all Serbs. Croatian Serbs do, however, wish to rebuild their communities, and at least moderately assert their identity in a multi-ethnic Croatia. However, ethnic Serb organisations and leaders often find themselves at the receiving end of right-wing Croatian nationalists, who always seem to find every reason under the sun to undermine and degrade their efforts of establishing their voice in modern-day Croatian society. And the disdain towards the general Serbian community in Croatia was obvious in the words and in the voices of Tomislav Čolak and his colleague who spoke at that protest last month.
Džakula says it best, describing this issue and others like so: "Everything that Serbs initiate is a trigger for Croats. But, why did those who named those streets that way not [care to] think [how] that [would be] a trigger for Serbs?" (Original quote in Serbian/Croatian/Serbo-Croat here)
Shockingly, only a few days after that protest, someone or some people devastated a commemorative cross in the village of Varivode near Kistanje. The cross was erected in 2004 to commemorate the murder of nine elderly Serb civilians who had stayed in their homes following 'Operation Oluja' in 1995. As you can see in the comments under that article on the Jutarnji List website, a few of them are genuinely dismayed by this incident. Unfortunately though, one of the commentators felt it was acceptable to end his comment with "ZA DOM SPREMNI", a notorious Ustaša slogan. (Even worse, you can see his name, surname and photo, since the comments came through via Facebook! Shameless.)
As you can see, April has not been a nice month for Kistanje folk. But putting aside these bad news, let's end on a lighter note! St. Nicholas' church in the hamlet of Bezbradice just outside Kistanje has been almost completely renovated, and just yesterday a joyful gathering was held to celebrate the church's renewed exterior and interior. The event was attended by 500 to 1000 locals, religious dignitaries from the Serbian Orthodox Church, folk music and dance groups, Croatian and Bosnian officials, and received coverage from the Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian-Serb media alike. All in all, it went ahead and passed without a single incident. (See pictures of the renovation in action on Moje-Kistanje.net.)
Friday, 21 May 2010
In this sequel to Serbs, Media, Justice and Me! published a couple of months ago, I shall go into further detail to explain my former views on the subject of Serbs in the media and the justice that followed, and further reminisce on my gradual change of thought.
As I explained in the above article, my views on the Yugoslav wars of the 90s were much like the views of many other Serbs then and today: I used to believe that Western politicians supported homegrown separatists at the expense of vast Serb populations in those seceeding republics, and most insulting of all, the Western media was falsely accusing us of starting the wars, thus leading to the break up of the former common state, even though it was NATO that bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999! I also used to believe that all the stories of Serbs committing war crimes and worse stuff on non-Serb populations to be gross lies and propaganda used to further advance the anti-Serb policies in the region. And finally, I used to look at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague as a "kangaroo court", a propaganda outfit to disseminate the same lies circulated throughout the world, so that their rulings could be used by anti-Serb politicians at home to implement their harmful and inconsiderate policies against the wishes of the Serbian people.
I no longer think in the way I've detailed above; in fact, I've changed my views by a 180º turn! I now no longer blame the West for the break-up of Yugoslavia. Instead, I acknowledge that Slobodan Milošević, along with his colleagues, were indeed responsible for creating a climate of ethnic tension and fear among the people of Yugoslavia that was conducive of war, and eventually caused wars to happen. I now appreciate how Serbian nationalism created a lot of fear among all the other former Yugoslav nations while blinding Serbs to what was really happening around them, thus, I now better understand why there is a lot of hatred between people there. I now accept that my fellow Serbs in Bosnia did indeed cause the most bloodshed of all the sides, and worse still, planned it all in advance and received lots of support et al. from Belgrade throughout the conflict. And I also now accept that the Hague Tribunal, whatever its faults may be, is a genuine court of law, that has from its establishment strived to uncover the truth of what had happened in those wars, who were to blame for it and bring them to justice.
This change in opinion didn't happen overnight and I certainly didn't accept everything I was discovering in one gulp; it took months for me to completely renounce my former views on the recent history and current affairs, and quite often, I found it easier to just accept one truth at a time, as a lot of what I was discovering was just too much even for me to take in!
However, what I'm detailing here is something that would be deemed deeply "unpatriotic" and even "treacherous" by many of my fellow Serbs even today, thus making my views certainly "contraversial" by Serbian standards! Nevertheless, I believe it can only be a cathartic process for me to explain why I used to think in the ways I thought, which is also the way in which many Serbs still think today.
(I also feel that I missed out a lot of rather important opinions in my original article, which is why I've published this article as a continuation of my previous article on the this issue!)
Firstly and fundamentally, I found the whole idea of "Greater Serbia" as detailed by the Western media utterly repellent, and as far as I was concerned, completely un-Serbian. This tied in with the accusation that it was us Serbs who started the wars, and not the secessionists that we blamed the wars on.
What I could never believe was that Slobodan Milošević was "champion of a Greater Serbia", as claimed in the Western media. Me and my parents, like many Serbs in the Diaspora with access to satellite channels, used to watch RTS SAT (Radio Televizija Srbije Satelitski Program) during the war years and throughout the 1990s. And whenever we saw Sloba on RTS SAT, he always advocated Yugoslavia, never "Greater Serbia". Those who did advocate "Greater Serbia" always seemed to have come from the ranks of the Serbian Radical Party (Srpska Radikalna Stranka) under ultra-nationalist Vojislav Šešelj.
In all his public statements, Milosevic praised Yugoslavia and its multiethnic society, thus giving the impression that he was opposed to the inter-ethnic tensions that were brewing, and instead of secession wanted Yugoslavia to stay together. Šešelj and his Radicals, on the other hand, were openly vocal about the creation of a Greater Serbia, with its westerly border at the Croatian towns of Karlovac, Karlobag, Virovitica.
However, one of Sloba's famous sayings was, "All Serbs in one state". Many people believed he was referring to the formation of a "Greater Serbia" to contain all Serbs, while others thought he was referring merely to Yugoslavia as the state for all Serbs to live in. This is such an ambiguous statement on his part: does he mean "Greater Serbia" or just Yugoslavia? He made quite a few ambiguous statements like that one, which can be interpreted in many ways, and that's one of the reasons why many Serbs still can’t believe that Sloba was part - let alone head - of a "joint criminal enterprise".
I eventually realised that this was the impression that the Serb-nationalist media at the time, and Serb nationalists today, wanted to keep us under (Milošević = Yugoslavia, Šešelj = "Greater Serbia"), when in reality, the Serbian state under Sloba was deeply involved in the wars in the neighbouring former Yugoslav republics, providing support to the Serb nationalist leaders who fought precisely for a "Greater Serbia".
But what you must understand is that most Serbs, like myself, don't support the formation of a "Greater Serbia"; the truth is most Serbs just wanted Yugoslavia to stay together, my parents included. The fact is most sane and intelligent Serbs in the world think "Greater Serbia" is a mad and ridiculous idea; no normal Serb would ever consider "Greater Serbia" a good idea either in theory or in practice, myself included.
However, the Serbian public, at home in the Balkans and abroad in the Diaspora, were subjected to contradictory accounts coming from many media outlets, including the Serbian state media at the time, the Croatian and Bosnian state media, and the wider Western media. Understandably, this has led to a lot of confusion that can be detected even today.
Due to receiving many mixed messages about what was happening, many Serbs living outside of the warzones were particularly confused about what was really going on in Bosnia, Croatia and later in Kosovo. Other Serbs were more certain, placing their faith in their fellow Serbs and dismissing opposing views. However, because Serbs were so chronically misinformed, they did not realise who the real culprits of everything that was going wrong around them were. And because they did not know what was really going on, they could not rise against those responsible for it soon enough. Of course, that's exactly where the leaders of Serbia at the time, and their colleagues in the other republics, wanted us to be: in a state of confusion, so that we could not rebel against them.
----------Secondly, and for a long time, I used to refuse to accept that Slobodan Milošević was responsible for all the bloodshed of the 1990s and for leading that "joint criminal enterprise"; such accusations I deemed unbelievable and part of a wider scheme of slur and slander at the Serbian people's expense. And I also found constant reference to Sloba and his "henchmen" so ungenuine. Instead, I remember watching his trial on satellite, and I'm ashamed to say this, but at the time, I honestly admired his performance at the dock of the ICTY; I truly believed that what he was sharing with the world from the Hague was the "truth", with which he was "destroying" the "lies" of the Western media!
Long before his trial, I remember watching RTS SAT in the 90s with my parents, as mentioned above, when it was under Sloba's control. My impression of Sloba, based on the image presented by RTS SAT under his state's control, was that of a positive and reasonable statesman, who advocated peace and humanitarianism and once held International Children's Day in Serbia! I was a child/teenager back then, and I chose to believe the Serbian state TV of that time over the "un-patriotic" bloc lead by people like the late Dr.Zoran Đinđić and Nenad Čanak, including B92 TV.
We also had access to RTCG (Radio Televizija Crne Gore) with our satelite, and that channel for us represented the "anti-Serb" Montenegrin bloc led by Premier/President Milo Đukanović, whom we despised as a traitor to the Serbian people and as someone secretly involved in the mafia! But that channel also offered the Voice of America in Serbian, which we likewise disbelieved, as it pretty much said the same things that were being told on the Western media but in Serbian.
However, my change of view regarding Milošević came about by precisely reading what ordinary people who lived in Serbia under his rule had to say on the Internet, as that is my most reliable way of finding out a variety of different opinions amongst Serbs that I cannot readily access living here in the UK.
Although I had heard of how Milošević repressed his political opponents at home in the Western media, I did not consider any of those stories to be valid; I always thought that those accusations were fundamentally "anti-Milošević propaganda" funded by the West that I and many other Serbs blamed, and I'm afraid to say that I also thought that a lot of the unrest in Serbia was the fault of the pro-democratic forces themselves causing trouble!
Nevertheless, I made the plunge and started reading many accounts of democratic activists striving against a régime they saw as the cause of their country's social, economic, political and moral turmoil, and in turn for many problems in neighbouring former Yugoslav republics due to war. What astonished and fascinated me the most while examining their literature was the high moral character of the individuals within the pro-democratic scene in Serbia, something I had previously under-estimated - or rather did not believe was possible, as I used to think that these people and their institutions were supported by Western countries. Their dedication to human rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and everything else that is conducive of an open and tolerant society was second to none.
Now, I did notice that these anti-Milošević people were obviously people who supported politicians like Đinđić and Čanak and their policies. But I slowly realised that their support for such individuals did not make what they were saying any less real; in fact, it only strengthened it! And I came to appreciate the fact that people who lived in Serbia at that time know far better about what was happening in their own country and society than someone like me who was living in the Diaspora watching a satellite channel run at the time by state that wanted to keep me in the dark.
And by examining their views word by word, it dawned on me that everything that Đinđić, Čanak et al. were saying and had said over the years was actually precisely what millions of ordinary people in Serbia regularly saw and felt going on around them. And so I finally accepted that all the anti-Milošević rhetoric from people in Serbia, people I had thought were "Western-paid traitors", was based on fact, and that the people of Serbia had every right to look upon Milošević and his régime as the cause of all their country's woes and see him as a failed president who brought nothing but trouble to everyone.
This enlightenment was crucial for me, 'cause if Milošević was that bad to his own people at home, then it's very easy to believe that he was no better - and even worse - towards his neighbours!
----------And thirdly, for me and for many Serbs, the whole idea that we started the wars, and even worse, committed the highest number of war crimes and the grossest atrocities of all the sides, was completely unacceptable as it seemed so impossible on the one hand, but also very offensive on the other.
One of the reasons why it was difficult for me to believe that my fellow Serbs could do so much wrong to our neighbours, was because our parents, grandparents and more distant forebears had been victims of similar wrongdoing in the last one hundred years. In fact, throughout our history, and that of other Balkan nations, we had been at the mercy of many empires, be it the Roman Empire followed by the Byzantine Empire, between the Ottoman and the Habsurg later Austro-Hungarian Empires, and finally Nazi Germany, the Third Reich, whose criminal legacy is still painfully remembered today.
During the Bosnian war, there was a lot of very anti-Serb opinion in the media of Western countries, which influenced the general public's understanding of events in Bosnia. Both televised and radio news bulletins were full of headline stories about what was going on in Bosnia, usually implacating the Bosnian Serbs, such as the Siege of Sarajevo and the snipers who terrorised the people of that city. Now I was too young at the time to understand what exactly was going on, let alone be aware of different sides to the story. But what I did understand as a child was that I didn't want anything to do with it!
As I grew up, I learnt about what was happening in Bosnia and Croatia according to the Serbian side and subsequently based my own opinions on such interpretation of events. I started thinking in much the same way as many other Serbs were thinking, "How could the Western media accuse us of committing such terrible crimes; what about the suffering that our people have endured during those wars and in earlier periods?" It seemed to me that the Western media ignored - even dismissed - our view of history, which was especially hurtful to us Serbs who were and are living in the West. Of course, we don't expect everyone around the world to be expert historians, but most of us Serbs didn't expect the media in Western countries and all its journalists to be so dismissive of our sentiments.
As a British Serb, I remember the anti-NATO demonstrations in London by diaspora Serbs in response to the bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war. They held placards with comical and/or angry messages like "National American Terrorist Organisation" (a pun on the NATO alliance's abbreviated name), while others held placards with the message "Save Our Serbia" (an alternative definition of the international distress signal SOS).
As mentioned above, we remembered the anti-Serb climate around the country during the Bosnian war just a few years earlier. Many British Serbs felt very uncomfortable with the overt anger expressed against us by our fellow Britons, and our natural, knee-jerk reaction to all of this - regardless of whether we had access to satellite channels or not - was to believe that this hatred was completely based on lies spread by the media. And when Kosovo broke out, we likewise believed that this was another anti-Serb campaign lead by the media in our host country.
In the end, these people, British Serbs, were left feeling disregarded by Blair's government, yet many of them had helped elect him only two years earlier. This feeling of not being listened to by their country's government has lead to a general sense of apathy among British Serbs as far as politics in either the UK or the Balkans is concerned, which is still felt today. No wonder many of us are disillusioned with politics in general, and worse, actually prefer to live in apathy rather than have an opinion!
I, on the other hand, did not become apathetic or lose interest in politics. Following the Kosovo war, I developed a very pro-Serb view of the wars for all the reasons described above in this article and in the previous one. I spent much of my free time as a teenager sojourning websites which promoted the opinion that the West interfered in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia, and which focused purely on Serbian victimhood without any meaningful reference to the victimhood of other former Yugoslav nations - instead, they were openly denying, minimising and/or justifying it! Needless to say, these sites left me in a lot of doubt about many atrocities committed by the Bosnian Serbs et al. during the wars, while cementing my belief that the West was pursuing and continues to pursue anti-Serb policies. Ignorance is bliss!
As I was building my identity, I learnt a lot about Serbian history, Balkan history and European history, not to mention the national histories of certain nations. Afterall, history is one of my favourite subjects, along with linguistics!
As far as history was concerned, I was developing my own opinions on history based on what I was reading on the net, from websites like the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia, visited by people from all over the world, and the Serbian cultural/historical/anthropological website Projekat Rastko, which offers a wide array of literature.
At first, I preferred the comfort of the Serbian point of view, as I was often offended by the mainstream Western opinion on the recent history, and even more by the Croatian point of view, particularly when examining the discussions pages on Wikipedia's numerous articles on the former Yugoslavia, often full of accusations and defamation coming from all sides! But as my skin became thicker, I started researching other interpretations of Western Balkan history, including the Croatian opinion and that of others, with which I became more and more comfortable confronting. On the one hand, I wanted to familiarise myself with their side of the story; while on the other, I wanted to find something in their story that I could disprove and brand as a "lie".
This process of familiarising myself with the other side/sides of the story gained momentum precisely during the time that I started changing my views on Milošević, Bosnia etc. And not only was I discovering how the other former Yugoslav nations felt about what happened to them and all around them, I was also starting to read more "neutral" points of view, i.e. works by internationally-recognised scholars - genuine historians, as opposed to the pseudo-historians out there - like Marko Attila Hoare, Marcus Tanner, Tim Judah, and many more. I read their work with a true sense of inquisitiveness, and I found their work to be highly informative and even inspiring; they explained the various aspects of the recent wars and other periods by focusing on the facts, without resorting to expressing their ethnic hostilities or advocating a national agenda. What a breath of fresh air that was!
Thanks to all my research, which at times was profoundly emotional for me, I developed a more informed view on the recent history and more distant periods of history. In fact, I developed a sense of critically analysing individual interpretations, along with an ability to compare contradicting points of view in order to discover whether they have anything in common!
For instance, when comparing the Serbian and Croatian national narratives, I've found that that these narratives are indeed based on certain historic facts, but what makes both of them unique - or similar, depending on how you look at them - is that they relate specific interpretations of facts. And it is these interpretations that help forge people's national identity, something they share only with a select few.
However, the problem with both narratives is that they tend to concentrate on the favourable aspects of history, while ignoring or just minimising the less favourable bits. And when they relate wars, they always depict their nation as the innocent victims on the one hand, and justified heroes on the other. And because of that tendency, both narratives encourage the people who hold onto them to only want to see things in a way that is favourable to their nation, or as I put it, to have a "self-gratifying" view of history.
In the end, I came to understand that history can be a very complicated thing; it can seem to be full of contradictions on the one hand, and full of anomalies on the other. This is particularly the case with nations affected by constant war throught their histories. At one given moment in time, members of one nation were victimised by members of another; while at another moment of time, members of that originally victimised nation were victimising members of the nation that victimised them first!
I am not trying to in any way relativise any period or event in history, as each has its own gravity. Rather, I wish to point out that different people have experienced a variety of different things, but that's not to say that other people haven't experienced very similar things too. And that's why I believe that it's only when we compare different points of view in an objective manner with a spirit of inquisitiveness, can we finally discover what is true and what is false; what is diffrent and what is similar; and what is unique and what is shared.
And so, it turned out that all the things I used to believe in, like that the West conspired with local separatists to destroy Yugoslavia and blame the Serbs for it with their media to justify further anti-Serb policies, are the real lies. And as I started accepting that, I also came to realise that Serb nationalist propaganda really was propaganda afterall: a combination of truths, half-truths, and outright lies. So many times I've heard Western journalists saying that the régime of Slobodan Milošević fed the Serbian people propaganda, and yet I never believed that! It turns out they were right all along.
I now accept that the two biggest practical problems with the Serb nationalist interpretation of history, constantly peddled back home in the Balkans, are one, it is unreliable when it comes to establishing historical truth, and two, when applying it in a legal setting, it is useless and fruitless.
I mean, let's forget about the Hague tribunal itself; there are loads of courts in the world and plenty of lawyers too! If we were to take anything that has been branded as "evidence" by proponents of the so-called Serbian point of view into any court of law in the world, it would be discredited and any case based on such "evidence" would be thrown out of court altogether. Now why would that happen if such claims were really true? Maybe the whole system and establishment is set up against us Serbs? Why of course, it's all done to spite us! But how can anyone live their lives thinking in such a way? I know I used to think like that myself, but I don't want to think in such an irrational and spurious way anymore. And what good would it do to maintain those same views based on discredited claims anyway? All we'd be doing is embarrassing ourselves on the one hand, and convincing Croats, Bosniaks etc. that we're no better than we were before, and as such not worth bothering with even now more than a decade after the wars.
But I also came to another very important conclusion: not only is the Serb nationalist point of view actually difficult to prove in any court of law - let alone the Hague, more importantly, it was also morally wrong to promote such interpretations of history. Indeed it is a fool's crusade to pursue such a version of the "truth", as it is full lies. But worst of all, it doesn't really help Serbs at all to continue fostering the argument that the West is "guilty" for the break-up of Yugoslavia, that Milošević was an innocent "hero" or that certain war crimes committed by Serbs were "lies", because that can only impede any honest attempt at reconciliation between Serbs and Croats, or Serbs and Bosniaks, etc.
In the end, all my research into recent and more distant history in the Balkans has convinced me once and for all that all brands of nationalism, especially the extreme, far-right variants, are both practically and morally wrong; while blind patriotism among ordinary people I realised is practically unhelpful and morally obstructive.
Minor edit: 13th July, 2010.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Britain has a new prime minister and new government since last night. Britain's new prime minister is David Cameron from the Conservative party, and its new deputy prime minister is Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrat party, replacing Gordon Brown and his Labour cabinet. Britain now has a coalition government, the first since the Second World War, made up of Cameron's Tories and Clegg's Lib Dems.
Following the General Election on May 6th, in which 649 constituencies out of 650 in the whole country went to the polls, none of the parties standing for election won a majority of seats, thus leading to a "Hung parliament". (These constituencies translate into seats in the country's parliament, and in order to win, a party must attain a minimum of 326.)
Briefly put: Cons = 307 (including that one constituency that didn't go to the polls); Lab = 258; Lib Dem = 57; and other parties plus independent candidates = 28.
Following this inconclusive result, the Liberal Democrats first held negotiations with the Tories about forming a pact, as they had won the most votes and seats. It then held negotiations with the Labour a party. If they chose to make a pact with the Tories, they would be able to command a majority in parliament; whereas with Labour, they would not have. Of course, if they had refused either party's offer, the Tories could have gone it alone and formed a "Minority government".
In the end, Gordon Brown stepped down from his premiership, handing his resignation to the UK's sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II at her Buckingham Palace residence, as is the procedure in this country. And within minutes, David Cameron entered the palace to be appointed by the Queen to lead her country's government, and off he went to 10 Downing Street to announce the formation of a new government with the Lib Dems!
On election day, I voted for Luton North's Labour candidate Kelvin Hopkins with a view to keep the Tories out of government and out of Luton, but also with the hope of seeing a Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the even of a hung parliament (see my previous article).
Although mine and my mother's votes did not keep the Tories out of central government, they did keep Luton red! In fact, Luton North and Luton South are now Labour's only two strongholds in the whole of East Anglia following its many losses of seats in the region. Thus, Luton forms an island of red in a flooding sea of blue!
And although I didn't get the coalition I had hoped for, my prediction of a Lab-Lib Dem coalition was at least half right! And when it came down to the election results, even I realised that a pact between the Lib Dems and the Tories would be a numerically stronger one (307+57 compared to 258+57).
So I'm happy that my vote counted in keeping Labour in Luton and wasn't wasted - unless of course, my vote was considered invalid! (Ouch!) I hope Kelvin Hopkins MP continues to serve Luton North as well as he has in his previous three terms (!); and I hope Gavin Shuker MP will do a good job for Luton South as a first-time MP.
I had predicted that the Lib Dems - or even the Independent candidate Esther Rantzen - might win Luton South, but neither did. But still, I hope Esther stays in touch with us Lutonians and doesn't forget about our town, which she, as she puts it, "fell in love with"!
Also, thanks to last Thursday's elections, Britain has its first Green MP in the form of Caroline Lucas representing the constituency of Brighton Pavilion! Finally, the UK has an environmentalist party in parliament - Hooray!
Unfortunately for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), that wishes for Britain to leave the EU altogether, none of its candidates won any constituencies - not even its most famous member Nigel Farage, who is a colourful albeit contraversial character, who would've brightened up the House of Commons with his humourous demeanor and anti-EU views!
Fortunately for Britain's multicultural society, the far-right British National Party (BNP), that wishes to stop immigration completely and offer Britons with foreign origins "voluntary repatration", did not win a single seat in parliament - not even its leader Nick Griffin could win Barking and Dagenham, even though his party received well over half a million votes nationwide.
So all in all, not a bad night for elections then!
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
I know that Anarchism advocates the abolition of governments and condemns voting, but I've nevertheless decided to vote in the upcoming General Election in Britain, this May 6th! I registered both myself and my mother exactly on the 20th April deadline! I printed out the forms for me and mum which we both signed on the 19th in the evening, and I handed it on the next day at Luton Borough Council. And just so you know, this will be my first time! Yippee!!
I live in Luton North, which has been headed by Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins since the 1997 General Election, an event I remember very well in which Labour won a landslide victory and ousted the Tories from power! (I was 11 at the time and full of enthusiasm for Labour!)
Luton South has also had a Labour MP for as many years by the name of Margaret Moran. She has become infamous throughout the country for spending £22,500 of taxpayers' money to sort out dry rot (!) at her house in Southampton, around 70 miles away from her constituency in Luton South!
So with all the election campaigning in recent weeks by the three main parties and other national/regional and nationalist far-right parties, I've also been figuring out which part to vote for.
I come from a pro-socialist, therefore pro-Labour family. My late father Stevo always voted Labour, and my mother likewise. I have yet to vote in my life, but I am likewise inclined towards voting for Labour. However, I'm not a hardcore Labour supporter; I'm also inspired by the Liberal Democrat party.
Throughout this campaign, I've been supportive of quite a few Liberal Democrat promises, particularly the promise to raise the tax threshold to £10,000, thus allowing a lot of people on lower wages to keep much more of their income than they do now. This is a truly impressive election promise, and who knows, it might actually save a lot of people a lot of money if it were implemented.
However, I've come to the conclusion that the problem with voting Lib Dem in the constituency of Luton North is that, I believe, it is a very safe Labour seat, and therefore, as the electoral system in this anglophonic country is First Past the Post, my vote for the Lib Dem would be useless in Luton North. However, if I was living in Luton South, then my vote for the Lib Dems would stand a chance, and could actually help the Lib Dems win that seat.
By the way, Luton South is contested by 12 candidates, twice more than Luton North (see here)! Among the candidates for Luton South is the famous TV presenter and ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen, who claims to have fallen in love with Luton and hopes to bring over friends like Andrew Lloyd Webber to help develop the Arts and Music scene in the town, which I likewise think would be a brilliant idea (she said so herself on THE POLITICS SHOW on BBC 1, Sunday, 2nd May, see here).
If the voting system was such in this country that it was all about the parties rather than the seats, i.e. Proportional Representation (PR), I would vote Lib Dem this election (which is something the Lib Dems are actually calling for). However, we don't have such a system, which can be found in European countries and elsewhere in the world. Instead, we vote for candidates who represent constituencies, i.e. seats in the country's parliament. However, one serious problem with the current system is that someone can win a seat without attaining an absolute majority of votes.
And like I've explained above, living in Luton North as I do, my vote for the Labour party would be much more valuable, especially if we want to make sure that the Conservative party doesn't take power. The problem with the Tories is they would introduce numerous cuts in public services here and there as soon as they get in, which I don't believe would be good for this country's economy especially now that we've managed to rise out of economic recession.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe that a vote for the Lib Dems would bring the Tories in power. In fact, I find such a claim to be very cynical, and based on the belief that Tory voters form some kind of monolithic block, whose members "naturally" cannot vote for anyone else except the Conservatives!
And considering that the polls are very tight, it seems that a coalition government, which is reffered to as a "Hung parliament" in Britain, will likely have to be formed by two of the three parties that receive the most votes tomorrow. I also have to tell you that I find all these fear stories about hung parliaments/coalition governments really annoying. I think it might lead to more agreement between parties, and looking at Scotland's parliament in which the Scottish National Party head a minority government, a coalition might not be such a bad thing for the rest of the country.
And besides, Kelvin Hopkins MP has, during his campaign for this election and the previous one back in 2005, knocked on my house door and both times had a little chat with my mum! None of the other five candidates for Luton North have done so! And anyway, I think Kelvin is a decent guy who has done a relatively good job representing Luton for all these years.
Therefore, I know who I'm going to vote for tomorrow, i.e. May 6th, even though I would rather we lived in a world without borders and states. And my prediction of the outcome? Let me hazard a guess: a Labour-Lib Dem coalition!