Friday, April 29, 2011

Good for the Windsors

The extent to which the British royal wedding has provoked both gushing and loathing from the media and the public bears witness to the enduring power of royalty in human minds. These days, "democracy" is on everyone's lips as the universal shibboleth (though few could actually define it, if asked), but for the better part of history human societies have been governed by monarchs of some sort. Even Americans, who in the 1780s resuscitated Roman republicanism and later spread it throughout the world, tend to fawn over their leaders in a decidedly un-republican fashion. Remember the Obama inauguration?

Some of the hate for William and Kate is just humorous. I like Charles Stross as a writer, but his rabid anti-royalism is just outlandish. Yes, monarchies are "hereditary dictatorships", but that actually tends to make them less evil than the non-hereditary ones, and certainly more preferable to the revolving-door oligarchies that pass for republics these days.

I'm not so much a monarchist as someone who vastly prefers honest, organic statism to the totalitarian nanny-state democracies inevitably tend to produce. If you don't believe me, read Hoppe.

The philistines who complain about the cost of the royal wedding never seem to kvetch about the cost of killing people - be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or elsewhere. I'm sure that, if they'd had a choice, the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would have preferred a small, private ceremony instead of a public performance. That's part of what most people don't bother thinking about: the life of a royal is circumscribed by duty and obligation.

In this particular case, a public ceremony may have been organized with more than just the newlyweds in mind. With Queen Elizabeth II close to matching Queen Victoria's record for the longest reign, and her son Charles so unpopular that crowning him might spell the end of British monarchy, odds are the Brits will be hailing King William V soon.

And who knows, maybe the Windsors' Serbian cousins might learn a lesson or three from the entire affair.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Injustice For All

Something strange happened at the Hague Inquisition today. The faux court, styling itself the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia) passed judgment on three Croatian generals, accused of atrocities during the 1995 campaign that obliterated the UN-guarded zones inhabited by ethnic Serbs. Two generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, were sentenced to prison terms; the third, Ivan Cermak, was acquitted.

The strangeness was not in that the court more or less specifically established in order to persecute (not a typo) Serbs has actually convicted Serb-killers. That has happened a time or two before. Rather, Gotovina and Markac were convicted on grounds of belonging to a "joint criminal enterprise" (JCE) against the Serbs, led by Croatia's first president, the late Franjo Tudjman.

So far, that quasi-legal construction, developed specifically for the prosecution of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, has been used solely to prosecute every Serb official that the Inquisition could get its hands on. While pointedly not interested in examining jus ad bellum questions, the Tribunal has nonetheless sought to delegitimize all Serb war efforts by blaming the Yugoslav wars on Milosevic's alleged - but never proven - conspiracy to create a "Greater Serbia." Meanwhile, other belligerents were put on trial infrequently, and then only for jus in bello infractions and always individually. So the use of the JCE against Croatians is a somewhat unexpected turn.

The generals' defense, like that of official Zagreb, has been two-pronged. On one hand there was the "logic" that Croatian troops could not have possible done anything illegal, since they were only acting in legitimate self-defense. (This is the sort of morality that runs rampant these days, where the deeds themselves do not matter, only the identity of the perpetrator.) On the other hand, faced with tapes and transcripts of Tudjman's orders to obliterate the Serbs, they argue that they were only doing Empire's bidding, and ought not be punished for it.

For it was Washington that coordinated the August 1995 operation (known as Oluja, or "Storm") with Tudjman and his generals, having trained and equipped the Croatian military through the "private contractor" MPRI. There are numerous testimonies about this, including one in Richard Holbrooke's memoir of his colleague Robert Frasure referring to the Croats as America's "junkyard dogs," about whose methods one ought not get "squeamish." Washington's Ambassador to Zagreb, Peter Galbraith, even said that the exodus of Serbs in 1995 could not be qualified as "ethnic cleansing," since ethnic cleansing was something only the Serbs committed!

Given that both ICTY and Croatia were instruments of Imperial policy, it was not unreasonable of Zagreb to expect never having to answer for its actions. The Empire is notorious for throwing its allies under the bus, though, once they've served their purpose...

It would be a mistake to believe that the Tribunal or the Empire have suddenly developed a case of caring about Serb suffering. At best, the judgment against the generals is a gambit to create the perception of impartiality, while continuing to pursue the "Greater Serbian conspiracy." Under the JCE, the accused is guilty of merely existing - i.e. holding a position of authority the Tribunal decides should have had control or even awareness of events - so the fact that one of the generals was acquitted strongly suggests the verdict was political. It is entirely possible that the other two will be acquitted in the appeals process (as was the case with Bosnian Muslim warlord Naser Oric).

None of this is helping the Croatians cope; they've been told for years that their side was virtuous, innocent and pure, their cause just and unimpeachable. This verdict plays havoc with their self-perception. It also threatens the current government, which has very little to show for two decades of independence, and prefers to hide behind the mask of patriotism (per Samuel Johnson).

Predictably, there has been very little solidarity among the Serbs for Croatia's situation (just as there never is any the other way 'round). But to cheer the Inquisition's persecution of someone else actually means validating its persecution of one's own, by recognizing the ICTY's dubious legitimacy. Namely, this ad hoc Tribunal is thoroughly illegal and illegitimate, having been established by the UN Security Council as an instrument of peacekeeping. The UNSC does not have judicial powers, and therefore cannot delegate any; the ICTY's legitimacy is a thinly stretched fiction, occasionally bolstered by displays of facetious even-handedness such as the Gotovina/Markac verdict.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reaching for the Stars

It was fifty years ago, on April 12, 1961, that Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth.

Perhaps because the technology had reached its limits, or because what was found in space wasn't quite what we hoped, but for whatever reason, after the 1960s humanity turned inward. Can't say we're any better off for it.

For that one short stretch of time, we reached for the stars. Maybe we'll do so again some day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

On petards, and hoisting

It was only a matter of time, really, before some other country responded to Washington's weaponization of human rights.

Yesterday, China issued its report on the "Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010" (full text in English). Some highlights:

"The United States reports the world's highest incidence of violent crimes, and its people's lives, properties and personal security are not duly protected.

... the violation of citizens' civil and political rights by the government is severe.

Wrongful conviction occurred quite often...

While advocating Internet freedom, the US in fact imposes fairly strict restriction on cyberspace.

...Americans' economic, social and cultural rights protection is going from bad to worse.

Racial discrimination, deep-seated in the United States, has permeated every aspect of social life.

Gender discrimination against women widely exists...

The United States has a notorious record of international human rights violations.

We hereby advise the US government to take concrete actions to improve its own human rights conditions, check and rectify its acts in the human rights field, and stop the hegemonistic deeds of using human rights issues to interfere in other countries' internal affairs."

Note that most of the data cited in the paper comes from the U.S. media. Ouch.