Friday, July 18, 2008

Does Bulgaria persecute dissidents from Turkmenistan?

Today is apparently my day to blog about extant dictatorships. Of course there are too many of them to cover, but I've already written posts about Iran and China, let's now "honour" Turkmenistan a bit, and also return to Bulgaria.
We Bulgarians are too overwhelmed by our hardships and too selfish to care about those who are in even more miserable situation. We often forget that, at least, we have been given freedom while billions of human beings are still oppressed, and we do not show much solidarity with them. Some of my earliest posts from 2006 (dated May 10, 12 and 15, respectively) told the story of a Belarussian dissident to whom our authorities refused political asylum.
On May 9, the Guerilla wrote a post about watching the documentary Shadow of the Holy Book. It "exposes the immorality of international companies doing business with the dictatorship of oil-and-gas-rich Turkmenistan, thus helping to hide its human rights and free speech abuses - all in the name of profit and corporate greed" (quote from the latter site). After discussing how easily companies based in democratic countries break their moral codes and become accomplices of a dictator, the Guerrilla adds, "Unfortunately, we heard (though it wasn't included in the documentary) that the Bulgarian state rendered Turkmenbashi the service to persecute Turkmeni dissidents on Bulgarian land... Damn gas deals!"
I have no details, so I can only hope that this isn't true! But I feel obliged to post it - let the Turkmenis are cautious about seeking asylum in Bulgaria.

Letter from China

If you want to know what is happening in China, don't trust media reports too much. Their authors are blinded by the enormous proportions of China, by its superpower status and its fast economic progress (though the latter is perceived on the basis of official Chinese statistics, which reminds the alleged economic prosperity of USSR and is likely to be about as authentic).
The quote below is from a letter written in April by a guest worker in China. I prefer not to give more details about the author and where I found the text; let me just mention that I am not the blogger to whom the letter was addressed.

"Unfortunately, I have no access to your blog. I suppose that, similarly to many other Web pages, it is made unaccessible from China. I am very angry at the whole situation here. Frankly, I am quite afraid by the thought that China is the new superpower... I see you are aware of the events happening here, but let me add several interesting facts from the last few days:
1. The Party sent a mass text message to all Chinese, "advising" them not to buy anything from Carrefour (the largest hypermarket here, it is French btw). And guess what - after May 1 no one Chinese will shop there. Let me clarify the reason. I talked about this with a colleague from Singapore and he said, "My girlfriend is against this Party initiative, but she also isn't going to shop at Carrefour, because if she does and some of her colleagues hear about it, they will begin to hate her." There are some very malicious people here, hating those who don't march with the majority and ready to expose their hate. You get the situation, don't you? Chinese are so brainwashed that it is hard to believe!
2. The Party sent a mass e-mail message to the Chinese, explaning how malicious Western European people are. There were attached photos (ultra manipulated) of Chinese in Paris weeping because of what happened there with the Olympic fire. Quote: "See our HEROES"... To me, these things just suck! My boss commented the situation, ”We are the strongest and most powerful nation in the world, nobody has the right to stand against us”. Can you imagine this coming from the mouth of an educated Chinese citizen, with much international experience. Imagine then the "thoughts" of an ordinary Chinese who has had the great luck to graduate 3rd grade... And this is the nation coming forward - scary, isn't it?
...I am a complicated personality. And despite being "material", I am much tormented by the things I described and therefore I decided that China isn't for me, at least not at the moment... I am going to leave soon. I may return when this nation becomes a little more mature, but during the last 6 months I realized that if Chinese mentality is to grow up at all, it will require a loooooong time... I intend to seek a job in South Africa or in some pretty corner of Europe... I need a more normal place, these Chinese exhausted me too much..."

This is too much even for the Mullahs!

On Apr. 13, Iranian-British blogger Azarmehr posted that temporary marriage in Iran is already available online. Temporary marriage, if I get the point correctly, is a procedure allowing the man to make some vulnerable woman his temporary wife (sigheh), to rape her as much as he wishes and after having his fill of sex to abandon her in shame and disgrace. In his post, Azarmehr called these marriages "legalized prostitution".
A commenter wrote, "Why are you so concerned with bashing Islam? You have no idea what you are even writing about. These marriages are called muta'a marriages... (They) are intended to help downtrodden widows or widowers regain their footing in life (and satisfy their sexual urges) within the confines if Islam."
Azarmehr replied, "Actually sigheh is nothing to do with Islam and is an invention of Shiite clergy only. Of course you are too young to remember and probably haven't talked to any Iran-Iraq war veterans to find out how the mullahs like leeches, would turn up outside a martyr's (i.e. fallen soldier's - M.M.) house, and force the martyr's wife into temporary marriage. It got so bad that those who went to defend the country would stipulate in their will that their wives should not become sigheh."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something rotten in Bulgaria, but also in EU agriculture

In its Bulgarian variant, democracy means that people elect rulers entangled in corruption and organized crime and then the country is shaken by an endless row of corruption and crime scandals, till the next elections. The current scandal is a really juicy one. Let me quote Daniel McLaughlin's article Bulgaria likely to lose EUR 500 million in funding because of corruption, published on July 17 in Irish Times:
"Fears are growing in Bulgaria that the European Union will withhold funding next week to punish it for its failure to tackle organised crime and corruption... Sources who had seen drafts of the EU reports told Reuters that Bulgaria would probably be stripped of some EUR 500 million and be threatened with future losses unless it intensified its fight against corruption and cleaned up the way cash from Brussels was spent... The funds to be withheld relate to agricultural, road-building and technical assistance projects that have already been frozen due to graft investigations by EU anti-fraud agency Olaf. Yesterday's Bulgarian newspapers were full of striking details from a supposedly confidential report sent by Olaf to Bulgaria, in which the government is accused of having links with alleged criminals, and state agencies are lambasted for their lack of co-operation in corruption inquiries. The Olaf report... focuses on one particular "criminal network composed of more than 50 Bulgarian enterprises and various other European and off-shore companies"... The report said the network was run by two businessmen, one of whom "allegedly financed the election campaign of the current Bulgarian president"... "There are powerful forces in the Bulgarian government and/or Bulgarian state institutions who are not interested in punishing anyone from the circle around (them)," Olaf concluded. Prime minister Sergei Stanishev denied that the group had state protection and accused the EU of overstating the corruption problem in Bulgaria."

I have little doubts in the accuracy of the Olaf report and wouldn't want to defend Bulgarian government, president, police and judiciary. However, I would like to ask some questions.
First, why the hell was the report supposed to be confidential? Who has decided that European taxpayers shouldn't know how their money is tunneled astray and we Bulgarians don't deserve to know what is happening in our country?
Then, why is agriculture in EU supposed to be subsidized in the first place? Shouldn't farmers concentrate on their farming business and finance it by selling their crops at the free market? Why are they forced instead to waste their time and energy on paperwork in order to obtain subsidies? Why are ordinary Europeans burdened with excessive taxes to pay subsidies to farmers who are best at filling paper forms (rather than at farming), and also salaries to bureaucrats who process these forms and shuttle them from one desk to another? And isn't it clear that the entire industry of subsidies is an excellent growth medium for corruption?
Probably countries with developed civil society and rule of law can afford the EU subsidizing industry without sinking into the quagmire of corruption (though the quagmire of inefficiency will remain). However, countries like Bulgaria haven't much rule of law. And while ordinary citizens are struggling with Third World-like poverty, EU subsidies only serve to further enrich the gang that is ruling the country.

Sad day for civilized world

July 16, 2008 was a sad day for the civilized world.
"Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas turned over to Israel two coffins containing the bodies of Israeli soldiers captured two years ago... The U.N.-mediated swap closes a painful chapter for Israel, which launched a war in 2006 against Hezbollah in response to the soldiers' capture in a cross-border raid. It is likely to be a significant boost for Hezbollah at a time when it is trying to rebuild a reputation tarnished after its guerrillas turned their guns on fellow Lebanese in May. After the bodies handed over by Hezbollah were confirmed to be those of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Israel was to turn over five Lebanese prisoners — including a militant convicted in what is perceived here as a monstrous attack (the author refers to Samir Kuntar (Kantar), featured in my previous post - M.M.)... Lebanon's Al-Manar TV quoted senior Hezbollah official Wafik Safa at the border as saying the bodies were in a "mutilated" shape from injuries they suffered during the raid... "We are handing over the two Israeli soldiers that were captured by the resistance ... and whose fate has been unknown until this moment," Safa said. "Now you know their fate"... In the Gaza Strip... people celebrated in the streets and handed out sweets in support of Hezbollah. Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza's Hamas prime minister, called Kantar an "Arab nationalist hero" and said his release was "a great day for the Arab nation." He warned Israel that it will also have to "pay the price" for a soldier Hamas has been holding since June 2006" (source: Aron Heller from AP, via Yahoo! News.)
In my July 29, 2006 post about the soldiers' kidnapping, I failed to upload their photos for some technical reason. I am doing this now. The images are taken from Wikipedia.
Commenting the prisoner swap, Shlemazl wrote that "the Israeli public, which supports the decision, has more heart than brain".
I fully agree with Shlemazl on this and on the Israeli decision being a grave mistake. And not the first one in the story. Back in 2006, Israel yielded to external pressure and aborted the war without a serious military justification. When will the Israelis realize that 95% of the world population will either rejoice or at least sigh with relief if Israel ceases to exist? To try and appease a force with a lethal attitude toward you is a recipe for suicide.
The swap included also handing over the remains of some 200 Hezbollah combatants. I don't mind this; in fact, I wouldn't mind if those remains had been handed over to their families unconditionally. But releasing captured enemies in exchange for hostages will only encourage future attacks and kidnappings. And releasing live enemies in exchange for dead hostages will only encourage Israel's enemies not to bother to keep captured Israelis alive. (In this case, if Wikipedia is accurate, the two reservists were killed during the initial attack rather than in captivity.)
It is a natural and legitimate wish not to leave your people behind. To get them back, or at least their remains. The principle to bury your dead people properly, as far as I know, is reinforced in Judaism (though, frankly, I wonder how some Jews still think that God exists and is worth believing in).
If Israel had stood tall and firmly refused any deal with the hostage-takers, it would have been a very painful decision. But the strategy formulated by F. Kagan as "“Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here” is a road to Hell.
Let's repeat: Rewarding any behaviour, in any way, will encourage and reinforce that behaviour. Rewarding kidnapping and murder means subscribing to more future kidnappings and murders. In fact, while the deal to get back the remains of Ehud and Eldad will surely provoke more attacks in the future, their fate was likely a product of other similar deals in the past. As Kuntar's Wikipedia article reports, several years after his sentencing, "the Palestinian Liberation Front seized the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, demanding that Israel release Kuntar, along with 50 other Palestinian prisoners, though Kuntar was the only prisoner specifically named. The hijackers killed a wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer during this raid and had his body and wheelchair thrown overboard. In 2003, Israel agreed to release around 400 prisoners in exchange for businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers held by Hezbollah since 2000. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah refused to accept the deal unless it included Samir Kuntar... Israel then agreed to release Samir Kuntar on condition that Hezbollah provided "solid evidence" as to the fate of Ron Arad, an air force navigator missing in Lebanon since 1986... Inspired by the prisoner swap, Hamas vowed, a few days later, that they would also abduct Israeli soldiers to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners. Hassan Nasrallah simultaneously told his supporters that Hezbollah would continue to kidnap Israelis until "not a single prisoner" remained inside Israeli jails."
So the future is now and if Israelis want more from it, they must stop rewarding their enemies. Especially if bodies are all that the enemies will give in return.

Lebanese greet child murderer as hero

Left: Danny Haran and his daughters, Einat and Yael, one week before their death. Right: the murderer Samir Kuntar. Source: CAMERA.
The genocidal and evil nature of Islamism is most evident when non-Muslim children are deliberately murdered by Islamists. The best known act of this kind is of course the 2004 Beslan school massacre, but there are many others, targeting mostly Israeli Jewish children. Let's remember the 2001 Tel Aviv Dolphinarium disco bombing, the 2002 Petah Tikva ice cream parlour bombing, the 2002 kubbutz Metzer shooting of two brothers (aged 4 and 5) and their mother and the numerous attacks against Israeli school buses, one dating as early as 1970.
In 1979, a group of four Palestinian militants led by Samir Kuntar (Kantar, then 16) "entered Israel from Lebanon by boat... They arrived at the coastal town of Nahariya. The four killed a policeman who came across them... (Two of them) broke into the apartment of the Haran family... They took 31 year-old Danny Haran hostage along with his four year-old daughter, Einat. The mother, Smadar Haran, was able to hide... with her two year-old daughter Yael... Israeli witnesses claim Kuntar's group took Danny and Einat down to the beach, where a shootout with Israeli policemen and soldiers erupted. Kuntar shot Danny at close range in the back, in front of his daughter, and drowned him in the sea to ensure he was dead. Next, he smashed the head of 4 year-old Einat on beach rocks and crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle... Kuntar denied killing the 4-year-old and said she was killed in the shootout... Kuntar asserted in court testimony, only published in 2008, that Israeli gunfire had killed Mr. Haran... and that he did not see what happened to Mr. Haran’s daughter... Smadar Haran... accidentally suffocated Yael to death while attempting to quiet her whimpering, which would have revealed their hideout" (source: Wikipedia).
Despite Kuntar's denial, his rifle butt was shown to have traces of Einat's brain tissue (source: CAMERA). He received five life sentences.
When in 2006 Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers , Mideast people believed from day 1 that the idea was to exchange them for Kuntar (source: e.g. Sandmonkey).
On July 16, the deal was done. The Israelis received from Hezbollah the two kidnap victims - in coffins, and delivered Kuntar - in good shape, together with four Hezbollah combatants captured during the 2006 war. The five militants "got a hero's welcome from tens of thousands of cheering Hezbollah supporters and kisses from the U.S.-backed prime minister... "Your return is a new victory," President Michel Suleiman told the freed men as he stood in combat fatigues supplied by Hezbollah" (source: Sam Ghattas from AP, via Yahoo! News).
Though common sense tells us that there must be something wrong in a culture that continuously produces genocidal murderers, you cannot automatically blame any community for the deeds of its members. You first have to show that the actions of these individuals find strong popular support. And here we have a problem with Arab societies: because free speech and other attributes of democracy are in short supply, it is difficult to find how people not belonging to the ruling gang feel and think. However, Lebanon is believed to be as close to democracy as it goes in the Arab world; and I find it unlikely that participants in the welcome rally were forced to attend it, except perhaps some women and children brought there by the heads of their families. So we have a rare opportunity to observe first-hand the Lebanese "street", i.e. public opinion. And what does our poll show? A child murderer is greeted by tens of thousands and condemned by an occasional anonymous blogger.
What is civilization? Thinking of the above described events, I am coming to the following ad hoc definition: Civilization is a frame of thinking that doesn't allow its members, under any circumstances, to regard the terms "child murderer" and "hero" as synonyms. Plus the economical, technological and military power needed to preserve this frame. Arabs are of course unhappy when other people regard them as uncivilized, but I wonder, how many of them are ready to pay the price for being civilized?
One of the oldest and most popular tools of peace propaganda is to assert that we needn't be hostile to our enemies because they are human like us. They love their children, too, sing lullabies to them as we do. One needs some courage and cynicism to ask, "Well, they may love their children, but does this guarantee that they will love, or even tolerate, our children? As if in reply, a Palestinian failed suicide bomber said, "I don't have anything against Israeli children, but I know there is a possibility that this Israeli child will grow up and come to kill my son or my neighbor's son. Therefore, I think he should be dead now."
Our enemies are human indeed, but if we remove the fragile frame of civilization, what does remain from the human? A Darwinian creature who will happily kill other people's children to make more space for his own progeny.