Europe’s ‘Migration Crisis’ : Repression with a human face

 

Many years ago Franco Solinas, the scriptwriter for Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers, was asked by an interviewer why the French colonel Mathieu – a pragmatic exponent of torture –  was portrayed as ‘ too much of a gentleman in fatigues, excessively noble.  He is elegant, cultured….’  Solinas replied that ‘ There is no intention to create nobility.  Mathieu is elegant and cultured because Western civilization is neither inelegant nor stupid.’

I’ve often found myself thinking of Solinas’ s observation, while watching the way that European politicians have responded to the continent’s ‘migration crisis’ during the last weeks.  Listening to these politicians one would easily be forgiven for thinking that European governments mulling over the crisis are motivated  by nothing more than the noblest humanitarian principles.

Last week I  watched the French prefect Fabienne Buccio and other officials justifying the demolition of the Calais ‘jungle’ as ‘the most humane option’.  Buccio was photographed, looking earnest and concerned, as police demolished the shacks and tents that have gone up since the summer.  On Channel 4 News I watched the French ambassador to the UK similarly describing the demolitions as a humane act intended to improve the living conditions of the migrants stranded there.

Similarly humanitarian arguments have been put forward again and again by European politicians to justify actions that often have a very different purpose.  But while politicians talk of destroying smugglers’ ‘ business models’, saving lives and preventing dangerous journeys, the unstated objective of the European Union and most of its member states remains the same as it has always been: to prevent people from coming to Europe by an unacknowledged policy of deterrence and repression.

In recent weeks, this policy of repression has intensified up and down Europe’s borders, as men, women and even children have been teargassed and attacked by police, in migration ‘hot spots’ up and down the continent’s frontiers.    Consider the list of requests for border protection equiptment from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to a meeting attended by Austria and a group of nine Balkan states on 24 February to discuss how to close the ‘Western Balkan’ route for undocumented migrants.

The list was leaked by the excellent  EurActiv website, and its requests give an indication of Macedonia’s priorities – and those of the states to whom the requests were sent.  In addition to engineering equipment to build a 300 kilometer security fence and a 400 person capacity camp, vehicles, and expenses to cover the ‘technical capability of an army’,  its demands for ‘equipment for crowd control’ include

  • Crowd control dispenser
  • OS spray (pepper spray)
  • “TASER” X26 – an electrical device
  • Weapon with rubber bullets
  • Special bomb (shock, with rubber balls)
  • Acoustic device to break the mob
  • Launcher (grenade with rubber balls)

According to EurActiv, the only objection from the states that received these requests was that this equipment  might be used for ‘internal repression’ in the lead-up to Macedonia’s snap elections in June.  ‘External’  repression, against migrants and refugees, it seems, is not a problem.

There is a grim logic to these developments.  For years, Europe’s policy of deterrence has been based on the belief that the worst things get for migrants, the more likely they are to stop coming.   The events of the last 12 months have made it glaringly obvious that this is not happening.  In these circumstances, Europe must either reconsider this policy and consider more humane solutions – or escalate the level of deterrence still further.

Despite the brief shift towards the former by Germany and other states last summer, Europe as a whole has remained firmly committed to deterrence, and last night’s breakthrough deal with Turkey is no exception.   Europe now proposes to send all refugees back to Turkey, and it has even sent NATO to the Aegean to make sure that this happens.

In effect, the EU has bribed Turkey – a country with a population of 75 million people – to take primary responsibility for absorbing the refugees that Europe – a continent with a population of 500 million – regards as a ‘crisis.’  Not only will Turkey accept all refugees ‘readmitted’ from Europe, but it will also take on responsibility for ‘readmitting’ them to their countries of origin.

To achieve this, the EU has empowered the gangster government of Recep Tayib Erdogan to take on the role once played by Colonel Gaddafi, and turn Turkey into a migrant holding ground and dumping ground for Europe’s unwanted refugees, even as Erdogan’s government is engaged in a reckless and headlong assault on Turkishcivil society and democracy.  No wonder Erdogan’s crony Ahmet  DavutoÄŸlu can’t stop smiling – you can’t blame him really.

This sleazy deal should be shameful and disgraceful, but Europe’s leaders, it seems, no longer feel any shame when it comes to migration.  They no longer appear willing even to uphold the principles on which the European Union was founded.  The treatment of refugees in Idomeni, Calais, Dunkerque and so many other places suggests that they are no longer even concerned to uphold elementary principles of civilized behaviour.

But even as they depart from these standards in practice, European governments continue to proclaim their commitment to refugee protection in principle.  So no one should be surprised to hear Donald Tusk, Cameron and others, boasting that they have ‘solved’ the migration crisis, even as Europe’s governments squirt migrants with tear gas and ask for tasers and rubber bullets.

Because no matter how thin and threadbare Europe’s civilized mask becomes, there will always be politicians who will never stop wearing it, and who, like Colonel Mathieu, remain ‘elegant and cultured’ even as they oversee the ongoing barbarity taking place at Europe’s borders .

 

Erdogan’s Massacre

Terrorist atrocities tend to provoke a predictable stock response from politicians and governments. Invariably there is a great deal of sonorous rhetoric, accompanied by exhortations  to the population to stand firm and show unity in the face of the universal evil of ‘terrorism’.   Nearly always there is a lot of use of the first person plural, as in ‘we’ will never will never give in, ‘we’ never surrender, ‘we’ will stand firm against attempts to divide us etc, etc.

Rarely is there any attempt to understand or analyse the very specific and contingent motives, strategy or political  context that may behind even the most vicious acts of violence, let admit to any suggestion whatsoever that the actions of the government or the state may in some cases have a bearing on why such acts took place.

All this has become so predictable, so stale and banal that it is not surprising that the politicians who make such pronouncements sound as though they are reading from a script.  But rarely as this post-atrocity rhetoric sounded more hollow and meaningless than it has coming from the mouths of Turkish PM Recep Erdogan and his ministers in response to the savage and disgusting massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Ankara on Saturday that has so far killed 98 people and wounded more than 500.

We don’t know – and we may never know – the perpetrators of what is a crime against Turkish democracy and a crime against humanity.  It might have been  the dregs of some Turkish fascist organization like the Grey Wolves or a more recent ‘nationalist’ anti-Kurdish group. It might have been  ISIS/Daesh, acting on its own behest or as an instrument of some false flag operation directed by the Turkish ‘deep state’.

What we do know is that the response of the Turkish government has been manipulative, tricksy, deeply dishonest, cynical and deeply suspicious – pretty much everything you might expect from the Erdogan administration in fact.  Erdogan’s ministers have blamed ISIS, but they have also blamed the demonstrators themselves.  One minister called the demonstrators ‘provocateurs.’   Naturally the government has blamed ‘foreign intelligence services’ – an obvious reference to Syria suggesting that Erdogan may even use the massacre to further its Syrian ‘regime change’ program.

The government also had the gall to suggest that the perpetrators might be Kurds or members of the ‘far-left’ or Erdogan’s main political rivals, the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP).   Why would Kurds or the ‘far-left’ kill leftwing Kurdish demonstrators calling for an end to the new war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)? Why would the PKK blow up a demonstration calling for peace when it has just called a unilateral ceasefire?

No reason really, at least none that makes any sense.  Erdogan’s cronies have suggested that the HDP might have done it in order to present themselves as victims – a grossly cynical bizarre statement of the type that  Erdogan and his ministers are only too prone to making.

It makes far more sense for supporters of that war to attack people calling for an end to it, and some of these supporters are also supporters of the government that has wanted this war and deliberately provoked it.   It makes more sense to attack a demonstration attended by many members of the  Peoples’ Democratic Party( HDP), the main threat to the hegemony of Erdogan’s ruling AKP.

All this certainly raises the question that the state played a role in facilitating the massacre and allowing it to happen.    Some demonstrators have raised the question why there were no security checks going into the square at Ankara, even though there usually are.  The Turkish police did act after the massacre however – to stop ambulances entering the square and pepper spraying people who were trying to call ambulances in.

The police also teargassed members of the HDP who attempted to lay carnations at the scene of the massacre.   The Turkish Ministry of Health has even denied there is a blood shortage in Ankara hospitals, even though survivors, relatives and health officials have been issuing calls for donations through social media.

And still this gangster-prime minister has the temerity to reach into terrorspeak and describe this ‘heinous’ attack as an attack on ‘our unity and our country’s peace.’

All of which is true.  There is no doubt that whoever did this wants civil war and civil strife in Turkey.   But Erdogan’s condemnation from a government that has done so much to promote both these things, not only inside Turkey but outside it, and that as late as last year was prepared to let Kobane fall to ISIS rather than allow the Kurds to save it.

In the face of this awful tragedy, it can only be hoped that Turkish civil society responds in the same way that the Spanish did when their government attempted to manipulate the Madrid train bombings to its own advantage.  Because whether Erdogan’s government was responsible for the Ankara massacre, or whether it has merely tried to use it to its own advantage, it has demonstrated once again that it does not deserve to govern, and that if it does, it will only take Turkey even further down  the dark road that Erdogan the would-be sultan has already set out on.

 

Turkey’s ‘terrorist’ journalists

I’ve got a lot of respect for Vice News.  Its reporting is sharp, courageous, and provocative. It is fresh and youthful, hip without being gormlessly cool, with a no-bullshit-accepted attitude towards authority reminiscent of the best of the  60s and 70s underground press.   But even if I had no respect for it all however, I would have nothing but contempt for the  bizarre and  laughable decision of the Turkish authorities to charge Vice journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury on charges of ‘engaging in terrorist activity’ on behalf of Daesh/Islamic State.

This decision is laughable only for its grotesque absurdity. Few governments have done more to facilitate the rise of Daesh than the conspirators in Recep Erdogan’s gangster-like Turkish ‘Deep State.’    But Turkey is one of those many authoritarian governments with which we have become so depressingly familiar with in recent years, that is willing to use even the most ridiculous and tendentious definitions of  ‘terrorism’ to shut down individuals and organizations that it doesn’t like.

The real reason for the arrests of the two Vice journalists appears to be the fact that they were filming clashes between Turkish police and supporters of the PKK – an organization that the Turkish government also regards as terrorist.  Faced with Kurdish successes against Islamic State in Syria, Turkey has begun to reopen the war against the PKK – and appears to have done a carte blanche to do so by the US in exchange for lukewarm Turkish participation in the war against Islamic State.

Everything that Erdogan does suggests that he is far more concerned with suppressing the Kurds than he is with taking on Islamic State – or allowing Syrian Kurds to do so.  For this reason Turkey clearly didn’t want two Western journalists roaming round Diyarbakir investigating its treatment of the Kurds.   This February,    a prosecutor in Diyarbakır indicted Dutch freelance journalist and blogger Fréderike Geerdink  for ‘making propaganda’ for the (PKK) and Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) via social media.

Now the Turkish authorities have embarrassed themselves with these nonsensical charges. Of course state repression in Turkey isn’t limited to Western journalists; Turkish journalists have also been subject to Erdogan’s authoritarian drift in recent years.   But like the Egyptian government’s equally absurd prosecutions of Al-Jazeera journalists that were upheld this week, Turkey’s willingness to arrest foreign journalists even at the risk of incurring negative publicity is an indication that isn’t really too bothered about its consequences in the outside world.

Like al-Sisi’s regime in Egypt, Turkey behaves like this because it wants to, and also because it can.   It is confident and arrogant enough to believe that on an official level at least, its allies are not going to change course because a few journalists are locked up, as long as it remains onside in the latest ‘war on terror.’

So I don’t expect the British government to raise much of a fuss about this, but the rest of us should, not only because the charges are so blatantly and ludicrously fake, but because Erdogan’s government is a sinister dictatorship-in-waiting that is prepared to plunge Turkey into a new round of war in order to remain in power, and it needs to be stopped before it does any more damage than it has done already.

 

 

 

Turkey’s False Flag

No matter how many countries are shattered, no matter how many times the consequences of ‘humanitarian interventions’ fail to live up to their expectations, nothing seems to shake the fairytale version of Western foreign policy that emanates from a broad spectrum of the mainstream media, from the centre-left to the right.

This week for example, the supposedly centre-left New Statesman has a horrendously militaristic front cover showing a slavering Russian bear embracing the world in its claws, with the headline ‘Time to Rearm?’     And The Observer has a hand-wringing article which seeks to discredit the ‘Blair doctrine’ of humanitarian intervention once again in Syria.

Both discussions reflect a fairytale narrative of Western foreign policy which includes the following essential components:

  •  The world is divided into good guys and bad guys.   The good guys consist of all Western governments and their allies, whether taken individually or collectively as members of the ‘international community’.   Like Don Quixote, these governments are out there in a perilous world,   perpetually slaying dragons, saving maidens in distress, and fighting injustice.
  • On the other side there are assorted dictatorships, authoritarian and undemocratic states, terrorists, jihadists, gangster states like Russia and ‘bad guys’ who are out there doing evil.
  • In this fairy tale world ‘we’ have no aggressive intentions. We do not engage in realpolitik.   We have no ulterior motives.     Our foreign policy is guided entirely by lofty moral principles.     We have no geostrategic or economic interests.   Energy resources and pipeline routes do not interest us.
  •  We do not and never would conspire to bring about ‘regime change’ or other political outcomes to suit our geopolitical interests, and nor do our allies, and anyone who says otherwise is guilty of ‘conspiracy theory.’   We do not engage in ‘terrorism’ and never ‘talk to terrorists’ or deal with states or organizations that do.   We are led by decent folk, who only want to do the decent thing.

From time to time evidence emerges to challenge these assumptions.   This week, for example, Turkey’s beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has been engaged in a futile and counterproductive attempt to prevent leaks about the corruption of his administration by banning Youtube and Twitter.

Despite these efforts, leaked Youtube posts have revealed what seems to be a recent conversation between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and a number of high-ranking officials earlier this year, discussing previous weapons shipments to Syrian rebels and the possibility of carrying out a faked an al-Qaeda attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, founder of the Ottoman Empire, in Syria, in order to just a military invasion with tanks and special forces.

The authenticity of the recording has not been verified, but nor have I heard any evidence to suggest that it is not authentic.     It is not clear when this conversation took place, but its participants included intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, army deputy chief of staff Yasar Guler, and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, and there is no doubt about their intentions.

Discussing the plan, Sinirlioglu says ‘We”re going to portray this is Al-Qaeda, there”s no distress there if it is a matter regarding Al-Qaeda. And if it comes to defending Suleiman Shah Tomb, that”s a matter of protecting our land.

To which Güler replies:

‘We don”t have any problems with that.’

And Prime Minister Erdogan also appears to be aware of the planning for this operation, according to this extract:

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Davetoglu:     Just between us, Prime Minister said that this (attacking the Tomb of Suleyman Sah) should also be considered as an opportunity in this conjuncture Hakan

Fidan: Sir, look, if the justification- we can- I can send four men to the other side, and make them fire 8 missiles to deserted territory. It is not a problem! Justification can be created.

[/stextbox]

Indeed it can, if the will is there, and with this lot it certainly is.   Faking such an incident is clearly so normal in their world that the morality of it doesn’t even emerge as an issue to be discussed.   The problem lies in its follow-up strategy and doability, according to Guler, who worries:

We cannot implement the decision, we are paralyzed for various reasons, this is our problem Mr. Minister. The apparatus of the state is not working’.

And then there are other protagonists to consider:

[stextbox id=”alert”]

Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu: Yes, we will pass on to that okay take it and I am coming. You cannot say to the US Secretary of State, “we need to take strong measures.”

Hakan Fidan: Well, sir, what I am saying is

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Then he will say, you did not even defend your own land. We had many friendly conversations, mostly with Kerry and he told me exactly this, did you decide to strike and …

Yaşar Güler: Sir, we did, we did a hundred times. With US…

[/stextbox]

Whether this means that Kerry was actually aware of these particular plans, or whether the US had more generally been pressuring Turkey to attack Syria is not made clear in the conversation.   In any case it suggests a very different way of conducting international relations to the one that appears in the mainstream   press.

You might expect the revelation that a key Nato member has been plotting to fake a terrorist attack to justify a war, with the possible collusion of the world’s greatest democracy to be at least worthy of further analysis and discussion.     But with the exception of Reuters, this leak has barely aroused any attention at all.

And why should it?     Because fairytales about knights and dragons may not be true, but as every child knows, they do leave you with a warm glowing feeling, don’t they?