Tuesday, March 15, 2016

From Bob's archive: When the LRB whitewashed Europe's shame over Bosnia

Continuing my posting from the dusty archives.

This one, from July 2008, was originally entitled "An Extraordinary Claim". It seems extremely relevant now for a few reasons. The "realist" foreign policy line which it describes, pursued in the 1990s by George Bush I and by John Major, has become the dominant foreign policy position against since 2008. With Bush II and Blair having toxified interventionism's brand, Both Obama and Cameron (despite the latter's occasional empty Churchillian rhetoric) have largely pursued "a policy of disapproval" in relation to Syria, the great moral change of our time. Sadly, Samantha Power, to whom this post owes a lot, has played a part in running PR for our tolerance of atrocity. Most recently, David Owen, one of the most awful practitioners of a do-nothing "policy of disapproval", has popped into the UK's Brexit debate to say that the EU is responsible for Russia's aggression in Ukraine and that we should let Russia get on with it in their sphere of influence. Anyway, here we are:


I read slowly. I subscribe to the London Review of Books. I'm currently reading the 10 April edition. On the bus this morning, I was reading a review by Henry Siegman of two books about the Israeli settlements in the Occupied lands. The review is a sharp indictment of the settlement movement, and the wider Occupation policies of the Israeli state.

About half-way through came this extraordinary claim:
the driving force behind the settlements is a small religious-nationalist group, whose members are widely considered the most savvy, well connected and effective political operators in Israel. Their ideology combines an intense form of religious messianism with an extreme nationalism that has far more in common with the religious and ethnocentric nationalism of the Serbian Orthodox militias of Mladic and Karadzic than with any Jewish values I am familiar with. That Sharon and some of his settler friends were virtually the only politicians in the West (other than Serbia’s Slavic supporters) who opposed military measures to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo was not an accident.
As a lifelong opponent of Ariel Sharon and even more so of the religious-national movement with which he has sometimes been uneasily allied, I have no wish to defend him. But this seems to me an example of an anti-Zionist so deeply enmeshed in hostility towards Israel's leaders that any criticism will stick.

Let's take a look, in this week when arch-cleanser Radovan Karadžić has finally been arrested, at Serbian ethnic cleansing. First, Bosnia, where ethnic cleansing took place mainly between 1992 and 1995 (that is, more or less exactly coinciding with the Rabin years in Israel, when Sharon was in the political wilderness). The first significant action by "politicians in the West" took place as war clouds gathered: the 1991 arms embargo, which was a great boost to the Serbian forces who had inherited most of the Yugoslav national army's arsenal, and a great threat to the future victims of ethnic cleansing, who were unable to defend themselves and thus left, essentially, at the mercy of "politicians in the West". Politicians in the West then stood by during the Foča massacre and the Prijedor massacre. When, finally, UN troops were committed: to defend the international airport. The rest of the story is essentially the story of Western politicians' utter inactivity: a refusal to name what was happening as genocide in order to avoid the legal and moral responsibility to act, and literally standing by while massacre after massacre occurred.

What was the position then of Western politicians? Some Western politicians, like Bob Dole, called for action. The majority of the Bush I clique American politicians, epitomised by James Baker, Lawrence Eagleberger, Dick Cheney, Brent Snowcroft and Colin Powell, opted for a "realist" response: doing nothing, shifting responsibility to Europe. Samantha Power has dubbed the Bush policy as a policy of disapproval: disapprove, but do nothing. In Baker's memorable words, America "did not have a dog in this fight".

Bill Clinton, who won the Democratic Party nomination for president during the period of ethnic cleansing, called for action. It was only after his election at the end of '92 that intervention became politically possible. But despite some American politicians (notably Dole, Frank McCloskey, Al Gore and Joe Biden, as well as Madeline Albright), calling for action to finally be taken, the majority of Republicans and Democrats denounced them as war-mongers.

Thirteen months into the war, well over a hundred thousand Bosnians massacred, Clinton finally sent Carter-era hack Warren Christopher to Europe to persuade the Europeans not to actually act but to lift the arms embargo so the victims of cleansing could defend themselves. He came back having changed his mind, and the Bush I policy of disapproval and inactivity continued for months, a continuity signalled by Colin Powell remaining in post. Warren Christopher even claimed the Muslims were themselves responsible for their own genocide. The official line was: this is a tragic civil war, there's nothing we can do.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the David Owen led European diplomatic initiative was signally ineffective. The UN came up with a tepid "safe areas" plan over a year into the slaughter (de facto accepting genocide outside the safe areas), but failed to send anywhere enough troops to defend them. France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark were the only European countries to actively support this. Mitterand, under pressure from both left and right-wing politicians to act more decisively, accepted a minimal UN presence. Only when Chirac took over in 1995 did France take a more robust position. Italy opposed intervention from the start. Greece not only opposed intervention but supported Milosovic. Helmut Kohl, to the intense irritation of Major and Mitterand, took a stronger line - but Germany's official military neutrality stopped it from actually committing troops.

What was Britain's position? Under John Major and Douglas Hurd, Britain took an even more anti-interventionist "realist" position than Bush I. As Melanie McDonagh put it in 2001:
In the Bosnian war, Britain supported Milosevic. It dealt with him as a peace broker - from the start, it had set its face against the idea that the Bosnian government should be supported in fighting to prevent the dismemberment of its territory. And by maintaining the arms embargo, Britain consolidated the weakness of the Bosnian army vis-a-vis the Serbs. Indeed, as a forthcoming book by the Cambridge academic Brendan Simms makes clear, Britain was decidedly lukewarm about the establishment of the international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, lest it make Milosevic that bit less likely to strike a deal.
Or, as Ed Vulliamy, a witness to genocide, has written:
It was David Owen whose endless, futile maps and plans bought the Serbs time and which seem so grimly absurd with hindsight. The enduring image of the bungled history of Unprofor will be of General Michael Rose supping on suckling pig with the butcher Ratko Mladic. 
It was the British who objected to food-drops over Srebrenica, lest the Serbs see them as the thin end of the wedge of air strikes. But: 'The Bosnian Serbs need to realise they are not going to gain what they have grabbed by force,' proclaimed Major's Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in May 1993. And yet Hurd was the leading critic of any attempt to check the Serbs by military means. At his side, always, was Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
It took the Srebrenica Massacre and the shame of the failure to stop the Rwandan genocide before the West finally actually intervened in August 1995, with a bombing campaign that halted the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia within weeks.

So, so much for Israeli exceptionalism.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From Bob's archive: Brass

Continuing my postings from the archive with another music post from June 2008. The mp3 links seem to still work, to my surprise, although now you have to register to hear them, so I've added in alternate links and where possible YouTubes. I haven't checked all the other links - I suspect they're mostly dead. 


Acid Brass "What Time Is Love?" Version K (mp3) 7 MB
I'm not sure if I've blogged about Acid Brass before, the brainchild of Jeremy Deller, my second favourite contemporary artist, which married together the two quintessential working class arts of the British Northwest, acid house music and the colliery-style brass band (the latter as featured in the lovely movie Brassed Off, which I will blog about some day). Here, Stockport's Williams Fairey Band (a factory band rather than a colliery band), take "What Time is Love" by neo-situationist house pranksters the KLF - a song whose wikipedia page rates as a classic of citizen scholarship. Blog links: Music Like DirtcyberinsektcubikmusikBuy Acid Brass.
Goran Bregovic "Get The Money"(mp3 4 MB/Youtube)
To me, Acid Brass sounds kind of Balkan. Balkan artist Goran Bregovic has featured heavily in the weird films of Emir Kustirica. Sarajevo-born, he is probably one of the former Yugoslavia's biggest exports. Although I prefer him when he tones it down a bit, in "Get the Money", Bregovic brings a kind of punk/ska sensibility, and a hint of Lionel Bart, to the proceedings. The first version of this song was for the Kusturica film Arizona Dreams, and featured the vocals of Iggy Pop. Bregovic did a version without Iggy for the albums Songbook and P.S., but this comes from his Greatest Hits, and I assume that's Goran singing and not Iggy, but am willing to stand corrected! Buy any of these.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band "Ain't nothin but a party" (mp3) 9 MB
Rebirth Brass Band "Do Whatcha Wanna" Part 3 (mp3) 5 MB
New Orleans deep and dirty brass band funk. Dirty Dozen "Ain't Nothin'" from Medicated Magic 2002 (buy). "Do Whatcha" fromMardi Gras Party 1991 (buy). Blog links: Lil Mike 12 and 3Mainstream Isn't...Funkjester.

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra "Indictment" (mp3) 11 MB
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra "I.C.E." (mp3) 16 MB
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra "Si, Se Puede" (mp3) 14 MB
Super intense political pop in the tradition of Fela Kuti, Manu Chao or Ozomatli. Antibalas come from Brooklyn. Lots of their live music is available at the amazing Archive.org. Blog link: Swan Fungus.


MarchFourth Marching Band "Crackhaus" (mp3) 3 MB
MarchFourth Marching Band "YiddishBlues" (mp3) 6 MB
Like Antibalas, MarchFourth (website/myspace), from Portland, Oregan, are heavily influenced by Fela and the Rebirth Brass Band, but these two tracks highlight their more Balkan/Jewish side. "Yiddish Blues" is a 1919 composition of Lieutenant Joseph Frankel, also recorded by early klez-revivalists Klezmer Conservatory Band (featuring Don Byron) and more recently the CzechPrague Klezmerim, the fantastic Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and a German band actually called Yiddish Blues (mp3 of their version). The Frankel song is important and interesting because he came from Kiev, where he was classically trained, and then wound up involved in theatre music in New York. According to Mark Slobin, the song takes "the Mi Shebeyrekh cantorial mode" ["May he who blessed" - a healing prayer] and combines it with a ragtime rhythm, illustrating the crossover between urban immigrant Jewish music and the "Oriental foxtrot" genre dance bands were playing then, and which black bands like Duke Ellington's and Fats Waller's would develop more ambitiously later. Blog links: Guess I'm FloatingSoundRootsBuy.

Mariachi Brass featuring Chet Baker "These Boots are Made for Walking" (mp3) 7 MB
1966. Lee Hazlewood's "These Boots..." was a hit for his muse Nancy Sinatra. According to Wikipedia, along with Chet's version, many other versions came out the same year: Hazlewood's own version, The New Christy Minstrels on the album New Kick!Mrs. Milleron the Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits, Jane Morgan on the Fresh Flavor and The Supremes on Supremes A' Go-Go. But the Chet Baker version, produced by the great Jack Nitzche, surely stands head and shoulders over most of these. The idea, obviously, was to replicate the commercial success of "musical mensch" Herb Alpert. Unbelievably, Chet churned out no fewer than four albums of this stuff. Info: Ace, and the Chet Baker Tribute site. Blog links: WFMU (also check out Al Tijuana & His Jewish Brass - DowntownThe Yellow Rose Of TexasNever On SundayTsena, Tsena, etc etc), Lil Mike, and Lil Mike again.

Slobodan Salijevic "A Moj Babi" (mp3) 3 MB
I think I must have taken this from SoundRoots, from where I get all the information I know about Salijevic, a Gypsy musician from Prekodolce in Serbia (a town lacking a wikipedia page if there are any Balkan experts out there). Anyway, I thought it followed on well from the Chet Baker/Mariachi brass music, as the band has a nice bittersweet, kitschy feel ot it, above which the lead (presumably Salijevic) soars in a slightly Chet Baker-ish way. Buy Slobodan Salijevic.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw "Ihabibi" (mp3) 6 MB
A Hawk and a Hacksaw are a hipster faux-Balkan band from New Mexico. I disapprove of bands starting their names with the indefinate article, but there you go, at least they're not called something like "Architecture in Helsinki", "Radio 4" or "British Seapower", names of which I very strongly disapprove. I also mildly disapprove of the fact they did the soundtrack for the Slavoj Zizek documentary. On the other hand, I strongly approve of the fact they feature Willie "The Lion" Smith's "Echoes of Spring" on their website. Smith was a black and Jewish god of pre-war jazz. "Echoes of Spring" echoes the European romantic movement's interest in the folk musics of Eastern and Central Europe (thus influencing Duke Ellington's later work in this tradition) and as such has a kinship with klezmer and Balkan music. Anyway, "Ihabibi" is from AHAAH's 2007 collaboration with Budapest's The Hun Hangár Ensemble and sounds, to me, quite klezmerish, like a Romanian doyna.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

From Bob's archive: Against rockism

Apologies (in the unlikely event that you're bothered) for the lack of posting. I'll post a couple more oldies to fill the void. This one is from May 2008, and ever so slightly re-written to tighten the argument (although argument is probably too grand a term for a throwaway gripe). One observation: in 2008 working at home was a way of avoiding the internet and telephone, which is so not true eight years on. 


Today, taking advantage of the glorious London weather, I worked from home, sitting in my garden. (I had a piece of work to do that required concentration, away from the distraction of the internet and telephone.) Unfortunately, however, the evil rentier property magnates who own the freehold of the house next door to me have decided to turn the tiny garage at the end of their 20 foot garden into a two-floor “luxury townhouse”, conveniently blocking out half the light that reaches my small garden. So, today, the builders (one of whom is appropriately called Bob) were there. Although likeable blokes, they played Virgin radio.

Virgin radio, originally part of the Richard Branson empire (but now, I think, owned by Chris Evan's Ginger Media, or the conglomerate that now owns that), was, I believe the second national commercial radio station in the UK, arriving fairly early in the period when FM radio gained dominance over LW/MW. For those of you lucky enough never to heard, it was the UK pioneer of the format broadly known as Adult Oriented Rock. My hatred of Virgin stems from my years as a warehouse worker, when Virgin tended to be the least hated station amongst the workforce, and hence the default choice of station. (I would do my best to sneak it on to BBC London, then known as GLR.)

Subjected to it all day today, it brought back the suffering, one of the factors, I think, which motivated me to switch to a white collar profession, a choice vindicated in the age of the mp3, when I can now work to the accompaniment of whatever I want to listen to.

Virgin features all of the bands I hate: U2, Brian Adams, REM, Oasis, David Gray, Counting Crows, Alanis Morissette, Coldplay, Radiohead, INXS. The artistes (is that the right word?) on the playlist today were, without exception, white. Most were male. There are earnest hoarse-voiced troubadours, swaggering long-haired types, lots of sweat and leather and testosterone, “classic” tracks that bring back bad memories, “new” hits that are recycled versions of the old ones. The only moments of respite were a couple of lite-metal songs (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Bon Jovi) which at least have a sense of irony and fun (or am I imagining that?)... and a couple of lovely pop songs during the “eighties hour” (ABC “When Smokey Sings”, something by Madness).

When ABC came on, it came into focus what is wrong with Virgin FM: rockism. Pop music aspires to nothing other than providing the soundtrack for having fun, dancing and falling in love; rockism thinks rock is above the trivialities of pop, thinks it is more serious, more “adult”. Rockism thinks rock is more “authentic” (epitomised by rock’s preference for “real” (i.e. electric) instruments over electronic sounds). Hence rockism’s masculinism: rockism thinks pop is only good for girls.

Pop, though - in its honesty, in the universality of the affects it evokes and provokes - actually reaches a poetry that rock rarely manages. Compare “When Smokey Sings” to Virgin FM staple “Isn’t it Ironic”. The former describes, with utmost simplicity, what it is like to listen to a beautiful pop song. The latter claims to be pondering seriously on deep metaphysical issues. Which one is actually the more profound?