Canada Slim and the Coming of the Fall

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 October 2017

There are some things that I don´t enjoy about working at Starbucks: shift work, impolite customers, how horribly messy the customers can be, how terrible things can become when things get insanely busy, especially with the arrival of autumn and the annual St. Gallen OLMA fair on now.

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No job is perfect.

As well, no person is perfect at their job 100% of the time.

I´m certainly not.

But to justify supporting an employee, standards are set that he/she must meet.

From the bottom rung of humble baristas, such as myself, to shift managers, to store managers, to district managers, all the way to corporate HQ in faroff Seattle.

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Above: Starbucks Corporation Headquarters, Seattle, Washington, USA

The job is defined, standards are set, and, hopefully, those hired by the company will do their jobs by the set standards.

If one doesn´t do his/her job as he/she should, then it is no great surprise to find that person asked to leave the position.

Politics shouldn´t be that far removed from business practices.

National leaders have their jobs defined, by either constitutions or by, the basest standard of measurement, the welfare of those for whom he/she has been entrusted responsibility.

Standards are set, either through comparisons with other current counterparts in a similar position of power or through comparisons with those who previously held the position.

Depending on the system of government by which a nation is administered, an unsuitable leader is forced to relinquish power if he/she is not following the constitution by which the country defines itself or if the welfare of the people has become so unpleasant that legal or even violent methods are sought to force the leader out.

Which brings me to the topic of two leaders, a century and an ocean apart….

In America there are three ways to end a presidency: vote him out of office in the following election, impeachment, and assassination.

Flag of the United States

Assassination is usually a bad idea, for it creates a martyrdom of that presidency.

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Above: The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, Ford Theater, Washington DC, 14 April 1865

Election is the normal course, if the dislike of a particular president is less a consequence of wrongdoing the president has done as it is a preference for a different candidate, then folks will willingly, albeit begrudgingly, wait until the customary time for re-election is due and then not return the president to power.

Impeachment is reserved for times when the President has already proven himself unsuitable for the position based on the dual standards of the rules set out by the US Constitution and by the intolerable welfare of the American populace.

At present, the United States is administered by Donald John Trump, a man uniquely unsuitable for the position of President.

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Above: Donald John Trump, 45th US President since 2016

At present, his popularity wavers in the low 30s percentage mark.

So, is there a case for impeachment?

“Impeachment will proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust, and they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” (Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist)

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Above: Alexander Hamilton (1755 – 1804)

“History is not geometry and historical parallels are never exact, yet a president who seems to have learned nothing from history is abusing and violating the public trust and setting the stage for a myriad of impeachable offenses that could get him removed from office.” (Allan J. Lichtman, The Case for Impeachment)

The Case for Impeachment - Allan J. Lichtman

What follows is an abridgement of Lichtman´s excellent abovementioned book….

The President is the nation´s chief executive and commander in chief of its armed forces, but herein lies the danger that a President might pervert his administration into a scheme of oppression, or betray his public trust to foreign powers.

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To keep a rogue president in check, power in America is shared by three independent branches of government, but a determined President can crash through these barriers.

Above: The political system of the United States

So, impeachment exists as the final solution to remove an unsuitable President before an election or before his/her term is due to end.

“The genius of impeachment is that it could punish the man without punishing the office.” (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.)

The impeachment of a President is rare.

America has seen the impeachment of only two Presidents: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

Both were acquitted after impeachment by the Senate.

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Above: Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), 17th US President (1865-1869)

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Above: William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd US President (1993 – 2001)

Richard Nixon avoided impeachment by resigning.

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Above: Richard Nixon (1913-1994), 37th US President (1969-1974)

One in fourteen US Presidents has faced the possibility of impeachment.

Trump has broken all the rules.

He has stretched presidential authority nearly to the breaking point, appointed cabinet officials dedicated to destroying the institutions they are assigned to run, and has pushed America toward legal, military and constitutional crisis.

No previous President has entered the Oval Office without a shred of public service or with as egregious a record of enriching himself at the expense of others.

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Trump´s penchant for lying, disregard for the law and conflicts of interest are lifelong habits that permeate his entire Presidency.

He has a history of mistreating women and covering up his misdeeds.

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Above: The Women´s March, the largest single day protest in US history, 21 January 2017

He commits crime against humanity by reversing the battle against catastrophic climate change.

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His dubious connections to Russia could open him up to a charge of treason.

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Above: The flag of Russia

There are standards of truthfulness that a President must uphold.

There is a line between public service and private gain.

A free press is needed for a democracy to function.

A country should be immune against foreign manipulation of its politics.

A President has a responsibility to protect his people and, where applicable, the world.

By all these standards, Donald J. Trump has failed as a President.

As I have previously stated in this blog, impeachment is only possible with the majority vote of the US House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republican Party whom Trump represents.

Seal of the U.S. House of Representatives

Only when Republicans themselves become convinced that Trump has committed high criminal offenses against the United States, that he imperils public safety and is unwell to occupy the Oval Office, then and only then will impeachment become a possibility.

Above: Logo of the US Republican Party

Trump could be convicted for illegal acts that occurred before he assumed office, for the Constitution specifies no time limit on any of its impeachable offenses: violation of the Fair Housing Act, the fraudulent charity Trump Foundation which is not legally registered, violation of the federal government´s strict embargo against spending any money for commercial purposes in Cuba, the fraudulent Trump University, and his exploitation of undocumented immigrants to build Trump Tower and in Trump Model Management.

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Above: Trump Tower, Trump Organization HQ, New York City

To guard against foreign leverage on a President, the Constitution has a provision known as the Emoluments Clause, which says that “no title of nobility will be granted by the United States, and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, with the consent of Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state.”

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Above: Page 1 of the original US Constitution (1787)

The Emoluments Clause prohibits all federal officials, including the President, from receiving anything of value from foreign governments and their agents.

The prohibition is absolute.

No amount is specified.

A quid pro quo is not required to trigger a violation.

The Trump Company has millions invested in the Philippines and Trump´s profits depend on the good faith of the Filipino agent in the United States.

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Above: The flag of the Philippines

The Trump Company has been granted a valuable trademark right for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry in China.

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Above: The flag of the People´s Republic of China

Which begs the question of whether there is a quid pro quo agreement between the President and China.

Besides China and the Philippines, there are more than twenty nations in which Trump has business connections.

Does Trump distinguish his economic interests from the interests of the United States?

Trump businesses are heavily laden with debts that give lenders leverage over the Presidency.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump owes more than a billion dollars to some 150 financial institutions.

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“The problem with any of this debt is if something goes wrong and there is a situation where the President is suddenly personally beholden or vulnerable to threats from the lenders.” (Trevor Potter)

Trump and his appointees make policy and regulatory decisions that affect these lenders.

Federal regulators have sanctioned one of Trump´s largest creditors, Deutsche Bank for fraud and the laundering of money from Russia.

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Above: Logo of Deutsche Bank

Trump also has debts in China.

“Trump´s election may usher in a world in which his stature as the US President, the status of his private ventures across the globe, and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined.” (Rosalind Helderman/Tim Hamburger)

Already, there is a lawsuit, brought by a bipartisan group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which accuses Trump of having violated the Emoluments Clause.

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Above: The White House

Trump´s domestic interests violates other federal laws.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act prevents members of Congress and other federal employees from reaping private economic benefits through access to nonpublic governmental information.

“If Trump continues to own his businesses and he uses insider information or information he has as President, then arguably it is a violation of the STOCK Act.” (Larry Noble)

The Act also applies to any nonpublic information that Trump provides family members.

Withholding his tax returns, Trump makes it difficult to distinguish between benefits flowing to him personally versus those flowing to members of his family.

Above: Page 1, Form 1040, US tax return form, 2005

Then there is the question of conflicts of interest.

Trump has been urged to sell his interests in all his properties, to liquidate his debts and to put his remaining assets in a blind trust, administered by a third party who would not report to the President or his family any details of financial transactions.

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Instead Trump handed over management of his enterprises to his children.

Trump retains all ownership and licensing rights to his enterprises and continually and personally profits from all his businesses.

The list of conflict-making presidential decisions cuts across virtually the entire range of national policies, including taxation, regulation, infrastructure spending, government contracts, trade, military operations, relations with foreign leaders, and so on.

A technical violation of the law is not necessary to trigger impeachment.

Any subordination of America´s national interests to Trump´s financial interests will suffice.

Donald Trump is a liar.

His lies have profited him in business, burnished his image, helped him fight thousands of lawsuits and won him the White House.

It is his reflex response to any challenge or opportunity.

Legally, Trump can lie while in office, but if he lies intentionally on a material matter in sworn testimony, that is a crime known as perjury.

Lying to Congress or to federal officials is also an impeachable offense.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that a President cannot be sued for his official duties, but is not otherwise immune from lawsuits involving unofficial conduct, whether before or after assuming office.

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If Trump is sued and forced to testify under oath and lies, this could lead directly to his impeachment.

If Trumps corrupts the government information upon which an informed citizenry depends, this is another avenue to impeachment in that his lies threaten national credibility and trust.

Is Donald Trump a traitor?

If it can be proven that there was some level of collusion between Trump or his agents and a foreign power to manipulate the results of an American election, then Trump could be charged with treason.

No one in Congress will tolerate a compromised or treasonous President.

Impeachment and trial will be quick and decisive.

Trump may be destined for impeachment for egregious abuses of power.

Through his travel bans, Trump has violated the letter and spirit of the Immigration Act, which rejects nationality quotas and states that no person can be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigration visa because of the person´s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence”.

The travel bans violate the First Amendment´s prohibition against “an establishment of religion”, which forbids any government to favour one religion over another.

The travel bans violate the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the government from depriving individuals of their “life, liberty or property, without due process of law”.

The Whistleblowers Protection Act protects the rights of federal employees to report misconduct, without retaliation or reprisals.

Some 1,000 professional American diplomats submitted a dissent memo declaring that Trump´s ban was discriminatory.

They were told that they “should either get with the program or they can go”.

Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she refused to defend his travel ban in court, because she believed, in good conscience, that the ban violated American law.

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Above: Sally Yates, US Attorney General (2017)

In drafting his travel ban, Trump did not consult with Congress or any pertinent committees.

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Instead Trump recruited staff members of the House Judiciary Committee to assist in drafting the executive order, without prior consultation with their bosses, imposing on them confidentiality agreements.

The unauthorised use of congressional staffers and the coercing upon them of gag orders, violates the separation of powers between the executive and Congress.

When Senior Federal District Court Judge James L. Robart issued an injunction halting implementation of Trump´s travel ban, Trump responded by waging war on the judiciary suggesting that the Courts will be to blame for any future terrorist attack upon US soil.

Trump´s dispargement of the Judiciary raises concerns that, in the event of another terrorist incident, Trump will blame the Courts and his political enemies as a pretext for taking total control under martial law.

To eliminate another check on his powers, Trump discredits any reporting that does not follow his propaganda line as “fake news” by the “very dishonest press”.

The White House has barred from press briefings selected outlets that have reported news critical of the administration.

Above: President George W. Bush unveiling the James Brady White House Press Briefing Room, 11 July 2007

He continues to threaten suppression of those news sources he disapproves of.

Even if President Trump does not brazenly violate the First Amendment through censorship, he can still be impeached for his war on the press as an abuse of presidential power.

Issues surrounding Trump´s temperament raise the question of whether he might be charged with “incapacity”.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides a means for removing a President for disabilities – not limited to the physical – that render him unable to fulfill the duties of office.

It is a procedure that has never been used to remove a President and requires the cooperation of the Vice President and the cabinet.

Should Trump challenge this declaration, then Congress must declare him incapable by at least a two-thirds vote.

Mental health professionals have already challenged Trump´s mental fitness to govern.

By the standard of ensuring that the citizenry under his control are provided for, Trump has again failed.

From his desire to remove millions of Americans from health coverage, to his unwillingness to ensure American safety from the overabundance of and lack of regulation of guns, to his provocation of North Korea in a game of nuclear roulette, to his reversal of needed climate change legislation and cooperation, to his unwilling reluctance to assist a devastated Puerto Rico, Trump has proven again and again of his unfitness to govern America.

 

Perhaps it is not a question of whether Trump will be impeached but more of a question of when?

 

A similar inevitable scenario existed in Russia a century ago….

To be fair, Tsar Nicholas II had powers that Trump could only dream of, but there are definite parallels that can be drawn between Nicholas and Trump and why these parallels led to the necessary abdication of Nicholas as Tsar of Russia.

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Above: Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918), Tsar (1894-1917)

The Russian Revolution did not come of the blue.

The dress rehearsal for the events of 1917 took place in 1905.

1904 had seen military defeat by the Japanese, starvation and discontent in the countryside, appaling living and working conditions in the cities, and the spread of socialist and democratic ideas among the intelligentsia.

These all came together on 9 January 1905, Bloody Sunday, when the Imperial Guard in St. Petersburg gunned down hundreds of unarmed demonstrators.

The result was a mortal blow to the credibility of Nicholas II and his regime.

Massive nationwide strikes and demonstrations forced the Tsar to accept the first-ever representative assembly in Russian history, the Duma.

This concession brought a few years of precarious stability.

The next few years saw a bitter tug of war between a Tsar, who was intent on maintaining his autocratic power, and a series of Dumas demanding economic and political reform.

With the abandonment of serious efforts at reform, rising social disorder and discontent was Russia´s entry into the First World War in 1914.

Russian society pulled together in the face of a common enemy.

Strikes stopped.

Agitators were jalied.

There were huge patriotic demonstrations.

But as the War dragged on, the resulting military humiliation and rising economic discontent, was the final nail in the coffin of the tsarist regime.

The War took Nicholas far away from Petrograd (the new, patriotic name for St. Petersburg) to command his troops.

(Like Trump, Nicholas thought himself to be a military leader.

He wasn´t.

Trump isn´t.)

Government was left in the hands of the capricious and incompetent Tsarina Alexandra.

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Above: Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), Tsarina (1894-1917)

The standing of the Tsar reached rock bottom, with even members of his own family plotting to remove him.

Rising popular discontent came to a head with bread riots in Petrograd.

After some attempts at suppression the army joined the rioters.

Nicholas was asked by the Duma to respond directly in Petrograd.

On his train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

Russia had only a provisional government sharing its powers with a workers´ soviet.

The temporary government needed the aura of authority through which to yield power, while the soviet knew its powers need not extend beyond the capital.

The people needed a legitimate sense that order would indeed be reestablished.

It was clear that Nicholas had long ago failed them, but, sheep need a shepherd, someone needed to lead and organise.

Nicholas needed to abdicate and someone needed to replace him.

Trump needs to be impeached and someone is needed to replace him.

Nicholas, like Trump a century later, had shown no willingness to accept advice, to grow in his role, to internalise criticism or to show restraint.

Nicholas, like Trump, lacked the protection of a wide popular mandate.

Both men fought to keep their power regardless of the damage wrecked on others.

Trump´s end has yet to be written.

What follows soon in this blog is how Nicholas´ chapter drew to a close and how an exile in Switzerland would seize the fall of a Tsar to grab ultimate power for himself.

Sources: Wikipedia / Allan J. Lichtman, The Case for Impeachment / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points in the Russian Revolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Bloodstained Ground

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 October 2017

I have returned, refreshed and revitalised, from a weekend away in Freiburg im Breisgau, in Germany´s Black Forest, ready to write.

Above: Freiburg City Hall

I had forgotten some of my own rules, some of my own motivations, for writing, which two of my best friends in Freiburg reminded me of.

(Thanks, Reggie and Miguel!)

The first rule was to be true to myself, to not write what I think is politically correct but to speak my mind.

The second rule was to remind myself constantly of the old adage that the only way for evil to triumph is when good men do nothing, that I have a responsibility to use my words to show others the dangers of remaining complacent to the world´s injustices and inequalities.

The third rule was to be constant, to keep on keeping on, to write as often as possible, to write as if I am being read by millions rather than dozens, to believe in my abilities to write, to one day become a published author of distinction.

Of recent weeks I have been writing if two major themes: my travels and the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution(s) of 1917.

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I believe the second of these two themes is extremely important and relevant these days, for how a society claims for itself democracy and how it can lose that democracy in the desire for order and security is not only a recounting of the events of the Russian Revolution, but is as well a reminder of how fragile democracy is and how quickly it can be lost, even in the most stable of democracies, even in this most modern of times.

When I last spoke of the Russian Revolution….

(See Canada Slim and the Dawn of Revolution of this blog.)

….I wrote of how the Tsarist government had failed the Russian people and how a group of dissatisfied angry women triggered the events that would eventually lead to the Tsar´s abdication.

Day One of what would be later known as the February Revolution came and went in Petrograd (formerly and presently St. Petersburg).

Let´s look now at how the days that followed the women´s march that would bring down a Tsar and bring a revolutionary out of exile.

 

Petrograd, Russia, Friday 24 February 1917

It was dull and foggy with cold rain, but neither the weather nor the appearance on the streets of Cossack horsemen, heavily armed and grim, dampened the demonstrators´ zeal.

 

By late morning, nearly 75,000 workers from Petrograd´s industrial Vyborg quarter (2/3 of Petrograd´s workforce) had joined the strike.

This second day of mass demonstrations had seen more workers out on strike than at any time during the War. (WW1)

As the marchers approached the Liteyny Bridge, Cossacks were arrayed against them, the lines of horses and the glint of steel terrifying.

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But these agents of the Tsarist government shared the workers´ frustrations.

For the first time anyone could remember, the Cossacks cantered through the workers´ lines, refusing to brandish their sabres or their whips.

Meanwhile, across the river in downtown Petrograd, further demonstrations filled the streets, bakeries were looted and food shops attacked.

The workers were now becoming violent.

General Khabalov ensured that many more machine gun placements were set up in the attics of mansions, hotels, shops, clock and bell towers up and down Nevsky Prospekt, and on the roofs of railway stations.

He had infantry and machine gunners in reserve and a huge stockpile of rifles, revolvers and ammunition, which, although designated for the front, had been retained for use in Petrograd, should the need arise and stored in the various police stations.

Nonetheless, the disturbance spread west to the dockyards and naval Engineering works of Vasilievsky Island.

Government ministers had yet to respond to events.

In the Tauride Palace, however Duma (Russia´s Parliament) members demanded to take control of the city´s food supply in a last-ditch attempt to address the most immediate economic woe: the shortage of food.

Throughout the night, there were occasional volleys of gunfire, but astonishly the social life of the city continued.

The Alexandrinsky Theatre was packed that evening for a performance of Nikolai Gogol´s (1809 – 1852) The Government Inspector.

The audience was in a lively humour at this satire on the political weaknesses of the mid-19th century.

Few seemed willing to believe that a greater drama was at that moment unfolding in real life throughout the capital.

The atmosphere of the city was like a taut wire.

Over at the French Embassy, First Secretary Charles de Chambrun wrote to his wife, pondering the news he had just heard that a general strike had been declared for the following day.

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Above: Charles de Chambrun (1875 – 1952)

More marches, more protests were coming, but what could a mob “without alcohol, without a leader and without a clear objective achieve?”

As night fell, Petrograd waited expectantly.

 

Petrograd, Russia, Saturday 25 February 1917

“Oh, this interminable Russian winter with its white roofs for so many long months and its slippery roads.”, French resident Louise Patouillet wrote ruefully in her diary, by now long accustomed to the kind of low grey sky that greeted the city with a new fall of snow.

National City Bank clerk Leighton Rogers, in contrast, struck an excited note in his own journal:

“What a day!

The general strike is on, all right, and trouble has begun.”

That morning, on their way to the Bank, Rogers and his colleagues had “found the streets thick with police, both afoot and mounted, no factories working, and the Nevsky a long line of closed shops, with here and there a boarded up door or window.”

Rogers had heard rumours that the first person had been killed the previous night when trying to break into a bread shop.

People on the streets seemed on the lookout for excitement, “like a crowd at a great country fair”, but Rogers “hated to think of what one shot would do.”

Had Rogers known the extent to which the strikers were now arming themselves for an inevitable street fight with the police, he might have been even more alarmed.

Across the city, embassies and legations were being warmed by telephone not to allow their staff to go out.

Violent protest was certainly the intention of the workers over in the factory districts that morning, as they gathered for a huge march on the city.

A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners

They ensured that they wore plenty of padding under their thick coats to ward off blows from police batons or Cossack whips.

Some even crafted metal plates to wear under their hats, to protect their heads from blows.

They filled their pockets with whatever metal projectiles and weapons they could lay their hands on in their factories.

The general strike had begun.

Among its leaders were members of the Mezhraionka (Soviet inter-district committees) and rank-and-file activists from various left-wing groups, including the Bolsheviks´ Vyborg Committee.

All had worked through the night to spread the message and bring people out.

The morning felt like the start of a holiday.

Trainloads of people, including families with children, streamed into the city from nearby industrial towns.

In Petrograd itself, working class districts hummed with earnest preparation.

The factories were silent.

There were no trams.

By 10 o´clock the streets rang with the sound of marching feet and voices singing revolutionary songs.

As the day went on, the strike spread across the city, bringing out everyone, from shop workers to waitresses, to cooks and maids and cab drivers.

Key workers in the supply of the city´s electricity, gas and water, as well as tram drivers, were also out in force.

Striking postal workers and printers ensured that there were no mail deliveries and no newspapers.

Over 200,000 people chose to march through Petrograd that day.

White collar workers, teachers and students joined the uprising, and as they passed the homes of the wealthy the marchers sometimes saw pale hands waving from upper windows.

The goal was Znamenskaya Square, where huge crowds had assembled by the early afternoon.

Red banners stretched above the sea of heads, many with slogans that demanded peace, immediate and longed-for peace.

Between the many speeches, some enthusiasts began singing the Marseillaise.

In wartime Russia, this was treason and a breach of martial law.

But, for most, the crowd felt like protection in itself, the sense of justice and community a shield in its own right.

A little after 3 pm, a mounted police officer, Krylov, told his men to prime their weapons and disperse the mob.

In the mêlée that followed, the Cossack horsemen charged the crowd, but then rode back and regrouped using their sabres on the police, not on the demonstrators.

Krylov himself lay dead.

The Cossacks had pulled Krylov from his horse, someone had grabbed the officer´s revolver and shot Krylov dead, while another had beat him in a rage with a piece of wood.

It was the first defining act of violence against the police that day.

For an hour or so, the people could believe in a forthcoming victory.

Bitter cold prevailed.

All the trams were stopped and many shops were closed.

People milled on Nevsky Prospekt, “eddying up and down in anxious curiosity”, a “curious, smiling, determined crowd…dangerous”. (Leighton Rogers)

Troops were out in force at the natural gathering points at major intersections, but like the Cossacks, they were unwilling to exert force.

The crowds appeared hopeful that that they had won them over.

The impromptu bread riots of women marchers had now exploded into a political movement, coloured by more and more acts of violence and looting.

Revolution came easily to a people already traumatised by wartime sufferings or, as soldiers, inured to violence.

But there would be other confrontations between crowds and troops that day and marchers and bystanders would be killed.

No one was certain of the facts.

There were neither newspapers nor public telephones.

There was still no outward sign of a systematic organised revolt.

The movement remained chaotic, leaderless.

“Is it a riot? Is it a revolution?”, asked Claude Anet, Petrograd correspondent of Le Petit Parisien, who – like other foreign journalists in town – had no luck in telegraphing the news back to his paper in Paris.

At Russian army HQ at Mogilev nearly 500 miles away, Tsar Nicholas II received news of the violent turn of events in Petrograd, although Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov failed to transmit the true gravity of the Situation to him.

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Above: Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Thinking firmer measures by police and troops were all that were needed, Nicholas did not see the necessity of returning to Petrograd.

Instead he telegraphed Major General Khabalov, Petrograd´s military governor, and ordered him to “quell by tomorrow the disturbances in the capital which are inexcusable in view of the difficulties of the war with Germany and Austria”.

His wife Tsarina Alexandra had written, dismissing the day´s events as no more than the workers blowing off steam, “a hooligan movement”, “young boys and girls running about and screaming that they have no bread, only to excite.”

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Above: Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918)

Had the weather been colder, Alexandra felt that the protesters “would probably stay indoors”.

Besides, Alexandra had far more serious things to think about:  three of her five children were down with the measles.

Seeking some light relief from the day´s traumatic events, some Petrograders went that evening to the Mikhailovsky Theatre premiere of a French farce, L´ Idée de Francoise.

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The imperial boxes were empty and the grand dukes absent.

One of the company, actress Paulette Pax, found the whole performance unnerving – particularly the audience, with its profusion of jewels and sumptuous outfits – bearing in mind what had been going on outside all day,

Pax felt that none of the audience had taken much notice of the play.

Their minds were elsewhere, their applause half-hearted.

“What we were doing was ridiculous,” Pax wrote in her diary, “performing a comedy at such a time made no sense.”

Daily Observer journalist Arthur Ransome did not consider the situation as serious as Pax.

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Above: Cover picture of Arthur Ransome (1884 – 1967)

He noted how many of the theatre crowd were out simply to watch other people make trouble.

The “general feeling” was one of “rather precarious excitement like a Bank Holiday with thunder in the air.”, Ransome wrote in his despatch that evening.

Outside in the streets of Petrograd, restless photographer David Thompson was still in search of a story at 2 am, when he came face-to-face with mob violence.

A rowdy group of 60 people had taken two heads of slain policemen and had jammed them onto poles and were carrying them down the middle of the street.

Thompson had seen enough red for one day: red flags, red bloodstains on the snow and now severed heads.

He saw more bodies on his way back to the Astoria Hotel and he would later discover that a great many policemen were killed or seriously wounded by mobs that night.

All through Saturday night there was a great deal of screaming and yelling and incessant gunfire throughout the city.

 

Petrograd, Russia, Sunday 26 February 1917

There was an ominous stillness in the city on this beautiful, cloudless, sunny morning.

But overnight General Khabalov had resolved that draconian measures would have to be taken to keep the situation under control.

New placards posted across the city announced that all workers would have to return to work by Tuesday the 28th or those who had applied for deferment of their military service would be sent straight to the front.

All street gatherings of more than three people were forbidden.

At a meeting of the Council of Ministers that had gone from midnight until 5 am, Khabalov gave assurances that 30,000 soldiers, backed up by artillery and armoured cars, would be on the streets, with orders to take decisive action against the demonstrators.

Overnight, Khabalov had issued orders to turn Petrograd into a military camp.

At daybreak, the bridges were raised.

Armed police and troops had mustered at main junctions and squares, while Red Cross wagons waited to cart the wounded off to makeshift hospitals.

Flag of the Red Cross.svg

Khabalov´s orders were to fire on any demonstrator who defied his order to disperse.

Khabalov ensured that most of the troops on Nevsky Prospekt were training detachments from the guards regiments, brought in from the military academies.

They were all heavily armed with rifles and bayonets.

The assumption was that NCOs (non-commissioned officers) would be less reluctant to shoot, if ordered to do so.

It seemed that the whole city was out of doors that morning, and on foot – for there were no trams or cabs.

People were determined to get to church as usual or simply enjoy the fine weather for a promenade along Nevsky Prospekt.

Couples pushed their babies in prams.

Children skated on ice rinks.

Just like any ordinary Sunday.

But most of the shops and cafés were closed, with most of them with shutters closed or windows boarded up.

People were desperate for news and groups formed around those with any news to tell.

The predominating conversation was about how many had been killed or injured.

By midday Nevsky Prospekt was blocked with dense crowds.

A mob, waving red flags and singing the Marseillaise, gathered.

The police pulled a machine into the middle of the tram tracks.

Volley after volley rang out.

The dead were thick.

The wounded were screaming as they were trampled down.

Hell itself had broken loose on the Nevsky.

There was gunfire from every point, from the roofs of buildings and sweeping all around.

A little girl was hit in the throat by gunfire.

A well-dressed woman collapsed with a scream as her knee was shattered by a bullet.

All around people lay dead and dying in the snow.

Thirty dead in all, with far more women and chidren than men slain.

Everyone else was prostrate on the ground, hugging the pavement or lying in the snow, numb with cold, too frightened to move.

Ambulances appeared and started collecting the dead and the wounded.

But the bloodshed wasn´t over.

By noon, 25,000 troops had gone over to the side of the demonstrators.

The bulk of the available forces, however, simply stayed in their barracks as the mob took over the streets.

In the early evening, at Znamensky Square, a dense mass of people from the Nevsky converged with another crowd coming up Ligovskaya, the major thoroughfare to the south.

Local police leaders rode among the crowd ordering them to disperse.

The people refused to budge.

The commander of the 1st and 2nd training detachments of the Volynsky Regiment ordered his men to fire into the crowd.

The troop of Cossacks also positioned in the crowd turned and fired at the Regiment gunmen.

It was a veritable pandemonium, as with a great howl of rage, the crowd scattered behind buildings and into courtyards, from where some of them began firing at the military and the police.

More than 40 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

No one knew exactly how many had been killed by Sunday´s end.

Nobody was counting, but evidence of the day´s violence was everywhere to be seen.

Hundreds of empty cartridge cases littered the ground and the snow was drenched with blood.

After dark, when the crowds had been cleared from Nevsky Prospekt, the soldiers involved in the shootings at Znamensky Square and on the Nevsky, returned to their barracks, angry and upset that they had been forced to fire on the crowds.

100 of the Pavlovsky guards in their nearby barracks on the Field of Mars, hearing how earlier in the day members of the 4th Company had been ordered to open fire on crowds, decided to take action.

They attacked their Colonel and cut off his hand.

They set out for the Nevsky with a few rifles and ammunition, intent on dissuading their comrades from shooting on demonstrators, when they were confronted by mounted police.

Firing broke out, but the soldiers soon ran out of ammunition and were forced back to their barracks where they gave themselves up.

The 19 ringleaders were arrested and incarcerated in the Peter and Paul Fortress; the rest were confined to barracks.

There was an immediate clampdown on news of the mutiny, but soon the word was out.

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated party at Princess  Catherine Radziwill´s palace went ahead as planned, although the carriages bringing guests had been refused entry to the Nevsky and had to go the long way around.

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Above: Princess Catherine Radziwill (1858 – 1941)

French journalist Claude Anet noted how preoccupied the guests were, though everybody “tried to dance in spite of it”.

Anet watched as Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich took to the dance floor.

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Above: Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich (1877 – 1943)

Was he witnessing this scion of the Russian aristocracy dancing his “last tango”?

French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue was exhausted, having spent the whole day “literally besieged by anxious members of the French colony” wanting to get out of Petrograd.

Above: Maurice Paléologue (1859 – 1944)

He went out to dinner with a friend that evening rather than attend the Radziwill party, but on his way home he passed the palace and saw a long line of carriages and cars waiting outside.

The party was still in full swing, but Paléologue was not tempted to join in.

As he noted in his diary that night, Sénac de Meilhan, historian of the French Revolution, had written that there had also been “plenty of gaiety in Paris on the night of 5 October 1789!”

(On 5 October 1789, crowds of women began to assemble at Parisian markets.

The women first marched to the Hotel de Ville, demanding that city officials address their concerns.

The women were responding to the harsh economic situations they faced, especially bread shortages.

They also demanded an end to royal efforts to block the National Assembly, and for the King and his administration to move to Paris as a sign of good faith in addressing the widespread poverty.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, as many as 7,000 women joined the march to Versailles, bringing with them cannons and a variety of smaller weapons.

Twenty thousand National Guardsmen under the command of Lafayette responded to keep order, and members of the mob stormed the palace, killing several guards.)

As late night partygoers made their way home there was a terrible eerieness about the city.

Normally the squares would be full of activity – coaches, sledges and motor cars waiting to take passengers home, but that night the squares were completely empty and there was not a taxi or sledge to be had.

Baroness Meyendorff was obliged to walk home in the moonlight and the intense cold.

The silence was ominous and made the creaking of the snow under foot seem disproportionately loud.

Petrograd seemed like a dead city.

In the Tauride Palace, frantic meetings of the Duma took place all day.

A desperate Mikhail Rodzyanko, leader of the Duma, telegraphed the Tsar.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzyanko (1859 – 1924)

“The capital is in a state of anarchy.

The government is paralysed.

General discontent is growing.

There is wild shooting in the street.-

There must be a new government, under someone trusted by the country.

Any procrastination is tantamount to death.”

Reading the telegram in Mogilev, Nicholas dismissed it as panic.

“Some more rubbish from that fat Rodzyanko.”

However Nicholas did decide to put together a loyal force and despatch it to the capital, with he himself returning to his home, Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, 13 miles south of Petrograd.

Above: Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo

That should settle matters.

The rebel soldiers were no more than an armed rabble that would never stand against proper front line troops.

Fearful of a coup within the Duma, Prime Minister Golitsyn stepped in and suspended the Duma from meeting.

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Above: Nikolai Golitsyn, 8th Prime Minister of Russia (1917)(1850 – 1925)

Rodzyanko was outraged.

The Duma was the constituted authority of Russia.

Its prorogation was a violation of Russian law.

He urged his colleagues to rally around and defend the Duma, and a temporary committee was hurriedly organised.

Revolution had now been officially declared: in the seat of government, by some of the guards regiments, and by the once fiercely loyal Cossacks.

Workers, outraged by the indiscriminate firing on crowds, formed their own militias and spent that night plotting not only to continue the strike and the demonstrations, but also to seize weapons and turn the protest movement into nothing less than an armed uprising.

American photographer David Thompson wrote his wife from his room in the Astoria Hotel that evening:

“Since 1 o´clock today it has been a bloody Sunday for Russia.

If this spreads to other regiments, Russia will be a republic in a few more hours.”

Everything would depend on how the disaffected troops would respond on Monday.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 October 2017

Any Americans reading this blog today quite possibly believe the aforementioned bloody Sunday couldn´t happen in America, and I sincerely pray that they´re right.

Flag of the United States

But consider this.

Guns are everywhere in America and discipline is the thinnest veneer of a civilian population that possesses them.

Too many Americans have guns and some are as well armed as any soldiers that might be sent to face them.

What could compel the average gun-toting American to use those weapons against a government they feel as let them down?

In the case of the Russians, it took being on the losing side of a war and worries about the future to compel average workers and common soldiers to defy the authorities that had failed them.

Patriotism is well indoctrinated into the average American citizen for much of his life, but that very patriotism can easily be manipulated into serving the powerful.

Yet natural disasters, due to unchecked global warming, keep happening in America, and it is questionable whether Washington has the will or the means to protect or assist the population on the continental United States when national emergencies multiply, let alone lend help to any of its farflung territories like hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Above: Aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017

The Russian Revolution occurred spontaneously, beginning with impatient breadline women and factory workers and reaching into all quarters of society already discontented but now driven to force change.

Discontent is rife in America today.

What act of spontaneity could make everything unravel?

It seems the prevalence of guns and the discontent felt keenly by disturbed individuals has yet again caused carnage of an unthinkable, but sadly unsurprising, nature to happen this weekend.

Paradise, Nevada, 1 October 2017

Singer Jason Aldean was giving the closing performance of the third and final day of the 4th annual Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival on a 15-acre lot behind the Mandalay Bay Hotel on Las Vegas Strip, with 22,000 people in attendance.

At 10:08 pm, someone began firing weapons from the 32nd floor of the Hotel into the Harvest crowd below.

With at least 60 fatalities (including the suicide of the alleged perpetrator) and over 500 injured, this incident is now officially the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

The shooter has been identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a wealthy retired accountant.

Police found 16 rifles and 1 handgun in the hotel room that Paddock had rented.

Stock prices of firearm manufacturers have already risen since the attack.

What drives a person to commit such an act of senseless violence?

And what is to prevent another such act from happening again?

A lone gunman fires into a crowd.

Just another day in America?

Seriously…
What can one say that hasn’t already been said?

Stephen Paddock, a white man probably insane, kills 60 and injures hundreds in Las Vegas.

Will he be branded a terrorist?

Probably not, because he is white, a good old boy.


Will many questions be asked as to how he got his hands on 17 guns?

No.

Too uncomfortable a question.

Might offend the gun lobbyists, victims be damned.

Will this incident change Americans’ minds about its easy access to firearms laws?

Don’t bet on it.

So, folks will tell you to pray for Las Vegas and not a damn thing will change.

Except folks who had a future now…. no longer do.

What they were, they are no more.

No matter how many die, the money must keep flowing in.

And corporations without a conscience will go on being protected by a government without guilt.

Blood on the streets…. children orphaned, wives and husbands widowed, romances wrecked, families destroyed….

With great power comes great responsibility.

Every time a nation allows folks to come to harm, the nation has failed the people.

Every time a gun is easily accessible, another human life is put at risk.

The mark of a great nation is not in its ability to protect its mighty and powerful, but rather its ability to protect the vulnerable.

America has failed the test yet again, for the lessons of unthinkable carnage never seem to be learned.

The lights of Vegas may briefly lose their lustre and flags will temporarily be flown at half mast and politicians will send their warmest condolences and sympathies to the families and the victims of this terrible shooting, this act of pure evil, this senseless murder….

Southern half of Las Vegas Strip at night with CityCenter construction on the bottom right, 2007

But the foolish game of profits over people will go on.

There will be no second American Revolution, no second Civil War, for there is no unity amongst Americans who will resolutely continue to feel discontent in the name of patriotism.

It is hoped that discontent does not lead to violence, but history has shown that it often does.

One man in a hotel room in Vegas destroyed the lives of hundreds.

60 dead.

Hundreds injured.

By one single solitary man.

With 17 guns found in the hotel room along with the assailant’s body, his life taken by his own hand.

Let that just sink in for a moment.

One man with a gun ended 60 lives in Vegas on Saturday night.

Awesome power.

One man was allowed to own 17 guns.

Seventeen!

Am I the only one who thinks that a person should not be allowed to own so much firepower?

True, he was a registered gun owner.

True, he was a licensed hunter and pilot.

True, Paddock was retired.

But what is normal about owning, and bringing into a hotel, 17 guns?

17 ways to kill.

And what exactly did his murdering of 60 people actually accomplish?

Nothing.

Nothing but pain and grief, suffering and sorrow.

Was he seeking fame as the biggest mass shooter in modern US history?

Don’t worry.

I am certainly there will be someone out there who will surpass Paddock’s kill record, just as Paddock surpassed the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooter’s record.

Exterior photo of Pulse gay nightclub and parking lot.

Above: Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, Florida, where security guard Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 58 on the evening of 12 June 2016

The ability to take a human life needs to be regulated.

My right to life should take precedence over another’s right to take my life.

There needs to be limits far greater than the ones that can allow a man, who was clearly psychologically disturbed, to obtain 17 guns.

There needs to be regular psychological testing of those who wish to bear arms, because of the incredible damage that can be done by a person with a gun.

A gun as a last defence?

OK.

A gun for gathering food, not sport trophies?

OK.

As a former urban Canadian and present resident in Switzerland, I am OK with only the police and the military having guns that are left at work.

I have never held a gun.

I have never had a desire to do so.

Killing a person who attacks my family may be justifiable but it is still murder.

Fighting for a country or a cause that condones war may be coached in honourable language and gift wrapped in a flag, but the taking of a life – the erasure of everything the slain person ever was or will ever be – is murder.

It should be with the greatest of reluctance and regret that a weapon should be drawn from its sheath or holster.

The itchy trigger finger has been too often seen in recent events.

Cops and soldiers should be seen as our protection not as a threat.

Maybe one day I shall be struck down by a gun.

But whether I am armed to the teeth or not, I cannot control the future.

Even the mighty and powerful have been victim to those with a weapon.

And being human ultimately means being mortal.

Rarely do we see death coming before it arrives, unannounced and unwelcome.

But until America learns to regulate itself better….

There will be blood.

There will be violence.

There are responsible gun owners.

Do we know how many?

Do we know how much firepower they possess?

Are we regularly and really sure that they are rational and responsible enough to keep their weapons?

Vegas should be a wake-up call.

Otherwise there will be more violence.

There will be more blood.

There will be other lone gunmen.

In Russia, a people united by violence would topple an empire once they were joined by those with weaponry to insist that armed might could “make things right.”

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History has showed again and again what is born in violence ends violently.

The February Revolution would see hundreds die.

The October Revolution and the ideology behind it would result in the deaths of millions.

Did the Tsar´s rule of Russia need to end?

Yes.

Could his rule have been ended non-violently?

Perhaps.

One hundred years separate the Russian Revolution from 2017, yet gunfire into crowds remains a constant.

Perhaps within all of us lies the potential to be violent.

But if I do not possess a weapon it reduces both the capacity and the opportunity to act upon violent urges.

How many lives have been ruined at the point of a weapon?

How many more will there be in future?

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 September 2017

Celebrities ARE different.

They get more public attention and media exposure than we do.

They usually have far more wealth than we do.

Some achieve celebrity status through their successful careers in sports or entertainment or politics.

Some become famous due to media attention on their lifestyle, wealth or controversial actions, or for their connection to another famous person.

And rewarding mere mortals godlike celebrity status is not a new thing.

Athletes in ancient Greece were welcomed home as heroes, had songs and poems written in their honour, and received free food and gifts from those seeking celebrity endorement.

Ancient Rome also glorified actors and gladiators.

Some have had to die to achieve fame.

In the early 12th century, Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170) became famous following his murder.

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He was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church as a martyr and images of him and scenes from his life became widespread in just a few years.

And in a pattern often repeated throughout history, what started out as an explosion of popularity, or mania, turned into longlasting fame.

In the case of Becket, pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral where he was murdered became instantly fashionable and the fascination with his life and death has inspired many plays and films.

The cult of personality (particularly in the West) can be traced back to the Romantics in the 18th century, whose livelihood as artists and poets depended on the currency of their reputation.

(Which makes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe´s (1749 – 1832) escape from his fame (somewhat) in Germany to make his Italian Journey (1786 – 1788) even more remarkable.)

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Above: Goethe in the Roman countryside

The establishment of cultural hotspots became an important factor in the process of generating fame.

Newspapers started gossip columns and certain clubs and events became places to be seen in order to receive publicity.

With the global spread of the movie industry in the 20th century, we now have the familar concept of the instantly recognizable faces of its superstars.

Yet, celebrity status wasn´t always tied to film actors, when cinema was starting out as a medium.

“In the first decade of the 20th century, American film companies withheld the names of film performers, despite requests from audiences, fearing that public recognition would drive performers to demand higher salaries.”

(Paul McDonald, The Star System: Hollywood´s Production of Popular Identities)

Public fascination went well beyond the on-screen exploits of movie stars and their private lives became headline news.

Television and popular music brought new forms of celebrity, such as the rock star and the pop group, as shown by Elvis Presley or the Beatles.

A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

Above: The Beatles (clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison)

John Lennon´s (1940 – 1980) highly controversial 1966 quote:

“We´re more popular than Jesus now.”

….which he later insisted was not a boast, and that he was not in any way comparing himself with Christ, gives an insight into both the adulation and notoriety fame can bring.

Unlike movies, television created celebrities who were not primarily actors, like presenters, talk show hosts and news readers.

Still only a few of these have broken through to a wide stardom.

The book publishing industry began to persuade major celebrities to put their names on autobiographies (many ghost written) and other titles to create a genre called celebrity publishing.

Cultures and regions with significant populations have their own independent celebrity systems, with their own distinct hierarchies.

Outside of Switzerland, who knows DJ Bobo?

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Above: D J Bobo

Outside of German-speaking parts of Europe, who knows Michelle Hunziger?

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Above: Swiss-born TV hostess/actress/model/singer Michelle Hunziger

Outside of Quebec, who remembers Mitsou?

Above: Canadian actress/singer Mitsou Gélinas

Regions within a country, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic or religious) can also have their own celebrity systems.

Regional radio personalities, newcasters, politicians or community leaders may be local or regional celebrities, much like my foster cousin Steve, a local athlete, is instantly recognisible within the confines of Argenteuil County in Quebec, Canada, but mostly unknown beyond there.

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Above: Canadian athlete Steve O`Brien

In politics, certain politicians are recognisable to many people, usually Presidents or Prime Ministers.

Yet only the heads of state who play a major role in international politics have a good chance of recognisability beyond their country´s borders.

Do you know who the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is and would you recognise him/her on the street?

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Above: Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 2013

But, because so much media attention is brought to bear on the US President, Donald Trump has become, unfortunately, world famous.

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In contrast, some people are more famous under their official titles rather than their actual names, such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama.

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Above: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis

Do you know the Pope´s birth certificate name? The Dalai Lama´s?

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Above: Lhamo Thondup aka the 14th Dalai Lama

Some politicians remain famous even decades or centuries after they were in power, because of the historical deeds associated with their names and kept in memory in history classes, like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, etc.

Scandal can also make people famous, regardless of how accomplished they were in their chosen professions.

Who can tell me what were the legislative accomplishments of Anthony Wiener or can you only recall his exposing himself and sexting?

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Above: Anthony David Weiner, US Congressman (1999 – 2011)

Some things are associated with fame, like appearing on the cover of Time, being spoofed by Mad, having a wax statue in Madame Tussauds or receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Some people are well known even to folks unfamilar with the area in which the celebrity excelled.

I never followed boxing, but I know the names Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson.

Even those who aren´t interested in art, recognise Pablo Picasso.

The unscientific know Albert Einstein.

Even criminals become famous if their crimes are sensational enough.

Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty.

Some celebrities are hated for being celebrated, and due to their high visibility the successes and shortcomings of even their private lives are made very public.

Celebrities are also portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, as possessing skills and abilities beyond average people, beyond us mere mortals.

Even those celebrities with limited education or experience are viewed as experts on complicated issues and some have been very vocal with their political views regardless of their understanding of these views.

And sometimes it is a person´s celebrity status that can bring an issue´s importance into the spotlight with the public and the media.

It is believed that because very few people can become celebrities, this must mean that those that do must be superior to those who, for many reasons, cannot become famous.

It is a fallacy, but a manic belief nonetheless.

 

Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We had booked three nights at the Convento San Antonio Bed & Breakfast, and I was determined that Ute (my wife) would not drive our car except between accommodation stops.

We had driven a lot the previous day and it had been a frustrating and hot drive along the western shore of Lago di Como to arrive in the city of Como.

(See Canada Slim and the Evil Road, Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence, and Canada Slim and the Road to the Open of this blog for details of that first day.)

So I hoped that Ute (and I, of course) could relax and enjoy our vacation if we were not bound to our Peugeot throughout the trip.

Of all the lakes that Italy possesses, it is the forked Lago di Como that comes most heavily praised.

Lago di Como.png

Marie Henri Beyle first set foot on the shores of Lago di Como (also known as Lago Lario) as a 17-year-old conscript under Napoleon.

Years later, as Stendhal, he wrote in La Chartreuse de Parme that the blue-green waters of the Lake and the grandeur of the Alps made it the most beautiful place in the world.

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

The hordes of Italian and foreign tourists who have flocked here ever since suggest that Stendhal was onto something.

Wordsworth thought it “a treasure which the Earth keeps to itself.”

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Above: English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Today, despite the influx of tourists, the Lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation and zigzagging across the water on a steamer still seems ridiculously romantic.

And Como, come summertime, is packed out with British and German tourists.

Now I understand how Italians can be both puzzled and delighted by us, the foreign visitors, the peaceful invaders.

There are over 20 million of us every year and we still keep coming.

Nothing stops us.

Nothing frightens us.

We are a flood that never dries up.

We come from all over.

We are well-fed, self-satisfied and well-behaved.

We follow urges we cannot explain.

Italy once experienced first hand never loses its charms.

We are never satiated by the sights, climate, food, music and life.

The cities of Italy are emptied of Italians, save those who cater to we dusty and perspiring tourists.

Rough Guide Italy does not sing Como´s praises, describing it as “a rather dispiriting place to arrive, with little of the picture-postcard prettiness you would expect from a lakeside town.

As the nearest resort to Milano and a popular stopoff on the main road into Switzerland, Como is both heavily touristed and fairly industrialised.”

Lonely Planet Italy describes Como:

“Elegant Como, 50 km north of Milano, is the main access town to the Lake and sits at the base of the 146 sq km body of water.

Como has relatively few attractions in its own right, although the lakeside location is stunning, its narrow pedestrian lanes are a pleasure to explore and there are numerous bars and cafés where you can relax with a cold drink on a balmy day.”

Ferries operated by Como-based company Navigazione Lago di Como crisscross the Lake year-round.

We buy a map “The Villas Seen from the Lake”, so from the boat we will able to identify the many villas and interesting places that one can see from the Lake, from Como to Bellagio on the east bank and from Como to Griante on the west.

The rows of villas seem endless.

So many Villas!

Villa Carminati Scacchi, Villa Saporiti (“the Rotunda” and Napoleon´s residence during his stay in Como in 1797)….

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), 2 December 1804

Villa Gallia, Villa Parravicini Thaon de Revel, Villa Pisa Colli Canepa, Villa Geno (a former hospital and convent of the Humiliati Friars), Villa Volonté….

Villa Olma (host to kings and queens and emperors and Garibaldi who unified Italy. Here Garibaldi fell in love with Josephine, a daughter of the owner of the Villa. Their marriage lasted…30 minutes!)….

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

Villa Mirabella, Villa Pisani Dossi (built by the Italian writer Carlo Dossi, including the famous “porch of friends” with columns engraved with the names of important artists close to Dossi)….

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Above: Carlo Dossi (1849 – 1910)

Villa Troubetzkoy (“the Swiss Chalet” built by Russian Prince Alexander Troubetzkoy and used after he had been sentenced to six years of hard labour in Siberia for an attempt on the Tsar´s life), Villa Sforni, Villa Dozzio, Villa Cademartori (once owned by the Artaria family, publishers of the compositions of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc)….

Villa Taglioni (built in 1840 by Marie Taglioni, the famous dancer who invented ballet “en pointe”, who once was so rich she also possessed five palaces by the Grand Canal in Venezia, but lost her fortune when her father made poor investments. She died penniless in Marseille.)….

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Above: Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884)

Then….

Day 2 of our vacation was turning out to be the Quest for George Clooney.

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Above: American actor George Clooney

Villa Erba in Cernobbio, west bank of the Lake, was built in 1894 by the grandparents of the famous director Luchino Visconti.

Some important scenes of Ocean´s 12, the 2001 film starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, were shot here.

Ocean's12Poster1.gif

The boatload of passengers were suitably impressed.

Villa Allamel, Villa Belgioioso Schouvaloff (in Blevio, east bank of the Lake, built by Russian Prince Schouvaloff and owned today by casino prince Oleg Boyko. It once belonged to Cristina Trivulzio Belgioioso, an exceptional woman who, despite failing health, led a very interesting and adventurous life, working hand in hand with those who fought to release Italy from Austrian rule.)….

Above: Cristina Belgioiso (1808 – 1871)

Villa Cima (where the noble intellectual beauty, rich and refined Vittoria Cima della Scala once lived), Villa Belvedere (belonged to the Imbonati Family, whose grandson, the famous Italian writer, Alessandro Manzoni spent many happy summers)….

And on and on…

Till the mind could not take in any more Villas and the tales they harboured.

Then the boat threatens to tip to one side as we all rush to get a glimpse of Villa Oleandra, to the left of the church of Laglio, owned by George Clooney (and his wife (his 2nd marriage) human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, of British-Lebanese heritage), near the former residence of Italian author Ada Negri.

Above: Villa Oleandra

Above: Julia Roberts with George and Amal Clooney at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Why did Mr. American Apple Pie buy property in Italy?

We foreigners don’t just come to Italia.

We keep coming back.

Hollywood actors like Clooney come and stay, because the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants more money from him than he feels they deserve.

He wants the reassurance of noble surroundings, to show off his excellent taste, his genius, his charisma and importance in a land that still appreciates such things.

He does not realise that Italians treat him as one treats children, with courtesy and sympathy.

But the reality of being Italian is too disturbing, too difficult, too mysterious, too undefinable, for folks like George or myself.

A boatload of female fans were disappointed as George was not seen.

The women still love George, at least those over 30.

George Timothy Clooney, born 6 May 1961, exactly 4 years and 8 days before yours truly, is an American actor, director, producer, screenwriter, activist, businessman and philanthropist.

He has received three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for his work in Hollywood.

His rise to fame came when he played Dr. Doug Ross on NBC´s medical drama ER (1994 – 1999).

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His first major Hollywood role was in the horror-comedy-crime thriller From Dusk till Dawn, co-starring Harvey Keitel.

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He then increased his profile in the romantic comedy One Fine Day (with Michelle Pfeiffer), the action-thriller The Peacemaker (with Nicole Kidman), the superhero movie Batman and Robin (with Arnold Schwarznegger, Uma Therman and Chris O`Donnell), crime comedy Out of Sight (with Jennifer Lopez) and  the war satire Three Kings all while still on contract to ER.

Three men in army fatigues

After leaving ER, Clooney starred in the disaster drama The Perfect Storm, the adventure comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the heist comedy Ocean´s 11 – Clooney´s most successful film with him in the lead role.

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Clooney made his directorial debut in the 2002 film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the autobiography of TV producer Chuck Barris.

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He then starred in Syriana, a story based loosely on former CIA Agent Robert Baer´s memoirs of his Service in the Middle East.

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He then directed, produced and starred in Good Night, and Good Luck, a film about 1950s TV Journalist Edward R. Murrow´s famous war of words with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Clooney next appeared in the film noir The Good German set in post WW2 Germany, then in the legal thriller Michael Clayton.

A blurred pictured of a man with the words "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" superimposed

He directed and starred the sports comedy Leatherheads, costarred with Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey in the war parody The Men Who Stare at Goats, starred in the comedy-drama Up in the Air, produced and starred in the thriller The American, starred in the drama The Descendants, and in the political drama The Ides of March, and produced the thriller Argo.

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He co-starred with Sandra Bullock in the science fiction thriller Gravity, co-wrote, directed and starred in the WW2 thriller The Monuments Men, produced August: Orange County (starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), starred in science fiction adventure Tomorrowland and in the 1950s Hollywood spoof Hail, Caesar!, reunited with Julia Roberts for Money Monster and directed Suburbicon (starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore).

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Clooney is the only person in Academy Award history to be nominated for Oscars in six different categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Clooney has appeared in commercials outside the US for Fiat, Nespresso, Martini vermouth, and Omega.

Clooney was named one of Time magazine´s “100 Most Influential People in the World” (2007, 2008, 2009) and has been described as one of the most handsome men in the world.

TV Guide ranked Clooney #1 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list. (2005)

He has been parodied by South Park and American Dad.

Director Alexander Cartio made his debut feature film, Convincing Clooney, about a LA artist who, faced with rejection as an actor and screenwriter, tries to get Clooney to star in his first-ever low-budget short film.

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As an activist, Clooney supported President Obama´s campaigns in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

He is a supporter of gay rights.

In 2003, he opposed the Iraq War, saying:

“You can´t beat your enemy any more through wars. 

Instead you create an entire generation of people seeking revenge.

Our opponents are going to resort to car bombs and suicide attacks because they have no other way to win.

I believe Donald Rumsfeld thinks this is a war that can be won, but there is no such thing anymore.

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Above: Donald Rumsfeld, 13th and 21st US Secretary of Defense (1975-1977 and 2001-2006

We can´t beat anyone any more.”

In 2016, Clooney endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential election.

He is involved with Not On Our Watch Project, an organisation that focuses global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities.

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He organised the telethon Hope for Haiti Now after the 2010 earthquake.

Clooney performed with Martin Sheen and Brad Pitt in Dustin Black´s play 8, re-enacting the federal trial that overturned California´s Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriage, raising money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Clooney advocated a resolution of the Dafur conflict, spending ten days in Chad and Sudan making the TV special “A Journey to Dafur” reflecting the situation of Darfur´s refugees, with proceeds donated to the International Rescue Committee.

He spoke to the UN Security Council to ask the UN to find a solution to the conflict and to help the people of Dafur, and he visited China and Egypt to ask both governments to pressure Sudan´s government.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Above: Flag of the United Nations

He sent an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling on the European Union to take decisive cction in the region given the failure of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to respond to UN Resolutions.

He narrated and produced the documentary Sand and Sorrow and also appeared in the documentary Dafur Now.

The United Nations announced Clooney´s appointment as a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008.

Clooney initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project to monitor armed activity for signs of renewed civil war between Sudan and South Sudan and to detect and deter mass atrocities along the border regions there.

Clooney is an avid supporter of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and is one of the chief associates of the 100 Lives Initiative, a project which aims to remember the lives lost during the event.

He has urged various American government officials to support the United States´ recognition of the Armenian Genocide and he visited Armenia to commemorate the 101st anniversary of the event in April 2016.

In May 2015, Clooney told the BBC that the Syrian conflict was too complicated politically to get involved in and he wanted to focus on helping the refugees.

In March 2016, George and Amal met with Syrian refugees living in Berlin to mark the 5th anniversary of the conflict, before meeting with Mrs. Merkel to thank her for Germany´s open door policy.

All of this about George was unknown by the ladies on our boat and, quite frankly, I don´t think they would have cared to know.

As access to celebrities is strictly controlled by their entourage of staff, including managers, publicists, agents, personal assistants and bodyguards, this makes it difficult for even journalists to have access to them.

We on the boat knew that most of us would never meet George face to face in our lifetimes.

Still I don´t envy George.

While being famous offers some advantages such as wealth and easier access to things that are more difficult for non-famous people to access – like the ability to easily meet other famous or powerful people – being famous comes with the disadvantage of creating conditions in which the celebrity finds himself acting in superficial, inauthentic fashion.

Being famous means a life without anonymity, often without privacy.

And a private persona that is different from the public persona that the celebrity created can lead to difficulties in accepting the celebrity for the person he/she really is.

But ironically there remains a strong public curiosity about celebrities´ private affairs.

George´s love life prior to his marriage to Amal interested a great many people and….

George has dated.

A lot.

He has dated actress Kelly Preston, actress Talia Balsam, porn star Ginger Lynn Allen, French TV personality Céline Balitran, British model Lisa Snowdon, actress Renée Zellweger, actress Krista Allen, dating reality personality Sarah Lawson, Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, wrestling diva Stacy Kiebler and finally his present wife Amal Alamuddin.

Above: Italian actress/model Elisabetta Canalis

And why not?

Women have found him attractive, both physically and socially.

Perhaps the ladies gawking and craning their necks to shore hoped to see George without his shirt, but perhaps the recent births of twins to George and Amal has kept him secluded inside the Villa Oleandra….

Or inside his main home in Los Angeles….

Or in his home in Los Cabos, Mexico, next door to supermodel Cindy Crawford….

Or in his new home, the Mill House, on an island in the River Thames at Sonning Eye in England.

The ladies aboard sailed past the Villa Oleandra disappointed but not surprised.

I met a celebrity only once in my life, riding the same elevator as myself, riding up to do separate interviews for CBC Radio inside the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Canada.

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Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark and I had little to say to one another and I am certain his meeting me was quickly forgotten.

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Above: Joe Clark, 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979 – 1980)

And I am certain that whatever it was that I said in my stunned surprise was both unintelligible and unintelligent.

And I am certain that if George Clooney ever crossed my path I would have absolutely no idea what it is I would say to him.

Above: Amal and George Clooney, 2016 Berlin Film Festival

But considering that my wife has always lusted after George since she first began watching ER I think I would say:

“George, thanks for keeping your shirt on.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and the Greatest Villain

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 May 2017

I read the news and I feel sometimes that all the media seems to report is bad news – news that angers or saddens me.

To be fair, it’s not the media’s fault completely…

Bad things happen in the world.

It is a terrible thing to admit, but nothing encourages us to remember Life more than a sudden threat to it or its sudden ending.

Recently Chris Cornell, former lead singer of the rock groups Audioslave and Soundgarden, died.

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Suddenly I am reminded of two of his songs: Black Hole Sun and You Know My Name (the theme song of the Bond film Casino Royale), which play again and again like a skipping vinyl record in the jukebox of my mind.

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On 22 May, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena after a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

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The attacker was identified by police as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan ancestry, who detonated a homemade explosive device as concertgoers were leaving the Arena.

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23 people, including Abedi himself, were killed and approximately 120 were injured.

My ignorance of things Mancunian, Libyan and the music of Ariana Grande is made manifest and I find myself suddenly searching literature both hard copy and electronic to know more about these things in an attempt to understand an event that is incomprehensible.

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Increased hits on search engines like Google show that I am not alone in this regard.

I am saddened by the loss of those so young whose only desire was to celebrate life’s rhythms.

I am saddened by the insanity that would drive a young man to commit such an atrocity.

I am angered that the Right will use this incident as a justification for their Islamophobia, making a cowed and frightened populace accept the usurpation of their freedom in the name of “guaranteed” security and create further hate and violence against others whose only “crime” is being of a different faith.

I am angered by those who would use religion as a justification for violence.

I am saddened that the tendency to label entire groups of people by the actions of a few still remains a constant impulse.

I am saddened that only those who think and act upon their consciences seek justice and compassion, while too many of us crave bloody revenge for this carnage committed against innocents.

I am saddened that those who have been chosen to lead us failed to protect us and may have been partially responsible for the violence visited upon us.

The lines between black and white, villain and hero, remain blurred.

Only the victims seem untainted of blame.

I, like many others, ask what could possibly be gained by anyone committing such an act.

A fearful populace brought to its knees who will seek to appease their attackers?

A spotlight thrown upon our vulnerability?

A desperate attack made to show the consequences of the actions made against others by those who lead us?

Events like Manchester also bring out the conspiracy theorists, whom are much harder to dismiss after a tragedy such as this.

The identification of the villains that inspired such violence is not so clear.

The child within me wishes for an obvious hero to combat such villainy, to save us as we cannot save ourselves.

A hero obvious who tells us: You know my name.

A hero like Bond.

James Bond.

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A person with a license to kill, to mete out revenge disguised as justice.

But is Ian Fleming’s fictional creation, immortalised in literature and film, truly a hero?

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour and murder is a funny trick.

Bond’s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.”

(Yuri Zhukov, Pravda, 30 September 1965)

Harsh criticism, but was this journalist completely inaccurate?

“It was part of his profession to kill people.

He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it.

As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.

If it happened, it happened.

Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”

(Ian Fleming, Goldfinger)

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But, by this analysis, where do we draw the line between soldier and criminal?

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Is every act justifiable if it is done for Queen and country, or in the name of religion?

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Since 1953, Bond has been in the public consciousness from Fleming’s literature and since 1962 from a never-ending series of films.

We are reminded of Bond these days, not only for the death of Chris Connell, but for the death, the day after Manchester, of one of the seven actors who have played Bond in the 26 films starring this character (including the Woody Allen spoof of Casino Royale and the independent film Never Say Never Again), Roger Moore, who played the secret agent in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985.

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Above: Sir Roger Moore (1927 – 2017)

Roger Moore died on 23 May 2017, age 89, in his home in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

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It is easy to think of Bond as a hero, for his villains are easy to identify.

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And perhaps it is this dispatching of these villains that has somehow given the character its own immortality, regardless of the mortality of those who portray him on the silver screen.

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Those who portray Bond have a terrible time afterwards of being identified only for the role as Bond.

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Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any other actor, had this typecasting problem.

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But unlike the villains Bond dispatched or the victims of real-life villains that strike down civilians, Moore did not end his days violently.

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In his acting roles, Moore encountered his share of villains who would have delighted in his demise, yet, with the exception of one film, Moore’s character of the moment would survive any and all opposition.

(In the 1956 film Diane, Moore, in the role of French King Henri II, is killed in a jousting tournament.)

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Moore’s characters were survivors, whether he was a highwayman against the armed might of a Duke (The Lion’s Thief, 1955) or a soldier in the Battle of Salamanca (The Miracle, 1959).

Moore played more roles than he is remembered for.

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Moore played Sir William of Ivanhoe (1958 – 59), Silky Harris (The Alaskans, 1959 – 60), 14 Carat John (The Roaring Twenties, 1960 – 62), Beau Maverick (1960 – 61), Simon Templar (The Saint, 1962 – 69), Gary Fenn (Crossplot, 1969), Harold Pelham (The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970), Lord Brett Sinclair (The Persuaders, 1971), Rod Slater (Gold, 1974), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes in New York, 1976), Sebastian Oldsmith (Shout at the Devil, 1976), Shawn Fynn (The Wild Geese, 1978), Rufus Excalibar ffolkes (North Sea Hijack, 1979), Major Otto Hecht (Escape to Athena, 1979), Captain Gavin Stewart (The Sea Wolves, 1980),Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Cannonball Run, 1981), Inspector Clouseau (The Curse of the Pink Panther, 1983), “Adam” (Bed and Breakfast, 1992), Lord Edgar Dobbs (The Quest, 1996), “The Chief” (Spice World, 1997) and Lloyd Faversham (Boat Trip, 2002).

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These TV/movie roles, which can still be seen on websites like YouTube, are just some of the roles Moore played in a long and successful acting career.

Most of these roles had him play the hero.

Most of these roles had moments when the hero’s life was in grave danger.

As Ivanhoe, Moore suffered broken ribs and a battleaxe blow to his helmet.

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In The Man Who Haunted Himself, Moore’s character briefly suffered clinical death after a car accident, but the movie’s director Basil Dearden would die for real in a car accident shortly thereafter.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore, as Bond, would mourn the death of his wife, though in real life Moore would himself marry four times and was the father of three children.

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Moore acted the hero in more than his screen appearances:

He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (1991) and the voice of Father Christmas in a UNICEF cartoon (2004) and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras (2008).

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Moore’s greatest villain was poor health.

He nearly died from double pneumonia when he was five.

He was a long-term sufferer of kidney stones and needed to be hospitalised during the making of the Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and again during the production of Bond film Moonraker (1979).

In 1993, Moore was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent successful surgery for the disease.

He collapsed on stage while appearing on Broadway in 2003 and was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a potentially deadly slow heartbeat.

In 2012, Moore revealed he had been treated for skin cancer several times.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

His greatest villain, cancer, finally beat him on 23 May 2017.

Terrorism is a villainous act I shall never understand, because despite the headlines it garnishes it is only common to my own life indirectly in headlines.

Diseases, like cancer, on the other hand, are something I, like the common man, can relate to.

In my own life I have lost classmates, my mother and my two foster parents to this disease.

The obituary pages are filled with names of people whose lives were snuffed out by disease.

Still we tend to find death’s arrival after a long battle against a disease easier to cope with, for there is a sense of preparedness / readiness for the fatal end, as unwanted as it may be.

Deaths from accident or from incidents such as Manchester are much harder to accept, for we weren’t ready for our loved ones suddenly departing from our lives.

We are saddened by the deaths of entertainment legends, for we feel that their entertainment touched our lives, but their deaths remind us that, like us, they were mortal too.

But when we compare the death of Moore to the deaths of Manchester, we are left with a sense of unfairness.

Moore was 89 and had lived a full life.

The youngest victim of the Manchester bombing was 8.

Chris Cornell and Salman Abedi could be compared in that they both committed suicide because they were both psychologically unhealthy, but Cornell brought value to the world while Abedi took it away.

So, in these times living in the shadow of death, who or what is the greatest villain?

I believe the greatest villain is: apathy.

When someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it should matter to us.

And it shouldn’t take the death of someone for us to finally realise their value to us.

Don’t take your loved ones for granted.

Don’t take life and health for granted.

Manchester bothers me.

It was senseless and sad.

I refuse to hate.

Abedi was one man, but not all are cast in the same mold.

I refuse to be afraid.

I will live my life to the fullest, knowing that there is no way to predict when my final moment will arrive.

I hope I never forget to be grateful for the life I have and the people within it.

To those reading these words, please know that you are loved and have value.

And it is my hope, whether my life ends in tragic suddenness in some senseless attack or unexpected accident, or if I cling to life against the onslaught of age or disease, that I will be considered to have lived a life of value because I cared.

The greatest villain is apathy.

The best solution is love.

Sources:

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (Dorling Kindersley)

The James Bond Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley)

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

New York Times, 24 May 2017

Wikipedia

The sick man of Europe (4): Bullets and ballots

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 April 2017

On Easter Sunday, the Turkish people had an election and chose to support President Recep Erdogan by a slim minority of votes. (3% victory margin)

File:Recep Tayyip Erdogan 2017.jpg

Depending on who you listen to, this means that either the President has now received a mandate to exercise unbridled power or he can now make democratic reform a reality.

I have been closely watching Turkey over the past few years and in particular the actions of His Excellency Recep Erdogan and I think that one needs to closely look at the President of Turkey to better understand the dynamics of Turkish politics and how these dynamics can affect global affairs.

File:Flag of Turkey.svg

In three previous blogposts (The sick man of Europe 1: The sons of Karbala / The sick man of Europe 2: The sorrow of Batman / The sick man of Europe 3: The rise of Recep) I wrote about the relationship between the Turkish people and the Kurds, with the latest post examining the rise of Recep Erdogan to the post of Prime Minister.

His tenure of Prime Minister (Turkish head of government) and his actions since he was elected President (Turkish head of state) are critically worth examining as his recent proposed reforms involve dissolving the post of Prime Minister and incorporating these powers into the position of the Turkish Presidency.

For non-Turkish readers I believe that the vigilant observation of Turkey is important for the world as Turkey has been and continues to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between secularism and fundamentalism, between Christianity and Islam, between the West and the East and the Middle East.

And, of course, Europeans are keenly interested in Turkey as, at present, Turkey harbours millions of Syrian refugees and prevents them from entering, in uncontrollable numbers, the European Union and other countries of the West.

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Above: A Syrian refugee centre on the Turkish border 80 km from Aleppo, Syria (3 August 2012)

So what affects Turkey has a rippling effect on the rest of the world.

In my last Turkey-related blogpost I ended by suggesting that Recep Erdogan has begun his political reign quite successfully.

He had risen from the role of one of Istanbul’s best mayors to the post of Prime Minister.

Erdogan served as the 25th Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014 and is at present the 12th President of the Republic and remains the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which he established in 2001.

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So, let’s examine his record in power…

In 2002, Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy that was just beginning to recover from a recession as a result of reforms implemented by then Minister of State for Economic Affairs Kemal Dervis.

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Erdogan supported Finance Minister Ali Babacan in enforcing macroeconomic policies and he tried to attract more foreign investors to Turkey by lifting many government regulations.

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In his tenure as Prime Minister, Erdogan reduced Turkey’s debt to the International Monetary Fund from $23. 5 billion to $0.9 billion, increased the Turkish Central Bank’s reserves from $26.5 billion to $92.2 billion, reduced Turkey’s inflation rate from 32% to 9%, reduced Turkey’s public debt from 74% to 39%, but he was unable to curb the increase in unemployment rates in his country.

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In 2003, Erdogan’s government pushed through the Labor Act, a comprehensive reform of Turkey’s labor laws, greatly expanding the rights of employees, establishing a 45-hour workweek and limiting overtime work to 270 hours a year, providing legal protection against discrimination due to gender, religion or political affliation, prohibiting discrimation between permanent and temporary employees, entitling employees terminated without valid cause to compensation and mandating written contracts for employment arrangements lasting a year or more.

In 2003, the Turkish government, together with UNICEF, started a campaign called “Come on girls, let’s go to school!”(Haydi Kizlar Okula!), with the goal of closing the gender gap in primary school enrollment through the provision of a quality basic education for all girls, especially in southeast Turkey (Kurdish populated).

File:UNICEF Logo.png

After assuming power in 2003, Erdogan’s government embarked on a sweeping reform program of the Turkish healthcare system, called the Health Transformation Program (HTP), to greatly increase the quality of healthcare and protect all citizens from financial risks.

On 18 April 2003, BBC News reported that the US had named 30 countries which were prepared to be publicly associated with the US (George W. Bush Administration)’s action against Iraq.

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All of the Arab states, Israel, Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, most of Latin America and most of Africa did not support the US action, but Turkey along with 29 other countries (including Britain and Australia) did join this “Coalition of the Willing” in the war against Iraq.

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Above: The flag of Iraq

Besides his government’s Haydi Kizlar Okula campaign, Erdogan would go on to increase the budget of the Ministry of Education (from 7.5 billion Turkish lira in 2002 to 34 billion Turkish lira by 2011), would raise the age of compulsory education from 8 years to 12, and would ensure that every province in Turkey would have its own university, doubling the number of universities from 98 in 2002 to 186 by 2012.

In 2004 textbooks became free of charge.

The construction of Marmaray, an undersea rail tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait separating Asia from Europe, was started in 2004, and, when completed, will be the world’s deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel.

File:Istanbul Line Symbol Marmaray.png

As well in 2004, as part of the government’s health care reforms, the Green Card program, which provides health benefits to the poor, was expanded, aiming to increase the ratio of private health care to state-run healthcare, which, along with long lines in state-run hospitals, resulting in the rise of private medical care, forcing state-run hospitals to compete by increasing quality.

And his reforms would attract the world’s attention…

In 2004, Erdogan would be listed in Time magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world, “a builder of bridges”, and be named European of the Year by the weekly European Voice, for having put Turkey on the road to reform.

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During Erdogan’s Prime Minstership, Turkish relations with Greece both politically and economically improved significantly.

In 2004, Erdogan and his party strongly supported the EU-backed referendum to reunify Cyprus, thus inspiring the EU to promise to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

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Above: The flag of Northern Cyprus

In 2004, Syrian President Bashar al-Assan arrived in Turkey for the first official visit by a Syrian President in 57 years, signing a free trade agreement with one another.

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Above: Bashar al-Assan, 15th President of Syria since 2000, born 1965

And at the end of the year, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey – only the second presidential visit in the history of Turkish-Russian relations after Chairman Podgorny’s visit of 1972.

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Above: Vladimir Putin, Russian President (2000-2008/2012- ), Prime Minister (1999-2000/2008-2012), born 1952

In 2005 Erdogan seemed to continue his exemplary reforms and positive foreign relations.

Erdogan and the main opposition party leader Deniz Baykal wrote a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, proposing the creation of a joint Turkish-Armenian commission of historians, archaeologists, political scientists and other experts to acknowledge the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide.

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Above: The flag of Armenia

Armenian Foriegn Minister Vartan Oskanian rejected the offer, because he asserted that the proposal was “insincere and not serious”.

“This issue cannot be considered at historical level with Turks, who themselves politicized the problem.”

The Turkish Parliament granted amnesty to students expelled from university before 2003, on academic or disciplinary grounds.

On 1 May 2005, in a rare state visit by a leader of a Muslim majority country, Erdogan came to Israel offering to serve as a Middle East peace mediator and looking to build on trade and military ties, bringing with him a delegation of businessmen.

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During his visit to Israel, Erdogan also visited the Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust).

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Above: Aerial view of Yad Vashem

In November 2005, Russian President Putin attended the inauguration of a jointly constructed natural gas pipeline in Turkey, considering it their strategic goal to achieve “multidimensional cooperation” in the fields of energy, transport and the military.

Erdogan was a co-founder of the Alliance of Civilisations (AOC), first proposed by Spanish Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005, seeking to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

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Erdogan said that “Turkey’s accession shows that Europe is a continent where civilisation reconcile and not clash.”

On 3 October 2005 negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU formally started.

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Above: The flag of the European Union

In 2006, a Turkish-Armenian friendship monument, the Monument to Humanity, was commissioned in Kars, representing the rapprochement of the two countries after many years of dispute over the events of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

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Above: The Statue of Humanity (2009 – 2011)

But Turkey’s troubles and questions regarding Erdogan’s questionable methods began to arise…

In March 2006, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) held a press conference to publicly protest his obstruction of the appointment of judges to the high courts for over 10 months, saying that Erdogan wanted to fill the vacant posts with his own appointees.

Erdogan was accused of creating a rift with Turkey’s highest court of appeal, the Yargitay, and high administrative court, the Danistay.

Erdogan said the constitution gave him the power to assign these posts to his elected party.

Yet reforms still seemed underway as Erdogan unveiled a social security reform package demanded by the IMF under a loan deal.

The move which Erdogan called “one of the most radical reforms ever”, was passed with fierce opposition.

Turkey’s three social security bodies were united under one roof, bringing equal health services and retirement benefits for members of all three bodies.

The previous system had been criticized for reserving the best healthcare for civil servants and relating others to wait in long queues.

Under the 2006 bill, everyone under the age of 18 was entitled to free health services, while starting from 2036, the retirement age was increased to 65 for both men and women.

In August 2006, Saudi King Abdullah as-Saud made a visit to Turkey – the first visit by a Saudi monarch to Turkey in four decades, increasing their trading volume as their strategic locations meant their economies were in a a position to supplement each other.

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Above: The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Erdogan received the Outstanding Service Award from the humanitarian organization Red Crescent (Islamic equivalent to the Red Cross).

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But 2006 would mark the last year where people were mostly praising Erdogan…

In May 2007, the head of Turkey’s High Court asked prosecutors to consider whether Erdogan should be charged over critical comments he made the previous month regarding the election of Abdullah Gül as President.

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Above: Abdullah Gül, 11th President of Turkey (2007 – 2014) / 24th Prime Minister of Turkey (2002 – 2003)

Erdogan said the High Court ruling was “a disgrace to the justice system” and criticized the Constitutional Court which had invalidated a presidential vote because a boycott by other parties meant there was no quorum.

Prosecutors investigated his earlier comments, saying Erdogan had fired a “bullet at democracy”.

Tülay Tuglu, head of the Constitutional Court, condemned the Prime Minister for “threats, insults and hostility” towards the justice system.

On a positive note, the Turkish Parliament agreed to reduce the age of candidacy to elected office from 30 to 25 and abolished the death penalty in all instances, including war time.

Both the military and the judiciary are widely known for their secular credentials (that is, the separation of religion from government), so both therefore represent a threat to Erdogan’s moderately Islamic government.

2007 was an election year.

The stage was set for a fight for legitimacy in the eyes of voters between Erdogan’s government and the second largest party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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On 14 April 2007, an estimated 300,000 people marched in Ankara to protest against the possible candidacy of Erdogan in the Presidential election, afraid that if elected Erdogan would alter the secular nature of the Turkish state.

Ten days later, Erdogan announced that his party had nominated Abdullah Gül as the AKP candidate in the Presidential election.

Protests continued over the next several weeks, with over one million people reported to have turned out as a 29 April rally in Istanbul, tens of thousands at separate protests on 4 May in Manisa and Canakkale, and one million in Izmir on 13 May.

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Above: Protest rally of 14 April 2007, Ankara

Early parliamentary elections were called after the failure of the parties in Parliament to agree on the next Turkish President.

The opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary vote and deadlocked the election process.

Erdogan spoke of a failure of the Turkish political system and proposed to modify the Turkish constitution.

Gül was later elected President after the general elections on 22 July 2007 that saw the AKP and Erdogan brought back to power with 46% of the vote.

Later in 2007, a Turkish constitutional referendum was approved with the support of 69% of the voters to modify the constitution to allow the people, not Parliament, to elect the President.

This reform also reduced the Presidential term from seven years to five, allowed the President to stand for re-election for a second term, determined that general elections would be held every four years instead of five and reduced the quorum of lawmakers needed for parliamentary decisions from 367 to 184.

During this chaotic elction, the military issued an electronic memorandum warning the government to keep within the boundaries of secularism when choosing a candidate, because Erdogan had close relations with Fethullah Gülen and his Hizmet movement.

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Above: Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, born 1941

(Muhammed Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer and political figure, as he has been actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state and Islam in the modern world.

Gülen has been described in English-language media as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures”.

The Gülen movement has millions of followers in Turkey and abroad.

Beyond the schools – over 1,000 schools around the world –  established by Gülen’s followers, it is believed that many Gülenists hold positions of power in Turkey’s police forces and judiciary.

Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue and multiparty democracy.

In his sermons, Gülen has reportedly stated:  “Studying physics, mathematics and chemistry is worshipping God.”

He has initiated dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organisations and has personally met with Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

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Above: Gülen with Pope John Paul II, 1998

Gülen teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service to the “common good” of the community and to the nation and to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, and that the Muslim community is obliged to conduct dialogue with not just the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) and people of other religions, but also with agnostics and atheists.

Gülen has said that he favours cooperation between followers of different religions as well as religious and secular elements within society.

Among his strongest supporters and collaborators has been for years the Greek Orthodox Turcologist and Professor at the University of Ottawa, Dimitri Kitsikis.

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Above: Crest of the University of Ottawa

Though Gülen has criticized secularism in Turkey as “reductionist materialism”, he has said that a secular approach is not “anti-religious” and “allows for freedom of religion and belief, compatible with Islam”.

Gülen has supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and has said that neither Turkey nor the EU have anything to fear, but have much to gain, from a future of full Turkish membership in the EU.

Gülen has condemned terrorism and has warned against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians, saying it “has no place in Islam”.

Gülen wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on 12 September 2001, one day after the 9/11 attacks and stated:

“A Muslim cannot be a terrorist nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.”

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Gülen lamented the “hijacking of Islam” by terrorists.)

In 2007, Erdogan’s government developed the SECSIS secure vote counting system in order to reduce fraud.

However SECSIS has been criticized for being prone to manipulation, and, according to one of its critics Neval Kavcar, “with this electoral system, the AKP can be elected for a thousand years”.

However, not all the news regarding Erdogan that year was bad.

The President of Israel Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish Parliament during his November visit, the first time an Israeli leader had addressed the legislature of a predominantly Muslim nation.

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Above: Shimon Peres (1923 – 2016), 9th President of Israel (2007-2014) / 8th Prime Minister of Israel (1995-1996)

And that same month, Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis met on the bridge over the Evros River, at the border between Greece and Turkey, for the inauguration of the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, linking these longtime rivals and giving Caspian gas its first direct Western outlet, easing Russia’s energy dominance.

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Above: The flag of Greece

Erdogan received awards for his efforts from the President of Tatarstan, the Prime Minister of Spain, the Chancellor of Germany, and the United Nations.

2008 didn’t garnish much world attention for Erdogan or for Turkey.

In December 2008, Erdogan criticized the “I Apologize” campaign by Turkish intellectuals to recognize the Armenian Genocide saying:

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Above: An Armenian woman kneeling beside a dead child in field within sight of help and safety at Aleppo, 1915

“I neither accept nor support this campaign.

We did not commit a crime, therefore we do not need to apologize.

It will not have any benefit other than stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace and undoing the steps that have been taken.”

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Above: Headline of New York Times, 15 December 1915

Erdogan supported the continuation of Turkey’s high population growth rate and commented that to ensure the Turkish population remained young every family would need to have at least three children.

He has repeated this statement on numerous occasions.

In 2008, the Turkish Parliament adopted a law to prohibit smoking in most public places.

Erdogan is outspokenly anti-smoking.

On 14 March 2008, Turkey’s Chief Prosecutor asked the country’s Constitutional Court to ban Erdogan’s governing party.

The AKP escaped a ban on 30 July 2008, although judges did cut the party’s funding by 50%.

As 2009 dawned, though Erdogan was not loved by everyone within Turkey itself, Erdogan had, for the most part, the support of the world community.

This would begin to change as Erdogan’s relations with Israel and the Kurds would become problematic…

(To be continued)

Sources: Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Richard Stoneman, A Traveller’s History of Turkey

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Above: The national emblem of Turkey

Fear Itself

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 March 2017

And the madness continues….

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

London, England, 22 March 2017 (1440 hours)

Just another day, business as usual.

Tourists take selfies outside the Houses of Parliament while inside the politicians buzz about on the business of Brexit and schoolchildren view the spectacle of Prime Minister’s Questions.

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On Wednesday, exactly one year after the Brussels bombings, a London terrorist attack has left 5 people dead – including the attacker and a police officer – and 40 people injured.

Dozens of tourists and workers were struck down by a car on Westminster Bridge before the driver fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer outside the British Houses of Parliament.

The assailant, a man in his 40s wielding two large knives, was shot dead by other police.

The attack lasted five minutes, as the dark grey Hyundai Tucson hurtled across Westminster Bridge and jumped the curb.

Pedestrians on the Bridge thought that the driver must have collapsed and that the car would come to a halt.

Then the car changed direction.

The next sound was the revving of the engine.

This was a deliberate act.

The car barrelled along the pavement, hitting more than a dozen people, including a group of French schoolchildren, forces a woman to jump into the Thames to avoid being struck, before smashing into the railings by the Palace of Westminster near Westminster Tube Station.

“It was carnage.

There were bodies flying everywhere.

He (the driver) must have been going 70 mph.

There must have been dozens of people flying up into the air.

It was chaos.

There was mass hysteria.

Blood everywhere.

Bodies everywhere.”

(James Sheriff, witness)

Three shots were heard as the driver leapt out and rushed around the corner to Parliament’s Carriage Gates, stabbing a plainclothes policeman.

Constable Keith Palmer was standing near the entrance to Westminster Hall when the intruder, dressed in black, stabbed him in the back of the head and the back of the neck with an 8-inch long knife.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (centre) stands amongst the emergency services at the scene outside the Palace of Westminster, London, after policeman has been stabbed and his apparent attacker shot by officers in a major security incident at the Houses of Parliament

In the midst of the chaos of the attack, MP Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister rushed to the Constable’s side and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while trying to stem the flow of blood pouring from his body and splattering Ellwood’s face and clothes.

By Ellwood’s side was Tony Davis, a Team Great Britain boxing coach who hopped over the fence to assist.

Despite their efforts Constable Palmer was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

Two armed plainclothes police officers then shot the attacker three times.

It saddens me that no one seems shocked, because terrorist-type violence has become so prevalent as to almost have become passé, with the notable exception of violence`s impact on its victims and their loved ones.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Westminster had been targeted by those who rejected its values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

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The PM praised the bravery of police and said Parliament would continue to meet as normal.

“The location of this attack was no accident.

The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.

These streets of Westminster, home to the world’s oldest Parliament, are ingrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe.

And the values our Parliament represents _ democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law – command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.

That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.

But let me make it clear…

Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.

Tomorrow, Parliament will meet as normal.

We will come together as normal.

And Londoners and others from around the world who have come to visit this great city will go about their day as normal.

They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives.

We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

World leaders condemned the attack on Westminster as they reacted with horror and sympathy.

French President Francois Hollande issued a call to action:

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“We are all concerned with terrorism.

France, which has been struck so hard lately, knows what the British people are suffering today.

It is clear that it is at the European level, and even beyond that, that we must organise ourselves.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council:

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“My thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack.

Europe stands firm with the UK against the terror and ready to help.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her thoughts were “with our British friends and all the people of London.”

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“Although the background to these acts is not yet clear, I reaffirm that Germany and its citizens stand firmly and resolutely alongside Britons in the struggle against all forms of terrorism.”

In an Evening Standard article, from September 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that capital cities “have got to be prepared” for terrorist attacks.

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The article described how the Mayor ordered a complete review of the capital’s terrorist attack response.

Donald Trump Jr., the US President’s eldest son, tweeted (like father, like son):

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“You have to be kidding me?!

Terror attacks are part of living in a big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”

“Mini-Donald” has been accused of judging the Mayor and failing to read the full article.

Though one thing remains certain…

Somewhere, sometime, it is not a matter of if there is going to be another terrorist attack, but when that attack will come.

It is impossible to watch everyone and stop everything.

Terrorists cling to the knowledge that they only have to be lucky once.

“Since 2001, they have been lucky more than once….

The murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013, using a car and kitchen knives as weapons of terror, paved the way for the kind of crude atrocities we have since seen in Nice, Berlin and yesterday….

(H)owever…jihadists try more often than they succeed.

Since the Woolwich murder, 13 terrorist plots have been twarted while at any one time about 500 security investigations are taking place.

London….will defy the terrorists by returning to normal today, although it has had a sharp reminder to shrug off complacency.”

(Sean O’Neill, The Times, 23 March 2017)

Ellwood has felt the shock of terrorism before, having lost his brother Jonathan, a 39-year-old teacher, in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Above: List of the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings

Was the attacker inspired through the Internet?

In September 2014, ISIS chief spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani – killed last year in a Russian airstrike in Syria – issued a fatwa that spread rapidly around the world on jihadist forums.

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“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.

Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

Since then, there has been a series of attacks in the West that appear to have been inspired by Adnani, including the vehicle attacks on the Nice waterfront and the Berlin Christmas market, when lorries were used as weapons, and the assault on the Canadian Parliament by a lone gunman.

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Above: The Promenade des Anglais, site of the 2016 Nice attack

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Above: Aftermath of Berlin Christmas market attack

Parliament Hill's Centre Block

Above: Ottawa’s Parliament Hill

London has seen it all before.

In the grim list of incidents in London that have been labelled as “terrorism”, as far back as 15 February 1894, when Greenwich Observatory was attacked with a bomb which killed only the French anarchist who mishandled it, London has been a target of groups and individuals who have intended to punish governments by attacking citizens.

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Above: Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England

London has survived Roman and Norman invasions, plague and fire, German bombardment and riots in the streets.

In the 21st century alone, a series of four coordinated suicide attacks in central London in which three bombs exploded on the Underground and aboard a double-decker bus killed 52 people and injured 700 people on 7 July 2005; in 2013, a British Army soldier was attacked and killed near his barracks in southeast London; in 2015, a man with a knife stabbed a number of people at the Leytonshire tube station, shouting “This is for Syria!”.

Worldwide there have been thousands of terrorist attacks since the mid-19th century, starting with the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in the US.

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In the year 2000, in just the first six months of the year, the world witnessed 91 separate acts of terrorism enacted on civilian populations.

And this was not an unusual year.

But many of these types of attacks go unnoticed the further away they occur from white Christian lands.

For example, every single day in January 2006 saw a terrorist incident somewhere in the world, but as these mostly occurred in the Middle East and Africa the media paid scant attention to them.

Does anyone remember on New Year’s Day last year ISIS executed 300 West African immigrants in Tripoli, Libya?

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Above: The flag of Libya

If you don’t, then you are not alone.

But we remember Paris, we remember Nice, we remember Brussels…

There was a terrorist incident every single day in January 2017.

We all remember Alexandre Bissonette killing six Muslims in a mosque in Quebec City.

Above: Memorial outside the ruins of the Eglise Sainte Foy next to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec which was targeted

Yet this same month also saw…

(I am only mentioning the double-digit casualities here.)

…17 killed in Cameroon, 30 killed in Pakistan, 77 killed in Mali, 94 killed in Somalia, 15 killed in Nigeria…

Don’t remember these?

First time reading about these?

Why am I not surprised?

President Trump has spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May, pledging the “full cooperation and support of the United States government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice.”

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Last month, 39 people were killed in terrorist incidents in Somalia, 45 people in Afghanistan, 93 people in Syria, 106 people in Pakistan and 185 people in Iraq.

We remember Olathe, Kansas, and one dead Indian computer programmer.

(For details about this shooting, please see Bleeding Beauty of this blog.)

This month alone, there have been 122 people in Afghanistan, 125 people in Syria, 53 people in Iraq, 13 people in Somalia, 12 people in India, 11 people in Mali…all killed in terrorist incidents.

Where is the world`s full cooperation and support?

Are Afghanis, Indians, Iraqis, Malians, Syrians and Somalians less noteworthy, less newsworthy, than others?

As we consider the events of the assault on Westminster on Wednesday, eight Nigerians were killed by a series of Boko Haram bombs detonated along a public highway on the same day.

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Above: The flag of Nigeria

You might read about Nigeria sometime, buried in the back pages of a newspaper, if it is mentioned at all.

The War on Terror?

How exactly is that working out for everybody?

Claiming down on civil liberties in the name of security is not the answer.

Opposing democracy and independent development in other countries because otherwise their products or their labour in our factories there will become more expensive is not the answer.

Supporting regimes and dictators regardless of their atrocities because this gives us access to resources at a lower cost is not the answer.

If we are attacked by terrorists, religion is not the reason, it is the excuse.

If the West wants to prevent further attacks in the future, it must realise that neither unleashing our militaries nor tightening domestic security  nor limiting discussion on supposedly patriotic grounds is the answer.

We see ourselves as decent, hardworking people who wish the rest of the world well and do more than our share to help.

We are proud of our freedom and prosperous way of life, but we need to have honest discussion about our conduct abroad.

Where is our conduct wise?

Where is our conduct not wise?

Does our conduct correspond to the values we say we believe in?

Outside of our homelands are our troops, our companies, our embassies practising the values we preach or only pretending to do so?

If we want a healthy relationship with the six billion people we share the planet with, we need to understand who these people are, how they live, what they think and why.

We need to care about the world beyond our borders, beyond our experience.

We need to think beyond our bank accounts and realise we are a planet of people interdependent upon one another for our mutual survival as a species.

We need to question ourselves and those who represent us and those who inform us and those who serve us.

This is not charity, this is for both our self-interest and self-preservation.

No nation is invulnerable.

We can no longer afford to ignore what the rest of the world thinks.

We are our brother`s keeper.

But when we bomb cities, allow dictators to crush their citizenry’s free spirit, finance and train revolutionary movements against democratically elected governments, disregard starvation, disease and starvation around the world while living such privileged wasteful lives, we should not be surprised when others might be upset with us.

As individuals we need to ask questions about what our governments are doing in our name and demand they practice the values they say they represent..

As individuals we need to demand a media that tells us the truth about ourselves and the world regardless of whether the truth is complimentary to ourselves or not.

The media should serve all its citizenry not just the business interests that fund it.

Remove the reasons for terrorism and remove the fear.

The only way to fight terrorism is to fight the causes of terrorism.

When people suffer injustice and oppression, when their lands are occupied, when they are endlessly humiliated, when they are beaten, imprisoned, raped or killed for expressing dissident political opinions, violence can seem their only alternative.

The best defence of democracy is the practice of democracy, both within and shown outside our lands.

London, Ottawa, Brussels, New York, Nice, Madrid have fallen victim to terrorist attacks.

So have Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.

Their lives are no less important, no less significant than our own.

When someone commits a crime and says he does it in the name of a religion, this is not a religious believer this is simply a criminal and should be treated as such, an individual who has committed a crime.

Those who truly follow a religion do not practice violence.

Practicing a religion does not mean regular attendance at a building designated as religious.

Practicing a religion does not mean discrimination against others who do not do as you do, believe as you believe, dress as you dress, think as you think.

Practicing a religion means acting as if the words of love and obedience to love actually matter.

Practicing a religion is to show that religion as something that truly makes you happy and shines through you to make that religion attractive to others through your exhibiting love for others.

If we act responsibly then we can, with clear conscience, expect others to respond accordingly.

If we have done so, and those that represent us and inform us have done so, then those who do commit violence against us will have shown themselves to be the criminals they truly are and should be dealt with as we would with any criminal.

Be vigilant, be ready to respond to emergencies, but be loving towards others.

Fear usually is the result of our being worried for receiving punishment for the things we did but shouldn´t have or for the things we didn’t do but should have.

If my government is causing harm to others and I have done nothing or said nothing to prevent them from causing harm, then I should not be surprised if those who have been harmed seek vengence against me.

We are responsible for others and this responsibility doesn’t only stop outside our homes, our borders or our beliefs.

Did the individuals struck down in Westminster deserve what happened to them?

As individuals, no.

But as representatives of powers and principalities that allow harm to happen to others, it should not be a surprise if those that strike us down feel we are deserving of such a terrible fate.

We need one another and until we learn that lesson we will continue to destroy one another.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Times, 23 March 2017 / The New York Times, 25 March 2017 / Noam Chomsky, Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews / Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sick man of Europe (3): The rise of Recep

Landschlacht, Switzerland, St. Patrick’s Day 2017

I am a Turkey watcher.

Flag of Turkey

I have twice visited this beautiful country and I have rarely met a Turk I haven`t liked.

I began to talk about Turkey in this blog, because of the event that began 2017: the ISIS attack on a nightclub in Istanbul.

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Above: The Reina restaurant/nightclub, Istanbul

(See this blog’s No Longer My Country 1: Take Me Back to Constantinople and No Longer My Country 2: The fashionable dead.)

Four days later, a PKK car bombing in Izmir made me curious about exactly why the Kurdish people and the Turkish people have been at each other’s throats for decades and I have tried to be objective in writing about what my research has turned up.

I wrote of Turkey`s history from its ancient beginnings until the election of Turgat Özal in 1989.

Location of Turkey

I promised that I would explain why Turkish politics of today, especially the actions of its President, are affected by events of the past.

The events that followed the election of President Özal and all that has taken place in Turkey since 1989 I believe are instructive, for a number of reasons:

The location of Turkey as the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the meeting point of a predominantly Christian West with a predominantly Muslim Middle East, the crucible of secularism vs fundamentalism, makes Turkey one of the major countries I think the world cannot afford to ignore.

The political evolution of Turkey, especially since Recep Erdogan first assumed office as Turkey’s 25th Prime Minister (2003 – 2014) and then its 12th President (2014 – Present), runs very similarly to other nations’ histories and possible destinies.

(See this blog’s The sick man of Europe 1: The sons of Karbala and The sick man of Europe 2: The sorrow of Batman.)

To understand Turkish politics of today, we need to look at how His Excellency became ruler of Turkey and how his mind might work.

Recep Erdogan was born in the Kasimpasa neighbourhood of Istanbul, to which his family had moved from Rize Province.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan June 2015.jpg

Erdogan spent his early childhood in Rize, where his father was a member of the Turkish Coast Guard.

His summer holidays were mostly spent in Güneysu, Rize, where his family originates from.

Throughout his life Erdogan has often returned to his spiritual home and in 2015 he opened a vast mosque on a mountaintop near his village.

His family returned to Istanbul when Erdogan was 13 years old.

See caption

As a teenager he sold lemonade and sesame buns (simit) on the streets of the city’s rougher districts to earn extra money.

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Brought up in an observant Muslim family, Erdogan graduated from Kasimpasa Piyale primary school in 1973, received his high school diploma from Eyüp High School, studied business administration at the Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences – though several sources dispute the claim that he graduated.

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(To be President of Turkey, one must have graduated from a university.)

In his youth Erdogan played semi-professional football for the Kasimpasa football club, but when Fenerbahce Football Club wanted him to join their team his father prevented this.

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While studying business administration and playing football, Erdogan engaged in politics by joining the National Turkish Student Union, an anti-communist action group.

In 1974, Erdogan wrote, directed and played the lead role in the play Maskomya, which presented Freemasonry, Communism and Judaism as evil.

In 1975 Süleyman Demirel, president of the conservative Justice Party succeeded Bülent Ecevit, president of the social-democratic Republican People’s Party as Prime Minister of Turkey.

Demirel formed a coalition government with the Nationalist Front, the Islamist Salvation Party led by Necmettin Erbakan, and the far right Nationalist Movement Party.

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The 1970s were troubled times for Turkey: many economic and social problems, strike actions and political paralysis.

Turkey’s proportional representation system made it difficult to form any parliamentary majority and an ability to combat the growing violence in the country.

In 1976, Erdogan became the head of the Beyoglu youth branch of the Islamist Salvation Party and was later promoted to the chair of the Istanbul youth branch of the party.

In 1978, Erdogan married Emine Gülbaran of Siirt (a city in southeastern Turkey and capital of Siirt Province) and they have two sons (Ahmet and Necmettin) and two daughters (Esra and Sümeyye).

After the 1980 military coup, Erdogan followed most of Necmettin Erbakan’s followers into the Islamist Welfare Party.

Between 1984 and 1999, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish military engaged in open war.

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Above: Flag of the PKK

The Republic forced inscription, evacuation, destruction of villages, extreme harassment, tortue, illegal arrests, murder and disappearance of Kurdish journalists and executions of Kurds.

Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for the thousands of human rights abuses.

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Erdogan became the party’s Beyoglu district chair in 1984 and a year later became the chair of the Istanbul city branch.

Meanwhile, the military coup leaders under Kenan Evren appointed Turgut Özal state minister and deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs.

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Özal formed the Motherland Party (ANAP) in 1983 after the ban on political parties was lifted by the military government.

The ANAP won the elections and he formed the government to become Turkey’s 19th Prime Minister at the end of the year.

When Özal became Prime Minister, the issue of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 was one of topics on his aganda.

Above: Remains of Armenians massacred at Erzinjan

In 1991, after a meeting with representatives of the Armenian community, Özal said in front of journalists and diplomats:

“What happens if we compromise with the Armenians and end this issue?

What if we officially recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide and face up to our past?

Let’s take the initiative and find the truth.

Let’s pay the political and economic price, if necessary.”

Özal was reelected Prime Minister in 1987.

On 18 June 1988 Özal survived an assassination attempt during the ANAP party congress.

One bullet wounded his finger while another bullet missed his head.

The shooter, Kartal Demirag, was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment but was pardoned by Özal in 1992.

On 9 November 1989, Özal became Turkey’s 8th President elected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the first president to be born in the Republic of Turkey rather than the Ottoman Empire.

(Demirag was later retried in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.)

Özal was born in Malatya to a Turkish family with partial Kurdish roots on his mother’s side.

Views from the city

Above: Scenes of the city of Malatya

In 1991 Özal supported the coalition of nations (France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States) against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.

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Above: Scenes from the 1991 Gulf War

In the early 1990s Özal agreed to negotiations with the PKK, the events of the Gulf War having changed the political dynamics in the region.

(Kurds make up 17% of Iraq’s population.

In 1974 the Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds.

Between 1975 and 1978, 200,000 Kurds were deported out of oil rich Kurdistan.

During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Iraqi government implemented anti-Kurdish policies: the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the wholesale destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages, the deportation of thousands of Kurds.

The Anfal (spoils of war) genocidal campaign destroyed over 2,000 villages and killed 182,000 Kurdish civilians, using ground offensives, aerial bombing, firing squads and chemical attacks, including the most infamous attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 that killed 5,000 civilians instantly.

Above: First Lieutenant of the US 25th Infantry on patrol in fron of Halabja Cemetery

After the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991, Iraqi troops recaptured most of the Kurdish areas and 1.5 million Kurds abandoned their homes and fled to the Turkish and Iranian borders.

It is estimated that close to 20,000 Kurds succumbed to death due to exhaustion, lack of food, exposure to cold and disease.

On 5 April 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 688, which condemned the repression of Iraqi Kurdish civilians and demanded that Iraq end its repressive measures and allow immediate access to international humanitarian organisations.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

In mid-April, the Coalition established safe havens inside Iraqi borders and prohibited Iraqi planes from flying north of the 36th parallel.

Kurds held parliamentary elections in May 1992 and established the Kurdistan Regional Government.)

Apart from Özal, few Turkish politicians were interested in a peace process with the Kurds, nor was more than a part of the PKK itself.

In 1993 Özal worked on peace plans with former finance minister Adnan Kahveci and General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Esref Bitlis.

Negotiations led to a ceasefire declaration by the PKK on 20 March 1993.

With the PKK’s ceasefire declaration achieved, Özal planned to propose a major pro-Kurdish reform package at the next meeting of the National Security Council.

On 17 April 1993 Özal died of a suspicious heart attack, leading some to suspect an assassination.

Özal died just before he had the chance to negotiate with the PKK.

A month later a PKK ambush on 24 May 1993 ensured the end of the peace process.

After Özal’s death, his policies of compromising with the Armenians in order to solve the conflict concerning the Armenian Genocide were abandoned.

Özal’s wife Semra claimed he had been poisoned by lemonade and she questioned the lack of an autopsy.

Blood samples taken to determine his cause of death were lost or disposed of.

Tens of thousands of people attended the state burial ceremony in Istanbul.

(On the 14th anniversary of his death, thousands gathered in Ankara in commemoration.

Investigators wanted to exhume the body to examine it for poisoning.

On 3 October 2012 Özal’s body was exhumed.

It contained the banned insecticide DDT at ten times the normal level.)

Under the new President Süleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Tansu Siller, the Castle Plan – to use any and all means to solve the Kurdish question using violence – which Özal had opposed, was enacted.

In the local elections of 27 March 1994, Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul (1994 – 1998).

Many feared that he would impose Islamic law.

However he was pragmatic in office, tackling chronic problems in Istanbul, including water shortage, pollution and traffic chaos.

The water shortage problem was solved with the laying of hundreds of kilometres of new pipeline.

The garbage problem was solved with the establishment of state-of-the-art recycling facilities.

Air pollution was reduced by making public buses more environmentally friendly.

Istanbul’s traffic and transportation jams were reduced with more than 50 bridges, viaducts and highways built.

Erdogan took precautions to prevent corruption, using measures to ensure that municipal funds were used prudently.

He paid back a major portion of Istanbul’s two billion dollar debt and invested four billion dollars in the city.

Erdogan initiated the first roundtable of mayors during the Istanbul Conference, which led to an organised global movement of mayors.

In December 1997, while in his wife’s hometown of Siirt, defending his party from being declared unconstitutional by the Turkish government, Erdogan recited a poem from a work written by Ziya Gökalp, a Turkish activist of the early 20th century.

Above: The Ebul Vefa Mosque, Siirt

(To understand Turkey, one must never forget that this is a country that subscribes to the “great man” view of history and politics.

Travellers in Turkey find portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938) everywhere.

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Atatürk created modern Turkey, not only by reclaiming from the Ottoman Empire virtually all the territory that we call Turkey today but as well by lending his name to a series of reforms to demonstrate the uniqueness of living in Turkey – the elimination of the fez, the alteration of the calendar to make Saturday and Sunday the weekend, women encouraged to enter more fully into public life by no longer making veiling compulsory, the adoption of the Latin alphabet, to name just a few changes that led to genuine transformation of the most intimate moments of the Turkish people’s lives.

Mehmed Ziya Gökalp (1876 – 1924) was a Turkish sociologist, writer, poet and political activist whose work was particularly influential in shaping the reforms of Atatürk.

Above: Ziya Gökalp

Influenced by contemporary European thought, particularly the views of Émile Durkheim, Gökalp rejected the unity of the Ottoman Empire or unity through Islam, in favour of Turkish nationalism through the promotion of the Turkish language and culture.

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Above: Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917)

Gökalp believed that a nation must have a “shared consciousness” in order to survive, that “the individual becomes a genuine personality only as he becomes a genuine representative of his culture”.

He believed that a modern state must become homogeneous in terms of culture, religion and national identity.

In an 1911 article, Gökalp suggested that “Turks are the ‘supermen’ imagined by the German philosopher Nietzsche”.

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Above: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Gökalp differentiated between Avrupalilik (Europeanism – the mimicking of Western socieities) and Modernlik (taking initiative).

He was interested in Japan as a model for this, for he perceived Japan as having modernised itself without abandoning its innate cultural identity.

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Above: Flag of Japan

Gökalp suggested that to subordinate “culture” (non-utilitarian, altruist public-spiritedness) to “civilisation” (utilitarian. egotistical individualism) was to doom a state to decline.

“Civilisation destroyed societal solidarity and morality.”

(Many historians and sociologists have suggested that his brand of nationalism contributed to the Armenian Genocide.)

Gökalp’s poetry served to complement and popularise his sociological and nationalist views.)

Erdogan’s recitation of Gökalp’s work included verses which are not in the original version of the poem:

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

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Aboe: The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Under Article 312/2 of the Turkish Penal Code, Erdogan’s recitation was regarded as an incitement to violence and religious/racial hatred.

In 1998, his fundamentalist Welfare Party was declared unconstitutional on the grounds of threatening the secularism of Turkey and was shut down by the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Erdogan was given a ten-month prison sentence of which he served four. (24 March – 27 July 1999)

Due to his conviction, Erdogan was banned from participating in parliamentary elections.

As 9th President of Turkey, His Excellency Süleyman Demirel had four Prime Ministers rise and fall during his time in office:

Tansu Ciller

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(Turkey’s 22nd and first and only female Prime Minister (1993 – 1996), Ciller was responsible for the aforementioned Castle Plan, the persuasion of the United States to label the PKK as a terrorist organisation, the creation of a budget plan that led to a lack of confidence in her government and an almost total collapse of the Turkish lira, was alleged to have supported the failed 1995 Azerbaijan coup d’état, claimed Turkish sovereignty over the islands of Imia and Kardak almost leading to war with joint claimant Greece and was implicated in the Susurluk Scandal involving the close relationship between her government, the armed forces and organised crime.)

Necmettin Erbakan (1926 – 2011)

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(Turkey’s 23rd Prime Minister (1996 – 1997), Erbakan formed a coalition government with Ciller acting as Deputy Prime Minister and strongly promoted close cooperation and unity among Muslim countries.

He was the founder of the still-existent D8 (Developing Eight) Organization for Economic Cooperation, whose goal is increased economic and political unity between its members (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey).

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Erbakan found his popularity wane when he made fun of the nightly repetition of demonstrations against his Deputy Prime Minister.

He was strongly encouraged by the military to resign over his perceived violation of the separation of religion and state as mandated by the Turkish Constitution.)

Mesut Yilmaz

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(Turkey’s 21st Prime Minister (June – November 1991, March- June 1996, 1997 – 1999), Yilmaz quickly began to fade for his 3rd and final time as Prime Minister.

In October 1998, he threatened “to poke out the eyes of Syria” over Syrian President Hafez  al-Assad’s (1930 – 2000)(18th President of Syria: 1971 – 2000) alleged support of the FKK.

Flag of Syria

Above: The flag of Syria

(During Assad’s presidency, Syria’s relations with Turkey were tense.

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An important issue between the countries was water supply and Syria’s support to the PKK.

Assad offered help to the PKK enabled it to receive training in the Beka’a’ Valley in Lebanon.

Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the PKK, openly used Assad’s villa in Damascus as a base for operations.

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Turkey threatened to cut off all water supplies to Syria.

However, when the Turkish Prime Minister or President sent a formal letter to the Syrian leadership requesting it to stop supporting the PKK, Assad ignored them.

At that time, Turkey could not attack Syria due to its low military capacity near the Syrian border, and advised the European NATO members to avoid becoming involved in Middle East conflicts in order to avoid escalating the West’s conflict with the Warsaw Pact states, since Syria had good relations with the Soviet Union.

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Above: Logo of the Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance

However, after the end of the Cold War, Turkish military concentration on the Syrian border increased.

In mid-1998, Turkey threatened Syria with military action because of Syrian aid to Öcalan, and in October it gave Syria an ultimatum.

Assad was aware of the possible consequences of Syria’s continuing support to the PKK.

Turkey was militarily powerful while Syria had lost the support of the Soviet Union.

The Russian Federation was not willing to help; neither was it capable of taking strong measures against Turkey.

Facing a real threat of military confrontation with Turkey, Syria signed the Adana Memorandum in October 1998, which designated the PKK as a terrorist organization and required Syria to evict it from its territory.

After the PKK was dissolved in Syria, Turkish-Syrian political relations improved considerably, but issues such as water supplies from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers remained unsolved.)

In December 1998, in an attempt to privatise the Turkish Trade Bank, allegations of cooperation with Mafia boss Alaattin Cakici began to arise.

Mustafa Bülent Ecevit

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(Turkey’s 16th Prime Minister (January – November 1974, June – July 1977, 1978 – 1979, 1999 – 2002), Ecevit would try to bring economic reforms, aimed at stabilizing the Turkish economy, in order to gain full membership into the European Union.)

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

(Despite lasting only ten months, Ecevit’s first government was responsible for the successful Turkish invasion of Cyprus, for which he is nicknamed the ‘conqueror of Cyprus’. (Turkish: Kıbrıs Fatihi) )

In 2000, Ahmet Necdet Sezer was elected as Turkey’s 10th President (2000 – 2007) after Süleyman Demirel’s seven-year term expired.

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The Prime Ministers during Demiril’s term with their unstable coalitions, rampant corruption and lack of durability caused the Turkish people to become highly disillusioned with their government.

Their lack of faith would cause foreign nations to carefully examine any investment in Turkey.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey relied heavily on foreign investment for economic growth.

The government was already running enormous budget deficits, which it managed to sustain by selling huge quantities of high-interest bonds to Turkish banks.

Continuing inflation and the enormous flow of foreign capital had meant that the government could avoid defaulting on the bonds in the short term.

As a consequence, Turkish banks came to rely on these high yield bonds as a primary investment.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1996 warned the Turkish government of an impending financial crisis because of the deficit.

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Turkey’s unstable political landscape led many foreign investors to divest from the country.

As foreign investors observed the political turmoil and the government’s attempts to eleiminate the budget deficit, they withdrew $70 billion worth of capital in a matter of months.

This left a vacuum of capital that Turkish banks were unable to alleviate because the government was no longer able to pay off its bonds.

With no capital to speak of, the Turkish economy declined dramatically.

By 2000 there was massive unemployment, a lack of medicine, tight credit, slow production and increasing taxes.

In November 2001, the IMF provided Turkey with $11.4 billion in loans and Turkey sold many of its state-owned industries in a effort to balance the budget.

But these stabilisation efforts were not producing meaningful effects and the IMF loan was widely seen as insufficient.

On 19 February 2001, Prime Minister Ecevit emerged from an angry meeting with President Sezer saying:

“This is a serious crisis.”

This statement underscored the financial and political instability and led to further panic in the markets.

Stocks plummeted, interest rates reached 3,000%, large quantities of Turkish lira were exchanged for US dollars or euros, causing the Turkish Central Bank to lose $5 billion of its reserves.

Above: Symbol for the Turkish lira

The crash triggered even more economic turmoil.

In the first eight months of 2001, nearly 15,000 jobs were lost, the US dollar was equal to 1,500,000 lira, and income inequality was greater than ever.

Despite this, the government made swift progress in bringing about an economic recovery.

Nevertheless, almost half of his party in the parliament left to form the New Turkey Party(YTP).

Added to this economic crisis, allegations of corruption, as well as Ecevit’s poor health, made early elections unavoidable and the DSP faced an electoral wipeout in the 2002 general elections losing all of its MPs.

In 2001, Erdogan established the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Justice and Development Party

The AKP won a landslide victory and Erdogan assumed office as Turkey’s 25th Prime Minister on 14 March 2003.

Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy just beginning to recover, unresolved issues with the Kurds and the Armenians, the need to improve democratic standards and the rights of minorities, the need to reform labour laws, the need to invest in education, the need to increase Turkey’s infrastructure, as well as the need to reform the Turkish healthcare system and social security.

Recep Tayip Erdogan, born 1954, had come a long way from selling simit in rough districts, or kicking a football, or sitting in a prison cell for speaking ill-chosen words.

He had shown he could rise above coups and his party being declared unconstitutional and dissolved and could improve the lives and the prospects of one of Turkey’s oldest and populous cities.

Erdogan would go on to be known by two, completely contrary to each other, titles:

  • the most successful politician in the Republic of Turkey’s history
  • the world’s most insulted president

Erdogan was Prime Minister for 11 years and has been President for almost three years with four more years to go in his mandate.

And he seemed to start off so well…

(To be continued…)

Sources: Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know)