IPS Blog

The West Must Help Syria’s Neighbors Absorb the Impact of Its Refugee Crisis

At a donor conference in Kuwait last week addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria, more than 1.5 billion dollars was pledged to aid Syrians affected by the conflict. UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), in conjunction with Mid-East countries hosting the onslaught of refugees, have been calling for donors to ward off an international disaster in the region.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates each pledged 300 million dollars to assist in funding efforts, alongside the total pledge of 300 million promised by the US and the EU. These pledges must materialize in coming weeks to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. Will other countries step forward to provide assistance?

The mass exodus of refugees to countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and even Egypt, shows no signs of relenting—in fact, the reverse is true—the numbers of refugees have ballooned in past weeks. Syrians fleeing violence, rape, and death are met with open arms by friendly neighboring countries, but the sheer number of refugees seeking safe haven is taking a toll on these countries.

In Jordan, for example, nearly 3 percent of its GDP has gone to addressing basic needs of the 340 thousand refugees living inside its borders—and supplies are running out. Jordan’s King Abdullah stated recently, “We have reached the end of the line, we have exhausted our resources.” With Jordan buckling under the economic strain of the situation, other countries need to step up to the plate.

A majority of refugees in the region are registered with UNHCR or are awaiting processing but many go undocumented in their haste to reach safety and also due to the lack of staff on the ground assisting in the process. The conflict, and resulting refugee problem, has created dire circumstances in many countries hosting Syrian refugees and this will only continue as long as Syria remains engulfed in conflict.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Administration Appoints Itself Judge and Jury on Death by Drone

A Department of Justice memorandum leaked by NBC News has garnered considerable controversy this week, renewing the ongoing discussion over the legality—and morality—of the Obama administration’s targeted killing program. The disclosure comes as John Brennan goes before the Senate as President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA.

The sixteen-page legal memo—a white paper composed by the DOJ for Congress—outlines the supposedly “lawful” justifications for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens: reasons which, as many commentators have observed, are disturbingly vague. The memo states that first, the citizen must be a senior member of Al-Qaeda; second, that this person must pose an “imminent threat” to the U.S.; and third, that the capture of the individual in question must be “infeasible.”

However, as Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian aptly observes:

The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president’s power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US” where capture is “infeasible”, it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances.

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor elaborates on this problem:

All that’s required, under the memo’s wording, is for a well-informed top official of the US government to decide that the person in question is a top terrorist. As for “imminent,” that does not mean “about to happen” in this case. It means only that the alleged terrorist must have recently been involved in activities posing a threat of violent attack and that there is no evidence they’ve renounced those activities.

Other criticisms of the memo have primarily repeated the unlawful and immoral nature of the drone strike program in general, namely that there is no judicial process involved for the target; that the president acts as judge, jury, and executioner in this matter; that such strikes completely violate sovereignty and international law; and that the very notion of drone strike killings, for many of the reasons above, is forthrightly unconstitutional.

Essentially, as Juan Cole explains on his blog Informed Consent, the president derives the power for the drone strike program from a 2001 legislative act, specifically the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF.) However, Cole asserts that this act fits the description of a “bill of attainder,” which is a “legislative act that singled out one or more persons and imposed punishment on them, without benefit of trial.” The framers of the Constitution rather smartly decided to forbid bills of attainder for this very reason in Article I, Section 9, paragraph three of the Constitution, which states, “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed.”

Thus, the AUMF “in singling out all members of al-Qaeda wherever they are and regardless of nationality or of actual criminal action, as objects of legitimate lethal force,” Cole explains, makes it precisely a bill of attainder—and therefore, explicitly unconstitutional.

The leaked memo, in the very least, has placed more public pressure on the Obama administration to address the drone strike program transparently, an issue it has so far avoided or ignored. Yet the administration cannot hope to conceal the program indefinitely: already, the United Nations is conducting an inquiry into both the U.S. and U.K. drone programs, and—since the release of the leaked DOJ memo—President Obama’s nominee for the CIA director, John Brennan, will likely be grilled on the subject as well in his confirmation hearing.

One can only hope that holding the administration’s feet to the fire on this issue will prompt meaningful, lawful change to the drone strike program—yet the United States’ poor track record of respecting the judicial process and international law perhaps makes such expectations altogether too optimistic to hold.

Leslie Garvey is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Washington Post Keeps Administration’s Secret About Drone Base in Saudi Arabia

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

Abdulrahman al-Alawki

Abdulrahman al-Alawki

The Washington Post, among “several” other unnamed news outlets, has reportedly known of a US airstrip in Saudi Arabia that, aside from the apparent distinction of being the first new US base opened on Saudi soil since the 2003 troop withdrawals, was the airstrip that participated in the 2011 raid(s) that killed Anwar al-Awlaki.

According to the Post, it and those outlets have sat on the information for a year at the administration’s request for fear it would jeopardize the base’s security and the secrecy of US combat operations in Yemen, which are also supported by the Saudi Air Force. It is also notable that the US has set up this while still retaining its heaviest aerial assets (which are reserved for contingencies against the Islamic Republic of Iran) in the region in Qatar, so this is solely an anti-AQAP program that’s been set up.

One of the outlets — not the Post — was going to break the self-observed gag order on the basing details, so the details have begun to emerge, which for presumptive CIA Director John Brennan is hardly pleasant news since his Senate confirmation hearings have begun and there is much talk of him throwing a wet towel on the campaign. However, as Matt Appuzo points out, this is not the first we’ve heard of this base. “In addition to Seychelles and Ethiopia, the senior U.S. military official said the United States got permission to fly armed drones from Djibouti, and confirmed the construction of a new airstrip in Saudi Arabia” was what Fox News reported in 2011, citing a Washington Post report on the expansion of drone efforts worldwide, though the remarks quoted above came from Fox’s own source.

Considering how contentious US basing in the Kingdom was when it began in the 1990s (and, we thought, largely came to an end in the 2000s except for the two military training/modernization programs run for the Saudi military and National Guard), one really has to marvel at how this White House earned the accolade of “transparency” in its first term with actions such as these. It’s worth noting that while detailed explanations — but not material evidence or witnesses — have been offered for targeting him as an active AQAP member, there have been no such specifics with regards to the death of his 16-year old son, Abdulrahman, who was killed in an operation against another target few days later — though unlike his father, he had not been deliberately targeted (the operation was targeting an Egyptian national). Bad parenting has even been offered as an explanation — well, justification — by one official for the son’s death once it became clear he was a minor and therefore not subject to the “signature strikes” that treat all adult males in the targeted areas as militant until proven innocent. (NB: Brennan convinced Obama to maintain this policy and have the CIA “tighten its targeting standards,” according to the Daily Beast.)

But if we are talking in terms of leaks, then yes, this has been a very “Sunshine Week” for the Administration. Since I’m on the subject of drones — though as Gregory D. Johnson points out drones are not the only weapons the US deploys in the Yemeni and Pakistani highlands — there have been some important new stories out about the US’s national counterterrorism strategy here in the Middle East:

1. The black sites legacy of the Bush Administration detailed in a new OSI report, though as OSI itself notes, “it appears that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition,” though it has been much-scaled back. Both Eli Lake and Jeremy Scahill have been to Somalia in the past two years to report on these alleged CIA black sites and the local prisons that feed into them. However, it is clear that the administration has shied away from the sites in favor of drone operations.

2. Not a leak, but Micah Zenko’s discussion of outgoing SecDef Leon Panetta’s recent remarks on drones is still illuminating into the debate that goes on at these levels.

3. A leaked white paper released by NBC’s Michael Isikoff — perhaps from a White House source not happy with John Brennan (finally) moving (back) to the CIA in Obama’s second term? — that providers more detail on the speeches given by Brennan and others about the criteria for putting people, including US citizens, in the sights. Again, this isn’t the official policy document, but as a white paper signed off on by lawyers within the Administration, it is as good as we are going to get bar the Times or the Post releasing audiotape of a “Terror Tuesday” briefing. Glenn Greenwald details the implications in greater detail here.

Pathway to Progress in Israel Runs through International Law, Local and Global Action

Yair Lapid - Israeli Elections

The results weren’t nearly as dire as many predicted. The Israeli elections last month didn’t bring about a complete victory for the far right (and Israel’s far-right is very far indeed!). Right-wing prime minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud Party, in alliance with the right-wing extremist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party, lost at least 10 seats.

The biggest victor was the new centrist party Yesh Atid, led by charismatic television personality Yair Lapid. He ran on the basis of personality and a claim to represent Israel’s middle-class interests, from the price of cheese to affordable housing to his most popular call, for “sharing the burden”—a euphemism for drafting ultra-Orthodox young Jewish Israelis into the military. Israeli commentators described the new Knesset as divided almost down the middle between center-right and center-left blocs.

That’s all good. But. The campaign was waged virtually entirely on economic and social issues affecting the 80 percent Jewish population of Israel; the needs of the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians were largely ignored. Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip were off the agenda, let alone its violations of international law and human rights. On the question of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the elections represented a clear victory for Israel’s status quo: the occupation will be left in place.

Read the rest of this article on Yes! Magazine’s website. Yes! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions, published it on February 6, 2013.

A Valentine’s Day Gift That Keeps on Giving

Cross-posted from Other Words.

This year I came up with the best Valentine’s Day gift ever for my wife and daughter. It’s inexpensive and, unlike a bouquet of flowers, should last beyond their lifetimes. They’ll love it! I can’t think of a better way to express how much I love them.

Rather than chocolates or jewelry, I am going to join a One Billion Rising rally to end the violence against women that has shattered lives and torn the fabric of societies around the world.

A billion women — one out of every three on the planet — will be raped or beaten sometime in their lifetime. That’s one billion moms, sisters, daughters, and friends violated, one billion lives shattered, one billion hearts broken, and one billion reasons to rise up and put an end to this violence.

On February 14, rallies around the world are giving a billion women, and those who love them, an opportunity to dance, speak out, and say, “Enough!” There are many ways to make a difference, but here in the United States we have a 32-year-old obligation that I’m focused on: Senate passage of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

This landmark international agreement affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world, including the rights not to be raped or beaten. But ours is one of only seven countries — including Iran, Sudan, and Somalia —that haven’t ratified this treaty.

This accord offers countries a practical blueprint to achieve progress for women and girls by calling on each ratifying country to overcome barriers of discrimination. Around the world it has been used to reduce sex trafficking and domestic abuse, provide access to education and vocational training, guarantee the right to vote, ensure the ability to work and own a business without discrimination, improve maternal health care, end forced marriage and child marriage, and ensure inheritance rights.

Although the Obama administration strongly supports its ratification and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted in favor of it twice with bipartisan support (in 1994 and 2002), it has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote. It’s time to change that.

Why? Joining this convention would continue our nation’s proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights. Ratification requires two-thirds of the Senate to stand together. The good news is that in this time of tight budgets, it would cost us absolutely nothing.

Ratifying it would strengthen the United States as a global leader in standing up for women and girls around the world. Unfortunately today, our diplomats who speak out to end violence against women are too often told that since we are not part of the women’s treaty, we should mind our own business. Under the leadership of Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, we ratified similar treaties on genocide, torture, and race.

Finally, bringing it to a full Senate vote would open up important conversations. While American women enjoy opportunities and status not available to most of the world’s women, few would dispute that more progress is needed. A Senate vote would provide an opportunity for a national dialogue on how to address persistent gaps in women’s full equality regarding closing the pay gap, reducing domestic violence, and stopping human trafficking.

This is something that I know my wife and daughter would love. So I’m speaking out to end violence against women. It will be the very best Valentine’s Day gift ever.

Don Kraus is the chief executive officer of Citizens for Global Solutions.

Escape From Ignorance and Chalga (Part 3)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Read Parts 1 and 2.

So, you arrive in Canada and you make a decision not to pursue journalism…

I thought about becoming a journalist in Canada. But I was told at the National Institute of Broadcasting that I would have to take a training course. It would cost about $10,000. That was a lot of money for me, basically all the money that I’d brought with me. I had to think of my daughter and the cost of her education. But I said, okay, if I take this course, then I will be able to get a job as a journalist here in Canada. And they said, no, there was no such guarantee. They would try to help me. I thought that I just couldn’t take that risk. Same thing with teaching English as a second language in Toronto. One has to spend years to get their credentials acknowledged. Professionals trained outside of Canada, including teachers, have a very hard time to get certified to become even supply [substitute] teachers, to get their foot in the door. And still there is no guarantee you would get a steady job. However, I really needed to get a job. And, of course, the other experience I had in Bulgaria was driving a bus, so…

The very first year, before I joined the Toronto Transit Commission as a bus driver, it was difficult. I didn’t have money. The $10,000 in my pocket melts very quickly. The rent alone is $1200 a month. If you don’t work, you can spend it on rent alone in less than a year. Toronto, it’s not as expensive as New York, but it’s close. I worked two jobs for a year. One of them was as an interpreter for the Immigration and Refugee Board in downtown Toronto, and sometimes I was sent to courts or the airport. Lots of people wanted to immigrate to Canada, and Canada has a somewhat loose immigration policy. They need people, but being Canadian, they do not openly say, “we’ll take anybody because we need young blood to support the pension plan, decent people who will work and pay taxes.” They can’t do that, so instead they have a system of criteria and evaluation.

Some people are eager to get to Canada sooner rather than wait 2-3 years. They also maybe don’t clearly meet the criteria — the point system where you have to have education or language skills or be in one of those occupations that are required. If you don’t meet those criteria, you don’t have a chance. There were lots of people from Bulgaria who wanted to escape ignorance and chalga, from the late 1990s until 2007 when Bulgaria joined the EU. Hundreds of people from former communist countries would arrive and declare themselves political refugees or seek refugee status. Canada in that respect is very generous. You’re given social support, housing, medical support, until your case is heard. It goes to a kind of tribunal.

You know that a lot of these people are lying, and the judge knows that they’re lying and the ministry of immigration knows they’re lying. Many claimed that they were persecuted for being Roma (and organizations were regularly writing reports about the condition of the Bulgarian Roma). Or they said they were gay. Some people were obviously not Roma or gay. They had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to corrupt lawyers and interpreters who wrote them a story and worked with them on how to present the story, and produced counterfeit photographs or facts. I interpreted cases where the judge humiliated them by telling them that s/he didn’t believe them, and then the judge allowed them to remain in Canada anyway because they were needed.

I had a case where two pilots and a stewardess arrived together. They said that they were Roma and had been deprived of education. The judge told them, “There’s no way you’re not educated and you fly a plane!” At the same time, these people would probably find a job, get a good salary, and pay a lot of taxes.

So I spent a year working there. When I wasn’t working there, I was a mover, moving furniture and driving a truck, I learned the province of Ontario. Then I went to the Toronto Transit Commission, a.k.a. TTC, and they hired me first as a driver. You can become the chief general manager one day, but you have to start at the bottom first.

Two years later, I became a route supervisor where my job was to ”keep TTC on track.” In a nutshell, if and when one or more of the thousands of vehicles moving Torontonians around fell behind schedule due to construction, an accident, traffic or the weather, thus resulting in bunching on a line, and/or when delays to service happen during bad weather conditions or because of construction or traffic congestion, a decision is made and instructions are communicated, accordingly, by supervisory staff to make a service adjustment. A typical and easiest example of a service adjustment would be a short turn. That is when a vehicle will not continue to the end of the scheduled route but will be turned to travel in the opposite direction to balance service on the route.

There are dozens of other tricks, a.k.a. service adjustments, that route supervisors have up their sleeves to expediently ensure the provision of consistent service and uninterrupted flow of vehicles along all routes. One could compare the job of a route supervisor to that of air traffic controllers. Additionally, supervisors are middle management and are in charge of supervising the performance of hourly-paid staff (union positions, almost all operators – a total of some 10,000 – and maintenance workers). They are also first responders to all accidents, incidents and occurrences throughout the system, such as collisions – both property damage and personal injuries, all possible kinds of medical emergencies, assaults, fires, vandalism, loitering, sleepers, thefts, robberies, lost and found articles, lost children separated from their parents, lost and disoriented elderly, inebriated persons, mentally disturbed persons, counterfeit fares, various mishaps, all imaginable kinds of technical issues and equipment failures. It would take a multi-volume book to retell all the “usual, normal stuff” and weird things I have seen and dealt with as a supervisor.

My last position at the Toronto Transit Commission, which I held for some 7 years until I retired, was an instructor with their Operations Training Centre, which is a sort of vocational adult training facility where new hires are initially trained and the unionized workforce are regularly retrained in customer service, professional communications, safety at work, vehicle operation, defensive driving, various work skills and qualifications, etc. If I had stayed, I might have possibly become the chief general manager someday in the 22nd century, but I just got too old and tired and decided to return here: back to chalga and ignorance.

Varna, September 29, 2012

Interview (1990)

Vihar Krastev is an editor of Vek 21 (Century 21), the newspaper of the Radical Democratic party, which is a founding member of the UDF. The paper has a circulation of 40,000 and caters mostly to intellectuals. Krastev was recently chosen to participate in Tuft’s Fletcher School journalism program and will spending six weeks in the U.S. working at a local paper. Although quite busy, he was eager to sit down and tell me what distinguishes the Radical Democrats from other parties.

What does the Radical Democratic party stand for?

The RDP actually was reorganized 42 years after it was demolished by the Communists. The party branched from the Democratic party in 1904 by some famous intellectuals of that era who had decided that the Democrats were too close to the King’s regime. They were for a parliamentarian type of republic. They decided not to go deep into government: you should create the laws and not go into executive power. It happened that most of the people who founded the party at the beginning of the century were intellectuals–poets, playwrights, critics–it was considered to be a party only of intellectuals, too small in membership. When a year ago this party was reorganized by Elka Konstantinova, people again started thinking that this will be a party of intellectuals and it would not be easy for common people to be members of the party. This is not so true. The RDP does insist that members all have their own personal performance in society, to be good enough to stand by themselves without being a member of a large group of people, taking strength from a large party like the Communists do. We stand for radical democracy, for democracy that has no alternative, that makes no compromise.

How large is the party’s membership?

Difficult to answer. Maybe because everyone is too personal in this party, we haven’t made a serious effort to find out our membership. We view the party in horizontal principles. There is no hierarchy. There are branches based on the local principle. Some are even organized on a professional basis. There might be a club of doctors or a club of musicians in the RDP. We don’t want hundreds of thousands of members who are officially coordinated, who have cards, etc. Approximately, to my knowledge, somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 members in the country right now.

The difference between RDP and other parties?

Again, the idea of the role of the personality in the process of democratization. The Social Democrats, for instance, work to make society democratic but they have the socialist idea that society is something organic and you should made the organic body democratic. We think that society will be more democratic when everyone of us is happy.

I need a concrete example of this.

Our party has never wanted to grasp, as I told you, executive power. We would like to make society more democratic through taking part in parliament, by making more democratic and just laws. We don’t want to become ministers.

A perpetual opposition?

Yes.

Are there any particular pieces of legislation that the RDP is pushing for?

Perhaps because of our tradition and the fact that most of our members are highly intelligent people, people believe that it is the RDP’s job to reorganize all the laws having to do with education, culture, law. More or less, we like this sort of work. We also have ideas about reorganizing the military. For example, our president, Ms. Konstaninova has been chosen to be chairman of the committee dealing with education, culture, and science.

What relations does an ostensibly intellectual group have with a trade union like Podkrepa?

I’ll tell you about something which will come out in the next issue of Vek 21. It is an interview with the president of Podkrepa, Mr. Krenchev. He says, and I totally agree: in times like ours, any kind of social organization, even a trade union, cannot help but be involved politically. If you are politically honest, you can’t be but anti-Communist. And if you are anti-Communist, you should be involved on the political level. Right now, we are all together. But when the Communist idea is gone, we will go our separate ways. A trade union will do trade union work and we will do our job in culture and the Social Democrats will try to organize society in smaller groups.

I ask because, in the region I’m travelling, intellectuals are the first to benefit from the changes in terms of culture and freedom. Austerity packages, meanwhile, hurt workers and farmers disproportionately. And the workers are now saying, heck, reform was great when we were all anti-Communists but now it seems that reform only helped intellectuals and we are the ones who have to pay for it.

This is a difficult question but this process is still in front of us: we have not come to the bottom of the crisis. The workers have not come to see the situation as the sin of the intellectuals.

In the elections, the intellectuals supported the opposition and the rest of the country voted for the BSP. Whether the workers blame the intellectuals or not, they certainly voted that way. Are intellectuals trying to bridge this gap?

Personally, I myself have been a worker as well as an intellectual. I started as a teacher, then I worked in TV. Then I was not allowed to do anything in the field of ideology any more. I was good enough to do ideology because I did not have the right thinking. So I had to do other work. My last work was as a city bus driver. I wouldn’t say that I know completely the psychology of the worker. But I more or less think that the mounting crisis will open the eyes of the worker because what has happened in Poland will be felt here in time, in the next couple of months. They have not come to see who their real enemies are. The Communists have managed to make them the spoiled children of the nation. They were given more care, more attention. Now, they will come to realize what they were being used for. They will now come to realize that the artificially created large industrial cities were needed to reproduce the proletariat.

Everyone in the opposition says that they won’t compromise with the Communists. Then, sotto voce, they say that some form of coalition will be formed although no one will call it a coalition.

I think that the Communists are not fit for negotiating because they have never negotiated in their past. If you talk with a Communist on a matter on which you don’t agree about. He might listen to you and not agree. The next day, he’ll come out with nearly your version of the matter as his own. This is their favorite style.

Let me be cynical, for a moment. What you describe as the Communist style could be called, simply, the style of a politician. It is the style of a politician to be manipulative, dishonest, to steal the opinion of others to make it their own.

I get the point. But, I’ll tell you one thing. Politicians in America and Western Europe are actually politicians and try to make the cosmetic effect on a beautiful or healthy body. They will oppose each other to make the surface look better because the body is strong enough. Here, we have to change something much deeper. We have to make the foundations healthy and strong. It’s not politics here.

At first, it seemed as though the opposition was united on the issue of equal rights for ethnic Turks. Now we have two separate movements. Do you think reconciliation is possible?

I think reconciliation is possible though it won’t be soon. You know, when I was a small child, growing up in a region where many Turks lived, we knew in school that some of our classmates were Turks. They got some additional lessons: they studied Turkish, they had Turkish books, they even had a culture house. They knew they were Turks and we knew they were Turks. We studied history and we knew about the Turkish yoke but we did not say that it was the most tragic period of our history. But sometime in the late 1960s, for the first time, the Communists had to do something after Czechoslovakia. They thought that what had happened in Poland and Hungary might happen here. So they tried to do something to release the tension here. Someone here actually created the problem then, here. It was not difficult to make a nation that has suffered under the yoke to feel angry. It was a small beginning, hardly noticed, but the virus was implanted. 1984 when they forced the name changes–this was the final move, the final recourse. They didn’t know what else to do so they used this card. This makes reconciliation difficult: a virus is a virus.

Why did the Bulgarian opposition fall for it? The Polish opposition learned not to be anti-Semitic after 1968 expulsion of 20,000 Jews by the government.

The opposition here was not so undoubtedly popular within the nation. The opposition was not so certain that it was popular within the nation. It felt unsafe, it felt that it might lose position if it stuck to it. Last year, on New Years Eve, the opposition was actually bound together. But the nation responded and said that the opposition was a traitor to the nation. And some people in the opposition did not feel certain enough that they could persuade the nation. We did not have any one of the opposition leaders so popular that he or she could come out in front of the nation and the nation would forget its hatred of the Turks because of their love of this person.

So you didn’t have a Vaclav Havel.

At that time, there wasn’t this someone who could say, “you shouldn’t believe what’s happening” and you should believe the nationalistic demonstrations.

Someone in the opposition told me that they didn’t want Bulgaria to be the path by which Islamic fundamentalism enters Europe.

That’s nonsense if you ask me. I don’t think Europe will need a road for Islamic fundamentalism: it won’t take it. And the best way, actually, to hold Turkey, if at all Turkish fundamentalism is aggressive, is through NATO. My personal opinion is that this nationalistic and chauvinistic remains in our way of thinking in this part of the world is directly proportional to the level of development of our country. Quarrels come with poverty.

And the Macedonian situation?

When Yugoslavia and Bulgaria become normal, well-developed economic countries, there will be no problems. Macedonia will become just another part of the world.

Economic reform will necessarily affect different parts of society differently. What kind of social guarantees, given your individualistic bent, do you support, if any?

It seems to me that the situation as it is depicted at times–with people dying in the streets and mass unemployment–is a portion of the Big Lie. When I am sick, I don’t want the cure to be slow. I want it to be quick. If it has to come, why can’t it be faster. I think everyone will find his or her best way to cushion the crisis.

End Part 3.

Torture Covers a Multitude of Sins

Torture comes in many forms from excruciating pain to death — of the soul, if not the body — by a thousand cuts.

Recently the conservative American Enterprise Institute held a forum on the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Its panel was composed of veterans of the Bush torture years: then CIA director Michael Hayden led the panel and was joined by Jose Rodriguez, then head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, and John Rizzo, then the CIA’s chief legal officer.

I intend to read the transcript in full, but, in the interim, will respond to William Saletan provocatively titled analysis at Slate, The Case for Torture. The forum on “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) was, he writes

… a chance to examine our own thinking. Do we really understand what the CIA did and why? Was the payoff worth the moral cost? And what can we learn from it? … The stories [Hayden, Rodriguez, and Rizzo] told, and the reasons they offered, shook up my assumptions about the interrogation program. They might shake up yours, too.

Assumptions about the validity of torture were not shaken up on this author’s part. But the forum did provide information about torture to which the public might not hitherto have been privy and which might prompt us to fine-tune our arguments against “EITs.” For starters, you may have heard this one.

If you refuse to exploit prisoners, you’ll end up killing your enemies instead. All three panelists trashed the Obama-era conceit that we’re a better country because we’ve scrapped the interrogation program. What we’ve really done, they argued, is replace interrogations with drone strikes. “We have made it so legally difficult and so politically dangerous to capture,” said Hayden, “that it seems, from the outside looking in, that the default option is to take the terrorists off the battlefield in another sort of way.”

“Default option?” Why, exactly, are we stuck with one or the other: torture or drone strikes? Talk about your false equivalencies. As for sidestepping the “legal difficulties and political dangers” of torture, the answer isn’t drone strikes, but inundating drone strikes, too, with “legal difficulties and political dangers.”

Meanwhile, even for someone who has read as much about torture as I have, what follows was news to me. Hayden said that interrogators “never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to, while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were not designed to elicit truth in the moment.” (Emphasis added.)

What, you ask, was the objective then? Saletan writes that “EITs were used in a controlled setting, in which interrogators [inflicted] misery only when the prisoner said something false.”

The point was to create an illusion of godlike omniscience and omnipotence so that the prisoner would infer, falsely, that his captors always knew when he was lying or withholding information. More broadly, said Hayden, the goal was “to take someone who had come into our custody absolutely defiant and move them into a state or a zone of cooperation” by convincing them that “you are no longer in control of your destiny. You are in our hands.” Thereafter, the prisoner would cooperate without need for EITs. Rodriguez explained: “Once you got through the enhanced interrogation process, then the real interrogation began. … The knowledge base was so good that these people knew that we actually were not going to be fooled. It was an essential tool to validate that the people were being truthful.”

To say that torture was intended to tune up (as they say in crime dramas) the suspect for a later interrogation instead of during the “EIT” itself is to put too fine a point on it. In truth, no qualitative difference exists.

Meanwhile, I always wondered how Abu Zubaydah could withstand 83 waterboarding sessions and Khalid Seikh Mohammed (KSM) 183. (See my recent post: Who’s Degraded More: the Torture Victim or the Torturer?) The disturbing symmetry in the figures aside, wouldn’t a suspect subjected to such torture suffer either a psychotic break, or — the presence of a doctor notwithstanding — brain damage? Saletan sheds light on why this apparently didn’t occur.

While citing the program’s rules as a moral defense, the panelists also groused that the rules cost them leverage. KSM, for instance, noticed a time limit on waterboarding. “Pretty quickly, he recognized that within 10 seconds we would stop pouring water,” said Rodriguez. “He started to count with his fingers, up to 10, just to let us know that the time was up.”

If Rodriguez is telling the truth, what Zubaydah and Mohammed were subjected to might strike some as less like torture and more like extreme discomfort. We’ve been accustomed to thinking of waterboarding as existentially frightening — a near-death experience. Now it seems less like peeling off fingernails or chopping off digits (the film torture du jour) and more like forcing a prisoner to stand, or subjecting him to loud music, cold, or round-the-clock lighting.

In fact, waterboarding for 10 seconds, as with the other practices mentioned, still falls under the heading of torture. But rather than a dramatic act of excruciating pain, torture becomes the accumulation of lesser agonies, not the least of which is the anticipation of the frequent episodes.

Unfortunately, there are those who would react to KSM’s torture thusly: “Everyone knows he was responsible for 9/11 and we’re supposed to care because he has to hold his breath for 10 seconds?”

If we want to present a credible argument to rebut proponents of torture, we need to be able to differentiate the different levels of torture from a near-death experience to death (of the soul, anyway) by a thousand cuts.

It might seem that, as with the word “genocide,” we need to guard against applying the term “torture” with sweeping strokes lest the impact of the concept be diluted. In fact, though, torture is a large umbrella sheltering a world of torments.

This Week in OtherWords: February 6, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson explains what’s wrong with most of the roses that populate our Valentine’s Day bouquets, Don Kraus proposes a great Valentine for women everywhere, and Donald Kaul sizes up the latest inaction on gun control.

This is Kaul’s third column on guns since his return from a five-month break. As I explained in an earlier blog post, the first one was widely quoted out of context. That generated a torrent of hate mail, to which Kaul responded with a follow-up column.

I would like to take this opportunity to RSVP to the hundreds of people who invited Donald Kaul to go visit you in person and take your guns away. He sends his regrets. And while I’m speaking on his behalf, I’d like to thank the NRA for including him on its blindingly long list of gun-control advocates. Yes Wayne LaPierre, Donald Kaul is certainly as important in this fight as the CEO of Stoneyfield Farms Yogurt and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Below you’ll find links to our latest work. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. The. Very. Best. Valentine. Ever. / Don Kraus
    The United States is one of only seven countries not to ratify a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women.
  2. Zero Dark Thirty’s Losing Premise / Chris Toensing
    Torture doesn’t “work” but that’s not the point.
  3. Stronger At Home, More Respected Abroad / Jeff Blum
    We must cut the things we don’t need, including Pentagon pork, to pay for the things we do.
  4. Banning Assault Weapons Makes More Sense than Arming Teachers / Donald Kaul
    If what you need weapons for is to fight the government, semi-automatics don’t cut it.
  5. The Ever-So-Brief Success of the Income Tax / Sam Pizzigati
    Federal taxes, once upon a time, put a squeeze on grand fortunes.
  6. A Better Way to Say I Love You / Jill Richardson
    Most of the roses sold in the United States are grown in Colombia and Ecuador, where they are doused with toxic pesticides.
  7. High Time for Hemp / Jim Hightower
    This commonsense crop should become commonplace in the United States again.
  8. The Road Back to Serfdom / William A. Collins
    Today’s robber barons have little interest in long-term, full-time employees.
  9. Free Trade Economics 101 / Khalil Bendib cartoon

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org

SodaStream: Set the Bubbles Free? First, Set Palestinians Free

Lyndi Borne is a media intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Among many of the usual suspects airing ads during the Super Bowl, one small company shook up some conversation with an ad that was banned by CBS. The company, SodaStream, acts like it’s doing the world a favor by selling home carbonation machines, and its ads jab at Coca-Cola and Pepsi for wasting bottles. They originally wanted to air a commercial during America’s most-watched television event that explicitly attacked the two largest makers of sugary cola, but were bullied into airing a softer version of the ad imploring viewers to buy their product and “free the bubbles.” As controversy on CBS’s ban bubbled over, marketers everywhere had their say. A website devoted to Super Bowl ads actually wrote an article about them entitled “SodaStream: A David and Goliath Story?” Marketers are buying the story that SodaStream is a do-gooder because their customers buy fewer bottles.

Boycott SodaStreamBut SodaStream is no do-gooder. Their headquarters and manufacturing facilities, located in an Israeli settlement in the center of the West Bank, are built upon the blood and tears of the Palestinian people. I’ve seen the devastation of these settlements, and when I saw the SodaStream commercial on Sunday night, I went flat.

SodaStream is part and parcel of the continued illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. If we’re talking David and Goliath, SodaStream is more aptly viewed on the Goliath side of the metaphor. In reality, it is a profit-making enterprise built on land illegally seized by Israel, with the help of a military that is an industrial, high-tech monster that seeks to slowly strangle the Palestinian people to death.

What most people don’t understand about the settlements is that they not only push people off of the land, but they then also take regional resources for themselves. Water, for example, is often stolen from people whose ancestors long ago learned to adapt to the desert. The Israeli goal, it seems, is to make Palestinian life so unbearable that people leave, or die.

I’ve witnessed the destructive force of settlements. From the first time I set foot on a West Bank settlement in 2000 to the last time I was there in 2010, the effect and the number of settlements had noticeably increased. In the Palestinian West Bank, I saw more checkpoints, longer lines in traffic, more roadblocks, and diversions to make way for Jewish-only settler roads. Even water pressure lowered as the settlements demanded more water diverted to them. And — at least in Hebron — more settlers were throwing rocks at Palestinian women, men, and children.

SodaStream has been singled out by Jewish Voice for Peace and others for its explicit, egregious involvement in settlement activity. Israeli settlement policy is opposed by many Israeli citizens and the United States, and is now deemed unlawful by a United Nations panel.

SodaStream is headquartered on Ma’aleh Adumim, the third largest settlement in the West Bank, built on land that belonged to the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata, and Nebi Mussa up into the 1970s. Israel continues to expand and solidify such settlements around Jerusalem until Palestinians cannot any more access the city.

As with most Israeli public relations campaigns, SodaStream is clever at attaching itself to so-called “liberal” values of environmentalism, peace, justice, and freedom. However, as with most Israeli PR campaigns, the truth of human rights violations will eventually come out.

So, no matter how you feel about their commercials, don’t buy SodaStream. The faster we as consumers can send a message to companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, the faster Palestinians can achieve freedom.

“Free the bubbles?” How about, stop operating on stolen Palestinian land, and “free Palestine.”

Escape From Ignorance and Chalga (Part 2)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Read Part 1.

You spent a good bit of time in the opposition movement in UDF, Demokratsia, Vek 21. Thinking back now, what’s your impression of the opposition? Are there things that the opposition did really well and others that it did poorly?

There was a lot of enthusiasm but a lot of incompetence, a lack of basic knowledge and concepts. Some of the people were quite idealistic, honest people, but they knew nothing about social development, social structures, social change, how to work with crowds when there are crowds, and how to work with civil society. I now can recount numerous cases of flagrant ignorance, stupidity, and incompetence in the official opposition.

Can you give an example?

Here’s an example close to my editorial practice. Every day hundreds of people — some of them normal supporters of UDF, some of them in some position like regional coordinator or city boss — came to the editorial room of Vek 21. We were in one room, two editors and one assistant and one photographer. They would bring stuff that was unreadable, let alone publishable. Even if I put my best effort into polishing it, it wouldn’t work. It didn’t say anything. There was no message. There was just the eagerness to show off. You couldn’t even explain it to them. I told them that I could work with them, help them. “Nooo, who are you to say this to me? I’m the party leader in Yambol! I want this published! Otherwise I’ll complain to your boss!” There was no boss. He couldn’t complain to anyone. These people were hungry for glory, recognition, to be of importance. They had been so insignificant in their past, and now they saw their chance.

I remember during that strike in late December, some of the bus drivers I was on friendly terms with were coming to talk to me. “Tomorrow, will you give me a job?” they asked. I said, “I’m not becoming a political leader. I’m not doing this for myself!” But they saw an opportunity: if they were friendly with me, one day I’d make them deputy minister or something. I know why they did this. They wanted something better for their kids. Or vanity. Or to have their kids respect them more because now they were someone of importance, not just a plain Jane.

There are many more examples. If I have to be more honest: some of us including myself — and I don’t know if I said this in my first interview — were in favor of shock therapy. I knew nothing about economy, about shock therapy! I must have been influenced by the Polish experience: what Walesa was talking about, the Polish leading experts. I must have been a parrot who heard something and said, “Oh, wow, why not?” That’s an example of my own stupidity, ignorance, and incompetence.

That’s how the UDF lost their position with society, and that’s how people started disliking the opposition. Some of them were obnoxious. I’ll tell you a joke about that. There was this Bulgarian dissident, Radoy Ralin. He was a writer, a smart guy, well liked. He played a double game during communism: tolerated by the communists but at the same time writing some critical stuff about them. One day he comes to our office and he was gloomy, which was unlike him, particularly in those years when he was very optimistic about the changes. He wasn’t himself.

We asked him, “What’s wrong?

And he said, “Things are not going very well.”

We asked, “Why are you pessimistic?”

And he said, “To be honest, the former communists belong in jail. That’s clear. But the new ones, they should be institutionalized.”

Back then I did not pay much attention. But Radoy Ralin must have been smarter than I. He must have seen the truth. The communists were criminals, but the new ones are so incompetent and corrupt that they look and behave like crazy people. That struck me a couple years later as something that I should have understood back then.

Here’s another example. We had two spokespeople for the UDF. One of them was a literary person, a writer, a literary critic, exceptionally smart, a true erudite: Mihail Nedelchev. He knew everything. But he was very vain. He thought he was Louis XIV. The other one was a rough person, Georgi Spasov. Nedelchev was the civil one, Spasov the uncivil one. They would take turns every night on national TV. They had 5-10 minutes to present whatever happened with the UDF: declarations, statements, whatever. They had a guaranteed time, but it could be a half an hour if they wanted. There were no rules. It was a chaotic time. It would come on about 8 pm, around the time of this nightly broadcast for young children. Children would be in front of the TV waiting for their program, and then this Spasov guy would appear. Kids would start crying immediately, that’s how frightful he was! He had no charm, no presence. He was like the devil on screen.

I remember the debates on TV during those first couple of elections. You know the infamous example of how Nixon’s looks during his TV debate with Kennedy probably ruined him: this was much worse. UDFers here didn’t know how to dress. They’d come out almost in their pajamas. They had no manners. When they talked in those debates, they would be gesturing and yelling and fighting. It was horrible. How can you trust the government of a nation to someone who doesn’t know how to behave, how to talk? The Socialists, meanwhile, were better trained. They spoke more eloquently, spoke better, quieter: “speak low, speak slow, don’t say much”. And the opposition people were ruffians. So, when people had anecdotes — truthful or not, and some of them might have been exaggerated or the communist propaganda may have dreamed up some sins of the new people — but people believed them, because it was plausible that these savages would be greedy, corrupt, and incompetent. And we were incompetent. I have to admit it.

When I went to the States in 1990 — you met me just before I left — I learned a lot. But I would have been much better if I had learned all that before the changes, before my initial involvement with the opposition. I was ashamed of some of the things I had done prior to going to Tufts. Did I really say that? Did I behave like that? And I didn’t know that I shouldn’t have done that?

On the other hand, you were working in pretty difficult conditions. One of the big concerns when we were talking in 1990 was the lack of print paper. You told me that each issue was read by five or six people because you didn’t have enough paper.

I had to deliver the Vek 21 paper myself every week. I took it from the printing house in a van donated to us by some Bulgarian émigrés in France, and I drove around the city to deliver it to people, to leave it at clubs, drop it in mailboxes.

Given those conditions, you achieved quite a lot.

Yes, But it wasn’t enough to convince a nation that they could entrust the their future to us, to the then-UDFers. I wasn’t involved in the politics of that. Honestly, I was enticed to become a member of the National Assembly, to be elected, to become a politician. I said, “You can’t mix the two. I can be either a journalist or a politician, and I choose to be a journalist.” So, I declined.

I remember the first and the second elections, all the people lining up at the headquarters of the UDF who wanted to be included in the UDF party ticket. Those people were fighting, hitting each other. They stayed there overnight. They wouldn’t dare go to the washroom, because then they would lose their position in line. It was horrible. They would kill each other to jump ahead in line to be higher on the ticket. It’s unbelievable what people would do to be in power. I know: It happens everywhere. I can’t believe that normal people in their right mind would run for elected position. There has to be something wrong in their value system to go through what they have to go through. What I saw here was much worse: so much humiliation to run for office.

I have a couple of favorite movies that I watch over and over again. One of them is Paths of Glory.

With Kirk Douglas.

He’s being court-martialed, and he says, “There are times when I am ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion..” In those days of rampant democracy, those early stages of the opposition, there were many moments when I went home and I would suffer and I wouldn’t want to go back and I felt ashamed to be a member of the human race — for my own mistakes and for the obvious misbehaviors of others.

Back in 1990, someone in the opposition said to me that ethnic Turks in Bulgaria would represent the path by which Islam and fundamentalism would enter Europe. I quoted that to you and you said, “That’s stupid!” To be honest, you were an exception. I was surprised at the level of nationalism and ethnocentrism in the opposition. Did that surprise you too?

It wasn’t surprising to me because I was a teacher at the beginning of my career. I saw the shortcomings of education in Bulgaria. The EU rewrote the curriculum so that countries like France and Germany or Italy and Germany don’t teach the next generation fanatically about the past, about the glorious battles that they won over the neighboring country. That’s how you encourage nationalism. It’s one thing if young boys of one soccer club fight another soccer club without thinking of historic reasons for them to hate each other aside from soccer reasons.

I saw with my own eyes how Bulgarian history and related subjects induced this hatred in “others,” particularly the Turks. My job as a teacher was in a village that was half-Turkish, half-Roma around Russe in northeastern Bulgaria. I know they’re wonderful people. They were not religious. If they are returning to religiousness, it’s happening at the same time and at the same rate that Bulgarians are returning to the Orthodox Church. When I was a teacher in that Turkish-populated area, they didn’t even have mosques. There is no way that these people could be radical, fundamentalist Islamists. There might be one or two or three, not being able to get educated here, they would go to Turkey or Saudi Arabia, just like Bulgarians go to Germany. One or two of them might go to educational institutions that teach more radical ideas. But they wouldn’t even be aware of the differences in Islam. That’s why I don’t buy it.

When I was a journalist, the Macedonian republic declared independence, and there was a lot of anti-Macedonian feeling in Bulgaria (which still exists today). “They’re stealing our history,” people would say. “They’re actually just Bulgarians!” I even wrote a couple articles, saying that we should just leave them alone. If they feel that they’re different, then they are different. The more you try to stop them, argue with them, and say there’s no such thing as the Macedonian language or nationality, or identity, the more counterproductive it is. They’re a young nation, and they want their new identity.

It’s the same with the ethnic Turk minority. They are not a source of danger unless you antagonize them like they’re antagonizing them now with this stupid court case against the imams. We never learn from the past. We antagonized those people in the 1980s by making a huge issue out of nothing. Luckily, things started to subside, and now they live normally and we live normally and there is no tension any more. But now the nationalists are trying to bring back these tensions.

Were you surprised when you came back from Canada that this issue had still not gone away?

I was. I thought that with time, with membership in the EU, these things would have mellowed. I know they can’t disappear overnight or in 10 years or even 20 years. But I thought that at least you wouldn’t see it at the government level, at the level of national media, I thought it would only be at the lowest level of pub talk or gossip. I was very disappointed that people I considered smart are still wasting their time on this.

I’ve been following the news. I hear that there are some attempts to rewrite history books. There is a huge outcry, and even intellectuals say, “You can’t rewrite history. You can’t say that the Turks are not bad!” We talk about the five centuries of Ottoman occupation as something that ruined the Bulgarian nation. Not at all. You know the joke from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”: what have the Romans ever given us? Nothing. Other than the aqueduct and sanitation, and the roads, and irrigation, and medicine, and education, health, public baths, other than government, other than… All nations controlled by the Romans benefited from the Roman experience.

The same here. The Balkans before the Ottomans came here were savage, fighting tribes that could never develop because of how hostile they were toward each other: brother against brother, Slav against Slav. It was like Europe was, divided into small serfdoms. Thanks to the positive Turkish influence in the first three centuries of their presence here, lots of culture came from the East, from the Arab world, through the Ottoman Empire, through trade, through commercial roads. Every time commerce comes to your ports and crosses your country, something falls out of the cart, and that’s what’s left for you. Look at the Bulgarian language: probably some 20 to 30 percent of the contemporary spoken vernacular still consists of loan words that are of Persian or Arabic or Turkish origin and came into the Bulgarian language through the Ottoman Turkish influence.

How come we don’t appreciate the positive influence of the Ottomans? It’s true that the last 50 to 70 years of the Ottoman occupation were the worst, the empire was falling apart and couldn’t support the army, so the army engaged in pillage. But the worst bandits were the Bulgarian bandits. So much so that the traders from western Europe wouldn’t venture to cross Serbia or Bulgaria. You know the word hajduk? Hajduks were the Bulgarian equivalent of the Greek Klefts. The word kleft itself is exactly the same word that is known to the world from the term “kleptomania.” That’s basically a thief, a bandit, even though they have since been glorified in Balkan folk tradition and history books as rebels: they’d rob anyone who crossed the woods.

There was no caravan of carriages that could go through without being looted or people killed. You had to be very lucky to cross the Balkans without losing half your goods or your life. In the 1860s, they built the first railway between Russe and Varna so that the commercial traffic wouldn’t cross the mountains any more, for fear of the hajduks of Serbia and Bulgaria. They would use ships to Russe — the Danube is not navigable as it gets to the Black Sea — then they would use this railway that was guarded very heavily by Turkish garrisons. Then they’d get to Varna, and then by ship to Istanbul. It wasn’t always the Turks, it was more often our own lazy buggers who would hide in the forests all year long and steal from their own people.

In Serbia, at least some of the hajduks were leaders of resistance against the Ottoman and are considered heroes.

Same here. But most of them were not. As leaders of the resistance, they would fight the Turks, but on the side they would be terrorizing their own population in order to survive.

Did it take a long time for you to decide to leave Bulgaria?

No, it was not long. There were two reasons behind it. I heard yesterday someone on the radio say something very simple, and I thought, “Yes, that’s probably why I left too.” Most people didn’t leave the country because they couldn’t find gainful employment. No, they were running from ignorance and the bad taste of contemporary music, arts and entertainment. Has anyone mentioned the word chalga to you? Well, Bulgarians have been running away from ignorance and chalga.

Back in 1996 or 1997, I had returned from Radio Free Europe, from Munich and Prague. I was also stationed in Sofia as the manager of the bureau here. When Radio Free Europe closed, I had two options. I could do journalism here. But at that time, I would not lower myself to work for any of the media that were operating in this country in the mid to late 1990s. It was horrible. Or I could leave the country.

To get that training at Tufts and the Fletcher School, I had to apply and probably compete with other people who had been nominated. Apart from providing your resume and some samples of your work, I went for a brief interview at the embassy. I also had to write an essay on “press under pressure.” You write the essay and they think about whether you are worth being trained there. I didn’t write a long essay. I only wrote about 3-4 sentences. I wrote, “Like any other thing on earth, press under pressure tends to become flat. With a flat press you can use it as wrapping paper, to wrap someone’s ideas. You can’t use it to support liberal democracy. You can’t use it to educate values. It’s only rubbish wrapping paper and you use it only once and then dispose of it.” Media today in this country is not independent media. It’s just wrapping paper for people who want to use the media to amplify their messages.

So, I could not stay here and work as a journalist. Radio Free Europe was not the best radio ever. My model media, the media I would love to work for and what I most often listen to, is BBC, NPR, even CBC which isn’t quite as good, but still good. Radio Free Europe was not the model of great journalism. But we were pretty good. We were aspiring. Dropping from there to yellow journalism? I wouldn’t do that. I was too proud to do it just for sustenance.

My daughter had already gone to the States to study there. And I only have one daughter. So that was another reason to leave.

If Bulgarians maintain today that they’re running away now because of ignorance and chalga, it was much worse then. Back then, in addition to aggressive ignorance and aggressive chalga, there was too much crime. It was not a healthy environment for any person to be in. I couldn’t stay here, or I would have lost my sanity. I wasn’t here when there was the worst adversity, when there wasn’t food, when they had to line up for milk and bread for their kids. I missed that. I missed that humiliating state. It wasn’t much better, and it wasn’t going to get much better any time soon. I could survive with an expectation of a better world. I could stay and try to help ameliorate the environment. But that just wasn’t feasible at all.

Still, when I left, I did follow the news. I knew that governments had changed, I knew about Tsar Simeon. But I was surprised when I returned about the level of nationalism and anti-Turkish and anti-Roma feelings.

And the popularity of your old friend, Volen Siderov, the head of Ataka.

Say hello to him. And say to him, “Vic asks, when did you lose your mind?” He was my best friend. He drank tons of alcohol in my presence, crying on my shoulder, He was a decent guy even if he wasn’t the smartest guy.

You know how he became the editor of Demokratsia? He graduated from a photography high school. He’s a photographer. During the communist years at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences — it’s called that, but it was just a nomenklatura institute — there’s this institute of literature. People who consider themselves literary critics or knowledgeable about writing all worked there as a team. Volen was their staff photographer. When they were going to publish a new book on the works of a Bulgarian writer, they illustrated the book with pictures of the childhood home of the writer, and Volen prepared the artwork. Volen was a friend of theirs. They drank together.

One form of dissidence back then was drinking. We don’t agree with communism, we can’t fight it, so let’s go and drink and talk about it in the pub! Then probably we’ll forget, and tomorrow we’ll drink again. Some of them, that’s how they fought communism: by drinking. Volen was one of those brave drunkards.

He was part of the team — Aleksandar Yordanov, Elka Konstantinova, Iordan Vasiliev, Mihail Nedelchev, Edvin Sugarev — and all of them were at the same time members of the opposition, about 10-15 people. Right after November and January, all of them joined the UDF. Of course, Volen joined too because he was a friend of ours, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a literary expert. So when Iordan Vasiliev, who was the first editor-in-chief of Demokratsia, quit the editorial position, they had to appoint someone. Iordan suggested that Volen take over. People wondered: he knows nothing about journalism, he just photographs. But back then, I knew at least three people who are now renowned journalists who came up and said, “I’m an elementary school teacher, but I want to be a journalist.” And they were given a chance. Some of them developed; some of them remained at the elementary school level. But that’s how Volen became a journalistic star. How he became such a rabid nationalist, it beats me. I hope he can explain it to you.

End Part 2.

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