North Macedonia’s EU path is under threat from an unlikely actor

September 27th, 2022


People wave the old and the current national flags and chant slogans during a protest against the ‘French proposal’ in Skopje, North Macedonia on July 16, 2022
[PHOTO/File: AP/Boris Grdanoski]

Much of the Macedonian civil society has joined the right in rejecting a deal with Sofia and Brussels. This is dangerous.

Over the summer, a proposal by the European Union to resolve North Macedonia’s dispute with neighbouring Bulgaria, which had imposed a veto on its EU membership bid, caused much social upheaval in the Balkan country. The Macedonian opposition rejected what came to be known as the “French proposal” and called for mass demonstrations.

After the Macedonian government approved the proposal and Sofia lifted its veto, opposition parties declared that they will vote against changes in the constitution to accommodate the document’s provisions. In September, the opposition also announced it is seeking a referendum to cancel the 2017 Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations between the two countries, which was rejected by the parliament – for now.

That the opposition is taking advantage of the situation to seek political gain is understandable. But in its opposition to the “French proposal” and a resolution of the dispute with Bulgaria, it has been joined by the majority of the presumably progressive and pro-EU civil society.

This exposed the unsettling reality that the supposed proponents of EU integration are quite quick to give up on it and advocate for “alternatives” that most certainly would undermine North Macedonia’s democratic path and stability.

To understand the dangers of this situation, it is important to recall how North Macedonia got here. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, along with Slovenia, the then-Republic of Macedonia was one of the first former Yugoslav republics to receive recognition of its independence by the European Community (now the European Union). In 2005, it received EU-candidate status. Yet due to disputes relating to its cultural heritage and national history with its EU neighbours, Greece and Bulgaria, it was left in the EU’s waiting room for almost 20 years, as the start of accession negotiations was delayed.

Aljazeera for more

Anne Frank’s diary speaks to teen girls in a secret Kabul book club

September 27th, 2022


About a dozen teen girls in a secret book club in Afghanistan are reading — and finding comfort in — Anne Frank’s diary. Arzou, one of participants, said it was the first time they had read the firsthand account of a teenage girl living through extreme hardship. “I think Anne Frank is like, as a friend for me,” she said. PHOTO/Diaa Hadid

In the year since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, they have used their muscle to restrict the education and curiosity of girls. They’ve been banned from high school, told to cover up and stay home. But in one secret book club in Kabul, about a dozen teenagers are defying the Taliban to continue learning – and along the way have connected to a girl from a different time and place who was also forced to live her life in secret.

“She had hope. She was fighting. She was studying. She was resisting her fate,” says Zahra. She’s in the basement of a building on a side alley on the outskirts of Kabul where the book club met on a recent August day with two young volunteers who act as facilitators, steering the conversation and asking questions.

Zahra is speaking of Anne Frank.

The girls are reading and discussing the teenager’s famous diary, which she began writing at age 13. And they are struck by the parallels: Just like them, Anne was only a kid – one who was starting to learn about the world – when she was forced into hiding because of a violent, oppressive government.

NPR for more

Remembering Mikhail Gorbachev, the greatest modern champion of world peace

September 27th, 2022


Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sign the INF Treaty in the east room of the White House. PHOTO/White House Photographic Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

(ScheerPost revisits Robert Scheer’s 1987 Los Angeles Times review: “From Moscow, First Report of an Unprecedented Call for Change: The Gorbachev Manifesto.”)

When Mikhail S. Gorbachev comes to the United States next month for his summit conference with President Reagan, he will convey the main theme of this book: The Soviet Union is now in the grip of a new realism about its domestic crisis and world priorities.

His top foreign policy advisers are convinced that the “new thinking” of perestroika in foreign affairs has permitted a breakthrough on arms control beyond the signing of a ban on intermediate range nuclear force (INF) missiles. They speak openly of a dramatic deal to halve each side’s strategic missile force in return for continued strict observance of the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Whether or not such a breakthrough is announced at the summit’s conclusion, Gorbachev will be seeking to leave behind in the United States an image of his perestroika as a domestic policy whose foreign policy postulate is an end to the Cold War as we have known it, thus providing a much needed period of peace for the remaking of Soviet society.

Perestroika, or restructuring, as vividly and conversationally described in this remarkable manifesto, is based on a profound criticism of the “stagnation” of Soviet society and an insistence on radically reordering its essential economic mechanisms. But perestroika requires for its success a breeze of glasnost blowing through the country’s stultified intellectual and political life.

A Second Russian Revolution?

If perestroika–for now a top-down movement with all of the limitations thus implied–succeeds in cutting through the morass of bureaucratic inefficiency and stupidity to ignite grass-roots support, it will represent a second Soviet “revolution.” Or so Gorbachev claims, writing as a new Lenin in this modern rendition (or revision) of the Soviet Founding Father’s “What Is to Be Done?”

“Perestroika means initiative,” Gorbachev writes, “and creative endeavor, improved order and discipline, more glasnost, criticism and self-criticism in all spheres of our society. It is utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity. . . . The essence of perestroika lies in the fact that it unites socialism with democracy. . . .” Reading those bold words in the historic National Hotel up the hall from Room 107 where Lenin sat in 1918 looking out at the walls of the Kremlin where his party inexplicably and suddenly held power leaves one wanting to dash out into the streets, like John Reed in the movie “Reds,” to witness the change.

Reinforcing the movie-land image of revolution is the presence of actress Vanessa Redgrave, here for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, who sits each morning in the hotel restaurant huddling with her British Marxist adviser, speaking as if nothing has changed since 1917.

But it’s not that sort of revolution. When tanks move here as they did dramatically one recent night, sweeping through Red Square, it’s not for the seizure of power but rather practice for a parade.

Scheer Post for more

Britain’s forgotten war for rubber

September 26th, 2022


A wounded man is held at gunpoint by British forces in Malaya. PHOTO/Ministry of Information

70 years ago the UK stepped up a brutal colonial intervention in Malaya, presenting it as a war against Chinese communism. British forces herded hundreds of thousands of people into fortified camps, heavily bombed rural areas and resorted to extensive propaganda to win the conflict.

The so-called “emergency” in Malaya – now Malaysia – between 1948 and 1960 was a counter-insurgency campaign waged by Britain against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). 

The MNLA sought independence from the British empire and to protect the interests of the Chinese community in the territory. Largely the creation of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), the MNLA’s members were mainly Chinese. 

But although the war in southeast Asia has long been presented in most British analyses as a struggle against communism during the cold war, the MNLA received very little support from Soviet or Chinese communists. 

Rather, the major concern for British governments was protecting their commercial interests in the colony, which were mainly rubber and tin.

A Colonial Office report from 1950 noted that Malaya’s rubber and tin mining industries were the biggest earners in the British Commonwealth. Malaya was the world’s top producer of rubber, accounting for 75 per cent of the territory’s income, and its biggest employer.

As a result of colonialism, Malaya was effectively owned by European, primarily British, businesses, with British capital behind most large Malayan enterprises. Some 70 per cent of the acreage of rubber estates was owned by European, primarily British, companies.

Malaya was described by one British Lord in 1952 as the “greatest material prize in South-East Asia”, mainly due to its rubber and tin. These resources were “very fortunate” for Britain, another Lord declared, since “they have very largely supported the standard of living of the people of this country and the sterling area ever since the war ended”. 

He added: “What we should do without Malaya, and its earnings in tin and rubber, I do not know”.

The insurgency threatened control over this “material prize”. The Colonial Secretary in Britain’s Labour government, Arthur Creech-Jones, remarked in 1948 that “it would gravely worsen the whole dollar balance of the Sterling Area if there were serious interference with Malayan exports”.

The Labour government of Clement Attlee dispatched the British military to the territory in 1948 in a classic imperial role, largely to protect those commercial interests. 

“In its narrower context”, the Foreign Office observed in a secret file, the “war against bandits is very much a war in defence of [the] rubber industry”.

Declassified UK for more

The dragon in the garage

September 26th, 2022



In his book The Demon-Haunted World, the renowned scientist late Carl Sagan wrote that many people go out of their way to forestall any intellectual/rational inquiry into magical/supernatural claims. Sagan explained this nature of forestalling through an allegorical example.

Imagine if a person claims that there were a fire-breathing dragon in his garage. When a visitor asks him to show the dragon, he is taken to the garage. But when the visitor sees nothing, he is told that the dragon is actually invisible.

The visitor suggests throwing flour on the floor so they can see the invisible dragon’s footsteps. The response to this is that the dragon actually floats in the air and his feet rarely touch the ground. When the visitor suggests using an infrared camera to see the dragon’s invisible fire, he is told that the creature’s fire was heatless and hence would be invisible to an infrared camera.

The visitor then suggests spray-painting the dragon so he would become visible. The response to this is that the dragon was incorporeal and the paint won’t stick.

Sagan wrote that, on many occasions, no matter how sincerely one tries to test a claim through scientific means, the ones making fantastical claims go to any length to ‘prove’ that the claims are untestable and simply need to be accepted as true.

Often, well-meaning folk advise that, instead of outrightly rejecting claims and theories that look or sound incredibly implausible or even utter rubbish, they should be discussed with those making them. But what if the claim-makers are simply interested in deflecting your queries through more fibs?

Dawn for more

Chile’s Student Uprising (documentary)

September 26th, 2022


Watch this documentary (here) on the student protest movement in Chile in 2011 (Director Roberto Navarrete, 35 mins, Alborada Films, 2014).

Mass student protests took place in Chile between 2011 and 2013 demanding a free and state-funded education system and radical change in society. The documentary puts these protests in their historical context of widespread dissatisfaction with the economic model put in place under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), but that still remains largely in place.

The film’s director travelled to Chile between 2011 and 2013 to speak to then student leaders (now Members of Congress) such as Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson, and also to other students, to explore why their protests had caused such effect in Chile and inspired others in the country and beyond.

“Roberto Navarrete’s is the most complete and compelling visual account of Chile’s student uprising to date. All the lessons from Patricio Guzmán’s path-breaking style of documenting in film are there: poetic visuals, an engaged narrative, the focus on personal feelings and stories combined with subtle and accessible analysis, plus a sense of the tragic tempered by the optimism of the will. Navarrete adds to it the passion and distance of the exile’s gaze, and a Latin American Beckettian flare for celebration while thinking. This is a must see for all those interested in the current sway of global rebellions that show us all the shape of things to come. Superb!”

Dr Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Professor in Law, Birbeck, University of London and author of ‘Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973’

Alborada for more

Weekend Edition

September 23rd, 2022

Biden supports Mahsa; ignores Zainab

September 23rd, 2022


President Joe Biden addressed the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday in New York, slamming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. PHOTO/Evan Vucci/AP/NPR
Mahsa Amini PHOTO/Center for Human Rights in Iran
Zainab Essam Majed al-Khazali PHOTO/The Cradle

on 9/16/2022, Mahsa Amini, aged 22, died in police custody in Iran

9/21/2022, Biden gave a speech at the US General Assembly:

“And today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”

the demonstrations began in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s tragic death

one has to condemn Amini’s murderers in the strongest term

but was Biden right to talk about the basic rights of Iranians?

NO, because:

Biden, & the corporate run media, is quiet about Zainab al-Khazali’s murder

on 9/20/2022, Zainab al-Khazali, aged 15, was killed by US soldiers

Zainab Essam Majed al-Khazali fell victim to the military drills in Baghdad

doesn’t Zainab deserve the same sympathy/exposure in US media as Mahsa?

but then so many uncomfortable questions need to be answered:

what are the US armed forces doing in Iraq which is 6,000 miles away?

are we at war with Iraq?

and so on …

it’s non-mainstream websites like The Cradle

that draw our attention to these important issues …

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Teesta Setalvad, after bail, spotlights fact-checker M Zubair’s case

September 23rd, 2022


Speaking to NDTV in her first interview since leaving jail, Teesta Setalvad said she had expected “due process” and some notice before she was arrested

New Delhi:

Activist Teesta Setalvad today said she was questioned only once in six days after she was arrested in June over allegations of “conspiracy to destabilise the Gujarat government after the 2002 riots”.

Teesta Setalvad, 60, was released from jail on Saturday after the Supreme Court granted her bail, saying the police had already got enough time to interrogate her. The court also said there is “no offence in this case over court which bail cannot be granted”, that too when “she is a lady”.

Speaking to NDTV in her first interview since leaving jail, Ms Setalvad said she had expected “due process” and some notice before she was arrested on June 25, not the kind of crackdown that happened.

She was in police custody for seven days and in jail for 63.

The police custody was “very strange”, she remarked.

“Right from that Sunday evening (of the arrest) to next Saturday, when I was sent to judicial custody, I was not called for questioning except once. The rest of the time I was sitting around. No explanation was given,” the activist shared.

She also cited the arrest of fact-checker Mohammed Zubair over a tweet. “We have a set of laws in this country. Those laws need to be applied with some degree of honesty, impartiality and autonomy by the police. The police should not become an arm of the executive. Look what happened to Zubair – so many examples of this “crackdown” and the police getting away without following due process. It can happen to anybody,” Ms Setalvad warned.

Ms Setalvad was in the Sabarmati jail where Mahatma Gandhi’s wife Kasturba Gandhi was imprisoned before India’s freedom. There is a new women’s jail where 200 are held. Only 50 of them are convicted; the rest are awaiting trial.

She said she had expected hostility in jail because of her role in taking 2002 Gujarat rioters to court.

“I was concerned about security. I realized my security lay in living as an ordinary women undertrial. I was at the Women’s Barracks 6 with women, children, pregnant women, young women,” she said. There were also women with chronic health problems and mental health issues.

“Life in jail is never easy. There is a 6 am to 12 noon window when you can be out. Then 3-6 pm. After 6 pm you are inside. Sunday, after 4 pm you are inside.”

NDTV & Youtube for more

Time as we know it

September 23rd, 2022


This intimate portrait series is a tribute to love, and to the demanding and courageous task of growing old gracefully, graciously, and aware.PHOTO/ and text by Marna Clarke

I am 81 years old, my partner 92. On my 70th birthday, I woke from a dream in which I had rounded a corner and seen the end. This disturbing dream moved me to begin photographing the two of us, chronicling our time together, growing old.

Now, 11 years down the line, he and I face numerous physical challenges: decreased mental acuity, especially memory; the diminished quality of our skin, hair and teeth; mild disfigurement; as well as the need to tend vigilantly to our balance, hearing, sight, physical agility and getting adequate sleep. Inside we are learning to accept it, sometimes going from anger, impatience, sadness or fear to seeing the humor in the idiosyncrasies of aging. We realize that if we can be comfortable with our own aged appearances and limitations, then the potential exists that others will become more comfortable witnessing this transformation and possibly become more comfortable with their own.

I have entered a taboo territory: aging and death. The creation of these photos is part of my own way of dealing with the inevitability of dying by bringing attention to it and accepting it. I have come to embrace the photographs as a tribute not just to our lives but also to the demanding and courageous task of growing old gracefully, graciously, and aware. A certain wisdom is evolving from years of living and observing, eventually unveiling previously unseen associations, patterns and similarities. I am gaining a much-appreciated perspective that was not available to me previously.

— Marna Clarke

This work was selected to win one of 2022’s Critics’ Choice Awards. Be sure to see all of this year’s winning photographers.

Lens Culture for more