Daily Archives: 3 April 2004

A Motorcycle Ride through Chernobyl’s Dead Zone

Impearls, a blog with footnotes and appendixes, reminds me to link to a photo essay in which:

A motorcyclist named Elena, her 147-horsepower Kawasaki “Ninja,” and scientist’s access pass provide us with a troubling and unparalleled tour of the ruined landscape about the city of Chernobyl in the Ukraine with its doomed nuclear power plant which, in 1986, devastated the area with radiation, destroying surrounding cities and towns as living communities and leaving the whole region uninhabitable for, it’s claimed, six hundred years. Elena’s pictorial diary of her visit is eerily reminiscent of films like The Omega Man and post-apocalypse science fiction wherein one navigates through a radioactive landscape as one would through a minefield, armed like a lifeline with geiger counter and dosimeter. The heavily radioactive “magic woods” that Elena regards — from a distance — are horrifying. Much of the rest has the melancholy of a recent Pompeii. Don’t miss it. (Thanks to Armed Liberal at Winds of Change.)

Fast internet connection recommended.

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Essay on Ataturk’s Legacy Beyond Turkey

A few days ago, the Head Heeb posted a thought-provoking essay on Atatürk’s legacy:

Mention Kemalism, and you’re likely to ignite a debate about the history of twentieth-century Turkey. Books have been written about whether Atatürk’s reforms were racist and quasi-fascist, necessary to Turkish modernization or both. There has been very little discussion, however, about Kemalism outside Turkey. Although some aspects of Kemalist ideology were unique to the Turkish situation, a case could be made that Kemalism is one of the twentieth century’s dominant models for ethnic conflict resolution.

One of the legacies of colonialism is the creation of artificial nations, often including diverse ethnic groups with a history of conflict. The governments of such countries have followed two primary conflict-resolution models. The first involves co-opting pre-existing ethnic identities into the national political infrastructure by ceding each group an official or quasi-official political space. This can take the form of federalism, formal power-sharing arrangements within a unitary state, special legal status or unofficial rotation of senior posts between ethnic groups. Such co-option is not always conducted on a basis of equality – Malaysia [emphasis added], for instance, assigns its Indian and Chinese minorities a distinctly subordinate political role – but it recognizes and supports the continued existence of separate identities within a single nation.

The second model rejects co-option in favor of replacing pre-existing identities with a created nationalism, and this is where Kemalist roots can be seen…. It is possible to construct a model of Kemalism with the following characteristics:

  • It generally arises in countries with a history of conflict between indigenous groups or groups that have lived there long enough to indigenize themselves.
  • It develops most commonly in post-colonial or post-revolutionary situations where national identity is considered part of a liberation struggle.
  • Among its fundamental principles are that recognition of separate group identities is incompatible with conflict resolution and modernization, and that such identities have to be replaced with a created nationwide identity in order to promote public solidarity.
  • Given that many indigenous groups will not adopt such a national identity voluntarily, a strong state and repressive measures are necessary to create it.

With this model in mind, the global influence of Kemalist ideology is readily apparent; the echoes of Atatürk can be found in Kenyatta’s advocacy of one-party rule as a necessary measure against “tribalism” or Kagame’s relentless campaign against “divisionists.”

It may be possible to divide Kemalism into two varieties: cultural (or “hard”) Kemalism and political (or “soft”) Kemalism. Cultural Kemalists argue that any expression of separate group identities, including practice of minority customs or languages, must be repressed as incompatible with national solidarity. Political Kemalists allow purely cultural expression of minority identities, but draw the line at ethnically-based parties or advocacy of ethnic autonomy.

Possibly the most famous example of hard Kemalism is the Turkish state’s repression of Kurdish language and folk practices. [Bulgaria’s assimilatory policies toward minorities are also described.] …

The more common form of Kemalist ideology, however, is “soft” or political Kemalism. In some cases, such as Kenya and Tanzania, politically Kemalist policies were adopted pre-emptively as a post-colonial nation-building strategy. Sukarno [emphasis added], who was one of the few post-colonial leaders to openly acknowledge Atatürk’s influence on his ideological thinking, likewise considered Kemalist Turkey as a model for a secular Indonesian state….

The debate over global Kemalism can therefore be framed in the same way as the controversy over its role in Turkey: is Kemalist repression an evil or a necessary evil? The answer may be a combination of both.

The whole essay is worth a careful read–as are the comments in response.

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Reversing Policies on Rice and Opium Production

With the coming of socialism to our town, farmers were compelled to sell quotas of grain to the government buyers at a very low price. All the good-quality rice produced in Burma was reserved for export or (just as often) sold to the black market merchants. What was left — rice of the poorest quality — was then sold to the people. If farmers wanted to eat their own good-quality rice, they had to buy it from merchants at roughly ten times the price that they had been paid for it. As a result, farmers were reluctant to grow surplus rice for sale, preferring to grow only enough for their own families. When there was a bad harvest, they didn’t even have enough to feed themselves. Burma, which was the world’s biggest exporter of rice before the Second World War, became a net importer. Even leaving aside the flaws in the regime’s agricultural policy, sheer mismanagement and rampant corruption began to undermine the economy as early as the mid-seventies. The price of food and domestic goods rose steadily, until inflation ran out of control. Even basic food needs were no longer met. Rice was unavailable at the official rate, and sky-high on the black market.

Some farmers illegally grew poppies in the jungle to support their families in bad years. When they discovered that opium made them much more money, with less effort, than normal crops, they grew more and more — and eventually poppies outstripped rice and other grains. At first the government tried to eradicate the poppy fields, making use of helicopters, machine-guns, flame-throwers and other technical assistance provided by Western governments. But government officials soon realised that they could enrich themselves by becoming unofficial agents for opium warlords, and so would destroy only a few token fields. The weapons supplied by the West were turned instead on internal enemies of the regime. The alleged fight against drugs became an excuse to attack ethnic rebels and even villagers who showed any opposition towards the government. As a result, the opium trade boomed as never before.

SOURCE: From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey, by Pascal Khoo Thwe (HarperCollins, 2002), pp. 56-57

This pattern has been repeated so many times in so many countries that it has become a sad cliché. In order to reduce supplies of opium, the Burmese government should have encouraged farmers to grow it while forcing them to sell it to the government at artificially low prices. This always works so well with food crops. In order to increase food supplies, they just needed to stand aside and skim off (i.e., tax) the profits of growers and distributors. Results-driven policies are always superior to ones driven by ideology (pure intentions), as Deng Xiaoping recognized in the aphorism for which he will always remain famous, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

Unfortunately, Deng’s other lasting legacy is his decision in 1989 to violently suppress the demonstrations in Tiananmen square, and the Burmese generals will leave the same mixed legacy, even if they decide to “free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and invite the National League for Democracy to a May 17 constitutional convention” (as noted by Robert Tagorda).

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