Caucus Conflict I: Right and Wrong

The media’s chosen narrative on the conflict in the Caucuses, is that Georgia is the victim of unwarranted agression by Russia. Putin and his oligarchy are flexing their muscles, and the war in Iraq has meant that the USA looks hypocritical when it condemns Russia’s military incursions. Meanwhile, the Right-wing media in America are enjoying re-playing the cold war, casting Russia as a marauding menace.

But then ‘second-day’ stories appear – about alleged atrocities comitted by Georgia in South Ossetia. Saakashvili is no saint. Over at the Progress blog, Stan Rosenthal suggests that Russia was right to come to the aid of the suppressed Ossetians.

This, however, seems to be going to far:

The Georgians have now reaped the whirlwind of what they had sown … I have no sympathy whatsoever for them.

This seems to be falling into a similar rhetorical trap that ensnared a lot of the commentary regarding Israel’s bombardment of the Lebanon in 2006 – the base need to take sides. Then, we saw the uneasy spectacle of people glorifying the Hezbollah’s ‘repulsion’ of Israel. Then, we heard people arguing that Israel’s right to defend itself some how justified collective punishment of the civilian populations of Gaza and Lebanon. We make similar mental calculations when considering the current conflict in Georgia: We need to make sense of it all, and for this we feel the need to establish who is in the right, and then scramble for the moral high-ground. But in both examples, it may actually be that both sides are wrong.

A second trap is to equate the citizens with the decision-makers. It is Georgia’s political class who have sown the seeds of the conflict, but it is Georgia’s peasants who are suffering as a result.

I don’t suppose making these distinctions really helps those under attack, or who have been killed or displaced. But it does imply that a pragmatic solution may be the best option. Wars usually occur when the chance to make a moral case has been bypassed, forfeited, lost. Forging a quick compromise will undoubtedly leave many with the sense that injustice has prevailed… but I would argue that purely in humanitarian terms, any cease-fire is better than none.

Update

In an OpenDemocracy article The Miscalculation of Small Nations, Fred Halliday makes this point in more detail:

Where Georgia itself is concerned, the lesson can be summed up in a phrase: pity (and of course help) the Georgians, but condemn their leaders. For if most western governments and commentators have focused on the high politics and historical echoes of the conflict – from Russia’s excessive military response to the implications for Georgia’s entry into Nato, from the role of the United States to echoes of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1968 – less attention than is warranted has been paid to Tbilisi’s contribution to the disaster.

He also discusses the narrow nationalism which is a cause of the conflict.

A couple of constitutional questions

A couple of quick constitutional questions.

First, as I understand things, there has always been a parliamentary convention that The Lords would not block legislation sent over from The Commons, if the content of that legislation was contained within a manifesto pledge.

I wonder, could this principle apply in reverse? Thinking about the current row over an EU Referendum, perhaps the Lords has a duty to block legislation that is contrary to a stated manifesto pledge? Indeed, where better than the highest court in our land to rule on whether there is a substantive shift in power?

Personally I’m a Europhile of sorts. I think there are some projects, like tackling climate change, where it is probably advantageous to pool sovreignity. But the EU’s reputation for bureaucracy undermines it, and this messing about over referendums is a sitting duck for the Euroscrotics.

Britain: Boors at the Eurovision Party

After watching the annual song contest, beamed to us this year from Helsinki, I cannot help but think that we British are very different from the rest of our European neighbours. There must be something in the water. I thought the commentary of our own national treasure, the Irishman Terry Wogan, epitomised these differences — although perhaps not in the way he might expect.

Year after year, he and we mock Eurovision with glee, pointing out how seriously everyone takes the contest, while we participate with our tongues in our cheek. This year, however, that same attitude boomeranged back to slap us in the face. For example, when the song that was destined to win was performed by the Serbian delegation, those of us watching the broadcast with the translations could see that the song was a personal account of someone coming to terms with a lost, forbidden love. But the only words Terry could find were to mock the “owl like” lead singer, noticing the contrast between her rather androgynous appearance and the Amazonian femininity of her backing singers. She was baring her soul for the continent, and all Terry could do was chuckle.

The Serbian singer had the last laugh, however, when the rest of Europe voted in her favour, dumping the British effort into a “nosedive”. This was not a surprise – our song about low cost air travel was never going to be popular. What was noteworthy, however, was that the UK was one of the few countries that did not give the Serbian owl-woman any points. Instead, we gave ‘douze points’ to the terrible Turkish offering, which matched the British entry for vacuity, but with the added eye-candy of belly-dancers.

Indeed, we had already been told that the belly dancers were British, so in fact, my fellow countrymen had voted as jingoistic as possible, given the rules. A familiar and hilarious theme for Sir Terry is the bizarre block voting which has always characterised the competition. We find that the neighbours in the Scandinavian cul-de-sac all voted for each other; the handful of countries that made up the former Yugoslavia gave each other maximum points; and Russia exchanged top marks with her former Soviet states. This is particularly alien to the British mindset. While our own neighbours Ireland and France were kind to us in their point allocations, we did not reciprocate. Do we imagine that an independent Scotland or Wales will vote for England, or vice-versa, if the UK were to break up? No we do not, not even out of pity.

I am often criticised on this site for my apparent insistence on the relativistic, without any anchor of objectivity to judge and compare different peoples and cultures. Well, let me satisfy those critics by throwing all that relativistic nonsense out the window for a moment. Let me say that the British have this weekend shown themselves to be nothing less than a drone of boors. I mean that quite sincerely and objectively, since there is no room for irony when we talk about Eurovision. We are like the idiot at the party who initially misses the joke, yet bores everyone by repeating the same punch-line when everyone else has moved on to being serious for a moment. We are the misers who show no camaraderie or neighbourly love, who bring nothing to the party but noxious fumes and bullying laughter. We are the social inepts of Europe.

Except for me of course, because I voted for Serbia.

Serbia win

Roschekno at Smokewriting has similar feelings: “The subsequent massive failure of the song may have had something to do with said eurotypes having got used a long time ago to the increasingly smug unfunniness of official British ‘humour’.”

US of E

Reading Gary Monro’s post regarding Europhile Ken Clarke’s Tory leadership bid, prompts me to think once more about the arguments against the single currency.

I remember going to see Tony Benn speak a year or two ago, when he was promoting a recently published volume of his diaries. He made the point that if (or when) we joined the single currency, economic and financial decisions would be made by people who we could not “sack” out of office. Joing the single currency does indeed imply the “foreign control” that Gary speaks of.

There are therefore only two democratically acceptable positions to take on this issue: total non-participation, or total European federalism. Ken Clarke, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats do us a disservice by picking a position somewhere between these two stools.

Thoughts on the nature of culture and multiculture I must leave to another day. However, I think I find the idea of a federal Europe less offensive than most of my countrymen. In the UK, we already live in a federation of sorts. Despite an English accent, I have Welsh and Scots ancestry. Now I live in Edinburgh, I can be as proud of cultural icons such as David Hume, Walter Scott and Robert Burns as I am of anyone strictly English. I look forward to the day when we become the United States of Europe, when I can celebrate my illustrious countrymen: Da Vinci, Voltaire, Neitzche, Picasso!