danohu: (Default)
In Britain, there's currently a certain amount of self-criticism over the UK's rapprochement with Libya over the past decade -- how our demands were about terrorism and biological weapons, how our desires were for weapons and oil deals, and how anything involving human rights or democracy within Libya was left out of the picture.

In Germany, there's been nothing of the sort. When the German press has blamed anybody outside Libya, they've blamed the US -- which is somewhat unfair, given that in this instance America has cleaner hands than any European government. There's been occasional criticism of Britain, France, Italy and the EU, but almost none of Germany itself.

This is odd, given that Germany has by my reckoning been one of the main forces supporting trade, business and even military links with Gaddafi, and has been no more obviously concerned with the ethics of it than any other country.

I spent part of last night going through German newspaper archives, picking out past reports on German relations with Libya -- be they around oil or engineering (common) or human rights (very, very rare). Here's just one instance from the pile of notes.

Let's go back to 2004. The EU arms embargon on Libya had just been lifted, thanks to lobbying by Germany, France, Italy and the UK. Denmark and Sweden had mentioned human rights, but the general feeling was that, by abandoning its biological weapons program and renouncing international terrorism, Libya had conceded on all the truly important issues.

Just days later, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder landed in Tripoli with an entourage of 25 businessmen. In passing he praised what he called the 'political change' in Libya. But his main reason for visiting was the promotion of German business. Openly so, and with the support of much of the German political spectrum, from his own center-left SPD, through the pro-business FPD to the conservative CDU. So he shook hands, made introductions, closed deals. He was photographed in an elaborate tent, and at an oil well, looking equally out-of place in both locations.
What didn't emerge until four years later was that, alongside oil and engineering negotiations, Schroeder was fixing up a deal whereby elite German commandos would train the Libyan security services.

This caused controversy when it emerged in 2008. Not as military support for a dictator -- the €43m of German jamming equipment bought by Libya in the last 2 years has raised few eyebrows -- but because it was being provided by German security personnel, and thus involved sharing state military know-how with a potential enemy.

In fact, the Byzantine structure of the deal shows everybody knew they were bending the rules to breaking point. The German officers would receive €15,000 each, paid by a private security firm which in turn got a €1.6m cheque from Libya. They would take time off from their elite anti-terrorist unit. Their superiors thought they were vacationing in Tunisia, though the German embassy in Libya knew their real purpose. The officers set up shop in a barracks in Tripoli, where for 6 months they taught their Libyan counterparts how to storm buildings, board ships and operate out of helicopters.

Training can't be identified in the same way as you might see 'Made in Germany' on a used shell. But it's no less real; we can be sure that a hundred or so of the Gaddafi loyalists struggling to keep control of Tripoli have been trained by the German security forces.

[this is a modified cross-post from Ethnography of Light, a group-blog run by a few friends in Berlin. If you feel like browsing through there, do click through on the links. Much of the best stuff -- like this collection of poetry -- is hidden behind not-very-prominent links to Google Docs]
danohu: (Default)
The organized opposition don't matter much to the protests in Egypt. Everything is being arranged online, and through informal networks.

Given that -- how are they ever going to reach a compromise with the government?

In a movement with leaders, this follows an intuitive pattern. The authorities talk to the leaders, grant some of their demands, and persuade them to call off the protests. If needed, they can add some extra pressure with personal bribes or threats.

Without leaders, this just doesn't work. The government can offer things to the protesters, but has no way of getting a halt to the protests in return. So any concessions they do make will just encourage the rebels to continue with further demands.

So: either the demonstrations gradually peter out, without being able to force any change. Or the government reacts with violence, terrifies people out of joining the protests. Or, just possibly, things escalate until the government falls, accompanied by who knows how much violence.

But I can't see how the Jan25 movement -- or any movement without an ability to negotiate -- can end with some kind of moderate, limited success.

Am I wrong?
danohu: (Default)
Charles Stross on the utopia shortage:


we badly need more utopian speculation. The consensus future we read about in the media and that we're driving towards is a roiling, turbulent fogbank beset by half-glimpsed demons: climate change, resource depletion, peak oil, mass extinction, collapse of the oceanic food chain, overpopulation, terrorism, foreigners who want to come here and steal our women jobs. It's not a nice place to be; if the past is another country, the consensus view of the future currently looks like a favela with raw sewage running in the streets. Conservativism — standing on the brake pedal — is a natural reaction to this vision; but it's a maladaptive one, because it makes it harder to respond effectively to new and unprecedented problems.


Or in the words of Zizek (who is a reliable source of one-liners, if nothing else): "it is much easier for us to imagine the end of the world than a small change in the political system".

Not that utopias need to be anticapitalist, mind. My own daydreams mostly involve capitalism withering slightly, as some areas currently market-driven are replaced by more satisfying forms of interaction. Same with the other utopia I find most appealing: the amorphous vision implicit in pirate/transparency/open-data circles, slowly coming into focus as those groups become aware of themselves. You can construct non-market versions of those ideals, but they pretty much degrade into communism, anarchism or (rarely, but IMO very plausibly) slavery. Otherwise, you're left with the market/state/kindness for physical goods, sharing for intellectual goods, and probably some kind of permanent fudge in the middle.

Anyway, utopias: let's have more of them, regardless of plausibility. What's yours?

ETA: Although maybe there are a lot of utopian ideas floating around -- just not ones I find remotely appealing. Religious fundamentalism is going strong. Pure no-holds-barred capitalism is a utopian ideal for some, and still a long way from being put into practice.
danohu: (Default)
[Edit: as predicted, this was a case of a misleading article in the Guardian. See [livejournal.com profile] i_am_toast's comment.]
Plans to make schoolchildren take part in citizenship ceremonies pledging allegiance to the Queen

Yes, it's the Guardian selling papers by angering liberals, and somebody's always willing to say idiotic things to get himself back in the news. But it still leaves me feeling sour - and yes, these things can matter.

Worse - I hadn't realised (or had forgotten) that we make immigrants swear to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law"

sorry; I will stop posting so much about politics eventually. I just seem to have remembered in the past few weeks how beautiful the world is, and therefore also how fucked up chunks of it are
danohu: (Default)
Has anybody heard the Lib Dems talking about any policies over the past week? I certainly haven't.

It's a shame that in one of the rare times when they have the media's attention, they don't dare say anything.
danohu: (Default)
Amnesty have addresses and fax numbers for people to write to about the events in Burma. Also their usual advice on what to write.

Probably more useful than anything else we could be doing right now - although that's not saying much

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