The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Category: History

Developments in Sierra Leone, and the quote of the day

by fpman

You may remember that towards the end of February, as we have reported here, Sierra Leone’s Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana voluntarily went into quarantine for twenty-one days after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola. Now it seems that there may have been more to the decision than mere precaution, or at the very least the consequences are proving more complex.

There is apparently a power struggle in the background. VP Sam-Sumana was expelled last week from the ruling All People’s Congress Party for allegedly “orchestrating political violence,” and also for supposedly untrue statements about himself. He faces the prospect of impeachment in the near future. A superficial look at the affair seems to suggest that what is happening at the moment is that his political opponents are happy to use his isolation in quarantine against him, trying to unseat him.

It is not unprecedented for epidemics to have far-reaching political implications as this whole book may make clear:

And so, in conclusion, here is a somewhat random example from the above book of the many power struggles throughout history that were affected by epidemics, from page 46, for a broader perspective — our quote of the day:

“In northern Italy, the Duke of Mantua and his only son succumbed to smallpox in December 1612. Abruptly ending the male line of succession of the Gonzaga family, this led directly to the War of the Mantuan Succession between Austria and France.”

A small correction may be due here: the male line of succession did not completely end in 1612 but given that Francesco IV Gonzaga (the son of Vincenzo I Gonzaga) did not have a male heir, his brother Ferdinando I had to take over from him. The problems, and the war of succession, came when eventually Ferdinando I and the third brother, Vincenzo II died without a son, too.

The point that epidemics and political instability make for an explosive combination should not be lost, though.

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Certain interactions repeat themselves

by fpman

Here is a very interesting piece in the NY Post (“My ISIS boyfriend”), looking at the story of a French woman who delved real deep into some research on radicalisation in France and the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) phenomenon. As the lady reveals through her own fascinating experience:

“This is why girls go there,” said Erelle. “It’s the dream of a good life. They are persuaded that it’s a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels. Bilel told Melodie she could have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.”

These considerations are important to understand. It is equally important to understand that this is nothing new.

Take this book as an example: “The Convert,” by Deborah Baker.

It is the story of Margaret Marcus, a Jewish-American girl from New York who suffered from some major vulnerabilities for some time in her life and eventually chose to convert, seeking a solution to all her troubles, and went to Pakistan. She was invited there by Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979), an Islamist scholar-politician who was the founder there of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. One of the most influential Islamist thinkers in the early development of modern political Islam.

Margaret went to Pakistan in 1961. Maududi, happy that in distant America someone chose Islam (it was more of a big deal at the time), accepted her into his house, and attempted to find a husband for her.

The story is in fact quite complicated from hereon and I would not like to shoot it down with a cheap summary — let me point out that Margaret Marcus went on to live as Maryam Jameelah in her new life. The story of her conversion (a version of it) is widely known in the Islamic world.

Now guess what… one of the arguments that tempted Margaret-Maryam to foreign land was that as a Muslim convert she would not find decent existence (in both a spiritual and a material sense) and a good husband if she stayed in non-Muslim land.

Given that these interactions, which apparently show a durable pattern, nowadays gain strategic significance in the context of the Islamic State, perhaps it is time to pay more attention to the excellent book mentioned above.

Cognitive dissonance in Nazi Germany

by fpman

In the last few days I have not had the time to cover a new subject in depth. I’m back now. But first here’s some light posting to see if I’m still able to push the Publish button.

And with that, if you ever wondered: here is the story of the man who refused to do the Nazi salute on a famous 1936 photo you surely have already seen on social media at some point.

Here’s the crucial part:

“(August) Landmesser joined the Nazi Party in 1931. Little did he know that his heart would soon ruin any progress that his superficial political affiliation might have made. In 1934, Landmesser met Irma Eckler, a Jewish woman, and the two fell deeply in love.”

It seems probable indeed that Landmesser may have joined the Nazi Party like many other people at the time, without a real commitment to their ideology. Once he met the love of his life, he was bound to have to think over a thing or two. Predictably,

“Their engagement a year later got him expelled from the party.”

So one more year later he was there, pictured, not enthusiastic at all about the celebratory launch of a German naval vessel, even though it was attended by Adolf Hitler.

It is usually personal reasons such as Landmesser’s that may cause people the strongest dissonance with only superficially considered political ideas. And a weak engagement with ideology may be thus easily broken up by an engagement of different sorts. Especially when the representatives of the former (the ideology) tell you that the latter (your love) is not approved. Likely this determined Landmesser’s path.

Where he and his wife went on from here is why the above link is worth following. It’s not the story of an action hero and his lady. It’s mostly a sad story of ordinary people — but it’s also uplifting in a way, given how their daughters, Ingrid and Irene carried on their parents’ legacy, in their own peculiar way.

The Cocaine International

by fpman

Interesting news from Albania.

Former Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha’s nephew, Ermal Hoxha, was arrested yesterday during a police raid on a cocaine laboratory in the village of Xibrake, south of the Albanian capital Tirana. Over a 100 kg of cocaine and four tons of additive materials were seized, and two Colombian citizens were also netted in the operation, preceded by a joint investigation of German and Albanian police.

The cocaine originates “from Cuba,” it is reported, although given the presence of Colombians one would think otherwise. Cuba may certainly have served as a transit point along the substance’s route to Europe, on its way towards Germany, though.

Drug cartels began making airdrops of cocaine along Cuba’s shores, for pickup by speedboats headed to Florida, a very long time ago. These drops have also proved sufficient to serve a good part of what domestic market there is for the substance in Cuba. It is small wonder if eventually some Cuban officials got involved and if participation in long-distance trade is a result in what is thus a more permissive environment for related transactions (with officials closing their eyes or actively joining).

If there truly is a link to Cuba in this particular case, a Hoxha’s involvement may possibly be further sign of this trend.

Even though both were Communist countries, Albania and Cuba did not have an entirely convenient link between each other during Communist times. Cuba was backed by the Soviets whom Albanians turned away from (in the post-Stalin period, for a mix of ideological and geopolitical reasons). Cuba and Albania did maintain ties, however, and people from one side may have known people from the other in the past in their case. Which means there may be some ideologically grounded fraternity (or at least the memory thereof) between them. And it also means that some of the people that these people knew in their own respective countries may now know each other, too — and may conspire, although this is purely speculation of course.

Hoxha_StalinRemember Stalin? The late Enver Hoxha at his desk, Stalin’s portrait hanging above his head

Stranger kings

by fpman

It’s that time of the year when one can (have the time to) think of things like… stranger kings. No, not the “Three Kings.” Just kings (or leaders) who are strangers to the land they rule (or used to rule, back in the day). I could as well be thinking about “What’s the purpose of Stonehenge?” (but I listen to it instead). The subject of stranger kings is nevertheless definitely closer to the subject area we are covering on this blog so I’ll spare you of some off-topic blogging.

If you think about it, the topic of stranger kings is actually even a bit of a paradoxical subject from the point of view of the Patrimony. Someone who was originally an alien to the people and the land under one’s rule by definition did not have family ties at birth that helped him/her into position. Those ties could of course be built up on the go, and they indeed were, in most cases, with the affinal ties that resulted being one of the key resources a stranger could use and rely on to get to rule… and to rule.

But some further literature which I am reading at the moment reveals that there may have been other resources, too. Or other reasons, rather, for a stranger becoming the king of the land.

David Henley: Conflict, Justice, and the Stranger-King Indigenous Roots of Colonial Rule in Indonesia and Elsewhere. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1 (2004), pp. 85–144. LINK

Marshall Sahlins: The Stranger King or Elementary Forms of the Politics of Life. Indonesia and the Malay World, Vol. 36, No. 105, July 2008, pp. 177–199.

As it may transpire from these sources, picking a stranger to be king could mitigate conflict between an ethnic group’s competing sub-units – Henley explains the emergence of colonial rule in some places with this as a key mechanism. Sahlins ponders how stranger kings often represented the “foreign” that is both desired and feared, and how the choice of an alien to rule one’s land worked similarly to the affinal tie of marriage on the personal level (through which many stranger kings have historically come to power, actually). The choice of a stranger both as king and as spouse led to constructive renewal (which, as we know from the science on consanguineal marriages, is even biologically/genetically necessary, to avoid too much in-breeding).

This is all fascinating. But the examples considered from the world of ancient communities from Greece to the Southeast Asian islands and Melanesia, and from the colonial era, seem remote. This begs the question: are stranger kings extinct by today? Has, as a result of nationalism, citizenship (and the requirement thereof) emerged as a must-have bond to a political community that pre-determines that a certain degree of strangeness cannot be overcome to get to rule a certain land? Knowing that citizenship (where the notion exists) actually does not work in a universal and homogeneous manner (just like rule of law and human rights don’t, either) this is an intriguing question…

Interesting contemporary examples jump to mind, too, from the Hashemite dynasty ruling Jordan today in the person of Abdullah II (a dynasty hailing from the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula) to Sonia Gandhi in India (the Italian lady who met then-future Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi in a Greek restaurant in Cambridge, UK, and is now pulling the strings within the Indian National Congress party)…

Having thought through this, for strangers to be truly strangers one should also have a strong difference between internal and external that is not there so much, and certainly not universally there, in today’s increasingly transnationalizing world… which some people refer to as a “neo-medieval” order of sorts, implying that once we were there already, in the past…

Alright, no more paragraphs ending with ellipses today!

Thai “democrarchy”

by fpman

Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is about to have his third wife’s, that is, Princess Srirasmi Akrapongpreecha’s family stripped of royal entitlements, according to reports, and most likely a divorce is brewing along with this.

This comes related to allegations of corruption against an uncle of the princess, a police general, who may have been party to some serious smuggling and gambling crime, and may have been involved in soliciting bribes regularly. The uncle in question is Pongpat Chayaphan, formerly the head of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau. He has been arrested together with seven colleagues of his.

This source allows a peek into some royal intrigue these days, within the ranks of the royal cabinet, known as the Privy Council:

“The prince has been described in secret cables liberated by Wikileaks from the US Embassy as unstable. Members of the Privy Council have confided that they fear his elevation to the thrown and would prefer his sister, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  However, the laws of succession specify that the heir to the throne must be a male.”

So the case is an interesting combination of corruption and positioning for power. To me an even more interesting aspect of the story is this tidbit, however, from the previously linked BBC article:

“Until now the severity of the lese majeste law criminalising any critical comment about the monarchy meant that no Thai media had pointed out the family connection.”

“Lèse-majesté laws” (laws on injury to majesty) are supposedly an historical feature of absolute monarchies. That you cannot insult the honour of a royal family is not really compatible with post-monarchic, let alone democratic, political arrangements. Mixing the two results in “democrarchy” which may be as awkward as it sounds. Yet Thailand has a lèse-majesté law and it apparently is a major obstacle in the way of free discourse, according to this study for example. As past application of the law reveals to us, Thai authorities are even ready to incarcerate a US citizen for two years for posting excerpts of a book about the king that has been banned in Thailand related to the law.

ThaiRoyalStandardThe Thai royal standard (from here). What standards apply to the royal family?

But in fact Thailand is not entirely unique in this respect. Most European remnant monarchies have lèse-majesté laws themselves. There the application of the law is different of course and based on recent practice mostly obscene and pointless statements about the royals would get you into trouble. That is less of an anomaly perhaps as it is not entirely out of line with anti-defamation practice. (Although I’m open to the argument that even such a restriction may be viewed as problematic from a democratic standpoint.)

Auctioning off some Russian foreign affairs correspondence

by fpman

This letter, from 1762, is going to be auctioned on November 19 in Paris. In it, the Russian Empress Catherine II (actually a lady of German origin) is writing to her lover, Stanisław August Poniatowski, who would be King of Poland as Stanisław II only two years later. Catherine has just inherited the Russian throne and is in a precarious situation. She is sending some vital instructions to Stanisław to avoid unnecessary trouble. As quoted here (at the end of the article in question):

“You read my letters with very little attention. I’ve told you and repeated that I risk being assaulted from all sides if you put one foot back in Russia.”

Life was to become only more complicated later on…

CatherineIIWords of discontent in the letter…

For about 10 to 12 thousand Euros you may have the rest of the letter as well. And here you find the rest of the private letters written by famous women that will be auctioned on the same day, if you have some more money to spend…

But I wish to stop by the story of Catherine and Stanisław because theirs is a particularly interesting historical case with a view to the role of personal relationships in politics.

It was Catherine’s hope, and of those around her in St. Petersburg, that they would be in control of Stanisław just like they were in control of many other key figures in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth who were their paid clients at the time, including the Hetmans or the Commanders of the Polish and Lithuanian Armies. Palace intrigue played a role in why Catherine and Stanisław came together back in 1755, but they felt genuine attraction towards one another and would eventually consider marrying each other, before the idea became inconvenient (once Catherine had become ruler of Russia). And Anna Petrovna, Catherine’s second child, was possibly their daughter. In 1764, when Stanisław would be elected as King of the Polish noble republic, Russia spent a lot of money on getting him there and even positioned their troops near the site of the election assembly to make sure they got the result they wanted.

In the end, however,

“Stanisław-August, despite his links with the Empress Catherine, was the leader of Reform in Poland: the Empress, despite her links with the Enlightenment, was the paymistress of Poland’s conservative establishment.” (Davies, 2001: 270)

In other words: Stanisław II was independent-minded and attempted to carry out major reform of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including some very progressive and liberal policies, at the same time as he sought to strengthen the autonomy of his state. He was, after all, one out of only four Polish kings out of the eleven elected Kings of the Polish noble republic (the others were foreigners). Yet he was to be the last one.

It was his quest for highly timely reform that resulted in the end in the Partition of Poland. Russia considered the reforms a threat to its control over what it saw as a client state and a useful buffer zone against threats from the West: Prussia and Austria. Russia thus intervened, and once it did so it was forced by the logic of power politics to enter into talks over Poland’s future, resulting in the three-stage, three-way partition of the country at the end of which nothing was left of it, by 1795.

Reference

Norman Davies: Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Being close to war

by fpman

We’re travelling, and posting is light these days here at the Patrimony.

But this shouldn’t stop us from pointing out some noteworthy analysis produced by others, tangentially relevant to our focus over here. Travelling in the virtual world of the internet we have come across this report on Malala Yousafzai’s donation of $50,000 to rebuild schools in Gaza. She is the little girl who started an activist career at a young age in Pakistan, blogging in favour of women’s right to be educated, who was then shot in the head by the Taliban but survived, and has by now won all kinds of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the World Children’s Prize. The money she is giving for education in Gaza comes from the latter source, actually.

Perusing articles even loosely related to this, on the Middle East, we have then found this article from almost a month ago in the Jerusalem Post. An Israeli perspective, you might say, or rather a perspective on the difference between Israeli and other perspectives, actually, on the most recent round of conflict related to Gaza. It contains some important observations about the emotional impact of how close to one, specifically in terms of human relations, a conflict happens to be.

Two key excerpts should be lifted over here. Firstly, regarding the view of the general public in Israel: It might be difficult for an outsider to understand, but when your child is spending their summer vacation running to find shelter—with merely a 15-second warning in the south, 90 seconds in Tel Aviv—one has limited emotional capacity to see what is happening to the children on the other side.

And secondly, regarding the elite’s perspective: In this war Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s close friend lost his son, the grandson of a prominent left-wing politician was severely injured, and every anchor or reporter knew someone who was fighting in Gaza. In Israel there is often only one degree of separation.

Even in an airport lounge one sometimes has the time to trace back information and so we found this report which reveals that the soldier killed in action was Hadar Goldin, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s close friend in question is Simcha Goldin. Minister Moshe Ya’alon indeed knew Simcha Goldin well: “Ya’alon knew Simcha Goldin, the dead soldier’s father, from childhood and had known Hadar since his birth. Ya’alon once lectured at Hadar Goldin’s high school at his request.” In fact they are related, too, as Ya’alon’s grandfather was in fact the brother of Simcha Goldin’s grandmother. This means that Hadar Goldin was Moshe Ya’alon’s second cousin once removed.

The prominent left-wing politician alluded to above is most likely Haim Oron, a politician formerly from the left-wing Meretz Party, and a leader of the kibbutz movement in Israel – his grandson was injured on the Gaza border, some time in the second half of July. His name is Adi Zimri, and he was hit in the leg in the explosion of a rocket propelled grenade while searching for Hamas-built tunnels reaching into Israeli territory. By the way, the second link goes to an article that also reveals Haim Oron’s son Oded as being a helicopter pilot, his firstborn son Uri as being a Brigadier-General in the air force, and his granddaughter Omer Zimri as being a reservist officer. Which is obviously not all that uncommon a situation (for a family to have so many members in the military, either on active duty or in reserve) in Israel.

Now, before somebody confuses this brief post on a very specific issue (degree of one’s separation in terms of human/family relations from a conflict, on one particular side involved in said conflict) with a thorough analysis of the background of the Middle East conflict and some kind of justification for anything or its opposite, let us state that it is not. Our point is simply what the author of the article quoted above is also saying: degree of one’s separation in terms of human/family relations from a conflict (as a variable) matters somehow.

A mother-in-law and (in) journalism

by fpman

We have discussed Amal Alamuddin’s marriage with George Clooney before, and tracking the story suddenly put Ziad Takieddine, Amal’s uncle, on our radar, too. Now we turn our attention to Baria Alamuddin, Amal’s mother – “Clooney’s mother-in-law,” says the Guardian, rudely, given that Amal is, on the one hand, Mrs Clooney herself, and, on the other, that her mother may as well be simply “Amal’s mother.”

This is Baria Alamuddin’s personal webpage.

We just can’t stop thinking, and even saying – aloud – “Wowoweewow,” as we go through the intro. Listen to this:

“(she) has interviewed numerous heads of state including, King Hamad Bin Issa Alkhalifa, President Hosni Moubarak, King Hussain of Jordan, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Fidel Castro, to name a few. She was the last journalist to interview Indira Ghandi.

At the part where the text says “to name a few” we were totally cooked.

For reference, this is a report on the interview with Indira Gandhi, together with some excerpts from the interview itself (prepared shortly before Indira Gandhi’s assassination).

And this is a somewhat random image from the above video, as portrait, of “an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the United Kingdom,” as well as a mother (and now mother-in-law).

BariaAlamuddin

A Prime Minister’s brother, a football game, and the evolution of warfare

by fpman

This is special. Serbia hosted Albania yesterday for a Euro 2016 Group I qualifier. No away fans were permitted, to avoid some rather inevitable trouble. Trouble that thus had to find alternative expression and made its way onto the pitch in the shape of a drone… carrying an Albanian flag (this one). See the brawl that resulted from this.

The distraction was frustrating to the players of both teams, at the same time as the political message of the flag itself evoked strong emotions in many, among both the spectators and the players, given historical memories of conflict between the two countries, and even the recent memory of the Kosovo war between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. The brawl began as one of the Serb players (playing in white) managed to capture the flag. As you can see in the video eventually some fans ran onto the pitch to join the melee, too. It is small consolation that most of the players actually behaved rather gently towards each other, and at one point, when there was a threat that a tsunami of fans may charge the Albanian team, the Serb players, including those from the bench, escorted the Albanian players to the locker room tunnel’s entrance.

A drone, and its operator, started all this. This is pretty interesting in and of itself. Here we saw the unlawful application of a drone with political motives targeted at specific civilian groups in audience, distracting a public event. If the unlawful application of the drone would have included violence, this would have been an instance of terrorism. So in a sense we have seen history made yesterday. Take a closer look with this in mind:

And with this in mind it is an especially amazing turn of events that the police arrested one person in connection with the incident. As mentioned already, no away fans were permitted to come to the game, and so the police took the person in question from the VIP box. It was Olsi Rama, the brother of the current Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Wow. Just wow. We’ll update this post once it becomes clear(er) if Olsi Rama was really the person responsible for the incident. Not to say that that is the only aspect of this story that may make it interesting, as we indicated above…

Update (October 15, still): In a twist to the story, it turns out the police have not really “arrested” Olsi Rama. Rama also denies having flown the drone himself. Reports have nevertheless appeared in the Serb press visualizing the remote control in his hand at the time when he was supposedly detained, and there is also an allegation circulating that “European diplomats” helped Olsi Rama get through the security check. Bearing in mind that Olsi’s brother, Prime Minister Edi Rama, is set to go to Belgrade on October 22 (at least for the moment he still is), this is beginning to look like a consciously timed provocation by someone, well-suited to bring out some of the typical, silly nationalist phantasies attached to the coverage of what happened – such as the story of a Euro-Albanian conspiracy against Serbia by means of flag-flying at a football match.

Update (October 16): This is what happened to the drone. A fan wearing a mask took it somewhere. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

FanWithFlag

Update (October 17): besides describing the general mood in the stadium throughout most of the match before the drone’s arrival, this article also notes that: “Ivan Bogdanović, the Serb hooligan who led the 2010 Italy match riot, was seen invading the pitch. He served jail time in Serbia after the Italy incident, in which he burned an Albanian flag. That game had to be abandoned as well. Yesterday he led a group of masked supporters into the pitch before being kicked out by police.”

Given Bogdanović‘s past involvement in disrupting football matches, tolerated since years by Serbian police, one has even more of a reason now to believe that the flying of the drone was a strategically planned provocation. By the way, the guy who took the drone from the pitch happened to go onto the pitch together with Bogdanović. They were flying in close formation… See Bogdanović on the left and the guy who captured the drone in the middle, below (photo: Marko Drobnjaković, AP):

Serbia Albania Euro Soccer

In the meantime, President of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, has also voiced the view that the drone incident was an American-European-Albanian conspiracy to create a distraction just before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit. Because… because… because Putin’s visit was so totally distracted it went ahead with a proper military parade

Contrary to what Dodik is suggesting, the drone incident was most likely the perfect way to energize nationalists who traditionally favor a Russian rather than a European orientation for Serbia.