Monday, June 22, 2009

Iran struggling

Photo: Protesters in Tehran on June 17 (copied from Sandmonkey's blog, original source unknown).
After a fake election, Iranian people have taken to the street to protest, to stand for their votes and probably for something much more fundamental. Many have already been murdered by the regime's security forces; still, ther is hope that a change for better will come against all odds.
Below, I am trying to translate a part of The Blind Shephards' Herd, by Valeri Stankov. It is one of the most popular modern Bulgarian poems and was written in the near past when Bulgaria was not that different from today's Iran.
"Blind shephards pasture us for many ages.
They push us upward, make us climb forever
Where only dry and sticky weeds await us
With roots pulled out of earth by stormy weather.
We hardly see grass even after rainfall,
Though we are promised green and juicy meadows.
And if one steps aside to leave this main goal,
Then lurking wolves attack him from the shadows.
The shephards' voices all are hoarse from shouting,
They curse us, call us miserable bastards.
And we keep climbing up this desert mountain
In dire hope to reach their promised pastures...
But day shall come to reckon with the shephards:
Like avalanche, we'll fall on them together,
For butcher's knife is ultimately better
Than being led by a blind man forever."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Rudnicar mission

A commenter recently asked me to "quote in English some information about the Rudnicar mission of Prudkin". I had written about Prudkin in my 2007 post Prison art.
Below, I am translating parts from the article "The collapsed building at the Alabin Street in Sofia had a dark secret related to Ruse", by Boyan Draganov, published in RuseNews on Nov. 13, 2006. Follow the link to the original page to see photos. Because I have never read anything about navigation in English, my translation is fairly illiterate; but as people say, better than nothing.

"At the Alabin Street in Sofia, a 5-storey building collapsed, killing two young women. This tragedy reminded us that until Sept. 9, 1944 this house had belonged to the eye doctor Baruh Konfino. His name and activity are related to (the town of) Ruse via Captain Anton Prudkin who had been born in Ruschuk (the old name of Ruse - M.M.)...
In 1912-1913, many Jewish families from the White Sea beach and the neighbourhood of Odrin moved to Bulgaria. They were not granted Bulgarian citizenship but still lived happily for more than 25 years. However, in 1939 they were ordered by the government to leave Bulgaria. Hundreds of men, women and children from all parts of the country gathered in (the port city of) Varna. There came also many Jews from Poland, Hungary and Romania. All were seeking a way to sail to the Promised Land. However, they hadn't the papers that would allow them to use the regular ships. The only option was to travel illegally...
Konfino was a rich Jew and a Bulgarian citizen. He made a plan to bring by his own ships to Palestine those Jews who wanted to go there. This was a very difficult undertaking because very few fit ships were offered for sale and they were unbelievably expensive. The market was offering only old small wooden ships deserving retirement. Their owners wanted to get rid of them by sale rather than by decommissionment. Konfino's arrival was a chance for these owners and they used it properly... Nobody thought that the old ships would almost certainly bring tragedies. Most of the refugees also viewed them as their only chance for escape.
In 1939, Baruh Konfino and his wife Dora became owners of the 400-ton Rudnicar ship originally produced in Stockholm in 1875. (The name means "Miner" and is pronounced "Rudnichar" - M.M.) Until 1939 Rudnicar transported coal from Burgas to Varna. After that, it was abandoned in the channel connecting the sea with the Varna Lake and was described as "a wreched wreck with the shape of a ship". Dr. Konfino realized the risks presented by Rudnicar and was very careful in his choice of a captain to carry out the difficult voyages.
He picked Anton Prudkin, an experienced navigator with adventurous life, the only Bulgarian captain able to sail the Bosphorus the Dardanelles without a pilot and eager to accept any deal and risk... He accepted Konfino's offer. A difficult repair of the obsolete ship began. After disinfection, 23 baskets full of dead rats were carried out...
In the summer of 1939, Rudnicar sailed for Palestine with the first group of Jews, most of them rich. Prudkin successfully brought them to the shores of Palestine. There, in open water, the Jews were transfered to boats that brought them illegally to the Promised Land... After a short repair Rudnicar, carrying about 100 passengers above its capacity, began another risky voyage. This time, it was dragging the large boat Success, also full of refugees. During the voyage, a storm began. Rudnicar began to leak. Worse, the S-wheel of Uspeh was damaged. A sailor jumped in the unruly sea and repaired it. Both vessels reached Palestine successfully.
For the two voyages, Prudkin received 250 000 leva. However, he refused a third one, because Konfino declined his demand for a bonus per each transported Jew. On Oct. 6, 1939 Prudkin resigned as captain of Rudnicar. He considered organizing a voyage without Konfino, but failed.
The fate of Rudnicar was sad. In 1941, Germans rented it to transport military equipment. On Feb. 14, 1942... near the Bosph0rus it hit ice and started to leak. The captain Georgi Karlovski musjudged the situation and panicked. Instead of bringing the ship to the shore and rescuing it, he and the crew took to lifeboats and abandoned it. After that, Rudnicar kept afloat for about 20 hours before sinking.
The Konfinos did not miss Prudkin and began to develop their high-profit business on even a larger scale. In the spring of 1940, they bought a ship initially called Shipka and renamed to Libertat... Because illegal voyages of refugees to Palestine had become more often..., the British government warned the Bulgarian Jewish community that each such ship, if caught, would be confiscated, its captain sentenced to 8 years and a fine, and the refugees deported back. However, nothing could stop the Jews longing for freedom. In the early morning of June 14, 1940, Libertat sailed off to Palestine. 360 people were crowded aboard... Libertat reached the shore of Palestine successfully but was confiscated by the British. The fate of the crew and the captain was not known...
Next, Konfino bought the wooden ship Salvador... It was 100% antiquated and rotten... A cosmetic repair was done, in which the Jewish refugees worked for free... The ship was supplied with only 80 lifebelts. No one serious captain agreed to take its command because everybody feared that the passengers and the crew were doomed. Konfino required the refugees to sign statements that they were boarding on the ship voluntarily and were accepting all risks of the travel. Finally, a man with no expertise of navigation was appointed as captain. He did not even buy navigation devices. The crew consisted of 4 sailors.
On Dec. 26, 1940 (there is some error, presumably it is Nov. instead of Dec., see below - M.M.), Salvador departed from Varna with more than 320 Jewish passengers (different sources give their number between 327 and 360). 89 of them were children under 12. The ship was overcrowded. The refugees had paid expensively... It is thought that Konfino had a profit of 900 000 leva from this voyage...
In the night of Dec. 11 to 12, 1940, the ship found itself in a violent storm... The merciless waves threw it on the rocks of Djambaz Tepe, near the town of Silivri. Only 123 people survived, the rest perished. The drama of Salvador became known in Bulgaria and was discussed in the Parliament. Many voices accused Konfino and wanted him to be prosecuted. However, the tragedy of the unfortunate Jews was soon forgotten.
Dr. Konfino hastily organized the next voyage of refugees to Palestine. The ships of death continued to travel. This time the Konfinos bought a ship named Struma. It was built in 1867... The Konfinos adapted it for passenger transport. Struma was sailing under the flag of Panama but had a Bulgarian crew under the command of captain Grigoriy Gorbatenko...
After leaving Varna, Struma sailed to Constantza where it was overcrowded with 778 Jews. 103 of them were children. Before the ship had even left the port, its engine broke. A Romanian ship was rented to drag it to the Bosphorus. The refugees paid for this with gold, wedding rings and family jewellery.
Turkish authorities kept the ship in front of the Bosphorus for 71 days without water and food supplies. Dysentery broke out aboard; nevertheless, the refugees were not allowed to step on land. Then, Struma was ordered to leave the Bosphorus into open sea.
In the morning of Feb. 24, 1942, at a distance of 14 miles north-east of the Bosphorus, the ship was shot at and submerged by the Russian submarine ДЩ 213'' under the command of D. Dezhenko. The Russians had mistaken Struma for a German cargo ship. Only a 19-year-old Ukrainian Jew named David Stolyar survived in the ice-cold sea water.
The fatal voyage of Struma put an end to the illegal emigration (from Bulgaria) to Palestine."

Martin Jahnke acquitted

Pro-democracy Chinese expatriots rallying in support of Martin Jahnke - photo copied from Shao Jiang's blog.

Martin Jahnke, about whom I have written in my previous post and earlier, is "a postdoctorate student who threw a shoe at Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, during a lecture at Cambridge University... (He) has been cleared of any offence. The District Judge said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Jahnke behaved in a way likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
The judge found Mr Jahnke not guilty following a two-day trial at Cambridge Magistrates' Court
" (quote is from June 2 Telegraph report).
Bravo to the judge, apparently there is still justice in Europe.
Today, June 4 2009, is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. May the victims rest in peace and may freedom soon come to China.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The hidden cost of dictatorships

When the trial of Martin Jahnke who threw his shoe at the Chinese prime minister was scheduled for three days in June, "presiding magistrate Julie Ferguson said she had concerns about the proposed length of the trial and the cost to the taxpayer."There is a huge implication for the public purse here," Mrs Ferguson told the court. "We very much hope it (the trial) will not last as long as that (three days)."" The quote is from a Cambridge News report which was commented by two readers, both defending Jahnke and lamenting the "waste of time and money" for his trial. It was initially set for June 2-4 but, because June 4 is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and apparently some magistrates feel uneasy to side with the Chinese regime exactly on this day, the trial was moved to June 1-3; a report about its first day can be found at the BBC site. So I am reminding my readers to keep an eye on Cambridge to see what will happen. Meanwhile, I wish to write a short post about the cost of dictator regimes in general.
The impact of dictatorship on its victims is fairly evident - the lost lives, the lives crippled by repression, the lost happiness because some buraucrat orders you what to work and where to live, the lost peace of mind because you have always to look behind your shoulder, the lost prosperity because dictatorships invariably create and perpetuate poverty. All these effects are fairly evident, though most victims of dictators tend to whitewash the regime in order to justify their obedience without admitting the fear underlying it. I with to write about the cost leveled by dictators on people who are, or initially have been, outside their scope. This cost is less evident, so I am calling it "hidden", although it can easily be seen by anyone of the meanest understanding.
Like magistrate Ferguson, I am wondering why Jahnke's trial is scheduled to last 3 days, as if it is a complicated money laundering affair or a murder case with unusually messy forensic evidence. But whatever the length of the trial, it would cost time and money. We could also keep in mind the lost productivity of Jahnke himself and presumably of his co-workers. So part of the cost of a dictatorship is based on the suppression by democratic states of people protesting against this dictatorship on their territory. I wish to remind also that, according to Chinese dissident expatriot Shao Jiang, "some European governments abused police powers, out of shameful deference to the CCP, and violated the rights of peaceful demonstrators during Wen’s visit to the EU". So EU authorities had banned or quashed legal protests against the Chinese regime and this may have contributed to Jahnke's decision to resort to object-throwing.
One could argue that all these costs would have been spared if protesters hadn't tried to hold rallies and Jahnke hadn't thrown the shoe. This is another aspect of dictatorships' cost: creating abroad an accepting and "tolerant" mindset that has the same ultimate result - reduction of freedom even in democratic countries.
Dictator states have three major ways to subdue democratic states. The first is by open and plain force. Although current dictator states tend to lag in technology, they develop, buy or steal enough of it to develop devastating weapons (up to nuclear bombs). Democratic powers, or their alliances, could still defeat the dictators but usually prefer to appease them because of eagerness to avoid war at all costs. As a result, we witness pariah states like North Korea and Iran successfully bullying and blackmailing the so-called free world.
The second method is by economic pressure. We saw it e.g. during the cartoon crisis when Islamic countries pressed Denmark to renounce freedom of speech by boycotting its products. We could also remember how different companies doing business with Saddam Hussein strongly supported him and opposed any action against him. For that reason, I think democratic countries should minimize their economic ties with non-democratic ones. I know that many serious people would disagree here. They will say that any pressure by (democratic) governments not to do trade with this or that country is undue regulation of economy and so violates democracy by itself; and also that minimizing international trade would hurt the population living under the dictator's rule, which is hardly what we want. For that reason, many Americans who are not pro-communist at all want the embargo on Cuba to be lifted. However, my impression is that, when trade with a dictatorships occurs, we do not observe prosperity and democratization brought by the free market; rather, we see corruption of the free market by the dictator's regime. I realize that it is impossible and undesirable to cut all economic ties with undemocratic regimes, especially if we take into account how many countries deserve the label. (E.g. Turkey is often considered democratic, but it is still denying the genocide against the Armenians and so cannot be considered more democratic than Germany would have been if it were denying the Holocaust.) However, I think that at least we must keep a red light on when trading with a dictatorship.
The third method of dictatorships to influence the free world is by emigrants. As far as I know, this is a new problem. Dictatorships of past such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union didn't enjoy much support by the people leaving (escaping) them. On the contrary, these expatriots were among the fiercest opponents of the regime. However, today's most important dictatorships - the Muslim states and China, manage to convince their people that the regime and its toxic ideology are the same as motherland and identity. Unfortunately, at the same time democratic contries brought down to zero their integration potential and opened their gates to anybody who would wish to walk in. Small wonder that we saw Danish Muslims fall over themselves to harm their country and appeal for help to their countries of origin (which they presumably had left screaming not so long ago). The reaction of Chinese expatriots to Jahnke's act also was telltale - little support and much condemnation. Apparently the majority of Chinese identified themselves with Prime Minister Wen and the Chines totalitarian regime.
The dictatorships' hidden cost also has another aspect which may seem negligible but in fact isn't. It is the impact on individuals who have had the luck to be born in the free world but have fallen in the scope of some dictator and have suffered the logical consequences. The first example coming to mind of course are those women who marry somebody from undemocratic country and then let their lord and master lure them to the hellhole he calls homeland, or kidnap their children and bring them there. Another example are the guest workers who carelessly accept a job in a dictatorship and then get into trouble, e.g. our medics who were convicted for infecting Libyan children with HIV. In all these cases, the democratic country has the lose-lose choice either to let its citizen in hell or try to negotiate his release by paying ransom and/or making all sorts of concessions. The negotiations in too many cases are not successful; and even when they are, the cost is extremely high, because the dictator quickly realizes the benefits of holding a hostage. In the case of the Bulgarian medics, Libya sucked tens of millions from Bulgaria and its Western allies. I guess that for some smaller dictatorships taking Westerners hostage in one way or another may be an important source of revenue and other goodies.
If you are asking what I am proposing to be done - well, unfortunately, nothing. Dictatorships are by definition almost impossible to reform or overthrow from inside (especially when they have oil or other resources and so have no problems with subsistence). As for democratization by external (military) force, it becomes increasingly more problematic. The average citizen of a democracy tends to like and support the dictators more than he would ever support democracy. On the other hand, the average citizen of a dictatorship, even when claiming to disapprove the (fallen) dictator, tends to oppose democracy fiercely. Both phenomena are excellently illustrated by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and their aftermath. So for the moment I have no solution in mind; I hope that, when a solution appears, some bright mind will recognize and realize it. Of course this cannot happen until the White House is occupied by Mr. Obama whose idea of his duty is to apologize, embrace and go to bed with every single dictator he can find. However, his term will not last forever, so let's be optimistic and hope for a better choice next time.