Previous posts in this discussion:
PostCan Putin Afford to Gobble Up Ukraine? (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 04/18/21 3:34 am)
On Friday, 16 April, JE asked, "Do you believe that Putin seeks nothing less than the full subjugation of Ukraine, gobbling up large swaths of territory and turning the rest into a puppet state like Belarus? How far would NATO go to stop him?"
In other words, our esteemed editor is asking whether we are now facing a possible Russian war with Ukraine and whether NATO is going to take part in it and if yes, in what capacity.
During a televised interview in March 2021, President Biden was asked: "You know Vladimir Putin, you think he's a killer?' To which the US president responded: ‘Mh-Hmm. I do."
Vladimir Putin is a very vindictive person. It is my strong conviction that Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky were killed just because they insulted him personally. But he can hardly reach the president of the United States. So, he must demonstrate his complete contempt. This will include a threat to conquer and annex Ukraine, creating a situation when the leaders of Western democracies like Britain, France and Germany are begging Putin to stop. To bring the president of Ukraine to his knees, making him ask anybody who is ready to listen for help. To make Joe Biden offer a summit--an exceptional measure which has always been to the Kremlin's advantage. Finally, to slowly murder Alexei Navalny in prison, letting him pass away because doctors are not admitted to diagnose and treat him properly. A few of Navalny's close collaborators had to leave Russia, all others are arrested or sentenced to different terms.
On the other hand, the Russian economic situation is catastrophic. The ruble has fallen down and is now almost 100 to 1 dollar. Russia does not have much to export except oil and gas, while the Nord Stream-2 project is practically frozen. On the other hand, Russian must import a lot and this is becoming more and more difficult. I remember when the famous Soviet refrigerator plant Atlant in Minsk was producing its household appliances, over 70 per cent of components were imported. As a matter of fact, Russia cannot even produce a decent bicycle. It can probably produce missiles and fighter jets, but a lot of their parts are stolen or copied from Eastern or Western models.
I believe Russia cannot afford to gobble up Ukraine, economically and politically. It might have an upper hand in a military clash with the new Ukrainian army--not to conquer additional territories but to destroy President Zelensky morally and politically. This however will have very unpleasant consequences for Russia before the upcoming Duma elections.
However, Russia and Putin personally need a victory over the West and NATO, so we should I think pay a special attention to what happens in Narva, Latgale and Daugavpils. Perhaps not now, but closer to the Russian presidential election of 2024.
JE comments: Boris, I am especially intrigued by your portrait of the Russian economy, which could go either way for the Ukraine situation. Logic would suggest the folly of an impoverished nation taking on a war, yet a cornered and threatened beast is also the most dangerous. If Putin cannot deliver prosperity, a geopolitical "victory" is an attractive alternative.
A decade or so ago, we frequently heard from WAISer Cameron Sawyer about the massive surpluses in the Russian treasury. With sanctions, depressed oil prices, and (now) Covid, these rosy scenarios must be ancient history.
Is Russia Allowing Navalny to Die?
(Paul Levine, Denmark
04/18/21 3:09 PM)
Apropos Boris Volodarsky's excellent analysis of Putin's vindictiveness (April 18th):
Last week Amnesty International claimed that Russia may be "slowly" killing its outstanding dissident.
Now Alexei Navalny's doctors issued a warning that he may die "in the next few days" without competent
medical care. Having tried without success to murder him with poison, Putin may succeed in killing him
by doing nothing.
We have seen this movie before.
When Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo was dying in prison from cancer, Xi Jinping refused to allow him to be transferred to Germany for urgent treatment.
It seems that the tiny tsar and tubby emperor are soul-mates.
JE comments: Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31st--close to three weeks ago. And recall that not long ago he was nearly killed during the poisoning. Is Navalny truly willing to martyr himself, and if so, what might be the fallout?
Navalny, and Other Hunger Strikers
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
04/20/21 3:32 AM)
Very good to worry about the health of Alexei Navalny. (See Paul Levine, April 18th.)
However, I do not recall a WAIS post last year in May saying anything about the death after a long hunger strike of the musician Ibrahim Gokcek and of two other musicians of his band persecuted by Erdogan. His wife was also in jail.
Neither have Bobby Sands and his nine companions in Ireland ever been remembered (at least as far as I know).
JE comments: Eugenio, it's not feasible to address all of the world's injustices. This being said, WAIS has been equally critical of both Erdogan and Putin. They are authoritarian birds of a feather by any measure, but here's a question for wider discussion: who in your view is the more unsavory of the two caudillos, and why? My vote is for Putin, simply because he is capable of more damage.
Here's the sad story of Turkish rocker Ibrahim Gokcek. Wikipedia describes his demise as the result of a "death fast," which lasted a shocking 323 days. I am unclear why he kept up the hunger strike even after release from prison.
Bobby Sands' Memory Lives On
(Patrick Mears, -Germany
04/21/21 3:03 AM)
Eugenio Battaglia's mention of the former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands (Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh in Irish) in his most recent post reminded me that Sands passed away 40 years ago this year in Northern Ireland as a consequence of a hunger strike undertaken by him and other prisoners. Eugenio asks the question as to whether Sands' memory endures (and the memory of the nine other hunger strikers who died along with him in the notorious prison, Her Majesty's Prison Maze--known better as the "Maze" or the "H-Blocks"--situated in County Down, Northern Ireland, southwest of the town of Lisburn).
The articles linked below, published just a month or two ago in the Irish media, are strong evidence that Sands' memory lives on, at least in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. It strikes me that Sands is probably the best known of all past and present Republicans on the Island, besides (i) "The Liberator," Daniel O'Connell, (ii) the primary leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, viz., Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, and Eamon de Valera, (iii) Michael Collins, and (iv) Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Many other Irish Republicans/Nationalists possess greater historical stature than Bobby Sands, e.g., Wolfe Tone of the United Irishmen and Patrick Sarsfield, a military leader during the Williamite War in Ireland, but those figures are fading out of popular memory as time goes by.
So I wouldn't count Bobby Sands out of it yet. On a personal note, my deceased wife (and Eddie's mother) and I honeymooned in Ireland and Scotland in the summer of 1981, shortly after Bobby Sands' death, and it seems that wherever we drove then in the Republic, there were many improvised, public memorials created in the towns along our route, especially in the West.
Finally, it is worth noting that the gravesite of Patrick Sarsfield, the first Earl of Lucan and a prominent member of the "Wild Geese" (i.e., a large group of supporters of the deposed James II of England who fled Ireland for the Continent after the Treaty of Limerick of 1691), may have been recently discovered in the Belgian town of Huy near Louvain. Sarsfield was taken to Huy after he suffered severe wounds during the Battle of Landen in August 1693. Here is the link to an article from The Irish Examiner from this past February about this possible discovery:
JE comments: I'm curious about the psychology of those who opt for martyrdom, including certain saints of yore and hunger strikers today. Conviction and heroism notwithstanding, the bottom line is that rational people don't choose to die for a cause, when there's also the option to live. Yet for hunger strikers, there must be a point when malnutrition causes the brain to cease functioning rationally.
WAIS has never done a full-blown discussion on the topic of martyrdom.
Pat Mears sent this post on Martin McGuinness on the occasion of his death in 2017. McGuinness died of natural causes:
Hunger Strikers: MacSwiney, Sands, Navalny
(Patrick Mears, -Germany
04/24/21 6:00 AM)
Here is the link to a recent article in Politico Online that compares and contrasts the hunger strikes of former Lord Mayor of Cork City, Terence MacSwiney (1920, during the Irish War of Independence) and that of Bobby Sands (1981), with the hunger strike of Alexi Navalny, which I see that he has just ended:
The article is fairly straightforward in its analysis and describes MacSwiney's action and the world's reaction to it as follows:
"Hunger strikers have twice played key roles in Irish history. In the Republic of Ireland, the part of the island that gained independence from Britain in 1922, schoolchildren are taught of a martyr called Terence MacSwiney (1879-1920) who died in Brixton Prison in London in October 1920. He had been found guilty of possession of 'seditious materials' and a cipher key and was sentenced to six years in prison. He immediately went on hunger strike. The international attention he drew was immense, for MacSwiney was no ordinary prisoner. He was the Lord Mayor of Cork, the third largest city on the island of Ireland.The French newspaper Le Petit Journal devoted its entire front page to a striking, if imaginary, drawing of an emaciated MacSwiney on his prison bed. Daily bulletins on his condition attracted international attention and, when he died after 74 days without food, there were protests in the form of mock funerals with empty caskets in Boston, Chicago and Melbourne, Australia. The report of his death was the lead story on the front page of the New York Times of October 26, 1920.
"A small anti-colonial struggle in a very small country had become a major world news story. A lesson was learned that the hunger strike, with its daily bulletins of deteriorating health and approaching death, was an unmatched method of gaining national and international attention. In MacSwiney's case it also served as a 'recruiting sergeant' for the Irish Republican Army in its attempt to overthrow British rule in Ireland. Two years later independence was granted to two-thirds of Ireland--a remarkable achievement of a small group of political and military activists against what was then the world's most powerful empire. Irish republicans knew they did not have the power to win a military victory over such a powerful opponent, but they were among the first groups in the world to recognize the power of international publicity. They used it with great power and efficiency, and the hunger strikes played an extremely important role in gathering support for their cause. Nowhere was this support more effective than in the United States, and pressure on London from American politicians and the general public was decisive in persuading Britain to let go of its oldest colony."
Strangely enough, the previous Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain (1884-1920), was assassinated in Cork by a group of Royal Irish Constabulary members seven months prior to MacSwiney's death on October 25, 1920, in Brixton Prison, Lambeth, London.
In October, 1970, the Irish postal service, An Post, issued a stamp of MacSwiney and one of MacCurtain, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their deaths. Here is a link to images of these postage stamps:
JE comments: The Politico article touches on the key "strength" of the hunger strike, namely, the powerful imagery of an activist slowly wasting away. In this sense, the hunger strike would have to be a modern phenomenon, dependent on a vibrant and wide-reaching press. However, Wikipedia tells us that fasting as a form of protest is an Irish invention, going back to pre-Christian times. Pat, what can you tell us about the Troscadh?
"Troscadh ar Dhuine": Protest Fasting in Ancient Ireland
(Patrick Mears, -Germany
04/30/21 5:00 PM)
In John E's comments on my post about the hunger strike of former Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney (April 24th), he asked for some comhrá about the ancient Irish tradition of troscadh, or more specifically, troscadh ar dhuine, which translated means to fast against someone to obtain a demand or a request. (1)
I first came across this concept when writing a treatise titled "Michigan Bankruptcy Law and Practice" in the early 1980s. In doing so, I sought information on Irish bankruptcy laws, and in researching this topic, I was directed to the ancient custom of Irish creditors sitting outside the doors of their debtors to publicly shame them into paying their debts. This custom of troscadh ar dhuine is described by one Irish commentator as providing "the opportunity for the aggrieved person to make his protest close by the offender's home, where the protest would draw attention both to the hunger striker's grievance and to the alleged wrongdoer. Fears of the supernatural retribution and the payment of compensation were enough to encourage offenders to seek an amicable settlement of the hunger strike." (2) This custom was thereafter incorporated into the Irish Brehon Laws, which were rules and regulations governing the behavior of the common people ("land-tillers") and were originally transmitted by oral tradition. See generally, Jo Kerrigan, Brehon Laws: The Ancient Wisdom of Ireland, O'Brien Press, Ltd., Dublin (2004).
This custom was thereafter revived by Irish hunger strikers protesting against British rule in the second decade of the Twentieth Century, which development had been aided by a combination of the Gaelic Revival of the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries, which popular movement transmitted knowledge of Irish history, literature and societal laws and traditions to the public in Ireland. According to Sweeney, via the Gaelic Revival "cultural traditions, mythology, legends and the folk hero were given a renewed place of importance by poets and playwrights." Specifically, the sacrificial themes expounded in the legends of the mythological hero Cuchulain rekindled interest in national self-sacrifice." Sweeney posits that the Irish republican leader, Pádraig Pearse (1879-1916), was the "foremost interpreter of this sacrificial motif," which he offered as a redemptive means by which the Irish nation could abandon its apostasy, viz., its acceptance of British rule. Thus, Pearse used the Easter Rising of 1916 as a "deliberate act of blood sacrifice; a redemptive reenactment of Calvary that would sanctify not only the infliction of death upon others but also the suffering of it by faithful Catholic nationalists. Militarily the insurrection was doomed from the start, but as a redemptive act, the bloody protest triumphed." Thus, per Sweeney, "the tradition of hunger-striking in Ireland emerged as an extraordinary weapon of political confrontation. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the hunger strike became an essential ingredient of both the cult of self-sacrifice and militant republicanism."
Between 1913 and 1922, approximately 1000 Irish political prisoners participated in hunger strikes, and during 1923, 8000 Irish republican prisoners followed suit. These latter strikers, being opponents of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, directed their efforts against the Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War. A number of these prisoners died on account of these actions during this period, including the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney in 1920, as discussed in my earlier post. For details on these other hunger strikes during this period, see https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/27784 ; https://www.theirishstory.com/2020/04/13/the-hunger-strike-and-general-strike-of-1920/#.YIUrWC0RpKN ; and https://www.prio.org/Global/upload/CSCW/Violence%20in%20civil%20war/Irish%20hunger%20strikes%20(US).pdf .
It is difficult to gauge what impact these hunger strikes and deaths had upon Irish and world public opinion back then, especially since the Irish War of Independence took place against the backdrop of the Versailles Treaty negotiations. However, there appears to have been significant American public support for Irish independence during this time, as evidenced, in part, by the large crowds attracted by Eamon de Valera during his barnstorming tour of the United States from June, 1919 to December, 1920. During de Valera's transcontinental travels, large, sympathetic crowds gathered for his rallies that were held in all regions of the United States from New York City and Boston to Portland, Oregon and Butte, Montana. This visit also resulted in the purchase of Irish "state" bonds by Americans in the amount of $5,123,640. See generally David Hannigan, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence, Palgrave MacMillan, New York (2010) for a recounting of de Valera's tour and its background.
Overlapping somewhat with de Valera's American visit was the organization and operation of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and the Irish White Cross, which committee was formed in 1920 for the stated purpose of devising and considering "ways and means of relieving the acute distress due to the recent (1920) occurrences in that country." This report also affirmed that the Committee's activities would be "purely non-political, non-sectarian, and solely humanitarian." The Report bears at its beginning the formal endorsements of President Warren Harding and Vice-President Calvin Coolidge. The members of the Committee's National Council reads like a "Who's Who" of 1922, and includes Bernard M. Baruch, Josephus Daniels, Charles G. Dawes, Henry Morgenthau, William McAdoo, Jane Addams, and Alfred E. Smith. Two Michiganders were also members of the National Council: Governor Alexander Groesbeck and Judge Michael J. Doyle of Menominee in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As of August 17, 1922, the Committee had collected $5,223,496 and had disbursed $5,185,692, leaving a balance on hand of $37,804. Many states experienced difficulties in making their projected collections. Michigan, for one, pledged collections of $350,000, but realized only $110,174, for a result of 31%. The five boroughs of New York City, however, pledged $1 million in collections and realized $952,381. This Report may be accessed via this link: https://archive.org/details/irelandcommitt00amerrich/mode/2up .
1. Niall Ó Dónaill, ed., Foclóir Gaeilige-Béarla, p. 1276, Richview Browne & Nolan, Ltd., Baile Átha Cliath, Èire (1977).
2. George Sweeney, "Self-Immolative Martyrdom: Explaining the Irish Hungerstrike Tradition,” 93 Irish Quarterly Review, pp. 337-348, Messenger Publications (2004) (available on Jstor).
JE comments: Pat, another fine piece of historical scholarship, even if you've "outed" us Michiganders as deadbeats.
I had always been curious about Irish patriarch Eamon de Valera's surname, and as I suspected, his father was a Spaniard (from the Basque Country). Some De Valera questions: He was born in New York City, but after his father's death when the boy was just two, he was taken to Ireland by his maternal uncle. He still held US citizenship in 1916, which according to some sources saved him from execution alongside the other leaders of the Easter Rising. Pat, did De Valera eventually renounce his US citizenship? Also (this one's for Eugenio Battaglia), what can you tell us about De Valera's admiration for Mussolini, whom he considered a model for constructing the new Irish State?
Eamon de Valera's Admiration for Mussolini
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
05/03/21 4:19 AM)
John E asked about Irish patriarch Eamon de Valera's admiration for Mussolini.
Mussolini said the following about Fascism:
1) I did not create Fascism. I took it from the unconscious of the Italians.
2) Fascism is an Italian phenomenon, exquisitely Italian, intimately connected with our history, psychology, traditions, and represents the culmination of a long and complicated political evolution. Without a sound knowledge of said evolution, without notes at the bottom of this great book, no correct analysis is possible. (3 August 1926)
In spite of the above, Italian Fascism spread all over the world. Practically every nation from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, including the Arab world, had their Fascist or para-Fascist groups and many Heads of State were inspired by some Fascist positive actions, including of course Eamon de Valera.
I have already mentioned in past WAIS posts that according to some historians the New Deal of FDR was inspired by the Fascist social program.
There are at least a couple of books treating this subject: Fascismi nel Mondo by Sergio Pessot and I Fascismi Sconosciuti by Maurice Bardeche.
In Ireland, the best-known organization inspired by Fascism was the Blueshirts of General Eoin O'Duffy.
O'Duffy in December 1934 participated in the International Fascist Conference at Montreux with representatives from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Lithuania. During the Spanish Civil War 700 Blueshirts participated in the "Cruzada" against the "Rojos."
The curse of Mussolini and of Italian Fascism came from their greatest admirer, Hitler. The German leader practically worshiped Mussolini and copied from him some exterior rituals and social reforms but his Nazi main postulates were quite different from Mussolini's. Regarding the Jewish question, Hitler wanted to get rid of the Jews, while Mussolini even stated that among the Jews he had his best and most trustworthy friends.
The temporary alliance of Fascist Italy with Nazi Germany practically destroyed in most of the worldwide public opinion all the good that Mussolini and Fascism had and could have achieved.
JE comments: WAIS has explored nearly every aspect of the Spanish Civil War, but I never knew of the Irish Blueshirts on Franco's side. (It would be instructive to assemble a list of all the colored "shirt" movements of the early-mid 20th century--blue, brown, black, green. What, no pink?)
Channeling Mussolini here, Eugenio Battaglia raises an issue I'd like to explore further: can political systems ever be "organic," as in naturally suited to a particular culture? Is there any truth to this, or is it a mere rhetorical device?
- Martyrdom Across Religions (Edward Jajko, USA 04/30/21 11:12 AM)
On April 21st, John E wrote that WAIS has never discussed martyrdom, thereby tacitly inviting discussion.
The concept and the fact of martyrdom have been constants in my life since childhood. I had a strict Roman Catholic schooling back in Philadelphia, and the Felician Sisters and the archdiocesan priests of the Parish of St. Laurentius frequently brought up the names and stories of holy martyrs. They were to serve as exemplars of dedication to the Faith and of the virtue of self-sacrifice.
I grew up during and after WWII, and can recall the many houses with gold star emblems in their windows, as well as men with missing limbs and surgical attempts to mend or replace shattered faces. Is it martyrdom when life and body have not necessarily been volunteered for a cause, but stolen? At the same time, the Four Chaplains were offered as an exemplar of self-sacrifice.
One story that has stuck in my head for 70 or more years, having been told vividly by at least one nun, was that of the Forty Martyrs (in Wikipedia, Forty Martyrs of Sebaste).
Once I entered the then Saint Joseph's College High School, now Saint Joseph's Preparatory School--but called even then St. Joe's Prep or simply The Prep--the context changed. We learned about Jesuit martyrs, among them men like St. Isaac Jogues, martyred by Iroquois.
Later still, I learned about modern martyrs, victims of the Germans in WWII, among them Janusz Korczak, who chose to accompany his class of pupils to an uncertain fate that turned out to be their annihilation, and Saint Brother Maksymilian Kolbe O.F.M. who, when the Germans were selecting victims for a firing squad, had himself substituted for one of the prisoners who had been chosen, a married man with children.
Still later, I learned about Muslim martyrs--shahid, shuhada'. Those killed in action against Israel, or for Alqaeda or the Islamic State, are routinely buried as "shaheed." Arabic does something that English does not. In English, we tend to forget the root meanings of our Latin and Greek vocabulary. Thus, a martyr is someone who dies for a cause (or, colloquially, a complainer). Arabic sticks closer to original meanings. The root shin-ha-da that gives the noun شهداء شهيد shahid, shuhada' has the meaning of "witness." The simple Credo of Islam, There is no god except God; Muhammad is the messenger of God, is called the shahadah, the testimony or witness.
The root is Greek μαρτυρος, martyros, which does not mean "one who dies for a cause" but "witness."
But back to martyrdom as self-sacrifice: there is in scientific thinking the concept of altruistic sacrifice, as when ants die to protect their queen and eggs, or a parent dies to save a child. Martyrdom, self-sacrifice, for a cause, would seem to be an extension of this altruism. The soldier who throws himself on a hand grenade to save his buddies is no less a martyr than the canonized saint.
JE comments: I bet few of us knew this! The common "witness" etymology of martyrdom in both the Christian and Muslim traditions is far from intuitive. Quite the contrary, we assume the witness is the one who lives, such as when Raskolnikov murdered the pawnbroker's sister to "leave no witnesses."
And WAIS has never honored the Four Chaplains, all of whom surrendered their life vests to others when their ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1943. The four were two Protestant pastors, a Catholic priest, and a rabbi. They exemplified ecumenical harmony in its sublimest form.
- Martyrdom Across Religions (Edward Jajko, USA 04/30/21 11:12 AM)
- Eamon de Valera's Admiration for Mussolini (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/03/21 4:19 AM)
- "Troscadh ar Dhuine": Protest Fasting in Ancient Ireland (Patrick Mears, -Germany 04/30/21 5:00 PM)
- Hunger Strikers: MacSwiney, Sands, Navalny (Patrick Mears, -Germany 04/24/21 6:00 AM)
- Bobby Sands' Memory Lives On (Patrick Mears, -Germany 04/21/21 3:03 AM)
- Navalny, and Other Hunger Strikers (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 04/20/21 3:32 AM)