Thomas Friedman's Imaginary World

23 June 2005 |


If it's Monday, it must be Bangalore. Thomas Friedman's back in India and the mysterious subcontinent exercises its usual sorcery on the wandering pundit, eliciting paragraphs of ecstatic drivel, as it has from so many Times-men.

My favorite remains a post-Christmas dispatch, published onDecember 27, 2002, by the NYT's resident correspondent in India at the time, Keith Bradsher. It was a devotional text about neoliberalism's apex poster boy at the time, Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, Time's "South Asian of the year", hailed by the Wall Street Journal as "a model for fellow state leaders".

After composing a worshipful resume of Naidu's supposed achievements, Bradsher selected for particular mention a secret weapon that the canny reporter deemed vital to Naidu's political grip on Andhra Pradesh. "Naidu and his allies", Bradsher disclosed to the NYT's readers, "speak Telugu, a language spoken only in this state and by a few people in two adjacent states." What Bradsher was saying was that Naidu spoke the same language as the nearly 80 million other inhabitants of Andhra Pradesh. It was as though someone ascribed Tony Blair's political successes in the United Kingdom to his command of English.

Apart from Naidu's wondrous fluency in his native tongue, Bradsher fixed upon other achievements likely to excite an American business readership: "Mr. Naidu," he confided, "has succeeded in raising electricity prices here by 70 per cent" and "has enacted a law requiring union leaders to be workers from the factory or office they represent Andhra Pradesh has also relaxed some of the restrictions on laying off workers".

A couple of years later, in May 2004, the posterboy pal of Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and the World Bank's then chief, John Wolfenson, endured the verdict at the polling booth of his fellow Telugu speakers. The verdict was harsh. The very poor, the not-so-poor, farmers, rural women, inner city-dwellers, all stated conclusively that life had got worse in Andhra Pradesh, prices were unconscionable and the Naidu was a fraud. Naidu's elected coalition plummeted from 202 seats to a quarter of that number. He and his party were ignominiously tossed from office.

I remembered Bradsher's excited commendation of Naidu's hikes in the price of electricity and his anti-union rampages when I read the reports filed by U.S. correspondents and pundits from Paris, after the French Non! to the EC proposed constitution a couple of weeks ago. It was striking how many of them, presumably without any direct orders from the owners of their publications, started lecturing the French in the tones of nineteenth-century Masters of Capital.

The "Non", they howled, disclosed the cosseted and selfish laziness of French workers. On inspection this turned out to mean that French workers have laws protecting their pensions, health benefits, leisure time and other outlandish buttresses of a tolerable existence. No one was more outraged than Friedman, a man who, we can safely surmise, does have health benefits, enjoys confidence about his retirement along with a robust six-figure income plus guaranteed vacations plus a pleasant ambulatory existence living in nice hotels, confabbing with CEOs, and lecturing gratified businessmen on their visionary nature and the virtues of selfishness.

From Bangalore Friedman issued a furious rebuke. "French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day. Next to India, Western Europe looks like an assisted-living facility with Turkish nurses." I guess it does, though "engineers" is rather a dignified label to fix on the cyber-coolies ­ underpaid clerical workers ­ who toil night and day in Bangalore's call centers. But if you want a race to the bottom of the sort Friedman calls for, you don't have to travel too far from Bangalore, maybe ­ though any direction will do ­ north-east into the former realm of posterboy Naidu to find an Indian reality compared with which the so-called IT breakthroughs in India are like gnat bites on the hide of one of those buffaloes you see in photos in articles headlined "Timeless India Faces Change".

In the Naidu years at least 5,000 Indian farmers committed suicide. Across India, they're still killing themselves. (A Kisan Sabha ­ farmers' union ­ survey of just 26 households in Wayanad, in northern Kerala, that had seen suicides shows a total debt of over Rs. 2 million. Or about Rs. 82,000 per household (which is the equivalent of just under $2,000. The average size of these farms is less than 1.4 acres. And a good chunk of that debt is owed to private lenders.)

Millions more lives millimeters from ruin and starvation. For hundreds of millions of poor Indians, Friedman's brave new world of the 90s meant globalization of prices, Indianization of incomes. The state turned its back on the poor. Investment in agriculture collapsed as rural credit dried up. As employment crashed in the countryside to its lowest ever, distress migrations from the villages ­ to just about anywhere ­ increased in tens of millions.

Foodgrain available per Indian fell almost every year in the 90s and by 2002-03 was less than it had been at the time of the great Bengal famine of 1942-43. New user fees sent health costs soaring, and such costs have become a huge component of rural family debt.

Newly commercialized education destroyed the hopes of hundreds of thousands of women, as families, given the narrowed options, favored sons over daughters. Farm kids simply dropped out. Even as the world hailed the Indian Tiger Economy, the country slipped to rank 127 (from 124) in the United Nations Human Development Index of 2003. It is better to be a poor person in Botswana, or even the occupied territories of Palestine, than one in India.

Remember, India has a billion people in it. Maybe 2 per cent of them get to fly in a plane or go online. Around 10 per cent are well off, another 10 per cent doing okay. On the most optimistic count we're left with over half a billion of the poorest people on the planet. You could build call centers every mile from Mumbai to Bangalore, stuff teenagers with basic American slang in there working Friedman's stipulated 35 hours a day servicing American corporations and you wouldn't make a dent in the problem, which is that you can't dump an agricultural economy, build a couple of Cyberabads and say with any claim to realism that a New and Better India has been born. New, yes. Better, no.

The trouble is, the Indian press, along with the visiting foreigners ­ forgets about that half billion. A Lakme India Fashion Week gets 450-500 journalists covering it. But with the exception of Sainath, now at the The Hindu, not a single Indian newspaper has a full time correspondent on the agrarian crisis beat, or poverty and deprivation beat.

India has done well in some senses at IT. But this is not a parable of private enterprise unchained. The topmost --­ elite of elite ­ Indian technologists / engineers come from a handful of institutions known as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Most of the Silicon Valley people are from there.These are entirely state-set up, state funded institutions. Not a single one of them is private (established or owned. Now, there are alumni in the US pushing to privatize the very institutions that gave them everything.

As Sainath remarked to me, "It's is not as though there's Indian genius in software / IT ­ but almost none of this has been directed towards, has even sought to address basic problems of India. There are several such areas where Indian expertise (including from that very state of Andhra) could do wonders for some classes of poorer Indian. (Eg: traditional fishermen could have their boats fitted very cheaply with tailor made devicesthat would make a huge and often life-saving difference. Artisans could bypass middlemen through online exhibitions and marketing and so on.) To the extent this happens at all, it is very minimal, extremely tiny. Neither governments nor corporates nor NRI millionaires have shown much interest in this. On the other hand, look at the amount of effort that goes into IT trivia.

Most western correspondents only travel south west from Bangalore to Kerala to deride as "hidebound" a state that elected a Communist government in 1957, distributed land to the poor, has decent health stats, near 100 per cent literacy. In recent years the neoliberals have been running thing there too and in early June this year, in a by-election, voters gave their opinion on such matters as recent efforts to privatize education. Normally elections in Kerala are razor thin affairs. This by-election saw the Congress Party candidate shattered by a Communist Party (Marxist) in the Left Democratic Front who won with a margin over the Congress candidate of more than 40,000 votes, a Kerala record. The LDF is reckoned as a cinch to win the Kerala elections next year.

Take the Kerala result, throw in the rejection of Naidu and the BJP coalition last year and you get a pretty good picture of what large numbers of Indians don't like, namely Friedmanism in any shape or form, whether they read his columns in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, or even his crude version of English.

Friedman's "Grassroots" Movement

Barely had Friedman touched down in Bangalore before he discovered something amazing. People who know that their chances of getting a job improve if they know English, want to learn English. It beats starving.

Here's how Friedman puts it:

Sure, a huge portion of India still lives in wretched slums or villages, but more and more of the young cohort are grasping for something better. A grass-roots movement is now spreading, demanding that English be taught in state schools - where 85 percent of children go - beginning in first grade, not fourth grade.

"What's new is where this movement is coming from," said the Indian commentator Krishna Prasad. "It's coming from the farmers and the Dalits, the lowest groups in society." Even the poor have been to the cities enough to know that English is now the key to a tech-sector job, and they want their kids to have those opportunities.

And here's how P. Sainath, India's greatest journalist (and CounterPunch contributor) reacted to Friedman's great discovery:

This is phenomenal: can Friedman name one organization representing such a movement? Can he say what the actions of this "movement" have been? Certainly there is a demand for English ­ but there is also a demand for local languages in many states. Also, a demand for English (which is real amongst some classes) does not translate into a "grassroots movement". That's complete fiction.

Here's something you should know. Bangalore ­ the very city Friedman raves about ­ is home to a "grassroots movement", not for propagation of English, but Kannada, the language of the state of Karnataka, of which state Bangalore is the capital city. This movement has in fact displayed chauvinistic features at times. There is a basis for some of their fears but their actions have been less than nice. Anyway, they demand that shops and establishments display their signboards in Kannad (which I support ­ so long as the shops and establishments are allowed to have them in any other languages theychoose to, as well).

Anyway, that's a "movement" ­ individuals and groups of people acting in concert with clear goals, political action and published literature etc.

There is certainly a demand for English among the lower-middle class and /or even some poorer groups' because they are the ones who need to bridge the gap.

Why wouldn't there be? This was an English colony for two centuries and that language, spoken by less than 5 per cent of the population, was privileged as it became the route to anything resembling a career (compare Latin in medieval Europe, or Sanskrit in parts of ancient India).

So did anyone take out processions or rallies demanding English be madethe local language? Did anyone picket cinema theatres demanding only English films be shown, or shown first? Did thousands of people go on a hunger strike demanding enforcement of English as the medium of instruction?

Certainly not! Is a middle class demand (that does make sense for people of some strata) which is reflected in efforts to get kids into English-medium schools ­ is that the same as a "Grassroots Movement"?

To this day, it remains a privileged tool of the elite. Those with this language have access to jobs and benefits and power others don't. I know the advantages it gave people like me. In JNU, I shared a room with a Mizo tribal who a far more sincere academic and student than myself. I loved the guy. I always scored 'A's and 'A-minuses' to his Bs and B minuses ­ solely because of my grasp of the English language. I grew up in a house where there were at least 300 books in English and two newspapers daily in that language and all of us spoke it at home.

He came from a part of the country where the nearest library having English books was 37 miles away from his home (and was actually the library of a church). It was totally unfair, and I never forgot it.

So naturally, there are people who want to have their children learn it. To even out the unfair gap.

Popinjay Flees London Gaulieter

What happened to that Horowitz-Hitchens outing to London? A couple weeks ago I suggested here that maybe the scheme perished for lack of subscribers. It seems I was correct in my surmise. A CounterPuncher sends us this list of reasons which he says were provided by Josefine Loewenberg, who apparently was the travel agent in Los Angeles in charge of booking.

Yes the David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens tour has been cancelled for the following reasons.

1) There were not enough people who signed up by the deadline of April 5, 2005.

2) Christopher Hitchens had to reduce his role in the tour due to a scheduling conflict.

3) The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, made recently some strong anti-Semitic statements.

Footnote: a shorter version of the first item appeared in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday. My full India Diary, from which I have taken a few paragraphs in this column, appears at interminable length, across no less than 12 pages, in the latest special double issue of CounterPunch newsletter. Call Becky Grant at 1-800-840-3683 to subscribe, or do so here on this site. And don't forget to order one of our 14 per cent T-Shirts, also depicted on this site, though the illustration does not do justice to the exquisite cottons and dyestuffs.

The Madness of Money


As We Forgive Our Debtors


Money, which has hitherto been the root, if not of all evil, of great injustice, oppression, and misery to the human race, making some slavish producers of wealth, and others its wasteful consumers or destroyers, will be no longer required to carry on the business of life: for as wealth of all kinds will be so delightfully created in greater abundance than will ever be required, no money price will be known, for happiness will not be purchasable, except by a reciprocity of good actions and kind feelings.

Robert Owen, Book of the New Moral World, 1842-4

At least half a million protesters are expected to march in the streets of Edinburgh on July 2nd, demanding that world leaders gathering for their G8 summit meeting there comply with demands raised by global movement Make Poverty History. Demonstrations will continue through the week.

The UK lobby group, comprising a wide cross section of nearly 400 charities, campaigns, trade unions, faith groups and celebrities, are demanding debt cancellation to poor (mostly African) nations, the doubling of aid, and trade justice.

Speaking at a Make Poverty History rally in London's Trafalgar Square earlier this year, Nelson Mandela said:

"The G8 leaders, when they meet in Scotland in July, have already promised to focus on the issue of poverty, especially in Africa. I say to all those leaders: do not look the other way; do not hesitate. Recognize that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision.

"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up."

He also said: "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."

By abolishing money, perhaps? That isn't natural, either. Wouldn't that be the best solution in the world?

Because even Make Poverty History admits it's not going to actually make poverty history. Along with Bob Geldof's pop pressure group Live 8, they are merely reminding world powers to do what they had already promised to do when they endorsed the Millenium Development Agreement in the year 2000 to cut by half the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day by 2015 - ten years from now. This would slowly wipe away only the worst instances of poverty and starvation in the world today, giving the afflicted the bare essentials of life and just enough food to stop them from dying. That goal achieved would still leave hundreds of millions of others still living below the one-dollar threshold.

Poverty and inequality would still be rampant. New challenging arguments for effective change demand to be examined.

It's 2015. The lucky half finally gets their dollar a day. Hip hip hooray! In the meantime prices have rocketed, and as the ungrateful recipients point out, they can't eat money. It doesn't taste nice. Can't we have food instead?

The gap between rich and poor is immense. The richest fifth of the world population has approximately 75 times the wealth of the poorest fifth.

More than 1.0 billion people in developing countries lack access to safe water. Every year more than 10 million children die of preventable illnesses. More than 500,000 women a year die in pregnancy and childbirth, with such death 100 times more likely in Sub-Saharan Africa. Around the world 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, 39 million of them in developing countries. Tuberculosis remains the leading infectious killer of adults, causing up to 2 million deaths a year. Malaria deaths, now 1 million a year, could double in the next 20 years.

"Oh, it would cost too much to eradicate these problems just like that!" say our leaders. "Give to charities! Do your bit, and we'll get there one day!" Instead of saving lives and bettering the existence of others with their money, the British and American governments, for example, prefer to spend billions every month on weapons of war and on their illegal occupation of Iraq, a bloody fiasco which has caused the deaths of countless thousands.

Capitalism just 'aint fair. It's a system of inequality and injustice; it fosters division and hatred, and it's dominated by the big corporations which in turn dominate our govenments with the powerful influence of their cash.

Money is God, and every day countless victims are sacrificed upon its altar, slain to appease the unquenchable thirst for profit.

It's not only our friends from the third world who suffer under the tyrannous suzerainty of Money. The poor in the developed world hardly get off lightly. Mass unemployment, living off welfare, crap housing, crap education, lousy second rate health care, struggling to pay the bills which arrive with sickening regularity month after month after month until it's finally time for the funeral oops! Did you remember to pay for that?

Meanwhile, as the poor suffer their life of drudgery, the lifestyle of the rich is flaunted in their faces; the mansions and automobiles, hairdressers and health spas, the laughing parties, the drinking and feasting; free from care, 'cos they got it, and you'aint.

Things have change little since D.H. Lawrence wrote this poem in 1929:

Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.
And of course, if the multitude is mad
the individual carries his own grain of insanity around with him.
I doubt if any man living hands out a pound note without a pang;
and a real tremor, if he hands out a ten-pound note.
We quail, money makes us quail.
It has got us down; we grovel before it in strange terror.
And no wonder, for money has a fearful cruel power among men.
But it is not money we are so terrified of,
it is the collective money-madness of mankind.
For mankind says with one voice: How much is he worth?
Has he no money? Then let him eat dirt, and go cold. --
And if I have no money, they will give me a little bread so I do not die,
but they will make me eat dirt with it.
I shall have to eat dirt, I shall have to eat dirt
if I have no money. It is that that I am frightened of.
And that fear can become a delirium.
It is fear of my money-mad fellow-men.
We must have some money
to save us from eating dirt.
And this is all wrong.
Bread should be free,
shelter should be free,
fire should be free
to all and anybody, all and anybody, all over the world.
We must regain our sanity about money
before we start killing one another about it.
It's one thing or the other.

D. H. Lawrence, Pansies, 1929

Slaves and prostitutes...that's we all are under the capitalist system and money is a kind of syphilis that infects all who come in contact with it. A nasty disease that spreads pride, envy, anger, avarice, sadness, gluttony and lust the seven deadly sins on tap in one clever human creation Money!

Poverty, misery, corruption and waste will never cease as long as we remain under the thrall of the filthy lucre. It's time to grab the golden calf by the horns and topple it. Let's think about doing away with money!

Start by making a list of all those occupations in which millions of people are enslaved at the moment, performing jobs which would become entirely useless in a moneyless world, not the slightest good to anybody. That would include everything to do with costing and selling:

Bankers, bookkeepers, accountants, cashiers, salesmen, customs officers, security guards, locksmiths, wages clerks, tax assessors, advertising men, stockbrokers, insurance agents, ticket punchers, slot machine emptiers, industrial spies all of these would go for a start. Other occupations harmful to humanity such as the manufacture of pesticides, food additives and armaments would also be obsolete. Everybody working in these jobs would be redundant. But it wouldn't matter a bit, because they wouldn't have to worry about paying bills. There wouldn't be any. No money no bills. Relax!

Some jobs would of course still be necessary in the new moneyless society. Essential services like food production and distribution, waste disposal, furniture and clothing manufacture, but with so many freed workers available to do them, as well as modern technology and robots, working hours would be at a minimum and people would be able to devote most of their time to pastimes, education, the arts, music, sport, science whatever they liked.

Everything would be free (there is more than plenty even now!), and everybody would work for free willingly. When you wanted something you'd go get it from the Free Mall, or call and ask for the service.

"Give to him that asketh, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away," would be the norm, and in may ways this moneyless world is the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth which Jesus advocated in his Sermon on the Mount; the rightful reward for the meek and poor in spirit, where there will be no need to worry about what we shall eat or what we shall drink or wherewithal we shall be clothed.

Once the free and just moneyless world (the kingdom of Heaven) is established, "all these things shall be added unto you." They that mourn shall be comforted, and they which hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled.

"Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (money)," Jesus said, so let's opt for the former, by serving each other. You don't even need faith in a supernatural creator to see the righteousness in the only real law necessary - "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Anyway, in the new society Mammon will be extinct.

The ancient Babylonians called gold 'the shit of hell'. Jesus didn't like money either. Remember how he tipped over the tables of the money-lenders in the temple, condemning them as a bunch of thieves? It's time for us to turn the tables on the system.

The environmental crisis which looms over the entire world today and threatens our future is a result of capitalist activities and will only become worse if we let them continue. Finding a new fair way of managing things is of paramount importance. We all share this single planet earth, and we'd better start thinking globally, or the human race is doomed!

Is it insane to question whether money is a sensible social institution? It's not all that long ago that it was considered heresy to question whether the earth was really flat.

John Lennon's 'Imagine' was voted the number one song of the last millennium, suggesting there are more than a few 'dreamers' out there. If you're one of them, why not share your ideas? Talk about the ideal society that the world might have; discuss, argue, plan - in pubs, cafes, schools, churches, temples and mosques; even at work! Let's make poverty history for definite. Abolish money!

"You've got to have a dream,
If you don't have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?"

Happy Talk (from 'South Pacific')

MICHAEL DICKINSON is a writer and artist who works as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He designed the cover art for two CounterPunch books, Serpents in the Garden and Dime's Worth of Difference, as well as Grand Theft Pentagon, forthcoming from Common Courage Press. He can be contacted at, where collages from his recently banned website can be seen.

How video that put Serbia in dock was brought to light

05 June 2005 |

Srebrenica massacre tape has at last forced Belgrade to face up to its war atrocities

Tim Judah in Sarajevo and Daniel Sunter in Belgrade
Sunday June 5, 2005
The Observer

For 10 years they have not slept easy. The casual killers of the six cowed and beaten prisoners from Srebrenica were happy to play to the camera that day in July 1995, high on victory and heroes in the eyes of many fellow Serbs. But, as the years have worn on, that sheen has dimmed and the fear has grown. Did the tape still exist? Who had it? Where was it?

For the first time since the execution video was shown at the UN's war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague on Wednesday, The Observer can reveal the full story of the tape that has rocked not just Serbia and Bosnia, but the whole world.

It is the extraordinary story of how the tape was hidden for more than nine years but then, as its existence was revealed in a trial in Serbia, how a race began between the frightened killers and Serbia's leading human rights activist to find it - to destroy it or get it out to the world.

The tape is also the 'smoking gun', for it is the final, incontrovertible proof of Serbia's part in the Srebrenica massacres in which more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered. Until last week Serbian officials, both from the wartime regime of Slobodan Milosevic and since his fall in 2000, have argued that Serbia was not involved with the massacres. Now, the tape proves that to have been a lie.

It will prove valuable ammunition, not just in trials like that of Milosevic but also in Bosnia's action at the UN's International Court of Justice in which it has charged Serbia with complicity in genocide. The gruesome tape shows the execution of six Bosnian Muslim prisoners, four of whom were under 18 and the other two under 30. The beaten prisoners, hands bound, are shown lying face down in a lorry. A guard kicks one in the head. They are ordered off the truck, told to lie down and, in a later clip, shot in the back while standing.

The first four to die are ordered to walk forward, one by one, and then shot. Then the hands of the last two are unbound and they are told to carry the bodies to another spot, where they are also shot.

The cameraman, known by his nickname, Bugar, is impatient. He wants his fellow Skorpions, a unit belonging to Serbia's Ministry of the Interior, to hurry because his camera battery is running low.

The murders took place close to the village of Trnovo, which lies 30 minutes' drive east of Sarajevo, which was then still a city besieged by Serbian forces. From the beginning of the war in 1992, Trnovo was in Serbian hands.

In the summer of 1995 General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander, is determined to win the war. He needs to concentrate all his men around the east Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, declared a UN safe haven. He plots a strategy. His own men will deal with the enclave, but men from Serbia will attack Sarajevo to create a diversion and to tie down Bosnian government troops. Enter the Skorpions. Since 1991 this unit has played a key role, especially in eastern Slavonia, that part of Serbian-held eastern Croatia abutting Serbia. It is headquartered in Sid, an unremarkable little town, 80km north-west of Belgrade, but which during the Croatian war became the jumping-off point for the Serbian attack on eastern Croatia.

Their job is special - 'black operations' - and they are also used by the Milosevic regime to make sure the local Serb authorities, especially in occupied eastern Slavonia, do as they are instructed. To keep them happy, Belgrade allows them a free hand in smuggling and looting.

It is now 26 June, 1995. The Skorpions are about to set off for Bosnia and, while dogs nose around, an Orthodox priest blesses the men who are wearing red berets and black jumpsuits. Next clip: they are in Pale, by the coaches which have brought them to the Bosnian Serb wartime capital. They pose for the camera in front of Pale's roadside name sign. Next clip: the executions.

What has been shown on Serbian and Bosnian TV is four minutes of a two-hour tape. As the Skorpions went into action this was, in effect, their Bosnian 95 tour video. Says Natasa Kandic, Serbia's leading rights campaigner, who gave the tape to Serbia's war crimes court and the one in The Hague, 'they filmed everything'.

Soon after arriving in Pale, the men were sent to Trnovo and from there they fanned out to launch their feint on Sarajevo. The plan worked, and on 11 July the defences of Srebrenica had collapsed. Now thousands of prisoners were falling into the hands of Mladic. Up on Mount Jahorina, overlooking Sarajevo, says Kandic, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his Vice-President, Nikola Koljevic, needed to work on distributing the prisoners. In Trnovo the Skorpions were ordered to send some of their vehicles to Srebrenica to collect their share of the Muslim captives. According to Kandic, who heads Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Centre and who has the story from the man who gave her the tape, a coach packed with more than 50 prisoners arrived in Trnovo.

At that point the only people in Trnovo were the Skorpion's commander, Slobodan Medic, then 28, and a few of his men. Medic, says Kandic, now got orders 'to take some people from the bus and kill them. He told his men to take six'. The six seem to have been taken by truck, up to a secluded spot close by called Godevinske Bare, where the killings took place. The coach with the other prisoners then continued to other locations and 'all the other prisoners were killed', says Kandic.

Bugar, the man filming, was a close friend of Medic. The day after the killings, which took place between 15 and 19 July, he gave the camera to someone else. When the unit came home to Sid that person made 20 copies, distributed among the then acclaimed Skorpion 'heroes'.

When he discovered this, Medic was furious. He knew the tape could be used as evidence if it fell into the wrong hands. He ordered everyone to return the tapes and 20 were destroyed. But one man, who had rowed with his colleagues and had left Trnovo the day before the executions, made one more copy for himself. Fearful and uncertain what to do, the man, whom Kandic cannot name but who will testify at The Hague, hid the tape outside Serbia. For years nothing happened.

That is, until 2003. As war broke out in Kosovo, the Skorpions were reactivated. In March 1999 they lived up to their reputation, killing 19 ethnic Albanian civilians in Podujevo. Two Skorpions were put on trial and in 2003, one of them, who agreed to testify against the others, mentioned that a tape of their Bosnia 95 tour existed. Kandic contacted the man, who said he did not have it but knew the man who did. She went to Sid and found him. He gave it to Kandic who agreed not to use it until he was out of the country.

In Sid, tension began to rise. Kandic had been spotted there with the man who had the tape and the other Skorpions guessed he had told her about the Srebrenica prisoners. A desperate hunt began. Kandic began to get reports that the Skorpions were attacking and harassing people in Sid as they searched for the cassette.

On 9 December, the Hague tribunal released on bail Frenki Simatovic, former head of the Red Berets, another Interior Ministry unit which had worked with the Skorpions, and Jovica Stanisic, former head of the Serbian secret police. The orders went out to find the tape.

In Serbia, with the tenth anniversary of the massacre coming up, Kandic, angry at claims in public by various personalities that Srebrenica had been 'liberated' and that there had been no genocide, said she had seen the tape.

On 23 May she gave it to Serbia's own war crimes prosecutor. He promised to investigate, but no arrests were made. She also gave it to The Hague's prosecution team, who showed it on Wednesday. Immediately afterwards she gave it to Serbian TV.

Within 24 hours four men had been arrested in Serbia, including Slobodan Medic. Six more were brought in for questioning but were later released. Three are on the run. Serbia's police dossier on the case contains 136 names.

For the Serbian authorities, a psychological barrier has been smashed. Pressure is now mounting on them to arrest at least Mladic, who is believed to be in Serbia. Svetozar Marovic, the President of Serbia and Montenegro, has said he will be arrested within a month. Boris Tadic, the President of Serbia, wants to attend the commemoration of the massacre at Srebrenica on 10 July.

Now, says Kandic, Serbia must arrest Mladic. 'After this,' she says, 'there is no choice. Serbs have been forced to see what happened and they have to stop denying that Serbia's forces were there.'

Towering egos

03 June 2005 |

From Hitler's vision of a new Berlin to Tony Blair's Dome and Michael Eisner's EuroDisney, tyrants, kings and tycoons have erected grand monuments to their own vanity. Deyan Sudjic deconstructs the Edifice Complex

Sunday May 29, 2005
The Observer

I used to keep a photograph, torn from a tabloid, pinned over my desk. Through the blotchy newsprint, you could make out the blurred image of an architectural model the size of a small car jacked up to eye level.

Left to themselves architects use non-committal shades of grey for their models, but this one was painted in glossy lipstick colours, suggesting it was made to impress a client with an attention span shorter than most. Strips of cardboard and balsawood had been used to represent a mosque with a squat dome fenced in by concentric circles of spiky minarets. The gaudy shapes, and the reduction of an intricate decorative tradition to a cartoon, tried and failed to be simultaneously boldly modern and respectfully rooted in the past.

The questionable architectural details, though, weren't what made it such an unsettling image. What really grabbed my attention was the glimpse of the darker aspects of building that the picture captured.

None of the uniformed figures clustered respectfully around the model looked like the architects who usually feature conspicuously in this kind of picture, but there wasn't much doubt about the identity of the thickset man with the heavy moustache, looking disorientingly like a Second World War British army major in his vintage khaki sweater and beret, or the unblinking fascination with which he was gazing so adoringly at his model.

Saddam Hussein, like many dictators, was an enthusiastic patron of architecture. Unlike Napoleon III, however, whose fastidious tastes are still clearly visible in the parade- ground tidiness of the boulevards of Paris, or Mussolini with his contradictory passions for modernism and Caesar Augustus, Saddam had no obvious preference for any specific architectural style. He did, however, have an instinctive grasp of how to use architecture to glorify himself and his regime and to intimidate his opponents.

From the moment of its conception, the Mother of all Battles mosque had a very clear purpose - to claim the first Gulf War as a victory for Iraq. Saddam was humiliated in that war. His army was expelled from Kuwait. Its desperate flight home left the road disfigured by the grotesque train of incinerated Iraqi conscripts, trapped in their burnt-out plundered cars. Saddam wanted to build his own reality to wipe out that image of defeat.

The message in the newspaper picture of Saddam's mosque is unambiguous. Architecture is about power.

The powerful build because that is what the powerful do. On the most basic level, building creates jobs that are useful to keep a restless workforce quiet. But it also reflects well on the capability, decisiveness and the determination of the powerful. Above all, architecture is the means to tell a story about those who build it.

In Baghdad itself, the notorious outsize crossed scimitars span the road into the city, gripped by giant bronze hands modelled on Saddam's own - but cast in the quintessentially English setting of Basingstoke. In Saddam's day, nets filled with shoals of captured Iranian helmets dangled from the two sword hilts. Such monuments, kitsch as they are, are universal. They date from the victory memorials of the Peloponnesian wars, and the triumphs imperial Rome granted its favoured generals. The idea of the crossed swords was filched without acknowledgement from Mike Gold, an architect based in London who originally proposed it, minus the helmets, as an innocuously whimsical civic landmark for a motorway in Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq, its meaning was completely transformed. Versace's inflammatory caricature of sex and money can be worn with a sense of irony in Milan, but not in Milosevic's Belgrade where the bandit classes took the glitter and leopard skin look at face value. And in Baghdad, a piece of ironic post-modernism becomes the most literal kind of architectural propaganda.

Almost all political leaders find themselves using architects for political purposes. It is a relationship that appeals to egotists of every description. That is why there are photographs of Hitler and Mussolini, Tony Blair and François Mitterrand and the first President Bush - as well as countless mayors and archbishops, chief executives and billionaire robber barons - each bowed over their own, equally elaborate architectural models looking just as narcissistically transfixed as the beatific Saddam beaming over his mosque.

Despite a certain amount of pious rhetoric about architecture's duty to serve the community, to work at all in any culture the architect has to establish a relationship with the rich and the powerful. There is nobody else with the resources to build. And it is the genetically predetermined destiny of the architect to do anything he can to build. The architectural profession has no alternative but to trim and compromise with whatever regime is in power.

There is a psychological parallel between making a mark on the landscape with a building and the exercise of political power. Both depend on the imposition of will. Certainly, reducing an entire city to the scale of a doll's house in an architectural model has an inherent appeal for those who regard the individual as of no account. Architecture feeds the egos of the susceptible. They grow more and more dependent on it to the point where architecture becomes an end in itself, seducing its addicts as they build on an ever-larger scale.

Building is the means by which the egotism of the individual is expressed in its most naked form - the Edifice Complex. This is not to equate George Bush the elder's presidential library in Texas, or Tony Blair's Millennium Dome (or his Wembley stadium) with Saddam's mosque. Tony Blair may aspire to be as much of an autocrat as, say, François Mitterrand, and he may have wanted to rebrand Britain, as a glossy, shiny, modern state, but he lacks Mitterrand's instinctive confidence in his own judgment on architectural issues. Blair needs to be told what to like, or rather what to say that he likes. And the fact that there was nobody close enough to Blair that he could rely on for decisive guidance about the Dome contributed to the fiasco over its content.

To manoeuvre at the court of an elected prime minister in order to secure the chance to build involves an altogether less corrosive kind of compromise than the potentially lethal survival dance demanded by a dictatorship. But democratic regimes are just as likely to deploy architecture as an instrument of statecraft as totalitarians. Even so, just as it is as well to keep a careful eye on those leaders with a taste for writing poetry, so an enthusiasm for architecture is a characteristic that should ring alarm bells when present in a certain kind of political figure.

It is uncomfortable, to say the least, for architecture enthusiasts - and I'm certainly one - to find that Hitler chose as his companions for his only visit to Paris, not the army high command, or party leadership, but two architects, Albert Speer and Hermann Giesler, as well as Arno Breker, the Nazi sculptor-in-chief. It was as if George W Bush were to tour Baghdad with Frank Gehry and Jeff Koons. And Hitler's hours spent with Speer and their 100ft-long model of the Berlin that they wanted to build are certainly enough to make you reconsider the apparently innocent charm of the architectural model.

Hitler's trip to Paris is captured in one of the 20th century's most unforgettable photographs, taken on the steps of Les Invalides. Hitler is in the centre, of course, wearing a long white overcoat. Everybody else is dressed from head to foot in black, an eerie precursor of the universal taste for Comme des Garcons suits among architects in the early years of the 21st century. Here is the leader surrounded by his acolytes, the great architect ready to redesign the world.

There are disturbing parallels between the mania of the dictators for rebuilding their capital cities in their own image and the passion for building in our own times. Certainly there is something oddly reminiscent of Stalin - who paced the Moscow river bank in 1931 deciding where to put the Palace of the Soviets - in François Mitterrand's order half a century later for the roads around La Défense to be closed one sweltering August weekend to allow the biggest crane in France to winch a mock-up of the Grand Arche into place. The president wanted to see for himself the effect it would have on the view from the gardens of the Elysée Palace. Like Mitterrand, Stalin clearly saw himself as a great architect. On one occasion he was observed casually picking up a representation of the onion-domed St Basil's cathedral from a model of the Kremlin to see how the city would look without it.

The Edifice Complex is a psychological condition that has afflicted most of the 20th century's totalitarians. But it does not limit itself to dictators. There are perfectly respectable software tycoons, presidents, museum directors, bishops and fashion designers infected too. It's not just that the victims of the condition want things built in their name. They suffer from the delusion that they can design architecture themselves.

When Michael Eisner, a typical victim of the Edifice Complex, set about building EuroDisney he recruited every famous architect he could get his hands on, and insisted on selecting every door knob, tap and wash basin himself. Aldo Rossi, the leading Italian architect of his generation, resigned, and wrote to Eisner reminding him that the last time an Italian architect had this much trouble in Paris, it was Bernini, working for the King of France. 'Clearly I am not Bernini,' he said, 'but unfortunately you seem to believe that you are the King of France.'

I started to collect images of the rich and powerful leaning over architectural models in a more systematic way after I suddenly found myself in the middle of one. The elder statesman of Japanese architecture, Arata Isozaki, had hired an art gallery in Milan owned by Miuccia Prada, for a presentation to an important client. Outside, two black Mercedes cars full of bodyguards were parked on either side of the entrance, alongside a vanload of carabinieri. Inside was another of those room-size models. Isozaki described it as a villa. In fact it was a palace for a Qatari sheikh, who was his country's minister for culture. And the palace had to do rather more than accommodate the sheikh, his family, his collection of rare breed animals and his Ferraris, his Bridget Rileys and his Hockney swimming pool, as well as his Richard Serra landscape installation.

Each piece of the building had been allocated to an individual architect or designer. Ron Arad was doing one room, Tom Dixon another, John Pawson a third. Isozaki's assistants were marshalling them for an audience with the sheikh. The architects waited, and they waited, drinking coffee and eating pastries dispensed by waiters in black tie until the sheikh finally arrived, almost two hours late.

Here was the relationship between power and architecture in its most naked form, a relationship of subservience to the mighty as clear as if the architect were a hairdresser or a tailor. In fact the villa never got built, and the last report I heard of the sheikh was that he was under house arrest while police investigated details of his purchases of millions of dollars-worth of art on behalf of the government.

The individual house has, in our times, come to represent a particularly virulent form of the Edifice Complex. In Los Angeles, a house designed by Frank Gehry has come to rank so far ahead in the infinitely competitive game of social status that a Warhol portrait hardly registers. The tycoon who already has everything and still needs reassurance can console himself with the thought: here is a man, spoken of in the same breath as Frank Lloyd Wright by no less an authority than the director of the Guggenheim, who is ready to spend his precious time planning MY bathroom, and manipulating the spatial relationship of MY swimming pool with MY living room.

People who commission Frank Gehry to design houses for them are a group unlike any other. Among their characteristics, self-doubt is conspicuous by its absence. The client for the house, Peter Benjamin Lewis, became chairman of the Guggenheim's board of trustees in 1998 and is a man who has personally contributed $77 million to the museum. He is certainly a flamboyant figure. He has a 255ft boat named the Lone Ranger, big enough for an on-board swimming pool and a crew of 18.

When the Lewis house design was exhibited in the Guggenheim Museum's massive retrospective exhibition of Gehry's work, according to the catalogue, 'the plan to renovate the original house was quickly abandoned in the face of mounting needs that overwhelmed the structure'. This is an interesting use of the word 'needs', suggesting that a team of dour engineers had been wrestling with a series of sober, functional imperatives driving the design as if they were the inexorable laws of physics.

Lewis asked for a 10-car garage, and Gehry designed it. Then he said he needed storage for his art collection, and the design changed again. Then he needed a private museum - later to expand when Lewis said he needed space for a director for the museum, and space for a curator; and for a library. And, of course, for a-state-of-the-art security system, including panic rooms, an escape tunnel and somewhere for a collection of Persian rugs; and still the house kept growing.

Gehry was dealing with that very special form of indecision associated with an excess of wealth, the kind that makes a grown man unable to make up his mind whether he needs one guest house or two. Or whether he would rather keep the garage out of sight of his front door than get wet walking to the house from his car - and all the other vanities and neuroses and insecurities that even a great architect cannot always keep from looking absurd.

In Lewis's eyes, at least part of the point of the house was to get his own back on the Cleveland establishment. Lewis wanted to put a 75ft-high Claes Oldenburg golf bag in his garden that would have been visible from the grounds of the neighbouring Mayfield Country Club. When he was younger, he had been a victim of the anti-semitism rife at the club.

But presentations turned into circus performances. 'Every time I went to see him he'd have a film crew in tow.' Gehry says. 'On one of his birthdays he flew back the model and he invited the governor of Ohio and many other guests to a big party. I had to make a presentation of his house to this party.' Gehry responded by making a model the size of a playpen. The budget kept rising from $5m, to $20m, $65m and even $80m. Lewis is divorced, and his children are all adults. It's hard to imagine how all of those rooms would have been used simultaneously. America's obesity epidemic had evidently hit its domestic architecture as well as its waistline. The film crew did, however, manage to complete their film on the non-building of the Lewis house. Jeremy Irons contributed a reverential voice over.

The appeal of architecture to those who suffer from the Edifice Complex lies in the way that it is an expression of will. To design a building, or to have a building designed is to suggest: 'This is the world as I want it. This is the perfect room to run a state, a business empire, a city, a family.'

It is the way to create a physical version of an idea, or an emotion. It is the way to construct reality as we wish it to be, rather than as it is.

  • The Edifice Complex is published on 2 June by Penguin.

Deep Throat Cover Blown

02 June 2005 |

Washington Post Still Sucks

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

By Greg Palast

I've been gagging all morning on the Washington Post's self-congratulatory preening about its glory days of the Watergate investigation.

Think about it. It's been 33 years since cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein pulled down the pants of the Nixon operation and exposed its tie-in to the Watergate burglary. That marks a third of a century since the Washington Post has broken a major investigative story. I got a hint of why the long, dry spell when I met Mark Hosenball, "investigative" reporter for the Washington Post's magazine, Newsweek.

It was in the summer of 2001. A few months earlier, for the Guardian papers of Britain, I'd discovered that Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida had removed tens of thousands of African-Americans from voter registries before the 2000 election, thereby fixing the race for George Bush. Hosenball said the Post-Newsweek team "looked into it and couldn't find anything."

Nothing at all? What I found noteworthy about the Post's investigation was that "looking into it" involved their reporters chatting with Florida officials -- but not bothering to look at the voter purge list itself.

Yes, I admit the Washington Post ran my story -- seven months after the election -- but with the key info siphoned out, such as the Bush crew's destruction of evidence and the salient fact that almost all those purged were Democrats. In other words, the story was drained of anything which might discomfit the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let's not pick on the Post alone. Viacom Corporation's CBS News also spiked the story. Why? "We called Jeb Bush's office," a CBS producer told me, and Jeb's office denied Jeb did wrong. End of story.

During the Clinton years, the Washington Post and Newsweek allowed reporter Mike Isikoff to sniff at the President's zipper and write about our Commander-in-Chief's Lewinsky. But when it came to a big story about dirty energy industry money for Clinton's campaigns, Mike told me his editors didn't "give a sh--" and so he passed the material for me to print in England.

Today, Bob Woodward rules as the Post's Managing Editor. And how is he "managing" the news? After the September 11 attack, when we needed an independent press to keep us from hysteria-driven fascism, Woodward was given "access" to the president, writing Bush at War,a fawning, puke-making fairy tale of a take-charge president brilliantly leading the war against Terror.

Woodward's news-oid story is a symptom of a disease epidemic in US journalism. The illness is called, "access." In return for a supposedly "inside" connection to the powers that be, the journalists in fact become conduits for disinformation sewerage.

And woe to any journalist who annoys the politicians and loses "access." Career-wise, they're DOA.

Here's a good place to tote up part of the investigative reporter body count. There's Bob Parry forced out of the Associated Press for the crime of uncovering Ollie North's arms-for-hostages game. And there's Gary Webb, hounded to suicide for documenting the long-known history of the CIA's love-affair with drug runners. The list goes on. Even the prize-laden Seymour Hersh was, he told me, exiled from the New York Times and now has to write from the refuge of a fashion magazine.

And notice someone missing in the Deep Throat extravaganza? Carl Bernstein, the brains and soul of the All-the-President's-Men duo, is notably absent from the staff of the Post or any other US newspaper.

But before we get too weepy about the glory days of investigative journalism gone by, we should remember that the golden era was not pure gold.

Newspapers are part of the power elite and have never in US history gone out of their way to rock the clubhouse. Let's go back to Hersh's stellar story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

The massacre was first uncovered by the greatest investigative reporter of our era, the late Ron Ridenhour. Then a soldier conducting the investigation on his own, Ridenhour turned over his findings to Hersh, hoping to give it a chance for exposure. That wasn't so easy.

Ridenhour told me that he and Hersh pushed the story -- with photos! -- at dozens of newspapers. No one would touch it until Ridenhour threatened to read the story from the steps of the Pentagon.

It's only gotten worse. After all, Hersh's latest big story, about Abu Ghraib prison, was buried by CBS and other news outlets before Hersh put it in the New Yorker.

The Washington Post has no monopoly on journalistic evil. If anything, the Post is probably better than most of the bilge contaminating our news outlets. This is about the death-march of investigative journalism in America; or, at least, its dearth under the "mainstream" mastheads.

Why don't we read more "Watergate" investigative stories in the US press? Given that the Woodwards of today dance on their hind legs begging officialdom for "access", news without official blessing doesn't stand a chance.

The Post follows current American news industry practice of killing any story based on evidence from a confidential source if a government honcho privately denies it. A flat-out "we didn't do it" is enough to kill an investigation in its cradle. And by that rule, there is no chance that the Managing Editor of the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, would today run Deep Throat's story of the Watergate break-in.

And that sucks.

01 June 2005 |

The public calls for the West to apply pressure on Russia will obviously be counterproductive

As we go to press, Mr. Khodorkovsky has been found guilty as charged of numerous economic crimes, including fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement as relates to Yukos. We are still awaiting the verdicts as regards the fraudulent Apatit privatization. Furthermore, the Prosecutor's Office has announced that a new slew of charges will be brought - primarily involving money laundering.

Given the billions that Menatep has abroad the charges seem well-founded. What we are still awaiting is prosecution for crimes of violence. Nevzlin stands accused of murder, and if the reputation of the Menatep boys is anything to go by (the Apatit privatization alone reportedly could have filled up a small cemetery) there is more to come.

There are two great mysteries here. The first - which we have returned to repeatedly - is how anyone as intelligent as Mikhail could have done something so stupid as to engage in a fight to the death with the Putin administration (perhaps there is something about having grown up in a Soviet-era communal apartment - then finding oneself a multi-billionaire surrounded by scores of adulating flunkies - which causes a loss of the sense of perspective). But the second mystery is, if anything, even more bewildering. What on earth do they expect to gain from their scorched earth tactics against Russia?

Defense counsel Robert Amsterdam has been accusing the Russian government of theft, all matter of human rights violations, and has publicly attempted to pressure, inter alia, the German government to downgrade relations with Russia (with a straight face, in the same interview he also spoke of his "love for Russia"!) Meanwhile, Menatep has been furiously lobbying in Washington against fundamental Russian diplomatic interests, in particular WTO accession.

Of course, the notion that Germany would abandon a vital part of its diplomatic and economic strategy to support a Russian crook in trouble with his own government is laughable. When the Menatep boys requested that the British ambassador write a letter to Putin in support of Khodorkovsky (unlike the fawning response from the US ambassador) they were promptly shown the door. Now, even the Bush administration - which strongly supported Khodorkovsky in the days when it appeared that he could deliver Russia oil to the US - has belatedly realized that they have drilled a dry hole, and seems to show less enthusiasm. Certainly, much of the US Neocon faction is still generously funded by Yukos, so yes, the senators-for-sale that Khodorkovsky once owned in the Russian State Duma have now been replaced by some bought US congressmen. Alas, for the fallen oligarch, their writ extends to the Russian border, but not far beyond. Since it was apparently the promise of support from the American Neocons which led Khodorkovsky to so disastrously overplay his hand, they certainly owe him one!

No, the simple fact is that Amsterdam and his mates have no doubt with the active complicity of the accused, simply succeeded in gaining the worst possible outcome for their client. Their public calls for the West to apply pressure to Russia will obviously be counterproductive: Mr. Putin does not intend to kowtow to the West in the manner of his predecessors. Amsterdam is correct in his assessment that the Russian government has suffered much PR damage from this affaire - certainly, the Menatep PR machine is nothing if not professional. He should bear in mind that the Nazis' siege of Leningrad did infinitely more damage - but Russia never capitulated!

-- Pravda