Syria, Sochi, Stalin, Putin

I was startled by a brief, new item in Tuesday night’s 10 PM CBC’ News a report  that thousands of  photographs  of corpses of  “detainees” of Syria’s Assad regime bearing clear evidence of starvation and torture had been smuggled out on USB sticks. This first report was immediately followed by longer items about home insurance rates and mortgage rates.  And, of course , the Sochi Olympics

The following morning there was a more detailed report of that 55,000 photographs of 11,000 corpses showed.  “Industrial scale killing” that  was, according to one former International Criminal Court prosecutor, reminiscent of the Second World War concentration camps of Belsen and Auschwitz.  This was followed by nearly an hour of programming whose theme was whether Vladimir Putin’s assurances of that  the safety of Canadians athletes and spectators going to the Sochi Olympics could be guaranteed by the nearly hundred thousand state security troops and massive military presence his regime would be deploying to guard against attacks from “Muslim fundamentalists’.

On Wednesday evening, there were, finally a longer, more shockingly detailed description on both the CBC news and “As it Happens” of the photographs and what they showed.  That is, the horrific, sadistic torture/murders that Syria’s Assad regime has perpetrated in its dungeons. The photographer apparently had to document the case numbers and visual identity of the as many as fifty corpses a day that were hauled into a military hospital from three detention centres for over this bureaucratic purpose over the more than two  years that the world has wrung its hands and dithered and issued measured condemnations of the Assad regime’s numerous  more public massacres and atrocities.

There are troubling precedents.  The  League of Nations, a grand international body that was formed out of the peace conference that ended World War is often used as an example of the abject failure of good intentions that paved the way for World War two.  It actually accomplished much more than it is usually given credit for.  Through its anti-slavery commission it finally helped to bring that horrible practice to an international end. Through the International Labour Organization (which has survived to become an agency of the United Nations) it brought many the 8 hour day and helped to end child labour.  Its Committee on the Legal Status of Woman was the basis of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. But it did fail in its most essential mission: to prevent the mayhem of another world war because it  proved powerless,   when its condemnation and sanctions  failed to stop the malignant growth and metastasis of Fascism  (A signal example was the League of Nations inability to stop Mussolini’s genocidal war of attrition in Libya, a historical trauma that was much exploited by the Gaddafi regime.)

So at the end of World War Two, an even more barbarous and international bloodbath, the United Nations was formed.  And, as horror and outrage at the numbing spectacle of the “industrial scale killing” the torture/murder of six million jews, a million “gypsies”, over three million Russian POW’s, non- heterosexuals and opponents of the regime – that had gone on behind the “theatres of War” became public knowledge, the cry for an international judicial process mounted and the Nuremberg Trials took place and led to:
The Genocide Convention, 1948.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
The Nuremberg Principles, 1950.
The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, 1968.
The Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War, 1949; its supplementary protocols, 1977.

Assad and his regime have violated every central convention and principle or these great legal proclamations. To a large extent the war crimes and crimes against humanity have already been committed quite openly, in brutal massacres of peaceful protests and in a  sustained campaign of massive destruction to extirpate of any trace of opposition.  And  it is even harder to believe that the Obama administration, with its vast   surveillance systems has been unaware of the “security force” murders  these photographs document than it was to believe the initial denials by World War Two’s Allied Powers that they had been aware of the Nazi extermination system.  But now that the incontrovertible evidence is in the public sphere and in all our faces, we must demand action.

Human life must be put before business as usual.  As the Assad regimes massacres of civilians and atrocities against detainees has continued into a third year, an apparently uncaring world continues  its “normal” business.  Hosts of international institutions regulate the global flow of enormous sums of money, endless shiploads of goods and millions of travelers every day. Wines and even fresh apples from New Zealand and countless items from China appear on store shelves after being smoothly and efficiently transported halfway around the world.

The worlds institutions and processes for dealing with mass torture and murder are, sadly, much less developed . The horrific photographs and the expert analysis confirming their authenticity and expert testimony on what they show comes at the start of a macabre “peace” conference. A meeting at which the fragmented remnants of what started as a popular, peaceful campaign to win democratic rights are forced to negotiate with accessories to murder.  (A meeting that, for me,  evokes visions of holocaust victims being forced to sit down with Nazi War Criminals. ) It is difficult to understand just what interests the governments that purport to represent us and ther international organizations  serve when the best they can do is to orchestrate such a spectacle.

But all efforts to act through the body that supposedly acts for all countries, the United Nations, have been blocked by the Security Council veto powers that China and Russia hold.  The motivations are only somewhat clear.  The massive Chinese police state obviously  fears and strenuously oppose any and all popular initiatives.   The poisoned roots of its ruling junta go back to the same pockmarked, sallow 5 foot 4 inch dictator who is Russian strongman Putin’s greatest hero: Joseph Stalin.   And Putin, of course, has not only blocked all attempts to stop Assad, but actively supported his murderous regime to the point of threatening military confrontations.  However, what Russia hopes to gain from its continued backing of Assad’s psychopathic regime, especially as this increasingly forces it to rub shoulders with the very Muslim fundamentalists  it so fears on the eve of the Sochi Olympics is less clear.  Seems to have all the logic of the great trust Stalin placed in his pact with Hitler (the blundering miscalculation that facilitated the invasion of Poland, then Russia.)

Will there ever be justice for those mutilated corpses?  Will Assad and his henchmen ever be brought to account, even as imperfectly as the Hitler regime was?  The prosecutions at International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda were all ad hoc legal bodies.  It was only in July 2002, the International Criminal Court was finally formed, and that body has no army, has no police, has no way to end the mayhem or itself apprehend the perpetrators and no way to bring therm to justice. Its functioning has been so curtailed by the refusal of such major powers as China to join it and  the US and Russia to ratify .
Nevertheless, as the awful spectacle of yet another depraved dictator and his goons exterminating masses of his countrymen suggests that there are matters that should be given priority over the further jigging of international financial and trade agreements and the junkets associated with these..  Matters of fundamental human justice, the failure to address which may well, as  history has demonstrated time and again, have dire consequences indeed.

BTW – A final note on Sochi and Putin’s plea, so impassioned  that he gave it in English – to have the Olympics there.  It was the murderous “little squirt'” (as Harry Truman called him) Stalin’s favourite place!  (“Joseph Stalin still looms large in Soch, Russia”  by Rosie DiMano, Tornto Star, 4 dec, 2012)




I was born in Germany, grew up and have lived most of my life in Canada, but was back there from 1986 to 1990 to marry, help to have a daughter and see the wall fall. Attended elementary schools and St. Michael's College High School, Northern Secondary & Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto. Started U at Carleton in Ottawa, but completed my degrees in Anthropology and English at York U in Toronto, where I was also a Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant to Prof. Norman Penner and studied in the Graduate program in Social and Political Thought. Much more recently I completed MA courses in English Literature and worked as a Teaching and Research Assistant at University of Saskatchewan, but became a Program creator and Facilitator and Employment Counsellor at the Saskatoon Open Door Society. I have long been politically active,, have a strong interest in photography, literature and the arts, and am lucky enough to be married to a world-class pianist and to have a beautiful and talented daughter and a brilliant son-in-law,

8 Responses to “Syria, Sochi, Stalin, Putin”

  1. Jimmy
    January 25, 2014 at 13:09 #

    Yep, its a troubling issue when clear evidence of atrocities does nothing to move nations to action. In this case, the US has its hands tied diplomatically (it would seem) by the security scandal, and of course, Russia has a bizarre relationship with Syria that stems from being one of its largest military sales accounts, and continues its parasitic relationship from the 70s as a Soviet ally (Russia has a naval port at Tartus which allows it to influence Syrian politics, much like its base in Sevastopil).

    As for Sochi, much of the “undesirable aspects” of the city was bulldozed to make way for facilities and infrastructure, and the fact the climate is wholly unsuitable for the winter Olympics, is completely in keeping with Putin’s grandeur delusion, and indifference to the actual needs of the people who live in the city. The area around Sochi and around Georgia though has been at war in some capacity with Russia since the late 1700s. More recently Russia’s desire to retain these territories has to do with oilfields of the region. The two so-called breakaway regions of northern Georgia are propped up by Russian military support, much like Trans-Dnistria between Ukraine and Romania. Diplomatic efforts to return the region to Romania are made impossible by the extensive placement of Russian military to “protect sovereignty.” The reality is Russia exerts its political will by destabilizing these regions. The same can be said for Ukraine at its new gas deal, which gives Putin a free hand in Ukrainian politics by holding the country ransom with a cheap gas price it can lose at any moment. You’d think becoming an ally with Russia would yield massive benefits, yet Belarus – Russia’s biggest ally, continues to find itself manipulated by the Kremlin. Every inch Belarus allows Russia, it takes a mile on every opportunity it gets. Relationship between the two countries are severely strained, and Lukashenka has his back to the wall now that he realizes the sovereignty of his country is virtually gone.

    WRT Ukraine, the fact protests in Ukraine have escalated in violence to its current point shows the extent to which Ukraine has become a defacto totalitarian state, with the passing of laws outlawing any form of public demonstration. In recent history, Ukraine’s people and government have been very pacifistic, so the violence represents a paradigm shift in its civic politics. The current government is a kleptocractic regime thats robbed the country to the point where their foreign reserve would have dropped to zero by next year without a cash infusion from Russia or China. The IMF will not give Ukraine any more money based on how much of it has been siphoned off or unaccounted for. The old adage of boiling a frog in cold water instead of throwing him into a boiling pot, is much how Yanukovych has rolled back Ukraine’s freedoms over the past four years. Eroding any independence of the judiciary and the election commission has been one way. Building several opulent residences worth between 100-200 million each hasn’t gone unnoticed, nor has the rapidly growing business holdings of his son (a dentist by trade) – as well as the holdings of his sons’ friends (one who is 24 and has net worth of about 4 billion, gained all in one year). In the past his party was supported by oligarchs that would have held him accountable in some way, but today, he’s made their support redundant because of the massive wealth he’s accumulated. The reality of why he clings to power so tightly and has used violent methods, has much to do with the fact if he falls, he’s likely to end up in prison for corruption. In Ukraine’s case, in addition to all the other countries influenced by Russia suffer for the reality that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”

    • January 25, 2014 at 22:15 #

      With deference to those better-schooled in the history of the Ukraine, I do want to raise a couple of points. One is that I have the impression in the Ukraine, as in Syria, there does seem to be some significant support for the regime. Over my decade plus of working with the Saskatoon Open Door Society, I dealt with several dozen Ukrainians. After hearing about the terrible -especially language and cultural- oppression of the Ukraine by the USSR from Canadian Ukrainian organizations, and sometimes also noting their vehement anti-communism for decades, I was quite surprised at the near absence of such sentiments among the actual Ukrainians immigrants I dealt with. And these tended to be fairly-well educated people (foreign credentials recognition was my specialty). One explanation they gave me when I pressed them about this is that most of them came from the Eastern Ukraine. Some even suggested that, as happened in Czekoslovakia, partition may be the only long term solution.

      Please do note that I am simply making an observation here and not in any way trying to justify what has every appearance of a gangster regime in its brutal repression of protest.

      Another troubling point for me is the degree to which Ukrainian nationalists in western Ukraine have a long history of anti-semitism that was so virulent that some jews who had survived the camps or managed to stay hidden were persecuted and even murderd on their return by Ukrainians

      That many western Ukrainians initially welcomed and allied themselves with invading Naziism in World War Two is understandable. Stalin and his henchmen – virtually none of who were jewish, by this point, btw, because Stalin was vicious anti-semite – had unleashed horrific famines followed by murderous deportations. It is also true that four and half million Ukrainians fought in the Red army, and also that many Ukrainians sheltered jews and fought alongside them in the quarter million strong Ukrainian partisan units. But unfortunately anti-semitism seems to remain a significant part of western Ukrainian nationalism to an even greater extent than it is in the right-nationalist political currents of some other European countries. I am told that where there were once statues of Lenin, there are now statues of Cossack heroes. This likely includes the great nationalist hero Bohdan Khmeinytsky, whose murderous drive to empty the Ukraine of jews was to repeated by the invading Nazis 290 years after his foundational rebellion.

      It is my considered opinion that real democracy can no more flourish alongside racism – of which anti-semitism is one of the most ancient forms- than it could in apartheid regime that existed in South Africa or can in the situation that exists in the territories Israel occupies today.

      Unfortunately, as was the case in the wars in Yugoslavia where bitter grievances – long suppressed by the Tito regime – that go back to Croatian alignment with Nazi Germany and Serbian with the USSR and even to half mythical events that occurred centuries ago flared up again, memories of historical wrongs, always painted in broad strokes in tar-black and glowing white can too often and too easily be fanned by demagogues and opportunists into fuel for new infernos. It may well have something to do with out 98.5% chimpanzee-identical genome.

      Exactly what are good men – and women – to do?

  2. David Thorstad
    January 25, 2014 at 16:44 #

    Valid points, no doubt, but how come nobody ever reminds us that it is
    the USA that dropped atom bombs on Japan? That puts Truman and the U.S.
    government right up near the top of war criminals in human history. And
    much of the mess in the Mideast, including Syria, goes back to the Brits
    and French carving up the Arab world with Sykes-Picot. Today, Muslim
    fanatics, worse than even most of our fascist fundi Christians, are
    wreaking havoc in Syria and other Arab countries. When it’s all over,
    there probably won’t be any Christians left in Syria (as there are few
    left in Iraq), thanks to Muslim fascists.

  3. Brian Waite
    January 25, 2014 at 17:14 #

    Without going into great detail about French colonial history in Syria, the rise of the Alawite-backed Assad regime and its reasons for clinging so violently and cruelly to power, one still must wonder what will happen to the Alawite masses which represent around 16% of Syria’s population following the defeat of Assad and his forces?

    Your discussion on the history of the League of Nations and the UN, including their failures, implies the notion of “civilized” behaviour by parties to the various conventions envisioned following WW II. The key European powers and the United States (and Canada) have themselves ignored all of these conventions at various times due to national self-interest and in aid of the goals of their ruling classes; which only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of all the actors in this tragedy.

    As you will well understand, I am not taking the side of the regime in saying this, but asserting that the sectarian/religious/ethnic/nationalist tribalism reinforced and encouraged by the power elites on all sides of this and other conflicts, genocides and ethnic cleansing (Rwanda, Congo [over 3 million dead] Yugoslavia, etc.) make any hope for, again, a “civilized” end to this conflict extremely remote. The dark heart of forces unleashed by global capitalism make old-fashioned colonialism appear relatively tame – The horror! is compounded.

    Like the other great recent tragedies parenthesised above, it is to make one weep, but I don’t know in what manner the “West” would be able to intervene such that the vast majority of the Syrian people will find peace and justice or in any way be made whole again – look at the increasing daily violence in Iraq, now essentially a failed state, and you will find the negation of any hope for a positive outcome.

    You know I share your despair at the human condition in contemporary world politics, but whither Syria, I frankly do not know, except that there will be a very bad end to it all.

    Those of us on this thread can only be grateful that we are here, not there, and, at least for the time being, able to carry on this discussion on what is a sunny Saturday morning here in Vancouver.

    • January 25, 2014 at 22:30 #

      That is why this particular post was very difficult to write. The fact that the Assad regime has been able to continue committing its unspeakable atrocities for three years while the world does nothing speaks volumes about the impotence of our international institutions.

  4. John Wilson
    January 26, 2014 at 16:05 #

    I agree with Brian’s comments (and I did read the piece on Erich’s blog). I would still maintain that there is no such thing as a humanitarian invention; when the “West” intervenes, it is entirely to protect its own interests. The so-called “right to protect” is just the 21st Century’s version of the “white man’s burden.” Witness the obscenity of Bush’s rationale for the murderous invasion and occupation of Afghanistan based on women’s rights. This from a yahoo whose party has opposed every right that American women have won. No intervention in Darfur, but in that case, there were only slim pickings for the environmental rapists of the “resource extraction” industries. Despite all the crocodile tears about Syria, we heard nothing from these people on the slaughter of protesters in Bahrain. What surprises me (but shouldn’t) is that people actually think that Obama gives a damn about Assad’s victims, what with his continued lethal drone attacks which have probably killed far more non-combatants than “terrorists” in southeast Asia and Africa. I guess that what some haven’t realized that Obama is what Obama does.

    What began as a popular protest movement in Syria has been hijacked, clearly. There’s not much to choose between Assad and the “opposition”. None of the forces involved remotely represent the interests of the majority of the population. But based on the historical evidence, there’s little reason to think that any kind of intervention by the “West” (in fact the corporate ruling elites in the US and Europe Inc.) would really save any lives. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, both the US and Europe Inc. wanted its breakup into even more impotent smaller states that they could manipulate and dominate. Milosevic’s atrocities (much exaggerated for the purposes of ‘humanitarian intervention’) were a convenient excuse to destroy most of the infrastructure, to be rebuilt at enormous profit by corporate interests.

    The situation in Syria is truly tragic, and we here have no control over its outcome. Let Syria sort itself out. There is no reason to think that that process, however horrendous, will be worse than intervention by our ruling circles, who as we speak are proceeding with the demolition of the ‘welfare state’ and “austerity”-based attacks on working people everywhere. Especially Britain, where over a million disability claimants have been refused benefits and ruled “fit to work” despite the fact that there are no jobs. To think that these people care about Assad’s victims is, I think, delusional.

    • January 26, 2014 at 17:00 #

      I’ve moved this Emailed comment to the comments on my blaaawwg, because it raises points that are worthy of another post about the origins of war and warfare.


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