Many public figures have been condemning the content of a video live-streamed from an Orange Order Hall in which people were singing lyrics mocking the murder of an Irishwoman on her honeymoon in Mauritius.
There is nothing new I can add to the condemnations of this disgusting exhibition. But what a great many of the condemnations lack is context; i.e they treat this exhibition as though it were some aberration from the norm of Loyalism – it was not, it was exactly in line with and an expression of the backwardness, sectarianism, right-wing racism, homophobia and general phobia that is the very essence of Loyalism.
BACKGROUND OF LOYALISM AND THE ORANGE ORDER IN IRELAND
The planters and settlers that English1 colonialism installed on Irish soil were intended to control the indigenous population along with those “gone native” descendants of the Norman conquerors. A number of attempts were made to correct those Normans who had been ‘corrupted’ by the Irish and had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves” and one of the most infamous attempts through law, the Statutes of Killkenny in 13662 laid out a long list of behaviours expected of the “degenerate English”, mostly in terms of things they were to cease doing: in sum they were to cease integrating with the indigenous people in custom, language and law.
Outside of the Pale3, the cities, such attempts failed in the main and the next big effort was the Plantations. Using the failure of the Norman Irish and Gaelic lords to adapt to the Reformation, now an English state religion, their lands were confiscated and parcelled out to big landlords who then rented them out to smaller landlords and small-holders – and none of those were to be Irish. In fact, they were required to be English-speaking, Protestant in religion and to build their towns and important buildings as strongholds4. And not to even employ native Irish, in case these should corrupt the settlements from within.
The intentions of the Plantations were made quite clear and the settlers were, from the outset to be a means for a tiny minority of feudal and financier elites to control and exploit the vast majority indigenous population through the use of a middle stratum which was to be separate from and considered superior to natives in religion, culture, custom, landholding, legal rights – and allegiance.
These plantations met with mixed success – one of the problems being the scarcity of labour against a prohibition to employ the natives – but the problem of a conquered but not reconciled native majority remained, even after its cultural, legal, political and military leadership had been eliminated. And then a section of the settlers themselves, many descendants of Cromwellian conquerors and their supporters, began to have aspirations to control their own markets. They attempted to expand the Irish Parliament – then open only to adherents of the State religion, the Anglican communion — to include representation from the larger group of dissenting Protestant sects5 and of the huge majority of Irish Catholics.
The attempt, under the leadership of the moderate and ultimately Crown-loyal Henry Grattan failed, through a mixture of sectarianism, fear of being eventually dispossessed of their stolen lands – and outright Crown bribery. The most determined of the Protestant patriots then turned to revolution and led the United Irishmen in the uprisings of 1798 and 1803, with a credo of unity for an independent and republican Ireland, regardless of religion6.
CREATION OF THE ORANGE ORDER
But the British ruling elite saw which way the wind was blowing, foreboding its overthrow in Ireland if its garrison population joined with the majority and, as well as making military and spying preparations, the British took important ideological and social action.
Created in 1795 as what might be seen today as a kind of independent Ku Klux Klan organisation to keep down the ‘uppitty native niggers’7, the Orange Order quickly became (as the Klan did in some areas too) a police force on its own dissidents. And, as the Klan enjoyed the tacit support of the patrician Southern US elite, the Orange Order has been supported by the settler elite in Ireland from its inception. This was formalised with the Order’s central control over all previously independent lodges in 1798, the year of the first United Irish uprising.
After the defeat of the United Irish uprisings, the Order became an active persecutor of any sign of resistance not only among the native Irish majority, the Catholics but also – and in some areas chiefly – a hunting down of any signs of Protestant allegiance to the United Irish or other ‘suspect’ behavour such as tolerance of Catholics. Those Protestant followers of “Unitedism” that did not emigrate to the USA and Canada had to keep their heads down or face the consequences, as did Roddy McCorley, hanged on Toombridge in Co. Antrim on 28th February 1800.
REACTIONARY IN INSPIRATION AND TRADITION
The Orange Order drew its colour and other visual paraphernalia in association with William of Orange (1650 – 1702), who was crowned King William III by the British Parliament, the forces of which, along with his own Dutch ones, he led in the British civil war against those of King James II of England and the latter’s Irish and French allies. Orange was the colour of the Dutch royal family of Orange-Nasseau and therefore of the royalist party in Holland, in opposition to the republican party there8.
Following his defeat of the Jacobite forces in Ireland William III brought in the Penal Laws, the body of Anglican supremacy and anti-Catholic legislation which were to survive in greater or lesser form from 1695 to 1829.
Loyalists celebrate annually with sectarian triumphalist parades in the Six Counties the victory of the Williamite forces at the Battle of the Boyne on July 12th 16909. Loyalists imagine the Boyne victory was of the Protestant religion over Catholic “Papism”, unaware that the victory was celebrated by special mass in the Vatican and in some other Catholic cities. The Jacobite war in Ireland was part of the Nine Years’ War in Europe and forces of Protestant principalities and kingdoms could be found on either side, as could those of Catholic persuasion.
Their unequivocal message to their non-unionist neighbours is “This is our place, not yours. If you want to live here, accept what we give you and keep your heads down.” This fostered sectarianism has penetrated even trade unions, ensuring that wages and social conditions in the Six Counties have been the worst in the whole of the UK.
WHY THE LOYALIST MOCKERY OF THIS MURDER?
The video which directed such recent public attention on the behaviour of some Loyalists was of a song sung communally in which the lyrics mocked the murder of Michaela McAreavey who apparently surprised a thief in her Mauritius hotel room on 11th May. Probably not a single person celebrating that murder knew the woman or had any reason to hate her for anything she had done. What they knew was that she was the daughter of Micky Harte and that he was the manager of the Tyrone County Gaelic Football team10. Gaelic football11 is an Irish traditional sport and, since Loyalists eschew anything knowingly Gaelic, Harte is also probably of Catholic background; therefore almost certainly would have been his daughter Michaela too. Incredible though it may seem to many, that was enough to inspire that outpouring of hatred – a hatred that is always and has always been there in Loyalism.
It seems clear that the song, the lyrics with which much of the audience in the video seem familiar, was sung in the Orange Hall in Dundonald12, Co. Down which, like Tyrone, is one of the Six Counties currently forming the British colony in Ireland.
According to media reports, “a spokesman for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland criticised the video and also confirmed that an investigation would now take place.“The video currently circulating on social media relating to the murder of Michaela McAreavey is utterly abhorrent and the Orange Institution condemns the content without reservation,” a statement read.“The behaviour of those involved and their actions have no place in our society and certainly do not reflect the ethos of our organisation.”
On the contrary, as people who live in or near areas where the Orange Order holds sway will know, the behaviour exactly “reflects the ethos of the organisation” and of the general ideology of Loyalism.
The central ideology of the Orange Order has always been not only a phobic hatred of Catholics but also of anything that might smell of egalitarianism, equality or progressive social ideas. It and its adherents for generations have held triumphalist sectarian marches deliberately routed to march through predominantly Catholic residential areas and past Catholic churches, these marches escorted by the sectarian colonial gendarmerie13, often forced through against local opposition.
For decades, the Orange Order and Loyalism in general opposed equal treatment and civil rights for Catholics in terms of employment, housing, franchise, education and law. That breeding ground gave rise to the Loyalist terror murder squads, operating for decades in conjunction with colonial police and British Army14.
True to its reactionary origins, the Orange Order and Loyalism in general have a strong emotional attachment to British Royalty and to an ethos of British Empire and colonialism. But Loyalism has also opposed all progressive social innovations and legislation, even those emanating from its supposedly ideological homeland, the rest of the UK and, in many cases delayed its implementation in the colony for years15.
Loyalism has been a sectarian influence in the game of soccer not only in Ireland but in Britain, with a triple alliance of sectarianism and racism between fans of football clubs Linfield, Rangers and Chelsea.16 The racism and reactionary ideology of “Hillbillies17” in the USA are also attributed to origins in Irish Loyalism.
Loyalism has also been characterised by racist attitudes and attacks on ethnic minorities in parts of the Six Counties independently of religion. Loyalism lines up to oppose anything they feel that is supported by the hated “taigues” or “Fenians” (their codewords for Catholics), for e.g Palestinians, Basque nationalists, inquiries into killings by the British Army ….
Despite the scrambling of Unionism – the Orange Order, politicians, Linfield FC management — to disassociate itself from the disgusting exhibition of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic hatred expressed in their ‘humorous’ mocking of the murder of a young woman, the song and video were a completely cogent expression of Loyalism, the social prop of Unionism. They were a true reflection of the history and underlying ethos of the Orange Order and of the sectarian statelet created by the British ruling class as a garrison and permanent foothold in Ireland.
1Later one can talk of British colonialism and imperialism but in the beginning it was the English feudal and financier classes that set out to conquer their neighbours in Britain and across the sea in Ireland. The Crown was always primarily the English Crown, even when it became also formally that of Scotland and, later, of Ireland.
2i.e not even two centuries after the Norman invasion in 1169.
3The area of administration of the occupation, originally a fortified area with Dublin Castle at its centre.
4One can still see the pattern of settler towns with the buildings constructed around a square or “diamond” becoming easily converted into the walls of a fort, the main roads leading in and out fairly easily barricaded even with carts and waggons. Native Irish towns had no such construction, often running along a street or gathered around a crossroads, river bank, port etc.
5In particular the Presbyterians but also Methodists, Unitarians, “Quakers” (Society of Friends) and others.
6The unity of “Protestant (i.e Anglican), Catholic and Dissenter”.
7“Uppitty niggers” was a racist white term in the USA to describe Americans of African descent who were unwilling to be treated as second-class citizens or even worse. For such people to become thought of as “uppitty” frequently meant a range of punishments that included beating, jail and lynching. The Ku Klux Klan is a white Protestant supremacist and extremely right-wing organisation in the USA, formed after the defeat of the Confederacy and understood as having three distinct phases, the last one being also current. Despite a history of using extreme violence, it is not banned in the USA.
10 Mickey Harte (born 1952) is a Gaelic football manager from County Tyrone, Ireland who currently manages the Louth county team, having managed the Tyrone county team from 2002 and, at his resignation in 2020, was the longest-serving manager then active with the same team in inter-county competition.
11Gaelic football is one of four traditional sports regulated by the Gaelic Athletic Association/ Cumann Lúthchleas na hÉireann, with 2,200 clubs spread over all of Ireland and, with high community involvement is the largest amateur sporting association in the world
13Armed police force, formerly the Royal Irish Constabulary, later the Royal Ulster Constabulary, currently “Police Force of Northern Ireland.”
14See for example Lethal Allies – British collusion in Ireland (2013) by Anne Cadwaller. Loyalists killed the most people in one day during the 30 years’ war with the Dublin & Monaghan Bombings, 17 May 1974. Despite their self-promotion as fighters against the IRA, nearly all of their victims have been unarmed civilians, often randomly-chosen in Catholic residential areas.
15For example, the 1967 Sexual Offences Act only applied to England and Wales – it was resisted in Scotland and the Six Counties colony. Decriminalisation reached Scotland in 1980 and, after a complaint to the European Court of Justice and a judgement against the statelet in 1981, homosexuality in private was finally decriminalised in the Six Counties the following year – 15 years after its original decriminalisation in England. Similarly with lesbian and gay rights to civil marriage, introduced in England and Wales in 2013; in Scotland in 2014 but couples in the Six Counties had to wait until 2020, seven years after its introduction in England.
16Linfield FC is based in south Belfast in the British colony, Rangers FC in Glasgow and Chelsea FC in SW London. But there are also sectarian divisions among fans such as those of Rangers/ Celtic to be found also in Edinburgh between and Hibernian and Hearts (Midlothian) clubs and even between Everton and Liverpool as well as Manchester City and Manchester United.
17As in “Billies”, i.e followers of King Billy (William of Orange) who are living in the hills.
In an article by Virginia Harrison on May 16th, in a context of praising the resistance of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol and in which she stated that the Azov Regiment had in the past (italics mine) had “nationalist far-right affiliations” (as distinct from fascist), she went on to state the following: “The regiment …………….. was a militia formed to fight the Russians after the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 but has become a unit of the Ukrainian national guard.”
Apart from failing to inform readers when and how the Azov allegedly dropped their “far-right affiliations”, the Guardian journalist is claiming the unit was formed to resist a Russian “invasion of Ukraine in 2014”!
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, 2022. The armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine began in 2014, i.e eight years before the Russian invasion. Prior to the time of the Russian invasion in early 2022, over 14,000 people had already been killed in the conflict.
It was not Russia that began that conflict but the Ukrainian far-Right and fascist forces supported by a section of the Ukrainian oligarchy after it had overthrown another section in the “Maidan Revolution” (sic) in February 2014. Those forces began to impose a fascist and racist agenda, attacking LGBT people, left trade unionists, Roma, Greek Russian minorities and Russian-speakers in general. The new Ukrainian Government also removed any official status or support for Russian – even as a regional language — although the language is spoken by 29.5% of the population, or approximately one for every two speakers of Ukrainian1.
In response to the official and unofficial attacks of the Ukrainian Right, the residents of the Crimea held a referendum on 16th February 2014 in which 90% voted for secession and for incorporation into Russia, which in turn formally annexed the Crimea two days later on the 18th.
At the same time, Russian-speakers began to organise themselves for defence in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, heavily industrialised regions also known collectively as the Donbas. For eight years before the Russian invasion, Ukrainian government forces including in particular the fascist Azov Battalion, now incorporated into the Ukranian National Guard attacked the Russian-speakers who, in the course of this declared their intention to secede from the Ukraine and asked for support from Russia. A number of fierce battles in 2014-2015 ended with one third of the regions’ territory, its most urbanised part, occupied by two statelets calling themselves the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
During this period Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany signed several versions of the Minsk agreements, which eventually stopped troop advances and reduced fighting significantly. But the Ukraine government never implemented the agreements and the governments of France and Germany failed to push for implementation from the new NATO-supported Ukrainian government.
The fighting became a trench war, with roughly 75,000 troops facing each other off along a 420-km-long front line cutting through densely populated areas. The territory became one of the world’s most landmine-contaminated areas, its heavy industry and economy ruined, destroyed many houses and public buildings and infrastructure and caused the relocation of millions. All of which occurred before any Russian invasion.
WHAT THE GUARDIAN PRETENDS
The newspaper, while asking us to “Support the Guardian”, stated:
“The truth, they say, is the first casualty of war. With correspondents on the ground in Ukraine covering the war, as well as throughout the world, the Guardian is well placed to provide the honest, factual reporting that readers will need to understand this perilous moment for Europe, the former Soviet Union and the entire world. Free from commercial or political influence, we can report fearlessly on global events and challenge those in power.
“We believe everyone deserves equal access to accurate news. Support from our readers enables us to keep our journalism open and free for everyone, including in Russia and Ukraine.
“Support the Guardian from as little as €1 – it only takes a minute. Thank you.”
In its mission statement, The Guardian continues:
“Of course, in a serious age, the appetite for thoughtful, clever features beyond the news is possibly greater than ever. Our readers want to be nourished – by meaningful journalism about technology, economics, science, the arts – not fattened up with junk. They want useful, enjoyable reporting on how we live now, spotting trends, catching the mood, understanding what people are talking about – life-affirming, inspiring, challenging. We can be fun, and we must be funny, but it must always have a point, laughing with our audience, never at them. Their attention is not a commodity to be exploited and sold. ……………………
“We will give people the facts, because they want and need information they can trust, and we will stick to the facts. We will find things out, reveal new information and challenge the powerful. This is the foundation of what we do. As trust in the media declines in a combustible political moment, people around the world come to the Guardian in greater numbers than ever before, because they know us to be rigorous and fair. If we once emphasised the revolutionary idea that “comment is free”, today our priority is to ensure that “facts are sacred”. Our ownership structure means we are entirely independent and free from political and commercial influence. Only our values will determine the stories we choose to cover – relentlessly and courageously.”2
Great words, Katherine Viner, Editor-in-Chief – a pity that despite some good journalists on the staff and as correspondents, the Guardian regularly falls short of its own proclaimed ideals. Falsifying history, biased war reporting and obscuring fascist affiliations hardly matches your high moral tone.
12001 Census, quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Ukraine Also from the same source: “An August 2011 poll by Razumkov Centre showed that 53.3% of the respondents use the Ukrainian language in everyday life, while 44.5% use Russian. In a May 2012 poll by RATING, 50% of respondents considered Ukrainian their native language, 29% Russian, 20% consider both Ukrainian and Russian their mother tongue and 1% considered a different language their native language.”
2Katherine Viner, November 2017: “In a turbulent era, the media must define its values and principles” etc.
On Wednesday (May 11th), a Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli military with one shot to the head. At the time of her murder, she was wearing conflict protective clothing clearly marked “PRESS” but the bullet entered her head under the helmet. Ms. Abu Akleh’s murder has caused outrage around the world, which has been intensified by the Israeli military’s attack on mourners, even on the bearers of her coffin (one of whom has since died) and their attempt to blame the Palestinian resistance for killing the journalist.
WHY THE OUTRAGE THIS TIME, ABOUT THIS JOURNALIST?
Ms. Abu Akleh was a journalist of nearly 25 years’ experience, employed since 1997 by the Qhatari-based news agency Al Jazeera and her reports were familiar to millions in the Arab and wider Muslim world. She was with other journalists, one of whom was also shot but wounded in the back and is expected to recover, covering an Israeli Army raid into the refugee camp in Jenin in Palestine. Both Al Jazeera and Associated Press agencies insisted that the shooters were Israeli military and mapping on-the-spot investigation has discredited the Israeli version firstly that the killer was a Palestinian fighter and then latterly, that it might have been.
“This is one person,” remarked a commentator, “ but hundreds are being killed in the Ukraine war!” Another commented that the Russians have shot journalists in the Ukraine.
Thousands and millions and thousands of millions of people are killed in wars and as a result of wars. Yes and in a way their very numbers makes that difficult to grasp. In the war in the Ukraine before the Russian invasion, 14,000 is the number of estimated dead. Since the invasion, 9,599–24,5991 civilians have been killed, such a wide disparity in estimates a reflection that the conflict is still ongoing and also of the propaganda battle being fought over almost every aspect of the conflict.
In Palestine, the conflict death toll began mostly from 1936 and rose to unknown numbers of Palestinians (due the huge expulsions and fleeing terror) in 1948 when the state of Israel was created, and between 2008 and 2020 alone the death toll is estimated at 5,8502, not counting of course this year and last, with another three added since Sunday, including Abu Akleh. The overall figure of Palestinian civilians killed between 1936 and 2020, with huge gaps where the numbers are unknown, is 2,816,410.3
All three of the latest of Israel’s victims (unless they’ve killed more before I finish writing and editing) were unarmed civilians. Unarmed civilians are the group most likely to be killed in war (10 million in WWI; 50–55 million in WWII, whilst 2,000,000 civilians is the estimate for the Vietnam War). Even though the killing of civilians is an automatic result of war, there are all kind of laws and conventions agreed by most states, including major warlike ones, against the deliberate killing of civilians. But it does seem as though some states have carte blanche in that regard, international law or not.
For many people, every killing of a Palestinian announced adds to that ongoing toll by Israel, year after year for nearly eight decades. That’s one important significance of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh – she comes to personalise, to give a face to the millions of victims of Israeli Zionism.
Another significance of this murder is that Abu Akleh is the most recent of at least 45 journalists killed by Israeli military since 2000 – that’s more than two per year. The UNESCO Observatory lists 22 journalists killed by Israeli military since 2002 and the case remains “unresolved” in 19 of Israel’s judicial investigation — with no investigation at all listed in two of them.
Raising the issue of Russian armed forces’ alleged deliberate killing of civilians and of reporters, whether true or not, just does not compare. The allegations might be true, of course — an invading army is likely to encounter opposition in the course of which some of its personnel may kill civilians by intention and without justification. Indeed, armies before now have killed even those of their own country, their own ethnic group. In the currently relentless onslaught of western commentary, often quoting Ukrainian or NATO sources without question, along with the banning of much alternative comment, it is — and will continue to be for some time – difficult to say which is true and which is not. But the two conflicts do not compare, neither in scale nor in length of existence, nor does the death toll of civilians including reporters.
When Russia invaded the Ukraine, anybody who raised the issue of Palestine with regard to the other conflict, e.g “what about the US/NATO support for Israel?” was accused of ‘whataboutery’. ‘Whataboutery’ is thought of as a device to distract from confronting the actual issues initially under discussion by introducing another different or tangential one.
Of course, people do such things and rational discussion is frequently undermined and even shattered by such practice. But, in this case, when US/NATO was saying that it was supporting the post-Maidan Ukrainian regime for reasons of democracy and self-determination, was it justified to point out its record of war and invasion in the Middle East and its support of Israeli Zionist aggression? It seems clear to me that it was but that would not in itself be proof that the Ukrainian regime was wrong. Was it right to point to the regime’s attacks on Russian-speakers and in particular on the Crimea and Donbas regions? It seems to me that it was, in that gave context to secessionist feeling in those areas to which the Russian regime could well want to give military support, whether that were for protection of ethnic kindred or for its own selfish reasons.
None of that “whataboutery” takes away from the tragedy of war in the Ukraine, of course not, but it is valid in considering motivation, given that the US, the leading power in NATO, is also the biggest supporter of the Zionist state and that the EU is not far behind. Palestine exposed that whatever the rights and wrongs in the conflict, NATO and the EU’s motives were not about justice and peace.
When international sporting and cultural organisations of the western capitalist world began to ban Russian teams and individuals from participation, were people justified in saying “Hey, what about Israel?” Surely they were, for that ongoing struggle in which Palestinian land has been ripped from the hands of its people, in which the latter are daily oppressed and from time to time massacred, in which they suffer military occupation, daily discrimination, ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid – have they not been calling for decades for banning and boycotting Israeli and its sporting teams? And what was the response? They they were bringing politics into sport! And those who did show their solidarity in sports competitions were often penalised for doing so.
When states began to apply economic sanctions to Russia and to Russian individuals, were Palestinians and their supporters not justified in crying out “Hey, what about Israel?” Of course they were.
The strange thing is that those who accused others of “whataboutery” in the past for raising the issue of Palestine in the context of the war in the Ukraine have now begun to cry “what about the Ukraine?” in the context of the international outrage about the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. Former critics of ‘whataboutery’ have themselves become ‘whatabouters’ now – and without even the shadow of the justification of their accused predecessors.
It’s worth asking what we mean by “international” in the case of the outrage over the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. That “international” includes a large part of the Arab world. It includes a large part of the non-Arab but Muslim word4. It includes a large part of the non-Arab, non-Muslim world in western Europe and in the USA and in many other parts too. Certainly the Irish public in general has empathised with the Palestinians for decades.5
But it does not include what the western media mean when they use the words “the international community” – the outrage does not encompass the ruling classes of the Western European countries, much less of the USA, nor even the ruling classes of much of the Arab and Muslim world. In this they are being to a degree, honest. Because those ruling classes have either supported the Israeli Zionists directly, or have supported the USA which keeps Israel alive. Only seven elected representatives of the USA’s Democratic Party – out of the 225 it has in the US Congress, quickly expressed condemnation of the killing and called for a quick and independent investigation. Not one of the 210 Republicans expressed condemnation at the time – even though Shireen Abu Akleh was a citizen of the USA!
Leaders of a few countries expressed regret but could not bring themselves to even say that she had been killed by the Israeli military. The authorities in Berlin banned an attempt to hold a vigil over the death of the Palestinian journalist, including it in their ban on any Palestinian solidarity events at this time of year, when people commemorate the Palestinian ‘Nakba’. That is what Palestinians call the ‘Catastrophe’ that resulted from the seizure of Palestine by the Israeli Zionists, the creation of its state and the mass expulsion of Palestinians.
It is worth noting too that the media we are reading, which at first either ignored this murder, downplayed it or repeated the Israeli lies that Shireen Abu Akleh had been shot, not by Israeli military but by Palestinian resistance fighters, is compiled by journalists too. On the one hand this points to the severe loss to the world when a journalist who exposes injustice is killed (or persecuted and jailed for extradition to another country, as in the case of Julian Assange). On the other, it points to what a large contingent of hired liars and prevaricators is included among the ranks of journalists, that they cannot even stand up for the truth and protest the murder of one of their own occupation or trade.
And it teaches us how much our sources of information are mediated and manipulated by the national and corporative news media. Years ago we were being told that social media would free us from their manipulation or at least provide a viable alternative – independent news and commentary sources would flourish and we could be our own media. Yet the bans and exclusions put in place by Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and governments have shown us what an illusion all that was – in terms of information, we are generally even more controlled and manipulated now than we were before the advent of social media.
Hopefully, those who did not know this already will have learned, both from the coverage of the war in Ukraine and from the murder of this journalist. Those who thought that there was any justice in Israel or generally in the western governments towards the Palestinians, will hopefully have been disabused of that illusion too. Shireen Abu Akleh cannot be brought back to life nor can she be replaced. What we can do is strive to pull down that State that killed her and to knock away all its props around the world.
4Because a great many non-Arab Muslims sympathise with the Palestinians, who mostly ascribe to the faith of Islam and to Muslim culture. However, some Palestinians are Christian, some of Jewish (in the sense that a minority of the population of Palestine was Jewish for decades before the Israeli Zionist occupation) and some of no religion. Shireen Abu Akleh was baptised a Christian; her funeral service was held in a Catholic church and her remains were taken to a Protestant cemetery.
5The Irish cannot fail but be struck too by some parallels with the British occupation of Ireland – the impunity of the Zionist occupiers, for example and the attempt firstly to blame the resistance for those killed by the British Army, followed by a fog of conjecture and holding their own inquiry; the attack on mourners, the seizing of the national flag and attacking people for displaying it (the display of the flag was officially illegal under Israeli law in 1967 and unbanned in 1993 but as seen, is still often objected to by Israeli police).
Far from the battleground which drew their separate loyalties, on Sunday (8th) an area of the Basque city of Bilbao became for a short while another battleground as pro-Palistinians and supporters of the Israeli basketball team Hapoel U-NET Holon clashed. The confrontation gave no indication of having being organised as such but many accounts from the Basque side spoke of days of anti-Palestinian actions and provocations — including an assault on a Palestinian woman — without any police intervention.
The Israeli basketball team was taking part for the first time in a four-team basketball championship, the “Big Four Finals”, the other three being MHP Ludwigsburg (Germany), Lenovo Tenerife (Canaries, Spanish State) and Baxi Manresa (Catalonia, Spanish State).1
Although the Hapoel supporters (around 80 according to one report and 200 according to others) had received some jeers when walking through the city during the weekend, their numbers had faced no organised resistance to tearing down pro-Palestinian posters and signs. The main physical clash arose on Sunday after some Zionists on their way to the basketball arena tore a Palestinian flag from the front of a small bar in the old section of the city and set fire to it. The customers in the bar responded vigorously and the battle played out in that general area until the arrival of the Ertzaintza, the Basque southwest regional police force.
Short report from Bilbao Hiria (my translation from Castillian original):
As usual in these cases, the social networks were the ones that began reporting the violent behaviour of the Hapoel Holon ultras. For two days the media remained complicit in silence until the altercations went viral and they had to start up the story manipulation machinery.
Most of the media dealing with the subject have equated the aggressors and the attacked, presenting it as fights between fans, but perhaps the worst case is that of El Correo, which turned the situation around by calling the Bilbao population “pro-Palestinian terrorists” whom it accuses of having harassed and attacked the peaceful Israeli “fans” since they arrived in the city and of setting them up in “an ambush” that was the cause of the altercations on Sunday.
It is interesting to see the treatment of the media depending on who causes the disturbances. When they happen in a demonstration or a strike, they make sure to make known how much the destruction costs each citizen, because there is nothing more evil than wanting to fight for your rights. But, on the other hand, breaking street furniture because any team loses or wins a game is the height of democracy.
THE PEOPLE UNITED… Once again it was the people’s organization that faced the attacks, that protected the establishments and denounced the impunity of the Zionist ultras. The response was quick and for Sunday afternoon they organized a rally to show rejection of what happened. Interestingly, it was the only time that the Ertzaintza made an appearance and identified some attendees, arresting two (who have since been released).
As mentioned above, earlier on the Sunday, a Basque antifascist platform, Sare Antifaxista, had convened a demonstration in what may be considered the central area of Bilbao north of the river, the Unamuno square. The demonstration was organised under pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist slogans and, as stated above, here the Ertzaintza did intervene, detaining two pro-Palestinians and recording them on their database before setting them free later. Among the slogans shouted as they began to march was “Israel is a terrorist state” (in Basque).
The Haupol fans had either passed by or avoided that demonstration before, less than 10 minutes walking distance away from Unamuno, they crossed the Nervión river on the San Anton bridge on their way to the arena. In doing so, they had to pass a small Basque bar just on the very south side where a Palestinian flag was hung over the entrance.
Soon a group of Zionists rushed the bar, tore the flag down and set fire to it with a flare. There were only 15 customers inside or on the terrace but they responded quickly and bottles and even furniture began to fly at the Zionists (possibly the Hapoel fan reported hit on the head with a chair received his injuries here). The Zionists picked up tables, chairs and parasols too to launch at the bar, smashing window glass there and on the next-door entrance to an apartment building.
There are many migrants living in that area known in Basque and Spanish as “Bilbao the Old” and they began to arrive to assist the customers of the Basque pub, at which point the Ertzaintza also arrived and shepherded the Israeli fans towards the arena and afterwards, in two groups to their accommodation in the city2. The police reported no arrests or recording of identities arising from that battle and one Hapoel supporter required medical attention after being hit over the head with a chair.
That very day, the Israeli Occupation Forces shot dead a Palestinian for the crime of trying to pass through from the Jordan side.
THE MEDIA, THAT BAR AND THE BASQUE POPULATION
Although Bilbao social media had been buzzing with reports of Zionist provocation for two days, the mainstream media did not pick up on it until the battle at the bridge end. True to form the mainstream media either tried to represent both sides as equally at fault or, as with the case of a reporter for the right-wing El Correo3 – and ‘right-wing’ in the Spanish state usually means descended from fascist Franco supporters during the Civil War – to cast the Zionists as the unfortunate victims. It was she who alleged specifically anti-semitic insults had been thrown at the fans which though not impossible, would certainly be unusual in Bilbao. It is the fascist groups in the Spanish state (including in the Basque Country) who have a history of anti-semitism as did the fascist Falange, who fought alongside Franco’s forces in the coup against the Popular Front Government in 1936.
The Abertzale4 Left has always been socialistically-inclined, anti-fascist and anti-racist and the first planned victim of the armed Basque group ETA was Melitón Manzanas, chief of the political police division of the Guardia Civil in Donosti/ San Sebastian in 1968, a man with a record of torturing detainees but also of hunting down Jews escaping through France and handing them over to the Gestapo.
The Naiz.eus5 website had no report on the incident but its Facebook page carried a photo of the burning of the Palestinian flag by Zionists and a report which, however, did not mention the Palestinian solidarity demonstration (perhaps because its own movement had not organised it). It appears to have been the only publication to also draw attention to the shooting dead of a Palestinian by the Israelis that very day.
El Debate went even furthering misrepresentation than El Correo through the former’s manipulated video of interviews with two people. The first, a youth and alleged eye-witness, gave an account blaming “around ten youth shouting in Basque” for being the cause of the event with only an unclear reference to a flag-burning. His testimony in foreign-accented Castilian is so at variance with so many other accounts that one is inclined to take him as a plant, either by Zionists or anti-Basque popular movement interests. The other testimony, from an elderly lady, a resident next door, is sweeping in its condemnation – but of whom? She refers to a peaceful bar and people on the patio – including with children – before the clash; after the youth’s testimony one is led to believe that she is condemning those “Basque youth”. Hardly, from information received here she is in fact the owner of the bar’s mother and also much video footage shared on social media had been shot from above in her very building.6
That particular bar at the centre of the battle is right by the southern end of the bridge, very small, not much more than a passageway from door to toilet with a bar on the way but also containing a patio outside with tables and chairs of the light aluminium or plastic type. The clientele is varied in age profile from 20s right through to 50s and 60s, generally Left and pro-Basque independence — and I have never seen it empty (unlike the much bigger and well-lit nearby Taberna of the Abertzale Left which also has a patio).
If the Palestinian flag was not permanently attached7, the management or patrons may well have intended to make a point on that day. They could hardly have expected the reaction however but despite their gross disparity in numbers responded vigorously.
The final results of the Anton Bridge match ended in a draw with only one injury to a Zionist, thanks to the intervention of the very biased ‘referees’, the Ertzaintza (who also took down two players’ names from only one side). There was no extra time played. However the match will be long remembered with effect no doubt the next time any Israeli Zionist team brings its fans to Bilbao.
For those interested in the result of the other match, Lenovo knocked Hapoel out of the competition at a final score of 78-71.
1Apparently these are unwilling to support the boycott of Israel but like many others will no doubt flock to support the boycott of Russian teams declared by the International Basketball Federation, among a boycott of Russian competitors from participation in at least 27 international competitions ranging from canoeing and chess to paralympics and pentathlon.
2According to one report, that required an Ertzaintza commander speaking to them in English (a rare event in that police force, surely).
3The Courier, right-wing Basque Catholic newspaper closed down in 1936 by the Popular Front government, resuscitated under the Franco dictatorship and true to its pedigree since.
4Izquierda Abertzale, literally “Patriotic Left”, a broad movement (but centrally-led) of political party, daily newspaper, trade union, social centres and pubs (and formerly also armed organisation ETA). For generations it dominated the general Basque patriotic movement but for decades now has been losing support as its embracing of a non-existent “peace process” failed to end even the dispersal of its hundreds of political prisoners throughout the French and Spanish states, to say nothing of gaining their release under amnesty. There are also anarchists and other groups outside the formal Izquierda Abertzale, including some formed by its former members.
5Online representations of the Abertzale Left’s daily newspaper GARA.
6When the filming was being made, the bar was shut and the area deserted. One suspects the youth was there by arrangement with the reporters, whereas the elderly lady was videoed leaving the premises next door. Her recorded interview may well have been edited to remove clarification of the target of her denunciations; even if she had not made it clear herself it seems unlikely that she would not have been asked to clarify whom she was blaming. According to Wikipedia, the Spanish newspaper El Debate was a right-wing Catholic-conservative newspaper that, like El Correo, ceased publication in 1936 (year of the election of the Popular Front Government followed by the military-fascist uprising). However, an online search turns up the current newspaper’s own website, claiming its foundation in 1910 – the same year as that of its right-wing namesake and a quick review of even its headlines reveals its very right-wing and unionist editorial attitude. With the media with which it is provided it is hard to blame the average Spanish citizen for ignorance or bigotry.
7It was not so in years past but having not been there in two years can’t say whether prior to that day it had been.
Forensic doctors discover fléchettes – rarely used in modern warfare – in bodies found in mass graves in Bucha, “The Guardian” reported.
Dozens of civilians who allegedly died during presence of the Russian army at the Ukrainian city of Bucha were killed by tiny metal arrows from shells of a type fired by artillery, forensic doctors claimed. Despite the anti-Russian point of view presented in the research, the results show that these were the AFU who shelled civilians in Bucha.
Pathologists and coroners who are carrying out postmortems on bodies found in mass graves in the region north of Kyiv, where Russian forces have been accused of atrocities, said they had found small metal darts, called fléchettes, embedded in people’s heads and chests.
“We found several really thin, nail-like objects in the bodies of men and women and so did others of my colleagues in the region,” Vladyslav Pirovskyi, a Ukrainian forensic doctor, told “The Guardian”. “It is very hard to find those in the body, they are too thin. The majority of these bodies come from the Bucha-Irpin region.”
Independent weapons experts who reviewed pictures of the metal arrows found in the bodies confirmed that they were fléchettes, an anti-personnel weapon widely used during the first world war.
These small metal darts are contained in tank or field gun shells. Each shell can contain up to 8,000 fléchettes. Once fired, shells burst when a timed fuse detonates and explodes above the ground.
Fléchettes, typically between 3cm and 4cm in length, release from the shell and disperse in a conical arch about 300m wide and 100m long. On impact with a victim’s body, the dart can lose rigidity, bending into a hook, while the arrow’s rear, made of four fins, often breaks away causing a second wound.
Although human rights groups have long sought a ban on fléchette shells, the munitions are not prohibited under international law. However, the use of imprecise lethal weapons in densely populated civilian areas is a violation of humanitarian law.
“According to a number of witnesses in Bucha, fléchette rounds were fired by artillery a few days before Russian forces withdrew from the area at the end of March”, – “The Guardian” reported.
According to Neil Gibson, a weapons expert at the UK-based Fenix Insight group, who has reviewed the photos of the fléchettes found in Bucha, the metal darts came from a 122mm ZSh1 artillery round. It fits the D-30 howitzers, which is in service with both Russia and Ukraine.
“Another uncommon and rarely seen projectile,” said Gibson on Twitter. “This time it’s the equivalent of the US ‘Beehive’ series of Anti-personnel (APERS) projectiles … It operates like a true shrapnel projectile, but is filled with fléchettes and a wax binder.”
The same fléchettes were used by the AFU in 2014 in the LPR:
Fléchettes have been used as ballistic weapons since the first world war. Dropped by the then-novel airplanes to attack infantry, the lethal metal darts were able to pierce helmets. They were not widely used during the second world war, but re-emerged in the Vietnam war, when the US employed a version of fléchette loads, packed into plastic cups.
“Fléchettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers,” according to Amnesty International. “They should never be used in built-up civilian areas.”
A team of 18 experts from the forensic department of France’s national gendarmerie, alongside a team of forensic investigators from Kyiv, have started documenting the situation after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Bucha.
“We are seeing a lot mutilated (disfigured) bodies,” said Pirovsky. “A lot of them had their hands tied behind their backs and shots in the back of their heads. There were also cases with automatic gunfire, like six to eight holes on the back of victims. And we have several cases of cluster bombs’ elements embedded in the bodies of the victims.”
Evidence collected by experts during a visit to Bucha, Hostomel and Borodianka, and reviewed by independent weapons experts, showed that cluster munitions and powerful unguided bombs were used in the region. They killed a large number of civilians and destroyed at least eight buildings. These types of weapons are banned by the majority of countries worldwide.
Talking about artillery shelling, this rules out any version that interprets the events in Bucha as “premeditated genocide of peaceful Ukrainians”. A lot of evidences, such as the “scattered” position of the corpses, confirmed the contradiction.
As soon as the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed the decision to withdraw from the Kiev and Chernihiv regions, the AFU heavily shelled Russian positions in the towns in the Kiev region with artillery. The investigation confirmed that civilians were killed as a result of artillery shelling. The flechettes could be used both by the Russian and Ukrainian artillery. Russian forces deployed in Bucha could not shell on their own positions. Thus, the civilians were killed during the clashes by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
(From Southfront.org — FB prevented me from sharing the post direct or even highlighting the text and pasting into my FB page).
The question of bodies with hands tied behind backs remains an open one but there are at least two possibilities: the Russian military did it or the Ukrainian military did. Bear in mind that the Mayor of Bucha videoed that the Russian military had left and all was ok FOUR DAYS before reports of bodies being found began to be made in the media.
Who knows what reasons they would have had if it were the Russians. If it were the Ukrainians, especially the likes of Azov, they may have seen the victims as collaborators with the Russians. There were reports of bodies with white armbands, which is a sign of neutrality in Russian-occupied areas. Some bodies were also photographed beside Russian food supply containers.
Yes, indeed, we have been. Let us look back over the campaign of misinformation about conflict in Ireland for it has much to teach us about the mass media, about human credulity. We don’t need to go back over 800 years – just to the recent the 30-Year War.
In 1968 a civil rights campaign1 took off in the British Six-County colony in Ireland to include a number of marches and sit-ins, which was regularly met with violence from Loyalist2 mobs and the State. As part of the campaign, in 1969 a march from Belfast to Dublin was organised under the slogan “Civil Rights – North and South”. One of that march’s stops was in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, where the marchers sat at a crossroads and were instantly attacked by the armed British colonial police (then the RUC3, now the PSNI).
Some of the marchers had come from Britain to support the campaign and after being attacked in Lurgan, they bought an English newspaper to see whether the incident had been reported. An occurrence in the town had been reported alright but not what had occurred – the report told their readers that a fight between Catholics and Protestants had been broken up by the RUC, keeping the two sides apart. “There wasn’t a Protestant in sight,” commented a marcher angrily, “except those in RUC uniform …. or unless he was one of us4.”
Later that year, in August, the RUC killed four civilians, including a child, in the Divis Flats area of Belfast by firing at the area with a machine-gun mounted on an armoured car. Their claim they were returning fire from the area was widely refuted by local people but repeated in the media. The incident was not investigated until decades later when the claims of family and local witnesses were vindicated in an Ombudsman’s report.
The representation of the RUC as a force for peace between two groups in a sectarian conflict was to be a repeated media disinformation line through the ongoing conflict, as the struggle became an armed one — although to a large degree the honest broker ‘peacemaker’ cloak shifted from the colonial police on to the British Army.
British troops were sent in to the colony (by a Labour Government, in case we had illusions) in August 1969 and were initially greeted by many people in the ‘nationalist’5 community as saviours, sent to keep the sectarian RUC and Loyalist mobs (often enough amounting to the same thing) away from them. Most politicians and the media represented them as peace-keepers. For most nationalists the illusions did not last long as the Army turned their guns on them.
Although no British soldier had been killed in the Six Counties by the IRA as yet6, on 3rd July 1970 the British Army invaded the staunchly nationalist area of the Lower Falls and forced their way into homes, saying they were searching for arms. Local youths mobilised and attacked the soldiers with stones and petrol bombs7. The soldiers responded by pumping CS gas into the area and soon gun-battles between the IRA and the British Army broke out.
‘After four hours of continuous clashes, the British commander sealed off the area, which comprised 3,000 homes, and imposed a curfew which would last for 36 hours. Thousands of British troops moved into the curfew zone and carried out house-to-house searches for weapons, while coming under intermittent attack from the IRA and rioters. The searches caused much destruction, and a large amount of CS gas was fired into the area. Many residents complained of suffering abuse at the hands of the soldiers. On 5 July, the curfew was brought to an end when thousands of women and children from Anderstonstown8 marched into the curfew zone with food and other supplies for the locals.
‘During the operation, four civilians were killed by the British Army, at least 78 people were wounded and 337 were arrested. Eighteen soldiers were also wounded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition were (allegedly – DB) captured. The British Army admitted afterwards that some of its soldiers had been involved in looting.’9
At the time, most of the media reported the clashes as unruly elements irrationally attacking the Army who were there to protect them and were only doing their job. However, the opinion of the nationalist community, though ignored by the media had undergone a huge shift and the first serving British soldier (of many to follow) was killed by the IRA the following year.10
Later in 1970, during riots in Derry, the Army shot two men from the nationalist area, Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie, claiming afterwards that they were armed, a claim local people denied. There was no investigation by the authorities, obliging the constitutionalist SDLP11 to withdraw from the colony’s parliament in protest.
On 4th December 1971, an explosion in the Catholic-owned McGurk’s Bar in Belfast killed 15 people and injured 16. Due to the bar’s ownership and location, the most logical attribution would be to Loyalists or British forces. It would be hard to pin it on the IRA – unless it could be said to have been an accidental explosion of an IRA bomb during storage or transportation. That was what the “security forces” came up with, which of course was repeated by the media. An alternative media theory was that in some manner it was a result of a feud between the Official and Provisional IRA. In order to construct that theory, the denials of the IRA had to be discounted12, despite the organisations’ track record of taking public responsibility for its actions.
The explosion had occurred in the pub’s doorway, which would have thrown doubt on the “IRA bomb in transit” story but somehow, the RUC’s forensic examination did not determine that. But even worse, the evidence of an eyewitness had to be dismissed.
‘On 6 December, however, the RUC took a witness statement from an 8-year-old boy. He said that a car had stopped outside the pub with four men inside and “a wee Union Jack stuck in the back window”. He said one left a package in the Great George’s Street doorway and ran back to the car, which sped off just moments before the package exploded. A man and a woman backed up his story, although they did not witness as much as the boy.’13
‘In March 1976 the RUC received intelligence that linked UVF member Robert Campbell and four others to the McGurk’s bombing. Campbell was arrested on 27 July 1977 and held at Castlereagh RUC base. He was interviewed seven times during 27 and 28 July. He admitted his part in the bombing but refused to name the others.Campbell’s story matches that given by the young boy witness.’14
On 29 July 1977, Campbell was charged with the 15 murders and 17 attempted murders and in September 1978 pleaded guilty to all charges (he also had a separate conviction for the murder of a Protestant delivery driver in 1976). He eventually served fifteen years in prison, being released on 9th September 1993.15
Despite the 1978 convictions and even Campbell’s confessions, the “own goal bomb” theory of responsibility lingered and relatives sought for years to have the case properly investigated, some also alleging that the RUC had colluded in helping the killers get away out of the area and in the false atrributions later, possibly even with the intention of setting the two IRA organisations at one another’s throats.
In what has become a depressingly familiar story, the relatives campaigned on in the face of police inaction and media disinterest for years, during which many of the directly-affected died through natural causes, to receive partial vindication at last in an Ombudsman’s report which laid the blame squarely on a Loyalist gang and castigated the RUC for a biased and inadequate investigation. The report was published in February 2011– it had taken the campaigners only 40 years16.
The introduction of internment without trial in August 1971 was, according to the media, a necessary measure to deal with political violence from all sides. Not one Loyalist was arrested that year, or the next and it was not until 1973 that a single Loyalist had been interned, the total by December 1975, when the measure was ended, having been 107 against 1,874 from the Nationalist community.17
The Paratroop Regiment, British Army shocktroops, were sent into the colony that year too18. Between 9th and 11th August in the Belfast area of Ballymurphy, the Paratroopers caused the deaths of 10 men and a woman and wounded many19. The Paratroopers claimed they had been shot at and were returning fire and that all their targets had been “terrorists”20. The media repeated these lies and, if reporters interviewed wounded and other witnesses, their accounts were not published. There was no investigation and, as with the deaths of many victims of RUC and British Army, there was no inquest concluded until decades later (2021 for these victims21).
The nationalist community called a demonstration in Derry for 30th January the following year to protest the massacres and against the introduction of internment. The Paratroopers were there again and they and other British Army soldiers shot down unarmed demonstrators, causing the deaths of 14 and injuring at least another 15. The Army claimed they had been returning fire from Irish Republicans and had shot only gunmen and bombers and on the whole, the media parroted their claims.
The British put their top judge, Lord Chief Justice Widgery, to hold an inquiry and in April that year his verdict upheld the Army’s version and also blamed the organisers of the march. The media of course promoted that verdict too. It was not until the extraordinarilyy long and hugely expensive Bloody Sunday Inquiry set up 1998 22 produced the Saville Report in 2010 that the British officially (and then of course also the media) accepted what all of Derry and much of Ireland already knew, that the Paras had opened fire in a non-threatening situation and selectively targeted and killed unarmed civilians23.
British soldiers shot another five unarmed people dead in the Springhill area of Belfast on July 9th, yet again as in Ballymurphy the previous year, including a priest administering the last rites but this time their tally was also an thirteen-year-old girl24. The original ‘official’ account of the shootings— that those shot were ‘gunmen’ — was almost immediately discredited, and was changed shortly after; the claim then became that those murdered were simply caught in the crossfire. Again the media covered the Army story without investigation or challenge.
In 1988 on Sunday 6th March British SAS soldiers shot dead three unarmed IRA volunteers in Gibraltar. When it was revealed that the three had been unarmed, firstly the media claimed that they had been about to trigger an explosion but some time later the British found the explosives in a car in a Spanish carpark across the border without any electronic link to the dead volunteers. When the British claimed that the Volunteers had made threatening moves, eyewitnessed testified that not only had they been unarmed when shot but had been extra-judicially executed as they lay on the ground with their hands up in surrender position. One of the eye-witnesses was Gibraltar resident Carmen Proetta, who then became a target for British media slurs, even going to the extent of suggesting that she was a sex-worker.
On Monday 7 March all eleven British national daily newspapers reported the story that a bomb had been found. Many gave detailed information about the size (mostly 500 pounds), purpose and type of the bomb as well as how it was defused. The Daily Mail suggested that the bomb might have a ‘video timing device’, while Today and the Independent mentioned ‘remote control’. The Daily Mirror told us that ‘a controlIed explosion failed to set off the bomb’ whilst the Daily Mail added ‘RAF disposal men defused it later’.25
On 28 April 1988, almost two months after the Gibraltar shootings, the ITV television channel defied British Government pressure and threats of legal action to broadcast “Death on the Rock” an episode of its current affairs series This Week, produced by Thames Television, based on investigations of three journalists and many interviews. This led to a ferocious media attack on the documentary, its programers and the IBA, the governing watchdog authority.
‘Over the following weeks, newspapers repeatedly printed stories about the documentary’s witnesses, in particular Carmen Proetta, who gave an account of seeing McCann and Farrell shot without warning by soldiers who arrived in a Gibraltar Police car. Proetta subsequently sued several newspapers for libel and won substantial damages. The Sunday Times conducted its own investigation and reported that “Death on the Rock” had misrepresented the views of its witnesses; those involved later complained to other newspapers that The Sunday Times had distorted their comments.’26
A great number of situations arose during the 30 Years War in the British colony that were either unreported or misrepresented by the mass media, including “confessions” obtained through torture, RUC and British Army collusion with Loyalist murder gangs, inhumane treatment of political prisoners, Army shooting of unarmed civilians, extra-judicial executions of Republican Volunteers and blackmailing individuals for information or to carry out agent-provocateur actions.
WITHIN THE IRISH STATE
In 1969 the grave of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown was blown up by Loyalists27 and between 1971 and 1974 there was a series of bombings in Dublin by Loyalists and British Intelligence. The bombing campaign began by aiming at symbolic structures and went on to target civilians which cost the lives of 36 civilians (and a full-term unborn child) and injured around 490, presumably to pressurise the Irish Government into increased repression of Republican paramilitaries.
In January 1971 the O’Connell Tower in Glasnevin Cemetery was damaged (not repaired finally until 2019, 47 years later)28, presumably as an attack on a prominent Irish Catholic29 icon. But in February 1971 the Wolfe Tone30 monument in Stephen’s Green was also blown up, like the blowing up of the grave, an attack on Irish Republicanism and its rebellious Protestant origins31. Bombings now aimed at civilians in Dublin followed and between 26 November 1972 and 20 January 1973, there were four paramilitary bombings in the centre of Dublin, claiming the lives of three public transport workers and injuring 185.
The first suspicion of responsibility for those bombings should naturally have fallen on the Loyalists and perhaps, by extension, on a British intelligence agency. It didn’t though; in the media and political circles, it was projected on to the IRA.
That could not have made logical sense, since such explosions could only have harmed the IRA among the Irish population. However there was another specific reason why it made even less sense, (if possible): in 1972 Leinster House32 was about to debate repressive legislation that would set up special no-jury courts to convict Republicans with the word of a police officer (at the rank of Superintendent or above) sufficient to convict of “membership of an illegal organisation”, with an automatic two-year jail sentence. The proposed legislation was being put forward by Fianna Fáil but Fine Gael and the Labour Party were mustering to vote against it and if they did, the new legislation would fall.
In the midst of the horror about the bombing, the opposition crumbled and the bill went through, against protests of many human and civil rights agencies33; it became law, has sent many people to jail on dubious ‘evidence’ and is in force to this day.
Not only that, but the failure to energetically investigate the 1974 bombing meant that some of the Loyalist perpetrators were free to murder many civilians in the following years – some of the bombers were members of the infamous Glennane Gang, a Loyalist-RUC-British Intelligence group of killers responsible for up to 120 murders of civilians35.
The events in Ireland were of course being felt by the Irish diaspora in England too. Marches, pickets and public meetings protesting the RUC’s repression of marches for civil rights were held in many British cities, as they were against sending the British Army into the Six Counties, introduction of internment without trial and shooting protesters dead. Some groups on the British Left were also attending these events and occasionally organising their own. Irish solidarity was becoming a major issue for anti-imperialist solidarity in Britain and abroad, in addition to being in a sense a major domestic issue in Britain too.
The IRA began to extend Britain’s war to their homeland in a bombing campaign in 1971, at first targeting property. However, in 1974 bombs in two pubs in Birmingham killed 21 people which was difficult to understand but according to an alleged perpetrator, the warning intended by the bombers was frustrated through out-of-order public telephone boxes. The Guildford and Woolwich bombs, aimed at pubs frequented by British soldiers, killed five soldiers and two civilians overall and injured 101 people.
The horror and outrage resulting from that carnage gave the British State the environment in which they could launch a wholesale clampdown on the Irish diaspora. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was rushed through the Westminster Parliament in 1974, specifically targeting the Irish community. The Act empowered the police to raid homes, to hold suspects without access to a solicitor for up to five days and longer on special application and to summarily deport Irish people from Britain – even to their own colony. It also empowered the police to stop and question Irish people without warrant or having to show cause and thousands were stopped and questioned at ports and airports as they travelled from Ireland to Britain or vice versa, sometimes missing their flights or boat as a result. People were questioned on the street too and on Irish solidarity demonstrations.
In that atmosphere, of which the media was the main facilitator in British society, it was fairly easy for the State to frame nearly a score of innocent people on bombing charges and to sentence them to many years in jail on the flimsiest of “evidence”, later to refuse their right to appeal, later still, granting that right but denying the justice of their cases.
Judith Ward was arrested in February 1974, sentenced to life imprisonment plus 30 years in October 1974 and her conviction overturned in May 1992.
The Birmingham Six were arrested in November 1974, sentenced to jail for life in August 1975, their convictions finally overturned in March 1991.
The Guildford Four were arrested in December 1974, sentenced to imprisonment for life in October 1975, their convictions finally overturned in October 1989.
Giuseppe Conlon and the Maguire Six were arrested in December 1974, sentenced to 4, 51, 12 and 14 years in 1976, their convictions overturned in 1991. By that time Vincent and Patrick had already served their sentences and Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, had died in jail.
1Patrick Maguire was only 14 at the time and Vincent only 17.
The UK media in particular played a huge part in setting the atmosphere in which these unjust convictions could take place and in making the struggle of the innocent for justice difficult. Even after their acquittal, some of the media insinuated that they had been guilty and had got free through some kind of legal loopholes.
Could the media have known differently? Yes, certainly, not one of the cases would stand up to reasonable inspection. The Guildford Four were hippies living in a squat, the Birmingham Six were escorting the body of a deceased IRA man to Ireland when the bombs exploded, the Maguires were a Tory-voting woman with teenage children, Giuseppe was only in London to help his son after the latter’s arrest and Judith Ward was mentally ill, homeless and penniless37. Their ‘confessions’, obtained through torture and intimidation38, were admitted as evidence against them, although they all retracted them and declared how they had been obtained. The forensic evidence was faulty and besides recording a false positive and even though the defence team had a forensic expert to refute it during their trial, the Prosecution’s expert was the one accepted.
The February 1977 confession by an IRA unit to the Woolwich and Guildford bombing after their capture in the Balcome Street siege was not accepted, although they were able to give details of the bombing. So tortured and retracted ‘confessions’ were acceptable whereas one voluntarily given was not.
Apart from the logical doubts that should have arisen in even a light examination of the cases, the media also had access to detailed refutation of the case against the Birmingham Six. Although much has been made recently of the investigation of the case by Chris Mullin, the publication of his book Error of Judgment: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings (1985), the research for which went into the earlier 1984 ITV World in Action documentary, a detailed challenge to the convictions had been published much earlier. Only two years after the arrest of the Birmingham Six, Fathers Murray and Faul had published The Birmingham Framework39, which they had sent to British politicians and media agents. In 1982 the Irish in Britain Representation Group40 also publicly called for the freeing of the framed prisoners and continued to do so for every year thereafter. Other organisations such as the Troops Out Movement41 called for their release also and trade union branches began to support such calls.
It suited the State that the British public think the prisoners guilty and the British media played their part in that purpose. In a way, it also suited the State if the Irish community knew the prisoners were innocent since, if even the innocent could be jailed so easily, how could any Irish person be safe except by keeping his or her head down low? Irish solidarity activities declined in occurrence and in numbers attending. With few exceptions, the Irish community in Britain was cowed from 1974 until the Hunger Strikes of 1981 brought them out on the streets again, the terror broken by the spirit of solidarity and outrage.
The above examples are only a selection of situations in Ireland during the period under discussion about which we and the world were misinformed or censored. Throughout the 30 Years’ War so many accusations against the British armed forces, including their armed colonial police, have been ignored or recorded disbelievingly by the media – in particular the British section but within the Irish state also – and repeated by media services abroad, to be picked up by other media …. and so on, and on. And likewise with accusations against British intelligence services and their domestic police force.
Why then are the current claims of the Ukrainian government published through the mass media being accepted without question on every count? Why is everything the Russian government says discounted or ignored without checking? Why are we not concerned at banning of alternative media and censorship of commentators who are not repeating the party line? Why are we not outraged at the agreed delivery of Julian Assange by the UK to the USA on charges of “spying” because he exposed their lies and murderous activities in Iraq and Afghanistan? Given our own experience over 30 years of the UK media’s dismal record of reporting on the conflict in Ireland – and its equally dismal repetition in the western media – why are we now believing without critical examination the western media reporting on the war in the Ukraine?
1The civil rights campaign in the Six Counties was in pursuance of equal rights for the Catholic minority with the Protestant majority there, in the electoral franchise, in housing and employment, along with the repeal of the repressive Special Powers Act.
2‘Loyalists’ is a term describing militants – always of Protestant community background – in various organisations — who insist on remaining within the UK. The first armed actions in the 30 Years War were by Loyalists.
3Although the Royal Ulster Constabulary was created in 1922, when Ireland was partitioned, it was in effect a continuation of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British occupation’s gendarmerie (nation-wide semi-military police force, such as exists in Spain, Turkey, Italy, France, etc) in existence throughout all of Ireland since 1822. Although the personnel of the RIC had been mostly Catholic in background (usually with Protestant senior officers), the RUC was determinedly Protestant from the start, both in its full-time and part-time membership. However, a minority of the civil rights campaigners were also from Protestant backgrounds.
4As part of the control structures in the Six Counties, the authorities had recruited only non-Catholics into the colonial police force, which helped unionist politicians and media represent an attack on the police as a sectarian attack. Though a few Catholics have been recruited since the 1990s and Sinn Féin has been supporting recruitment drives in nationalist areas, the PSNI personnel remain overwhelmingly of Protestant background.
5A convenient term used to describe the large minority community, mostly of Catholic background, mostly of the original population but with some earlier intermarriage into the majority community, which is of mostly colonist/ settler origin.
11The Social and Democratic Labour Party, advocating reform through legal and constitutional methods.
12Two days after the explosion, on December 6th, both the Official and Provisional IRAs issued statements condemning the bombing and denying any involvement. Local people also denied any association between the pub and either of the armed organisations.
18Despite some time searching online I have not come across the exact date they were there by May 1971 and it may be that they had been sent there as part of plan that included the introduction of internment without trial later that year.
20The fact that one fatal victim was a mother of eight children and another, a local priest, should have alerted media to the fact that the Paras were likely lying and local people likely telling the truth.
22Likely initiated as as a payoff to the Provisionals for buying into the Peace/ Pacification Process, the other being the early release on licence of their members in jail, the inquiry lasted twelve years and cost £195 million.
23No senior Army officer or senior politician of the time has even been charged for those murders. One lower-ranking soldier was eventually charged but in July 2021, the Public Prosecution Service decided it would no longer prosecute him either.
29Daniel O’Connell, a constitutional Irish nationalist politician and Catholic, campaigned for the repeal of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws in which he was largely successful in 1869 and unsuccessfully for repeal of the Act of Union, which had transferred the internal legislation of Ireland through its Parliament to Westminster instead in 1801.
30Theobald ‘Wolfe’ Tone was an Anglican campaigner for reform of anti-Catholic legislation (only Anglicans could be elected to the Irish Parliament) who became a revolutionary Irish Republican when those attempts failed. He was a founder of the revolutionary republican United Irishmen organisation. He was captured by the British after surrender of the French naval ship on which he was travelling on 12th October 1978. Although an officer in the Army of France he was tried for treason and sentenced to be executed; on 19th September 1798 he died in prison of wounds, apparently self-inflicted to deny the State his public execution.
40The IBRG was formed late in 1981 as an independent community organisation, among the issues it took up were those of anti-Irish racism, access to resources for the community, an end to strip-searching of prisoners, freedom for the framed prisoners and British withdrawal from Ireland.
41The Troops Out Movement was founded in 1973 as a broad organisation to mobilise the British public for withdrawal of British troops from Ireland; with branches in many parts of Britain, it organised marches, pickets, public meetings and published pamphlets. The relevant Wikipedia incorrectly claims it was “an Irish Republican organisation” — though it naturally did contain Irish Republicans, it also contained British revolutionary left and social-democratic elements. Though maintaining its independence for decades, it did towards the end of the 1990s become closely linked to Provisional Sinn Féin.
We are a people – or nation – that has been invaded; we have resisted and suffered in that resistance. Naturally we tend to sympathise with other countries who have been – or are being – invaded too. Many other peoples have been invaded more often than has Ireland; the Book of Invasions and Occupations of some of those would run to many pages. Few however have been occupied for nearing a millenium by what has been essentially the same invader – as has our little nation. So the question as to whether invasions are always wrong is bound to arouse an emotional feeling of rejection in us, of hostility to the questioner, even. Still, I ask the question and turn to history for the answer, our own history and that of other places.
INVASIONS OF IRELAND
The Vikings invaded Ireland (a sovereign state or collection of states) in successive waves from Norway and Denmark areas, took people to be sold as slaves, pillaged and looted and in time occupied parts of our land. They were hardly welcome but after their defeat at the Battle of Clontarf (sic) in 1014, left little permanent damage.
The Normans, invading in 1169, were a different matter, with less pillaging but wreaking far-reaching adverse changes, especially as they became the English ruling class, a mixing of Norman and Anglo-Saxon elites. Our land was turned into a colony, competing industries destroyed, the majority population turned into second-class subjects, our produce used to fuel the British industrial revolution, followed by famine here, mass emigration, our resistance repressed ……
In our strivings to be free from the English Occupation, we invited an invasion from the Spanish Kingdom to Ireland and one arrived in 1601, which was followed by the Siege and Battle of Kinsale (2nd October 1601-3rd January 1602) between Irish clans and their Spanish allies against the English. The latter’s victory resulted in English conquest over the whole island and the destruction of the remains of the Gaelic social and legal order in Ireland.
During the Jacobite War (1689-1691), the Irish and Anglo-Irish clans invited Royal French forces to invade Ireland in order to assist them in supporting King James II his bid to regain the English Crown1 and that too ended badly for the Irish with the Limerick Treaty, the flight of the Wild Geese and the religious Penal Laws.
In the late 1790s, the United Irishmen once again invited the French forces — but this time Republican – to assist them in overthrowing English rule in Ireland in what was a semi-sovereign state. The planned French invasion failed due to adverse weather conditions in 1796 and a smaller force successfully landed in Mayo in the closing weeks of the 1798 Rising, joined with Irish insurgents and defeated English military units but was soon surrounded and, massively outnumbered, surrendered.
During WWI sovereign states in large areas of the world, in particular in Europe and in the Middle East, were invaded by the armies of many states, comprising those of the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Turkey on one side and those of the Entente — UK, France, USA, Turkey, Russia, Italy and Japan – on the other. The cause of the war was contention between imperial powers and no side could be said to have been justified in the alliance they joined or in invasions carried out as a result. One revealing example of the gap between justication propaganda and reality was that the UK claimed that it was waging war with Germany in defence of the little nation of Belgium, while it repressed a rising of the little nation of Ireland. Likewise, the USA, which claimed to want a post-war world of peace and security for small nations, refused to receive the delegations of a number of small or weaker nations, including that of Ireland, to the Paris Peace Conference2.
In the runup to WWII and during it, parts of Africa, Asia and most of Europe, including many sovereign states3, were invaded by the Nazis and Fascist powers of Germany, Italy or Japan4, with horrific consequences for the people who lived in the invaded lands.
Would we have countenanced an invasion of Nazi Germany to prevent what it was going to do? In any case, during the War, the counter-attack of the Allies also invaded huge parts of the world, including sovereign states that had colluded with the Nazis, as well countries totally dominated by them: the USSR invaded Eastern Europe beyond the USSR’s earlier borders, also sovereign Germany and sovereign Austria; the USA and UK invaded France (part-sovereign, part-occupied) and Italy (part-liberated by popular revolt) and all three invaded sovereign Germany and Austria too, but also North Africa; the USA invaded the Phillippines and Indo-China. Had we been alive then, most of us would have cheered those invasions – they brought down the terrible Axis forces, liberated death camps, freed people from fascist rule.
But the UK and France retook their colonies, where they had been suppressing and repressing the people for generations.5 The UK and USA prevented the Greeks from stopping the return of their monarch (their sovereign) and, combining former fascist police with their own armed forces, suppressed the Greek rising. And the USA installed themselves in the Phillippines, making them their neo-colonies. The USA also began to cultivate elites as clients in Indo-China, particularly in Korea and Vietnam.
The reoccupations of colonies and transfer of control to new masters were the cause of a wave of anti-colonial struggles and wars of repression in India and Malaya with the UK; in North Africa with the French; in Korea with the USA; in Vietnam with the French first and then with the USA; in the Middle East and West Africa with the UK and France. They also facilitated the creation of the Zionist state of Israel with horrific consequences (including invasions by it) that continue to be played out to this day.
The struggles of people resulted in the eventual national liberation of areas of the world, including part of Korea and later, Vietnam, creating states. Cambodia and Laos, having been bombed by the USA in its war with the Vietnamese people, came under new national regimes. But the new rulers of Cambodia’s sovereign state, under the Pol Pot regime, developed a new kind of horrific rule resulting in the distinction of becoming the country with most mass graves in the world6. That sovereign regime was toppled by an intervention of Vietnamese forces and those of us alive then cheered that invasion.
The Portuguese colonies in Angola and Mozambique were freed by liberation struggles but in Mozambique were assisted by Cuban troops, which also helped them resist invasion by South African troops and proxies.7
Much closer to our own time, the UK and USA/NATO, leading coalitions of other states, invaded Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, destabilising them and destroying for years the development potential of those countries8. They attempted the same with Syria and that conflict is ongoing. The excuse given was always along the lines of countering a threat to the world (Iraq: “Weapons of mass destruction”, “Al Khaeda”) or liberating their populations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria).
INVASIONS GENERALLY — AND WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE?
So, reviewing the historical record, very few would say that invading another region — even a sovereign state — is wrong on every occasion. Most would say, I think, that it would depend on the motivation for the invasion, how it is conducted and what the invaders do afterwards.
Hopefully this can help us to mediate the automatic Irish sympathetic reaction to the war in the Ukraine and with regard to the Western-dominated discourse that Russia is automatically wrong – purely because its troops invaded the Ukrainian sovereign state. Russia may indeed be wrong – but not purely on the fact that it invaded.
Which then moves the evaluation on to a more productive and rational basis. Was the reason for the invasion justified? How did Russian troops conduct themselves during the invasion? What is intended as the longer-term outcome of the invasion?
Here, unfortunately we are in a marsh of propaganda, fake news, partial accounts, censorship9 ….. and the war has not yet concluded. But we can try to navigate our way across this marsh relying on the fairly firm patches we can find and hopefully avoiding getting stuck or even sucked down.
Justification for the invasion?
Russia says it invaded because it was being encircled and threatened by NATO, while the latter denies this. The evidence is however on the side of Russia in this disagreement10.
Putin also says that he did so to “de-nazify” the Ukraine. Considering the number of active fascists in Russia, this does not ring true, though the presence of nazi militia in the Azov Battalion is undeniable and the the Ukrainian regime is certainly glorifying Nazis in its past.
Conduct during the invasion
When Russia invaded it says that it fought to confront military units and to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. In the early days of the war this does seem to have been the case. As the fighting grew fiercer around Kyiv and Mariupol, it was harder to ascertain the truth, with Ukranian claim the Russians were targeting civilian structures and Russian counter-claim that, in Mariupol in particular, the Ukrainian forces were firing from civilian structures, which naturally attracted Russian return fire. And of course, bombardment of any large area is going to result, whether intended or not, in damage to civilian structures.
Another Ukrainian accusation, widely covered in the western media, is that the Russians were kidnapping civilians and transporting them back to Russia. The latter responded that they were facilitating the evacuation of civilians from danger areas. A similar Ukranian removal of civilians, on the face of it, is represented as a humanitarian action. Humanitarian evacuation or kidnapping? By one or the other, or by both?
There have been Ukranian accusations that the Russians executed captured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and the Western media and political leaders have repeated those accusations. What appears to be bodies of civilians have been photographed in the streets of Bucha and Irpin after the Russians forces retreated, some of which appeared to have their hands tied behind their backs.
The Russians have rejected the whole story as fake news, pointing out that the Mayor of Bucha had smilingly recorded a video message after the Russian military evacuation of his town, during which he had made no mention at all of any such executions. Also that the reports of the alleged executions did not emerge until four days after they had evacuated the town.
However the Ukrainians also say that a mass grave containing 410 bodies has been uncovered outside Kyiv. Russia has said it wants the issue discussed at the UN Security Council11 but so far have been blocked by another permanent member, the UK (the latter holds the Presidency of the Security Council at the moment)12.
We must await some kind of even semi-independent investigation but if any of these allegations turn out to be true it will certainly be a powerful indictment of Russia’s conduct during the invasion.
We do not know for certain what the situtation will look like post-conflict but it looks likely that Russia will withdraw from most of the Ukraine, which will remain outside NATO and with much-reduced armament, which was part of what Russia was seeking even years before the conflict. But it also looks as though Russia will retain the Crimea and the Donbas area.
To judge whether that retention is just or not, one has to choose between two narratives (or some synthesis of both).
The Russian narrative is that after the change of government in 2014 there was a campaign against ethnic and linguistic minorities, in particular Russian-speakers, by the Ukrainian authorities, aided by fascist forces. These attacked the Russian-speaking areas, the latter mobilised to defend themselves and asked Russia to come to their defence.
The Western narrative is that Russia egged on Russian speakers to fight the Ukrainians and to secede and that the whole thing was just a Russian land grab.
But one way or another, the bare fact of Russian invasion is not sufficient to decide against them, much less to agree with what is essentially the dominant US/NATO discourse of the western media – the bigger and longer picture needs to be examined.
1Both Irish and Anglo-Irish sought an end to religious oppression of Catholics and retention of their lands; the Irish clans may have also sought recovery of some of their ancestral lands.
2More about the division of the world between victorious powers and punishing the losers, than about peace.
3The Austrian state was subverted under threat by the Nazis, as was also the Norwegian, followed quickly by invasion.
4Nazi Germany also recruited fascist units from Spain, Ukraine and Romania into their army and Japan recruited Koreans; in addition an Indian natiolal liberation army fought the English occupation in coalition with the Japanese.
5The Japanese were asked to hold on to their conquered territory in parts of SE Asia until the French could move back in, for example in Vietnam.
6Spain is the second, dating from its Civil War/ Anti-fascist War, a sovereign monarchical state evolving from a successful fascist-military coup against an elected Republican government.
7A highly simplified description, as there were civil war elements also with fighting for control between different factions of the former liberation movement.
8The UK holds the record for countries invaded, while the USA holds the record for involvement in military conflicts since WWII.
9Twitter has taken down an archive of six years of Chris Hedges’ Contact programs, Netflix has removed the Oliver Stone documentary “Ukraine Is Burning”, the US and UK has banned RT and Russia then banned BBC, China has banned BBC and Facebook, the latter has unbanned the fascist Ukrainian Azov Battallion …. And the Western Left is ignoring Naom Chomsky.
10Just Google “Map NATO states in Eastern Europe”.
11The United Nations is a body containing essentially two general decision-making bodies, the General Assemby of every full member nation — currently 193 – and the 15-member Security Council, which makes the only binding decisions. However, the decisions of the rest can be vetoed by any of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council: USA, UK, France, Russia and China.
12Any entering of the words “Russia” combined with “war-crimes” or “executions” into a search engine will bring an avalanche of western reporting of the allegations but scant treatment of the Russian response. As balance I have included only two rare more balanced western reports in the Sources section.
Pablo Gonzalez, a Basque journalist who includes working for Basque and Spanish left-wing media, was covering the war in Ukraine when he was interrogated by the Ukrainian authorities, the Spanish intelligence services approached his family and friends and he was subsequently arrested in Poland on 28th February and charged with spying against Poland. He has been denied access to his lawyer and no evidence has yet been presented to back up the charge but after his four-hour Ukrainian interrogation, Gonzalez reported that he had been accused of spying for Russia on the basis that he had been born in Russia1, that he reported for the mildly left-wing Basque nationalist newspaper GARA (he also reports for Publico.es) and that he had a bank card for a Basque cooperative bank. Journalist defence organisations have expressed concern at the detention.
I am not aware of having seen Gonzalez’s reporting but it may be that his material did not align with the dominant discourse as apparently the International Federation of Journalists reported that González had been accused of being pro-Russian in his coverage for a Spanish newspaper. On the other hand, several of his colleagues say that his reporting has been anti-Putin. Clearly the secret services of at least three pro-NATO countries, Ukraine, Spain and Poland have been in communication regarding Gonzalez. After his interrogation in Ukraine, he had been released but it seems awarned to leave Ukraine. He went to Poland and had been just about to re-enter Ukraine with a group of other reporters when arrested by the Polish authorities. “Legal threats and smear campaigns are a daily menace to outspoken journalists, and journalists covering the migration crisis on the Belarusian border have been detained and harassed,” the Europe representative of the Commitee to Protect Journalists, Atilla Mong told Voice Of America2.
I am no supporter of Pablo Iglesias or of his Podemos party3 but I offer my translation of his piece in Publico.es in the hope that it will a) encourage some to follow the case and perhaps lift their voices for Gonzalez’s release and b) become aware that censorship and misinformation is rampant in the media around this conflict.
On the 14th of this month, the photojournalist Juan Teixeira, a friend of Pablo González, wrote a column in Público entitled “About Pablo González and the diminishing freedom of the press.”4 There he talks about his relationship with Pablo, his work with him in the Ukraine and his arrest. I recommend, in fact, that you read his entire column, but allow me to read you two paragraphs:
It was precisely in one of these connections with Ferreras that everything began to go wrong. Pablo decided to do the direct clip of him with the military in the background, which is always more televisable. From La Sexta they had him waiting for more than 45 minutes under snow and with the soldiers increasingly tense wondering what that bald man was doing standing in front of a mobile on a tripod.
Until the military got tired and invited us to leave, but not before erasing all the material and taking a photo of Pablo’s passport. That same night, he received a call from the SBU (Ukrainian intelligence services), telling him that he should report to their headquarters as soon as possible. Despite the fact that there was work to be done, we returned to Kyiv. There Pablo was interrogated for 4 long hours, and accused of being a Russian agent with such convincing evidence as writing for Gara and having a Caja Laboral Kutxa bank card, according to them both financed by Russia. All so crazy that Pablo didn’t take it too seriously. He thought that they were simply “tightening the nuts” so that he would be more cautious with his words.
Until he found out that at that very moment, CNI5 agents had appeared at his family home, at his mother’s and at that of a childhood friend to question them and inform them that Pablo was a Russian agent.
I’m sorry that Ferreras appears here, the poor man has no fault in this, beyond the time the duplex took6, but it seemed important to me that the arguments of the Ukrainian secret services be known. I find it amazing that being the son of a Russian, writing for Gara and having an account in the Kutxa7 is something that makes you a suspect of being a secret agent of Putin. By this rule of thumb, there would be more evidence that would determine that Minister Albares8 is, on the one hand, an agent of the Vatican (he studied at Deusto, the Jesuits rule there and Pope Francis is a Jesuit, put it all together) and, on the other, he is also Moroccan agent (he lived for a long time in France and is married to a French judge who advises Emmanuel Macron, put it together)… Albares may sympathize with the Jesuits and put forward a pro-Moroccan9 line but it would be delusional to present him as an agent. Well, González is an even more delusional case.
The problem is that the logic of war contaminates everything and it is destroying the quality of the already highly-reviled conventional journalism. At the same time that we hear multi-award-winning journalists like Antonio Papell calling for Russia to be attacked with nuclear bombs or the famous and “progressive” Elisa Beni losing her temper with a professor of international law who committed the terrible crime of saying on the radio that, in geopolitics, values do not operate, we see that a correspondent who provided training and knowledge of the field, is accused of being a secret agent. Crazy.
I can only tell you that here at La Base we are going to continue reporting and analyzing rigorously, dismantling propaganda wherever it comes from and defending the freedom to inform without simplifying the complex and always paying attention to the context. At La Base kapuscinski style: rigor and commitment.
1Gonzalez’s grandparents had sought asylum in the USSR from fascist dictator General Franco and Gonzalez had been born there. His parents split up and his mother took him to the Spanish state when he was seven (as a result of which he is fluent in several languages. He specialises in reporting on Eastern Europe but has been living in the Basque province of Bizkaia town of Nabarniz with his wife, Oihana Goiriena of sixteen years.
3Pablo Iglesias had been leader of the Podemos party and a minister in the Spanish coalition government but resigned and works as a journalist for La Base, a podcast of the Spanish left-wing on-line newspaper Publico.
8 Albares is the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the current Spanish Government.
9Albares caused outrage recently by proposing that Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, accept becoming a region of the Kingdom of Morrocco, which has been illegally and violently occupying it for decades.
We are surrounded by propaganda: to favour this or that political and economic system, those products, accept this way of life and to reject that other, to emulate or aspire to be like those people or to reject others …. The propaganda is constant but perhaps most evident in times of conflict: social conflict and wars in particular. We cannot be free of it but we can attempt to navigate it, to reach that fabled destination, the port of Truth.
OUR OWN PERSONAL BIAS
Firstly, we need to be aware of our own personal bias. Are we for reasons of culture, position, location or habit likely to incline to one side rather than to the other? Of course, that might be the right (or least bad) side but ….. are we being blinded by our own bias?
Our own personal biases are formed through our familial group, our schooling, training and experiences but some are engendered through the wider society, our culture.
Our cultural bias in the western world and, in particular in the English-speaking one, is towards the USA. We watch films in which the admired characters have UStater accents and even employ UStater turns of phrase and idioms1; their life-styles are recogniseably western. These cultural products cover a range from comedy to thriller or tragedy, their situations varying from urban to rural life, their genres from romance to crime to war to science fiction. In fact, both latter genres tend to present us with war-heroes who not only speak like UStaters but evoke the armed forces of the United States, whether in past real armed conflicts or in imagined ones to come. Earlier Irish generations were familiar with the dramatised plight of European settlers in the western regions of the USA being attacked by Indigenous people, only to be saved by the arrival of the US military – in that genre, the US Cavalry.2
Another major cultural influence on the English-speaking world is the UK and, to a lesser extent3, Australia. Although in Ireland there is a certain residual historical resistance to UK acculturation, some UK cultural products gained a large enough following, particularly the Coronation Street and EastEnders series4.
In comics the characters and often their environments are identifiably Western — usually of the USA5 — and even the popular Asian-based ones tend to have their facial features shaded towards European ones. Many of the electronic games also have a Western cultural bias.
And of course, we speak English. A high proportion of the Irish population is English-monoglot and even among Irish/English bilinguals, either the English is dominant or at least easily-accessible. From childhood to adulthood we see signs in English, hear it on the street, use it daily in most places, read it, are educated and instructed through it, access the Internet through it – in fact, we mostly think in English. All of which makes the pathways for accessing US and UK cultural products easy and our acceptance of the dominant discourse more probable.
Dominant discourse is of course a fact of life, some aspects of which are necessary for our social existence but other aspects of which are laden with unhelpful cultural and even political bias. We need to be alert to those aspects and prepared to investigate and analyse them.
Sometimes it looks like just about everyone is in agreement with a particular opinion and it is also the one that accords with our own inbuilt bias. Now we need to be REALLY careful, because those are two factors working together to put us at our ease on one side of a conflict and making it very difficult for us to even investigate the fact that the dominant discourse, on at least this occasion, might be mistaken. And clearly at times in history widely-accepted views HAVE been wrong – the literal seven-day creation belief, the sun going around the earth, the divine right of monarchs, the unsuitability of women for equality, the unnatural inclination of gay and lesbian people ……
In conjunction with being aware of and taking into account our own bias and prejudices, we need to the same with our sources of information, which in industrial and post-industrial cultures – apart from educational establishments — is mostly the mass media: television, newspapers and the Internet (in particular social media).
All the owners of non-State-owned mass media that we access (and that in turn accesses us) are capitalists and not only that but monopoly capitalist. Although he has recently exited his media empire6, this was the situation six years ago: “Denis O’Brien, reputedly Ireland’s richest man, is the largest shareholder in the country’s largest newspaper publisher, Independent News & Media (INM). That company has now agreed a deal to add seven more newspaper titles to its stable by acquiring the Celtic Media Group (CMG). They include the Anglo-Celt in Cavan, the Meath Chronicle and the Connaught Telegraph in Mayo. In all, it extends INM’s footprint to five more counties.
“INM is already the major player at national level. It publishes Ireland’s two largest-selling titles, the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent, plus the Sunday World and the Dublin Herald. It also has 50% of the Irish Daily Star. O’Brien’s other media company, Communicorp, owns Ireland’s two leading commercial radio talk stations: Newstalk and Today FM. In addition, it owns Dublin’s 98FM, SPIN 1038, TXFM and SPIN South West.”7
Media companies in the USA went from 50 1984 only six conglomerates controlling 90% of the United States’s in 2011: GE/Comcast (NBC, Universal), News Corp (Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post), Disney (ABC, ESPN, Pixar), Viacom (MTV, BET, Paramount Pictures), Time Warner (CNN, HBO, Warner Bros.), and CBS (Showtime, NFL.com).8
“Take the UK’s newspaper industry: in a national market of 20 daily and Sunday newspaper titles, just three companies control 90 percent of newspaper circulation. Lord Rothermere’s DMG Media—publishers of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the Metro, and the i—accounts for almost 40 percent of all national newspapers sold each week in the UK, while Rupert Murdoch’s News UK and Reach (which publishes the Mirror and Express titles) command one-third and one-fifth of the market, respectively.
“When online readers are included, the same companies control a four-fifths market share among the major newspaper groups, giving these publishers an unparalleled influence for setting the agenda across the rest of the news media.”9
“Most of the social media we use on our laptops, Iphones or tablets is owned by five conglomerates in the USA: Meta Platforms, Inc., doing business as Meta and formerly known as Facebook, Inc., …..is the parent organization of Faecebook, Instragram and WhatsApp among other subsidiaries. Meta is one of the world’s most valuable companies. It is one of the Big Five American companies, alongside Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.”10
It should not surprise us if that media exhibits a strong bias towards capitalism, for example in praising businessmen (capitalists) and businesses (exploitation operations) and in criticising or slanted reporting on strikes (workers’ resistance) or on what they might term ‘terrorism’ (but is often oppressed people’s resistance).
The State-owned media, in the UK the BBC and RTÉ in Ireland, are not of course the property of capitalists, however the states in question are capitalist states. It would be surprising therefore if such media were to take a stance in opposition to that of their state and their dominant classes and, by an large they do not. If, in times of conflict elements within the program-making sections of the State-owned media veer significantly away from the State’s line, official reprimands, cuts in funding, sackings and outright censorship may follow.11
This mass media, as well as being orientated in defence of monopoly capitalism, is also orientated towards the expansion of monopoly capitalism beyond its origins, i.e imperialism. And imperialists have their alliances, by far the largest of which is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO in acronym. That alliance is led by what is still the largest imperialist superpower in the world, the USA.
We may note that the antithesis of capitalism is socialism but a capitalist or imperialist system of one state may be in contention with that of another such state which in fact often happens, even occasionally breaking out in war, as was the case with WWI, when the then-dominant imperialist alliance led by the UK and France was challenged by the weaker one of Germany and Turkey.
And mentioning socialism brings to a consideration of alternative media, including that of the Socialist and Irish Republican movements. Briefly we can note that just because they declare their opposition to the status quo does not mean necessarily a) that they are indeed so opposed, or b) that they have examined and challenged their own bias or c) therefore that their analysis is correct. Indeed both the Irish Socialist and Republican movements have made huge mistakes over the last hundred years or more and, in addition, during the height of the Covid19 pandemic we saw a plethora of misinformation ranging from the fascist and racist to the fantasticaly paranoid from sources opposed to the status quo12.
With the preparations and precautions entailed in the above completed, we are ready to sail, to navigate the propaganda ocean on board the MV Investigator. Let us take the stormy propaganda seas around the Ukraine conflict for our voyage.
According to the Russian Government, ethnic Russians were under attack in parts of the Ukraine after a coup overthrew the Ukrainian Government in 2014. Furthermore, it claims that US/NATO supported that coup and, in addition, has been gathering up states to its military alliance to encircle Russia, which it sees as a threat to the existence of the Russian state. In addition, Russia claims the Ukrainian government has fascist elements in its polity including a nazi battalion incorporated into its national military. Therefore it has invaded Ukraine in order to protect its own state and to “de-nazify” the Ukraine.
According to the Ukrainian Government and the USA, along with most Western governments, all of Russia’s claims are lies and just an excuse for it to grab land in the Ukraine, in order to extend its dominion further.
The Western media supports the Ukrainian Government and USA discourse on these issues and, on the rare occasion when it quotes the Russian one, negates it or casts doubt upon it.
So, to the navigation. The first thing is that we cannot trust the Western discourse but on the other hand can we totally discount it? We cannot trust it because it is part of a capitalist and imperialist bloc centred around the USA and NATO. On the other hand, Russia might be lying and the Western media might be correct on this occasion. After all, Russian troops HAVE invaded the sovereign state (something we usually see from the USA or NATO) of Ukraine.
So, let’s investigate! A look at the map will in fact show a large number of states in East Europe that have progressively become part of NATO and Ukraine, which shares a border with Russia, was heading that way, according to even non-Russian analysis.13 And Russia has been complaining about this for years. In addition, the elected neutral Ukrainian government WAS overthrown by a violent coup in 2014, one which was welcomed by western media. And fascists WERE active in that coup and the Azov Battalion IS full of fascists and nazis (even according to US and Canadian government circles along with human rights groups, including in Israel, only a few years ago).
But the Russian regime anti-fascist? That is something else. Far-Right groups including openly Nazi ones have proliferated across Russia since the collapse of the USSR and there is little evidence that the Russian regime has been trying to eliminate them. De-nazification should start in your own territory first, right?
So a reasonable conclusion on the available evidence is that Putin’s statement about de-nazification is mere propaganda for international and domestic consumption but his real and primary motive for the invasion is the security of Russia and the withdrawal of NATO from its borders.
Might there be an element of acquiring some more Ukrainian territory and stragic locations there? Of course there might. So how to test that? What about if NATO agrees to withdraw, Ukraine declares its neutrality but demands withdrawal from its recently-conquered territory? Russia would have to comply or to expose its supposed territorial ambitions.
However, NATO is currently refusing to withdraw from Russia’s borders and the Western media is supporting it ideologically as well as pouring arms into Ukraine; NATO denies Russia’s declared motivation but declines to put it to the test.
Mentioning “land-grabbing” also raises the issues of the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Those regions had a high proportion of ethnic Russians — the Crimea in particular nearly totally Russian-speaking — and according to numerous sources, came under attack from Ukrainian nationalist forces from 2014. The Western media says that Russia “annexed” the Crimea; however Crimea had an autonomous parliament and voted to secede from the Ukraine – it was not overthrown in a violent coup as was the neutral Ukrainian one. Subsequently Crimea asked for Russian protection from attack by the Ukrainian military (including in particular those Azov fascist fighters). Donetsk and Luhansk regions also asked for protection, according to the Russians while, according to the West, they were also annexed by Russia.
CONTINUING THE NAVIGATION
Those are the fundamental points to think about during the conflict but we will be presented with reports of “kidnapping” of thousands of civilians by the Russians from the battle-zones on the one hand, with the “rescue” of thousands by the Ukrainian military on the other. Of course, any war impacts severely upon civilians in the war zones, as we have seen in conflicts from Vietnam to ireland to the Balkans, from Palestine to Yemen. What is happening in the Ukraine is a war, with bullets and missiles being fired by both sides and, furthermore, most of the fighting is taking place in and around heavily-populated areas. But are civilians and civilian buildings really being targeted by the Russians? They may or may not be but certainly the damage and casualties would be much higher if, as a matter of course, that were the case. Are civilians being used as hostages and shields by the Ukrainian military as some have alleged? They may be but it is difficult to prove or disprove that when the battle is taking place in an urban area.
We have to seek the actual causes of the war, rather than its features, to seek a workable and hopefully long-lasting solution.
WHAT ABOUT CENSORSHIP?
The fact is that all sides are practicing censorship. While the western media was quick to tell us that Russia had banned the BBC’s news service, it took a bit of searching to find out that had occurred after the UK banned RT, the Russian broadcasting service. We now learn that China has also banned Facebook and the BBC – the latter perhaps in response to the banning of RT but Facebook perhaps for lifting its ban and Tier 1 classification14 of Azov, the neo-nazi fighters incorporated into the Ukrainian military.
Currently, as an example of Western censorship, the Oliver Stone documentary Ukraine On Fire (2016) has been taken down off Youtube and according to users, rarely lasts more than a day if posted up anew.
And Naom Chomsky, veteran US-based anti-imperialist, who would normally be widely quoted in the Socialist media, is hardly ever heard or seen. Oh, he’s talking and writing alright but his discourse does not match the dominant one in the West — nor currently in the Western Left — and therefore he is excluded from their media.
CAN WE MOVE, PROCEED, ACT?
Obviously we cannot proceed through life in a permanent doubt – that would paralyse us, make us incapable of movement in any direction. We must come to a decision, at least for the time being, to allow us to act. But while we proceed on the basis of our certainties or at least assumptions, we need to be able to keep a part of our mind alert, questioning, challenging and – at some point – ready to dissent from the ideological environment in which we find ourselves and ready to consider taking a different – even oppositional – opinion and path.
This is the way we can navigate through the sea and storms of propaganda to a the desired landing on Truth. However, we need to remember that “truth” is an approximation, that it changes shape and what was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. It is a floating land, not necessarily where it was when last charted, even when the most recent cartographers were not dishonest. Nevertheless, we are required to act, to act in the real world and therefore must reject paralysis. We find the nearest we can to the truth, test it and act upon it – but ready to amend our understanding if necessary.
We set sail.
1The interjection of irrelevant “like” in conversations (e.g “I was like just leaving …”), the grammatically incorrect “I’m good” response to query-greetings, ‘hip’ interjections such as “dude” and even the “OK” for positive confirmation (in our lexicon since the 1950s), have all reached us from the USA.
2That film trope has led to a popular saying regarding last-minute deliveration, probably even employed by people who are unaware of its origin: “Saved by the Cavalry”. Of course, the Indigenous, who are having their lands stolen, their way of life and other parts of their culture destroyed and their resistance massacred, never have a last-minute salvation, neither in fiction nor in reality.
3Though we still hear “No worries” in reassurance, a phrase introduced by Australian soap-operas such as “Neighbours” screened on UK television channels in the 1980s and ‘90s.
4These two in particular propagated a very biased view of working class and lower-middle class people in Britain. The Coronation Street (note the monarchical tone of even the title) series, based on the Salford area near Birmingham, despite being an area settled by successive waves of migrants such as Irish (Engels even referred to them in his 1845 Condition of the Working Class in England), Caribbean and South Asian, did not include characters of migrant background for decades and it was not until 2019 that it introduced its first Black family characters. When the British soaps first provided characters of Irish background, both Coronation Street and EastEnders produced negative types without positive Irish characters to balance them.
5In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s the majority of the comics bought in Ireland were English, from the younger age-orientated Dandy, Beano to the older-orientated range of Bunty, Judy and June for girls and, for boys, Eagle,Hotspur, Victor and the exclusively military Commando and War Picture Library series along with the Amazing Fantasy series. The US contributed super-hero series Marvel Comics and a range of both cartoon and realistic characters in Dell Comics. There was no competition from any Irish-focused publisher (nor is there yet to any real degree).
12It is also worth noting that censorship, misrepresentation of different views and verbal abuse towards those who challenge the views of the alternative media make using them to arrive at the truth more than problematic and this has been nowhere more evident than in the coverage and discussion of the conflict in Ukraine.
13In fact we can see a similar US-led encirclement of Russia in the Middle East too.
14 A classification that included ISIS and bars users from engaging in “praise, support, or representation” of blacklisted entities across the company’s platforms.
“Wars and rumours of wars …”1 The sabres are rattling around Eastern Europe. The mass media in our latitudes largely takes the position of the USA under the guise of democracy; however with some text and the use of a few maps I hope to show that Russia’s position is essentially defensive in this regard and that the USA is the main aggressor. I hope to do that without expressing any support for the Russian regime.
WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?
The USA sees Russia as its main opponent or competitor in Europe and has been working since the post-WWII decades to neutralise it, earlier under the guise of stopping the spread of “communism” and defending “democracy”. Since the fall of the USSR system the talk is no longer about defeating “communism” but “defending democracy” continues to used in anti-Russian rhetoric. Russia is no democracy but the notion that the US, the world superpower, the biggest imperialist power on the planet since WWII, cares about democracy should make us laugh. It would perhaps, except that the mass media keeps feeding us the USA’s rhetoric and shaping us to support it in war.
The USA is actually squeezing Russia from two directions — from Europe and from the Middle East. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is a US-led military alliance which now has the membership of most states in the EU, along with the UK and nearly every state of the former USSR to the west of Russia. A look at the map of NATO states will demonstrate that2. Nearly every state in the Middle East is also formally or informally in the sphere of influence of US imperialism3.
“Russia says it wants Western guarantees that Nato will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. Moscow has also demanded the alliance halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.4”
So the Russian ruling class is naturally worried and feeling besieged. On or near their European borders they only have Sweden, Finland, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine which are not formally part of NATO and Ukraine has clearly indicated an interest in that direction. Beyond those last three aforementioned, all the states through central Europe are NATO members right through to the UK: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania actually bordering on Russia, with – heading generally westward and south-westward– Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and UK. In addition, some of those states have highly-developed military power such as Germany and two of them have nuclear armament of their own — UK and France – while the US has ready-to-launch nuclear missiles on the lands of many of the NATO states — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey5.
Sweden, Austria and Switzerland may remain nominally neutral but are in general politically aligned with the EU and the USA rather than with Russia, while non-NATO Finland is definitely, for historical and geographical reasons, extremely wary of its Russian neighbour.
The smaller non-NATO states of the former Yugoslavia – Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Montenegro and Kosovo are in some cases friendly towards Russia (or not overly-friendly towards NATO) but they are completely surrounded by NATO states.
On its borders with the Middle East, Russia is also being squeezed. Turkey has long been a major NATO state in the region and only Georgia is located between it an Russia to the latter’s south-west, with Armenia and Azerbaijan to its south-east. Nearly all of the states in the Middle East are in formal or informal alliance with the West and therefore with the US: Cyprus, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. Yemen is embroiled in its own Saudi and West-proxy war, while Syria is threatened by Israel, Turkey and NATO. Only Iran is fairly safe for the moment on that part of Russia’s border, which is why Russia will take its side in any conflict with the West, despite the Russian ruling class’ dislike of and vulnerability in some regions, as in Chechnya, to militant fundamentalist Islam.
Syria is next to Iran which is also why Russia has been supporting the Assad regime and why, during the past week, it has warned Israel about its bombing raids into Syria as the latter attacks Hizbollah bases there. In fact we may see the invasions by western alliances of Iraq and Libya as part of huge US/NATO ‘domino’ plan to attack Syria with Iran next; then the pressure on Azerbaijan and Georgia on Russia’s doorstep. While on the eastern side of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are also allies of the West ….
Further east, there is India which has long been friendly to Russia and in tussles with Pakistan — and China, which is not openly hostile to Russia as a rule but which is not a real friend either, though its competition and contention with the US keeps it friendly enough towards Russia for the moment.
What the Russian ruling class is doing is attempting to bring a halt to its encirclement by NATO at the point of Ukraine. And the US-NATO and EU are issuing a counter-threat – an open one of sanctions and a more veiled one, in the case of US-NATO, of armed action.
This week it appears that some parts of Ukraine have sought to break away from the main part, probably instigated by Russia or at least promised support if they did – which has materialised in Russian diplomatic recognition and in troop movements. This may amount to an annexation or may not but what is clear is that Russia, in the face of what it considers a threat to its existence and NATO intransigence, has decided to take some decisive action.
WHAT IS REPORTED
The western mass media reports the situation painting a picture of big powerful Russia threatening its much smaller neighbour, by threat of invasion seeking to force it into submission to Russia’s regime, in denial of the small nation’s democratic rights. And the democratic West, through NATO, is moving troops to support the Ukraine, warning Russia of consequences.
The picture contains much truth but overall it is a lie. Russia is much bigger than the Ukraine and it is threatening it with troop movements. And NATO is moving troops up to counter-threaten. But to evaluate a situation properly, we need to know its antecedents, what led up to it. We also need to see the situation through the eyes of the participants, whether we agree with them or not. The mass media, apart from a couple of honest analysts tucked away inside a newspaper, far from the headlines, does not supply us with that information.
The Irish Times, one of Ireland’s main daily newspapers, on 12 February reported that “Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine and a surge of Russia’s military activity has fueled fears that Russia could invade the country. Russia denies having any such plans. However a US official has said that the US had picked up intelligence that Russia is looking at Wednesday as a target date for an incursion.”
So on the basis of the quoted paragraph, we were to draw the conclusion that Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine. OK, Russia denied it but then why the military buildup near Ukraine? Finally, the authority voice of the USA, quoting what we are supposed to see as excellent intelligence sources (which we cannot of course question), predicting a probable Russian invasion four days away. So which state are most people in this part of the world likely to believe, the Russians or the US?
Some weeks earlier, on 25th January, another Irish daily newspaper, the Examiner, reported on reactions to a Russian naval fleet exercise in the Atlantic. The Irish Government told the Russians the exercise was not welcome although not illegal6, because the area of the exercise is regarded as international waters. This from the same government that facilitates US military flights via Shannon airport, i.e on its own national territory. And NATO carries out at least one major exercise in European waters annualy, with the UK doing so twice yearly without complaint from the Irish Government.7
The Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland, Ms Gerasko moved to take advantage of the situation “A plan to hold a major exercise by the Russian navy and air force in the Atlantic off the southwest coast of Ireland is yet another demonstration of the threat that Russia poses for the world,” she said, in a statement to the Irish Examiner.” 8
Attempts were made at the same time to whip up Irish offshore fishermen against the Russians and to whip up the Irish public in defence of “our fishermen”. The latter project failed miserably since the Russian Ambassador to Ireland met and negotiated with the fishermen, leading one of their leaders to comment that the Russians had treated his members better than their own (Irish) government.
We might expect an alternative discourse about the Ukraine crisis from Al Jazeera but its report on the 24th of January, although emphasising US military movements in the area, attached a number of articles which were generally relaying the western line. The Irish Independent carried a much more in-depth explanation, though based on the position of the UK through its premier, Boris Johnson; however it did list the Russian demand that NATO cease pushing towards them and that Russia considered Ukraine joining NATO “an existential threat” while in general still following the general anti-Russian pattern9.
POSITION OF THE IRISH STATE
An analysis piece in its business section by the Irish State’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, concentrated on the possible economic impact of loss or drastic reduction in gas and oil exports from Russia, either as a direct consequence of conflict or through imposition of sanctions by the West. “Russia produces 11% of global oil supplies and according to David Horgan, managing director of Petrel Resources, any significant loss of Russian energy exports would result in a further spike in prices.”10
Russia is the biggest supplier of gas in the world and the largest to Europe with a third of of its gas pipeline supply to Europe crossing Ukraine. Ireland’s electricity supply is highly dependent on gas for its generating stations so any disruption will impact heavily of prices which “have already gone from $2 to about $30 per million BTU”, according to the Petrel managing director.11
It is clear that while the USA is driving the agenda through its dominance of NATO and the the threat of sanctions on Russia, which the USA regularly insists upon when teaching other countries a lesson, its own economy would suffer little as a result. However, it is a different question for the European states, which would be obliged to bear the weight of economic impact. Mícheál Martin, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish State felt obliged to comment on this possibility but, rather than criticise the USA and NATO’s expansionism, spoke about the need to break from their dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Micheál Martin said the EU is unified in responding “very strongly” to any Russian invasion of Ukraine and stated that in Europe’s view the huge build-up of troops by Russia on the Ukraine border is “not justifiable” in any circumstances. While calling for “diplomacy and de-escalation” he clearly sided with the USA in the conflict as both the Irish ruling class and the EU’s would expect of him.12
Despite many criticisms to the contrary, the policy of the Irish state during WWII was essentially one of neutrality in favour of the Allied forces while the government of the Six Counties was of course wholly aligned with the UK. Nevertheless Irish commercial shipping was sunk by Nazi German action and cost many Irish seamen their lives.
So far the Irish state has remained outside NATO but over the past decade there has been discussion envisaging the creation of an EU rapid deployment force made up of personnel contributed from all member states. It would hardly be surprising if such a move appealed to some within the career personnel in the Irish armed forces, envisaging taking part in wider military action, alongside varied forces, employing advanced weapons and systems and with possibly better promotion prospects. Additionally in recent weeks there has been media discussion of greater funding for those forces.
Ireland – and not only the UK’s colony here – can be dragged into war more easily than we perhaps imagine and also into being targeted for retaliatory action. Indeed, the facilitation of US military personnel and materiel through Ireland’s airport at Shannon, along with CIA transport of secret prisoners (“rendition”) has already exposed the State (and succeeding governments) to accusations of military partisanship.
Contrary to popular belief, the Irish State’s ‘neutrality’ is in general a matter of government policy rather than a requirement of the Constitution or Statute law.13
The principal statute governing the Irish Defence Forces is the Defence Act 1954, which did not oblige members of the Irish Army to serve outside the state (members of the Air Corps and Naval Service are not so excused). A 1960 amendment intended to allow deployment in United Nations Peacekeeping missions requires three forms of authorisation, since the 1990s often described as the “triple lock”:
A UN Security Council Resolution or UN General Assembly Resolution;
A formal decision by the Irish government;
Approval by a resolution of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas, to which the government is responsible).
From those last two it is clear that the 26 Counties can be put on a war footing by a decision of the Irish Government or even a majority vote in favour in the Dáil. Anyone who believes that the party with most TDs would necessarily vote against such a motion is fooling themselves since the SF party has been at pains to portray itself as a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism and recently called for greater funding for the armed forces of the Irish state; in addition it has long had an uncritically friendly relationship with the USA, in particular – though not only – with its Democratic Party.
A resolution from the UN Security Council obliging the Irish state to go to war against Russia is impossible and though such from the General Council might be possible, albeit unlikely.14
These provisions were modified in 1993 to allow for UN Chapter VII missions and again in 2006 to allow for regionally organised UN missions.
WHAT WE CAN DO
There seems no middle way — either NATO will back down or Russia will. No doubt the Western powers think it reasonable that Russia be the one to blink but as commented earlier, for the latter NATO creep to their borders is seen as a threat to their very existence. The same people who thought it reasonable for John Kennedy as President of the US to threaten war on the Soviet Union for the location of some missiles on the Caribbean island of Cuba think Russia should accept the advance of NATO to its borders.
In practical terms there seems little we can do in Ireland except struggle to resist the state and colony in which we live being dragged into war – for which we need to mobilise the opposition we can on the street. Sadly the anti-imperialist war movement in Ireland of years ago was allowed to deteriorate — but we should work to rebuild it.
In order to assist in this it is essential that we expose the reality of what is going on in the world. Some will say that because the USA is the main aggressor in this case and the biggest bully, we should support Russia but to do so would be a big mistake. Not long ago, while joining others in anti-fascist solidarity with people in the Donbas region in SE Ukraine, I found us being increasingly nudged towards support for Russia which I did not view as being the same thing at all.
Russia has its own crimes against people and workers and calling for support for it now will cause confusion when in future we will need to condemn it. Our position should be that while neither the USA’s regime or Russia’s is to be supported, the biggest danger of war comes from the USA and therefore it will be the main target of our hostility – besides which it is the power with which the ruling classes of Ireland and the UK are aligned. It is the biggest imperialist power in the world by far along with being the biggest military power in most of the world.
Most Irish people have no wish to be dragged into an armed conflict anywhere where they do not feel threatened. On the other hand our society is conditioned not only by decades of strong cultural influences from the USA, in particular through film but also by media reporting that is biased towards the dominant western European view and that of the USA. In that paradigm, the Russians are the bad guys, the gunfighters in the black hats, while the US and the West in general are on the side of the angels.
With the 1916 Rising in the middle of WWI, Ireland became the first country to carry out an uprising against world war15, against the dominant trend throughout Europe at the time — a tradition worth upholding. As long as imperialism exists, the world will continue to suffer smaller wars and the danger of another major war. It is necessary to overthrow imperialism and we can best contribute towards that aim by coordinating our struggles with the aim of carrying out a revolution in Ireland, thereby depriving imperialism of one of its supporters in Europe.
FOOTNOTES 1“And you will begin to hear of wars and rumors of wars. Behold, do not be alarmed; for it is necessary to take place, but the end is not yet” — Christian New Testament Bible, Matthew, Chapter 24:6.
14Resolutions of the UN Security Council, the only ones binding on all member states, require unanimous agreement by all five Permanent Members: UK, France, USA, Russia and China. Forcing a vote such as this in the UN General Assembly would likely lead to the fracture of the organisation.
15The following year there were two in Russia and in 1918 another in Germany.