Issue 244 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

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THE BALKANS

Nato's war: the truth comes out

Serbian members of Otpor!(Resistance) take to the streets against Milosevic

The truth behind Nato's bombardment of Yugoslavia last year was headline news last month. A leaked government report revealed that only 40 percent of RAF bombs hit their targets while the hit rate of the unguided, high explosive 1,000 pound bomb was three out of 150, or 2 percent. Yet at a press conference in February, Ministry of Defence officials claimed the war had been the RAF's most successful bombing campaign. This was followed by the Guardian reporting that the final toll of civilians killed by Serb forces in Kosovo during the war was less than 3,000, 'far short' of what Nato had claimed.

During the bombing US defence secretary William Cohen claimed 100,000 Albanian men were missing, possibly murdered, while Robin Cook told the House of Commons that the Serbs 'may now have killed 20,000 to 30,000 men, women and children.' Within a month, Cook had revised the estimate down to 10,000.

The revelations prompted the Guardian to comment that Nato states had manipulated the figures 'to maintain support for the bombing'. As veteran BBC reporter Jon Simpson has put it: 'We were suckered.'

These are only the latest in a flood of revelations this year. In February, four months after UN secretary general Kofi Annan requested the information, Lord Robertson finally admitted that US jets had fired 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium during the war. After initially refusing to divulge where DU had been used, Robertson produced a map which the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium described as 'in no way detailed enough to assess environmental pollution caused by DU'.

In April the Sunday Times revealed that Operation Horseshoe, Milosevic's alleged master plan to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, was concocted by German defence officials from run of the mill Bulgarian intelligence reports to win over a sceptical public.

In June Amnesty International published a report which charged Nato with war crimes for targeting civilians when it bombed the Serbian television and radio station in Belgrade. Only five days earlier Carla Del Ponte, the UN war crimes prosecutor, had exonerated Nato and said she was 'very satisfied there was no deliberate targeting of civilians'.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee then published a report which said that, contrary to government claims, the bombing was 'legally questionable' because the UN Security Council had not sanctioned it. It also said that Nato's demand at Rambouillet that its forces should have free movement throughout Yugoslavia was provocative as it 'would never have been acceptable to the Yugoslav side since it was a significant infringement of its sovereignty'.

But the most significant news of all is the situation in Kosovo itself. At the end of the war Robin Cook told the House of Commons, 'Our commitment is to protect all people in Kosovo, whatever their ethnic identity... to create not a single ethnic state, but a multi-ethnic state under the democratic rules and values we understand.' Exactly the opposite has happened.

By October last year the Yugoslav Red Cross reported that 230,884 Serbs and Roma had fled Kosovo into Serbia and Montenegro, ethnic cleansing by the KLA that Nato did nothing to stop. As the UN Commission for Human Rights recently reported: 'Killings, oppression, harassment, expulsion, rape and other violations continue to take place at an alarming rate, particularly targeting the non-Albanian communities of Kosovo--a campaign to vindicate the rights of the Kosovar Albanians [has been] followed by a campaign of atrocities against the Serb, Roma and other minority communities.'

The few Serbs left in Kosovo live largely in the town of Mitrovica where competition to control the nearby Trepca mining complex, the heart of Yugoslavia's mineral wealth, has exacerbated tensions with Albanians. Last month the Zvecan lead smelter was seized by K-For, Nato's force in Kosovo, from its Serb managers and turned over to a consortium of international companies.

As for Robin Cook's democratic values, local elections have been fixed for October but, whatever their outcome, it is Bernard Kouchner, the UN head of Kosovo, and K-For who will run the province and not the Kosovan Albanians.

In neighbouring Montenegro, formally part of the Yugoslav federation with Serbia, the situation is tense. The conflict between the pro-independence government of Milo Djukanovic and Milosevic has intensified with every step Nato has taken to transform Montenegro into a puppet state it can turn against Serbia. Since the end of the war the Djukanovic government has adopted the German mark as a parallel currency to the Yugoslav dinar, privatised extensively, made the Montenegrin Central Bank independent of Belgrade, and received substantial aid from the US and Europe therefore breaching rules which say that aid can only be given to an independent state. Montenegrin paramilitaries are trained by the US and Britain.

Djukanovic knows he must do Nato's bidding or else give in to Milosevic. He dares not declare independence since Nato is currently opposed to such a step in case it encourages Albanian secessionism in Kosovo and Macedonia. Milosevic has reduced Montenegro's representation in the federal upper house from half to a minority. If the current stalemate implodes, then civil war and Nato intervention are likely.

In Serbia itself presidential elections are set for late this month. Most of the opposition, including the student organisation Otpor! has backed Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia as their candidate.

Kostunica is popular because, unlike the other opposition leaders, he has never negotiated with Milosevic and skilfully articulates the hopes of many Serbs with his slogan of 'No to the White House. No to [Milosevic's] White Castle'. However, in a spoiling operation typical of Serbia's machiavellian opposition, Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement has backed another candidate, splitting the vote.

In the end, however, only a radical political force which rejects both Nato and the destructive nationalist politics of Milosevic can offer the Balkans hope. We can help here by continuing to expose Nato's lies.
Dragan Plavsic


BETWEEN THE LINES

  • Councillors in the German City of Celle have voted to build a ghetto wall around refugees in order to isolate them. All parties voted to go ahead with construction--from the racist right Republikaner party to the Social Democrats and the Greens.
  • An IMF and World Bank debt relief programme will increase poverty in Zambia, according to a report by Oxfam. Relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative would result in higher interest rate repayments, from $136 million to $235 million. Rather than meeting human need, repayments are calculated on the value of goods a country exports.
  • New Labour has just appointed Peter Gershon, director of arms manufacturer BAe Systems, to run a government department. He will be overseeing all PFI contracts in the public sector, from the transfer of council house stock, to the building of hospitals, schools and prisons. And what will the cost be? Gershon will receive £180,000 a year.

  • Around 600 health workers organised by Dudley Group of Hospitals Unison have completed a second solid round of strike action during August. The four-day strike followed on from a two-day strike earlier in the month and is against plans to privatise jobs as part of a PFI project.

    The strike has been popular, with tens of thousands of pounds donated to the strike fund. The strikers were boosted when consultant physician Adrian Hamlyn expressed support and attacked the PFI project for reducing the number of hospital beds.

    The strikers also voted to send a delegation to the forthcoming 26 September Prague demonstration against the IMF and the World Bank.

    The leaders of the health trust are trying to sit out the strike. They claim that they cannot renegotiate because they are under instruction from the health ministry to hold the line in Dudley for fear of setting a precedent.

    Pressure is now building on Alan Milburn, the health secretary, to intervene to suspend the PFI project to and allow the trust to renegotiate to exclude the staff. Yet the trust claims that if this happens the project will collapse. The response of strikers is that this will be a price worth paying.

    At a recent mass meeting strikers voted to escalate the strike to seven days as the next step in the dispute. A proposal for indefinite action was debated at the meeting and drew applause from many sections, but was eventually rejected when full-time officers argued that at this stage they could not support indefinite action. However, they stated that this was a likely future step.

    Keep our jobs in the NHS

    The mood on the picket lines has been confident. There have been occasions when numbers have reached up to 150 at the two biggest sites. A demonstration of 350-400 local people was noisy and well received. There has also been coverage in the local and national media. The strikers and supporters know that solidarity is now even more vital if the proposal for indefinite action is to be made a reality.
    Mark New

    Rush donations and messages of support to the Union Offices, Wordsley Hospital, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 5QX. Further information from Mark New, joint branch secretary, on 07970 788873 or on e-mail at MarkNew3@aol.com


    ARMS

    A licence to kill

    Britain's arms manufacturers will be happy with New Labour's latest climbdown. A few months ago it was revealed that officials at the Department of Trade and Industry had been instructed to draft a bill that would lead to the greater regulation of the arms industry. In no way would this have meant the end of the arms trade, but it would have meant licences would be issued which could have been revoked if any arms manufacturer broke certain guidelines.

    Now even these weak proposals are to be dropped, as the New Labour government has decided there is not enough parliamentary time for the bill to go through. The result will mean that the trade of arms to such countries as Pakistan, Indonesia and Zimbabwe will continue. All those who had high hopes that Labour would pursue an ethical foreign policy on coming to office will, once again, be sorely disappointed.


    SCIENCE

    Cloning profits for private enterprise

    Much of the debate over changes to the law regulating research on human embryos has obscured the real issues. The claim that it will necessarily take us further down a slippery slope towards cloning people is dangerously misleading. A much more serious issue is the question of who will be in control of the research. Will it be publicly funded and thus at least in theory accountable to the public, or will it be handed over to private companies whose main goal is to make as much money as they can from scientific discoveries?

    The research could lead to revolutionary medical treatments that would replace damaged organs with replicas made from 'off the shelf' tissue banks, or even generated from one's own cloned cells. It follows on from the recent finding that certain cells (so called stem cells) taken from a very early human embryo (at a stage when it is only a bundle of cells itself) can grow into different tissues--such as nerve, brain, liver, heart and muscle--when cultured in the laboratory.

    It has already been shown in experimental mice that transplanted cells function normally in the host animal. A controversial issue is how the stem cells will be obtained. They could be obtained from embryos left over from IVF treatment that would otherwise be destroyed. These cells would be used to create tissue banks. The main problem with this approach would be the common one of transplant rejection.

    A more radical approach would be therapeutic cloning. This would generate transplant tissue from a patient's own cells by applying the technique used to create Dolly the sheep. A patient's skin cell would be taken and fused with a donated human egg stripped of its own genetic material. This would then divide to create an early embryo, from which stem cells could be harvested.

    A lot of media space has been devoted to the arguments of anti-abortion groups, playing on people's fears about the potential for science to be used in an irresponsible way. In fact there is very little likelihood that some 'mad scientist' will go off and clone himself. The only researcher in Britain licensed to experiment on human embryonic stem cells at present, Dr Austin Smith at Edinburgh University, has said recently, 'I want to know I'm going forward with public support and public confidence, and that everything I do will be transparent and published, and not part of some commercial enterprise.'

    Yet those set to reap the benefits of cloning technology look likely to be private companies. Those of us who attend reproductive biology conferences have recently seen the rise of a new breed of scientist entrepreneur. Why, when cloning technology was developed only through years of publicly funded research, should its development now be left in the hands of venture capitalists?
    John Parrington


    AFRICAN DEBT

    Western capital guilty as charged

    An 'African renaissance'?

    The IMF, World Bank and other institutions are guilty of 'deliberately sending to their deaths millions of women, children and men through violence and famine.' This was the conclusion of the International Tribunal on IMF and World Bank Activity in Africa, whose findings were reported at the House of Commons recently at a meeting hosted by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and the African Liberation Support Campaign.

    The tribunal's jurors, representing political parties and unions from nine African countries, heard testimony in Los Angeles in February. 'They are perpetuating the pillage and oppression which existed under the regimes of slavery and colonialism, and which still exist today through the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Plans and the payment of the debt,' the jury said. Witnesses called for the defence, including US foreign secretary Madeleine Albright and Mike Moore of the WTO, declined the opportunity to justify their description of an 'African renaissance'.

    The Structural Adjustment Plans required as a condition of loans since the mid-1980s have reversed any advances made in the post-colonial era. Africans today are poorer than they were 40 years ago, with an estimated 300 million living in poverty. At the behest of bankers and financiers, public health systems and entire state infrastructures have been dismantled in countries in which around a quarter of the budget is set aside for debt repayment. The result is that tuberculosis and malaria kill 1.6 million people every year. The jury's verdict reported, 'One of the witnesses asked whether there would in fact be a next generation of Africans? In vast regions of Africa we can already answer "no" to this question.' In a situation where half of all 15 year olds in South Africa and Zimbabwe are threatened by Aids this a chilling fact.

    Resistance to the 'reforms' of the world financial bodies has always existed on a local level, but the complicity of many African rulers, and their brutality in enforcing adherence to the IMF and World Bank dictats, has crushed opposition in many countries. The tribunal 'deems well founded and legitimate any and all sovereign actions of the African people seeking to break the chains of the debt'. Struggle has often gone unreported and unnoticed in the so called 'developed world'. Today, however, it coincides not only with a far greater awareness of the role of the global financial institutions amongst the working class of the developed world than ever before, but also with a conviction that the system is wrong and must be changed. This is why the call at the meeting to support the Prague protests on 26 September creates a vital link between those suffering the brunt of international capital's greed and activists in Europe and North America.
    James Bowen

    For more on the IMF and the World Bank turn to pages 13-16


    GERMANY

    Forcing the real extremists on the defensive

    How to stem the growth of Nazi organisations has become the central question in German politics. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, leader of the Social Democratic Party, toured the states of the former East Germany, where Nazi parties have most markedly won support, for 11 days in an effort to undermine their base.

    Leaders of the Tory CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, felt compelled to speak out against the most visible of Germany's Nazi groups, the National Democratic Party (NPD). Media debate turned on whether the NPD should be banned under the laws against political extremism, with a poll showing 67 percent in favour. Bild, similar to the Sun, started campaigning against Nazi groups and even ran articles highlighting the positive contribution immigrants have made to German society.

    Two events fired opposition to the Nazis. In Dessau racists killed a black immigrant who had lived in Germany for 15 years. Then a bomb exploded in Düsseldorf which was widely believed to be the work of Nazi thugs. That led wide numbers of people to oppose attempts by the NPD to march. The NPD has tried to stage provocative 'anti-immigrant' marches over the last 12 months, hoping to unite disparate far right skinhead groups into an effective streetfighting force. But the recent racist attacks have led to increasing numbers of people prepared to confront them.

    The powerful IG Metall union supported a 2,000-strong counter-mobilisation against an NPD march in Hamburg in mid-August. It has also produced posters naming known Nazis. Over 3,000 people demonstrated in Munich against the NPD. The mobilisations are not yet on the scale of the protests against racism which followed a spate of racist murders in the early 1990s. But they represent a much harder political opposition to the far right.

    There is now a growing popular mood against the racists

    Few protesters in the early 1990s were prepared to label the far right as Nazis. Today increasing numbers of people describe the three main far right organisations--the DVU, the NPD and the Republikaner--as Nazis. And mainstream politicians and commentators are drawing the links between the Tories' recent anti-immigrant campaigns, which the government has given ground to, and the Nazis' growth.

    Leaders of the main parties are trying to steer outrage at the Nazis along safe channels. For example, CSU leaders spoke at the Munich rally and said they were against 'the extremism of the left and of the right'. They were shouted down. Laws against 'political extremism' have traditionally been used against the left in Germany. The Communist Party was banned in 1956. Socialists were the main victims of the ban on state employment of 'extremists' in the 1970s.

    That is one reason why socialists in Germany are going beyond simple calls for the NPD to be outlawed, which means it loses its government subsidies. They are uniting with anti-racist groups to call a national demonstration in Berlin in October to shut the NPD's headquarters. The official anti-fascism from above is limited. But it has opened a huge space for a vibrant fight against the Nazis and the high levels of unemployment they feed off, particularly in the east.
    Kevin Ovenden


    PUBLIC SPENDING

    That sinking feeling

    The message is clear, but is New Labour listening?

    'Brown's £43 Billion Spree' was the Guardian's headline when the chancellor's public spending review promised to spend £12 billion a year on education by 2003-04, £13 billion a year on the NHS, and an increase from £4.9 billion to £9.1 billion in 2003-04 on transport.

    Has New Labour reverted to Old Labour? Once critical trade union leaders are now purring with delight. GMB general secretary John Edmonds claims that 'people who thought a vote for Labour was a vote to reverse a decline in our public services are at last starting to see their faith repaid'. The extra spending--always assuming the government keeps its promises--is, of course, very welcome. And the reason for the change in tack--widespread anger and disgust at Labour's failure three years in office--is not hard to fathom.

    Yet just how generous has Brown been? The Economist noted that the proposed growth in public spending is extremely modest: 'The new splurge in public spending will simply compensate for Mr Brown's extraordinary success in reining in public expenditure. In real terms, total spending declined in Labour's first two years in office and grew only modestly in its third year. Public expenditure is set to grow in 2000-01 by 5 percent after inflation. However, this will still leave the average rate of real increase over Labour's first four years at about half its long run rate of growth from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s.'

    So intense, it argued, has New Labour's squeeze on public spending's share of the economy been that 'as a percentage of GDP [gross domestic product], expenditure sank last year to its lowest since the first year of Harold Wilson's government in 1964-65'.

    Brown's bonanza is also limited in other ways. It depends on targets being met and on unemployment benefit not rising. If the economy begins to deteriorate then all bets are off. History suggests that Labour's promises evaporate like morning mist under the fierce glare of big business. Boss-friendly New Labour is not going to be different.
    Gareth Jenkins


    OBITUARY

    Legalised murder

    Brian Roberson

    Brian Roberson (also known as Bomani Iyappo Bandele) was finally executed by the US state of Texas governor, Republican presidential canditate George W Bush, last month after a long campaign against his sentence.

    Brian's case first came to the attention of Socialist Review readers when he wrote to us back in 1995. At that time he had already spent eight years on death row. He said, 'I see the death penalty as nothing but government-sanctioned murder... No doubt this is being orchestrated by the capitalist infrastructure here in corporate Amerikkka.' Brian was determined to fight a campaign to expose the injustice of his case and the racism of the US prison system. Numerous messages of support were sent, an open petition was launched, and two human rights lawyers from Switzerland took up his case.

    Brian was arrested in September 1986 and charged with burglary and murder. Following this, after many hours of police questioning and lack of sleep, Brian broke down and signed a pre-written confession. There were no fingerprints found on the murder weapon. The only evidence against Brian was the confession itself.

    Brian's family had first hand experience of racism. When he was a young boy his father was murdered by a white man. Although sentenced to 13 years, the murderer was eventually released after just three. The murder of Brian comes at a time when there is increased anger against the death penalty in the US. There has also been a growing campaign of meetings, rallies and demonstrations to try and stop it completely. Tragically, Brian's case was the 60th execution in the US this election year. Pressure must be brought to bear to make sure it is the last.
    Peter Morgan


    THE WALRUS

    Lights out for e-commerce

    Not long after we all found out that the knowledge-based economy needs lorries, drivers and warehouses as much as keyboards and websites, along comes the revelation that it has an almost insatiable appetite for the other rather old fashioned commodity--electricity (a manufactured product, by the way).

    Nobody had mentioned the electricity issue much until June, when a combination of soaring temperatures and low electricity supplies forced massive power cuts in California's Silicon Valley. The 'outages' are estimated to have cut off supplies to more than 100,000 industrial, business and residential customers in the San Fransisco Bay area and cost high tech industries in the region of at least $75 million a day. Oil and fuel pipelines were also shut down at refineries owned by Chevron, Texaco and Royal Dutch/Shell Oil. Not since the miners' strike of 1972 has widespread havoc been unleashed on such a heartwarming scale.

    The Times reported that in London alone demand for electricity will increase by 20 percent over the next four years entirely due to the internet and wondered if London Electricity would be able to cope.

    Exactly why so much more electricity should be needed for the internet began to become clearer when it turned out it was all being used up by 'web hotels'--installations which are generally owned and operated by the big telecom companies and which can cover an area of up to 50,000 square metres. Filled with banks of computers, these giant servers feed websites with constant streams of information and carry millions of virtual pounds in e-commerce transactions. They are not really like hotels at all--more like gigantic sorting offices for e-mails and other web transactions. Because the computers generate so much heat, some of these sites are cooled by the kind of water circulation systems normally associated with nuclear power plants. At one of them--bang opposite the Millennium Dome, on the Isle of Dogs--the facility is connected up to two separate electricity ring mains and also has a backup diesel generator just to make sure.

    According to the Financial Times, security is also a major concern. The steel bars on the windows make the 'hotel' look like a prison because the hardware inside and the data that passes through it are apparently 'very valuable and vulnerable to tampering'.

    To date, there are thought to be two of these throbbing entities in London but another ten are going to be built in the next four years, presumably until everywhere inside the M25 turns into a gigantic electromagnet.

    Exactly where all this extra power is going to come from is not such a daft question. Until the Tories got started on the coal and power supply industry, 80 percent of the raw material for electricity power stations came from coal mines. After most of the pits were eventually shut, control of the most profitable pits was handed on a plate to a man nobody had ever heard of, Richard Budge.

    Now Budge has made such a consistent hash of running the industry--despite guaranteed contracts from Powergen and National Power plus a series of government handouts--that his firm, RJB Mining, is about to be sold to Ira Rennert. An American capitalist of the old school, Rennert appears to have made most of his fortune from building military transporters for the US army. He has recently been in the headlines in the US for wanting to build the biggest family house in America slap on top of a natural heritage site. Michael Moore has called him 'the Bathroom King' because his new mansion is going to have 39 of them. His company, Renco, recently earned the distinction of being the country's single biggest private polluter.

    Since privatisation most of the rest of the power industry has been reduced to a shambles as well. The two main power generating companies -- Powergen and National Power--have been getting rid of their power stations at a furious rate, apparently convinced that, like National Grid before them, much higher returns can be made from telecoms and the internet. And nobody has a clue any more who is in charge of regional electricity supply, especially in London.

    What all this is leading towards might begin to become clearer this autumn when a new system of pricing comes into operation. The main point is that it will reduce prices to consumers, but not for the likes of you and me. Prices will be cut for big business and, in order to pay for this, consultants ArthurThe Walrus Anderson has been recommending substantial pay cuts for power industry workers to the regulator, Ofgem. They have already cut the workforce down to the bare bones. Let's hope the ones who are left are able to keep the supply going and never let it cross their minds that things might be 'vulnerable to tampering'--the new pricing system is going to be carried out entirely online and will need an awful lot of electricity.


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