Month: December 2008

Spain does Moscow’s bidding

In an unprecedented act of subservience by a democratic Western state to the authoritarian Moscow regime, the Spanish authorities have extradited Murat Gasayev to Russia. The BBC notes that

Spain’s El Pais news website reports that Mr Gasayev’s extradition took place without any anti-torture guarantees.

Russian prosecutors say the police investigation established that in June 2004 Mr Gasayev took part in an attack on the interior ministry building in Nazran, in the Russian republic of Ingushetia.

Lessons for the intifada

With the probable approach of a third intifada, in which Hamas-led forces once again, in defiance of international law, press Palestinian civilians into  service as human shields, using homes, schools and community centres as rocket launching pads, Michael Weiss, in a guest post at Harry’s Place, asks whether the Hamas movement has seen the fundamental error that prevents it from achieving success, It needs, he suggests, to learn a lesson not from the Arab but from the Jewish past:

Palestinians lack a viable political program that places statehood, peaceful coexistence, and socioeconomic wellbeing at the fore, where these interests don’t require academic specialists to decipher them. Call it Fatah without the kleptocracy, or social democracy with teeth. In searching for such a program, or at least the philosophical underpinnings that precede it, Palestinians might take a lesson from an unlikely tutor: 19th-century Zionists. Was there ever any problem Diaspora Jews faced that they thought could not be solved by the temporary salves of charity and favorable international publicity? What the early Zionists came to realize was that without first addressing the integral political crisis of the Jewish nation, the cultural and humanitarian concerns would never be adequately resolved. For today’s Gazans, an ambulance driver who swears upon the Protocols of the Elders of Zion may serve a proximate physical need, but can he really serve a long-term national interest?

The Stalin message

In the Telegraph, Anne Applebaum writes about the message that is sent to the rest of the world by the Putin government’s elevation of Stalin to the status of hero. Excerpt:

Every country has a right to celebrate some positive elements of its past, and Russia is no exception. But that Putin and his colleagues have chosen, of all things, to celebrate Stalinist imperialism tells us a good deal about their vision of their country’s future.

Desiring death

Comments by Hamas representative Fathi Hamad:

“For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly [Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: We desire death as you desire life.”

 (Al-Aqsa TV [Hamas], Feb. 29, 2008).

Chechens in officially sanctioned protest against Budanov’s early release

Reuters reports that some 200 people have held an officially sanctioned protest in central Grozny against the early release of Col. Yuri Budanov, a Russian officer jailed for the murder of a young Chechen woman. The report says that many of the people taking part in the protest belonged to organizations loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov, including the “Ramzan” local public organization.

Sjón – 3 poems

[the translations are my own]

A glass of water

I held
the glass and
looked into it.
The human eye
that lay on the bottom
looked at me

And I
who only asked for water.

(from Madonna [1979])

the hungry man’s astronomy

insatiable moons
follow him home
both by day and by night

they hover above the rooftops
sneaking a quick snack


their favourite food
pizza with iceland moss
and ice cream

they are what they eat

(from myrkar fígúrur [1998])


marie curie and edvard munch lived in paris at around the same time

munch was interested in new discoveries and went to visit
the curies’ research laboratory on rue lhomond in the 5me arrondissement

marie was alone there and showed the painter how she and pierre
were wrestling with radium, and then gave him afternoon tea

in the lithograph munch sent her as a thank you present
the woman scientist sits among the equipment with her hand under her cheek

the angle of vision is oblique and in the bottom right hand corner you can see
the back of pierre’s neck as he sits at his desk writing in a book

marie curie looks into the light and has the same hairstyle as
edvard munch’s sister in the painting “death in the sickroom”

the picture has been lost – to dream it foretells the dreamer’s death

(from söngur steinsafnarans [2007])

See also in this blog: Sjón – 2 poems

an icelandic economist in soho

Sjón – 2 poems

Two poems by the contemporary Icelandic poet Sjón (Sigurjón Sigurðsson), in my translation:

the stone collector’s song

I remember the thirst and the darkness
I remember one-way streets
I remember closed alleys
and you

you pointed to a cellar door
there used to be a pub there
which we visited
a lot

here it is you said comfortingly
your stone collection
it isn’t

on the shelves behind the bar
waits the iceland spar
all my

sulphur  – pyrite – opal
and jasper – dear friends!
none of you have I

and up there on the ceiling hang
the obsidian sacks
heavy with


that is the poem I sing
as I squat under house-walls
when the winter denies me shelter



family life

after doing the washing-up the man stumbles
across a reindeer
that is lying under the coffee table

it notices him
and rears up in fright

starts running out of the parlour
along the passage
where it jumps
over a pair of sandals
and a woman’s shoe.

he chases it into the bedroom

the beast creeps
the double bed

he gets down on all fours
watches it
join the herd

it grunts

and the man disappears


(from söngur steinasafnarans [2007])


See also in this blog: an icelandic economist in soho

Amundsen: "secret alliance" between FSB and Islamist armed groups

From a recent (Dec. 4) Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty  interview with Norwegian public figure and human rights activist Ivar Amundsen, on the current situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus:

Natalya Golitsyna: Do you share Akhmed Zakaev’s opinion voiced recently at the ‘Caucasus seminar’ in London that ‘Russia has a vested interest in the instability in the Caucasus’?

Ivar Amundsen: Yes, I do. I think that this constitutes part of its policy in the Caucasus. Zakaev has also mentioned a very important point by saying that today Russia is losing its grip on Chechnya. This might sound paradoxical because Russia claims to have won the guerilla war in Chechnya. During the first Chechen campaign in 1994-1996 which claimed the lives of over one hundred people the Russian population of Chechnya numbered around three hundred and fifty thousand people. At the time ethnic Russians constituted a majority in Grozny. Since the second war which started in 1999 and which is still ongoing judging by the state of emergency still in force in Chechnya, the Russian population of Chechnya has gone down from about three hundred and fifty thousand to seven-eight thousand people. In other words, almost 98% of Chechnya’s civilian population have left the republic and the control over the situation in Chechnya is maintained by the army alone. This is what Zakaev meant when he spoke about Russia’s losing its grip on Chechnya. Today Ramzan Kadyrov is getting bolder and bolder in his aspirations to independence. There is another striking fact. There is an odd and secret alliance (a conspiracy even) between the FSB and the armed groups of Islamic fundamentalists hiding in the Chechen forests. Their leader Doku Umarov has proclaimed the setting of a new Islamic state – an independent Caucasus Emirate. According to experts, this move which could destabilize the situation in the Caucasus is being overseen by the FSB – in order to hamper as much as possible any solution to the Caucasus dilemma. 

Via chechnya-sl

Moscow admits Georgia death toll 162, not 2,100

In another – possibly surprising – volte face the Russian government has admitted that the results of an official investigation show that 162 civilians were killed in the fighting during the August war, and not 2,100, as it has consistently claimed in the past, Bloomberg reports.

See also in this blog: Moscow admits it prepared for August war

Support for Israel

At Harry’s Place, Gene takes issue with the Telegraph‘s defence correspondent Sean Raiment for asserting that Israel is “addicted to violence”, when its sole aim is to defend the lives of its citizens against indiscriminate attack:

–If the UK had been subjected to days of constant rocket fire by, say, the Irish army, making ordinary life impossible in large parts of the country; if the British government had repeatedly warned of the consequences if it continued; and if it the British military had finally responded by attacking Irish military installations, would you accuse the UK of being “addicted to violence”?

–Do you really believe that all, or even most, of those killed in the targeted Israeli attacks are civilians? I don’t think even Hamas is claiming that. Of course it doesn’t trouble Hamas to locate its installations in highly-populated areas. And if Israel really wanted to “slaughter” civilians, I can assure you– the death toll would be many times higher.

–Finally there’s that lovely word again: disproportionate. Would you be satisfied if Israel responded by launching a barrage of more-or-less random rocket and mortar fire at neighborhoods in Gaza. That, after all, would be a “proportionate” response.