Weekly News Review Archive

27th October, 2001

Environmentalists express fears over EU enlargement

A group of environmental NGOs is calling for “prompt and concrete action” to meet the threat to the environment, and especially biodiversity, faced by countries in central and eastern Europe after their accession to the European Union, likely to come in the next few years.

At a conference in Hungary last weekend on "EU Enlargement and the Environment", organised by the umbrella European Environmental Bureau and the Hungarian Government, NGOs demanded that the current EU debate on a so-called Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) must be opened up to the Candidate Countries, as they are known, by setting up an inclusive forum to work on an SDS acceptable to present and future EU countries.

"The Candidate Countries must be included in this process, or it will not work," said EEB Secretary General John Hontelez. "Work also needs to be done in raising the awareness in these countries to ensure proper public participation. And we also feel there is not enough discussion going on between governments and NGOs in the countries negotiating for accession, which is one of the main reasons for holding this conference today."

NGOs are concerned that governments from the Candidate Countries have finished negotiations on adopting EU environment legislation without fully ensuring that this will be properly implemented. "A proper mechanism is needed to monitor and evaluate progress in implementation and enforcement," said John Hontelez.

In agriculture, the NGOs criticised the lack of clear plans to prevent the malign effects of the intensification of agriculture which will be the inevitable result of having to comply with the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They called for specific plans to be made, and a shift towards organic farming.

Until recently it was widely taken for granted that, because in most respects the performance of countries in the region has been poor, EU accession, and the obligation to adopt higher standards of environmental protection, could only be beneficial. As accession approaches, however, more and more people are beginning to question this assumption, asking themselves whether the inflicting of the CAP, which has resulted in the devastation of swathes of European countryside, can be such good news.

At the same time, it is clear that environmental law is less of a priority for EU negotiators than is, for example, compliance with financial and internal market regulations. Even in the existing Union, environmental laws are poorly enforced. The one area in which the anciens régimes of the Soviet bloc did excel, for example, was in the conservation of wildlife and the region’s rich biodiversity. This is a sore point with the EU Commission, which has been obliged to take a majority of current member states to court for failure to comply with the existing directive.

EP Left Group’s Round Table Anticipates Alp Tunnel Fire

A round table on the reopening of the Mont Blanc Tunnel and protecting the environment in the Alps, organised by the European Parliament’s United Left Group the day before the fire in the Gothard tunnel which cost ten lives, was called to encourage discussion of how such disasters could be avoided. According to a spokesperson for the group, which has 43 MEPs in its ranks, the round table discussed "global, realistic and long-term" solutions to stop the Alps from being clogged up with ever greater volumes of traffic. The European Commission, which with the collusion of the EP and a majority of member states pressured Switzerland into abandoning a policy of moving all freight on to rail, sometimes seems determined to concrete over the entire continent. As long as the road transport lobby calls the shots in Brussels with such force, the obvious conclusion from these repeated disasters, not to mention the daily carnage caused by a road-based transport system, will not be drawn.

Huge Gains for PDS in Berlin Elections

The people of Berlin voted last weekend, October 21, in city council elections which were  called early following the collapse of the previous administration. The “grand coalition” of conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) confirmed in office only two years ago fell in June as a result of in a huge bank scandal caused by machinations of a prominent CDU figure Klaus Landowski, leaving the city with a debt of DM 78 billion. Since then, the city has been run by a minority SPD-Green coalition.

The results of these elections have been described by some commentators as a “political earthquake.” After a prolonged election campaign where the conservatives tried to re-establish the frontlines of the cold war, the three parties of the Left gained nearly two thirds of the vote.

The Party of Democratic Socialists, the left party descended from the party which ruled the eastern part of the country when it was part of the old Soviet bloc,  made huge gains, winning over 22% of the vote and 33 seats in the city parliament. In those parts of the city which were previously in the GDR (East Germany), it came close to the absolute majority, winning all 32 constituencies. In the west of Berlin it crossed the magic 5-% -barrier by gaining an overall 6.9 % (plus 2.7 %), meaning that it is now represented in the councils of each of the 12 city boroughs, the administrative units into which Berlin is divided. The biggest party in 5 boroughs and an absolute majority in two, the fact that it has more support amongst voters under 25 than any other party gives the lie to the idea that its support comes from older people with a misplaced nostalgia for the certainties of life in the GDR.

Read the Party of Democratic Socialists’ own explanation of its success elsewhere on this website

New edition of International Environmental Yearbook published: half available on line

The ninth edition of the Yearbook of International Co-operation on Environment and Development (2001/2002) has just come out. The Yearbook is an encyclopaedia containing updated systematic descriptions of more than sixty of the world’s most important international agreements on environment and sustainable development, as well as the activities and structure of more than fifty inter-governmental organisations and NGOs. The best news is that more than half of the Yearbook’s content is available on line and free at http://www.greenyearbook.org

Terrorist Watch/ WiTChhunt

Just so that Spectre readers can sleep more easily in their beds (or under them, at least) we continue to keep an eye on terrorist activity directed by  ruthless, badly-dressed men in the desert fastnesses of Afghanistan, Westminster and Washington.

Confused? Having difficulty telling the good guys from the bad guys? Need a handy guide to differences between terrorists and the US junta? Well, as my Grandmother used to say, you’ve come to the wrong shop.

But here, by way of consolation, is a totally unhelpful quiz: Which group is allegedly led by the spoiled son of a powerful politician, from extremely wealthy oil family? Which leader has declared a holy war (‘Jihad’ or ‘Crusade’) against his enemies? believes any nation not with him is against him? believes God is on his side, and that any means are justified? Okay, then which side is supported by extreme fundamentalist religious leaders who preach hatred, intolerance, subjugation of women, and persecution of non-believers? And which one wasn’t elected by a majority of the people in a free and fair democratic election? Which side is willing to kill thousands of innocent civilians, some of them children, in cold-blooded bombings? Operates through a clandestine organisation with agents in many countries; uses bombing, assassination, and other terrorist tactics? Uses war as pretext to clamp down on dissent and undermine civil liberties? You see the problem.

(note – somebody else had the idea for this item, but we’ve lost all trace of its origins. Sorry! Please let us know who you are if you’re out there, and we’ll credit you – probably leading to your losing your job, home, citizenship etc – but think of the honour!)

Bomb attacks cost civilian lives, obviously

Unexploded cluster bombs from a US air raid have trapped villagers in a west Afghan village, leaving them afraid to venture from their homes, U.N. officials said on Wednesday. The village of Shaker Qala is close to the city of Herat and only hundreds of yards from a military camp. Local mine-removal workers are trying to clear paths for villagers so they can leave their homes and go about daily activities.

Herat itself was also attacked, when US bombs struck a hospital on Monday and then a mosque the following night. Both buildings were located inside a military compound, but are used by civilians.

The UN revelation came a day after the US admitted that bombs had gone astray over the weekend in Herat and over Kabul, where witnesses said at least 10 people died Sunday in a residential neighbourhood.

UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said that at least 70% of people living in the major towns of Herat, Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in the east had fled the bombing. Independent estimates put the number of people on the move from the three cities at around one million.

Reports from refugees arriving in Pakistan suggest that civilian casualties continue to mount. Several recounted how 20 people, including nine children, had been killed as they tried to flee an attack on the southern Afghan town of Tirin Kot on a tractor and trailer. Refugees from Herat, who travelled for six days to get to the eastern border with Pakistan, told of horrifying destruction along the main road to Kandahar. Refugees also reported that Kandahar itself had seen shopping bazaars in the heart of the town destroyed, and that civilians had died in the raid on what is described as a Taliban stronghold.

And those left alive resist

Exiled Afghan women organised as the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, have called for an uprising to resist both the Taliban and their Northern Alliance enemies, whilst unequivocally attacking US/British bombing. Read RAWA’s full statement on this website, “RAWA calls for uprising”.

Meanwhile, resistance internationally continues to mount. 10,000 protesters marched through Amsterdam on October 20, while weekly demonstrations are being held in all major Dutch towns.

Anti-war activists set up a Peace Camp -- three tents so far – on the Oval (near Bricker Hall) of the Ohio State University on Tuesday, October 16. The Peace Camp will remain until the end of the war, and supporters are asked to visit and maybe spend the night.  For those of us of a certain age, Ohio State has a special resonance as the university where four students were shot dead by National Guardsmen while protesting the Vietnam War.

Professor Francis Boyle continues his tireless campaigning against the war. Read a speech he made last week to a human rights group (although it sounds more like a street gang!), the Illinois Disciples, at this website

“What has not been explained to the American people is the reason why 35,000 Army Reservists and 65,000 National Guard have been called up. It is to maintain internal checkpoints. It has nothing to do with the external "War on Terrorism." All of these people are being trained at the US Army School of Urban Control at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. CNN actually showed an urban

training mock-up, what they're training on, and what the new Internal Security checkpoint is going to look like. It was mighty sinister looking.” Read the rest of Al Martin’s report on US internal surveillance here

One campaigner who will have to find new ways to deliver the message is Peter Werbe, variously described as “anarchist” and “left of center”. Whatever the details of Werbe’s politics, he’s a radio talk-show host and he’s against the war. Werbe is a veteran talk show host from Detroit with thirty years experience in talk radio. See his website Peter's show is broadcast on the AM band in 14 cities and on the Internet from the ieamerica web site. His show was taken off by a station in Santa Cruz, California, however, because of his left views and his opposition to Bush’s terrorism.  Station owner Michael Zwerling apparently called Werbe an “asshole”, on air. Alice Nutter, lead singer of the British pop group Chumbawumba, has sent a letter of protest to the station, which you can read by getting on to the group's international email list. See http://www.chumba.com. The BBC Home Service it isn’t.

Apparently Zwerling doesn’t like Werbe’s views, but he is much more upset about his email and phones being swamped, initially by warmongers complaining that Peter Werbe was on, and then by sane people complaining that it wasn’t. So you can do your bit by calling the station at (01)831-475-1080 or emailing him – repeatedly if you really want to get your message across - at mz@ksco.com and telling him politely that this assault on the 1st Amendment – the US Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech – is unacceptable.

San Francisco US Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of the House of Representatives to cast her vote against the war, was supported last weekend by a demonstration of 3,000 after former California state Assemblywoman Audie Bock announced she would run against Lee in the March Democratic primary, under the bizaare slogan "OK to love America." And, presumably, okay to bomb the bejesus out of anyone who stands in its way. Bock, who once stood as a Green (surprising to Americans, but not those of us who have had years to get to grips with the weird antics of the warmongers who run the German, Dutch and some other European Green Parties), had earlier called Lee to tell her she had her support. Bomber Bock seems to have all the qualities of trustworthiness and reliability which US voters have come to expect in their elected representatives.

Not far from Barbara Lee’s patch, the city council of Berkeley, California, kept up the town’s long-standing honourable reputation by passing a resolution against Bush’s war.

You don’t actually have to live in the States to lose your job, be vilified or investigated by spooks for criticising its ruling junta’s terrorism. Professor Sunera Thobani teaches in Ottawa, but she is nevertheless being investigated by her own country’s goons for a possible violation of Section 319 of the Canada Criminal Code -inciting hatred against an identifiable group – an allegation which must seem grimly ironic to a woman of south Asian origin. As Pam Frache of the Canadian Federation of Students says, “Such an application of the law is the antithesis of the intent of that legislation. It is now being used to limit dissent.” The real problem is that Professor Thobani has expressed damning criticism of US foreign policy, most publicly in a speech delivered to a women's meeting on October 1. Since then, she has been repeatedly attacked in the media. Go to this website to read more on the case (look for the article “Mediating Thobani”); to see Thobani's full speech see here To sign a petition in her support go to this website

In the United Kingdom, which lacks not only a First Amendment but also a constitution to amend, left-leaning Labour MPs were told by their Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram, an obscure fellow even by Blairite standards,  that they were the modern equivalent of Nazi appeasers during the Second World War. Although this is not the first time right wing politicians have tried to rewrite the shameful events of the 1930s, it cannot be said often enough that appeasement was not the work of people who opposed the war on pacifist grounds. It was entirely the doing of the huge swathe of Britain’s ruling class which actively supported the Nazis up until the day the first shots were fired, when most of them shut up. Unless Ingram is suggesting that Labour backbenchers not only sympathise with bin Laden politically, but have a massive financial interest in the continuation of Taleban rule in Afghanistan, then his comparison is preposterous.

Ingram later tried to play down his comments, but his references to Nazism and appeasement echoed reports of similar remarks by Hilary Armstrong, the Chief Whip, who also told one Labour MP that "War is not a matter of conscience. Abortion and embryo research are matters of conscience, but not wars."

George Galloway, possibly the most outspoken critic of the war in Parliament and a leading opponent of sanctions against Iraq, was called before Armstrong along with five other dissidents. "She may demand that I stop speaking out on the world. I hope she does not make such demands because the answer would have to be no," he commented.

Prodi tries it on

The opinions of the people who perpetrated the September 11 attacks regarding the merits of European integration are not known. European Commission President Romano Prodi, however, is apparently convinced that, like it or not, they have hastened the day when the Union becomes the super-state it would love to be. In a speech entitled “Europe one month after 11th September”, Prodi, who is becoming almost as much of an embarrassment to the EU as was his predecessor,  said, “the current crisis favours integration by highlighting the need for more intense action.” We’re not sure whether this means anything, but if it does, it’s offensive.

At the same time, Spectre’s favourite liberal (not much competition there) Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel (recently in trouble for pointing out the obvious fact that Berlusconi is a disgusting toad, or words to that effect) accused Tony Blair of “over-acting”, which is rather like accusing a dog of barking – it’s irritating, but the poor beast has to do it. If you don’t like barking, don’t keep a dog. Michel said Blair was “too bellicose” and that the grinning mass-murderer’s support for Washington had left a “bitter taste” in his mouth. Indeed.

Not everyone can afford to be so outspoken, however, and it’s no only individuals but whole states which are being whipped into shape. Even traditionally neutral countries are learning to toe the new Washington-London Axis line.  Sweden, for example, has abandoned its traditional foreign policy under the current leadership of the Social Democratic Party, which has entered an informal alliance with the United States and NATO. Read all about it here

  A s if normal bombs and fanatical hijackers weren’t enough, now we’ve apparently got to worry about frankenbugs. The anthrax scare has suddenly made the threat of biological weapons all too real – and it now appears that bioweapons, genetically engineered to make them more lethal, are being developed by American corporations. And Bush’s junta has blocked international efforts to ban them. See here for more.

Finally, Issue #468 (October 24, 2001) of Green Left Weekly, Australia's socialist newspaper features numerous articles on the war and its consequences here

Read why anti-corporate activists should campaign against the war, about how millions face starvation as a result of Blair and Bush’s terrorism, and about growing resistance worldwide.