Bloc de l'equip docent de l'assignatura HISTÒRIA POLÍTICA I SOCIAL CONTEMPORÀNIA, Facultat de Comunicació Blanquerna, Universitat Ramon Llull

dimarts, 27 de novembre de 2012

Iron Curtain (2a ressenya)

Stalin’s Shadow

by Max Frankel, 21.11.2012

Having brilliantly documented the horror of Stalin’s Soviet terror machine in her Pulitzer Prize-­winning “Gulag,” Anne Applebaum now offers a bulky sequel, “Iron Curtain,” about the brutal effort of that same machine to crush and colonize Eastern Europe in the first decade after World War II. Her evidence, once again drawn from archival research and some survivor interviews, is overwhelming and convincing. But the heart of her story is hardly news.
Jack Esten, Picture Post/Getty Images
Uprising in Hungary: Soviet tanks in Budapest, 1956.


The Crushing of Eastern Europe,1944-1956
By Anne Applebaum
Illustrated. 566 pp. Doubleday. $35.
That Soviet tanks carried Moscow-trained agents into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany was known in the West at the time and has been well documented since. When those agents set out to produce not only a friendly sphere of Soviet influence but also a cordon of dictatorships reliably responsive to Russian orders, Winston Churchill was moved to warn, just days after the Nazis’ surrender in 1945, that an Iron Curtain was being drawn through the heart of Europe. (He coined the metaphor in a message to President Truman a full year before he used it in public in Fulton, Mo.) And Matyas Rakosi, the “little Stalin” of Hungary, was well known for another apt metaphor, describing how the region’s political, economic, cultural and social oppositions were to be destroyed by “cutting them off like slices of salami.”
Applebaum tracks the salami slicing as typically practiced in Poland, Hungary and Germany, and serves up not only the beef but also the fat, vinegar and garlic in exhausting detail. She shows how the knives were sharpened before the war’s end in Soviet training camps for East European Communists, so that trusted agents could create and control secret police forces in each of the “liberated” nations. She shows how reliable operatives then took charge of all radio broadcasting, the era’s most powerful mass medium. And she demonstrates how the Soviet stooges could then, with surprising speed, harass, persecute and finally ban all independent institutions, from youth groups and welfare agencies to schools, churches and rival political parties.
Along the way, millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Hungarians were ruthlessly driven from their historic homes to satisfy Soviet territorial ambitions. Millions more were deemed opponents and beaten, imprisoned or hauled off to hard labor in Siberia. In Stalin’s paranoid sphere, not even total control of economic and cultural life was sufficient. To complete the terror, he purged even the Communist leaders of each satellite regime, accusing them of treason and parading them as they made humiliating confessions.
It is good to be reminded of these sordid events, now that more archives are accessible and some witnesses remain alive to recall the horror. Still, why should we be consuming such a mass of detail more than half a century later?
In her introduction Applebaum says it is important to remember that “historically, there were regimes that aspired to total control,” not only of the organs of state but also of human nature itself. We should be studying how totalitarianism worked, she maintains, because “we can’t be certain that mobile phones, the Internet and satellite photographs won’t eventually become tools of control” in other places. Well, Vladimir Putin may yet make her a prophet, but so far this century, technology has become a welcome defense against tyranny.
More relevant to contemporary discussion are some themes Applebaum evokes along the way but never develops. She begins her tale by insisting that the United States and Britain, having promised the East Europeans a democratic future, quickly abandoned them to Soviet domination. True enough. Yet what were the West’s alternatives? The door to Europe was left open for Stalin in 1945 because the Americans were rapidly redeploying to fight Japan and eager to enlist Stalin in the Pacific war. Applebaum does not speculate about how Soviet colonization might have been forestalled or what methods of intervention for freedom we should be applying now in Cuba or North Korea, Syria or China.
Similarly, she barely touches on the contrary claims of some historians that it was not the West’s appeasement but rather hostility against the Soviet Union that provoked Stalin’s aggressive responses. These scholars accuse the United States of having triggered the cold war, thus baiting Stalin into taking crude defensive countermeasures. Applebaum’s evidence provides a telling rebuttal to those “revisionist” theories, but she never really engages them.
Most conspicuously missing is any sustained examination of Soviet motives for the rape of Eastern Europe. What did the Russians want? Revenge against Germany and its allies? Compensation for their enormous loss of life and suffering in the war and the spoils due a victor? Was the domination of neighboring states a wildly arrogant policy of defense so that no conqueror could ever again follow Napoleon and Hitler to Moscow? Or was it a revival of Russia’s imperial desire to annex at least half of Poland, to secure a rebellious Ukraine and to incorporate the Baltic States and various adjacent Balkan lands?
Applebaum’s overriding interest is in Stalin’s deranged tyranny, which aggravated the postwar horror inside the Soviet Union at the same time that it was being slavishly imitated by his East European henchmen until his death in 1953. Yet Stalin’s successors were just as intent on preserving their dominion. Why? Applebaum contends that Stalin, having once postponed the Soviet dream of igniting an international Communist revolution, “was preparing to relaunch it” in 1944 as the Red Army rolled westward. But that passing comment — and debatable premise — is all she offers to explain Soviet policy.
While her documentation of the Soviet takeover is impressive, at this late date fewer facts and more analysis would have been welcome. The seeds of the Communists’ ultimate failure in East Europe are strewed throughout her book, but with little explanation. She shows how poorly the Communist regimes provided for their consumers and how they alienated the workers in whose name they governed. Why? And does not this subject require lengthy discussion of how Communism collided with the deeply rooted nationalisms of the region? Applebaum incisively demonstrates the moral confusion that haunted Roman Catholic leaders and other opponents of the Communist regimes, some openly hostile, some reluctantly cooperative, many simply passive. But how should we evaluate their choices?
“Iron Curtain” is not a full history of the Iron Curtain because of Applebaum’s decision to end her history in 1956, just as Poles and Hungarians openly rebelled against Soviet control. There then followed a 30-year effort in the Kremlin to stabilize and reform all Communist societies, but the East Europeans remained restive, held captive only by Soviet armed might. The colonization became a huge burden on the Soviet economy, and the lures of Western democracy and economic achievement produced corrosive holes in that curtain. Finally, when Mikhail Gorbachev refused to shoot to preserve his costly empire, the curtain collapsed altogether and dragged down the Soviet center as well.
Applebaum rightly concludes, long before that climax, that the totalitarian spell could never be sustained for long. But she declines to generalize about the reasons or the defenses we all may need against other totalitarian threats. Instead, what she has given us is a concrete and sad record that honors the memory of the millions who were slaughtered, tortured and suppressed in the mad pursuit of totality.
Max Frankel, former executive editor of The Times, reported for many years from Moscow and Eastern Europe.

Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum's 'Iron Curtain' is a masterful history of control and defiance in post-war Eastern Europe 

By Keith Lowe, 05.11.2012

The communist regimes that took over Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War were among the most humourless administrations ever created – a forgivable fault, perhaps, had the unbearable earnestness of their political project not been so ripe for satire. These were people who wrote books for toddlers with titles likeSix-Year-Old Bronek and the Six-Year Plan. Their posters bore such immortal slogans as “every artificially inseminated pig is a blow to capitalist imperialism”, and their idea of civic art was to commission paintings depicting “the technology and organisation of cattle slaughter”

As Anne Applebaum shows in her impressive new history of the period, anyone who made fun of such absurdities could pay a high price: she tells of one East German cabaret troupe who satirised communist officialdom and was jailed for nine months. Trying to avoid party propaganda was not an option either. The only pre-war civic institutions that were allowed to reopen were those that already had communism at their core: everything else – charities, scout groups, even chess clubs – was either shut down or assimilated. Jazz music was also made illegal in East Germany, partly because it was so much fun: communist bureaucrats could not bear the idea that young people might enjoy something that had not sprung from their own ideology.
By the time Stalin died in 1953, the Communist Party had an official line on everything – how people should work, how they should shop, how they should relax, even what clothes they should wear. Too late, Eastern Europeans realised the enormity of the revolution being thrust upon them: Soviet puppets did not merely want control of their governments, they wanted total control. They wanted to create a world full of perfect socialists – a breed of man that dissidents sarcastically named Homo sovieticus – who not only accepted their subservience but embraced it, and who were so steeped in ideology that any alternative was quite literally unthinkable.
It is the pursuit of this monochrome vision of society that lies at the heart of Applebaum’s book. She begins by describing the sophisticated but often brutal way in which Soviet-trained communists took over the public sphere – starting with police forces and radio stations, and ending with their usurping of national governments. The sheer speed of this transformation was astonishing: between 1945 and 1948, the communist parties of Eastern Europe dismantled and replaced social systems that had existed for centuries.
The second half of the book describes the logical conclusion of this quest for control, the attempt to invade the private sphere. This was less successful: indeed, as the author points out, it was doomed to fail. In a world where everything was considered political, every act – even something trifling, like wearing an unusual pair of socks – could be interpreted as an act of defiance. The reason why the system was so humourless was not only because such fanatically earnest people are never much fun, but also because, as George Orwell said, every joke was by its very nature “a tiny revolution”.

Applebaum’s description of this remarkable time is everything a good history book should be: brilliantly and comprehensively researched, beautifully and shockingly told, encyclopedic in scope, meticulous in detail. I have only one or two small criticisms. First, it is not a history of Eastern Europe, as the subtitle suggests, but of three countries – Poland, Hungary and East Germany: anyone expecting to read about how similar events were in Romania, or how different they were in Yugoslavia, will be disappointed. Secondly, it is a book which describes a mostly urban experience – there is little here that describes the equally devastating events in rural areas, such as the forced collectivisation of land. The epilogue is also weaker than the rest of the book, and feels like a bit of an afterthought.
But such quibbles seem petty when stacked up against the book’s achievements. First and foremost of these is Applebaum’s ability to take a dense and complex subject, replete with communist acronyms and impenetrable jargon, and make it not only informative but enjoyable – and even occasionally witty. In that respect alone, it is a true masterpiece.

dissabte, 3 de novembre de 2012

Who are the IMF and the World Bank?

What do the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund actually do, and why do they wield so much power?
Right now, people in Greece, Spain and the other crisis-hit European countries are living with the dire results of IMF decisions, while poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are receiving aid from the World Bank that often ends up doing more harm than help.
As these two global titans hold their annual meetings in Tokyo this weekend, now seems a good time to demystify these mysterious organisations a little bit. Who are these bodies that now control the fate of so many of the world's economies?

In the beginning ...

Both groups were conceived in 1944 at the Bretton Woods conference, which brought together representatives of 44 nations as the second world war drew towards its bloody end. The aim was to establish rules and institutions to guide the global economy into recovery and stability. British economist John Maynard Keynes, the hero of today's anti-austerity economists, was among the primary drafters of the plan.
The World Bank grew out of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, one of the two original Bretton Woods organisations. After the war, its main focus was to help shattered European economies get back on their feet. But as Europe recovered, the bank expanded its mandate to focus on alleviating poverty worldwide.
The IMF was set up initially to maintain stability in the international monetary system, and to expand world trade by making loans to countries with short-term shortfalls. This, it was believed, would keep countries from imposing tariffs and other barriers to trade.

One of these things is not like the other

It's easy to confuse the World Bank and the IMF because they're alike in key ways: both are technically owned and governed by their member nations, and nearly every nation now belongs to both. They're both large international finance institutions staffed with economists and analysts and other hard-to-figure-out-what-exactly-they-do experts. They both have headquarters in Washington, DC and hold splashy annual meetings together, like the one in Tokyo this week.
The difference between them is basically that the World Bank is primarily focused on development, while the IMF's job is to maintain an orderly system of money flows between countries.

So how's that been going?

Well, since its founding, the World Bank has given loans and grants totalling over $400bn. That money has been spent largely on heavy infrastructure such as dams, highways and power plants, as well as on projects to develop agriculture and sanitation. While these projects have undoubtedly done some good, the top-down, business-first approach to development taken by both the bank and the IMF has caused a lot of problems, too.
For a start, they demand that the countries that receive aid "liberalise" their economies. This typically means, among other things, deregulating industry, privatising public resources and cutting back on public spending on health, education and other services. Part of the rationale is that this will encourage foreign investment.
But this often results in poor countries essentially becoming economic colonies of richer ones, with profits going to foreign investors rather than to locals. Some of those dams financed by the World Bank have displaced indigenous people, and the bank has provided billions in financing for so-called "land grabs" that have dispossessed and impoverished hundreds of thousands.
The World Bank has also funded projects that damage the environment, and the IMF's emphasis on increasing world trade often causes poor countries to promote industrial agriculture and mining practices that result in deforestation, erosion, water pollution and more.
Right now, the eurozone mess is at the top of the IMF's fix-it list. As Greece unravels, with Spain and Portugal close behind, the fund – as part of the so-called troika, along with the European Commission and the European Central Bank – is pushing the same "structural reforms" it's been forcing on developing countries that have sought its help for many years. But the situation on the ground in Europe gets grimmer, more and more people are asking whether these solutions make any sense.
The experience of Argentina offers one example of a different way out. After IMF-enforced savage austerities, privatisations and budget cuts brought Argentina to the edge of collapse, the country defaulted on its debt in 2001. Although there was much tut-tutting about Argentina stiffing their creditors, within six months of ditching the IMF regime and going it alone, they were on the road to recovery. Retired IMF chief Michel Camdessus admitted last year that "we made a lot of mistakes with Argentina". So far, though, those lessons don't seem to have been learned.

Governance by the Golden Rule

Both the World Bank and the IMF work by the Golden Rule of Economics: the people with the gold make the rules. For one thing, that means the rich industrialised countries have a bigger vote in the governance of the two organisations. In fact, because the US contributes the most money to the IMF, it has an effective veto power on IMF decisions.
Add in the fact that by longstanding custom, the head of the World Bank has always been American, and the IMF has always been run by a European, and you can see why the rest of the world is unhappy at their lack of representation.

Who's in charge?

The IMF is headed by Christine Lagarde, a former French trade minister and finance minister under former centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy. She was appointed last year after her predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned in a sex scandal. She's the first woman to be managing director at the IMF.
Lagarde is well-respected in international financial circles. She's pledged to increase diversity at the IMF.
At the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim just took over as president this spring. Born in Korea, Kim is an American physician whose background is in public health. He played a lead role in providing drugs for HIV/Aids to Africa.
The appointments of both Kim and Lagarde were marked by calls to break the traditional US-European arrangements and appoint someone from the developing countries, calls that were ultimately not heeded.

Time for change!

Now, at the annual meetings in Tokyo, reformers are upping the pressure on both institutions to clean up their acts. Oxfam International is among the groups pushing for the World Bank to suspend financing for "land grab" projects until it can properly assess the impact of that lending on local people and the environment. Activists are hopeful that Kim will follow through on his comments about the need for reform.
On the other hand, efforts to reconfigure representation at the IMF to give emerging economies more power are hung up in the US Congress, and Lagarde says she doesn't expect progress on that during the Tokyo meetings.
Bottom line? These two organisations wield too much power and impact too many lives to keep going the way they are. They cannot stay frozen in their postwar time warp. The chorus calling for fundamental change in how global development is funded and shaped must be heard. IMF chief Christine Lagarde has herself warned that time is running out to act. "Whether you turn to Europe, to the United States of America, to other places as well, there is a level of uncertainty that is hampering decision makers from investing, from creating jobs," she said. "We need action to lift the veil of uncertainty."
If these institutions are going to be of any use in the coming decades; if they are to do more good and less harm; the countries that formed them more than half a century ago will have to relinquish their grip. With the world economy on the brink, the need for change has never been more urgent.

divendres, 2 de novembre de 2012

Global Governance in an Era of Transformation: a United Nations Perspective

Lecture by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (1, 2)
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Global Governance in an Era of Transformation: a United Nations Perspective

University of Geneva, UNI-MAIL
Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 18:00

Rector Vassalli
Dear Students

First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for the warm welcome. It is a privilege and an honour to address students and professors of this distinguished and well-known University. The United Nations enjoys a strong partnership with the University of Geneva. 

The theme of my lecture today is global governance in an era of transformation from a United Nations perspective. We live in a complicated world, facing many challenges. This brings up the need to address global governance, which is one of the most complex tasks before us. In this connection, I should like to make special mention of the role of Switzerland, which as a Host Country and as a Member State plays a leading role in discussions on global governance today. It is not coincidence that Mr. Joseph Deiss was elected President of the 65th session of the General Assembly and was so successful in his mission, reflecting the importance of Switzerland. 

(continuar llegint)