27 January 2010

48 Hour Deadline

The saga in Northern Ireland continues. The major parties now have 48-hours to reach a deal. . . .

Mahinda Rajapaksa Reported Winner

State television reported that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the winner of the Sri Lankan elections. Apparently "hundreds of troops" now surround the hotel where challenger Sarath Fonseka and some 400 followers are staying. It is unclear why the troops are being deployed.

Some already question the results, which (unofficially at this point) give Rajapaksa 3,563,634 votes to Fonseka's 2,209,214—a 23 point difference. Prior to the election, results appeared too close to call, so the substantial gap between the candidates is interesting.

26 January 2010

Quick Updates

Northern Ireland
The situation in Northern Ireland is tense. Gordon Brown (British Prime Minister) and Brian Cowen (Irish Taoiseach) are engaged in intense negotiations in an effort to save the power-sharing arrangement in the north. You can learn more about the latest developments from the Guardian or the Irish Independent.

Sri Lanka
The voting in Sri Lanka went off largely peacefully (although bomb blasts were heard in the Tamil-dominated north of the country during the pre-dawn hours and there were some reports of voter intimidation)—this despite the violent and frightening lead-up which included suggestions that General Sarath Fonseka might use an 800-strong militia to disrupt voting. Not only was the voting mostly peaceful but the turn-out was exceptional: 70-80%. (When was the last time that so many Americans exercised their civic duty?) Pre-election polls were exceptionally close and it remains too early to declare a winner.

Still no word on how many Americans celebrated Burns Night by eating their first legal haggis in 21-years.

25 January 2010

Much Easier To Find Wild Harry Haggis In States

It is the 25th of January and that can only mean one thing: the birthday of Robert Burns, the Scottish national poet. Many remember Burns as a great Scottish cultural nationalist, a man whose poetry is celebrated and whose favorite dish, the wild harry haggis, is a staple of Burns suppers.

Sure, Burns Night is an "invented tradition," as Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger would tell you. But such things hardly undermine the fun of downing a few drams of good whiskey, devouring a few neeps and tatties, and savoring a lovely, aesthetically pleasing boiled sheep's stomach stuffed with sheep innards, oatmeal, suit, and pepper. Mmm, haggis! As Burns himself wrote:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit!" 'hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

For the past 21-years, however, this vital element of Scottish national culture, one might even say the very stomach of Scottish national identity, was savagely banned by the US government. Ex-patriot Scots, or simply Americans of Scottish descent, were strictly forbidden from importing a good Scottish sheep stomach. The result was bootleg haggis, vegetarian haggis, and illicit homemade haggis. The frustration among Americans was pronounced. As one would-be haggis-eater, Margaret Frost, told the Guardian: "We have had to put up with the US version, which is made of beef and is bloody awful." A travesty, to be sure.

Thankfully, perhaps as a result of a long-running campaign by the Scottish National Party, or maybe because of a new pudding-friendly Glasnost among American politicians, the ban is lifted. The haggis may run free in the States yet again.

Now we must sit back to see whether haggis-fed Americans are inspired to demand Scottish independence and to support the SNP in the same way that Irish-Americans supported various Irish groups throughout much of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Will this haggis have political legs—longer on one side of its body than the other, as is true of wild haggises that, according to legend wander Scottish hillsides either clockwise or counter-clockwise by gender when searching for mates—or will this new addition to the American diet simply inspire legions of Americans seeking to answer the immortal question: "Is it true that you are what you eat?"

Violence Fears Rising in Sri Lanka

The Guardian reports that allegations are spreading that the ruling party in Sri Lanka "is planning to stir up violence in a desperate attempt to cling to power." The paper reports:

"The increasingly bitter election campaign came to an end this weekend with final rallies for the two main candidates, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the army.

"The two men are widely seen as the chief architects of last year's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But since putting an end to one of the world's longest running insurgencies they have turned on each other in an escalating round of accusations and insults.

"On Saturday Fonseka warned of vote-rigging and suggested that the army might stage a coup if Rajapaksa loses. "The violence will reduce voter attendance, then the rigging will take place," he said.

"A government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, denied the opposition's allegation. "They know that there is an imminent defeat and this is their usual excuse to cover up a humiliating defeat," he told the Associated Press.

"The run-up to the vote has already been marred by violence. Police say at least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes between the factions and on Friday the house of an influential opposition figure was bombed.

"Fonseka, who decided to challenge Rajapaksa after complaining of being sidelined, has dismissed the president as a "cardboard king". Rajapaksa's supporters, meanwhile, have portrayed Fonseka as a dictator in the making, comparing him to Idi Amin, the brutal Ugandan military leader. Amid the name-calling, there lurks the real fear that violence will escalate if the result is disputed."

Amid all of this, many Tamils hope that they can utilize the election, whatever the results, to increase their political clout going forward.

24 January 2010

Sri Lankan Election Tomorrow

Few places in the world are as marked by recent nationalist struggle as Sri Lanka. Last May, a military offensive ended the 26-year struggle by Tamil separatists to establish their own state on the island. Tomorrow two Sinhalese nationalists (Sarath Fonseka and Mahinda Rajapaksa) compete for the presidency. Each man claims to be more nationalist than the other. One, Fonseka, took out a full page ad to show off scars from a 2006 assassination attempt.

According to The Australian, the real irony is that the country's 2.5 million Tamils (12.6% of the population), the group who bore the brunt of the military struggle, may hold the balance of power in tomorrow's election.

They may have a difficult choice. According to Brahma Chellaney, a political analyst and professor of strategic studies, the two main candidates are little different. The Australian quotes him as saying: "Whoever wins, it will be more of the same. Both are Sinhalese nationalists so they're playing the Sinhalese nationalist card."

The Tamils enter the picture because the two candidates split the hardline vote, leaving the two men to fight over moderates: many of whom are Tamils and Muslims.

Fonseka has amassed a striking coalition of support that includes the two main Sri Lankan opposition parties—including the Tamil National Alliance, former mouthpiece of the Liberation Tigers. Despite this development, polls show the main candidates "neck and neck."

It will be interesting to see how the people vote and how Sri Lanka deals with the legacy of a quarter century of violence. The battle for self-determination for stateless-nations is never just about the struggle itself. When the fighting is over, it is still necessary to attain some kind of peaceful coexistence.

In this instance, violence seems to be in the past, but the legacies are clear to see. Just recently, Fonseka was compared to Idi Amin and Adolf Hitler by his rival—two of the major villains of the twentieth century. Can peaceful coexistence be established with rhetoric such as this?

Crisis Talks In Northern Ireland

The saga of power-sharing in Northern Ireland continues. According to the Guardian, Gordon Brown (British Prime Minister) and Brian Cowan (Taoiseach of the Irish Republic) will be meeting at Downing Street tomorrow to talk about the Northern Ireland Assembly.

As usual, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein are trading barbs. The DUP claims that Sinn Fein is missing meetings. Sinn Fein responds that the DUP does not approach talks openly, arriving with preconditions. Swirling around in the midst of it all is the parades issue, the annual march by members of the Orange Order through Catholic neighborhoods to celebrate historical triumphs such as the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne. The marches never cease to irritate Catholics.

Symbols have long been an issue in Northern Ireland. In the past several years, efforts were made to curb the problem. The government demanded that curb stones go unpainted, that flags be pulled down in neighborhoods. Stay tuned.

18 January 2010

Blame It On The Scots

Commentators have long suggested that Scots are 90-minute nationalists, avid supporters of all that is Scottish for the duration of any sporting match against England, then placid Brits again when it is over, at least until the next round. To my knowledge, nobody ever took the 90-minute claim quite as far as former England rugby hooker Brian Moore, though.

According to the Scotsmen, Moore’s new autobiography makes the claim that Scotland’s 1990 Grand Slam victory was the result, not of skill on the pitch, but of “hatred over the imposition of the poll tax by Margaret Thatcher’s government, as well as anti-English fervour.” Evidently bigotry was more powerful that the tackle. The great Scottish tactic, he claims, was to “use the home crowd to pressure us throughout the game.” [Quick Disclaimer: As an outsider to rugby, I find myself wondering whether there is anything out of the ordinary about using the crowd in this way—it is certainly commonplace in American football and in baseball.]

This claim raises at least three interesting nationalism-related issues that deserve our awareness.

First off, it is abundantly clear that sport often spawns a nationalist reaction. One of my students recently wrote a paper about the “miracle” on ice in 1980, for example, in which the American ice hockey team managed to beat the Russians for the first time in many years. Although I was fairly young in 1980, I certainly remember the excitement—not only about the hockey team, but also surrounding Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in speed skating. I myself was so thrilled by the strong showing of American cyclists in 1984 that I took up bicycle racing—a love affair that continues to this day.

According to social psychologist Michael Billig, the strongest nationalisms are usually “banal.” He writes “nationalism only strikes the established nation-states on special occasions. Crises, such as the Falklands or Gulf Wars, infect a sore spot, causing bodily fevers: the symptoms are an inflamed rhetoric and an outbreak of ensigns. But the irruption soon dies down; the temperature passes; the flags are rolled up; and, then, it is business as usual” (Billig, 5). Sport frequently provides just such a “special occasion.” The excitement on the pitch, the notion that it is “us” against “them,” rises to the surface. When two football clubs meet, regional, class, and sometimes even religious identities (note the Old Firm teams in Glasgow, Scotland) are spawned by the excitement. When two national teams confront one another, the same thing happens, but it is national identity that unfurls the flag.

Next, Moore raises the question of anti-Thatcher sentiment and anti-English bigotry. Let’s take these separately. It is doubtless true that Scottish fans were especially excited about the 1990 rugby Grand Slam. According to sociologist David McCrone, “the Thatcherite project was largely perceived north of the border as an alien, an English, political creed” (McCrone, 32). The poll tax was one of the great symbols of this alien invasion. Many Scots felt that Thatcher was testing it out on them—another attack on the Scots by a tyrannical English person. Thatcher was just another Edward (“Longshanks”) I. Some Scots probably even imagined that, should Thatcher die before leaving office, the “Abominable hairdo” would demand that her bones be stripped of flesh and carried before an invading army of poll tax collectors—not unlike Edward reportedly did in the early fourteenth century.

The claim that anti-English bigotry was to blame is a little bit more difficult to accept. Yes, it is true that the Anglo-Scottish rivalry goes back a very long way. After all, Scottish churchmen and nobles did produce one of the more poetic medieval letters to the papacy, the Declaration of Arbroath, which rather beautifully calls for Scottish self-determination. While not the example of modern nationalism claimed by many Scottish nationalists and a few scholars, the declaration certainly shows a strong sense of grievance among many Scots toward England. Similar anti-England moments arise quite often thereafter, even after Scotland joined Great Britain in 1707. After all, while the Irish Home Rule movement gets most of the press, the Scots, evidently inspired by Irish Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell, had one too.

But Moore is ahistorical if he is suggesting that anti-England sentiment was the same as anti-English sentiment. Sifting through piles of newspapers and other sources, one is hard-pressed to find much in the way of widespread anti-Englishness in Scotland before 1992/1993. Prior to that slightly later period, there were certainly localized concerns about incoming English “white settlers,” but it pushes things to suggest that most Scots had anything seriously against the English themselves.

Then something happened. Opinion polls suggested that the 1992 General Election would be a watershed. For the first time, Scots angered by far too many years of Thatcherite rule, were finally going to vote overwhelmingly for the Scottish National Party and for independence. Excitement rose to a fever pitch. Then Scots voted pretty much as they always had. A few districts voted for Tories, most voted for Labour, and the usual suspects voted for the SNP or for other parties. More extreme nationalists were outraged and, all at once, a new argument surfaced. The “white settler” argument was retooled, nineteenth century racial ideas about a hierarchy of white races were dusted off, and anti-English racism poured onto the pages of Scottish and English newspapers. Even the Scottish National Liberation Army, never before “racist” in orientation, launched a campaign against English “settlers.” Although anti-English racism was the purview of a tiny minority, the change in tone was notable. Yet, as I say, however, the 1990 Rugby Grand Slam was a couple of years before all of this took place.

In the end, Moore’s autobiography sounds more than a little like sour grapes—an aging sportsman anxious to cast his career in a brighter light, erasing the disappointment of 1990. Yet that having been said, his claims nevertheless raise issues that are very worthy of study by students of nationalism. The place of sport in national consciousness, the response to the political policies of dominant national groups by members of stateless-nations, and the issue of “ethnic nationalism” all deserve considerable attention.

Works Cited

Billig, Michael. Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995).

McCrone, David. Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Stateless Nation (London and New York: Routledge, 1992).

16 January 2010

Link Between Hate Crime and BNP

The Guardian newspaper ran an interesting story this morning about the relationship between BNP council election victories and hate crimes. Evidently hate crimes are generally down, but in English wards where the British National Party won council elections, hate crimes spiked upward. Labour's culture and tourism minister, Margaret Hodge, currently in a tight reelection race, argues that the statistics "cast doubt on police assurances that there is no link between racially motivated crime and a BNP presence."

Those who suggest this link believe that "Voters have been emboldened in their racist views by seeing the BNP in power and that could have led to the increases in racist attacks in some areas."

There could be a link, of course, but it is more likely that the feelings of anger and hopelessness that prompt people to commit hate crimes are higher in areas where voters feel compelled to vote for the BNP.

Ethnic nationalism is all about context and the article really needs to delve more fully into the socio-economic make-up of the wards in question. The explanation for this up-tick in violence is probably more complicated than a direct causal link between the BNP and hate crime; the BNP is almost certainly a symptom, not a cause.