More blood for oil!

Illegal invasions by imperialist armies are fine, so long they’re committed by Russia plus the commo

Tblisi or not Tblisi

The Beatles assured us in their crap 1968 song ‘Back in the USSR’ that Georgia was on their mind. Oddly though, you don’t hear Paul McCartney commenting much on South Ossetia nowadays.

The war in the Caucuses has inflamed the passions of bellicose and half-witted bloggers from here to Vladikavkaz. Fortunately, a few are actually worth reading. Donald Rayfield on Open Democracy did readers a service by lending context to a conflict that to many outsiders, appears baffling. Noting Russian priming of the area through the issuing of passports, and integration into state welfare, Rayfield dubbed Russian tactics “salami slicing,” explaining that it:

“…amounted to a covert process of assimilating first the population, and then the actual country, into the Russian federation.”

Russian claims of ethnic cleansing were set out on Russia Today - watch out for analyst Evgeny Khruschev informing viewers that they “probably have a short attention span”. While any Georgian crimes against the rebel region seemed hard to verify, the First Post’s Shaun Walker reported that:

“On Tuesday, as the war came to a close, there were reports of massacres in Georgian villages inside the conflict zone Ossetian militias checking the ethnicity of residents and treating all Georgians to a bullet in the head.”

It seems that whatever the perceived or actual crimes by Georgia against its Ossetian citizens, Georgians are paying a weighty price.

Meanwhile Voices from Russia pointed out that many well-respected democracies, including, er, China and Iran, backed Russia’s actions. But Cicero’s Songs, a blog that assiduously monitors developments in the former USSR, observed that Russia will face consequences for its aggression:

“Planned joint exercises have been cancelled, and Russia's exclusion from the G8 appears all but inevitable. As the fighting continues, those who have advocated a softly-softly approach to Russia- such as Germany- are reluctantly facing the need for a tough response.”

The role of the US (and yes folks, if you want to keep your narrative simple to the point of pig-headed myopia, even Israel) have come under scrutiny from bloggers. Meanwhile, John Rees of the Respect party (SWP faction) appeared on BBC Radio 2 to remind Britain that illegal invasions by imperialist armies are fine, so long they’re committed by Russia.

As the week came to an end, the invading tanks remained in Georgia; while in Britain, so-called socialists met to work out how to apportion blame solely to America. Just for the Trots, let’s freshen up the old slogans. All together now:
More blood for oil!
Don’t stop the war!
Putin, Medvedev, FSB – How many kids can you kill for me?

What have we learned this Week?

The Stop the War Coalition blog helpfully explained that Russia was upset because its “interests” were “directly challenged” – which is why it was forced to drive its military might into the heart of a sovereign neighbour, displacing swathes of the country’s population. Some of us might not have realised before that economic and strategic concerns were a legitimate premise for such violent incursions – thanks to STWC for clarifying.

Across the Pond

The Dalai Lama. Mahmoud Abbas. Elvis Presley. What do they have in common? Alongside social security in the US – they are all 73 (except Elvis, who is definitely dead). Roosevelt’s reforms were celebrating their birthday this week, as noted by many bloggers. John Quinterno’s finger was firmly on the Progressive Pulse, as he blogged a passionate defence of American welfare, while accepting that the system could do with a tweak:

“Most importantly, the system is financed in a regressive way that that imposes a heavier responsibility on low-income wage earners.”

A lesson in fiscal fairness that ought to resonate on this side of the Atlantic.

Videos of the Week

Katie Melua, the doe-eyed Georgian songstress who left Tblisi as an eight year-old, recently sang ‘If the Lights go Out’. In the country of her birth, they now have.

This song was written by Mike Batt, who also gave us ‘Heartlands’, the Conservative party’s theme for the 2001 election - perhaps the most pointless piece of the music ever composed.

Quote of the Week

“Surely a no-brainer for every anti-imperialist in town“?

Gauche’s Paul Anderson rattles the Georgia hornet’s nest.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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