Löva in the Time of Honecker: IKEA and the GDR
Friday saw the furniture giant IKEA express its wholehearted regret after an outside investigation concluded that from the 1960s to the 1980s, companies in its supply chain based in the former East Germany used forced prison labour to fulfil demand. “Even though IKEA took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” their statement read. “It is not and never was acceptable to IKEA that it should be selling products made by political prisoners and I would like to express my deepest regret for this to the victims and their families”.
The labour camps of the German Democratic Republic are an under-researched area of historical study, yet the archipelago of detention centres IKEA took advantage of was an extensive one. In 1964, at around the time of the commencement of the relationship between the company and the state, the German Democratic Republic maintained around twenty-three labour camps. Until the collapse of the regime in 1989, these internment facilities held around 6,500 prisoners, who were exploited in nationalised economic enterprises across the country. Such was their reach that by the 1980s, the contribution of prison labour to the GDR economy was equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product.
The use of prison labour was rationalised and systematic. As a work force, they were a fully integrated competent within the larger command economic system. Their distribution was the result of horizontal collaborations between various sectors of the state: regional police authorities, who operated the camps, and local state-owned factories. Marcus Sonntag, in his recent study, Die Arbeitslager in der DDR, notes that when the population of the camps fell, its operators were required to scour the GDR to find other inmates in order to fulfil its contractual obligations.
In an economy of scarcity, particularly of labour and hard currency, the camps were of net benefit to the state in spite of their cost. Non-salaried, prison labourers were assigned to do the most dangerous and unpleasant tasks in the factories. And, since they were not subject to regulations and protections regarding time and motion, they were often set production targets at least twice the level of those given to ordinary employees. Those who fell behind were confined to isolation cells for ten days at a time.
Julian Assange: When Rape Doesn’t Matter
It is a sign of just how low the international left has sunk since the loss of the Soviet Union and the attacks of September 11 that they are willing to defend genocidal dictators and alleged rapists, all in the name of vapid anti-Americanism. This reactionary faction has become so farcical that it now resembles parody, as a recent comment piece in The Guardian by Mark Weisbort pointedly demonstrates.
For the sake of clarity, Julian Assange is wanted by Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Assange has refused to go to Sweden to answer these suspicions, stating that the allegations are part of a smear campaign. Indeed, Assange has gone through the British courts up to and including the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to avoid facing these serious allegations. When it became clear that he would have to leave the UK, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London seeking political asylum, arguing that if he were to fly to Sweden, the government there would extradite him to the United States on other charges.
You might not know any of this if you read Weisbort’s article, however. After all, it does not use the words ‘rape’ or ‘sex’ once. Rather, Weisbort argues that “the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution”. Rather, it can be inferred from Weisbort’s musings that these sexual molestation and rape allegations are mere fabrication, a cover for a wider plot to organise “a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist”.
Don’t Let These People Go!
TEL AVIV – During the holiday just past, Israeli and American Jews alike commemorated the Exodus from Egypt, and in doing celebrated and discussed the all-important themes of liberation, struggle, and freedom. At a time when the delicate democratic system Israel’s fathers constructed is threatened by enemies external and internal, it is worth noting especially with Passover in mind that Israel remains a kind of beacon in a wider region largely untouched by liberty’s lovely light.
Israel is so much of a sanctuary, in fact, that still today many mimic Moses’ trek across the Sinai – taking their lives and the wellbeing of those they are forced to leave behind into their own hands – in search of shelter and comfort in the Promised Land. But it seems as though the present Israeli government, in addition to patches of wider society, have a blind spot regarding the suffering and emancipation of those forced temporarily to leave some of Africa’s most destitute nations for Israel.
Their plight has been brought into focus by a scoop in last Thursday’s Ha’aretz. Dana Weiler-Polak reported that of the thousands of requests for refugee status submitted in Israel last year, only eight were approved, noting that “long, exhausting interrogations, finding contradictions at any cost, investigations with foregone conclusions and contradictory responses” have become an inherent part of the refugee screening system designed by the Interior Ministry.
Executive Director of Hotline for Migrant Workers, Reut Michaeli, went so far as to say that the asylum system in Israel is set up with the goal of “rejecting asylum requests by refugees in a systematic manner”, leading to the “immoral deportation of refugees to places where their lives are in danger, in opposition to Israel’s international commitments and despite the personal history of the people and society in Israel”.
In Strategic Vision, What Brzezinski Doesn’t See
In his bright if occasionally problematic review of the current condition of the United States and its place in the world, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski calls with some justification for the expansion of the Western alliance through Eurasia, with Turkey and Russia’s integration into existing economic and military frameworks, once their internal and external politics reach a condition where they are simpatico with ours.
Brzezinski envisions a somewhat diminished America which is, he seeks to stress, the “promoter and guarantor of greater and broader unity in the West, and the balancer and conciliator between the major powers in the East”. With respect to the latter, his attention is focused on China – for obvious reasons – and her relationship to India, South Korea, and Japan amongst others.
What Brzezinski fails to foresee, in his world beyond 2025, is either the place for Israel in this new global dynamic, or the consequence of the rise of China for the country and the Middle East more widely. In fact, on the subject of what Brzezinski describes as a “larger and vital West”, he doesn’t appear to have any thoughts on such matters at all, save a passing reference warning the United States against “a solitary military action against Iran or just in cooperation with Israel, for that would plunge America into a wider and eventually self-destructive conflict”.
Iraq and Libya: Two Missions, With Much Accomplished
“We have been waiting for this historic moment. I would like take this opportunity to call on Libyans to put aside their grudges and proclaim one word: Libya. Libya. Libya” – Mahmoud Jibril
“The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success” – Barack Obama
The day after the Libyan civil war was in essence brought to its rightful if not preferable conclusion, via the slaughter of Muammar Gaddafi – the man with the golden gun – in the city of Sirte, President Obama announced the effective conclusion of the liberation of Iraq. American troops will withdraw in toto from Iraqi soil by the end of December, and Iraq will be a self-governing democratic state, at unity in itself. And, come October 31, allied forces will cease their operations in Libya.
A combination of mission creep and war fatigue – the West having been on the front foot for some ten years or more now – has resulted in disillusionment at best, and contempt at worst, for our missions in Libya and Iraq. The so-called anti-war movement has gained strength since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and isolationism is back in vogue, particularly where the new Republican field is concerned. The consensus seems to be, in this age of austerity and depression, that the only nations we need to be building now are our own.
But as Tony Blair noted in his speech to the Chicago Economic Club in April 1999, this is a choice which no longer exists, for globalisation has not only altered the economic landscape, but the political and security spheres as well. “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not,” Blair argued. “We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure”.
It is on this basis that our interventions in Iraq and Libya are in part vindicated. We removed from power two tyrants who moulded states in which their subjects experienced all the most awful possibilities of the human experience. These men were not only dangers to their own people – having used in the case of Saddam chemical and biological weapons as a tool of retribution and extermination – but they were legitimate threats to the international order and global peace and stability.
Gaddafi’s links with international terror were notorious – he aided, abetted, and funded such operations the Lockerbie bombing, the 1986 Berlin discotheque slaughter, and the Munich massacre, and organisations including the IRA, ETA, and PFLP. Saddam Hussein offered inducements to Palestinian terrorists on the West Bank during the al-Aqsa intifada, and gave shelter to the Abu Nidal network (including after September 11 and the liberation of Afghanistan). He repeatedly defied United Nations resolutions with regard to his WMD and ballistic missile programmes, and the Duelfer Report concluded that Saddam had both the capacity and desire to reconstitute his deadly arsenal.
Coexistence with such shady individuals – who were both armed and unhinged — not was an option. The removal of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were therefore long overdue – it is surely better that we conducted these missions on our terms, than allow the commencement of some awful conflagration, out of which little could be salvaged.
The gross cost of the liberation of Iraq – some $1 trillion – is the result of our collective failure to remove Saddam earlier when we had the golden opportunity after his forces were driven out of Kuwait. Tony Blair was correct to state in his Chicago speech, “If we let an evil dictator range unchallenged, we will have to spill infinitely more blood and treasure to stop him later”.
Our second source of validation is that we have given forces committed to democracy, liberty and human rights in Libya and Iraq the opportunity to construct a free and civil society. Witness what has happened in Iraq through the mist of internal strife, particularly in the Kurdish north, and you will see what is possible once the shackles of totalitarian rule are removed: the opportunity in elections to select from amongst a multitude of candidates; the opening up of the press; the beginnings of free debate and inquiry. The difference betwixt pre- and post-Saddam Iraq is one of night and day, and so it will be in Libya too.
That said, if Iraq and Libya in their own distinct ways have given unto us one unifying lesson, it is that whilst great powers can remove oppressive structures and replace them with new models, what we cannot do is mould societies to utilise them effectively. Whilst we might be able to accelerate the process with appropriate inducement, this is an entirely organic process, one which is the responsibility of the people themselves. In this respect, this notion of “nation-building” is a misleading one.
Thomas Jefferson once remarked that, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”. Nearly 5,000 coalition troops have laid down their lives in Iraq since 2003, not to mention the 110,000 civilians who have died at the hands of thugs and terrorists amidst the chaos. Now, the people of Iraq and Libya possess the chance to begin life anew, free from single-family rule, from pain and torture, and from the presence of an omniscient one-person state. Whatever the cost, of this, I believe we can be legitimately proud.