Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Labor Unrest in Ghana and UTAG

Labor unrest in Ghana and strikes by UTAG (University Teachers Association of Ghana) are not new. UTAG was one of many Ghanaian unions that went on strike in 2013. While they have not yet gone on strike in 2014 as have other unions there have been statements that if the book and research allowance is not paid for both 2103/2014 and 2014/2015 in September that UTAG will again strike.  Last year as a result of the strike the 2012/2013 allowance was paid in September. But, in 2012 the 2011/2012 allowance was not paid until December. The government response so far is that it does not owe university lecturers any allowances. UTAG, however, has stated that they will not concede on this issue.  Two years of research and book allowance for lecturers of my rank currently comes to $3000.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Kyrgyz Foods

It appears that my most popular post recently is the one dealing with Ghanaian food. I couldn't find any great links to videos on Kyrgyz food. But, since I have been here I have had the following dishes. I am sure I am missing some, but this is what I can remember off the top of my head.



Fried fish and potatoes









Uzgen Plov

Tony raves about Ghanaian food : Video : Travel Channel

Tony raves about Ghanaian food : Video : Travel Channel

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Ghanaian "Asylum" Seekers in Brazil

The recent claims for political asylum by 200 Ghanaians that went to Brazil to watch the World Cup has come as a shock to me. By all accounts Ghana is politically a freer country than Brazil and has a much better human rights record in recent years. The news stories say the Ghanaians requesting asylum are Muslims fleeing conflict in the north. But, when I left Ghana on 14 June 2014 to come to Kyrgyzstan for the summer I had not heard of any such conflicts during the more than three years I have lived there. What is true is that on a per person basis Brazil is about four times richer than Ghana. This rather than any political or religious reasons would appear to be the real reason that 200 Ghanaian tourists in Brazil so far have applied for "asylum" and many news sources speculate the number could grow to be as high as 1000. While there are some very wealthy people in Brazil, there is also a lot of extreme poverty. It is not necessarily guaranteed that a Ghanaian immigrant in Brazil will have a higher standard of living in Sao Paulo than he would in Accra. There are also reports that a number of these "asylum" seekers want to use Brazil as a way station to the US, believing that it will be easier for them to obtain a visa to the US there than in Ghana. As a US citizen working in Ghana I can assure the Ghanaians in Brazil that there are no jobs in the US even for US citizens and that they are much better off going back to Ghana than being unemployed in the US.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stalinist Terror in Kyrgyzstan

According to the official history text book used here in Kyrgyzstan, Stalinist repression during the 1930s was quite severe. The most readily available and easily accessible version of this text goes by the title of Istoriia Kyrgyzstana (s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei) 100 ekzamenatsionnykh otvetov: Ekspress-spravochik (Bishkek: Mezgil, 2014). But, the author, O. Dzh. Osmonov has produced a number of different versions of the text. This particular version of the text has four pages (205-209) devoted to massive repression in the 1930s including dekulakization in 1931-1933 and the Great Terror of 1937-1938. This particular version of the text has absolutely nothing on the mass deportation of Karachais, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, and Meskhetian Turks to Kyrgyzstan in 1943-1944. But, I have seen another version of this textbook that does have a small section on the special settlers deported to the republic during the war. Osmonov puts the number of people forcibly deported from Kyrgyzstan to Ukraine and the North Caucasus as kulaks and bais during August to September 1931 at 6,000 families. He notes that a further 2,113 households were repressed within Kyrgyzstan in 1933. Finally, he states "A significant part of the innocent rural population suffered from mass repression." (p. 207). During 1937-1938 he notes that 40,000 people were repressed including 13,000 executions in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic out of a total population of 1.4 million people. (p. 209). This means that including those deported and otherwise dispossessed during dekulakization that nearly 6% of the population of republic suffered from some form of state repression at the hands of the OGPU and NKVD during the 1930s. In proportional terms this would be the equivalent of 18 million people in the US today. The 13,000 people executed which included such important Kyrgyz leaders as Yusup Abdrakhmanov and notables such as the father of Chingiz Aitmatov who was buried at Chon Tash would proportionally be the equivalent of over 2.75 million people in the US today. Yet none of this is part of the popular collective memory of the Soviet era here in Kyrgyzstan, in Russia which is the legal successor state to the USSR, or among the vast majority of western scholars studying the region today. For most of these people David Satter's description "It was a long time ago, and it never happened anyways" seems to sum up the prevailing attitude.

Los Destellos - Elsa

Rich at Day After the Sabbath turned me on to this and a bunch of other great Peruvian music.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Collective Memory in the former USSR

The crimes of the Stalin regime have been almost completely forgotten in the former USSR. The surviving victims were told to be grateful that the Soviet government in some cases either pardoned or forgave them in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a brief recognition of the worst of the crimes in the early 1990s, but then the coming to terms with the past ended for most of post-Soviet society. There is a strong nostalgic longing for the Soviet past here and this reconstruction of the USSR as a golden era does not distinguish between the brutal dictatorship of Stalin and the comparatively mild Brezhnev era. The entirety of Soviet history is compressed into "Soviet times" when food according to an advertisement at a popular cafe here was always cheap, quick, and tasty. Of course in much of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s including neighboring Kazakhstan millions of people starved to death because there was no food what so ever tasty, cheap, or otherwise. Nor did such hardships end in the 1930s. The USSR suffered another famine in 1946. But, these two famines along with the one in the early 1920s, the GULag, the mass deportation of whole nationalities, and the mass executions of 1937-1938 have all been purged from popular memory. Instead everything from the USSR is glorified in a bizarre capitalist marketing campaign of a very selective and revisionist memory of Soviet state socialism.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Another Post on Soviet Racism

The number of US scholars who believe that there was ever any institutionalized racial discrimination in the USSR against anybody except Jews is extremely small. The official orthodox position is that because natsional'nost is a different word than race that there was never any racial components what so ever to Soviet treatment of people like the Russian-Germans, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, or Russian-Koreans. However, I recently found one of the very few admissions of the existence of  racism against people other than Jews in the USSR by a US scholar in the last quarter century.

But, the practices of old Russia obviously did not disappear overnight. The Russian-Ukrainian national experiences did not embrace racism and genocide on the British, Spanish, or American model, but discrimination directed against minority peoples - Tatars and other orientals, Turkic peoples, Jews - stained the record of the East Slavs, and black visitors inevitably felt its blows. Because the communists usually suppressed news of racial incidents, however, we have little information on the subject.
Obviously the racism of Tsarist Russia continued in the USSR and became institutionalized in the form of the internal passport and definition of natsional'nost solely along lines of biological descent. This point about the racialization of Soviet categories has been noted by Russian anthropologist Marina Mogil'ner and vehemently denied by US scholars seeking to defend the Soviet dictatorship under Stalin from the charge of racial discrimination.

Source: Woodford McClellen, "Africans and Black American in the Comintern Schools, 1925-1934," The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1993), p. 376.

"Auxiliaries" and the 1947-1948 Rail Strike in French West Africa

I am currently reading Frederick Cooper's Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005). In it there is an analysis of the 1947-1948 rail workers strike in French West Africa. He notes that:

As of 1946, the railway employed 478 Europeans, 1,729 Africans in the various cadres, and 15,726 auxiliaries. Many auxiliaries - treated as temporary workers even after years of service - did the same work as members of the cadres, but they lacked job security, paid housing, and other indemnities. (p. 220). 

To me the auxiliaries sound a lot like various forms of contingent labor still used today including adjuncts at US universities. The primary demand of the strike was for the implementation of "a single, nonracial job hierarchy, with the same benefits package for all members, including the complicated supplements for local cost of living and family obligations." (p. 218). That is that all rail workers including the African auxiliaries as well as the African cadres be given the same pay and benefits as European workers. The incorporation of African auxiliary workers into the single cadre with European levels of compensation did not take place overnight after resolving the strike. But, by 1950 a full 30% of rail workers had been incorporated versus only 12% in 1947. (p. 225). The differential treatment of cadres and auxiliaries had been a key policy of colonial economic policy. The strike had been about forcing the French to institute in practice its officially proclaimed commitment to racial equality in the empire by transforming the colonial rail employment structure to the type that existed in metropolitan France (p. 225). The idea of permanent workers in the US, the cadres, striking to incorporate auxiliaries into their own level of compensation and benefits today seems far fetched. The idea of tenured "progressive" faculty at US universities striking like the African cadre did to incorporate adjuncts into their ranks is unimaginable.