From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Brushtail Graphics

A bad century in the Balkans

7 April 1999

Foreboding and quiet despair pervaded the Brushtail Café. Everybody had watched the scenes from Albania and Macedonia on TV and nobody was saying much. There was little point talking, because you could only talk in cliches.

In Sevastopol, the Russians were readying another six warships for the Mediterranean. "We are taking part in exercises ... or whatever we are ordered to do", said an admiral in a 19th century uniform with much gold braid. A crane was swinging cruise missiles aboard. Ah yes, Sevastopol. Next stop, the Dardanelles.

"Jesus, not the Dardanelles again", somebody muttered. "Next thing, some archduke will get shot at Sarajevo". Nobody laughed.

Outside it rained incessantly, forcing Bettina Gozzi to abandon her usual spot under the lamp up on the corner. She sat around in the café and pursued her writing career instead. It was something about 'New Frontiers of Adultery', which was destined for Quadrant, or maybe the Herald, and her handwriting covered the backs of how-to-vote cards of the Non-Custodial Parents Party and old Fred Nile leaflets which she spread over the table as she scribbled away.

I went back up to the office and brooded over a cider till I fell into a shallow and troubled sleep. When I woke it was Sunday and still raining. I walked across town and took the ferry to Manly. On a wet day, with a low sky, it is a good way to get a long perspective on things.

I felt very old and worn. We expect there will be some progress and reconciliation in our lifetime, some ghastly past we can turn our back on, but the news out of the Balkans has been confounding that for years and it is not getting any better. This century it took three bitter steps forward and now it has gone three back.

I took with me a book of John Reed's 1915 articles from the Balkans. He was said to be the highest paid reporter in America at the time he made his reckless journey to the typhus-racked Balkan front lines with artist Boardman Robinson. Many credit him with being the founder of modern journalism as well as the US Communist Party ... and he was the best role Warren Beatty ever played.

I sat on the ferry and flicked through the book. It sprung open at one of Boardman's sketches showing a Serb woman giving the breast to a baby and it was entitled "A little avenger of Kosovo". The irony chilled the soul. I had seen the new little avengers of Kosovo on TV, at the breasts of Kosovo Albanian women, crowded under plastic sheets in the rain, on a cold wet hillside. They will gather on the borders of their homeland, like the Palestinians, for decades to come. There are said to be half a million AK47s circulating in Albania alone, since the collapse of the army, and two million hand grenades. Bulgaria, the blackmarket arms bazaar of Europe, is right next door, so tools will not be a problem.

Reed's The War in Eastern Europe -- Travels Through the Balkans in 1915 is an ominous book. He liked the Serbs for their invigorating madness, but he saw also their overweening ambition for a Greater Serbian. The "aspirations" of all the major players in the Balkans – the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians were "practically boundless", he said, and also, "the salient characteristic of Balkan peoples is bitter hatred of the nearest aliens". And that is leaving out of account the meddling in the region by the Germans, Italians, British, Russians and French, which fuelled the fires still further.

There will be no good or easy solution for all of this. It will take a long, long time, and Nato missiles or even a full-scale invasion will not do it. It will have to emerge from within.

The last person who managed to get a grip on the thing was Josip Broz Tito – but that was only after the region had been mired by two Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, the First World War, and a bloody struggle against the legions of Hitler and Mussolini, the Croatian fascist Ante Pavelic and the Cetnik guerillas of the Serb Royalist Draza Mihajlovic. Millions died in those wars and it was only when the Balkans lay exhausted and in ruins that Tito and his multi-ethnic team emerged victorious – with the political authority to create a federated republic that brought peace for three and a half decades. He thought himself a loyal Communist and was a naive supporter of Stalin, but the old monster called him a fascist and drove Yugoslavia out of the fold. The men who inherited the shop when Tito died in 1980 were bankers and bureaucrats, cheap nationalist demagogues and fascist ethnic cleansers.

John Reed was lucky, in a way. He died of typhus in Russia in 1920. They buried him in Red Square and he never saw the rise of Stalin, or the purges, or the slaughter in the Balkans in the Second World War ... or this.
Illustration after Goya's 'The Second of May'.