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Special! "Hawala, or the Bank that Never was"
I. The Eureka Connection
II. The Sergeant and the Girl - An Anatomy of a Double Standard
III. Women in Transition
IV. The Pettifogger Procurators
V. The Cavemen and the Alien
VI. Skopje - Where Time Stood Still
VII. Is Transition Possible?
VIII. Herzl's Butlers
IX. The Bad Blood of Kosovo
X. Who is Guarding the Guards?
XI. The Titanic WaltzAuthor
: Sam VakninContact Info
Hawala, or the Bank that Never Was
By: Sam Vaknin
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA, attention was drawn to the age-old, secretive, and globe-spanning banking system developed in Asia and known as "Hawala" (to change, in Arabic). It is based on a short term, discountable, negotiable, promissory note (or bill of exchange) called "Hundi". While not limited to Moslems, it has come to be identified with "Islamic Banking".
Islamic Law (Sharia'a) regulates commerce and finance in the Fiqh Al Mua'malat, (transactions amongst people). Modern Islamic banks are overseen by the Shari'a Supervisory Board of Islamic Banks and Institutions ("The Shari'a Committee").
The Shi'a "Islamic Laws according to the Fatawa of Ayatullah al Uzama Syed Ali al-Husaini Seestani" has this to say about Hawala banking:
"2298. If a debtor directs his creditor to collect his debt from the third person, and the creditor accepts the arrangement, the third person will, on completion of all the conditions to be explained later, become the debtor. Thereafter, the creditor cannot demand his debt from the first debtor."
The prophet Muhammad (a cross border trader of goods and commodities by profession) encouraged the free movement of goods and the development of markets. Numerous Moslem scholars railed against hoarding and harmful speculation (market cornering and manipulation known as "Gharar"). Moslems were the first to use promissory notes and assignment, or transfer of debts via bills of exchange ("Hawala"). Among modern banking instruments, only floating and, therefore, uncertain, interest payments ("Riba" and "Jahala"), futures contracts, and forfeiting are frowned upon. But agile Moslem traders easily and often circumvent these religious restrictions by creating "synthetic Murabaha (contracts)" identical to Western forward and futures contracts. Actually, the only allowed transfer or trading of debts (as distinct from the underlying commodities or goods) is under the Hawala.
"Hawala" consists of transferring money (usually across borders and in order to avoid taxes or the need to bribe officials) without physical or electronic transfer of funds. Money changers ("Hawaladar") receive cash in one country, no questions asked. Correspondent hawaladars in another country dispense an identical amount (minus minimal fees and commissions) to a recipient or, less often, to a bank account. E-mail, or letter ("Hundi") carrying couriers are used to convey the necessary information (the amount of money, the date it has to be paid on) between Hawaladars. The sender provides the recipient with code words (or numbers, for instance the serial numbers of currency notes), a digital encrypted message, or agreed signals (like handshakes), to be used to retrieve the money. Big Hawaladars use a chain of middlemen in cities around the globe.
But most Hawaladars are small businesses. Their Hawala activity is a sideline or moonlighting operation. "Chits" (verbal agreements) substitute for certain written records. In bigger operations there are human "memorizers" who serve as arbiters in case of dispute. The Hawala system requires unbounded trust. Hawaladars are often members of the same family, village, clan, or ethnic group. It is a system older than the West. The ancient Chinese had their own "Hawala" - "fei qian" (or "flying money"). Arab traders used it to avoid being robbed on the Silk Road. Cheating is punished by effective ex-communication and "loss of honour" - the equivalent of an economic death sentence. Physical violence is rarer but not unheard of. Violence sometimes also erupts between money recipients and robbers who are after the huge quantities of physical cash sloshing about the system. But these, too, are rare events, as rare as bank robberies. One result of this effective social regulation is that commodity traders in Asia shift hundreds of millions of US dollars per trade based solely on trust and the verbal commitment of their counterparts.
Hawala arrangements are used to avoid customs duties, consumption taxes, and other trade-related levies. Suppliers provide importers with lower prices on their invoices, and get paid the difference via Hawala. Legitimate transactions and tax evasion constitute the bulk of Hawala operations. Modern Hawala networks emerged in the 1960's and 1970's to circumvent official bans on gold imports in Southeast Asia and to facilitate the transfer of hard earned wages of expatriates to their families ("home remittances") and their conversion at rates more favourable (often double) than the government's. Hawala provides a cheap (it costs c. 1% of the amount transferred), efficient, and frictionless alternative to morbid and corrupt domestic financial institutions. It is Western Union without the hi-tech gear and the exorbitant transfer fees.
Unfortunately, these networks have been hijacked and compromised by drug traffickers (mainly in Afganistan and Pakistan), corrupt officials, secret services, money launderers, organized crime, and terrorists. Pakistani Hawala networks alone move up to 5 billion US dollars annually according to estimates by Pakistan's Minister of Finance, Shaukut Aziz. In 1999, Institutional Investor Magazine identified 1100 money brokers in Pakistan and transactions that ran as high as 10 million US dollars apiece. As opposed to stereotypes, most Hawala networks are not controlled by Arabs, but by Indian and Pakistani expatriates and immigrants in the Gulf. The Hawala network in India has been brutally and ruthlessly demolished by Indira Ghandi (during the emergency regime imposed in 1975), but Indian nationals still play a big part in international Hawala networks. Similar networks in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Bangladesh have also been eradicated.
The OECD's Financial Action Task Force (FATF) says that:
"Hawala remains a significant method for large numbers of businesses of all sizes and individuals to repatriate funds and purchase gold.... It is favoured because it usually costs less than moving funds through the banking system, it operates 24 hours per day and every day of the year, it is virtually completely reliable, and there is minimal paperwork required."
(Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), "Report on Money Laundering Typologies 1999-2000," Financial Action Task Force, FATF-XI, February 3, 2000, at
Hawala networks closely feed into Islamic banks throughout the world and to commodity trading in South Asia. There are more than 200 Islamic banks in the USA alone and many thousands in Europe, North and South Africa, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states (especially in the free zone of Dubai and in Bahrain), Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other South East Asian countries. By the end of 1998, the overt (read: tip of the iceberg) liabilities of these financial institutions amounted to 148 billion US dollars. They dabbled in equipment leasing, real estate leasing and development, corporate equity, and trade/structured trade and commodities financing (usually in consortia called "Mudaraba").
While previously confined to the Arab peninsula and to south and east Asia, this mode of traditional banking became truly international in the 1970's, following the unprecedented flow of wealth to many Moslem nations due to the oil shocks and the emergence of the Asian tigers. Islamic banks joined forces with corporations, multinationals, and banks in the West to finance oil exploration and drilling, mining, and agribusiness. Many leading law firms in the West (such as Norton Rose, Freshfields, Clyde and Co. and Clifford Chance) have "Islamic Finance" teams which are familiar with Islam-compatible commercial contracts.
II. HAWALA AND TERRORISM
Recent anti-terrorist legislation in the US and the UK allows government agencies to regularly supervise and inspect businesses that are suspected of being a front for the ''Hawala'' banking system, makes it a crime to smuggle more than $10,000 in cash across USA borders, and empowers the Treasury secretary (and its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network - FinCEN) to tighten record-keeping and reporting rules for banks and financial institutions based in the USA. A new inter-agency Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT) was set up. A 1993 moribund proposed law requiring US-based Halawadar to register and to report suspicious transactions may be revived. These relatively radical measures reflect the belief that the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden uses the Hawala system to raise and move funds across national borders. A Hawaladar in Pakistan (Dihab Shill) was identified as the financier in the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
But the USA is not the only country to face terrorism financed by Hawala networks.
A few months ago, the Delhi police, the Indian government's Enforcement Directorate (ED), and the Military Intelligence (MI) arrested six Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) terrorists. The arrests led to the exposure of an enormous web of Hawala institutions in Delhi, aided and abetted, some say, by the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan's security services). The Hawala network was used to funnel money to terrorist groups in the disputed Kashmir Valley.
Luckily, the common perception that Hawala financing is paperless is wrong. The transfer of information regarding the funds often leaves digital (though heavily encrypted) trails. Couriers and "contract memorizers", gold dealers, commodity merchants, transporters, and moneylenders can be apprehended and interrogated. Written, physical, letters are still the favourite mode of communication among small and medium Hawaladars, who also invariably resort to extremely detailed single entry bookkeeping. And the sudden appearance and disappearance of funds in bank accounts still have to be explained. Moreover, the sheer scale of the amounts involved entails the collaboration of off shore banks and more established financial institutions in the West. Such flows of funds affect the local money markets in Asia and are instantaneously reflected in interest rates charged to frequent borrowers, such as wholesalers. Spending and consumption patterns change discernibly after such influxes. Most of the money ends up in prime world banks behind flimsy business facades. Hackers in Germany claimed (without providing proof) to have infiltrated Hawala-related bank accounts.
The problem is that banks and financial institutions - and not only in dodgy offshore havens ("black holes" in the lingo) - clam up and refuse to divulge information about their clients. Banking is largely a matter of fragile trust between bank and customer and tight secrecy. Bankers are reluctant to undermine either. Banks use mainframe computers which can rarely be hacked through cyberspace and can be compromised only physically in close co-operation with insiders. The shadier the bank - the more formidable its digital defenses. The use of numbered accounts (outlawed in Austria, for instance, only recently) and pseudonyms (still possible in Lichtenstein) complicates matters. Bin Laden's accounts are unlikely to bear his name. He has collaborators.
Hawala networks are often used to launder money, or to evade taxes. Even when employed for legitimate purposes, to diversify the risk involved in the transfer of large sums, Hawaladars apply techniques borrowed from money laundering. Deposits are fragmented and wired to hundreds of banks the world over ("starburst"). Sometimes, the money ends up in the account of origin ("boomerang").
Hence the focus on payment clearing and settlement systems. Most countries have only one such system, the repository of data regarding all banking (and most non-banking) transactions in the country. Yet, even this is a partial solution. Most national systems maintain records for 6-12 months, private settlement and clearing systems for even less.
Yet, the crux of the problem is not the Hawala or the Hawaladars. The corrupt and inept governments of Asia are to blame for not regulating their banking systems, for over-regulating everything else, for not fostering competition, for throwing public money at bad debts and at worse borrowers, for over-taxing, for robbing people of their life savings through capital controls, for tearing at the delicate fabric of trust between customer and bank (Pakistan, for instance, froze all foreign exchange accounts two years ago). Perhaps if Asia had reasonably expedient, reasonably priced, reasonably regulated, user-friendly banks - Osama bin Laden would have found it impossible to finance his mischief so invisibly.
The Eureka Connection
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
A common, guttural cry of "Eureka" echoed as the peoples of East Europe and the Balkan emerged from the Communist steam bath. It was at once an expression of joy and disbelief. That the West should be willing to bankroll the unravelling of a failed social experiment, freely entered into, exceeded the wildest imaginings. That it would do so indefinitely and with no strings attached was a downright outlandish fortuity.
Accustomed to Pavolvian interactions, adept at manipulating "the system", experts in all manner of make belief - the shrewd denizens of the East exercised the reflexive levers of the Great Democracies. They adopted stratagems whose sole purpose was to extract additional aid, to foster a dependency of giving, to emotionally extort. In one sentence: they learned how to corrupt the donors.
The most obvious subterfuge involved the mindless repetition of imported mantras. Possessed of the same glazed eyes and furled lips, the loyal members of a perfidious nomenklatura uttered with the same seemingly perfervid conviction the catechism of a new religion. Yesterday communism - today capitalism, unblushingly, unhesitatingly, cynically. Yesterday, a recondite dictatorship of the proletariat or, more often, a personality cult - today "democracy". Yesterday - brotherhood and unity, today - genocidal "self determination". Yesterday - genocidal inclinations, today - a "growth and stability pact". If required to bark in the nude in order to secure the flow of unsupervised funding (mainly to their pockets), these besuited "gentlemen" would have done so with self-sacrificial ardour, no doubt.
When it dawned upon them that the West is willing to pay for every phase of self-betterment, for every stage of self-improvement, for every functioning institution and law passed - this venal class (the soi-disant "elite" in government, in industry and academe) embarked on a gargantuan blackmail plot. The inventors of the most contorted and impervious bureaucracies ever, have recreated them. They have transformed the simplest tasks of reform into tortuous, hellish processes, mired in a miasma of numerous committees and deluged by cavils, captious "working" papers and memoranda of stupefying trumpery. They have stalled and retraced, reversed and regressed, opined and debated, refused and accepted grudgingly. The very processes of transformation and transition - a simulacrum to begin with - acquired an aura of somnolent lassitude and the nightmarish quality of ensnarement. And they made the West bribe them into yielding that which was ostensibly in their very own interest. Every act of legislation was preceded and followed by dollops of foreign cash. Every ministry abolished was conditioned upon more aid. Every court established, every bloodletting firm privatized, every bank sold, every system made more efficient, every procedure simplified, every tender concluded and every foreign investor spared - had a tariff. "Pay or else ..." was the overt message - and the West preferred to pay and to appease, as it has always done.
The money lavished on these "new democracies" was routed rather conspicuously into the private bank accounts of the thin layer of vituperable "leaders", "academics" and "businessmen" (often the same people). One third cigarette smugglers, one third uncommon criminals and one third cynical con-artists, these people looted the coffers of their states. The IMF - this sanctuary of fourth rate economists from third world countries, as I am never wont of mentioning - collaborated with the US government, the European Union and the World Bank in covering up this stark reality. They turned a common blind eye to the diversion of billions in aid and credits to mysterious bank accounts in dubious tax havens. They ignored fake trading deals, itinerant investment houses, shady investors and shoddy accounting. They expressed merely polite concern over blatant cronyism and rampant nepotism. They kept pouring money into the rapidly growing black hole that Eastern Europe and the Balkan have become. They pretended not to know and feigned surprise when confronted with the facts. In their complicity, they have encouraged the emergence of a criminal class of unprecedented proportions, hold and penetration in many of the countries within their remit.
To qualify to participate in this grand larceny, one needed only to have a "sovereign" "state". Sovereign states are entitled to hold shares in multilateral financial institutions and to receive international aid and credits. In other words: sovereignty is the key to instant riches. The unregenerate skulks that pass for political parties in many countries in East Europe and the Balkan (though not in all of them - there are exceptions), carved up the territory. This led to a suspicious proliferation of "republics", each with its own access to international funds. It also led to "wars" among these emergent entities.
Recent revelations regarding the close and cordial co-operation between Croatia's late president, Franjo Tudjman and Yugoslavia's current strongman, Slobodan Milosevic - ostensibly, bitter enemies - expose the role that warfare and instability played in increasing the flow of aid (both civil and military) to belligerent countries. The more unstable the region, the more ominous its rhetoric, the more fractured its geopolitics - the more money flowed in. It was the right kind of money: multilateral - not multinational, public - not private, deliberately ignorant - not judiciously cognizant. It was the "quantum fund" - capable of "tunnelling" (as the Czechs called it) - vanishing in one place (the public purse) and appearing in another (the private wallet) simultaneously. Even the exception - the never-enforced sanctions against Yugoslavia - served to enrich its cankerous ruling class by way of smuggling and monopolies.
And why did the West collaborate in this charade? Why did it compromise its goodwill, its carefully crafted institutions, its principles and ethos? The short and the long of it is: to get rid of a nuisance at a minimal cost. It is much cheaper to grease the palms of a deciding few - than to embark on the winding path of true and painful growth. It is more convenient to co-opt a political leader than to confront an angry mob. It is by far easier to throw money at a problem than to solve it.
It was not a sinister conspiracy of the Great Powers as many would have it. Nor was it the result of foresight, insight, perspicacity, or planning. It was a typical improvident European default, adopted by a succession of lacklustre and lame American administrations. It enriched the few and impoverished the many. It fostered anti-Western sentiments. It provoked skirmishes that provoked wars that led to massacres. To reverse it would require more resources than should have been committed in the first place. These are not forthcoming. The West is again misleading and deceiving and collaborating to defraud the peoples of these unfortunate netherlands. It again promises prosperity it cannot deliver, growth it will not guarantee and stability it cannot ensure. This prestidigitation is bound to lead to ever larger bills and to the attrition of good will of both donor and recipient. Never before was such a unique historical opportunity so thoroughly missed. The consequences may well be as unprecedented.
The Sergeant and the Girl
Anatomy of a Double Standard
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"You can't blame the whole army. But why did they allow such a soldier to come here?"
"We believe he also has a mother an father and we cannot speak good or ill of him."
(Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child)
"Sex offenders typically have a history, but if the guy was raised here, and went to school here, is there any evidence of it at all?"
"When soldiers are on a peacekeeping mission, it can be a very paranoid state.
They're not in attack mode, like they're trained to be; they're stuck in a neutral mode.
(But...) the guy's (Ronghi - SV) a staff sergeant. He's been around, he's not a rookie."
(Dr. Keith John Smedi, formerly a Mental Health Officer in the US Army)
"We looked at KFOR as saviours, to save us from war and from violence...
We want to see a picture of the man who did this to us."
(Remzje Shabiu, mother of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child)
"We again trust the Americans"
(Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child)
Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized ("indecent acts with a child") and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building, when her father went to market to do some shopping. Then he spread flour from a UN aid package over the blood-stained floor. He wrapped the little, still warm body, in two sacks and dumped it under the staircase. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. It was a heinous crime which would have most certainly introduced him to the wrong end of a lethal injection in his homeland, the USA. But Staff Sergeant Ronghi was wise to have unleashed his depravity in Kosovo upon an Albanian girl. Ceteris paribus, it would seem that the going rate for dead Albanian girls is lower than for dead American ones.
There is nothing new in this supercilious attitude of the new masters of the universe. Fiercely independent, solipsistically provincial and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites has imposed its narcissistic "culture" upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold. Never averse to exploiting the global institutions to its ends - it often refrains from providing them with means. It still owes in excess of 160 million US dollars to the poorer nations of the world - its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations. It refuses to subject itself to the judgements of the World Criminal Court, to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and to the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. In short, it is a bully - making its own laws as it goes, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgated at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent mixture of superiority and contempt.
The case of the bestial murderer Ronghi is not an aberration. It happened before (in Japan in 1995, for instance). Nor is the double moral standard applied only by the USA. When a (most probably intoxicated) Norwegian soldier killed a Macedonian minister and his family in a car crash in August 1999 (having swerved into the wrong lane), he was rushed back to Norway to face an incredibly lenient sentence of two months in prison - unimaginable if the Minister were Norwegian and the venue Oslo. More than 60 criminal investigations against NATO soldiers by the Macedonian police (the tip of an iceberg, no doubt) ended this way. So did proceedings in more than 200 traffic accidents involving almost 20 fatalities. These are the remains of a colonial state of mind - natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, the white man's burden must not be exacerbated by excess legalism. Western folks should stick together, you know and, above all, should never be exposed to the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence.
In the village of Vitina, in Kosovo, a wiry Hamdi Shabiu, in an upturned fur hat and evanescent nylon jacket, waves the photograph of the swollen face of his formerly beautiful daughter, Merita. Her battered body was discovered on Thursday, January 13, 2000 (no one seems to agree as to where). The 35 year old weapons squad leader from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (born in Niles, Ohio), was arrested 3 days later in a show of unprecedented investigative efficiency. He was transferred to a confinement facility (a military euphemism for prison) in Mannheim and from there to a prison in Wuerzburg, near Frankfurt, Germany.
It was the sad denouement of what started as a love affair. The American contingent of KFOR was welcomed by the Kosovars in scenes of jubilation not seen since the end of World War Two. But this exuberance was soon quelled by the liberties some soldiers took with the local girls (for instance, when "searching" their bodies for "weapons"). Complaints were lodged - and ignored (another pattern of behaviour - American soldiers are ex-territorial). Later, Americans were involved in violent and brutal clashes with local Albanians, including in Vitina. The atmosphere has soured.
The Kosovo the peacekeepers entered is a fantastic place, the outcome of a hundred years of solitude. It is teeming with disgruntled and covinous guerilla fighters, steely-eyed and ruthless mafiosi, contumacious small-time delinquents and noisome, unctuous pimps in chintzy cars. In this nebulochaotically permissive atmosphere of insidious disintegration and ludic, sinuous sex - soldiers became involved in all manner of invenial skulduggery, drug peddling and abuse, in weapons trading and white prostitution networks. Ask any Macedonian, Kosovar, Greek, Albanian, Serb, or Bulgarian and they will tell you how deep and institutionalized the involvement of KFOR soldiers is in the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, flour and consumer goods. The surrealistic morass that is the Balkan has digested them and enmeshed them in venality and crime. The lack of functioning law enforcement institutions and the gaping void that replaced civil society in Kosovo contributed to the general moral turpitude. The unbearable lightness of being has rendered all moral precepts remote and niggling. To these soldiers, Kosovo was an Elysium of sin, an apogee of lasciviousness and avarice, a profligate perdition.
Ronghi set impassively through the reading of his verdict on July 30th. He offered the grieving family a convoluted apology: "I don't know what went wrong that day". Pathological Narcissists are characterized by alloplastic defences. They blame the world, destiny, the Universe, fate, or other people for their behaviour and for its (usually deleterious) outcomes. Faulty maps were blamed on the demolition of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The unfortunate event of the downing of an Iranian airliner was attributed to "human error". An American pilot violated his flight instructions, killing vacationers in Italy in the process - and was exculpated. Ronghi, described as a wholesome American phenomenon by friends, family and commanders, blamed the day: "I don't know what went wrong that day", he said. He might as well have been discussing a scorched omelette. Devoid of all emotion or compunction, he added stolidly, reading from a crumpled piece of paper his lines of what evidently was, to him, merely a bad script. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the family. I ask them for my forgiveness" [sic! How Freudian!]. He added: "I never did anything wrong before. I know what I did was very wrong. That's why I pleaded guilty." In other words: I am a good and upright man, who can tell right from wrong and who assumes responsibility for his wrongful acts. The brutal rape and thrashing to death of a pre-adolescent girl is the exception in an otherwise commendable life and virtuous conduct.
But Ronghi was unfazed by what he did. To bury Merita's body, ensconced in two UN flour sacks, under the staircase in the basement, Ronghi took with him another soldier, a private, who finally turned him in. He told him: "(it was) easy to get away with something like this in a Third World country." Sergeant Christopher Rice, who was on duty the night Ronghi murdered the child, added: ""He knew because he'd done it before in the desert (in operation 'Desert Storm' in Iraq - SV)".
If Rice knew this about Ronghi - why didn't he turn him in? If the Army knew this about Ronghi - why did they send him on a peacekeeping mission involving contact with civilian population? Is it true that peacekeeping operations are the dumping grounds of mercenaries and military misfits, drug addicts and the criminally-inclined? That the selection criteria and procedures are less than rigorous is an open secret. Peacekeepers are notoriously culturally insensitive, undressing publicly (in Kumanovo), getting embroiled in inebriated brawls (in restaurants and bars), raping and thieving, smuggling and trading, playing with pistols during the famous Struga poetry festival. This has come to be expected of them. But not murder and, perhaps, not the rape of a pre-pubescent girl.
So many under-estimated the pernicious effects of promiscuousness and disdain combined. Many more have turned a blind eye to the convergence of the armed presence of Albanian thugs of all political hues and their counterparts in KFOR. To many soldiers, the citizens of Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, were but sub-humans - a view shared by the Albanian predators that confiscated their apartments and killed them by the hundreds. This confluence of jaded scorn, this somnolent sadism and condescending malfeasance, this propinquity of criminal and law - made Kosovo the Dantesque netherland it has become. It killed Merita. It had the face of Ronghi but the number of the beast.
Women in Transition
From Post Feminism to Past Femininity
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"[In]... the brothels off Wenceslas Square, in central Prague, [where] sexual intercourse can be bought for USD 25 - about half the price charged at a German brothel... Slav women have supplanted Filipinos and Thais as the most common foreign offering in [Europe]."
(The Economist, August 2000, p.18)
"I'm also wary of the revolutionary ambition of some feminist texts, with their ideas about changing present conditions,
having seen enough attempted utopia's for one lifetime" (Petr Príhoda, The New Presence, 2000, p. 35).
"As probably every country has its Amazons, if we go far back in Czech mythology, to a collection of Old Czech Legends, we come across a very interesting legend about the Dévín castle (which literally means 'The Girls' Castle'). It describes a bloody story about a rebellion of women, who started a vengeful war against men. As the story goes, they were not only capable warriors, they had no mercy and would not hesitate to kill their fathers and brothers. Under the leadership of mighty Vlasta, the "girls" lived in their castle, "Dévín", where they underwent a severe military training. They led the war very successfully, and one day Vlasta came up with an shrewd plan, how to take hostage a famous nobleman, Ctirad. She chose the lovely Sárka from the body (sic!) of her troops and had her tied up to a tree by a road with a horn and a jar of a mead out of her reach, but in her sight. In this state, Sárka was waiting for Ctirad to find her. When he actually really appeared and saw her, she told him a sad story of how the women from Dévín punished her for not following their ideology by tying her to the tree, mockingly putting a jar and a horn (so that she would be always reminded that she is thirsty and helpless) near by. Ctirad, enchanted by the beautiful woman, believed the lure and untied her, and when she handed him the mead, he willingly drunk it. When he was drunk already, she let him blow the horn, which was a signal for the Dévín warriors to capture him. He was then tortured in many horrible ways, at the end of which, his body was woven into a wooden wheel and displayed. This event mobilized the army, which soon afterwards destroyed Dévín. (Very significantly, this legend is the only account of radical feminism in Czech Lands.)"
("The Vissicitudes of Czech Feminism" by Petra Hanáková)
"We myself...and many others are not in search of global sisterhood at all, and it is only when we give up expecting it that we can get anywhere. It is each other's very 'otherness ' that motivates us, and the things we find in common take on greater meaning within the context of otherness. There is so much to learn by comparing the ways in which we are different, and which the same elements of women's experience are global, and which aren't, and wondering why, and what it means"
"It is difficult to carry three watermelons under one arm."
(Proverb attributed to Bulgarian women)
"The high level of unemployment among women, segregation in the labour market, the increasing salary gap between women and men, the lack of women present at the decision making level, increasing violence against women, the high levels of maternal and infant mortality, the total absence of a contraceptive industry in Russia, the insufficiency of child welfare benefits, the lack of adequate resources to fund current state programs - this is only part of the long list of women's rights violations."
(Elena Kotchkina, Moscow Centre for Gender Studies, "Report on the Legal Status of Women in Russia")
Communism was men's nightmare and women's dream, or so the left wing version goes. In reality it was a gender-neutral hell. Women under communism were, indeed, encouraged to participate in the labour force. An array of conveniences facilitated their participation: day care centres, kindergarten, daylong schools, abortion clinics. They had their quota in parliament. They climbed to the top of some professions (though there was a list of women-free occupations, more than 90 is Poland). But this - as most other things in communism - was a mere simulacrum.
Reality was much drearier. Women, however mettlesome, groaned under the "triple burden" - work, marital expectations cum childrearing chores and party activism. They succumbed to the lure and demands of the (stressful and boastful) image of the communist "super-woman". This martyrdom - now threatened by the dual Western imports, capitalism and feminism - served as a fountain of self-esteem and a source of self-worth in otherwise gloomy circumstances.
Yet, the communist inspired workplace revolution was not complemented by a domestic one. Women's traditional roles - so succinctly summarized by Bismarck with Prussian geniality as "kitchen, children, church" - survived the modernizing onslaught of scientific Marxism. It is true that power shifted within the family unit ("The woman is the neck that moves the head, her husband"). But the "underslippers" (as Czech men disparagingly self-labeled) still had the upper hand. In short, women were now subjected to onerous double patriarchy, both private and public (the latter propagated by the party and the state). It is not that they did not value the independence, status, social interaction and support networks that their jobs afforded them. But they resented the lack of choice (employment was obligatory) and the parasitic rule of their often useless husbands. Many of them were an integral and important part of national and social movements throughout the region. Yet, with victory secured and goals achieved, they were invariably shunned and marginalized. As a result, they felt exploited and abused. Small wonder women voted overwhelmingly for right wing parties post communism.
Yet, even after the demise of communism, Western feminism failed to take root in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The East Coast Amazons from America and their British counterparts were too ideological, too Marxist, too radical and too men-hating and family-disparaging to engender much following in the just-liberated victims of leftist ideologies. Hectoring, overly-politicized women were a staple of communism - and so was women's liberation. Women in CEE vowed: "never again".
Moreover, the evaporation of the iron curtain lifted the triple burden as well. Women finally had a choice whether to develop a career and how to balance it with family life. Granted, economic hardship made this choice highly theoretical. Once again, women had to work to make ends meet. But the stifling ethos was gone.
Communism left behind it a legal infrastructure incompatible with a modern market economy. Maternal leave was anywhere between 18 and 36 (!) months, for instance. But there were no laws to tackle domestic or spousal violence, women trafficking, organized crime prostitution rings, discrimination, inequality, marital rape, date rape and a host of other issues. There were no women's media of any kind (TV or print). No university offered a gender studies program or had a women's studies department. Communism was interested in women (and humans) as means of production. It ignored all other dimensions of their existence. In sputnik-era Russia, there were no factories for tampons or sanitary bandages, for example. Communism believed that the restructuring of class relations will resolve all other social inequities. Feminism properly belonged to the spoiled, brooding women of the West - not to the bluestockings of communism. Ignoring problems was communism's way of solving them. Thus, there was no official unemployment in the lands of socialism - or drugs, or AIDS, or unhappy women. To borrow from psychodynamic theories, Communism never developed "problem constancy".
To many, women included, communism was about the perversion of the "natural order". Men and women were catapulted out of their pre-ordained social orbits into an experiment in dystopy. When it ended, post communism became a throwback to the 19th century: its values, mores and petite bourgeois aspirations. In the exegesis of transition, communism was interpreted as an aberration, an interruption in an otherwise linear progress. It was cast as a regrettable historical accident or, worse, a criminal endeavour to be vehemently disowned and reversed.
Yet again women proved to be the prime victims of historical processes, this time of transition. They saw their jobs consumed by male-dominated privatization and male-biased technological modernization. Men in the CEE are 3 times more likely to find a job, 60-80% of all women's jobs were lost (for instance in the textile and clothing industries) and the highest rates of unemployment are among middle aged and older women ("unemployment with a female face" as it is called in Ukraine). Women constitute 50-70% of the unemployed. And women's unemployment is probably under-reported. Most unrecorded workers (omitted from the official statistics) are women. Where retraining is available (a rarity), women are trained to do computer jobs, mostly clerical and low skilled. Men, on the other hand, are assigned to assimilate new and promising technologies. In many countries, women are asked to waive their rights under the law, or even to produce proof of sterilization before they get a job. The only ray of light is higher education, where women's participation actually increased in certain countries. But this blessing is confined to "feminine" (low pay and low status) professions. Vocational and technical schools have either closed down entirely or closed their gates to women. Even in feminized professions (such as university teaching), women make less than 20% of the upper rungs (e.g., full professorships). The tidal wave of the rising cost of education threatens to drown this trend of women's education. Studies have shown that, with rising costs, women's educational opportunities decline. Families prefer to invest - and rationally so - in their males.
Women witnessed the resurgence of nostalgic nationalism, neo traditionalism and religious revival - social forces which sought to confine them to home, hearth, spouse and children and to "liberate" them from the "forced labour" of communism. Negative demographic trends (declining life expectancy and birth rate, numerous abortions, late marriage, a high divorce rate, increasing suicide rate) conspired to provoke a "we are a dying nation" outcry and the inevitable re-emphasis of the woman's reproductive functions. Fierce debates about the morality of abortion erupted in bastions of Catholic fundamentalism (such as Poland and, to a lesser degree, Lithuania) as well as in citadels of rational agnosticism, such as the Czech Republic. Curiously, prostitution and women trafficking were accepted as inevitable. Perhaps because they catered to masculine needs.
Indeed, in feminist lore and theory, both nationalism and capitalism are "patriarchal". Nationalism allocates distinct and mutually exclusive roles to men and women. The latter are supposed to act as homemakers and have babies. Capitalism encourages the formation of impregnable male elites, disseminates new technologies mainly to male monopolies, eliminates menial and low skilled (women's) jobs and puts emphasis on masculine traits such as aggression and competitiveness. No wonder female political representation in parliaments and governments diminished dramatically since 1989. When powerless, under communism, CEE parliaments were stacked with women. Now that they are more potent elected bodies, they are almost nowhere to be seen. The few that infiltrated these august institutions are relegated to "soft" committees (social issues, usually) devoid of budgets and of influence. It is very much like under communism when the decision making party echelons were predominantly male. The only influential women then were dissidents but they seem to have rejected the fruit of their labour, democracy, in favour of tranquility and peace of mind - or to have been usurped by an emerging male establishment. Despite an education in economics, they are under-represented among business executives, the owners of privatized enterprises and the beneficiaries of favourable pay regulations and tax systems.
This erosion of their economic base coupled with the drastic decreases in child benefits, in the length of maternal leave, in the number of public and, thus, affordable child care facilities and in other support networks led to a swift deterioration in the social status and leverage of women. With their only effective contraceptive - abortion - restricted, maternal mortality exploded. So did teenage pregnancy - a result of the curtailing or absence of sex education. The rate of sexually transmitted diseases went through the roof. Violence against women - rape, spousal abuse, date rape - became epidemic. So did skyrocketing street prostitution. Widowed women - an ever more common phenomenon in CEE - are destitute and reduced to begging as the pensions of the lucky ones are ground to nil by a rising cost of living and IMF prodded stinginess. There are also more quotidian problems (often neglected by the media hungry and soundbite craving feminists) like pitiful divorce maintenance payments or decrepit maternity wards in crumbling hospitals.
Yet, women's reaction to all this was notable in its absence. After decades of forced activism and imposed altruism, the imported Western individualism mutated in CEE to malignant egotism. A sliver of the female population did well in local government and as entrepreneurs. The rest (especially the old, the rural, the less educated) stayed at home and seemed to fancy this novel experience of dependence. A generational divide emerged. Younger women discovered the joys of conspicuous consumption and mind numbing pop "culture". They constituted the masses of career opportunists, the new managerial class, shareholders and professionals - a pale imitation of the yuppies of America. Older women retreated - heaving a sigh of relief - into home and family, seeking refuge from the intrusion of tedious public matters. Economic realities still forced them to seek a job and steady income (often in a family business or in the informal economy, with no job security or regulated labour conditions) but their activism vanished into newfound and demonstrative reclusiveness.
Yet, even the young entrepreneurs often fare badly. They lack the necessary business skills, the knowledge, the supportive infrastructure, or the access to credit. The older women cannot work long hours, lack skills and, when officially employed, are expensive, due to the burden of the still effective social benefits. Thus, women can be mostly found in services, light industry and agriculture - the most non lucrative sectors of the dilapidated economies of CEE. And speaking of the social benefits not yet axed - their quality has deteriorated, access to them has been restricted and supplies are often short. The costs of public goods (mainly health and education) have been transferred from state to households either officially (a result of the commercialization of services) or surreptitiously and insidiously (e.g., patients required to purchase their own food, bed sheets and medication when hospitalized).
To blame it all on a botched transition is now in vogue. Yet, many of the problems facing the wretched women of CEE were evident as early as 30 years ago. The feminization of poverty is not a new phenomenon, nor is the feminization of certain professions and the attendant decline in both their status and their pay. Under communism, women felt as exhausted and as guilt-ridden as they feel today. They were considered unreliable workers (which they were, what with a lifetime average of 10 abortions and 2 children). Their offspring endured an alienated childhood in the brutal and faceless gulag of day care centres maintained by indifferent bureaucrats. Juvenile delinquency, a high divorce rate, single motherhood and parasitic fathers were all swept under the ideological carpet by communism. Even communism's only achievement - the inclusionary workforce - was an elaborately crafted illusion for consumption by wide-eyed Western intellectuals. In the agrarian societies which preceded communism, women worked no less. And women were not allowed to work night time or shifts or in certain jobs, nor were they paid as much as men in equal functions. Job advertising is sex-specific and sexist to this very day (in stark violation of dead letter Constitutions).
Discarding the baby with the leaking bathtub has been a hallmark of transition. Communism has done a lot for women (one of its very rare achievements). Some of these foundations were sound and durable and should have been preserved to build upon. Yet the apathy of women and the zeal of power hungry men converged to yield an old new world: patriarchal, discriminatory and iniquitous. The day of CEE feminism will come. But first, CEE has to become more Westernized.
The Pettifogger Procurators
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Recently, the most unusual event has gone unnoticed in the international press. A former minister of finance has accused the more prominent members of the diplomatic corps in his country of corruption. He insisted that these paragons of indignant righteousness and hectoring morality have tried to blackmail him into paying them hefty commissions from money allotted to exigent humanitarian aid. This was immediately and from afar - and, therefore, without proper investigation - denied by their superiors in no uncertain terms.
The facts are these: most (though by no means all) Western diplomats in the nightmarish wasteland that is East Europe and the Balkan, the unctuously fulsome and the frowzily wizened alike, are ageing and sybaritic basket cases. They have often failed miserably in their bootless previous posts - or have insufficiently submerged in the Byzantine culture of their employers. Thus emotionally injured and cast into the frigorific outer darkness of a ravaged continent, they adopt the imperial patina of Roman procurators in narcissistic compensation. Their long suffering wives - bored to distraction in the impassibly catatonic societies of post communism - impose upon a reluctant and flummoxed population the nescient folderol of their distaff voluntary urges or exiguous artistic talents. Ever more crapulous, they aestivate and hibernate, the queens of tatty courts and shabby courtiers.
The cold war having ebbed, these emissaries of questionable provenance engage in the promotion of the narrow interests of specific industries or companies. They lobby the local administration, deploying bare threats and obloquies where veiled charm fails. They exert subtle or brutal pressure through the press. They co-opt name-dropping bureaucrats and bribe pivotal politicians. They get fired those who won't collaborate or threaten to expose their less defensible misdeeds. They are glorified delivery boys, carrying apocryphal messages to and fro. They are bloviating PR campaigners, seeking to aggrandize their meagre role and, incidentally, that of their country. They wine and dine and banter endlessly with the provincial somnolent variety of public figures, members of the venal and pinchbeck elites that now rule these tortured territories. In short - forced to deal with the bedizened miscreants that pass for businessmen and politicians in this nether world - they are transformed, assuming in the process the identity of their obdurately corrupted hosts.
Thus, they help to sway elections and hasten to endorse their results, however disputed and patently fraudulent. They intimidate the opposition, negotiate with businessmen, prod favoured politicians, spread roorbacks and perambulate their fiefdom to gather intelligence. More often than not, they cross the limpid lines between promotion and extortion, lagniappe and pelf, friendship and collusion, diplomacy and protectorate, the kosher and the criminal.
They are the target and the address of a legion of pressures and demands. Their government may ask them to help depose one coalition and help install another. Their secret services - disguised as intrusive NGOs or workers at the embassy - often get them involved in shady acts and unscrupulous practices. Real NGOs ask for their assiduous assistance and protection. Their hosts - and centuries old protocol - expect them to surreptitiously provide support while openly refrain from intervening, maintaining equipoise. Other countries protest, compete, or leak damaging reports to an often hostile media. The torpid common folk resent them for their colonial ways and hypocritical demarches. Lacking compunction, they are nobody's favourites and everybody's scapegoats at one time or another.
And they are ill-equipped to deal with these subtleties. Not of intelligence, they end where they now are and wish they weren't. Ignorant of business and entrepreneurship, they occupy the dead end, otiose and pension-orientated jobs they do. Devoid of the charm, negotiating skills and human relations required by the intricacies of their profession - they are relegated to the Augean outskirts of civilization. Dishonest and mountebank, they persist in their mortifying positions, inured to the conniving they require.
This blatantly discernible ineptitude provokes the "natives" into a wholesale rejection of the West, its values and its culture. The envoys are perceived as the cormorant reification of their remote controllers. Their voluptuary decadence is a distant echo of the West's decay, their nonage greed - a shadow of its avarice, their effrontery and hidebound peremptory nature - its mien. They are in no position to preach or teach.
The diplomats of the West are not evil. Some of them mean well. To the best of their oft limited abilities, they cadge and beg and press and convince their governments to show goodwill and to contribute to their hosts. But soon their mettle is desiccated by the vexatious realities of their new habitation. Reduced to susurrous cynicism and sardonic contempt, they perfunctorily perform their functions, a distant look in their now empty eyes. They have been assimilated, rendered useless to their dispatchers and to their hosts alike.
The Caveman and the Alien
By : Dr. Sam Vaknin
"'Life' must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all or a Peeping Tom."
(Edward K. Thompson, managing editor of "Life," 1949-1961)
When Chancellor Kohl's party and Edith Cresson are suspected of gross corruption - these are labelled "aberrations" in an otherwise honest West. When NASA in collaboration with its UK counterpart blow a 130 million US dollars spacecraft to smithereens having confused the metric system for its pound/feet archaic predecessor - people nod their head in disapproval: "accidents happen". When President Clinton appoints his wife to suggest an overhaul of the multi-hundred billion dollars US health system - no one thinks it odd. And when the (talented) son of the police investigated, rumoured to be hyper-corrupt Minister of Interior Affairs of Israel becomes a Minister himself, no one bats an eyelash. Yet, when identical events happen in the decrepit countries of Eastern, Central, or Southern Europe - they are subjected to heaps of excoriating scorn, to vitriolic diatribes, to condescending preaching, or to sanctions. It is, indeed, a double standard, a hypocrisy and a travesty the magnitude of which is rarely to be encountered in the annals of human pretensions to morality.
The West has grossly and thoroughly violated Thompson's edict. In its oft-interrupted intercourse with these forsaken regions of the globe, it has acted, alternately, as a Peeping Tom, a cynic and a know it all. It has invariably behaved as if it were holier-than-thou. In an unmitigated and fantastic succession of blunders, miscalculations, vain promises, unkept threats and unkempt diplomats - it has driven Europe to the verge of war and the region it "adopted" to the verge of economic and social upheaval.
Enamoured with the new ideology of free marketry cum democracy, the West first assumed the role of the omniscient. It designed ingenious models, devised foolproof laws, imposed fail-safe institutions and strongly "recommended" measures. Its representatives, the tribunes of the West, ruled the phlebeian East with determination rarely equalled by skill or knowledge. Velvet hands couched in iron gloves, ignorance disguised by economic newspeak, geostrategic interests masquerading as forms of government characterized their dealings with the natives. Preaching and beseeching from ever higher pulpits, they poured opprobrium and sweet delusions on the eagerly deluded, naive, bewildered masses. The deceit was evident to the indigenous cynics - but it was the failure that dissuaded them and all else. The West lost Eastern and Southeast Europe not when it lied egregiously, not when it pretended to know for sure when it surely did not know, not when it manipulated and coaxed and coerced - but when it failed. To the peoples of these regions, the king was fully dressed. It was not a little child but an enormous debacle that exposed his nudity. In its presumptuousness and pretentiousness, feigned surety and vain clichés, imported models and exported cheap raw materials - the West succeeded to demolish beyond reconstruction whole economies, to ravage communities, to bring ruination upon the centuries-old social fabric, woven diligently by generations. It brought crime and drugs and mayhem but gave very little in return, only an horizon beclouded and thundering with eloquence. As a result, while tottering regional governments still pay lip service to the Euro-Atlantic structures, the masses are enraged and restless and rebellious and baleful and anti-Western to the core. They are not likely to acquiesce much longer - not with the West's neo-colonialism but with its incompetence and inaptitude, with the non-chalant experimentation that it imposed upon them and with the abyss between its proclamations and its performance.
In all this time, the envoys of the West - its mediocre politicians, its insatiably ruthless media, its obese tourists and its armchair economists - continued to play the role of God, wreaking greater havoc than even the original. While knowing it all in advance (in breach of every tradition scientific), they also developed a kind of world weary, unshaven cynicism interlaced with fascination at the depths plumbed by the local's immorality and amorality. The jet-set Peeping Toms resided in five star hotels (or luxurious apartments) overlooking the communist shantytowns, drove utility vehicles to the shabby offices of the native bureaucrats and dined in $100 per meal restaurants ("it's so cheap here'). In between sushi and sake they bemoaned and grieved over corruption and nepotism and cronyism ("I simply love their ethnic food, but they are so ..."). They mourned the autochtonal inability to act decisively, to cut red tape, to manufacture quality, to open to the world, to be less xenophobic (while casting a disdainful glance at the sweaty waiter). To them it looked like an ancient natural phenomenon, a force of nature, an inevitability and hence their cynicism. Mostly provincial people with horizons limited by consumption and by wealth, they adopted cynicism as shorthand for cosmopolitanism. They erroneously believed it lent them an air of ruggedness and rich experience and the virile aroma of decadent erudition. Yet all it did is make them obnoxious and more repellent to the residents than they already were.
Ever the preachers, the West - both Europeans and Americans - upheld themselves as role models of virtue to be emulated, as points of reference, almost inhuman or suprahuman in their taming of the vices, avarice up front. Yet the disorder in their own homes was broadcast live, day in and day out, into the cubicles inhabited by the very people they sought to so transform. And they conspired and collaborated in all manner of corruption and crime and scam and rigged elections in all the countries they put the gospel to. In trying to put an end to history, they seem to have provoked another round of it - more vicious, more enduring, more traumatic than before. That the West will pay the price for its mistakes I have no doubt. For isn't it a part and parcel of their teaching that everything has a price and that there is always a time of reckoning?