The Erased

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Articles

In a Russian novella by Yuri Tynyanov, the tsar mistakenly hears an underling refer to a “Lieutenant Kije” and immediately assigns the imaginary officer to guard duty. The wheels of bureaucracy begin to turn, and the army must come up with new tasks for this non-existent Kije. Much hilarity ensues.

Irfan Besirovic has suffered quite the opposite problem. In 1992, the new Slovene state removed Irfan and about 18,000 others from the body politic. The wheels of bureaucracy began to turn, and the Erased, as this group has come to be called, were crushed beneath them. Much tragedy ensued.

Bureaucracy giveth, and bureaucracy taketh away.

Irfan Besirovic was born in Bosnia and came to Slovenia when he was an infant. In those days in Yugoslavia, moving between the republics was not a big deal. Irfan lived his whole life in Slovenia and considered it his home. At the end of 1990, he was in a terrible car accident that put him in a coma. The recovery was long and painful. Meanwhile, Slovenia was making preparations to become an independent state. During his extended convalescence, Irfan went to register as a citizen of the new Slovenian state only to be told, inaccurately, that he’d missed the deadline. When he returned later to clear up the problem, his unfriendly neighborhood bureaucrat declared his documents expired and stamped his identity card invalid.

He had suddenly become a non-person.

Some people in Irfan’s situation left Slovenia. The government forcibly deported others. But many, like Irfan, stayed. They stayed with their families, with their friends. They stayed because Slovenia had been their only home. They went underground. Irfan sometimes slept at friends’ apartments, sometimes in the park. He worked as a waiter in exchange for food and shelter. He continued to suffer from the after-effects of the car accident, as well as new ailments such as a bout of thrombosis. But he no longer had health insurance to pay the bills. He also constantly faced the threat of police detention. In 2002, the police finally picked him up. He came very close to being deported to Bosnia, a country he barely knew.

In 2003, the Slovene Constitutional Court ruled that the government had mishandled the entire matter, and it became possible again for many of the Erased to apply for citizenship. Irfan did, and became a citizen on October 13, 2004. But his problems weren’t over. He suffered continuing health problems as well as difficulties in getting work.

It was only gradually, over the last decade, that the Erased like Irfan Besirovic met each other and began to organize. At first, the Erased were too frightened to speak out, to appear in the media, or even to sign statements. That has begun to change. The Erased and their supporters have brought their case to the European Court for Human Rights. They have called on those who initiated the erasure to take responsibility for their crime. They have called for compensation.

And just recently, the stories of the Erased are starting to appear all over the Slovene capital of Ljubljana, from bus shelters to huge canvasses on the façade of a downtown building under reconstruction. As I write in Postcard from…Ljubljana, “The Slovene government and many Slovene nationalists would like the issue of the erased to quietly disappear. But a new communications campaign – sponsored pro bono by a major Slovenian PR firm and with the help of some well-placed Slovenians such as Ljubljana’s mayor – is putting the stories of the Erased all over Ljubljana. So perhaps, after 16 years, Slovene society is about to come to terms finally with the most unfortunate chapter of the new country’s short history.”

Bases of Spending

News from Iraq continues to be grim. The Green Zone in Baghdad is under bombardment from Shiite forces. Iraqi citizens are suffering from the ongoing fighting between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi army. Turkey is once again bombing suspected Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq. And a top U.S. military official has threatened “potential military courses of action” against Iran for its involvement in Iraq.

In its attempt to control an increasingly uncontrollable situation, the United States is taking a page from the Israeli book. “While the coffee klatches between Marine commanders and Sunni tribal sheikhs may garner all the publicity,” writes FPIF contributor Steve Niva in The New Walls of Baghdad, “the real story on the ground in Iraq is that from Baghdad to Mosul, the U.S. military has been busy constructing scores of concrete walls and barriers between and around Iraqi neighborhoods, which it terms ‘Gated Communities.’ In Baghdad alone, 12-foot-high walls now separate and surround at least 11 Sunni and Shiite enclaves. Broken by narrow checkpoints where soldiers monitor traffic via newly issued ID cards, these walls have turned Baghdad into dozens of replica Green Zones, dividing neighbor from neighbor and choking off normal commerce and communications.”

The United States is borrowing the Israel strategy in a desperate attempt to stave off the other analogy: Vietnam. FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan draws some of the most salient parallels before concluding with this kicker: like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis want the occupation forces to leave. He writes in Basra: Echoes of Vietnam: “That disconnect between occupied and occupiers was summed up by Luu Doan Huynh, a Vietnamese veteran of the war against the Japanese, the French, and the Americans, and one of the key diplomats in the Vietnam peace talks. ‘The Americans thought that Vietnam was a war,’ he said. ‘We knew that Vietnam was our country.’”

Unlike Vietnam, however, the United States doesn’t appear to be pulling out anytime soon. FPIF military analyst Dan Smith finds nearly $1.9 billion allocated for 16 bases in Iraq in the National Defense Reauthorization Act that President George W. Bush signed into law in January. And that’s only the tip of the bases iceberg. “Hardly had the ink dried on FY2008 legislation when the president sent Congress his proposed budget for the 2009 fiscal year,” Smith writes in Base-less Strategy. “This proposes worldwide military construction spending that exceeds $21 billion, more than triple actual spending in FY2007. Even in a $550 billion budget, $21 billion is ‘real money.’”

The Puke Ray

On a trip home to his alma mater, FPIF contributor Bryan Farrell discovered that Penn State has been attracting a lot of military dollars for some unappealing projects at the Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies.

“One of the Institute’s current projects is testing the Distributed Sound and Light Array Debilitator, a.k.a. the ‘puke ray,’ by those willing to call it what it is,” Farrell writes in Penn State’s Frightening Defense. “The device purports to combine just the right sequence of disturbing sound decibels and light wavelengths as to render the victim dizzy and nauseous. The Department of Homeland Security, which invested $1 million for testing, hopes to see the device ‘in the hands of thousands of policemen, border agents and National Guardsmen’ by 2010.”

Wait a second. I think someone has gotten hold of one of these Distributed Sound and Light Array Debilitators in Washington. Every time I hear the latest administration policy, the media conveys the news in just the right sequence of disturbing sound decibels and light wavelengths that I just want to…

Of course, it’s not just the administration’s policies. Check out the dance of the Democrats around trade policy these days. As FPIF contributor Mark Engler points out in an excerpt from his new book How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle over the Global Economy, the Dems negotiated a deal with the Bush administration in May 2007 to seek bipartisan support for more free-trade deals.

“The ongoing battle in Washington has made clear that many centrist Democrats who denounce Bush’s imperial globalization would be all too eager to return to Clinton’s pro-corporate vision for the global economy if given the chance,” Engler writes in The Democrats’ ‘Free Trade’ Divide. “But it also indicates that their position may not be as politically viable as it once was. A decade and a half after NAFTA moved the trade debate to the fore of political discussion, the broken promises of ‘free trade’ agreements are making neoliberalism’s ‘clouds of gold’ ever harder to sell.”

Finally, if you’re near Washington, DC, please join us on Tuesday, April 29 from 2 to 4 p.m. to hear FPIF columnist Michael Klare discuss his new book Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. The event will take place at the Institute for Policy Studies offices at 1112 16th St., NW, suite 600.

FPIF, April 28, 2008

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