Showing posts from July, 2008

Cyber-nationalism on the rise

The Economist carries an article highlighting the rise of ‘cyber nationalism’ (I tip my hat to O’Neill for this one). The crux of the piece is that the internet is making it easier than ever before for nationalists to disseminate material and organise activities, with all the chauvinistic baggage that that entails. The magazine gives a series of examples from around the globe, but a quick examination of the blogosphere closer to home would have revealed that nationalist propaganda is not the preserve of America, Russia or Serbia. If the web were your only guide, you would conclude that the United Kingdom is composed of tribes who loathe each other and are straining to break a union in which they remain only because they are coerced into doing so.

Humanist Group demand British rights for British citizens

Les Reid of the Belfast Humanist Group has endorsed Diane Abbot MP’s campaign to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. It is a troubling anomaly that women in Northern Ireland are not afforded the same rights in this regard as women in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is still more troubling that many so-called unionists seek to retain this anomaly, rather than insisting that women in Northern Ireland enjoy the same rights as their counterparts across the water.

"Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the same rights and facilities should be available here as elsewhere in the country."

McElduff in good sense shocker - Republic of Ireland is not the same as Ireland

I wouldn’t normally find myself agreeing with Provisional Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, but a complaint he raises regarding politicians in the Republic appropriating the term ‘Ireland’ to describe their state, or “this notion that the 26 counties constitutes Ireland”, as Mr McElduff puts it, strikes something of a chord.

Of course the reasoning by which McElduff arrives at his conclusions is predictably off kilter. The Republic has every right to refer to itself as a ‘country’ or a ‘state’. However he is certainly correct to sever the notion of people in Northern Ireland asserting their ‘Irish national identity’ from the existence of the Republic of Ireland state. The idea that Northern Irish people need access to the Republic's institutions to express their Irish identity is based on similar conflation of the terms 'Republic of Ireland', 'Ireland' and 'Irish'.

Playing a full role in Northern Ireland’s institutions compromises nobody’s Irish identity. T…

Westlink road improvements - the verdict? Still shite!

The much vaunted Westlink improvements, which have caused disruption on Belfast’s roads since 2006, opened a few weeks ago. Sort of. An underpass now takes motorists destined for the M1 motorway beneath the Broadway Roundabout, the largest junction which formerly impeded traffic leaving Belfast by this route. This forms the most crucial part of a scheme which is designed to allow traffic to flow more freely in and out of the city.

Even allowing for cones which are still blocking some lanes and the ongoing pootering about from various workers, I am ready to officially declare the results – SHITE. Don’t get me wrong, I have used the Westlink over the last fortnight, whereas once I avoided it like the plague, despite it being much the most direct route home. But this is July. The schools are off, people are still away on their holidays and already the road is beginning to wheeze and struggle with the volume of traffic. Several points of congestion are building up. What will it b…

Disgusting Milk Cup attack cannot be justified

I’m perpetually amazed by the capacity of Northern Ireland to throw up an incident which can inspire even in the most inured of its residents, a refreshed sense of exasperation and shame. Of course it is inaccurate to believe that it is something peculiar to this country which makes its citizens declare periodically, ‘oh for god’s sake, I’d almost forgotten this place was so bad’, but in a league table for frustration and embarrassment, I’d imagine the benighted ‘decent people’ of Northern Ireland would not be found in its lower reaches. We are perpetually surprised by how low some of our compatriots can go.

Attacks and abuse suffered by two youth football teams from Dublin who were competing in the Milk Cup, launched by a drunken rabble outside the teams’ accommodation in Coleraine, inspires in me those all too familiar feelings. I’ve enough faith in the readers of this blog to think that these words are not necessary, but in the unlikely event that someone is tempted to qualify …

An instructive disagreement

The SDLP’s reaction to the UUP / Conservative talks has been confusing Michael Shilliday on Slugger O’Toole and well it might. Alasdair McDonnell’s measured response is at odds with that of his party colleague John Dallat.

McDonnell sees the process in a context of normalisation and realignment, which for unionists will take place on an East-West axis and which nationalists will seek to develop North-South. In contrast Dallat has resorted to a more atavistic interpretation.

“People realise that partition has failed everyone and benefited no-one. Now we get a re-launch of a recipe which last existed in the dark days of Thatcher and the crazy policies of ‘shoot to kill’ and outrageous claims that ‘we are as British as Finchley’”
“Do the Tories not realise that they should at least occupy a neutral position? At best they should be preparing their former Unionist friends for a New Ireland which is free from sectarianism and partitionism?”

On the one hand we have a statement which recognis…

Keane does not complete the jigsaw

Sometimes I weary even myself with the negativity I bring to following football. However I must again register scepticism as to whether investing £20m in Robbie Keane is likely either to provide the crucial part of the jigsaw which brings the title to Anfield or represent good value, considering that the player is a 28 year old centre forward.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Keane is a good player, and I’m pleased to have him at the club. I just wonder whether, at the price, if he is to form the centrepiece to Rafa Benitez’s close season reshuffle, whether that is enough. Rumours abound that flush with cash from the Keane transfer, Tottenham will attempt to lure David Villa to north London. Without slighting Keane, I know which player I would rather have linking up with Fernando Torres, and which player I believe would be more likely to provide the impetus for a title challenge. Neither do I believe that Gareth Barry offers the answer for Rafa Benitez, particularly at the expen…

St Petersburg, setting aside the illusion

St Petersburg as an illusion, as a confection in which reality is mutable and nothing is quite as it seems, has become something of an easy cliché. It has its roots in the city’s history, geography and literature and it reflects conflicting strands of Russian culture which manifest themselves graphically in Petersburg. In common with many clichés, there is a nugget of truth around which it has formed, but simultaneously it casts an occluding shadow upon its subject which compromises those accounts submitting unquestioningly to its logic.

St Petersburg is not an ancient city and its development did not have the organic quality which confers a more natural, inevitable feel upon other great world centres. The story of its foundation even dates the city to a specific day, May 27 1703, when Peter the Great is said to have thrust his sabre into the soft turf on which was built SS Peter and Paul’s Fortress and declared ‘here shall be a city’. Peter moved his court to St Petersburg in 17…

Glasgow by election: Time for unionists to wake up

O’Neill has subjected the failures which led to Labour’s Glasgow East by election capitulation to rigorous scrutiny over on Unionist Lite. His thoughts on the inadequacy of the unionist response to Scots' nationalism are instructive. Labour’s caning at the hands of the SNP, and indeed the general trend which propelled the nationalist party into power at Holyrood, are indicative of disillusionment with the government, rather than a genuine desire for Scotland to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom. However, the intricacies of motivation leading the Scottish electorate toward a nationalist party are increasingly irrelevant.

That party are on a roll. They are increasingly popular, mainstream unionist parties are failing to capture the imagination of Scottish voters and without any need to specifically endorse the dissolution of the Union, it is being incrementally damaged and the cause of Scottish independence is being strengthened by default. The Conservative…

Pictures from St Petersburg and environs (2)

Zenit fans in buoyant mood?

Raskalnikov's part of town. Near Sennaya Ploschad (haymarket square).

And the house where it has been deduced Dostoevsky intended the student to live.

The palace at Tsarskoe Selo (formerly known as Pushkin).

Built by the last Tsar, Alexander Palace in Pushkin is not so well maintained.

A memorial to the murdered Romanovs.

More real for its dereliction. Alexander Palace.

The palace's overgrown main approach.

Palace on the Fontanka.

Statue in the Summer Gardens.

Siege of Leningrad depicted in Socialist Realist art.

St Issac's Square from the church's colonnade.

View toward the docks.

Pictures from St Petersburg and environs (1)

Catherine the Great's statue off Nevsky Prospekt

Moyka River from Nevsky Prospekt

Palace Square

Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood

Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul

Palace Embankment and the Winter Palace from the Peter and Paul Fortress

Statue of Peter the Great. The Bronze Horseman of Pushkin's poem.

White Nights. Nevsky Prospekt at 11.30pm.

Pushkin's statue in Arts' Square.

Staircase in Winter Palace, part of the Hermitage Museum.

Soviet motoring at its best. The Volga.

Peterhof's Grand Cascade

Empey/ Cameron statement should be welcomed despite difficulties it raises.

For some time it has been known that Sir Reg Empey has an interest in aligning the Ulster Unionist Party more closely with David Cameron’s Conservatives. At the UUP’s AGM the leader’s speech committed the party to working closely with the Tories in the European Parliament. Empey’s instinct looks set to crystallise into a more concrete arrangement with the two party leaders releasing a joint statement in today’s Daily Telegraph and setting up a joint working party to examine increased cooperation between the UUP and the Conservatives.

The possibilities are at once both exciting and problematic. Many Ulster Unionists instinctively wish to move closer to the centre of UK politics and play an increased role in defending the Union as a totality. Alignment with the Conservatives certainly lends more scope for this pan-unionist vision, as well as offering the tantalising prospect of involvement in central government. On the other hand, many members feel that their politics lie closer t…

Devolution, ethnic nationalism and Balkanisation

The Glasgow by-election provides a pretext for Tristram Hunt to raise the spectre of Balkanisation on Comment is Free. He indicts successive British governments, but the present Labour administration in particular, for indulging localism and neglecting coherent promotion of the values and history of Union. On the same site, and in the Guardian itself, Simon Jenkins takes a similarly coruscating view on the international community’s role in the Balkans themselves, and foresees the phenomenon which has taken its name from that region being rolled out in other trouble-spots throughout the world, with baleful consequences.

Hunt’s argument is incorrigibly gloomy, but it contains several pertinent points as regards the failure of the present government and its predecessors to engage in constructive promotion of the Union. Few unionists would seriously contest his contention that ‘rather than stopping nationalism dead in its tracks, the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly have only int…

It's all about me! Alex Salmond wants a popularity contest in Glasgow East

Tomorrow’s by-election for the Glasgow East constituency will no doubt assume much greater significance in the triumphant narrative of the victor than it will be accorded by the defeated party. Margaret Curran is the candidate that Labour hopes will retain its Westminster seat, and she must fend off a challenge from John Mason, of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

O’Neill has been assessing Labour’s campaign, with the aid of statistics provided by the Scotsman, and he is not particularly impressed with their efforts. The article from which he draws the statistics gives an instructive insight into the rampant ego and hubris which fuels Scots’ nationalism’s Il Duce, Alex Salmond. Under its leader’s tutelage, the SNP is fighting its campaign with little reference to the respective merits of the two main candidates. Salmond has announced that this election is a ‘referendum’ on the popularity of the Scottish Parliament as against the Westminster Parliament and has extended a challenge to…

British Unionist in Russian

A neat conjunction of some of the themes of this website, the picture above shows a newspaper, in Russian, called ‘British Unionist’. The shot was taken in the State Museum of Political History in St Petersburg. Clearly the ‘unionism’ which this propaganda sheet is promoting is the trade union variety, rather than the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nevertheless I remain slightly tempted to replace the banner with something featuring this photo.

For anyone who might be curious, the painting which currently forms the background for Three Thousand Versts’ banner is ‘Barge Haulers on the Volga’ by Ilya Repin. Repin’s powerful canvas hangs in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg and the painting is often held to allude to the latent political might of Russia’s people. And yes, I did go to see it.

Foster decision is both desperate and selfish

Arlene Foster was elected as a councillor for Enniskillen to Fermanagh District Council in 2005. Subsequently she resigned the local government seat in order to concentrate on her role as MLA and minister in the Northern Ireland Executive. Following the death of Councillor Joe Dodds of the DUP, it transpires that Foster will fight the resultant by-election with the intention of retaining the seat and once again taking up office as a local councillor. The DUP’s decision betrays desperation and disregard for both the electorate and the importance of local government.

The post of Economy Minister should be sufficient to occupy any politician on a full-time basis. Given that Foster has ambitions to become a Westminster MP, there is a possibility that she may be spread still more thinly in two years time. What level of attention would she be able to afford her council constituents and the business of the council given her current duties, never mind if she wins a subsequent election a…

Novgorod - cradle of the Russian state

As regular readers of the blog will recall, my struggle with a mouse in Belfast is ongoing. No enticement I can offer will beguile the cunning pest into a mouse-trap. Coincidentally the personal lowlight of my trip to Russia was also rodent-related.

On only two occasions did we shell out for the convenience of a taxi in Russia. Once to convey us from our hotel in Novgorod, a mile up the road to the train station and once beforehand in Moscow, when we had a rather longer ride to Leningrad Station with luggage. On this first occasion it was a blazing hot day, even at 10am. Rather than wait in a stuffy lobby for our cab, my girlfriend and I took our bags and sat on a grassy bank, under some shady trees. I was happily immersed in the excellent ‘Football Dynamo’ when two large rats came capering through the grass and one of them scurried in amongst our luggage, as if intent on setting up home there.

My girlfriend is more circumspect than I when confronted with rodents and its passa…

Russia, censorship and Jonathan Dimbleby

I’m currently reading Jonathan Dimbleby’s ‘Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and Its People’. The pretentious title is not representative of the book’s content. Dimbleby writes nicely and he has synthesised his reading of the country’s history and literature in an accessible fashion, but in no respect does he penetrate to the heart of a land or its people, simply because he is too busy bemoaning the wrong-headedness of the land’s people. And in any case he seems unable to appreciate any landscape or culture that cannot be compared to England’s Home Counties.

Perhaps I will review the book when I have finished it. There is certainly entertainment to be derived from reading the thoughts of a frustrated, frankly lascivious little man, enduring some manner of mid-life crisis in a foreign land which he obviously had little inclination to visit in the first place. On this occasion it is the political analysis which Dimbleby advances, deriding all alternative synopses offered by t…

Iain Dale's blogging guide time again

Last year I knew very little about blogging when it transpired that Three Thousand Versts had been chosen as 224th best political blog in Britain by the .... blog reading public I suppose on Iain Dale's blog. This year I know a little more. Iain Dale is asking once again for readers to vote for their top 10 political blogs. The e-mail address being I've already voted for my favourites. Have fun compiling yours.

Pictures from Novgorod

6am Novgorod station.

The Novgorod Duma.

The Millennium of Russia Monument.

Novgorod's Kremlin and beach.

Historic churches in Yaroslav's Court.

The Museum of Wooden Architecture.

Great Patriotic War monument.

Novgorod's beach and the languid Volkhov River.

Faux rage at Healy gesture obscures a more pertinent point

David Healy, a man known for his mild mannered self-deprecation and sportsmanship. Were the stories that he had been involved in an incendiary sectarian gesture toward Celtic supporters ever likely to bear much scrutiny? His agent has been outlining the events leading to the striker's mime of playing a flute which reportedly sent a section of the Celtic faithful into a rabid frenzy of outrage.

As Sir Dave took to the touchline he was subjected immediately to a sustained barrage of abuse. A chant querying what Healy was doing on the Twelfth was struck up and he wryly mimicked playing an orange flute. In any sane person’s view it’s called responding to abuse with some good natured banter. Less excitable Celtic fans seem to agree.

If Nil by Mouth, the ‘anti-sectarian’ football group has anything to investigate here, it is simply why a footballer playing for an English team should be subject to barracking simply because of his perceived background as regards Northern Ireland.

Change the record on 'unionist unity'

On Slugger O’Toole Fair Deal picked up on calls from Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Drew Nelson, for unionist unity which were issued from a platform in Belfast on the 12th July. Infusing his piece on Nelson’s remarks with customary DUP revisionism FD implies that there are now few differences between the unionist parties and the difficulties which many unionists have identifying with the DUP’s form of unionism are simply a manifestation of UUP frustration at being outflanked by the Paisleyite party.

This attitude is familiar to those who have watched with a sense of inevitability the DUP leopard change its spots, as it simultaneously protested that no such transformation was possible. It sees all the hypocrisy and machinations of that party as representing ‘clever politics’, it doesn’t understand why all the party’s broken promises and about faces cannot simply be forgotten about and a line drawn under all its past activities, now that it commands the greate…

Boring for Russia. A long post about Orthodoxy, Communism, Moscow and my holiday

Half past midnight, the early hours of Monday morning, and the motorway from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport into the city is gridlocked. Five lanes of traffic occasionally judder forward a few yards in chaotic peristalsis. There are ancient, lumbering trucks, motorcycles with over-laden sidecars and a ubiquitous collection of Soviet era Volgas and Ladas. Of course there are also gleaming new Mercedes and Audis with blacked out windows, but the humid night air is choked with fumes, to which the catalytic converter is uncharted territory.

We are in the back of an early 90s Lada Riva, driven by a youngish woman who sits beside her mother, neither of whom speak more than a word or two of English. Still, they had been waiting in the arrivals hall of the airport with a large sign bearing my name and my girlfriend and I had been very grateful to see them. Now I am simply hoping that the pervasive smell of overheating engine is emitting from an ancient Latvian truck which sits stationary to…

Some pictures from Moscow (2)

Lengthening shadows beside Ryanzansky Prospekt.

Archetypal Moscow kiosk.

Detail of worker and peasant.

Notorious Lubyanka - former headquarters of the KGB.

The English House. The first British Embassy in Moscow? Established under Elizabeth I for the use of English merchants who had a dispensation to trade in Moscow.

The gates of Gorky Park.

Soviet statue from Sculpture Park.

Wedding cake architecture. One of Stalin's '7 sisters'.