“If Perestrioka Fails…”: The Last Summer of the Cold War – June-July 1991.   1 comment

President Gorbachev had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, but gave his acceptance speech in Oslo on 5 June 1991, twenty-five years ago. In it he warned that, if perestroika fails, the prospect of entering a new peaceful period of history will vanish, at least for the foreseeable future. The message was received, but not acted upon.  Gorbachev had embarked on perestroika; it was up to him and his ministers to see that it did not fail. Outside the Soviet Union, his Peace Prize was acclaimed, and the consequences of his constructive actions were apparent everywhere. In June 1991 Soviet troops completed their withdrawal from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Czechs and Hungarians cheered as the last Soviet tanks left. At the same time, both Comecon, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact were formally dissolved.

Two sets of arms negotiations remained as unfinished business between Presidents Bush and Gorbachev: START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) and CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe). The CFE agreement set limits to the number of conventional arms – tanks, artillery, aircraft – allowed between the Atlantic and the Urals. It effectively ended the military division of the continent. It had been signed in Paris the previous November, 1990, but the following summer some CFE points of interpretation were still giving trouble. The Soviets sought to exclude naval units from the count, insisting that they might need them for internal purposes in the Baltic and Black seas. The United States argued that everything should be counted, and it was not until June 1991 in Vienna that the final text was installed, the culmination of two years of negotiation. Below are some of the thousands of tanks which were put up for sale as the CFE agreement came into force. These armaments had helped keep the peace, but in the end only the junkyard awaited them.

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START’s broad objective was also quite clear: the reduction of long-range strategic weapons. Achieving this was complicated. Should the two sides reduce the number of warheads or the number of missile types carrying the warheads? The Soviets had two new missile types in development, so they wanted to download warheads instead. The US was against this, and the Soviets were negotiating against a clock that was ticking away the continued existence of the USSR. Eventually, just minutes before Bush and Gorbachev were due to meet in London, on 17 July, minor concessions  produced a text acceptable to both sides of the table. A fortnight later, on 31 July, the two presidents signed START 1 in Moscow. The two superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear warheads and bombs to below nine thousand, including 1,500 delivery vehicles. Thus began a new sequence of strategic arms reduction agreements.

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Meanwhile, within the new Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin had become its President on 12 June, elected by a landslide. He received 57% of the eighty million voted cast, becoming Russia’s first ever democratically elected leader. However, the Soviet Union, including Russia, was desperate to receive American economic aid; it was no longer its strength as a nuclear superpower which posed a threat to world peace, but its economic weakness. Gorbachev calculated that the US would recognise this and, in a ‘Grand Bargain’ offer massive dollar aid – say, twenty billion a year over five years – to do for the Soviet Union what the Marshall Plan had done for Western Europe after the Second World War. A group of Soviet and American academics tried to sell this plan to the two governments. Some of Gorbachev’s colleagues denounced this ‘Grand Bargain’ as a Western conspiracy, but, in any case the US was not interested – the USSR was a poor credit risk and President Bush had no backing in Washington for bailing out the rival system.

The climax of Gorbachev’s attempts to get American aid in propping up the ruble and in stocking Soviet shelves with consumer goods came in London on 17 July at the Group of Seven (G7) meeting, the world’s financial top table. His problem remained that of convincing the US that he was serious about moving directly to a free market economy, as Boris Yeltsin had sought to do when he had proclaimed himself a free marketeer on a visit to Washington. At the G7 meeting, Gorbachev was unconvincing, and left empty-handed.

After the START 1 summit in Moscow on 31 July, George Bush kept his promise to visit Ukraine, and went on to Kiev. The Ukrainians were looking for US support in their attempt to break away from Moscow and declare independence. Bush perceived how perilous Gorbachev’s position really was. In June the ‘old guard’ Communists had been foiled in their attempt to oust him by passing resolutions in the Congress of People’s Deputies, the so-called ‘constitutional coup’. The CIA was now warning of a hard-line coup to dislodge him from power, this time using force. The warning was passed on to Gorbachev, who ignored it. Bush didn’t want to do anything to make matters worse. In Kiev he denounced the grim consequences of “suicidal nationalism.” Croatia and Slovenia, having left the Yugoslav federation, were already at war. The Ukrainians were disappointed. Bush’s speech went down even less well in the United States, where the president’s own right-wing critics picked up a journalist’s verdict and damned it as Bush’s “Chicken Kiev” speech.

 

Andrew James

Source: Jeremy Isaacs & Taylor Downing (1998), The Cold War. London: Bantham Press.

 

A Tale of Two Autumns: 1946 & 1956 in Hungary   Leave a comment

It was only in July 1946 that Domokos Szent-Iványi became aware of the existence of a secret organisation, the MTK, or Hungarian Fraternal Community. It had once had a membership of three to four thousand, building its organisation in the post-Trianon Hungary of the 1920s. It goals were the protection of Hungary’s sovereignty and the assertion of Hungarian interests in political, social and cultural life.Its operations were suspended after the German occupation of Hungary on 19 March 1944, but many of its members took part in the resistance, primarily in the MFM, the Hungarian Independence Movement, which Szent-Iványi continued to lead as a more informal anti-German network. Szent-Iványi claimed that he did not know that many MFM members were also MTK members. Some of them began dropping hints about a patriotic secret meeting, but did not mention any organisation. As the summer wore on, Szent-Iványi was told that unless he was willing to join the ranks of the MTK all of his young ’collaborators’ in the MFM would desert both him and his network. He joined in the autumn of 1946, so that the MFM came almost entirely under the control of the Supreme Council of the MTK. However, it was completely untrue that the weekly circle meetings of the MFM were, in effect, meetings of the MTK Supreme Council, as was later claimed by the prosecution in the Donáth trial.

In August and September 1946 events became more and more grimly dramatic and, in some cases, tragic. The worst case was that of twenty-two year-old László Horony-Palffy, assistant  secretary in the Prime-Ministry. In December 1945 he had been taken in for questioning by the NKVD in connection with an alleged Monarchist plot. Temporarily released in the middle of the night, he decided to shoot himself rather than undergoing more of ’the third degree’. After that, the NKVD had made one arrest after another. The most tragic and frightful event was designed to intimidate Premier Ferenc Nagy directly, as he himself testified in his book:

… in the first days of September, my mother, having some excess produce, decided to drive into Pécs and barter it for a pair of shoes for herself. The deal was concluded successfully. After dinner at my uncle’s home in Pécs they climbed into the cart, a woman from the neighbourhood accompanying them in the back.

The woman talked pleasantly as they rode through the country; my mother spoke of me. They had gone four miles when the neighbour exclaimed:

’Look out Joe! Stop the horses. A huge tank is following us.’

The driver drove to the side to let the tank pass. A few seconds later, the woman shrieked:

’God Almighty, the tank is going to run us over!’

Indeed, the tank did not use the wide space left for it but headed straight for the peasant cart. The driver, dying to escape, pulled his horses so far to the right that the wheels on that side dug deep into the soft shoulder, practically skirting the ditch.

The huge  Russian tank made no effort to avoid the cart; it crashed into it, crushing the back under its steel thread. The protruding gun hit my mother in the head, pushing her off the cart and under the speeding tank which killed her instantly.

The neighbour and the driver fell to the right in the ditch, thus escaping with slight bruises.

After this brutal murder, as if to signify a job well done, the tank made a large semicircle through the bordering field and took the road back to Pécs. Despite the fact that Red soldiers were sitting on the outside of the tank, it did not bother to stop….

(Ferenc Nagy (1948), The Struggle Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: MacMillan, pp 139-142)

The morning after the death of Ferenc Nagy’s mother, Szent-Iványi was given the full story of how she was killed and immediately wrote it down. His version is almost identical to that in Nagy’s book, given above.

By September 1946 the Smallholders’ Party was in a mess, and a Communist takeover seemed more and more likely. The MTK members were in some danger as the organisation was functioning as an intellectual background movement within the party. Szent-Iványi had to make a choice between going abroad, taking his unfinished manuscripts with him, or to stay in Hungary and try to put things in the Smallholders’ Party back on track. However, he found a way of getting his work abroad, where it was safely deposited in December 1946. During this time, he also tried to come to some understanding with some of the key men in administration and Communist Party life. Rajk, Pálffi-Oesterreicher, Szebeny and Gábor controlled, between them, the police, the army and the party. However, on the very day he had planned meetings with General Pálffi-Oesterreicher, the leading MTK trio of Donáth – Kiss – Szent-Miklóssy and a number of other members were arrested.

In spite of the combined efforts of the Hungarian and Russian secret services, no damning evidence against any of the MTK members could be produced by them. During his years in prison, following his own arrest in December, Szent-Iványi had some conversations with General Pálffi-Oesterreicher, during one of which the general declared to him that, in spite of all their efforts, the ÁVO and KATPOL were unable to produce sufficient evidence to arrest the MFM members either. Nevertheless, he pointed out how easy it was to ’snare’ the MTK:

You know, it was simply formidable. The majority of the population was always very well-informed on all issues. They knew to which political party and political leaders to stick; they knew in advance the steps and measures we were going to take. They even had notions about economic-political tricks we were preparing… It was simply unbearable until Donáth and Szent-Miklósy came with their Underground Army and reorganization of MTK… after this everything became easy for us.

The activities of the Donáth-Kiss-Szent-Miklósy Trio led to the arrest of the MFM members, including Szent-Iványi, as well as the break-up of the Smallholders’ Party and the MTK. All these arrests marked, to some extent, the end of a certain political movement. However, Szent-Iványi himself points out that without the Second World War and the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Hungary, nether the rule of the Arrow-Cross Party nor the reign of terror of the Rákosi-led Communist Party could ever have taken place. Just as Szálasi and his party represented only a tiny fraction of the Hungarian people, so too did Rákosi’s represent a minority. Rákosi and his gang therefore had no other way to proceed but on the path to dictatorship.

General Veress was arrested as being, supposedly, Horthy’s named successor, Béla Kovács, representing the Smallholders, the agrarian majority of the population, was also arrested, and Cardinal Mindszenty was the next to be eliminated: he represented the religious majority. Then came the turn of Rajk. As Rákosi’s popular opponent, he had to be eliminated. He was arrested and later executed, along with Pálffi-Oesterreicher and Endre Szebeny. György Donáth was executed in 1947. General Veress escaped to Britain in 1956, where he eventually died. Szent-Iványi himself spent nearly ten years in prison, from 23 December 1946 to 18 September 1956. Before the outbreak of the October Revolution, virtually all the surviving MTK and MFM prisoners found themselves released, except for the military leaders. Szent-Iványi considered emigrating after the collapse of Hungarian resistance in November, but decided to stay living in Budapest, until he finally left on 25 September 1972.

Source:

Domokos Szent-Iványi (2013), The Hungarian Independence Movement, 1939-1946. Budapest: Hungarian Review Books.

Brexit poker – a game where neither Parliament nor the British public get to see the cards   Leave a comment

Say Yes 2 Europe - Remain in the EU

The government’s go-to response to just about all Brexit-related queries is getting rather old for some: “the government won’t disclose strategy”. In fact the government is playing its cards so close to its chest that it’s entirely possible that even it doesn’t know what kind of hand it has.

As regards negotiations, the EU, the UK public, not even Parliament knows what the government is doing, what it’s aiming for, or what it’s contingency(ies) is/are.

But the secrecy doesn’t stop there. If the government is right and can use the Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50, Parliament is to be left out of the Brexit process altogether. That’s why the People’s Challenge is litigating to ensure proper Parliamentary scrutiny – and accountability.

True to form, the government wants the litigation itself to be cloaked in secrecy, subverting one of the hallmarks of the British legal system – open justice. It is insisting on…

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Posted September 27, 2016 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Public debate: a threat to the Govt’s overbearing secrecy?   Leave a comment

Say Yes 2 Europe - Remain in the EU

“The government is shutting down public debate… [on use of Royal Prerogative]” says the Guardian.

It certainly seems to be the case – but why?

A good while back, Mrs Thatcher refused to allow the voices of Sinn Fein to be heard on British TV, because she wished to deny them “the oxygen of publicity”. It wasn’t one of her better ideas.

Now, Mrs May appears to be on a similar trail. There’s a big difference, though.

Public debate about Brexit and about the invocation of Article 50 is not linked in any way to illegal activities, nor, despite hysterical allegations about treachery, to any lack of nationalism or love of country: the opposite, in fact.

It’s about the preservation of our democracy and the Sovereignty of Parliament. The mantra of “Take back control” seems relevant here, a point apparently lost on the Brexiteers who insult me on Facebook.

It’s…

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Posted September 26, 2016 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

A sweeping re-distribution of power from Government to… Theresa May?   Leave a comment

Say Yes 2 Europe - Remain in the EU

In 2010 the Tory Party made a commitment to making “the use of the Royal Prerogative subject to greater democratic control so that Parliament is properly involved in all big national decisions”.

The Prime Minister and her three Brexiteers are now saying that proper involvement of Parliament in all big national decisions does not apply to the when, how and under what conditions the UK should leave the EU. They are maintaining that they can re-write the rules however they like and everybody else can like it or lump it.

People’s Challenge to the Government on Art. 50: A Parliamentary Prerogative

Christopher Chope, Conservative MP – 25th May 2010

I also in my preliminary remarks refer to the fact that I was elected, and was proud to be elected, on the Conservative party manifesto. I was pleased, as I am sure the Deputy Leader of the House is pleased, that page…

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Posted September 26, 2016 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Parliament: Cornerstone of Britain or a footstool for Theresa May?   Leave a comment

Posted September 24, 2016 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

GOLDEN FIRE – A DIGITAL ARTS PROJECT EXPLORING THE STORY OF HEREFORDSHIRE’S CIDER   Leave a comment

MACE Blog

Funded by Heritage Lottery, Golden Fire is the latest participatory digital arts project from The Rural Media Company which explores the story of Herefordshire’s cider heritage from 1945 to the present.  

The project comprises of moving image material from MACE, photography, oral histories and online content, alongside public exhibition of the Hereford Cider Museum’s extensive archive material – all pulled together in an exciting new Golden Fire Cider Heritage app.

The app will guide visitors and locals around the county’s cider producers, festivals and growers, telling the stories of the people, past and present, who make and ferment the “golden fire”.

Golden Fire, which was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and Heineken, has been nominated for the Royal Television Society Midlands Digital Innovation Award, which will be held at the Birmingham Motor Cycle Museum in November.

For more information about the project, including where to download the app, please follow the link below:

www.ruralmedia.co.uk/golden-fire.aspx

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Posted September 23, 2016 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Two Sheriffs meet in Wymondham   Leave a comment

Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy's Quest for Freedom and his Future

Last evening, 22nd September 2016, I visited a meeting of the Wymondham Heritage Society, in the same hall where I spoke about Escaping Hitler some months ago. I was there to listen to former Sheriff of Norwich William Armstrong. At my side was Joe Stirling, 91 year old subject of my biography and also a former Sheriff of Norwich from 1975.  Members of the Society, who were unaware we planned to join them, were most welcoming and delighted to meet Joe in person.  We listened to William’s address, enjoying his historical outline of the role and his anecdotal stories from his year as Sheriff from 2014-15.

This was more than just a social night out – William was Sheriff alongside Lord Mayor Judith Lubbock, the fifteenth female Lord Mayor of Norwich, who will have her own chapter in my new book My Lady Lord Mayor: the Seventeen Female Lord Mayors…

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Posted September 23, 2016 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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