Monday, February 29, 2016

End of an Era: Ramzan Kadyrov’s Decision to Step Aside Leaves a Power Vacuum, and Raises Questions

I don’t think I was alone in assuming that the Chechen Republic’s bigger-than-life, flamboyant, authoritarian president, Ramzan Kadyrov, would stay in office as long as he possibly could, whether by hook or by crook.  He is just the type we would expect to bend every rule to try to keep himself in power past his constitutional expiration date, just like (to take two examples in the news this week) Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni or Bolivia’s Evo Morales—or, indeed, like Kadyrov’s sponsor, protector, and ally, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

But I was wrong, and the rest of the world was surprised too when Kadyrov told the media on February 27th that when his term of office ends in April he will step aside and retire from politics.  “My time is past,” he said.  “Every human has a limit.  I believe Kadyrov has passed his peak.”  (Like his pet attack-dog Tarzan’s namesake, Kadyrov likes to refer to himself in the third person.)  “Family, personal life, Islamic studies,” is how he summed up his plans for retirement.  The following day he pleaded with the public to cancel planned rallies to get him to change his mind.

Kadyrov and Tarzan
But why is he stepping aside, instead of, say, grooming a close advisor as a successor and continuing things from a nominally secondary position—the way Putin did when he got around term limits by switching places with his prime minister Dmitri Medvedev for a term?  In the Russian and Chechen political world, no one would have so much as blinked an eye.

Perhaps it had something to do with the report released four days earlier by a leader in Russia’s political opposition (such as it is), Ilya Yashin, who runs a protest group called Solidardost (its name, meaning “solidarity,” inspired by Poland’s anti-Soviet mass movement from the 1980s, Solidarność).  That document described Kadyrov—utterly accurately—as a virtual dictator of a regime that is in most concrete ways a de facto autonomous state (de jure, it is a republic within the Russian Federation, one which does significant damage to Russia’s international reputation (such as it is), and threatens to do worse.  Yashin referred to Kadyrov’s Islamist autocracy and his much-flaunted lavish lifestyle enabled by corruption and embezzlement.  He wondered aloud how smart Putin was to allow Kadyrov to run his own separate military, answerable only to himself, which fights as a separate state military in conflicts such as the civil war in Syria, where Putin and Kadyrov back the embattled Shi’a Arab dictator, Bashar al-Assad.  Could this private army one day turn on Russia itself, as it did in the Chechen Wars?

Kadyrov’s Instagram account is one of the strangest places on the Internet.
Yashin also asserted what most aware people not blinded by Putinist propaganda already believe: that there is “no doubt” that armed thugs under Kadyrov’s personal direction assassinated the dissident leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow last year.  Kadyrov responded to Yashin’s report on his favored channel of communication, Instagram, dismissing the accusations as “blather.”  But maybe he noticed that the Kremlin did not exactly leap to his defense when the report hit the public.  (Compare this to the case of the anti-Putin dissident Andrei Piontkovsky, who fled the country this month after his criticism of the Putin–Kadyrov political friendship prompted Putinists in parliament to brand his inquiries “an incitement to separatism and extremism.”)

There are good reasons why Putin might not be all that happy with Kadyrov lately.  First and foremost perhaps is Kadyrov’s quiet takeover this month of the oil firm Chechenneftekhimprom, detaching it from its Russian parent company Rosneft and putting it under direct Chechen Republic control.  This effectively meant Kadyrov would own it after the transfer is completed in March.  Chechenneftekhimprom oversees nearly all of Chechnya’s energy industry.  Chechen operations constitute only 0.23% of Rosneft’s total oil extraction, and lower prices of Siberian oil have made them less profitable, but for tiny Chechnya, local control of the resource makes de facto independence more viable.  Control of oil resources was a major struggle in the Chechen wars for independence in the 1990s.  It does seem odd that Kadyrov would execute such an economic coup just weeks before he leaves the picture entirely.  It’s not too far-fetched to think that when the takeover was planned he hadn’t yet decided to step aside.  Did the oil grab finally push Putin to the point where he decided that Kadyrov had to go?

In a viral video he created, Kadyrov, on prayer mat,
faces down—and later grapples with—a serpent representing radical Islam.
Or perhaps the Moscow–Grozny axis had simply become weighed down by too many historical, political, and ideological contradictions.  In fact, it is still baffling that the alliance ever existed.  To understand why, a quick history lesson.

Chechnya and the Kadyrovs: a short history lesson
The Chechen people, like other peoples of the North Caucasus region, are mostly Muslim, and they came under Moscow’s control only in the 1870s, when they were wrested from the Ottoman Empire’s sphere of influence as part of the general Czarist push to dominate the Black Sea at Turkey’s expense.  (Warm-water ports have always been a constant overriding preoccupation in Russian foreign policy.  It’s hard being an empire or a superpower when the only harbors you can set sail from, other than the Black Sea—whose exit is controlled by Turkey—are St. Petersburg (which is at the mercy of the Swedish and Danish waters that have to be passed through on the way to the open sea) and ice-bound Vladivostok in Siberia.)  The Czars held onto the North Caucasus brutally and with difficulty.  Most of the dirty work was delegated to Cossacks.  It is very arguable that the tactics Russia used in this era against the Chechens and their neighbors amounted to genocide.

During the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, the North Caucasus peoples rebelled and tried to establish a rival Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus in alliance with the Ottomans.  It was even diplomatically recognized by Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and two other newly declared states, Georgia and Azerbaijan.  The ruling Bolsheviks in Moscow promised the Mountain Republic that they could keep their autonomy if they helped defeat the Mensheviks.  Chechens dutifully helped defeat the Mensheviks, but then the Bolsheviks reneged on their promise.  Chechnya became a mere “autonomous” okrug (district) within the Mountain “Autonomous” Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  What this meant is that, like the rest of the U.S.S.R. it was ruled directly by the party dictatorship in Moscow.

After the Second World War, Chechens were accused of having sided with the Nazis.  (Indeed, some did; mostly, they were just trying to survive.)  Along with other groups like the Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Turks, they were forcibly removed by Josef Stalin to points east, in Siberia and the Central Asian republics.  During this ordeal, somewhere between a third and a half of the Chechen and Ingush nations died from executions, starvation, and cruelty in the work camps.  (It was during the Chechen diaspora in the Kyrgyz S.S.R. that the Tsarnaev family nursed a resentment toward Russians and Christians; generations later, in 2013, two of their grandchildren in the United States would carry out a bombing attack on the Boston Marathon.)

Hundreds of thousands of Chechens were deported by Stalin in 1944;
almost half did not survive the ordeal.
Nikita Khrushchev, in the 1950s, reversed many of Stalin’s more repressive policies toward minorities and allowed Chechens to move home.  Chechnya was part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, within Russia, until 1991.  As the fully separate republics of the U.S.S.R., like Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan won independence, the new Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, told republics to “take as much autonomy as you can stand,” and even seemed to be contemplating letting the two most independent-minded republics, Chechnya (which had separated itself from its Ingush half) and Tatarstan, to secede as well.

Dzhokar Dudayev, independent Chechnya’s first leader
A young soon-to-be-ex K.G.B. agent in Yeltsin’s cabinet named Vladimir Putin had other ideas, though.  First as chief of staff and then as a minister responsible for minorities (the same job Stalin had held before becoming party secretary), Putin urged harsh dealing with the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria that declared itself in 1991.  The proud and eager Chechen rebels fought the underpaid, half-hearted post-Soviet army to a standstill, and by 1994 Chechnya had agreed to join the newly minted Russian Federation but in reality ran itself as a de facto independent state under the rebel leader Dzhokar Dudayev, who dissolved the local parliament and anointed himself dictator.  Dudayev was fiercely Russophobic and steeped in paranoid superstitions; he believed that earthquakes in the Caucasus were caused by diabolical “earthquake machines” in the Kremlin.  Most of his time was spent fighting the rival Chechens who kept trying to overthrow him.  In 1994, Yeltsin had had enough and let Putin try to retake Chechnya, which he did by leveling the capital, Grozny, in a pitiless carpet-bombing campaign that killed tens of thousands.  Dudayev was killed in 1996.

Grozny, the Chechen capital, in 1995, courtesy of Vladimir Putin
There was peace for a while, until 1999, when some of the many foreign Islamic fighters that had flooded into Chechnya in 1994 to fight the Russian infidels needed a new crusade and crossed over the mountain passes into the Russian republic of Dagestan to declare an Islamic State of Dagestan.  It was one thing for Chechnya to be a tiny Islamic-run republic that minded its own business, but Putin, who succeeded Yeltsin as president the following year, would not stand for Islamic radicalism spreading within Russia.  He soundly defeated the Chechens in what came to be known as the Second Chechen War.  His “Gulf of Tonkin”–type pretext was the terrorist demolition of four Moscow apartment buildings in late 1999.  He blamed Chechens, but there is strong evidence that the K.G.B., under Putin’s orders, blew up the buildings to provide a rationale for war.  The new president who took over in 2003, Akhmed Kadyrov (father of Ramzan), was, like Dudayev, under whom he had been chief imam, and like most Chechens, very moderate, even mystical in his Islam.  Most Chechens are traditionally Sufis, with not much use for the doctrinally rigid salafism or Wahhabism emanating from places like Saudi Arabia and Taliban-run Afghanistan.  But by now the Second Chechen War, unlike the first, became a jihad, fought to a great extent by battle-hardened salafists flooding in from all over the Islamic world.

A turning point in the war came early on, when Kadyrov switched sides and brought his vast extended family of militiamen into the pro-Russian camp.  It may never be clear in what order things happened here.  Perhaps it was Putin who initially convinced Kadyrov that if he betrayed the more Islamist fighters (like the radical separatist Chechens who carried out the Beslan school siege in late 2004), then he would allow Chechnya to be his personal fief as long as it had a Russian flag flying over it too.  Or perhaps the deal was made with his son Ramzan after the elder Kadyrov’s assassination (by whom?) in early 2004.

Anyway, in the end that is what happened: from 2007 until now, Ramzan Kadyrov has been allowed to run Chechnya any way he pleases.  He imposes a form of shari’a law which tolerates polygamy and honor killings, he loots the treasury so that he can live like a medieval king, and in return Putin has rebuilt Grozny with massive projects like Europe’s largest mosque and Kadyrov makes sure to fix local elections in Putin’s favor, such as the national vote in 2012 when an absurd 99.89% of Chechens supposedly voted for Putin—the man who practically bombed their country off the map only a few years earlier.  But most of all, Kadyrov’s personal army has served as a crack battalion much like the old-style Cossacks (who still exist also), doing battle wherever the Czar—I mean, Putin—feels Russian interests are at stake.

Kadyrov’s father’s assassination, at a military parade in 2004,
was captured on Russian television.
This means that Kadyrov’s fighters have, over the years, aligned themselves with the Armenians against the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh; with the Serbs against the Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia and against the Albanians in Kosovo; with the Russians against the Ukrainians and Tatars in Crimea; and, most recently, with the Alawites (and, increasingly, Kurds) against the Sunni Arabs in Syria.  Yes, that means that Kadyrov has been sending the youth of the Chechen nation to kill Muslims in the service of Russian Orthodox Christian colonialism and Islamophobia.  Did that begin to weigh on his conscience?  Or was there an Islamist insurgency preparing itself in Chechnya? or perhaps only the fear of one?

Chechen mercenaries go wherever Russian—not Chechen—interests are threatened.
A clue may lie in a bizarre episode that occurred only eight days before Kadyrov’s announcement, when he was obliged to publicly deny reports the previous day that he had instituted a plan for all young men to obtain “spiritual-moral passports” documenting their Islamic commitments.  The news had appeared on the website of the Chechen parliament and in official government news agencies and had described the initiative as Kadyrov’s own.  The new passports, to be issued to all men aged 14 through 35, would have listed each man’s name, nationality, patrilineal ancestry, clan, denomination (of Islam, of course), and, for Sufis, the individual order (vird) to which he belongs, as well as the names of senior male relatives “responsible” for the holder’s moral behavior.

In his denial, Kadyrov called all talk of such passports “fantasies,” adding, “There is only one passport in our country—citizen of Russia!”  I would guess that Kadyrov was quickly forced to backtrack after a warning from the Kremlin that such a passport requirement would be baldly unconstitutional.  But why this, and why now, when Chechnya is already run under virtual shari’a?  Were the spiritual passports an attempt to mollify anti-Kadyrov sentiment among the more radical sectors of Chechnya?  Or was Kadyrov communicating to Putin that, despite their relationship, he is still a Muslim first?  We may never know.

In any case it is ironic that not long before Kadyrov’s announcement, Akhmed Zakayev, the moderate prime-minister-in-exile of the old self-declared Chechen Republic of Iskerria—the anti-Russian separatist entity with which the Kadyrovs used to be aligned—told Radio Free Europe in February that Kadyrov is “here to stay.”  According to Zakayev, who lives in London, this was because of Chechnya’s fiercely loyal private armed forces: “Any attempt to remove Kadyrov by decree or to appoint another leader of the republic would spark uproar in Kadyrov’s ranks.  In order to remove him, security forces would need to conduct operational measures within his close circle.  If they don’t, the reaction will be very negative and Putin won’t be able to get rid of him with a simple decree or a stroke of the pen.”

Eventually, Kadyrov will have to get friends wherever he can find them.
Another reason Zakayev thought Kadyrov would cling to power is that, if he ever fell out of political favor—and he has lots of enemies, many of them radical Islamists—where would he go?  “Three, four, five months ago,” Zakayev said, “there were still places he could leave for: Turkey, Sunni states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates.  He has now lost these possibilities because he supported the conflict in Syria together with Putin and backed and sided with the Shi’a to defend Bashar al-Assad.  By doing this, he has blocked the escape routes that he had spent several years preparing.”

That, of course, was all said before Kadyrov said he would leave politics.  Now, though, the questions are many.  Who will replace Kadyrov?  Will his successor be a more conventional republican president, or will Chechnya still be an autonomous Islamic statelet?  Will Putin appoint a president of the republic, as he does in the case of the more volatile nationalities?  To whom will Kadyrov’s army be loyal?  Will they in reality be the ones who choose Kadyrov’s replacement?  Or is Kadyrov’s talk of leaving politics a ruse?  Will he really run things from behind the scenes?  Or will there be a manufactured crisis between now and April to justify extending his term or instituting emergency powers?

Yes, they’re throwing money at him.  Like he needs it.
Perhaps Kadyrov tipped his hand a bit when he made his announcement the other day, saying, “Family, personal life, Islamic studies—that’s where I see myself.  If there is a need for me to take in hands a shovel, an assault rifle or a backpack—I can do that.”  Wait, did he say “assault rifle”??  Something tells me it may be a while before we’ve seen the last of Ramzan Kadyrov.

[You can read in detail about Chechnya and other sovereignty and independence movements both famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Separatist Updates for February 1-15, 2016: Oregon Standoff Ends; Hong Kong's Fishball Revolt; Biker Druids vs. Facebook; Moorish Squatters; Basque Terrorist Puppets?; King of Kookis Roughed Up; Libertarians Colonize Chile, New Hampshire



The last of the armed extremist opponents of federal land ownership occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon threw in the towel peacefully on February 11th, ending an ordeal lasting nearly six weeks.  With shouts of, “All I needed was marijuana! You guys wouldn’t even let me have marijuana!”, 27-year-old David Lee Fry of Ohio agreed to “one more cookie, one more cigarette,” and then came out with his hands up, even though less than an hour earlier he had had a gun to his head and was ready to pull the trigger.  The occupation, which began with the takeover by a not entirely determinable number of right-wing militants, possibly dozens, on January 2nd (see my blog post on the subject), had by early February dwindled to a cast of only four, the rest having either surrendered or been arrested during forays out of the compound.  By February 4th, 16 of the occupiers, including the previously arrested brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy as well as—in absentia—the four still inside the refuge, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Oregon for preventing “federal officials from performing their official duties by force, threats and intimidation.”  The Bundys’ father, the virulently racist Mormon rancher Cliven Bundy, age 74, who scared off armed Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.) agents after he refused to pay years of derelict grazing fees, had recently been bragging that he was de facto immune from prosecution because federal authorities were permanently intimidated, but he too was arrested, on February 10th, as he arrived at Portland International Airport, on his way to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to show support to the, at that point, last four holdouts.  He is now housed in the same jail as his two sons, on weapons-related charges as well as charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers back during his 2014 standoff.

Cliven Bundy in 2014 during the Nevada standoff
By the end, the long occupation had become a kind of three-ring circus of right-wing nuttery.  In the closing hours, Michele Fiore, a Republican state legislator from Nevada who had been a public supporter of the occupation, talked him down over patched-in radio conversations from Portland while thousands listened for more than an hour on live streaming.  Fiore is a certified gun-toting nutcase herself, unembarrased about her self-produced, ahem, indie film Siren, starring herself ...

... or her family’s most recent Christmas card, which became viral on the Internet a few months ago:

She is noted for calling African-Americans “colored” and believing that cancer is a fungus which can be removed with baking soda.  Her ledge-psychology patter in the end spoke of supporters of the occupiers’ cause—opposition to federal ownership of land in the West—as “we,” while Fry ranted about flying saucers, Trayvon Martin, drone strikes, and abortion, saying, at various points, “Look how stupid the American people are—U.F.O.s are real, those little spaceships flying around,” and saying that “the government needs to stop chemically mutating people.”  The Rev. Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham)—another head case who believes President Barack Obama is a foreign-born Muslim and that the Muslim Brotherhood has has infiltrated the United States government—also arrived at the scene to help end the standoff, telling the militants he was “proud of you and love you.”  Another of the occupiers was Pete Santilli, a real-estate-swindler who claims falsely to be a Yale University law graduate and Marine veteran and is a renowned conspiracy-theorist on right-wing talk radio—notorious for once saying on the air that Hillary Rodham Clinton should be “tried, convicted, and shot in the vagina” for supposedly faking Osama bin Laden’s death.  Santilli is now under arrest as well.

LaVoy Finicum’s final moments, captured by an F.B.I. helicopter camera
Bundy, Sr., is likely to remain a rallying figure for disaffected rural whites who use tortured legal arguments—mixed with half-baked Mormon prophecies and militia-stoked conspiracy theories—to question the role or legitimacy of the federal government.  And 54-year-old Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, the one fatality in the occupation, who was shot by Oregon state troopers when he reached for his weapon upon his arrest on January 26th, is likely to become the cause’s martyr.  At Finicum’s funeral in Kanab, Utah, on February 5th, Bundy rallied the troops, calling on fellow ranchers to tear up their grazing permits and take possession of the land they use (using, ironically, the same use-equals-possession arguments against absentee landlords employed by socialist land-reform movements in Latin America).


Spain Acts to Shut Down Catalonia’s “Foreign Ministry.”  The government of Spain announced on February 5th that it was prepared to act to prevent the autonomous region of Catalonia from creating its own ministry of foreign affairs.  The government plans to ask the Constitutional Court to order the entity shut down.  A spokeswoman for the Catalan government, Neus Monte, dismissed Madrid’s threat, saying, “This shows us the death throes of a government in a freefall and at its lowest point.”

Madrid Judge Orders Arrest of Puppeteers for Promoting Basque Terrorism.  The British tabloid Express called it “Punch and Jihadi,” but a court in Madrid was in no joking mood when it ordered the arrest and detention of two puppeteers for advocating terrorism in a children’s puppet show that was part of the city’s Carnival (Mardi Gras) celebration.  The judge, Ismael Moreno, showing a paranoia about sedition more often associated with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, said that the puppet show, The Witch and Don Cristóbal, staged by Alfonso Lazaro de la Fuente and Raúl Garcia Pérez, of the puppet troupe Títeres desde Abajo (“Puppets from Below”), depicted “the hanging in effigy of a judge, the stabbing of a nun with a crucifix, and several police beatings,” as well as a puppet holding a sign reading, “Up with ETA”.”  This stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom, an armed group which has used violence in its pursuit of independence for the Basque Country.  Praising terrorism is a crime in Spain.  But, as explained by one journalist, the sign held by the puppet said “GORA ALKA-ETA,” using a form of the Basque verb “to live” (gora; “Gora ETA” means “Long Live ETA”) and a pun on the similarity of the acronym ETA to the last two syllables in al-Qaeda and depicted a character who was set up by the police by having the sign planted on her—an irony which I am sure was not lost on the puppeteers.  A public group that supports terrorism victims filed a complaint against Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena, and Spain’s ruling People’s Party (P.P.) even called on the Madrid region’s culture minister, a member of the left-wing Podemos party, to resign—part of what some observers see as a P.P. strategy of linking Podemos to terrorists whenever possible.  After a public outcry, the puppeteers were released.  On February 10th, after a public outcry, including complaints from Amnesty International, the puppeteers were released.  Meanwhile, Spanish authorities forbade a planned visit by a delegation of rights activists from the United States to Logroño prison in north-central Spain to visit Arnaldo Otegi of the Basque separatist party Batasuna.  The delegation included the African-American former Black Panther and writer Angela Davis, the Spanish rocker Fermín Muguruza, and Amaio Izko, a Basque politician.
[Thanks to a reader, Raphael Tsavkko Garcia, for helping sort out the details in this news story.]

The seditious puppet show in question

Mebyon Kernow Urges Redistricting Panel Not to Blur Devon–Cornwall Boundary.  The head of the Cornish nationalist political party Mebyon Kernow (“Party for Cornwall”) responded to a Conservative Party announcement of a looming revision of parliamentary constituency boundaries by challenging the six members of Parliament on the committee to ignore the boundary between Cornwall and its neighboring English county Devon (Devonshire).  “The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, if enacted, would inevitably lead to the creation of a cross-Tamar ‘Devonwall’ seat,” said the party leader, Dick Cole, referring to the Tamar River which separates the two counties, “but Cornwall’s M.P.s are in a position to challenge the leadership of their own party on this matter.  ...  [T]he territorial integrity of Cornwall—a historic Celtic nation—must be protected and that our future M.P.s must serve constituencies that lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly).  The Cornish people have been recognised as a ‘national minority’ and it would be inconsistent to treat the historic border of Cornwall differently from those of Scotland and Wales, which the Government intends to respect when it comes to the delineation of new constituencies.”  (The Isles of Scilly, which are part of the Duchy of Cornwall (under Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall), but not Cornwall the county, are also claimed by Cornish nationalists.)

Plaid Cymru Parliamentarian Advocates Separate Welsh Banknotes.  A Welsh lawmaker argued on the floor of the British parliament on February 1st that Wales should have its own separate designs of pound notes, just as Scotland does.  Jonathan Edwards, M.P., who is from the nationalist Plaid Cymru party, said the move would affirm Wales’s status “as an equal nation” within the United Kingdom.  No Welsh currency has been printed since 1908, when the North and South Wales Bank closed.  Edwards also suggested renaming the Bank of England the “Sterling Central Bank.”  The proposal has started a national conversation about which prominent Welsh people would merit appearing on a banknote.  One cultural historian, Peter Stead of Swansea, suggested the boxer Jimmy Wilde; Owain Glyndwr (a.k.a. Owen Glendower), the last Prince of Wales who was actually Welsh (the current one is a German); the biologist Alfred Russel Wallace; Prime Minister David Lloyd George; the poet Dylan Thomas; the novelist Richard Llewellyn; and Betsi Cadwaladr, a Crimean War nurse known as “the Welsh Florence Nightingale.”  Others have proposed the crooners Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey and the comedian Terry Jones of Monty Python.  (Of course, the House of Tudor was Welsh, but that’s a bit of a sore point.)

Just the right mood for a ten-pound note

Witan of Mercia Backs Staffordshire M.P.’s Plan for England-Only Parliament.  In response to a legislative proposal for a separate parliament just for England—along the lines of Scotland’s and Wales’s subnational parliaments within the United Kingdom—the “Acting Witan of Mercia,” Jeff Kent, said that that plan would be “just tinkering with the system,” but he added that Mercia supports “any move towards devolving power.”  Kent, who is 62, lives in Cotes Heath, in Staffordshire.  The idea was brought to the floor of the House of Commons by Tristram Hunt, M.P., of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

Reincarnated King Arthur Battles Facebook, Rival Druids over Use of Name.  The social network Facebook’s rules against using false names in personal accounts is being used as a weapon in a factional fight in a druidic organization, according to the Rev. Arthur Uther Pendragon, a 61-year-old ex-biker who lives in Salisbury, England, near Stonehenge.  Born as Johnny Rothwell, Pendragon believes that he is the reincarnation of King Arthur—yes, the King Arthur—and in 1986 had his name legally changed, as reflected on all his U.K. legal documents.  But Facebook declares the facsimiles of his passport and driving license fakes and keeps shutting down his account.  Pendragon thinks that’s really because his rivals within his druidical organization, the Loyal Arthurian Warband, keep filing complaints.  Apparently, Pendragon’s objection to English Heritage’s alcohol bans at the Stonehenge summer-solstice celebration are among the controversies in which he is embroiled.  For now he is “back up and running” on Facebook as “Arthur Rex” “for as long as it takes the ‘idiot druids’ and the idiot Facebook to pull me down again.”

“Arthur Rex”

Lega Nord Lawmakers Want Bilingual Schools, Signage in Italian and “Lombard.”  Members of northern Italy’s separatist Northern League (Lega Nord), in collaboration with the Lombard League, put forth legislation in Lombardy’s regional parliament on February 10th to divert funds toward schools that teach the Lombard dialect of Italian as a separate language and to institute “bilingual” street signs and place names, in Italian and Lombard.  The legislation as written refers to the “continuum Gallo-Romanzo-Cisalpino,” under which northern Italian dialects like Lombard are classed not only with the Arpitan dialects of the cross-border Savoy/Val d’Aosta/Geneva region where Italy, France, and Switzerland meet but also with mainstream French, and not with standard Italian.

No, this town name doesn’t mean “Big Bust”—neither in Italian nor in Lombard.

Latvians Unnerved by BBC Program Warning of Russian Expansionism into Baltics.  Latvians, who are understandably sensitive and jittery on the question of Russia and colonialism, did not appreciate a speculative mockumentary broadcast this month by the British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.) titled World War Three: Inside the War Room, which posited Latvia’s northeastern Latgalia region as the pretext—à la Crimea or South Ossetia—for an invasion by Russia and an escalating confrontation between President Vladimir Putin and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  Latgalia, of Latvia’s four constituent historic regions, is the most distinctive culturally and linguistically, and it is today home to most of Latvia’s ethnic Russians.  Russians, who are 27% of the country’s population, are the majority in the Latgalian capital, Dagauvpils.  In 2012, when ethnic Russians in Latvia tried and failed to push through a referendum making Russian an official national language alongside Latvian, they allied themselves with Latgalian autonomists (as discussed at the time in this blog).  The B.B.C. program also envisioned unrest among Estonia’s ethnic Russians (who make up a quarter of that country’s population) leading to Russian military intervention in the Baltics.  Some Latvians object to the overheated depiction, which showed pro-Kremlin goons wearing arm insignia with the Latgalian griffin on it:

“I feel Latgalian,” explained one native of Rēzekne, “and Latgalians, in turn, as a rule feel Latvian, not in the least bit Russian.  The only kind of people who believe that ethnic Latgalians would favour being part of the Russian Federation are those who either never bothered to speak with any ethnic Latgalians, or who are unable to distinguish Latgalians from Baltic Russians.”  And maps leaked from the Kremlin in 2012 (as reported on at the time in this blog) showed a changed Europe in 2035 where eastern Estonia and eastern Latvia have been absorbed into the Russian Federation as, respectively, Narvski District (Narva is a 94% Russian-speaking town in Estonia) and Dvinskaya Oblast (Dvinsk being the Russian name for Dagauvpils).  I still maintain that Russians in the Baltics are one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2016,” as I insisted in a section in my blog article of that title, under the heading “ Russians in the Baltic States: Could the Kremlin Pull Another Crimea Right under the NATO Umbrella?”

Neo-Czarist heraldry is put into place in the Baltics
in another scene from World War Three: Inside the War Room

Republika Srpska President Indefinitely Postpones Controversial Referendum.  The president of the Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina announced February 8th that he was postponing a divisive and controversial referendum on the question of whether federal Bosnian courts were to have jurisdiction over his republic.  At a press conference in Banja Luka, the republic’s capital, President Milorad Dodik said he would set aside referendum plans until such time as there was more agreement among different stakeholders within Republika Srpska on whether it should be held.  “We will not go into the referendum without a consensus,” he said.  Meanwhile, on February 11th, federal Bosnian authorities arrested Slobodan Pavlović, a bank owner, and three other financial officials in connection with “crimes of abuse of office or authority and money laundering” related to loans made to Dodik.

Milorad Dodik kissing the Serbian flag
Karadžić Advisor Nabbed on War Crimes Charges; Srebrenica Participant Dies in Prison.  An advisor to the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadžić was arrested trying to cross from Serbia into Bosnia and Herzegovina on February 8th and is being held under the terms of an arrested warrant issued in 1999.  He is being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in and around Vogošća, a suburb of Sarajevo, during the Bosnian War in the 1990s.  The defendant, Jovan Tintor, was a senior official in the Serb Democratic Party (S.D.S.) during the war.  The following day, another Bosnian Serb separatist described as “the right-hand man” of the notorious Republika Srpska war criminal Ratko Mladić died in a United Nations prison in the Hague.  The prisoner, 67-year-old Zdravko Tolimir, was serving a life sentence for his role in the Srebrenica massacre.  Just in the past week, a court in Pejë (Peć), in Kosovo, issued war-crimes indictments against 14 Serbs for their roles in atrocities in Kosovo in 1999.  Meanwhile, the government of the Republic of Serbia is bristling at the insistence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (I.C.T.Y.), in the Hague, that Serbia round up and turn over three members of the Serbian Radical Party who are accused of threatening witnesses during the trial of the party’s leader, the war criminal Vojislav Šešelj.

European Parliament Urges E.U.’s 5 Holdouts to Recognize Kosovo.  The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on February 4th passed a resolution praising the progress made in normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.  The resolution, which passed 403-130, also stressed that it would be helpful to the process if all European Union (E.U.) member states extended diplomatic recognition to Kosovo.  Out of the 28 members, Spain (fearful of its own separatist movement in Catalonia) along with Cyprus and three Balkan neighbors of Kosovo’s—Greece, Romania, and Slovakia—have still not recognized Kosovo.

Kosovo Police Arrest 4 “Armed Islamists” Near Serb Cemetery.  Four armed Kosovars were arrested near a Serb cemetery in the town of Deçan, in western Kosovo.  The police had been following them and, after the arrest, weapons that included an assault rifle were confiscated from their vehicle.  Orthodox church officials and Serb media, however, called the four suspects “armed Islamists” and criticized the authorites for not treating the incident as terrorism-related.  A few days later, on February 4th, a car belonging to a public prosecutor for Gračanica was set on fire.  About 85% of the population of Gračanica, in central Kosovo, belong to Kosovo’s Serb ethnic minority.

Ruritania Announces Death of Foreign Minister; Grand Duchess Sworn In as Interim.  The Kingdom of Ruritania, a manifestation of the fictional Central European nation in Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda, announced this month the death of its minister for foreign affairs, Count Georg von Strofzia.  He was reportedly found dead on the morning of February 14th “at his home in Strelsau” (the Ruritanian capital in Hope’s novels).  “H.S.H. Grand Duchess Lydia von Elphberg (known to most as Cathy) has been nominated to act as Interim Minister of Foreign Affairs,” an official statement read, “until a new one is selected by Our Queen, H.R.M. Anastasia.” Ruritania, which calls itself “not a game, model, or secessionist state” but “an actual nation ... with the right of self-determination,” theoretically claims territories straddling the border between Germany and the Czech Republic but, more concretely, operates out of an “embassy” in Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the United States.

Ukrainian Soldier Killed by Rebels in Donetsk Republic; Landmine Kills 4.  A military spokesman in Ukraine said on February 5th that a Ukrainian soldier had been killed within the previous 24 hours in combat with Russian-backed rebels in the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic (D.P.R.).  The fatality occurred in a rebel assault on the village of Zaitseve, 35 miles from Donetsk.  The following day, Ukrainian sources said 11 soldiers had been injured in recent fighting. Also in the D.P.R., four civilians were killed on February 10th when a minibus ran over a landmine near a Ukrainian checkpoint when it veered offroad, ignoring warning signs.  One passenger survived.  Meanwhile, in Moldova, a public prosecutor announced in a press conference on February 11th that his office had indicted 10 Moldovans for fighting as mercenaries on the side of separatists loyal to Russia in southeastern Ukraine.  Two so far have been given three-year prison sentences.  Most of the remaining eight facing trial are Russian-speakers from the south of Moldova.

Pro-Russian Forces Blamed for Bombing of Crimean Tatar Council in Ukraine.  The embattled and persecuted Mejlis (national council) of the Crimean Tatar people in Kherson, on the Ukrainian mainland, was damaged on February 7th when a bomb exploded in its main building.  No one was injured.  The Mejlis blamed “pro-Russian forces.”  Many Crimean Tatars, who are indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula, were displaced by Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea in 2014, and their institutions, including the Mejlis, have come under legal and political assault.

Despite Shared Anti-Islamist Cause, Chechnya, Ingushetia Won’t Merge, Kadyrov Says.  The president of Russia’s Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, clarified on his Instagram page early this month that he was opposed to any suggestions that his republic merge with the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia.  This responded to speculation that followed a meeting between Kadyrov and his Ingush counterpart, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, which highlighted their shared antipathy toward Wahhabism and jihadism in their territories.  Chechnya and Ingushetia, now separate majority-Muslim republics within the Russian Federation, were in the Soviet era united as the Chechen-Ingush Soviet Socialist Republic.  Chechens and Ingush at times regarded themselves as one nationality, the Vainakh, but went their separate ways due to doctrinal differences.

Ramzan Kadyrov (center)


Abkhazia Bans Abortion, Citing Concerns for Low Population.  Tearing a page from the playbook of Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu, the president of the Russian puppet state the Republic of Abkhazia, recognized as independent by only a handful of countries, signed into law on February 8th a ban on abortions passed by its parliament last month.  Though “pro-life” language pervaded the debate, one of the authors of the bill, Said Kharazia, cited concerns that “abortion artificially reduces the number of the already small population of Abkhazia.”  Abkhazia’s official population is just under a quarter-million, and a reported 11,900 abortions have been performed since 1993.  Abortion remains legal in the country most of the world regards Abkhazia as part of, the Republic of Georgia.  In Abkhazia, the ban, which is effective immediately, begins at conception.  One Russian news source pointed out that only two other European states ban abortion—Malta and Vatican City—forgetting that Abkhazia, being on the south side of the Caucasus ridge, is in Asia.

Russian Prosecutor Sees Bias in International Court’s South Ossetia War Probe.  The director of Russia’s federal Investigative Committee—the equivalent of attorney general—complained on February 3rd about the ongoing probe by the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) into the South Ossetia War of 2008.  The director, Alexander Bastrykin, said that the probe so far has ignored what he characterized as torture and mass killings of Ossetians by the government of Georgia, as well as the forced relocation of 16,000.

Nagorno-Karabakh Soldier, Armenian Shepherd Killed at Azerbaijani Border.  A soldier in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s army was shot and killed early on the morning of February 5th at the border with the government-controlled part of Azerbaijan.  The incident happened amid what for years have been regular exchanges of gunfire across the cease-fire line in what is for the most part a frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Later, on February 12th, the N.K.R. ministry of defense reported that an Armenian shepherd had been killed by ammunition fired from the Azerbaijani side of the border.  Azerbaijan denied the report.  Meanwhile, in Russia, an ethnic Armenian businessmen named Samvel Karapetyanhas announced that he will give $5,000 to every fourth baby born to a family in the N.K.R.  A spokesman for the N.K.R.’s President Bako Sahakyan pointed out that this provides an incentive for Armenian couples that already have three children to relocate to the N.K.R.

Cypriot Reunification Talks on Track, Say Presidents; Land, Troops at Issue.  Negotiations are proceeding between the presidents of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (K.K.T.C.) on reunification of the island, Cypriot media reported on February 2nd.  Front and center are territorial questions, with the (southern) Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, asking the K.K.T.C. president, Mustafa Akıncı, for the return of the towns of Güzelyurt and the withdrawal of 20,000 troops from the Republic of Turkey from the self-declared K.K.T.C.

Ankara Announces End to Anti-Kurdish Military Operation in Şırnak.  A military operation against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (P.K.K.) in Cizre, in southeastern Turkey’s Şırnak province, has come to an end, according to a statement from authorities on February 11th.  But curfews are to remain in place.  Fighting is ongoing in Sur, in Diyarbakır province.  Earlier, it had been reported that two government officers were killed and another wounded when a state-owned vehicle was destroyed in a bomb blast in Şırnak on February 2nd.  Two of the casualties in the vehicle were employees of a state-run hospital.  The Turkish military claims more than 600 P.K.K. fighters have been killed in Cizre since the operations began in mid-December.  Meanwhile, on February 10th, five people in masks threw Molotov cocktails at the offices of a pro-government newspaper in Istanbul, then opened fire with rifles.  Another newspaper office was attacked an hour later.  The government blamed the P.K.K.


Barzani Calls for “Immediate” Referendum on Kurdish Independence from Iraq.  The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, called on February 2nd for an immediate referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.  “It is clear to all that this region and Kurdistan in particular was divided without regard to the will of its indigenous people which in turn led to hundred years of troubles, war, denial, and instability,” Barzani said, adding, “Kurdistan has every geographic, historic, and human factor just as Scotland, Catalonia, Quebec, and others do.  The same way people in those places have the right to decide their future, the Kurds too have that right and this is not open to argument.”  The central government in Baghdad condemned the statement, emphasizing the inviability of a referendum, while also saying that it could not offer any financial assistance to the economically troubled region.  A spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party responded to Barzani’s comments on February 4th, saying that an independence push in Iraqi Kurdistan would only “complicate the picture.”  Within Kurdistan Region politics, the referendum idea is backed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.), the Kurdistan Islamic Union (K.I.U.), and Kurdistan Democratic Party (K.D.P.).  Meanwhile, three police were injured in Erbil on February 7th when violence erupted among hundreds of Iraqi Kurds protesting against Turkey’s government outside a United Nations compound.

President Massoud Barzani
Syrian Kurdish Parties Announce Founding of Umbrella Group.  In Syria, Kurdish groups announced on February 13th the founding of a new umbrella group called the Kurdish National Alliance in Syria.  A coalition of five different parties, the K.N.A.S. plans to use a federal approach to build on what it called “Auto-Administration,” the de facto autonomy achieved by several different Kurdish “cantons” in the northern Syrian region Kurds call “Rojava.”  As a spokesman, Mustafa Mashayikh, told the media, “Rojava has given a good example for the maintenance of civil peace, and we believe by establishing a federal state in Syria we could avoid any future clashes between the different social components as every group would be fairly represented in a federal system.”  Meanwhile (see below), Rojava seems to be drifting more and more into Russia’s diplomatic orbit, as evidenced by the recent announcement of the opening of Syrian Kurdish “embassies” in not only Moscow but in Russia’s Donetsk People’s Republic puppet state in eastern Ukraine.

Kurds Retake Land—from ISIS in Iraq with U.S. Help, and from Moderates in Syria with Russian Help.  The stateless nation of Kurdistan straddles the border between Iraq and Syria, but Kurds are playing a dangerous game of playing opposing parties in both those multi-sided civil wars against one another.  In Iraq, Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Arab tribal militias retook the village of Karmrdi, near Makhmour on February 1st by ejecting forces from the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS), with United States warplanes providing backup.  Within days, Peshmerga sources announced the recapture of Kudila, another nearby village from ISIS, Kudila.  Meanwhile, in Syria, however, where Kurds allied with Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party are allied with Russia, an air force base near the Turkish border has been abandoned by anti-government rebels under fire from Kurdish forces backed by Russian bombers, according to a February 11th report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  The Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel‎, or Y.P.G.) took the Menagh air base from moderate Sunni Arab rebels from the Levant Front, after 30 bombing sorties by Russian warplanes.  Starting on February 13th, the Turkish air force began a bombing campaign against Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria, including the Menagh air base as well as areas around Azaz, while the Turkish foreign minister talked openly of a ground invasion of Syria.  In other news, an aid-worker reported on February 11th that ISIS was using chemical munitions on Peshmerga forces near Sinjar, Iraq, and 19 people, including 14 Filipino citizens, were killed in a hotel fire on February 5th in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital.  The cause is believed to have been “an electrical problem in a sauna.”

An excellent, up-to-date map of Syria from the blog Pietervanostaeyen.

British Foreign Minister Accuses Russia of Planning Alawite Statelet in Syria.  The United Kingdom’s foreign minister accused the Russian government on February 2nd of concentrating its military in Syria against moderate opponents of the dictator Bashar al-Assad rather than against Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS), with the aim of eventually carving out a mini-state for Assad’s fellow Alawite Shiite Arabs.  “Is Russia really committed to a peace process,” the minister, Philip Hammond, asked during a meeting with journalists in Rome, “or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini-state in the northwest of Syria?”

Netanyahu Ally Says Palestinian Nationhood Fake Because Arabic Lacks “P.”  Even her colleagues in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party thought it was going too far on February 10th when she told the Knesset (parliament) that the nation of Palestine did not really exist because the Arabic alphabet lacks the letter P.   “I want to go back to history,” said Anat Berko during a parliamentary debate on the “two-state solution”; “what is our place here, about Jerusalem, about Palestine, when like we said, Arabic doesn’t even have P, so this loan-word also merits scrutiny.”  While it is true that the name Palestine is borrowed from the Latin name Palestina, dating to the days of the Roman Empire, Arabic-speakers have been referring to Palestine as Falastin for centuries, if not millennia.  Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz party spoke for most of Berko’s Knesset colleagues by responding, “What?  Did everyone hear this?  Are you an idiot?”  At least one Arab member of the Knesset walked out of the chamber in protest.

12 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Dead as Spate of Knife Attacks Continues in West Bank.  Two weeks of unrest in Israeli-occupied parts of Palestine left 11 Palestinians dead, many of them killed in the course of knife attacks on Israeli Jews, in what is an increasing pattern in West Bank violence.  A kitchen-knife-wielding 15-year-old Palestinian boy was arrested in an attempt to stab a Jewish man near the Damascus Gate on February 2nd.  There was no injury.  On February 7th he was remanded on charges including attempted murder.  An Israeli security officer was killed on February 3rd by a group of three heavily armed Palestinians who were then all shot and killed by nearby police.  The Palestinians were also wired with explosive devices, which were defused before they could go off.  The following day, Israeli authorities sealed off the entire home village of the three attackers, Qabatiya, near Jenin.  That incident inspired two 14-year-old Palestinian girls from the town of Ramle, to stab a Jewish security guard at a shopping mall on February 4th.  The guard was only lightly injured; the two girls were apprehended and later charged with attempted murder and conspiracy.  A court in Israel on February 4th sentenced two young Jewish men to long prison terms for the brutal random murder of a Palestinian 16-year-old in 2014.  One of the men received a life term and the other 21 years.  On February 5th, a Palestinian teenager was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers when he was about to throw a Molotov cocktail at a busy highway in the West Bank, the military reported.  A 24-year-old Palestinian man died on February 8th because he was performing maintenance on a supply tunnel between Egypt and the Gaza Strip when the tunnel collapsed.  On the same day, police arrested a 42-year-old Palestinian woman near the Damascus Gate who was armed with a large knife.  On February 9th, two teenaged Palestinian girls, one only 13, were arrested in the West Bank in connection with the stabbing of a 28-year-old Israeli man while he was jogging.  A Jewish Israeli man attacked a Palestinian’s truck with an axe near an illegal West Bank settlement on February 10th.  The man was arrested and implicated himself in the incident.  Also on February 10th, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot in the chest and killed when soldiers spotted him and other boys throwing stones at vehicles near a refugee camp in the West Bank.  The same day, a court in Jerusalem indicted two Palestinian teenagers, ages 14 and 16, for stabbing an Israeli teenager in the city in January.  Police on February 11th arrested a right-wing Jewish extremist for death threats against a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Ayman Odeh.  This was in response to the suspension three days earlier of three Palestinian parliamentarians from Odeh’s party, the Joint List, for visiting the families of Palestinian civilians who were killed while attacking Israelis.  On February 13th, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl was shot to death after attempting to stab an Israeli soldier near a mosque in Hebron.  On February 14th, in four separate incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank, five Palestinians were killed and another injured during attempts to attack Israelis.  The incidents included: a machine-gun attack on Israeli forces near the Damascus Gate, resulting in the deaths of the two Arab gunmen; two 15-year-old Palestinians killed by security forces after throwing rocks at vehicles and then opening fire; a 17-year-old Palestinian from near Bethlehem shot dead by a paramilitary border guard whom he attacked with a knife; and a 21-year-old Palestinian woman critically wounded after attacking a police officer at a checkpoint in Hebron.  No Jewish Israelis were harmed in those incidents, but in the last incident, in Hebron, video footage of an Israeli policeman, well after the would-be stabber was apprehended, dumping a Palestinian man out of his wheelchair and into the street went viral on social media (see below).


Pro-Biafra Militants Sail Hijacked Tanker to Benin, Escape with 5 Captive Crewmen.  The pro-Biafra militants who hijacked a 9,000-ton chemical tanker on January 29th (as reported earlier this month in this blog) released the ship on February 2nd into the hands of the Beninois navy.  But the hijackers themselves absconded with five crew members—one allegedly injured—who include citizens of Russia, Georgia, and the Philippines.  Their whereabouts are unknown.  The vessel, the M.T. Leon Dias, which is registered in Liberia but owned by an outfit based in Greece, was hijacked on January 29th in the Gulf of Guinea 100 miles off the coast of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula, in Cameroon, near the border with Nigeria.  The hijackers demanded the release within 31 days of Nnamdi Kanu, the imprisoned leader of the Nigerian separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB), which seeks independence for Biafra, a region in southeastern Nigeria which by some reckonings includes the Bakassi Peninsula.  Within a few days, the Leon Dias had arrived in the territorial waters of the Republic of Benin.  The hijackers’ spokesman identified himself as “General Ben.”  IPoB denied any involvement in the hijacking, citing its commitment to nonviolence, and a leader from the other major Biafran separatist group, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), said that “Captain Ben” was not an actual Biafran separatist but just “some Niger Delta militant who has shown interest in working with us.”  Dirk Steffen, a maritime security expert in Denmark, gave the opinion that the Biafran separatist cause was adopted by the hijackers to veil their actual motive, which was likely to hold the crew for ransom.  IPoB’s spokesman, Emma Powerful, accused the federal government of falsely linking them to the hijacking in order to justify keeping Kanu in prison.

The Leon Dias, the hijacked tanker
10 IPoB Protestors Killed by Police, Dozens Injured; Buhari Besieged in London Riot.  While Nnamdi Kanu awaits trial, security forces mowed down peaceful protestors in Abia State on February 9th, killing 10 and injuring at least 20 and possibly over 30.  The demonstration was organized by the group Kanu founded, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB).  Some reports said that after the killings an IPoB mob attacked a nearby school, accusing those inside of causing the killings by acting as informers to the authorities.  While the official IPoB statement the following day, referring to over 1,000 IPoB protestors killed by security forces since Kanu’s arrest, was a wild exaggeration, nonetheless protests pressing for the release of Kanu have become a global phenomenon.  While the Leon Dias crisis dragged on, bodyguards had to sneak Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, out of his London hotel via the basement because of Biafran demonstrators that had surrounded much of the building.  Police refused to disperse the protestors, as Buhari’s aides had requested, explaining that in the United Kingdom there is such a thing as the right to free expression (unlike in Nigeria; see below).  Buhari was in London to address members of the U.K.’s Nigerian community.  Kanu is a dual citizen of Nigeria and the U.K.

President Buhari being led into a London police van for his protection
from pro-Biafra demonstrators
MASSOB to Make Nigeria “Ungovernable” If Igbo Denied Independence Vote.  Meanwhile, MASSOB issued a statement during the hijacking crisis to the effect that if the Nigerian government did not permit Igbo people to vote on whether or not to be part of Nigeria then “MASSOB and other pro-Biafra agitators will make Nigeria ungovernable.  We shall use everything at our disposal to fight the Nigerian government, especially through civil disobedience.  We are going to call for ‘sit at home’ in all Biafran land and Lagos.”  The statement is, perhaps deliberately, vague as to whether violent tactics would be used.  Nor is it clear if the MASSOB “National Director of Information,” Samuel Edeson, meant, by “other pro-Biafra agitators,” IPoB as well.  In January, another MASSOB “National Director of Information,” Sunny Okereafor, met in Rivers State with Goodluck Freeman, a leader from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MoSOP), and agreed to work together toward the goal of an independent Biafra.  In his statement, Edeson also revealed plans to bring the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo before the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) for war crimes committed during the Biafra War in the late 1960s.  Nigeria’s Director of Defense Information, Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar, responded on February 4th, warning in an official statement that the military and security services would not tolerate unrest.  He also, apparently without irony, warned against pro-Biafra activists who “hide under” the constitution’s free-speech provisions “to stir up trouble and insecurity.”  (Translation: you have free speech, as long as you don’t use it to challenge the status quo.)

Nigeria Arrests Alleged Mastermind of Niger Delta Oil Pipeline Bombings.  The government of Nigeria revealed on February 11th that it had arrested an alleged mastermind of the oil-facility bombings in the Niger Delta region last month shortly after the incidents occurred.  The suspect, Prince Alvin Cockman Oygun, a.k.a. Commander Abula, is allegedly specifically behind bombings of a pipeline belonging to the Italian oil multinational Eni’s subsidiary Agip, which operates in Bayelsa State.  Abula was captured by Nigerian Joint Forces in Idema, Bayelsa, after a manhunt, and he is presumably linked to the formerly active ethnic insurgency in the region under the banner of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

Bodyguard Shot, Dowager Queen Dies at 104 as Yoruba Feud with Benin Rages.  A member of the personal security detail of Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, the Ọọ̀ni of Ilé-Ifẹ̀, and one of Nigeria’s highest ranking Yoruba monarchs, was shot and killed by alleged armed robbers on February 8th.  Three suspects have been arrested.  The following day, further tragedy struck the royal house when Ojaja II’s paternal grandmother, the dowager Queen Mariani Adeyemi Ogunwusi, died at the age of 104.  On that same day, Ojaja II continued his war of words with the Oba of Benin (a kingdom in Nigeria’s Edo State, not to be confused with the Republic of Benin) by insisting that Edo is in Yoruba territory.  This follows complaints from the Beninese royal palace disputing Ojaja II’s earlier statement ranking the Oba of Benin as only third among southwestern Nigerian kings, behind himself and the Alaafin of Oyo.  The Oodua People’s Congress (O.P.C.), which wants a separate Yoruba republic, also chimed in, criticizing what it called the Beninese distortion of history.

The monarch Ojaja II of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ (right) and the late Queen Mariani Adeyemi Ogunwusi.

Kookis Fume over Arrest of Monarch Who Rammed Ugandan V.P.’s Convoy.  Tensions between the disestablished Kooki monarchy and the central government in Uganda erupted into the open this month when Apollo Sansa Kabumbuli II was arrested on February 2nd for nearly crashing into the convoy of the Ugandan vice-president, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, after he refused to yield to it.  Kabumbuli II is the Kooki nation’s Kamuswaga, a monarchal title variously translated as “chief,” “prince,” “cultural leader,” or even “king.”  Kabumbuli was driving his own vehicle when the near crash occurred, and Ssekandi’s security detail descended on him with weapons drawn.  The monarch drew his own gun and the situation devolved into scuffling.  The guards overpowered him, ripped his clothing, took off his shoes, and removed him from the scene in a police truck.  Such indignities, when heaped upon royalty, are not taken lightly in Kooki culture.  Though the monarch was released without charge in short order, he publicly demanded two days later—in a statement given at Entebbe airport as he prepared to depart for Germany for medical treatment—that the federal police prosecute the guards who “unlawfully and unjustifiably tortured” him.  “Your officers’ acts,” a lawyer’s statement read, “were not only intended to torture our client but to humiliate him.”  The palace declared a 10-day period of mourning throughout the Kooki nation to mourn the disrespect shown the Kamuswaga.  The chief of police apologized officially, but as late as February 9th Kookis were still angry.  Over 300 demonstrated in front of the royal palace in Rakai district, many dressed in mourning.  In July 2015 (as reported on in this blog), the Kooki chieftainship declared a secession from the Buganda Kingdom, the monarchy that is sometimes considered coextensive with the Ugandan state itself.

No way to treat a Kamuswaga

Campaigning Ugandan President Promises East African “Superstate.”  Nine days before Uganda’s general election, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who plans to run for another term, told a radio interview on February 9th said that his primary goal for the remainder of his tenure is the creation of a union of central African states that would include Burundi, KenyaRwandaTanzania, and Uganda.  These five are already members of the East African Community (E.A.C.), which has a sort of common market and even plans to introduce a single currency by 2024.  Museveni says the Rwandan and Kenyan governments are on board with the idea, though “we have been having some issues with Tanzanians.”  With 157 million people, any “East African Federation” would still be less populous than Nigeria, which has 177 million.

Ethiopia Accused of “Ethnic Cleansing” of Anuaks in Gambela Region.  A coalition of minority and opposition parties in Ethiopia sounded the alarm on February 3rd over what it called ethnic cleansing of tribal people in the Gambela region, on the border with South Sudan.  According to the Peoples’ Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (P.A.F.D.), special police attached to the Gambela People’s Region in southwestern Ethiopia, and presumably under the direction of the federal government, cracked down on the Anuak ethnic minority beginning January 27th, killing at least four.  In a statement released on February 3rd, the P.A.F.D. said the massacres were ongoing.  The Anuak are a tribal people from the Nilotic ethnolinguistic grouping, related to the ethnic groups that make up a majority in South Sudan.  Many Anuak are affiliated with the Gambella People’s Liberation Front (G.P.L.F.), which is a constituent member of the P.A.F.D., along with the Oromo Liberation Front (O.L.F.), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (O.N.L.F.), the Sidama National Liberation Front (S.N.L.F.), and the Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement (B.P.L.M.).  The ethnic tensions are being attributed to interethnic warfare spilling over from South Sudan.

Tuareg Separatists Blame Jihadists for Attack on U.N. in Mali That Killed 5.  Separatists in northern Mali from the Tuareg minority are blaming a recent attack on a United Nations compound on jihadist extremists and have distanced themselves from the incident.  In Kidal, a truck bomb and an attack with mortars and firearms on February 12th killed five peacekeepers with the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma).  Three of the dead were from Guinea, and the wounded numbered at least 30.  But Radouane Ag Mohamed Aly, a spokesman for the Coordination of Azawad Movements (C.M.A.), a separatist umbrella group, denied responsibility.  On the same day, three members of Mali’s military died and three were injured in an ambush near Timbuktu, also in the north.  For most of 2012, the northern two-thirds of Mali were in the hands of a coalition of jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and more secular Tuareg separatists, including some displaced by the civil war in Libya.  The region, called Azawad, was liberated by French forces and reintegrated into Mali, but an insurgency still rages.

ISIS Valentine’s Day Massacre in Libya Ends in Public Display of Bullet-Riddled Corpses.  In Sirte, the hometown of Libya’s late dictator Moammar al-Qaddafi, the Islamic State terror group (a.k.a. ISIS), which runs the city as a de facto city-state outside of Libyan control, carried out a series of revenge killings over a 48-hour period ending on St. Valentine’s Day, with at least five people shot execution-style in the back of the head and then strung up in public.  Four of the victims, including two brothers, were accused of “apostasy,” though it has been suggested that the real motivation was the same as that stated as the official reason for the fifth execution: as retaliation for partaking in a clan-based uprising against the ISIS administration in August 2015.  Under ISIS’s rules, their bodies, hung from public structures with photos posted on social media, must remain on display for three days.

Beautiful downtown Sirte.  ISIS, I just love what you’ve done with the place!

Kenya Releases Mombasa Republican Council Chairman on Bail.  The chairman of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (M.R.C.), Omar Mwamnuadzi, was released on bond on February 1st, amounting to 200,000 Kenyan shillings (just under $2,000 US).  The bond was granted partly so that he could seek medical attention.  The M.R.C. has been fighting for years for the secession of the predominantly-Muslim Coast (or Pwani) Province, including Mombasa, from Kenya, which is mostly Christian.  (There is also a large Muslim population, mostly Somalis, along the border with Somalia.)  Before the British colonial period, Mombasa and its environs were part of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.

Two Rioters Killed in Puntland; Prominent Businessman Assassinated.  Two people died in rioting in the Puntland State of Somalia on February 1st.  The demonstrators, in Bossaso, were protesting the continued imprisonment of Farah Haji Saed, who had been arrested the day before for inciting demonstrations against the Puntland government.  Five people were also injured in the violence.  The following day, also in Bossaso, unidentified men shot dead a prominent local businessman, Hersi Aden (a.k.a. Hersi Adunyo).

Puntland, Somaliland Ask for International Relief from Drought, Famine.  From both the Republic of Somaliland and the Puntland State of Somalia came pleas this month to the international community to help ameliorate famine in their territories caused by drought.  The president of Puntland, Abdiweli Mohamed Aliannounced on February 5th that his statelet was officially in a state of famine and he pleaded with international aid organizations to help the estimated hundreds of thousands of Puntlanders in acute need of food.  He said the hardest hit provinces were Bari, Sanag, Karkaar, Gardafu, and Sool.  Sanag and Sool are in disputed territory, also claimed, and partially governed, by Somaliland.  Shortly afterward, the governor of Gabiley province, in western Somaliland, Mustafa Abdi Essa (“Mustafe Chine”), called specifically on the United Nations and on the (internationally unrecognized) Somaliland national government.

Dr. Ali Khalif Galaydh, the Khaatumo State warlord

Ex–Khaatumo Warlord in Somaliland Cabinet Condemns His Successor’s Killing Spree.  In the disputed borderlands between the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland and Somalia’s autonomous republic of Puntland, a third entity, the territorially shifting Khaatumo State, fulfilled its threats to kill pro-Somaliland nomads by killing one and wounding two on February 12th.  The killings happened in the Buhoodle region, near the border with Ethiopia.  Somaliland’s minister of health and labor, Dr. Suleiman Ahmed Issa Kara, a.k.a “Hagaltosie,” condemned the murders, saying authorities needed to “act now on these terrorists rather than later.  Dr. Ali Khalif Galaydh,” he added, referring to Khaatumo’s warlord, “has openly vowed to wage Jihad against Somaliland, threaten to send suicide bombers, attack bridges and transportation system, but worse of all to massacre innocent civilians at will.”  “Hagaltosie” is in a good position to judge in this matter: he himself was Khaatumo’s warlord until 2012, when a peace-deal between Khaatumo and Somaliland (now shattered) included his being given a cabinet position in Somaliland.


8 Dead in Suspected Baloch Bicycle-Bombing; Pakistani Forces Kill 10 Separatists.  Separatists in Pakistan fighting for an independent Balochistan are suspected in a bicycle-borne suicide-bombing in Quetta, the provincial capital, which killed nine people on February 6th and injured more than 35.  The cyclist blew up himself as he neared a vehicle of the paramilitary Frontier Corps.  The eight dead included seven civilians in addition to two F.C. members.  On February 9th, police in Lasi Goth, Pakistan, arrested a suspected member of the Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A.) for a role in an attack on a shrine last year.  The suspect, Chuthal Magsi, reportedly admitted under interrogation that he was among other B.L.A. members who attacked the Zinda Pir Astana in Mehran on September 18th.  He named other co-conspirators.  Later, February 10th, a truck carrying marble to Karachi was attacked by gunmen and damaged and the driver briefly “arrested.”  The B.L.A. claimed responsibility for that incident, saying that it was retaliation for natural resources being taken out of Baloch territory.  And authorities reported on February 13th that a paramilitary operation in Kohlu district, in northeaster Balochistan, had resulted in the deaths of 10 B.L.A. separatists, the arrest of 12, and the destruction of three training camps.

Aftermath of the bicycle suicide-bombing on February 6th in Balochistan

Indian Security Forces Kill 2 Kashmiri Civilians During Protest over Militant’s Death.  In India’s disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, one militant was killed as separatists clashed with security forces near Kakapora, leading to protests in the nearby village of Lelhara.  During those demonstrations, security forces opened fire on civilians, killing two students, ages 19 and 22.  The 22-year-old, a graduate student named Shaista Hameed, was not even demonstrating; she was standing on the verandah of her home when she was shot in the neck and head.  Another civilian has life-threatening injuries.  Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Hurriyat Conference, the leading Muslim separatist outfit in Kashmir, announced on February 13th that it had received a death threat the previous day from the prominent organized-crime figure Ravi Pujari against the Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.  The spokesperson said Pujari had “used unparliamentary language” in demanding Geelani “desist from what he called ... provocative speeches.”  The Hurriyat Conference’s position is that if anything happens to Geelani it will be the fault of India’s government, currently led by the Hindu-nationalist and often Islamophobic Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.).

Madhesi Separatists Say Protests over Nepalese Constitution to Continue.  A Madhesi separatist leader in Nepal said on February 2nd that protests will continue until the next national election.  C. K. Raut, who heads the Alliance for Independent Madhesh (A.I.M.), said “the steam has gone out of” the mainstream Madhesi parties, making room for “radicalised” Madhesis to press for full independence.  “They are no more going to be satisfied just by the demarcation or proportional representation,” he said.  The Madhesi region, a thin strip of lowlands along the entirety of the Indian-Nepali border, is populated by speakers of the Maithili language, who have closer cultural ties to India than to Nepali highlanders.

Beijing Blames “Radical Separatists” for “Fishball Revolt” in Hong Kong.  The People’s Republic of China’s foreign ministry has taken the unprecedented step of declaring rioting that broke out in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year festivities the work of “radical separatists.”  The unrest on February 9th, which was focused in Hong Kong’s working class Mong Kok district and has been dubbed on social media the “Fishball Revolution” or “Fishball Revolt,” was officially declared a “riot” by Hong Kong’s Beijing-leaning chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.  This is the first time this powerful legal designation has been used since the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to the P.R.C. in 1997.

The police commissioner, Lu Wei-cong, claimed protestors planned to torch police cars and throw bricks, but this could not be verified—nor could claims that some protestors should slogans promoting full independence for Hong Kong.  As far as anyone can tell, the violence began with demonstrations against a city crackdown on street-food vendors.  It is probably the fact that these protests were led by Liu Xiao-li, a leader in the failed anti-government “Umbrella Revolution” of 2014, that alarmed the authorities.

By February 9th, another group prominent in the Umbrella Revolution, Hong Kong Indigenous, was taking part as well.  Authorities claim that 89 police were injured but made no mention of civilian casualties, even though witnesses report police firing into unarmed crowds.  At least 64 people were arrested, including five members of Hong Kong Indigenous.

Sichuan Shopkeepers Ordered to Take Down Dalai Lama Portraits; Tibetan Tortured to Death in Chinese Prison.  Authorities in China’s Sichuan province mandated that shopkeepers take down any portraits of the 14th Dalai Lama and hand them in to the authorities, according to reports on February 3rd from state-run media.  Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia reported this month that a man arrested in 2014 for refusing to fly the Chinese flag has died in prison from the effects of torture.  The man, whose full name was Trigyal, was sentenced to 13 years in prison along with two other men (who got 10 years each) in Driru county, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, when they refused to participate in a government campaign to get Tibetans to fly the Chinese flag.  Over 1,000 people in the village of Mukhyim also participated in the protest, and some threw Chinese flags into a river.  This invited a crackdown by security forces, including firing into crowds of unarmed protestors.  Also, on February 11th, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported that two prominent monks from Drango County in Sichuan’s Tibetan autonomous area were arrested after holding a prayer service for the health of the Dalai Lama, who is currently undergoing prostate surgery in the United States.

The late Akong Tulku Rinpoche (right)
Beijing Sentences Murderers of Tibeto-British Monk to Death.  The People’s Republic of China has handed down death sentences to two men for the murder of a British monk who founded the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Europe.  Akong Tulku Rinpoche, who in 1967 founded the Samye Ling monastery in Scotland, was stabbed to death at his home in Chengdu in 2013 in a dispute over money.  The United Kingdom’s government responded by reiterating to Beijing its opposition to capital punishment.  The monk, born in eastern Tibet in 1939 fled to India in 1959 and was later naturalized as a U.K. citizen.

China Cuts Prison Terms for Uyghur “Terrorists”; Activist Kept out of Taiwan.  Prison terms were reduced for 11 members of the Uyghur minority convicted of terrorism and related crimes, sources said on February 1st, including Huseyin Celil, a citizen of Canada who fled China as a refugee in 2000 but was later extradited there from Uzbekistan and given a life sentence.  He had been accused of involvement with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).  The World Uyghur Congress (W.U.C.), an exile group based in Germany, calls the commutations a “political propaganda tool” intended to draw attention away from what is going on in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur “Autonomous” Region.  Meanwhile, W.U.C.’s executive director, Dolkun Isahas been denied permission by Taiwan’s government to attend a human-rights conference in that country, the W.U.C. announced on February 12th.  “It is a true shame,” the W.U.C. statement said, “that a democratic country such as Taiwan should be so influenced by the will of the [mainland] Chinese government.”

Taiwan Parliament Speaker Sworn In; Madonna Stirs Uproar with KMT Flag.  In Taiwan, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (D.P.P.), which swept into power in elections in January, appointed Su Jia-chyuan as the first “president” (equivalent to speaker) of parliament who is not from the now ousted Kuomintang (KMT) party.  The D.P.P. now controls 89 out of 113 seats in the chamber.  Su, who is 59 years old, was minister of the interior and later of agriculture the last time the D.P.P. held power.  Meanwhile, the American singer Madonna caused an online stir among Beijing loyalists just before her first concert appearance in Taiwan on February 4th by posting a photo of herself on Facebook and Instagram framed by a blue-star design that is a symbol of the KMT).

Rights Group Accuses Thai Security Forces of Torturing Muslim Separatist Suspects.  The national anti-terrorist agency in Thailand is accused of torturing confessions out of Muslim separatist suspects in the far south in 2015, in a report released on February 2nd by the Muslim Attorney Center Foundation.  The report is based on the testimony of 33 different victims, covering all three insurgence-plagued provinces, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat.  A spokesman for the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) rejected the accusations, saying that they were “an attempt to discredit Thailand.”  Later, authorities reported that security forces had raided a secret separatist insurgent camp in the mangrove forests of Pattani province on February 10th, where weapons and bomb-making equipment were seized.  A clash with the camp’s occupants led to no injuries and only one arrest.

A terrorist nest in the Thai jungle

Philippine Congress Refuses to Green-Light Bangsomoro Autonomous Region.  The Philippine legislature declined on February 3rd to consider a law that would formally grant autonomy to the Bangsomoro region based on the southern, majority-Muslim island of Mindanao, despite a 2014 deal between government and rebels to make the autonomous region possible.  The Congress’s session ended on the 3rd, with the matter of Bangsomoro deliberately set aside.  President Benigno S. Aquino had pushed hard for the autonomous region, but after a massacre of 44 police by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in January 2015, Congressional support for the deal began to waver.  Now, with Aquino’s term to end in June, it is not clear if the autonomous region will be created or if civil war on Mindanao will resume.


10 Papuan Rebels Seek Amnesty from Indonesia.  Intelligence officials in Papua New Guinea confirmed this month that ten former rebels from the Free Papua Movement (O.P.M.) have asked the government for amnesty.  The ten include Teranus Enumbi, a former platoon commander.  They are also asking for living assistance in exchange for putting down their arms.  The western half of the island of New Guinea was promised independence by its colonial rulers, the Netherlands, after the Second World War, but the United States and the United Nations helped Indonesia annex it instead, after a rigged plebiscite on the territory’s status.  Indigenous people there have been fighting a separatist insurgency ever since.

Australia’s Norfolk Island Bristles at Broadcast Rules, Revocation of Autonomy.  Residents of Norfolk Island, an Australian possession in the South Pacific, are upset after new restrictions Australia imposed this month, as the government ordered Norfolk’s radio station to avoid political broadcasts.  Later, the executive director of the Norfolk Island Administration, which represents Canberra on the island, clarified that it was not censorship because Radio Norfolk is a government radio station and thus requires a balance of views.  Last year, Norfolk Island was unilaterally demoted from a separate territory within the Commonwealth of Australia to a regional council within the state of New South Wales—which is about 1,500 miles away.  Norfolk has a population of about 2,300 people living on 14 square miles.  It was settled in 1856 by a splinter group from the Pitcairn Island colony.  A group called Norfolk Island People for Democracy plans to take the matter of the island’s status to the United Nations and have Norfolk added to its list of “non-self-governing territories.”


Petition for Separate North Ontario Province Unnerves Former Secessionist Party.  The Northern Ontario Heritage Party (N.O.H.P.), known for its past advocacy of provincial status for Ontario’s vast, sparsely populated north, is trying to distance itself from a new petition pushing for a separate “Province of Northern Ontario” within Canada.  After only a month, the provincehood petition, brought by a 33-year-old North Bay bus driver named Trevor Holliday, had, by February 6th, 3,500 signatures.  Holliday is a member of the N.O.H.P. but began parting ways with the more moderate mainstream of the party, which has largely abandoned the secession idea.  “There are still some in the party who don’t think it can happen at all,” said Paul Sloan, who finished last in his 2014 N.O.H.P. bid for the Thunder Bay–Superior North riding in the provincial legislature, “and there are some who see it as a gradual process.  It’s not going to happen immediately.  ...  When Nunavut decided to become a territory, it took about nine years to get it into operation.”  But Holliday, who came to secessionism through a friendship with the N.O.H.P.’s erstwhile leader, Ed Deibel, pointed out, “In comparison to size, both New Brunswick and Newfoundland fit into ours.  They do a fine job of it.  I’m not saying everything’s going to be riches and everybody’s going to have streets of gold but yes, money can be made in raw materials.”

“Free State Project” Meets Goal: 20,000 Libertarians Pledge to Move to New Hampshire.  The Free State Project (F.S.P.) announced on February 3rd that it had reached its goal of 20,000 signers of a pledge to move to New Hampshire and help to electorally shape it into an experimental Libertarian state.  Signing constitutes a pledge to move to the state within five years and to “exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty and property.”  F.S.P. spokespeople say about 10% of signers have already moved there, and a whopping 40 have at various times been elected to statewide public office.  Their policy initiatives have focused on easing licensing restrictions, marijuana decriminalization, and the ever-present tyranny of parking meters in downtown Keene.  The F.S.P. chose New Hampshire in 2003 as its target state because of its low population.  Vermont and Wyoming were also considered, but Vermont is far too leftist, and nobody wanted to move to friggin’ Wyoming.

Among the New Hampshire Free State Project’s “early movers” is Robert Mathias (far right), a blogger, radio host, and proponent of polyamory, who moved to Manchester from Chicago in 2014.  His fiancée, the “pot and poly activist” Anne Leverette, a.k.a. the Rebel Mistress, is the third woman from the left. 

Western Pennsylvania Secessionist Gets 6 New Hampshire Votes in White House Bid.  Among the also-rans in this month’s primaries in New Hampshire was Matt Drozd, a 71-year-old former county councilman from Ross, in the Pittsburgh suburbs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, who received only six votes (or maybe even five, according to one source) in his bid  to be the Republican Party’s nominee for president of the United States.  Followers of 51st-state movements will remember Drozd for his 2013 proposal for western Pennsylvania to split off as the State of Western Pennsylvania—free of the political influence of Philadelphia’s supposed tax-and-spend liberals to the east.  At least one Pittsburgh newspaper columnist recommended at the time the more catchy name Westania (though Pittsylvania should definitely be considered, in my opinion).  Drozd found a secessionist ally in Bill Robinson, a Democrat, but the bill was voted down 13 to 2 (and would anyway have needed the backing of the U.S. Congress in order to create a new state).  Pennsylvanian partition is not a plank in Drozd’s platform this year, though.  Like most of his colleagues, he’s more focused on overhauling Obamacare and keeping immigrants out.  He told one journalist before the New Hampshire voting, “I know I’m going to get blown away.  But I still think I’m more qualified than most of the candidates to be president.”  After his poor showing, he told a reporter that he would keep his website up but does not have the resources to continue campaigning.

White-Supremacist-Linked Plan to Raise Battle Flag Near Alabama Campus Stalls.  A pro-Confederate group began raising money to install a 50-foot Confederate battle flag on private property facing Alabama State University (A.S.U.), whose student body is predominantly African-American.  The group, First Capitol Flaggers (F.C.F.), based in Tallassee, Alabama, and its partner, the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans (S.C.V.), were halfway toward their funding goal of $3,000 when city inspectors deemed the plot of donated land unsuitable for a flagpole “due to power line proximity.”  A co-founder of F.C.F., Dana Jones, has admitted to media that she is also a member of the League of the South, a Southern pro-independence group which the Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C.), a nonprofit which tracks hate groups, classifies as a white-supremacist organization and which its own paramilitary wing, known as the Indomitables.  The League’s president, Mike Hill, said on February 4th that his group was not directly involved in the flag-raising plans but sought to become involved.

A recent League of the South demonstration

NAACP Asks Mississippi Counties to Take Down State Flag.  In other Confederate-flag-related news, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) asked officials in two coastal counties of Mississippi on February 1st to take the state flag of Mississippi down from public facilities because it includes the battle flag of the Confederate States of America.  “The history of this state is that it is a racist state,” explained Curley Clark, who heads Jackson County’s N.A.A.C.P. chapter, “and it has been symbolized by the leadership wanting to hold on to the Civil War and what the Confederacy represented.  That flag perpetuates slavery and white supremacy and it is very insulting, demeaning, and something we want to try to put in our past.  We want to feel equal.  However, it is very hard to do that with symbols in our face that infer we are inferior and that we do not belong.”  Pascagoula is the seat of Jackson County.  The other county is Harrison, which includes Gulfport and Biloxi.  Also, the rules committee in Florida’s senate approved a new design for the state seal from which the Confederate flag has been removed.  Pro-Confederate Mississippians responded on February 9th with a “keep the flag” rally in Jackson.  Said one participant, Chuck McMichael, former head of Sons of Confederate Veterans, “This is not about what happened in the 1860s.  This is not about what happened in the 1960s.  What this is really about is what the leftist, progressive agenda wants this country to look like in 2060.”  Meanwhile, an African-American state senator from Charleston, South CarolinaMarlon Kimpson, of the Democratic Partyput forth a bill on February 9th ordering the removal of the Confederate flag from a chapel at the Citadel, a military college in the state.

“Washitah” Moorish Black Nationalists Take Over House in New Orleans.  In Louisiana, a group of what appear to be Black-nationalist squatters have taken over a house in New Orleans’ central Bywater neighborhood, near the French Quarter, changed the locks, and claimed it for what they call the “Washitah Mu’ur Nation.”  The house is up for sale, and its owner, Fredrick Hines, called the police this month after the squatters had been there about a week.  Their name indicates that they may be affiliated with the late Verdiacee Hampton-Goston, a.k.a. Verdiacee Washington-Turner Goston El-Bey, “Empress” of the “Official Empire Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah,” who died in 2014 at the age of 87 (see my obituary of her from this blog), or, much less likely, her self-proclaimed successor, a middle-aged Trenton, New Jersey, neighborhood eccentric who calls himself Crown Prince Emperor El Bey Bigbay Bagby, but apparently born as William McRae and has at times called himself a Native American tribal leader (see my report on him from this blog).  These groups are offshoots of the vaguely Islamic and Masonic “Moorish Science Temple” movement founded in the early 20th century by Noble Drew Ali and subscribe to the “Paleo-Negroid” hypothesis, which holds that African-Americans are the true indigenous people of the Americas because Black Africans were there before the so-called American Indians.  (See a report from this blog on a similar “Moorish” squatter action in Philadelphia last year.)  But they have also in recent years entangled themselves with the anarcho-libertarian ideology of the “sovereign citizens” movement.  “Empress” Verdiacee, who lived in a small town in Oklahoma, claimed the entire territory of the Louisiana Purchase, both through her Afro-“Washitaw” pedigree and through her alleged descent from the uncrowned King Louis XVII, the “Lost Dauphin” of the French monarchy, who historians believe died in prison in 1795 at age ten during the French revolutionary “Reign of Terror.”  As for the Bywater squatters, they apparently showed paperwork that convinced police to refuse to get involved.  “It’s frustrating,” said Hines, the landlord; “the police told me this is, like, the third house they’ve broken into.”

The “Washitah” squatters in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood

Hate Groups from California to Croatia Band Together as “United Aryan Front.”  The Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C.), an Alabama-based nonprofit which monitors hate groups, warned this month about the recent formation of “pan-Aryan” and nascently international coalition of white-nationalist groups under the name United Aryan Front (U.A.F.).  This umbrella group, formed just a few months ago in late 2015, seems to exist only online so far, but it may well represent a new phase in broad coordination between racist militias.  Its members include the Klan Militant Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Ohio; Die Auserwahlten, a.k.a. Crew 41, based in Louisiana; the Noble Breed Kindred, based in California; Endangerd [sic] Souls, a.k.a. Crew 519, a motorcycle gang; the Aryan Renaissance Society (the largest of the member groups) and its Texas-based offshot White Lives Matter; Werwolf 88, a neo-Nazi outfit; Divine Truth Ministries, a “Christian Identity” group; the Croatian National Front (Hrvatski Nacionalni Front, or H.N.F.); and, at least initially, Right Wing Resistance and the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.


Rebel Army Cries “Colonialism” as Puerto Rican Assembly Debates Statehood.  The financial crisis in Puerto Rico is revitalizing calls on the island protectorate for a referendum on full statehood within the United States.  The president of the state bank said on February 5th that statehood would grant Puerto Rico powers to restructure its debt which it currently lacks, and the idea was taken up in the island’s legislature.  But at least one Puerto Rican pro-independence group, the shadowy Boricua Popular Army, a.k.a. E.P.B.–Macheteros, issued a statement February 7th condemning the mainstream Puerto Rican Statehood Movement as colonialist, adding, “In this moment, which could be decisive for our history, we don’t see the protests, nor the struggle that an organized independence movement should be building and coordinating.”

Arkansan Posing as Conch Republic “Ambassador” Unveils New Stun-Gun Invention.  A man in Arkansas claiming to be an ambassador for southern Florida’s tongue-in-cheek Conch Republic now says that he has invented a new type of stun gun that will revolutionize policing.  The Arkansan, Nimrod Sterling, calls it “the Red” and says it is “two times stronger than police tazers [and] 10 times stronger than most stun guns.”  He finalized the design while serving a 57-month federal prison sentence in Texas for impersonating a diplomat to evade parking tickets.  He is also awaiting trial for pointing a weapon at some teenagers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 2014.  Sterling, who legally changed his last name from Sanders, claims that he is awaiting a presidential pardon from Barack Obama.  The actual Conch Republic says that he has no connection with their statelet.

His soi-disant Excellency Nimrod Sterling


“Fort Galt” Libertarian Commune Plans 2016 Launch in Chile, with Bitcoin as Currency.  A Canadian tech entrepreneur is among a mixed group of partners from Canada and the United States planning a libertarian community which they hope will become operational this year in Chile.  Gabriel Scheare, described as an “anarcho-capitalist,” originally wanted to locate his intentional community at Galt’s Gulch Chile, a libertarian experiment that ended up mired in recrimination and accusations of real-estate fraud.  Now he is setting up what he calls “Fort Galt” near Valdivia, in southern Chile.  Scheare, a long-time resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, was involved with an earlier experiment called Exosphere and in 2014 staked a claim at Galt’s Gulch.  He plans to get Fort Galt rolling this year.  Like Galt’s Gulch, it takes its name from John Galt, the enigmatic hero of the libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, which envisions the world’s top industrials “going on strike” because of the spread of socialism and founding a free-market commune hidden in the Colorado mountains.  Scheare says Fort Galt’s currency will be Bitcoin.

Gabriel Scheare (center) helps stake out the site of the future “Fort Galt” in Chile.

[You can read more about these and other sovereignty and independence movements both famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

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