Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Volgograd - The World Cup host city and its historical importance

The ‘Motherland Calls’ statue on Mamayev Kurgan overlooking Volgograd which commemorates the ‘Battle of Stalingrad’.

The World Cup football tournament, as with other festivals of sport such as the Olympic Games, present the host nation with the opportunity to showcase its historical legacies as well as its cultural heritage. They may also provide a suitable platform aimed at portraying the national zeitgeist.

Russia is certainly taking the opportunity to present aspects of its history and culture alongside the football matches by staging a series of exhibitions, music concerts and ballet performances.

For those with a general knowledge of the medieval and modern history of Russia, the names of most of the cities hosting the matches will strike a cord. Nizhny Novgorod was a cultural centre of the early flowering of Russian civilisation while Saint Petersburg is the city built by Peter the Great to serve as Russia’s ‘window to Europe’. Moscow is of course famous as the capital city of both Russia and the Soviet Union, where the imposing fortress of the Kremlin is located. And Yekaterinburg is the city in which Tsar Nicholas II and his family were massacred by the Bolsheviks one hundred years ago.

The Second World War, which in Russia is referred to as Velikaya Otechestvennaya voyna (the Great Patriotic War), inexorably figures in such recollections. For it was on the German Eastern Front that a series of battles between vast Nazi and Soviet armies occurred. Each confrontation was replete with large scale pincer movements, ferocious tank battles, protracted sieges and massive capitulations.

Saint Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, endured a 900-day long siege, while the Battles for Moscow and Rostov-on-Don during the later part of 1941 provided the templates for future Soviet resistance to what appeared to be the unstoppable advance of Nazi forces after the launch of Operation Barbarossa in June of that year.

But if one battle is emblematic of Russian-Soviet defiance of the Nazi war machine, it is the Battle of Stalingrad. Named after the Soviet leader Stalin, the city, now known as Volgograd, was the scene of what is regarded as the single largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. It is also seen as the turning point in the war. The surrender of the Sixth Army in February 1943, ended a confrontation which had consumed an estimated 1.9 million lives consisting of the soldiers of both armies as well as Soviet civilians. Victory at Stalingrad set the Soviet Union on the path to victory against Nazi Germany.

It is rightfully commemorated.

A monument called Mamayev Kurgan, situated at the highest point of the city on an ancient Tatar burial mound, provides a fitting memorial. Designed by Yevgeny Vuchetich and structural engineer Nikolai Nikitin, the ‘Motherland is Calling’ statue is a massive structure depicting Mother Russia as a voluptuous heroine bearing a massive sword while exhorting the nation to victory.*

While Russia’s objective, like other countries which host World Cup competitions, is to boost national prestige and develop areas within its business sphere, the authorities may also calculate that the temporary, but intense focus of the global media on host cities such as Volgograd, will create an awareness of its past, and hope that this translates into a more empathetic appraisal of its present needs.  

*An important consequence of the victory was the ensuing domination of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe. While the breakup of the Soviet Union has removed such domination the Soviet conquest of East Prussia has a not often remembered legacy. Kaliningrad, which is situated between Poland and Lithuania, has remained under Russian control. Formerly known as Konigsberg, it remains for some an unresolved remnant of the Second World War, while for others it is territory firmly in Russian hands and from which Russia can project its military power in the Baltic region.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


Saturday, 16 June 2018

A Football Match and a reminder of 'The Kaliningrad Question'


I must confess to have been temporarily dumbstruck when perusing a World Cup brochure a few weeks ago upon discovering that the Nigerian national football team would be playing their first match in the city of Kaliningrad.

Kaliningrad?

Surely all the former Russian Soviet cities had reverted back to the original names they had under the Russian empire. Leningrad is now Saint Petersburg, Sverdlovsk went back to being Yekaterinburg, while Stalingrad, although not becoming Tsaritsyn once more, is now known as Volgograd.

To be sure, I have noted Kaliningrad in recent times when writing about Russia’s attempts to counter NATOs deployment of anti-ballistic nuclear shields in Eastern Europe, but did not ponder on it.

Kaliningrad has a much forgotten historical and geopolitical significance.

Nestled between Poland and Lithuania, in part of what used to be East Prussia, Kaliningrad,* formerly known as Konigsberg, serves as a reminder of part of the radical adjustments made to national borders and the wholesale transfer of populations after the Second World War.

Not only was the ethnic German population murdered or expelled by the Red Army, the Soviet and now Russian occupation of Konigsberg underlines the fact that the status of East Prussia has yet to be settled by a formal peace treaty ending the state of war between the victorious allies and Germany. The Potsdam Conference of July 1945, which sanctioned the forcible expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of Central and Eastern Europe, provided that the Soviet Union’s occupation of Konigsberg and the surrounding land would continue until a peace treaty was signed with Germany.

Thus, it is argued, mainly by die-hard German nationalists, that German sovereignty remains compromised by Russian occupation of Konigsberg and United States ‘occupation’ of what was West Germany.

So does a state of war still exist between Germany and the nations against whom it fought up until 1945? And to which country does Kaliningrad, nee Konigsberg belong?

Well, in regard to the first question, one answer is to state that while Germany did not formally sign a peace contract at the end of World War Two, a state of war can hardly be argued to persist. The absence of a treaty is, it is argued, covered by the German Instrument of Surrender signed by representatives of the three armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. A dictated peace it may be, but it underlined the objective of maintaining peace between previously warring states.

An alternative way of looking at the situation is by reference to the ancient concept of debellatio. This refers to where one protagonist in a war has been totally destroyed so that none of its institutions exist for it to be able to exercise control over previously sovereign territory. The classic example of this is the Roman conquest of Carthage. After the Third Punic War, Carthage ceased to exist. An analogy can thus be made to the state of affairs existing at the end of the war when the Third Reich disintegrated and was subsequently succeeded by two German states.

So far as the territory of Konigsberg-Kaliningrad is concerned, the question of ceding it to the current unified German state or granting it autonomy remains a hypothetical one. Attempts at resettling the area with ethnic Germans has not met with much success. By virtue of the Final Settlement Treaty of 1990, Germany renounced all claim to Konigsberg-Kaliningrad, although it did not formally transfer its former title to any other party.

But so much for history and geopolitics. The pressing issue tonight is how Nigeria fare against Croatia in the second match of what is billed the ‘Group of Death’.

*Mikhail Kalinin was a high-ranking Bolshevik functionary who became the head of state of the USSR and for whom the city was named in 1946.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Memories of the Volvo 164

Volvo 164 - 1969-1970 UK Market Sales Brochure

My Father bought a royal blue version of this Volvo model in 1973 as a replacement for his Humber Sceptre MK III. This was just before we returned to Nigeria in April of that year. I was quite impressed by his claim that it could plough through six inches of snow. Or at least negotiate snowy terrain in a manner no other car was able to accomplish at the time.

‘The Volvo 164 is a 4-door, 6-cylinder luxury sedan unveiled by Volvo at the Paris Motor Show early in October 1968 and first sold as a 1969 model. 46,008 164s were built before the car was superseded by the 264 in 1975’. - Wikipedia.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


Friday, 8 June 2018

Nigeria’s First Military Coup: My Father as a Witness to History (2)

Sub-Lieutenant Emmanuel Oladipo Makinde (centre of photograph) stands behind Commodore J.E.A. Wey (seated in naval summer white shirt) and Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi (CREDIT: Africa Press PHOTO, January 18th 1966)

This is another photograph taken inside the heavily guarded Parliament Building in Lagos at the first press conference of the newly established Supreme Military Council headed by Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi.

Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, had negotiated the surrender of the mutineers who had staged Nigeria’s first military coup on January 15th 1966, and had also completed what was described as the “voluntary” transfer of power from the civilian authorities to the armed forces.

My father, who was then serving as the Flag Lieutenant to Commodore J.E.A. Wey, the Chief of Naval Staff, is captured at the centre of the photograph wearing a holster with his fingers seemingly poised to draw his service pistol at a moment’s notice.

This is another photograph posted on this blog on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the first army mutiny. The ITN news footage in the video below captures my father inside and outside of the Parliament building on January 18th 1966.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Putin's Endgame in Syria: Victory or Stalemate?

Vladimir Putin (Oil Painting by Varvara Stylidou, 2010)

In a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, Jonathan Spyer, a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin was content with what Spyer perceives to be the current situation in Syria: A “frozen conflict” in which Putin is prepared to accept a continuous low level conflict and the de facto partition of Syria. This piece offers a different appraisal to Spyer’s argument that these were Putin’s ultimate goals and instead argues that Putin has been forced to accept the state of affairs by the machinations of the United States and its regional ally Israel, which has always desired the weakening and balkanisation of the Syrian state.

In an interview in October 2015 broadcast soon after Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict had moved from supplying the Syrian military with armaments to providing it with decisive air power, Russian President Vladimir Putin summarised the primary Russian objective as “stabilising the legitimate power in Syria and creating the conditions for political compromise.”

“Stabilising” the government of Bashar al Assad of course meant protecting and maintaining Russia’s strategic establishments in the Middle East, namely the Mediterranean naval bases in Tartus and Latakia as well as the air base in Khmeimim. It also entailed neutralising the threat posed by Islamist militias which had conquered large swathes of Syrian territory. In doing this, Putin reckoned that he would be protecting the Russian Federation from the menace of jihadi fighters of the sort that had overthrown the government of Libya and whose overthrow of Assad would ineluctably lead to their relocation to theatres in the Muslim lands on Russia’s borders.

It is important to note at the outset that Putin’s initial hesitancy in entering the conflict in an overt manner was, unsurprisingly, to do with the fear of becoming bogged down in a protracted conflict as had occurred with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Whatever the perception is of Putin in terms of the power he wields at the helm of the Russian state, it is clear that domestic opinion in regard to his foreign policy decisions are never far from his mind.

It is also essential to point out that while Spyer claims that Putin has “initiated and managed such conflicts elsewhere, including in Georgia and Ukraine”, a more faithful recollection of the instigation of those conflicts places responsibility on other parties.

The brief Russo-Georgian War of 2008 was prompted by the incursions into South Ossetia ordered by the then Georgian leader, Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili would not have initiated this action by his Israeli-trained and equipped army without the prompting of the United States. Likewise the Ukrainian conflict was prompted by an American sponsored coup that was overseen by the then US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland.

In regard to the former, Russia completed a withdrawal from Georgian buffer zones in October 2008. So far as Ukraine was concerned, seeing the threat posed to its Black Sea naval fleet by the installation of an overtly Russophobic regime in Kiev, Putin, on the advice of the relevant national security body, decided to annexe Crimea after the completion of a referendum.

Both actions were clearly measured responses to what were perceived to be American-sanctioned provocations on Russia’s borders. Russia did not militarily overrun Georgia, a nation which had for centuries been a part of both Russian and Soviet empires. And in the case of Ukraine, a country which critics claim is coveted by a supposedly revanchist Russian state, Putin resisted calls from Russian ultranationalists to invade the eastern part of the country and declare a state of Novorossiya. Instead, it is clear that a combination of Russian nationalist volunteers and the covert deployment of Russian special forces have aided the militias of the separatist proto-states of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russian military engagements in these countries have therefore been reactive rather than proactive. The same can be said of Syria.

For Russia had stood by in previous years after the United States had invaded or destabilised country after country in order to achieve a so far undeclared geo-political aim of taking out seven countries in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of 2001. Starting with Iraq, the list included Libya and Syria, and was to culminate with the destruction of Iran. Each of the aforementioned countries did not espouse the Wahhabist strain of Islamism claimed by the alleged perpetrators of 9/11, but happened to stand in opposition to Israel.

Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister, quoted a former Israeli prime minister as telling him that “we’ll try to get on with our neighbours, but those who don’t agree with us will be destroyed.” Dumas has asserted that the Syrian War was “prepared, conceived and organised” by the Western powers at least two years in advance of what became an insurgency. And the insurgents have had the covert backing of the United States and its regional allies including Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In concert with Iranian military advisers and units of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, it is likely that the Russian intervention would have enabled the Syrian Arab Army to have purged Syria of the likes of al Nusra and the so-called Islamic State at an earlier point in time, but for a number of ill-timed withdrawals by the Russians such as occurred in March 2016 and December 2017. There have also been a few ill-judged ceasefires.

The Syrian Army would also have been capable of liberating the whole of Syria, but has been hindered by continuing illegal interventions by the United States. Whereas the overt Russian involvement in Syria stems from a formal request made in July 2015 by President Bashar al-Assad, the United States, which nominally respects the territorial integrity of the country by virtue of its formal endorsement of UNSC Resolution 2254, has worked towards the de facto partition of a sovereign nation. And the instrument of this policy has been its support of Kurdish militias, which has been facilitated by the establishment of two military bases in eastern Syria.

The balkanisation of Syria has been a long-term objective of both the United States and Israel. When in July 2006, the former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice called for a ‘New Middle East’, she was alluding to the neutralising of the ‘Shia Crescent’ consisting of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

The means of achieving this was to foment disorder and violence on a scale which would bring about a lasting change to the region. It was a struggle in which Rice insisted that the United States and its allies “will prevail”.

In June 2006, a map prepared by a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel named Ralph Peters, was published in the Armed Forces Journal. It depicted a redrawn Middle East including a Kurdish state, which would consist of an amalgam of territory ceded by four countries including Syria. Achieving the fragmentation of Syria using militant Sunni proxies was a clear objective in more recent times. A declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document from August 2012, clearly stated the desired policy of “establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria”.

However, given the Russian-aided Syrian Army victories over jihadist militias, the United States has used Kurdish militias such as the YPG as a means of keeping this goal alive. These militias control Syrian territories east of the Euphrates River, which include Syria’s major oil producing areas. They have also been actively ethnically cleansing areas under their control of Sunni Arabs, including the majority-Arab city of Raqqa.

Condoleezza Rice’s comments regarding the “birth pangs” of a ‘New Middle East’ were made in Jerusalem to Ehud Olmert, then the prime minister of Israel during the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Her statement was welcomed, given that it represented a meeting of minds between the United States and Israel.

The Yinon Plan, the name given to a 1982 paper entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s”, is often used as a reference point for evidence of Israel’s aim to balkanise the surrounding Arab and Muslim world into ethnic and sectarian mini-states. Of Syria, Oded Yinon wrote the following in Kivunim (Directions):

Syria will fall apart in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon, so there will be a Shi’ite Alawi state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbour, and the Druzes will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan, and certainly in the Hauran and in Northern Jordan.

Although the passage does not refer to a Kurdish state, Israeli policy has encouraged the development of autonomous Kurdish territories first in Iraq, and then in Syria. Israel has had long standing political and intelligence connections with the family of the Kurdish-Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani, and it supported the referendum vote on independence in 2017. It also became the first state to endorse an independent Kurdistan.

Along with the political motive is an economic one. In August 2015, an article in the Financial Times reported that Israel was importing as much as three-quarters of its oil from Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish north. It is clear that Israel would seek to benefit similarly from the oil reserves of a declared or undeclared Kurdish state in Syria, just as it intends to exploit the oil reserves believed to be hidden in the depths of the Golan Heights, acquired from Syria in the war of 1967, and illegally annexed in 1981.

This carving up of Syria would of course have not been possible to achieve if the Kurdish militias had aligned themselves to the Syrian-Russian effort. Instead, they chose to combat the jihadis under the umbrella of the United States. And in doing so, the risk of a confrontation between two nuclear armed powers has acted as a check on how far Vladimir Putin has been prepared to go. Committing more Russian resources in an effort to help its Syrian ally reclaim Kurdish-held territory would not only increase the danger of a Russian-United States conflict, it would raise the spectre of increasing numbers of Russian servicemen returning home in body bags. 

During the conflict, both the United States and Israel consistently sought to diminish the ability of the Syrian military to contend with the jihadist insurgency. For instance, in September 2016, the American airstrike in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour purportedly targeting jihadist militias, but which ‘accidentally’ killed over 60 Syrian soldiers and wounding over a hundred, was a cynical attempt aimed at giving the Islamist insurgents an advantage on the battlefield.

The missile strikes organised against Syrian army bases after dubious allegations about government use of chemical weapons were part and parcel of this strategy.

Israel, which has had a history of supporting a range of Islamist militias, has actively supported the efforts of al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels active near the Golan Heights by providing them with medical care, arms and cash. It has also, with the apparent consent of the Russians, launched its own attacks on Syrian and Iranian positions.

Israel’s actions, as is the case with those of the United States, are illegal under international law.

Putin has faced criticism for being ‘weak’ in accepting these persistent infringements on the sovereignty of Russia’s ally. He has reneged on a promise to supply the Syrians with SS-300 missiles, and has also called for the withdrawal of the Iranians without extracting a promise that the Americans withdraw their own troops and aircraft.

Some would argue that by failing to ‘protect’ his ally and creating a rift with Iran, he is emboldening the efforts of the Americans and Israelis to undermine the control the Assad government has over the territories it has reclaimed. These critics can point to an official statement issued by the State Department on May 25th of this year, warning the Syrian Army against launching an operation in the south west of the country.

In accomplishing the task of preserving the Syrian government, Putin’s intervention has frustrated the American and Israeli objective of overthrowing Bashar al Assad and the ruling Baathist Party. However, given the evidence of the long-term policies of both American and Israel in trying to engineer a ‘New Middle East’, speculation that “de facto partition” and a “frozen conflict” may have been “his goal all along” is somewhat disingenuous.

The partition of Syria, after all, has been the endgame favoured by the United States and Israel, an objective both continue to work towards with ruthless resolve.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Brothers


Brothers by David Breuer-Weil (PHOTO: Adeyinka Makinde)

Created in 2016 by the sculptor David Breuer-Weil, "Brothers" is a 6-metre tall bronze depicting the connection between "brothers, siblings, partners, friends in a human arch".

In the words of Breuer-Weil:

This sculpture is a human arch, but the arch means something very potent: the joining of two minds. It is about connections such as brothers, siblings, partners, friends and joining strangers. It is an image of coming together, resolution and peace. But it also offers therefore a suggestion of symbolic meanings to every bridge or arch. Every arch is a symbol of connection and resolution. My communicators, my brothers are communicating in a very physical and intimate way. I want the viewer to view the arch from underneath, to look upwards at this moment of communication because such a communication is a form of prayer or the expression of a hope that we can be understood by ourselves or another person; the image of is a physical embodiment of the joining of minds. I have personally textured the entire surface with thousands of marks and inscriptions, effectively painting in plaster. Included in this diorama of marks, words and ideas I wrote the names of multiple pairings of brothers including my own and those of many others. You pass under the arch and see this graffiti, but it is not graffiti accrued over time by vandals, but part of the sculpture and its theme.

The photograph was taken by me on May 31st outside St. Pancras Parish Church Gardens.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Gareth Bale's UEFA Champions League Goal: A Short Discourse on the Bicycle Kick



Gareth Bale’s ‘bicycle kick’ is being touted as the most spectacular goal in the history of the European Champions’ League tournament.

Maybe it is.

The ‘overhead’ or ‘scissors’ kick as it is alternatively termed is a manoeuvre that requires great physical dexterity and timing if it is to accomplish its desired objective. That objective may relate to its use as a defensive measure or to score a goal. It is something which, according to Herman Schwameder, a German scientist, is based on “instinct, a lot of courage -and a bad cross”.

Among the great players to whom the the technique has been famously linked are the Brazilians Leonidas and Pele. The West German striker, Klaus Fischer, all but made it his signature goal in the 1970s.

Although Leonidas, the top scorer of the 1938 World Cup, is often credited with ‘inventing’ the kick, its origins lie further back in time. But tracing its origins to South America appears to be sound. Oral history indicates that Afro-Peruvians performed the bicycle kick or Tiro de Chalaca (Chalaca strike) in matches involving British sailors and railroad employees. And Chilean footballers such as Ramon Unzaga and David Arellano became adept at executing the kick in the early 20th century.

It can be argued that every goal utilising the bicycle kick is a ‘great’ one whether scored on a recreational ground or in a football stadium. What separates one from the other has to do with the occasion, the time that it occurs during the match and the acuteness of the angle from which it is scored.

In Bale’s case, his foot could have connected with the ball at an even more ‘comfortable’ location, he had just come on as a substitute, and he was playing in the final of the world’s premier club competition.

So maybe it is the greatest bicycle kick goal in the history of the tournament or even the greatest goal bar none.

Or not.

In recent years, Wayne Rooney’s goal during a Manchester derby, Ronaldo’s in a Champions’ League match against Juventus and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s long range strike against England all stand in contention for any form of honorific.

But one thing all may be able to agree upon is, to misappropriate George Orwell’s words, all bicycle kicks are spectacular, but some are more spectacular than others.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Armando Picchi - In Memoriam

A large image of Armando Picchi posing with silverware adorns the wall of Inter Milan’s dressing room at the San Siro Stadium. [PHOTO: Adeyinka Makinde]

The death earlier this year of Fiorentina’s Davide Astori evoked memories of other tragedies involving Italian football players. Fans and journalists recalled the sudden deaths of Livorno’s Piermario Morosini in 2012, Perugia’s Renato Curi in 1977, and, in 1969,  Roma’s Guiliano Taccola.

I don’t follow the Italian league as rigorously as I once did, so it is information about the players of yesteryears which spark the greatest amount of empathy in me. The news of Astori’s passing brought to mind the tragic demise of Armando Picchi, the captain of the Internazionale side of the 1960s immortalised as “La Grande Inter.”

The Livorno-born Picchi led Inter Milan to three scudetti, two European Champions cups and two Intercontinental Cups. He was a player of formidable tenacity whose role as a sweeper was a vital part of the Catenaccio system successfully applied by Helenio Herrera. Herrera’s version of Catenaccio was the proceed of his modification of a 5-3-2 tactic known as the Verrou (door bolt) which had been developed by Karl Rappan in Switzerland.

It was a defensive strategy aimed at stifling attacking play, into which Herrera incorporated a flexible plan for mounting counter-attacks led by the likes of Sandro Mazzola and Giacinto Facchetti. Working between the the goalkeeper and the line of four man-marking defenders, Picchi helped develop the sweeper role, setting the standard for the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gaetano Scirea and Franco Baresi. For some, Picchi was the first ‘libero’ of the modern game.

The following comment by English journalist Kenneth Wolstenholme encapsulates the passion and the efficiency for which Picchi became renowned:

If a player got beyond the line of four backs, either by dribbling his way there or by creating space with one-two passing movement with a colleague, he would be confronted by Picchi. Any player who ran through to pick up a long pass would be confronted by … Picchi. Any high lob or centre which was floated into the Inter Milan goalmouth would be picked off by … Picchi.

On the field of play, Picchi’s influence on his team mates was tangible and is said to have surpassed that of Herrera’s. In times of difficulty, it was Picchi to whom players such as Sandro Mazzola looked:

Picchi was our captain, a great captain and a clever man. We did everything for him. There were days when Herrera would tell us something and Picchi would say, “he’s wrong; today we do it this way” and we always did what Picchi said because he was our leader.

But Picchi’s success at Inter did not translate into a substantive international career. He was considered as overly defensive-minded by Edmondo Fabbri who left him out of the Italian squad for the 1966 World Cup in England. And while Fabbri’s successor Ferruccio Valcareggi selected him for many of the qualifying matches for the European Nations Cup of 1968, a fractured pelvis injury sustained during a match against Bulgaria ruled him out of the competition.

Picchi was by all accounts a personable and humane person. For instance, he is said to have taken the time to help negotiate the contracts for his teammates. His generosity extended further than the world of football. There is a story of how a woman brought her three-year-old daughter, to the wake where Picchi’s relatives were watching over his coffin. It was around 4AM and the astounded mourners who were on the verge of scolding the woman were disarmed by her explanation of why she had insisted on bringing the little girl: She wanted her daughter to see the remains of a man who had done so much to help her family.

Picchi’s coaching career, still in its infancy at Juventus, was cut short by the onset of a tumour in his sixth left rib which ended his life at just 36 years of age.

Decades later, his untimely death was brought under scrutiny by allegations made by the late Ferruccio Mazzola, the younger brother of Sandro. In a 2004 autobiography entitled Il Terzo Incomodo, Ferruccio claimed that Herrera had created a regime in which performance enhancing drugs were regularly administered to Internazionale players. The pill, which Ferruccio insinuated contained amphetamines, was first given to the players, many of whom spat it out because of its pungent taste until Herrera supposedly chose a more discreet method: dissolving the drug in the player’s morning coffee.

These allegations were refuted by his brother Sandro and also denied by Massimo Moratti, the then chairman of Inter Milan, who sued him. Ferruccio responded that his brother’s position was based on a resolve not to ‘wash dirty linen in public’. Moratti’s action was settled in Ferruccio’s favour. Ferruccio sought to back up his claim that Picchi was the first to succumb to death and various forms of debilitating illnesses caused by Il Caffe Herrera (Herrera’s coffee), by pointing to the deaths of Marcello Giusti, who died of brain cancer in the 1990s, and Carlo Tagnin, Mauro Bicicli and Ferdinando Miniussi who all passed away in the early 2000s.

It is unlikely that such a link will ever be definitively made.

Those who prefer not to believe Ferruccio Mazzola’s claims, insist that the only ‘drug’ Herrera administered on the likes of Picchi was of a psychological dimension. Whether in denial or objectively affirming the potency of the original thinking and innovative stratagems of Herrera, a vindication of the doping allegations as well as those relating to match-fixing,* tends to undermine the achievements of the Nerazzurri as well as to besmirch the reputation of men like Armando Picchi.

For his devotees, these revelations serve to detract from Picchi’s abilities and pose a cruel question mark on his legacy.

Fate already dealt Picchi the cruellest of blows, for May 27th, the day on which he tragically passed in 1971, had been the date of his greatest triumphs on the football field when Inter had respectively defeated Real Madrid in 1964 and Benfica in 1965.

* Brian Glanville, the English football writer and investigative journalist, claimed that matches were fixed in favour of Inter during the 1960s at the behest of Inter’s president Angelo Moratti, Dezso Solti, a Hungarian match fixer and Italo Allodi, Inter’s sporting director.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.



Saturday, 26 May 2018

Miles

Miles Davis (Oil on Panel by Hyatt Moore, 2008)

Born on May 26th 1926, Miles Davis often claimed in his raspy voice, “I changed jazz five or six times”. He was, as a youngster, at the epicentre of the ‘Be-Bop’ movement led by the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

But putting his thesis to the test we can admit that his Birth of the Cool album created a new pathway in jazz as did his orchestral collaborations with Gil Evans on Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. Then, of course, came his excursions in modal jazz exemplified by the hugely influential Kind of Blue.

Kind of Blue was performed with his first great quintet, which included luminaries such as John Coltrane and ‘Canonball’ Adderley. And his second great quintet which featured the likes of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock also took jazz music to unparalleled heights with albums such as E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer and Files De Kilimanjaro.

This was followed by his controversial immersion in jazz-rock fusion, which created new directions in jazz and popular music.

It’s a suitable day to build around the music of Miles Davis. Just for a day. Maybe tomorrow too.

Listening to Miles’s music is a life-long passion.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


Pardoning Jack Johnson


Jack Johnson behind the wheel of his 90 horsepower Thomas Flyer race car

Originally the prerogative right of the English sovereign, the issuing of pardons by those who wield executive power in countries to which Britain bequeathed its political and legal culture represents the state-sanctioned ‘forgiveness’ of a criminal act.

It does not amount to exoneration.

The Mann Act made it a serious criminal offence to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose”.

While it is true that Jack Johnson was specifically targeted by the authorities of the day who disapproved of his dalliances with white women, Johnson was guilty according to both the letter and the spirit of the Act.

The world of the boxer and the prostitute frequently melded together in the turn of the 20th century America. Constantly moving in search of money, both tended to lead peripatetic lives and to live on the margins of what could be termed ‘respectable society’.

Johnson may not have been a ‘pimp’, but he did avail himself of the services of prostitutes, some of whom he knew for a while and who often travelled with him. Those who travelled across state lines with a woman to whom they were not married technically fell afoul of the law because they were engaging in ‘sinful’, or in the words of the Act “immoral” behaviour. For instance, a man who took his secretary to another state for a weekend jaunt would have been going against the law.

Context is important.

The Mann Act was passed during what is referred to as “the Progressive Era”. This was a period during which many Christian leaders called for greater moral decorum. It was a time of widespread evangelism replete with influential preachers whose fists thudded on their pulpits as they railed against what they saw as the social ills which were becoming more pervasive in a rapidly modernising society.

These 'ills' included the consumption of alcohol, out-of-wedlock couplings and the sport of boxing.

Johnson was guilty as charged, but his prosecution was motivated by the idea of cutting down to size a figure who was seen as a threat to the social order.

The idea of a pardon for Jack Johnson began to be actively pursued from around the 1960s when the social climate changed to one that was favourable to racial integration. The Great White Hope, a Broadway play based on his life, had a successful run and a film version was later released.

But pardoning Jack Johnson was always going to be a controversial decision. Johnson, after all, was not the only person convicted under the Act. A not too unreasonable argument proffered was that a pardon for Johnson should also warrant a pardon for those who, not being involved in the sex industry or otherwise exploiting another, were convicted purely for having out-of-marriage sex.

Jack Johnson was a free-spirited man who did not believe in being constrained by the social and legal boundaries of the day. In fact, he was in many ways an unruly person and a supreme egotist who was prone to ride roughshod over many moral and legal rules. The litany of speeding tickets that he accumulated in his life time provides one example of this trait.

And if he is to be the sole beneficiary of a pardon, that would suit ‘Papa Jack’ just fine.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal.



Thursday, 24 May 2018

Book Review of 'The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy’s National Shame'


Ian Campbell (2017). The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy’s National Shame, First Edition. London: Hurst Publishers. ISBN 978-1-849-04692-3. 440 pages. £30.00

The 20th century is often remarked on by historians to have been one of the most tumultuous periods in human history. Some would go so far as to assert that it was the most violent century in modern times. Certainly, the advances in technology ensured that human life could be destroyed in far greater numbers and with more rapidity. And in an age of warring empires, colonial repression and the coming to power of regimes adhering to the ruthless ideologies of totalitarianism, episodes of the mass murder of innocent civilians are abundant.

The loss of life during the massacre of Nanking and the bombing of Guernica, for instance, are tragedies that are emblematic of the troubled times leading to WWII, as are the names of the death camps and mobile killing units associated with Nazi Germany during that conflict.

Less well-known, if known at all, is the massacre which was initiated by Fascist Italy in the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa in February 1937. This savage event, staged as a retributive measure, after an assassination attempt on Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Benito Mussolini’s viceroy to Italian East Africa, is essentially a half-forgotten one.

The fact that an atrocity of this magnitude was not thoroughly documented, dissected and memorialised until recent times may strike the observer as somewhat surprising.

This amnesia persisted in regard to both perpetrator and victim. There was no war crimes investigation and little scholarship was directed at it. The reasons for this are manifold and are revealed by Ian Campbell in his book The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy’s National Shame, the fruit of two-decades of research.

The task of setting out the chronology of events while striving to maintain accuracy, as well as reaching empirically valid conclusions pertaining to the controversial matter of an overall death count was an onerous one.

For instance, the author had to contend with the large-scale destruction of evidence. This relates both to the destroying of official records as well as to the physical elimination of Ethiopian witnesses.

Thus, he needed to find alternatives to the use of archival documents as historiological sources.

Most notably, this involved painstakingly tracking down and interviewing eyewitnesses over a considerable period of time, recording their recollections and then embarking on a laborious process of cross-checking and cross-referencing.

He also assembled and reproduced a vast array of photographic evidence. Many of the shots were originally published in Sylvia Pankhurst’s anti-fascist journal New Times and Ethiopia News, while other previously unpublished ones taken by foreign diplomats, residents of Addis Ababa, rampaging Blackshirts and Italian soldiers.

The book captures the world on the precipice of an enormous conflagration and serves to remind the reader that the outbreak of WWII had several preludes.

Whereas the Asian prelude is composed of both the 1931 Japanese  invasion of Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 (with the European prelude occurring in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland), for Africa, the dawning of that conflict was marked by the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy in 1935.

The issue of appeasement looms large in the African context as it did in the European arena. An analogy can be made between the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia at the 1938 conference in Munich, which arguably emboldened Adolf Hitler to pursue his objective of further territorial acquisition, and the failure of the collective security system promised by the League of Nations in restraining Mussolini’s expansionist ambitions in East Africa. Campbell’s work may also remind the reader of the degree to which earlier events on the African continent prefigured the policies followed by the totalitarian powers prior to and during the war.

For instance, the racial experiments conducted by Joseph Mengele at Auschwitz were foreshadowed by those carried out by Mengele’s mentor, Eugen Fischer, on the indigenous population of German South West Africa (Namibia).

Further, the concentration camp system established during pre-world war colonial conflicts by the Italians in Libya, Eritrea and Somaliland was, during the war, extended to Yugoslavia and to Italy itself.

The war crimes committed by Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War, and during WWII in Greece and Yugoslavia, were a continuum of the brutality exhibited during the period of Italian colonisation of East African territory.

Campbell’s book provides clear and ineluctable confirmation of fascism’s inherent tendency towards brutality and violence. The killing of Ethiopians began during the afternoon of Friday 19 February, almost immediately after Graziani was injured by a grenade attack carried out by two Eritreans, Moges Asgedom and Abriha Deboch.

An official declaration promulgating three days of vengeance followed soon after and the author constructs, in harrowing detail, the methodology of revenge. Guns, knives, pick-axes and truncheons were handed out to ‘repression squads’ consisting of black-shirted militias and Italian civilians, who, working in concert with armed soldiers and carabinieri, attacked defenceless Africans.

The victims were stabbed, bludgeoned and incinerated. Flamethrowers were used to set fire to cottages dotted around Addis Ababa in which thousands of innocents - defenceless children, women and the elderly-  were immolated. Campbell estimates that 18-19,000 people were killed in Addis Ababa out of a population of 100,000.

The merciless and unrelenting nature of the violence is underlined by the fact that the pogrom continued even after Mussolini sent word for the killings to stop on the day Graziani had awoken from his coma.

Graziani ordered Guido Cortese, the local leader of the Black Shirts, to halt the slaughter. But Cortese had promised his underlings three days, and so the murders, centred now in the outlying suburbs where they were not as visible to the party leadership, continued until the Sunday evening. This marked the first phase of the genocide. The Italian authorities then targeted Ethiopia’s ‘nobles and notables’. Travelling ‘Caravans of Death’, consisting of portable gallows, were used to hang influential members of the community including those of the aristocratic class. The author provides evidence ascertained from the national archives in Rome that this was not an improvised policy but had in fact been planned in advance. There had been a stated policy of the fascists to behead the intellectual leadership of Ethiopia, a cadre of persons specifically selected by Haile Selassie to be educated in European and North American institutions.

The rounding up and summary execution of many of this elite who were referred to as the ‘Young Ethiopians’ fulfilled an order given by Mussolini on 3 May 1936.

Again, it is worth reminding that the merciless forms of homicidal violence employed by the Italians and their attendant rationales presaged their implementation by the Fascists and Nazis in the impending war in the European theatre.

The destruction of the social elite –the ‘Young Ethiopians’- with the objective of leaving an occupied population rudderless and more malleable to subjugation, mirrored the Intelligenzaktion employed by the Nazis in Poland which targeted Polish teachers, priests and doctors.

Also, the merciless retribution was employed not only in Addis Ababa, but extended to the ruthless destruction of the priests of the monastery of Debre Libanos who were suspected of having harboured Graziani’s assailants.

And of course, the initial invasion of Ethiopia which featured the merciless aerial bombardment of towns and villages predated the notorious bombings by the Luftwaffe of republican enclaves in the Spanish Civil War, during which the Aviazione Legionaria of the Italian Air Force was responsible for the deliberate targeting of civilians in Barcelona.

Campbell brings the reader’s attention to the reasons for Western silence and inaction at the time of the Addis Ababa Massacre. The evidence he provides shows that information compiled by foreign diplomats and journalists in relation to the atrocity was actively suppressed in the futile hope of keeping Mussolini from entering into a military pact with Hitler.

He also addresses the issue of why figures such as Graziani and Cortese, who were not made subject to war crimes trials, did not face the same punishment as the likes of General Hideki Tojo and SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Karl Hermann Frank did. The answer is simply that the dawning of the Cold War and the fear that Italy could fall into the hands of communists meant that figures associated with fascism needed to be preserved.

A war times trial in East Africa along the lines of the ones in Nuremberg and Tokyo would have been considered impolitic given that it would in essence have presented a situation where black Africans were prosecuting white Europeans - an affront to the sensibilities of the time when most of the black and brown world was still under European colonial rule. Ethiopia was thus denied membership of the United Nations War Crimes Commission.

Selassie’s ostensible act of magnanimity in forbidding reprisals and calling for reconciliation can be understood as a pragmatic response to British pressure consisting of the threat not to support Ethiopia in its claims over Eritrea and the Ogaden region if it insisted on pressing its claim for a war crimes trial. He was also keen to recommence his programme of modernisation, in regard to which he would need Western assistance.

The book achieves a great deal. In overcoming the formidable obstacles related to the destruction of original sources of information and the passage of time, Campbell puts a lie to the idea of Italy having governed itself and others through a form of ‘benign’ fascism.

Silvio Berlusconi’s description of  the fascist regime’s internment camps as having been ‘like holiday camps’ does not reflect the brutal circumstances in operation at the concentration camps to which Ethiopians were sent during the period of Italian occupation: Danane in the Ogaden region and Nokra in the Dahlak Archipelago.

The book offers confirmation of high-level Vatican support for the Italian conquest which many priests considered to be a ‘holy mission’.

For while the rationales for the colonisation of Ethiopia encompassed the racial doctrine of subjugating a people considered as being of an inferior race, as well as serving as a revenge for the Italian defeat suffered in 1897 at the Battle of Adowa, some within the higher echelons of the Roman Catholic Church considered the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church to be a heretical institution.

This research also exposes a chapter of Italian history which has been practically expunged. The unexpurgated truth regarding Italy’s legacy of violent colonial rule in East Africa, as well as its military adventures in the Balkans, has never been made the subject of public debate.

Instead a combination of the institutions of the state, the media and academia has propagated the myth of Italy as having been solely the victim of fascism. An early indication of the sensitivity about these matters came in the 1950s when the makers of a film depicting the Italian invasion of Greece were arrested and jailed.

Also, a 1981 Libyan-financed movie entitled The Lion of the Desert, which depicted Graziani’s pacification of Libya was banned from Italian cinemas. Academic inquiry into Italy’s colonial policies is seemingly verboten (forbidden). Historians such as Angelo Del Boca, who have examined Italy’s colonial crimes, have been subject to obloquy. Italy has in effect remained a nation in denial. The book puts firmly in the public domain a ground-breaking work of history that will add to the overall understanding of how the war impacted on Africa, which for the most part is dominated by renditions of British battles with Italian and German armies in the North African desert.

The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy’s National Shame is a magisterial work which deserves the attention of a wide audience as it provides a sober yet spellbinding narrative of one of the era’s greatest desecrations of humanity.

While some may choose to accuse the author of being overtly prosecutorial, it would be more accurate to describe it as a project which sets the record straight. It points the finger and is accusatory but is by no means defamatory.

That the massacre of Addis Ababa is not as firmly imprinted in the consciousness of history on par with the massacres of Katyn, Babi-Yar and Nanking is an injustice, and with this book, Ian Campbell has played a part in correcting this oversight.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

“Italy’s Ethiopian Massacre Finally Comes to Light” (Book Review of Ian Campbell’s The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy’s National Shame). New African Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 584 June (2018) 68-71.

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer and law lecturer based in London, England. He is a geopolitical analyst, historian and aficionado of boxing. He is the author of the book Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal.