Thursday, March 4, 2010

Yemen: Whose nostalgia?

by Norman Markowitz

There was an interesting story on Yemen, a very poor country in the New York Times recently. The headline reads "In South Protests Could Cause More Instability." What the are protests about? Movement leaders in the South say about tolerance and democracy, against the brutality, tyranny, and discriminatory policies of the Northern based government. Flags of the "old independent" South Yemen are being flown. The story then goes on to say that the movement's leaders have "deep nostalgia for British imperial rule, which began roughly at the time of the British Opium War against China and ended in 1967. But the old South Yemen had nothing to do with the British empire.

The article then goes on to fear that the movement as it develops might find some point of alliance with Al Qaeda.

South Yemen, with its intense poverty, factionalism divisions had a Soviet supported Marxist government, the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen, that was reviled as "Stalinist," a Soviet puppet, etc, established at the end of the 1960s. The state found itself under attack from reactionary Arabic speaking countries and of course the U.S. NATO bloc, which was also enraged that the PDRY gave the Soviet Navy access to port facilities in the country

I don't really have time to deal with the tangled history, which led to bloody factional conflict inside South Yemen and eventually, with the ithdrawal of Soviet aid at the end of the Gorbachev period, the "reunification" of Yemen under the leadership of the Northern reactionary Yemen Arab Republic.

Interestingly enough, the NYT article states that "the people of the South are better educated, a legacy, not only of the British but of the Socialist government that ruled here in the 1970s{and 1980s. which the article omits. Although they shattered the economy and suppressed their opponents brutally, the Socialists also put an end to harmful practices like child marriage, championed women's equality and achieved some of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world. All of these achievements have since collapsed. Education has declined declined precipitously in the South, child marriage has returned and lawlessness prevails."

One might make a few important additions. The democratic not to mention socialist policies of the PDRY were buried with the reunification with the support of both the feudal oil states, the U.S. and Britain as part of the triumphalism that followed the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the earlier internal battles in the PDRY which greatly undermined the country's ability to survive notwithstanding.

The article also mentions that a Southern rebellion in 1994 was suppressed by the Northern dominated government, which used veterans of the counter-revolutionary war in Afghanistan to carry out the repression. The article refers to them as "Jihadists" although this was only a few years after these CIA supported forces had been hailed as freedom fighters.

I don't know what will happen in South Yemen. I know that the forces which created Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were used to put down the uprising in 1994 and are far closer to the Northern dominated government than to any Southern movement. I do know also that the British withdrawal in 1967 was prompted by national liberation armed struggles in which socialist played a leading role through the 1960s. But the story of poor South Yemen is not about instability or any possible future Al Qaeda connection. It is about what the destruction of Communist governments struggling to build better societies has meant, particularly in the poor countries of the world. More poverty, more inequality, more de facto tyranny in all areas of daily life. If that is victory of "freedom and Democracy," then Ronald Reagan was the greatest American movie actor of the 20th century.