Saturday, September 29, 2012

Racism by any other name is still racism

It has occurred to me that the various national deportations in the USSR under Stalin as well as the earlier national operations during 1937-1938 were based upon the old Tsarist prejudices against these groups. Koreans were viewed as part of a Yellow Peril. Germans were looked at as privileged foreigners exploiting Russians and Ukrainians. To make matters worse popular prejudice portrayed them as refusing to assimilate and being connected to an enemy state. Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Balkars, Kalmyks, and Crimean Tatars had the reputation of being bandits who had consistently resisted the legitimate rule of the Russian Empire and the USSR. These prejudices did not magically disappear under Soviet rule. But, an officially "anti-racist" state deliberately differentiating itself from places like Nazi Germany or the US during Jim Crow could not officially justify racist practices upon these prejudices.

Instead it was necessary to create a theoretical framework which differentiated "social-historical" groups from "racial-biological" groups even if the actual groups being categorized such as Koreans, Germans, Chechens, Kalmyks, Crimea Tatars, etc. were the exact same in both cases. In other words the actual basis for the deportations was the same old hatreds that Russians had always had for these groups, but it was necessary to substitute the terms natsional'nost for race and culture for blood for public relations purposes. This was no problem as the South Africans and Israelis later found out as well. Ethnicity can easily be a synonym for race and culture substitutes very well for biology. Francine Hirsch of course accepts the entirety of official Soviet discourse on "race" during this time at face value without noticing that the terms used to justify racist practices do not in fact render those practices non-racist. What I don't understand is why almost all academics in the US studying Soviet nationality policy have followed Hirsch's lead in swallowing the Soviet argument that they did not practice racial discrimination under Stalin. After all nobody accepted the similar argument made by the South African government regarding apartheid.

Friday, September 28, 2012


The Progressive Peoples Party is running Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom as a third party candidate against the ruling NDC and the opposition NPP. The PPP is a split of from the CPP (Convention Peoples Party) which was Kwame Nkrumah's political party. Since Nkrumah's overthrow in 1966 the CPP has been a very marginal force in Ghanaian politics. It became even more marginal when Nduom left to form the PPP and took many of the remaining Nkrumahists in the CPP with him. The PPP seems to have a fair degree of enthusiastic support from the small segment of Ghana's youth that is educated, idealistic, and politically active. In terms of total number of potential voters the party of course has no chance of winning the presidency. But, it could easily serve as a spoiler throwing the election to the anti-Nkrumahist NPP in a runoff election. The NPP has its roots in the Danquah and Busia opposition to Nkrumah back in the 1950s. Yet, politics make strange alliances so some people have speculated about the possibility of an NPP government giving some positions to people in the PPP if it should win in such an manner.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Can the PPP force a runoff in the upcoming election?

In the last couple of days I have been talking to former students about the upcoming Ghanaian elections to try and get a feel for what will happen in December. If a candidate does not get 51% of the vote in the first round then there is a runoff election. The two main players are the NDC (National Democratic Congress) and the NPP (New Patriotic Party), but the PPP (Progressive Peoples' Party) candidate  probably has enough support to prevent either party from getting 51% in the first round. That means the NPP probably has a better chance of unseating the NDC from the presidency than I previously thought.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why are all the "Radical" professors in the US against BDS?

Why do all the "hip" and very highly paid "progressive" professors in the US oppose sanctions against Israeli apartheid when they would never have done so regarding South Africa? This is a serious question.  I noticed that other than the weak exception of Judith Butler that all the tenured "radical" professors  in the US with blogs like Claire Potter are militant opponents of BDS and openly spread lies against the PACBI. For instance she claims that it requires boycotts of individual Israeli scholars when it demands no such thing. Like the boycott against South Africa it only boycotts Israeli institutions. Why are these "radicals" so militant in  protecting Israel from the consequences of its policies of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid?

It is Really Hot in Africa Today

It is only September and it has already gotten really hot. I don't want to think about what it is going to be like in December. Hopefully the rate of temperature increase will slow down next month.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Website on Post-WWII Expulsion of Ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe

I found a new website dealing with the mass expulsion of ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe. It is called Ann's Films and is written by Ann Morrison who has made a series of documentary films on the subject based upon interviews with survivors. I have not seen any of the films yet. But, they definitely sound like the type of thing I would show in class.

Library Books

I checked out one of the newer books in the library today. It is the same age as me whereas most of the books on the shelf are about a decade older than me. Fifty years ago the library must have really been something.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finally somebody agrees with me

I just noticed a 2012 MA dissertation at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands by M.A.C. Sprangers. The dissertation is titled Difference and Power: Nationalities Policies, Racist Practices and Ethnic Cleansing in the Soviet Union, 1917-1953. Sprangers has just entered a very small and extremely marginalized group of scholars so he or she has their work cut out for them. But, regardless I welcome Sprangers with open arms into the tiny circle of scholars of the USSR who believe that Stalin actually did engage in racial discrimination. There are only a handful of us and we are spread out over a couple of different continents. Francine Hirsch completely dominates the field in the US. At any rate for everybody else I have reproduced the abstract of the dissertation from the library at the Universiteit Utrecht below.

This thesis primarily uses the work of historian George M. Fredrickson to argue that historians can and should speak of racism in the Soviet Union under Stalin. This is despite the fact that official Soviet discourse rejected the ideology of race, and the fact that most contemporary historians shy away from the terms 'race' and 'racism' in the writing on Soviet nationalities policies and Soviet ethnic cleansing. The thesis consists of - a summary of the historiographical discussion; - a conceptualization of what defines 'ethnicity', 'nationality', 'race' and 'racism' ; - a look at the official Soviet attitude towards (among others) the ideology of race and ideas of nationality, citizenship and the state socialist project; - Soviet nationalities policies in practice with regards to nationalities, focusing on the Stalinist period; it argues that nationalities were treated on cultural grounds as if they were (biological) races - a more detailed look on Soviet ethnic cleansing, and the racial elements that these entailed - and lastly, it considers scholarly reluctance on speaking of racism in the Soviet Union. 

If you do happen upon this Sprangers, I would love to read a copy of your dissertation. Send me an e-mail at j.ottopohl [the at sign] gmail [the dot] com. Maybe we can arrange for you to speak at one of the history department seminars here at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thoughts on Nkrumah

As a general rule I think Nkrumah did more good for Ghana than any other leader. He may have been the most successful African leader of the 20th century. Only a few other African leaders had the charisma and vision of Nkrumah. These men include Mandela, Sankara, and Lumumba. But, in terms of laying the foundations of economic development none of these men can really be compared to Nkrumah. Mandela came to power in a country already heavily industrialized by African standards. In contrast both Sankara and Lumumba died violently before they really had a chance to accomplish anything near the scale that Nkrumah did. Even more so than Lumumba, Nkrumah as leader of Ghana from 1957 to 1966 sought to successfully champion Pan-African ideas. One important long term result of Nkrumah's rule is that there is a much stronger sense of unity among Ghanaians than exists in many African countries. Ghana has not suffered from civil war like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria just to name those states in the West African region. In large part this has been a result of Nkrumah's successful construction of a Ghanaian national identity unifying all the ethnic groups in the country. This legacy alone is worth honoring.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Open Thread on Kwame Nkrumah

In honor of Founder's Day consider this an open thread on Nkrumah. Not that anybody will comment here, but just so that there is one thread on the man on the entire Internet on his birthday. I am not sure why the Internet is so Eurocentric, but I suspect that Nkrumah is especially unpopular with American liberals because JFK hated the man.

Tomorrow is Founder's Day

Tomorrow is a holiday here in Ghana in honor of Kwame Nkrumah's birthday. Nkrumah was the first president of Ghana and he built much of the infrastructure we still use today including Akosombo Dam and Tema Harbor. On 24 February 1966 elements of the Ghanaian military and police overthrew him in a coup supported by President Lyndon Johnson. Nkrumah spent most of the rest of his life in exile in Conakry, Guinea and died of stomach cancer in Bucharest, Romania in 1972.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

National Service Personnel

The government has assigned our department six young men and women performing their national service to assist us this year. One young man has been specifically assigned to assist me. His help this morning allowed me to finish the footnotes for my "Black Eurasia" article instead of having to find paper so my students can take a mid-term exam this afternoon.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Note to self

I really should stop reading other blogs. It is quite apparent that everybody with a blog in Obrunistan is insane.

Finally we have running water again

This morning after I had already found somebody to help me lug water from across the street the water came back on.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Electricity is now back, but water is still off

The electricity returned today. But, we still have no running water. Also why does the Mountain Dew imported here from Nigeria not taste anything like Mountain Dew in the US?

Day Three without Water and Day one without Electricity

Today is day three running of no running water at home or at work. To make things even more difficult the electricity at both places went out this morning. I have no idea when we will get power again. If we are lucky it will come back on before tomorrow.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day Two With No Running Water

We still have no running water. I suspect it may be over a week or so before we do. I am not looking forward to hauling buckets of water every morning for the next ten or so days. Running water and electricity are the two bourgeois luxuries I enjoy the most. Unfortunately, almost everywhere I have lived in the last decade they have been just that luxuries.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Good news outweighs Bad news

Today it took me almost an hour at the bank to accomplish what normally takes only five minutes. There was a very high ratio of customers to workers at the bank today. But, the good news is I have a lot more money than I thought I did.

We have no water again

I should know by now that when everything looks to be going well that something will come up. This time the water is out at the house again. I am not sure when it will return, usually it takes over a week, but I really don't like having to haul buckets of water from across the street. I just do not have the physical strength to do it quickly and easily.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I really shouldn't celebrate the fact that American academia is now eating itself alive much like Stalin purged the Communist Party and many leftist jerks are now finding themselves impoverished and unemployed. If I was a much better man I would take no joy in it. But, the fact that some of the same types of people that deliberately denied me even an interview in the US are now economically worse off than me does make me smile. I know this is a moral weakness and I am  trying to overcome it. Obviously I am not morally the strongest person on earth. The fact is, however, that these same people were all enthusiastic supporters of black listing people like me forever from being employed in the US as academics. Fortunately, I don't have a problem working in Africa. Whereas most leftist academics have a strong aversion to living and working in a majority non-white environment. So they would rather starve than move to Africa. In the old days we used to call such attitudes racism.

There is nothing more cowardly than people who post under pseudonyms or initials

I have long maintained that people that refuse to post under their own real and full names are cowards that are not worth reading. I realize my opinion on this like my opinion that the Stalinist national deportations were acts of racial discrimination and that the forced expulsion of the Sudeten Germans was morally wrong is not shared by anybody else on the Internet. But, people who use pseudonyms have no credibility on anything in their life. If you can not even own your own words then you do not have any right to speak.

Five Reasons why I work at an African not a US university

1. I am not a communist.
2. I am not a feminist.
3. I am not a Zionist.
4. I am not too cowardly to use my own name on the Internet.
5. I am not a liberal racist who believes that Black people can only succeed in institutions of higher learning  if academic standards are lowered for them.

Abstract for "Is there a Black Eurasia?"

Here is the abstract for the latest piece I am finishing up. The finished article will be part of a collected work being put together by the History Department of the University of Ghana at Legon.

"Is there a Black Eurasia?: Ghanaian and other Diasporic African Populations in the USSR in Comparative Perspective."

The population of African ancestry in the USSR exhibited certain diasporic characteristics despite its small population, fragmented settlement, and high levels of acculturation. It also differed considerably both in its legal status and cultural cohesion from other larger European and East Asian diasporas in the USSR such as the Germans, Jews, Poles, Finns, Greeks, and Koreans. Nonetheless it shared with these better researched diasporas the experience of being viewed by most of Soviet society as being alien to the territory of the Russian Empire and USSR. This chapter seeks to place the history of Soviet citizens of African descent into the larger history of how the Soviet government and society at large treated diasporic populations. In particular it compares people of African origins with Germans, Jews, Poles, Greeks, and Koreans. It is hoped that such a comparison can shed greater historical light upon the questions of diaspora and race in the USSR.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Great Deception

I have not finished reading all of it yet, but The Great Deception: The Role of the CIA in the Overthrow of Nkrumah is actually a very interesting collection of documents from the LBJ Presidential Library dealing with his administration's policies towards Ghana and other African countries. The duplicated documents do point to the US government including President Johnson, US Ambassador Mahoney, and CIA Director McCone being involved in helping bring about the 24 February 1966 coup that toppled Nkrumah from power and established the National Liberation Council junta.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Today's Book Purchases

Today at the university book store I purchased two books compiled by the Socialist Forum of Ghana.

Fight Back: A Response to Anti-Nkrumah Provocations, (2006), 2009.

The Great Deception: The Role of the CIA in the Overthrow of Nkrumah, (2005), 2012.

Interestingly enough they both have advertisements for capitalist enterprises on their back covers. Fight Back has an advertisement for an insurance company, Star Assurance Co. Ltd. and The Great Deception has an advertisement for an Internet service provider,  UCOM. I have not seen an advertisement in a book in a long time. But, I do find it amusing that books published by capitalist for profit publishing houses manage to do without selling advertising while the Socialist Forum of Ghana makes it a regular practice. Advertising is one of the most offensive practices of capitalism and insurance companies are one of the most abusive forms of finance capital. But, I guess these things are okay with people calling themselves socialists now a days.

Friday, September 07, 2012

More on Tyranny in Togo

While Ghana is a vibrant democratic state which largely respects human rights, its eastern neighbor Togo is not. This article describes the deplorable situation in Togo's prisons. Most notable from a point of view of rule by law is the fact that 65% of the detainees have not been tried and half have not even been formally charged.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Note to US Democratic Party: Jerusalem is illegally occupied territory

I am not a Democrat in part because they do stupid stuff like this. Jerusalem has always been recognized by the US government and all other UN members except Israel as occupied territory. The UN Security Council of which the US is one of the five permanent members with veto power passed resolution 478 on 20 Aug 1980 declaring for the second time that year that the annexation was illegal.  This resolution not only declared the annexation of Jerusalem by Israel "null and void", but also called upon all foreign nations to withdraw any diplomatic missions established in the city. Establishing an embassy in Jerusalem would be a violation of international law and a radical change of long standing US policy.

hat tip: Marc b. at Mondoweiss

Taxi Thief Thwarted by University Security in Botanical Gardens

Fortunately we don't get a lot of crime here. But, yesterday there was an attempted auto theft on campus. A former economics student here, he graduated in 2007, stole a taxi belonging to one of the security guards. He was arrested in the university's botanical gardens while trying to escape with the vehicle. He evidently ran the car into a pile of sand.

Source: Ghana News Agency

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Why is every meeting three hours long?

In the last two days I have been in two three hour meetings. Why do these things always last so long?

Monday, September 03, 2012

I am sure this is somewhere in the Murphy's Law book.

Last night, the day after I purchased a modem, the wireless from sociology started working again. It is an iron law of nature that a problem will fix itself only after you have successfully found an alternative solution with monetary and temporal sunk costs.

The Moon Brothers Rock

I just finished watching my complimentary copy of Under Jakob's Ladder. It was awesome and I am not just saying that because I was an historical consultant on the film. If you have a few extra dollars go buy a copy of the DVD. If you have a few more dollars and are feeling charitable get a copy for your church. Roberto Munoz, Mann Munoz, Jeff Stewart, Chrisopher Elliot, Sal Rendino, Peter Iasillo Jr., and everybody else involved in the film did a great job. It certainly deserved the two awards it won at the Manhattan Film Festival last year.

More on Butler, the Palestinians, and the double standards of leftist Zionist academics in the US

Looking around the Internet it does appear that Butler is quite unusual among American leftist Academics, particularly those obsessed with gender studies, in actually taking a stand against the ongoing Israeli dispossession of the Palestinian people. But, even her stand is full of caveats including some mealy mouthed denunciations of violence on both sides and an explicit repudiation of the Palestinian right of armed resistance. It should be noted that the right to armed resistance by occupied people was repeatedly endorsed by the UN in the wake of WWII and things like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. No leftist professors in the US ever condemned the people of South Africa for their armed resistance against apartheid. Umkhonto we Sizwe was not a Gandhian pacifist organization. But, when it comes to politically incorrect people like the Palestinians, leftist American academics have all kinds of reasons why they should not be given the same rights as other people in the world.

Open Thread on the Upcoming Ghanaian Elections

Consider this an open thread on the upcoming elections in Ghana. I predict that the NDC (National Democratic Congress) will again win the presidential election and acting president John Mahama will be confirmed in the post. But, the NPP (New Patriotic Party) which is running Nana Akufo-Addo as their presidential candidate has a better shot at defeating Mahama than it did of winning against the late John Mills. Both the NDC and NPP candidates are University of Ghana alumni. But, Mahama did his degree in history so our department played a key role in his intellectual development.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

A surprising BDS development

I noticed looking through recent posts on Mondoweiss that Judith Butler has come out in favor of BDS against Israel. This surprised me because my impression was that most self described "liberal" and "leftist" academics in the US including Michael Walzer, Alan Dershowitz, Claire Potter, and others have been strongly opposed to any sanctions against Israel. So Butler's break with the rest of her colleagues appears to be significant in that she appears to be one of the very few hip and trendy left wing US academics to take a public stand in favor of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. Does anybody have any information on this?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

New MTN Modem

Due to the fact that my new office does not yet have an Ethernet socket and the wireless from sociology stopped working for us weeks ago I went to the mall today and purchased an MTN modem. It only cost 49 cedis, but the queue at the store was longer than any line I have ever seen at the hospital. Actually I had to wait in two lines. The first one to purchase the modem and the second one to register the Sim card with the government. Fortunately they moved fairly fast. It only took me about 45 minutes total. However, in retrospect I should have gone on a Thursday rather than a Saturday. Then there would have been less people registering Sim cards. But, the Internet connection works really well.