Thursday, 1 February 2018

I Wessex: Ferrets led by Moles

ST PETER, of course, was very brave—the only one of the disciples who ventured out of their boat onto the Sea of Galilee. But I don't believe even he would have tried to walk across the Channel, so it seemed reasonable to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre, sailing late in the evening of Friday 1st January 2010, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of  God.[1]
It was the 1500th anniversary of the death (1st January 510AD) of Merovingian-French St Oyand, aka Eugendus, Abbot of Condat in Burgundy and founder of a church dedicated to Saints Peter, Paul and Andrew, whose most recent incarnation is the outstandingly beautiful 14th-15th century Cathédrale Saint-Pierre in Saint-Claude. It was also the 75th anniversary of the promotion to Lieutenant (1st January 1935) of Polish army officer Włodzimierz Dżugan, and close to the centenary of his birth[2]. More precisely, it marked the 99th anniversary of the birth of Czech pilot Eduard Prchal (d.1984), and the 98th anniversary of the birth of Soviet spy Harold “Kim” Philby (d.1988).
On 4th July 1943, Prchal was the sole survivor of an air crash off Gibraltar which killed Polish Prime Minister-in-exile General Władysław Sikorski and sixteen others including at least five Britons. On 26 February that year, Churchill’s Chief of Staff General Sir Alan Brooke (later Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke) wrote in his diary:
“Sikorski came to lunch with me. I found him in rather a depressed mood… He was having trouble with the commanders of both Scottish and Iraq Polish forces, and in addition Russia and also the Foreign Office were troubling him.”
A letter dated 18 February 1943 from that commander of his in the Middle East, General Władysław Anders, may have contributed to Sikorski’s woebegone spirits. Vehemently opposing all efforts, no matter how eagerly promoted by the British and Americans, to patch up differences with the emerging Soviet superpower, Anders called on his commander-in-chief to resign with his whole government,
“…in order to open the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons to the mortal danger that threatens not only Poland [but] perhaps even the whole of Europe.”[3]
Anders’ raw hatred of Bolshevism was no doubt compounded by the two years he endured until August 1941 incarcerated in NKVD prisons, including nearly eighteen months in its infamous Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow. One thing to note about his letter though, is that it was written before news broke in April 1943 of the discovery by the Germans of the bodies of Lt. Dżugan and his comrades at Katyn. In reaction to this turn of events, the Soviets issued fierce denunciations of what they called “Nazi propaganda”[4]; but the Free Poles weren’t having any of it, so Moscow put diplomatic ties, already in their death throes, out of their misery.
With a puppet communist regime to flog, Stalin and his henchmen saw the next step as Sikorski’s permanent removal from the political landscape – preferably in a way that looked like an accident, of course. So in July 1943 it really was too bad for him that Kim Philby, a Spanish Civil War veteran and one-time instructor for Britain’s SOE (Special Operations Executive), with expertise in carrying out acts of sabotage behind enemy lines, was responsible for British counter-intelligence on the Iberian peninsular. It is a matter of historical record that a plane carrying Moscow’s ambassador to Britain along with other Soviet nationals, stopped over in Gibraltar at the same time Sikorski was there, and was parked right next to the latter’s B-24 Liberator.[5] A British investigation at the time found that sabotage of the aircraft controls could be ruled out, but after reviewing the evidence in 1969, former pilot Sir Robin Cooper stated:
“…the possibility of [Sikorski’s] murder by persons unknown cannot be excluded.”[6]

[1] At that time I confess that I stubbornly refused to have any truck with computers or the internet, so when my train from Bristol arrived in Portsmouth I didn’t know if there’d be any suitable crossings. Firmly convinced however of the great cosmic nexus between pilgrimage and divine providence, in case I had to resort to trying to hitch a voyage from a private boat in Portsmouth harbour, I came armed with a sign which said in large letters:
As things turned out though, thankfully I was able to secure a berth on an overnight ferry. The sign was stowed out of sight behind a “more-Catholic-than-the-Pope” statue of St Peter, holding his keys and wearing a triple-tiered Papal tiara, at the back of Portsmouth’s Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. The local Bishop incidentally was the Right Reverend Crispian Hollis, son of writer and Conservative MP Christopher, grandson of Anglican Bishop of Taunton George Hollis and nephew of MI5 director-general Sir Roger Hollis. Not that I’d been indoctrinated in these matters at the time, any more than I was aware that 3rd century Martyrs Crispin and Crispian, patron saints of shoemakers and tanners, were in fact two brothers; though clearly this intelligence had been shared with William Shakespeare:
“This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd.”
[2] Włodzimierz (Vladimir) Dżugan was summarily executed by the Soviet NKVD in the forest at Katyn, near Smolensk, Russia, on 9 May 1940; one of approximately 22,000 Polish prisoners (mostly army, police, navy and air force officers but also better-educated civilians such as priests, academics, doctors, lawyers and teachers) who suffered the same fate within a few weeks of each other.      
[3] See Reuben Ansztein, ‘Note of the month’, The World Today (periodical of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, aka Chatham House), Vol. 25, No.2, Feb 1969.
[4] A line they continued to take for the next 47 years.
[5] Harry de Quetteville, ‘Did British double agent murder Polish War Hero General Sikorski’, The Daily Telegraph, 01-07-2008. See also Ivan Maisky, ‘The Complete Maisky Diaries’, Yale University Press, 2017, p.1476
[6] Ibid.
Meanwhile, two intriguing diary entries from early November 1944 show Alanbrooke pre-occupied with
“…the future of MI5 and the grave danger of its falling into unscrupulous political hands, of which there are too many at present.”[1]
Six months later he returned to the same theme:
“During the afternoon I had to see [Brig. Gen. William Denman] Croft, who is worried about the security of MI5 and 6, so am I!!”[2]
World War II’s guns had barely fallen silent when, in September 1945, a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, Igor Gouzenko, defected to Canada. As the then-chief of MI6’s Soviet counter-intelligence arm, Philby might have been the bookies’ favourite to fly out and interview him on behalf of His Majesty’s Government. Instead however, on the vaguely questionable grounds that Canada was still ‘British’, the job went to Roger Hollis of the domestic security service, MI5; an Oxford man though he didn’t complete his degree, and alumnus of Clifton College in Bristol. That last distinction gets a mention because he shared it with Great War Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who rightly or wrongly must certainly have acted as a sort of recruiting sergeant for the extreme left in the 1920s and 30s.[3] In 1945 Hollis headed MI5’s Soviet counter-intelligence department, on his way to becoming deputy director-general and then DG from 1956-65. Gouzenko told Hollis that Soviet military intelligence (known by the acronym GRU – separate from the KGB) had an extremely valuable source, codenamed ‘Elli’, working in “5 of MI”. With stakes on the high side (in the race to acquire atom bombs, Moscow was never supposed to leave the blocks), Gouzenko also blew the gaff on the Soviet policy in the 1930s, to recruit committed communist ‘sleepers’, instructing them to wangle positions in the intelligence services and other organisations where they could do maximum damage. Among these, ‘Elli’ was clearly regarded as a semi-mythical figure in Soviet circles. Never making direct contact but relying on old-fashioned spy-craft, his dead letters home were said to be so important that when they arrived, a secretary was on hand, ready to swoop in case they contained anything for Stalin’s immediate attention.
Among a handful of tantalising clues as to Elli’s identity, Gouzenko said there was “…something Russian about him”. This didn’t really ring any bells until forty years later, when professional thorn in the side of the British Establishment Harry Chapman Pincher (d.2014) found an unusual snippet of information in the autobiography of Sir Roger’s elder brother, Christopher. It turned out that the Hollis family claims descent from an illegitimate son of Peter the Great.[4] On its own this isn’t what the Americans call a ‘slam dunk’, but there is a bit more to say about it. 
The new millennium’s tenth birthday also marked 300 years since New Year’s Day (Old Style) 1710, when Tsar Peter the Great made a triumphal entry into Moscow, in the afterglow of his victory over Sweden at Poltava in the previous summer. In addition it was exactly Twenty years since Poland’s sharp exit from the Warsaw Pact, and Ten since ailing premier Boris Yeltsin handed the reins of power in Russia to Leningrad/St Petersburg-born former KGB Lt-Col Vladimir Putin.
On 30 December 1999, just before he became acting president, Putin published a personal manifesto entitled ‘Russia at the Turn of the New Millennium’. Its most eye-catching phrase when translated into English becomes:
“No matter how bitter it is to admit it, for almost seven decades we headed down a blind alley, away from the mainstream of civilisation.”
It’s usual to see this abbreviated to “Soviet communism is a blind alley, far away from the mainstream of civilisation”, mainly because the first half of the sentence was excised from the English version given to western media. What I’d like to draw attention to however, is the translation of «столбовая дорога» (stolbovaya doroga) to ‘mainstream’. In Russian it isn’t ‘mainstream’, but ‘main road’. My contention is that there may be a link here with a book called Auf der Hauptstraße der Weltgeschichte. Artikel, Reden und Kommentare. 1956-1968’[5] by notable revolutionary agitator and later East German state propagandist, Gerhart Eisler (d.1968). As leader and director of the US Communist Party during and after World War II, Eisler achieved special notoriety when articles like one in Time magazine under the headline ‘COMMUNISTS: The Man from Moscow’ appeared on 17 Feb 1947. His activities in China in the late 1920s were supposed to have earned him the nickname “the executioner” for “purging the party of spies and dissidents”, and he seems to have played no small part in setting off the Red Scare which dominated US politics for much of the following decade. But the thing to bear in mind about Gerhart Eisler is that in fact he really was a ruthless secret agent for the Comintern (Communist International), and he was Stalin’s liaison in China from 1929-31.
There were periods in the 1920s and 30s when Shanghai made Chicago look rather like a sleepy village in the Cotswolds. It was home to a remarkable number and extraordinary variety of dangerous characters, including for instance GRU agent and recruiter Richard Sorge, described by Ian Fleming as “the most formidable spy in history”. No wonder an aspiring young journalist like Roger Hollis was taken by the idea of seeing for himself what all the fuss was about. Arriving in China in early 1927, during the decade up to 1936 he came home only once, for a few months – yet by his account he remained almost a complete stranger to the exotic world of socialist revolutionary struggle. When interrogated after his retirement, he could recall making the acquaintance of only one acolyte of that community, an American called Agnes Smedley, who was Sorge’s assistant and mistress.

[1] Alex Danchev, Daniel Todman, editors, ‘War Diaries 1939-1945, Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke’, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2001; entry for 02-11-1944, p.616. The entry for 01-11-1944 is similar.

[2] Ibid. 16-05-1945, p.692.

[3] The phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ is popularly associated with the horrors of World War I, though in fact it predates the 20th century; according to Wikipedia it was used for instance by a Russian officer to describe the British in the Crimean War. As a result however of much-publicised descriptions of Haig like the one provided by his political opposite number David Lloyd George, that he was “brilliant to the top of his army boots”, he came to personify donkeydom in many people’s minds. Mind you, Winston Churchill as ever had quite a good rejoinder to Lloyd George’s full-on offensive charge:
“The one triumphantly successful leader in the Great War is supremely conscious of the infirmities and shortcomings of his collaborators.”
[4] See Chapman Pincher, ‘Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage’, Random House, 2011. Incidentally, the question of whether Hollis really did have any Romanov blood is looked at here:
It should be noted that although Chapman Pincher’s first treatment of this affair, ‘Their Trade is Treachery’ (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1981) was given a green light for publication, the official line is that people like him and his primary source, Spycatcher Peter Wright, are “conspiracy theorists”. Perhaps the most determined peddler of this argument is MI5’s in-house historian, Christopher Andrew. Apart from the fact that it’s so unlike the British Establishment to orchestrate a cover-up, and leaving aside rumours that Professor Andrew was and may still be MI5’s chief recruiter at Cambridge University (another “conspiracy theory”, no doubt); the best response to his aspersion-casting comes from BBC journalist Roger Bolton, albeit discussing an unrelated chapter of Andrew’s story:
“I think that one of the problems Christopher Andrew has got with this book is that he’s a historian, who tells the truth, but he’s writing the history of an institution, an organisation that doesn’t always tell the truth. In fact most organisations don’t. They have this thing called the ‘institutional truth’. It’s not what happened, it’s what the organisation wants the rest of the world to think happened. Indeed they may persuade themselves it happened, but it didn’t.” (ITV documentary ‘Inside MI5 - The Real Spooks’, directed by Amanda Feldon, 2009)
Furthermore, as the late, great Harry Chapman Pincher once pointed out:
Politically embarrassing is a higher security classification than top secret.”
For a counterintelligence service, it doesn’t get any more embarrassing than appointing a spy as your director-general, then leaving him in place until retirement, recommending him for a knighthood, paying his pension…
[5] Gerhart Eisler, ‘On the Main Street of World History, Articles, Speeches and Comment 1956-1968’, Dietz-Verlag, 1981
In 1966 however it was possible to track down someone who shared a flat with Hollis in Beijing in about 1931. British army interpreter Captain (later Lt-Col) Anthony Stables said Hollis received visits from Smedley and another person he described as an “international socialist”, called Arthur Ewert. This important lead was never properly followed up though, because of a schoolboy error on the part of MI5 mole-hunter Peter Wright. In his interview notes Wright misspelt Ewert’s name, ‘Ewart’. He therefore didn’t find MI5’s quite bulky file on the man charged by Moscow with the task of shoring up Mao Zedong’s leadership of Chinese communist forces, so Hollis never faced any questions about him before his death in 1973.[1]
For reasons that don’t need to be gone into here, Arthur Ewert spent his last years in a sanatorium in East Germany; but at his death in 1959 the funeral oration was given by Gerhart Eisler, “his former close associate” (“sein früherer enger Mitarbeiter” in the German language Wikipedia). The importance of the contributions these men made to the Marxist-Leninist cause is shown by the fact that both were immortalised on GDR postage stamps, Eisler in 1977 and Ewert in 1981. Richard Sorge, born to a German father and Russian mother in Baku, modern-day Azerbaijan, was posthumously depicted on a GDR stamp in 1976, having already appeared on a Soviet one in 1965. In 1990 that last honour was also conferred on Kim Philby. 
Should Roger Hollis have completed the set? Summoned for questioning by MI5 a few years after his retirement, there was something he explained to his interrogators which didn’t allay their suspicions, but helped get him off the hook.
“He said he left home because he realised he was not religious. But Oxford, he claimed, was no escape. It, too, reminded him of his religious upbringing.
“I wanted to get away, do something with my life in the outside world. The only ambition I had was to play golf, and I realised early on at Oxford that I could never make a career out of it. So I decided to travel.””[2] (emphasis added)
Hollis’s claim that he sought sanctuary from his religious upbringing is no doubt truthful; but in my view his inquisitors were mistaken in thinking it counted in his favour. Indeed I believe it highlights three separate things, each of which emphatically strengthens the case that he’s a mole, but which Cold War-weary Peter Wright and co appear not to have grasped. First, it definitively obliterates every trace of the ‘respectable family’ factor he exploited, as the son of a Bishop, when he first burrowed his way into MI5. Just as important, it’s what he would equally have told communist listeners if he’d been anxious to persuade them of his commitment to their cause. And third, even disregarding the fact that Hollis deliberately and persistently concealed his friendship at Oxford with known communist Claud Cockburn (though eventually he acknowledged his guilt on that count[3]); as an impressionable and initially cash-strapped young atheist, without friends in the ex-patriot community in Shanghai, it seems abundantly clear he would have been drawn moth-like to the freethinking and forbidden gleam surrounding not only Agnes Smedley but also her fellow-travellers, among whom were Sorge, Ursula Kuszynski[4], Ewert and Eisler. And this brings us back to the Hollis family tradition of descent from Peter the Great. Without being able to show some evidence it seems unlikely it would have cut much ice with most Russians. However if he felt sufficiently sure of it and mentioned it to non-Russians, he could have been taken at his word, and it’s the sort of detail which might have followed him around.
With Soviet documents made available since the demise of the USSR confirming that the highly prized British mole described by Igor Gouzenko was not a figment of his imagination, a number of theories about the codename ‘Elli’ have been put forward. Among the least convincing was Prof Christopher Andrew’s suggestion that it was the Russian letter ‘L’ in the plural; transparently intended to improve his chances of crow-barring a relatively small-fry contender by the name of Leo Long into the frame.
I think Gerhart Eisler’s significance has been overlooked, possibly as a result of excessive retrospective disparagement of Senator Joe McCarthy and friends, and systematic downplaying of the communist threat in the 1940s and 50s. One way or another, as a historical personality I believe Eisler would have come to the attention of Vladimir Putin, a fluent German speaker who spent much of his KGB career in the GDR. When Putin said that communism was “far away from the main road of civilisation” in 1999, I believe he was consciously debunking Eisler’s claim, as per the title of his collected works published in 1981, to be “On the Main Street of World History”.
Does it matter though, whether Hollis’s social circle in China extended beyond Agnes Smedley and, as it appears, Arthur Ewert, to Ewert’s ‘close associate’ Gerhart Eisler? If so, it’s only because Eisler’s second wife, to whom he was married from 1923 until 1933, was a lady called Elli Tune.[5]
If Chapman Pincher and his allies’ suspicions are correct, then all the old jabbering about a “fifth man” begins to look almost like an Establishment ruse, intended to camouflage the Soviets’ spectacular success in penetrating and effectively co-opting Britain’s intelligence services for their own ends. It also in my view betrays a fundamental flaw in the clichéd notion that the task of HMG’s civil service has been to ‘manage the decline’ of post-war Britain. You can’t realistically hope to ‘manage the decline’ of a country whose security apparatus is positively infested, seething with moles and super-moles, each straining every sinew to force the issue.
Knowing that New Year is celebrated with special enthusiasm in Russia, when I overheard a couple at the ferry terminal in Portsmouth chatting in the language of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, there seemed to be a faintly conspiratorial air in our exchange of the customary greeting,
«С Новым Годом!»

[1] See Chapman Pincher ‘Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage’, Random House, 2011.
[2] Peter Wright, ‘Spycatcher’, Heinemann Australia, 1987. p.337.
[3] Ibid. p.339
[4] Another enormously successful GRU agent whose photograph undoubtedly would have adorned a GDR Briefmarke had she not survived the fall of the Berlin Wall (she died in 2000). 
[5] Assuming Eisler was involved in Hollis's recruitment to the GRU, it may have been finalised in France in 1937, rather than during Eisler’s stint in China (with his then-wife Elli) in 1929-31. In 1937 Eisler was jointly responsible for running the anti-fascist German Freedom Radio in Madrid, from where he is known to have been a visitor to Paris, a hotbed of Comintern activity at the time (see Tony Sharp, 'Stalin's American Spy: Noel Field, Allen Dulles and the East European Show Trials', London: Hurst and Company 2014). Drawing on researches carried out by Professor Anthony Glees, Chapman Pincher details a peculiar jaunt made by Hollis and his wife to Paris and the small town of Loches, near Tours, in November-December 1937, shortly before he took up his post with MI5 (see Treachery, p.55).
It seems astonishing that no one picked up on this Eisler/Elli connection before, except of course that the internet was unknown to Peter Wright (d.1995) and no doubt a bit of an unknown quantity to Harry Chapman Pincher. Incidentally, I took a special interest in Arthur Ewert (and therefore his friends) after reading that he was born in the small town of Heinrichswalde, East Prussia, now Slavsk, Russia. It happens that in February 2005 my Dad and I had an unforgettable meal there, in the company of the local mayor.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Welshman who Stood in a Valley but Came Down a Hill

Scholars agree that St David was a genuine historical figure, whose ministries as Abbot and Bishop impacted not only Wales but also much of what is now south west England and Brittany on the continent, though the passage of time has made it difficult to bring the details of his life into sharp focus. Some sources for instance give the date of his death as 589 AD, but the only certainty on that account seems to be that he was alive for the best part of the 6th century. As regards his reputation for holiness; his 11th century biographer Rhygyfarch reported that, as if to intercept a dove which landed on his shoulder, the ground underneath his feet rose when he was delivering a sermon at the Synod of Brefi in ca. 560. So if one may draw inspiration from the title of a 1990s film about a village near Cardiff, St David was ‘The Welshman who Stood in a Valley but Came Down a Hill’. Incidentally, the target of his denunciations on that occasion was Pelagian heresy, still flourishing in Britain a century after St Germanus of Auxerre’s 5th century mission, and arguably resurgent in our own times. However the best known of his homilies was his last, in which he appealed to his compatriots:

“Lords, brothers and sisters, be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. And as for me, I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

This injunction to “do the little things in life” (“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd”) has been a mainstay of Welsh Christianity ever since.

Friday, 21 April 2017

VI  Bosnia and Hercegovina: It’s a Long Way to Medjugorje

   On the morning of Friday 12th March, dedicated to Bl. Joseph Tshang-ta-Pong[1], the official on the Croatian side of the Bosnia-Hercegovina border took an evident dislike to the Russian visas in my passport, but let me through. It was the 10th anniversary of St John Paul the Great’s ‘Day of Pardon’, when on behalf of the whole Church throughout history he asked forgiveness for sins committed by his co-religionists against Jews, other non-Christians, indigenous peoples, other Christians, women and children, heretics and migrants. It happened also however that I was stepping outside the confines of Nato territory, exactly ten years after the publication of a Sunday Times article by Tom Walker and Aidan Laverty, ‘CIA aided Kosovo guerrilla army’, whose impact was deliberately and professionally blunted by a BBC documentary broadcast at 9pm on the same day, ‘Moral [sic] Combat: Nato at War’. From the latter:
Dugi Gorani, Kosovo Albanian Negotiator: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA[2] of course realised that. There was this foreign diplomat who once told me ‘Look unless you pass the quota of five thousand deaths you’ll never have anybody permanently present in Kosovo from the foreign diplomacy.’”
And the former:
   “Central Intelligence Agency officers were ceasefire monitors in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, developing ties with the KLA and giving American military training manuals and field advice on fighting the Yugoslav army and Serbian police.
   “When the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which co-ordinated the monitoring, left Kosovo a week before airstrikes began, many of its satellite telephones and global positioning systems were secretly handed to the KLA, ensuring that guerrilla commanders could stay in touch with Nato and Washington. Several KLA leaders had the mobile phone number of General Wesley Clark, the Nato commander.”
   I was amused by Bosnian border guards who, after I told them I was walking to Jerusalem via Medjugorje, seemed to be asking “Where's your horse?” Later I learned that a Frenchwoman was riding her “magaretz” (donkey) along a similar route to mine, a few days ahead of me. People in that part of Bosnia, accustomed perhaps to Medjugorje pilgrims, were very friendly; one chap summoned me into his home for a tasty lunch, others offered food or insisted I needn’t pay for teas and coffees. I was also struck by the apparent prosperity of villages I passed through. That night I was to be found sleeping soundly among piles of sticks at the back of a shed that looked suitably unfrequented, then on the next afternoon, Saturday 13 March, I arrived in Medjugorje.
   The parish church in Medjugorje is dedicated to the Apostle St James the Great[3]. After paying a visit to Our Lord there I found the Mary's Meals café, where I was hoping to intercept a new pair of boots and my kilt among other things, but found it closed for the weekend. The prospect of a couple of days rest in Medjugorje became all the sweeter however, when I phoned a friend who knew the owners of a really lovely place to stay called “Pansion Kata”; I wasn't allowed to pay because my hosts were too kind. I unburdened my conscience in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, attended Mass in English and the ‘international’ Mass on Sunday evening, and it was not least wonderful simply to be able to ‘unwind’.
   After Mass on the Monday morning I came back to the Mary's Meals café, where a delightful Belgian lady handed me packages sent from home. These contained among other things the kilt, which I had in mind particularly to wear in the company of Serbs, and my folks had also put another pair of charity shop boots in.
   This contrasted with BBC reporter Allan Little however, who conspicuously failed to “put the boot in” when making and editing his craftily sterilised documentary, ‘Moral [sic] Combat: Nato at War’. Two replies he gave to correspondents in an online Question and Answer session three days after its transmission help to explain why this was the case.
Doug, USA: “I am struck by the refusal of the US-led international community to accept the Albanians as the aggressor in this war. Why have we (the US-led international community) sponsored the Albanian movement?”
Allan Little: “This is very complicated. I have argued for the last decade that the principal aggressor and root of instability in the Balkans has been Milosevic and the nature of the Milosevic regime. It would be hard for me to turn round now and say that's no longer the case. I don't think the Albanians are the aggressor, I don't think there's any real doubt about that.” (my emphasis)
   This may usefully be seen in conjunction with the reply he makes to Michael Ranson, UK:
“Is there ever a time when a BBC reporter should use his position to actively speak out against the British government?”
Allan Little: “No, I don't think that actively speaking out against the British government is necessary or appropriate. That said, it is equally unnecessary and inappropriate to speak out in favour of the British government. I don't think that either of those things is needed.”
The first point Little makes here lays bare his double standards. It is not “necessary or appropriate” to speak out against the British government – but apparently it’s OK to “argue for the last decade that the principal aggressor and root of instability in the Balkans has been Milosevic and the nature of the Milosevic regime”. Further clear evidence that he is in fact a reliable Downing Street (and therefore White House) stooge is provided by his allowing the programme to be called ‘Moral Combat: Nato at War’; echoing precisely the sort of sanctimonious drivel spouted by Tony Blair (a man now widely regarded as a war criminal) near the beginning of the programme:
“The moral purpose was very simple. A gross injustice had been done to people, right on the doorstep of the European Union, which we were in a position to prevent and reverse, and we had to do that…”
   A tiny bit sorry to have to leave Medjugorje, nonetheless I was resolved to put more “heart” into my onward Christian soldiering. After dark I reached the crest of a hill and saw numerous lights in a valley which I supposed must be Mostar; but the road continued to wind its way round the slopes until I was suddenly confronted with a dramatic view of the real Mostar – much bigger than I remembered it, as a day-tripper twelve years before. Finding a discreet place tucked against the wall of the cathedral to sleep, I was then glad to be up in time for 7am Mass.
   ‘Most’ is the word for ‘bridge’ in Slavic languages, but I passed up an opportunity to see Mostar’s eponymous crossing point, forgetting that when I visited in 1998 it was only a bomb-damaged ruin (courtesy incidentally of Croat ordnance). So without having seen perhaps the most famous landmark in the Balkans, I set straight off along the Neretva “kanjon”, reaching in the evening a place to sleep on a train station platform at Dreznica.
   On the feast of St. Patrick the weather was fine, the scenery beautiful and I enjoyed the best-tasting coffee of my life, because I’d had to walk for several hours before it was available. Reaching the outskirts of Konjic I slept well in a rather scruffy neglected chamber under a car park. There were more great vistas next day as I ascended into mountains again, and memorably lizards could be seen scampering about amid shrinking patches of snow. At the other end of a longish tunnel however I found myself back in the depths of winter; everything covered in thick white stuff and the sun no longer with its hat on. As darkness fell I reached a village largely if not entirely populated by Muslims, hearing their call to prayer for the first time on my walk. On the far edge, a local pillar of the community bustled me into his nice warm café and produced complimentary coffee, a big sandwich and a bar of chocolate before I was allowed to leave. It was around this time that I started making use of the indispensable phrase “In-sha-Allah” or “God willing” in Arabic; “Ierusalim, In-sha-Allah”. Sleep that night was a bit of a shambles because neighbourhood dogs were disturbed by my presence in the doorway of an empty-looking building; after an hour or two of their barking I conceded defeat and moved to a nearby station platform.
   On 19th March, St. Joseph’s Day, I made a bid for Sarajevo, but having got thoroughly lost in trying to avoid a dual carriageway I reached only the western fringe of this huge and elongated city. Early next morning the Sarajevo PD[4] found me sleeping in a narrow space between two high-rise buildings; moving on I attended Mass, before following the letter of their instructions by sitting down for a coffee in the beguiling old town. Sarajevo is a place where, over the centuries, different cultures and religions have been able to meet, mingle, engage, even serenade, but also, sadly, fight.[5]

[1] Chinese catechist, martyred in 1815.
[2] Kosovo Liberation Army
[3] Patron saint of pilgrims, whose symbol is a scallop shell as worn by pilgrims to Santiago (St James) de Compostella in Spain.
[4] Police Department
[5] The scant biographical details of St Vitus include information that he was born in Sicily and suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Diocletian, around 303AD. For Serb Orthodox Christians his feast, known as ‘Vidovdan’ and celebrated on 28th June (15th June Old Style), is associated with a number of key historical events, most important of which is the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. On Vidovdan in 1389, both the Ottoman Turkish and Serb armies are understood to have been all but annihilated on the Kosovo Polje (Field); though the Turks emerged strong enough to overrun the remaining Serb principalities in succeeding years.
   On Vidovdan, 28 June 1914, a Bosnian Serb student, Gavrilo Princip, was part of a five-man team of assassins sent by Serbian secret society the Black Hand to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. Having pledged their readiness to die for what became the Yugoslav cause, all were issued with cyanide pills to swallow in case of arrest. The pills had expired however, being potent enough only to sicken both Princip and another of the conspirators who was captured. So Princip survived, and being a few weeks short of his 20th birthday, he couldn’t be executed under Austro-Hungarian law. What is perhaps interesting however is that before dying from malnutrition and skeletal tuberculosis at the prison camp of Theresienstadt in modern-day Czech Republic, his right arm had wasted away and had to be amputated (indeed the operation is understood to have aggravated his condition and hastened his death). Assuming he was right-handed, few limbs in history can have committed a blacker crime, unleashing as it did horror on a never-before-seen scale. Therefore, although one can imagine that his death in captivity may well have been awful, perhaps Princip nonetheless had reason to be eternally grateful both that the cyanide pill had expired and that he had been too young to hang. In his 1999 book, East European Nationalism, Politics and Religion, Peter Sugar reports that before his death in 1990 (aged 93) the youngest and last surviving conspirator Vaso Čubrilović had disavowed the extreme nationalism of his youth and expressed regret over the assassination:

“We destroyed a beautiful world that was lost forever due to the war that followed.”

“If your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell.” Mt5.30
    From the café I continued eastwards along Ferhadija[1] to the Baščaršija, the old bazaar and focal point for Islam in the city since the 15th century. I then spent the afternoon and early evening walking to Pale in the “Republika Srpska” (Serb) part of Bosnia, glimpsing mice, a pair of Dippers, and a deer at close quarters on the way. As was my wont, I had in mind to track down the church, but before finding it I decided that a bar called “Bolero” might be worth a visit. In Russian (mostly quite popular among Serbs) I tried to explain to the young lady serving drinks that her workplace took its name from the piece of music by Ravel which accompanied Jane Torville and Christopher Dean’s gold medal-garnering exploits at the 1984 (Sarajevo) Winter Olympics; one or two older guys seemed to have an idea of what I was talking about. She didn't let me pay for my tea and tipped me off about a great inexpensive hostel place, where I spent the night. For the Sunday service at church next morning I wore my kilt for the first time, with jacket and tie etc; though I subsequently learnt that such attire is not strictly appropriate in an Orthodox place of worship, so I had reason to be grateful that none of the handful of people who noticed me objected.
   Changing back into civvies, from Pale I made my way to a town called Podgrab, where I engaged in a pleasant conversation with some schoolchildren about our respective national patron saints, George and Sava, among other things. St. Sava was the first Serbian Bishop, and is revered in both Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. Taking advantage of dry weather I then walked on in the dark to Praca, in the predominantly Muslim division of Bosnia. However there were no hotels; but a benevolent Serb policajac took me to a house where I could stay inexpensively, belonging to a lady whose son played professional ice hockey in the United States. Plying me with nice food and drink, she and the policeman together insisted that the onward road to Ustipraca, which looked fine on my map, might be dangerous (‘Mujahadin’ was a word I clearly made out), so I agreed to be given a lift by one of his colleagues who was due to make the journey next day.
   Refreshed by a great sleep and breakfast, after keeping an 8am appointment at the police station this other copper drove me about 25km in an unmarked car along a rough, narrow and all but deserted track. Having done part of his police training in Moscow, in Russian he told me that the string of pitch black tunnels we went through had been built during Austro-Hungarian rule, a hundred years before. To the accompaniment of characteristically Turkish-sounding Serb music from the stereo, we also discussed the prospects of our respective countries in the forthcoming World Cup.
   Višegrad is best-known for its beautiful Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, the subject of a fabulous Nobel Prize-winning historical novel by Ivo Andric. Crossing that “Bridge over the Drina” when I came to it, after being very kindly allowed to phone home from a café-bar I found a little unfrequented store room in which to sleep. At a different café next morning, when a lady learnt I was from Britain she went out to fetch a young acquaintance of hers, ‘Zvonko’, on a vac but studying in Sarajevo.[2] He spoke excellent English and we agreed on just about everything; the importance of Christian faith, Russia’s positive role in the world, and Kosovo. I left him with a school atlas I’d brought with me, dating from 2004, showing Kosovo as still part of Serbia, which of course it is.[3] On the way east from there I visited a beautiful monastery with a 14th century church at Dobrun, before coming to the border with Serbia proper.

[1] Now named after a famous 15th century mosque in the Bosnian city of Banja Luka, Ferhadija was previously called Vase Miskina Street. On 27 May 1992 it was the scene of a brutal explosion, ostensibly from a mortar shell of the type used by Sarajevo’s Bosnian Serb besiegers, which ripped through a line of people queuing for bread, killing 17 and wounding dozens more. As intended by the crime’s perpetrators, the international media seized on the atrocity as yet more evidence of Serb inhumanity, although even at the time a UN official was quoted: “We believe it was a command-detonated explosion, probably in a can. The impact which is there now is not necessarily similar or anywhere near as large as we came to expect with a mortar round landing on a paved surface.” The work of forces loyal to the fundamentalist Muslim regime of President Alija Izetbegovic (but tirelessly covered up by western governments and their media patsies, for whom evidence they were wrong is the very acme of inconvenience), it was carefully timed to coincide with a meeting of European ambassadors considering sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It stands as the supreme example of a deliberate massacre of civilians on one’s own side, for the purpose of poisoning western opinion against the enemies of fanatical Islam. Meeting with great ‘success’, this satanic practice was replicated with at least two further attacks on Sarajevo’s market in succeeding years, the second of which was used as justification for anti-Serb Nato airstrikes. These unspeakable crimes against humanity provided a template for KLA activities and have been emulated more recently by extremist anti-government terrorists in Syria.
[2] As did both Gavrilo Princip and Ivo Andric; friends, remarkably, who moved in the same circles in the years before 1914.
[3] Before dawn on 15 December 1998, an armed band of KLA personnel crossed into the troubled province from neighbouring Albania. Ambushed by Serbian security forces, the ensuing firefight left 31 terrorists dead. Later on the same day, masked men with machine guns opened fire at random into the ‘Panda’ student café in the nearby city of Pec, killing six young Serb civilians, including five teenagers aged 14-17, and wounding 15 others. Primary responsibility for investigating and documenting events like these fell to the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM), established less than two months previously under the auspices of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). William G. Walker, the veteran US diplomat appointed by Madeleine Albright to lead the KVM, shared some reflections with Allan Little in ‘Moral Combat: Nato at War’, the euphemistically named BBC documentary:
Walker: “It really looked like this was a tit for tat again. KLA hearing about their people being killed up on the border had done this in Pec.”
Little: “There is a huge difference, isn't there, between people killed in a legitimate military exchange and a bunch of hooded unknowns walking into a bar and killing some teenagers..?”
Walker: “I think the point is, we really didn't know what had happened in Pec. Yes the government was saying it was KLA gangsters who had come in and sprayed this bar. When you don't know what has happened, it's a lot more difficult to sort of pronounce yourself.”
Walker’s “difficulty” here would appear to dovetail neatly with a comment he makes elsewhere in the same interview, when he is reminded of (NB not confronted with) the minutes of behind-closed-doors meetings of Nato’s North Atlantic Council, directly contradicting his public statements about where blame chiefly lay for ceasefire violations:
Little: “You told the North Atlantic Council that it was the KLA side who were largely responsible.”
Walker: “I would have to go back and re-read my notes. I don't remember. Most of the briefings I gave to the North Atlantic Council was that both sides were in non-compliance. Both sides were doing things that were wrong. Obviously it was easier to point at the government.” (my emphasis)
Quite how the former US ambassador to El Salvador is allowed to get away with saying this, when by Little’s account he is recorded in the minutes of the North Atlantic Council stating that “…the KLA… has launched what appears to be a deliberate campaign of provocation”, is not easy to vouchsafe. In any case however, we can see that in public, Walker found it was easier to lay the blame at the door of the Serb authorities; and, in his words, it was “difficult to sort of pronounce yourself” against the KLA terrorists – although that is exactly what he did, outside the media spotlight. And again, this seems to tally with useful snippets of contextual info such as that provided in the same documentary by Canadian Capt. Roland Keith, director of the Kosovo Polje field office of the same Kosovo Verification Mission:
   “Ambassador Walker was not just working for the OSCE. He was part of the American diplomatic policy that was occurring which had vilified Slobodan Milosevic, demonised the Serbian Administration and generally was providing diplomatic support to the KLA leadership.”
Without putting too fine a point on it, this knowledge only intensifies the foul stench of systematic, premeditated fraudulence hanging over that part of Allan Little’s commentary which follows immediately after we hear about Walker’s “difficulty in sort of pronouncing himself”:
   “One month later Walker was to break this rule to spectacular effect. He pronounced himself with absolute certainty about a massacre that occurred here, in the village of Račak. Even now, more than a year on, important questions about what happened here remain unanswered. This is the story of that massacre, of the political uses to which it was put, of how it galvanised the west to go to war, and of the pivotal role played by William Walker. There is nothing remarkable about Račak. Except that by January 1999, the KLA had moved in, most of the villagers had fled, and trenches had been dug on the edge of the village.”
More to follow.

VII  Serbia: Birder on the Orient Express

The border guards at the Serb frontier were the friendliest and most courteous I encountered anywhere, and I spent the night in a comfortable but affordable hotel in Mokra Gora.
   Wednesday 24th March 2010 was the eleventh anniversary of Primakov’s Loop.[1] I reached a tunnel with a clear “No pedestrians” sign, and so hitched a lift on a coach which set me down free of charge at a small town called Kremna. I then bumped into an English-speaking medic I’d actually met and exchanged a few words with near the monastery at Dobrun, the day before. Bringing me a tube of black ointment in case I needed it, for my feet, he explained that he’d been forced to leave Pristina, Kosovo, at the time of Nato’s bombing in 1999, but still had a close Muslim friend there. He also made reference to a fame Kremna had acquired as a result of its association with certain “prophesies”.[2] Stopping later to eat on a wall outside a business premises of some kind, I was spontaneously brought a super mug of coffee, then bread, water and different kinds of sandwich-filling by the employees.
   Užice[3] is quite a big city, nestling in a deep cavity created by mountains on all sides.  At around midnight I checked into the Hotel Zlatibor, a soaring concrete behemoth whose science fiction overtones make a stupendously bold statement about the merits of late70s/early80s communist architecture. In the morning I could not be restrained from drinking tea on board a real-life carriage of the Orient Express, with all its authentic upholstery and accoutrements, converted into a café restaurant.  Heading east I came to flatter country, and was persuaded to stay for a delicious bean soup at a petrol station where one of the attendants spoke good English. A friend of his who worked in local TV had recently interviewed the French lady with her donkey, so he got on the phone and it was arranged that I should have a similar meeting at the hotel in Požega that evening. However no one was there when I arrived; it’s possible that I may have been expected to make better time.
   Next day I donned the kilt again, and passed through the Ovčar-Kablar Gorge, known as the Serbian Mount Athos because of its numerous ancient monasteries. I visited the first of these, dedicated to the Transfiguration of Our Lord, where I was greeted by a monk who had studied in St Petersburg. He put me in the picture about the ineligibility of my kilt, but allowed me to glimpse inside the monastery chapel, with a glorious Iconostasis. However we also had a bit of discord on the question of Church unity, and the air was only cleared when I stated my opposition to Nato’s disgraceful actions in the Kosovo crisis eleven years earlier. Bloated with an arrogance venturing into the realm of farce, in part by the accession to Nato of former Warsaw Pact countries Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, in March 1999 western leaders flouted international law to carry out the bombing of a sovereign independent country, largely to divert media attention from a US President's private life.[4] Kosovo's status as part of Serbia is more or less analogous to that of Kent in England, especially since both are the ecclesiastical heartlands.

[1] On 24 March 1999, a senior Russian delegation led by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was in mid-flight over the Atlantic, heading for talks in Washington, D.C. When notified that Nato had begun its bombing of Yugoslavia, Primakov ordered the plane to turn around and return to Moscow. This is seen by many Russians as a key turning point, when the last vestige of uncritical post-Cold War goodwill towards the United States and western countries was finally exhausted.
The parallels between what historians refer to as Austria-Hungary’s ‘unacceptable ultimatum’ to Serbia of 1914, and the Rambouillet draft agreement presented by Nato to the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) 85 years later, are uncanny to the point of being surreal. On 7 July 1914, Austria-Hungary’s Council of Joint Ministers settled on the idea of making demands of Serbia which would be subtly but unmistakably impossible for a sovereign state to fulfil. The clause which met these criteria more than any other was the one compelling Belgrade to “agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy.” In the words of senior Viennese foreign ministry official Count Hoyos, this was “of such a nature that no nation that still possessed self-respect and dignity could possibly accept” it.
Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum was described at the time as “the most insolent document of its kind ever devised” by then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. ‘Appendix B’ of the Rambouillet draft agreement however, tacked on at the eleventh hour by the United States, actually contrived to be worse; a crass, not to say downright puerile mockery of all the diplomatic efforts which preceded it.
“Nato personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated air space and territorial waters. This shall include but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, manoeuvre, billet and utilisation of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations.”
In an article for The Nation in May 1999 (i.e. while the bombardment was continuing) George Kenney, a former hand on the U.S State Department’s Yugoslavia desk, wrote the following;
“An unimpeachable press source who regularly travels with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told this reviewer that, swearing reporters to deep-background confidentiality at the Rambouillet talks, a senior State Department official had bragged that the United States “deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept.” The Serbs needed, according to the official, a little bombing to see reason. Many critics already assumed the United States was creating a pretext for bombing–it seemed abundantly evident from the sham Rambouillet plan, which in its military appendix B demanded what would have been an unconditional surrender of Yugoslavia–but it is still astonishing to find out that a senior official would crow about a premeditated US plan to justify attack.”(my emphasis) From ‘Rolling Thunder: the Rerun’ by George Kenney, The Nation, 27 May 1999.
“…certain people in NATO were spoiling for a fight at that time… terms put to Milosevic were absolutely intolerable: how could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate.” Lord Gilbert, Defence Minister.
“Rambouillet, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing.” Dr Henry Kissinger.
“The draft agreement offered [to Milosevic] at Rambouillet was packed with elements he could never have accepted.” BBC World Affairs correspondent John Simpson; A Mad World, My Masters.
There are few if any recorded instances of Churchill using profane language, but it surely is not outside the realm of possibility to imagine that he might have been pushed to do so by the terms of the Rambouillet draft agreement.
[2] Mitar Tarabich (1829–1899) was an illiterate local peasant and alleged recipient of a series of often minutely accurate prophetic visions which he is said to have dictated to a Serbian Orthodox priest, Zaharije Zaharich (1836–1918), who was also his godfather. The prophesies, which appear to have come to light in around 1980, mostly deal with political and cultural developments in Serbia and Yugoslavia but also concern the wider world. In light of what happened to Iraq from 2003 and Syria from 2011, the following is perhaps of at least passing interest: “There will be a few wars around the kingdom of Israel, but sooner or later peace will come even there. In these wars, brothers fight brothers; then they make peace and kiss each other, but their hatred remains... All these small wars are initiated by the great kingdoms because of their wickedness and malice.” (my emphasis)
[3] In late 1913, Užice’s listening post was the scene of one of history’s most baleful and strictly confidential fireside chats, when Bosnian Serb newspaper editor Danilo Ilić paid a clandestine visit to officer in charge and fellow Black Hander, Colonel C.A. Popović. Pressing for a more belligerent policy towards Bosnia’s Austro-Hungarian colonial masters, Ilić was forwarded to Belgrade for discussions with arch-conspirator Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, aka ‘Apis’, who combined his role as Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence with leadership of the Black Hand. While Apis was immensely powerful and well-connected however, most historians absolve the Serbian government itself, led by Prime Minister Nikola Pašić, of responsibility for Franz Ferdinand’s death. Having got wind of the plot by the end of May, on 18 June Pašić instructed his ambassador in Vienna to warn the Austro-Hungarian authorities that there was reason to believe the Archduke ran a grave risk by visiting Bosnia at that time – a warning which was indeed passed on, albeit described as “vague” by the Austrian side. Yet the security arrangements in Sarajevo on 28 June were so inadequate as to bolster suggestions that Austria-Hungary deliberately sought to create optimum conditions for an attempt on the lives of the heir-presumptive and his wife Sophie; a Czech countess openly disapproved of by the Viennese establishment. Having said that however, it is known that anti-Habsburg feeling was widespread in Serbia at the time, and Pašić’s failure to take effective action to round up the plotters may have been based at least partly on a calculation that it would have undermined his already tenuous political position.
[4] “I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” President Bill Clinton at White House press conference, 26 January 1998.
Over the course of 1998, discernible increases in the loudness and intensity of US/Nato war drums regarding Kosovo actually corresponded dispiritingly closely with developments bearing on Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky. For instance on 9 June he declared the emerging Balkan crisis serious enough to warrant putting the US in a state of “national emergency”(!). This however surely had less to do with any “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”, as advertised, than with the fact that a week before, Ms Lewinsky’s legal team had been strengthened by the arrival of two particularly eminent Washington criminal defence lawyers. On 21st September Clinton’s grand jury testimony of the previous month was broadcast publicly for the first time; three days later, Nato’s North Atlantic Council issued an “activation warning”, putting its warplanes on a high level of readiness to carry out airstrikes against Serb government targets. The US House of Representatives vote to begin impeachment proceedings on 8 October was followed less than a week later by the North Atlantic Council issuing “activation orders”, putting Nato on a fully-fledged war footing. Posing as it did an immediate threat of airstrikes (a crime in itself under the terms of the UN charter), this move forced Belgrade to sign a ceasefire two days later, whose terms included the establishment of the Kosovo VerifiCIAtion Mission. All through this time, Clinton avoided business-as-usual White House press conferences; i.e. those featuring only himself and journalists. When he finally called one on 19 March 1999, the first of its kind since April of the previous year, it was mostly taken up with his justification for impending Nato airstrikes, following the pre-determined failure of the Rambouillet talks.
“You do not have to be pro-Serbian… to realize that the Kosovo crisis was a set-up. Clinton, badly damaged by the Lewinsky affair, had decided with Madeleine Albright that there would only be one outcome to this particular Balkan crisis: Milosevic would have to back down, or be bombed into submission.” John Simpson, A Mad World, My Masters.