Friday, December 03, 2004


The British Helsinki Human Rights Group

A week or so ago I linked to this report on the second round of the Ukrainian presidential elections by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group. The report seems to have caused some hubbub over the internet - for example, this discussion at Harry's Place and this one at Reason's Hit and Run blog. Then in last Tuesday's Guardian, David Aaronovich weighed in with this column, mainly focusing on John Laughland, one of BHHRG's trustees, who is at the same time connected to Sanders Research Associates, and BHHRG co-founder Christine Stone, who used to be a columnist at, which, as Aaronovich seems to be surprised to find out, "was not a leftwing site opposing the Iraq war. It was a rightwing site set up to oppose the Kosovo intervention in 1999." (in fact, some people opposed both wars...). Aaronovich finds these connections mighty fascinating.

I've never heard of Sanders Research Associates, and their articles seem to come with subscription only. This said, ridiculing Sanders Research Associates for predicting a massive John Kerry win, as Aaronovich does, is a bit rich, really - most people believed John Kerry would win the US presidential elections.

I have occasionally read Laughland, though, am a big fan of, and have occasionally read the BHHRG's reports, so I'm going to make a few small comments.

1. I'm not going to get into the issue of Kosovo, at least not for now - I might do so in the near future, but it'd take a long time. Suffice to say for now that I do not know whether Laughland is an all-out Milosevic supporter in the way that some latter-day Stalinists seem to be, rather than someone who has merely opposed the Kosovo war and Milosevic's indictment. You don't need to be a Milosevic supporter to do either: both's Justin Raimondo and Nebojsa Malic have strongly opposed both without having shown much in the way of personal sympathy for Milosevic - at least not to this reader.

2. I would hesitate even to call right-wing, even if its main political thrust is libertarian (which is quite some miles way even from the anti-imperialist paleoconservatism of Pat Buchanan, not to speak of the the likes of the John Birch Society which did at the time oppose the intervention in Kosovo as well. And an acerbic radical leftist like Alexander Cockburn used to have a regular column on the page.

3. At, Justin Raimondo has responded to Aaronovich in typical Raimondo style - which is something like the rethorical equivalent of an all-out armoured assault, with lots of hyperlinks. Justin Raimondo makes much of Aaronovich's communist past in a way that makes this NOT-ex communist here extremely uneasy. However, he makes one extremely important point, which is, that, quoting Laughland:

"We are told that a 96 per cent turnout in Donetsk, the home town of Viktor Yanukovich, is proof of electoral fraud. But apparently turnouts of more than 80 per cent in areas that support Viktor Yushchenko are not. Nor are actual scores for Yushchenko of well over 90 per cent in three regions, which Yanukovich achieved in only two. And whereas Yanukovich's final official score was 54 per cent, the Western-backed President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, officially polled 96.24 per cent of the vote in his country in January. The observers who now denounce the Ukrainian election welcomed that result in Georgia, saying that it 'brought the country closer to meeting international standards'. We have become dangerously tolerant of blatant double standards in media reporting."

Raimondo helpfully links to a map of the election results.

Whatever Laughland's or the BHHRG's political loyalties may be, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If the stalinistic support figures for Yanukovich in Donetsk are suspect, then so are by extension similar support figures for Yuschenko in the West, not to speak of the massive 96.24% victory for Saakashvili in Georgia.
Instead of casting suspicion on the BHHRG for reporting issues like these, perhaps some slight consistency would be asked for?

4. I generally take the BHHRG's report with a grain of salt, especially since they seem so much at odds with what is generally reported in the media. But then again, I try to take most things I read with a grain of salt. Aaronovich's attempt to make the BHHRG look like some extremely nefarious organization doubtlessly depending on sinister funding sources: "So what on earth is going on here? I know nothing about BHHRG's finances, but the ideological trail is fascinating." seems not particularly convincing to me - since at least one of these ideological trails leads to, a rather innocuous organization.

That does not mean that the BHHRG is above criticism. For one thing, they seem to have presented an extremely rosy report on the situation for Roma in the Czech Republic some time ago - strongly criticized by the European Roma Rights Center here. But their election report on the Ukraine definitely deserves to be read.

- Merlijn

Hi Merlijn,

glad to see you keep your head straight in this issue. The BHHRG is an independent organisation without a guiding ideology. Perhaps because of this, it has been called "Stalinst", "dictator-loving", "extreme rightwing", "in the pay of the KGB/CIA/MI", etc. Opponents of the Group always desperately want to pigeonhole it ideologically, but always end up smearing it for the simple reason that the Group is not political and not funded by any government.

In my view, the BHHRG provides a valuable service by reporting on developments first-hand, by being unafraid of going against the general opinion, by being able to antagonise almost every element of the political spectrum, by pointing out important but ignored facts, and by being very well-researched.

It is up to the reader to decide whether or not to be convinced by their arguments. Such is true democracy. But their reports are always worthwhile reading if you are serious about forming an informed opinion about events in the post-Communist world.
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