Thursday, May 30, 2013


I have taken a great liking to Koko for breakfast in the morning. It is basically a millet porridge laced heavily with ginger and other spices. I buy it in a bag from the market woman behind Legon annex every morning for 50 peswas. The only problems are that it is really hot, like molten lava, when you first get it and I can never get the sugar she puts at the bottom of the bag to dissolve.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thoughts on Africa Unity Day Weekend

In many ways Africa has greatly advanced since 1963 when the OAU was founded. Except for Western Sahara there are now no more official colonies in Africa. The last European colonial powers left the continent in 1975. Namibia got its independence from South Africa in 1990. Apartheid as practiced by the White minority governments in South Africa and Rhodesia has been eradicated from the continent. Mandela was elected in 1994. So many of the key the issues that dominated the OAU in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s have now been resolved.

Other positive advances have been the development of indigenous democratic states. This has been less successful than the removal of colonialism and apartheid. So while Ghana has established a functioning two party democratic republic dictatorships still rule Togo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, and other countries in Africa. There is an active freedom movement in Togo, but it gets very little attention even in neighboring Ghana and France and Germany continue to support the dictatorship in Lome. Certainly, the movements for greater democracy, transparency, and human rights in Africa still have a long way to go. 

Social and economic advancement has been highly uneven in Africa and in individual African states. Illiteracy, poverty, and poor infrastructure are still problems even in successful states like Ghana. In less fortunate states like Congo they are far worse. But, the days when all of Black Africa could be blithely written off by US commentators as a failure are over. Even if the US and Europeans wish to close their eyes to economic developments in Africa the Chinese have not. 

There is no doubt that overall things are better in Africa today than they were for most of the existence of the OAU/AU. Some of the fastest growing economies in the world are now in Africa. Cheap electronics and other consumer goods from Asia are becoming available to more and more people in Africa. I have yet to encounter anybody in Ghana who did not own a mobile phone. I purchased mine here for $20 and while cheap it was not the cheapest option available in the country. So overall life in Africa is better than it has been and will hopefully be even better in the future. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy Africa Unity Day Everybody

Tomorrow is Africa Unity Day in honor of the foundation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. Because it falls on a Saturday this year Monday is a day off for all public employees such as myself.

Done Grading

I have now finished grading all 193 students I had in my four classes this semester. Next semester I only have two classes to teach so it will be a lot less work during test time. At least this year I got them done early so I am not stressing out at the last minute trying to get them all done.

Western Sahara Again

Monday was the 40th anniversary of the beginning of armed struggle for independence for Western Sahara. The struggle began against Spain on 20 May 1973 and continued against Morocco until 6 September 1991 when a ceasefire was signed between Rabat and the Polisario. Sahrawis under occupation in the towns of Smara and Bjdor organized demonstrations to commemorate the event. The demonstration in Bjdor, however, was violently dispersed by Moroccan security forces. This follows on the decision by the UN Security Council this month to reauthorize the peace keeping forces in Western Sahara, but without any mandate to monitor human rights violations. The UN peace keeping force in the Western Sahara, MINURSO (UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) is now the only such existing force without authority from the Security Council to monitor human rights.


More State Violence in Togo against Demonstrators

There have been a whole string of recent protests in Togo involving women wearing red and in some cases baring their breasts. As I mentioned earlier unlike in Europe female public nudity is not a casual affair in West Africa. Its presence means that the women are really, really, really angry. There has also been some violence by youths against property associated with some of the demonstrations. A car was lit on fire and some windows smashed. But, for the most part the protests have remained nonviolent. Yesterday, the Togolese security forces again responded to peaceful demonstrations with violence by  firing tear gas into a crowd of protesters.

More Spanish Translation

The Spanish translation of my article, "Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water: The Russian-Germans in the Labour Army" is now available here as well. You will have to scroll down a little bit to find it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

End of the semester

I am finishing things off here for the semester. I have graded all my exams and entered all my grades except for one class at City Campus that I am still waiting on. I hope the scripts arrive soon. I need to have everything wrapped up here for the semester in the next two weeks.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

149 Years Ago Today in Circassia

Today is the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Qbaada Meadow (Kransaia Poliana) in which the Russian Imperial army finally defeated the Circassians and proceeded with the final mass deportation of the population into the Ottoman Empire. While many scholars place the first modern genocide in Armenia in 1915 and others in Namibia during 1904-1907, I think a good case can be argued that 1863-64 in Circassia deserves this distinction. Today is the day that Circassians around the world commemorate the massive expulsion of most of their population from their ancestral homeland in the Caucasus into the various territories of the Ottoman Empire. According to Walt Richmond out of some 1.5 million Circassians in 1860 over 600,000 or more than a third perished as a direct result of this forced dispersal.

Monday, May 20, 2013

More evidence of Soviet racism

This card used by police in the USSR to identify different nationalities by facial phenotypes is further evidence of my contention that natsional'nost in the USSR often served the exact same function as race. Indeed often as in the case of this card the only difference is the word being used. Distinguishing between groups of people based upon a perceived physical appearance inherited due to a particular ancestry is indeed a central component of racial classification. The fact that people like Francine Hirsch and Amir Weiner want to deny that this is racism by claiming that natsional'nost or ethnicity or whatever other word they use instead of race is not race does not change this fact. 

Spanish Translation

My article "Hewers of Water and Drawers of Water: the Russian-Germans in the Labour Army" has now been translated into Spanish by Jorge Bohn. The Spanish title is "Lenadores y Accareadores de Aqua: Los Ruso-Alemanes en el Ejercito de Trabajo." You can find it for download on the FB page Collctividad Wolgadeutsche - Alemanes del Volga.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Naked Women Demonstrate against the Dictatorship in Togo

Yesterday there was another demonstration in Togo against the dictatorship there. This time a number of women stripped naked as part of the protests. These were not young women, but rather mothers and grandmothers and there was nothing erotic about the brief film clip I saw of the demonstration. It as well as some still photographs can be seen at the FB page Liberte pour Togo-Freiheit fuer Togo.  In West African society female public nudity is taboo and the tactic of the naked demonstration is viewed as a way of shaming the dictatorship. I haven't been able to find any news stories on it yet so I have no idea what impact the demonstration has had. But, for a West African government to be subjected to such a demonstration is a sign of extreme discontent. Another general demonstration against the regime involving both men and women, but presumably wearing all their clothes is scheduled for 21 May 2013. The demonstrations against the regime in Togo have been getting more frequent, more extreme, and more angry.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

More on the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars 69 years ago (18 May 1944)

The International Committee for Crimea has a number of my pieces on the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Among them is my very first academic conference paper which I delivered at Columbia University in 2000. It also has this timeline of the history of the Crimean Tatars from 1917-1994 and another conference paper given at Columbia in 2004 as I was finishing my dissertation. Finally, the abstract to my dissertation itself which has a lengthy section on the Crimean Tatars.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

69 Years Since the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars (18 May 1944)

This Saturday is the 69th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their peninsular homeland on the Black Sea to the deserts of Uzbekistan and the wet forests of the Urals. The NKVD rounded up almost the entire population and took them to rail stations where they were stuffed like cattle into box cars. In three days over 180,000 people had been expelled from their homes and sent on a long and arduous journey eastward. The official reason for the deportation was the false charges of treason brought against the whole population by the Stalin regime. However, the number of Crimean Tatars that fought with the Germans, about 10,000, was quite small compared to a number of other nationalities that were not subject to wholesale deportation. Upon arriving in Uzbekistan and the Urals the Crimean Tatars were placed under special settlement restrictions. On 26 November 1948, the Soviet government decreed the deportations and special settlement restrictions to be forever. The death of Stalin on 5 March 1953 brought about an eventual end of the special settlement regime and on 28 April 1956 the Soviet government freed the Crimean Tatars from these restrictions. They, however, were not allowed to return to Crimea in any significant numbers until 1987 near the very end of the Soviet regime. Even today they still face obstacles to resettling in their homeland and nearly 100,000 still remain in Uzbekistan.

For further reading see this bibliography.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Great News: Dorje Gurung has been released

Dorje Gurung has been released from jail in Qatar and is finishing up the paperwork to allow him to fly home to Nepal. He should be on a plane on the way home tomorrow. I want to thank everybody who signed the petition and helped raise awareness of this case. The Grinnell alumni were very impressive in organizing on his behalf especially Scott Wittstruck. I also think this points to some deeper structural problems regarding foreign labor involved in teaching such as myself in a number of countries and not just Qatar. Fortunately, where I teach in Ghana our problems are comparatively minor. But, since education is increasingly a task performed in many countries by immigrant labor I think we should start to think about these issues.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bleg for a fellow Grinnell Alumnus

Dorje Gurung, a former chemistry teacher at Qatar Academy and citizen of Nepal has been arrested and charged with "insulting Islam." He faces up to seven years if convicted. Here is the Washington Post article on the case. It has been a very long time since I last saw Dorje Gurung. He was at Grinnell College at the same time I was. He graduated in 1994 and I graduated in 1992. I did not know him that well, but from reading the news accounts of this incident I definitely do not believe he should spend seven years in a foreign prison for a crime I do not think he committed. Instead he should be released and allowed to return home to Nepal. I also believe that the Qatari government can be persuaded to take this particular action. Here is the online petition asking the Qatari government to release Dorje Gurung. There is also a FB page dedicated to working for his release. Please make sure that all requests to the government of Qatar and its representatives as well as public posts regarding this matter remain polite and civil. Offending the Qatari authorities will not help free Dorje.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Today's Meeting

Today we had a long departmental meeting primarily to discuss the overhaul of our graduate program. In fact it was an all day off campus retreat. It was generally agreed that there needed to be a much stronger emphasis on historiography, theory, and methodology. It was also agreed that we needed to move away from an excessive focus on Ghana to be more Pan-African in our overall orientation. So the program for the new incoming graduate students will emphasize this new direction.

Happy Victory Day

Today in 1945, the Allies finally defeated Nazi Germany. About 70,000 soldiers from Kyrgyzstan fought and died in the Soviet Red Army achieving this victory. This is considerably more men than the US military lost in Vietnam. The total population of the Kyrgyz SSR in 1939, however, was just barely over 1.5 million people.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Another reason I am glad my life is boring

Today at lunch Dr. Smith regaled me with the story of her week long experience with the Ghanaian criminal justice system helping a 22 year old white American male who was arrested for possession of cannabis, although the actual charge ended up being use of cannabis which carries only half the potential sentence. To avoid turning this blog post into an African version of War and Peace I will summarize. The kid got busted with a joint. People arrested for drug charges, armed robbery, and murder are evidently ineligible for bail in Ghana. He spent four days in jail rather than the three months the judge was initially contemplating due to Dr. Smith calling in all kinds of favors to talk to various law enforcement officials as well as getting a big name lawyer for the kid. So in the unlikely event that I ever need the services of somebody in the criminal justice system, say I get robbed and I want to recover my property, I will be contacting Dr. Smith who is evidently now good friends with the entire legal system of Ghana. My week was much less eventual. The highlight was going book shopping with the rest of the department on Friday. An event Dr. Smith missed because she was busy with the above story.

Socialized Dentistry

It turns out that Ghana not only has socialized medicine, but it also has socialized dentistry. I broke a tooth a while back and I had a filling fall out of another tooth. So I need to get those two teeth fixed. Fortunately, I can get everything except the x-rays (65 cedis) free. The last time I went to a dentist in the US the bill was $4000.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

A good historical interpretation

With all the revisionist scholarship on the Stalin era out there it is always good to come across a quotation like the one below which pulls no punches.

It is our firm belief, supported by research into the history of the "German-Labor Army Conscripts" in the camps of the Urals, that these mobilized Russian Germans were not free citizens of the USSR, but people repressed  due to their nationality, and placed in special settlements. They appeared as part of the composition of the "special contingent", representing a marginal group in Soviet society employed in forced labor under conditions of strict limitations of their rights and freedoms. 

Source: V.M. Kirillov and N.V. Matveeva, "Trudmobilizovannye nemtsy na Urale: sostoyanie i novye aspekty issledovaniya problemy," in A.A. German (ed.), Nachal'nyi period Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny i deportatsiya rossiiskikh nemtsev: vzglyady i otsenki cherez 70 let (Moskva: MSNK-Press, 2011), p. 627. Translated from Russian to English by J. Otto Pohl.

Walking around campus

I do my best thinking while walking around campus. However, inevitably my thinking is always interrupted by  students calling out "Dr. Pohl.". Which leads me to the conclusion that while nobody in the White world has ever heard of me I actually am known and respected by a number of people here in Legon. If you asked me  a couple years ago whether I would be known upon sight by any significant amount of people anywhere in Africa I would have thought you were crazy. But, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

May Day 1945 Karaganda

The Karaganda coal mines made extensive use of forced labor, both convicted prisoners and mobilized members of the labor army, during Stalin's lifetime. On 1st May 1945, a methane explosion in mine no. 20 in the Lenin Coal Trust in Karaganda killed 85 people including 13 Russian-Germans working as part of a labor army detachment.

Source: O.A. Jakowenko and A.A. German, "Arbeitsmobilisierte Deutsche in Kasachstan", in A. German and O. Silantjewa, "...In Arbeitskolonnen fur die gesamte Zeit des Krieges." Zeitzungen und Forscher berichten uber uber die Deutschen in der Trudarmee (Moskau: IVDK-Medien, 2012), p. 272

O.A. Yakovenko and A.A. German, "Trudmobilizovannye Nemtsy v Kazakhstane, in A. German and O. Silant'eva, "...V rabochie kolonny na vse vremya voiny." Ochevidtsy i issledovateli o nemtsev v trudovoi armii (Moskva: MSNK-Press, 2012), p. 273.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Chairman Mao, Chairman Avakian, Chairman Pohl

Tonight I acted as Chairman in the transfer ceremony of the History Students' Association of Legon (HISTAL). It felt strange to be called Chairman. But, I did promise them that unlike Chairman Mao that I would not subject them to a Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution or any long speeches.

More on why I don't mind toiling in complete obscurity anymore.

Ideally we should all just ignore gratuitous insults. But, in reality it is not always easy to do. It is perhaps best if one is never in a position where it is not an issue. Being a complete nobody means that I don't have to worry about the type of ridiculous personal attacks that more famous scholars have to endure.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Response to Ilya Somin

For the last six years Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy has been agitating to refashion May First from a day to celebrate working men and women to a day to commemorate the victims of communism. Now I am all for commemorating the victims of communism, but I also support keeping May First as an international workers' day as well. Somin's reasoning for wanting to use May First as the day to commemorate the victims of communism is that the USSR and other communist states hijacked the holiday as a "propaganda tool." But, if that is his logic than he should advocate that Victims of Communism Day be not on May First, but on May Ninth or Victory Day. The USSR and its satellites did not receive their legitimacy and justification after 1945 from being international workers states. The main source of real legitimacy both internally and externally for these regimes was the role of the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany. Somehow I do not think that Somin would advocate that the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the Holocaust be remembered as a day to commemorate the victims of the victorious Allies, foremost among them the USSR, but also including various communist partisan movements in East Central Europe such as those fighting under Tito in Yugoslavia. However, if the point is to target a day adopted by the USSR and other communist states to prop up their regimes then 9th May is an infinitely better day than 1st May. Even today in post-Soviet states 9th May is a huge holiday compared to 1st May and in real terms it has been for decades. I of course do not advocate that Victim of Communism Day be on 9th May either. The accomplishments of the people of the USSR in defeating Naziism were quite real and people in the former Soviet states are rightfully justified in celebrating this victory. Victims of Communism Day should be on a day that is an anniversary of one of Stalin's crimes. For instance 28th August which is the anniversary of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet decree ordering the deportation of the Volga Germans to Siberia and Kazakhstan. This makes a lot more sense than playing into the fiction that the USSR was actually some sort of workers' paradise and therefore the embodiment of 1st of May as an international day for working men and women.

Happy May Day!

Today is a holiday in Ghana as it is in most of the world. The First of May is traditionally Labor (or Labour in countries like the UK and South Africa) Day for just about everybody outside the US. That means as a state (public) employee I get the day off.