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Is he Vietnamese?

Sadakat Kadri’s article about citizenship and its withdrawal invites further reflection on two related but different concepts (LRB, 18 June). ‘Nationality’ is the link between individual and state for the purposes of international law. A ‘stateless person’ is defined in Article 1 of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954 as a person ‘not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law’. Nationality is most often possessed as a consequence of membership of the state in domestic law terms as a ‘subject’ or ‘citizen’. However, one can be deprived of one or the other without being deprived of both. The Soviet authorities in 1921-24 denationalised some two million former Russians outside the USSR who had opposed the new regime or were considered by the authorities to have done so. The challenge to the international system represented by mass denationalisation was such that the Nazis initially acted to denationalise Jews who had acquired German citizenship by naturalisation in 1933, but as regards others left them, under the Reich Citizenship Law of 15 September 1935, one of the so-called Nuremberg laws, as ‘subjects’ (nationals) while creating a new status, ‘citizen of the Reich’ from which they were excluded. This avoided deprivation of nationality, and expressly left in place the individual’s duty of fealty to the state, while removing all the civic rights identifying a citizen under domestic law. In November 1941 a further measure removed nationality from German Jews treated by then as ordinarily resident abroad – notably encompassing all those who had fled, and those transported to camps abroad. Postwar Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia denationalised ethnic Germans; Czechoslovakia extended this to ethnic Hungarians.

International law protects against the deprivation of nationality, especially where this leads to statelessness. But it does not protect either a minimum content for nationality (there is no standard in international law to establish that at some point a state may so drain the content of its nationality that what is there is not a nationality at all) or against the deprivation of citizenship without loss of nationality.

In the recent case of Minh Quang Pham, the nationality law of Vietnam was found to be ‘deliberately ambiguous so as to permit the Vietnamese Executive to make whatever decisions it wished’. The British government did not ask the Vietnamese whether Minh was a Vietnamese national because it suspected that if the Vietnamese authorities identified Minh, they would assert that he was not their national. On this basis the British government itself could deprive Minh of British nationality without rendering him stateless because it asserted that anticipated loss of Vietnamese nationality had not happened yet: this followed only later, when the Vietnamese government announced that Minh was not its national. One of several questions this begs is whether Pham was at the relevant moment a national under a law which was deliberately ambiguous. And if nationality existed by reason of a deliberately ambiguous legal situation, how does a mere declaration by the Vietnamese government reverse nationality so that Minh is now stateless?

The decision invites questions concerning the conduct of the British state. The United Kingdom has in the past promoted itself as an advocate of international norms, rather than the converse. Here it may have edged a success by slipping in early with its denationalisation of Minh, knowing it likely that Vietnam would then disavow him, but that scarcely inspires confidence in the integrity of its actions. It may have had little faith in Vietnamese law and practice regarding nationality, but international law cannot be maintained if every participant is looking solely to elude restriction by sharp practice. And if the bar on creating statelessness is the major impediment to denationalisation, an unintended consequence likely to attract more attention is the priority accorded to being quick on the draw as states broaden their scope for denationalisation, given that the last state is the one most likely to be left holding the baby.

Eric Fripp
Temple, London EC4

Sadakat Kadri writes that ‘citizenship isn’t ordinarily forfeit on proof of bad conduct’ – at least in the UK. In the 20th century, the US denaturalised more than 22,000 of its citizens on these and other grounds. When it passed the Naturalisation Act in 1906, the American government sought to deter fraudulent applications with a clause that revoked citizenship should irregularities appear in the petition process. Almost immediately, as legal scholar Patrick Weil has revealed, an additional Expatriation Act was drafted to exclude anyone deemed ‘un-American’ in race, residence or political belief. For those who were naturalised, citizenship was conditional, as Emma Goldman would soon learn. An émigrée from Lithuania, Goldman claimed American membership through her naturalised ex-husband. The government dug up irregularities in her ex’s naturalisation claims (he had been in the US less than five years when they married) and in 1909 stripped her of her citizenship and constitutional protections, deporting her ten years later.

Not only were socialists, communists, pacifists and fascists among the thousands denaturalised, so were those deemed of ‘bad moral character’ – debauchees who’d had extramarital affairs, practised free love, polygamy or pimping, along with possession and sale of alcohol in the days of Prohibition. Courts also denaturalised citizens discovered to be Asian – a category that fell between the cracks of racist laws written for free whites and extended to freed blacks. New Americans were expected to remain there; those who lived abroad for a spell or voted in foreign elections could find their citizenship cancelled.

Only in the 1960s did a series of Supreme Court rulings secure naturalised citizenship as a guaranteed, not provisional, status. Since then, the government has stripped membership from fewer than 150 new Americans, usually for lying on their applications or participating in genocide. It may be relatively secure now, but citizenship by acquisition in the US was for a long time a poor example of Arendt’s ‘right to have rights’. Against this pockmarked history, it isn’t altogether surprising that Washington is pressuring the Home Office to forfeit the citizenship of its military targets.

Kristin Surak
SOAS, University of London

In Whole or in Part

I sympathise with Professor Suny: my essay was editorially presented as a review of his book, which I did read with great interest but did not of course review, that being a task for specialists, especially given the nature of its documentation (Letters, 18 June). Brendan O’Leary castigates my opinions in kind and pedagogic tones which encourage me to respond sine ira about a subject that generates nothing else, certainly no worthwhile substantive actions. As far as I am concerned, Lemkin wasted his time before and during and after the Second World War (he could have worked in a munitions plant) in running after officials who cared not a fig about his own Jewish family’s destruction or about anyone else’s, to win their hollow approval for his worthless screed that so far has protected nobody at all, not Cambodians, or Kurds, or Tutsis, or Furs, or Yazidi Kurds or the Rohingya right now. Today it is prosperous Malaysia and Indonesia, with its thousands of inhabitable uninhabited islands (I have visited quite a few) that have no room at all for fellow Muslim Rohingya, while in Lemkin’s day, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the United States could not accommodate even one Jewish child in their 38.5 million square kilometres, and the British would not part with their ‘Passport Control Istanbul Visa for Palestine’ stamps (4” x 3”), with which my relatives could readily have obtained transit visas from Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey for a comfortable train ride out of Budapest in 1944 (regular passenger services were still running), while other trains were going elsewhere that year.

Things have not changed a bit. Indeed in regard to the efficacy of the Lemkin convention, there is a reverse correlation: as long as he was killing Kurds, Saddam was doing just fine; that fashionista Gaddafi could be busying himself still in colour co-ordinating his robes if only he had found a minority to exterminate.

Otherwise there is merely inaction, as with the emblematic Tutsis. Their rescue could have been achieved by a couple of thousand US troops with lots of ammunition. As for the Turkish case, in reading the formula ‘any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’, I take note of the ‘in part’ but also of the ‘as such’. In that regard, the ready availability of more than a hundred thousand highly identifiable Armenians in Istanbul whom the authorities did not try to kill sways my judgment; I note that the US and British governments who do not lack for jurists on staff apparently concur, but because I spit on the document in any case, I can hardly insist, and will hereafter defer to O’Leary’s learned interpretation.

Edward Luttwak
Chevy Chase, Maryland

At least we worried

Susan Pedersen rightly condemns Britain’s blockade policy during the Great War (LRB, 18 June). It was not simply a naval blockade. It was made possible and applied thanks to Britain’s predominant commercial and industrial power, and its willingness to adapt the laws of the market to its wartime requirements. International telegraphs were virtually a British monopoly, so were marine insurance and the supply of steam coal to the merchant fleets of the world. In the circumstances of the war, the blockade was imposed with great diligence against Germany’s neutral neighbours. Gentle coercion did not come into it; it was the law of supply and demand. People began to go hungry early in the war. That the blockade was immoral became obvious when the Allies continued it after the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, enforcing it selectively for the next eight months. The main military necessity in this period, shared by the Allies, the German high command and the Social Democrats, was to crush the workers’ armed uprisings that broke out in the days before the signing. The Nazis were formed in this period, their methods brutally exposed in the 1920 Kapp Putsch. The consequences of the post-Armistice blockade were obvious to the Daily Herald. In May 1919 it published a cartoon showing a child weeping as the Allied leaders left the Palace of Versailles. Over its head hovered a dark cloud labelled ‘Class of 1940’.

Nick Howard

In Greece

‘Syriza,’ Alexander Clapp writes, ‘is the most successful product so far of the left that stayed at home’ (LRB, 9 April). Presumably he means to mean that since the defeat of the communist insurgency in 1949 and its combatants’ thirty-year exile in the Soviet bloc the Greek left achieved nothing until Syriza’s electoral victory this January. This overlooks the role of EDA, a party generally regarded as a front for the banned CP, which contested elections as early as 1951 and remained a small but significant force in Greek politics until the Colonels’ coup in 1967 (the murder of its MP Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963 was the subject of Costa-Gavras’s famous film Z), as well as the achievements of Pasok, which after coming to power in 1981 recognised the wartime Resistance, introduced independent pensions for the wives of farmers and agricultural workers and established healthcare centres in the countryside, all for the first time.

Involvement in Elas and the subsequent Civil War and, in younger generations, resistance to the Colonels have been the ultimate badge of honour for Greek leftists. They used to say about the French Resistance that the number of participants swelled perceptibly once the war was safely over: the same could be said about the overthrow of the Colonels’ regime. It is not so true of the Civil War because for many years admitting to communist sympathies would have cost you your job, if not your life.

Clapp names people in Syriza who claim to have been tortured by the Colonels and tells us that the father of Yanis Varoufakis, the minister of finance, was imprisoned on Makronisos, the island concentration camp for unrepentant communists. I have no reason to doubt that he was anything but a brave, truthful and determined man, ready to die for his beliefs (he did, incidentally, send his son to a school for children of the very rich, whose nearby rival I taught at for several years), but I also recall the words of a friend, now dead, also a communist imprisoned on Makronisos, apropos of an acquaintance who was always flaunting his ‘revolutionary’ past. There were people who signed the dhilosi, a recantation of beliefs that in theory guaranteed a less harsh fate, and those who did not. ‘Some people went to the ravine’ (where they were beaten half to death), he said, ‘while others played the guitar.’ Anyway, as my wife – whose own mother went to prison in South Africa for being a communist – says, ‘Does any of this tell you anything about their children and grandchildren?’

Is any of this relevant to contemporary Greece? It is beyond doubt that the Civil War left long-lasting resentment and bitterness on both sides and some of the undercurrents are still there: in the resurgence of fascist rhetoric and action on the part of Golden Dawn, in the violent demonstrations against austerity by various far left and anarchist factions (the obvious explanation for heavy police presence on the streets of Athens rather than the re-emergence of a repressive state apparatus, as Clapp would have us believe). All through the 1950s, when I first set foot in Greece, the jails were full of political prisoners. Known leftists had to report to their local police stations weekly. Even referring to the events of the 1940s as the ‘civil’ war was enough to brand you a communist, with all sorts of unpleasant consequences. To get a job you had to have a certificate of what was called ethnikofrosini, being ‘nationally-minded’, i.e. not remotely lefty in outlook, which is why the building trade, with its tradition of casual labour and no questions asked, was stuffed with surprisingly well educated but semi-outlawed old-time communists.

Apart from a current of anti-US, anti-Nato, anti-EU sentiment, a foolish tendency to see Russia as somehow a more trustworthy friend and a willingness to believe in the wildest conspiracy theories, that runs among some of Syriza’s heterogeneous elements, I’m not sure that the Civil War communists have left anything much in the way of an intellectual legacy. Some may have been disillusioned by their long stay in the Soviet bloc (Solzhenitsyn encountered some of them in the gulag), but many of those who returned to Greece in the late 1970s and 1980s remained unrepentant, authoritarian Stalinists to the end of their days. They belonged to an era of People’s Courts, Enemies of the People, Class Enemies. ‘Pluralism’, ‘choice’, ‘democracy’, were not words that featured in their vocabulary. Greece would have been another Bulgaria if they had won the Civil War. They had never represented majority opinion in Greece. By the time they returned they were old and irrelevant and they were not welcome; several have described to me their shock at being jostled and jeered at when they got off their trains in Thessaloniki.

Tim Salmon
London NW3

After the Election

Michael Rolfe suggests that Labour might have looked to Australia for advice and help in the general election (Letters, 18 June). He may or may not be aware that the Labour Party’s campaign in Scotland was strategically guided by John McTernan, former communications director to Julia Gillard and veteran of Australian Labor’s 2007 election campaign. Result: Scottish National Party 56, Labour 1. That went well, didn’t it?

Fraser Pettigrew
Wellington, New Zealand

Easy Peasy

According to Peter Green’s Homer, quoted by Colin Burrow, Achilles’ spear ‘stuck in the ground, after breaking through both layers of [Aeneas’] sheltering shield’ (LRB, 18 June). I take it that the spear is also stuck in the shield, and that no great textual difficulty is created by the fact that Poseidon later pulls it out. Certainly Aeneas is no longer holding the shield. He’s picking up a massive rock that two ordinary men couldn’t possibly lift in order to face up to Achilles.

Galen Strawson
University of Texas, Austin

Joe Gould on Video

I first learned about Joseph Mitchell from a computer game (LRB, 18 June). Blackwell Unbound is the second in a series of video adventure games in which Mitchell and his subject Joe Gould both appear, and Mitchell’s long period without publishing anything is cleverly tied into the main storyline.

‘Video games have people who play them, and a wider public for whom they simply don’t exist,’ John Lanchester wrote in the LRB of 1 January 2009. The Blackwell series is the type of video game that not only does not exist for the wider public, but is even invisible to the majority of people who play games. ‘Serious’ gamers generally prefer console games or massive online multiplayer computer games, while ‘casual’ gamers increasingly play games designed for short sessions on phones and tablets. Too bad, because the Blackwell series, with its simple but evocative artwork, a jazzy score, a reasonably well-written story, satisfying puzzles and great voice acting, is the kind of game that might change at least a few sceptics’ minds about the artistic merit of the medium.

Will Chapman
Greenwood, Maine


Bernard Porter fails to convey the full horror of Gallipoli because he avoids any mention of the geography (LRB, 21 May). Allied troops coming ashore were confronted by a sheer cliff, with Turkish soldiers dug into trenches at the top. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Milton Moskowitz
Mill Valley, California


Francis Spufford’s objection to Carlos Fraenkel’s quotation from Luke is spurious (Letters, 4 June). The sentence in dispute is surely not a quotation within Christ’s parable (i.e. a meta-quotation) as he claims. My King James Bible gives ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me’ as Luke 19:27, the previous verse being: ‘For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.’ The parable takes up verses 11 to 25, but the phrase ‘For I say unto you’ changes the status of the following text. It occurs 11 times (including this one) in Matthew and Luke, each time as a discourse marker for a significant statement of Christ’s own, in this case the content of verses 26 and 27. This is not just in the King James version: all 11 times it corresponds to ‘λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν’ in the Archetypum Graecum edited by E.W. Stier (1852). I do not know whether a historical Jesus of Nazareth – speaking Aramaic, presumably – really said such a bloodthirsty thing, and, if so, how he meant it, but the Bible clearly suggests that he did say it.

James Fanning
Universität Greifswald, Germany

Keep the coals lit

Thomas Meaney makes a number of errors in his discussion of J.M. Coetzee’s notebooks (LRB, 21 May). The unrealised novel The Burning of the Books is set in Cape Town, not Santiago, and is a response to the pervasiveness of apartheid-era censorship. Coetzee was not ‘determined’ to set Waiting for the Barbarians in China; having moved the milieu away from Cape Town after a revolutionary war, he drew on the ethnography of China for realistic detail in a deliberately unspecific setting. The notebook entry of 16 June 1986 (the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising) launched Age of Iron. He doesn’t ‘compare’ Gordimer to Isaiah Berlin, but uses Berlin’s assessment of the intergenerational tensions in mid-19th-century Russia to compare her to the Turgenev of Fathers and Sons.

It is true that Coetzee’s notebooks ‘are a dense weave of doubts, moments of confidence, then doubts again’ and that an overriding concern is ‘to keep the coals lit’. But there is little justification for Meaney’s assessment that they ‘don’t lead you to the work; they are scattered chickenfeed for those foolish enough to come pecking in Texas.’ Perhaps Meaney should have trusted his instincts better and engaged with what is surfacing from the Coetzee papers: an authorship whose creative processes are more autobiographical, more vulnerable, and more intensely felt than the public reputation has led us to believe.

David Attwell
University of York

Thomas Meaney writes: Attwell is right about the Berlin passage. And Coetzee only cites his knowledge of ‘Asian reality’ as a ‘compositional aid’ for Waiting for the Barbarians, so I should have phrased that differently. But the Santiago setting is in the notes for The Burning of the Books: ‘The junta is clearing out the universities in Santiago.’ And there are many ‘pensées’ in the notebooks that don’t benefit from a Soweto anniversary. My point was that much of Coetzee’s writer’s diaries are highly stylised fragments. Attwell says Coetzee’s ‘creative processes are more autobiographical, more vulnerable, and more intensely felt than the public reputation has led us to believe.’ But what literary biographer has not said that about his subject? I was looking at something that makes Coetzee different.


In his article entitled ‘Exhibitionists’, Hal Foster makes welcome mention of Henry Cole in relation to curatorial practice (LRB, 4 June). Cole, as far as I can tell, was not quite an exhibitionist but certainly a man of some flamboyance, as hinted at by James Tissot’s cartoon of him in Vanity Fair in 1871, with flowing locks of white hair, chequered trousers and his loyal dog, on its hind legs, behind him. But he wasn’t entirely an entrepreneur either, in the sense we have of someone operating in the sphere of free-market economics. He worked in the nascent Victorian world of public subvention and publicly funded arts activity, which took in the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, the Design Schools, and the Science and Art Department, which led to the formation of what is now the V&A. In this he was aided by the artist Richard Redgrave, who was instrumental in obtaining the Sheepshanks and Ellison collections. Redgrave also designed some of the objects that went into industrial production under Cole’s pseudonym, Felix Summerly. These were a precursor to the idea for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the curatorial debate that followed about the status of objects designed for mass consumption and the relationship between the fine arts and design.

Mark Goodwin
Glenhinnisdal, Isle of Skye

Not So Fast

David Trotter quotes Hitchcock’s definition of montage as the ‘juxtaposition’ of ‘pieces of film that went through a machine’ in such a way as to create ‘ideas on the screen’, as if the formal innovations of the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s – Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein – never existed (LRB, 4 June). Eisenstein grasped that the power of editing, as used by D.W. Griffith and other pioneers, went beyond enhancing suspense or intensifying emotion: that it could, in fact, suggest intellectual concepts. Hitchcock was indisputably a master of editing, but he did not invent the notion that ‘montage’ was a form of creating ideas on the screen.

Tony Pipolo
City University of New York