Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The coming new year

Optimism is something that you acquire as a survival skill in Africa. I especially try to be optimistic when starting a new year which will happen in a couple of days. I am hoping that this next year that I can make some solid accomplishments.Converting those accomplishments into money, however, is another matter and considerably more difficult and less probable. Nevertheless, I am going to follow the advice of the quotation in the little square to the right here. If anybody has any suggestions on making this belief a reality please put them in the comments.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Happy Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day which has an official status in most Commonwealth countries. When I was very young and first saw it on calendars I thought it referred to the sport of boxing. But, in reality it refers to boxing up left overs and giving them to the hired help.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to the half a dozen people that will see this blog post.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Revival of Internal Colonialism as a Scholarly Model?

Between about 1980 and 2009 or so it seemed that the concept of internal colonialism completely disappeared from contemporary scholarship. However, in recent years I have seen an increasing revival of the concept. I am not sure what to make of this. I personally think the concept is a lot more useful than most social science models. But, for what ever reason it wasn't very popular in the 1980s, 1990s, or the first decade of the 21st century. Its recent revival also seems puzzling since there doesn't seem to be any single origin or inspiration for the new crop of scholarship making use of the model. If anybody has any insights into the reasons behind this new interest in a model that had seemingly died in the 1980s please leave comment below. My own contribution to the use of internal colonialism as a model for understanding the relationship between marginalized ethnic groups and their surrounding society and ruling government is here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Future

The year is coming to an end. As with most years I did not accomplish as much as a I wanted to. But, I did get some stuff done which is a lot better than getting nothing done. Next year I am hoping to figure out a way to greatly increase my productivity. Apparently a decent raise with promotion does not occur until one makes full professor which requires more publications to get at the University of Ghana than at any other institution in the world. So I should really be aiming at writing at least one journal article a month next year. Otherwise I could reach the mandatory retirement age of 60 before I make it up through the ranks from lecturer to senior lecturer to associate professor to full professor. I applied for promotion from lecturer to senior lecturer in April but apparently that will only increase my salary by about $200 a month. Whereas reaching full professor would more than double it to about $2,000 a month. I would still be making only about 10% of what US based professors make. But, that is a lot better than the less than 5% I am currently earning. If I make a serious push I might be able to make it to full professor in another five years. I just need to publish a whole bunch and submit for the next promotion as soon as the last one is approved.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Violence in Burundi

There are predictions that the recent violence in Burundi might escalate into a civil war or even another genocide like happened in neighboring Rwanda a little over twenty years ago. The African Union is threatening to intervene with a force of 5,000 peace keepers regardless of the wishes of the current government of Burundi. This in the wake of 87 deaths last week in an increasing spiral of violence. Since April more than 400 people have been killed in political violence in Burundi, 3,500 arrested, and 220,000 have fled the country. Violence of course is nothing new to Burundi which has been plagued by conflict between Hutus and Tutsis since gaining independence from Belgium. The silence by media, politicians, pundits, intellectuals, and others in the US is not new either. African lives just do not seem to concern them.

Monday, December 14, 2015

13 December 1955

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the decree from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet removing the last of the ethnic Germans in the USSR from the restrictions of the special settlement regime.

On Lifting the Restrictions on the Legal Status of Germans and Members of their Families, found in special settlements. 
Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 13 December 1955
Having learned that the existing restrictions on the legal status of special settler-Germans and members of their families, exiled to various regions of the country, are no longer deemed necessary, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet resolves: 
1. To lift from the count of special settlement and free from administrative surveillance of the organs of the MVD Germans and members of their families, exiled as special settlers in the period of the Great Fatherland War, and also Germans - citizens of the USSR, that after repatriation  from Germany were moved to special settlements.
2. Establishes, that the lifting from Germans of the restrictions of special settlement will not lead to the return of property confiscated during exile, and that they do not have the right to return to the places from which they were exiled.  
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
K. Voroshilov
Secretary of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
N. Pegov

Translated to English from Russian by J. Otto Pohl.

A.A. German and O. Iu. Silant'evoi, eds., "Navechno, bez prava: Ochevidtsy i issledovateli o nemetskom spetsposelenni v SSSR: Sb. nauchn. statei i vospominanii (Moscow: MSNK-Press, 2015), doc. 7, p. 99.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Idea

I am wondering if maybe I should print out the better blog entries here and compile them into a book form. Or maybe print out the whole thing just to have it in book form? For me personally the journal like entries are the most interesting reread not the essays. Maybe I should make a couple of copies for family members? I am not exactly sure about the technical details that would be involved but I am pretty sure it is doable. If nothing else it could go into the family archives for anybody wishing to do research in the future. It is just an idea right now, however, I am thinking a bound copy of the blog would be nice to have around.

Monday, December 07, 2015

A Dying Breed

At this point this blog is a barely living dinosaur. It is the last politically reactionary blog written by a US citizen with a UK PhD in Oriental history in the world I believe. There were never very many academic right wing blogs. Academic blogs were for the most part dominated by the left and extreme left with almost all of the more moderate ones dying in recent years leaving only a few radical socialist group blogs still around. My readership was never large. But, it has gotten smaller as the years have gone by. It is now to the point where I can reach more people faster by e-mail or a phone call than I can with this blog. At this point I have completely given up on trying to get any readers other than the six I currently have. Other people on this planet who read English and have access to the internet obviously do not share any of my interests. If I wanted to be rich and famous I should have taken the opposite stand on everything from what I did. But, I am just too stubborn to do that.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Writing about the mundane?

I am thinking about maybe trying to write something for commercial publication about my life and work in Ghana. I am not sure if there would be any interest by any periodicals in such a piece or not. Certainly, articles on life in Africa as normal rather than exotic are rather lacking in the US and other Western countries but, maybe such a piece would be different enough that I could sell it? I mean there has been some writing and film showing work and life in South Africa in this manner. Of course South Africa especially in cities like Johannesburg is much more economically developed and prosperous than Ghana. Nonetheless, in many ways Ghana even at its most mundane probably appears more exotic to many Americans than South Africa. In large part this is because there is not any settler population here with a standard and way of life comparable to North America or Europe. The population here is almost entirely black and the vast majority of them are not living nearly as well as most white people anywhere in purely material terms. On the other hand the stereotype of extreme poverty that many westerners have of Africa is for the most part not applicable to Ghanaians living in urban and especially exurban areas. If anybody has any suggestions leave them in the comments please.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blogging for one

At this point the main function of this blog is to provide notes to myself so I don't lose them. It really is just a private journal in cyberspace.  It is true that theoretically people other than myself can read it. But, in reality except for a very few exceptions such as my parents I don't think I actually have to worry about other people actually ever reading it. I once thought I could get a dozen regular readers for this blog. But, after more than a decade I am pretty sure now that is an impossible goal.


Africa of course is the continent of eternal hope and optimism. But, today I have a strange feeling that eventually Babylon will fall. It will not fall tomorrow or the day after, but my instinct tells me its days are numbered. I will outlive Babylon and be freed from its chains.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

End of Semester Update for Fall 2015

I have now finished all my lectures for the semester. Classes went fairly well. I have now gotten to the point where I don't have to put in a lot of preparation to teach them. I have been teaching the same classes for almost five years now. I now have some time between now and February to catch up on some writing. These are the types of things I have been writing about for the past decade. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anybody in the world willing to fund my research and writing about such things. Yet alone attending conferences. So far I have come up with nothing in my search for research funding. If you know of any possible sources of funding I might be eligible to receive please let me know. Given that due to the collapse of the cedi in 2014 and again this year my salary is now less than $900 a month any additional funding would help enormously. Even grants of only a few hundred dollars would greatly assist me.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Demonstrations at SOAS

I did both my MA and PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Nobody in the US has ever heard of the place, especially not American academics, but it is very well known in the former British colonies throughout Africa and Asia. It was at one time the premiere institution of higher education in the English speaking world for the study of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Now the administration is seeking to cut 184 courses and the students are protesting. The local unions, most notably Unison have been in full support of the students over this issue. This has been happening at the same time as a major labor dispute at SOAS over the pay and conditions for the cleaning staff. This has led the administration to retaliate by suspending Unison branch secretary Sandy Nicoll from his IT job at the university. Cutting the courses at SOAS is stupid. Nicoll should not have been suspended and should be reinstated. I actually knew Sandy Nicoll. I can recall a conversation with him where he strongly argued with a third person that the advances in medical care and education in Cuba since 1959 in no way justified its political dictatorship and repression of dissidents. It was a very low bar. After all even the capitalist UK had state provided medical care and at that time still education. I bring this up because it is the only conversation I can remember having with Sandy Nicoll although I am sure there were a couple of others and it demonstrated to me that he was a morally serious person.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Some very good news (Centre for the Study of Asia at University of Ghana, Legon)

Today I got a letter from the Dean that the proposed Centre for the Study of Asia would encompass all of Asia and not just the Pacific rim. This means that Central Asia will be part of the mandate of the centre. This is very good news. It means that I will potentially be able to use the facilities and resources of the centre to assist in my research, writing, and teaching on the area. It remains to see how this plays out in practice. But, my initial fear that Central Asia was going to be deliberately, permanently, and completely excluded from the mandate and mission statement has now passed. The centre will be dedicated to the study of all areas of Asia including Central Asia. Since a lot of my work deals with Central Asia I am very happy about this outcome.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Can somebody decipher these numbers for me?

Okay something strange has been going on with my cite meter for the last week. Usually the largest number of hits come from the US followed by Ghana. The Ghanaian ones almost all being my own. But, the country division of hits on this blog for the last week shows Russia almost outnumbering the US by two to one. Here is the ranking of hits by country for the last week.

Russia       406
US             274
France         99
Ghana         52
Germany     38
Canada        23
China            9
UK                7
Austria          5
Ukraine         5

It would be flattering to think that the Russian FSB has assigned a living breathing agent to monitor my blog. But, I seriously doubt I am considered important enough for them to ever consider such surveillance. I am also not sure what is going on with the high number of hits from France.

Friday, October 16, 2015

NGO Parasites and High Housing Costs in Accra

I saw recently that American NGO parasites coming to Ghana get around $1200 a month just for rent. Lecturers at the University of Ghana get $75 a month for rent and our monthly salary is only three quarters of the rent subsidy that the parasites receive. This has resulted in the rents in the greater Accra region, particularly in the centre of the city, skyrocketing to London and Manhattan levels and driving many professionals many miles away into exurbs and even other cities. Many people commute to Accra from as far away as Winneba, driving four hours to work and four hours back everyday. The housing crises and with it the attendant transportation problems of traffic, pollution, and motor vehicle fatalities is in significant part driven by the neocolonial settlement of the centre of Accra by rich NGO parasites and the creation of a housing market that only they and the small indigenous elite that collaborates with them can afford.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

UTAG (University Teachers Association of Ghana) Affairs

Today I voted in the elections for new leaders for our faculty union, UTAG. Only one of the four positions had more than one person running for it. So it was not a particularly robust example of union democracy. More importantly is the fact that despite not getting our book and research allowance which is now 15 months late the union leadership did not renew the strike on 30 September 2015 like it promised. So we have been working and still have not received last year's book and research allowance. This year's book and research allowance which was due at the end of July hasn't even made it into round one of negotiations with the government. I hope that the new UTAG leadership is better at communicating and representing the interests of the rank and file membership than the old one was. The union really needs to make it a priority that the book and research allowance is paid into every members bank account by 31 July each year or we go on strike until the money is received.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Peter Norman: The Forgotten Man in the Photograph

Today, I learned something new, and not something trivial either. The iconic photograph from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City award cermony for the 200 meter race has three men in it. Like most Americans I could only identify two of them. I knew who the gold medal winner, Tommie "The Jet" Smith and the bronze medal winner, John Carlos, both African American athletes were. I did not know who the third man on the podium was. The white silver medal winner was also to me just background. It turns out he was a lot more. He was an integral and largely forgotten part of the protest as well as being one of Australia's greatest athletes and a strong life long advocate for human rights and a fighter against racism. This article by Riccardo Gazzaniga goes a long way to reviving the memory of the forgotten man in the photograph.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Today's Failure

I pretty much failed to convince anybody that the Asian Studies Centre should have all of Asia as its mandate rather than just China, Japan, South Korea, and a separate Chair for India at the Academic Board meeting today. That is because these are the states whose governments have provided or promised funding to the university. But, I may have convinced the administration that they need to change the name of the institute to the Pacific Asian Centre in order to permanently exclude the study of Central Asia. Ironically, while they don't want to include much of actual Asia as a subject for study since their government's haven't coughed up any money they are okay with including Australia. They figure the Australians unlike the Uzbeks, but like the Chinese, South Koreans, Japanese, and Indians can be convinced to give money. Any pretense of doing anything for scholarship rather than money has permanently dissapeared here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Asian Studies at the University of Ghana and the Deliberate Exclusion of Central Asia from its Mandate

The University of Ghana is proposing to establish an Asian Studies Centre. But, unfortunately they have limited their definition of Asia to only those states with a Pacific coastline. This has gotten some push back from people who study India. They are proposing that a chair in Indian Studies be included in the Asian Studies Centre even though India of course like many Asian states has no Pacific coast. They, however, are perfectly fine excluding all the rest of Asia outside India and the Pacific Asian states which are limited to China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines. Apparently deliberately excluded because unlike China or India there is not the immediate expectation of any funding from their governments is all of former Soviet Central Asia including oil and gas rich Kazakhstan. I am going to protest this matter at the Academic Board meeting this Friday morning since I am the history department representative. But, I am not optimistic I can prevail in this matter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

University of Ghana History Department Seminar Schedule

History Department Seminars
Fall  2015
9:30 am Wednesdays
History Department Library
J. Otto Pohl: University of Ghana, Legon
Ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan 1882-1992
Eric Nketiah: University of Education, Winneba
Ghanaian Women in Parliament
Emmanuel  Ababio Ofosu-Mensah: University of Ghana, Legon
The Impact of Mining on Akyem Abuakwa
Kwame Adum-Kyeremeh: University of Ghana, Legon
The Rawlings Revolution of 1979 - Extracts from the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times newspapers
Ishmael Annang: University of Ghana, Legon
Kpone: Growth and Expansion of an 18th Century Ga-Adangme Trading town
Joseph Adjaye: University of Pittsburgh and University of Ghana, Legon
The African Diaspora and the Black Atlantic: Contours, Theories, and Historiographical Implications

Monday, October 05, 2015

More Russian-German Publications

Here are some more publications (book chapters) by me dealing with Russian-Germans that are available for free on the internet.

J. Otto Pohl, “A Caste of Helot Labourers: Special Settlers and theCultivation of Cotton in Soviet Central Asia: 1944-1956” in Deniz Kandiyoti, ed., The Cotton Sector in Central Asia: Economic Policy and Development Challenges, (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2007).

J. Otto Pohl, “Suffering in a Province of Asia: The Russian-GermanDiaspora in Kazakhstan,” in Mathias Schulze, James M. Skidmore, David G. John, Grit Liebscher, and Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach, eds., Germanic Diasporic Experiences: Identity, Migration, and Loss (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008).

J. Otto Pohl, “Loss, Retention, and Reacquisition of Social Capital by Special Settlers in the USSR,1941-1961” in Cynthia Buckley, Blair Ruble, and Erin Trouth Hofmann, eds., Migration, Homeland and Belonging in Eurasia (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center and Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2008).

J. Otto Pohl, “Ethnic Erasure: The Role of Border Changes in Soviet EthnicCleansing and Return Migration” in Eero Medijainen and Olaf Mertelsmann, eds., Border Changes in 20th Century Europe, vol. 1 Tartu Studies in Contemporary History (Berlin, Germany: Lit-Verlag, 2010).

Articles on Crimean Tatars

Here is a list of publications by me dealing with Crimean Tatars available for free on the internet.

J. Otto Pohl, “Socialist Racism: Ethnic Cleansing and Racial Exclusion inthe USSR and Israel,”Human Rights Review, vol. 7, no. 3, April-June 2006. 

J. Otto Pohl, “A Caste of Helot Labourers: Special Settlers and theCultivation of Cotton in Soviet Central Asia: 1944-1956” in Deniz Kandiyoti, ed., The Cotton Sector in Central Asia: Economic Policy and Development Challenges, (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2007).

J. Otto Pohl, “Loss, Retention, and Reacquisition of Social Capital by Special Settlers in the USSR,1941-1961” in Cynthia Buckley, Blair Ruble, and Erin Trouth Hofmann, eds., Migration, Homeland and Belonging in Eurasia (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center and Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2008).

J. Otto Pohl, “Kirim Tatarlina Karşi Dűzmce Vatana Ihanet Suçlaamari [TheFalse Charges of Treason against the Crimean Tatars] trans. Selami Kaçamak, Emel, no. 230,  January-March 2010.

J. Otto Pohl, “Ethnic Erasure: The Role of Border Changes in Soviet EthnicCleansing and Return Migration” in Eero Medijainen and Olaf Mertelsmann, eds., Border Changes in 20th Century Europe, vol. 1 Tartu Studies in Contemporary History (Berlin, Germany: Lit-Verlag, 2010).

J. Otto Pohl, “Colonialism in one Country: The Deported Peoples of theUSSR as an Example of Internal Colonialism,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion , vol. 5,  no. 7, May 2014.

J. Otto Pohl, "Soviet Ethnic Cleansing of the Crimean Tatars," Journal of International Crimes and History, issue no. 15, 2015.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

World's Least Read Blog

Based on the number of comments this blog gets it appears that I have almost no human readers left what so ever.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Difference Between US and African Universities

Unlike in the US my students here in Africa are thouroughly aware of the crimes of the Stalin regime. It takes up a big portion of my Aspects of World History, 1914-1945 class I teach every fall semester. Once you actually explain things like the Holodomor to students they are perfectly capable of understanding that the Stalin regime reached a level of evil that had few contenders.

Administration to Gut Curriculum of School of Oriental and African Studies

I have been posting a lot on Afro-Asian discourses recently. This has been primarily because of the recent conference here in Ghana, but it is also because I am an "Orientalist" teaching in Africa. I did my MA and PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I am thus very saddened to see that the administration at SOAS is completely gutting its curriculum and eliminating 184 courses including core courses in such subjects as Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. SOAS used to be the premier university for the study of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East in the English speaking world. It has been losing that edge for a long time because of the deliberate stupidity of its administration. But, this latest act is akin to institutional suicide. There was a reason SOAS was founded in 1916 and that mission will be extremely difficult to fulfil if these course cuts go through. What will be left will be a shell of what used to be one of the greatest small universities in the world.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Publications on Russian-Germans available on the internet

For people attempting to put together bibliographies or just looking for information in English on the subject here is a list of articles of mine that can be accessed for free.

J. Otto Pohl, Eric J. Schmaltz, & Ronald J. Vossler (2009) "In our hearts we felt the sentence of death": ethnic German recollections of mass violence in the USSR, 1928-1948, Journal of Genocide Research, 11:2 323-354.

J. Otto Pohl (2009) Volk auf dem Weg: Transnational migration of the Russian-Germans from 1763 to the present day, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 9:2 267-286

J. Otto Pohl (2012) Soviet apartheid: Stalin's ethnic deportations, special settlement restrictions, and the labor army: The case of the ethnic Germans in the USSR, Human Rights Review, 13:2 205-224

J. Otto Pohl (2013) Hewers of wood and drawers of water: The Russian-Germans in the labour army, The Eurasian Studies Society Journal, 2:1

J. Otto Pohl (2014) Colonialism in one country: The deported peoples in the USSR as an example of internal colonialism, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion, 5:7

Crimean Tatars and settler colonialism

The Crimean Tatars share a number of similarities with other forcibly displaced indigenous people subjected to racial discrimination during the last few centuries such as Native Americans, Black South Africans, and Palestinian Arabs. The people who dominate the study of Soviet nationality policies in the US like Francine Hirsch and Amir Weiner, however, militantly deny that there was ever anything racist about Stalin's deportation of the Crimean Tatars and other peoples. In part because of this systematic denial of Soviet racism in defense of the Stalin regime there has been almost no attempt by scholars in the Western world to compare the history of the Crimean Tatars with that of indigenous people victimized by settler colonialism in places like South Africa. This is one area where I think non-Western scholars should take the lead and work independently of the established Western orthodoxy. There are ideological reasons why people like Hirsch and Weiner defend the USSR from the charges of racism and genocide. But, those ideological reasons don't exist in Africa and Asia where the similarities between Soviet treatment of the Crimean Tatars and other cases of settler colonialism should be obvious. Not being tied by the ideological constraints that exist in US academia I believe that scholars in Africa and Asia can research these type of areas much more effectively despite their lack of resources.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Justice for Shayan Mazroei

On 7 September 2015 Craig Tanber, a member of a white supremacist prison gang who had recently been released after serving six years for an earlier homicide,  murdered Shayan Mazroei outside Patsy's Irish Pub in Laguna Niguel, California. Mazroei was an engineering student at Saddleback College in nearby Mission Viejo. It is quite clear from the evidence of eyewitnesses that Craig Tanber and his girlfriend Elizabeth Thornburg who assisted Tanber in escaping the scene of the crime are guilty of a hate crime. They clearly state that the perpetrators hurled racial insults at the victim before killing him. Yet, the Orange County District Attorney refuses to press hate crimes charges against Tanber or to charge Thornburg with being an accessory to the crime. Indeed she has not yet even been arrested. It is beyond my comprehension why these two individuals who were guilty of killing another man six years ago were not in prison on the night of Mazroei's murder. OC used to be run by law and order conservatives that were tough on crime.

I never met Shayan Mazroei, but this story has a personal connection to me by virute of geography. I used to drink and eat quite frequently at Patsy's Irish Pub where he was murdered. I am also familiar with Saddleback College where he was a student. I took Spanish and a library course there. At one time I worked there. It is amazing to me that one can murder multiple people in Orange County and still not be permanently removed from society. Currently they are not even talking about life for Tanber who has now killed two people. In the old days when conservatives ran OC the DA would be seeking the death penalty for scum like Tanber. But, those days are over and the current DA's office in Orange County is proving itself to be extremely weak on punishing Tanber and his girlfriend despite the fact that they are recividist violent criminals. Not only does Shayan Mazroei and his family deserve better, but the people of Orange County deserve better.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What is the Historical Role of German Diasporas in Africa and Asia?

The role of German diasporas in Africa and Asia even more so than Central Asia where many of them ended up is largely absent from the Afro-Asian discourse. This is despite the fact that starting in the 19th century large numbers of Germans moved to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia in Asia. This was the subject of the panel I put together for the Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge conference. Despite the fact that the German diasporas in Soviet Asia at one time reached over two million people it does not seem to have any place in Afro-Asian discourse. A similar neglect can be observed regarding the German diasporas in Africa, primarily Namibia where some 30,000 still live. Our panel was the only one dealing with German diasporas in Asia or Africa at the conference and it got very little attention. Yet, the large size, strong ethnic identification, length of settlement, and economic contributions makes these among the most important German diasporas in the world. It also makes them important contributors to the history of Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and Namibia. Despite these facts attempts to integrate the study of the history of these German communities into a greater Afro-Asian scholarly discourse remains extremely limited. While currently there are many scholars in Africa that study China or India there are very few that study Central Asia. Outside my office the number who study ethnic Germans in the USSR is to my knowledge exactly zero. The subject is an important one that deserves its own academic conference. But, it is also one that has not managed to generate much interest due to institutional marginalization of the topic. However, if anybody would be interested in such a conference let me know.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Place of Central Asia in Afro-Asian Discourse?

One thing I noticed at the conference Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge is that scholars of those parts of Asia that were part of the USSR are still marginalized in Asian studies. At this major conference on all of Asia and Africa the only area less represented than Central Asia was the Middle East and North Africa. The lack of representation by Central Asia is more worrisome than that of the Middle East and North Africa because this latter area has its own scholarly organizations that have proven themselves able to engage in politically independent research. The same is not true for Central Asia. Those organizations devoted only to Central Asia are far too parochial and subject to influence by Central Asian governments and elites. There are after all only five Central Asian states and US and UK scholars are unduly deferential to the regimes in Bishkek, Astana, and even Tashkent compared to people studying other regions of the world. Even if the Caucasus are included the world view of such organizations is still rather limited. Which is one major problem. There is a reason why Asian studies exists. Would one study Vietnam solely in the context of Indochinese studies organizations and closely ally western scholarship with the viewpoint of Hanoi? But, for the most part Central Asia is included in the study of Eurasia which continues to suffer from an excessive Russocentric and Soviet mentality. Intellectual decolonization requires that the study of the region be placed among other post-colonial states not with the former ruling power. After all Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are included in Asian studies not French studies. The argument that Russian and Soviet influence in Central Asia was greater than French influence in Vietnam is not an excuse for keeping Central Asia out of Asian studies and confined to a Soviet ghetto. In fact it is an argument for the opposite. British influence and French influence in West Africa is as great as Russian and Soviet influence in Central Asia. In fact in some ways it is greater. But, that is viewed as all the more reason to promote the study of places like Ghana and Nigeria in the context of Africa, not the UK and the white Commonwealth states. The negative influence of Soviet rule like that of colonialism needs to be countered in scholarship not reinforced like it is currently. Based upon their performance at this last conference in Ghana, Asian studies organizations like IIAS (International Institute for Asian Studies) and ICAS (International Convention of Asian Scholars) could do an awful lot more to incorporate and encourage the inclusion of scholarship on Central Asia within the context of scholarship on Asia. Currently the entire discourse of Africa-Asia excludes the former Soviet states leaving a huge lacuna in the scholarly map of Asia.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge Conference now over

The three days of the Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge conference was well worth attending. The food was great and the band on Friday night was out of this world. Some of the academic panels were pretty good too. I learned a lot about the Sindhi diaspora in Africa, the relationship between Indian and African film, and the Indian Ocean slave trade. As is obvious from above, India was well represented at the conference due to its large size, population, and political influence. However, the dominant theme of the conference seemed to be Chinese-African relations. So much so that it seemed that often speakers were using Asia and China as synonyms. Yes, China is important internationally and especially as regards to Africa. But, a lot of Asia wasn't covered at all. Most of the papers dealt with China or India and a handful of others covered Japan, Korea, and Indonesia. There was nothing at all on Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, the Philippines, or the entire Arab world just to mention some of the larger states in Asia and in the Arab case in Africa as well. Central Asia was represented only by our panel which had a paper on Kyrgyzstan by me and a paper on Kazakhstan by Eric Schmaltz as well as a paper given in another panel on irrigation in Uzbekistan.

Unfortunately, very few people showed up to our panel on ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and Siberia. We had a total of seven, but some came late and other left early. So there were only three audience members there for the whole panel. Out of those three attendees one was a colleague of mine here in Legon, one was a Canadian post-graduate students doing a PhD in London, and one was a South African scholar specializing in Sinkiang. I don't know if the Canadian woman was paying attention or not since she was completely silent throughout the entire question and answer and discussion period. That left my colleague and the South African. Which meant in terms of reaching a new audience that had not previously been exposed to the topic we can only verify a total of one South African anthropologist. Of course one person is infinitely more and better than zero, but I expected a larger audience.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Central Asia underrepresented at Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge Conference

Tomorrow is the Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge conference here at the University of Ghana. While large Asian countries such as China, Japan, and India are well represented, Central Asia is not. Other than my panel which includes my paper dealing with Kyrgyzstan and another one dealing with Kazakhstan there is only one other paper at the conference dealing with Central Asia. This is symptomatic of the declining scholarly interest in the region internationally in recent years.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Coauthored article on Russian-Germans now available

I have now put up the article I coauthored with Eric Schmaltz and Ron Vossler seven years ago. "'In our hearts we felt the sentence of death': ethnic German recollections of mass violence in the USSR, 1928-1948," Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 11, no. 2-3 can be found here on my page. Any comments on the article can as always be left here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Economic Prospects for Ghana

The Ghanaian economy's prospects for the short and medium terms remains quite grim. There does not seem any possible way to improve the value of the cedi to more than 3.5 to the dollar before the end of the year and it is quite likely that the exchange rate will be worse than 4.5 to one. It is currently 4 to one down from 1.6 to one when I started working here in 2011. In real terms this means my and everybody else paid in cedis rather than hard currency has seen their purchasing power decline by two thirds. The devaluation of the Chinese Yuan has put even more pressure on the currency in addition to the ever increasing problem of an ever expanding import bill in dollars and very low cocoa prices. Short of actually creating a value added export industry there is no solution to this problem. Unfortunately, there has been no efforts in this direction since the 24 February 1966 coup and it is unlikely that anything will change in the next fifty years on this front. The leadership to convert Ghana from an import based economy to one based on the export of manufactured or even agricultural goods other than cocoa has been completely absent among its civilian politicians since the overthrow of Nkrumah. The lack of electricity has not helped matters. In fact by discouraging foreign investment and hampering what little manufacturing exists it has put even more downward pressure on the cedi. Even important public institutions like universities and hospitals do not have electricity.  This week the university had only two and a half days of electricity, hardly the makings of a "world class university." I don't think there is any hope for the cedi. Eventually Ghana is going to either have to voluntarily get rid of it like Ecuador did or lose it involuntarily like Zimbabwe did. Only after one of those two events will it be possible to have a currency that does not resemble the German Mark during the Weimar Republic.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

New article on Crimean Tatars

I have put up a new article at my page. There you can find "Soviet Ethnic Cleansing of the Crimean Tatars" which was published in print form in issue number 15 (2014) of International Crimes and History. For some unknown reason the editors have me listed as an associate professor when I am a mere lecturer. I think it is because I used to be an associate professor when I worked in Kyrgyzstan. Maybe in Turkey titles like professor are permanent and can not be lost by going to a lower position at another institution? At any rate it will be many decades if ever before I am an associate professor at the University of Ghana.  I am still just a lecturer.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Recent Picture of Me

74 years since the deportation of the Volga Germans

Today marks the official commemoration of the deportation of the Volga Germans and later other communities of Russian-Germans to Siberia and Kazakhstan. On 28 August 1941, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet issued Ukaz 21-160 providing the legal basis for the decision to deport the ethnic Germans of the Volga German ASSR, Saratov Oblast, and Stalingrad Oblast made by the Council of People's Commissars and Central Committee of the Communist Party two days earlier. Nevertheless, the legal cover of the decree by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and other decrees pertaining to the deportation of the Volga Germans and the liquidation of the Volga German ASSR clearly violated the 1936 Soviet and 1937 RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) constitutions not to mention the constitution of the Volga German ASSR itself. This forcible dispersal of the Volga Germans across the eastern regions of the Soviet Union ended over 150 years of continuous settlement by ethnic Germans in the region. The Soviet government sought to permanently erase their former presence from the region. Lack of proper clothing, housing, food, and medical care led to mass mortality among the deportees. Subsequently the Soviet government mobilized most able bodied adults among the Russian-Germans for forced labor in the labor army.  The Stalin regime placed the remaining deported Volga and other Russian-Germans under special settlement restrictions resembling the later apartheid laws of South Africa. These discriminatory restrictions on their mobility and residency were initially supposed to be permanent, but were finally repealed at the end of 1955. The deportees and their descendants, however, were never allowed to return in large numbers to their former places of residence in the Volga and elsewhere and the vast majority of the Russian-German population remained confined to Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and Siberia until they emigrated to Germany after 1987.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Second Week of the Semester

This week is the second week of the semester. So far I have taught one class and had one departmental meeting. The class is at 7:30 in the morning, but a significant number of students still showed up. The powers that be also for some reason switched my TA for that class. The second lecture went well. Although it is difficult to compress World War One, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Russian Civil War all into one two hour lecture. But, I have taught the course five times now so I managed to hit all the high points for the years 1914-1924 from the start of World War One to the death of V.I. Lenin.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Today I had my second day of classes of the semester. I got up at 4 am to go teach my 7:50 am class at City Campus. I then waited in a class room with my TA for over an hour while no students showed up. I then inquired with the records office if there were any students registered for the class. They told me they couldn't tell me today, but that I should call them next Wednesday and they would tell me. After getting back to Legon from Accra I had a quick lunch of jollof rice, beans, plantains, pasta salad, and cocoyam leaves. Then I had to teach another class. There were a total of six students including two from Europe in that class which is a huge improvement from the zero students I had this morning.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Start of the Semester

Today is the first day of work of the semester and our strike over the book and research allowance is currently suspended until 30 September 2015. I printed out my syllabi, but can not copy them because the photocopy machine is again broken. I also printed out all of last semester's grades to submit in hard copy to the proper archival authorities on campus. I already submitted them online in May. Finally, I went to the library to get some books. Tomorrow, I have my first class of the semester. I found the room it is supposed to be in. For some reason it was locked, but I am hoping that I can get somebody to unlock it tomorrow morning before my class starts at 7:30 am. Otherwise we might be having class under a tree, although not a cocoa tree like in the photograph to the right.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

UTAG Suspends Strike after Government Agrees to Pay Last Year's Allowance at a Fake Exchange Rate

Blogging has been slow due to family visitation. I have been back in Ghana since 7 July 2015. The UTAG strike has now been suspended so starting next week I need to return to work. If the book and research allowance is not paid by 30 September 2015 then the union will resume the strike. Although the government agreed to pay last year's allowance they are doing so at an artificial exchange rate of 3.5 cedis to the dollar when the cedi is really worth only 24 cents. That means instead of the $1,500 they owe us from last year (we don't get any interest on this loan to the government either) we will only get $1,300. There is no mention what so ever of this year's allowance which was due 31 July 2015. That will take at least another year to get again with no interest.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Robert Conquest R.I.P.

Robert Conquest, one of the greatest historians of the USSR, finally died this week on 3 August 2015 at age 98. Conquest was one of the few scholars in the English speaking world during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s willing to deal critically with the Soviet Union under Stalin and not sugar coat the regime for ideological reasons. While his quantitative estimates of various categories of victims of Stalinism have turned out to be too high, his basic qualitative judgment of the nature of the Soviet regime during the 1930s and 1940s turned out to be right. So did his assessment of western lackeys of Moscow who attempted to defend the regime. In particular his work in the 1960s and 1970s on the deportation of whole peoples during the 1940s still holds up remarkably well as does his work in the 1980s on the Ukrainian Holodomor. Certainly his work along with the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were some of the earliest works I encountered that spurred the direction of my own historical research.

Friday, August 07, 2015

University of Ghana Faculty again on Strike over Book and Research Allowance

UTAG (University Teachers' Association of Ghana) declared another strike two days ago. This is the fifth strike I have been involved in since coming here almost five years ago. Again it is over the government's non-payment of the book and research allowance for last year. We still have not received the $1500 book allowance and 500 GH research allowance for academic year 2014/2015 even though this should have been paid over a year ago. There is no hint about our 2015/2016 allowance which was due on 1 August 2015. The government claims it took the first step to initiate payment of last year's allowance with the Ministry of Finance only in the middle of July 2015 and therefore we should not strike. The allowance is, however, already over a year late. The year before that the allowance was 18 months late and paid at an artificial exchange rate much lower than the real rate. The book and research allowance is the only money paid to university lecturers by the government calculated in dollars rather than cedis so it has become increasingly a greater percentage of our overall pay. Currently it represents almost 175% of the net (after taxes) monthly salary of a starting lecturer.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Independence Day USA

For the three people living in the US that read this blog, Happy Independence Day. For the other three of you, it is still Saturday so it is still pretty good.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Food in Kyrgyzstan

I haven't done a Kyrgyz food post this summer yet, so here it is. My wife is a fantastic cook. I am not sure I can remember everything she has prepared this summer so far, but I am going to try and list all the dishes. They are a mix of Central Asian, mostly Kyrgyz and Russian dishes although some of what is designated as Russian here is actually Ukrainian in origin, most notably borscht. I like the food a lot, but I am not sure it is good for my high cholesterol. So in no particular order here is some of what I have eaten this summer so far.


Green borscht

Beet salad

Herring under a fur coat



Tomato and cucumber salad


Fried vereniki

Yugoslav Rock

While American based blogs seem completely obsessed with demonizing the CSA as more evil than Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler combined, those based in other countries have recently posted more interesting material. In particular the latest post from the British based music blog The Day After the Sabbath on rock bands from Yugoslavia during the 1970s is absolutely fantastic. I have found a treasure trove of great bands from Belgrade during that decade thanks to that post. Rich always does fantastic work, but this post was particularly awesome. Sometimes I toy with converting this blog into a music blog. But, I could never put together the type of superbly researched posts on the subject that Rich does at The Day After the Sabbath.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

South African Literature

I have been listening to the audio version of Deon Meyer's Devil's Peak on YouTube for the last couple of days. Meyer is a popular South African detective novel writer. Devil's Peak is definitely worth listening to. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but Meyer does a fantastic job of developing his characters. The novel revolves around three main characters and Meyer manages to balance the intertwining narratives quite skillfully which is not something that is easy to do. It also deals with the problems of crime and justice in post-apartheid South Africa in a nuanced and sophisticated manner.

Citation in an interesting publication

I came across this recent and rather interesting article on the GULag  looking for citations of my publications.  It is the introduction to a special topic issue on the GULag. This particular article cites my article "Colonialism in One Country: The Deported Peoples of the USSR as an Example of Internal Colonialism"  published in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion last year. Feel free to comment on anything linked above here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Abstract of Paper for Association of Asian Studies in Africa Conference


Ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan 1882-1992

Asian Studies in Africa: Challenges and Prospects of a New Axis of Intellectual Interactions

Association of Asian Studies in Africa Inaugural Conference

University of Ghana, Legon 24-26 September 2015


J. Otto Pohl

History Department

University of Ghana, Legon

The first ethnic Germans to settle in Kyrgyzstan were Mennonites in 1882 from colonies further west in the Russian Empire in Tavrida along the Black Sea Coast and Samara in the Volga region. Further settlement of Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan from other areas of the Russian Empire took place in 1907-1909. By 1912 their population had increased to almost 1,600. The German speaking population of the territory became both larger and more diverse as Lutherans arrived from the Volga and Kazakhstan during the Soviet era.  The 1926 Soviet census showed 4,291 Germans in Kyrgyzstan. By 1939 the population had increased to 11,741. During the 1940s the Soviet government subjected part of this population, about 3,300 people to forced labor. After the end of the Second World War in 1945 until the end of 1955, the Soviet government imposed a special regime upon the population subjecting them to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement and placing them under police surveillance. Even after the removal of these legal restrictions in December 1955, ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan and other regions of the USSR continued to suffer from various forms of discrimination, particularly with regards to admission to institutions of higher education. During the next couple of decades migration from Kazakhstan and Siberia greatly increased the ethnic German population of Kyrgyzstan. The 1979 Soviet census counted 101,057 ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan or 2.9% of the total population up from 39,915 in 1959.  After the collapse of the USSR, the vast majority of ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan emigrated to Germany. This paper will examine the historical change in the status of the ethnic Germans in Kyrgystan under Soviet rule from one of several diaspora nationalities with guaranteed equal rights to second class citizens with restricted civil rights and finally their subsequent partial rehabilitation. It will make use of archives both from Moscow and Bishkek as well as interviews conducted with ethnic Germans and their family members in Kant and Ivanovka, Kyrgyzstan. 

Asian Studies in Africa Conference

On September 24-26 I will be attending the inaugural conference of the Association of Asian Studies in Africa which will take place at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) on the campus of the University of Ghana. LECIAD is just a short walk from my office at the History Department. The conference has scheduled over 80 panels and round tables on various aspects of Asian and African history and their intersection. I organized a panel on Ethnic Germans in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia. I will be giving a paper on ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan from 1882 when they first settled the region until 1992 when massive emigration started to seriously reduce their numerical presence in the wake of the break up of the USSR.  The other two presenters on the panel are Eric Schmaltz and Brent Mai from the US. Eric Schmaltz of Northwestern Oklahoma State University will be giving a paper on the aborted attempt to create a German autonomous oblast in Kazakhstan in the late 1970s. Brent Mai from Concordia University in Portland Oregon will present a paper on Volga German settlements in Siberia. The panel will be chaired by my colleague Nana Yaw B. Sapong. The study of Asia including Central Asia is a growing scholarly field in Africa and this is the first large conference in Africa to deal with the subject. I will have more to report on the conference later.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Minor Victory

At the end of last month I finally got an article accepted for publication in a very prestigious journal on the condition I make some minor revisions.  The revisions took me a lot longer than I thought they would, but I have now completed them. Among other things one of the peer reviewers said I needed to cite the previous research on the subject by Otto Pohl. This is not the only time that has happened to me. I suppose that shows that the peer review actually was blind in this case. At any rate the article should be published sometime next summer. Or about two years after I started writing it. Part of this is the usual backlog. But in this particular case the journal found it very difficult to first find any peer reviewers and then to get one of them to actually submit their report to the journal. I am not sure why that was in this particular case. I suspect it has to do with the subject matter, however, I have no way of verifying this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bill to Outlaw Gay Propaganda Passes in Kyrgyzstan 90 to 2

It still has to be voted on one more time. But, the Kyrgyz proposal to ban gay propaganda along the lines of the 2013 Russian law just got a step closer to passing today. The Jorgorku Kenesh passed the bill today 90 to 2 in the second reading. The first was in October when it passed 79 to 7. If passed into law the bill would ban any type of advocacy or support of homosexuality. Violators of the law could receive as much as a year in prison.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Flag Post

I am getting tired of reading about the "Confederate" (really the Army of Northern Virginia) flag and how it supposedly represents an evil far worse than anything Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot ever did. So I am posting a picture of a flag I like. The flag on the right represents the Kyrgyz Republic where I am right now visiting family and in-laws.  From a design point of view the Kyrgyz flag is very well done. At the time it was adopted the use of a red background was controversial due to its association with the Soviet past and communism. None of the other former Soviet republics went with an all red background. The closest was Belarus which just took the sickle and hammer off of the flag of the BSSR which was about two thirds red and one third green. The Kyrgyz flag adopted in 1992 in contrast looks very different from the older Soviet flags despite having the same color scheme. The central symbol of a tunduk (the top of yurt) inside a sun with forty rays hearkens back to Kyrgyzstan's pre-Soviet past. The forty rays being representative of the 40 Kyrgyz tribes that united in the national epic Manas.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A very strong Russian challenge to the orthodox US view on racism in the USSR

The orthodox academic position in the US as established and militantly defended by Francine Hirsch at the University of Wisconsin is that there was never any racial discrimination in the USSR under Stalin against such groups as Koreans, Balkars, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars. This extremist position defending the Stalinist regime from any and all charges of racial discrimination has gone almost completely unchallenged in the US. Some Russian scholars, however, have a very different view of racism in the USSR under Stalin. One of these scholars is Madina Tlostanova who pulls no punches when it comes to discussing Soviet racism and the justification of this racism by tenured US professors like Francine Hirsch.
Opposing Weitz, F. Hirsch disagrees with the analogy between the Holocaust and Soviet ethnic cleansings. The skillful Soviet rhetoric, as it turns out, is still able to enchant. However, there is possibly another factor here at work. It is an intention to see the Holocaust and Nazi racial discourses as unique and to disparage the importance of the Soviet racism by its partial justification. What is behind this move? Racism once again - a fundamental basis of modernity. It follows that the lives of Balkars and Koreans are not as important as Jewish lives. Taking Chechens or Crimean Tatars to a subhuman status even without a declared physical annihilation based on racial difference, is presented in some works as not as horrible as the highly symbolic Holocaust experience. Yet the Soviet racial othering is not unique and in various degrees and guises it is typical of Stalinism, Nazism, and colonialism alike. In all cases there is the same operation at work - divesting the enemy of his human nature. He or she is associated with disease, infection, which society needs to be cured from. Sometimes this zeal is milder, as it happened in the interpretation of Oriental women in the USSR, who were seen as subject to (re)formation. In other cases it ends with genocide of the unreformable enemy nations and with erasing of even their names from all encyclopedias and dictionaries, as if they never existed. The final biologization of nationality and its primordial interpretation took a racist form as the right to choose one's nationality even in the passport was granted to only selected citizens in the USSR and accompanied by discriminating policies.

Source: Madina Tlostanova, Gender Epitemologies and Eurasian Borderlands (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 119.

I don't have much hope for US academics ever outgrowing their blindness towards Soviet racism. Hirsch's view pretty much completely dominates the US academy which refuses under any circumstances to believe that such a thing as Soviet racism could exist. But, I am very glad to see that scholars outside the US, particularly in Russia have a far more realistic and less defensive position regarding the Stalin regime.