Posts Tagged ‘rome’

British Shell Companies and the Attacks on Liberal Journalism in the Ukraine

January 16, 2014

ukraine

Private Eye has long been extremely critical of the shell companies and the British tax legislation and accountancy firms that support them. These are companies that largely exist in name only, which are used as an accountancy trick to allow corporations to avoid paying tax in Britain by falsely claiming that they are resident, or owned by companies in foreign tax havens. It dates back to Blair and New Labour, but as with everything corrupt that benefits big business, it’s been taken over by the Coalition. Now, according to the Eye’s Christmas edition, these companies have been used for something even more pernicious and sinister: the attack on liberal journalism itself on the Ukraine. The Eye’s article ‘Tricking Kiev’ reports how a network of shell companies was used by the American-Ukrainian businessman, Alexander Altman, to wrest control of Ukrainian news agency, TVi, from its rightful owner, Konstantin Kagalovsky, a Russian businessman based in Britain.

The Eye says:

‘The battle in the Ukraine between pro-European reformers and the friends of Russia’s Vladimir Putin is partly a fight for control of the media.

Luckily for the oligarchs, they can rely on the acquiescence of TVi. Once a source of investigative journalism, it is now a feeble wreck thanks to a massive fraud perpetrated with the help of Britain’s lax corporate regulations.

As Eye 1344 reported, American-Ukrainian “businessman” Alexander Altman walked into TVi in April, and astonished its journalists by saying that he was now their boss. He locked out its owner, the British-based-based Russian businessman Konstantin Kagalovsky, and ordered reporters to stop causing trouble on pain of dismissal.

In a withering judgment at the High Court in London last week, Mr Justice Turner said there had been a “coup” at TVi, accomplished by “using forged documents comprising fake powers of attorney, board resolutions and board minutes”.

TVi’s baffled owner found that control had passed to a British firm called Balmore he had never heard of. No one could blame him for his ignorance. Balmore was an off-the-shelf firm, which Mr Justice Turner said “was in the precarious position of having beern served with a notice that it was to be struck off the company register for failing to submit an annual return”.

On the day Altman moved against liberal journalists in Kiev, Balmore’s annual return was prepared and filed electronically to Companies House in Britain.

The rightful owners’ lawyers secured an injunction in the summer saying that Altman must disclose information on how TVi had gone from Balmore into a maze of British shell companies. Robert Dougans, Kagolovsky’s solicitor, said Altman had refused to comply and was thus guilty of contempt of court. Even Altman’s London lawyers, Kerman & Co appeared to suspect that something unprofessional and unethical may have been going down. Internal emails, revealed to the court, show Sebastian Devlin, an associate lawyer at the firm, warning partner Carl Robinson that he saw a “real risk” in complying with Altman’s wishes. As the judge drily noted, Robinson was “unable to proffer any clear Explanation” on what Altman had asked Turner that had so worried his colleague.

Throughout the contempt case, Altman said he was the victim of a “set up”. He got out of bed one morning and found that he was associated with mysterious British companies. The judge was having none of it. If Altman were an innocent victim, “he would have made far more strenuous efforts to find out what had happened”. He “knew full well “why the companies had been formed. He was their “controlling mind”, who had retained Kerman & Co and handed them boxes of corporate documents.

The judge found Altman guilty of contempt, and will sentence him next year.

Robert Dougan, the victorious solicitor, told the Eye that despite the judgement there was still no guarantee that the Ukrainian courts would hand TVi back. “One of the reasons why people are on the streets in Kiev is because shady operators in and out of government can commit frauds and no one does anything about it.” As in so many other frauds, the fraudsters turn to “light touch” Britain for help. Dougans explained how he had found out for himself how light that touch was. “I decided to test our controls by registering my cat as a company director,” he said. “No one tried to stop me.”

(Private Eye, 21 December – 9 January 2014, p. 33).

This is a serious attack on the nascent free press in the new, post-Soviet state. The Ukraine is one of the oldest of the Russian states. As the kingdom of Kiev, tt was founded in the early Middle Ages by Varangian Vikings, who intermarried with and adopted the culture of the indigenous Slav population. Under its king, Oleg, in the 9th century it established relations with the Byzantine Empire. Oleg marched to Constantinople at the head of an army and after sacking its suburbs and nailed his shield to the city’s wall. As well as extracting tribute, he also demanded a number of agreements establishing trade between the Empire and Kievan Russia. The Byzantine Emperor acceded to his demands, and Oleg married a Byzantine princess. Later in the century, sometime after 988, the Kievan king, Vladimir the Great, converted to Christianity. This marked the beginning of the Orthodox Church in Russia, as well as the beginning of the Russian view that they are the ‘Third Rome’, after the Eternal City itself, and Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire.

The country takes its name from the Ukrainian word ‘Krai’, which means a border area. During the Middle Ages it was part of the Republic of Poland, before being conquered and incorporated into Russia. The Ukraine has produced some of the greatest Russian authors, including Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of the White Guard and the Master and Margarita.

One of my father’s workmates was Ukrainian, who finally moved back his native country to be with his family after the fall of Communism. One of my friends has also lived and worked in the former Eastern Bloc. A few years ago he holidayed in Kiev, and really loved the place. When he came back he proudly showed me the various sights he’d seen. Back in the 1990s there was some pessimism about the new, post-Soviet nation’s future. There has been considerable friction between the western Ukraine, which is largely rural and Roman Catholic, and the industrialised, Orthodox east, which has a large Russian population. Some observers and commenters feared that the country would degenerate into ethnic conflict and possible civil war, along with the emergence of anti-Semitism. While the country is clearly divided over the question of its ties to either the EU or Putin’s Russia, large scale conflict has been avoided. Indeed, the Financial Times was so impressed with the new state that in an article about it, the newspaper described it as almost a magical place, straight from a fairy-tale. The question of whether the country has closer ties to Russia or the EU is, of course, an issue for the Ukrainians themselves to decide. To do so, and to strengthen their democracy, they need a genuinely liberal, free press able investigate corruption and dodgy political dealing. Unfortunately, the extremely lax corporate legislation over here has meant that this is being stifled to serve very powerful, corporate interests.

The use of this legislation to attack Ukrainian free journalism also poses a threat to the free press in the rest of the world, including this country. Globalisation has meant that the world is now interconnected, and once international big business feels it can get away with something in one country, it will try and use the same tactic elsewhere. We cannot afford to see this as merely a problem for a far away country, tucked away in the former USSR. If it is allowed to succeed in the Ukraine, then it will eventually come here.

The Medieval Christian Origins of Western Democracy: Response to ‘Loki’

July 10, 2013

‘Loki’ has posted this comment on my blog piece, The Medieval Christian Origins of Western Democracy: Part Two:

The government of the USA is based partly on Rome’s model, which is centuries older than Jesus. Direct democracy existed in Athens, Greece centuries before Christ was even born.

Christianity was a speedbump for Western democracy, not it’s origin.

Let’s deal with the individual statements in the post.

Firstly, the point

‘The government of the USA is based partly on Rome’s model, which is centuries older than Jesus. Direct democracy existed in Athens, Greece centuries before Christ was even born.’

I don’t dispute that. Indeed, I say that the Patristic writers, such as St. Augustine, took their contract view of the origins of society from classical writers, like Plato. Furthermore, when constitutional writers and political theorists like Algernon Sidney went on to discuss these issues in the 17th and 18th centuries, they frequently made use of events in the classical past. Sidney uses Roman history to justify popular rebellion against a tyrant. The anonymous author of England’s Misery and Remedy cites classical authorities, such as Camillus and Pliny. So no, I don’t actually deny that modern democracy is based on ancient Roman and Greek precedents.

However, there are strong differences between ancient democracy and our own. Ancient Greek society was strongly oligarchical. Women, slaves and resident aliens – metics – did not possess the right to vote. Neither labourers, artisans or merchants. When Aristotle talks about democracy in The Politics, he actually refers to the condition where the vote is still restricted to individuals with incomes from their land, in other words, leisured gentlemen. He did not believe that the hoi polloi – ordinary people, who had to work for their living – should have the vote as they did not have the time or education to devote to politics.

Now we come to your second point:

Christianity was a speedbump for Western democracy, not it’s origin.

Firstly, this assumes that the autocratic character of medieval and early modern politics was solely due to Christianity. This is not the case. Christianity may have reinforced the power of the king through St. Paul’s dictum that rulers should be obeyed, but democracy or popular politics had declined in the ancient world before Christianity became the state religion. To most people in the early modern period, when modern theories of government were being formed and constructed, democracy was a failed experiment. It was associated with political instability and civil war. If you remember, the first Roman Emperor, Philip Augustus, took power after a series of popular rebellions, which he put down. He closed the political clubs, though to prevent anyone becoming suspicious of his own political ambitions, called himself ‘First Citizens’ – princeps, rather than a title like ‘king’. The period of democracy in Athens was actually quite short-lived, perhaps only twenty years or so. More recently a book has been published stating that the ancient Greek’s legacy to medieval Europe wasn’t democracy, but sacral kingship. As for medieval feudalism, Fernand Braudel and other historians of medieval European society have shown that it arose through the retreat of the ancient Roman senatorial aristocracy to their estates on the one hand, and the military aristocracies of the invading barbarians on the other. Economic and social forces from the Second Century onwards worked to force the free Roman classes into a position where they were no better than slaves. The result was the rise of feudalism, where political power and military service are collapsed together in the power of the local landlord. By the 16th century, the view had arisen that nations were free to choose whichever system of government most suited them. However, they felt that monarchy was the best, as it gave the king absolute power to check dangerous rebellions and threats to public order. In practice it was expected that the monarch would not do so, and would respect his subjects’ liberty and property.

The Reformation and Wars of Religion brought issues of government, its forms and the power of monarchs and their legitimacy to a head. As a result, theologians and political philosophers drew on ancient and Biblical history to explore these issues, and this included arguing for representative government and popular liberty.

So no, I don’t deny that modern American democracy is ultimately based on that of ancient Greece and Roman. However, these classical precedents were revived, modified and expanded in the largely Christian culture of late medieval and early modern Europe.

The Jesuits: Pioneers of Mathematics as University Subject

May 8, 2013

There were chairs of mathematics at the Italian Universities from the late fourteenth century onwards. There was a chair of arithmetic in Bologna in 1384-5. When Leo X reformed the University of Rome in 1514 he appointed two professors of mathematics. Pisa had a chair of mathematics in 1484. Galileo was appointed a ‘mathesis praeceptor’ at the University of Pisa in 1589 through the influence of Cardinal Francesco del Monte. Galileo’s own influence on the teaching of mathematics in Italian universities was immense. His pupils Benedetto Castelli and Bonaventura Cavalieri respectively held the chairs of mathematics at Pisa, the Sapienza in Rome, and Bologna. Evangelista Torricelli, one of Castelli’s pupils, succeeded Galileo as the court mathematician of the Dukes of Tuscany. Another of Castelli’s pupils, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli became the mathematics lecturer at Messina in 1635. Malpighi, Borelli and Borelli’s pupil Lorenzo Bellini introduced Galileo’s mathematical programme into biology.

It was the Jesuit Order, which made mathematics an explicit and integral part of the educational curriculum. The Order’s Constitutiones of 1556 stated that the Society’s aim was ‘to aid our fellow men to the knowledge and love of God and to the salvation of their souls’. The principal subject at the Jesuit universities was therefore theology, as the subject best suited to this. A wide range of other subjects were also taught in addition to it, including literature and history, classical and oriental languages, and the arts and natural sciences. These were included because they ‘dispose the intellectual powers for theology, and are useful for the perfect understanding and use of it, and also by their own nature help towards the same end’. St. Ignatius de Loyola himself stated that ‘logic, physics, mathematics and moral science should be treated and also mathematicss in the measure suitable to the end proposed’. The person, who was chiefly responsible for establishing Jesuit policy in mathematics and their achievements in the subject was Christopher Clavius. Clavius held the chair of mathematics at the main Jesuit university, the Collegio Romano from 1565 until his death in 1612. Clavius defended the role of mathematics at the University agains the doubts of other colleagues, establishing a school of mathematics at the Collegio. Clavius lamented the low value many pupils placed on maths and philosophy, noting that

‘Pupils up to now seem almost to have despised these sciences for the simple reason that they think that they are not considered of value and are even useless, since the person who teaches them is never summoned to public acts with other professors’. He also considered it a great shame and disgrace, that members of the order, who had little knowledge of maths, became speechless during conversations with leading men, who were much better educated mathematically. He artgued that a proper grasp of maths was necessary for understanding the rest of philosophy. He stated that

‘these sciences and natural philosophy have so close an affinity with one another that unless they give each other mutual aid they can in no way preserve their own worth. For this to happen, it will be necessary first that students of physics should at the same time study mathematical disciplines; a habit which has always been retained in the Society’s schools hitherto. Folr if these sciences were taught at another time, students of philsophy would think, and understandably, that they were in no way necessary to physics, and so very few would want to understand them; though it is agreed among experts that physics cannot rightly be grasped without them, especially as regards that part which concerns the number and motion of the celestical circles, the multitude of intelligences, the effects of the stars which depend on the various conjunctions, oppositions and other distances between them, the division of continuous quantity into infinity, the ebb and flow of the sea, winds, comets, the rainbow, the halo and other meteorlogical things, the proportions of motions, qualities, actions, passions and reactions etc. concerning which ‘calculatores’ wirte much. I do not mention the infinite examples in Aristotle, Plato and their more celebrated commentators, which can by no means be understood without a moderate understanding of the mathematical sciences…’

Clavius’ influence is strongly shown in the Jesuit ‘Ratio Studiorum’ – educational curriculum – of 1586 and 1599. This was strongly Aristotelian, except where Aristotle conflicted with Christian theology, and included the whole range of Aristotelian natural philosophy and mathematics. The section on mathematics in the Constitutiones argued it was included because

‘without mathematics our academies would lack a great ornament, iindeed they would even be mutilated, since there is almost no fairly celebrated academy in which the mathematical disciplines do not have their own, and indeed not the last, place; but much more because the other sciences also very much need their help, because for poets they supply and expound the risings and settings of the heavenly bodies; for historians the shapes and distances of places; for the Analytics examples of solid demonstrations; for politicians admirable arts for good administration at home and in time of war; for physics the forms and differences of heavenly revolutions, light, discords, sounds; for metaphysics the number of spheres and intelligences; for theologians the main parts of the divine creation; for law and ecclesiastical custom the accurate computation of times; not to mention what advantages redound to the state from the work of mathematicians in the care of diseases, in navigations and in the pursuit of agriculture.’

Dawkins and the other militant atheists have sneered at the idea of people of faith as teachers. But the great pioneers in teaching mathematics at university the level were the Jesuits, who taught it as a vital aid to faith, and as a vital and indispensible tool for the other sciences. They were certainly not unaware that improving the standards of maths teaching in the order would also raise their status in contemporary society. Neverthless, they did much to establish maths as a suitable and necessary subject for Christians to study. Some of these early Jesuit mathematicians were also friends of Galileo. They included Clavius’ pupil and successor at the Collegio, Christopher Grienberger. Despite the aim of the Society to promote Roman Catholic Christianity, Jesuit scientists also co-operated and corresponded cordially with Protestant people of science. Recent Jesuit historians have noted that the Jesuits in West Africa collaborated with their Dutch scientific counterparts in their exploration of the region’s wildlife, and contacted Scandinavian scientists in Norway or Sweden for the scientific information they had. Their science was still strongly aristotelian, but they were despite this able to make valuable contributions to science.

Source

‘Mathematics and Platonism in the Sixteenth-Century *Italian Univrsities and in Jesuit Educational Policy’ in A.C. Crombie, Science, Art and Nature in Medieval and Modern Thought (London and Rio Grande, Ohio: The Hambledon Press 1996).

Christianity and Ancient Slavery 2

February 14, 2008

In doing the research for the essays I’ve posted up here on Christianity, the Bible, and ancient, medieval and Atlantic slavery, I’ve been reading through Peter Garnsey’s Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1999). Garnsey goes through the various ancient authors commenting on slavery, including St. Paul, analysing their comments and their views. He notes the way Christian theologians, like St. Augustine, provided justifications for slavery, but states in his conclusion:

‘What Jewish and Christian thinkers had in mind by ‘slavery’ is more accurately rendered ‘obedience’ or ‘service’. It had almost nothing in common with ancient domestic servitude, let alone the notorious slave gangs who worked the mines or the estates of the rich in late Republican Italy’. p. 142.

He notes that ‘slavery, by no means ubiquitous was deeply entrenched in ancient societies. The slave-owning class extended well down the social scale, and included even slaves. Slaveowners large and small were uniformly committed to the system, which they saw as a fundamental feature of their society. No one launched, nor even contemplated, a movement for abolition, not even slaves, who were more interested (especially in the Roman context) in joining their oppressors than in oppositing them as a class.’ p. 237.

He notes and quotes a number of ancient authors who criticised slavery, such as the scholiast Alkidamas, who in 370 BC stated’The deity gave liberty to all men, and nature created no one a slave’. p. 75.

Among these critics of slavery were Lactantius in his Institutiones divinae of the early fourth century, and Gregory of Nyssa in his Homilies IV on Ecclesiastes 2:7.

Lactantius in his Institutiones divinae states

 ‘The other part of justice is equity (aequitas). I do not speak of the equity of judging well, which is itself laudable in a just man. I mean rather that of equalizing self with fellow-men, which Cicero calls equability (aequabilitas). God who creates and inspires men wished them all to be fair, that is, equal. He set the same condition of living for all. He begot all unto wisdom. He promised immortality to all. No one is segregated from His heavenly benefits. Just as He divides His one light equally for all, lets His showers fall upon all, supplies food, grants the sweetest rest of sleep, so He bestow the virtue of equity upon all. With Him, no one is master, no one slave. For if He is the same Father to all, we are all free by equal right. No one is apauper with God except him who is in need of justice; no one rich, but him who is filled with the virtues; no one, finally, is distinguished except the one who has been good and innocent; no one very illustrious, unless he has done the works fo mercy with largesse; no one quite perfect, unless he has completed all the steps of virtue. Wherefore, neither the Romans nor the Greeks could possess justice, because they had men distinguished by many grades, from the poor to the rich, from the lowly to the powerful, from private citizens even to the most sublime heights of kings. For when all are not equal, there is no equity, and inequality itself excludes justice, whose whole power is in this, that it makes equal those who came to the condition of this life by an equal lot.

If those two sources of justice, then, are altered, all virtue and all truth is removed, and justice itself goes back into heaven … Someone will say: ‘Are theyre not among you some poor, some rich, some slaves, some masters? Is there not something of concern to individuals?’ Nothing … For since we measure all human things, not by the body, but by the spirit, and although the condition of the bodies may be diversified, there are not slaves among us, but we regard them and we speak of them as brothers in spirit and as fellow-slaves in religion.’ -pp. 80-1.

Gregory of Nyssa was rather more radical, and presented an argument for abolition, even if this does not seem to have been taken up or acted upon. He is on record of manumitting some of his slaves, though not all of them, while his sister, Macrina, was admired for treating hers ‘democratically’. p. 240.

Thus, although Christianity accepted slavery and some theologians justified it, it also modified it to make it more humane and two came close to arguing for abolition.