The Unorthodox Website Blog

What’s in a name or phrase?

17 Apr

Quite often names and phrases associated with politics have coded meanings contained in them. This includes the official names of certain countries and political jargon.

I give some examples here, past and present.

Take official country names for instance. There was the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and there still exists the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Though far from democratic, the coded message is that Socialism is inheriently more democratic than capitalism, or indeed is synonymous with true democracy. Also that anybody who opposes Socialism is against democracy, or to be more specific, they are against the only kind of democracy that is felt relevant – people’s or Socialist democracy. This was to be exercised directly by the masses through the one-Party led coalition or one-Party State, and democratic centralism operated inside these organizations. If you weren’t a member your democratic rights were limited to opting out of voting for the official list of candidates, and this would endanger your career prospects and keep you under the eye of the secret police, because ballots weren’t secret. Even as a Party member democratic rights were restricted, but it has to be said the same is true of the Labour Party in Britain and many other Western political parties. Annual Conferences and Congresses, supposed to formulate Party policy, are strictly controlled.

Taking my own country, official title the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are all sorts of coded messages there. First, it is obviously a kingdom rather than a republic, then there is a reminder of our colonialist past when a small island nevertheless considers itself  ‘great’ because of its former empire, and also Northern Ireland (before partition it was just ‘Ireland’) is tacked on to the end. This last bit makes the claim by Loyalists to British nationality that of ex-pats or British colonial subjects. Clearly Northern Ireland  is not, and never has been, part of Britain or the name of the country would just be the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Going further afield we have the Falkland Islands, which have adopted a British-sounding name to emphasize they were colonized by ex-pat Brits. The other name for these islands off the coast of Argentina is, of course, the Malvinas. If you use the former you are pro-British, if you use the latter you ally yourself with the Argentinean claim to these islands.

Similarly with Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Republicans know the city is really Derry, but Loyalists insist on adding the word ‘London’ at the beginning.

The province of Northern Ireland is sometimes erroneously called ‘Ulster’. It is not Ulster, it is just six counties of the nine counties which make up the Irish province of Ulster. The other three weren’t included because then Northern Ireland would have had a Republican majority. Therefore Republicans usually refer to the British-occupied province as ‘the six counties’.

Moving on to other politically loaded phrases, on a Memphis riverboat the tannoy kept referring to ‘the war of Northern Aggression’, clearly a reference to the American Civil War, or ‘War Between the States’ as the more diplomatic Southerners refer to it.

In Cyprus, which had been divided since 1974, the Turkish Cypriots, Turks and those with pro-Turkish sympathies refer to the Northern part as the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC/KKTC). The Greek-Cypriots, Greeks and their sympathizers just refer to it as the ‘occupied zone’. Much as, before recognition, the German Democratic Republic was referred to in the West as ‘the Soviet Zone of Germany’ or just ‘East Germany’.

East Berlin was always known by its official title of ‘Berlin, Capital of the GDR’ (‘Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR’) in the East, or simply as just ‘Berlin’. West Berlin was shown as a blank space on East German maps in the middle of the GDR, with the initials WB or the word ‘Westberlin’.

The Wall was known officially by various names in the East: ‘The Wall of Peace’, ‘The Anti-Fascist Wall’, or simply as ‘the border installations’. Shooting people trying to escape across it was known as ‘heroically defending the inviolable frontiers of the capital of the German Democratic Republic’.

The Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia by the USSR and four other Warsaw Pact countries was officially referred to as the ‘fraternal assistance by five Socialist countries to defend Socialist Democracy in the CSSR’. Or simply as the ‘intervention to defeat the counter-revolutionary elements in the CSSR’. CSSR standing for the Czecho-Slovak Socialist Republic.

Maoist China and its tiny European ally, Enver Hoxha’s Albania, constantly denounced the ‘West German revanchists, Soviet revisionists, Western imperialists and all their running dogs’ using this or very similar terms which meant West Germany sought revenge for losing territory in two World Wars, the USSR and its allies had abandoned Socialism and Communism, and all the Western countries were colonialists. By implication Mao’s China and Hoxha’s Albania were perfect.

Moving away from politics, death is referred to in various ways by people with different belief systems. Born-again Christians and evangelists often refer to it as ‘going to the Gloryland’. Spiritualists refer to it as ‘transiting’ or ‘passing over to the Other Side’.

Back to politics, and the crimes of Stalin, his purges and show trials, his gulags and executions, were all summed up in the post-Stalin Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries as ‘violations of Socialist Democracy in the era of the cult of the personality’. This avoided mention of the name ‘Stalin’ and downgraded his crimes to mere ‘violations’ of democracy.

The horrors of the Nazi holocaust were only hinted at in the home-grown phrase ‘Final Solution’, while the name of the ruling party caused deliberate confusion by containing the word ‘Socialist’ for an extreme rightwing, racist Party: ‘The National Socialist Party of Germany’ or NSDAP.

‘The War on Terror’ disguises many things, including the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the incarceration without trial of many people in prison camps like the one in Guatanamo, the American-held base in Cuba.

Whether it is the West or the former Socialist East, invasions of foreign countries were/are always ‘justified’ by use of misleading and emotive phrases like this. In fact Saddam’s Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. Afghanistan did accommodate and was ruled for a time by the Taliban, but many of these are now in Northern Pakistan, yet Pakistan is supposedly still an ally of Britain and the USA. Also many dictatorships are allies of or are supported by the West, including Saudi Arabia, and even Gaddaffi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq were at different times on friendly terms with Britain and the USA. Osama Bin Laden was a ‘freedom fighter’ when opposing the Soviet occupation and puppet regime in Afghanistan, supported and armed by the West, but became a terrorist when he opposed U.S. interests in his homeland of Saudi Arabia and the state of Israel which includes many settlers from Western countries on land seized from the Palestinians.

So political phrases and names in particular need to be regarded with great caution. Most of them contain hidden agendas and meanings, and using them reveals the political stance of whoever does so.

At the same time neutral words and phrases like ‘democracy’ have little meaning unless qualified: democracy for whom for instance?  Also how is it exercised? Tony Benn probably gave the best definition of true democracy when he said words to the effect that when any politician or leader is elected, people must make sure they know how to remove them from office. If this involves violent revolution or mass civil disobedience, then it is not a true democracy.


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