Saturday, 29 August 2015

Anti - Zionism and Anti - Semitism

I avoid certain topics on this Blog – ones I feel are too important or ones where anyone who ventures into them risks ( sometimes wilful) misunderstanding. Or both. Anti-semitism is one of those topics.

But there comes a point … I am tired of the  untruth, endlessly recycled by people who seem to be paid not to think, that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-semitism or even anti-semitism itself. It isn’t. Full stop. Go back to your PR drawing board. Your current strategy sounds like the last refuge of scoundrels.

It’s true that anti-semites are generally anti-Zionists, though not always: in the past there were anti-semites who thought it a jolly good idea that all the Jews should take themselves off to Israel and hopefully get lost in the desert. Indeed, in the early days some Zionists tried to drum up support for the Zionist project from serious anti-semites. Every little helps. The Zionist Avram Stern (of Stern Gang fame) even put in an approach to Hitler. After all, they both had a common enemy, Great Britain, which had been awarded a League of Nations Mandate to run Palestine in 1918. Stern was very happy to make life uncomfortable for the British in Palestine and that, in the context of World War Two, was his gambling chip with Hitler. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Endorsement of the Zionist project initially came from conservative and nationalist gentile politicians, like the Conservative British politician A J Balfour, whose famous 1917 declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland had at least something to do with the background thought that Zionism meant that the Jews would go elsewhere: they would stop coming from Eastern Europe (and its pogroms) to London and Dublin, where of course they encountered some anti-semitism but less intense than in the bloodlands of eastern Europe.

 But even if it didn’t matter very much to the British that the newcomers were Jews, it did matter that they were migrants - and, well, as we all know, you can only take in so many migrants. If a big migrant group tell you they would rather go elsewhere, why discourage them? Why not give a bit of help?

In short, you could argue that sympathy for the Zionist project among Gentile politicians allowed a little anti-semitism and a lot of anti-migrant sentiment to be expressed in a nice way. This viewpoint is probably not a majority one: historians generally see the Balfour Declaration very much as a move designed to increase American and Russian enthusiasm for the Allied cause in World War One.

The United Nations decision (that is, the decision of the victorious Allies) to create a Jewish homeland after World War Two also had less reputable motivations. That old anti-semite, Stalin, liked the idea and the Soviet Union hurried to be first to recognise the state of Israel. The other allies were keen too, though the British arguably had in mind a fairer solution than the one eventually arrived at by force and, as the history books tell us, tried to restrict Jewish migration to Palestine, more or less to the end of the Mandate.

I think it’s true that one reason that the Allies settled for the idea of  Israel is that it promised a partial solution to the Jewish Problem - the problem that mainland Europe at the end of World War Two was home to a large displaced population of traumatised Jews, many or most of whom did not want to return home or had no home to go to. Most of them wanted to get out of mainland Europe with first preference destinations in Great Britain and the United States and Latin America, with some happy to go to South Africa ( a popular destination earlier in the century) or Australia. Anywhere – understandably – except mainland Europe.

 (Anne Frank’s Diary is instructive: to begin with, exiled from Germany, she dreams of making her new home, after the war, in The Netherlands. She’s a fan of the Dutch. Towards the end she wavers as it becomes clear that the Dutch are losing their courage).

The Zionist project offered a destination which had the unique advantage that Jews might become a majority in the population. That was attractive to many Jews, even if they weren't Zionists. And it was a solution which promised to reduce the financial and administrative burden on the Allies of traumatised people in displaced persons camps, hospitals and so on.

The burden was shifted to Palestine, where there was, of course, already a large Jewish population willing to support new arrivals. And there was a Zionist movement willing to force the Arab population to make room for them. When it came to ethnic cleansing, the Zionists showed in the 1940s that they could do it too.

For a long time, into the 1990s, I suppose I thought that things might work out well in the end. 

Lots of Jews in Israel held progressive – liberal, socialist – political beliefs. Many of them were cuddly kibbutzniks. In the end, they would come to some kind of acceptable deal with the indigenous Arab population, Muslim and Christian by religion, mostly semitic by race. Social solidarity would win out over ethnic or religious or cultural divisions. Zionism, with its inherent racism, would become a bit of an embarrassment. It would become History.

Nope. It didn’t happen. And things went from bad to worse, let’s say after the assassination (by a Jewish religious extremist) of Yitzhak Rabin.

Cuddly kibbutzniks have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Now we have aggressive religious fundamentalist settlers. In the cities, we have mafia with the upper hand rather than liberal intellectuals. We have fairly typical second and third generation nationalism. The majority of new migrants since the 1990s are not refugees fleeing persecution. They are often just unpleasant people no different from very pushy people anywhere, who see Israel as a land of golden opportunity for pushing and shoving.

Not to like these people is not about being anti-semitic. It’s about not liking religious fundamentalism (what is there to like about any religious fundamentalism?). It’s about not liking settlers and colonists who force indigenous populations off their land. It’s about not liking rule by mafias. It’s about suspicion of narrow Nationalism which is doing well not only in Israel but all over mainland Europe (Poland,  Russia, Ukraine …) and always ends up with some group (Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Muslims, Arabs … ) the victim of some kind of persecution.
I read the books about the history of the Jews in 20th century Europe (and review them on my book Blog www.readingthisbook.com), I read the books by the Jewish critics of Israel. 

I have absolutely no enthusiasm for Judaism or Islam or Christianity or racism or persecution or firing missiles at poor people’s homes from a safe distance. My toes curl when – in the course of my work - I hear someone make an anti-semitic remark (as people still do).

 I’ve more or less had it with Israel and certainly with this propaganda blast which paints me as an anti-semite because I don't think Benjamin Netanyahu the greatest show on earth and also don't think that a very long time God marked some wretched part of the earth's surface as a Jewish homeland and then more or less forgot about it until fairly recently reminded.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Over - Regulation and Under-Regulation: the Boulangeries of Paris

France is still a Tribute Act to the Soviet Union. Even the smallest changes show that there is still life in the Central Committee.

An excellent article by Michael Stothard in the Financial Times (22/23 August) tells us that the Prefect of Paris has lifted some of the requirements previously imposed on Parisian boulangeries. 

Artisan bakers can now take their holidays when they like in July and August; they don’t have to go on leave when told to by the Prefect. The rationale for the old system was to prevent Parisians having to walk too far to find fresh bread in the summer. Now they may have to trek for a loaf, since bakers – like everyone else – are quite keen to get out of the city in August (Tourist Tip: Never, but never, go to Paris in August. It’s awful and that’s before you take into account the weather).

However, the Prefect retains the right to tell bakers on which weekday they must (not may) close, another measure designed to assist convenience shopping.

Not that I think of Paris as a city which has ever had convenience shopping. Everything appears to be shut when you want it, especially banks (long lunchtimes) and restaurants (very limited hours).

The Prefect’s solicitude for the people’s bread supply has an old-Soviet kind of charm but it stands in strong contrast to how the public sector treats itself.

Back in August 2003, France experienced an unusual and powerful heatwave. Old people were badly affected and many died. In fact, when the statisticians subsequently ran their programs,14,802 excess deaths were recorded from the two week period of the heatwave.

One reason for the high death toll was the simple fact that the doctors (especially the Parisian ones) had all cleared off on holiday. It’s August, innit? No rota imposed on them. They were professionals – and workers in the public sector – and entitled to do as they pleased.

So here we have a country where you can find both over-regulation and under-regulation. That is also a feature of Soviet and quasi-Soviet regimes.

The balancing act for a democracy is to make careful decisions about what needs to be regulated and what doesn’t.


The weakness of free market quasi-democracies, like Britain’s, has been to under-regulate the private sector and, notably, its most powerful elements – in Britain, the under-regulation of banking still remains a problem, despite 2008. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Men in Dirty Raincoats: Doris Lessing and the Spooks

You know, sometimes I wonder how we survived The Cold War with The Establishment we had then. In the past week, newspapers in this country have reported War Minister John Profumo (Conservative) leaving secret documents lying around in his study, used as an unaccompanied waiting room for the Soviet naval attach√© on his visits – for which Captain Ivanov came equipped with smiles and  a miniature camera.

Then today we have newly released documents from the Archives telling us what the men in dirty raincoats got up to in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1956, the man from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch thought that Doris Lessing, the novelist, was running a brothel – well, she had so many unaccompanied male visitors ringing the bell to her flat. Must be immoral purposes, Sir.

All solemnly written down and filed away as part of a twenty year long surveillance operation involving Special Branch, MI5 and MI6.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought, They must have been a prurient-minded bunch. Or else, men with their eye on the main chance of selling a tip-off to the tabloids. (Why didn’t the man from Special Branch suggest to The News of the World that they send along a reporter to ring the bell and, story bagged, make an excuse and leave? Perhaps he did).

Another target, Edith Tudor-Hart – whose photographic work recently got a retrospective exhibition – also had the men in dirty raincoats on her tail, as it were. Foreign, Jewish, Intellectual, Communist … must be a sex story there.

(I have a vague memory that as a young student I was invited to a meeting held in the flat of her ex-husband a medical doctor, Dr Alex Tudor-Hart. A basement (Ho! Ho!) somewhere in London. I Googled him today and I’m pretty sure he was the chap in a plaster bust which showed up on Google images. I do wish I could remember more. I am sure the files do)
.

Thankfully it’s all different now. The raincoats are only interested in men with beards and in fifty years’ time my grandchildren will read the newspapers telling them just how good the spooks were in spotting, trailing and catching those who wanted to cut off our heads with a carving knife. Not forgetting Jeremy Corbyn.

Reform for the Day: Opening the Borders

I read that there are an estimated 12 million undocumented illegal migrants living in the USA representing about 3.75% of the 320 million population. That figure seems to be common ground.

 Mainstream politicians like Mr Donald Trump want to stop the number growing and as part of the solution propose building a wall the length of the border with Mexico. This policy has the support of major construction companies. Mr Trump also proposes deporting the 12 million, which of course would be rather expensive and does not have the support of the construction companies who need the labour. Doh!. 

Other mainstream politicians talk of amnesties and giving people documentation.

At the fringes there are people who advocate armed border patrols with a “Shoot on Sight” mandate and, at the other extreme, those who advocate opening the border, more or less treating Mexico as if it was a state of the Union. [Warning: I made that last bit up. If it’s alright for the Department of Work and Pensions … ]

In the UK there is more uncertainty about how many illegal migrants live here, with estimates ranging between 300 000 and 600 000, so between half a percent and one percent of the 64 million population. We are led to believe that most new illegal migrants enter via Calais and as I write a large number of panting police officers, French and British, are running around that benighted port trying to stop them (since fences don’t). 

This being Britain, not America, no one proposes shooting them on sight. It has been proposed that the Channel Tunnel should be closed at night. A very few people have suggested that the border should be opened – that the UK should join the rest of Europe in the borders-free Schengen area.

One merit of this last proposal lies in something often overlooked. If your borders are open, it is easy to leave as well as come in. At the moment, among those illegally in the UK there are probably a significant number who would like to leave and go somewhere else. But you can’t just hitch a lift or hop on a Eurostar train. You need documents to get out as well as get in (it’s not the French who want to see them, it’s the British). There are also those who are here legally but who fear that if they leave, they won’t be able to return given the ever more restrictive Visa regimes dreamt up by the Home Office. So we have people who are trapped. Opening the borders would free them.

This argument will not persuade those who think that if you open the borders, the whole population of the Middle East and North Africa will turn up at the Channel Tunnel. This seems most unlikely. Most people prefer to stay where they are already, even in the harshest of times. Many Jews stayed in Nazi Germany, despite adequate warning, until it was far too late. (To be fair, they were not very welcome elsewhere and were sometimes sent back: notoriously in the case of the passengers on the 1939 voyage of the St Louis, turned away by Cuba, the USA and Canada and subsequently on thee ship's return shared out between the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands )

A main reason why there are always would-be migrants at Calais is that most of them possess (along with degrees and diplomas) some knowledge of English. If they come here rather than stay in France, they can get around much more easily because they already know how to ask the price of a pint of milk. It’s not because Margate or Middlesborough have any intrinsic attractions, except in those cases where friends or family already live there. Understandably, we Brits do overestimate the attractions of our own country. But outsiders will not always share our enthusiasm. It would help them to a more realistic evaluation of the UK if we prevented our Royal Family presenting to the world's media such an unreal version of what life is like here. When did anyone here last see a PRAM in use, for goodness sake?

The problems created by the fact that English is the World Language could be addressed. If you opened the borders, it would certainly make sense to ensure that there are lots of classes in English available for those who want to improve their existing language skills. You can provide a lot of language instruction for the price of one panting police officer. But you should also provide language classes in French, German, Italian, Turkish and so on for those who, after a brief experience of how we live, decide that, well, thank you but maybe somewhere else would suit .... Of course, such classes should be open to British people, some of whom might also like a fresh start away from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Reform for the Day: Why the Government Avoids Tax Transparency

Poor people pay out more of their total income in taxes than do rich people, often considerably more. This is true in the USA (where Warren Buffet famously remarked on the fact) and the UK and no doubt many other countries.

It's true even though these countries have Progressive Income Tax regimes which take a higher percentage of rich people's incomes than poor people's thanks to tax bands. But this does not compensate for the Regressive character of Indirect Taxes - VAT (TVA, MwSt), Sales Taxes and such like - which take a higher percentage of a poor person's income than a rich person's.

Suppose you have 10 000 a year after tax and buy clothes for 100 of which 20 is tax. Then you have paid out 20 / 10 000 of your income in Indirect Taxes. A rich person with 100 000 who buys the same clothes pays out 20 / 100 000

Governments (at least the one in the UK) don't want you to work that out. They don't want to help you avoid indirect taxes, especially the ones which hit poor people hardest. Retailers don't want to tell you either.

So you never see tobacco or alcohol labelled with prices broken down into cost of the goods, on the one hand, and tax on the other. It would make some people think twice about their purchases if they knew that as much as 90% of their expenditure is a tax payment.

Nor does your Lottery ticket show the tax component. And so on.

So my Reform for the Day is Tax Labelling: compel retailers to show clearly - and not just on your till receipt after you have made the purchase - the Tax you are paying when you buy alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets and so on. It would jolt some people into changing their habits.

It doesn't solve the problem of Regressive Taxes - or Regressive Benefits.

In the UK, a TV licence (which allows you to watch live TV legally ) now costs £145.50 (don't you just love the bureaucratic precision). Well 145.50/10 000 is quite a lot of money though 145.50 / 100 000 isn't. In both cases, it all goes to support the state broadcaster the BBC, a toadying second-rate organisation with a few good and even excellent elements aimed at those with 100 000 a year. I solve the problem by not watching live TV, ever, so I don't have to buy a TV licence. The problem could be better solved by leaving the BBC to generate its own income rather than provide it from taxes which it mis-spends. ( If you can't bring yourself not to watch TV, you could make a modest start by deleting the drivelling BBC News website from your Favourites Bar. Try Al Jazeera instead).

Local taxes (Council Taxes) are also regressive - they are banded but the bands are weighted in favour of those living in valuable properties most of whom also have valuable incomes. This may change a bit but not enough.

As for Regressive Benefits, these were the brainchild of New Labour. Take the (entirely bogus) Winter Fuel Payment, handed out just before Christmas to the over 60s and worth £200 to a single person like me. Everyone gets the same amount, so how come that's regressive? Isn't 200 / 10 000 a better deal than 200 / 100 000? Yes it is BUT ...

Since it's tax free you have to look at it like this. How much does a person on 100 000 have to receive in taxable income to generate 200 net? How much does a person on 10 000?

Well, on 10 000 you are in the tax exempt band so to end up with 200 you need to receive just 200. But at 100 000 you have lots of taxable income and you would need to generate 300 or more in taxable income to end up with 200 net. The Winter Fuel Payment saves you the trouble. You would only eliminate its Regressive character by taxing it as you would other income.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Scotland Today. Really?


 Click on Image to Magnify

Back in the 1950s, snobbish parents with money competed to distinguish their children from the riff-raff, selecting schools which demanded expensive be-ribboned blazers and fancy striped ties and goodness knows what else (provided it cost lots of money) - and even for five year old children who would grow out of it all in six months.

Someone dug out an old photo showing the results and fooled The Guardian into putting it on today's front page as if it was happening now. Don't they know that Scotland, unlike England, is a Progressive country where such garments have been consigned to the charity shop of history?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Vote for Jeremy Corbyn?

If I was still a member of the Labour Party, I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn to lead it.

Unfortunately, my membership lapsed nearly fifty years ago so I can't. I joined the Party, all youthful idealism, when I was 16 and canvassed in my Erith and Belvedere constituency in the 1964 elections which returned Harold Wilson as Prime Minister and James Wellbeloved as my local MP. Then I went to University, moved left and lapsed (though I still managed to be Chairman of the University Labour Club in 1967 - it wasn't a job requirement that you belonged to the national party).

I would have one big doubt about backing Corbyn.

If he led the Labour Party to a General Election victory, he could be in the same position as Hollande's government in France, reliant on the very conditional support of public sector workers and their unions. And that could function overall - whatever the rhetoric - as an exclusive rather than an inclusive force. In France, the lack of fraternity is very obvious in the huge divide between those who are In to the benefits of the system, notably public sector workers who have bludgeoned governments for decades, and those who are Out - and the Outs include most young people and most of the non-white inhabitants of France's many ghettos, the banlieues.

Corbyn (like Owen Jones) is too romantic about the public sector. Like the private sector, it is not a single force. It comprises the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I go to my GPs surgery for a blood test, it is obvious that the nurse who takes my blood is working a long day, seeing many patients and trying hard to treat all of them as human beings. That is public sector front line work at its best.

But then there are Town Hall bureaucrats too busy to leave their Monday to Friday offices what with the competing demands of small intrigues and their own tiresome versions of political correctness. As a result, out on the streets things are neglected.

(A small example: Green and very politically correct Brighton and Hove has renewed pedestrian lights as many traffic junctions in recent years. Many are out of phase or incomprehensibly phased. As a result, the foreign tourists and language school students - a lot of people in Brighton - stand baffled on the kerb while locals simply ignore the lights. It's dangerous but nothing is done about it. No one has ever left the Town Hall to check the functioning of the systems. I refer you to the Clock Tower lights and the Tesco junction between Western Road and Palmeira Square).

There are bigger examples of bad public sector practice, some of it very highly remunerated. Think, for example,  of what happened at the Care Quality Commission under Cynthia Bower and Gill Finney.

Then there is the ugly: the corrupt organisations like the Metropolitan Police, which is officially corrupt - the government's own reports tell us.

The wider electorate wants public services to be more like Tesco, with staff working ROTAS so that they can remain open seven days a week. It is simply not acceptable that a Social Work team - including Child Protection specialists - works Monday to Friday with just one "Duty Social Worker" to cover weekends and public holidays, days on which vulnerable children are even more at risk. But could a Corbyn government respond to that public sentiment? Or would it collude in making public sector entitlements (overtime, holidays, special payments for this and that) even more baroque and unfair?

It does, however, occur to me that the alternatives to Corbyn - Burnham. Cooper, Kendall - could well be adduced as living examples of what the worst kind of Town Hall bureaucrat talks like.














Sunday, 9 August 2015

We Simply Don't Know Which Terrorist Organisations Own London Properties

David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, recently raised concerns about lack of transparency in the ownership of London's high - end properties. Ownership is often registered with companies in our Tax Havens - places like the Cayman Islands and the Virgin Islands which the UK Parliament has licensed for such activities. And those offshore companies are often created to disguise the ultimate beneficial owners of the properties. Until Parliament decides enough is enough, Mr Cameron can only fume.

The Financial Times has been diligent in following up the issue. In a half-page report (FT, 8/9 August 2015) Cynthia O'Murchu says that an FT study concludes that over £122 billion of UK property is owned through non-transparent offshore company structures. Much of this is high-end London property and, more than probably, much of it owned by the world's unsavoury.

The initial concern was expressed in terms of money-laundering. With the help of estate agents, solicitors and those "offshore jurisdictions" licensed by Parliament, criminals of all types have had their path smoothed to converting their loot into London property - quite a lot of it unoccupied and quite a lot of it owing arrears of Council Tax.

Keith Bristow, Head of the National Crime Agency, is quoted as calling money laundering "a strategic threat to the UK's economy".

But maybe it's a strategic threat full stop. If drug barons and kleptocratic despots can confidently convert their loot into desirable addresses with nice secure entryphones and CCTV, so can terrorist organisations. If we don't know who owns Kensington and Chelsea, we don't know whether any of the owners are creating safe houses to use for storing or making weapons and munitions; and we don't know whether any of the properties are designed to provide bolt-holes for assassins and terrorists.

I rather hope that Mr Cameron decides to pursue the issue and not be deflected by the cloud of obfuscation now being puffed out by London's property middlemen, the men in expensive suits with a very large vested interest in smoothing things for dodgy clients.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Men Behaving Badly: Why Not Just Ban Stag Parties?

In today’s Financial Times I read that Barcelona’s newly-elected Mayor, Ada Colau, is proceeding to implement a policy on which she was elected: cracking down on Tourism. The voters who elected her think there are just too many tourists  - or, more precisely, too much nightlife tourism and drinking tourism:

“Boosted by Ryanair’s entrance into Barcelona’s El Prat airport in 2010, the city experienced a boom of young visitors on boozy weekends and bachelor party tours” writes the FT's reporter, Ian Mount

This is the first time I have encountered the expression “bachelor party”; I suppose it means the same as “stag party” though maybe it includes “male football fan party”. In both cases, the adjective “young” would generally be mistakenly applied. At least for their British versions, we are talking about men in their thirties, often a bit balding and paunchy and definitely not youthful. “Immature” would be more accurate.

Anyway, Barcelona should not be left to try to stop them unaided. This is a European-level problem with many cities affected and holders of British passports main culprits. We should tackle the problem at source – or, at least, nearer source. To put it simply: it should be illegal for all male groups, above a certain size, to travel abroad together and it should consequently be illegal for Ryanair or easyjet or whoever to carry them. This would be some kind of reparation for all that British male vomit on the pavements of Bratislava and Hamburg and Prague and …

Men in groups tend to behave badly. I think that is a scientific generalisation which is testable. I also think that it is true that when a predominantly male group has at least a few female members, then the group as a whole tends to behave better. Men in mixed sex groups tend to behave better than men in all-male groups. This is also a scientific generalisation which I would test by looking at the behaviour of football fans in countries where fans are overwhelmingly male (England, for example) and, in contrast, countries where females form a more-than-token number of fans (Germany, perhaps).

I have loathed stag parties and male football fan groups since I used to work, often at weekends, in European cities in the 1990s. They turned your flight into a nightmare if you happened to have the misfortune to share a plane (outwards or inwards) and they turned the city you were visiting into a nightmare too. It was just so embarrassing to be British in Bratislava or Hamburg or Prague … watching your fellow citizens incurring the disdain and contempt of the inhabitants of those cities. Loud, grotesque and pissed.


Yes, tackle the problem at source. Stop them going. It’s not Barcelona’s problem; it’s ours.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Who will write our history a hundred years from now?

RURITANIA
The 29th April 2011 was a public holiday in Ruritania. Ruritanian public holidays were not quite the same as public holidays in other countries. For one thing, they were called Bank Holidays. For another, the government merely advised employers to lock out their workers; it did not compel them. 

Of course, the government closed its own offices and the rest of the public sector did the same. But shops and restaurants and so on remained open to give locked-out public sector workers something to do. But it was a struggle: the dates of  public holidays were carefully chosen to coincide with cold and wet weather. You got an awful lot of Hits if you Googled,  “Bank Holiday Washout”.

From time to time, the government added extra days to the annual list of public holidays – there had to be an annual list because some of the dates were changeable and moved each year on the advice of the astrologers of the Church of England.

The 29th April 2011 was added to the list by Mr Cameron, then Prime Minister, so that everyone (minus the shop and restaurant workers and so on) could stay at home and watch TV.

The Monarchy was mounting a big TV spectacular, the wedding of its Prince William of Wales - second in line to the throne - to a commoner, Miss Middleton, who had been deemed acceptable as a baby maker. (The assessment proved correct; she produced two healthy babies thus securing - had all gone to plan - the Ruritanian Royal Line for the next hundred years).

The youngish couple, who had met at University while studying Art History, drew up a very large Guest List for their televised wedding or, more accurately, had it drawn up for them by the department of Royal protocol. Included were:

"Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Yugoslavia; The Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia".

In 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was occupied by German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian forces who divided up the country among themselves, with Croatia ruled by a particularly unpleasant Catholic– Fascist regime headed by Ante Pavelic.

Opposed to the Occupation, King Peter II of Yugoslavia and his government went into exile, the King arriving in London in June 1941, joining several other exiled governments based there. And as with other governments-in-exile, it was supposed to direct anti-Nazi and anti-fascist resistance in the occupied homeland.

But by 1943, ULTRA intercepts of German radio traffic were showing fairly unambiguously that Yugoslav Royalist forces (the Chetniks), supposedly opposed to the occupiers,  had for the most part allied themselves with the Germans and Italians and that they were more or less exclusively engaged in attacks on the occupiers’ main enemies, Tito's anti-fascist and anti-Nazi Partisans.

It wasn’t really King Peter’s fault; he was a very young man and in exile. The Royalists had been divided in their attitudes towards Nazism and fascism even before the Axis powers invaded, with some of them wanting to welcome them.

But as a result of the Intelligence information he was receiving, Churchill withdrew support from the Royalist Chetniks and thenceforth gave exclusive support to the Partisans. Tito's headquarters became home to distinguished Allied agents like the Special Operations Executive’s Fitzroy Maclean, personally selected for the job by Churchill in a famous Memo of July 1943.

Maclean did raise with Churchill the likelihood that this support would mean that, after the war, Yugoslavia would become a Communist country. Maclean writes in his Memoirs:

The Prime Minister’s reply resolved my doubts.
‘Do you intend’, he asked, ‘to make Yugoslavia your home after the war?’
‘No, Sir’ I replied.
‘Neither do I’ 

Nonetheless, as an act of some generosity, the government two years later in July 1945 temporarily ceded national sovereignty over Suite 212 in Claridge’s Hotel, London to Yugoslavia so that the heir to the Yugoslav throne – the Crown Prince Alexander invited to the 2011 wedding – could be born on Yugoslav territory (as required by the pre-war Yugoslav constitution). Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, was one of his godparents.

After end-of-war elections, Yugoslavia's Constituent Assembly deposed King Peter II on 29 November 1945 and declared a Republic. The Western Allies were happy to recognise it and for most of the next thirty five years enjoyed at least reasonable relations with Tito's communist Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia became a popular holiday destination for Ruritanian tourists.

Then under the nationalist Slobodan Milosevic, things went from bad to worse.

With the secession of Montenegro in 2006, Yugoslavia finally ceased to exist. Instead - as Ruritania’s citizens discovered from Eurovision song contests – it disintegrated into Bosnia-Herzgovina, Croatia, the Former-Yugoslav-Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and – finally - Kosovo.


None of this - literally none of this - had been noticed in Ruritania's royal palaces. Nothing that had happened in the last seventy years impinged on its conviction that the Kingdom of Yugoslavia still existed with Alexander its Crown Prince