Archive for May, 2010

Who remembers the Armenians?

04/05/2010

On last Friday in the middle of the day at Place Homme De Fer, the main tram interchange, in the centre of Strasbourg two men stabbed a Jewish man twice.  The stabbed man was taken to hospital where he later died.  The Police said that one of the assailants was the main aggressor and that he  had psychological problems and that he claimed that everything that had gone wrong with his life was “the fault of the Jews”.

The picture (courtesy of Direct Strasbourg) shows around 300 people who gathered at the new Synagogue in solidarity against anti-Semitic aggression.  As well as the ‘Grand Rabbin de Strasbourg’, there was the Mayor of Strasbourg and a representative of the Prefect of the region and the President of the organisation representing Jewish institutions in France.  I was sorry I did not know about the gathering as I would have liked to be there to show my solidarity.

The ‘Peace Synagogue’ was built in 1958 to replace the previous one which was razed to the ground in 1940s by the Nazis.  A monument in front of the shopping centre ‘Place des Halles’ indicates the site of the previous Synagogue and the tram stop for the centre is also called Ancienne Synagogue.  There are details of the Jewish history of Strasbourg here.

The title for this piece comes from a quote attributed to Hitler when he was planning the final solution against the Jewish people.  His argument was that if no-one remembered what happened to the Armenians, who would remember the Jews?

I do.  April 25 is the memorial day for the genocide that was committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenian people in 1915 when up to 2 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks.  I was present at the Strasbourg memorial this year.  The event coincided with the start of one of the four sessions a year of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe so the leader of the Armenian delegation was able to be present with us.  The Armenian representative in Strasbourg spoke and said that he hoped he would be joined by the Turkish representative at the celebration next year – I’m not holding my breath.

France has one of the largest populations of Armenian diaspora as a consequence of the genocide, most famously represented by Charles Aznavor, so there was a good turn out on the day as can be seen from the photo, which also includes many Armenian flags.

The Depute for Strasbourg, Armand Jung, was represented as were many parts of Strasbourg civil society including the different religions.  Poems by Armenian poets were read out in Armenian, French and Alsatian.  Armenian songs were also sung before people headed off to an Armenian Orthodox Church service Armenia being the first Christian state and that being one reason why the Ottomans wanted to see the people wiped out.  Two sets of flowers were laid at the foot of the ‘Monument to the Fallen’ (as seen in the photo), inaugurated  by French President Albert Lebrun symbolising the painful experiences of Alsace with a distraught mother bearing on her knees her two sons, who fought on different sides, and are now on the point of death.  One faces towards France and the other towards Germany and join their hands as ‘an ultimate expression of rediscovered fraternity.’

April revisted – St Malo

03/05/2010

Despite hardly writing anything last month it doesn’t mean there was nothing to write about and, having written about the election recently I’m going to cover some of the events from the last month for the rest of this week, a sort of April rediscovered.   There were plenty of things I’ve thought about during the month to write about but the ones I feature here are the ones I have pictures of.

The first event, which was widely trailed here, was the visit to St MaloJTO and I arrived on the Saturday on the TGV via Paris.  On Sunday we were joined by family on the ferry from Portsmouth.  The picture shows the ferry arriving early on Sunday morning between the old city on the left and the fort national, built by Vauban, on the right.  Before going I talked with colleagues about what I was doing for Easter and the unanimous response was along the line that it rains twice in St Malo, once for three days and then for four days.  Well for us the weather was gorgeous sunshine for the whole week, it was windy sometimes but the sun shone the whole time.  Our apartments were near a beach so we spent time there making castles, flying kites, playing football etc.  On Easter Sunday we went for the first of a number of visits to the old walled city which can be seen, largely on the right, in this picture.  It was 80% destroyed in the Second World War and was reconstructed in the style of 17th and 18th centuries.  As well as the churches, one of which had a spire which could be viewed over the walls and miles away, there were public buildings, shops, homes and restaurants in the old city.  In the restaurants we enjoyed local specialities of seafood, moules frites, crepes – both as a main course, galettes made from a buckwheat flour, and a desert – and the cidre.

As well as the old city St-Servan was visited to see the fortress, Fort de la Cite, built in the 18th century and then further fortified when used by the Germans during WWII.  It contained a museum on the effect of the war on St Malo and the fighting to recapture it from the Germans in 1944.  It was still possible to see the effect of some of the fighting on the fortifications.  I was struck on walking round the fortifications how similar those added by the Germans after 1940 were to those they added to the defences of Strasbourg after it became German in 1871.  In terms of technology and positioning little seemed to have changed.  In its grounds there is also the remains of a Roman wall and the camp-site for St Malo.  Nearby there is, as can be seen in this picture, the remains of a 12th century Cathedral and the 14th century Tour Solidor which is now used as a museum.  There was also a great view across the estuary of the Rance including the Barrage de la Rance, which I had hoped to visit but is closed for all 2010.  We also took the short ferry from St Malo to Dinard which seem to attract English visitors more.  It has the feel of a turn-of-the-century beach resort with belle epoque mansions around the bay.  There is a statue of Alfred Hitchcock, pictured, and it was claimed that the inspiration for the film, The Birds, came from this bay, explaining the birds on the statue.  Though it has never been determined whether Hitch visited the place or not.  Still there is a festival of British film every October.

On the money

01/05/2010

I long ago gave up on the Guardian.  As a self-proclaimed progressive paper it seemed to me to spend too much time opposing the actions of the Labour Government and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for not being left wing enough.  Far too many public schoolboys attacking people working for real progressive change for everyone rather than the dilettante shouting from the comfortable armchairs of the middle-class  intellectuals.  So I do not feel the anger and betrayal of the paper for supporting the Lib Dems at the up-coming election.  The best criticism of the decision I have seen is here at Harrys Place, one of the few must-read every day blogs, and I reprint it here in full:

“You are young-ish. Between the ages of 25 and 40. You are a graduate. Of a good university – almost certainly Russell Group, and probably elite – Oxbridge, Durham, Bristol or one of the London colleges. You live in inner north London. Or at least the better bits of south London. Clapham, maybe. Or St. Reatham, at a push. You earn more than the national median wage of £21,320. In fact, you, or your colleagues whom you respect and whose positions you aspire to one day take, earn substantially more than the London median wage of £30,000. Your chief executive earned £471,000 in 2008/9.

A small hedge fund? Blue chip? The law?

No.

The Guardian.

You attended your editorial meeting where the general election line was discussed. Not decided, mind you. That decision is jealously guarded by your more senior colleagues. The ones who are even further removed from reality than you are.

You’re not particularly interested in history. 1997 is a dim memory. In the meantime there’s been Afghanistan (you forget that you supported it at the time – the increasing number of body bags provide the “moral” imperative now), Iraq, PFI, detention without trial, the – horror of horrors – Digital Economy Bill.

All Labour. You’re a modern sort of person – you don’t need to think about the history, the background, the context. What’s important – what fits with your assumptions – is the requirement for the tired, old party to be punished.

And so there is no heated debate. Just an echo chamber. Because all your colleagues think just like you do. You all know that you’re liberal, enlightened, sensible. How could anyone on the left possibly disagree with support for a Liberal Democrat vote?

And so the die is cast.

And suddenly you find a furore you didn’t expect. Some of your readers (not the CIF commenters, but the ones who’ve read the actual paper for years) are angry. Upset.

People are accusing you of ignoring 13 years of transformational change. You don’t use the NHS that much, and don’t have kids. Your colleague, James, has children, but he didn’t realise what a big deal those Sure Start Centres were – it’s not like Tessa or Henry attend them, so how could you expect him to know? You didn’t really notice that Labour had transformed the public services. You noticed that you had to increase the pay of your agency cleaner shortly after 1997, but that was the only real up close experience of the effects of the minimum wage you had. You think ASBOs are an ante-diluvian horror, not a vital tool to defend law abiding working class people. You think the New Deal was terribly unfair, rather than an essential tool of fairness and empowerment. Most of all, you’re glad that the government that introduced student fees will soon be gone. The massive expansion in higher education is great and all – we’re all liberal, and we wouldn’t turn around like those died-in-the-wool Tories and say it was a bad idea. It’s just that there are more important issues. Education is a right, not a privilege, and if we have to dramatically cut back the number of places available and remove the maintenance grants that Labour reintroduced for the poorest third in order to shout that principle loud and clear, then that’s just the way it has to be.

And that’s why you, and all your colleagues, and your senior colleagues who made the actual decision, made the brave, progressive choice to advocate a vote for the Liberal Democrats. Time for a change. Change that works for you. Or whatever it is.

But your readers all have a choice too. Some of us will never buy the Guardian again. It’s nothing personal.

Really.

We just don’t think you really understand the way life actually works in the UK, or what really matters in the lives of the people that a great progressive newspaper should support.

We’ll remember this. And long after the slam-dunk defeat of 2010 is a distant memory, after we’ve clawed ourselves back into contention, back from third place, if that is what it is to be – and by God we’ll fight to prevent your complacent and counter-productive desires becoming a reality – we’ll recall what you did and said.

We’ll recall that you put the electoral system above the education system, that you put House of Lords reform above continuing reform of the benefit and tax credit system to empower working people. And we’ll recall that you put Nick Clegg’s earnest vacuity ahead of a hundred years of blood and sweat and tears.

And then we’ll recall that there is only space for one searing, demanding, committed force for change and reform. And that the chance for the likes of you passed in the flames of the first War.

Some of us may be new Labour, Blairite, warmongers, or whatever people like you want to call us, and some of us may be traditional socialists or social democrats, but our party is a broad church of reform.

We’ve had tough times before. We’ve lived through tempestuous change in the 1980s and we’ve come back, renewed and reformed, dedicated to representing the aspirations of working people. Because our mission is too important to allow it to be cast aside through our own introspection, complacency or self-imposed irrelevance.

And that is our strength. We work with each other day in and day out, and our coherence, solidarity and discipline as a mass party representing working people means that we’ll be around long after the Guardian and your favoured liberal choice of the moment have been obscured by the shifting sands of time.

We will bury you.”

I have already voted.  A further quote comes from a recent post by Oliver Kamm (Hat tip JTO):

This is a feeble, unimaginative, incompetent and intellectually incurious Prime Minister, whose hapless, cynical and dysfunctional government has debased the notion of public service, coarsened public life and forfeited any claim to public respect, and I shall be voting for its return to office next Thursday.

My postal vote arrived Wednesday and was returned on Thursday.  Having read the Paul Routledge book (interesting you can only get used copies and at a cost of £0.01) on Gordon Brown, I was already concerned about the traits which became obvious once he became leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, bullying, indecisiveness etc.  And this was from a generally supportive and semi-authorised biography.  I set  out my concerns on my previous blog (which unfortunately is dead) and stated why I thought he should not become leader of the Labour Party on the resignation of Tony Blair.  Over time I became more and more disenchanted with his leadership and just saw the Party heading towards defeat which seemed the only chance of getting rid of him and moving on.

This week I voted Labour.  I did so because in my constituency there is a very good hard-working Labour MP I wish to carry on.  I disagree with Kate Hoey about most things in politics but she is a hard-working effective champion forVauxhall, a place and a people that need a champion like her more than most constituencies.  I finish with something I wrote in an earlier post after the sad death of Michael Foot which included the following from Alastair Campbell:

“Third, and most importantly, his desire that Labour should win another General Election. He did not agree with everything the Labour government did. But he delighted in so much of the change made under first Tony and now Gordon, two men of whom I never heard him say a bad word, even when disagreeing with some of their actions. And to the end, the very end, he would argue with anyone who cared to engage that in the choice between Tory and Labour about who should run Britain, there wasn’t really a choice at all.”


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