How special was Obama? By Jan Buruma

obama_nobel_peace_prize_2009_harry_wad1

President Obama Receiving his Nobel Peace Prize

In just a few months, the Barack Obama presidency will end. On 8th November 2016 his successor will be elected, and on 21st January 2017, he or she will officially step into office. But, how special was Barak Obama, the first, black US president in history?

Expectations were sky high, when on 21st January 2009, he became one of the most powerful men on earth.  By 4th November 2008, the international community had already most enthusiastically welcomed the Democrat – as the new American head of state – by awarding him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. This was to be the great bonus, of this early period, but then the troubles began.

The Republican opposition in the US Congress, turned out to be one of the toughest in history. Obama’s first major election promise, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, proved very difficult during eight years in office, although he did have his successes – such as Obamacare and gay marriage – but that did not bring the expected joy. But, the Obama case is not unique.

In 1994 the Netherlands Purple Government, took off.  The Christian party, that had run the country for about 70 years, had suffered a massive defeat in parliamentary elections. The once political enemies – the PVDA socialists and the VVD liberals – came as the new government, causing  socialist prime minister Kok to hold on to power, by abandoning all his social-democrat principles. But, there were further problems ahead.

wim_kok_1994

Wim Kok Dutch Prme Minister

At this time in 1995, the Dutch army was supposed to protect the Muslims in the town of Srebrenica, during the Bosnian civil war, when the Dutch went with high expectations to the Balkans. Unfortunately, it turned out into a complete nightmare.

After eight years, just like Obama, the power and glory were completely gone. At the 2002 parliamentary elections, Fortuyn and his right-wing populist LPF ruined Kok’s political legacy, in the same way that Trump could well do to Obama.

131206070547-newday-intv-branson-mandela-stopping-iraq-war-00002210-story-top

Nelson Mandela President of South Africa

South Africa is perhaps an even a better example. During his presidency – 1994 to1999 – Nelson Mandela was the icon, who turned out to be a master in reconciliation. Most likely,  in the post Apartheid period, he prevented his country from bursting out into civil war, because his many years in prison – 1963 to1990 – had somehow given him the political power that Mr. Obama never had.

photo_verybig_128720

King Simeon II Prime Minister of Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, former King Simeon II – as Prime Minister  Saxecoburggotski  from 2001 to 2005 – gave his people the hope and moral spirit, that they had desperately longed for. After the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, and Communism, the little Balkan country was in complete chaos. The 1997 Velvet Revolution had shown the world that Bulgarians could still fight for themselves, and their future, but,when the ex-communist BSP returned to power in 2005, King Simeon was no longer the hope he once used to be.  But, what about mythology?

If Obama had have been assassinated during his term in office, like his legendary predecessor, President Kennedy, he would almost certainly have become a national hero, or possibly a myth, although the US – as a slowly declining global power – could never have afforded to have its first black president killed. In November the Americans public may well elect a normal, or more regular president, although recent publicity has reduced such a prospect – Editors Comment.

In Bulgaria, the socialist nobody Stanishev, succeeded king Simeon. In the Netherlands, after Kok came Balkenende – although nobody talks of the latter anymore – and in South Africa, the transparent Mbeki came after Mandela, underlining the fact that after having had a ‘special national leader,’ most countries need a period of cooling down.

jan-buruma-2

Jan Buruma- Editor in Chief of Levski Internet Courant

www.levski.nl

Save

Save

Advertisements

Hillery and Donalds ‘Punch & Judy.’

punch-and-judy-442648

Some comedian recently asked on British TV; apropos the loutish and androgynous Donald Trump – ‘Why would American voters want to replace a perfectly good black president, with an orange one?’

Rather rude, but that is exactly what he looks like. Is it stage make-up which has gone wrong, has he got some sort of malignant skin condition, or does he come – as I strongly suspect – from the planet Zog? These are questions which may enter one’s thoughts each day as – we the innocent citizens of Europe – are regaled on the box, and via the news media, by Trumps antics, and his animosity towards his favourite victim, the redoubtable Hillery Clinton.

Mind you, there are those who believe that these two are as bad as each other, as they perform ritual character assassinations on one another, which brings me back to tranquil summer holidays, as a boy, in Rye or was it Margate? Because, through the mists of time, I can still remember summers spent on the south coast of England, and the delight of a traditional English Punch and Judy show, as they knocked the living daylights out of one another.

‘He’s behind you,’ we would all shout, and Mrs. Punch would reply – ‘Oh no he isn’t,’ and we would all shout – ‘Oh yes he is!’

So, do you now recognize who I am talking about?

donald-trump

The unmistakable orange Donald Trump.

I for one have lost so much respect for the Americans, during this absurd US election, which has been reduced to a ridiculous puppet show. Call it a media event if you wish, but the debate has been totally turned on its head, and is now simply light entertainment – at its best – if not a rather bad situation comedy.

The behaviour of these two has shown the USA to be a shallow and trivial place – judging by their supporters and spokespeople – which makes a mockery of their frequent; if now unconvincing announcement, that they are the largest democracy and the world, and the only superpower.

Can you imagine how Putin is rubbing his hands in glee, as he sees the largest *** in the world, daily making a total ass of itself. Could anybody in Europe honestly say that either of these two contenders for the top US job, should be taken seriously? Do you believe the world would be a safer place, with Trump or Clintons finger on the nuclear button?

I think that the way these two have turned on their old rival in Russia, and accusing Putin of practically any misdemeanour imaginable, demonstrates the total incapacity of either of these two stalwarts, to maintain a US position within global politics. If you watch the Russian Television Channel, many are laughing their socks off at the US, and wondering when it will finally implode, and many of us wonder how Putin has the gall to send a rather battered and smoky Rissian aircraft carrier, up the English Channel?

By Patrick Brigham

To Think or Inherit The Wind?

 

Directed by Stanley Kramer, Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 US Scopes Monkey Trial which resulted in  John T Scopes’ conviction, for teaching Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to a high school science class; contrary to Tennessee State Law.

mtiwnja4njmzotkxodi0ota4

Spencer Tracy.

In the film, the characters of Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck, correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Scopes, and H L Menchen, respectively. However, the original joint playwrights – Robert  E Lee, and Jerome Lawrence – state in a note at the opening of the play, on which the film is based, that it was not meant to be an historical account, and that many events were substantially altered or invented for the Hollywood screen.

Playwright Jerome Lawrence also explained, in a 1996 interview, that the play’s main purpose was to criticize McCarthyism, and defend intellectual freedom.  According to Lawrence, ‘we used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control. The play is not about science versus religion, it is about the right to think!’

The play was first seen in1955, but the Spenceer Tracy Hollywood movie, had its World Premiere in England, at the Astoria Theatre – in London’s West End – on July 7, 1960. With a glittering supporting cast, which also included Frederick March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Donna Anderson and Harry Morgan, it has now found its way into film noir history, but why? And, why do you think I am also using this great film as my own parable, in order to debunk certain views inherent in Islamic fundamentalism?

images

Spencer Tracy and Frederick March as the presecuter being cross examined.

In the film, and frustrated by the court’s refusal to accept the global scientific and secular view of Darwins theory, Spencer Tracy is forced to turn to the very book which the citizens of this bigoted Tennessee town apparently accept, which they believe actually defines their Christian beliefs, and their received explanation, for the beginnings of mankind on earth. Consequently, Tracy is forced to refer exclusively to The Holy Bible in his presentation, as evidence.

The whole court charade is a version of holding and hitting – in prize fighting terms – and whichever way Tracy approaches the court; in the defence of the school teacher, it is ruled as inadmissible, due to the prevailing Tennessee State Law. Finally, in exasperation, he entices the ever evangelizing and populist state prosecutor, into the witness box, as a witness for the defence.

220px-inherit-the-wind-poster

Known as The Monkey Trial in the American press.

Because of his profoundly narrow minded puritan views – and the Frederick March prosecutors self professed expertise on the bible – the cross examination, using quotations from Genesis, is hysterical. Occasionally, the prosecutor seems to become a little confused, when certain doubts apparently cross his noble  mind, during Spencer Tracy’s questioning.  Probing him about who begat who, and why there seemed at times to be three people around when there were only supposed to be two, he has no answer. To the final question, which was: if the earth stopped tuning for a day, how come it didn’t disintegrate? Offering blind faith as his reason, he finally tells Tracy, that it must simply be the will of God.

‘If you had your way,’ Spencer Tracy remarks to Frederick March the prosecutor, ‘we would all be marching backwards, into the 16th Century.’

In the end, the jury finding the plaintive guilty as charged, the judge fines the erring schoolteacher a paltry $100, and the defence immediately announces that it is going straight to the appeals court. But by then, the injustice has been revealed, and even the narrow minded citizens seem to have generally accepted the absurdity of The Book of Genesis, which now languishes in abandonment.

Islamic fundamentalism is a bit like this, and the hapless followers of extreme Islamic cults are expected to believe the exact text of the Koran, and to confirm their adherence to it, by obeying their leaders to the point of death, or at least by causing death. I have no doubt that the newly enlightened population of Tennessee would largely agree with me, if I were to tell them that this level of ignorance and prejudice – to be found in the ranks of ISIS – is the scourge of all mankind, the world, and civilization in general. But, that would depend on them knowing where the Middle East actually was, geography never having been one of America’s strong points. Meanwhile, in common with most foxy politicians, Mr. Trump is playing to the crowds and their fear of homegrown terrorism.

To throw your life away, on the promise of a guaranteed trip to heaven, in the company of twenty or so virgins, does seem to be a little medieval. And Papal Bulls apart, or taking part in a bloody crusade in the name of Christendom, even thirteenth century Northern Europeans were getting a little tired of these antics as a means of salvation. It was far better, and far less expensive, to crawl on ones hands and knees to Santiago De Compostella, or perhaps to live a virtuous and meaningful life, as an acceptable alternative.

danceofdimitrioscoverebook

BUY THIS BOOK ON LINE VIA AMAZON

In my most recent murder mystery novel, called The Dance of Dimitrios, I explore the absurdities of Islamic Fundamentalism and the people behind it. I succeed in surrounding the subject with intrigue and conspiracy, but in the end it turns out to be about money – not faith, nor religion – but victimization, greed and power. One of these days, if I ever get the opportunity, I will ask an ISIS Mullah a very simple question – ‘Do you actually believe in God?’

 

German Reunification: Only Koreans Really Know What it Means – by Imanuel Marcus

thefalloftheberlinwall1989

The Korean peninsula has its own Cold War. The situation there, involving nukes, one million soldiers on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and a psychopath with his finger on the trigger is probably even more complicated than the actual Cold War was. However, the Koreans might be the only people on the planet, who truly comprehend what it was like for the Germans, up until October 3rd, 1990, when the Reunification took place.

Germans who are 35 years of age or older remember the Allies on their home turf. Due to Germany’s terrible history, the worst ever actually, maybe along with Cambodia and Russia, the country was divided into sectors controlled by the victorious Allies, who finally defeated Nazi Germany in 1945. Then, tensions grew and led to the sealing of the Russian sector, which became the GDR, or the communist part of Germany. In the region east of the so-called Zonengrenze, the border between the two German states, only West Berlin, a small oasis of freedom, was located in the East.

This made things pretty complicated, since there were tensions all along. At one point, Soviet tanks and troops were close to invading West Berlin. Eastern Germans were not allowed to cross the Inner German Border, but Westerners were, if they wanted to go to West Berlin, or if they had special visa. On the transit routes, through Eastern German territory, Easterners were not allowed to communicate with Westerners, unless the later wanted to order a coffee or a snack at one of the service stations along the way.

Western Germany did not recognize the GDR. Neither did most Western countries, who called it an occupied zone. Politicians in the former Western German capital of Bonn kept on talking about a reunification. Hardly anyone believed it was going to happen this fast. But then, the collapse of communism provided a chance, which the Germans used. Big times.

Back then, in the mid 1970-s, my mother took me to West Berlin several times. The sights at the Inner German Border were hard to believe. Two strong fences, a border in the middle of a country, dividing two parts of one people. Anyone trying to escape from east to west would be shot.

Later, in the 1980-s, I drove along the transit routes myself. Weird scenes happened at that border. Those eastern border police officers were asking people “Where are you going?”. Well, it was clear they were not taking a ride to Monaco, but still, they wanted to hear it first hand. Anyone who would say “Berlin” would have to get back in line, think about the right answer, and try again. The right answer would have been “West Berlin”, since Berlin was the capital of the GDR, from their point of view.

On that route, GDR police would try to catch Westerners exceeding the maximum speed, and cash in. To them, this was one way to collect proper currencies. Any drivers who would attempt to warn those on the opposite lanes of hidden “Volkspolizei” officers, by signalling them with their headlights, would be fined as well.

In the early 1980-s, I took two field trips to Eastern Germany with two schools I attended back then. Those journeys took us right into a different world. In Neubrandenburg and Weimar, people spoke the same language and they seemed to have the same mentality, but they were confined, not just physically. Those who refused to be brainwashed by their communist leadership, would have to keep their opinions to themselves. Otherwise they would end up in one of the jails run by the infamous State Security Service.

The communist youth organzation FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend) would send some trained people of our age, to discuss things with us. Those were interesting encounters indeed. These FDJ guys tried to make us believe our government was imperialist and exploiting the working class. And we tried to convince them that they were brainwashed and confined. In pubs, we also met people who would tell us that living in the “zone” was bad. There was no perspective, no freedom and no opportunity.

It was pretty hard to get rid of all the eastern Marks (currency), which we had gotten at a rate of 1:7 at banks in the West, while the official rate was 1:1. So, we ate like pigs, went into book stores and purchased the entire spectrum, from Karl Marx to Rosa Luxemburg. The sales ladies were impressed. None of us ever read all the books we took back home.

At the Maxim Gorki Youth Hostel, 10 of us were sleeping in a room, while a class mate, his name was Götz, invited an Eastern German girl over, whom he had flirted with, to spend the night with him. They had sexual intercourse all night long. We just heard them moaning, her demanding more all the time, and did not sleep much. Let’s hope she was not punished by the State Security afterwards.

The impressions we took back home from those trips would not be forgotten. Obviously, or I would not be writing these lines. The smell of brown coal (lignite), the buildings, many of which were falling apart, like in Bulgaria. There were probably quite a few similarities.

After the fall of the Wall in 1989, the German Reunification, something few believed in, happened 26 years ago today. Not only was the German people reunited, but the Cold War was over. To us Germans (yes, to others too, of course) that aspect meant a lot. The Allies disappeared. So did the bigger part of the danger we had been facing for decades. The Inner German Border had been an important part of the Iron Curtain. Pershing II missiles in Western Germany were pointed directly at them, SS-20 missiles in the GDR directly at us. In case of a thermonuclear exchange, absolutely nothing would have been left, in this heavily populated part of Europe.

Sure, the dangers have been replaced by now. Islamist terrorism and Russia’s ambitions are making sure our children do not really live in a safer world, but definitely in a different one. Back then, in 1962, and in other instances, an all-out war with nuclear warheads flying in both directions was avoided, thanks to the Kennedys and some cool heads in the Soviet Union. Let’s hope today’s dangers will vanish at one point too. Let’s also hope Europe’s history will keep people from implementing their dangerous and radical ideas. Regarding the latter, things are not looking so good, at this moment.

Original text by Imanuel Marcus of Foreigners & Friends Magazine

The Grammar Schools Debate

image_8%5b1%5d 

Wilshaw attacks grammar schools.

I was amazed this week to hear a NUT pundit qualify the value of grammar schools, in terms of free lunches. Using this statistic, as a yardstick to determine the numbers of underprivileged children attending grammar schools, to me at least, it demonstrated the blasé view that many educators take. Explaining how and why grammar schools are a waste of space, as far as I am concerned, they all seem to be out to lunch!

However distorted their views might seem to be, I can at least remember when going to a grammar school was a great social leveller, and regarded by most, as an unbelievable opportunity for young people to improve their lives, as well as their social mobility. Perhaps my views are a little arcane, in this day and age, but at least, I can write from experience.

Post World War Two expectations for most, were a considerable disappointment, and surviving such a momentous victory – whilst carrying a national debt of some 40 billion GBP – it was a bad time for most. An inglorious prize for the many returning service men and women – with rationing, unemployment and scanty hope for the future – many, quite rightly,  put their faith in education. The Atlee Labour government of the day, faced with a country in ruins, tinkered with education; with the introduction of comprehensive schools, but still the choices were very limited, and very much a part of the prevailing class system.

capture-brit-schools

The British school system on YouTube

At the time, and tipping all reason on its head, the middle classes and the landed gentry, were not greatly impressed by education, unless it involved knowing which knife and fork to pick up, to behave in a confident gentlemanly manner, and to speak in a certain way, although, importance was placed on character building, self reliance, and leadership qualities as well. The object of the private school system (Also known rather confusingly as the Public School system) was that one’s offspring mixed with pupils of a similar background, all of whom enjoyed country pursuits, and certain sporting activities.

Well, I went to one of those places, firstly to a prep school – where I was a boarder – and then to a private school, where I was also a boarder. One of the privileged few, you might say, but in post war Britain, many such schools were abysmal – with standards of education that barely matched the criteria of the then Ministry of Education – conditions in which had not changed since the times of Dickens, and were little better than an Approved School, or even an orphanage.

One day, in the 1990s, when I was visiting an orphanage in Bulgaria, the man who took me round told me what to expect. The conditions were apparently below any standard one might expect in the West, that I was to ignore that, and to understand how Bulgaria was underdeveloped, and under resourced. Well, it looked a lot nicer than my two boarding schools, and the food seemed better than the muck they served up at my, so called Public School, although in the 90s, standards had changed everywhere, and post war Britain remained a thing of the past.

At my private school, I was top of the class in practically anything you can think of, and even presented to the school – by the headmaster – as a shining example of the excellence of the private school education system. Quite a triumph, you might think? But, I knew it simply couldn’t be true, and looked around for some evidence to support my somewhat jaundiced view. Were the other pupils thick in the head, were the school masters third rate, or was the school syllabus determined by some obscure university somewhere in the wilds of Yorkshire or Wales? Or, was I there, because it was cheap?

More importantly, why were my accolades so uncomfortable to bare, or was it partly to do, with all of these things, put together? I wrote to my old mum and said that I wanted to leave – in any case I was having problems with a rather frustrated under matron, and consequently the headmaster – and by then, as head boy, I thought it was time to go, before I went on to take my A Levels. And so I left this wonderful character building institution, and returned once more to the real world.

imageskdryvyfq

They have been around for a very long time.

A family friend – who was on the local education committee – got me a place at the local grammar school, and after the usual Palava of buying  a new blazer and tie – all the other baggy grey flannel sartorial accoutrements were largely intact from before – and finally the great day arrived when, as a day boy, I took the bus and train to school, much as the rest of the normal world was expected to do.

Wow! Can you imagine going from school genius, to the school dunce, in one week? Being right about my ex private school, was no consolation to me, because I suddenly found myself in a different world – of clever, well motivated and clear minded students – plus a number of very bright, well intentioned, and talented school teachers; all of whom viewed me with scorn, and who resented my presence there in their precious grammar school, almost as much as I regretted having gone there!

At first I couldn’t quite see why I was so despised. I dealt with the usual school playground baiting and bullying attempts, and the usual isolation in my stride, and short of the odd punch up, I held my own and tried to fade into the background.  But then It occurred to me. It wasn’t so much that I was seen as a privileged, toffee nosed ex public schoolboy, but it was that I had taken a school place away from someone far more deserving; far less privileged – perhaps the son of a hard working and more deserving family – whose offspring needed a leg up in the world, and a guaranteed trip to a university.

It was clearly a case of inverted snobbery and was, undoubtedly, politically motivated from top down and bottom up. But, whatever my reasons for being there – none of which were of any interest, to the school principals – I quickly did them all a big favour, and removed myself to an adult collage, together with a number of fellow numpty’s, who had experienced much the same problems as me elsewhere. Since when, the world of grammar school education, has rolled on unmentioned ever since, until today. So, what am I saying?

There is no question that grammar schools are the only way into higher education for many. It is untrue – now the Labour Party has changed its tune – that grammar schools attract the wealthy middle classes, when they are perfectly able to afford private education for their children, and would choose to do so for the usual well known snobby reasons. In any case, they would have to go and live somewhere less salubrious, in order to qualify for a grammar school place, because new grammar schools are likely to be built in poorer areas.

There is no doubt that government schools are generally manned by people with a socialist background, and are unlikely to accept people who drive around in limousines – hence their reluctance to accommodate yours truly, although I did have a rusty bicycle- and would be more likely to want to help a family struggling to survive on a typical salary.

Judging from conversations with teachers in the public sector, they would prefer excellence, to the dumbing down process – where everyone passes, and standards are consequently low – because they also judge their success by which university their students finally end up. Oxbridge is a feather in everyone’s cap, and they too strive for excellence.

Finally, private education has generally improved, now the world needs MBA’s and business degrees. So, for a well rounded education at a price, the majority of private schools privide an acceptable level of education, with a likely future university entrance. With elite schools, like Eton or Harrow, the chances are that Oxbridge is achievable, but this is also so of a top grammar school graduate. And let’s not knock the red brick universities, or colleges of further education, teacher training and even apprentice colleges; they all have a place in our world, and there are even avid Brexiteers, who occasionally need a plumber, even if they are Polish!

Is Greece at The Tipping Point?

greek-orthodox-priest-walks-past-closed-shop-central-athens-photo-reuters

The very north of Greece might well be ‘The Yardstick’ by which we can measure the reality of living in a significantly indebted nation, whilst they enjoy a severe reality check. All this together with a boringly repetitious ticking off from the EU and the Germans, one wonders how one might characterize a country so often referred to in the past as ‘The basket case of Europe?’ But what is the truth?

The very north of Greece might well be ‘The Yardstick’ by which we can measure the reality of living in a significantly indebted nation, whilst they enjoy a severe reality check. All this together with a boringly repetitious ticking off from the Germans, one wonders how one might characterize a country so often referred to in the past as ‘The basket case of Europe?’ But what is the truth?

Most of the verbiage seems to be coming from the memory sticks of mainly semi-recumbent hacks whose laptops can be seen on the litter strewn desks of their ivory towers, in and about the capitals of the world.

These well distanced reporters – who no doubt think Greece to be about Diogenes, Euripides or even Feta Cheese – generally believe that a country can be described in terms of cartoon clichés from the past, and the sound of smashing plates in some obscure  Holland Park Greek Restaurant.  A country visited more these days – generally for a two week hedonistic piss up in Mykonos – it seems to be turning the corner, according to some Brussels pundits and the Greek leaders themselves. But let us just look at the sequence of events from where I live in Northern Greece.

The pain started over five years ago in Orestiada, the second city of Evros. Evros is the name of the river that separates Greece from Turkey, running south to the Aegean and the north to Bulgaria, where it is called the Maritza. It was where the majority of illegal immigrants arrived – prior to the erection of a fence – but no longer, due to the presence of Frontex police officers. Before then, the Tallibani and many other Asian nationalities, were often seen trudging though the lanes of Evros, looking for help and the occasional handouts.

As you travel south from the Bulgarian border on the E95 towards Orestiada, you can see the city of Edirne on your left hand side across the river, with its many Minarets, Mosques and sprawling City buildings, pink and shining in the sun. It is here that the contrast between the two countries begins, and the story opens up our eyes, away from our media dominated world.

capture-oldie-cartoon

Sunday in Edirne – or Monday in the Islamic World – is lively and alive with activity everywhere. Amongst the many shops there are mountains of affordable, well designed clothes, stores stuffed with all manner of electrical goods and kitchenware, and so many restaurants, it often seems more like a holiday town. It is where you can eat anything you like, provided of course it is a Kebab!

a-man-skates-past-a-line-of-closed-down-shops-in-central-athens-october-ggr3m8

By contrast and across the river, Orestiada it is practically dead, with rows of empty shops and very few people about, despite the fact that Sunday is traditionally a big day for the many Greek Orthodox Churches, for people walking the streets and Greek café life in general. Talk here is about the price of logs – we are coming up to Christmas – and the almost doubling in price of heating oil in recent times. The increase in VAT on food stuffs and the attendant hike in prices – generally unreasonably so – has left many unscrupulous food shops with a nice little earner.

It is now at least 1000 Euro or more to fill the oil tank for winter heating, so most people are practically numb with worry. Stuck to the telly, they are served up a diet of political waffle – there are about six Greek TV stations to choose from – from a bunch of talking heads whose only wish is simply to be on the box. With impossible ideas and multiple choice alternatives, little of it makes much sense under the present circumstances, and,  how I wish these self opinionated foolish wind bags would just stop talking! But, aren’t we forgetting something?

The historical philosophy behind the EEC, EC, and finally the EU now seems to have been blotted out by us all  recently, now that it is post Brexit, and everything  appears to be about money, illegal immigration and dodgy economics. Once it was about war, domination, political intrigue and of course our friends, the Germans. However, like the Bulgarians and to some extent the Romanians, the lure of EU money has always been an imperative – along with being in a rather shaky NATO – and this was surely so with Greece in 1981, when they became the 10th member of the European Community.

Since then, the whole ethos of ‘Poor little Greece’ has changed, and up until recently we have seen a cabal of political elite – mostly devoid of shame – who have sucked the Greek banks dry with a look of total innocence that completely baffles even an old warhorse like me!

Asked to define the difference between Bulgarians and Greeks, I was surprised to find more things in common than differences. Finally, it occurred to me that the difference was that Bulgarians wanted to do things, but couldn’t and that Greeks could do things, but didn’t want to!

Maybe it is once more about an old stereotypical bon mot; the one about a Greek who goes into a revolving door last, but managing to come out first! However, this is no longer how Greeks define themselves, because unfortunately the revolving door has become somewhat jammed of late, and it is clear that there isn’t enough WD 40 to go round. So who are the Greeks and how do they see themselves?

Most Greeks would describe themselves as middle class. Even the guys who fix cars have always had a certain swagger about their self image, even more so these days as – for a substantial price – they valiantly keep certain aging vehicles on the road that would otherwise have been scrapped and replaced by a brand new version, care of an easy bank overdraft. But alas, this is no longer so, as Greece is once more a cash economy.

 

England was once described by Napoleon as a nation of shopkeepers – a bit of French humbug even then and something which equally applied to the French themselves – but that is how I would categorize Greece post 1981, because by then they had unquestionably become a nation of small shopkeepers. Aspiring to adopt the mantle of the affluent middle classes and more like Madam Bovary than Angela Merkel, modern Greeks have somehow managed to survive in the past, though a variety of unsubstantiated bank loans and a penchant for overcharging one another.  Subscribing – often with glee – to a form of quasi socialism, they became heavily reliant on this very Greek  concept, of the redistribution of wealth. Although, you might say, what is wrong with that?

Café society is where this aberration can be easily explained. With swathes of café’s in all directions, one wonders how many little cups of espresso are required to pay the burgeoning rents required? That is until you get the bill and then there is an outside chance, that you might fast understand and get the picture!

Greeks work in groups, and in a way there is a little bit of common sense attached to their commercial philosophy – now lost to the crowds of British multinationals littering our English town’s and city high streets – and it is this process that many shop keepers have previously relied on in Greece, for their continued existence. This is how it works!

I buy a coffee from you each day, and you buy your spoons from me. I go to a certain dentist or doctor and they come to your restaurant. I use a particular lawyer and they in turn buy their food from your supermarket. Roughly described as brand loyalty, this has been the backbone of Greek business for years; each supporting the next and so on.

The trouble is that since demand has been severely curtailed, even the friendly Greeks have found it increasingly difficult to stem the tide of commercialism and have been forced to look seriously at discount prices in order to attract more business and this has created a total havoc, amongst the easygoing shopkeepers of Orestiada.

Secondary commercial streets are now gaunt with the dead faces of empty shops, vendors carry less stock and their tills remain silent; especially for those who do not want to change with the times. Even the simplest request is answered by the edict ‘I will have to order that from Athens,’ or as in the Monty Python’s Cheese shop sketch, ‘we don’t get much call for that around here.’ How did it happen?

Most of the blame quite rightly sits on the shoulders of successive Greek Governments, who have systematically overburdened the public sector with totally unnecessary manpower. With cushy jobs in most Greek Government departments, helping to keep unemployment statistics within acceptable boundaries, and the absurd number of conscripted soldiers in the National Greek Army – keeping young people out of the labour market and off the streets – it has in the past served to help mask the obvious shortcomings of unemployment in the Greek economy.

Not to mention the ghastly Balkan word nepotism –rife in Greece prior to 2008 and probably still is – together with vast numbers of unsupported international bank loans by successive Greek Governments, companies and individuals, it is why the Greek house of cards finally collapsed, introducing the whole world to the expression taking a financial haircut! But, is there any hope for the future? Well, the EU has now successfully bullied Greece into the corner, and the word austerity, is on everyone’s lips.

Greeks are often accused of sitting on their own laurels if not their hands – The Iliad, Herodotus, Alexander the Great, and all that – but we must not forget the history of the Greek people in the 20th century, nor their miraculous survival under the Romans, the Byzantines and finally the Ottomans; something that most can remember in the Balkans.

It is clear that they are a hardy lot and although they are not the best team players in the world, they may be the most resilient. So it is here that I see the future changing – more out of necessity than choice – and the metamorphosis of a nation will occur – into a modern Western European Union member – without the word ‘easy’ in its vocabulary and absolutely no WD 40!

 

 

Greece: Living in the Shadow of Europe

172820-004-9035df69

Andreas Papandreou.

Until the accession of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU, Greece was on its own. Since the 1920s, it had faced what became the two communist states of Bulgaria, and Albania, and – together with its arch enemy Turkey, peeping over the Evros Delta – the Hellenic Republic not only clearly saw itself as the bastion of Christian western civilization, but extremely vulnerable as well. We all seem to forget that the beginning of modern day Greece did not start when it joined the EU in 1981, but when it became a part of NATO in 22nd October 1951.

If you get out your 1970 school atlas, you can see how isolated Greece was at the time, surrounded on all sides by some form of potential aggression, that politically, and from a NATO security angle – with the presence of perceived tough communist states on either side – a NATO presence in the Aegean was very important. That was so, not only for the country of Greece itself, but the West generally, Northern Europe in particular, and the embryonic EEC. So, why has this been virtually forgotten?

If you understand the implications of Cold War communist aggression, then you can also see how it was that Greece was shoehorned into the position of spending cash which it did not always have. Driving down the E85 towards Alexandroupolis, you can see row upon row of military camps, and rows and rows of military vehicles, of all kinds, parked for all to see.

Greece supports a large conscripted army, many of which are present in the Turkish border areas, and despite the traditional remarks made by some soldiers – especially those who occupy a small military base in my village – about the horrible food and conditions they are forced to endure, it all costs the government money. Mind you, if soldiers come from the comfort of a typical Greek family home, they would say that, wouldn’t they? So even though much of the aggression of the past is now gone, and South Eastern and Central Europe, is comprised of peace loving nations, in the mind’s eye of most Greeks, many threats somehow still remain.

Did it start with the invasion by the Persian King, Darios, perhaps it was Constantine, and the Eastern Roman Empire, or maybe, it was due to Sulieman the Great, and his bloody Ottoman hoards? Well, no – it was a little bit of the latter, and a great deal to do with World War Two!

german-troops-raising-the-swastika-over-the-acropolis-1941-1

In my book The Dance of Dimitrios, the body of a woman is found floating in the River Ardas next to an underwater bridge. This bridge actually exists, and was built by the occupying German army. There are a number of these submersed concrete roads, and constantly in use, local Greek farmers can frequently be seen crossing the various local shallow rivers in their tractors and pickups. And, there are plenty of other signs of the old Axis presence in Greece, but that can wait for another day.

Although the Germans army left behind many useful examples of civil engineering, we must remember that during WW2, they were not guests in Greece; they were not here to enjoy a healthy Mediterranean diet, or to recuperate from twelve months of hard slogging in a factory in Stuttgart. They were in Greece to suppress the Greek Army and the brave Greek freedom fighters, who had recently made a mockery of IL Duce – and his so called Italian invading army – which they had so effortlessly sent packing, back to the mountains of Albania. Unfortunately, with the German army came brutality, inhumanity, and starvation. But that, is also another story!

greek-battalion-wwii

Post war Greece was a different matter. With American army surplus Jeeps in abundance, plough horses from Alabama, and the wonders of the Marshal Plan, Greek agriculture got going quite quickly after the war. But, then there were all those communists to deal with, here in the northern Greece, many of whom saw Greece’s obvious weakness as an opportunity for expansion, despite the Yalta agreement and Stalins so called promises. Most disaffected communists were Greek nationals, but many were also Bulgarian, Russian and Albanian. Despite the western side, being backed by the British and Americans, Kim Philby – Britains most traitorous and preeminent spy – didn’t help much, when he gave away the entire network of MI6 or CIA agents and informers, all of which were tortured and executed by the communists.

After this period, Greece was in political turmoil. The famous military junta, and the Greek Colonels tyrannical takeover of power, was a further time of frightening uncertainty, and many disappearances were recorded during the duration of this fascist regime. Followed  in 1981 by a return to democracy, Greece was finally saved, by a newly elected socialist government, headed by Andreas Papandreou, who came to power in that year, and who is now regarded as a national hero.

Knowing the bare bones of Greek postmodern history, is it any wonder that Greece ended up in a mess, and, is it so surprising that in 1981 – when Greece joined the EU – that things were not as they should be? After all, Greece had to be rescued by someone!

I am greatly annoyed by the half educated political blabbermouths in Brussels, who blithely criticize Greece, misquoting history in present day terms, and telling Europe that they should never have been allowed to join the EU in the first place. I am undeniably tired of these ill informed, self seeking, over paid, highly forgettable twerps, whose only wish is to be in front of a TV camera – in order to justify their place in the world – and to find fault. Because, it is not only Greece, which occupies their attention, but Bulgaria and Romania as well.

Bulgaria and Romania have enjoyed the largess of the EU, since the turn of the century, when initial accession talks were beginning to attract EU funding. It is claimed that Greece has had 35 years of EU support, and it is time that the Greeks were held accountable for their financial mismanagement. But ask yourself this question: Greece had been living in the shadow of Europe, and considering the realities of the last 75 years, what were they supposed to do? Give in to communism or join the EU?

Save

Pennies From Heaven?

The Labour Party Autumn Conference 2015 - Day 3
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 29: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech during the third day of the Labour Party Autumn Conference on September 29, 2015 in Brighton, England. The four day annual Labour Party Conference takes place in Brighton and is expected to attract thousands of delegates with keynote speeches from influential politicians and over 500 fringe events. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Just finished following the Labour Party Conference? Well, as far as I can see, politics is no longer the serious matter that it once was, but it has somehow morphed into a rather sinister form of light entertainment. My theory is that, in a world of virtual reality computer games and high definition special effects, most people have actually lost the plot.

There was a time when the theatre and cinema were not only a window on the world, but a true reflection of ourselves, and how we could discover that we were not alone in the world. It was a time when the performing arts represented a social comment, a way of expressing how we felt about our lives, and the conditions in which we were destined to live.

I know some of my readers do not like me to use the expression working class, but in the dark days of the 60s and 70s – when Britain was an industrialized country with serious unemployment lurking on the horizon – coal miners and steelworkers did not need to be reminded that their rented houses, and hard earned wages, were becoming a little less reliable. By their own definition, they were working class, and proud of it – much as they still are today – but in those days, being a manual or unskilled worker, was fast becoming a thing of the past.

But, it was also a time when the theatre and cinema – previously inhabited by very posh rather unconvincing actors – was changing. Instead of foppish thespian’s, shuffling across a stage with their trousers around their ankles, saying – ‘I say, Lady Hilda, your husbands back home rather early today, what?’ – the public was suddenly introduced to a new and vital dose, of social reality.

p3386_p_v8_aa

Albert Finney film trailer on YouTube

Called – inappropriately in my view – kitchen sink drama, by the puffed up Kenneth Tynons and critics of the day, a whole new set of brilliant working class socialist authors and playwrights emerged from the wings of the dull post war theatres, or into the busy bookstores of the Charring Cross Road.  Presenting the British public with – not only good entertainment which they could relate to and perfectly understand – it also served to open the eyes of the more privileged and often bigoted Tories of the day.

As social mobility improved in the 60s, together with all the other new freedoms and excesses, not only was love was in the air; alongside the often inviting and noxious whiff of dope, but so were many unwanted pregnancies. And this was a constant theme, of post war TV and cinema, together with little hope for the future. But as the new writers and musicians attempted to break up the old class differences and to homogenize society – with what were then regarded as new, revealing films, plays and books – many  have now become embedded in our culture and into the category  of noir.

img_4440

Bob Hoskins film trailer on YouTube

Dennis Potter with Pennies from Heaven, John Osbourne with Look Back in Anger, Alan Sillitoe with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Stan Barstow with A kind of Loving, John Braine with Man At the Top, and finally Nell Dunn with Up the Junction. All these writers were, or still are, self confessed socialists and people who have tried to show us all, not only how the other half lived, but revealing some of the dreadful injustices that existed, at the time of writing, and since. My play Judicial Review, is set at Reading University, and being performed by an acting group from the Socialist Workers Party. Partly the theatre of the absurd and partly about the human condition, it made me think! How about you?

judicial-review-cover

BUY JUDICIAL REVIEW

It is the year 2000 and Sir Jerald Noakes, a leading City of London business tycoon, has fallen foul of both his own and the prevailing institutional greed. Very much a 21st century phenomenon, it seems that he has been chosen as a scapegoat by the British establishment, and soundly trounced for his misdemeanours. The fact that he is not from an old established UK family might have something to do with it, or that he is the upstart son of an émigré family emanating from somewhere in central Europe. The play begins in court, where it appears Sir Jerald, having been found extremely guilty on all counts, is now awaiting his sentence. The play makes a mockery of money and the way it alters people’s attitudes towards one another; in this case, the piffling sum of £50 million. As the play progresses, the audience is introduced to the fictional actors who all have their own stories to tell, and who are all baffled by the amount of money and greed involved. It also juxtaposes a previous court case – experienced by a member of the fictional cast – which happened during the dark days prior to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The play within the play – written by a fictional Irish member of the Socialist Workers Party – is being performed at Reading University. It is one of the few places in the UK that still accepts and enjoys left-wing theatre and, as the play progresses, The Theatre of the Absurd. The director of the play has misgivings about the way it is progressing and both he and the writer – who seems to be permanently full of angst – are at loggerheads over the message the play is sending out to the audience. The director is worried about its political correctness, but the writer is not concerned at all with controversy, because of the emotional baggage he is carrying around, his working class roots, and his life experience. By halfway, it is discovered that Sir Jerald is terminally ill, and – out of compassion – he is released from prison by the Home Secretary. On release, and due to his rapid decline, everywhere he looks he is surrounded by treachery and humbug. No longer a tough nut, with his dictatorship now seemingly over, and in despair, he comes to realise that – during a lifetime in big business – he has only been loved for his money. But however much Sir Jerald’s tormentors believe they have him at their mercy, he still preserves a powerful and humiliating weapon, a final card, which he believes will allow him to die in peace.

Enoch and His Crystal Ball

220px-enoch_powell_6_allan_warren

In the late 60s, Enoch Powell was undergoing some serious grief, for his so called ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, which he allegedly gave in Wolverhampton on April 20th 1968. At a time when social and racial emancipation was the keyword for any western civilization, bound on a course of post WW2 enlightenment, he chose a very poor time to give a warning about the probable result of too much immigration. His punishment was a trip to obscurity, the Denizens of free love won the day, and simply let it all hang out!

I was caught up in the middle. As a young jazz pianist – as I was then – black people were a part of my cultural life. I had experienced racial prejudice at first hand, but had also noticed how easy it was to vanquish, certainly by the drummer in my jazz trio. He was a Master Sergent from the US airforce base at Lower Wellford, and after a session at my family farmhouse in Burghfield one evening, we decided to go for a beer at The Hatch Gate, my local pub.

The pub landlord – who was famous for being cantankerous, truculent and rude – refused to serve my friend, stating quite clearly – and in a very loud voice – that he did not serve blacks. My fellow American musician was totally nonplussed by the whole event, and calmly stated: ‘If you don’t serve me now, landlord, tomorrow you will not have to serve fifty black American servicemen like me, so it is up to you; you decide.’ Of course he got his pint of beer, and a small local skirmish was averted. But, this was also a time – for me at least – that the 20th Century had seemingly arrived in provincial UK, and at a time when most of the student population and the prevailing intelligentsia, we’re looking for a fight.

images

I know, because I managed to get my head thumped. It was on the occasion of a visit by Enoch Powell to Reading University, a speech he was to deliver on economics, and a subject he was very familiar with. The organizers, realizing that there could be some aggravation, asked me – along with others – if I would like to be one of his heavies for the afternoon, and very unwisely I said yes.

As soon as Enoch Powell entered the hall, the mayhem began. Placards appeared accusing him of racism, and a cacophony – reminiscent of a football chant – started, but Enoch wasn’t a Military Cross veteran for nothing, and gave as good as he got. ‘By now,’ he said to the chanting audience, ‘you must all be assured of a first class degree, in your chosen subject, but for one small deficiency which I have noticed in your behaviour. You see, it is the ear through which you gain all knowledge, and not the mouth.’

Enoch left the stage, and we – his secret army – pushed our way through the crowd – being bashed and beaten, by all and sundry – in order to form a passageway to the door and his waiting Rolls Royce. Bloodied but unbowed, we looked back to see where Enoch was, but he had disappeared altogether. An anticlimax for everyone, but not for Enoch, he had slipped out of the back door, and was on his way to Reading train station in a beaten up Mini! So, what is the moral of this story?

The phrase ‘rivers of blood,’ doesn’t appear, in the Wolverhampton speech at all, because Powell used words from the Aeneid: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

Powell was also cause for a rethink about The Common Market and his, then famous, ‘Get Britain Out of The Common Market,’ speech, made at the New Century Hall in Manchester in 1974. In the photograph, you can see a sea of white faces, mainly from the older age groups, having a serious argument, amongst themselves about their reasons for not being in the pre EU club. But, what were they arguing about, apart from immigration? There was a lot of ambivalence about bloody foreigners then too!

gettyimages-3335571

The Guardian, at the time, reported how, ‘Powell left no doubt that he regarded the preservation of British sovereignty and independence as an end for which “any disadvantage and any sacrifice are a cheap price.” He thus effectively warned Mr Heath – the then Prime Minister – that he was prepared to set the pace for a policy rebellion by the anti-Common Market wing of the party over the next year.’

Addressing a Conservative association meeting in Birmingham, the BBC reported that: ‘Mr Powell said Britain had to be mad, to allow in 50,000 dependents of immigrants each year. He compared it to watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. The MP for Wolverhampton South West called for an immediate reduction in immigration and the implementation of a Conservative policy of “urgent” encouragement of those already in the UK to return home.’

I can’t help feeling that there is an ‘Enoch Moment,’ happening right now. It seems that the argument for ‘in or out,’ is only part of the political landscape, and that UK PLC, needs to decide whether it wants to stay in the 20thCentury or live anew in The 21st Century.

If it stays in the 20th Century, we will all watch the slow disintegration of a fading nationalist and largely racialist society. If the UK chooses to coexist, in a shaky but more enlightened 21st Century, it can help to lead a more enlightened EU, in which Great Britain continues to have its say. If it says nothing, then it is up to you to elect politicians who will be listened to in the Brussels Parliament, as well as listening carefully to the babble of the streets, and us; the great unwashed.

Now of course it is all done and dusted, Brexit seems here to stay, and we ‘may’ well hear government future plans via the Conservative Party Conference, which starts today.

Death in The Afternoon

image112

The mindless piffle which is being peddled by Brexit campaigners in order to influence voters in the forthcoming EU referendum, has reached a point in its silliness, that I for one would like to see the entire gaggle of vapid politicians and glib speakers, out of a job by the next UK parliamentary election. Why? Because they are treating British voters like fools, and, do you really want your country run by people who do that? What they say may be funny, and some of their antics are rather comical, but when are they going to stop this absurd Victorian farce, and leave the stage!

‘Of course, you will be much better off financially, and you won’t have bloody foreigners telling you what to do in Brussels, meddling in British lawmaking, and there will also be no further illegal immigration into Great Britain.’

Oh, really? You mean that illegal immigrants are residing within our sceptred isles, because of Brussels? That there will be no bombers arriving in the UK, because of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. What a joke! Oh, by the way, I have got a good joke for you, now I remember it. This was told to me by an Indian friend from Amritser, just across the border from Pakistan and Lahore – it’s very funny.

You see, there was this jihadist who is an instructor for ISIS, and he is lecturing a group of would be suicide bombers, on how to blow themselves up using a suicide vest. ‘Now,’ he says, ‘I want you to pay attention, because I am only going to show you how to do this once…..’

You think that’s funny do you? Well, the photograph above, is of a Taliban suicide bomber, who was arrested, somewhere in Kabul, because his vest didn’t detonate. When he was strip searched by the authorities, they also discovered that his wedding tackle was protected by a thick metal sheath. When he was asked why he had protected his private parts in such a way, he replied that it was so he could bonk the allotted 23 virgins, he would be blessed with, when he arrived in heaven, and was declared a martyr.

You see very ignorant and stupid people like this, haven’t heard of Nigel Farage and Co., don’t know about Romanian Gypsys, and know little or nothing about the brain drain from Bulgaria and Greece, to the office markets in England. This is partly because they are extremely thick, their life is not worth living, and they are prepared to kill themselves at the whim of some mad Mulla with a big hat. An event which might take place in a Sainsbury’s car park near you; do you still think that’s funny?

What is not funny, is the way the British Government ignores Europol, and the great majority of bilateral assistance available from all the EU security services; a part of the silly argument, that we don’t need Europe as much as they need us. Our great leaders tell us that our security services are indomitable, and the best in the world. But, what is also not very funny, is that this very subject is fast becoming the pivotal reason for Britain leaving the EU, so, do you really believe that this is true.

danceofdimitrioscoverebook

BUY – THE DANCE OF DIMITRIOS

In my recently published book The Dance of Dimitrios, our Europol detective Chief Inspector Mike Lambert is faced by two such radicalized terrorists. They are holding a young boy captive and threatening to kill him, unless certain conditions are met. Together with a specialist armed unit, DCI Lambert confronts them, a firefight ensues and he is badly injured by hostile gunfire. In my tale of illegal immigrants and terrorists, I don’t disguise the fact that most of the Al Qaeda or ISIS soldiers are uneducated morons, who believe in a luxurious afterlife if they sacrifice their lives for their jihadist cause. What happens to these two radicalized clowns, will not surprise you, except where it happens. A car park in West London, is the unlikely setting, maybe offering portents of things to come?

Now for some light relief-

‘Mumbo, jumbo, rhubarb, rhubarb,

Prosti-rhubarb off the streets.

We will fight them on the beaches,

But we’ll lose between the sheets.’

Thus Spoke the Great Bard – Spike Milligan