Once I Met Dame Celia Johnson – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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During the mid 70s, my late brother-in-law, Richard Griffith, started having furniture auctions, to complement his Watlington estate agency, and to get a bit of local publicity. A bit old fashioned by today’s standards, it involved a lot of adverts in the local newspapers, and since it was early days for Richard, it also involved a great deal of fussing. I was the dog’s body, and destined to be the auction porter, who said – “Showing over here Sir.”

Together with general carrying duties, during the preceding day, I was also roped in for the constantly changing  village hall display arrangements. This virtual game of musical chairs went on until early morning – everything having been moved twice and then reinstated to their original position – when I was finally able to collapse onto a camp bed, thoughtfully installed in the village hall by Richard, for my final job as night watchman.

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And so the great day arrived, and the Lewknor village hall became packed with locals, the inquisitive, the occasional antique dealer, and a few well known faces too. One of these faces was Dame Celia Johnson. Accompanied by a ratty little man, who I thought to be her husband at the time – but by then Peter Fleming had been dead for some five years – he trundled the great lady around the preview, mumbling knowledgeably about each item, so perhaps he was a neighbour.

Dame Celia lived in some style in nearby Nettlebed,  had been a friendly addition to the Oxfordshire community for years, and was known for her fun loving good humour. By then, in her mid 60s, she was still seen as a great star; her somewhat guilt strewn angst, familiar to most of her fans as she finally waved goodbye to the redoubtable Trevor Howard, on some forlorn British Rail platform. But on this particular day, she chose to be Lady Bracknell – to be seen and most definitely, to be heard – which everyone absolutely adored.

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When the auction was over, my job was to help sort out the lots, and to make sure they were in the right hands. I remember that Dame Celia bought a small Victorian mirror with drawers under, and it was my job to carry this item to her car, past the fussy little man who she had arrived with, who scowled at me without offering the customary tip.

I must add that by now I was fully in character, and playing the part of a half witted local, who was enormously servile. But I was also particularly resentful about the unpaid token for my servility and helpfulness! On my way back to the auction hall, I came across Dame Celia nattering to Richard Griffith the auctioneer, and so I interrupted, in my assumed servile manner, and said –

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“Excuse me, ma’am, I put your mirror in the motor, so it is quite safe,” and then looked at Richard Griffith – “Quite a turn out today, Guv, but not as good as last time. Eh?” Richard was obviously enjoying being the centre of attention, as well as a pillar of the local community, so I went on-

“You should have been here last time, Ma’am, when Mr. Griffif’ here, sold a Canaletto, and a Stradivari.” Dame Celia looked at Richard with considerable surprise, and mounting respect–

“Mind you, he didn’t get much for them, I said,” the great lady giving our intrepid auctioneer a  inquiring, but surprised look, so in my best Oxfordshire accent, I explained-

“But, that was because Stradivari was a terrible painter, and Canaletto made rotten violins.”

This made me feel much better, and escaping as fast as I could, I left Richard looking like a hugely embarrassed Uriah Heep, and profusely apologizing for my terrible behaviour. A few minutes later, whilst mingling in the crowd, I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder – Oh God, I thought, now I’m for it – but, it was the ratty little man again. “I’ve been asked to give you this,” he said, handing over a fiver, and then, swiftly disappearing from sight.

That was a lot of dosh in the 70s, so perhaps it was true? That Dame Celia Johnson did have a great sense of humour, one for which I will always be grateful, and what a wonderful brief encounter?

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Brexit & The Poison Chalice – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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We all know what Brexit means, and that on the 29th March 2017, the famous Article 50 was signed on behalf of the British Government, by Prime Minister Theresa May. We all know how it came about, the players involved, the poor explanations, the misinformation, and the insane promises. Having signed the exit document, recent history and subsequent events mean nothing much, because it is too late, and in any case there is little point in crying over spilt milk. What is more interesting, is what other members of the European Union think, what they predict will happen, and how they see their future relationship with Great Britain.

The Brussels view is typically laid back, remembering that much of the EU is devouted to the collection and redistribution of money and resources. There are no visible panic attacks in progress, and one can hear an almost monotonous, monselabic  drone, coming from EU technocrats as they reveal the present and future present facts. One such person is Siegfried Mugason, who was interviewed recently by Dan Alexe, on behalf of New Europe. Dan says –

After the European Parliament’s adopted its priorities for the next year’s EU Budget, or “The Report on the General Guidelines for the preparation of the 2018 EU Budget,” New Europe has asked the Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan – chief negotiator of the EU Parliament for the 2018 budget of approximately 160 billion euros, as well as spokesman for the EPP and vice president of the Committee for budgetary affairs in the Parliament, if Brexit – Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, is having any impact on the EU’s budget as a whole? Also. asked if HRM Queen Elizabeth’s – Britain’s reigning monarch –  farms would continue to receive EU subsidies? Our gallant Romanian MEP replied-

“Yes, during the whole period of the Brexit negotiations, the UK remains an EU member with total rights, paying its contributions and benefitting from EU structural and cohesion funds. Although the UK is a performing economy, there are British regions that are less developed than others, so they qualify for EU funds, including in agriculture. It is interesting and revealing that such regions, that plainly benefit from EU funds, have voted in favour of Brexit, and leaving the EU. This shows us that the benefits of belonging to the EU were not convincingly communicated by the political forces. Populists won, by trafficking the truth, and by using the wrong figures in their pamphlets. That explains why people from poorer UK zones voted in favour of leaving the EU, against their own interests.”

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The Brexiteers Rock Group

Asked what lessons should be drawn from Brexit, his reply was very clear- “That populists have to be confronted. We have to be able to explain to the population the benefits of staying in Europe, but this has to be done there, not by speaking out from the Brussels bubble. If your name is David Cameron and you have built your whole career in the last ten years in Europe bashing, you cannot be credible if, for the last six weeks of your campaign, you switch your discourse, and start saying that in the end, staying in the EU is not such a bad idea after all. The EU needs politicians with a clear message, that can confront the populists.”

Well, you could not be much clearer than that, and that is the general consensus of most EU countries, but each has its little addition to such cold techno -thinking. Some said au revoir and good riddance, while others were more supportive. In France, following the historic Brexit vote, and according to ‘The Local,’ a French English language news magazine-

“France has shown a divided response to the news, that the UK has voted to leave the EU, although a vocal majority – online at least – appear to have been pleased. A survey of newspaper Le Figaro’s readers found recently, that most respondents in France were satisfied with the result of the vote. And this majority was the most vocal on Twitter, as many French people vented their anger – as well as predictable digs at “Les Anglais, over the Brexit vote.”

The hashtag #BonDebarras – Good Riddance – spoke for itself, and one user sniped – ‘Les Anglais are beginning to realise that most Europeans are delighted that they are splitting.”

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A virtually unread document

Other snarky tweets recalled that Britain had always had an arm’s-length relationship with the European Union, having opted out of the euro, the visa-free Schengen zone and the Common Agricultural Policy. “Have they ever really been a part of the EU?” one asked. Another said – “They were a pain in the ass when they wanted in, now they’re a pain in the ass going out: The English are the cats of Europe!”

But, let’s now see how the UK fared in Germany?Jan Henrik Schimkus, writing for ‘The Smarter German Magazine,’ had this to say- “When the votes were finally cast, we were shocked, to say the least; some maybe even angry. European economic experts and scientists had stated that the United Kingdom would suffer terribly under Brexit, while the EU would be damaged, though not severely. European Parliament officials were quick to stand together and pledge the unity of the EU’s remaining members.

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As for Britain, I was wondering about the social and political atmosphere, it took to allow the referendum to go out the way it did. And, to be honest, I was wondering about the outright stupidity and falseness of some of the claims made by UKIP and other pro-Brexit organizations and individuals; as well as the way they ran the campaigns. Of course, some people were well informed and had made up their mind. Nevertheless, the viral videos of individuals who had no clue whatsoever what they were voting for, or even what the EU was, was heartbreaking. As somebody not living in the UK, I cannot assert that I would know what actually happened.

But taking the British people and the British media into account, that inhabit my social bubble, I feel a bit scared because I cannot exclude something like this happening in Germany. Germany is one of the very few countries which would most likely survive a collapse of the European Union relatively unharmed.”

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And finally from Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe Magazine. He asks the big question– “What can the UK offer, to secure Italian continued goodwill?

One interesting answer he received was that Italy sees the Brexit negotiations as an opportunity to relaunch the broader discussion about the future direction of EU integration – along the lines of the two-circle Europe model – laid out by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni with his then UK counterpart Philip Hammond. This was concerning the preservation, and the cohesion of the EU-27 as an absolute priority for Rome. He says –

“From Italy’s standpoint, it would be helpful if the UK made it clear from the very beginning of their negotiations that, although it is leaving, it wants the EU-27 to be united and successful in the years and decades to come. A fragmented EU-27, I was told in Rome, would ultimately be more likely to give the UK a bad deal. In other words, playing ‘divide and rule’ in their negotiations, would not be in the UK’s best interest.”

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Balkans, political map

Denisa Kostovicova, from the London School of Economics, speaking up for the Balkans – in Europe’s World Magazine – makes the position quite clear, by reflecting the downside of Brexit, and UK’s withdrawal of immediate influence–

The related risk of Brexit for the Western Balkans, is the ascendance of geopolitics. European integration as a political project is based on the idea of inter-connectivity, and the conception of power as cooperation. Europeanisation of the Western Balkans, entails forging political, economic and cultural connections with the EU, as well as between Balkan states. But the geopolitical outlook is its antithesis; all about going it alone, and the conception of power as a threat.”

“The Balkans has been a geopolitical battleground throughout history, and its position as a non-EU enclave within the EU makes it particularly conducive to the logic of competition and protection. Russia and Turkey have each stamped their mark on the region, while the EU tries to exercise its magic power of attraction and transformation. But unlike the EU’s vision, which is future orientated, Russia and Turkey have drawn on certain historic links, reinforced by religious affinities. Russia appeals to the idea of Slavic brotherhood – a notion that resonates with large sections of the Christian population in the Orthodox world, and Turkey is seen as a natural guardian of fellow Muslims.”

So clearly, there is a lot more going on, than a couple of friends might think, discussing Brexit down the pub in terms of foreigners taking jobs away from UK workers, and stories of foreigners damaging our English society. Muslims planting bombs everywhere, is simply extremist rubbish, and blatant lies are nearly always propagated, by well known Brexiteer zealots, on the unwary and the ignorant.

Finally, apart from French angst, it seems that most of EU member countries are level headed and practical, but nevertheless the general view is that by leaving, Great Britain might somehow cause a populist uprising, clearly based on further lies and alternative facts! There is talk of possible war in the Balkans, the breakdown of trust amongst the EU membership, and a return to European chaos, or even a new Cold War, although in my view, this is most unlikely to happen.

Balkan Democracy & Political Corruption – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Geert Wilders Dutch MHR

It is 2017 and the whole of Europe is talking politics. Each country is either looking over its shoulder at France, Germany or even Great Britain, having experienced a somewhat unexpected result in the Dutch election. The Netherlands has proved that ‘middle of the road’ is best, despite the machinations of Geert Wilders and the extreme right wing views of the Peoples Party for Freedom & Democracy, of which he is the leader. During this period, the Balkans has also had profound right wing views expressed, in the various countries of South Eastern Europe, where elections are shortly due, notwithstanding the ranting, and raving of President Erdogan of Turkey.

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Turkish President Erdogan

Last year Bulgaria elected a Socialist President, and General Rumen Radev – having already had an outstanding  career in the Bulgarian Air Force and NATO – has now turned his attention to overseeing Sundays forthcoming Bulgarian parliamentary elections. Despite the fact that the election result looks like ‘more of the same,’ it seems that Bulgaria now has a strong man as president. Instead of some waffling academic, disenfranchised lawyer, or one of the usual brand of ineffectual and harmless party hacks – destined to agree with everything placed before them – Radev, although it is early days yet, looks like a hand’s on country President.

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Bulgarian President Rumen Radev

But is this the beginning? Because, twenty five years on, we can now see the gradual disappearance of secretive and grey faced Soviet style politico’s, who have engendered Balkan politics since the alleged arrival of democracy in the Balkan region. After twenty  five years of political and financial corruption, is it now time for the citizens of SE Europe, to put put their faith in their respective parliaments, and elected members who supposedly represent their interests?

Well, no! I am afraid that the exception proves the rule, and although we can happily endorse people like President Rumen Radev of Bulgaria and Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania, there are clear doubts about the existence of viable democracy, in places like Moldova, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and FROM. That, and the constant political meddling in the region by old allies, Russia and Serbia – during the most recent election in Montenegro – cause one to wonder about the Balkan political class’s, and their true objectives. This is because most seem to act, and even appear like a bunch of spivs – ‘Baldy’s with BMW’s’ – out for what they can get, which is usually money.

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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama & John Kerry

When one talks about the ex communist countries of South Eastern Europe, we forget how close they were, in the past, to Turkey, and even to Greece during the post WW2, Soviet period. This meant that both of these countries must certainly have had some influence on their democratized neighbours, when their newly spun democracy appeared in the Balkans. But change was also a time for the ‘old brigade’ to mark its territory, and to decide what it was they personally wanted from the remnants of communism.

I was there before and after these changes, and I can assure you that there were few surprises from survivors of the old regimes that I came across, who knew exactly what they wanted, and how to get it. What they were unsure of, was how to present themselves to their electorate – whilst all this was going on – public relations being virtually an unknown profession at the time.

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Nevertheless, there remained good old fashioned propaganda, bare faced denials, and frequent claims of political witch hunts, which continues to this day. By pandering to the many idealistic and often naive Westerners, who descended on the many Balkan capitals – replete with their countless MBA’s and endless platitudes – there was little else to do, but to keep their mouths shut.

What the ‘Denizens’ of the old regime were really up to, was another matter, confirming that in twenty five years, very little has changed at all.  Although, Bulgaria and Romania, seem finally to be edging towards the true EU norms, lets hope Sundays Bulgarian election will not be blighted by vote-rigging.

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European Turkey is about one man. President Erdogan has stopped being Mr Nice Guy – if he ever was – and is in the process of developing a tyrannical dictatorship. One cannot imagine Turkey ever truly being a full member of the EU, not in the next 100 years at least, nor can it coalesce with other Balkan countries, especially since illegal immigration has affected them so much. Migrant presence in the South East of Europe is, and has always been, the result of Turkish non intervention and criminal collusion.

Erdogan, by suppressing the media, and locking up most of the competent managerial classes,  citizens in Turkey – who will in future be able to look forward to regular four hour rants from this horrible man – will watch their country fall into decline. As to whether the level of corruption in Turkey will decrease, is another matter, although Erdogan himself – rather like Auther Daily – might claim some legitimate expenses, and vast palaces in which to live.

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Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras

Greece is the enigma. Undoubtedly corrupt in the past, it is now so under the control of Brussels, it is hard to see how any substantial fraud could occur-  perhaps just the occasional cash on contract deal – with Europe wide scrutiny being so intense. In any case, Greece’s Byzantine ways have largely been eradicated by austerity, leaving Greece impoverished but intact, a nation which seems to be climbing out of the precipice. Having said this, why is corruption such a major obstacle to democracy in the rest of Eastern Europe?

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We have all got to remember what Communism really was, so put ‘Dr, Zhivago,’ and Bolshevism  out of the discussion. Communism by the late 20th Century was about graft, lying, stealing and improving one’s lot, by climbing the tall greasy pole of communist society. Arriving at either the ‘Ministry of The Interior,’ or at least heading some government owned enterprise, the rest of communist society was left in the doldrums. There was once a Balkan saying  – ‘The government pretended to pay you, you pretended to work, and everyone stole the rest.’

So, it is hardly surprising when Balkan headlines announce a major fraud, that a politician – or even a Prime Minister – is under arrest. Nor is the announcement of vast amounts of cash, disappearing into the City of London banking system, and then being turned into posh houses next door to Bucking Palace. Or, is it?

Moldova the EU Enigma? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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After seven months in custody, former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat was sentenced to nine years in prison on corruption charges in a billion-dollar case that shook the nation’s economy. The theft from three banks amounted to about 13 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product.

The case, however, is far from over; both Filat’s lawyer and the case prosecutor vowed to appeal the court’s decision. Last year the Moldova Parliament  lifted Filat’s immunity, so that he could be investigated in a case involving the disappearance of more than US$ 1 billion from three Moldovan banks. A total of 79 lawmakers out of 101 voted to lift the immunity and Filat was duly arrested by the National Anti-Corruption Center.

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Moldovan Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat

Recently, a court in the capital city Chisinau, found Filat guilty of abuse of office and corruption, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. He denied any wrongdoing, and claimed the case was politically motivated.

The court – somewhat academically – banned Filat from holding public office for five years, and ruled to withdraw his Order of the Republic state distinction, and to confiscate his assets. The judges also determined that he has to pay a fine of $3,027 USD

Filat’s lawyer, Igor Popa, said that the case sought to remove Filat from the political stage. “No true fight against corruption has been made in this case. The cause has nothing in common with bank fraud, and the decision will be appealed at the Court of Appeal and also the European Court of Human Rights. We are sure that we will win the case at ECHR.”

Prosecutor Adriana Betisor, on the other hand, maintained that the punishment was too mild, and that none of the evidence presented by the prosecutor in court had been contested. “No counterargument to the unveiled evidence has been brought,” Betisor said. “We demanded 19 years imprisonment. Nine years is too little for the damage caused by Mr. Vlad Filat to the state.”

A leaked report compiled by the corporate investigation and risk consulting firm Kroll, found that the banks involved in the case loaned the money to unidentified parties, and  The National Bank of Moldova was forced to issue the three banks in question some $ 870 million USD in emergency loans, to keep the economy from collapsing. Filat was Moldova’s Prime Minister between 2009 and 2013.

Filat was just a pawn in a complicated Russian game of financial chess, much of this cash ending up in established western high street banks, ultimately finding its way back to Russian businessmen who own groups of companies involved in construction, engineering, information technology, and banking.

Famous for their UK spending sprees, on fancy autos, public school education, furs, electronics; but particularly London property, law enforcement in Moldova, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and Russia, continues to investigate this massive Russian Laundromat. Although attempts to bring those responsible to justice and to recover the money have been hampered in part by the reluctance of Russian officials to cooperate, this, and well established human trafficking, is the legacy over which Moldova has to redeem itself, should they ever be invited to join the European Union. But, what is Moldova?

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According to the World Bank, Moldova is a small lower-middle-income European economy. Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, has made superb progress in reducing poverty and promoting inclusive growth since the early 2000s. The economy has expanded by an average of 5 percent a year and was driven by consumption, and supported by remittances from abroad. Remittances account for a quarter of GDP, among the highest shares in the world.

European integration has anchored the government’s policy reform agenda. Negotiations between Moldova and the European Union (EU) on an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) began in 2010 and were concluded on June 27, 2014, with the signing of both documents.

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Against a background of political instability, a polarized society, and an adverse external environment, Moldova faces big economic challenges. After the loss of an eighth of GDP – to a massive fraud in the banking sector – transparency, accountability, and corruption have emerged as crucial concerns. With higher public debt and damaged business confidence, the macroeconomic framework was severely damaged, while external budget support were halted till an IMF agreement is achieved. On the back of a prolonged recession in Russia, and uncertainty in Europe, macroeconomic and fiscal stabilization is an important short-term challenge.

While corruption and governance issues are set at the centre stage, Moldova has other important challenges to face. Large-scale emigration, combined with decreasing fertility rates, has hastened the pace of aging in Moldova, making the pension system fiscally and socially unsustainable. Additional challenges stem from an inefficient and large public sector and the unresolved status of Transnistria, a frozen conflict.

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Moldova is a small country surrounded by Romania and Ukraine. This former Soviet republic was known for its agricultural production, as part of the breadbasket of the USSR. Today, Moldova is regarded as the poorest country in Europe. Moldova is primarily a source country for victims of human trafficking, who are frequently forced to become sex workers in the Middle East.

The region that is currently the Republic of Moldova has had a tumultuous history. For centuries, Moldova has experienced constant invasion and occupation by the Romans, Huns, Tatars, Ottomans, Mongols, Turks and Hungarians to name a few. Throughout hundreds of years of changing rule, human trafficking was a regular practice. Captives from this region were carted to far off lands in Europe and the Middle East, bought and sold as sex and labour slaves.

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Girls from Eastern Europe have been coveted for their beauty and sold to Turkey in large-scale sex trades since the early 1800s. Moldova spent its more recent history controlled by neighbouring Russia, and later, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Until it declared independence in 1991, shifting identity and oppression, have characterised Moldovan history, and culture.

During the era of the USSR, human trafficking by crime groups was low. However, human trafficking occurred on a massive scale at the hands of the state. In the 1940s and 1950s, more than 250,000 Moldovans were deported to labour camps in Siberia. The state simultaneously denied the existence of prostitution in the USSR and supported it.

Prostitutes were granted special “yellow cards,” essentially a license to practice. Prostitution and sex slavery proliferated behind the Iron Curtain. Towards the end years of the USSR, prostitution and other deviant activities moved into the hands of large organized crime groups. As the USSR neared social and economic collapse in its final years, human trafficking became an increasingly profitable enterprise. Widespread corruption did little to curb the rise in sexual exploitation of women from the Eastern Bloc.

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Igor Dodan President of Moldova

Back to the EU drawing board, it would take a great leap of faith to discount in any meaningful way Moldova, both past and present. Regrettable as it may be that this little country was so abused in the past – due to its size and position in Eastern Europe – that the possibilities for change might not be so dramatic as the citizens of Moldova may think, for the very same reasons. Despite the current Russia leaning President  Igor Dodan, once the Ukraine has settled its differences with the Russian Federation, its little next door neighbour could easily be earmarked as a permanent tax haven, and not just one for Russians oligarchs either!

Throw Away News or Mindless Drivel? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

Let’s put aside the Trumpisms and denials for a moment, and concentrate on the facts, before the whole media apparatus is infected by fools, opportunists, and political bandits. Why? Because if we don’t, in the future we will never know what the truth is, and worse still, we will stop believing in good honest journalism. In fact, we might stop believing in anything at all!

Most of the infection has been introduced via the social pages, and mainly via blogs which rely on page visits to pay advertising revenue – or is it the Russians? The Balkan news Magazine is no exception, although, so far we have not tried to convince our readers that Donald Trump is a Moldavian transvestite, and that Theresa May is the love child of Joseph Stalin. It is simply not true, but were I to pretend that it was, then I am sure that my pension would go a lot further than it presently does.

Newspapers and magazines are different. These days the news goes dry in minutes, and so a quick apology on page ten – next to an advert for second hand grommets– is usually quite enough to keep the litigious at bay. But with a magazine things are quite different, which is why one has to research the facts, no matter how disturbing they may be. This is due to the long levity of magazine content, especially if it is a monthly, and partly due to the mentality of its readers.

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With some blogs and social media, there is often no story to speak of, because it is what we used to call gossip, or even scandal. It was once explained to me in terms of writing down some scandal on a piece of paper, then ripping the evidence into tiny pieces, and letting the little bits blow away in the wind. The outcome might seem irrelevant to most of us, but is it? And where does it leave our imaginary plaintiff, having been successfully sued for millions by an aggrieved litigant?

What if a judge might say that they do not have to pay their fine, if they go and collect all the little pieces of paper, and convey the evidence back to court, will all  be forgiven? Well, what do you think might happen, because surely, the damage by then would have been done?

The question is, is false news funny? Most of the false news scandal mongers claim it is all a joke, but many clearly have a very odd sense of humour. When their drivel occupies the headlines, causing constant denial from government spokesmen, or emotional rebukes from embittered stars of stage, screen, or even from Rupert Murdoch himself, is that all a bit of a laugh?

In the UK, most thick skinned politicians are wise enough to appear to laugh at themselves, the extent and degree of their victimization, being at the total discretion of various news editors and writers. But with social media there is very little restraint, and because it is pernicious and can be distributed – either purposely or in error – this is mainly how it succeeds to enter our lives. Let’s take your average punter on Facebook, for example.

If you receive what FB calls news, it does not only come from people you know, because it may be a paid insertion, or even something you inadvertently liked or responded to in the past. Also, if you decide to share, you might be sharing, not only with your intended recipient, but with the rest of the Facebook world . Very often, FB’s are not so savvy about who they pick and choose to read their stuff, because they truly believe that it is destined exclusively for their ‘real friends,’ but, not so dear readers! This is also increasingly becoming the case with Twitter, and of course to some extent with Google, Yahoo and the rest. By searching the web, you might pick up some false news – or even worse, one of DJT’s tweets or rants – and so wherever you go on the internet, traps have been set for you.

A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed logos of social networks in this illustration in Zenica

On the side of reality, the internet does rule our lives – even dinosaurs might agree – and most of us oldies have become used to using a computer to fulfil many of our needs This is especially so in the Balkans, where many of our requirements are somewhat specialized – buying Marmite, Branston Pickle, or Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers, just to name a few – but also our need for information and especially news.

I read lots of newspapers each day – those that don’t want any money, that is – many of which are becoming vastly under resourced, and – rather like The Balkan News Magazine itself – they ask for donations in order to keep their journalists happy. But, what you are hopefully paying for, is not only good journalism, but also for the journalist’s personal integrity.

What if we all decided to take the ‘False News’ commercial route, and fill the blogosphere with total crap. What would you do then? Well, you might have to become a philosopher, because there would be no other way of discovering what the truth is!

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This is the Balkans & Not a Place for Fooling Around – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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By Spyridon N. Litsas & World Policy Blog

After the end of the Cold War, Europe enjoyed the fruits of democratic stability and economic prosperity—except in the Balkans. Yugoslavia experienced a catastrophic civil war, Albania faced major domestic uprisings, Bulgaria and Romania witnessed many failed efforts to establish the rule of law, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* and Kosovo attempted nation-building processes on unstable foundations. The only stable state able to offer political solutions to preserve the Balkan balance of power was Greece, a NATO and European Union member. Athens granted economic and political assistance to Bulgaria and Romania, allowing both countries to hold their first free, post-Cold War elections. It also offered employment to hundreds of thousands of Albanians after the collapse of Tirana’s communist regime. Even now, Greece maintains a military force in Kosovo under NATO command, and its grand strategy is oriented toward the preservation of the regional status quo. With the failure of the Greek state, however, a new power gap is appearing in the Balkans, poised to bring chaos to the region and beyond.

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When the Greek crisis began in 2010, only a few analysts understood that the state was buying a non-stop ticket to the land of dystopia. Now, at 23.1 percent, unemployment is the highest in the Eurozone, brain drain is damaging the prospects of eventual normalization, the sovereign debt is growing larger day by day and therefore cannot be served by Athens, and Greece has to face daily Turkish provocations in the Aegean Sea as well as Albanian nationalism, which manifests in Tirana’s hard-line policies toward Albania’s Greek community and its claims to territory in northwestern Greece. On top of that, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Greece and Italy became the main gathering spots for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees seeking a safer future in the West.

When the Greek Civil War ended in 1949, Greece became a pivotal Balkan actor. It became a NATO member in 1952; its economy boomed with U.S. assistance under the Truman Doctrine and, later, the Marshall Plan; and after the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1974, its political system was the strongest in the region. For a long period of time, Greece was a source of stability and a role model for other Balkan states. Furthermore, it was an indispensable NATO partner in every regional crisis in the early years after the Cold War. The Vance-Owen peace plan to end the Bosnian War was signed in 1993 in Athens, and it was Greece’s decisive role that blocked the outbreak of civil war between the Slavic majority and the Albanian minority in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001.

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When the Greek crisis began, the Balkans witnessed an extended period of political and economic destabilization. Greece is no longer in a position to meaningfully contribute to regional security. In the spring of 2016, clashes erupted between the border police forces of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and migrants leaving Greek refugee camps for Germany or other Western European states. The Greek government’s inability to deal with the migration problem and the Turkish government’s unwillingness to efficiently patrol the Aegean Sea opened the door for various European states such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany to impose border controls for a considerable period of time. This decision temporarily eradicated a key structure of the European Union—the Schengen Agreement, which abolishes internal border checks—giving euro sceptics an opportunity to cheer on the demise of the Union. This development was critical for the Balkans, as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Serbia built fences in order to halt the arrival of migrants, in the process isolating Greece from the rest of the European Union and augmenting the feeling among Greeks that they were left alone to face this crisis.

The Balkan region additionally faces gloomy economic prospects because of the Greek sovereign debt. Aside from the fact that Greece’s ruined economy cannot absorb more unskilled workers from neighbouring countries, a possible Grexit would result in a general collapse of the Balkan economy, mainly due to the long process of Greece regaining its footing, as well as the protectionist policies that Athens would adopt after reverting to a national currency. Economic interdependency makes the Greek problem a Balkan problem, if not a wider Western one—a risky situation in a region where economic frailty is coupled with political instability.

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The power gap in the Balkans after the Greek failure can be seen in the following cases. First is Montenegro’s failed coup of 2016 against the pro-Western government, which threatened to destabilize the whole region and, according to the Montenegrin authorities, was orchestrated by the Kremlin. The second is in the emerging crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is facing the grim prospect of a civil war between Slavic and the Albanian factions due to the structural weaknesses of the state and the friction produced by competing Slavic and Albanian nationalisms. If Greece were in better circumstances, then it would be possible for Athens to implement efficient crisis management policies, as it knows how to navigate the region’s delicate sociopolitical conditions. In addition, after last July’s failed coup attempt in Turkey and Ankara’s open flirtation with the Kremlin, the Greek crisis opens a vacuum for Western interests in the region.

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Russia has been re-issuing its Pan-Slavic agenda in the Balkans, mainly through a new version of soft power called Russkiy Mir (Russian World). This new soft power policy is already bearing fruit for the Kremlin in its strong influence on many Christian Orthodox churches in the region, as was revealed during the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church in Crete last June. Together with Moscow, the Arab speaking Patriarchate of Antioch in Syria, the Bulgarian Church, and the Georgian Church did not attend the event. The West has to find a viable response to Russian influence, and the collapse of Greece—a state that formerly had Western-oriented soft power at its disposal—disrupts this effort.

 

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A violent change in the Balkans’ balance of power could precipitate a wider geostrategic crisis in Europe, too, with the renewed popularity of nationalism and populism and with the regional stabilizer, Greece, focused on reversing its domestic stagnation. Europe and the rest of the Western world must remember the popular Balkan saying that describes the volatile nature of the region: “This is the Balkans, not a place for fooling around.”

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*The term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the U.N. designation) is used at the request of the author.

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Spyridon N. Litsas is an associate professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki. Follow him on Twitter at @Spyros_Litsas.

The Graffiti & Doors of Havana – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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There has always been a strong bond between Bulgaria and Cuba, and it is not just due to communism, but to music, and the performing arts. Fidel and his brother, now President Raul Castro liked to visit Bulgaria, not just because of a cultural compatibility, but because – I am told by a reliable source – in the past, there were certain romantic attachments as well.

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DAVID BRADISH

As an early visitor to Sofia, I soon discovered a whole new raft of jazz musicians and performers, in and around the city, amongst whom was Cuban jazz celebrity and  tenor saxophone player, Orlando Sanchez De Soto. Now a rising star in new York, at the time of my arrival in Bulgaria, he was then making waves in the jazz venues of Bulgaria, but more importantly, he’s remained my friend ever since, and for 25 years.

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Albeit via Facebook and through jazz, this also applies to David Bradish. An American jazz singer and percussionist , who I met via Orlando, we both share a long lasting love for Cuba. Although he now resides in Sweden, he spends half his year amongst the people of Cuba, enjoying the sights and sounds of Havana, and performing his music. Having only recently returned to Stockholm, he has brought a portfolio of photo’s of graffiti with him – some old and some new – which does much to express the modern history of Cuba, its politics and its music. The Editor

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David Bradish Writes – I have visited Cuba since 1999. Every year up to 2017, it now makes an unbelievable eighteen years. Most of the time it’s only for a 6 month visit, because I am a foreign musician, but, by working in Havana, I have become somewhat well established, as a Jazz Singer and Bongo player. You can find my stuff on YouTube, with me playing or singing.

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This year it was different, because I had planned to make a recording, and forming a small band, to play around Havana’s small Jazz scene. Jazz Cafe, La Zorro Y El Cuervo, and CASA De Musica in Mirimar, are the 3 main places but there are others too. Normally I play these clubs and sometimes more, with many different Cuban musicians and bands. With some bands I sit in; ones like Havana Compass, Bobby Carcasses, Cuba Jazz,Yasek Manzanos, Jorje Louis Pacheco, and many more.

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What happened to me was unfortunate, because my throat swelled up on January 10th, and I had to go to hospital. I couldn’t speak, let alone sing, and I was in pain. The doctor gave me an anti Inflamation medicine, to reduce the swelling, and to see if I had throat Cancer. Luckily, my second visit showed I had bad open lesions on my vocal chords. This led to an immediate operation, after which to recover, I had to remain 100% silent; I couldn’t say a word.

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I had my Phone Camera with me, and since I couldn’t risk talking, I spent my days photographing Havana graffiti. I had never noticed it before, but the more I looked the more I found. This led to me going crazy – nothing new there – and I soon found myself walking, looking and photographing,  districts in Havana most tourists never see.

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I thought  I really had a unique Graffiti collection, but on returning to Stockholm – after after only 2 months in Havana – I discovered there is quite a bit of Cuban Graffiti on the net. Some  of the artists are well known, and there are articles about them, but what I noticed was I had also photographed some graffiti the net didn’t have. I think that’s because I have been living on and off in Havana for 18 years. There are places I have been that no tourist knows about. Even Cubans are sometimes amazed at my knowledge of the Cuban capital.

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Havana is just an outrageous city, and built long ago, it has an architecture which is quite unique, with such a variety of gorgeous houses. Sometimes the crumbling structures have a beauty as fine as the Graffiti itself, and some of the doors and walls are so similar to the graffiti, I just had to shoot them too.

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Anyway, here’s a visual experience of what Havana has to offer, if you dig a little deeper, and explore Havana’s many streets.

STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS by DAVID BRADISH

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Who Guards the Guards? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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 ‘Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodies?’ In this article, Patrick Brigham attempt’s to unravel the Iraq Historic Allegations Team or IHAT mystery, of legacy investigation, but in juxtaposition to Northern Ireland,  Stormont and ‘The Good Friday Agreement.’

It seems that British military personnel, during the course of their duty, are often damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, and since many retired service men and women live here in the Balkans, I will attempt to keep them up to date.  But firstly, what is IHAT?

The general view by military personnel at least, is that IHAT has very little to do with the realities of war. For them, it is another branch of the UK’s over stretched and self serving civil service, which believes that soldiers of all ranks, should act more like social workers than well trained combat troops. Many unpleasant things happen in wartime, and although a soldier should be accountable for his actions, it is never totally possible, in the heat of battle. The unfairness of IHAT, has been likened to that of The Spanish Inquisition, and with powers which touch on persecution, and intimidation, it has caused great hardship to battle weary veterans and their family’s.

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Blatantly open to abuse, many lawyers have taken advantage of the loose requirements regarding evidence, that IHAT needed before instigating a case against a soldier or ex-soldier; the worst culprit being a Solicitor called Philip Shiner. With 250 cases to his credit, Shiner was recently charged, before a tribunal of the Solicitors Regulations Authority.

Shiner has subsequently admitted to eight allegations, and of acting without integrity, including that he made “unsolicited direct approaches to potential clients’, and  one other allegation of acting recklessly.. Andrew Tabachnik, prosecuting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said that Shiner’s defence to the dishonesty charges, was effectively to say that – “I was not in full control of my mental faculties at this time, and I didn’t know right from wrong, or what I was doing.”

The tribunal found him guilty of multiple professional misconduct charges, including dishonesty and lack of integrity, and.twenty two misconduct charges, were proved to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. Two other charges were left to lie on the file, and by February 2017, the tribunal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority had him struck off as a solicitor, and also ordered him to pay for the full costs of the prosecution, starting with an interim down payment of £250,000.

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By the time he was struck off in February 2017,  IHAT had fewer than 250 active investigations, and  so a week later, Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that IHAT would soon be shut down, largely due to the exposing of Shiner’s dishonesty.

When welcoming the decision to strike him off, the chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Paul Philip, stated – “His misconduct has caused real distress to soldiers, their families and to the families of Iraqi people who thought that their loved ones had been murdered or tortured. More than £30m of public funds were spent on investigating what proved to be false and dishonest allegations.”

In remarks made by the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, chairman of the defence sub-committee meeting in the UK Parliament, he made it clear that IHAT had never really worked nor would it do so.

Here follows his summary of that meeting –

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Dr Julian Lewis MP

“The UK’s military must be equally subject to the law as any civilian, whether in barracks or on operations. The UK military rightly demands that those who fall short of these standards should pay the full penalty for doing so. However, just as in civilian life, investigations into wrongdoing must be fair and be seen to be fair.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was set up in 2010 to investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi civilians against UK armed forces personnel, that were said to have occurred between 2003 and 2009. It was expected to take two years to complete its work. Exploited by two law firms in particular, caseloads rose from 165 to over 3,000 over subsequent years. It is now expected to complete its work in 2019 and will have cost the taxpayer nearly £60 million.

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A large number of those claims were taken up by IHAT despite a lack of credible evidence and the investigations have taken years to complete. As a result, those under investigation have suffered unacceptable stress, have had their lives put on hold and their careers damaged. They have been, and in some cases continue to be, treated in an unacceptable manner as a result of serving the United Kingdom.

The catalogue of serious failings in the conduct of IHAT’s investigations points to a loss of control in its management. Service personnel and veterans have been contacted unannounced – sometimes years after service – despite assurances that this would not happen. Covert surveillance appears to have been used on serving and retired members of the armed forces. IHAT investigators have impersonated police officers in order to gain access to military establishments or threaten arrest. Investigations, which had previously been closed down were re-opened on the back of dubious evidence.

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Perhaps the most telling failure of IHAT is the absence of a single prosecution against the UK military. It has been an unmitigated failure for both ‘victims’ and military personnel alike. Of the total number of cases investigated by IHAT – more than 3,500 – most have or will shortly be, dismissed. The Secretary of State for Defence told us that he hoped that the number would be reduced to 60 by summer 2017. Once the number of cases outstanding reaches that target, it is our view that IHAT must be closed down, with the remaining cases passed to the service police, with support from civilian police.

Throughout this process, there has been an almost total disregard of the welfare of current and former service personnel and their families. Soldiers have had to fund their own defence and have been left in the dark by a chain of command which has appeared to be unable or unwilling to interfere with the process.

IHAT has operated without any regard to its impact on the UK military, which has directly harmed their reputation across the world, and negatively affected the way this country conducts military operations and defends itself.

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The MoD must take its share of responsibility for this. Both the MoD and IHAT have focused too much on satisfying the accusers and too little on defending those under investigation. Ministers must take the lead in ensuring that this is rectified.
The MoD is now reforming its package of support for servicemen and women. In October 2016, it announced that it would now cover the legal costs for all of those under investigation by IHAT. It has also started work on how the UK can derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights so that claims through the European Court of Human Rights cannot be made for future conflicts.

The manner in which the armed forces are investigated requires fundamental reform. The focus has been on satisfying perceived international obligations and outside bodies, with far too little regard for those who have fought under the UK’s flag. Our report contains a set of principles to which the MoD and any future investigatory body should adhere. The armed forces deserve to be held in the highest esteem and a repeat of IHAT must never be allowed to happen again.

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The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was an organisation set up to review and investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi civilians by UK armed forces personnel in Iraq during the period of 2003 to July 2009.

The alleged offences ranged from murder to low-level violence and the time period covers the start of the military campaign in Iraq, in March 2003, through the major combat operations of April 2003 and the following years spent maintaining security as part of the Multinational Force and mentoring and training Iraqi security forces.

Because the MOD and Service Police do not have sufficiently experienced professional investigators, the unit is led by retired senior civilian police detective, Mark Warwick, and comprises some 145 employees, including Royal Navy Police personnel, civilian investigators and civil servants. The MOD funds the IHAT, consistent with its obligations to ensure that allegations are investigated in compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).”

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The Stormont Parliament Northern Ireland

Well, IHAT seems by now to be dead in the water, and so I now go on to Northern Ireland, where military personnel – although sent these on peacekeeping duty, ultimately became front line troops, in their own country. In the presence of three eminent Law professors from London, Lancaster, and Belfast Universities, a case was also put by various members of the committee, whereby legacy investigation, should include UK military activities worldwide, and it was agreed that there should be one law for all.

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That and any investigation should be carried out by Service Police, and by using the same resources as the civilian authorities, they should do so with direct assistance from the civilian Police Force. They also recommended a ‘Statute of Limitations,’ or amnesty period, which would affect both the military and the civilian sides. As a point of fairness, there should also be a strong emphasis on ‘A Truth Commission,’ whereby a party once forgiven or absolved, should be encouraged to ‘spill the beans.’

At this point, a twenty year period cut off point was recommended, and it was further said that a Bill could shortly be presented to Parliament, although – as far as Northern Ireland was concerned – it would still be subject to ratification by the Stormont Parliament, and under The Good Friday Agreement. This is also subject to Stormont having an elected government, which it presently does not, suggesting  direct rule from London, and all that this implies.

Maurice Minor & The Amish – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. As of 2000, over 165,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States and about 1,500 lived in Canada.

A 2008 study suggested their numbers had increased to 227,000, and in 2010 a further study suggested their population had grown by 10 percent in the past two years to 249,000, with increasing movement, to the West Coast. Most of the Amish families have continued to have between 6 or7 children, while benefiting from the major decrease in infant and maternal mortality in the 20th century. Between 1992 and 2013, the Amish population increased by 120%,] while the US population increased by only 23%.

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Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of  pride, arrogance, or haughtiness, and the high value they place on  humility, calmness, composure, and placidity. This is often referred to by them, as “submission” or “letting-be”.

The Amish anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labour saving technologies that might make them less dependent on their extended community. Modern innovations like electricity might spark a competition for status goods, and photographs might cultivate personal vanity.

But one of their main requirements, is that members should live entirely without modern transport, including cars or commercial vehicles of any kind. In his total innocence, this was the reason why farmer Maurice Gerhard Amman – known to his friends as MG – became a standing joke in the Amish community.

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Maurice Gerhard Amman

After a painfully long and platonic courtship, Maurice finally married his childhood sweetheart – his much loved Cortina – or Tina as she was known locally, and they started a family. With very few distractions, living in their Idaho farming community was a kind of paradise for the young couple, and their family grew, quietly prospering, while the rest of the world passed them by.

Their first borne was a girl, who they called Porsche. Named after Shylock’s daughter in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ it was not long before Cortina gave birth to a second daughter, which they called Mercedes. Named after the Virgin Mary, ‘María de las Mercedes,’ which in Spanish, literally means mercy.

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The Amman Idaho Farm

The long hard winters and hot, dusty summers, took their toll on Maurice and Tina’s lives, but with neighbours willing help, after a few years of grizzly toil, the farm finally began to support them. With the passing of time, they agreed that it was the right moment, to increase the size of their family – as is the Amish custom – and very soon a son was born to the loving couple.

A popular name at the time, the boy was christened Austin one Sunday morning, by a church elder, followed by a small celebration held in a neighbour’s barn. After tea and cakes, and many congratulations, Austin Mark Ammen and his family, happily returned home to their life of self imposed hardship – simplicity and toil – ready once more to face the Autumn harvest.

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Cortina was nearly forty when she became pregnant for the final time, and late one winter’s morning, around Easter time, a final son was born to the now middle aged couple. This time it was agreed that he would be named after his father, and so little Maurice was delivered into the Amish world, and christened Maurice Luke Ammen.

As he grew up, the young Maurice learned to hide from his mother in the barn or outbuildings, and often give his mother the slip. At the same time, it became increasingly more difficult to distinguish between the boy and his father, when she called out for them. It was therefore agreed, by the whole family, that in future father Maurice would be known as Maurice Major and the youngest son, as Maurice Minor.

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Abraham Leaves Home

One day Abraham, a member of the local Amish community, decided to give up living in his tightly knit village, and to move to the next big town. With newly acquired access to the news media, and especially to TV – all expressly forbidden by the Amish – he was able to recount a bizarre truth which had suddenly emerged, which would affect the Amman family, for decades to come.

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Watching an edition of Wheeler Dealers on television, Abraham was astounded, when it was revealed – by Mike Brewer and Ed China – that Maurice Amman’s entire family, had been inadvertently named after various makes of European classic motor cars, something which farmer Maurice Amman himself, was no doubt, quite clueless about!

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Post WWII MG TC
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Ford Cortina
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Prewar Mercedes Benz Roadster
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Early Porsche 911
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Prewar Austin 7 Ruby
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Two Door Morris Minor

But I digress, because the story does not end there, and after much discussion by the Amish elders, it was decided that some of the Amman family names should be changed, in order not to impugn the guiding principals of the Amish, nor their traditions, and that the Amman family should “submit,” to the elders choice of Christian names. These were required to replace the various well known motor car brand names, erroneously endured for so many years, by the Amman family and their four children.

After much discussion, it was agreed that Porsche would henceforth be known as Ovaltina, Mercedes in future would be known as Flora, Austin would be called Heinze, and finally Maurice Minor was to be renamed Branston.  Cortina would keep her shortened name of Tina, satisfying the Amish low requirement on literacy and education; and their sombre need for anonymity and extreme dullness. But what did they know?

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Maurice and Tina

The passage of time is the great healer, although after some years the Amman family began to leave home. Tired of their basic and monotonous lifestyle, the lack of any real entertainment, and the need for a proper education, the two boys – Heinze and Branston – reluctantly left their family home for pastures new.

Heinze went into the food industry, and Branston started the first Amish airline. Closely keeping to the austere requirements which a lifetime of abstinence and restraint had instilled in his Amish psyche, it was called The Virgin Airline, its motto being – “Fly With Virgin Air – it goes all the way.”

The Jewel of India 70 Years On – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently, at God’s great Judgment Seat.’

Rudyard Kipling – The Ballad of East & West. 

Seventy years on, and the great continent of India no longer has that taste of colonialism lingering on the palette, except for those very few who can still remember the events of August 15th 1947, and then most likely their palette is residing in a glass of water beside their bed.

When we recount the events of WW1; a bloodbath which involved far too many virtually ignored, un-remarked upon, and brave colonial soldiers, we forget that many came from the then Indian sub-continent. As the TV presenters serve up great swathes of nostalgia, much emphasis is put on the Western forces – Australians, South Africans, Canadians and New Zealanders – who died during the Great War. The hero’s of the Verdun and other horrific WW1 battle scenes, are always presented as being white and European, although this is far from the truth.

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Mountbatten with Ghandi  

Moving forward in time to the 17th August 1947, and on this 70th anniversary, we now see sepia films showing the final salutes of men and women – often in enormously baggy and dated military uniforms – who are wondering if leaving India is the right thing to do, and worrying about what life might have in store for them back in a war damaged Britain. A country that is also trying to re-emerge into an equally uncertain future, together with the rest of poor decimated Europe.

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For over three hundred years Britain had been the policeman of India, what was soon to become the State of Pakistan and ultimately, an emerging Bangladesh. Did the politicians of the day eulogize over these brave and ignominiously forgotten Indian soldiers, who fought for a foreign mother country, some thirty years before? We shall never know it was all too long ago, but I doubt it!

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Most of us see the post war years in rather theatrical terms, and in the shires and the home counties of England – especially in the 50s and 60s – one often came across slightly dotty relatives who talked incessantly about their time in India as being the best time of their life.

Surrounded in their new homes, by reminders of years spent on the equator – the pith helmets, the Indian swords and engraved matchlocks – the many sided tables with ivory, and mother of pearl marquetry, would often support a well brewed cup of Darjeeling tea. Then there were the photographs of ferocious looking Colonels – their foot on the head of an equally ferocious looking, but somewhat dead tiger – at a family get-together, where as a child I was introduced to the wonders of cold curry, tales of the Berkshire Regiment, and the redoubtable Uncle John.

Back then, in the sometimes jaded reality of back street Brighton, in a world of seaside boarding houses – the subject of plays by Terrence Rattigan or John Osborne – the fifties and sixties seemed to be populated by hopeless people; old majors or retired district commissioners, all of whom found it difficult to adapt to their new home environment. Dear old Col. Hillary Hook couldn’t even boil an egg boil a kettle, let alone switch on a light.

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Often born to parents who had lived all their lives in India, there were families who’d lived and survived there, for generations. Lives, occasionally interspersed with the odd visit to an English public school, the very occasional university, or generally to Sandhurst, it was then back to India to work in some colonial capacity.

In their minds eye, India came to be as much theirs as the indigenous population itself, because British blood had been spilt on the ground of this their chosen home, and as simple as that.

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But they were also obnoxious, they were snobs, they were xenophobic, and they were unquestionably spoilt by their Indian hosts, and nevertheless – even to this day – they remain severely misunderstood.

Emanating from the newly found and emerging middle classes of the early nineteenth century, the sons and daughters of successful traders and manufacturers, these newly found colonialists, had often been precluded from gentile society in their British homeland – trade was a nasty word up until the 1950’s – and India proved to be the perfect alternative.

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Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, the Maharajas paid lip service to their so called protectors, but they too indulged in the imported social snobbery, and anglicised their views, often by adopting the public school, and elitist attitudes of their colonial cousins, into the bargain. Eton, Harrow, and smart Indian Regiments were all the rage, and a kind of effete Indian aristocracy emerged on the racecourses of Ascot and Epsom and the polo-grounds of Hurlingham and Windsor; but not for long. By going forward in time, once more, we now know why.

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The scratched and distressed sepia films show the lines of people, but not their thoughts. Tears and smiles must have mingled with nostalgia, and although some were sorry that they were leaving, others were not. Gandhi’s salt march had done the trick, Mountbatten had handed India back with as much dignity as he could muster and India was left to denude its own reality, and make the railways run on time.

Back in the UK sports masters were called Major this, the school bursar was called Colonel that, and the grounds man was called Sergeant something or other too, which was certainly the case when I first went to school.

As I write in the present day, I can still recall my aging aunts and uncles, small carved ivory elephants in glass cases, the aroma and sounds of an India still lingering in a photograph album, and a nameless dog, obediently sitting on the veranda of some long forgotten bungalow. And, although the shadow of this much loved past still hides behind the glossy brochure of a new modern and thriving India, I am afraid, that what I remember really doesn’t matter anymore.

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Gandhi with Tagore 

Today the talk is of computer technology, and India’s high profile nuclear tests, none of which are approved of by the great powers. Now medium range rockets wobble on their launching pads and die – with disappointed looks from ambitious Indian onlookers – and young Indians, once the scourge of immigration officers in the UK, are now the invited guests of a burgeoning electronics industry; short of manpower.

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No longer destined for the sweat shops of Huddersfield or Leeds, nor selling assorted silks from a market stall in Brick Lane or Southall, these young Indians now represent a new well educated middle class, destined for the wine bars of Dover Street and trendy Covent Garden. Oh, how the world has changed.

We find the India of today simultaneously seething with the extremes of poverty and great wealth, with – one must admit – a strong European demeanour. Gone are the cliches of the past – the Star of India Restaurant and the Bombay Brasserie, are now in the Michelin Guide – and pandering to the spoilt, the overpaid, and the trenchermen of a high cholesterol multicultural London.

Most of us have completely forgotten how it all began, although during recent time spent in India, I met many who were happy to attest to an amicable colonial past. But how did young Indians feel about their most recent past? Well, they seemed to have forgotten about it too!