Issue #85 August 27th - September 9th 2004
What the train station really means
Book Review – 'The Spanish Civil War' by Anthony Beevor
Come to Norway. It will be fun! (part 3)
Athens2004 (or, jump to a different tune)
There is no consensus on how to respond to events taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan. While some have attempted to compare Sudan to Iraq it is doubtful if the two situations are really that similar – and while the Sudanese government has agreed to allow 2-3,000 African Union troops to be deployed to Darfur they have refused to agree to let them protect civilians there. They claim that protecting civilians is a job for Sudanese government forces – the problem being that all the evidence shows these same forces are the ones carrying out massacres and rapes of civilians. The deployment of a larger international peacekeeping force with a mandate to protect civilians in Darfur might be negotiated by offering assistance in dealing with one major root cause of the conflict – desert spreading and reducing available farming land.
Some like John Laughland have argued that the British and American governments wish to intervene in Sudan in order to secure oil reserves just as in Iraq.
While Sudan does have considerable oil and gas reserves which make such motives possible it’s uncertain whether the US and Britain would have to go to war on Sudan in order to secure oil contracts there. The China National Petroleum Company does hold the contract for the Darfur region but British firms such as BP had sizeable investments in subsidiaries of CNPC operating in Sudan until deciding to sell them recently . Weir Pumps and Rolls-Royce have also had contracts to supply pumps and engines for oil pipeline projects in Sudan. Where Western firms such as the Canadian Talisman oil have pulled out of Sudan it has been because of bad publicity in being linked to human rights abuses by the Sudanese government, or, as in the case of Shell, due to US sanctions. The reasons for not investing directly were probably more due to public relations than fears that the Sudanese government would refuse western firms access.
That may be why UN security council resolution 1556(2004) on Darfur, unlike Resolution 1441 which the US strengthened to push for war on Iraq, was watered down so that far from threatening ‘all necessary means’ (i.e war) it does not even mention economic sanctions.
It may also be true that not all the atrocities are on the government side. Arab refugees report some rebel groups have killed Arabs on suspicion of being Janjawid - and driven others out of their villages. However the vast majority of atrocities are by government backed forces who are much better armed.
As for the Sudanese government supposedly having punished ‘the ‘janajaweed’ also means ‘criminals’ in Sudan – those punished were not the heads of the militia but common criminals.
Far from attempting to rein in the Janjaweed but being unable to the Sudanese government is talking about disarming all ‘illegal militias’ (by which it means rebels) in Darfur while incorporating the Janjaweed into the regular Sudanese military and police forces by providing them with uniforms , ranks and weapons. Aid workers and refugees report that Sudanese military helicopters and planes continue to be used in attacks on villages in Darfur. The Sudanese government have been giving assurances about ‘disarming the janjawid’ for months with nothing changing in reality.
Bush and Blair don’t seem desperate to go to war on Sudan. They prefer talking about their ‘moral duty’ to prevent massacres in Sudan in an attempt to appear to be acting consistently against human rights abuses while in fact doing nothing. Human Rights Watch found that While Saddam’s regime may have been guilty of massacres in the 1980s and 1991 there were no government backed massacres taking place or threatened in Iraq in 2002 or 2003 – but Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International , African Union observers, refugees, aid workers and journalists report that such massacres are taking place with Sudanese military involvement in Darfur now.
Intervention would not need to involve the overthrow of the Sudanese government - only the deployment of more peacekeepers and the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Darfur. This succeeded in providing autonomy to the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Yet USAAF and RAF planes frequently ended up bombing civilians in these zones. Nor did the torture or arrest without trial of Kurdish civilians end entirely under the rule of Kurdish parties.
The risk of to some extent merely reversing who is ethnically cleansing who – as in Kosovo – has to be taken into account – but it seems a bit rich to ask how we could explain to civilians in Darfur why our bombs have killed their civilians while turning a blind eye to Sudanese government bombs, missiles and bullets killing them now.
At the least we could massively increase humanitarian aid and provide ground troops for a UN force to protect refugee camps on the border between Sudan and Chad.
It is true that British and American forces in for instance Afghanistan and Iraq cause as many or more deaths and human rights abuses than they prevent. Nor can we guarantee that the British and American governments don’t have ulterior motives on Darfur. However deploying multinational forces under the command of United Nations or African Union led forces could not be worse than allowing massacres, ethnic cleansing and mass rape to continue.
Some kind of aid to reduce a major root cause of the conflict – decreasing available farming and grazing land – could also help Darfurians and be used as a negotiating chip to secure Sudanese government agreement to the deployment of more peacekeepers. The rebels (Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) ) and the civilians targeted by government and Janjawid forces are members of the non-Arab Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups whose economy is based on farming from villages. The Janjawid are mostly nomadic herders who have pushed into the villagers’ lands as climate change causes the area of farming and grazing land to contract as the desert expands.
A solution to this problem might involve scientific and changed land-use solutions or trade and aid deals or both. Offers of help in this area might be more likely to secure the grudging acquiescence of the Sudanese government and reluctant UN member states on the deployment of a larger peacekeeping force with a wider mandate to protect refugees than threats of sanctions which – based on the experience of sanctions on Iraq in the 90s which killed millions more than even Saddam Hussein’s regime – could kill more Sudanese civilians than they save.
copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2004
What the train station really means
I walked away murmuring to myself, then (remembering Ola was around) repeating it loudly for her to hear: I wish you run out of money soon. I hope you won't be able to afford to pay all these people for much longer. And then, with some more spite than I could actually summon: I wish you end up in debt, I do. It didn't matter who I was wishing all these things upon (the Greek State, probably, which makes it pretty certain that my lovely wishes will come true.) I was feeling sad and pissed in the way of a five-year-old who has gone out to play only to find their favourite playground locked up and that was all that mattered.
Because sitting at the train station has always been what Athens is all about.
I will try to explain. It all started the first time I ever came down to Athens to see Nick (and a Belle and Sebastian gig) two Septembers ago. We had spent the whole weekend sitting in various places around town, eating or drinking coffee or just wasting our time and doing what all new friends do, I suppose: trying to get to know each other. By Sunday I was quite enchanted by Nick and quite sick of cafes. I was also in urgent need of a ticket on a train leaving town on the same evening, so I asked him to meet me at the train station.
Now, the train station is a rather unlikely place to meet someone but Nick had said yes to all my questions (not only "can you meet me at the station?" but also "can we get some coffee and wait for my mum who is leaving from here in an hour?" and even "can we sit over there?") so we ended up on a bench by the railway lines, drinking coffee and making paper planes. It wasn't a great place to be, really: it was damp even though the day had been sunny and the grass around it was spotted by rubbish and bits of broken glass and even the view didn't amount to much.
There were some trains (old and noisy, in a just-out-of-a-sixties-film kind of way) and the station building (small and tatty and a little pretty too, in a nineteenth-century, small-seaside-town-with--big-ambitions kind of way) and a street and beyond it some blocks flats (ugly, in a nineteen-seventies, let's-build-as-many-flats-for-as-little-money-as-possible kind of way) and the mid-September, late-afternoon Athenian light bathing it all, brilliant and golden and sweet. But despite all that and despite some more things too -our paper planes didn't want to fly and we discovered a drowned mosquito in my coffee, and I had to leave before the day was out- we were happy.
We were always happy there. Because as time went by sitting at the train station turned into something of a legend of our shared life, or maybe a landmark - yes, that's what it was, a landmark. It emerged in conversations, emails, a poem and a Friendster testimonial and so when (about a year later and just a few days before I moved to Athens) we found ourselves back at that station we didn't have to discuss what we do. We bought some coffee (no mosquito this time), crossed the railtracks and jumped on that bench. I have lost the photos I took on that day but I still have memories of Nick clutching my discman and five or six of my cds scattered around him, sticking out of the run-down scenery.
And so, you see, when Ola came to visit from Poland the train station was on my list of places I had to show her, but when we got there were brand new railings that got in your way of crossing the railtracks and what seemed like a hundred security guards, looking awkward and unsure but annoying nonetheless. I knew we didn't stand a chance when we were stopped by one as we were making our way towards the footbridge.
"Where do you want to go?"
I went back there today, thinking of all this, and it was even worse. The guards looked a lot less awkward and everything else looked tidy, clean(ish) and officially boring. There is nothing you can do there anymore but wait for your train (and you can only do that if you avoid crowding on the platform and keep your personal belongings with you at all times.) Still, I walked off into the fiery afternoon sun and the Olympic crowds feeling hopeful. Soon -not very soon but soon enough- autumn will be here. The heat and the tourists will go home along with the security guards and Athens will be ours again.
Book Review – ‘The Spanish Civil War’ by Anthony Beevor
The Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 arguably led to World War Two and also provides many parallels with subsequent events right up to the present. Since 2001 this has led to several reprints of Anthony Beevor’s 1982 book on the war which places it in context in Spanish history by including chapters on Spain both before and since the war. Perhaps due to the date of writing it does not draw many of the wider parallels that could be made between the war and current events but it does give a wealth of information and quotes which allow readers to draw these parallels for themselves.
The war involved a struggle between two sides with very little popular support – the fascists and communists – with the vast majority (who were mostly agnostic or atheist anarchists , liberal democrats or socialist democrats) caught in the middle and supporting neither, but confused in the short term by propaganda from both. This seems like a parallel with the current war on terror – with militarists such as Blair and Bush and Islamic fundamentalists such as Bin Laden each having little genuine popular support. Beevor quotes the fascist General Mola warning ‘He who is not with us is against us’ – eerily echoed by President Bush after September 11th. Franco was closely allied to the Catholic Church in much the same way that Bush seeks the support of Christian fundamentalists – and fascist propaganda during the civil war portrayed his opponents as a mass of terrorists and terrorist sympathisers in much the same way that Bush claims all those opposing him in Iraq are ‘terrorists’ now. Just as in the US Christian fundamentalists are in the minority so in Spain in the 30s practising Catholics made up no more than 10% of the population.
While Franco’s supporters – and the foreign press who relied on them as sources – portrayed his Republican opponents as responsible for 90% of all atrocities in the war the truth, as Beevor reveals, was the reverse. Rape, massacre and torture by fascist forces was widespread and continued and intensified after fighting ended in areas they had captured – whereas on the Republican side they were less common – though there were horrific witch hunts and random killings of real and suspected fascists before the Republican authorities re-asserted some control in Barcelona and elsewhere in the immediate aftermath of Franco’s rebellion. The exception was found in the Spanish Communist party which was controlled directly from Moscow by representatives of Stalin. During the war the communist leadership spent as much or more time torturing and disappearing potential rivals on the Republican side than on fighting the fascists. By the later stages of the war many anarchists believed that with a Republican government now dominated by the Communists it made no difference who won.
Why did the Spanish Republicans accept support from the Soviet Union ? Much like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s they were left with no choice due to foreign arms blockades. The British , French and American governments turned a blind eye to massive deployments of German and Italian forces in Spain and the training and arming of Spanish fascist forces by Mussolini and Hitler. At the same time the British government of Neville Chamberlain ensured that the British Navy prevented any foreign ships trading with Republican held Spanish ports – and blackmailed the French government into preventing any arms imports across the Pyrenees mountains by land by threatening not to support France against any aggression by Hitler if it aided the Spanish republicans. This hypocrisy was to be echod in the later policy of ‘neutrality’ and an ‘arms embargo’ during the Yugoslavian civil war of the 1990s – in which the seceding Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was denied arms to avoid ‘pouring fuel on the fire’ while it was an open secret that Serbia was arming the Bosnian Serbs. In the case of the Spanish Civil War the British government was more concerned with keeping Gibraltar as a British base – and preventing Spain ‘going Communist’ than it was about allowing Spain to go fascist.The result – massacres like Guernica where the German ‘Condor Legion’ air force sent by Hitler to support Franco was able to wipe out entire towns just as the Bosnian Serb General Mladic was allowed to kill all men of military age in Srebrenica in the 90s. In both cases appeasement also led to larger wars – Hitler and Milosevic respectively believing they could keep Britain neutral in World War Two and Kosovo as a result of it.
The majority of Spaniards were shocked that the democracies were not coming to their aid – and as late as the end of the Second World War – which many of them fought in on the allied side – they hoped in vain that the Allies would liberate Spain from fascism once Hitler and Mussolini were defeated.
The battlecry of the fascist Spanish Foreign Legion – responsible for many of the worst atrocities of the war – was ‘Viva La Muerte’ – ‘Long Live Death’. This and speeches made by the Legion’s commander General Millan Astray – bring to mind the fanaticism of Al Qa’ida with their claim that ‘You love life, but we love death’. One of the most touching stories in Beevor’s book is that of a rally at which , after hearing Millan speak , the Spanish philosopher Unamuno stood up and eloquently denounced the fascists’ ideology as ‘necrophilia’ – ending with the defiant promise ‘You may win , because you have more than enough brute force – but you will never convince’. Unamuno was almost shot on the spot and died friendless weeks later – but in the long run he was right – despite a massive propaganda structure including indoctrination in schools Spanish fascism did not survive Franco’s death. Similarly the more recent privatising and militaristic ‘New Spain’ of former Prime Minister Aznar could not sustain much support among Spaniards – losing heavily to the Socialists with their pledge of withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq in the elections.
Beevor’s account of the Spanish Civil War reveals it as both tragic and inspiring. The tragedies were the Communist betrayal of the anarchist majority in Spain, the atrocities carried out by the communists and fascists, and the victory of the fascists. Yet at the same time it is inspiring to read of the bravery and humanity of the majority of ordinary Spaniards. For a few years in large parts of Spain anarchists allowed people a freedom from poverty, oppression and violence which showed that there was a better way to live. People were invited to join anarchist collectives – but were free not to – and equally free to be fed, given health care and given free education. While fascism and communism are now discredited ideologies democracy, democratic socialism and anarchism survive. The fascists and Stalinists won in the short run – but in the long run they did not convince.
That is a lesson which both sides in the current ‘war on terror’ need to learn from. Force and threats – whether ‘military’ or ‘terrorist’- may bring short term victory, but atrocities and inhumanity will inevitably accompany their use – and they will never convince the majority to support an unrepresentative minority.
The Spanish Civil War by Anthony Beevor is available in paperback published by Cassell Military Paperbacks.
copyright © Duncan McFarlane2004
Come To Norway. It will be fun!
It all began with a text message saying:
"18 hours!" exclaimed Duncan as we breathlessly boarded a northbound train in Oslo.
Duncan resigned himself to his fate slumped back in his chair, and studied the menu from the buffet car. It would be his only chance to shop for a while and he was going to make the most of it. Grainne and I sank down into our books, often looking up to admire the scenery that we were passing.
The thing that struck me most about the first leg of our journey was just how much water we passed. I studied the train map in my guide book and generally speaking our journey cut a path north up though the middle of the country, but if you did not know this it would have been easy to think that we were travelling along the coast. We passed lakes, fjords, waterfalls, and rivers set in dark lush green countryside. Norway was a truly stunning country.
10 hours of our journey was onboard a sleeper train which we caught at Trondhiem at 10.30. I can't quite remember who it was that said "We should stay up to see the midnight sun" but as soon as they had I knew there was no way I could go to sleep until I had. OK it was slightly too late in the year and we weren't quite north enough to really experience the phenomena but I knew it would still be special. We giggled, and felt like the only three people still awake on the train as we switched from the seaside carriage to the mountainside carriage and then back again. The excitement and slight naughtiness brought me back to the days when as a 7 year old my friends would sleep over and we'd try to stay awake for a midnight feast. Our eyes would droop and we stared at our "hi-tech" digital watches and we'd never quite make it until that impossible hour. Tiredness began to set in as I stood at the train window. My eyes begged me to let them close. Staring at moving scenery was hard work for them but I stubbornly refused.
Our Arrival in the Arctic Circle
Our arrival into the Arctic Circle was not as I had expected. It was the hottest day of our holiday and even at 9.00am the heat was almost too much for us. Light bounced around us, bright and powerful stinging our aching eyes. Duncan soon realised that he would not be able to change into his only remaining clean clothes- thick jumpers- and was slightly disappointed. Not as disappointed as me and Grainne were mind you. Our first day in the Arctic was spent hiding in from the heat and light in dark café's, sitting staring at mountains covered with snow and surrounded by bright blue water.
The Boat Trip
As soon as we had arrived in Bodo the previous day I knew that I wanted to catch a boat to take us somewhere. It didn't really matter where. Just anywhere that would take us away from civilisation and out into the unknown. We were so far north, you could feel in intensity of the light yet something inside of me yearned for more. In the end we decided to take a two hour trip on a passenger ferry which hopped from one island to the next.
Home Sweet Home…
Although we were not due to return home for a couple more days, by the time we were sat on our train back to Oslo the pull of home was getting stronger. We sat in the buffet car for a long time, looking at the sunset, drinking cups of tea and coffee and talking and laughing.
It was a tremendous relief to step off the train for our last nights stay at Moss. Yes it still smelled slightly and was nowhere near as stunning as some of the things we had seen that holiday, but as Gerd the hostel owner smiled and opened the door for us it felt like returning home.
Home Sweet Home (part two)…
My final journey was alone. Grainne and Duncan had both gone their separate ways and I travelled from Glasgow to Carlisle on a slow moving British train. My mind was torn. Half of me was happy to be back and the thought of my on bed was a relief. The other part felt slightly sad and flat. It was all over, and the world would return to normal.
My phone beeped and I read the text
I thought for a second. Yes I had. I'd been to Norway and it had been fun.
Pole Vaulting: An Enigma Revealed
It was Tuesday. The Friends of the Heroes (ahem) 'editorial' team were embroiled in the sort of heady dialogue and heated debate that is at the crux of every Friends of the Heroes meeting . Passions were high. Everyone had their own distinct, quirky, and slightly scary views, borne out of years of craftsmanship, of ideology, of dedication to the cause. The neo-feminists argued for a more woman-centred approach, indeed, to the exclusion of any male involvement at all. The Marxist contingent, whilst acknowledging the huge debt the suffering and repressed working classes owed to women, nonetheless argued that the entire means of production ought to be handed over to a group of disenfranchised heroin addicts residing under the stairs by the fire exit of Wythenshawe and District Community, Vocational, and Technical College. Others argued for naked nuns. Everyone stood their ground. No one felt like giving an inch. It was within this furnace-like atmosphere that I chose to unleash into the bearpit the holy grail, that Mecca of questions on which all other questions, riddles, nay, the foundation of life, is built upon:
"So, who invented pole vaulting?"
Everyone fell suddenly silent. I felt that they, too, were aware of the huge significance of the question, so much so, in fact, that, within a minute or two, the meeting came to an abrupt end. For some reason, I have since been unable to contact the rest of the team at FOTH Towers. I can only assume that they, too, feel burdened by Man's Greatest Riddle. It is for this reason that I present, for them, and in honour of them, the culmination of my years of dedicated research into the Pole Vaulting enigma. My friends, I salute you and, were your phones not always inexplicably engaged, I would tell you so via gesture of mouth…
Pole vaulting can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where Cretans (people from Crete, I assume, as opposed to Kretans or Kretins) used the technique to leap over bulls. Celts had fun with a pole too, using it for long jump competitions, but it was not until the 18th century when the Germans introduced the vertical form of the discipline that pole vault really began to take off around the world.
From 1850 on, pole vault competitions abounded - not that they resembled today's version much. The material used to make the pole has very much shaped vaulting styles over the years; the inflexible ash poles of yesteryear forced athletes to climb up the poles as they jumped, adopting body positions that would look very strange in a modern sporting arena. It was the Americans who, towards the end of the 19th century, invented the technique of reversing the legs upwards, clearing the crossbar with stomach facing down.
Bamboo poles came in around 1900 and were popular for half a century or more, right up until Bob Gutowski ushered in a new era for the sport when he vaulted 4.78 metres using an aluminium pole in 1957. That world record only stood for a few months, though, as Don Bragg (USA) went one better, this time with a steel pole, in clearing clear 4.80m. Innovations came thick and fast in the late 1950's. Copper poles were tested and rejected, landing mattresses introduced, and then, most significantly of all, the flexible fibreglass pole made its first appearance on the international stage. The catapulting action of these new poles brought upward impetus, new vaulting styles, and ever-higher world records.
How to pole vault
Look, I'm no scientist, but apparently, the basic concept behind the pole vault is to convert horizontal energy (the run) into vertical energy (to clear the bar). By progressively accelerating on the run to the pit, planting and then bending the pole, the vaulter propels his kinetic energy into the pole, which then returns it as potential energy as it straightens, throwing the vaulter upwards. Then, as the vaulter reaches the bar, he shoots his legs high and twists his body, relying on the "carry", or forward speed acquired by the run, to take him across the crossbar. In other words, run and jump.
The greatest pole-vaulters of all time
Sergey Bubka: A pole vaulting legend. Bubka changed the standards of pole vaulting single-handed; the first vaulter to clear 6 metres, he then broke the 6.10 metre barrier.
Cornelius Warmerdam: This man was the "Tsar" of the bamboo era. Whilst the rest of the world was at war, this American was at the peak of his form, smashing the world record three times in quick succession. His last effort of 4.77 metres, on 23 May 1942 in Modesto, would never be beaten by another vaulter jumping with a bamboo pole. In fact, it was not until Bob Gutowski set a new mark with an aluminium pole some 15 years later, that Warmerdam's record was finally bettered.
"Two guys were watching athletes at the
Athens2004 (or, jump to a different tune)
Standing in front of my desk I can see the third empty beer can. Being home alone isn't always bad. Parties on my own are probably the best part of my life anyway.
But anyway, the title of the document is Athens 2004 so that's what I should start talking about. Yeah I went there. I was one of those Greeks that used to make fun of the Olympic Games but a friend of mine convinced me to go. It was fabulous. People from all over the world, a band playing ridiculously popular rock songs and there I was, wanting so badly to start jumping like a 6 year old boy or at least dance like I had been doing some days ago at your party. But then I remembered that I'm really shy and in addition to that the place was full of cameras and there was also a huge video wall.
I felt happy. So happy. But why was that? I watched a few tennis matches and I remember myself standing next to some kids waiting for that Croatian athlete Mario Ancic to sign my baseball hat. Yeah, it was that. Would anyone understand me? Was it worth talking to anyone about this? Would they just say "poor Nick, get a life"? Who cared? Then I saw a nice English girl wearing an English flag as a skirt. It would have made a perfect photo. I got the mobile phone out of my pocket and took a picture of her secretly. I wished I had asked her "hey can I take a picture of you?". The concert finished and people started leaving. I was trying to remember how many concerts I wished had never ended. You could hear someone through the loudspeakers announcing that the Olympic Complex would be closing in half an hour so I started realising I had to go. I came back home and I din't want to sleep. I was so excited, I opened the windows and got a beer from the fridge. I was glad I found you on MSN. I wanted so badly to find someone to share my experience.
It's 3 am and I'm still not asleep. I should talk to you some more, then go to bed. I'll sleep hugging my hat tonight. This time, no one is here to see me. I swear I won't miss the chance again to be a 6 year old boy. And maybe it's time to start sharing my feelings with people like you.
Ps Initially, the title was simply 'Athens2004' but I changed it a bit after playing Nixon's 'Crazy, sexy, cool' on my discman...
Ps2 Oh come on! I know that beer isn't for young kids. It's just my ticket to go back to 1984...