Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Speakers’ Corner, Moscow Style?

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So President Medevedev would like to create a “Speakers’ Corner” in Central Moscow for Russians to vent their political passions.******”It looks cool,” Medvedev told a group of human rights activists. “I need to speak with the Russian authorities and build our very own Hyde Park.”***Was this just a rhetorical flourish to impress his guests, a signal that he would loosen the reins that his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, has pulled so tight? Free speech, say the rights activists, is not something Russian authorities have prized, whether on the streets or in the media. Would it, could it, work in Moscow? Where ever would you put it in that crowded, bustling city? Who would go there? What would they do there?***Singaporeans, not know for a culture of dissent and protest, have led the way, setting up their own speakers’ corner to protest over economic hardship. Hundreds meet there every Saturday to demand government help. No trouble reported yet.******The London speakers’ corner is held up by some as a symbol of British democracy, a place where anyone can stand on a box and say (more or less) whatever he wants without fear. Yes, in their day, Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx haunted the place, touting ideas that would have had them dragged away by police in their own countries. Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, wrote in her memoirs that the Bolshevik leaader was most impressed watching speakers “harangue the passing crowds on diverse themes”. All jolly stuff and not something he himself encouraged when he set up the dictatorship of the proletariat back at home.******These days though, for the most part, London’s speakers’ corner is a gathering place for quirky exhibitionists and comedians, political oddballs of left and right and religious eccentrics of all ilks warning sinful tourists of hell and damnation. The occasional thoughtful soul will read through Shakespeare’s sonnets or expound the virtues of a forgotten philosopher. Heckling seems to be a central part of the fun. A policeman may be at hand in case things turn nasty, but they rarely do.******Possibly, the spot in the north-east corner of Hyde Park was chosen for its closeness to Tyburn gallows where once the condemned would make their last declarations. The Moscow equivalent to Tyburn, I suppose, would be Red Square, where villains were put to death by the axe – though, in the Russian tradition, without those last words. Perhaps, then, Moscow’s Speakers’ Corner might fit nicely nearby at Alexandrov Gardens, at the Kremlin Walls. Arguably, though, a bit too close to***Medvedev’s seat of power. My proposal would be a few hundred metres up Tver Avenue, on Pushkin Square where the Soviet Union once maintained its own bizarre and macabre form of speakers’ corner. Perhaps I should call it the hat-takers-offers corner.******Every Human Rights Day, a keen crowd of journalists and plain-clothes KGB officers would gather in the winter cold around the perimeter of the square named after the great liberal poet Alexander Pushkin. As the hour of eleven approached, a tense hush would descend. A single figure would eventually appear, walk to the centre of the square, stand for a moment, and then take his hat (usually a rabbit-skin ‘shapka’) off; a symbolic protest against the suppression of human rights in the communist state.******In an instant, the KGB officers would swoop down upon him, drag him across the square, bundle him into a van and speed him off to the Lubyanka prison. A few minutes would pass and a second dissident would arrive, take off his hat and stand to attention before being likewise borne away by the forces of order. And so it went on.******Pity though the ‘innocent’ citizen who strayed unwittingly onto the square on that December day, carrying perhaps a magazine or a string bag of potatoes, and found himself suddenly the focus of this hawkeyed gathering. He would break his step and look around, of course, in wonder at his sudden and unexplained celebrity. Me?***That was more enough. Hat or no hat, he followed the rest, bundled into the van and away. It happened, sadly.******Finally, I ask myself who would pitch up at Moscow’s speakers’ corner and in what frame of mind? Memories of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the coups, the civil wars, the anger and the hardship, are still fresh. Economic crisis raises fears of another plunge into uncertainty and the eternal search continues. Kto Vinovat? Who is to blame?******What makes London’s Speakers’ Corner possible, amid all the mockery and sometimes quite pernicious views, is that most people just don’t take it seriously. They laugh, make fun. There may be anger but it knows its bounds. People throw up their hands and walk away, triumphant or humiliated before their peers.******How would Speakers’ Corner take root in Russian soil? Would liberal literati feast on Pushkin and Gogol, while the preachers invoke the fires of hell? Would it become a platform for Muscovites nursing private grievances against uncaring state institutions, the police, big business, the President? Could a Chechen malcontent plant his flag alongside angry nationalists and red-banner waving Stalinists?***Are Russians ready yet to laugh at profanity?

Sex, drugs and toxic shrubs: the best reads of March

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Cubans indulge baseball mania at Havana’s “Hot Corner”

For all the shouting and nose-to-nose confrontations, visitors to Havana’s Parque Central might think they had walked into a brawl or counter-revolution … but here in the park’s Hot Corner,  the topic almost always under discussion is baseball, Cuba’s national obsession.

Iraq’s orphans battle to outgrow abuse

At night, Salah Abbas Hisham wakes up screaming. Sometimes, in the dark, he silently attacks the boy next to him in a tiny Baghdad orphanage where 33 boys sleep on cots or on the floor. Salah, who saw both his parents blown apart in a car bomb, can never be left alone at night.

from Africa News blog:

Time to stop aid for Africa? An argument against

Earlier this month, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argued that Africa needs Western countries to cut long term aid that has brought dependency, distorted economies and fuelled bureaucracy and corruption. The comments on the blog posting suggested that many readers agreed. In a response, Savio Carvalho, Uganda country director for aid agency Oxfam GB, says that aid can help the continent escape poverty - if done in the right way:

In early January, I travelled to war-ravaged northern Uganda to a dusty village in Pobura and Kal parish in Kitgum District. We were there to see the completion of a 16km dirt road constructed by the community with support from Oxfam under an EU-funded programme.

from Africa News blog:

Will Zimbabwe power-share work?

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai became the new prime minister on Wednesday, sworn in by President Robert Mugabe -- his old political rival.

Tsvangirai vowed to rescue the stricken economy and called on the international community to help salvage the economy of Zimbabwe where unemployment is above 90 percent, prices double every day and half the 12 million population need food aid.

from Africa News blog:

Time to stop aid for Africa?

Far from being all bad news for Africa, the global financial crisis is a chance to break a dependence on development aid that has kept it in poverty, argues Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who has just published a new book “Dead Aid”.

Moyo’s book, her first, comes out at a time when Western campaigners, financial institutions and some African governments have been warning of the danger posed to Africa by the crisis and calling for more money from developed countries as a result. The former World Bank and Goldman Sachs economist spoke to Reuters in London.

from Africa News blog:

Storm in Madagascar

In the relative political calm of the Indian Ocean, Madagascar has long been a centre of turbulence.

Now another political crisis is brewing as the opposition accuses President Marc Ravalomanana of abuse of power and threatening democracy. Tens of thousands of opposition protesters demonstrated in Antananarivo on Wednesday, two days after an earlier rally descended into violence that left nearly 40 people dead.

from Africa News blog:

Kenya’s new finance minister: Positioning for next election?

President Mwai Kibaki's naming of a key ally, Uhuru Kenyatta, as his new finance minister to replace another supporter, Amos Kimunya, does not come as a surprise to some.
Kimunya, who stepped down last July after he was accused of corruption in the handling of the sale of a luxury hotel, has also returned to parliament -- replacing Kenyatta as trade minister.
Kimunya was not reinstated even after he was cleared by an official enquiry into the controversial sale of the luxury Grand Regency Hotel in the capital.

The long wait for someone to fill the finance position suggested to some that Kibaki was not comfortable bringing his ally back, given his tainted name.
His appointment to the trade ministry could mean Kibaki did not want to lose him from the cabinet altogether, although some analysts say it was a move to save face.
Pundits also say Kibaki did not have much room to manoeuvre in picking Kenyatta. Many MPs who support the president are parliamentary neophytes without much experience in running a powerful ministry like the treasury.

from Africa News blog:

Forgiveness in paradise?

If you lived on an archipelago that defined paradise with palm-fringed white sand beaches and emerald green waters, you would expect a relaxed, lazy pace of life.

Lazy would be a generous description of the Seychellois soldier’s wave at the entrance to State House as I arrived with my local colleague George Thande - who is admittedly a regular visitor here.

Algerians despair despite country’s wealth

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Two Algerians were detained by Egyptian authorities recently while trying to obtain a work visa from the Israeli embassy in Cairo, a local newspaper has reported, despite the fact that Algeria and Israel are still officially at war.
 
A survey, published by an Algerian newspaper, showed that up to half of Algeria’s young men are tempted by the idea of fleeing to Europe as illegal migrants to escape misery at home.
 
Why do so many people from a country – renowned by many in the Arab world for sacrificing up to one million people in a war to end 130 years of French rule – want to escape to Europe?
 
Algeria is a rich nation but its people are poor. It is the world’s fourth largest gas exporter and the tenth of oil. Foreign currency reserves have soared to $138 billion at the end of Nov. 2008 from $41 billion at the end of 2004.
 
Yet, the UNDP’s human development index, which measures quality of life, puts Algeria in 104th place, behind countries such as Cape Verde and Belize.
 
High unemployment, estimated at 70 percent among people under 30 – though official statistics give far lower figures – is driving many Algerians to desperate measures.
 
Earlier this year, police in the town of Chlef fought angry youths who had burned shops and buildings in the latest in a series of protests against lack of housing and jobs and what critics call an unresponsive political elite.
 
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has led his North African Arab country out of a brutal civil war by combining military force with an amnesty for militants, but getting Algerians out of poverty appears to be proving more difficult.
 
He looks well placed to stay in office after his allies pushed through a law that allows him to seek a third term in office when his second term ends next year.
 
High oil prices over the past few years have helped the country of 33 million launch a $140 billion five-year national economic development plan and repay a large part of its foreign debt.
 
The Algerian government has promised a $100-150 billion national development drive from next year. But many Algerians ponder how to cope until such a plan takes off.
 
“We are desperate,” said Mohamed Tegar, a 32-year-old resident of Chelf. “We are six men living in a very small flat and all of us are unemployed. We don’t understand the local authorities’ reaction.”

Hu hiccup gives vent to China power speculation

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By Benjamin Kang Lim and Simon Rabinovitch

When Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke to the nation this week, an unusual six-second pause may have said more about elite politics in this secretive state than the other 90 minutes of
stolid Communist Party rhetoric. In an address marking 30 years of economic reforms, Hu appeared to lose his place in the middle of a sentence, halting awkwardly for 6.5 seconds — the only such break in his speech and an extremely rare bump for Chinese officials long-practised in flawlessly reading out speeches.

When Hu picked up again, he skipped a chunk of the prepared comments, forming a sentence that appears in none of the official transcripts of his speech, nor any Chinese press report. “One
centre”, he said, then went silent before continuing, “is the lifeline of our Party and our nation.” The official transcript read, “one centre and two basic points are mutually linked,
mutually dependent”, a slogan coined in the 1980s in which “one centre” has a purely economic meaning.

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