New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 281

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Inspiring Kurds
Cover of the NI Issue 279 I was disappointed that there was no mention of the Kurds in your issue on Resistance (NI 279), except a letter which follows Turkish propaganda in viewing the (Kurdish) PKK as a so-called ‘ruthless, bloody terrorist group’. Though normally a pacifist, I find the Kurds’ resistance to the genocide they are facing in Turkey extremely inspiring; it is one of the most significant conflicts of our time. Turkish repression is ruthless and bloodthirsty in the extreme; thousands of Kurdish villages have been destroyed and countless Kurds tortured and killed.

The PKK, which enjoys the support of probably 90 per cent of Turkey’s Kurds, is full of young men and women genuinely inspired by the love of freedom. They have repeatedly tried to get the Turkish Government to negotiate rather than fight, scrupulously avoided targeting civilians and have observed the Geneva conventions, calling on Turkish soldiers to do likewise. They require the support of all open-minded people.

Felix Padel
Fishguard, Wales

Editor’s note: The Kurdish cause was featured in NI 275.

Zapatistas
I’m glad the Zapatistas were acknowledged in your last issue (Resistance NI 279). Keen supporters of the Chiapas Indians will have heard Don Samuel Ruiz, Bishop of San Cristóbal, give a lively rallying-call on their behalf. He described how only ten per cent of substantial European Union aid had reached the Indian people in Mexico. After being persona non grata for his support of the Zapatistas, Don Samuel is now recognised as a mediator between them and the Government, and shrugged off threats to his life. Though Indians are oppressed ‘from Alaska to Patagonia’, he has a heartening faith that they will flourish in the long term.

Peter Ashcroft
Eastleigh, England

Buffalo Milk
I feel constrained to repudiate the letter entitled ‘Milked’ (NI 279). The only use for milk in Sri Lanka has been that from the buffalo which has traditionally been made into curd and eaten with palm sugar – a delicious and nutritious food. Cow’s milk in the sense we know it in Europe has never been used and most rural people, so a World Health Organization nurse told me, do not associate the powder with a living animal but regard it as material which, if mixed with water, is good for their children and supplements mothers’ milk.

There may be poverty in Sri Lanka but in respect of the nutrition of children there is very little of the ignorance suggested by your correspondent.

DJ Vickery
Boston, England

Green visions
There was little in your issue on Green Economics (NI 278) about technology. As the root of much damage and dispossession, technology is a thorny area in the debate on rethinking ‘progress’. Many would actually or metaphorically smash computers and such-like in their urgency to reverse the dehumanizing effects of technological society. But what of its life-enhancing potential in health, education, communications etc? Much technology is vital in the struggle for human development, and access to it should be broadened.

I was disappointed to read Kirkpatrick Sale’s reductive appraisal of the Industrial Revolution. While bemoaning the demise of traditional community life, he fails to acknowledge the new modern forms of community which function vigorously within and despite industrial society. It is crucial not to be blinded by dogma as we form a green vision. The NI loses its value as soon as conclusions are foregone and argument becomes monologic. Weighed down by our ‘quirky baggage of bias’ (Wayne Ellwood) we remain an excluded fringe group isolated in the mountains.

Hugh Collins
Salisbury, England

VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Cuba’s reality
I read with disbelief and disappointment the Country Profile on Cuba, wondering whether James Ferguson had been to the same island I had left just two days earlier.

The disappointment was that many people who have not had the opportunity to visit Cuba, especially recently, might regard some of his statements as accurate and be encouraged that life was indeed ‘picking up’ instead of feeling angered by the continuing blockade and attitude of the US. Or sharing the Cubans’ frustration at seeing their achievement being gradually diminished by lack of support.

Cuban-style capitalismo is the style of the very very few. The truth is that the majority cannot gather enough pesos to eat sufficient of their ration to stop feeling hungry. And that leaves nothing for soap to wash clothes, salt for food, oil to cook. Hard, hard choices have to be made. The reality for many Cubans is harsh and the belt is already pulled tight enough.

Cubans are very proud of their achievements and of helping other countries. But the young look at their parents and say: ‘If this is the future, we don’t want it.’ The US-Helms-Burton Act now limiting investment in Cuba will be a deeply wounding body-blow to the country and the people, who were thinking that Clinton might just look at the blockade differently.

Hans Møsboek and Brenda Sandilands
Stubbekobing, Denmark

Nigerian minorities
I am disturbed to see the statement in your issue on Nation-states (NI 277), that ‘some states – Malaysia, Nigeria, Belgium and Canada among them – are divided between two main ethnic groups’.

There are three major linguistic-ethnic groups in Nigeria (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba), plus a large number of minority groups, of which the Ogoni (noted on your Facts) are only one. The total number of languages is over four hundred.

Most of these groups have strong feelings against economic and political domination by the major groups. The Ogoni have hit world headlines because the late Ken Saro-Wiwa sought international publicity for their case; previously all agitation by minorities (vocal, long-standing and ignored by the world community) was within the Nigerian system. The Nigerian Government perceives this as a threat, particularly because most of the oil and gas reserves upon which the Nigerian community depends are located in minority areas (not only Ogoniland).

Kay Williamson
Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Moral support
Thank you for publishing my piece on the detention of Nuhu Jafaru in your Endpiece (Nation-states NI 277).

The response has been fantastic and reverberations also appear to have reached Cameroon. There is now talk of an ‘out of court’ agreement which, if it doesn’t involve bribery, may alleviate the conflict, at least for the time being. The four Mbororo have gained a lot of moral support from all the letters sent to them.

Lucy Davis
Copenhagen, Denmark.

Childrens’ view
I am 14 years old and really enjoy reading your magazine. It is very informative and engaging. Being a young person, I think it might be interesting to produce an issue of NI written by children.

We do have a lot of opinions on many topics, and adults are often surprised at the extent to which we take notice of, and care about, world issues. I think that it could be very enlightening for many adults to hear what young people around the world think. I’m sure lots of children would jump at the chance to write an article for NI; I know I would.

Geneva Melzack
Manchester, England

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

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L E T T E R [image, unknown] F R O M [image, unknown] C H E C H N Y A

The Lost Generation
Olivia Ward meets the children of Grozny
amid the ruins of their town.

‘There is nothing normal here, nothing reassuring,’ the young French doctor told me, rubbing sleep from eyes that had seen too many nights without it. In his Grozny office he was sitting with his laptop computer, trying to make sense of the research he had been doing on the traumas of Chechen children after nearly two years of war.

Before I could learn more, the 6.00pm curfew cut off our conversation – the time after which marauders roam the streets and Russian forces shoot without warning. No, we agreed, as we picked our way across the empty bomb-shattered street to our temporary home. There is nothing normal here.

I hardly needed expert evidence of childhood trauma. It was built into the lifestyle of war, in the way families lived in concentric circles around their homes as though confined by an invisible fence. The largest circle was for daytime, when cars heaved along the roadways, stall vendors blasted defiant Chechen music into the markets and people stood chatting in the open air. Then a smaller circle as the dreaded curfew approached and children were herded into their neighbourhoods. And finally the tight circle of the family hearth where doors were sealed and heavy wooden shutters bolted in an illusion of safety.

In Grozny, as in many towns and villages across Chechnya, every night was a new throw of the dice. Sharing this dim half-life I sat with ten-year-old Aslan and his teenage sisters Fatima and Hodi. Their mother, Ritta, exhausted from her day of hospital rounds, lay on the couch massaging her feet.

The television chattered away aimlessly, ignored. The noise was there to cover the crash of explosions and the staccato cough of machine guns that were battering the ruined city outside this artificial oasis.

Inside the airless room the children were not relaxing, but waiting, dark circles under their eyes. They had hardly slept since the latest gun battles and missile attacks had forced them to flee to a neighbour’s cellar where they cowered in the dark, shrinking from the rustle of rats.

For too many days and nights they have witnessed this relentless violence and their parents’ helplessness to defend them from it. The thin membrane of childhood has been torn away, leaving them open to the poisons of the world.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY

Five-year-old Arsen knows. After surviving two of the most horrifying attacks of the war in the doomed village of Samashki, he simply gave up speaking. What thoughts are bottled up behind those clouded gray eyes, I wondered as I sat in front of him in the dirt of the refugee settlement where he now lives.

But the questions were too large and the answers too despairing to bring to the surface. The child kept his terrible secrets, and his mother, going about her daily chores like a woman in a nightmare, waited discreetly until he was asleep to cry.

Tracing the lives of children in Chechnya was like descending through the levels of hell. Close to the bottom were children broken by physical as well as psychological wounds. Amina, her thin fingers wrapped around the hospital-bed railing in pain, sobbed almost absentmindedly, as if she had forgotten how to draw an ordinary breath. From her small pelvis a thicket of tubes sprouted, replacing the functions of organs torn apart by shrapnel.

In the primitive village hospital ward where 12-year-old Said was recovering, two room-mates in bloodstained T-shirts waved me away. Lying with his face to the wall, the slight youngster was rigid with shock and rage, his newly-amputated arm bound up just below the shoulder.

By the time they are 15, the doctor told me in a whisper, those boys will be dedicated fighters. If Chechnya does not win its independence from Russia, they will continue the struggle to the death. Beyond, to the next generation.

But their childhoods were already dead. I could read that in the burnt-out eyes and the strained mouths that knew only how to mimic a smile. It was the same for the others, younger and still able to play, if only to pass the time between attacks.

‘It isn’t normal for parents to bury their children,’ muttered a woman outside the hospital as the bombing began again monotonously. Nearby, villagers moved their families into the cellars for one more night. All over this land without optimism, a lost generation was waiting and watching in the dark.

Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow. She has just won Canada’s National Newspaper Award for international reporting.

[image, unknown] Issue 281 Contents

[image, unknown] NI Home Page
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996


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