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Criminal justice
Cover of the NI Issue 266 The excellent issue on Nomads (NI 266) did not explore the repressive legislation against travellers in Britain under the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, which removes the obligation on local authorities to provide secure sites for travellers and criminalizes anyone found camping on unauthorized sites. The police have power to confiscate mobile dwellings and to imprison their owners. The Government suggests that travellers should purchase their own land, but in practice planning permission is usually denied.

The right to freedom of movement and residence is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet the British Government is pursuing a kind of ‘cultural cleansing’, denying Gypsies and others the right to follow their cultural traditions. We can express our solidarity with travellers by working toward the repeal of this unjust law.

Annette White
Crewe, England

In your ‘Facts’ spread Ageing (NI 264), you show that women live longer than men. This is true in all high- and middle-income countries, but (according to the World Development Report 1993) in low-income countries the differences are comparatively small. The glaring exceptions are Nepal and Bangladesh where women have shorter lives than men – 53 to 54 and 52 to 53 respectively. In three additional low-income countries, female and male life expectancy are equal: India (60), Pakistan (59) and Guinea (49).

You also ask ‘Are children bad for you?’ and conclude that ‘The fewer children you have, the longer you are likely to live’. Far more important to the health of both child and mother is the amount of time between births. Your statistics jump from the number of children born to each woman and female life expectancy, but ignore advances in education and increased income levels, both of which lead to improved health. Providing contraceptives, effective counselling and trained health staff (all of them forms of better healthcare) will be the means of limiting the number of births.

Sarah Barber
Kompong Speu, Cambodia

People’s democracy
The Somalia situation described by Mohamed Sahnoun in the issue on the United Nations (NI 262) has some parallels to the UN itself. Like Somalia, the option of empowering grassroots to develop local solutions to issues as they arise is too often ignored in favour of waiting for the crisis and dealing through the warlords, the Security Council ‘Big Five’.

Meanwhile, the IMF, World Bank, the World Trade Organization and global currency traders have become the de facto world government.

What is lacking is democracy. The people are not represented in any of these fora. Nations are represented, especially rich ones. But when most conflicts are internal and many issues global, that’s not enough. For 50 years the World Federalist Movement (current President Sir Peter Ustinov) has been working on democratizing world structures, including the UN.

Among many ideas for reform, they have a proposal for a consultative UN Parliamentary Assembly, whose representatives could start out being elected from among current national parliamentarians.

This would be an easy step to begin to represent world citizens. Before discarding the UN, as suggested by Richard Gott in your magazine, ‘we, the peoples of the United Nations’, should try to claim it and reform it.

If you are interested, contact the World Federalist Movement, 777 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017 US; or the World Federalists of Canada, Suite 207, 145 Spruce Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1R 6P1.

Elizabeth Snell
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Age and health
I read with interest your issue on Ageing (NI 264). What a pity however that more space was not given to the significant progress that is being made in medical research in helping to keep older people fitter and healthier for longer.

Research into Ageing is a UK charity committed to the funding of such research. Scientists, medical practitioners and students are working in universities and hospitals on dementia, mobility, incontinence, impaired vision and the ageing process itself.

We would be delighted to send readers further information about our work. Research into Ageing, Baird House, 15/17 St Cross St., London EC1N 8UN. Tel: (0)171 404 6878. Fax: (0)171 4040 6816.

Rhonda Smith
Research into Ageing, London, England

VIV QUILLIN cartoon.
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Deaths and births
Whatever the failings of past UN Conferences (United Nations, NI 262), there is good reason to hope that last September’s conference in Cairo on Population and Development will more than make up for them.

The decision to increase spending on women’s ‘reproductive health’ from $5 billion to $17 billion annually by the year 2000 should eventually lead to a steady reduction in the number of maternal deaths, ie the number of women who die from pregnancy-related illnesses. It should also reduce the number of infant deaths – the number of children who die under the age of one.

The present figures for these categories are: maternal deaths – 500,000 a year, including some 150,000 from unsafe abortions; infant deaths – over eight million a year, of which one in five could be prevented if all births were spaced by an interval of at least two years. Has any other human ‘calamity’ ever produced figures to match these?

David Willey
Manchester, England

No go in Goa
Goa, in India, is becoming a popular tourist resort as foreign writers advertise its ‘cheapness’. Tourism has brought many problems to Goa – but few benefits.

A recent letter to the Indian paper The Herald highlighted the case of an Indian railway traveller who was insulted by a British tourist.

Foreign-currency payments for hotels are believed to be banked abroad by hoteliers, thereby giving no benefit to the country. Prices have become inflated, for example there have been hikes in prices of over 30 per cent per annum over the last three years on air, train and bus travel and hotel rates. This makes costs prohibitive for locals.

In addition, Indian tourists are charged up to four times more for hotels than their foreign counterparts. The former, ironically, subsidize the latter.

Put very simply, because they are treated like royalty here, foreign tourists are demanding services and facilities out of proportion with what they have paid, and because local people are not aggressive, foreigners are getting away with all kinds of abuse and bad language.

Sharath Kumar Phule
Bombay, India

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

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L E T T E R   F R O M   C R I M E A

The kingdom of the khans
Olivia Ward reports from rain-sodden Crimea on despoiled palaces
and forgotten fountains.

Water, water everywhere. Down our necks, in our shoes, sliding into our handbags and turning our notebooks into washed-out hieroglyphic pulp. But here in the ravishing sixteenth-century village of Bakhchisarai, there was only rainwater. No water gushed through the famous fountain eulogized by the poet Alexander Pushkin the centrepiece of the Oriental-Italian folly built as a monument to the grandeur of the khans.

The local taps discharged a trickle of suspicious brownish liquid. Some merely coughed in a dry, exhausted way.

It was a funny, sad and typical end to a Crimean trip. I had spent several days in the charmless capital of Simferopol and was ready to reward myself with a few hours of wallowing in historic beauty. Shaking off the shackles of an endless Russian winter I longed for the breathless burst of color and fragrance that signals the beginning of a Crimean summer.

But in the damp greyness the colors dropped out. I was looking at the dilapidation of the centuries unsoftened by warmth and sunshine.

I had no right, of course, to be disappointed. In a country where any tiny glimpse of beauty is a miracle, it is foolhardy to be depressed in the face of so much.

What I felt was more like frustration. Not for the fountain itself, which probably expired long ago, but for the dry rot of the vast former Soviet empire. Crimea, an area that with a little encouragement could compete with any European riviera, was a dumpheap of neglect.

The hotels, dusty and silent, lacked heat, water and tourists. The cafés that seemed so picturesque in their faded pastels were mostly shut. Even in the height of the summer season they have only a fraction of their usual customers as new high prices, soaring plane fares and cholera epidemics take their toll. Glimpsing the drawn faces of the people in the street put an end to any pleasurable strolling.

How did it come to this?

Illustration by JUDY HAMMOND

The easy answer was the break-up of the Soviet Union, shattering the economic system so brutally patched together over the decades. But looking at the palace of Bakhchisarai I knew it went back much further.

In the central legend of the town, the murderous Khan Krim-Girei fell in love with a woman who spurned him for his cruelty. Grieving night and day, he commissioned a Persian designer to create a stone that would weep through the centuries as an eternal tribute to his anguish. And so the fountain was born.

Monuments to loss and suffering are common throughout the former Soviet Union, albeit less aesthetic ones. But in centuries of bloodshed, violence, treachery and lust for power the weeping goes on and the causes are seldom considered.

Looking out at the rain-lashed courtyard where men returned triumphant from murdering and pillaging, and women were penned behind screens like stored goods, I could see one century’s savagery blending into the next.

So many deaths, so much suffering, all for the benefit of a few rulers who were never seen by ordinary people. A process continuing today as in the time of the khans. The sadness I felt was being replaced by anger. Human values have passed this giant empire by. Without those values, no social contract could form.

In present-day Crimea the infrastructure has been falling apart while politicians battle for power. Once one of the most pampered parts of the former Soviet Union, it has slipped to the bottom. As in the past, a few people have profited while ordinary folk merely endure.

In my own mind, pity fought with revulsion. I was appalled by the casual acceptance of dirt, dilapidation and deprivation as conditions of life and the expectation that nothing will change – except for the worse.

Is there no way out of this, I wondered, rejecting the argument that a country in transition is always painful. The Slavic empire has been in transition for a thousand years and its preoccupation with power and conquest has scarcely changed.

I gazed again at the khan’s palace. All over this old empire patches of beauty resist the onslaught of violence. Inexplicably the will to create persists. The fountain stood in front of me, long dried up but dripping in the rain.

Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

New Internationalist issue 268 magazine cover This article is from the June 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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