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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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No ‘fair’ markets
Cover of the NI Issue 267 Your issue on Hunger (NI 267) only went a very small part of the way towards offering a solution. It is quite right to say that there is no such thing as a ‘free’ market, but unfortunately you then go on to call for a ‘fair’ market. However, markets cannot be fair either: they inevitably favour the rich and powerful who own and control the means of wealth production. The only answer is to do away with the market altogether. If production took place solely to satisfy human need, with free access to what had been produced, there could be no possibility of the obscene situation whereby hunger exists within a world of plenty.

Paul Bennett
Manchester, England

Victims’ rights
In Ian Kentzer’s Endpiece NI 267 he says that Britain has more people serving sentences of life imprisonment that the rest of the European Union put together. You also suggest that this is an abuse of the human rights of convicted murderers who may vary from being a battered wife who strikes out in desperation to a cold-blooded professional killer.

It is worth noting that Britain has the lowest murder rate of any major country in the European Union, so apparently in this case punishment works. Victims have rights too!

It is also important to note that a person sentenced to life imprisonment can serve anything from seven years to life and that the verdict of manslaughter is also available to the courts. The sentence for manslaughter is left to the discretion of the judge. Thus in fact the courts have a wide variety of options open to them in dealing with the different types of killing that come to their notice.

JP Lethbridge
Birmingham, England

Why bother?
I disagree with Ryan Stanley’s comments (Letters, NI 267) concerning your practice of showing Tibet as a separate country from China.

To his question ‘Why bother?’, I would have liked him to be present when I showed a copy of the New Internationalist to an exiled Tibetan friend of mine. On reading the magazine and seeing the rightful recognition of his country’s borders, he was overwhelmed with heartfelt surprise and happiness.

‘Fiddling with lines on a map’ may not change the world but it continues to remind us that support for Tibet is vital at a time when there are reports of increasing human rights violations and nuclear testing by China. And it is happening now. As the third generation of Tibetan children are born in exile, their sense of identity vitally needs to be supported not eroded by Western tacit acceptance of China’s atrocities.

Rebecca Smith
Oxford, England

Aiding nomads
Having read your recent issue on Nomads (NI 266), I received some information from Action Aid which raised an interesting argument. Having ascertained that trying to pin down nomadic people was destructive and that in fact their lifestyle is far less harmful to the environment than our own, I go on to read that Action Aid are aiming to settle pastoralists in Uganda as mobility contributes to poor animal health and persistent low levels of education in children. Interviews with the newly-settled people reflected their satisfaction with their new lifestyle.

Rebecca Taylor
Sheffield, England

VIV QUILLIN cartoon.
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

We write in the aftermath of Nick Ingram’s execution in the State of Georgia, US.

Burglary, tying the victims to a tree and shooting them at point-blank range are horrific actions, but how can the state take the moral high ground when it is prepared to incarcerate a man for 12 years while he contemplates the manner of death which the state will inflict? Then, at the end, the ‘cat and mouse’ stays on execution before finally the deed is done.

Even if we leave the physical and mental torture of Nick Ingram out of the equation, we wonder what possible purpose can be served by inflicting a lifetime of unimaginable suffering and bereavement on his innocent family.

We have decided to boycott American products and services until the death penalty is repealed and all outstanding capital sentences are commuted. We have written to President Clinton and the US Embassy in London informing them of this. Perhaps like-minded readers will do the same.

Debbie and Peter Wakeham
Luton, England.

Donor’s dilemma
I was confounded by the example of profligate spending by the Pakistan Government (Lethal Lies NI 261) where the cost of 43 aircraft ‘could have provided safe water for two years for all the 55 million people who lack it…’

This immediately raises the problem faced by those who contribute to charity – does one contribute to provide services that any decent government should be providing anyway? This leads on to a supplementary question – by providing essential services to destitute people who are so because their government is corrupt, are we a) allowing that government to continue to misuse its funds to the further detriment of its people and b) delaying the imperative moment when these abused people feel that they need to take action against their corrupt government?

Stan Knafler
Lincoln, England

Bad burgers
McDonalds, the burger chain, aims to boost its store numbers in Australia to 400 by 1996. Meanwhile there has been an important development in Britain relating to the litigation involving McDonalds and a valiant young couple determined to highlight some facts that expose the company. For example, they say that although McDonalds operate in 45 countries and make a profit of $45 million, their fast food is as low on nutrition as it is high on unhealthy fats.

There have been protests about the company in the Philippines, Italy and Sweden and complaints in Britain where its workers are among the lowest-paid. More than 75 per cent are under 21, often working long hours on a part-time basis which means that they don’t get paid sickness or holiday pay. McDonalds is strongly anti-union and boasts that it knows of no unions in its British stores.

None of this has been reported in Australia. I and many others would like to pierce the blackout that there is here on these developments in Britain.

Norman Taylor
Adelaide, Australia

Michele Turner
This letter is to let you know, belatedly, of the tragic death of Michele Turner. Her book Telling: Personal Testimonies from East Timor 1942-1992 brought many people to activism on the East Timor issue. It is a deeply-moving account which gave Michele a deep and lasting connection with the East Timorese communities here in Australia.

I urge all readers to look back to the excellent issue on East Timor (NI 253) and read the personal accounts taken from Michele’s book.

At the Australia-East Timor association we knew Michele as an activist and a friend. To all those who knew her, especially her family, we send our condolences.

Stephen Langford,
Australia-East Timor Association, Darlinghurst, New South Wales, Australia

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   I N G U S H E T I A

In hot water
In her vain attempt to keep clean, Olivia Ward faces Big Brother
and undergoes a personality change.

Nazran. The dirt in my hair is shifting to my fingernails everytime I run my fingers through it. Half the dust of Chechnya has migrated west to Ingushetia via my person. Three days of choking travel through the arid conflict zone has left me as gritty as old sandpaper.

‘Moussa,’ I beg, ‘please could I have some hot water?’

The tone is right. It’s pleading and with just the right note of desperation.

Five minutes later I am rewarded. By working at top speed I am able to wash and rinse my hair, apply the shower to the rest of me, and hop out of the bath before the bonanza ends. One minute later the water runs cold.

This struggle for basic services is emotionally exhausting, adding to the strain of life in the war zone. But here in the hinterland of the Soviet Union, there is no alternative to the status quo. If you want anything done, you have to follow the rules.

Choking back my anger and impatience, I have learned to live in a microcosm of the old communist system whose axiom is ‘anybody with power will use it – to the fullest.’

As manager of one of the only three guest-houses in town, Moussa wields supreme power. Without his permission I cannot bathe, eat, sleep, or find a place to write. I cannot use the hissing, erratic telephone or visit with friends.

Arriving from the West, and more recently from Nouveau Moscow, I have to forget my easy ways. This is the way it is, was, is now and will be for the foreseeable future.

Here we are all equal under the authoritarian command of the house manager. That is to say, we are like the dust that has so gratifyingly floated down the drain in my shower.

‘You may sit in the kitchen while you eat,’ Moussa tells me for the fiftieth time. ‘But this place doesn’t belong to you, so you have to take tea in your room.’

Illustration by JUDY HAMMOND

This stringent requirement is in fact an improvement. When I arrived two weeks before, I was allowed only to slink into the kitchen and put a match to the kettle. But after a number of prison-like suppers of stale bread and too-salty cheese I was emboldened to ask for more.

Like all Soviet workers I knew that demanding my rights (after all I was paying for this odd imitation of a hotel) was useless. I must either wheedle or bribe. One wrong word and I would be exiled to the bathless, bedless, telephoneless gulag outside the guest house.

The humbling experience of living in a past when individual needs and competition weren’t supposed to exist bears down on me like an oppressive force. The very embodiment of Big Brother, Moussa is always there, timing my meals, intruding on my meetings, doling out hot water in teaspoons, listening to my phonecalls. He filters through my waking moments and my dreams.

To my surprise, I am becoming the person Moussa wants me to be. My speech is deferential and embarrassingly girlish. I giggle at jokes that fell flat ten years ago. I ask solicitously about the health and daily pursuits of a man who is a bore and a blowhard. In short, I am a Soviet cynic.

The realization amuses as it depresses me. For two years I’ve puzzled over the strange combination of cynicism and apathy that infects Russia, paralysing even those who want to change. Now I know more than I’ve ever hoped to learn.

Preparing to leave, I wonder if there is still time to break out of the system, fly in the face of the authoritarian past as I’ve hoped others would do. Time to tell Moussa he lives in a house of cards.

I pick up my bullet-proof vest and thump down the stairs to his small, neatly-ordered desk. The clattering cab will be waiting to take me to the airport. The moment of truth has arrived.

Moussa looks at me and his grimly-lined face breaks into a smile.

‘It was good having you to stay with us,’ he says. ‘You’re a fine guest. I will give you top priority if you come again.’

I begin to laugh as he shakes my hand. I am laughing as the cab rolls up to the airport door. As the airplane engine roars I hear the voice of millions, chuckling quietly in the darkening afternoon.

Olivia Ward is the Moscow bureau chief of the Toronto Star.

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