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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 : [email protected]

Cover of the NI Issue 280 The June issue on Burma (NI 280) was very moving. But in the action column there was no mention of the Burmese Embassy in London or Chargé d’Affairs where we might send letters of protest about the terrible situation in the country. Was this an omission? Can it be rectified?

Margaret Collins
Paisley, Scotland

Please write to:
The Ambassador, U-Hla-Maung, Burmese Embassy, 19A Charles Street, London W1X 8ER

Role of religion
On reading your issue on Burma (NI 280) I wondered if there was something about the Buddhist religion that helps an authoritarian government rule?

Historically, religion has often been used to keep people compliant. I think your writers should examine the role of religion when they write about Third World countries.

George Goldberg
Toronto, Canada

Population control
I believe that the issue of population control was not stressed enough in your issue on Green Economics (NI 278). If the population is growing such that it will double in the next 35 years, why isn’t anyone taking steps NOW to stop the ‘people scourge’ destroying the planet?

I agree that slowing down growth is a major step towards ‘greening the globe’ but that won’t help anyone if there are 10 billion mouths to feed and twice as much refuse to dispose of.

Simon Edwards
Townsville, Australia

I was surprised to find no mention of permaculture in your issue on Green Economics (NI 278).

‘Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.' It is ‘the harmonious integration of landscapes and people, providing their food, energy and shelter, material and non-material needs in a sustainable way’. The prime directive of permaculture is that ‘the only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children’. The three basic ethics are ‘Earth care’, ‘People care’ and ‘Fair share’.

There are 90 permaculture sites in the UK alone and many more worldwide.

M Emmet
Plymouth, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Letter from Nestlé
I refer to the letter you published from Dr Orskov (NI 279) concerning the activities of Nestlé in Sri Lanka. Your readers may be interested in the factual position:

1) Nestlé Sri Lanka does not now import whole milk powder for retail sale from Europe, New Zealand or Australia.
2) Approximately 50 per cent of the milk collected from the National Grid is used exclusively by Nestlé in Sri Lanka
to manufacture Nespray Full Cream Milk Powder and Milk-maid Sweetened Condensed Milk.
3) The price paid to the farmers in Sri Lanka is higher than the price per litre paid in New Zealand and Australia.
4) Milk prices are not determined or totally controlled by Nestlé Sri Lanka. On the contrary, the price paid to the local farmers is determined by the Government of Sri Lanka. Moreover, 80 per cent of the total milk-powder market is controlled by the New Zealand Dairy Board through their Anchor brand and Lakspray from the EC countries. The local processors of fresh milk and Nestlé have just 20 per cent of the market.
5) Milk collection doubled between 1984 and 1995. This can be attributed to Nestlé’s activities.

Ralph Clayden
Nestlé UK Ltd, Croydon, England

Jewel in the crown
Whilst I am sure that Lorna Reay’s article (Update NI 278) does reflect the situation in parts of Uganda, I found it unduly pessimistic. There is much poverty and the debt burden is making the work of the Government difficult as they seek to bring about improvements in the living standards of the people. But much of the country is fertile and the people have a willingness to look to the future. There are problems in Uganda, but there is also great potential and hope for the future. Uganda and its people could be the jewel in the crown of East Africa.

Alan Hardstaff
Worksop, England

Islam and nationalism
With regard to your issue on Nationalism (NI 277), it is one of those erroneous concepts which was innovated by European colonialists and then exported to their subordinates. I agree with Eric Hobsbawn who wrote that ‘the world of the next century will be largely supranational’. I believe one of those Super-States will arise in the Muslim world very soon called the Khilafah, the Ruling system of Islam.

Islam condemns nationalism vehemently. The Prophet Mohammed said: ‘He is not one of us who calls for asabiyyah (nationalism) or who fights or dies for it. He also said: ‘He who calls for nationalism is as if he bit his father’s genitals.’

I get a feeling that this letter will not get published. I hope I am wrong.

Saleh Ahmed
London, England

I refer to the letter you printed in NI 276 about China and Tibet, which seems to contain a number of inaccuracies and oversimplifications. Its ‘cruel feudal past’ was not the reason China annexed Tibet in the 1950s. It was purely brutal and macho expansionism on the part of Beijing. China has never had sovereignty over Tibet. China’s behaviour in Tibet has featured systematic genocide. What your reader calls ‘Tibetan separatists’ are just Tibetan people who want Tibetan land given back to them. And finally, it is both cruel and unfair to create hatred against the Dalai Lama, who has tried his best to win peace in a very difficult position.

Peter Morrell
Stafford, England

Human links
I would like to urge NI readers to make efforts to develop human connections, person-to-person, with others round the world. My own contacts in Russia, Vietnam and Israel have changed my relationship to that part of the world. When something happens in those countries, I have a human link that touches my feelings. I don’t experience ‘compassion fatigue’ (a phrase I abhor).

A passage I read recently in a book by Robin Norwood runs: ‘How can they feel our love if we cannot feel their pain?’ Sometimes we need to be hurt into action. Our humanity, our common humanity, holds the key to change for the better in a troubled world.

Richard Bryant-Jefferies
Guildford, England

Linguistic research
I’m researching and compiling information about linguistics and phonetics of the English language. I am interested in material on all aspects of this. If anyone has any information please write to me at Calle 11 Norte #2013, Banes, Holguin, Cuba CP 82300.

Arnoldo Gómez Hdz
Holguin, Cuba

Many readers will already know that the NI co-operative holds a meeting every autumn to decide on the subjects we will cover over the following year. We welcome ideas from readers (one paragraph per topic only please!) to feed into the discussion. If you do have an idea for an NI magazine, please write to Nikki van der Gaag, NI, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1EU by the end of September. Thank you!


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

[image, unknown]
L E T T E R [image, unknown] F R O M [image, unknown] R U S S I A

The future is rising
Olivia Ward visits a state farm and finds things haven’t
changed since Soviet times – or have they?

Mink petticoats are flying and the gold-threaded felt coats of the men raise dust as they dip and swing to rollicking folk tunes.

It’s the perfect Middle Russian scene: happy peasants dancing and singing while a benevolent farm boss looks down on them, beaming, from the steps above.

It is also the perfect vision of how things work in Russia, how they have always worked, and how, regardless of politics, they are changing against all odds.

‘Of course you turn out and support the administration, whoever they are,’ chuckled elderly Fama through her few remaining teeth. ‘A boss is a boss’.

Yet a few metres away from her, on the fringes of the crowd gathered for the state farm’s rally, were younger people who were less amused.

‘You couldn’t say things are ideal here,’ said Grisha, who looked nervously over his shoulder as he gave me his first name and withheld his last. ‘People try to make you fall into line. They want you to believe their lies. They try to force you to vote their way.’

As he spoke a clean-cut young man with short blonde hair elbowed his way toward us, smiling purposefully as he kept my tape-recorder in his sights.

‘Things have never been better for us,’ he enunciated clearly for the benefit of my readers. ‘We have lots of housing, good food to eat, whatever we need to live. Nobody should complain.’

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY

Grisha got the point and moved away, glowering. As I followed him, a few weary dancers, plump women with the strong calves of dairymaids, watched my investigations with interest.

‘Why are you interested in our views?’ said one. ‘We’re not here because we are political enthusiasts. We wouldn’t be here at all if we weren’t told to come and perform. All of us are in the same boat.’

Life simply went on as it always had, she said. As for freedom, who needed it when there wasn’t much to do with it?

But even as the Russians disparage their new-found freedom – which has little to do with the democracy that is still an illusion – they are quietly, gradually, absorbing this freedom into their pores. It’s from this small personal reservoir few even acknowledge, that the future is rising.

‘In the old Soviet days we’d be lined up like cattle and given our orders,’ chuckled Vladimir, an oil worker. ‘Support X for head of the co-op, put your mark there. A bottle of vodka would go with it, or maybe a bit of meat. We’d all obey.’

Now, he said, that’s all finished for most people. In five short years the dictates of decades have vanished like invisible writing. It was the industrial bosses and their bosses in local government and the bosses of the bosses in Moscow who carried on as though nothing at all had happened.

They, seemingly, were the last to get the joke.

‘Tell me to do something and I’ll go out and do the opposite,’ said the ebullient Vladimir. ‘I don’t know who they think they’re impressing these days.’

Fear and control still remain, of course: for the refinery workers, whose perks and work hours depend on the co-operation of authority; and the farmers who wait in frustration for handouts of housing. They still turn out on parade when asked, tug their forelocks and give their superiors a tight-lipped smile.

For centuries Russians have not known freedom, either in the days of the Tsars or of their Soviet successors. Now many rank it with licence, banditry, rampant crime. They mutter about the need for order, and have deep-seated anxiety about anarchy which can only be smothered by a strong hand.

But here, even in a sleepy provincial town, I can see the strength of the opposite pull in this constant tug-of-war between two fears – one of oblivion, the other of authoritarianism.

Young people stroll through the leafy, dandelion-strewn park smoking foreign cigarettes and kissing passionately on benches.

Their parents, wearing the generic uniforms of any Western city, window-shop and bargain. It is only the old, disenfranchised and without a future, who appear like spectres, their presence shadowy and fading.

A few kilometres away on the state farm, the director is still grinning at the crowd and the band plays on with its feigned gaiety. Some of the dancers are not dancing. Some are edging away.

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

[image, unknown] NI Home Page

[image, unknown] Issue 282 Contents

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 282 magazine cover This article is from the August 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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