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Cover of the NI issue 284 Having been concerned with the subject for almost 60 years, my warm congratulations to you on the excellent issue on Energy (NI 284) may have some weight.

There is however one point I should like to be more strongly brought out. This concerns the use of coppiced wood as a fuel source which is fully renewable and does not put fossil carbon into the atmosphere. In Africa agroforestry (alley cropping), where trees are planted on ten per cent of the crop-land, is proving the most hopeful system for growing food and firewood in a permanently sustainable way. In England coppicing is being reintroduced for fuel, while in Brazil a power station is being run on chips from the large area of specially planted coppicing trees.

Prof. MW Tring,
POWERAID, Brundish, England

Sustainable Fair
Much as I enjoyed your issue on Energy (NI 284) I was horrified to see that there was no mention at all of the most significant event ever yet to be held for the ‘Clean Power’ industry.

It has not been easy to get the Renewable Energy Industry motivated and represented in the way that it needs in order to compete with conventional power industries that are well established and organized. This is why the World Sustainable Energy Trade Fair, to be held in May next year in Amsterdam, Holland, is so important. For further information contact the fair’s organizers in Britain on the 6th Floor, 22-26 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TJ.

Paul Diamond
London, England

Political lake
I would like to correct the misprint in the ‘Update’ section (NI 284) which stated that the hydroelectric project at Lake Yamdrok Tso in Tibet threatens to drain the lake in 500 years. It is actually only 50 years according to an Austrian contractor. It may be even faster than this. The plan to pump water from the heavily-silted Tsangpo river back into the lake to replenish the water drained to produce the electricity will disturb the pristine ecosystem and could destroy it within a year. There have been a number of major setbacks but the Chinese will not abandon the project because of its political importance in exploiting minerals and natural resources in Tibet and providing jobs for the growing influx of Chinese. Anyone who wishes to find out more can contact me at the Free Tibet Campaign, 9 Islington Green, London N1 2XH (e-mail [email protected])

Lorne Stockman,
Free Tibet Campaign
London, England

Here to there
Your issue on Green Economics (NI 278) relied too heavily on North American perspective and there was a lot of emphasis on small-scale initiatives – useful but not in themselves challenges or real alternatives to the global scale of the problem.

I would like to have seen more on ‘getting from here to there’. Only James Robertson made a serious contribution to this. Michael Jacobs’ best-selling book The Green Economy sets out a lot of that groundwork for an advanced Western economy; I would commend it to readers who want to explore the issue further.

Martin Stott
Oxford, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Thanks for the issue on refugees (Field of Dreams NI 283). I would like to mention another kind of refugee – eco-refugees.

India is rich in the biodiversity of its flora and fauna. But while preserving wildlife it is often forgotten that more than 50 per cent of India’s parks and sanctuaries have human habitations. Over four million people live inside their core area. The situation for these people is becoming dismal. People are being forcibly evicted, creating a large number of eco-refugees.

Suresh Diwan
Hosmangabad, India

Internal report
Congratulations on your issue on the refugee settlement (Field of Dreams NI 283). I would like to point out that the diagrams of the daily routines for Kakwa, Pujulu and Kuku women and men (page 17) were from a 1995 internal Oxfam report: The Community Development Programme in the Ikafe Sudanese Refugee Settlement, Aringa County, Northern Uganda prepared by Allyson Thirkell.

Robert Cornford
Publishing Manager, Oxfam, England

Choosing religion
Len Clarke, in writing off Genesis, Christianity and by implication all religion (‘LettersNI 283) scores the ‘own goal’ that many non-religious people do. He obviously considers some things ‘wrong’ and cares about the victims of such wrong-doing. Why? And why should I feel the same way? If there is no God who cares about us and about evil, then it is only his opinion in a void that calls him to care.

Genesis and our biology and natural history (I am a science student and a Christian) are indeed contradictory. How-ever, he should be wary of discounting the personal evidence of his love for humanity and justice before accepting science’s best guess metaphysically. (As a mathematician too I know that an estimate of a curve may fit the seen points but vary wildly in its extrapolations).

I made the choice and chose Christianity. Those who do not believe in God do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything.

Tim Viles
Cambridge, England

Alcohol and crime
I was surprised and a little saddened by your issue on Criminal Justice (NI 282). It totally by-passed a major factor in crime: alcohol.

Nils Christie stated that ‘the most dangerous place for your life is in your home’. He failed to mention the glaring fact that when most of these tragedies do occur, the accused person is usually in a state of acute alcohol intoxication.

Statistics show that in 70 – 80 per cent of all homicides and other violent crimes, the offenders had been drinking heavily. I find it incredible that these facts can be ignored when looking at crime.

Dr Sheila Cunningham
Liverpool, England

Class concepts
In your issue on Class (NI 281) you failed to discuss two major competing concepts.

Marxists consider class to be primarily an economic matter: classes are groups of individuals that relate to processes of production (of goods and services) and reproduction (of people, ideologies and behaviours) in similar ways. The control and ownership of these processes are therefore of paramount importance.

But the majority of social scientists and the media in rich countries deal with classes in terms of categories based on a composite index of occupation, level of income, education and choice of residence. Hence the widespread use of the term ‘social classes’.

Such analyses remind us that many aspects of class behaviour are driven by non-economic considerations; that the Marxist division into bourgeoisie and proletariat is often too broad to provide us with an understanding of real situations.

But these ‘social classes’ analyses pretend that there are no tensions or conflicts between classes, as if classes are unrelated items on separate shelves. They cannot provide an explanation for the changing aspects of class relations such as why some groups are getting richer while others are getting poorer. Here Marxian concepts of economic processes provide clear guidance.

Combining the best aspects of both analyses helps to make the connection between enrichment and impoverishment that can then lead to action.

Mathew Zachariah
Calgary, Canada

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] I N G U S H E T I A

An atheist of happiness
Olivia Ward has a drink with a man caught between two worlds.

'I am a little drunk,’ said Malgobek rather unnecessarily. ‘It really is a crime, but it’s part of being Russian.’

In Nazran, less than an hour from the battered frontiers of Chechnya, it was startling to hear any Caucasian, even a tipsy one, boast of his Russian-ness. That was especially true for the Ingush, the people of Ingushetia, who have been attacked along their own borders in the spillover of Russia’s war to reclaim the separatist republic of Chechnya.

But Malgobek, on his fourth glass of vodka, was on a trip back to his roots, as a child born in exile who had to hide his identity to survive.

‘My brother is still in Russia, in Magadan, like a lifer in the old gulag,’ he said with a smile. ‘Can you imagine someone embracing his imprisonment?’

Not waiting for an answer, he added, ‘Yes, because he is not just an Ingush, not just a Caucasian, but a Russian.’

In 1944, in a carefully planned assault, Stalin order-ed his military to round up and deport the entire population of the tiny Chechen-Ingush republic, a Muslim region of less than one million people.

The excuse was a flimsy charge of collaboration with the Nazis who were trying to penetrate the strategically-placed Caucasus. Like other ‘troublesome’ groups they were branded traitors and moved far away from their homeland, with explosive consequences decades later.

Malgobek’s family didn’t perish from the disease or starvation that killed up to half the deportees in transit. But their final destination, Magadan, was a permanent vision of hell in the farthest eastern reaches of Russia, where the main road was built over the bones of the workers who had died constructing it.

In this sprawling prison camp Malgobek grew up, his own language and culture repressed, gleaning an education from books that told him Russia was the centre of the world.

‘And the worst of it,’ he said, shakily pouring another vodka, ‘is that I still believe it.’

Marxist and Leninist tracts didn’t interest him. But the work of Russia’s splendid novelists and poets – some of them also repressed – struck a chord. The magical lines of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, haunted him. While working on construction gangs he read far into the night.

‘When I read Pushkin,’ he said, ‘I saw my own struggle as an individual alone in a stifled society.’

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

But Malgobek was absorbing new cultures, even as he moved away from his own. The moderate Islam of the Caucasus left little mark on him. A nominal Muslim without a mosque or a prayerbook, he found it easy to drink and carouse with the Russians he worked alongside. He also learned the history and customs of the far eastern minorities in the Madagan, and of the Jews exiled in Stalin’s prisons.

‘I’m the perfect Russian,’ he laughed. ‘I mean, more Russian than the Russians themselves. They talk about one homogeneous nation, but it’s a melting pot that never melts. I am all cultures, all religions in one person.’

But when the time came, returning to the amalgamated Chechen-Ingush republic brought no peace of mind. In 1992 a small brutal war broke out between the neighbouring North Ossetians and the Ingush trying to reclaim their old homes from them. Russia’s part in the violent suppression of the conflict reminded him that Moscow was not to be trusted.

Two years later despair arrived in the form of the war in Chechnya. Malgobek’s apartment in Grozny was destroyed by bombs, his precious library atomized, his friends killed and his wife and child turned into refugees.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ he said, head in hands. ‘I can’t tear Russia out of my heart, and I can’t drain the Ingush blood out of my body. I used to think I was everything, now I think I’m nothing. For me to hate the Russians is to hate myself.’

Looking at me with moist eyes, he added, ‘I am so glad we can talk like this, because only a foreigner can look at this kind of dilemma and understand it with detachment.’

Without even a shot of vodka my head began to ache. The bitter irony of his situation, the lifelong sentence he had been handed – by what? Empire, colonialism, lust for power? – was too immense to contemplate.

‘I used to think I was a New Man able to lead the way into a new world,’ he said. ‘Now I know Pushkin was right: I am an atheist of happiness. I do not believe in it.’

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

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New Internationalist issue 286 magazine cover This article is from the December 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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