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Sell-by date
Cover of the NI magazine issue 287. Broad brushstrokes are one thing, but your world map in State of the World (NI 287) is misleading to the point of mendacity. How much longer will NI continue peddling a worldview that is a quarter-century out-of-date and which is implicitly racist – in that only the white West exploits while the whole of Asia, Africa and Latin America is nothing but drained and exploited? You don’t have to approve of the new industrialization in Asia and Latin America but you sure as hell should acknowledge its existence.

And Chris Brazier is plain wrong to say in his keynote that the Emperor of Economic Growth has no clothes. As ever, this Emperor clothes some in finery and others in rags. What’s new is that those who are least decently clad are getting more numerous and widespread than before.

Time to re-engineer yourselves, I would suggest. Keep up the good fight against the real, specific problems: injustice, pollution, poverty, oppression, militarism and so on. But that fight will be all the more effective if you ditch your outmoded all-or-nothing worldview. Your heart is in the right place, but what’s in your head is way past its sell-by date.

Aidan Foster-Carter
Leeds, England

Seduced by jobs
The title of your issue on technology (Seduced by Technology NI 286) and the cover graphic gave a pejorative sense to the term. You might rather have called the issue ‘Seduced by Jobs’ with the snake representing wage labour.

Technology has the capability of freeing human beings from unnecessary toil and replacing it with free time for constructive and creative work of their own choosing.

As Andre Gorz put it, the history of technical progress is the story of Adam and Eve working their way back to Paradise, to a high quality of life without unnecessary labour. It is not the democratizing of the process of introducing new technologies into society and the workplace that should command our attention but the democratization of society. Technology and the means of production belong to humanity collectively. An understanding of this could lead to their use for the benefit rather than the exploitation of workers.

Alan Craig,
Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Computer solution
In your issue on Technology (NI 286) you only put forward one real solution to the problem of computerization causing unemployment; unions pressing for shorter working hours at the same salaries, thus forcing the employer to employ more people. But Governments could and should do more too. For instance, could we not press for a tax system whereby the tax percentage due on company profits is scaled according to the ratio of average profit per person employed? This would acknowledge that there is a need to strike a balance between individual wealth and social disharmony resulting from high unemployment. This is a legitimate policy since employees are twofold tax producers; once through the products which provide the profits and again through their taxable salaries. Computers only generate tax on the products since they earn no salaries.

Kevin Wilcox
Lusaka, Zambia

Depth and strength
The imaginary dialogue between the two people in your issue on Energy (NI 284) added depth and strength to your arguments about the energy situation today. There is no doubt that we live in a time when we need to ask serious questions about energy for the future and start looking at alternative sources to fossil fuels. However, we cannot expect world governments to throw away what they use and embrace alternative sources without looking at cost benefits and profits. (I do not deny that these cost benefits and profits are only for those in power and are short term).

The education of the people and the patience to listen to other points of view within the ecological movement is key to success in this area. I hope to see a continuation of this attitude in future issues because too often we as liberals in the North tend to rush in and blame everything on big business interests and the developed countries and decide what the agenda should be for all countries.

Shobha Sharma
Libertyville, Illinois, US

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Carbon monoxide
In your issue on renewable energy (NI 284) you mention the dangers of carbon monoxide as a poison. But even in cities, concentrations of carbon monoxide rarely exceed 10 parts per million – harmful effects are not noticed until the concentration reaches 100 parts per million.

Far more serious is the effect of carbon monoxide on hydroxyl in the atmosphere. Hydroxyl is nature’s cleaner, removing many other harmful gases. Carbon monoxide concentrations deplete this important gas. In the lower atmosphere, carbon monoxide produces ozone which damages foliage and may also cause respiratory problems.

Janet Moxley
Lanarkshire, Scotland

Deafening silence
Thanks for your human-rights update on Kutlu Adali, the Turkish-Cypriot journalist who was assassinated (‘Update’ NI 286). Every time a journalist is assassinated in Turkey another nail goes in the coffin of ‘Turkish democracy’. Scores of Turkish journalists have been recently assassinated by the secret police of Turkey for no other reason than that they are reporting the state violation of human rights. Your report clearly highlights Turkey’s policy of ‘ethnically cleansing’ northern Cyprus.

It seems that the Western media are only prepared to report state-perpetrated crimes by cold-war states such as Serbia or Cuba. When it comes to Turkish state terrorism and ethnic cleansing, the silence of the Western media is truly deafening. I speak as a Cypriot of Turkish background who left Cyprus for the very reasons outlined in your report.

Ismet Atasoy
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

St Kitts and Nevis
Your ‘Country Profile’ (NI 286) on St Kitts and Nevis contains the ingredients of damaging hysteria and sensationalism.

Each country in the world has its problems. Ours is no exception. The fact is that St Kitts and Nevis is probably the highest rated in the Caribbean by both the US and British Governments in terms of safety. It also enjoys the respect of all reputable international, financial and other institutions and organizations. And it continues and will continue to be a peaceful, beautiful and enjoyable country and holiday destination.

Hon. Dwyer GA Asterphan
Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, St Kitts and Nevis

I would like to comment on the article and photograph on page 28 of your issue on Energy (NI 284), where you mention a link between global warming and floods in Bangladesh. Even the use of the word ‘flooding’ is inaccurate: Bangladesh is largely composed of a vast riverine delta where annual flooding is a natural event and necessary for local agricultural patterns. Only in the event that the level of flooding is excessive to the point that it causes human misery and devastation is it called ‘floods’.

Such floods are nothing to do with global warming. Floods in Bangladesh are a complex phenomenon, contributed to by high rainfall in the areas around Bangladesh and human interference in the floodplains to control flooding – which has actually led to more devastation. And finally, more people are forced to live in flood-prone locations due to population increases in recent years.

Getting the facts right would protect NI from undermining its credibility.

Iftekhar Ahmed
Oxford, England

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] B E L A R U S

Bread, not circuses
Olivia Ward visits the village of Mir and finds its citizens full of
the President’s bounty and refusing to brook any criticism.

The tigers were sitting quietly in their cages, staring at the pastoral scene around them. Trained circus animals, they were used to enduring the boredom and short rations of endless tours and unimpressed with the novelty of each new whistle-stop.

But the residents of this uneventful Belarussian village – appropriately named Mir or ‘Peace’ – ignored them as though they were no more than part of the everyday landscape of the market place.

The villagers’ thoughts were on bread, not circuses. And more specifically on the price of potatoes, onions, carrots and beef.

‘It makes me absolutely wild when people from Outside say we’re living in a dictatorship,’ said Yana, hissing through gapped teeth. ‘I suppose they think they know a better way to live.’

Yana, a widow, lives a contented life in this poor country that has been devastated by centuries of invasion, war, occupation and, more recently, contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Adding to the litany of misfortune was the more recent political turmoil caused by the bid of Belarus’s Mussolini-like President, Alexander Lukashenko, to become a supreme ruler, over-riding the Parliament and the courts.

But while the chattering classes of the capital Minsk gathered in the central square with placards to protest against Lukashenko, the good folk of Mir left the squabbling to the chickens that ran amongst their wooden cottages.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

‘Those town people think they are so clever, but they don’t know the simple facts,’ said Yana. ‘We get money every month from the President and people leave us alone. We raise our animals and bake bread. We’re never hungry.’

Mir, and other villages like it, live in a time-warp which, five years after the fall of communism, has preserved the communist system. And it illustrates par excellence why communism is not dead but able to mutate in adaptable new forms.

‘Before Lukashenko we had a taste of democracy, but we could hardly make ends meet. Now everything’s fine because he understands us.’

Belarussian peasants know better than any theorist that a political system exists as an unspoken bargain between the people and the state. Their side is to lower their expectations, the state’s is to fulfil those basic needs. Intellectual frills like press freedom and constitutional rule aren’t included.

‘It’s marvellous,’ enthused Yana, a grin spreading over her lined features. ‘When I was just about going under a couple of years ago, the President sent me a big subsidy. I bought a cow. Now I sell my milk and butter and pay no taxes. I could even sell the whole cow if I liked!’

A group of red-faced men blowing clouds of vodka into the frosty air agreed. ‘I’m an alcoholic,’ said one congenially. ‘I just love to drink, and so does everybody here. We can buy vodka every day, so we toast the President.’

Clearly, there was no use arguing that the economy was going nowhere, that investment was at a halt, and that unless reforms were made quickly, the future looked grim. If nobody pays any tax, I asked, where does the Government find money for people like them?’

‘That’s a secret,’ chuckled Yana. ‘Nobody knows how, but it works.’

In Minsk, I heard similar accusations of secrecy from opposition leaders. But they insisted it wasn’t magic but sleight of hand. Propping up agriculture and unproductive industry, taking profits from import duties of goods channelled into next-door Russia  printing money and keeping the deficit under wraps appeased the majority and kept Lukashenko’s foes on the margins. A guarantee that the future would be deeply rooted in the past.

In Yana’s small neat cottage she now has hot water, an unheard-of luxury that arrived via a new gas line. The only questions that interest her are of the weather, or the possibilities of bovine breeding.

Tucked up for the winter with her cat, her cow and a small television set, she is uninterested in what the political future might hold and equally uninvolved with anything beyond the village borders. Like other peasant farmers in past centuries, she feels with historical justification that innovations from the outside world could only be for the worse.

‘We get a bit of entertainment sometimes,’ she says, nodding at the cage of tigers parked next to a makeshift circus tent.

The tigers had been fed and were not listening. The tigers had gone to sleep.

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

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Issue 288 Contents
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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1997


New Internationalist issue 288 magazine cover This article is from the March 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
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