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Hoary imperialism
[image, unknown] I was disappointed to read on page 27 of your otherwise excellent issue on Child Labour (NI 292) the recommendation that compulsoryprimary education be implemented as a blow againsthazardous child labour – a recommendation which contradicts much else that is said in the issue.

Compulsory schooling is not the answer. In the first place, the phrase implies that all useful education is conducted in Western-type schools, which runs counter to the wisdom and experience of most of the rest of the world.

Making primary schooling compulsory would merely remove from government the necessity for making such schools useful by creating a captive body of consumers. It would remove from the child and its family control over a vitally important part oftheir lives.

Particularly in Africa today, where most primary schooling is socially and emotionally destructive and next to useless for most children as far as life skills are concerned, making it compulsory would be a big step backwards.

I regret that in an issue which otherwise recommended flexible solutions based on local conditions, experience and felt needs, this hoary old bit of imperialism should have raised its ugly head.

Mtumiki Njira
Limbe, Malawi

Flexibility in trade
While the production of profits and the protection of businesses was all-important as we worshipped the god of the marketplace, the industries of small island countries (like Dominica, Country Profile NI 292) were doomed in the global market.

But are we all resigned to accepting that might is right and the bigger the better? I have seen tourists to Dominica treat Caribs as exhibits but we can all feel good at some tourist income and economic aid. But the cost is the loss of sustainable agriculture and local dignity. With a little more ingenuity and a willingness to pay a fair price the industry could be continued. If flexibility is the key word, what about some flexibility in trade to enable all to earn a decent and honest living?

John Hayward
Hyderabad, Pakistan

Own backyard
In your issue on Ethics (NI 289) Peter Singer asked: ‘If, on your way to work, you saw a child drowning, would you risk spoiling your smart clothes jumping in to the rescue?’ But that is not quite the situation. Ask, rather: ‘If every day you passed 200 children drowning while their parents sat having picnics or fighting with each other instead of helping, what would you do?’

From childhood I have tried to squeeze out a bit of money for charity – but it does piss me off to be asked to help, for example, poor Albanians, while I am seeing TV pictures of other Albanians firing thousands of rounds of expensive ammunition into the air!

Aid workers get massacred, food convoys hi-jacked, medical supplies plundered. If these were all part of the struggle against multinationals, the World Bank, or colonial oppression you could forgive it, but I get increasingly impatient with people who mess their own backyards and then complain that no-one will clean it up for them.

In spite of that I continue to donate to charity. What else can you do?

Charles Phillips
Bromley, England

Useless concept
I read your issue on Ethics (NI 289) with increasing bemusement that the consensus was to settle for relativism. The problem with relativism is that it is totally illogical For something to be true, opposing ideas must be false. Not everything can be true. Saying that people can make up their own truth reduces truth from a reality to a useless concept. A society where people do whatever they want to will inevitably be one of massive conflict and misery (sound familiar?)

Truth requires authority which can only objectively come from God. Secular relativism has no answers and no powers. Ultimately I believe people realise that what is needed is for us all to be more selfless. I believe Biblical Christianity (as opposed to religiosity) offers the power to change the hearts of a selfish people. Your magazine needs to recognize the new assumptions and biases that people hold (such as the belief in relativism) and not just blindly recite them.

Dave Luck
Sheffield, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

I was surprised that nowhere does Andrew Meier (Country Profile NI 291) refer to the threat that Armenians feel to their physical existence by the ideology of pan-Turkism. This ideology calls for a union of all Turkic states under the leadership of Ankara and initially for unity of Turkey and Azerbaijan over the corpse of Armenia. The genocide of 1915 and the subsequent seizure of 80 per cent of the Armenian homeland were carried out by Turkish leaders committed to this ideology.

The war in Nagorno-Karabakh was preceded by a string of anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan which prompted the late Andrei Sakharov to warn publicly that ‘Armenians in Azerbaijan face genocide’.

Only when Karabakh successfully broke the Azerbaijani siege did the world take any notice, but only to condemn the defenders. That Andrew Meier should refer to the successful Armenian self-defence as ‘ethnic cleansing’ is too ridiculous for words. But it does show the extent of the Turkish lobby’s propaganda and that of the multinationals now competing for Azerbaijan’s oil riches. Even the NI is not immune.

Alex Zeytounian
Croydon, England

Unfounded stand
Paul Hockenhos’ ‘Closed Door’ (Update NI 291) portrays a critical view on the Romanian people and Govern-ment which is not fair to either of them.

It is easy to accuse a people of homophobia while this nation is trying its best to overcome 45 years of communism and six years of neo-communism.

Both the newly-elected government and Romania’s people are trying to understand and come to terms with issues such as homosexuality. Accusing President Constantinescu of taking ‘an even stronger anti-homosexual stand than the
ex-communists’ is both outrageous and unfounded.

Gabriel Gherasim
Salem, Oregon, US

Regarding the review of Bruce Cockburn’s new release ‘The Charity of Night’ in the April issue (NI 291), Cockburn’s first release was not ‘High Winds, White Sky’ but one simply entitled ‘Bruce Cockburn’. That first album was produced on the True North label and released in 1969, the year he played at my high school in small-town Ontario and was an overnight guest at my parents’ home (having missed the last bus back to Toronto in order to perform a couple of encores to his enthusiastic young crowd). It was one of the high points of my teens.

On a different note, regarding Michele Landsberg’s letter (NI 290) reporting her shock at ‘Peter Adamson’s completely unwarranted attack on feminism’, I did not feel he attacked feminism as much as report on what ‘women who work with maternal death in the developing world’ said to him about their perceptions of Western feminism. It behoves us to put our defences down and listen.

Lynne Melcombe
Port Moody, Canada

Grassroots training
Does anybody know of a training course or school anywhere in the world which trains community/environmental/political activists in grassroots organizing (covering, I would imagine, such things as strategies, fund-raising, book-keeping etc). If so could they let me know? email: [email protected]

Peter Murphy
Melbourne, 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 [image, unknown] F R O M [image, unknown] R U S S I A

Business as usual
In this, her last ‘Letter from’, Olivia Ward has lunch
with a protégé – and is in for a nasty shock.

Behind us, two US Air Force pilots were having a heart-to-heart about hard landings. Across the way a New Russian mum, her styled-to-kill blond hair flipped over one eye, handed her irritable toddler her cell phone.

Volodya, happy to be part of this happening crowd, was smiling over his Caesar salad, enjoying the buzz and the hubbub of Moscow’s trendiest brunch spot.

In the two years I’d known him, he had changed from a shy spaniel of a science student to a confident young executive.

When he first came to my office, eyes downcast and badly-typed résumé in hand, I doubted he’d get much further than the door of any Western corporation. He seemed so insecure, so unsure of what he had to offer, or what anyone might offer him.

Feeling sorry for him, I made a few phonecalls to friends in need of a willing gopher. Within a week he had a research contract and I had become his mentor.

‘Is this the right kind of tie?’ he would agonize, blushing at an outbreak of acne. ‘Can I charge my Metro tickets to expenses?’

Over many Coca-colas I saw his confidence slowly expand.

Like a proud parent I looked forward to our meetings, noting a sleek new haircut, a briefcase that replaced his habitual plastic bag. His tall frame seemed to have stretched as he strode into the room like a full-blown yuppie.

This, I told myself, is the Russian future. If Russia is to have one, it would need many more young people like Volodya, bright and energetic climbers who were determined to learn new ways of doing business and filled with zeal for a ‘normal’ non-corrupt, non-mafia state.

Today we are celebrating his first full-time job. ‘I’m starting at the top,’ he crowed, flashing a new business card: Moscow manager of a European company with a luxurious office overlooking the Kremlin. With the job went the perks that would boggle the mind of any Western 24-year-old – a car and driver, European travel, promise of a company flat.

‘My first assignment,’ he told me, ‘ is setting up my own division.’

I was all ears. My friend Anya, whose overseas company had pulled out of Moscow, was sinking into despair of ever finding work as an administrator again.

‘Volodya,’ I urged, ‘you must hire her.’

‘Can she supervise accounts, handle computers and speak English and French or German?’

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

She could. And I remembered all too well her depression after throwing her glowing résumé on top of hundreds of others from women decades younger than her.

Twenty-five, she was told bluntly, was the maximum for female employees these days. A glance at the mini-skirted and stiletto-heeled applicants who were ushered into the personnel offices and she got the point.

The only 40-or-older women who managed to find paying jobs were ones with connections. Now, to my delight, I could give her one. Jotting down Volodya’s business number, I told him she’d call next day.

‘Sure,’ he added with a shrug, ‘but she can’t expect big wages. I want to keep down office costs.’

The ‘not big’ wage would be $500 a month, a third of Anya’s previous salary and scarcely enough to pay her apartment costs.

‘Look here,’ I argued, ‘I didn’t bring you up to be a killer boss. Don’t you want happy and loyal employees?’

‘There aren’t any happy employees, only happy bosses,’ he laughed. ‘I learned that from studying Western business. If the staff don’t like the conditions you can always find somebody else.’

I pushed away my half-eaten chicken.

‘Volodya, this is serious. You have the chance to build Russian business with a human face. Business that benefits everybody, not just the élite. Isn’t that what you wanted?’

‘You sound just like my mother,’ hechuckled. ‘She never got over her boring old communist background. Wake up, I tell her. This is the future.’

He glanced around the room restlessly, eager to get on with the afternoon’s shopping. His eyes had a new withdrawn look, his mouth a new hardness around the corners.

‘It’s great to see you,’ he said into the air. ‘And by the way, this time I’m paying the bill.’

Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow. Next month we begin a new Letter from Colombia.

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Copyright New Internationalist Magazine 1997

New Internationalist issue 294 magazine cover This article is from the September 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
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