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new internationalist
issue 311 - April 1999

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]

Balkan blunder
Issue 309 (The Radical Twentieth Century) commits a blunder which I would have expected the NI to avoid.

‘Serbian’ means ‘of the country/state of Serbia’ whereas ‘Serb’ is an ethnic term, usually indicating an Orthodox Christian South Slav using particular dialectal words of the Serbo-Croat language.

Therefore the sentence at the bottom of Page 38: ‘ethnic Albanians in Kosovo became the latest victims of Serb oppression’ implies that Serbs are somehow a more brutal race. Such comments risk over-simplifying the Balkan tragedy. Serbs in Croatia were murdered in their hundreds. They were driven from land occupied by Serbs for centuries in their hundreds of thousands. Serbs in Bosnia – while undoubtedly responsible for most atrocities – were also victims, as evidenced by some of the Croats and Muslims wanted for war crimes. Although the vast majority of atrocities in Kosovo have been committed by Yugoslavian and Serbian (therefore mostly Serb) soldiers and police, there have been many reports of innocent Serb civilians being murdered or driven from their land.

Stephen Pratt
Wincanton, England

Credit due
In your article ‘Capital and kindness’ (‘Update’ NI 308). I was surprised that you referred to the results of a doctoral study that alleges two-thirds of the microcredit loans made to women are not controlled by them, when there are a number of much more comprehensive studies. For example, a study by Goetz and Gupta looks at four microcredit programs in Bang-ladesh and found that an average of 39 per cent of women they studied had little or no control over the use of the loan. For Grameen they found ten per cent of borrowers had little or no control over loan use. While these figures are quite high, they still indicate that the majority of borrowers have partial or full control over their loans. For women in Bang-ladesh that is a significant improvement on the opportunities for self-advancement they had prior to these loans.

I agree that microfinance is not the only solution to poverty. But the Grameen and other microfinance institutions have given many poor people the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. In fact a recent World Bank study has shown that the loans provided by the Grameen have helped a third of its borrowers cross the poverty line and another third are close to crossing it as well. Let’s give credit where credit is due!

Stav Zotalis
Reid ACT 2612 Australia

No basis
It is a pity that R Westmass spoilt his/her letter (NI 308) with historical inaccuracies. Kuwait has been an autonomous sheikhdom since the eighteenth century and a British protectorate from 1897 until 1961. Iraq was created as a kingdom after the First World War as a part of the dismemberment of the 500-year-old Ottoman Em-pire. It was administered by the British until 1932. There is no substantial evidence that the Kuwaitis wish to be ruled by Saddam Hussein and no basis for classifying Kuwait as Iraqi territory.

Cy Chadley
London, England

Your article ‘Wrong Way’ (‘Update’ NI 308) criticizes the Red Cross/Red Crescent’s World Disasters Report 1998 for disregarding Third World views on traffic problems in the chapter on road safety. But you have picked up only half the story.

In 1998, the World Disasters Report did call for attention to road and car design in order to improve road safety. But one of its main points was that most victims – especially in the Third World – are not car drivers. They are either pedestrians, bicyclists or in buses. The issue is how to stop cars killing and maiming.

Both practical experience and research shows that changing the behaviour patterns of road users, whether they be drivers or pedestrians, takes many years. Engineering changes, however, can save lives now. The critical issue though is for governments to recognize the growing human and economic cost of road accidents. They are as big a threat as any other human-made catastrophe and kill far more people each year than wars do.

Peter Walker
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Geneva, Switzerland

Green guerrillas
Referring to your Red/Green issue (NI 307) I would like to mention a lesser-known aspect of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Though bright Red on the outside, they are deeply Green in the middle. As the FARC has been fighting its battle for half a century and is now strong enough to force the Colombia Government into negotiations regarding the social structure of the country, this gives a spark of hope to those of us working in the environmental movement in Colombia. FARC produces an ‘ecological bulletin’ which they hand out in the countryside setting out rules on all the most vital Green issues – not felling forests, not burning, not using dynamite in rivers and lakes, not fouling or drying up waterways etc.

Unfortunately the other guerrilla movement in the country, the National Liberation Army (ELN) with very good political but very bad environmental reasoning, regularly blows up oil pipelines with hideous results. After a recent terrible disaster, where 70 peasants burned to death when the spilled oil caught fire, there are green noises emitting from this movement too.

I am so glad you have aired the Red/Green issue, as anyone working seriously at ground level must know that capitalism is a sick joke where environmental survival is concerned.

Jenny James
Atlantis, Colombia

Transformative justice
A friend lent me his copy of Rush to Punishment (NI 282). Given that this is my lifelong concern, I postponed wading into it, partly expecting you to scratch too shallowly the surface and partly dreading reading the same sad truths again. But you have hit high and low spots in a very balanced way, and included historic leaders like Nils Christie and Jerome Miller.

Could you please add our organization Rittenhouse as a resource? We support ‘transformative justice’ which uses crime as an opportunity to empower victims, offenders and community towards a social transformation. Our focus is public education and methods that empower the community instead of the corporate dominated state. We are currently planning a conference in May 2000.

Tel: +1 416 538 6900 or +1 416 630 7581.
Fax: +1 416 740 538 2655.

Ruth Morris
Ontario, Canada

Pen friends
The art of letter-writing is often said to be dead but I must disagree. I have found pen- friendship to be a rewarding and inexpensive hobby which caters for all ages, creeds and culture and expands my knowledge of the world and its people. Readers wishing further details should write (enclosing an sae) to me at: 55 Green Leys, St Ives, Cambs. PE 17 4SB.

E Hardy
St Ives, England

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

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In the eye of the beholder
Louisa Waugh finds that people's names are not always what they seem....

At the end of a romantic evening, Bilguun tenderly called me his ‘ugly Louisa’. I was a bit taken aback as he was my lover and had his arms around me at the time. But when I complained to a couple of Mongolian friends at work the next morning, they simultaneously burst out laughing.

‘Oh! He only said that because he loves you!’

The Mongolian word for ugly (muhai) also, in the right context, means ‘darling’.

Since then, I have moved west to the Mongolian mountains – and my Mongolian has improved considerably. So when I found out that one of my neighbours here in Tsengel is called Mene (many) and his wife’s name is Cow, I couldn’t resist giving my friends a Mongolian translation. Here, if you have many cows (or yaks or camels), you are rich, which Mene incidentally is.

But it is the literal meaning of Mongolian names and the reason they are given in the first place which is really tantalizing. My teaching counterpart is Gansukh (Steel Axe). Her husband is Sansar-Huu, which translates as ‘Son of the Cosmos’. One of Gansukh’s students is Zerleg, which means ‘savage’ or ‘barbarian’. And I have a student called Chudruck, or Fist. Then there is poor Neer-Gui, whose name is ‘No-name’. Neer-Gui sits next to Butta-kuz, or Camel-eyes. Sazug meanwhile sits at the back of the class which may be the best place for him, as his name means ‘smelly’.

I quizzed Steel Axe one day about these bewildering names.

‘Why would anyone call their child “Camel-eyes”?’

‘Have you ever looked at a camel’s eyes?’ she replied. ‘They’re beautiful’.

It’s true – Tsengel is full of long-lashed, coy-eyed camels. So Butta-kuz is really quite a compliment. As for Smelly, that took a bit more unravelling. ‘It’s affectionate,’ said Steel Axe. ‘No-one thinks it is offensive. As a name, in Mongolia, it actually implies that he smells quite nice.’ (I thought of Bilguun, and my being ugly and beloved.)

This is good news for another student, ten-year-old Zolbin (Stray) who Steel Axe assured me is a very loved child.

Zerleg was given his savage name to bring him strength. It’s a way of asking the gods to protect him, as is the name Fist. But Steel Axe became very sombre when we got around to discussing Neer-Gui.

‘She had four or five brothers who all died young. Her family begged the lama (Buddhist monk) for a name that wouldn’t anger or insult our Buddhist deities. He advised them to call her No-name. It’s a humble name and she’s a healthy child!’

Steel Axe has four brothers and sisters who all have names with a similar meaning to hers, symbolizing strength and might. Her own son is called Yalvita (Victory) while her daughter is named after a medicinal plant. Many girls have the word Tsetseg (Flower) in their names, while the male-only name Buga (Bull) speaks for itself.

Parents hoping for a son often give their new daughter a male name – and vice versa. It’s another way of petitioning the gods, in this case for the gender of their next child.

Until very recently large families were the norm in Mongolia, especially in rural areas where children are the only security parents have in their old age. Mothers used to be awarded medals for having five children or more, so naming all your kids could turn into quite a challenge.

Mongolian names range from the poetic – Altan Duul (Golden Flame) is my favourite – to the ferocious. Malmas is a placid, happily married man in his forties, who works in Tsengel as an accountant. He’s named after the legendary Almas – a towering, ferocious, coarse-haired beast, who apparently still lives in the remote Altai mountains and carries off the occasional nubile young man or woman to satisfy his rapacious appetites.

No-one has quite been able to explain that one to me.

Louisa Waugh lives and works in Mongolia and is writing a book about Mongolian life.

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New Internationalist issue 311 magazine cover This article is from the April 1999 issue of New Internationalist.
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