Saturday, 31 October 2009

Janos Kadar: Hungary's man of the people

Thursday 29 October 2009
Zsuzsanna Clark

When communism in Hungary and the rest of eastern Europe ended in 1989, I was not only surprised but sad, as were many others.

But our voices - the voices of ordinary working-class people, the people whose lives were improved by 40 years of communism - are seldom heard.

Instead it seems that only upper and middle-class emigres and dissidents are permitted to express an opinion about communism in eastern Europe.

The reality is that most ordinary people lived well under "goulash communism" in Hungary - certainly much better than they do in the rapacious dog-eat-dog capitalist Hungary of today.

The architect of Hungarian goulash communism was Janos Kadar, who ruled the country from 1956-88.

Kadar won public support with his liberalising reforms and his likeable, modest manner.

He was a popular figure not only in my family but among working-class Hungarians as a whole.

You see, he was one of us. His mother was a washerwoman. He was apprenticed as a typewriter mechanic. He smoked the same cigarettes we smoked. He loved krumpli leves - potato soup. He played chess. He lived in a normal house.

The affection in which Kadar was held by ordinary Hungarians may come as a surprise to many people in the West, because the dominant narrative has been written by those fiercely hostile to communism.

The critics usually claim that their opposition was due to "human rights," but I believe a large part of their anti-communism can be explained by a single word. Snobbery.

Communism in Hungary provided good health care, excellent education, cheap and reliable public transport and subsidised housing, gas, electricity and water.

There was a thriving cultural life which was accessible to everyone. Violent crime was virtually non-existent. There was always enough food and nobody went hungry.

But for the snobs, the wrong class of people was in charge.

As the book One Thousand Years - A Concise History Of Hungary relates, under communism the old aristocratic and financial ruling elites, who had ruled the roost in Hungary for generations, lost their power and influence.

The gentry middle class, which had such a dominant role in pre-second world war Hungary, also lost its powerful position as the whole face of Hungarian society changed.

Leading posts in the government, the public administration and the economy were filled from the ranks of the workers and peasants.

It became the standard practice to promote manual workers from the shop floor to managerial level.

By the early 1960s, 40 per cent of earners in managerial and intellectual occupations came from a working-class background, while 26 per cent came from peasant families.

For 30 years under communism, Hungary was led not by the scion of a famous family but by the illegitimate son of a washerwoman. And how the reactionaries hated it

The snobbery towards Kadar continued even after his death.

In 2000 Endre Aczel, a member of Hungary's journalistic elite, denounced him in a newspaper article as a "ostaba panil proli" (a stupid high-rise flat prole).

Such a statement is not only nasty - I think it tells us far more about Aczel than it does about Kadar - but also inaccurate.

Do "stupid" people play chess with grand masters, as Kadar did?

In his biography of Kadar, George Moldova quotes minister of culture and close associate of Kadar Gyorgy Aczel on the subject.

"Those who believed Kadar to be a primitive person are mistaken. He was outstandingly clever.

"His knowledge of society was way above average. But at the same time he kept what some would consider to be signs of primitivism but which aren't really signs of primitivism.

"For example, the way he spoke. He was warned about his accent, but he kept it because he was conscious of what he was - a worker - and he didn't want to be something he wasn't."

Istvan Katona, the first secretary of Kadar's office, said: "A politician's culture is not measured by how perfectly he can whistle a song from Tannhauser but his achievements and how accepted he is by the people.

"Kadar could talk on the same level with everybody he met, be it Brezhnev, Mrs Thatcher or the King of Spain."

In 1973, Endre Aczel's "stupid high-rise prole" took part in a game of four-handed chess with Hungarian grand master Lajos Portisch, Russian grand master Anatoly Karpov and the Soviet ambassador to Hungary Vladimir Pavlov.

Kadar played alongside Karpov and Pavlov paired with Portisch.

Portisch recalls: "Two games finished a stalemate, but the third the Karpov-Kadar pair won.

"Karpov didn't play better than me, but Kadar played better than Pavlov."

Portisch believes that had Kadar not had to leave school and take up an apprenticeship at an early age, he too could have become a chess grand master.

Kadar's passion for chess also helped to shape his thinking, according to Gyorgy Moldova.

"He learned that every mistake he made was his own and to always be prepared for the opposition's most unpleasant and inconvenient step."

Kadar believed that communism meant doing the right thing by the majority of the population.

"Kadar put the working class and the peasantry first and the intelligentsia second," says Gyorgy Aczel.

A man who always believed that actions spoke louder than words, he had a deep contempt for an overly ideological approach - he thought that it could be harmful.

"The most important thing in his life is that he wanted to know how the people lived in the country. With his endless pragmatism, he concentrated on this."

If ever there was a politician interested in bread-and-butter issues it was Kadar. How different from the so-called democratic politicians of today's Hungary, who seem unconcerned with how ordinary people live.

What good was communism, if the classes of people it was supposed to benefit did not live well?

"Fundamental to his socialism was a desire to raise the living standards of ordinary people," says Gyorgy Aczel.

And raise the living standards of ordinary people is of course precisely what Kadar did, which only increased his popularity among the masses.

I regarded Kadar as a relative, like a favourite uncle or grandfather. I liked the way he talked - he was never pompous or condescending and never arrogant.

A poll organised by several media organisations in late 1999 to discover the greatest Hungarians of the country's millennial history gave Kadar third place after St Stephen and the great 19th-century reformer Istvan Szechenyi.

As the respected British historian Eric Hobsbawn has stated, Kadar was "the most successful ruler of Hungary in the 20th century."

He made sure everyone had food on their table and that people could live good, happy lives, with social security from the cradle to the grave.

What more can a country ask of its leader?

This article is an extract from Zsuzsanna Clark's book Goulash and Solidarity, which is awaiting publication.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Police in £9m scheme to log 'domestic extremists'

Thousands of activists monitored on network of overlapping databases

Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Matthew Taylor,
Sunday 25 October 2009

Police are gathering the personal details of thousands of activists who attend political meetings and protests, and storing their data on a network of nationwide intelligence databases.

The hidden apparatus has been constructed to monitor "domestic extremists", the Guardian can reveal in the first of a three-day series into the policing of protests. Detailed information about the political activities of campaigners is being stored on a number of overlapping IT systems, even if they have not committed a crime.

Senior officers say domestic extremism, a term coined by police that has no legal basis, can include activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.

Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the "terrorism and allied matters" committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives £9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100.

An investigation by the Guardian can reveal:

• The main unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), runs a central database which lists thousands of so-called domestic extremists. It filters intelligence supplied by police forces across England and Wales, which routinely deploy surveillance teams at protests, rallies and public meetings. The NPOIU contains detailed files on individual protesters who are searchable by name.

• Vehicles associated with protesters are being tracked via a nationwide system of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. One man, who has no criminal record, was stopped more than 25 times in less than three years after a "protest" marker was placed against his car after he attended a small protest against duck and pheasant shooting. ANPR "interceptor teams" are being deployed on roads leading to protests to monitor attendance.

• Police surveillance units, known as Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and Evidence Gatherers, record footage and take photographs of campaigners as they enter and leave openly advertised public meetings. These images are entered on force-wide databases so that police can chronicle the campaigners' political activities. The information is added to the central NPOIU.

• Surveillance officers are provided with "spotter cards" used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests. One spotter card, produced by the Met to monitor campaigners against an arms fair, includes a mugshot of the comedian Mark Thomas.

• NPOIU works in tandem with two other little-known Acpo branches, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Netcu), which advises thousands of companies on how to manage political campaigns, and the National Domestic Extremism Team, which pools intelligence gathered by investigations into protesters across the country.

Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, will next month release the findings of his national review of policing of protests. He has already signalled he anticipates wide scale change. His inspectors, who were asked to review tactics in the wake of the Metropolitan police's controversial handling of the G20 protests, are considering a complete overhaul of the three Acpo units, which they have been told lack statutory accountability.

Acpo's national infrastructure for dealing with domestic extremism was set up with the backing of the Home Office in an attempt to combat animal rights activists who were committing serious crimes. Senior officers concede the criminal activity associated with these groups has receded, but the units dealing with domestic extremism have expanded their remit to incorporate campaign groups across the political spectrum, including anti-war and environmental groups that have only ever engaged in peaceful direct action.

All three units divide their work into four categories of domestic extremism: animal rights campaigns; far-right groups such as the English Defence League; "extreme leftwing" protest groups, including anti-war campaigners; and "environmental extremism" such as Climate Camp and Plane Stupid campaigns.

Anton Setchell, who is in overall command of Acpo's domestic extremism remit, said people who find themselves on the databases "should not worry at all". But he refused to disclose how many names were on the NPOIU's national database, claiming it was "not easy" to count. He estimated they had files on thousands of people. As well as photographs, he said FIT surveillance officers noted down what he claimed was harmless information about people's attendance at demonstrations and this information was fed into the national database.

He said he could understand that peaceful activists objected to being monitored at open meetings when they had done nothing wrong. "What I would say where the police are doing that there would need to be the proper justifications," he said.

Friday, 23 October 2009

When you watch the BNP on TV, just remember: Jack Straw started all this

To set New Labour against Griffin is simply putting the cause against the symptom

Gary Younge, Wednesday 21 October 2009 20.30 BST

Three years ago this month Jack Straw argued his case for urging Muslim women who attend his MP's surgery to remove their niqab. He said that he wanted to start a debate. In this, at least, he was successful.

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy said "the veil is an invitation to rape"; the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson said women who wear "nose bags on their faces ... have no place on British streets"; the then shadow home secretary David Davis argued that Muslims were encouraging voluntary apartheid.

And 16-year-old Daniel Coine insisted he felt threatened: "I'd go further than Jack Straw and say they should all take off their veils. You need to see people face to face. It's weird not knowing who it is you're passing in the street, specially late at night when someone might jump you."

And so Muslim women passed, in the public imagination, from being actually among the group most likely to be racially attacked to ostensibly being a primary cause of social strife – roaming the land in search of white teenagers to physically harass.

Tomorrow night the conversation that Straw started will follow its logical, lamentable path as he takes his seat alongside the British National party leader, Nick Griffin, on the panel of Question Time.

The issue of whether the BNP should be given this kind of airtime has been debated extensively elsewhere in these pages. But there is little doubt that once the BNP is on Question Time, Jack Straw – or indeed anyone in the New Labour hierarchy – is in no position to take the fight to it. The same is true for most of the rest of the British political establishment that will be represented on the panel – they have either actively colluded or passively acquiesced in the political trajectory of the past decade.

But it is no accident that this happened on New Labour's watch and no small irony that Jack Straw should set himself up as Griffin's opponent.

Economically, its neoliberal policies have resulted in growing insecurity, rising unemployment, child poverty and inequality that have alienated the poor and made the middle class feel vulnerable. Politically, its lies over the war, stewardship of the expenses scandal and internal bickering have produced widespread cynicism with our political culture. The ramifications of its role in the war on terror in general, and Iraq in particular, were to elevate fear of a racialised "other" to a matter of life and death at home. "Terror is first of all the terror of the next attack," explains Arjun Appadurai, in Fear of Small Numbers. "Terror ... opens the possibility that anyone may be a soldier in disguise, a sleeper among us, waiting to strike at the heart of our social slumber."

Meanwhile New Labour's race-baiting rhetoric gave the state's imprimatur to the notion that Britain's racial problems were not caused by racism but the existence of non-white, non-Christian and non-British people. This provided little material solace but plenty of vulnerable scapegoats.

Having inflated racism's political currency, New Labour vacated the electoral market so that others with a more ostentatious style might more freely spend it. Once they had made these ideas respectable it was only a matter of time before a party reached a position where it too would earn sufficient respectability to appear on prime time.

New Labour marginalised the white working class, assuming they had nowhere else to go, only to find some of them rush into the arms of the far right. Peter Hain has made an impressive stand over the last few weeks. But during the last election he slammed those who were abandoning New Labour as "the kind of dinner party critic who quaffs shiraz or chardonnay".

But it was always the beer talking. New Labour extinguished all hope of class solidarity and singularly failed to provide principled anti-racist alternatives, leaving a significant section of the white working class to seek cheap refuge in racism and xenophobia. In their identity they see not the potential for resistance against corruption and injustice, but only a grievance. They don't trust government and don't see any alternatives. The coming election simply provides the choice between two parties that share the intent to slash public spending, after the gift of billions to bankers.

There has always been more to the BNP than racism and always been more to racism than the BNP, which is merely the most vile electoral expression of our degraded racial discourse and political sclerosis. Under such circumstances setting Straw – and the rest of the political class – against Griffin is simply putting the cause against the symptom without any suggestion of an antidote.

This has been New Labour's problem all along. While they have long recognised that racism is a problem, it never seemed to occur to them that anti-racism might be the solution. This should not obscure some of the positive things Labour has done – most notably the Macpherson report and the Race Relations Amendment Act. But in the words of the late African American writer James Baldwin: "What it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other."

The BNP's victories are a product of our politics. Its defeat, when it comes, will necessarily be a product of a change in our politics. But since New Labour's politics enabled the BNP, it is in no position to disable it. The BNP is a bottom feeder. But the system is rotting from the head down.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Salmond's stand against Trident sets him apart from other political leaders

The left must give him credit: the SNP is the only party that defends social democratic values

Iain Macwhirter The Guardian, Sunday 18 October 2009

You can say what you like about Alex Salmond, and a lot of people do: that he's a demagogue, troublemaker, narrow nationalist, even "tartan Tory". The SNP is regarded with deep suspicion by many on the left, as if there's a BNP in there just waiting to get out. But what no one seems to give Salmond credit for is leading the only party in the UK that is committed to defending explicitly social democratic values in government, removing Trident nuclear weapons, rejecting nuclear power in favour of renewable energy, blocking identity cards and establishing an open border policy for immigration.

In his conference speech in Inverness Salmond received a standing ovation for saying that one Trident submarine in the Clyde is one too many. When did we last hear any UK party leader say that? The metropolitan left seems to have decided that there is nothing anyone can do about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the UK – as if it is just a fact of political life. We have a Labour government that is committed to spending around £100bn on a weapons system that is a moral abomination, a military anachronism and a dangerous health hazard. Someone has to call a halt to this madness.

In the UK, nuclear power is also regarded as a fait accompli, even though the vast majority of environmentalists are opposed to nuclear generation because of its cost and because there is no solution to disposing of the hazardous nuclear waste. Around Scotland's shores, there are 60 gigawatts of renewable energy in wind, wave, and tidal power, just waiting to be converted into useful power. Yet, without any real political debate, Gordon Brown has decided that there should be a new generation of nuclear power stations – and that the UK taxpayer is going to have to shoulder the burden of insuring them and cleaning up the toxic residue.

If and when the Conservatives come to power, there is going to be a choice: accept the cuts and George Osborne's attempts to dismantle the welfare state, or challenge the deflationary logic of austerity and defend public services. At least there is no doubt which side Alex Salmond and the SNP are on. I'm not so sure about the other parties. In his speech he called for a "contract based on social democratic values – wealth created and wealth shared". And another thing. When did you last hear a political leader quote Gandhi in a conference speech?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Johann Hari: The looming threat of terror that comes from the far right

The threat comes not only from jihadis but 'neo-Nazis' out to kill black people, Jews and gays

The INDPENDENT - Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Britain is facing the real risk today of a bombing campaign that targets random civilians for death – but it is being virtually ignored. When its supporters step closer every day to mass murder, nobody notices. When its perpetrators are caught, there is (at best) a little flick of information in News in Brief, before everyone goes back to talking about the Strictly Come Dancing race row. This silence suggests something dark about us – and requires us to change our behaviour, fast.

The campaign I am talking about is not being planned by jihadis or fringe Irish nationalists but by white "neo-Nazis" who want to murder Asians, black people, Jews and gays in the bizarre belief it will trigger a "race war".

They have struck before. Exactly a decade ago, a 22-year-old member of the British National Party called David Copeland planted bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane (where I live), and a gay pub in Old Compton Street. He managed to lodge a nail deep in a baby's skull, and to murder a pregnant woman, her gay best friend, and his partner. He bragged: "My aim was political. It was to cause a racial war in this country. There'd be a backlash from the ethnic minorities, then all the white people would go out and vote BNP."

The police are warning ever-more urgently that similar attacks seem to be coming today. The West Yorkshire Police recently launched a huge series of raids against far-right groups and found them in possession of 80 bombs – considerably more even than any jihadi group has been caught with in British history.

Last year, a 43-year-old man called Neil Lewington was arrested "on the cusp" of waging a "terror campaign", it emerged at his trial. He had built a bomb factory in his parents' house which he planned to use to launch attacks against people he considered to be "non-British". He was only caught by chance: he picked a panicked fight with a train conductor, and the police who turned up found he was laden with explosives.

The list of far right-wingers who have been busted for planning violence has spiked up in the past few years. In the home of a BNP election candidate called Robert Cottage in 2008, the police discovered "the largest amount of chemical explosives ever found in this country", they said.

The same year, a thug called Martyn Gilleard was caught with a huge stash of nail bombs, and rage-filled letters in which he declared: "I am so sick of hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of fighting back, only to see these acts of resistance fail to appear. The time has come to stop the talk and start to act." He was only caught by fluke: the police busted him for distributing child porn.

It's not hard to get in on this act. There are dozens of far-right websites that explain – with handy video links – how to make bombs, and then urge you to head to the nearest mosque, synagogue or gay club.

But as the New Statesman's Mehdi Hassan has pointed out, as far as public debate goes, it's as if these crimes never happened. While planned attacks by jihadis (rightly) dominate the news agenda for days, these remarkably similar plans pass unmentioned and unnoticed.

This disjunction exposes a rash of hypocrisy. The parts of the right that gleefully blame all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority are mysteriously reluctant to apply the same arguments to themselves. If Martin Amis was consistent, he should now declare: "The white community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation. Strip-searching people who look like they're from Hampshire or from Surrey ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children."

But of course he won't. It shows the bigotry at the core of these make-all-Muslims-pay arguments: they see brown-skinned people as a homogenous mass who can be collectively punished, while they see white people as discrete units who should only be punished individually.

But these white bomb-makers also blast holes in the arguments put by some small parts of the left, who claim "terrorism" is only a response to "legitimate grievances". We can see that somebody like David Copeland simply had an insane hatred of black, Asian and gay people. It's a form of soft racism to fail to see that the same lunacy can happen to non-white people. The vile Islamist gang who wanted to blow up the Ministry of Sound really did say the women there were "slags" who deserved to die for wearing miniskirts. Sometimes (but not always), the grievances that drive violence are simply deranged and have to be resisted.

While the threat of far-right violence is rising, the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, is going to appear on Question Time next week. It would be easy, and emotionally satisfying, for me to join the many well-intentioned protesters who are saying he shouldn't be there, but I can't do it. There are two reasons – one moral, and one pragmatic.

Freedom of speech includes the freedom to say abhorrent and repulsive things, or it isn't worth having. Why is our Britain vastly morally superior to the fantasy island that the BNP dream of building? Because we do not silence them – even though they would silence so many of us.

Then there's the pragmatic reason. The BNP is doing increasingly well in elections because there is a huge gap between the reality of the BNP and how their voters see them. I see this on the run-down estates where many of my relatives live: most of the BNP's voters believe they are a patriotic party who will peacefully defend the rights of the white working class, just as other organisations peacefully defend the rights of other ethnic groups.

When they find out the BNP leaders have in fact praised Britain's greatest enemy, Adolf Hitler, derided the Holocaust as "the Holohoax", had violent maniacs in their senior ranks, and want to deport many of our national heroes like Ashley Cole and Trevor McDonald, they are disgusted, and withdraw their support. There is only a very, very small constituency in Britain for Holocaust denial, mass "repatriations", and the mongering of "race wars".

So how do we close this perception gap? Shutting the BNP out of debate hasn't worked. They have been shut out and they have grown. In the darkness, the fungus can spread. The greatest disinfectant is sunlight, shone straight into Griffin's face. The only people who should fear free speech are the BNP, because when the British people hear what they have to say, and their lack of answers to basic factual questions, they are repelled.

One of the areas where everyone should see Griffin being challenged is over this question of far-right violence. He claims he is "strongly" opposed to these freelance attacks – yet he has kept violent attackers in his senior team.

His chief lieutenant for years was a man called Tony Lecomber, who was jailed for three years in the 1980s for plotting to blow up the offices of a left-wing political party. After he was released, he and a gang then beat a Jewish teacher unconscious. When he was freed after another three years inside, he was swiftly promoted through the BNP ranks. He was only ditched after he approached a Liverpool hitman to discuss how they could "take out" a cabinet minister.

One of the leading figures in the BNP's online operation, Lambertus Nieuwhof, tried to blow up a mixed-race school in South Africa in 1992. The BNP is happy to have him nonetheless. Nieuwhof says: "Everybody should be allowed to make a mistake."

The BNP is not directly organising violence, but it has tolerated violent madmen in its midst, and its arguments have encouraged violence. Griffin has demanded "rights for whites with well-directed boots and fists". He reacted to the Soho nail-bomb by one of his own party's members by attacking the victims, saying they were "flaunting their perversion in front of the world's journalists, [and had] showed just why so many ordinary people find these creatures disgusting".

Let Griffin speak his filth to the nation, and sweat under David Dimbleby's forensic questioning. He will only discredit himself.

But the country also needs to start acknowledging the danger of bombs thrown from the far right. David Copeland came from within the ranks of the BNP; so might the next one. The police need to monitor neo-Nazis as closely as jihadis, and the Government projects to prevent violent extremism should be working with white kids as well as Muslim children. We need to prepare ourselves now: the next person to bomb Britain might not look like Mohammed Sidiq Khan – he might look like me.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Looking back at life in the GDR

Wednesday 07 October 2009
John Green

Sixty years ago the German Democratic Republic was created out of the Soviet Zone of occupied Germany in response to the introduction of a separate currency in the Western sectors and the go-it-alone creation of the Federal Republic in September 1949.

It lasted until 1990 when the people voted to accede to the Federal Republic.

The first GDR government was composed of individuals with a track record of active opposition to the nazi regime. Many had spent years in concentration camps, prison and exile.

They returned determined to build a democratic, anti-fascist Germany. It began life at a great disadvantage compared with West Germany. It comprised only a third of German territory with a population of 17 million, as against 63 million in the west, and was considerably poorer, having little heavy industry and few mineral resources.

One of the GDR's greatest achievements was the creation of a more egalitarian society. Measures were introduced to counter class and gender privilege and increase the educational and career prospects of working-class children.

As a result, the GDR became probably the most egalitarian society in Europe. Full gender equality and equal pay were also enshrined in legislation.

Pay differentials between different groups of employees were minimal so that even top managers or government ministers were hardly wealthy in Western terms.

Even in terms of housing, economic and class difference played little role. All areas contained a mix of professional and working-class people.

This lack of large wealth differentials and class privilege made for a more cohesive and balanced society. For some such egalitarianism was not amenable and the lure of higher salaries and business opportunities in the West remained strong. This led to a steady haemorrhaging of skilled workers and professionals before the wall was built in 1961.

The GDR was a society largely free of existential fears. Everyone had a right to education, a job and a roof over their head. Emphasis was placed on society not on individualism, and on co-operation and solidarity.

This process of socialisation began with nursery children and continued through school and into the workplace and housing estates.

The government argued that the workers who produced the commodities that society needed should be placed at the forefront of society.

Those who did heavy manual work, such as miners or steel workers, enjoyed certain privileges - better wages and health care than those in less strenuous or dangerous professions such as office work or teaching.

There were workplace clinics, doctors and dentists attached to large factories and institutions.

The workplace and trade union were largely responsible for ensuring medical care, the provision of leisure and holiday facilities and childcare, even down to the most personal issues of finding accommodation.

The trade union owned and ran a whole number of rest homes, sanatoriums and holiday accommodation used by the workforce and their families for nominal prices.

This system helped to solve working parents' problems of caring for their children during school holidays.

By the 1980s around 80 per cent of the population was able to go on some form of holiday, although most of these would be taken in the GDR itself, many in one of such centres at very low prices.

No worker could be sacked, unless for serious misconduct or incompetence. However, even in such cases, other alternative work would be offered.

The other side of the coin was that there was also a social obligation to work - the GDR had no system of unemployment benefit because the concept of unemployment did not exist.

Pay levels in general were not high compared with Western standards. But everyone knew that the profits they created would go into the "social pot" and used to make life better for everyone, not just for a few owners or shareholders who would pocket the surplus.

Most people recognised that the surplus they created helped increase what was called the "social wage" - subsidised food, clothing and rent, cheap public transport and inexpensive tickets for cultural, sporting and leisure activities.

The idea of a social wage is a vital concept for any society purporting to be egalitarian. It was instrumental in ensuring the implementation of greater social equality, undermining privilege and class hegemony.

Although most people lived in rented accommodation at controlled and affordable rents, a considerable minority owned their own houses and some built their own privately owned houses.

Rents remained virtually unchanged over the life of the GDR and no-one could be evicted from their home. There was therefore no homelessness or fear of becoming homeless.

From a country with few raw materials and an underdeveloped industry devastated by the second world war, the GDR rose to become the fifth strongest economy in Europe and among the 10 strongest in the world.

The economy was characterised by central planning. This enabled the government to plan growth, set priorities and determine where to invest, but there was the downside that such centralised planning on such a scale could be inflexible and cumbersome.

However, a vital factor holding back the GDR economy was a strict boycott by Western governments, preventing the export of advanced technology.

Over 90 per cent of all assets in the GDR were owned by the people in the form of "publicly owned enterprises" (VEBs).

By contrast, in the Federal Republic a mere 10 per cent of households owned 42 per cent of all private wealth and 50 per cent of households owned only 4.5 per cent.

After the war, large estates owned by the former landed aristocracy, the Junkers, were broken up. Five hundred estates were expropriated and converted into co-operatives or state farms and thousands of acres distributed among 500,000 peasant farmers, agricultural labourers and refugees.

Later the government encouraged, sometimes cajoled and pressured farmers to join co-operative farms, but farmers retained ownership rights to their land.

By 1960 nearly 85 per cent of all arable land was incorporated into agricultural co-operatives.

In 1989 there were 3,844 agricultural co-ops and these were one of the big achievements of the GDR, proving to be efficient and better for the workforce.

For the first time in history, agricultural workers were freed from round-the-clock work just to make a living.

With agricultural co-operatives run on an industrial scale, workers enjoyed fixed-hours working and shift systems, had regular holidays, childcare, training opportunities and workplace canteens. All this certainly helped stem the flight from the countryside to the towns.

For the first time in Germany, women enjoyed completely equal rights with men, both in their personal sphere and the workplace.

They were provided with the means and opportunities of developing their careers and personalities beyond or instead of their traditional roles in the home, as wives, mothers and daughters.

Some 91 per cent of women between the ages of 16 and 60 were in work. Most women viewed success in their careers as a main source of fulfilment - this is about the same percentage as for men.

Some 88 per cent of all adult women worked and a further 8.5 per cent were in full-time education.

Most women were also highly skilled. Only 6 per cent had no qualification at all, whereas in the Federal Republic 24 per cent had none.

Despite these figures, in the top echelons of government and party male patriarchy still persisted.

The country's record on internationalism was exemplary. It took the idea of solidarity with other, struggling nations seriously.

It sent doctors and other medical staff to the front line in Vietnam, Mozambique and Angola. It gave engineering, educational and military support to many countries.

It also gave numerous foreign students from countries struggling to free themselves from the legacy of colonialism free training and education in the GDR.

Of course the GDR had a whole number of serious shortcomings and in terms of individual rights and democracy left a lot to be desired.

But to dwell only on these aspects as the mainstream media in the West has done, is to ignore its genuine achievements.

Since its demise, many have come to recognise and regret that the genuine "social achievements" they enjoyed have now been dismantled.

Unfortunately, the collapse of the GDR and "state socialism" in 1989 came just before the collapse of the highly lauded "free market" system in the West.

John Green and Bruni de la Motte have just written a new booklet, Stasi Hell Or Workers' Paradise? Socialism In The German Democratic Republic - What Can We Learn From It? Available from the Morning Star

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Irish National Liberation Army to disband and give up weapons

Republican group to announce start of decommissioning and pursuit of peaceful politics on eve of Hillary Clinton visit

Henry McDonald,
Ireland correspondent,
Sunday 11 October 2009 14.14 BST

Margaret Thatcher and Airey Neave, who was killed by an INLA bomb in the House of Commons car park in 1979. Photograph: Guardian

The republican paramilitary group that assassinated Airey Neave, the Tory MP and ally of Margaret Thatcher, is to give up its weapons and pursue purely peaceful politics.

The Irish National Liberation Army is to announce today that it will begin discussion with General John de Chastelain's disarmament body and move towards decommissioning its guns and bombs.

The INLA will dissolve and allow its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist party (IRSP), to seek alliances with non-paramilitary leftwing forces in Ireland, sources close to the organisation said.

The announcement will be made at the Seamus Costello commemoration in Bray, County Dublin. Costello founded the INLA after a split within the IRA in 1974. Three years later the IRA shot him dead in central Dublin.

The statement at his grave will stress that the "republican socialist movement" (INLA and the IRSP) is now committed to exclusively political means.

The British and Irish governments have been briefed about the move. The road to INLA decommissioning has been going on for several years through internal discussions.

During the Troubles the group murdered 113 people, including 15 of its own members during several internal feuds in the 1980s and 1990s. Among its most infamous members was Dominic "Mad Dog" McGlinchey, once of Ireland's most wanted men, who led the INLA during the mid-1980s.

The group has been on ceasefire since 1998, but has been responsible for a number of killings on both sides of the border, including the murder of a man in Derry who intervened to help another man being attacked by INLA members.

A small number of INLA members from Belfast and Derry opposed to the ceasefire have already defected to the Real IRA and Continuity IRA. Most members, however, are understood to be solidly behind the decision to wind up the paramilitary machine.

The news that another armed republican group is moving towards disarmament comes on the eve of Hillary Clinton's visit to Belfast. The US secretary of state will hold talks with the leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties. They will discuss potential new US investment and progress towards a deal on devolving policing and justice to Stormont.

INLA – a history

1974 Members of the Official IRA opposed to the organisation's ceasefire two years earlier found the Irish National Liberation Army

1979 The INLA kills Tory MP and Colditz detainee Airey Neave in the House of Commons carpark using a mercury-tilt switch bomb

1982 INLA bombs the Dropping Well disco in County Derry, killing 11 off-duty British soldiers and six civilians

1987 A violent internal feud tears the organisation apart and creates the even more volatile Irish Peoples Liberation Organisation

1997 Two INLA prisoners are shot dead by Loyalist Volunteer Force founder Billy "King Rat" Wright inside the Maze prison

1998 The INLA agrees to a ceasefire, but some members are subsequently involved in a number of killings on both sides of the boarder

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Why the Chinese support the Communist party

By Malcolm Moore
October 4th, 2009

We have a series of four video interviews running on the Telegraph’s China page at the moment.

We did them for the 60th anniversary of Communist party rule in China.

We shot them in the streets of Shanghai, talking to some of the city’s older residents – the ones who could remember what life was like before the Communists took over in 1949. The participants were chosen entirely at random, but they all expressed strong support for the Party.

The subtitling on the videos, sadly, is a bit unclear, so I thought I would post the full transcript of each interview here, for anyone interested. There’s also an article which goes with them here.

Qian Xiuzhen 93

I was born in Dongtai County, Jiangsu. My parents moved to Shanghai when I was little. Life was very hard. My father did all kinds of small work and business. He used to sell bricks from the ruins left by bombs. I started to go to work at age of eight, at a Japanese textile plant. My younger sisters worked at a cigarette company in Pudong. We did not have enough food to eat or warm clothes to wear, we really lived an impoverished life.

The war broke out on August 3, 1937. The bombs landed on the streets of Shanghai and many people died. At the time, you could only buy 100ml of cooking oil per person a month and there was nowhere to buy rice. People had to queue for long time and they fought for rice for their families.

Policemen in the French Concession used to beat up the people scrambling for rice, and if you were lucky enough to get rice, you still might be robbed by other hungry people. It was a miserable life. During the eight years of the war with Japan, and during Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, people could not buy anything and basically had nothing to eat.

Chiang Ching-kuo (Chiang Kai-shek’s son) set the price for all the products and people could hardly afford anything. Poor people had nothing to eat and the rich continued to be rich.

One month before Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, I started a small business, selling eggs. And then Mao came and my life changed for the better. I was very happy with the change. Beforehand, almost every normal family faced the same difficulties that my family experienced. It was a world for the rich, not for ordinary people. I feel so sad now when I think about the past. Two of my family were killed during the Japanese invasion. My younger brother was mauled to death by a Japanese dog and my father was shot by Japanese soldiers.

After the founding of New China, on the first national day, I met the then Shanghai mayor, Su Yuchang. I gave a speech recalling how things used to be and I was very happy, very excited.

After 1949 I continued with my business, going to the suburbs to collect vegetables and then coming back downtown to sell them. It was hard work, but I was happy because it was a new society and people felt differently about hard work. People treated each other differently, and a bit of hardship was nothing. I kept my business going until 1982, and then when I retired I got a pension of 1,800 yuan (£180) a month. I have a good life now, a pleasant life, thanks to Chairman Mao.

In the past, this park was forbidden to Chinese. It was an exclusive park for French children, in this concession area. After the concession was reclaimed, and all the foreigners went home, the park became a public place and is now a nice park and very convenient for us old people.

My happiest time was after Mao came into power. Our social status improved. People were allowed to express their views. Before, people had no right to speak out. After the founding of new China, the first parade, I was on the front row during the first parade. Foreign journalists from America and the Soviet Union took lots pictures of me. I was carrying a flower basket, walking down Huaihai road, it was very festive, and there was much excitement. I went out during the parade every year for many years, rain or shine.

I have a monthly pension of 1,800 yuan and I find it sufficient. We have medical insurance and seeing doctor basically costs us nothing. I don’t have to worry about food, there is no need to scramble for anything. In the past, the Japanese mixed sand and stone in the rice we ate. It was hell then, and it is like heaven for me now.

Zhou Xingfen, 84

I was born in Chongde County, Zhejiang Province. My father was in the pelt business, mainly for export. They made lambskin coats for foreigners in Shanghai. Later the Japanese came, and the business ended. So when I was supposed to go to school, I didn’t get the chance to study much. My childhood was very hard in the countryside. No one in the area got a proper education. I did not even finish primary school.

I started to work after the founding of New China, during the Great Leap Forward, which called for women to start working. Before 1949, I stayed at home raising the children. Afterwards, I worked for a machinery plant in Shanghai.

In old China, women did not have a say, and the New China brought rights for women. In the old society, women were merely domestic helpers and stayed home doing chores. We were quite ignorant in the past. Nowadays, the kids get a college education, and some continue their studies abroad. For our generation, few received higher education or saw much of the world.

Nowadays I enjoy my old age with my children. I live in quite a big house. In the past we had a difficult time, the eye operation I just had, which cost 4,000 yuan, would have been unthinkable in the past. We could not afford to go to hospital. Now my children all make good money. They often invite us to eat out, which was impossible in the past.

I regret that I only had four years of primary schooling. Now it is totally different and boys and girls have equal opportunities. They can all go to college if they are capable. All my grandchildren went to university. These are my happiest years. I can now enjoy my life. My children have invited me for dinner on the National Holiday, for a family get-together and a happy time.

Zhang Weimin, 77

I was born in Shanghai. My father was a doctor, so my family was relatively well off at the time. I basically lived on my parents’ money before the founding of New China. But when my parents died, I had to rely on myself, so I joined the army after the Liberation. After years of army service, I was assigned to work at Shanghai Pharmaceutical Company.

In the years before 1949 my cousin ran a pharmacy and I was an apprentice, learning some medical and business skills. I was 17 when New China was founded. I saw people singing and dancing in army uniforms, and I thought it was a good idea to join the army, so I went. I served in the army for three years. Afterwards the civil affair bureau arranged work for us.

Since I had some knowledge of Western medicine, from my days as an apprentice, I was assigned to the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Company. The Company was newly-founded at the time and lacked experienced employees, so I was able to display my expertise. I worked there till 1993. I have two sons, one daughter. Life became even better when they started to work.

The biggest difference between the old and the new China is that life is now more stable and comfortable, especially for older people. Before, life was not secure. Now we have a pension and medical insurance so we feel relieved. That’s why people support Mao, because he changed the social system fundamentally. Thanks to Chairman Mao the living standards of ordinary people have improved.

My happiest time was during my military service, as a single man with no burdens, no responsibility, a free life. I received a third class award at the army for good performance too. After my army service, I got married. And soon afterwards, the kids were born, one after another. Life was no longer easy for me, there were increased family responsibilities and my living standards decreased accordingly. But as the children grew up, life became better again. I felt happy when my children were born, I thought I had something to look forward to.

Now I have a pension of 1,800 yuan a month, and my wife gets 2,400 yuan. Before we needed to pay for the children, but now we live on our own, and the money is the average pension here in Shanghai. We are satisfied with the current social system, birth, old age, sickness and death, all taken care by the government, but was unimaginable in the old society.

Before 1949, people who were 60 years-old were a rarity, now you are only a little brother at 60, people normally live up to their 80s and 90s. The change of social system, and the improvement of living standards have prolonged people’s lives.

My view is that people shouldn’t compare to those above them but to those below them, that’s where they find self content and ease and have a positive life attitude and good spirit.

Kuai Guoying, 86

When I was a child, we did not have much food to eat. My parents were peasants. They farmed on land that belonged to someone else. We had to give the good crops to the land owner and we only got to keep bad ones. I had five siblings but only two survived.

My father died at 46, my mom at 67. We did not get to eat meat. Meat for poor people? No way, we didn’t even have grain, let alone meat. My mother starved to death during the three years of the Great Famine. We basically ate sweet potatoes, potatoes and carrots. We cooked a pot of carrots or potato soup in the morning and that would last a whole day. Life was hard, very hard.

I got married at 20. My husband was 19 at the time. Two years after our marriage, my husband came to Shanghai. I came to Shanghai in 1951 and one year later we had our first son. I had my first daughter when I was 23.

My eldest son is 58 now, eldest daughter 62. They did not have much food to eat either, not like today.

My husband first earned our living pulling a cart, and later worked at the railway for over a year. After that, he was sent to the remote Yunnan to support regional development. We were a family of six, plus a younger brother, a grandma, a sister-in-law and a younger sister. I had to support a total of nine people at home, on the 20 yuan my husband sent back each month.

How could a large family live on this 20 yuan? No way. So I went out, found a job, and got paid over 40 yuan a month. I basically supported the family. My husband later got transferred to Ningbo, Zhejiang. He asked me to move to his place but I refused to go since I had to support the elders at home.

Life has been much better now, much better, thanks to the Party, really. It started around the time of the reforms, when our children became independent.

Life has changed for the better, bit by bit. My husband moved to Jiaxing, much closer to Shanghai, so he could come back home every night. His salary went up too. When our children were little, they did not have enough food or clothes. We bought back fabric and sew at night by the light of the lamp hanging from top of the mosquito net. We could not afford to go to the tailor’s. We mended all our clothes and shoes. Then the children grew up and got jobs.

My younger daughter married at 31. My two sons too. My elder daughter was the earliest, at 29. My younger daughter’s husband went to the United States first while my younger daughter stayed with her son in Shanghai for three years. She did not want to go to the States at first. “It costs too much”, she said, “at least 100,000 to 200,000 rmb”. I told her to go, “The family should stay together. All three of you. Money is not the issue, your brothers, sister and us can pull in some money.” She finally got to go and has lived there for around ten years now.

We used to live in a tiny house, over ten people all together, just a place of over ten square metres. Now I often say to my husband that life has been totally different for our grandchildren, not only from ours, but from their parents too. They have nothing to worry about, no need to worry about food, clothes. In the past, one had to work really hard to support four people, and now just the contrary.

Now we don’t have to give money to our children. We don’t need support from them either, they have their own family to provide for. We have enough. We can’t eat much now. Not like before, when there was no food to eat when we desperately wanted to eat. Now my only wish is to live with my younger son’s family. They have a son who has not set up his own family yet. I hope they would buy a bigger house so we can live together, so I don’t have to worry about the food, the cooking. My daughter-in-law is very good.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Cameron could well be the last ever UK prime minister

He loathes the idea, and is right to. But Tory cuts and a row with Europe only add momentum to Scottish independence

Jackie Ashley,
Sunday 4 October 2009 20.00 BST

Labour has spent the last week gurning about how unlucky it is with the media, the political weather and much else. But now comes proof that Lady Luck favours no one: it was not, despite the claims of some Tories, anything other than bad luck for David Cameron that the Irish vote on Europe coincided with the start of his conference. And so, here we go, back to the future.

It seems half a lifetime ago that Westminster was boiling with abstruse-sounding rows about Maastricht, sovereignty and weighted voting systems, with Tory MPs hurling abuse at each other. Yet with the Irish vote removing the last major obstacle to the Lisbon treaty, it's hard to see how David Cameron can avoid returning to the blood-soaked old battlefield. The Czechs and the Poles haven't signed up yet, but yesterday the Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, said he believed his country would ratify the treaty by the end of the year. Cameron's hopes that the treaty could be delayed until after the British general election look extremely slim.

So the question facing the Tory leadership is quite clear: if, by next May, the Lisbon treaty has come into force and Europe has a new president, quite possibly Tony Blair, will Cameron keep his promise to hold a referendum? Yes or no? It's a straightforward question. He knows that to do so would risk a huge row with the rest of Europe, and a fully operational treaty would be harder to unpick than one not yet signed. That's why until now he has used the weaselly words that, if the treaty is signed, he would "not let matters rest there".

Cameron also knows that many in his party, not least his would-be successor Boris Johnson, will push for a referendum and have the support of much of the media too. If Cameron appears to want to renege on his promise, he will provoke fury and rebellion on his own side. For now, his "wait and see" gambit is beginning to look indecisive. If he were Gordon Brown, he would undoubtedly be accused of dithering.

At the same time, Cameron is worrying about another referendum, one which may prove no less momentous for the future shape of Britain. He faces a two-sided constitutional struggle, looking south towards Europe – but also north towards the Scots.

The nightmare for Cameron is that, once George Osborne has revealed details of the cuts imposed by Tory Westminster on Scottish budgets, the SNP start to gain momentum for their proposed independence referendum. Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister and nobody's fool, has been watching the Conservative agendas on cuts and on Europe with fascination.

His strategy for a referendum will be fleshed out on 30 November, St Andrew's Day, and it's likely he will try to get the vote in the spring or autumn of 2010, presumably when news about public spending cuts is causing maximum anger. It isn't easy for the SNP in Edinburgh's "parliament of minorities" because, although they are the largest party, there is a clear Labour-Lib Dem-Tory majority against a referendum.

But things aren't as simple as they seem. For one thing, the SNP are well ahead of Labour in the polls, while the Tories' situation remains dire. Cameron may be cleaning up across England, and even in Wales; but he cannot expect more than one or two MPs from Scotland. His plan for cutting the number of Westminster seats to 500 will inevitably further weaken the Scottish link.

So the argument about independence and the SNP referendum will take place at a time when Labour in Scotland is horribly weak, and when the Tories themselves seem to lack legitimacy there. Salmond has been menacing about the likely consequences for these parties if they go into an election for the Edinburgh parliament in 2011 as the politicians who refuse to let the people of Scotland speak. It's a volatile situation.

The way Salmond describes his future Scotland is carefully calculated. He has been wooing the financiers and banks to rebuild Scotland's place as a financial centre. And he speaks, again and again, about the importance to Scotland of Europe.

This is crucial because it connects to the Tories' coming war against European federalism. As Cameron, William Hague and the others get into a battle over the constitution and the future of Europe, the Scottish government will be offering itself as a pro-European bastion, just as the Irish did – and nobody knows better than Salmond what a huge financial benefit that once won for Dublin. Many Tories will say, of course, that all this is absolutely fine. According to them, the Scots have been a revenue-sapping bunch of whingers for years, whose main export to England seems to have been politicians and journalists. An independent Scotland means a Tory majority in England way into the distant future. And it makes standing up to the EU easier, in many ways, because Eurosceptic opinion is particularly strong in England. What's the problem?

Well, according to those who know him well, Cameron sees this as a definite problem. I'm told he loathes the idea of being the last ever prime minister of the United Kingdom. He would see the loss of Scotland as a huge blow to Britain's status in the world, including inside the EU and Nato, and would fight very hard to stop it happening. Last Friday, as a first step, he told the Scottish Sun he would "govern Scotland with the respect it deserves" and promised regular visits to answer questions.

Cameron is surely right to be concerned. If the prospect of an all-out confrontation with the rest of the EU is unsettling to middle of the road opinion, the end of the UK is much more so. What do you call the country that remains? It isn't England, quite, because there is also Wales. Does it stay a Diminished Britain, a Little Britain, whose flag is a simple spider of red lines on white? Trident, of course, goes because the naval bases in Scotland go. What about the currency? If the euro is circulating just north of Newcastle and Carlisle, the pound will feel more embattled.

Hardly anybody in England seems to be talking about this. There is little about it scheduled for the fringes and mainstream speeches at Manchester. Compared to public spending cuts and the deficit, it may seem marginal. But if you want a glimpse into how different life might feel under Cameron, and what an unfamiliar country we may be tiptoeing into, the very future of a UK inside Europe is a good place to start.

Friday, 2 October 2009

A march of progress: the road to prosperity

Source: Global Times [01:00 October 01 2009]

When a sea of people march in a mass pageant and grand military parade today to celebrate the 60th birthday of New China, they will take a route that goes from Jianguomen (Gate of Country Founding) to Fuxingmen (Gate of Nation Revival) in the heart of Beijing.

With the spectacular march showcasing the tremendous progress made since its founding six decades ago, New China is taking another big step on its road toward prosperity.

If "Life begins at 60," as the popular Western saying goes, a 60th birthday is the time to simplify the complicated and to get to the real meaning of life.

It is the same with New China: No matter how complicated the situation on the road is, human development is the key.

Regardless of how many freeways are built in China, or how many cars are owned by Chinese families, China's biggest progress in the past six decades undoubtedly lies in the fact that it has successfully fed a quarter of the world's population with less than 10 percent of the planet's arable land and 5 percent of its fresh water resources.

Without following the lead of either the former Soviet Union or the Western nations, China has given its people the ability to survive, the very first step toward human development, in its own way.

Its socialist road to prosperity has been given more human faces since China included the protection and respect of human rights in its Constitution in 2004.

The enactment of laws such as the Property Law and the Environmental Protection Law have shown a policy shift toward a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and human-oriented modern society.

From the time when millions of Chinese people struggled to fill their stomachs to the current era when China ranks as the third-largest economy in the world, from the period when human nature was often suppressed to a time when individuals' rights to choose and to develop are much more respected, China has come a long way.

There have been many lessons learned, and many more rich experiences to take pride in. But all hinge on the emancipation of the mind and human liberation of the Chinese people.

China's road forward is not going to be an easy one, either.

Questions remain to be answered, including: How to keep the economy growing in a sustainable way? How to strengthen the soft power of the nation? How to deliver social justice to the greatest majority of the public? How to effectively improve democracy? Above all, how to enhance the human development of all Chinese people?

Despite these questions and uncertainties, it is without a doubt that China will take an innovative approach to arouse the initiative of its citizens by exploring their value as human beings, as it has done in the past 60 years.

Six decades ago, Mao Zedong, founding chairman of New China, proclaimed that "The Chinese people have stood up!" What he said carries even deeper meaning today.

On China's road toward prosperity, toward the "free and all-round development of human beings," as Marxism puts it, the Chinese people who have stood up and taken pride in their nation will continue to show their power and to create more miracles that will amaze the world.

60 years on, New China still has far to go

Source: Globaltimes [01:07 September 30 2009]

A farmer holds grains of wheat he harvests. China has successfully fed its 1.3 billion people. Photo: CFP

When Chinese people hail the 60th birthday of New China tomorrow, with a grand military parade and a mass pageant featuring 200,000 people in the heart of Beijing, they are also taking an important first step toward the nation's next decades.

The past six decades have seen China reinventing itself at such amazing speed that the period has been dubbed the "China Years" by some economists. Stephen Green, a senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank, made the semi-serious calculation that China is experiencing changes so much faster than Western nations that one "American Year" equals merely a quarter of a "China Year."

But fast development in the past does not necessarily guarantee an easy path toward a promising future.

The world has been astonished at China's fast change simply because it has often compared today's China with the stereotyped poor, underdeveloped China of 60 years ago.

Once the stereotype is debunked, the world will find that the farther China goes on its route toward prosperity, the longer and harder every step forward is likely to be.

A recent survey conducted by the Global Times illustrates the point.

A total of 60 well-known Chinese experts assessed that the top issues China has resolved in the past six decades include "successfully feeding its 1.3 billion people" (88.3 percent), and "realizing the independence of the nation" (76.7 percent).

While those are mostly basic domestic and international issues that a modern nation must gain a solid footing in, much tougher issues are waiting to be solved by China in the future, as indicated in the same survey.

They include tackling "global problems such as climate change and environmental protection" and finding "a solution to guarantee sustainable development" (73.3 percent), and "improving China's national image" (68.3 percent).

If China for the past 60 years has often been painted with a single brush, better skills and greater wisdom are required to present a more and more massive and complicated landscape.

Quality will be prioritized over speed. While China is likely to overtake Japan as the world's second-largest economy next year, its per capita GDP ranks only 106th in the world.
To achieve sustainable growth, the environment needs to be protected, the most vulnerable social groups should be well cared for, and corruption has to be curbed.
And above all, socialist values, such as justice and credibility, that the nation stands for must be delivered to the majority of the public.

More uncertainties will confront the nation as the world seeks to have China's role in international affairs match its clout.

But whatever the uncertainty is, as Nikolai Ryzhkov, former chairman of the Council of Ministers of the former Soviet Union, put it, innovation is the key.

Lacking innovation, the former Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe states collapsed; with the systematic innovation of the reform and opening-up policy, China has thrived.

As the first step is taken tomorrow on our long journey toward the future, it is far too early to predict what China will someday be like.

But it is without a doubt that China will take an innovative approach to deal with any condition as it arises, as the nation has done in the past six decades.

Let us hope when New China celebrates its 100th birthday, it will be a prosperous, democratic, civilized, and harmonious modern socialist nation.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Long Live PRC

By Kudakwashe Machawira (China Daily)

OnOct 1, 1949, a great nation was reborn, a nation that has the potential to help the whole world in political, social and economic development.

Today the People's Republic of China is 60 years old. Therefore, I take this chance to congratulate the people of China and President Hu Jintao on the 60th anniversary.

I say long live the People's Republic of China! Long live the great nation!

When I saw the preparations for the anniversary by all the people in China from the day I arrived in Beijing a month ago, I had a question in my mind: whether the people of this country know that they are not celebrating alone.

The people of China, you are not alone in this celebration. In Africa, we are together with you.

The birth of China was the light for the independence of many African states, including my country Zimbabwe.

China assisted many revolutionary forces in Africa. We fought the colonialists and won because of the principles which were adopted by our leaders from the Communist Party of China (CPC).

In Africa, we were not going to be freed without the support of China. The support that we got from the leadership of Chairman Mao and the CPC needs an appreciation by Oct 1 being declared a holiday in our continent.

The great nation is still supporting us today in both political and economic issues. China always saves the life of small nations from the harsh policies of powerful nations.

Recently, President Hu encouraged the developed countries to assist developing countries when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

Who does not want to associate with such a good friend? China has a true heart of friendship.

In times of suffering, China provides much-needed support. In time of war, China brings peace and in times of peace, she brings development.

In my great country Zimbabwe, our government decided to look east for good friends and development and positive results are coming.

Congratulations to the people of China for choosing great leaders from the day the PRC was born, leaders who care about the people.

It is only a question of time for this great nation to achieve what it deserves, to contribute to the world both politically and economically.

Once again I would like to say: "Long Live the People's Republic of China!"

Kudakwashe Machawira

via e-mail

(China Daily 10/01/2009 page5)

Chinese president reviews troops to mark 60th National Day

Source: Xinhua
[10:37 October 01 2009]

Top Chinese state and military leader Hu Jintao inspects the country's defense forces which will also stage a massive parade in Beijing in celebration of the 60th founding anniversary founding of New China, Oct.1, 2009. (Xinhua Photo)

Top Chinese state and military leader Hu Jintao on Thursday inspected the country's defense forces which will also stage a massive parade in Beijing in celebration of the 60th founding anniversary founding of New China.

A black open-roof Red Flag limousine carried Hu, state president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, eastward along Chang'an Avenue from the iconic Tian'anmen Square shortly after the celebration started at 10 a.m..

Tens of thousands of soldiers and militia, together with ranks of camouflaged tanks and missiles, stood along the newly widened boulevard and waited to be inspected.
The whole procession stretches some three kilometers.

"Greetings, comrades!" Hu, wearing a high-collared Mao suit, saluted troops through a microphone.

"Greetings, leader!" Loudly replied the soldiers in brand new uniforms.

Hu then said "Comrades, you are working hard!" And the troops replied: "We serve the people!"

Hu's inspection of the troops, the first in the past decade, preluded a full-dress National Day military parade involving about 8,000 military personnel.

Fourteen phalanxes on feet are composed of the army, navy, air force and the Second Artillery Force of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the People's Armed Police Force and reserved force.

PLA's young and mysterious Special Forces made their debut for the inspection.
A total of 30 phalanxes in wheeled transport displayed more than 50 types of new weapon systems manufactured by China on its own, including the newest model of intercontinental nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Other cutting-edge weaponry included China's new generation of tanks, sophisticated radar, airborne early warning and control aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellite communication devices. All the weapons are made in China.

More than 150 jet-fighters, bombers, helicopters and other aircraft in 12 echelons will fly over the square, packed with some 200,000 people.

The parade, the 14th since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, is set to showcase China's newest weaponry and enhanced defense strength.