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February 06 2014

French Influence on Vietnamese Cooking

Writing for The Culture Trip, Melissa Pearce reviews the French impact on Vietnamese cooking:

The French brought many ingredients and flavours to Vietnam, most popular and noticeable upon entering the country is probably the baguette, which the Vietnamese adapted and today create their own style of baguette using rice flour.

February 05 2014

Forget What You Know About Visiting Kosovo

A trip to Kosovo nowadays would convince anyone that this country, far from its sometimes negative reputation, has indeed a lot to offer. According to the World Bank data, more than 70 percent of Kosovo's population is under 35 years old, which surely explains the fact that on the flight this Global Voices author made to the country's capital Prishtina, half of the passengers were under 10 years old. This makes for quite the start to an unusual holidays!

Kosovo youth, while having to deal with terrible unemployment rates of 55.3 percent, manage to energize the country and push the rough memories of war further and further away. US blogger Adventurous Kate comments how first-time visitors feel:

It’s my first time in Kosovo, and I don’t know what to expect. Just the mention of “Kosovo” in America brings to mind an image of war, of death, of ethnic cleansing, of bombs. Even though this took place more than a decade ago, I’m wondering just what kinds of scars the country will bear.

Far off from the scars, what strikes the freshly arrived visitor most are Prishtina's incredible cafés. Everyone should experience the taste of a perfect macchiato on a sunny and well-designed terrace, looking over the frenetic errands of passersby. It certainly is not a legend that the coffee there sometimes tastes even better than an Italian one – we apologize to our Italian friends for this, but it must be said!

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

The Dit' e Nat' café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

The Dit’ e Nat’ café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

Although it might be true that Prishtina's architecture, mostly grey and anarchic buildings, is not its main attraction, the city is buoyant in its attitude and style. Its walls are full of graffiti and other forms of street art; the soul of the city appears on them an open book to visitors.

“I love colors” and “I love flowers” appear very frequently on the walls of the city, mostly in the saddest parts.

The claims not to forget the leaders of the Kosovo independance are visible here and there.

Urban art urging people not to forget the leaders of Kosovo's independence are visible here and there.

Creative details are available on every corner.

Creative details are available on every corner in Kosovo.

Kosovo's people seem to look more towards the future than stay stuck in the past praising war heroes or pacifist icons of Kosovo's battle for independence from Serbia, like Ibrahim Rugova. Kosovo, now the newest nation in Europe, was historically a part of Serbia and previously Yugoslavia. The 1998-99 Kosovo War was fought between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up by Serbia and Montenegro at the time, and the Kosovo rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), with military air support from NATO, after 10 years of non-violent resistance from the civil society of Kosovo.

Although portraits of Ibrahim Rugova, the first president of newly independent Kosovo, as well as of the leaders of the armed resistance are visible here and there, the general impression to the newcomer is that today's actors of Kosovo are building up their own models. Witnessing the elections in Kosovo from Prishtina in November 2013, Darmon Richter comments:

Newspaper stories about riot police and violent assaults in polling stations do nothing to give a sense of modern-day Kosovo, save for the few pockets of the country where race rivalry is still rife. In the city of Pristina, people crave recognition of their independence… but all in all, it's about as normal a city as you'll find anywhere in the Balkans.

In fact, with a reported 60% voting turnout nationwide, democracy almost seems to be working better here than it does in the UK.

In the center of Prishtina, Rugova is still there, but the colors are washed out.

In the center of Prishtina, street art bearing Kosovo's first President Ibrahim Rugova's image is still there, but the colors are washed out.

Somehow, Prishtina could appear as a “mini-Istanbul” in the sense that it is sitting quite balanced between a post-Ottoman and a Western European culture. Kim's travel blog, from an American and Korean perspective, underlines the surprising cosmopolitan atmosphere of the “city of love”:

After visiting Pristina, I truly understood why people had been calling Kosovo a fast developing and energetic country. You could see the new buildings coming up everywhere, and could see foreigners traveling (majorly European) around the city and there were many exciting restaurants available besides just Balkan foods (…). Although I did not see any Asian people at all, one of my friends informed me that he had seen four Japanese people touring around the city. I wish I was there to witness the ASIANS walking around the city, that would have been hilarious. We probably had exchanged strange looks thinking “what the hell are you doing here…?” haha

What comes out of it is, just like in the Turkish city of wonders, a fascinating mixture of traditional silver art craft shops, highly modern new cafés, a multitude of bakeries, some old mosques being rebuilt, and some churches left to rot. In the center you can see some incredible buildings like the Prishtina University library, which appears almost as an unidentified object in the middle of the communist architecture that inhabits the rest of the area. Kim's travel blog also mentions this building:

You could see many historical buildings around the city, and you could tell Kosovars were very proud of them. University of Pristina, the best one in Kosovo, was structured nicely. Also right next to the university, there is Pristina National Library, which was quite impressive and weirdly designed. My friend who currently works at University of Pristina had explained to me what the structure and the design was based on, but … of course this chicken head had forgotten about it. Maybe I will google and Wikipedia it later.

The magazine Kosovo 2.0, available in English, Albanian and Serbian, is the new brand of this educated, multilingual and very open, worldly society. Covering politics, arts, fashion, social debates, women and gender issues, Kosovar topics and global subjects, the magazine is available in print as well as online. Kosovo 2.0 also offers a selection of the latest sounds produced locally, mostly electro genres, which are available online : http://www.kosovotwopointzero.com/player. Enjoy the musical ride!

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

Prishtina is full of surprises for visitors from any origin. But as Kosovo is young, it is growing and changing very quickly. So do not lose any more time and, if you can, hop on the next plane or car and take a moment to discover this promising city and its joyful contradictions. If you are quick enough, there might still be a piece of cake there for you!

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much but not quite.

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much, but not quite.

All photographs in this post are by author Marie Bohner.

Top 10 Chinatowns in the World

THE WORLD OF CHINESE takes a look at some of the oldest and biggest Chinatowns in the world, including the ones in San Francisco, Vancouver, Lima (Peru), Havana (Cuba), London, Paris, Manila, Singapore and Melbourne. 

February 04 2014

15-year-old Girl Spins for Four Hours in Spring Festival Gala


Chinese netizens were outraged about such ridiculous performance. The girl Wei Caiqi rotated more than 8000 circles non-stop for four hours as performance. As explained by the TV hosts, the spinning performance is to indicate the Chinese sense of “time” and “history”. It sounds like a mockery.

ChinaSMACK translated some online reaction to the performance.

January 31 2014

China's Propaganda-Heavy New Year's Gala Fails to Impress Viewers

It annoys more than it entertains. That seems to be the message people are expressing via social media after this year's broadcast of state-owned China Central Television's Spring Festival Gala celebrating Chinese New Year.

Known in Mandarin as Chunwan, the variety show regularly draws tens of millions of viewers every year and has become an essential part of celebrations for the New Year since its start three decades ago. The South China Morning Post reported that 750 million Chinese watched the gala last year, more than six times the viewership of the Super Bowl in America.

But its popularity has dwindled in recent years. This year's nearly five-hour long event on January 30, 2014, consisting of stand-up comedy, dancing, singing, magic and other performances, drove home the themes of the Chinese Dream - an idea promoting hard work and collective effort for the prosperity of China - and nostalgia for the country's red past. 

The show was never short on rosy language. For example, a song titled “I am not too demanding” performed by a popular comedian presented a comfortable middle-class life as representing the Chinese Dream:

The lyrics go:

I have an 80 square-meter house and a gentle wife. Our kid already finished college and secured a great job right after graduation. I commute between my workplace and home quite smoothly, rush hour is non-existent. I exercise outdoors and see the blue sky every day.

Pensions and health care are not problems because they will be covered by the government. This is my Chinese Dream, it’s small and simple. I am not striving to become a dragon or a phoenix. Instead, I want to be immersed in happiness. It’s easily attainable by standing on your tiptoes.

The backdrop behind the performance displayed the vast landscape of China, complete with newly built rural houses and some showcase infrastructure projects – all packaged to represent the Chinese Dream, a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping which is frequently evoked in media discourse and official speeches.

In addition to the theme of the China Dream, a session was devoted to the Chinese Communist Party's revolution history. The ballet performance of the Red Detachment of Women, a Chinese ballet set in the 1930s, made its debut during the show at a time when the legacy of red culture remains a contentious issue in China. The storyline follows peasant-turned female soldiers’ devotion to communism:

The political underpinnings are subtle but pervasive, in the words of the hosts, and reflected in the choreography. These messages lacing the performances are ordered from above – in an earlier visit to CCTV, Minister the Central Propaganda Department Liu Qibao urged that the gala should “spread positive energy” and promote “the rhythm of our era – the Chinese Dream”.

However, the gala is losing its magic spell on ordinary people. According to a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of the viewers were extremely disappointed in the program this year, particularly with the reduced number of stand-up comedy routines, which usually mock social happenings. The news of Cui Jian, godfather of rock music in China, pulling out of the show caused the gala's reputation to take a hit. He reportedly quit after refusing to comply with censorship requirements for his songs. 

The comments trickled in as the gala was underway, and the topic has remained trending as of the morning of January 31. Microbloggers in China have been largely critical of this year's show. Editor-in-Chief for the Financial Times Chinese Zhang Lifeng exclaimed:

春晚啊,你到底怎么了???

Chunwan, what has happened to you???

Some took notice of the “red” performance. A Beijing-based media professional under the Weibo name Zhangwen de Wenzhang wrote:

春晚,红色娘子军主导!

Chunwan has been dominated by the Red Detachment of Women.

Xiong Peiyun, an outspoken commentator, found the program full of conflicting values:

奴役与自由、丑与美、暴力与温柔,在同一时代的舞台。如果我承认一个集体的中国梦,这个梦就是希望这个国家彻底告别“红色娘子军”,走向“玫瑰人生”。

Enslavement and freedom, uglyness and beauty, violence and softness, all displayed on the same stage. If I subscribed to a collective Chinese Dream, it would be a dream that is detached from the “Red Detachment of Women”, a dream that would lead to a “rosy life”.

Writer Beicui criticised the propaganda nature of the gala:

春晚现象:为什么春晚总导不好?仿佛经年痼疾?病灶到底在哪里?就在它“用文艺节目推销意识形态”,谁导都得贯彻这个主旨,就像要人把一杯白水说成美酒那样痛苦;2、为何年年吐槽年年看年年骂?也是因为同一个原因“推销意识形态”,热议的是意识形态,不是文艺;3、伟光正存在一天这现象就持续一天。

Chunwan phenomena: Why is it difficult to direct Chunwan? As if it's some chronic disease? What is the root cause? The answer is found in the fact that it uses the show to promote ideology, whoever directs the show has to implement the theme, it's like making plain water into good wine; 2 Why do [people] lash out at Chunwan every year while continuing to watch it? It's for the same reason of ideology promotion, the hotly debated part is the ideology itself rather than the art; 3 The phenomena will last as long as the “grand glow” [referring to directives from state leaders]. 

On Twitter, Chunwan has also generated a buzz. Jeremiah Jenne, a PhD candidate at Beijing Foreign Studies University, wrote:

Elaine wasn't entertained, she lamented:

Human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig seemed to poke fun at Chunwan:

This wasn't the first year that the show's declining popularity was a topic of discussion. Writing in a Chinese newspaper in 2007, Ren Yi, a former visiting scholar of Harvard University, commented:

The Spring Festival Gala still needs to accomplish its political mission and disseminate political information. But its current format still uses the old political propaganda methods which will lose more and more of the younger audiences. Young people want to watch truly interesting entertainment programs, not to attend a class in political theories. In my opinion, that type of politicized style is in serious conflict with the market and commercial needs.

Old Video of Official Slapping Chinese Tennis Star Li Na Goes Viral

Video of Chinese tennis star Li Na, fresh off her Australian Open win, being slapped in the face by an official during an award ceremony of the China's 2001 National Games has gone viral on the Chinese web, sparking public anger about officials’ abuse of athletes.

In the video, Li is awarded a bronze medal from Jiang Xiuyun, the head of the national tennis team, who places the medal around Li's neck, then slaps her. 

Though local media outlets quickly followed up on the story with an explanation that the “slap” was actually an intimate gesture to cheer Li up, many did not buy the story. Li does disappointed when she receives bronze on stage, but appears taken aback by the “intimate gesture”, quickly bringing her hand up to touch her slapped cheek.

According the Jiang, she split Li and her teammate up during the match, which made Li unhappy. The gesture was an attempt to rid Li of her emotion. 

The sport system, managed by the Culture, Education, Health and Sports Committee on both national and provincial levels, is notorious for their attitude towards athletes. Citing the video, a non-profit organization worker, “Cai rang duo ji”, expressed irritation on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo for the humiliating action against Li:

李娜为什么不感谢祖国?在奴役与侮辱中长大,是大家共同的命运。无论是成功与否,谁也不会去爱,曾经奴役与侮辱过自己的土地。

Why didn’t Li Na express gratitude to the motherland? The common fate of Chinese is growing up in servitude and with insults. Nobody will love the motherland enslaving and insulting him or her whether successful or not.

His tweet won many echoes in the comment section. “Longxi Yize” wrote:

这是一个把强奸叫做爱的社会。

This is a society which calls rape love.

Another Weibo user, Jingya, watched the video and could not believe that it was an intimate gesture:

才看视频,说是亲昵鼓励,我打死也不信,亲昵该是挂完奖牌顺便抚摸一下,怎会有举手扫去的动作?看旁边人的表情也该知道。

I just watched the video. I would never believe that it was friendly encouragement. If it was an intimate gesture, you would caress the face, how could you raise your hand up high and slap it instead? The facial gestures from people next to Li Na also tell what had happened.

Netizens also took the video as an explanation of her poker face during her homecoming ceremony when she received a six-figure cash award from local officials. Li remained stone-faced throughout the event. 

Li Na left the national team in 2002 and began to play on an international level. Her triumph at the Australian Open provided Chinese authorities with a chance to show off the country's soft power. The welcoming ceremony was staged in her hometown with the presentation of 800,000 yuan (130,000 US dollars) to her as a gift from Hubei authorities.

Li Na's expression during the award presentation in the Wuhan airport was interpreted as a reject to political performance. Image uploaded by Lawyer Yuan Yulai from Weibo.

Li Na's expression during the award presentation in the Wuhan airport was interpreted as a reject to political performance. Image uploaded by Lawyer Yuan Yulai from Weibo.

Local news reports revealed that she had refused to attend any public function at first, but the authorities sent staff to Guangzhou airport and escorted her to Wuhan airport, where the ceremony took place. But when she met with her former tennis trainer from Hubei and received the prize from the provincial leader, she did not show any gratitude in front of the cameras.

The Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces are not happy about her performance. A Global Times’ January 29 editorial criticized Li has been mystified by some as an icon of “individual success” in order to undermine the authority of the national sport system. The Xinhua news agency also stressed that Li's success has been sponsored by the state.

Lawyer Yuan Yulai posted a photo of her straight-faced response to the ceremony and pointed out that her refusal to act is more important than the Australian Open championship:

我个人认为,@李娜 的不装,比获得澳网冠军的意义更大。

I personally think that Li Na's refusal to perform has greater meaning than winning the Australia Open.

Many joined the discussion and interpreted her cool performance:

守望-幸福V:谢谢李娜,让那些臭不要脸的官员们终于知道群众的真实了,也让那些拍马屁的狗奴才们看清他们的臭嘴脸了。

“Attending Happiness”: Thank you Li Na. Let the shameless government officials confront the real people. Let the ass-kissers have a good look at their stinky faces.

专治细胞缺水:80万是狗粮,想让李娜做政治道具。 穿道具很拘束,令人窒息。换哪个自由了的人都不开心

“Expert in curing cancer”: the 800,000 yuan [award] is dog food with an attempt to turn Li Na into political tool. The performance costume is suffocating. Anyone with a free heart will not be happy about it.

红砖碧瓦时代:以前不是很关心和了解她,现在感觉,李娜将是中国体育界被载入史册的人!

“The red and green brick time”: I wasn't paying attention to her in the past. Now I feel that she should be written into the Chinese sport history books.

saintpluto87:有人说李娜不会做人,其实当今社会正是需要这种不会做人的人,去涤荡由政府多年来积累的不良风气,从而真正推动社会的进步!

saitpluto87: Some said Li Na is an ill-mannered person. But our society needs this kind of person to do away with the culture of the government and promote social progress.

作家-天佑: 每个公民都有不向领导媚笑的权利。

“Writer-Tianyuo”: Every citizen has the right to refuse to perform for the entertainment of the leader.

This post is co-authored with Oiwan Lam

Everyday Ukrainian Life in 1942 Depicted Through Fifty Color Photos

Woman and child in rural Ukraine, 1942. Photo courtesy of www.vintage.es, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Woman and child in rural Ukraine, 1942. Photo courtesy of www.vintage.es, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

As anti-government protests that started on November 21, 2013, burden Ukrainian life today, a vintage photo blog takes a look back on another harsh period of the country's history – through 52 amazing color photographs [photo] of everyday life in Ukraine in 1942.

In 1942, like many other European countries, Ukraine was under Nazi occupation. As InfoUkes reminds readers:

Hitler appointed the Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946) head of the Ostministerium (East Ministry) in charge of administering the territory of Ukraine. Before the war Rosenberg was pro-Ukrainian and anti-Muscovite (Russian). He planned to establish a Greater Ukraine state taking territory from Western Russia. However, Hitler had a different idea. He thought Ukrainians should get no preferential treatment and personally appointed Erich Koch to rule Reichskommissariat Ukraine (eastern Ukraine) with an iron fist.

Koch, as a member of the superior German Herrenvolk master race, started a reign of terror and oppression in Ukraine. Koch often said that the Ukrainian people were inferior to the Germans, that Ukrainians were half-monkeys, and that Ukrainians “must be handled with the whip like the negroes.” He once said that “no German soldiers would die for these niggers [Ukrainians].”

The photos on Vintage Everyday, however, show a different side of the story. However cruel the times, people have a tendency to do everything in their power to lead normal lives, even in a Nazi-occupied Ukraine and with World War II raging on all fronts.

January 29 2014

Lebanon: New Stamp to Commemorate Armenian Genocide

Lebanon will have a new national stamp released to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Announcing it on Twitter, Minister of Telecommunications Nicolas Sehnaoui stressed the symbolic importance of the stamp:

An estimated 1 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in present-day Turkey (then under Ottoman rule), starting from April 1915, in what became known as the Armenian genocide.

Armenian activists and supporters have taken this opportunity to remind the world of the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide:

London-based historian Rory Yeomans notes its historic importance:

Turkish Twitter user Mehmet Kosucu thinks otherwise:

January 28 2014

So Long to Russia's Only Independent TV Station?

Could TV Rain end up in the trash bin of history? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Could TV Rain end up in the trash bin of history? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The only opposition television station operating today in Russia is now threatened with losing access to cable broadcasting. A product of the brief political thaw under President Dmitri Medvedev, TV Rain, or “Dozhd” in Russian, has been on air since April 2010. The station is accessible online (for a fee), by satellite, and via cable television. It is this last option that might go the way of the dinosaurs very soon.

The tentative reason for ending TV Rain’s cable television dissemination is a supposedly unpatriotic poll the channel aired on January 27, 2014, asking readers to assess Soviet military tactics during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II. The question that caused the uproar was, “Should Leningrad have been surrendered [to the Nazis] to spare hundreds of thousands of lives?” (The station later canceled the poll and apologized [ru] for the question.)

A day later, Yuri Pripachkin, President of the Cable Television Association of Russia (AKTR), said publicly [ru] what many interpreted to mean eliminating the cable broadcasting of TV Rain in Russia. Pripachkin later clarified [ru] his remarks, explaining that AKTR is not considering a requirement that cable operators drop TV Rain from coverage, but acknowledged that the organization is debating whether to allow operators to make that decision for themselves “based on financial considerations.”

Pripachkin’s argument is that TV Rain, offered as part of a package of many television channels, frequently offends viewers with provocative content, causing cable operators potential losses, when consumers supposedly leave in disgust. Another grievance from AKTR is that TV Rain’s regular promotion of its online stream—available for about $90 a year—also bleeds cable operators of money and clients. (At the time of this writing, AKTR’s website was disabled by what appeared to be a DDoS attack.)

The response to this scandal from TV Rain’s supporters has been tenacious. While most admit the wording of the Leningrad blockade poll was unfortunate, many of the television station’s fans insist that the subject should remain open to debate. The threat to Russia’s only opposition TV station has of course galvanized the country’s most active group of bloggers: Russian journalists.

Andrei Arkhangelsky argued [ru] in a Facebook post that the World War II question, whatever its tone, performed a service to society by drawing out expert opinions about the siege. Rustem Adagamov, a Russian photo-blogger living in self-exile in Prague, came to similar conclusions [ru], pointing out that TV Rain never expressed any approval for the idea of surrendering the city to the Germans. In a somewhat different vein, television personality and director Andrei Maksimov wrote [ru] on Facebook that Russians should expect nothing else from young people, given the “castration” of modern education, severing today’s generation from the past’s values of the Great Patriotic War.

GQ Russia magazine’s Michael Idov posted [ru] to Facebook one of the most interesting, if not peculiar, reflections on the possible crackdown against TV Rain. Trying to demonstrate the power imbalance weighing on the station, Idov asked readers to consider, what he says is, “the only justification for the behavior of the state of Israel”—a mental exercise, whereby you imagine the situation “inside-out.” In the case of Israel, this means seeing a world where Israel is a small, lone Muslim state, surrounded by Jewish countries. In order to understand TV Rain, Idov recommends imagining a lone, tiny television station dedicated to pro-regime hardliners, surrounded in a sea of liberal media giants. (This might mark the first time in history when someone appealed to the Israel-Palestine conflict as a more coherent antagonism.) Idov contends that TV Rain, despite mistakes along the way, has come to be a media powerhouse worthy of respect.

The TV channel hasn’t won over all the netizens, of course. Kirill Shulika, an often-shrewd activist in Russia’s Democratic Choice party, observed [ru] on Facebook that TV Rain’s managers must have anticipated a reaction like Pripachkin’s. Shulika suggests that the television station might have engineered the scandal in order to whip up publicity, or possibly to rid itself of its cable TV contracts, which he speculates have been less than profitable.

As fate would have it, TV Rain’s World War II history faux pas wasn’t Russia’s only in the last 48 hours. The Kremlin-friendly television station Russia-24 experienced its own, far more entertaining screw up [ru], when the channel’s social media marketing staff included a photograph and quote from Nazi ideologue Joseph Goebbels praising Vladimir Lenin. The quote, “Lenin was the greatest among the Russians,” was part of a collage of famous remarks about Lenin on the 90th anniversary of his death.

Russia-24 quickly fired [ru] the entire editorial staff of its social media marketing team. At this time, no one with any authority [ru] in Russia has proposed sanctions against the station for propagating the visage of the Third Reich’s most zealous advocate. On the other hand, Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s media watchdog agency, has announced [ru] that it has received complaints and will open an investigation into TV Rain’s poll about the siege of Leningrad.

Qaraqalpaqstan, the ‘Forgotten Stan’ of Central Asia

Qaraqalpaqstan (or Karakalpakstan) is one of the least-known “stans” of Central Asia. Part of Uzbekistan, this region is a true gem for a curious traveler. On the Caravanistan blog, Steven writes about this “forgotten stan”:

…Living under the shadow cast by the desiccation of the Aral Sea, this little-known stan has gotten a bad rep and has drawn mostly disaster tourism in recent years.

Tourists with an open eye, an extra day to loiter and the imagination to appreciate the weight of history, the power of landscape and the nomadic traditions of a desert nation however, will find Karakalpakstan a fascinating place…

Most surprising is the long history of the region. Places like the UNESCO World heritage desert castles of Toprak Qala, Ayaz Qala, Koy-Kirilgan Qala, Big Guldursun, Pil Qala, Anka Qala, Kurgashin Qala and Djanbas Qala Mizdakhan give an inkling of a once-blooming society, the powerful state of Khorezm that guarded part of the ancient Silk Road. These are places few foreigners get to see, and they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of archaeological treasures strewn around in the desert…

January 27 2014

Teaching Art During Vietnam War

The British Library blog features several art works made during the Vietnam War era. It also quotes Nguyễn Toan Thi, a guerilla artist during the war:

Art classes were held outside in the forest until our schools were bombed: classes were then held underground. Art teachers and students shared the same trenches. We fought and sketched together, to record spontaneous and realistic images of the battlefield and our life in the forest.

January 26 2014

Indonesia Apology Urged Over Massacre of a Million Citizens in 1965

Human rights groups Tapol and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network have launched a campaign called ‘Say Sorry for '65′ addressed to the Indonesian government in relation to the reported killing of a million citizens during the anti-communist campaign of the government in the 1960s:

In 1965/66, up to a million Indonesians were massacred by the military, paramilitary and civilian mobs. Hundreds of thousands more were injured, disappeared, raped and imprisoned without trial. The United States and the United Kingdom secretly welcomed and supported the killings.

For fifty years the victims have been asking for justice and for the government to Say Sorry for ‘65, but Indonesia denies these crimes even happened.

January 23 2014

Goodbye Alexandros Petersen, Prodigious Guide to China in Central Asia

With a sprinkle of humor, Alex slipped seamlessly and gracefully into a region of stories and storytellers, abundance and poverty, toasts and toast-makers. 

The 29 year-old go-to-scholar and commentator was eloquent and big-hearted in everything he did. 

It was with great shock that I comprehended the loss of Alexandros Petersen, co-author of the excellent Eurasian affairs blog ChinainCentralAsia.com, in a suicide bomb attack carried out by the Taliban at a restaurant in central Kabul on January 17, 2014. 

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

This is not an obituary.

Alex was so well-traveled and well-affiliated that compiling his biography would probably be a task beyond any single person, and certainly the author of this post. A great number of people knew Alex in a great number of capacities, all of whom lost something in this brutal, highly coordinated and premeditated attack.

America-born to a Greek mother and a Danish father, he had friends and admirers across the world, with a notable concentration of both in lands sandwiched between the shores of the Black Sea and the sands of the Taklamakan desert.

As an occasional journalist, I had known ‘Alex the source’ – always reliable for an astute and erudite quote – for some time before I knew Alex the person.

While the first Alex will leave a gaping hole in the rolodex of many analysts and reporters covering Central Asia and the Caucasus, it is the second Alex, known by family, friends, colleagues and students, that will be missed even more. 

As a noted expert in energy politics, Alex's scope was global, yet like many that have traveled through, lived and worked in, or wrote about the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, there was a specific set of countries he found infectious. As he emphasized in his book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and later through the ChinainCentralAsia blog and book project, this is a region that western policy-makers ignore at their peril.

Many people that knew Alex, even as briefly as I knew him, will know that he had an aptitude for anecdotes. Through the warm fuzzy memory of one of several excellent dinner evenings at a well-known Georgian restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a dash of the Caucasus in Central Asia) I can still hear his tale of the duplicitous Azerbaijani ambassador that summoned him for a dressing down after he had written a critical article about that country, only to promptly stop, smile, and break out a teapot and tea cups. The dressing down, it emerged, had been recorded for the benefit of a political high-up in Baku, while the teapot and tea cups were symbols of the perennial hospitality with which any visitor to the region rapidly becomes familiar. 

On a good night, Alex could reel off a dozen such recollections from his years traveling through countries in Europe and Asia, nearly all of which were outrageously funny. A Petersen punch line could leave your ribs hurting from laughter, a potent and particular gift that the Taliban stole from the world.

China in Central Asia

Through ChinainCentralAsia.com, one of the most readable English-language blogs covering geopolitics in the Eurasian region, Alex had begun in combination with co-writer Raffaello Pantucci and photojournalist Sue Anne Tay, to document what he was convinced, with good reason, would be one of the stories of the 21st century, namely China's giant economic push through the countries lying west of its own restive Xinjiang province. These countries, cobbled together as “the stans” by the western media, lie at the historical heart of some of the greatest land empires the world has known, but are now isolated states increasingly shorn of options. Hamstrung by geography, corruption and various other internal problems, they have few reasons to reject Chinese largesse, and even fewer means to resist it.

Belatedly the chronicle of exponentially increasing Chinese trade and investment in Central Asia has started to turn heads beyond the region and its regular gaggle of foreign observers. Last September, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's whirlwind tour through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan raised eyebrows across the world by virtue of the sheer size of the deals struck for oil, gas and other giant infrastructure projects in the region. For Petersen, Pantucci and others, this is a plot that has been bubbling for some time, and one that is increasingly central to the epic that is China's rise towards superpower status.   

While Alex diligently tracked every stretch of pipeline built by the Chinese in the region, he also knew that China's influence in Central Asia could not be measured in kilometers of road, barrels of oil, and cubic meters of gas alone. Many of the articles on ChinainCentralAsia.com are enjoyable to read precisely because they gather the testimonies of ordinary Central Asians being affected by the changes that have accompanied China's expanding clout; from university teachers observing the installation of Confucius Institutes in their places of work, to local businessmen whose bank accounts have been swelled by trade with China, and villagers who believe the roads Chinese companies are building in their country – paid for by cheap Chinese credit – are designed to support the weight of Chinese tanks in a future military invasion.

The practitioners of Beijing's westward pivot, and the protagonists in the emergence of what ChinainCentral Asia.com has labelled China's “inadvertant empire” are also human beings rather than mere pawns on a chessboard, a fact Petersen captured in an October article in the Atlantic: 

These actors include Chinese owners of market stalls in Central Asia’s largest bazaars. One I spoke to had lived for years in a shipping container he shared with four other men at the back of a clothes market in Kazakhstan’s largest bazaar. A multi-millionaire, he provided for his children’s Western education, multiple apartments in Shanghai, and even overseas property investments. To him, Central Asia is the land of opportunity. These actors also include Chinese teachers sent to staff the many Confucius Institutes sprouting up around the region. Some I spoke with missed home, but many said they preferred the exciting “frontier life.” CNPC engineers across the region know that they are in for the long haul, as their company and its many subsidiaries build imposing structures in every Eurasian capital. The immense pipeline network CNPC is threading through the region consists of infrastructure set to last half a century.

Alex the Guide

Beyond his writing Alex also inspired as a teacher, and it was during his semester-long stint at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that I got to know him on a personal level. Among the juniors and seniors in the International and Comparative Politics department (many of whom have written articles for Global Voices) that took his elective courses, and freshmen of all departments undertaking the First Year Seminar, Alex was a universally admired guide and friend, as well as a teller of fantastic stories. To both students and colleagues at the university, he was open, approachable, and a great person to bounce ideas off.

We are thinking of his family.  

A man of many temporary homes, Alex was in Kabul to embark on another research and teaching stint at the American University of Afghanistan. Writing to him a few days before he died I told him I was looking forward to a new series of dispatches on the nature and shape of Chinese influence in this fascinating, beautiful, tortured country. Now those dispatches will never be written and the students he was teaching will miss out on the tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience and color he brought to a classroom. When the Taliban cut his life short so brutally, it was fellow Afghans they punished. 

As his friend and writing partner Raffaello Pantucci communicated via email, “a bright light has gone out.”

Chris Rickleton manages the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

China Arrests Ilham Tohti, Peaceful Advocate for Uyghur Minority

Free Ilham Tohti! by Twitter user @HisOvalness

Free Ilham Tohti! by political cartoonist @HisOvalness from Twitter

Uyghur scholar and advocate for ethnic reconciliation Ilham Tohti was arrested on January 15 and accused by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times of being a separatist. While many Chinese intellectuals have been campaigning for him, people from outside China, even among Chinese communities abroad, know little about him. Fewer understand why his prosecution could irreparably damage relations between the country's Uyghur Muslim minority and the Han Chinese majority.

Global Times claimed in a January 18 editorial that Ilham was connected to the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas group which has been labelled as an extreme separatist group by the CCP. The report also accused him of inciting students in his class and spreading rumors and dissent via Uyghur Online, a website he founded to address ethnic conflicts in China from the Uyghur perspective.

The Uyghur people, who mostly live in China's western Xingjiang region, and the Chinese government have had a tumultuous relationship. Ethnic tensions have at times resulted in deadly clashes between Uyghur activists and authorities.    

According to an online petition to free Ilham, which had more than 1,200 signatures as of January 22, he is against violence and does not support independence for Xingjian. 

Since his arrest, Ilham's website has been inaccessible and background information on him has been purged. Wen Yunchao, who helped to set up the online petition, reposted his autobiography, written in 2011 as a reference. According to the post, Ilham was born in 1969, and his father was an educated Chinese Communist Party member. However, his father died at the age of 28 in 1971 because of the Cultural Revolution. Both his elder brothers work in the Public Security Bureau.

He received his university degree from Dongbei Normal University and a master's degree from Central Minzhu University, majoring in economics. He started his research on issues related to ethnic minority education and economic development at the Economic Development Center at Minzhu University, while at the same time he invested in the stock market and industrial joint ventures.

In February 1997, a peaceful demonstration that broke out in Yining city in the northwest of Xingjiang ended in brutal police crackdown. Since then, government policy has sought to destroy the “three forces” of separatism, religion and violent crime there. Uyghur intellectuals who criticized the heavy-handed policy were marginalized, including Ilham, who found that he could no longer publish his research papers in 1999. Between 1999 and 2003, his university teaching position was suspended and he spent time traveling in the Middle East, Russia and South Asia to help Chinese companies develop their businesses and to study the ethnic relations in those regions. He witnessed the bloody consequences of ethnic conflicts and wanted to prevent something similar from happening in China.

Believing that social, economic and cultural development, as well as effective communications among different ethnic groups, will bring harmony to society, he founded Uyghur Online at the end of 2005 as an online platform for Han Chinese and Uyghur to exchange opinions.

However, the July 5 riot in the region's capital of Urumqi in 2009 further politicized the conflict between Han Chinese and Uyghur, and in order to break the vicious cycle of hatred, he launched a “ethnic reconciliation” campaign to commemorate July 5 on its anniversary and organized a cultural exchange program for children between Han and Uyghur families. Uyghur Online also serves as a platform for addressing social problems such as locating missing Uyghur children.

In his autobiography, Ilham openly denounced the separatist movement:

今天的新疆,以及其他的地方,民族问题在特殊的时代成为前所未有的特殊考验。无论是基于情感还是基于理性,我都很难接受其中的任何一部分被分离出去。

Today's Xinjiang, as well as other regions, is facing a distinctive challenge related to ethnicity. Taking into account both rational consideration and emotional attachment, I can't accept any part of the region separate [from China].

解决民族问题,只能从探索民族自治之路的方向着眼,使中国成为一个多民族多元文化的、具有强大吸引力的国家。

The exploration of ethnic autonomy should be the direction of resolving ethnic problems. It can facilitate China to become a multi-ethnic and culturally diversified country.

中国宪法中关于民族自治的规定,为多民族多元文化的并存和发展提供了良好的框架,但在实践层面,还需要逐渐摸索探讨,在法律法规上逐步落实。我们应当勇于借鉴国外各种成功经验中的规律,总结出适合中国的办法。

The Chinese constitution has protected ethnic autonomy and provided a good framework the development of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community. We need to slowly explore the possibility in practice and enact the idea in legal terms. We should be courageous to borrow experiences from other countries and work out a path for China.

To rebuked the Global Times accusations against Ilham for inciting his students in class, a Han student posted a long post in image format on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo. The post was deleted quickly, but its backup can be found on Flickr:

大三的時候吧,我上了他的選修課,新疆可持續發展戰略與研究。[...] 課堂上我是唯一一個漢族學生,每次進教室的時候,我都覺得格各不入,但是他非常和善並且讓我感受到一種格外的尊重。後來他說,那是一個維族老師對一個在新疆經濟發展課題上願意真正思考的漢族學生的尊重。

再後來他辦了維吾爾在綫,做學術研究,建救助站,幫很多被誘拐在全國各地當小偷的維族孩子回家。我們有時候會聯擊一下 […] 我不相信任何媒體對他的描述定義和評價。

When I was in my third year, I elected to take his course on a sustainable development strategy in Xinjiang […] I was the only Han student in class and whenever I stepped into the classroom, I felt detached. But he was particularly friendly to me and I felt respected. Later, he explained [his attitude to me] that as a Uyghur professor, he respected a Han student who was thoughtful on issues related to Xinjiang's economic development.

Later on, he founded Uyghur Online, conducted research, built a community help station and helped kidnapped Uyghur kids to return home. I contacted him occasionally […] I don't believe anything the media has said about him.

他是我的老師,是我認識的,最有人格魅力的人。如果非要我說,他當不了政治家,也不是一個革命者。他是一個勇士。

He is my teacher, someone I know, a charismatic person. If I have to label him, he is not a politician, he is not a revolutionist. He is a courageous person.

The online petition demands that authorities release Ilham or otherwise announce the details of his alleged crimes and allow his family and an appointed lawyer to meet with him. Ilham's wife also issued a statement on January 20 demanding the release of four students who were also arrested on January 15.

For more on this story from Global Voices Advocacy, check out China: Free Ilham Tohti — Support Ethnic Reconciliation.

January 22 2014

Traditional Puerto Rican Saint Sebastian Street Festival Fills Every Corner of Old San Juan

Calle San Sebastián

San Sebastián Street, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Every third weekend of January the legendary San Sebastián (Saint Sebastian) Street Festival is celebrated in the old part of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. For many people, this definitively marks the end of the Christmas season. Those who aren’t familiar with this Puerto Rican tradition may think that it deals with a festival only celebrated in San Sebastián Street. The reality is that as time has passed, the celebrations have gained an impressive boom, overtaking the limits of the street and now including practically all of Old San Juan, as this video demonstrates:

The Festival began originally as a celebration in honor of Saint Sebastian, born in Narbonne, France and who, during the 3rd Century CE, was martyred for not renouncing the Christian faith. In Catholic imagery, he is commonly represented as pierced by several arrows and tied to a tree.

In the 1950s, the tradition of celebrating the festivals in honor of Saint Sebastian began as a way of collecting funds for repairing the buildings of the church of San José in Old San Juan. After several years, the tradition was discontinued until 1970, when the archeologist, historian, and anthropologist Ricardo Alegría suggested to Rafaela Balladares, a resident of San Sebastián Street, that they resume the tradition. This is how the Festival was born, and this year it celebrated its 44th edition.

Currently, the festival has lost much of its religious character, and has transformed more into a city festivity that attracts more than 300,000 people annually.

Here I’m sharing some of the photos that I took during my visit to this year's Festival:

Mirada a la Calle del Cristo, por donde subían muchas personas a la Calle San Sebastián.

This is Calle del Cristo (Christ Street), where many people pass on the way to San Sebastián Street.

Fachada del Centro de Estudios Avanzados, sede del Comité Organizador de las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián y donde se podían encontrar libros, artesanías, comida y diferentes actividades.

Front of the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in Calle del Cristo, headquarters of the Organizing Committee for the San Sebastián Street Festival, and where books, handicrafts, food, and different activities can be found.

Los cabezudos son un tipo de máscara utilizada en las procesiones tradicionales de las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. Estos cabezudos fueron hechos por el colectivo de teatro Agua, Sol y Sereno.

Cabezudos (Big Heads) are a type of mask used in the traditional processions of the San Sebastián Street Festival. These cabezudos were made by the theater collective Agua, Sol y Sereno (Water, Sun and Calm), who offered a presentation in the Plaza de la Barandilla.

Estos son pedazos de caña de azúcar recién cortados. De aquí se saca...

These are pieces of sugar cane recently cut in one of the kiosks located in the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

El guarapo es una bebida refrescante hecha del jugo de la caña de azúcar. Es difícil de conseguir, ya que exprimir las cañas de azúcar cuesta mucho trabajo.

Guarapo is a refreshing drink made from sugar cane juice. It is difficult to attain, since squeezing the canes takes a lot of time.

En las Fiestas también se estaban recogiendo firmas solicitando la excarcelación del prisionero político Oscar López Rivera.

La Plaza Colón (Columbus Square) was one of the places where people gathered to collect signatures for the release of political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

All images were taken by the author.

January 21 2014

Rare Roma Holocaust Documentation Center to Open in Hungary

Sinti and Roma people about to be deported by the Nazis, taken in the German town of Asperg, May 22, 1940; photograph courtesy of German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Sinti and Roma people about to be deported by the Nazis, taken in the German town of Asperg, May 22, 1940; photograph courtesy of German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

A Roma Holocaust center is planned to be opened in the southern Hungarian city of Pecs by the end of 2014. The documentation center is the joint effort of the local municipality of Pecs and the Hungarian Roma minority, and will also collaborate with the Pecs University in teaching students about this often forgotten part of European 20th century history.

The Roma Holocaust, also known as Porajmos in Romani, was an attempt by Nazi Germany to exterminate the Romani people in Europe. Approximately between 1933 and 1945, Roma citizens from many European countries were persecuted, imprisoned, stripped of their nationality, often transported to other Nazi-occupied or Nazi-collaborator countries, where many were killed. The numbers have mostly been downplayed by Nazi collaborators, but the estimated number of Roma killed during that period in Europe is between 220 thousand and 1.5 million.

West Germany recognized the Roma Holocaust in 1982, but formal recognition and marking of this Holocaust have generally proven to be difficult due to lack of recorded collective memory and documentation of the Porajmos among the Roma, a consequence both of their oral traditions and illiteracy, heightened by widespread poverty and discrimination in this day and age, all of which makes the opening of this center in Pecs paramount in commemorating this tragic portion of Romani and European history.

January 20 2014

Despite Controversial Past, Indian PM Candidate Narendra Modi's Star on the Rise

BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressing the crowd during 'Lalkar rally' in Jammu, India. Image by Amarjeet Singh. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2013)

BJP candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi addresses the crowd during the ‘Lalkar rally’ in Jammu, India. Image by Amarjeet Singh. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2013)

General elections are scheduled to take place in April 2014 in India, and many of the same old players are expected to appear on the ballot. But over the last few years, corruption scandals, rape and several cases of maladministration have led many Indians to lose hope in the existing political parties.

The centrist Indian National Congress party has formed the Indian government since 2006. Although this has given the country a measure of stability, the party's ministers have also been involved in several cases of corruption involving the Commonwealth games, coal mining and 3G licensing to mobile service providers. Additionally, the increasing number of cases of violence against women has made it clear that the common man is now done with bad governance.

Recent state-level elections in New Delhi saw the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an offshoot of the anti-corruption campaign launched by social activist Anna Hazare a couple of years ago, emerged in second behind the country's other main party, the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party is barely a year old and is already posing a threat to stalwarts like the Congress.

Amid the fray is one candidate for prime minister, the chief minister of India's western state Gujarat Narendra Modi from BJP, who seems to be using the people's dissatisfaction to his advantage. A polemic figure for his hotly debated role in the deadly 2002 riots in the state between Hindus and Muslims, he's popular in the business world, and seems to be the only option for voters who neither want to depend only a new political party like AAP nor want to vote for the Congress.

In fact, even AAP members like former police officer Kiran Bedi seem to be rooting for him:

“Indian bosses have become so fed up with the status quo that they are prepared to overlook Modi's past,” writes blogger Schumpeter for the Economist. This is also true for Indian businessmen, regardless of Modi's confusing role during the Godhra riots.

Modi is also said to have a huge support base among the young Indian IT generation, several of whom actively assist him with his online campaign, especially:

Secular India on the line?

But some believe that Modi may pose a threat to India's secular heritage.

In 2002, riots broke out in Gujarat's Godhra after a train carrying Hindus was burnt down as it was coming from the holy city of Ayodhya in North India. What followed was the worse example of Hindi-Muslim violence in India's recent history. Between 900 and 2,000 people were killed, more than whom were Muslim, including Muslim politicians and businessmen.

Modi, who was chief minister of the state at the time, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the handling of the violence by authorities, but still some accused him of involvement in a conspiracy or not taking enough action. Several commissions have been set up with the intention of bringing the guilty to justice. As of April 2013, 249 convictions had been secured, 184 Hindus and 65 Muslims, while some victims still await justice

Although, what Modi achieved in his last re-election as the chief minister of Gujarat deserves a mention. A documentary by noted Indian television journalist Barkha Dutt revealed that Modi's government managed to garner support from Muslim businessmen who were able to revitalize their businesses after the Godhra carnage. The Open magazine also reports how Modi has managed to reach out to Muslims “like never before“.

But what future does a prime minister like Modi hold for India? In a column in the Financial Express, Mahesh Vyas of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy claims that investments in Gujarat post-2002 have only reached around 13 percent of the total investments in India, as compared to 21 percent before the Godhra riots. Additionally, the economic boom has not been equal in all regions of the state.

Others remain wary because of his leadership during the riots and his membership with BJP, a right-wing Hindu party.

The people of India have a tough choice to make ahead of them. 

South Korea Accused of Rewriting History in High School Textbook

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) 

A conservative high school history textbook in South Korea that puts a positive spin on some of the country's most controversial periods of history, such as Japan's colonial rule, has been a source of heated debate for several weeks, with the government being accused of favoring textbooks that support their political beliefs and paint a rosier view of various periods of history.

The textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co has been lambasted not only for its inaccuracy, but for whitewashing the past flaws of certain interest groups. Critics say the sheer volume of errors – over 750 mistakes – in the textbook are serious enough to disqualify it as a legitimate learning tool.

Parents and students protested hard against several schools who have decided to adopt Kyohak's textbook and finally succeeded in revoking the decision. However, the Ministry of Education has offered excuses for the publishers, first by claiming that it was not the final version. Even after it was revealed that Kyohak still has not applied the required adjustments to the textbook and its revised version contained about 350 errors, the ministry again embraced them, saying that it was a trial version. According to local report, one historian said [ko] “in his 22 years as a history teacher, he has never heard of such thing as a ‘textbook trial version’, and the ministry’s outlandish claim renders him speechless.”

The scope [ko] of the errors are wide: misleading descriptions of Japanese imperial rule of Korea, incorrect names of locations on a map, and the false claim that the United States had a colony in the Indochina region. Another noteworthy mistake includes an inaccurate description of President Park Geun-hye’s father, the late military dictator Park Chung-hee: the textbook says Koreans’ average per capital income reached 10,000 US dollars under his rule, when it should be 1,000.

The textbook also claims that the so-called comfort women – young teenagers and women, many of whom were Korean, who were forced into prostitution by the Empire of Japan during World War II to “comfort” the troops – “followed the Japanese army around”, thereby implying that they have voluntarily choose to serve the army for the money. There is even an error suspected to have been lifted from an online blog post.

The New York Times recently added fuel to the fire with an editorial entitled “Politicians and Textbooks” in which the paper accused President Park of downplaying Korean collaboration with Japanese imperialists during Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The editorial concluded that Park, along with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, are “pushing to have high school history textbooks in their countries rewritten to reflect their political views.” The Korean Foreign Ministry fired right back, saying it will “take necessary steps against the New York Times with regard to the erroneous facts.”

Enraged Koreans commented as below:

Kyohak Publishing’s textbook is only worth as much as the ruling Saenuri party’s campaign flyers. 

After watching Chairman of Kyohak Publishing Yang Cheol-woo’s interview on the JTBC Sohn Suk-hee’s news program, I can totally see how that garbage, pro-Japanese imperialist book was born. He kept claiming their textbook has no flaws and it is the most accurate book available. He even accused other textbooks of being “left-leaning”.

More concerns arose as reports came out [ko] that immediately after Kyohak Publishing’s history textbook had been rejected by parents and students, the government and ruling Saenuri party began pushing to publish it and impose the textbook on a national level. Currently, students, parents and teachers have a say in the textbook selection process, and have a choice among several different books. The political opposition denounced the move [ko] as an attempt to stifle points of view that differ from their own, and commented that a one-size-fits-all textbook system is a favorite of authoritarian regimes who can easily manipulate its content. The most notable cases of the one national textbook system would be North Korea and Russia. 

When they found out that Kyohak’s history textbook had been completely rejected by students, parents and teachers, the proper way to respond is by looking back at their flaws and feeling shameful and apologetic. But how did they react? It is as if they are seeking revenge, they are pushing to switch to a universal textbook system. This is an utter disregard for history and disrespect for the people.

Twitter influencer and historian Jeon Woo-yong (@histopian) tweeted a series of messages regarding this issue:

Even the monarchy of the Joseon Dynasty did not interfere with chroniclers’ works. It is those in power who should be afraid of history, not history that clings on to power. The reason why those in power want to exert control over history is either because they are ashamed to face history, or they dont even bother to make themselves feel unashamed'. 

January 17 2014

Remembering Congolese Leader Patrice Lumumba's Struggle Against Colonialism

Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was killed 53 years ago on January 17, 1961 under circumstances that still remain unclear.

Lumumba, an iconic figure of the struggle against colonialism in Africa, was removed from power because he opposed the Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province. His successor, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, along with Mobutu's squad arrested Lumumba and executed him shortly after. His death was the culmination of a period of political turmoil in the country known as the Congo Crisis.

Congolese citizens the world over paid tribute to his uncompromising leadership on the anniversary of his death: 

53 years ago, Patrice Lumumba and his two companions were killed. Cc @Survie @Billetsdafrique

They cut his body to pieces and then they dumped it into an acid tank. 53 years later, they still cannot deal with their act.

His last letter to wife Pauline before he died was widely shared online. Community blog Quartier Libres republished the letter, in which Lumumba wrote:

Que mort, vivant, libre ou en prison sur ordre des colonialistes, ce n’est pas ma personne qui compte.

C’est le Congo, c’est notre pauvre peuple dont on a transformé l’indépendance en une cage [..] L’Afrique l’Asie, et les peuples libres et libérés de tous les coins du monde se trouveront toujours aux côtés de millions de congolais qui n’abandonneront la lutte que le jour où il n’y aura plus de colonisateurs et leurs mercenaires dans notre pays.

A mes enfants que je laisse, et que peut-être je ne reverrai plus, je veux qu’on dise que l’avenir du Congo est beau et qu’il attend d’eux, comme il attend de chaque Congolais, d’accomplir la tâche sacrée de la reconstruction de notre indépendance et de notre souveraineté, car sans dignité il n’y a pas de liberté, sans justice il n’y a pas de dignité, et sans indépendance il n’y a pas d’hommes libres.

What I can say is this: dead or alive, free or in jail, it is not about me personally.

It is about Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon. [...] We are not alone. Africa, Asia, the free peoples and the peoples fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world will always be side by side with the millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle while there is even one colonialist or colonialist mercenary in our country.

To my sons, whom I am leaving and whom, perhaps, I shall not see again, I want to say that the future of Congo is splendid and that I expect from them, as from every Congolese, the fulfillment of the sacred task of restoring our independence and our sovereignty. Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.

In the magazine CeaseFire, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a professor of African and Afro-American studies at the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Jacobs, a writer and activist based in London, explained the importance of Lumumba's legacy:

According to unconfirmed reports, Walter Kansteiner – US Secretary of State for African Affairs under George W. Bush, between June 2001 and November 2003 – designed a plan for the division of Congo into four countries. The justification for such a Balkanisation would be that, in its present dimensions, the country is too large and ungovernable. [...] In fact, this would facilitate access to resources, and make their transfer to outside markets easier. [...] the reality is that their project for the recolonisation of Congo will always stumble against the determination of the Congolese people to defend their unity, their national patrimony, and the territorial integrity of their homeland. The legacy of Patrice Lumumba, Pierre Lulele, André Kisase Ngandu and so many other martyrs brings women, men and children to shout “No” to balkanisation and “Yes” to a “United Congo, a strong nation.” 

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