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Mario and Mario November 29, 2005

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The festive season seems to have come especially early this year. Or perhaps I’m just in a good mood. But having had the odd fear that Blogland had maybe had its day, or was in a rut, it seems all sweetness and light again now. Mark’s got a nice old chat about whether (Anglo-)Blogland is pullulating with public school boys raging chez lui, Pavvers goes in for a spot of (not too harsh) self-criticism but ultimately concludes that blogging is good for you, IAF also wonders about the class-factor in Anglo-bloggery but manages to blog some straightforward shagging too, in time for Advent, Liukchik finds reason to smile in other blogs and Wyndham the Triffid manages to amuse even when plotting the demise of his fellow man. OK, there’s a touch of an unfestive spat going on in the comments to a post at PooterGeek, but emotion of the hour for Blogland seems to be lurve. So maybe some folk are fretting what this whole blogging lark is all about, but we can cope with that. Maybe we’re a bunch of geeky nerds with too much time on our hands and a preference for the virtual to the real. But so what if we are? Let’s be geeky, send each other messages, pat each other on the back and tell each other stories.

I’m in a fiercely story-telling mood these days. Again, it must be the festiveness. I’m constantly remembering amusing old anecdotes that I think deserve an airing. And why the bugger not? Here’s as good a place as any to store them before my drink-addled brain loses them for ever. And so, apparently induced by nothing, Mario and Mario have popped into my head.

Mario and Mario were a couple – no, not in that sense – of Croatians I met at the Volkshochschule, or Adult Education Centre (according to Leo), when I first arrived in Berlin in October 2001. The German-as-a-foreign-language course was marvellous. Not for the lessons, which were pretty dull (and started at 8am and lasted for 2-and-a-half hours), but because it was so precisely like Mind Your Language – incidentally, the episode described here reminds me so much of an incident when my father’s colleague, an Italian named Franco, decided that he and my father, who did the pools together, had hit the jackpot. “Me anna Timmy (my father’s name was Owen, incidentally) winna pool. We winna jackapot. We winna million a poun,” he was heard to scream around the premises. They had in fact won 200 quid – and we all fitted our national stereotypes so perfectly. There was the little gaggle of eastern European beauties, all called Natas(c)ha Schmidt, or Olga Braun, who’d been purchased on line and shipped over from Ukraine/Russia/Latvia. There were the effusive Latins – Peruvians, Cubans, Mexicans – who never shut up but kept us amused. There was the odd miserable Pole, always on the verge of tears. The occasional old DDR Gastarbeiter – Vietnamese, say – who thought it was time to get to grips with the language after all these years, a couple of us sleepy Englanders in one corner, the odd colonial here on business (NZ, USA), and Mario and Mario.

Mario and Mario were the most stereotypical of all, although I had thought they were Italian to start with. But they were perfect southern Slavs: like their northern cousins – philosophical, charming – but without the gloom. Mario 1 was more outgoing than Mario 2. And Mario 1 was the thorn in our teacher’s side. Any question he was asked would always be answered with something along the lines of, “Bier, Fussball, Frauen,” which must be Croatian for, “Wein, Weib, Gesang.” She would huff prissily at the predictability of his answer. He would look for moral support from the other men in the class and ask, “Aber was mehr gibt es?” Beer, football, women. That was Mario’s lot, and perfectly happy he seemed with it too.

Mario and Mario were, it goes without saying, best friends. I thought they’d probably met two weeks before and that I could easily be vying for that best friend spot within days if I played my cards right, but, no, Mario and Mario, it turned out, had grown up together in Zagreb, fought in the war together AND worked at TGI Friday in London together. Now that is a labour of love. Mario and Mario were never to be parted.

Months later, I saw them stick something on a lamppost down the road from where I live. I dashed to see what it was. Turned out they’d set up a flooring business together. Good old Mazzer and Mazzer, I thought. They’re the type I’d love to be. Happy to try their hand at anything to get on in life. Probably not liking Germany THAT much but seeing it for the opportunity it was.

For similar reasons, it’s why I’m chuffed to bollocks about the eastern European folk from the accession states who’ve turned up in London in such numbers. The Poles, the Lithuanians, the Latvians… They’re there to work, and work hard, if need be, to make a living. But not only are they good for the work-force. Much as I like to moan about my time in Russia and as many minus points as there are to life there, what also needs to be remembered is that most eastern Europeans – excuse the generalisation for people from about 20 countries, but I think it works – are fantastically well-educated people who, I think, would be a great boon to British society.

I only hope that some of them stay on once they’ve made their (relative) fortunes.

Kauf Deutsch! November 28, 2005

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I’m feeling all up-to-date today. I don’t mean with the latest trends, or what’s number one in the hit parade, or anything like that. I mean that a work deadline was met last night and I am waiting for a new piece of work today and nothing majorly urgent is pending, bills are paid etc. etc. I sat watching Outlook Express, waiting for the new mail to arrive. But arrive it didn’t, so I decided to give myself an exciting errand to do to pass some time and dashed to Spar.

Our Spar’s a big one, not the size of a corner shop, and has a proper selection of wine, so you don’t get depression the second you walk in. First I was confronted with the fruit. There was a waist-height cardboard box full of loose apples standing in the middle of the first aisle. “I’ll have some of those,” I thought, and as I fiddled to get my plastic bag open, I couldn’t help noticing that the old lady standing astride the box seemed to be stocking up on apples for the winter. I’m all for a bit of a chat with a stranger, so commented on her generous load. She smiled back and said no, she wasn’t planning on making a huge, fuck-off Apfelstrudel – my somewhat free translation – but was simply planning to scoff the lot herself.

“She has got a rather good complexion for her age,” I thought.

“They’re very good apples, you see. Very cheap. They’re on offer this week. They won’t be next week. And they’re German.” She proved this by holding the sticker on one of the teutonic fruit up close for me to see. Sure enough, it said Dresden. “Not foreign apples. German,” she went on.

I heard my sphincter snap shut at this point. Not because I thought the old lady might be a stealth neo-Nazi. She clearly wasn’t. I think her joy at finding good, cheap German apples was a combination of thrift, a hint of patriotism and a smattering of the Prussian equivalent of Buy British. And I didn’t want to spoil her moment. “Fuck,” I thought. “No difficult sentences. You’ll only get an ending wrong and blow your cover. Keep it simple.” I muffled something about, “Yes, it’s best to buy local produce,” swallowing the last syllable of each word and hoping that I’d pulled off a faux, working-class Berlin accent. I made my excuses, ended our apple talk, and trundled onwards.

But an unwritten yet insuperable supermarket law meant that we wheeled at exactly the same speed, along the same route and had identical browsing and item-fingering times. There was no getting away from her. “If I skip the cat-food and baby-food aisles, I’ll get a good lead on her.” But she missed the middle-class aisles – the fresh coffee and posh things in jars – altogether, so we were neck and neck once more. But while she stocked up on Kit-e-Kat and I did on caviar (not really), I thought, sphincter relaxing, if I blow it and say, “Die germanischen Frukten sind wunderbar,” I’ll out myself as an Englander but, to reassure her (as she makes sure her purse isn’t on display), that trotzdem I think it’s an awfully good idea to buy local. But, alas, our friendship, grounded in mutual hostility to New Zealand butter, Polish chicken and Italian biscuits never blossomed, and all we did was exchange a few more knowing smirks over the sausage counter.

Once her back was turned, I snuck a pack of Hungarian salami under some ostentatiously German item in my trolley, wheeled past her, head held high, and made my way to the checkout.

Heterosexualitätsbewältigung November 28, 2005

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I reminded myself with talk of tree-hugging, vegan, save-the-gay-whale conference type things of a German friend I had in London at the time whom I met through this organisation. I had a hundred German friends in London, because Germans seemed to pop up everywhere. My university specialised in things eastern European so it perhaps wasn’t surprising that Germans turned up in fairly large numbers there. (I remember an Ossi insisting on talking to a Wessi in English as he claimed she wouldn’t possibly understand his soul/language/bollocks.) My boyfriend of the time worked for a German firm and had a gaggle of German pals. And then there just simply are lots of Germans in London, so one would meet them here and there.

But back to the friend from Save the Gay Whale. She was young and charming and fearsomely intelligent. She spoke fantastically good English – we’d often have lentil-fuelled group hugs in combined admiration – with a deliciously strong, ‘Allo-‘Allo, German accent. She was a tormented soul, and nicely eccentric, which I like to think of as something of a German tradition. Her haircut was quite the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen. The colour – a deep purple – was, I suppose, not THAT unusual. But the style was, à la base, a crop with, at irregular intervals, long braids which hung around her like the corks on a swagman’s hat. The work we did for the organisation involved our meeting every now and again in lentil-inundated groups and having a good old chinwag about ishooz we had. Fortunately, my group was peopled exclusively by nice folk and we’d combine our ishooz talk with a lovely old chat about how the bugger we all were and a good old gossip (and moan, if need be) about life in general.

My nice German girl was, ostensibly, a lesbian. No, she was, she said, bisexual, but was currently in a relationship with another German lady with EXACTLY the same haircut, only in Lucozade, say, rather than wine, whom we also all knew and who was equally nice and charming and intelligent. But fate had thrown us together with wine lesbian, not Lucozade lesbian, so it was her inner workings we lentilly got to know best. On one such occasion, my friend was troubled. By the time the talking stick had got round to her, she was in a frenzy of panic, both wanting to speak but being unable to say what it was she had on her mind. She had a rolled-up cigarette in one hand and lighter in the other but the flame from one never met the end of the other. What is it, wine-haired lesbian, we all thought, lentilly. Spit it out. We’re your friends. We’ll have a group hug afterwards. “Vell, ze sing is, I sink I might not actually be a lesspian at all. I actually sink I might be heterosexual.” This appeared to be a stunning revelation for her. She was having to struggle with coming to terms with being straight. She had invented Heterosexualitätsbewältigung. Now we were a nice group of Save the Gay Whale volunteers. We understood this was a deep crisis. We explained to (former) wine lesbian that heterosexuality was now perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, (indeed, so right on were we that there was even one among us) and that there were probably some very good support groups where she’d be able to externalise her fears about having to belong to the (admittedly immoral) majority… Well, except we didn’t – lentils or no lentils – react QUITE like that, obviously. What we did do was howl with laughter. No-one had trouble being straight. That was against the rules. We explained to the girl formerly known as wine lesbian our views. She managed to release a tormented smile. She was on safe territory. People would cope with the change after all…

And so hurrah for eccentric Germans popping up in London. She might never have come in if she’d stayed in Bavaria. German eccentricity and a drop of immigration clearly go very well together indeed.

Like father like son November 27, 2005

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Enslaved as I am to the BBC, relying on them to create at my desk some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England, I hereby link to this amusing and bemusing piece on Ramzan Kadyrov and his vision for the future of Chechnya. Quotes such as, “Soon [Chechnya] will be the safest place in the world – people will be coming here on holiday,” have to be read to be believed, and make me think that Chechens must indeed have a Russian soul and should give up the independence ghost once and for all. What this piece and the related From Our Own Correspondent report do underline, though, is that there is a semblance of security returning to Chechnya, which must, no doubt, largely be put down to Kadyrov junior and his crowd of happy bandits. He has inherited his fiefdom, of course, from his father, Akhmad, who was blown up in May 2004 in what must surely vie for the least-surprising-political-assassination-ever title. Mr. Kadyrov senior was a strongman par excellence, and loyal to Moscow to the last, and his son (also a rebel originally) has now become equally obsequious to his master in the Kremlin. Both are utterly nefarious characters and junior would be well-advised by the no doubt soon-to-be-inundated Chechnya Tourist Board (motto: Visit the Land of Grenade-Launchers and Smiles) to never, ever appear in public if the wallet-happy tourists are ever to appear. He oozes thuggery, which is, I suppose, not that surprising when you think of the kind of place Chechnya has become.

What Kadyrov junior also exemplifies is that it ain’t a good idea for a son to inherit the leadership of a country (or constituent republic) on his father’s death. A number of poor examples spring to mind. Syria. Azerbaijan (delighted to see the protests there. Hoping it will lead to the Oil-Rig Revolution and encourage Belarusians next year). The Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire had such a ring to it, in comparison. I know Joseph is better than Laurent, but still). (I know I could make a cheap jibe at America’s expense here. I’ll desist.) Yet the Russians daren’t unleash democracy in Chechnya for fear of whom it might return. This is Moscow’s dilemma, and is undoubtedly a real one. The wars there have so radicalised opinions that any political stability can only be the haziest of fantasies. Moscow has its convenient rent-o-thug for now. What happens when his job is done?

More Jeremy Clarke November 26, 2005

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I need to set up a standing order, or direct debit, or whatever the blogging equivalent is, to have a link to Jeremy Clarke’s weekly musings in The Spectator automatically linked here. On the pub he has to drive Sharon to to rescue her ne’er-do-well ex, “It’s a snug little bar with open fire and pool table, crowded as usual with tearaways, addicts, spongers, the lonely and the unloved.” His observation is always trenchant, his humour always black, in what I think of as a great British (I might mean English, but maybe Jeremy Clarke is Scottish. I don’t know) tradition. It’s such a gift to make comedy out of the blackest of scenarios.

On an utterly different note, also in the newly, unnecessarily-complicated-format, online version of the magazine, Boris – whom I slightly can’t help adoring – is scathingly dismissive, rightly, of the Attorney General’s attempts to stop the Bush-al-Jazeera affair being written about, and says he will risk a jail sentence to defy this ban. Just a little bit dashing.

More Erik November 24, 2005

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I’m delighted that I haven’t yet been proved wrong on the fate of Erik the unhappy Viking. Back in October, Erik Ramgren came to my attention when he ran aground off the east coast in an attempt to escape gloom by sailing from Sweden to the Caribbean. The locals in Norfolk are still doing him proud, helping him out from the goodness of their hearts. I’m still waiting for my happy ending – Erik falls in love with Norfolk local, sets up his own Fish’n’Rye-Bread shop (our healthy Scandy was a bit concerned at how much spud was consumed on the island) and lives happily ever after…

קדימה November 24, 2005

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I promised myself I wouldn’t go on about things which I know very little about, but love of language(s) and an excuse to stick a bit of Hebrew script online have tempted me away from my rule. I thought I was being original when I thought to myself, “Hmm, Sharon calling his new party Forward. Reminds me a tad of Berlusconi and his Forza Italia. A bit wank.” But not only was my thought not original, it wasn’t even that concise, as Shinui leader Tommy Lapid had already said in Haaretz that Kadima reminded him of Mussolini’s Avanti slogan. Oh well. At least I was geographically thinking along the right lines. After a cursory glance through Haaretz, it looks as if Shinui are going to be all washed up after the next elections. But how does Shinui differ, significantly, from the party that Sharon has just founded? Aren’t they both centrist? Don’t they have similar views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Aren’t they much of a muchness and is the only difference between them personalities? Fast קדימה – boom, boom – to the elections on March 28th and we’ll all be much the wiser.

Carry on Camping (it up) November 24, 2005

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Still flush from my success with the polari post, I’ve been having the odd (unboozey) reminisce about Kenneth Williams, whom I was rather a late convert to. David Benson did an utterly fantabulosa – OK, I’ll calm down now – one-man show, “Think No Evil of Us – My Life with Kenneth Williams,” which I saw three times in a matter of weeks back in 1998 and which he still performs every now and again. It’s totally gripping. He’s brilliant and the subject matter – Kenneth Williams – is brilliant, so he couldn’t really go wrong. Keep an eye out for it and go. (Can’t remember if Julian and Sandy make that many appearances.) My boyfriend of the time sent David Benson his first (and only ever, to my knowledge) fan letter, which he promptly got a hilarious and friendly answer to. As the show rightly concludes, poor old Kenneth. He must really never have known how much joy he brought to millions. Yet without his misery, we would, no doubt, never have had the comedy. So for that we must be grateful.

A nice boozey reminisce November 23, 2005

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I’ve just been having a lovely, boozey electronic reminisce with an old friend from my time studying in Petrozavodsk in 1998. It was his birthday and he drank wine sitting at his computer in Moscow and I sat drinking wine at mine in Berlin. Not the worst solution. Unfortunately, I am microphoneless, so couldn’t chat to him via skype. Anyway, “what was that bit of town near such and such a place where such and such a person lived called?” I asked. Drevlianka, I was told. (Is it all flooding back?) And what was that fucking gorgeous lake just a few minutes’ drive from there out of town? Something salmony? Lososinoe, I was informed. I dashed to google. And I found this. A heavenly lake, five minutes from concretey high-rises where you could swim and make kebabs and generally lap up the beauty. (By the way, the photo is taken from here and many thanks to its author, whom I tried to write to, but the e-mail came straight back.) It’s making me have a minor pine for northern Russia, although now could be an especially masochistic time to go…
lososinoe.jpg

Knowing your punters November 23, 2005

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Sorry, that’s a rather pompous title for a post, even in polari. But, let’s face it, we do this blogging thang to get read and for a drop of feedback. I plod away, writing about whatever enters my head and no doubt guided by what I read on other blogs. Oh bugger, I think. Should I be writing something about Merkel (finally) being appointed Chancellor yesterday? A big day for Germany and all that. An Ossi. A woman. Or what about Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becoming Africa’s first elected female leader? All major stuff (and I’m chuffed to bollocks she beat the footballer). Or new Israeli elections? Or cuddly old President Ahmadinejad having a spot of bother with that cumbersome old Majlis? Well, I’ll leave that to the big boys. Because what gets them clicking is a good old plug on a blog a lot more popular than my own (and rightly so). I occasionally have a look at StatCounter – ok, yes, obsessively, about every three minutes – so can see that I normally only have one reader per millennium whereas now, after Mark’s plug, I’ve got ’em rolling in the aisles, begging for more, eating out of my hand etc. etc. (OK, not quite, but…) So does this mean you should tailor things to what you think folk might possibly want to read (or plug)? Perhaps so. But it’s so hard to know what that is, and there seems no predicting it. I remember the only time in my life I brought the house down was when I once at some tree-hugging, vegan, save-the-gay-whale – to (more or less) quote my blogging benefactor – conference-type thing made an utterly unfunny-to-me joke about tugging Britain a couple of thousand miles south to get some better weather. Absolute, hollering laughter. Tears on cheeks. Slaps on back and oh-that-was-a-good-ones all round. Mystifying. But a politician I ain’t. A getting-on-for-middle-age queen I am. So perhaps I should stick to what I know (with a bit of Belarus still for good measure). Expect stories on Lukashenka’s fantabulosa riah and bona lallies from now on.

Sharon moves on November 20, 2005

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This piece in the Jerusalem Post strikes me as majorly significant, although the calm tone in which it is written makes me think this has come as no surprise to those in the know. I know Israeli politics are famously fractious, and I can’t think what Sharon adding another party to the fold will do for the political scene there, although judging by the early comments to the piece on the website, it doesn’t look as if he’ll be sorely missed by many Likud supporters (but suggesting, as one commenter does, that he has turned Israel “into a one man dictatorship in the Stalinist style” is pushing it a bit, surely? Israel doesn’t look like a country in the grip of a personality cult to me). Another commenter says this new centrist party will bring more political stability, but will a new party, even if founded by Sharon and with other heavyweights such as Ehud Olmert on side, instantly garner support? Time will tell, of course. Yet the splits on the Israeli right just go to show how contentious any moves towards trying to find a permanent settlement with the Palestinians are. But does Sharon’s move away from less compromising views on the right mean that the right’s day is passing? Perhaps time and politics have ground Sharon down into a position of a pragmatist who thinks that, regardless of conviction, facts on the ground don’t leave that many options. Netanyahu may still believe otherwise. Elections within 60 days will show us what other Israelis believe.

Religion November 20, 2005

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By clicking from blog to blog to blog to blog today, I eventually ended up at the Belief-o-Matic, an automated quiz analysing your faith (or lack thereof) which, “assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul”. I always succumb to these quizzes, even if one did send me dashing to my beloved for reassurance after it told me I was utterly barking and didn’t have a single saving grace (and another told me which way to vote in the European elections last year. I ignored its advice). Apparently, I shape up like this in the which-faith-are-you-closest-to stakes, and the results aren’t at all surprising…

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Secular Humanism (92%)
3. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (88%)
4. Liberal Quakers (86%)
5. Nontheist (78%)
6. Theravada Buddhism (70%)
7. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (58%)
8. Neo-Pagan (58%)
9. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (57%)
10. Bahá’í Faith (54%)
11. Taoism (51%)
12. Reform Judaism (44%)
13. Jehovah’s Witness (42%)
14. New Thought (42%)
15. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (41%)
16. New Age (39%)
17. Sikhism (38%)
18. Mahayana Buddhism (34%)
19. Scientology (33%)
20. Orthodox Quaker (29%)
21. Hinduism (20%)
22. Seventh Day Adventist (20%)
23. Jainism (18%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (15%)
25. Islam (15%)
26. Orthodox Judaism (15%)
27. Roman Catholic (15%)

I did get a little quiver of joy at seeing Catholicism – the faith I was christened into when three weeks old and which I left, officially, over 30 years later – at the very bottom of the list, but I then realised, crestfallen, that it’s not the faith I’m exclusively least linked to. It’s only bottom of the list in alphabetical order and is in fact in a four-way tie with Orthodox Judaism, Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy. A vague shame about the latter. I often thought/think that if I do ever (re)discover God one day – I’m secretly terrified this might happen – I wouldn’t mind dashing for Orthodoxy, purely on aesthetic grounds. The churches and the chanting haunt me.

It’s all religion today. Having also clicked here on my web-wanderings, I ended up here, which, while obviously poking fun at the religious, also, for me, makes a serious point, i.e. that, even as an atheist, of course many of my morals are very closely tied up in the religion that shaped the world I grew up in. And I’m perfectly happy for that to be the case.

Further press crackdowns in Belarus in time for 2006 presidential elections November 20, 2005

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I am reproducing this piece in full from the site of the laudable Belarusian Association of Journalists because it’s not possible to link to individual stories. Visiting their site now – the Belarusian-language version is more complete – makes for jaw-dropping reading as the litany of problems faced by the independent media in Belarus is listed. The latest ruse, following problems for some finding anyone to print their papers, is for the monopoly distributor to now refuse to handle a whole host of titles. Reporters without Borders have also included Belarus in a list of fifteen enemies of the internet, along with all the usual suspects: Turkmenistan, North Korea, Cuba etc. Not a good club to be in. Anyway, read on (and weep).

IFJ Warns of Ruthless Campaign to Silence Belarus Media in Presidential Election Year

November 18, 2005

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the decision of the state-owned newspaper distribution company, Belposhta, to cease distribution of privately owned papers during the Presidential election year.

Belposhta, which has a monopoly on distribution, will stop distributing the papers by subscription from January 2006, which will prevent coverage of the Presidential election that has to take place before July 2006.

“This is part of a cynical and ruthless campaign to silence independent voices in the run up to Presidential elections,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The Belarus Authorities are abusing their monopoly over the distribution system to close down what remains of Belarusian independent media.”

Independent Belarusian media have been surviving on a knife edge for years as they struggle against a litany of arbitrary closures, punitive fines, harassment and intimidation of journalists. In recent weeks the pressure on media has increased alarmingly.

At the end of September the state printing house cancelled its contract to publish the independent daily Narodnaya Vola, forcing it to move to a printer in neighbouring Russia.

Two weeks later, on 18 October, Vasil Hrodnikau, a freelance correspondent for the independent “Narodnaya Vola” daily was found dead in his house in Minsk. He died of a traumatic brain injury. His brother told media that Vasil Hrodnikau had been constantly harassed by the authorities over the past year and that he believed he was killed for his criticisms of the President Lukashenko.

Last October, freelance journalist Veronika Charkasova was stabbed to death in her apartment. She had been investigating alleged arms sales between Belarus and Iraq.

The list of media to be excluded from the state distribution system includes the Narodnaya Vola, Salidarnasc, Zhoda, BDG. Delovaya Gazieta, Rehijanalnya Gazeta and a range of regional non-governmental social and political periodical editions.

Some of the newspapers received letters informing them that due to violations of their contracts, their distribution agreements would not be renewed. Others only discovered they had been removed from the list when the Belposhta published its subscription catalogue for 2006.

“The Belarus Association of Journalists has called on journalists and media groups around the world to come to their aid,” said Arne Konig, Chair of the European Federation of Journalists. “We urge all journalists groups to send messages of support to the BAJ and protest statements to the Belarus authorities.”

The BAJ was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2004 for defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Protests should be sent to the following:
President Lukashenko, fax: (+375 17) 226-06-10)

The Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, fax: (+375 17) 222-66-65)

The Ministry of Communication and Information of the Republic of Belarus,
fax: (+375 17) 227-21-57)

The “Belposhta” Republican Unitary Enterprise, fax: (+375 17) 226-11-70).

Copies can also be sent to the Belarusian Association of Journalists
phone/fax: (+375 17) 203-63-66, 226-70-98).

Jeremy Clarke November 18, 2005

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The Spectator’s social leper, Jeremy Clarke, is just too brilliant. He never fails to grip and amuse, even when writing about something as utterly uninteresting as a West Ham football match.

And out came this beetroot-faced, clinically obese, almost spherical 14-year-old boy, in a very tight St John’s Ambulance uniform. He gave us an embarrassed smirk and went waddling up the road.

‘Let us pray,’ said one of the policemen.

Brilliance. Long may he reign!

Milinkevich site November 18, 2005

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A good move by the Belarusian opposition’s single candidate for next year’s presidential elections. Spadar Milinkevich needs whatever airing he can get, and in view of the fact that he’s unlikely to get much coverage on the Belarusian airwaves, this could be a valuable alternative. There sits Milinkevich, in his orange shirt, set against a providentially wispy sky. I so want to hope the Belarusian opposition have got a chance this time round. There’s the odd report that Lukashenka is less confident than in the past and is dissing the opposition left, right and centre so let’s hope that’s a sign that he thinks there’s something to them. A website should garner support among the young, and the site is much less stuffy than the President’s own, which I won’t bother linking to (and which doesn’t have a Belarusian language version). It may be a blip, but the Russian and English versions of the Milinkevich site don’t appear to be up and running, and it’s important – I admit through pursed lips – that the Russian version be accessible if Belarusians aren’t to click from the site straight to something else. Всяго самага найлепшага яму.

First snow! November 18, 2005

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Who’d want to live in muggy Mexico or tropical Thailand on a day like this? Hurrah for winter! It makes it all worthwhile.

How bona to fake pogy dolly ol’ screeving! November 18, 2005

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Understanding with ever greater clarity that I am yet to have an idea of my own at the grand old age of 35, I have been prompted by In Actual Fact to ponce another idea from elsewhere and remember the existence of polari, as best evinced by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick in Round the Horne (although linguist Paul Baker equates its popularisation to its decline). The slang is unknown to most modern-day woofters, of course, but I remember being greatly entertained by it by older queens I knew years ago – my boyfriend and I were once wished a ‘Bona Christmas, girls’ – with their descriptions of the London theatre of their day. And the greatest joy in Round the Horne, of course, was when Mr. Horne (Mista Rawn) joined in and used the odd word of it himself. All a bit of a hoot. Bona, in fact!

What all that camp humour in Round the Horne exemplifies for me, ever the optimist, is that the English public have a special affinity for queens. Look at all the utter queens in comedy who’ve been totally respected figures – Kenneth Williams, Larry Grayson etc. etc. – and the point is not that they were closets, although they didn’t openly bring gayness, at least the word, into their repertoires, but they camped it up galore and that’s precisely what got the laughs and invited the audience’s affection. Male English friends of mine who rant sternly about all sorts of subjects can’t help smiling at camp – I’ve only ever heard of something similar at the same level in Brazil – and no doubt this tendency might be what makes some Frenchies say that 50% of English men are homosexual. (Fat chance.) In any case, it all makes me think that England’s not a bad old place to be an omipalone. Germany’s bona too though, of course.

Old pictures November 17, 2005

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I am getting awfully good at stealing ideas from the DJ, for which I apologise profusely. His old picture has made me think of this old picture, taken from the National Gallery Website. Lovely images of London’s environs not so very long ago. And no, this isn’t an excuse for me to moan about what a shit-hole London’s become, because those churches are (I’m guessing) still there and are thriving. London is especially good at mixing the old with the new, and this is one of its great strengths. (Hopefully this won’t lead to London paintings from the National Gallery now being gratuitously uploaded here left, right and centre.)

An East Berlin tale November 16, 2005

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Yesterday evening, I stood waiting for the S-Bahn on my journey home. It was freezing and the wait was long and dreary. There was some pretty good people-gazing to be done, and some fairly good eavesdropping. This helps while away the minutes, and those minutes fly by even more quickly if any human beauty enters the field of vision. To my joy, this happened. As is so often the case with me, this took the shape of a man a good ten years younger than myself with a clearly eastern European appearance. We were both in chav winter hats, our eyes met and a flicker of comprehension seemed to be exchanged. I knew he couldn’t be a woofter, so I suppose the comprehension from my point of view was simply that I had clocked a tormented Slavic (or so I thought) soul and he had clocked simply that I had clocked. As we waited on, our eyes met a few more times, in the least flirtatious way possible.

A minor ripple of excitement went along the platform as we all collectively thought our train had arrived, only for us to be thwarted with the comprehension it wasn’t. But this had us all huddled more closely together and here my Osteuropäer took his chance. “Ты, это, русский знаешь?” I answered that I did. “Этот едет до Alexander-Pushkin-Platz?” Did he mean Alexanderplatz, I asked, for even the Ossies, for all their fraternal generosity, hadn’t named a square Alexander-Pushkin-Platz to the best of my knowledge. “Ой, да, этот, Александерпляц.” It did, I explained, the novelty at speaking Russian to a stranger beginning to wear off and thoughts of how to get home with my life and my wallet beginning to overwhelm.

The right train drew up. My pal got on next to me and I resigned myself to Russian small talk for the journey. The oddest thing for me was that, for the first time ever, I had been mistaken for a Russian. Maybe it was the hat, or the thought that me catching his eye a couple of times was acknowledgement of the complicity of Russian souls, when really I just fancied him. I eventually explained that I was English, he that he was not in fact Russian, but from Moldova. He explained that he had been thrown off the Cologne-Dresden train for not having a ticket – if you’re going to be thrown off, get thrown off in Berlin, I suppose – and now asked if he could use my mobile to phone a friend (though not in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire sense). Why had he come to Germany, I asked. “Да, в Молдавии, бля, одна херня, одна бедность.” Whatcha gonna do in Berlin, I asked. “Да, учиться, правда, не знаю на кого.” My interlocutor was a handsome thug, and looked clean, yet he stank like someone who’d had too many gins – though it must have been vodka – and had the bodily fragrance of someone who had only the most distant of relationships with a bar of soap. He looked at me with an aggression utterly out of place in the friendlyish chit-chat we were having and the like of which I have only ever experienced in my time in Russia. Once he knew he was dealing with a foreigner, he was primed for the slightest offence, ready to spring at the least opportunity. But I’ve played that game pretty frequently in my time and avoided any topic I thought might be dangerous.

We talked about London, and England, and St. Petersburg, and Moscow, and Dresden, and Cologne, and Berlin, and Germany. All did fairly well on our ad hoc scale. Only Moldova came in for a bollocking at every turn. How was he allowed to stay in Germany, I asked, straying onto the most dangerous territory I would allow myself, casting caution to the wind as I began to think he in fact thought I was all right for a foreign poof and wasn’t going to bother to steal my phone and wallet. “Как ты сюда попал?” “По еврейской линии,” he answered, to my amazement. “They don’t make Jews like they used to,” I thought to myself, and wondered whether his link to Judaism was as tenuous as that of half the Russians who’ve recently emigrated to Israel.

I liked my thug, all in all. Here he was, drifting around Germany, ringing a friend late evening to say he’d been thrown off a train and could he come and stay. No shame. Just the facts. And he was here to try and better himself; the means were the only worry. “У вас бумажные паспорта?” he asked. Who could ask whether British passports were laminated or just papery but for some young naive thug with only the vaguest idea of how he was going to feed himself tomorrow? He was just like Danila in Брат, happy to slit my throat if I’d told him that, yes, British passports were nice and crappy and papery and he could easily stick his photo over mine, or, as the case turned out, to shake my hand warmly and friendlily as he said good bye to me at Alexanderplatz and thanked me for all my help. Yet knowing that he was being met by a friend (who’d rung my mobile back, thinking I was his friend, with a, “Ну, это, ты тут бля?”), and erring on the side of caution, I chose to miss my stop, also the feted Alexander-Pushkin-Platz, and stay on till Friedrichstraße and get the tram home from there…

Не забудзься! November 16, 2005

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Today, like every 16th of the month, is Solidarity with Belarus Day, when Lukaphobes worldwide flick off the switch at 8pm, light a candle and stick it on their windowsill for fifteen minutes in a collective yahboo-sucks-to-you action. Belarusian opposition folk seem fairly happy with how the first SwBD went a month ago and it’s hard to imagine Belarusian OMON breaking down doors to flats across the country and blowing out candles, so hopefully this can be a peaceful protest with some effect. And lighting beacons is a tradition full of myth and romance, of course. Let’s hope it becomes one of the symbols of the Maple Revolution.