I am at a loss for words.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for 5 years, every day, through snow, wind, rain, no matter what, she’s always there.

She says “I’m not strong, I am soft but determined, as my friends say.”

And she certainly is, she is one of the most determined people I have ever met.

Her nose was frozen, I could catch a glimpse of iced drops inside her red nostrils. But she didn’t seem to mind the cold, while words poured out of her lips hanging on a cloud of smoke.

Babs Tucker, as everyone calls her, has been living and peace campaigning in front of the House of Parliament for the last 1825 days. Since December 2005, she has been living in a tent protesting against the troops in  Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Strength  comes from within and we all have strength and weaknesses” she smiles while pulling out a hand from her glove to make herself a cigarette.

When asked how she got to the point when she decided that this is what she wanted to do, she answered

“ I think it is the journey you have through life. And what you see and experience.

Life experience

“I was brought up in a military background. My father went off to war when he was young, and he said they thought it was going to be a wonderful adventure. But when they got there, they were terrified and he told me the truth about his experience.

“Also when I was young I was in Gaza and Palestine, and young people like me used to tell me to tell the world they had no hope.  I was always haunted by the thought of what happened to these people the same age as me.

“That is when you say enough is enough. Then you stand up and take responsibility.  You should have the confidence to stand up and say when something is wrong. If you value human life, you want justice for everybody. If you want change you have to do something about it.

“The first time I said no, I was standing in a queue and a police man told me that I didn’t need to stand in the queue, I asked why and he told me ‘because you’re not an Arab’ so I stayed in the queue. No, I was not going to be part of this.

“Being here is like a PHD in life. It just works here is what I’ve learned.

“Have I changed my view? No.”

Her previous life

Barbara was a normal member of the public as she herself says, she worked as a carer and had two sons. Now aged 28 and 20, they are very supportive of her.

Once when they arrested me,  they said to my son ‘Your mum has been arrested‘, and he answered ‘Oh well my mum is always being arrested, what’s new?’ and he said to me as ‘long as there is column in the daily telegraph slagging you, then you know you are making a difference.” She laughs when remembering her son’s words.

She has been arrested 39 times since she first started her protest. But the thought of being arrested doesn’t discourage her at all.

“As a woman and as a mother I will speak out for my fellow human beings.

“Caring about human lives is a bit like an extension of being a mother for me.”

As she speaks, I cannot help wondering how this woman’s efforts will make the difference. I cannot help myself asking her…… what do you think you can change? Do you think you can change the world?

“ I’m not the saviour of the world. I do know I am responsible. None of us has all the answers, none of us can do everything. Each one of us can do something. And if each one does something we’ll crack it. If we care enough.”

Ireland goes back in time

Posted: November 30, 2010 in economy

Ireland‘s time machine has started whirring.

Nearly a century has passed since Ireland’s war for independence ended. After a hundred years, a country that has fought so hard for independence finds itself in need of help.

“It feels as if Ireland is going back, instead of going ahead,”  says Karla Leahy, an Irish Brand Manager over the telephone. In a sense Ireland is going back to depending on England even if in a strictly economic way. This is having a strong impact on the Irish moral.

Moreover work opportunities are extremely low and this has caused many educated people to migrate to other countries.

“Why would someone who has studied hard and has a postgraduate or a PHD stay in Ireland? There are no job opportunities there anymore.” Karla continues.

80’s migrations

Mass emigrations has always been the index of Ireland’s failure. The last big economic slump in 1980s has generated the ” Ryan Air generation”

When listening to the government delusional optimism one would think that it is preferable that those who don’t want to stay take advantage of cheap flights and fled to other countries.

It is better if they leave than if they remain as angry obstacles to the process of making ordinary citizens pay for the mistakes and the greed of a political and financial elite.

It is hard to come up with good arguments to persuade any well-educated, twentysomething to stick around for what the semi-official Economic and Social Research Institute recently called a “lost decade” of stagnant desolation.

Furthermore the prospect of low growth, high percentage of unenploiment a downward spiral of ever harsher austerity measures, there is the bitterness of working to pay off the gambling debts of property developers and bankers.

If it happens again

Yet, if mass emigration does take hold again, it will be terrible.The missing of its youth has, over the centuries, robbed Ireland of much of its social and economic dynamism.

The reversal of that flow in the 1990s created enormous confidence. It seemed that Ireland had at last emerged from its bleak history.

To lose the confident, well-educated generation that grew up in those optimistic years wouldn’t just be a terrible psychological blow. It would also make nonsense of Ireland’s aspirations to be a dynamic, innovative economy.

UK loan

But how come Britain is lending Ireland 7Bn pounds when  it has itself a crippling national debt and is already effectuating many cuts.

Karla has no doubts “Ireland is Britain’s fifth biggest importer, if the Irish don’t consume anymore British economy will face a great loss”

That is why it is important for England to keep Irish economy going, Ireland’s key advantage is the corporation tax which is at 12.5 and makes the country a very desirable importer.

We are not reinventing the wheel: adolescence is difficult because it’s the time in life when you’re looking for a place in the world but you’re still trying to figure out who you are. When you think the release is from childhood to adolescence and freedom is the goal. Perhaps the mirage, very often a mistake.

Ruby

The girl they call Ruby – but it is a quick and malicious nickname: her real name is Karim – in the chaos of newspapers and television has turned 18 a week ago.

She says she is a double-sided person: the vibrant and sexy girl at the premier’s house parties, skimpy clothes and lap dance in discos, and the girl that in other night asks the social workers in the gated community were she lives to tell her happy ending stories.

Maybe she’s both things: the teenage years are not any more those of the questions and not yet those of the answers. That must be the reason for which you tell so many lies, as Ruby is said to do. It is an age still too uncertain to receive curses and convictions.

Becoming a celebrity is the goal

Who cannot escape judgment is Letizia’s mother, who after having given her”new breasts” as a present for her birthday, at the celebration of her daughter’s 18 ears puts an ice cube in her decoltè.

The girls out of Sarah Scazzi’s school ( a girl who has been killed by her cousin)  vied to be interviewed by the newspapers. Sabrina Misseri ( the killer) before ending up in prison,in the morning she got up and used to run to the shop to see how she had come out in the picture.

There is TV, there are competitions to become a showgirl, there is the Big Brother: becoming a celebrity is the goal, no going back.

Someone please tell Berlusconi
In 1991, on the screens of sleepy afternoons after school, the girls were glued to “Non è la Rai” a program of Boncompagni, who first broke the taboo of lolitism on TV. And perhaps also contributed to the shortening of adolescence: girls aged 14-15 years were shown moving as women.

It is said that there are no alternative models, but above all there are no social networks around them. There are families more or less careful, more or less distracted by solving other problems. There is no school, decimated by cuts, neglect and lack of foresight. There is no one to supervise this age of transit.

This is how, at times, it happens to pass on the wrong side. We don’t speak any more about good and bad, because morality is an uncomfortable bourgeois concept. But the line does exist. And I don’t know how much having crossed that line will affect the lives of many Ruby’s that appear in the parties of the powerful.

In ’78 Guccini wrote: “At twenty years it is all untouched.” For many this is no longer true, neither at twenty or before: few things remain intact.

Berlusconi reiterated a concept dear to him: “I am proud of my lifestyle. I love women. ” Someone – the Minister of Youth Giorgia Meloni? – could please explain to him that at 17 years old you may be no longer a child, but certainly not yet a  women.

The irregularity of Burma’s 7 November elections was predictable. But what was not predictable was that the elections brought to the explosion of the harshest armed conflict ever between ethnic group’s rebels and Burma’s military force.

This battle has been going on for decades, but after the elections it has become a real civil war.

A bit of history

Burma has experienced a long history of migration and conflict among various ethnic groups, these only stopped during British imperial rule from the 1820s to 1948.

Under British control, diverse peoples far from Rangoon were brought under at least nominal central administration. Yet many areas remained effectively self-ruled, with only a thin veneer of imperial oversight.

During World War II, while many Burman joined Japanese forces, many minority ethnic groups remained loyal to Britain. This reflected a genuine desire for independence on the part of both groups; Burmans struggling to be free of the British colonial yoke, and ethnic minorities wishing to escape Burman domination.

The Union of Burma became independent in I948 only after extensive negotiations led by General Aung San, who convinced most ethnic minority groups to join the new union.

The Panglong Agreement of 1947 outlined minority rights and specifically gave the Shan and Karenni peoples the option to secede from the union a decade after independence. Yet these constitutional guarantees were never fully respected. Almost immediately upon independence, Burma was thrown into a series of brutal ethnic wars that have continued with varying intensity to this day.

The origin of this conflict lays in the fact that the junta refuses to create a federal state in which all ethnic minorities benefit of the same rights, autonomy and self determination.

This is what ethnic groups have been asking since independence from England in 1948. Some of them have reached a truce with the government, but instead of starting a dialog with the leaders the junta has used those who have signed the truce as military guards of the borders under the command of central government.

As a consequence at least 15 thousand people have fled to Thailand, were already most of the Burmese refugees are living. In the meantime the government has dismantled the armies of the two main ethnic groups, the Kachin and the Wa, because they refused to enter in the border forces.

All the ethnic groups want is pacific dialog with the government, in atmosphere of dignity and freedom and not of repression.

The main obstacle is represented by Than Shwe, who controls a regime that does not give any space to ethnic minorities or to democratic forces.

The after elections

Yesterday, one day after the elections, violent riots exploded between central government’s army and the Buddhist democratic Karen Army ( Dkba).

The Dkba is a group of ex Buddhist generals and soldiers that have separated from the National freedom Karen Army, one of the largest rebel army.

At the election the Dkba has supported the government, but a group has separated from them in order to protest against the government intention to bring under central military control some ethnic group’s armies.

Dkba men have occupied government’s offices in the city of Myawaddy causing violent riots along the border with Thailand. The junta intervened sending one thousand soldiers and regained control of the city.In the meantime 15 thousand people have fled to Thailand in order to save their life.

Many ethnic group leaders have denounced the elections as a way to stop the fight for independence.

On the 8 of November the junta was accused of faking the elections by leaders of the opposition and by government parties also.

The international community has not approved of the elections and said they did not happen in a legal way because no international observer could monitor the procedure and no foreign newspaper could follow the event.

 

 

Avinash Kalla

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Profiles

TAKE RISKS, BREAK IT ALL, THIS IS LIFE

Anubhuti is the indi word for the most beautiful feeling in the world,  his eyes smile brightly while he describes how he chose this name for his 14 months old daughter “ I chose it when I hold her in my arms for the first time”.

Avinash Kalla is very relaxed, although he used to be on the other side of the interview he is confident and  likes speaking about himself and his life.

He is only 31 but his expression is full of wisdom “ I just take things has they come” he smiles at me and adds but “what I most love in life is to risk”.

Avinash’s life was marked extreme decisions, he was never afraid of changes . Since he was 17 he felt the need for independence and decided to leave his home.

He l;ived in a big family and was always too protected because of a bad fall he had when he was a baby that took up to eight years to get back  to normal.

But Avinash is not made to lead a sheltered life so he went more than 1000km far from home to study engineering, he then moved to Delhi in order to study  at Postgraduate Diploma in Business and Administration PGDBA.

During his year at PGDBA he first approached the world of journalism “ I had never read a newspaper before becoming a journalists” he says and smiles widely, delighted by his unpredictability.

He had not dreamed of becoming a journalist all his life and in the end obtained what he wanted. Avinash is different he bumped into this world loved it and never again left writing.

This is the beginning of a eight year career as a journalist, he worked in the Times of India until he felt he could not continue anymore.

“I was not allowed to work” he says. He experienced being limited in what he had to say and he did not accept it.

So once again he gave a twist to his life and decided to come to Britain to study at MA International Journalism.

And I will continue my studies and my family will join me in Britain.

His wife was the one to encourage him “She’s the one who understands me and my madness mostly”.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces new challenge

Posted: November 16, 2010 in Burma

The Burmese leader for democracy Aung Saan Su kyi has been freed, but she is now facing a country still firmly in the junta’s hands and weakened by economic sanctions.

While she was under house arrest, some observers expressed doubts about her popularity, assuming that she no longer represented the vast majority of Burmese people. But they were wrong.

On November 13 the Nobel peace prize winner was finally released. The news created a lot of hope and expectations.

Apart from being secretary of her party, the National League for Democracy, Aung Saan Suu Kyi is considered to be the global leader of Burmese political struggle.

As the British ambassador Andrew Heyn told the Independent “ Everything makes us think that the regime is still afraid of her.” Burmese citizens oppressed by the military have not forgotten her. When they heard about her release, many people, even the young ones who had never seen her close up, gathered outside the headquarters of the National League for democracy and marched up to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, where they waited for her release without worrying about the soldiers in riot gear.

It is now time to observe how the leader of the opposition will address the new challenges and the changed political landscape of the country, where she will find very different problems from those she faced in July 1995 and May 2002, the other two occasions on which the junta freed her from house arrest.

The elections

On November 7, the 2010 elections took place in Burma, but the regime manipulated the vote and will soon sing victory declaring to have obtained a very improbable 80 per cent of votes. The military will form a new government and will convene Parliament, where Aung San Suu Kyi will not sit. So the generals might think they have defeated her forever, but this doesn’t look likely.

The military that has governed Burma since 1988 decided to take the risk of freeing such a popular person. They must have thought that it was worth it, since they firmly control the country. Yet, the Leader for Democracy will continue to be a thorn in the side of the regime.

Despite it being a military dictatorship, Burma has a lot of support. China has supported the elections, while the Asean ( the association south oriental nations) has defined the elections a great step forward. The president of Asean, who is Vietnam’s prima minister Nguyen Minh Triet, has declared to the press: “ Asean invites Burma to continue in its process of reconciliation and democratisation for the stability of the country.”

Thanks to her non-violent fight, Aung San Suu Kyi also has a lot of friends and admirers throughout the world and inside Burma she continues to be the symbol of the struggle against the Junta. She has asked her rivals to start a serious political dialogue, but previous meetings with the leaders of the regime didn’t produce any real results. On the contrary, all she did was come in and out of prison.

Aung Saan Suu Kyi’s first steps

Many observers think that Aung Saan Suu Kyi will continue to ask for dialogue and will ask the regime to free the over 2 thousand political prisoners that are still behind bars.

Something even more important is that she will have a pivotal role in the reconciliation and reunification of Burmese ethnic groups. Before her release, she was organising the second conference of Panglong. The first was chaired by her Father, Aung San, and took place in 1947, a year before the country got independence from Britain. On that occasion representatives of various ethnic groups formed a united front for independence. Since Aung San Suu Kyi is able to gain the trust of the various ethic groups, a second Panglong conference is just as important. The question is whether the regime will allow it.

Aung San Suu Kyi would also like to ask for the withdrawal of the sanctions imposed on the country’s economy and supports the sending of humanitarian rights inspectors to Burma and its border areas (where many Burmese live). We will observe how the Junta reacts to her offer of dialogue.

Her supporters and the activists of the National Front for Democracy are concerned for her safety, since the population knows well that although she has been freed, the regime remains hostile to her. They do not see her liberation as a gesture of reconciliation from the military, who in the past tried to build up different accusations to have her put in prison. What the regime wants to avoid is that Aung Saan Suu Kyi become the Bezanir Bhutto of Burma.

Brighton Photo Biennial

Posted: November 16, 2010 in Art

Brighton Photo Biennial

Martin Parr’s talent has surpassed itself at Brighton Photo Biennial. His way of bringing out the extraordinary from the ordinary is astonishing.

“I want this to be a discovery. I get fed up with always seeing the same things at festivals and I don’t want people to get the same feeling here.” he says.

The programme gathers many talented international photographers and also gives a chance to hundreds of new photographers to exhibit their works at Photo Fringe at venues in central Brighton and Hove.

Strange and familiar

The main event at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery presents three internationally renowned artists personal views of Brighton. Called “ Strange and Familiar”, it is best represented by Stephen Gill’s work- ‘Inside In’.

The artist used a special technique whereby he could photograph the city landscape through the photogram of an object placed in the camera, thus creating a new world where traces of human existence have their own space. It shows a highly original use of photography.

Rinko Kawachi in her work ‘Murmuration’ chose to capture the flocks of starlings that fill Brighton’s sky every evening. I must say that, although I usually love the artist’s work, I was quite disappointed this time. The theme was not original, nor were the pictures of the starlings exceptional.. She attempted some parallelism with the tourists’ movements around the city, but the photos proved to be quite poorly taken and rushed. The presentation was also rather confused. Although some pictures were good, most lack her usual accuracy and passion.

Alec Soth’s experience is quite extraordinary. Due to visa problems, he was not allowed to take pictures in the country, so he came up with the idea of handing the camera to his eight-year-old daughter. It is very interesting to notice how different the eye of a child is compared an adult’s. A child doesn’t have the notion of what a photographer should be. Their visual level is much lower and captures things that adults probably wouldn’t notice. Moreover, a child with a camera seems much less threatening than an adult. Knowing Alec Soth’s talent, I would have preferred to see his pictures on the walls rather than his daughter’s. Nevertheless, the substitution was a pleasant diversion.

So the exhibition is varied and has much to offer. Martin Parr has proved not only to be a good photographer, but also an excellent curator. The Brighton Photo Biennial is a wonderful opportunity to experience his talent.