Archive for the ‘Britain’ Category

EUROPE – WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

June 24, 2016

Living in Europe for 35 years, I greatly appreciated the people and their various ways of life. I was happy to return to live in England, since I imagined that within the European Union we could be one. So now that Britons have dropped a nuclear bomb on the relationship with Europe, I am devastated.

That we should have a constitutional crisis, utter confusion, no government and no plan for the future was eminently foreseeable. Yet a majority of voters, including friends of mine, embarked on this apparently reckless course. Why did the Remain camp fail to convince?

Voters knew David Cameron was no friend of Europe, so he had no credibility in declaring he would campaign “heart and soul” to stay in. No more persuasive were statesmen who urged Britain to stay inside the Union to play a leading role in reforming it. If Britain could not fix the defects before, why hang around? As for experts’ prophecies of economic disaster, voters clearly thought economic forecasting had too bad a track record.

A Leave friend wrote on Facebook “Now we will be back in the driving seat again!!!” Indeed so, and the responsibility rests primarily with Leavers to draw up strategies, act and take care of the people of Britain. Just now, they have no Prime Minister, no government and no plan. We Remainers however must realise that the European Union cannot continue as the framework for relating to the continent. Leavers and Remainers have a joint responsibility to end the chaos and devise new ways of functioning with our neighbours.

As for European leaders, they should take this bombshell as a warning. It is not enough to dwell on the Union’s success in ending post-war animosities and providing a democratic framework for liberated Eastern Europe. The people of Hungary and Poland have elected governments that patently care little for this.

It is not a time for European leaders to close ranks to hold the Union together at all costs. Britons are not the only people who are dissatisfied. Who today expresses enthusiasm for the Union? Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission, has failed to rise to his task. Angela Merkel performs a useful role as a “nice German” at the heart of Europe but will not act decisively as a leader.

However Europe must have smart people able to solve issues such as the bias of the euro system in favour of Germany. Germans’ insistence that other countries should merely act economically as they do is unrealistic. If limited liability laws enable individuals to go bankrupt, renege on debts and eventually return to economic activity, why can this not be done also for Greece?

The European Union has to resolve the chaotic inflows of migrants, the number one issue in the British campaign. There is talk of “defending frontiers”, but the free passage provided by Schengen has been built into infrastructures of airport and road systems, and can scarcely be dismantled. Britain, for all the boasts of the Leavers about regaining sovereignty, has only a handful of coastal patrol craft, and Italy or Greece have even less chance of sealing off their huge coastlines. However Spain does. It pays money to Morocco and Mauritania in return for measures to head off migrants. Such measures do not choke off channels altogether, but manage the flows better.

Financial stability and migration are among the big issues of our time. They need imaginative ideas and cooperation, far more than exasperated reactions to bothersome bureaucrats.

4th edition of my book, Slovenia 1945, due to be published shortly

March 3, 2015

 

Chosen as Book of the Year by John Bayley, who compared the characters to those of War and Peace. New preface includes British Government expression of regret for the events described in the book. Co-author is John Corsellis.

www.ibtauris.com

Slovenia 1945 Inside OK

Help young people understand the world

February 23, 2015

Help crowd-fund this worthwhile project in journalism. I did.

http://bit.ly/1BFZkF2

WE GERMANS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WAR, SAY BOMBED DRESDENERS 70 YEARS ON

February 17, 2015

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I was in Dresden last weekend for a deeply cathartic commemoration of the 70th  anniversary of the British bombing which destroyed the beautiful historical centre of Dresden and killed up to 25,000 in a firestorm. Seeing the pictures of the utter devastation of the burning ruins, and listening to stories of survivors, it is hard to believe that a people and a city could ever rise again. The sheer scope of the catastrophe makes our troubles today seem trivial.

I was there as Vice-Chairman of The Dresden Trust, which dedicated to reconciliation and raised £1 million to help rebuild the city’s main church. The Trust’s Royal Patron, the Duke of Kent, was honoured with a Dresden Peace Prize, which has previously been awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev and Daniel Barenboim. DSC07969 Reconciliation is possible for one reason – the recognition by all German leaders for the past 30 years that the German people as a whole were responsible for bringing Hitler to power and following him willingly into a war of genocide. The     Dresden Trust awarded its Medal of Honour to Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz, who declared that Dresden was bombed because Germans first bombed Coventry, London, Rotterdam and Warsaw. German President Joachim Gauck said: “We know who began this murderous war.”

These German leaders are brave, since they risk unpopularity with their voters. But it is the only way Germany can take its place in the community of nations. Still. I find this frank admission of guilt quite exceptional, and the key to the peaceful European order of the past 30 years. “We have to keep saying it, because not all Germans acknowledge it,” says Helma Orosz. Three days later 4,000 right-wing “Pegida” demonstrators were out in the main square chanting slogans against Islam and immigrants.

Dresdeners no longer hold animosity towards the British for a raid which was controversial from the start. Now they welcome Britons for the more stable, tolerant values they hope we will share with them. They look to us to counter the malevolent influence of the neo-Nazi fringe. I did my bit by joining 10,000 Dresdeners in a human chain formed around the historical centre. We held hands for a few minutes in a gesture of peace – but also symbolically to keep out the neo-Nazis.

Everybody I met had their stories. A Coventry woman remembered a relative was killed on the last day of the war bombing U-boats in Norway. A Dresdener whose hand I was holding in the human chain told me of an uncle bomber pilot who was shot down over England and then invited in for a cup of tea by the locals.

Dresden is now an expanding young city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Germany. From the smouldering ruins it has risen again, demonstrating how resilient the human spirit can be. I was proud to show a bit of solidarity they have finally earned.

So much for ebooks

May 23, 2014

Kansas City Public Library

 

This picture of Kansas City Public Library demonstrates that …

1. Some public authorities feel it worthwhile to invest in well-appointed public libraries.

2. Real books are alive and kicking. Not just ebooks.

Question: So why are many public authorities closing down public libraries to save costs, arguing that “they all read ebooks now”?

Answer: they are ignorant, philistine cheapskates. Or more politely … they have misjudged.

Working on my new book … The Fight For Freedom

May 9, 2014

Not much time for blogging, as I am writing, writing, writing. Here’s the book I am working on:

19.3.2014 cover FFF - iPad cover (3)

Financial Times “goes through Gutenberg moment”

March 5, 2014

FT logo

 

 

The Financial Times has just gone through its “Gutenberg moment,” with digital revenues for the first time outstripping print, according to managing editor James Lamont.

Setting up a paywall for its internet news site was its biggest decision of the past decade. “It was a good decision. It has guaranteed our survival. We are profitable and we can see our future,” he told journalists studying at the Reuters Institute in Oxford.

Highlights from his upbeat talk:

– Digital subscriptions have been rising at an annual rate of 31%.

– The move to digital meant profits grew 17% last year on a revenue increase of only 1%.

– Fastest growth is in mobile, which accounts for half of traffic to ft.com.

– Print circulation continues to decline (to around 240k), but is profitable because of cheaper print technology and rationalisation of distribution. “We want to keep print going.”

– The proportion of revenues earned from content grows – now 63% compared with 37% for ads. “There is a secular decline in advertising, but we can now survive on subscriptions.”

– Sales are predominantly in 1. Continental Europe 2. UK, 3. US. 4. Asia. “We are global.”

– Web analytics show a “long tail of stories nobody reads.” They are cutting down on those.

– Analytics show at what times readers in the main regions access its news. This led to changes in news schedules.

– The Financial Times increased its journalist staff from 450 to 611 between 2005 and 2011. Now there are 571. It hires five journalists a year from outside.

– It hires journalists on the expectation they will stay for 20 years and have five different jobs. One in four changed jobs last year.

– News stories on multiple platforms have become shorter. “Engagement,” “community” and “relevance” are the buzzwords.

DRESDEN 1945 – THEY DON’T WANT SYMPATHY ANY MORE

February 16, 2014

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“Dresden was no innocent city!” The city’s mayor Helma Orosz is haranguing her citizens in the street. “When we remember the catastrophe which befell the city in 1945, we should think of German bombing of Coventry and Rotterdam. Remember the millions whom Germans slaughtered in Poland, the forced labourers, the destruction of the Jewish synagogue in Dresden, the deportations. There were many Nazis in Dresden and people knew what was going on.”

Where else in the world, I wonder, does a political leader castigate the fathers and grandfathers of her voters so harshly?

But her audience laps it up. It is the 69th anniversary of the British bombing of February 1945 which killed over 20,000 people and destroyed the heart of one of Europe’s most beautiful historical cities. They are not sorry for themselves. I had come a little apprehensively as a Trustee of Britain’s Dresden Trust, set up to further reconciliation and help rebuild the ruined Church of Our Lady. Would they be hoping that I express regret, I wondered?

Not at all. When I tell a young journalist that for all the need to defeat Hitler, I felt the attack was not justified, she crisply retorts: “Why not? It was a military target.”

Well yes, in a way. But by my judgment the firestorms which Britain’s Bomber Command created in German cities were immoral. First they dropped high explosives to crack the buildings open, then thousands of incendiaries to light fires which, if the wind was right, came together in a fiery whirlwind that nobody could escape. They targeted town centres, where the old houses packed together burned better than the military targets located on the outskirts. That these houses were inhabited by civilian old men, women and children, they cared not at all. Indeed the plan was to break civilian morale (it did not work).

The British commander of the raid circling overhead radioed to an incoming wave of bombers, “It’s coming up quite nicely now,” as if he were talking of a bonfire at the bottom of his garden.

But Dresdners don’t have this on their minds today. They want to prevent neo-Nazis from streaming in from all over Germany, to rampage and demonstrate – trying to depict the British attack as a war crime relieving Germans of guilt for Auschwitz. Thousands of neo-Nazis used to come, giving the city a shameful reputation.

Now Dresdners have seized their commemoration back from the fanatics: Mayor Orosz calls on us to join a human chain around the historic centre as a symbolic barrier against the neo-Nazis. I can scarcely find space. 10,000 people last year, 11,000 this year.

It works. Although a few hundred neo-Nazis parade with burning torches the day before, none appear on the anniversary. There is no fighting, no disruption. The crowd clap. They may care little about politics otherwise, but they have done what Germans precisely did NOT do when Hitler was pushing his way to power. They have stood up en masse for normal, decent human values.

Actors, musicians and writers read texts at various points of the old centre. They too are doing what German intellectuals failed to do when the Nazis emerged in the 1930s. They are assuming responsibility for influencing hearts and minds.

I head for the magnificent Semper opera house, painstakingly rebuilt over several decades. The choir launches resoundingly into Verdi’s Requiem evoking the Day of Judgment when nobody can escape God’s fearful reckoning. Another tough choice: Dresdners certainly underwent their punishment by hellfire. After the soloists conclude by pleading God to forgive the sins of the dead and let them rest in peace, the conductor drops his baton, the musicians and audience of 3,000 rise to their feet, and for four or five minutes intense silence reigns. The cathartic emotions bursting to find relief in applause are turned inwards in silent contemplation.

As we file quietly out, the bells of Dresden peal out at 21.40 hours, the time when the first bombs fell on 13th February 1945. Some deep and funereal, others such as those of the Church of Our Lady higher in tone, suggesting life and joy after death and destruction.

In the square outside, hundreds of people stand with candles. At 22.00, the bells fall silent and we troop into the church. A choir chants Dona Nobis Pacem, and teenagers read texts they have written themselves. The pastor is expecting me and asks me to read a piece. It’s Jesus’s invocation to love thine enemy. That puts me on the spot. He says I can add a few words of my own.

When it’s my turn in the pulpit, I read my text and add (in German): “I have come here to represent the Dresden Trust of Britain in a spirit of reconciliation. My mother was German. She was anti-Nazi and was thrown out of her school. My father was English and fought in the British Army. My uncle was a bomber pilot, shot down and killed over Cologne in 1942.

“Immediately after the war, my mother insisted we go to Germany to renew contacts with her German family, even though some had been Nazis. From my German mother, who just died at the age of 101, I learned: after war should come peace.”

The pastor shakes my hand and says he is moved. So am I, and how. I stay in the dimmed splendour of the church till after midnight. When I slip out, Dresden’s teenagers are still going up to the pulpit, one after the other, humbly acknowledging their nation’s past and the terrible chastisement which followed.

British classroom question: who is to blame for World War I? (Clue: it’s the Germans.)

January 11, 2014

The British Education Minister has said that the British fought World War I as a just war to prevent Germany’s aggressive bid to dominate Europe. The Prime Minister’s office says it sees nothing wrong with this.

Of course, there is another view, propagated by British and other historians, that Serbia started it by stirring up trouble in countries with Serb minorities, egged on by its Slav brother, Russia, in response to Austria’s greedy annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, unwisely supported by Germany, which wanted to be a great power and felt hostile to both Russia and France, all hardly helped on the eve of war by the British Foreign Secretary going off fishing while German troops mobilised, possibly hoping that Germany would be drawn into a war against both France and Russia which it was bound to lose.

But that’s a bit long, and as you have only 15 minutes, keep to the first version. And remember, this counts for the grades for your university place, which we might otherwise sell off for much more money to the Chinese.

Next week: why the European Union is wrong for Britain? (Clue: it’s the French.)

Mohammed is the third most popular name for newborns in Oxfordshire

January 10, 2014

Oxfordshire may be the essence of Englishness, but in November Mohammed was the third most popular name for newborns in the county.

I gleaned this nugget of information on a visit to register my mother’s death. Her array of German names was also a little out of the ordinary, I must admit.

Oxford’s royalist traditions are not yet dead however. William came top and Harry level-pegged with Mohammed.


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