Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th February, 2014
Slovenia is one of the smallest member states of the European Union, but also one of the most enthusiastic. It was impressive how, at the time that former Yugoslavia was falling apart, the Slovenians asserted their Central European identity (as opposed to the Western Balkans) and celebrated, rather than lamented, their historic links with Italy and Austria. As a youngster I’d passed through Slovenia several times when it was part of Tito’s Yugo-Communist realm, without stopping, but I first got to know it not all that long after independence when I was invited to attend a workshop organised by the writers’ organisation PEN, in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Bled. Bled really is as picture-postcard perfect as the tourism brochures show, and one can happily walk round the lake for hours. I particularly enjoyed a dinner reception that was offered by our hosts in the rather severe official residence of the late Marshal Tito not so far away. The fact that I worked with an Anglo-Slovenian at BBC Bush House for several years helped to cement the ties, and I remember some very convivial dinners at the residence of one early Slovenian Ambassador in a mock-Spanish villa in New Malden tat ten served as his official residence. Later the country was understandably chuffed at acquiring Embassy premises in Westminster, a very short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and literally round the corner from the then Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street. So it was good this evening to get a taste of that rather slick “I Feel Slovenia” promotion of culture, food and lifestyle once again at the Slovenia Day event at the European Commission/European Parliament’s London representation at Europe House in Smith Square. I’ve never been back to Slovenia since the Bled visit — which did also include a British Council reception for literary folk in Ljubljana — but I am sure I should: to visit Greenwich’s twin town, Maribor, for example, and in particular the jewel of an Adriatic port, Piran — just along the coast from James Joyce’s Trieste. Yes, I can feel those travel juices starting to flow.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bled, Europe House, Greenwich, James Joyce, Lake Bled, Ljubjana, Maribor, New Malden, PEN, Piran, Slovenia, Tito, Trieste, Westminster, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st June, 2013
The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) got off to a spectacular start tonight with an awe-inspiring performance by the Wired Aerial Theatre, directed by Nigel Jamieson: As the World Tipped. Despite a downpour in London in the late afternoon the gods were kind this evening; indeed, the Man in the (almost full) Moon beamed down brightly from above the Queen’s House next to the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, in front of which a cosmopolitan and predominantly young audience of several thousand sat on the grass. The piece itself got off to a slow and rather didactic start, as the performers moved boxes of files around the broad stage and one of them intoned alphabetically a list of endangered animal species, against a background of exhortations and apologies from global statesmen at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. But the spectacle took on an entirely new dimension — literally — as the stage, suspended at the back from a giant crane, tilted, so that all the boxes and papers slid down and over the edge, until it was entirely vertical, the performers, now displaying their acrobatic skills, moving up and down what had turned into a vast screen on which various scenarios of environmental apocalypse were portrayed. The technical skill of the actor-acrobats and the black-clad puppet-masters who managed their guide ropes by striding up and down metal ladders at the side of the screen was literally breath-taking. Of course, the message of the piece — saving the planet — is hardly new, but that did not weaken its impact. In fact, because we know full well about the dangers and yet the international community has not managed to grasp the nettle of necessary changes to human behavior, the reminder is all the more important. The goal now must be to reach a global deal at the planned Paris Summit in 2015 — which itself should be creative grist to the Wired Aerial Theatre’s mill.
Links: http://www.festival.org and http://www.wiredaerialtheatre.com
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: As the World Tipped, Copenhagen Climate Summit, GDIF, Greenwich, Nigel Jamieson, Paris Climate Summit, The Wired Aerial Theatre | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012
David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools and the Cabinet Office, was billed to speak at a bangers-and-mash supper at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath this evening and Liberal Democrats from the three boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley — plus me — arrived prepared to quiz him quite firmly on issues such as his somewhat disparaging recent remarks about teachers and how he would justify some of the Coalition’s economic policies. But as so often happens with Ministers (and indeed MPs) he cancelled, because of other obligations, during the afternoon. So in through the door marched Party President Tim Farron instead. Now if David Laws might have felt like Daniel in the lions’ den, Tim found himself amongs a group of purring pussy-cats. Well, almost. He has a manner that can charm the proverbial birds off the trees and part of his widespread appeal across the party is that he acknowledges the mistakes that have been made in government, and where he has not agreed with what the government was doing. And not being a Minister he has a greater freedom to range more widely than many of his colleagues. He is undoubtedly closer to the ideological soul of LibDem activists than some. In the Q&A session after his speech, he was asked where he thought Britain was heading in its relations with the EU and he reaffirmed the party’s strong commitment to the UK’s need to be at the heart of Europe. He said he believed that the mood of the country means that we would probably never join the euro, which is the one major point on which I disagreed with him when I made a short speech myself on EU matters later in the meal. There may well come a time when it would be our interest to join the single currency, albeit not in the short-term, but the question remains whether our partners would open the door if the British Conservatives continue to handle dealings with them so ham-fistedly.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Blackheath, Bromley, David Laws, Greenwich, Lewisham, Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012
Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.
I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bexley, Bromley, Brussels, Dublin, ELDR, European elections, European Parliament, Greenwich, Liberal Democrats, London, Strasbourg, Tower Hamlets, Yerevan | 3 Comments »