Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May, 2011

Mladic, Serbia and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th May, 2011

The arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is a significant step towards the normalisation of Serbia’s relations with the rest of Europe and the country’s eventual accession to membership of the European Union. Belgrade had come under considerable criticism from some quarters for allegedly not doing enough to track down the man accused of responsibility for war crimes, notably the killing of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995. Following the discovery of Mladic — looking considerably aged and weakened — in a village in northern Serbia (some of whose residents must have known he was there) opens the way to his being tried in The Hague. Mladic’s son insists his father was not guilty of ordering the Srebrenica massacre. It will be for the Court to decide. Certainly, there are some Serbian nationalists who still believe Mladi to be a hero, not a war criminal, as witnessed by the crowd which demonstrated outside the parliament building in Belgrade this evening. Meanwhile, to the relief of Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, the end to the 16-year manhunt removes an obstacle in the way of Serbia’s EU membership. European integration has been a top priority for the Serbian government since it was elected in 2008. The following year, the European Commission in Brussels proposed visa liberalisation for Serbs. Just how many years it will take for Serbia to be allowed into the EU, however, is another matter, not just because of the rate of progress in accession negotiations but also because of the outstanding issue of Serbia’s non-recognition of the independence of the breakaway, predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. There is also a certain enlargement fatigue among some of the EU’s current member states. Moreover, some other countries in the Western Balkans — notably Croatia — feel that they deserve to be let in first. One way or another, though, it does seem that most constituent parts of former Yugoslavia will follow Slovenia’s lead and inegrate into the Union, which is a development that should be welcomed.

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Diplomat Magazine’s Awards 2011

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th May, 2011

More than four score Heads of Mission from the diplomatic community in London gathered at the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill hotel for the 2011 awards from Diplomat Magazine, for which I write regularly. As Diplomat’s publisher, Hugo de Blocq van Kuffeler, pointed out in his speech, ‘despite the conveniences of modern technology, the tact, persuasiveness, influence and guile of a great diplomat is far more powerful and effective than an e-mail or a letter. Diplomacy is the brain of a nation. It has been said that the quality of a nation’s diplomacy gives it direction and weight.’ London has one of the largest diplomatic communities in the world, so the magazine gives awards for the most remarkable Head of Mission for each geographic region, this year’s laureates being Dr Afnan Al-Shuaiby, Secretary-General of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce (Middle East); HRH Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, High Commissioner for Lesotho (Africa); HE Mr Keiichi Hayashi, Ambassador of Japan (Asia) — who accepted his award on behalf of the people of Japan, in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in the world since World War II; HE Mr Otabek Akbarov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan (Eurasia); HE Mr Johan Verbeke, Ambassador of Belgium (Europe); HE Ms Kamela Palma, High Commissioner for Belize (Americas); HE Mr Roberto Jaguaribe, Ambassador of Brazil (South America); Deputy Head of Mission of the Year: Ms Klara Breuer-Rudas (Embassy of Hungary); Outstanding Contribution to Women in Diplomacy: HE Ms Ruth Elizabeth Rouse (High Commissioner for Grenada); Outstanding Contribution to the Consular Corps: Bogdan Kolarov (Embassy of Bulgaria); Young Diplomat of the Year: Mr Marwan Francis (Embassy of Lebanon). The Wilton Park conference centre received a special award for its Distingtuished Contribution to Diplomacy in London.

Photo: Roland Kemp (


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Understanding the History of Cyprus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th May, 2011

All conflict situations leave pain long after they have finished, as people remember family, friends and homes they have lost. In Cyprus, since 1974 the Green Line has been a border between two communities that used to live together, side-by-side, before conflict broke out in 1963; and much bitterness and anger remains. So it was refreshing and inspiring to see a 30-minute documentary film last night showing a group of four Cypriot teenagers — two Greek, two Turkish — accompanying three of The Elders (an informal grouping of former global leaders who have dedicated themselves to peace and reconciliation) on a visit to the island. In this case, the three Elders were the retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter, and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi from Algeria. With the young people they all visited places where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who had been killed in the conflict were buried in hidden graves, as well as an establishment where anthropologists have been piecing together the skeletons of the disinterred. After the film, Ersu Ekrem of  Embargoed!  (the Turkish Cypriot community organisation which hosted the event entitled Understanding the History of Cyprus in the Regency Banqueting Suites in Bruce Grove) gave a talk with slides describing the casualities on both sides. Then I spoke about how no one person, family, community or people has a monopoly of victimhood, but that we must acknowledge that pain is very real and can only be healed through facing up to the past, bringing out te facts, understanding the history, so that then one can move forward to reconciliation. There was some tough questioning from the predominantly Turkish Cypriot audience, underlining how deep some of the scars are. But as someone who regularly visits Cyprus for my work, I share the optimism of those who believe that there can and will be a workable settlement one day that gives full and equal rights to all Cypriots and that the current isolation of northern Cyprus (which has not yet been able to take advantage of the benefits of EU membership) can be negotiated to an end.

Photo of Ersu Ekrem, Jonathan Fryer and Cllr Gina Adamou (Mayor of Haringey) by Nefise Hussein 


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Olly Grender Live

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th May, 2011

This evening Olly Grender, political pundit and communications expert, gave Liberal Democrats several reasons to be cheerful, fearful and even tearful, though for once not on Newnsight’s tripartite line-up or the BBC’s This Week but at an Islington local party’s Pizza and Politics. While admitting some things had been handled badly — the tuition fees débacle, notably — she underlined the fact that much of the mainstream media has seriously got it in for the LibDems in government, and of course for Nick Clegg in particular. As she pointed out, there is not one single LibDem columnist on any major newspaper, which makes it all the more important for party members to use new media such as Twitter, both to promote good news and views and to comment. We could also do with a few more high-powered Talking Heads (other than Cabinet Ministers) appearing on TV; her former boss Paddy Ashdown got an honoroable mention in this regard. Using new media, including Facebook, is even more important these days, as the old Penhaligon-Rennard mantra of pushing one’s messages out ad nauseam through people’s letter-boxes has had its day. Leaflet blitzing certainly delivered us some parliamentary by-elections in the past — Brent East was a classic case — but the electorate is now tired of it, and understandably so. We have to think of new ways of communicating, in both the air war and the ground war (to adopt the jargon beloved of Cowley Street). In the meantime, though, Olly is heartened by how steadfast most LibDem activists have remained, despite the media hostility, the combined onslaught of both the Tory Right and the Labour Right, and electoral knocks. We are in for the long haul in this Coalition government, and if the economy does recover sufficiently before May 2015, perhaps people will start praising us rather than cursing us by then.


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Telgraf’s 5th Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th May, 2011

The Turkish and Kurdish communities together form one of the UK’s largest ethnic minority groups — some 400,000 people, by some counts, a high percentage of them concentrated in North London boroughs such as Enfield, Hackney and Haringey. For the past five years, they have had a free bilingual Turkish/Kurdish newspaper ‘Telgraf’ to serve them, covering both UK and international news and encouraging Turks and Kurds to get more involved in British society. In particular, Telgraf has urged British Turks and Kurds to engage in the UK democratic procwess, registering for elections, voting and even standing for public office themselves, as well as promoting positive community actions such as recycling. The key person behind much of this is Ibrahm Dogus, an indefatigable young restaurateur, entrepreneur and community activist, who attracted a good crowd to Telgraf’s 5th anniversary celebrations this evening at Portcullis House, Westminster. There was a galaxy of MPs and Peers from all three main UK political parties — including, of course, the country’s first Turkish-speaking parliamentarian, (Baroness) Meral Ece — as well as the Labour and Green London Mayoral candidates, Ken Livingstone and Jenny Jones. We can be sure that in the run-up to the 2012 London elections, this is a community that will be making its voice heard.


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When China Rules the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd May, 2011

Chinese Liberal Democrats and the Liberal International British Group (LIBG) scored a first this evening when they enticed former editor of ‘Marxism Today’, Martin Jacques, to address a packed meeting in the Board Room at the Liberal Democrats’ HQ in Cowley Street, Westminster, on the theme ‘When China Rules the World’. Martin’s book of the same name has been enjoying success in some unlikely places; a Latvian edition has been arranged, for example. But his theme is of truly global interest. His thesis is that China is growing economically even faster than had been thought previously. It has already leap-frogged Japan to become the second largest economy, behind the United States. And it will move into first place before too long. More contentious was Martin’s argument that the Chinese currency, the renminbi, will overtake the US dollar as the preferred currency of trade within a generation, initially in East/South East Asia. One has to remember that the RMB isn’t even convertible yet and few people believe that will happen before 2020. But what does seem certain is that by that symbolic date, China will effectively be the world’s Number One, as the USA continues its relative decline. I raised the issue of sustained unity: on several occasions in China’s long history, the Middle Kingdom has broken up. If that were to happen again, it would throw a spanner in the works. Nonetheless, all the indicators point to the 21st Century belonging to China — but with some of the other BRICs, notably Brazil and India, snapping at its heels and even Indonesia rising fast.

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ELDR Council in Dresden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st May, 2011

There was a time, not all that many years ago, when most of the meetings of the governing Council of the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) were held in Brussels. But these days they occur all over the Continent, both to give the participants a taste of the local sister party and its activities as well as to generate some publicity in the city or country concerned. Thanks to the German Free Democrats (FDP), this weekend’s Council was in Dresden, capital of the Free State of Saxony and known as Paris on the Elbe before the British bombed it to smithereens during the Second World War. Although I did travel a lot in the old DDR (East Germany), I had never been to Dresden until now, so it was interesting to see how much of the old city — including the celebrated Frauenkirche — has been rebuilt or refurbished, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Saxony had a standard of living well below the European Union average when German reunification took place, but the city benefited greatly from funds made available under the EU’s Cohesion Policy, which was the subject of a seminar attached to the Council meeting. It was good to hear from several Saxon state Ministers at the event, as well as the UK LibDems’ own Flo Clucas, who extolled how EU funds had helped Liverpool regenerate once the Trots were ousted from control of that city. The ELDR Council itself is largely an administrative affair (including the passing of urgency resolutions on such issues as human rights in Russia and threats to the Schengen Agreement), but there was a worthwhile session led by Mohammed Nosseir of Egypt’s Democratic Front on how Europe should respond to the Arab Awakening — a theme much preoccupying me at the moment and one which the ELDR will doubtless return to at its Congress in Palermo in November.


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Tessa Munt’s Winning Ways

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th May, 2011

One of the most pleasant surprises towards the end of the long election night in May 2010 was the LibDem gain of the parliamentary seat of Wells in Somerset. It had been a target seat, near target, even a near miss for at least 30 years but it seemed as if the land-owning Tory grandee David Heathcoat-Amory was ensconced for life. However Tessa Munt — who had fought the seat five years previously — winkled him out last year. This evening, at a Putney Liberal Democrats’ fundraising event, she told us all how: selling her house and giving up paid employment in order to work 24/7  at winning over initially sceptical voters, especially in the villages. Systematically she went canvassing the whole area, as well as holding advice surgeries and attending parish council meetings and keeping up a strong literature campaign. Of course, my good friend (and sometime fellow Euro-candidate) Alan Butt Philip and his successors had done a lot of the spadework in elections past, but Tessa added the manure — so to speak — that turned that ground truly fertile. Manure is an apposite metaphor, as Heathcoat-Amory got into the headlines of several Tory newspapers over charging large quantities of it to the taxpayer as expenses. Worse, as Tessa’s team eagerly pointed out as the 2010 election loomed, despite being the most sceptic of Euro-sceptics, he was receiving large subsidies from Brussels for his farm. Tessa had to pinch herself when she walked into the House of Commons for the first time and she still gets a thrill every time she crosses the threshold, knowing she is now where she belongs. She acts as a Whip among LibDem MPs, who, as she admits, are a fairly independent-minded lot, as she is herself — a member of CND and a supporter of Medical Aid for Palestine, and as she puts it, an all-round irritant (in the best sense of the word).


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Spirit of Bulgaria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th May, 2011

Next Tuesday, 24 May, is the Day of the Slavonic (early Cyrillic) Alphabet, but last night, a week early, the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, Smith Square, London, launched an exhibition in its honour: ‘Spirit of Bulgaria’. This featured some lovely bronze sculptures by Bulgarian artist Yanko Bonev and both paintings and icons by his compatriot Mila Moussakova. The contrast in style between Moussakova’s two genres is startling. Her icons respect the traditions of Byzantine Art, not surprisingly, when one learns that she graduated from Sofia’s School of Applied Arts specialising in Iconography and Restoration. The colours are often subdued, the expression on the figures faces melancholic — with the notable exception of a jaunty young St George on horeseback. But Moussakova’s oil paintings are much more impressionistic and in this exhibition, at least, largely inspired by the urban landscape of Paris. In a short speech at the opening of the show, the Bulgarian Ambassador Lyubomir Kyuchukov pointed out that when his country joined the EU in 2007, it brought a third alphabet into the union — the Slavonic one that is full of resonance of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.


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A Bloody Remembrance of the Nakba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2011

Every year the Palestinian people mark 15 May — the anniversary of the 1948 founding of the State of Israel — as the Nakba or Catastrophe. This year, there were larger demonstrations than usual, not just in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank but also in the Golan Heights of Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied zone, and along the border between Lebanon and Israel.  At least 15 were reported killed in clashes and many scores more wounded. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he has ordered troops to act with restraint, but nothing contradicts the fact that the IDS fired on unarmed protestors. Despite this tragic turn of events, however, there was also a mood of optimism in the Occupied Territories today, both because of the recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah to try to ovecome their differences and form a government of national unity, and because of the Arab Awakening that has been sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Interestingly, in Cairo, thousands of people turned out to protest in commemmoration of the Nakba outside the Israeli Embassy. Late into the night clashes with security forces continued there. But there is little doubt that with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt — Israel’s key Arab treaty pertner — is no longer such a friendly neighbour prepared to accept continuing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

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