Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for March, 2013

Outlawed, Displaced and Reinstated

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th March, 2013

Portrait of Felix StiemerFritz SchaeflerFritz Schaefler (1888-1954) was a German expressionist painter who was damned by the Nazis as degenerate and thus some of his best work was destroyed. But he was fortunate in finding a patron in his almost exact contemporary, the Jewish industrialist Joseph Heymann (1887-1954) who bought around 70 of his canvases. This was indeed a boon, as Schaefler was so poor at one time that he had to paint or draw on both sides of canvases or paper because he could not afford fresh materials. Anyway, the Heymanns escaped from Germany to England before the Holocaust and the Second World War and the collection was kept by the family, partly displayed on the walls of their London home, partly stored in files. Tonight, the Belgravia Residence of the German Ambassador to London, Georg Boomgaarden, gave over  its ground floor to the opening of the first ever exhibition of Schaefler’s paintings in the UK; an earlier showing had taken place in Aachen. The three rooms at the Embassy Residence displayed works from three distinct periods. In the first I was particularly struck by the artist’s self-portrait, so redolent of Germany between the wars. The second room was rather more political (or in Nazi terminology, degenerate), including a circus scene from Cologne which reminded me of some of the work of Otto Dix. The final room was mainly of later landscapes and sill lives, some romantic and bright, with liberal use of egg tempera, but others more moody, dark, even threatening. It was wonderful to have descendants of both Schaefler and Heymann present at this evening’s reception and the whole event, much patronised by the capital’s art cognoscenti, was a tribute to Germany’s ability to come to terms with its past and to celebrate what had previously been derided or persecuted. The exhibition (viewed by arrangement with the German Embassy) is running until 17 April.

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Cyprus Banking Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013

Thoughtful piece from Petros Fassoulas of the European Movement on Cyprus, the banking crisis and the EU:

18 March 2013
Is the Cyprus deal the lesser of all evils?
In case anyone thought that the bank and sovereign debt crisis that has engulfed certain parts of the eurozone has produced all its dramatic twists, events this weekend came as a rude awakener. Eurozone leaders agreed early on Saturday morning a deal to bailout and restructure the Cypriot banking sector.
Bank in LimassolThe most controversial part of the deal sees a tax levied on depositors to raise about 5.8 billion euros, to add to the €10 billion committed by the Eurozone and (probably) IMF. A 9.9% levy will be imposed to deposits over 100.000, while deposits below 100.000 will face a levy of 6.75%. So for the first time depositors, who were considered sacrosanct until now, are forced to share the cost of a bail-out. A lot has been said about how this decision was reached. The blame shifts depending who one talks to, but the Financial Times give a good account. It seems that considerations about the future of Cyprus as an off-shore financial centre played a role when deciding how widely to spread the pain among depositors in Cypriot banks. It was feared that taxing only non-resident depositors would scare investors away. So the main bone of contention (in an overall contentious decision) is that smaller depositors are put on the firing line, in a move that is seen as unfair and dangerous. Asking working people and pensioners to sacrifice their savings in the service of a failed banking sector is indeed cruel. But WSJ’s Simon Dixon makes a fair point, there is an element of fairness when asking locals to contribute to the bail out of their country’s banking sector, especially when that sector represents such a huge part of the country’s economy.
Many argue that it should not have come to this at all, that depositors should have been spared all together. But as Hugo Dixon of the Reuters argues the Eurozone and the Cypriot government had very little choice. Imposing a haircut on government debt, like it was done in Greece’s case, was not possible because most of the country’s sovereign debt is held under English law (making a Greek-style restructuring hard) and the remaining is held by Cypriot banks, making a hair-cut self-defeating. Hence the decision to impose a tax on depositors, many of whom are non-resident, predominately Russian and in many cases suspect of money-laundering. It would have been a hard task politically to explain to taxpayers across the Eurozone why they should contribute more to a bail-out that would have, to some extent, helped Russian oligarchs.
Cyprus euroThe most important thing that one should consider is what would be the cost of an alternative. In the absence of a bail-out deal (one that the Cypriot government had delayed long enough) Cypriot banks (which are already under ECB life-support) would collapse, taking the Cypriot economy with them. Lest we forget that the banking sector in Cyprus is more than 5 times the Cypriot economy. The one good thing that can come out of this is the de facto reduction of Cyprus’ banking sector to a size closer to the EU average, as the Eurogroup statement, that followed the bailout agreement, calls for. As we have seen in other European countries like Ireland and the UK, an oversized financial sector holds huge risks for the host country, especially for one whose economy is as small as that of Cyprus. To a large extent this is a banking crisis, rather than a “euro-crisis” and no matter what the structural inefficiencies of Eurozone’s governance (and European politicians inability so far to separate bank from sovereign debt) what Cyprus is faced with is the collapse of a banking sector that grew too big for its own good and made far too many bad decisions.
There is still a lot to play for, not least a parliamentary vote to approve the bail-out deal. Until then there is time and room to reconsider how the burden will be spread among depositors, and there are many proposals on the table on how to shield small depositors and reduce their contribution to the bail-out pot of money. Some reports talk about reducing to 3% the levy imposed to deposits up to €100.000. One last thing. The situation in Cyprus shows that in an interconnected world we are not immune to what happens “over there”. Capital as well as people are mobile, the banking sector interconnected and as a result banks and people’s savings are affected, irrespectively whether we are part of the Eurozone or not. The fact that British citizens who live and hold deposits in Cyprus will have to be part of the bail-out levy shows how important it is for the British government to be as involved as possible in Eurozone governance and EU-wide efforts to address the systemic faults of Europe’s financial sector.
Petros Fassoulas, European Movement

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Euro-elections Brought Forward

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013

European Parliament logoDirect elections to the European Parliament every five years have usually been held in Britain  on the first Thursday in June, with most of the other EU member states voting on the following weekend. But next year the elections will be brought forward slightly to May (22 May in the UK’s case). The EU Council press release below explains why. It is therefore highly likely that British local elections (including the London all-out borough council elections) will be put back three weeks, to be held on the same day.

Click to access 136041.pdf

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Halabja 25 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th March, 2013

Halabja monumentHalanja museumThe name Halabja, like Auschwitz and Srebrenica, is etched in the mind, yet it is hard to picture the place until one goes there. The photos one sees of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s evil regime show closeups of bodies lying in narrow streets or on doorsteps. Gwynne Roberts’ films of the Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds feature smoke plumes rising from hillsides. So it was disconcerting yesterday, when I was a member of a large international solidarity delegation visiting Halabja yesterday for the 25th anniversary commemoration, to be taken to a nondescript place clearly in the plain and dominated by a museum-monument to the tragedy. Inside were lifesize maquettes mimicking the photos that I know so well, as well as lists of names of the 5,000 dead. Nearby a vast marquee had been erected, in which various dignitaries gave speeches. When the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke there was a silent but effective demonstration by a dozen or so young locals, who held up small xeroxed signs with slogans calling for a distinct Halabja Governate and better opportunities for the areas youth. To his credit, Mr Barzani took the protesters head-on, saying that only the national government of Iraq in Baghdad can decide on creating new governates or provinces. But obviously the grievances of some locals are real in their eyes. And even if some visitors might have felt that it was inappropriate to take such action during an event of solemn commemoration, under the gaze of numerous TV cameras, there is a valid argument that we should not be so concerned with the horrors of the past that we ignore the needs of the present.

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The Citadel at Erbil

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th March, 2013

Erbil citadel 1Erbil Citadel 2Towering over the old town centre of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Citadel must be one of the largest and most imposing mud-brick structures in the world. At its entrance, up a steep incline, sits a substantial statue of the historian and scholar Mubarak Ben Ahmed Sharuf Aldia (1169-1239), who was a Minister in Erbil under Sultan MuzaFaradin. Within its walls are approximately 500 dwellings, though many of these are in a dire state of repair having suffered decades of lack of maintenance and water damage. Ten of them are currently being restored, notably the magnificent Rashid Agha House, with its courtyards and terraces and rooms that have stunning views over the town below. That house  is being painstakingly conserved with the assistance of Italy’s Foreign Ministry as well as Kurdistan regional government funds. Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds included willful cultural suppression so it is not surprising that people here are keen to see their heritage brought back to its former glory. The arrival of our international solidarity delegation from paying homage to martyrs of the Anfal at the Memorial at Kasnazan caused understandable curiosity among the many Kurdish youths in and around the Citadel, but I guess in a few years time Kurdistan will have established itself on tourist itineraries and Europeans will be a commonplace. Much of the modern city of Erbil is rather identikit, with its tower blocks, shopping malls and upmarket suburban housing, though the Hotel Rotana, where I’m staying, can hardly be faulted and the Kurds are genuinely pleased to have foreign visitors.

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Kurdish Genocide Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 14th March, 2013

Masoud BarzaniHalabja massacre 2This year sees the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which has naturally provoked a lot of media comment in the UK. But perhaps even more deserving of attention is the 25th anniversary of the Halabja massacre, when Saddam Hussein’s army wiped out around 5,000 Kurds in a chemical weapons attack. Most of the victims in the town were women and children. In fact that massacre was the climax of a horrendous campaign of persecution and slaughter against Iraq’s Kurds that had been going on for several years, largely ignored by the outside world, and with a probable total death-toll of around 182,000, most of whose remains have never been located. This week, international solidarity delegations are in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) to mark the anniversary and to continue the campaign to get recognition of what happened as genocide. The UK Parliament just the other day voted accordingly. But at a day-long conference at the Saad Abdulla Conference Centre in Erbil today the graphic horror and inhumanity of the so-called Anfal was brought home by eye-witnesses to the Halabja attack in March 1988 including the celebrated Iranian and Turkish photographers Ahmad Nateghi and Ramazan Oxturk whose images of dead children in their dead mothers’ arms became iconic. There was also interesting testimony at the conference from Senator Peter Galbraith from Vermont who had witnessed the destruction of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in 1987 and drafted a Prevention of Genocide Act that was passed by the Senate but pooh-poohed by Presidents Reagan and later George Bush Snr, mainly because they hoped that Saddam Hussein would be the next Anwar Sadat, i.e. move Iraq out of the Soviet sphere of influence into the West’s, as Sadat had done with Egypt. The British filmmaker Gwynne Roberts showed and talked about his film “The Winds of Death” and there was a meaty speech of welcome from the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, who declared that “We must not forget the past but it should not lead to hatred and revenge.”

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Political Islam at the LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th March, 2013

MENA regionThanks to a three-year cooperation programme with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Embassy in Tunis the Liberal Democrats hosted a group of visiting politicians from Tunisia and Lebanon at the Brighton Spring Conference. On the Saturday afternoon there was a closed session with the visitors and most of the Party’s International Relations Committee and parliamentary International Affairs Team, identifying how best that programme might proceed. But in the evening there was an open fringe meeting that addressed the subject of Liberalism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and how various political forces that might consider themselves Liberal can or should relate to ruling parties that base their core inspiration from Islam. I was the opening speaker, drawing on my professional experience working or travelling in all of the MENA countries as well as teaching at SOAS. I made the point that Islam is the most political of all religions in that it is not just a faith but a code of practice for both private and public life. A number of parties that have come to power since the Arab Awakening — such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — are indeed Islamic in inspiration but it is important to make a distinction between them and extremist, exclusive Islamists who have turned a perverted interpretation of the Koran into an oppressive and even murderous ideology (such as the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan). There is a worrying influence of salafi or ultra-conservative Islamic thought in much of the MENA region but people need to recognise at the same time that the main reason groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood gained such support was because they looked after people’s needs in societies in which the government was singularly failing to do so — in a sense engaging in community politics. I also made the point that the Arab Awakening, now barely two years old, is still in its infancy and it is likely to be a decade or more before its outcomes are clear.

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Elif Safak’s Women

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th March, 2013

Elif SafakInternational Women’s Day fell during the Liberal Democrats Brighton Conference and among several events pegged to the occasion was a fringe meeting with the Turkish writer Elif Safak, which was put on by Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey. Elif won many friends among London Liberal Democrats when she spoke at our autumn conference in Croydon in October, when she read from her latest novel. This time, she spoke of the two women who had made a big impression on her in her childhood: her mother, a Westernised, free-thinking woman who went on to do university studies; and the grandmother who subsequently raised Elif — a much more conservative, irrational, superstitious woman. In a sense the two personified different aspects of Turkey, an immensely complex and changing society. In principle the theme of the Brighton Conference fringe meeting was women and post-feminism in the Muslim world, which is a subject that fell within Elif’s own postgraduate studies, as well as the sort of thing I teach at SOAS in the summer term. But as usual with her much of what she talked abut was autobiographical, weaving into the story both considerations of the multilayered aspects of self as well as elements of Turkey’s Ottoman past, in which there was far greater diversity than is acknowledged today and there was an indigenous women’s movement. We should also not forget that Turkey gave women the right to vote before France did, for example. And women fill high positions in all sorts of sectors in the labour force. And yet much of Turkish society, whether ethnic Turk, Kurdish or Armenian, remains patriarchal and there are still occasional so-called honour killings, often involving brothers killing sisters who have formed a romantic relationship with someone deemed unsuitable or, worse still,who have lost their virginity. Such contradictions in a country that has an enviable growth rate and is making its mark in the modern world are part of Turkey’s fascination, of course, and will provide Elif with many more themes for her novels. Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey, meanwhile, is playing a crucial role in reaching out to the extensive Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot community in Britain, much of that based in London.


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Euro-event and Quiz in Hounslow

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th March, 2013





Quiz evening


 Saturday 23rd March 2013

St Paul’s Church Hall, St Paul’s Road, Brentford  TW8 0PN

6:45 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.


Guest speaker: Jonathan Fryer


Come and join us for a fun March evening; bring your family, friends and neighbours too. Jonathan Fryer will start the evening off with a question and answer session before the quiz begins. Jonathan is a candidate for the 2014 European elections – London Region.


Fish and chips (or vegetarian option) will be provided during a break in the evening.  Soft drinks will be available all evening; you may bring your own alcoholic drinks.

Tickets cost £15 each, students £10. Closing date for tickets is Wednesday, 20th March (we have to order the food in advance).  Please send cheques to: Bourke Accountants LLP, Boundary House, Boston Road, Hanwell, London W7 2QE; cheques payable to Hounslow Liberal Democrats. Please notify if vegetarian option is required and enclose a stamped addressed envelope if you require a receipt.

You are welcome to bring as many of your family, friends and neighbours as you wish; tables will be set up for informal teams of around 6 persons.


For further information, please contact Phyllis Balletnyne on 020 8994 2510.

St Paul’s Church is located by the Brentford Police Station, behind Morrisons; parking is available in Lateward Road and in The Butts, which is on the other side of Half Acre from the Church.

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Wexford Opera in Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th March, 2013

Mariangela SiciliaSt John's Smith Square 1Since its founding in 1951 the Wexford Festival Opera has served as a home for lost operas, breathing new life into works that have long been gathering dust on the shelves. Although I have never been over to see the festival for myself, I have been a strong supporter of the concept and have enjoyed the tales of friends who did go and sometimes experienced its characteristically Irish organisation. In recent years it has boasted a new theatre, which has raised the professional bar for productions, though it always had a reputation for finding and nurturing new musical talent. There are many Friends of Wexford Festival Opera in the UK and there have been annual concert performances in London, but tonight’s was the first to be held in the prestigious St John’s, Smith Square, with its imposing surroundings and superb acoustics. This was doubling fitting as Ireland currently presides over the European Union and the headquarters of the European Commission Representation in the UK and European Parliament are also in Smith Square, at Europe House. Small wonder that the concert and its pre-reception were packed. In keeping with the Wexford informal spirit, there was no programme for the evening’s concert and at times it was difficult to make out what the very gifted pianist/repetiteur and in effect compere of the evening, Rosetta Cucchi, was announcing. But the music, with her on piano and the tenor Daniel Szeili and soprano Mariangela Sicilia singing, was splendid. Ms Sicilia merits special mention as she has one of the most powerful and affecting voices I have heard for quite a long time and deserves wide acclaim.


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