Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December, 2013

2013 This Blog in Review

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 31st December, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Jinja, Source of the Nile

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2013

Jinja main streetSource of the NileFinding the source of the River Nile was an obsession for Victorian explorers. David Livingstone perished while frankly looking in the wrong place; John Hanning Speke had already correctly identified the outlet from Lake Victoria that fell over what he named Ripon Falls as the beginning of Africa’s greatest river. That is the White Nile, of course; the Blue Nile starts in Ethiopia, where I visited its supposed source a few years ago, and the two join at Khartoum, a city I found enchanting, even if the government is not. Anyway, yesterday I had the chance to go and see the Ugandan Source of the Nile, which is actually much more striking than I had imagined. A branch of Lake Victoria, called Lake Bujagali, mutates into the Nile at the hydro-electric dam where the Ripon Falls used to be. The body is already quite wide and swift moving, and I was able to drink in its atmosphere while having lunch, entirely alone, in the Mezzanine Restaurant on the bank, in the compound of the Jinja Backpackers comp9und. Jinja itself is a rather charming town, with suburbs of fine villas that would not be out of place in Virginia Water. The centre’s main street is lined with one- and two-storey buildings from the early 20th century. Some have an Indian flavour, reflecting the fact that that there used to be a thriving Asian business community here before Idi Amin threw them out. A few have since returned, in today’s more welcoming climate, but Jinja still has a sense of being frozen in aspic from a gentler age.

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Don’t Sanctify Ronnie Biggs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th December, 2013

Jack MillsRonnie BiggsThe death after a prolonged illness of the train robber Ronnie Biggs received massive cov erage in the UK media and even the BBC showed a sickening degree of reverence for the subject. It is often said that one should not speak ill of the dead, but neither should we sanctify villains. The Great Train Robbery of 1963, as it came to be known, was an audacious plot worthy of a crime novel. But one should never forget that in the course of the assault, the train driver, Jack Mills, was beaten over the head with a metal bar. He was never able to work again and died a broken man seven years later. Biggs found extra notoriety by escaping from prison and disappearing off to Brazil, where he fathered a child, thereby managing to keep himself free from extradition. Eventually he did return home, short of funds (whatever happened to all the dosh from the mail train?) and spent time in custody again before being released on compassionate grounds. But I fear too much compassion has been shown to him (and to some other villains of the past, like the Kray twins). Thugs and criminals are precisely that and their doings should not be romanticised. In a novel, their exploits may seem exciting, but in real life, they almost always entail misery for innocent victims.

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Entebbe’s Subtle Charms

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th December, 2013

Lake VictoriaLake Victoria HotelFor people above a certain age, the name Entebbe conjours up memories of the daring Israeli raid on the airport where a hijacked plane was being held in July 1976. But nearly 40 years on, this small town on the shore of Lake Victoria is one of the mostly placid places one can be. Although the airport is still the main gateway to Uganda, few arrivals linger long in Entebbe itself, but head straight for the capital, Kampala. In doing so they miss a lot. The Lake Victoria Hotel, where I have been staying for the past three days, is one of those wonderful old colonial establishments that have been preserved but polished, thanks to the Arab company Laico, which owns a number of prestigious hotels in Africa. The 50,000 souls in Entebbe town are well spread out, the overwhelming impression being one of greenness — in formal gardens and prolific natural vegetation loud with the singing of birds. Down on the lake there is a very narrow sandy beach, fringed by some modest cafes. When I was there yesterday I saw only one other foreign visitor, while local lads swam naked and mock-wrestled in the sand. Religion is omnipresent in Entebbe, from the various Christian churches to the mosque and the Sikh gurdwara and the people have a low-key, dignified friendliness. Though this is my first time here, I am sure I will be coming back, probably en route to future explorations of neighbouring South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi.

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Britten in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th December, 2013

European Opera CentreBenjamin BrittenBy happy coincidence this year is both the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 40th anniversary of the UK joining the European Economic Community, now the European Union. So it was an inspired choice of the European Commission’s London representation to merge their traditional Christmas party with a concert featuring music by that very British composer (as well as some more traditional Schubert and Rossini). “Britten in Europe” was a nice tongue-in-cheek pun, a nod in the direction of the Europhobes in UKIP and the right-wing of the Conservative Party (in whose former Central Office the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices are now housed). Some might have thought Margaret Thatcher would be turning in her grave, but they should remember that she endorsed the launch of the European Single Market (at the urging of the Tory British Commissioner, Lord Cockfield). This evening’s recital showed a side to Benjamin Britten that was maybe unfamiliar to many in the audience, for though he was the quintessential British opera composer of the 20th Century he was also, as noted by Philip Reed in his programme notes, a proud European. Thus we were treated to his French folksong arrangements as well as his Irish melodies, and a nod to his love for his home country in “On This Island”. Four young, talented singers from the European Opera Centre performed the works: Hamida Kristoffersen (Norway), Sophie Rennert (Austria), Martin Piskorski (also Austria) and Romanas Kudriasovas (Lithuania). The unobtrusive but brilliant piano accompianement was Daniela Candillari (Slovenia). It wasa pity some of the Little Englanders were not present. Benjamin Britten appreciated the rich diversity of our continent’s  and this evening so did we.

Link: http://www.operaeurope.eu

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Kurdish International Liberal Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th December, 2013

Arif BawecaniParti Serbesti KurdistanKurdish political parties, both in the Middle East and in exile, have tended to be Marxist in orientation, or at least Socialist, so the idea that Liberal Democracy might be appealing to Kurds is intriguing (though of course there are some Kurds originating from Turkey who have joined the UK Liberal Democrats). Dividing his time between Oslo and Erbil (in Iraq’s Kurdistan autonomous region, KRG) Arif Bawecani, a Kurd of Iranian origin, formed and now leads a party, the Parti Serbesti Kurdistan (PSK), which he wants to align with Liberal forces worldwide. This past weekend I went to Oslo to attend the First Kurdish International Liberal Congress hosted by the PSK, which brought together not just Kurds from Iran and the KRG (Iraq) but other national minorities, notably ethnic Arab Ahwazis from the Iranian coastal region, also living in exile. Foreign visitors apart from myself included a Liberal (Venstre) from Norway and a French member of the International Network of Liberal Women, as well as one US Democrat and one Republican, and a couple of human rights activists from Dubai — a modest and somewhat heterodox group which nonetheless led to some interesting speeches and discussions. In my presentation, I defined from a Liberal perspective the key words of the opening article of the Universal Declaration of Human rights: freedom, equality, dignity, rights and brotherhood, in the context of diversity and tolerance. I don’t know how far this will help the PSK, or the Gorran (Change) Movement from KRG, which was also represented, develop their ideology but it will be interesting to see what evolves.

Link: http://www.psk2006.org/index.php?lang=en

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Romania’s National Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd December, 2013

Romania EUAmbassador Ion JingaBeing Romanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s cannot have been easy in recent months, as the dreadful Daily Mail and even viler Daily Express have whipped up anti-Romanian feeling, cheered on by Nigel Farage and his UKIP nuts, as well as some Conservatives who ought to know better. However, H.E. Ion Jinga (who has been en poste for five years now) has handled the situation with dignity. This evening, during his customary short speech at the Romania National Day reception at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgravia he lamented the fact that the debate about freedom of movement in the European Union has got so skewed and pointed out that most Romanians here are working and of course paying taxes and national insurance. Indeed, all recent reputable surveys show that the nationals of other EU member states working here contribute far more to the UK economy than some of their compatriots receive in benefits. The Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Romania Lord (Quentin) Davies of Stamford lambasted the media scaremongering about migration and it was pointed out that that before the First World War, people could move around Europe freely, but it has taken us nearly a century to get back to that situation. It would be a seriously retrograde step to go back on that progress now. And as Ambassador Jinga mentioned, there are one-and-a-half million Brits enjoying freedom of movement by living and in many cases working in other EU member states. But no country’s media vilifies them. Of course there must be adequate provision to deal with aggressive beggars, criminals and “benefit tourists”. But the vast majority of Romanians (and Bulgarians) in this country do not fit into that category nor will most of those who come later to work.

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