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February 23, 2009
Clinton ends Asia tour stressing economic ties in China

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s week-long tour of Asia ended this weekend with high-level talks in China, which covered the global economic crisis, global warming and North Korea’s nuclear program.

Cheng Li, the director of research at the China Center at the Brookings Institution, joins Martin Savidge to discuss whether American-Chinese relations are at a turning point, what Clinton’s talks accomplished and why she downplayed any reference to China’s human rights record.

The secretary of state’s visit naturally received widespread coverage in the Chinese media. One article posted on a Chinese website, NetEase, described how Clinton encouraged the Chinese government to keep buying U.S. treasury bills. Clinton stated that it would not be in China’s interest if the U.S. economy does not recover.

China is already the world’s largest holder of U.S. debt.

Chinese readers of NetEase were asked to vote on that idea and disapproved of it by a margin of ten to one. Worldfocus associate producer Hsin-Yin Lee translated these snippets of opinion from Chinese commenters:

A user from the Zhejiang province wrote:

The scenario is like the “farmer and snake” — you save it, and then you get bitten.

Another user from that province wrote:

It’s a battle between reality and esteem: Although reality is important, esteem is non-tradable.

A user from the Guangdong province wrote:

The U.S. does have money. What it does is to spend money on war, on developing technology, and on blocking China.

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February 23, 2009
Taiwanese men return from mainland China empty-handed

Many Taiwanese women have seen their husbands leave for China and abandon them, only to later return, jobless and empty-handed.

In years past, as Chinese industry boomed, thousands of men from Taiwan left behind wives and children to head to the Chinese mainland, eager for work.

Many found success — and many found new wives and second families on the mainland.

But now that the economic crisis has deepened, writes Michael Turton, men are headed back empty-handed to Taiwan. Since the men spent money on second families, their Taiwanese wives and children face a stiff financial burden. Turton is an English instructor in Taiwan writing at “The View from Taiwan.”

The Human Cost of China Investment

The damage by the growing Great Depression — is recovery even possible? — is masking another crisis already long concealed by the China boom: the human cost of Taiwan’s massive investment in China.

This week my wife called one of relatives who lives across town. This woman, in her early fifties, had been taken to the hospital last week and my wife wanted to know why.

Turns out she had been spitting up blood, on account of the fact that her stomach, completely lacking in food, had developed a mass of ulcers and was more or less digesting itself. She worked as a cook in a kindergarten making $8000 a month for four hours a day cooking for 30 or so children and adults. It was their only income. She has two daughters, the one in a good high school across the city needing $2000 a month for food and travel costs, while the family had to shell out $10,000 a month for rent. To save money she had decided to do without food. They were living — if you could call it that — on the charity of neighbors. There’s plenty of charity in Taiwanese culture, but it is not the obvious kind of people making ostentatious donations of time and cash to big institutions (we do have that), but rather, charity in Taiwan begins in and around the home….

The reason they were in this state of abject poverty is simple: her husband had gone off to China to work early in the boom and had never returned. Raising a second family there, he had never sent even a single dollar home for his wife and kids in Taiwan. Now the crisis had sent him back home to Taiwan to live with his wife. He brought no money and doesn’t work. But he still has to be fed.

This is not an isolated case; it is a common pattern. Among our friends and family I can easily think of a half-dozen similar cases. Several students at my former university came to me for tearful discussions of how they had discovered that their father had a second family across the Strait, complete with half-siblings. And they themselves had no money, because Dad had “invested” it in his second wife. The next time someone tells me what great businessmen Taiwanese are, I’m going to ask him why so many of these “great businessmen” blew so much money on mistresses and other meaningless displays of wealth, instead of reinvesting the cash in their businesses, or in the future of their children.

The “investment” in China has not only pillaged capital that could have gone to develop the island and continue to raise its living standards, but has also imposed enormous costs on a generation of women and children in Taiwan — its effects are gendered — patriarchy mediates the linkage between Taiwan and the global economy — and working mothers, as so often in society, bear the heaviest personal and social costs.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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February 20, 2009
Relying on Twitter for news of Madagascar’s political crisis

Aftermath of protests in Madagascar. Photo: IRIN NEWS

Groups loyal to Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina briefly gained control of four government buildings on Thursday. About 50 people were arrested after security forces reportedly regained control.

Anti-government violence in Madagascar has killed more than 100 people as thousands of protesters voice their opposition to President Marc Ravalomanana and loot and burn buildings affiliated with the state. But news about the country’s political upheaval has been scarce.

Rajoelina called for Ravalomanana to step down and for demonstrations against the government, which shut down his radio station after it aired an interview with an exiled former leader.

Ethan Zuckerman is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a co-founder of Global Voices Online. He writes at the “My Heart’s in Accra” blog to discuss the scarcity of media coverage of Madagascar, writing that the most complete coverage is coming from social media users.

Watching Madagascar, via Twitter

The nature of breaking news is changing. Recent breaking stories, like the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, have been simulcast on mainstream news sites and via social media like blogs and twitter. To stay up to date, I’ve increasingly found myself triangulating between traditional and new media, sometimes frustrated by the speed of rumor spread in new media, sometimes moved by the personal, direct and eyewitness perspectives I’ve gotten from individuals directly affected by attacks.

The (confusing, apparent, partial, incomplete) coup in Madagascar is the first event I’ve been able to watch only through social media.

Madagascar has had a political crisis for several weeks. The may of the capital city, Antananarivo, and opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has been urging supporters to occupy government buildings, allowing his TGV party to take control of the government. Rajoelina argues that he’s taking control from a corrupt and dictatorial president, Marc Ravalomanana, who he accuses of manipulating the Malagasy economy to benefit his own businesses. President Ravalomanana views Rajoelina’s actions as a coup, and has fired him as mayor of Antananarivo and is struggling to maintain control.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been tense standoffs between protesters and government forces. One of these standoffs descended into burning and looting, killing dozens. Another involved the government firing on protesters as they marched towards the President’s residence. I’ve detailed some of the events on my blog, and Global Voices has very thorough coverage of the events.

Today, Rajoelina’s supporters have apparently seized four ministries – the police, interior, education and “territory” ministries. According to my friend Lova Rakatomalala, “Consensus so far is that seizing of ministry buildings does not give TGV the control of the government.”

It would be hard to get a sense for that consensus by reading English-language media. Google News doesn’t have any breaking news from Madagascar – my last search turned up a 13-hour old story about the opposition’s threats to occupy buildings (and dozens of stories about the Dreamworks film.) While the New York Times’s Barry Bearak is one of the few US reporters to have meaningfully addressed the Madagascar story, the Times site doesn’t even have a newswire story about the current situation. And while my French sucks, my sense is that there’s not a ton of coverage there – a short piece just went up on Le Monde based on an AFP story.

So I’m doing what my Malagasy friends across the net are doing – religiously watching the #Madagascar tag on Twitter. That means I’m primarily reading Thierry Ratsizehena, a marketing and social media expert in Antananarivo, who is listening closely to news via television and radio, and sharing what he knows with his Twitter readers. Lova, who’s in the U.S., is translating his tweets into English and adding context and commentary. The two make a pretty effective news bureau, helping interested readers understand the few facts we’ve got from the ground and the numerous unanswered questions.

What we know:
– Four ministries are occupied by the opposition TGV. The party’s leader, Rajoelina, has asked his supporters to continue occupying the buildings, and some supportive crowds are surrounding buildings and chanting.

What we think we know:
– The President hasn’t been heard from, but his Prime Minister is evidently calling members of parliament to ensure they have support.
– The armed forces held TGV forces outside their building for some time today, and eventually let some TGV figures inside to negotiate, perhaps to avoid violence.
– The events today appear to be largely nonviolent.

What we don’t know:
– Whether TGV will continue seizing ministries, or whether the President will try to use the armed forces to oust TGV and arrest Rajoelina
– How much public support there is either for the existing government or for TGV.

Confused? Yeah, so’s everyone watching this story. Which is why I wish we had more reporters on the ground and more analysis coming out.

The population of Madagascar is more than 20 million – roughly that of Australia. I realize this isn’t a helpful comparison, but I can’t help returning to the idea that there are roughly twice as many people in Madagascar than in Israel and Palestine, a part of the world where even minor political developments are followed around the world with passionate interest. I understand that the future of Madagascar probably won’t affect the future of US/Middle East relationships and that the Malagasy diaspora tends to be a lot quieter than supporters of Israel and Palestine… but it seems crazy that there’s apparently a single AFP stringer bringing this conflict to the world’s attention.

My work over the years suggests that you’re lots less likely to get media attention if you’re poor, far away, speak languages other than English and not involved with global terror or American military operations. Madagascar loses on all fronts. I’m proud that Global Voices is doing a good job of covering this story, but really wish we had a bit more company.

See the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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February 19, 2009
No. Korea spews blustery rhetoric as Clinton arrives in So.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departs Andrews Air Force Base for her first official trip to Asia.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in South Korea on Thursday as part of her Asia tour. Also on Thursday, North Korea announced that it is ready for war with South Korea.

There are additional reports that North Korea may be ready to test a long-range missile.

Scott Snyder is the director of the Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy and an adjunct senior fellow for Korean Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He writes at the “In Asia” blog about Clinton’s agenda and South Korea’s options going forward.

Awaiting the New Secretary of State in South Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Seoul today on her first visit to South Korea in her new post. South Koreans have anticipated her arrival—and the establishment of the Obama administration’s policy toward the Korean peninsula—with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. This mood has been fed by a rapid deterioration in inter-Korean relations, increasingly strident North Korean military threats toward the South, and preparations to launch a long-range missile. The agenda for the visit is broad—suggesting that the U.S.-ROK alliance is now positioned to make contributions beyond the peninsula—but the core preoccupation will remain how to deal with North Korea.

[…]But there are still nagging worries in Seoul that the Korean issue will get lost in the shuffle of other pressing issues facing the Obama administration.

Although North Korea’s traditional blustery rhetoric and crisis escalation measures are familiar, they highlight the complexity of the North Korean challenge: North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability is unacceptable, but analysts increasingly suggest that North Korea will not give them up under any circumstances, implying no choice but acceptance of North Korea’s nuclear status. Moreover, North Korea’s internal political situation is fragile, with a defensive and weakening political elite that may find itself less able to steer a consistent path, but unlikely to lose power completely.

Further, North Korea’s policy of engaging the United States while marginalizing South Korea seems designed to ensure the perpetuation of tension on the Korean peninsula. This situation requires extraordinarily close cooperation between Washington and Seoul. Secretary Clinton’s visit establishes the relationships among leaders necessary to address this challenge.

Secretary Clinton has stated that her main objective during her first visit to Asia is to “listen.” This means that what South Korean leaders say and do (whether such actions can win support from the Korean public) will shape the near-term potential of the relationship. This is especially the case with regard to South Korea’s potential contributions to international piracy off the Somalian cost and post-conflict stabilization in Afghanistan.

Instead of responding to American requests for assistance in global ‘hot spots,’ South Korea should establish its contributions to the international community based on its own perceived interests, knowing that international perceptions of Korea’s prestige and influence as a global leader will depend on Korea’s capacity and willingness to undertake commensurate responsibilities.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Department of State under a Creative Commons license.

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February 18, 2009
Brazil’s expansion tests smaller South American neighbors

The Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border has been a source of tension between the two countries.

In November, the Worldfocus signature series on “Brazil Today” explored Brazil’s emerging power, touching on growth of the oil industry and the state-controlled company Petrobras: Brazil emerges as an oil giant.

But Brazil’s rise has not been entirely smooth, and the country has had run-ins with its South American neighbors. Bolivia and Petrobras have had disputes over gas exports. There have also been land disputes between Paraguayans and Brazilians, during which peasant farmers burned the Brazilian flag.

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina. He writes at “Upside Down World” about Brazil’s emerging power and its impact on smaller neighboring countries.

Is Brazil creating its own “backyard” in Latin America?

In past months a number of conflicts have occurred between the emerging global power of Brazil and its smaller neighbors, in particular Ecuador and Paraguay. This has led Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government to defend Brazil’s multinationals and to mobilize troops to protect the nation’s interests.

The power vacuum left by waning U.S. influence in South America has been filled by new global world powers as well as a local power with the ambition of becoming a global player . As recent as the 1990s it was European capital—Spanish and French—that was most dynamic in South America, buying up privatized state-owned enterprises. More recently, China has tried to move into the economic void, importing oil and gas and investing in mining.

For some time Brazil has set out to expand its influence using the South American region as its springboard, a fact that has been the subject of various analyses and studies. However, lately this expansionist policy has generated serious conflicts such as that between Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Lula da Silva. In some of these disputes Brazil has deployed troops to reinforce its national interests, as happened recently on the Paraguayan border.

It is possible that the growing resentment toward Brazilian companies is the price to be paid for Brazil’s commercial and economic expansion. Recently Brazilians began hearing complaints about the country’s “imperialism.” In 2004, Brazil’s Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) began to experience spectacular growth. That year Brazilian companies invested US$10 billion dollars abroad, as compared with just $250 million the year before. By 2005, the sum total of Brazilian FDI reached $71 billion, as compared with Mexico’s $28 billion (Mexico is Latin America’s second largest FDI investor). A significant proportion of this recent business expansion is taking place in countries that border on Brazil.

[…]On Oct. 2, Lula enacted Decree 6.952, which regulates the National Mobilization System dedicated to confronting “foreign aggression.” The decree defines “foreign aggression” as “threats or injurious acts that harm national sovereignty, territorial integrity, the Brazilian people, or national institutions, even when they do not constitute an invasion of national territory.”

An editorial column of Defesanet states that the approval of the decree constitutes a clear message to neighboring countries: “Any act of aggression or persecution of Brazilian citizens residing in Paraguay (brasiguayos), in the Pando region of Bolivia, as well as new threats to cut gas lines and take over Brazilian installations and companies operating in other countries are now characterized as external aggressions and a military response from Brazil will be legally sanctioned.”

The issue transcends the Lula government. It is basically the affirmation of an emerging power that its borders extend to wherever its national interests are. All great powers were built up in this way, with an attitude that has always been known as “imperialism.” Maybe that’s why many South Americans feel that Brazil is creating its own “backyard.”

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user World Resources Institute under a Creative Commons license.

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February 17, 2009
Pakistan adopts Islamic law in Swat Valley

Pakistan’s Swat Valley is now under sharia law.

Pakistan this week agreed to a peace deal with the Taliban in the area known as the Swat Valley, suspending its military offensive and imposing tough Islamic law in that area. Religious experts will now sit in courts with judges to make sure rulings comply with Islam.

U.S. officials have expressed great concern about the deal struck between the Pakistani government and Taliban leaders.

See the Worldfocus interview about Swat Valley: Pakistan strikes peace deal with Taliban.

Jauhar Ismail blogs at “All Things Pakistan” and discusses the implications of the agreement for the U.S. and for locals in Swat Valley.

Deal in Swat: Good Move or Bad Move?

In my opinion, the devil is really in the details and the implementation of this agreement. I have mixed feeling on this: It is hard to see how the situation in Swat can be controlled only through the military means; there has to be a political dimension. This is what the U.S. is also learning the hard way in Afghanistan where there is already a talk of having some sort of adjustment with “moderate Afghan Taliban”.

In an ideal world, you would have hoped that Pakistan army would have gained the upper hand in Swat and then they could have negotiated from the position of strength. Unfortunately this is not the case. Despite several attempts, the army could not make any significant gains in Swat. Part of this is due to bad strategy and partly due the nature of guerrilla-warfare. Pakistan army was never trained to fight a counter-insurgency; fighting against India is what the focus has been so it does’t come as a surprise that it didn’t perform very well.

As far as their strategy goes, it was based primarily on using gunships and (artillery) shelling against suspected militant hide-outs. This approach is not very conducive to counter-insurgency because it leads to a lot of collateral damage. As the U.S. experience in Iraq shows, your mission in such a situation must really be to “secure the population”. This was the fundamental change in strategy that U.S. Gen. David Petraeus made but such a change requires putting a lot of boots on the ground, taking a lot more causalities and better intelligence. Unfortunately the Pak army was unwilling and incapable to take this approach which resulted in the bloody Swat stalemate.

Against this backdrop, the agreement can offer a way out if government can play its cards correctly. It should also be noted that this is not the first time that Swat will be under the so-called Shari’s law. This was the case for decades when Swat/Dir region was part of the princely state and life was governed by “Customary law”. The elected representatives of the Swat region have also been in favor of incorporating some populist militant demands such as Qazi courts and quick and simply justice with a 6 months deadline to process all cases.

One can hope that by incorporating the populist demands and a willingness to understand and work with local sensitivities, the authorities can gain credibility with the local population and take some of the wind out of the insurgency’s sails.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Scott Christian under a Creative Commons license.

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February 16, 2009
Clinton plans for a rare meeting with Japan’s opposition

Japanese opposition leader Ozawa Ichiro.

In a sign of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s waning popularity, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet with Ozawa Ichiro, the leader of Japan’s opposition party. 

Many expect that Ichiro’s Democratic Party of Japan will oust Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party in Japan’s upcoming national elections, though the latter has dominated Japanese politics for more than half a century. Aso’s own approval rating has plummeted to less than 10 percent, largely in reaction to Japan’s economic troubles. 

Tobias Harris is a graduate student in political science at MIT who worked for a member of the Democratic Party of Japan in the national legislature for two years. He writes at “Observing Japan” and describes what the meeting means for the U.S.-Japan alliance and for internal Japanese politics as the election approaches.

The Clinton-Ozawa meeting

After some waffling, Ozawa Ichiro has agreed to accept visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s request to meet. They will meet on Tuesday.

Jun Okumura wonders how Mr. Ozawa will handle the range of issues on which he has criticized the alliance, leading some American Japan hands to dismiss Mr. Ozawa as an unreliable friend of US-Japan relationship.

I do not expect any drama on this occasion. Mr. Ozawa himself has said, “There are no particular subjects of discussion; it’s just an introduction.” With that in mind, MTC is right to question the DPJ’s leadership’s initial response to the US request. Once the request was public, the DPJ should have not hesitated to say yes. Mrs. Clinton is under no compulsion to meet with Mr. Ozawa, but she and the administration in which she serves are clearly trying to illustrate symbolically that the Bush era is over. She is also acknowledging the importance of the DPJ in looking to meet with its leader, an acknowledgment the DPJ should have rushed to pocket and parade about.

Dithering has reinforced the image of a DPJ incapable of leading or, even worse, a DPJ incapable of managing the alliance, which in turn enables DPJ critics like Nakagawa Hidenao to argue that Mr. Ozawa is anti-American.

This whole debate will likely pass over the heads of the general public; I do not expect the DPJ to lose any votes for hesitating to accept the US request. But the DPJ is mistaken if it thinks that public relations only involves the voting public. The DPJ also has to convince the Japanese establishment that it is a reliable ruling party, which means playing the part of a potential ruling party. Part of playing the part of a potential ruling party means accepting the theater of the US-Japan alliance. The challenge for the DPJ is reconciling appearing to be a responsible steward of the alliance while still presenting to the public a poignant critique of how the LDP-Komeito government has mismanaged the relationship, a critique that cannot simply be dismissed as anti-Americanism.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user nofrills under a Creative Commons license.

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February 13, 2009
Sri Lanka’s civilians ensnared by rebel-government battling

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and his military chiefs. The president announced that the Tamil Tiger separatists would be completely routed in a matter of days. Photo: United Nations/IRIN

Sri Lanka’s government continues its battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and has made gains, but the conflict is killing 40 civilians every day.

The Tamil Tigers have long fought for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, and held a stronghold in the north. Fighting in Sri Lanka has been more deadly than that in Afghanistan.

The United Nations and Red Cross have urged combatants to allow civilians to leave, but there may be from 100,000 to 350,000 civilians in the conflict zone. The government has restricted access for journalists and aid workers.

A Worldfocus contributing blogger at “The East Asia Forum” explains how the conflict originated and what the future holds for Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamil community.

The conflict in Sri Lanka

The ongoing conflict between the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and the Sinhalese-dominated government has kept Sri Lanka in civil war for the last 27 years.

A designated terrorist group, the LTTE are accused of assassinating top political leaders including an Indian Prime Minister, a Sri Lankan President and a Sri Lankan presidential candidate. The LTTE has also assassinated many moderate Tamil leaders, making the conflict more than just ‘ethnic’.

In 2002, when a ceasefire was declared, the LTTE were at their strongest. They ran a de facto state complete with their own taxation system, courts, police and passport control. In addition to commanding ground cadres, the LTTE controlled a naval unit and a small airforce. Further, the Sri Lankan government funded schools and hospitals in LTTE controlled areas.

The political landscape shifted dramatically after the election of President Rajapaksa in November 2005. After the new Government invested large amounts of money in the military, and the LTTE attempted to assassinate both the defence secretary and the army commander, the country was again at war by 2007, even with the peace process still officially in place.

From a military perspective, the gains made by the government security forces have been extraordinary. The LTTE are currently restricted to less than 250 square kilometers of land, after controlling more than 18,000 square kilometers in 2006. In the country’s recent Independence Day celebrations, President Rajapaksa claimed the war would be over within days. Nevertheless, the army commander concedes that the LTTE may revert to guerilla warfare and that pockets of resistance are likely to remain.

Politically speaking, what does these recent developments mean? There is a strong possibility that elections will be called in the near future and if so, the incumbent party is likely to win with a strong mandate. Moreover, the potential end of Asia’s longest war is predicted to trump voter concerns about the economy, accusations of human rights violations by the military, the murder and harassment of journalists and alleged corruption in government institutions.

A major concern will be the plight of the Tamils. If the LTTE are eliminated as a politico-military force, then there is the potential that the government will not adequately address their grievances.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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February 12, 2009
Gypsies are at home in Hungary, but still don’t fit in

Gypsy musicians in Budapest.

Hungary has one of the largest Roma communities in eastern Europe. Gypsies make up 5 to 7 percent of the country’s 10 million people.

But the Roma often face hardship and prejudice, and many live in poverty. Even Albert Pasztor, the chief of police in Hungary’s third largest city, stated last year that “gypsy and Hungarian culture cannot coexist without conflict.”

Eva S. Balogh is a Hungarian academic and blogger who writes at “Hungarian Spectrum” about how gypsies have fared under different Hungarian governments over the past half-century, and discusses how they might fit in with Hungarian society today.

Hungarian Gypsies in the Kádár regime and since

It wasn’t too many years ago that Gypsies still led a nomadic life. I was a very small child, perhaps four years old and not very brave, when my father stopped the car in the Mecsek Mountains above Pécs in order to meet a large Gypsy family living in tents in the woods right off the highway. I remember that I wasn’t too thrilled: it was a very strange world only a few kilometers from the city. But even in the summer of 1956 when three of my classmates and I were walking through the mountains on a marked path, out of the blue on both sides of the path a very large Gypsy family was camping. Or perhaps several.

Today these people are settled, three quarters of them in very small villages mostly in Northern Hungary and in Southern Transdanubia, especially in Baranya country, south of Pécs, close to the Croatian-Hungarian border.

Some of these villages were utterly transformed in the last fifty years or so. They are now inhabited almost entirely by Gypsies. Here is one example. I’m somewhat familiar with the village of Old. According to the 1910 census Old had a population of 502 out of which most likely the number of Gypsies was 59. In the 1910 census Gypsies were not specifically designated as such but were put under the rubric of “Others.” Today the village has a population of 370 or so and according to the latest reports (an article in Dunántúli Napló) the whole population of the village is Roma.

How did this happen? I remember visiting the village as a twelve-year-old and by then, during the Rákosi regime, the Gypsies who lived outside of the village were forcibly settled in the houses of better-off villagers. To this day, I remember a rather odd conversation with a middle aged man who wanted to know whether my family would perhaps be interested in hiring his daughter. He explained to me how useful she would be for us: among other things she could bring water from the well!

I’m relating this so that you would understand that sixty years ago some Gypsies were that unfamiliar with the modern world. Sure, there were the elegant Gypsies who played music in practically every restaurant. But today even that opportunity is pretty well closed. There are very few restaurants with live music, and especially not Gypsy music. So starting with the Rákosi regime and continuing under the Kádár regime the nomadic Gypsies were settled, mostly in villages.

[…]More and more people say that Gypsies under the age of thirty-five should be compelled to finish at least eight grades and learn a trade. Otherwise there is no hope for improvement in the future. But what is their incentive?

My preliminary, admittedly feeble thoughts go along the following lines. Find some things that Gypsies love to do and start competitions. And promote them. Basically, make Gypsies people the rest of the Hungarian population can root for. And as the top prize award not only money but an advertising spot. Create a Magic Johnson or a Tiger Woods. However primitive this suggestion, the idea behind it is to have Hungarians start to accept their Roma brethren, even occasionally cheer for them. If one can get to this level, then the government can start to impose some anti-discrimination legislation without a crippling pushback from the population.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user abac077 under a Creative Commons license.

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February 11, 2009
Gender equality varies wildly in Latin America

Cristina Fernández, the president of Argentina.

Latin American leaders like Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández — both the first elected female presidents of their countries — have been heralded as examples of gender equality in politics and inspirations to women worldwide. But other Latin American countries retain cultural stereotypes about gender and few women hold office.

Kristen  Sample is senior programme officer at International IDEA and writes at “OpenDemocracy” exploring how different electoral systems have resulted in such varying levels of power for Latin American women.

No hay mujeres: Latin America women and gender equality

Thirty years after the start of the third wave of democracy in Latin America,  the region’s policy-makers and civil society have the “final frontier” of this historic process in sight: to ensure that democracy works for all citizens in equal measure, regardless of gender.

In Latin America there has in recent years been an increase in both the number and percentage of women in politics – embodied by the rise to power of two female presidents, Michelle Bachelet in Chile and Cristina Fernández in Argentina. Their election has, in turn, generated a renewed debate on the state of women in politics today in the region. The reality, perhaps surprising, is that the progress of women in assuming elected office in Latin America varies considerably: between and even within countries, nationally and sub-nationally.

[…]The choice of electoral system has an enormous impact – perhaps more than any other single factor – on the number of women elected to public office.

Chart detailing the percentage of women representatives in elected office in Latin America. Chart: OpenDemocracy

For instance, one basic ground-rule: “list” systems – in which electors select from lists of candidates – are far better at facilitating the election of women (and minority-groups) than first-past-the-post system systems (as found in the United States, Britain and Canada) as they encourage parties to develop comparatively more balanced candidate lists. When a party has to bet on one candidate for a legislative seat – as in the case of a first-past-the-post system – the slot generally goes to a man. When the party presents a list of candidates to represent a legislative district, however, it is more apt to balance the list by assigning selected slots to women. That’s why of the ten countries with the highest percentage of women legislators, nine have some variation of the list system.

Two specific examples demonstrate the importance of the design of the electoral system to more balanced representation:

Why does Argentina have 40% women legislators, while neighbouring Brazil has only 8%? Both countries have list systems with gender-quotas, but they’re only effective in Argentina where parties run “closed” lists and are required to alternate men and women in “electable” positions higher up the list. Brazil, on the other hand, allows parties to present a number of candidates equivalent to as much as 150% of the number of seats being contested and there is no sanction for non-compliance with the quota. Additionally, Brazil’s candidate-centred “open” list-system makes success more dependent on access to campaign funding, an area in which women face greater disadvantages.

Why do women account for nearly one in three legislators in Peru, but only one in thirty mayors? There are at least two reasons for this. First, representatives in collective bodies (legislatures, town councils) in Peru are elected from “list positions” while executives  (president, departmental president and mayor) are chosen from a first-past-the-post system. Second, a 30% quota applies to the legislature and local councils, but not to mayors or other executive positions.

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