Archive for April, 2012

Who remembers the Armenians – I do


24 April is the day to remember the genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire against the people of Armenia. There is a very good piece on Armenia, with information about the country and its history here in the New York Review of Books. After the US and Russia, France is home to the third highest number of Armenians outside the country. As well as in Strasbourg there were events to commemorate the Armenian Genocide in many towns and cities in France, including a large rally in Paris attended by both the Presidential candidates.

In Strasbourg a group of people including; municipal councillors, the Armenian Representative to the Council of Europe, an Armenian parliamentarian who is a representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, priests and representatives of different religions and peoples, formed up near the Palais du Rhin and walked, behind a banner saying “No to genocide” to the Monument to the Fallen in the centre of the Place de la République.(first picture)

The crowd listened to three people talk about the genocide in Armenia listing places where particular events happened during the genocide at the end of the 19th century and between 1915-16.(second picture) At different stages during this people walked up and placed flowers at the base of the monument. First it was the Armenian Representative to the Council of Europe, Mr. Armen Papikian, and the Armenian parliamentarian, Ms Hermine Naghdalyan, then the second group featured the three municipal councillors, Robert Herrmann; 1er Adjoint to the Mayor – Coordination municipale et démocratie locale, conseil des jeunes – Adjoint de Strasbourg centre, (left) Jean-Jacques Gsell; Adjoint du quartier Gare, du tourisme, du commerce et de l’artisanat (right) and Henri Dreyfus. I did not catch the names of the last two people (pictured) placing flowers at the monument.

There were also short speeches including one from a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda who talked about her experience of genocide denial, where an MEP said that there were only 2 or 3 people killed in her village when she lost more than three members of her own family. We heard from the Armenian Representative and then from a representative of the Kurd community in Strasbourg who apologised to the Armenian people present for the Kurdish people’s participation in the genocide; there was a Kurdish battalion established specifically to carry out the genocide.

We finished up having a prayer from an Armenian Orthodox priest followed by the Priest in Charge, Father Harold Nahabedian, from St Albans Anglican Church in Strasbourg who is from Canada of Armenian heritage.

At the end of the remembrance the crowd dispersed and JTO and I left for to introduce her to a, for her, up to now unexplored Irish Pub where we had some fine food and I, of course, had a drop of the black stuff.

N.B. The headline comes from a question Hitler posed when questioned about the holocaust. His reply was “Who remembers the Armenians?

Strasbourg English Speaking Union


It is hardly hot news but last Tuesday there was the inaugural meeting of the Strasbourg English Speaking Union. By the kind invite of the Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg it took place at the 18th century town hall.

The first presentation was from our host, Nawel Rafik-Elmrini whose official title is 2ème Adjointe – Relations internationales et européennes, coopération décentralisée for the municipal council, who talked about the building, Strasbourg and relations between the UK and the city. The room was the place where the Council of Europe had its inaugural meeting. After her speech Ms Rafik-Elmrini stayed on whilst we listened to the next speech.

Next up was John Darcy, Advisor to the President of the European Court of Human Rights. He started off by talking about the history of the European Convention on Human Rights which was then followed by the creation of the Court and then over time it was set up and started before the accession of various countries to the court. We hard about the way the Court had developed and the way the understanding and interpretation of the convention had developed, as a living breathing document.

He then talked about the almost 150,000 cases before the court which are added to with about another 50 to 60,000 every year. A lot of these are not cases which are relevant to the Court or have not completed all stages in the judicial process in their own country and are deemed inadmissible.

Mr Darcy, there was the inevitable reference to the name, then went on to talk about reform of the Court. Following judgements by the Court on votes for people in UK prisons and recently on Abu Qatada there has been pressure in the UK for reform of the Court or for the UK to withdraw from it all together. Following the visit of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I reported on here, as part of the UK Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. He then spoke about what was then the upcoming Brighton Conference on reform of the Court. My understanding is it was outlined that as a result of the views of the other members of the Court it was unlikely there would be much of anything that would change as a result of the conference. Measures to streamline the judgement process to speed up decisions, and make sure that the Court does not make decisions that should properly be taken in countries, had been put in place anyway and were working.

So, it seems to me, that Dave’s attempt to attack the Court to satisfy his barking anti-European backbenchers resulted in him making a fool of himself in front of the Parliamentary Assembly followed by a lot of hot air with little, if any, achievement of change to the Court and the way it works.

After a short outline on the way the Strasbourg ESU would work we were given an apero courtesy of the people of Strasbourg and then we headed off, it being the birthday of JTO and I was taking her out for something to eat.

Votez tôt, voter souvent


In case you missed it, yesterday there was the first round of the elections for President here in France. As none of the ten candidates got more than 50% of the vote there will be a run-off between the top two scoring candidates in a fortnight. From the DNA here is the result, both here in Alsace and nationally:

As you can see this frontier region voted in greater numbers for the UMP party of the current président Sarkozy, and put the politically right but economically almost communist – so probably best described nationalist populist Front National in second place and the national winner, Parti Socialiste candidate François Hollande in third place. The story was different in Strasbourg, which in contrast seems a leftist island in this right-wing region:

As a sad election statistic geek I love it that in France the results are published by polling station on the council’s website. Here is the comparison for the polling station I vote at, though obviously I could not vote this time, compared with my city, region and the country.

But what does it all mean? Here is a round-up of what the French newspapers are saying,  this is the view of the politics department at Nottingham University about the accuracy of the French opinion polls, here is the BBC’s version of what happened yesterday, this sets out what YouGov thinks will happen in the second round of voting. Published this morning in the DNA is this graphic showing the change in the percentage of votes for the extreme right, right, centre, PS, Green, extreme left and others since 1974:

Not ‘One of Us’


I return to the despicable, desperate, ‘dog-whistle’ racist leaflet produced by John Howarth’s Public Impact Ltd for Reading Labour Party.

On my twitter feed the chief political commentator of the Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul retweeted an article in the Sunday Telegraph religion section about the favourite to be the next Archbisop of Cantebury, Dr John Sentamu. It was retweeted by Mr Rentoul to highlight the use of language in the piece but I noticed something separate:

“At its best, the besmirching of John Sentamu has revealed that strand of snobbery which views outsiders as lacking class, diplomacy or civility — in other words ‘not one of us,’” said the Rev Arun Arora.

“At worst, it has elicited the naked racism which still bubbles under the surface in our society, and which is exposed when a black man is in line to break the chains of history.”

The last paragraph won the Daniel Hannan award for mixed metaphor of the day. The use of ‘one of us’ in the first paragraph quoted is interesting as showing that what is meant by the use of the phrase are “outsiders” lacking “class, diplomacy or civility” that it has highlighted “the naked racism which still bubbles under the surface” Whereas the Reading Labour Party agent tries to justify the use of the term “one of us”, in terms of a white woman candidate ‘born and bred’ on the other side of the town, in drawing a distinction with a Pakistani born, local-living candidate:

“Labour voters in Church Ward are entitled to know that their candidate is not likely to abandon her party and that she understands the issues that matter to them. In other words, she is  ‘one of us’,”

And the school-girlish Sarah “No Councillor” Hacker tries to justify the term thus:

“As for the statement ‘one of us’.  Again, how is this racist?  Who is defining ‘us’?  Reading Labour are defining it as a resident, a family…”

Both of the defences mentioned above fail totally to address the racist aspect of the use of the term, the drawing of ‘the us’ against the other in the use in Church ward highlighted by the quote from the paper.

Strasbourg Neustadt


After the German victory over France in 1871 Strasbourg, as part of Alsace-Lorraine, was ceded to the German Empire and became the capital of the Elsass-Lothringen Reichsland. In 1880 the municipal architect, Jean-Geoffroy Conarth, came up with a plan to develop Strasbourg as a capital which would showcase the modernity and glory of the Imperial German Empire.  (There had been unrealised plans to extend the city since the 18th century.)

The first phase (1 on the plan above) consisted of an Imperial Palace (Now the headquarters of the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine – the oldest international institution in modern history) and Palace of the Landtag of the Elsass-Lothringen Reichsland (The Regional Assembly, now the Théâtre National de Strasbourg.) opposite each other on a big public square, the Kaiserplatz (Now place de la république), ministries, post office, library and university along a grand East-West avenue, north of the historic city. This was completed in 1900 with other areas shown above including the station and private and collective housing, which took longer to complete. In 2010 the municipality of Strasbourg and the Alsace Region decided to carry out a six-year study of the area to better understand the development of the area, and better preserve it. The first study developed was l’axe impérial, the first stage developed and this weekend there is a programme of guided visits, displays and talks about the results of this first stage. (Here is the website.)

I live in the ‘quartier gare’ (5 in the diagram above) and the houses in my street were built in the first decade of the 20th century. The picture shows them and they are typical of the buildings of the period with a historical eclecticism of taste (Italian or German neo-Renaissance, neo-Baroque etc.) Among them some wonderful examples of Art Nouveau constructions can be found including my favourite building in the local rea, around the corner from me.

The building had got into a poor state with plaster falling off and measures erected to stop people being hit by any further pieces to crumble away. It has now been restored to its glory and I just love looking at it in the sunshine, as in the photo, with the different shapes, like the more oval openings for the balconies, the different treatment of the recessed corner and the figurehead, or spire, on the corner of the building.

Across the street the variation of the building designs, styles and details is added to with colour. There are several examples of wonderful or interesting details on the buildings but I think that is the subject for another post.

Around the corner is a group of buildings different in style, closer to the buildings I saw in the part of Gdansk where Gunter Grass was born. It’s no surprise that two sets of buildings in two Germanic cities should be similar. These ones seem to have been designed as public collective housing and that seems to be the use to which they are put. A quick tour of some of the buildings part of the ‘Strasbourg Neustadt’ in the block where I live.

Reading Labour’s desperate racist campaign – What they are saying


It is only a week since the news about the despicable dog-whistle racist leaflet produced for Reading Labour by the Public Impact Ltd company of John Howarth so it is not surprising that some of the Reading Labour bloggers are only now catching up.

As usual, one of the first to respond was the now Redlands Labour candidate, Tony Jones, which I wrote about here. Well, as I reported here, he has now had second thoughts about posting the statement and letter from Reading Labour in full and has removed the post. You can still read it in full here or below:

View this document on Scribd

We then had the woeful attempt by Battle ward councillor Sarah Hacker which I reported on here. It has now ben joined by Redlands councillor Jan Gavin who just posts the Labour party press statement with no comment. Then yesterday they were joined by Whitley councillor Rachel Eden who in this bizarre post has published the letter to the Reading East Conservative Agent from the Reading Labour Party Agent. This formed part of the post by Tony Jones but it was thought that after this post by WAS, followed by this from Janestheone, pointing out the criminal nature of posting the letter that led to him taking his post down. I have tried to comment on the post from Ms Eden which is waiting on her to approve it for publishing. How long do people think I should wait?

Reading Labour’s desperate racist campaign – Tony Jones


Especially for you, a video from the late, the great Roy Orbison, what a voice:

Reading Labour’s desperate racist campaign – No Councillor


Battle Ward Labour Councillor Sarah Hacker has now commented on the despicable, desperate dog whistle‘ racist leaflet from Reading Labour. Last night I tried to comment on her post but it has not yet appeared. Someone tried to comment on the post after me and they received an email in response but their post has also not been let through. Of course, it is councillor Hacker’s blog and she is entitled not to allow comments on posts if she does not like them. This attitude is so typical of the last century command and control approach to politics of Reading Labour Party. Their own website is broadcast only and it would seem many of them adopt that approach on their blogs etc. What are they afraid of? Some feedback? Hearing the views of the people they represent? Hearing any other view of the world?

The reply from Councillor Hacker is either extremely naive or she is trying to present herself as a kind of faux-simple Forrest Gump. Breed is not a synonym for grow-up, certainly not in my Thesaurus. Her reply is shameful and I wonder how she can look her multi-racial constituents in the eye after it. She may share the surname with the character in Yes Minister but in her case it’s no councillor.

Reading Labour’s desperate racist campaign – Reading Labour statement, the rest of the World is wrong


So now we have it. A response by Reading Labour Party to the allegations about the desperate, despicable ‘dog whistle‘ racist leaflet, produced by John Howarth‘s Company Public Impact Ltd, has been posted on the website of political turncoat, who not only ratted on Reading Labour but has now re-ratted on them to be their Redlands candidate,  Tony Jones. As the screenshot shows at this present time it has not been put up on the Reading Labour Party Website.

It’s interesting to me that it is Tony Jones who has published this letter and statement whilst Reading Labour have not. I was told that Tony Jones had justified his departure from Reading Labour  because of the treatment by Reading Labour of the now Conservative candidate in Church ward, Azam Janjua.

In the statement Labour election agent, and Peppard ward candidate, David Absolom gives a mealy mouthed attempt to justify the dog whistle racism of the Party’s Church Ward leaflet. The piece goes on to say. “He has also threatened legal action should the Tories repeat their smears publicly. ”

Just so there is no confusion Mr Absolom, I am disappointed and disgusted to say that the Reading Labour leaflet produced by John Howarth’s company, Public Impact Ltd, for Church ward is the lowest form of dog whistle racism. To quote Eminem in ‘Public Service Announcement 2000,’ from the great ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’

“Yeah, sue me”.

Reading Labour’s desperate racist campaign – What they say


If I believed the comments on my original post, about the despicable, desperate ‘dog whistle’ racist leaflet produced by John Howarth‘s company Public Impact Communications for Reading Labour Party‘s candidate in Church Ward for this years local elections, then I might think I was the only person who though there was something wrong with it.

One of the first people to comment on the leaflet was Reading East’s former Labour MP, Jane Griffiths, here. She highlighted:

this candidate, for Reading Labour in Church ward, was “born and bred” in Reading (she lives in west Reading somewhere) and is “one of us”.  the Conservative councillor defending his seat in Church ward?  Azam Janjua.

Then we have Conservative councillor for Thames ward and candidate for Mapledurham ward at this years elections, Isobel Balsden, who comments on the leaflet here, saying:

In Church Ward (East Reading) the biggest issue is the hated traffic lights on Shinfield Road. Cllr Azam Janjua’s re-election campaign states under a Conservative administration, if elected, we will put back the roundabouts: This contrasts with Labour’s minority administration’s policy that the traffic lights are here to stay.

Azam lives with his wife in the heart of Church Ward just off Whitley Wood Road. He’s lived in Reading for nearly 50 years.  He’s been a councillor for many years and since retiring from being a Hackney Carriage taxi driver he has been a full-time councillor.  He is well known in the whole community in Church Ward.  He has 3 daughters: the eldest is a local GP, the middle one is a GP in London; the youngest (who got a degree at Worcester College, Oxford University) is a researcher.  

In contrast Labour’s candidate lives in West Reading – Tilehurst to be precise.  She has no experience of local government.  She wasn’t even born when Azam moved to Reading.

Then there is Liberal Democrat former Reading East candidate and former leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Gareth Epps, who comments on it here. He says:

So why are leaflets being put out by Reading Labour in support of their candidate (who does not live in Church ward) saying that ‘she will fight for us…. because she is one of us’?  It’s striking that the equivalent Labour leaflet for Abbey ward promoting Tony Page does not make the same claim.  Why does the first line talk about the candidate being ‘born and bred in Reading’?  The Labour candidate’s address is listed as being in Tilehurst, in what I think is Norcot ward.  Why should Labour only be making this claim in a ward where the incumbent is of Pakistani origin?

Labour has plenty of form when it comes to the seedier side of ‘dog whistle’ politics.  In the past they have resorted to deliberate false statements (a criminal offence) on countless occasions.  But this really does take the biscuit.  It is a deliberate contrast drawn on lines of race alone.  I challenge Reading Labour Party to come up with a reason for the contents of this leaflet that is not to pander to racism, to point to the fact that their candidate is white, and the incumbent is not.  I wonder whether the procession of senior Labour politicians, from Ed Balls downwards (upwards?) and including several Shadow Cabinet members, have delivered this leaflet or approve of it?

Absolutely shameful and disgusting on Labour’s part.

Then there’s the blog of Conservative councillor for Peppard ward, here, who says:

….some in the local Labour party believe that many voters in Church ward and neighbouring Whitley ward are racist, and this would certainly explain why they have used such dog-whistle tactics. However, the fact that Cllr Azam Janjua has been elected several times in Church ward suggests that the people there have more sense and decency than Labour credits them with. Perhaps they are more offended by the fact that Azam was previously a Labour Councillor and had the sense to defect to the Conservatives.We will certainly be lodging a complaint with the Electoral Returning Officer and the Labour Party agent demanding that Labour apologise and withdraw the offending leaflet.

So, it would seem there is agreement across the political spectrum that Reading Labour Party believe the people of Church to be racist and they are trying to get their support by using racist dog whistle language. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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