Friday, December 17, 2010

Germany Admits Enslaving And Abusing a Generation of Children

By Tony Paterson, The Independent

Germany has owned up to one of the most disturbing examples of mass child and youth abuse in its post-war history, some 60 years after the first teenagers started being locked away and mistreated by supposedly "caring" foster homes.

The country agreed yesterday to provide a €120m (£101m) compensation fund for the estimated 30,000 victims who were among the 800,000 children in German foster homes in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

Institutions that for decades meted out inhuman treatment – including ritual beatings, periods of solitary confinement, forced labour and sexual assaults – were not youth remand centres or borstals as might be expected, but homes run by nuns and priests in former West Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as state-run homes.

Antje Vollmer, a Green Party politician and former German parliamentary president, announced the establishment of the fund yesterday after two years of round-table discussions with victims, politicians and church leaders in an attempt to provide some form of retrospective justice for those who were abused.

Ms Vollmer said that by setting up the fund, Germany was finally "recognising the suffering of the victims", which had been perpetrated by a nation which – at the time – had an "immature justice system" and was still trying to shake off attitudes inherited from a totalitarian Nazi regime.

Der Spiegel magazine, which broke the story of widespread abuse in German foster homes in 2003, concluded that the mistreatment was systematic: "Between 1945 and 1970, the worst educational practices of the Nazi era continued virtually unabated in these barrack like foster homes."

Those Nazi-era practices included beatings for petty offences like using too much soap or "nose picking" and incarceration in solitary confinement cells for "daring to hum" pop songs.

One victim, who refused to be named, recalled in a radio interview this week that a standard foster home punishment for talking at night was being made to stand naked in an unheated corridor until a freshly lit new candle had burned itself out. "It meant standing naked all night," he said.

Forced unpaid labour included ditch digging, turf cutting and being sub-contracted out to construction firms to hump bricks. For adolescent girls, the favourite form of unpaid labour was carried out in laundries, where they had to work for hours washing by hand and ironing.

Eleonore Fleth, now in her sixties, was sent to a church-run foster home as a teenager. Interviewed yesterday, she said she had been so traumatised by the experience that she had mentally blanked out much of her home experience. "I only know from my home records that I was contracted out and used as a part-time labourer for a building firm," she said.

"I still suffer bad attacks of claustrophobia from being locked up in solitary confinement. The worst thing was being so powerless."

The Snakes Sleep: Attacks against the Media and Impunity in Honduras

By Sandra Cuffe, Upside Down World

In Honduras, there is a particular quote by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano that has been adopted into the country's rich lexicon of idioms: “Justice is like snakes. They only bite the barefoot.”

Of the thousands of human rights violations committed in Honduras since the coup in June 2009, in most cases the only serious investigations have been carried out by the grassroots organizations involved with the Human Rights Platform and the resistance movement. Very few charges have been laid against the human rights violators who ordered and carried out illegal detentions, kidnappings, beatings, torture, rape, and extrajudicial executions.

At the international level, however, there have recently been positive signals that spark the hope that justice may one day be served. Last week, the International Criminal Court announced that preliminary investigations are underway to determine whether or not the Court has jurisdiction over a case related to Honduras. Essentially, the Court is investigating whether or not war crimes and/or crimes against humanity have been committed in Honduras since the coup on June 28, 2009.

Also earlier this month, Honduras faced its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, a process that each UN member State undergoes every four years. Tellingly, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia did not attend because they do not recognize the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was elected President in November 2009 in highly controversial elections that many contend were simply the prolongation of the illegitimate rule of the civic and military authorities that coordinated the overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador and Ecuador explicitly clarified that they do not recognize the government of Honduras, but intervened in the Review process nonetheless in order to support the human rights of the Honduran people.

At the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, several concerns were voiced about the impunity surrounding human rights violations in general, and the murder of journalists in particular. Nine journalists have been murdered in Honduras in 2010 to date. According to the “Death Watch” compiled by the International Press Institute (IPI), Honduras is now the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Mexico. Prior to 2010, the countries with the most murders of journalists were mainly countries officially deemed to be in conflict, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia. When the Honduran population of less than eight million is taken into account, the statistics are exponentially more serious.

According to the IPI's research, from 1997 when the Institute started the “Death Watch” until the coup, only seven journalists were killed. At the Universal Periodic Review, UN member States demanded investigations and justice in the cases of the nine journalists killed in 2010 alone. While the final report will not be adopted until the Human Rights Council meets again to discuss the case in March 2011, the Honduran government stated its acceptance of the 129 recommendations during the Review process earlier this month. In the case of the journalists, however, the promise to investigate and to prosecute those responsible did not come without a rebuttal.

“In none of the cases investigated have the victims or their families alleged political motivations, nor have the investigations turned up evidence that such a pattern exists,” said Honduran Vice President Maria Antoineta Guillen de Bogran during the Review.

Earlier this year, in an interview with the Tribuna newspaper on May 3rd, Honduran Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez went even further, stating: “I guarantee that in all of the cases [of the journalists' murders], there is no connection to indicate that it is due to their work as journalists. That is to say that there is no person or people trying to silence journalists; it is simply that, just as other people, after their work as reporters, journalists spend their time on their own personal situations.”

Of course, as murdered journalists themselves, Gabriel Fino Noriega, Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, David Meza Montesinos, Nahum Palacios, Jose Bayardo Mayrena, Manuel Juarez, Jorge Alberto Orellana, Luis Arturo Mondragon, and Israel Zelaya Diaz are not able to contest the statements by Vice President Guillen and Security Minister Alvarez. In most cases, however, journalists who have been threatened, kidnapped, beaten, and tortured have demonstrated the clear connection between their work as critical journalists supporting or reporting on the resistance movement and the human rights violations they have endured.

Nothing Passive About Greek Resistance To Bans And Bailouts

Richard Pine reports for The Irish Times:

What's the link between terrorism and a ban on smoking? Between a recent spate of letter-bombs in Athens and widespread rejection of the new ban on smoking in enclosed spaces? At first sight, not much.

Yet both phenomena are driven by the Greek insistence on freedom and self-determination. The Greek word for “freedom”, eleutheria , expresses the concept of movement and behaviour, the right to self-determination. As an editorial in Kathimerini newspaper observed, “smoking cigarettes is not simply the ritualised inhalation of nicotine, tar and other addictive substances, but a personal statement; not an admission of dependence, but a declaration of personal liberty”.

[ ... ]

My memory of the introduction of the ban in Ireland is of almost complete and immediate effectiveness, compliance being based on acceptance of the principle. Here in Greece, the reverse is the case. Newspaper editorials urge citizens to think collectively, to establish a sense of community, whereas fierce individualism is the order of the day. The man in the street may not readily express himself in concepts, but certain ways of seeing the world are embedded within the Greek mind. When an already distrusted government introduces a measure which runs counter to that mind, ideas, if not actions, become violent.

~ more... ~

Musical Innerlube: The Boxer Rebellion - Step Out Of The Car



Step Out Of The Car is the first single from The Boxer Rebellion's soon to be released third studio album 'The Cold Still.'

Terence Blacker: The Good That Comes From Revolt

Writing for The Independent:

One student, persecuted in the press because his parents happen to be famous, has tried to explain that he was carried away in the spirit of the moment. Anyone who has been in a volatile, clumsily policed crowd, whether at a demo or a football match, will know how quickly mass anger can boil over. The police get carried away too, and the downward tumble into fighting begins.

These things tend to be forgotten by the reasonable non-marchers, sitting at home – except, that is, when they are in a historical context. Similar scenes of street fighting were commonplace 40 or so years ago. At the time, the anti-Vietnam war demonstrators caused outrage within the Labour government and in the mainstream press. Individual student leaders were vilified. There was mockery of some of the protesters' sillier ideas: at one point, during the Grosvenor Square demo, there was serious discussion as to whether that symbol of Yankee imperialism, the Playboy Club, should be attacked.

"A kind of contagious frenzy gripped many student bodies," wrote Bernard Levin with some distaste in The Pendulum Years, adding wearily that there was nothing new in the young going too far. Because it was written by the grown-ups, "recorded history ... had been in this respect one long catalogue of the crimes and follies of youth".

Not any more. When the grizzled veterans of Sixties protest look back, it is with nostalgia and fondness. What happened then is no longer hooliganism and unkindness to police horses, but a laudable expression of radicalism and citizen power which later played an important part in politics and society generally. The revolting students were not yobs, after all; they were heroes.

Hope Against Hope: A Necessary Betrayal


Comments on some of the contradictions within the 2010 UK student movement and its claims for a 'right to education'.

What has been taken from them to make them so angry? Hope, that's what. Hope, and the fragile bubble of social aspiration that sustained us through decades of mounting inequality; hope and the belief that if we worked hard and did as we were told and bought the right things, some of us at least would get the good jobs and safe places to live that we'd been promised.
- Laurie Penny, New Statesman, 3rd Dec 2010

A single image from a day of movement marks out competing visions of hope. A boot through a Millbank window fed the dreams of resistance that many in the Left have been craving since talk of austerity started. The same boot posed a question that plays out in the university occupations that preceded it and have since blossomed in its wake: what is it exactly that we are hoping for?

The question of how students have inspired people to act, engage and organize to combat the Government’s austerity plans is an important one. It is one that also potentially contrasts with some of the views of students themselves. For let’s be clear – it is not necessarily (or even principally) the University or its defence that mobilizes people’s desires and dreams outside the student movement. Defending the ‘right to education’ may be what sparked student revolts, but those of us who are not students have been drawn in because we want, more than anything, to resist and fight. And to resist and fight you need to know that resistance is possible, that you will not be alone, and that you can win. For the most part the resistance so far to the regime of austerity has been rote and uninspiring – a betrayed strike here, a sacked workforce there.

Minor victories and thousands of words spoken of an inevitable uprising, of an insurgency against the restructuring. The boot through the window took us beyond the rhetoric and yearnings. It showed rage and the will to fight. It showed cops overwhelmed and underprepared, Tory offices ransacked and the beautiful excess of an insurrectionary moment. It inspired because it was truly magical, and people saw for themselves that battles could be waged, people would fight, and winning was possible.

But beyond this what support is there for the ‘right to education’? For this was the starting point for the riot and the thread that binds the demonstrations, the walkouts and the occupations. Cutting the Education Maintenance Allowance, shedding whole university departments and countless staff, and raising fees. The restructuring is an attack on ‘education’ as it exists in the University; a wholesale revision of who can access what. It is perhaps taken for granted that ‘we’ all support the right to education, and that we are all united in our defence of the University. But what if we are not?
What if it is our rage and not our hopes that are united? What if we are together only for the fight, but not the victory?

Laurie Penny nails the motivation behind the riot – hope. Or rather, the restructuring of hope and its coming scarcity. A restructuring and scarcity because hope is not something eternal or ephemeral. Hope is a material thing, produced and distributed through social channels and institutions. Institutions like the University.

What do we mean by a socially produced hope? Different societies produce different kinds of hopes. In fact, every single society produces different kinds of hopes. Hope is a mobilizing and organizing force that structures the direction and possibilities of our lives. As memory shapes our understanding of the past and how we understand what we are now, hope shapes our understanding of the future – what there will be, what there could be, who and how we will become something more than we are today. Both hope and memory give form and purpose to our actions; they give our lives meaning.

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