Month: July 2005 (Page 1 of 2)


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The lovely Siauliai

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Look cross. Hill of Crosses – Lithuania

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I couldn’t resisit it…

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Riga Riga

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“Hospitality of our hotel is cause of the luck”

That’s what it says – just don’t ask me what it means. It certainly doesn’t mean the hotel staff are hospitable.

apparently, I’m also prohibited from “keep in the hotel room easily flammable and explosive things, quickly spoiling product, arms.”

I don’t think I have any quickly spoiling product? But I can’t be sure.

Anyway – hello world. I’m alive and kicking and currently stuck in the lovely town of Siauliai – Lithuania.

Basically, If you love concrete tower-blocks and fearing for your life as taxi drivers (who don’t let you put your seatbelt on) dodge pot-holes then this is the place for you. If however you like fresh air, pretty buildings, smooth roads and anything more exciting than watching rain drip from concrete then, skip Siauliai.

Even a good amount of ECON (Eddy reconnaissance) has failed to save this place from it’s miserable appearance. Now, I’m sure that this doesn’t reflect on it’s population but, nonetheless – it’s not a great place. Whatsmore, I came here for a 30 minute visit to the Hill of Crosses and I’ve now been here 3 days! It’s a long storey but mostly down to my style of no-plan winging it combined with my no-brained style of forgetting today is Sunday and there are no banks open …back to my three pound a night hostel for me.

Anyway, despite a few dreary days here (it’s also raining) all has been good and, Latvia was great. Riga – like Tallinn has a fascinating old town and enough sites and Museums to keep the hungriest of culture vultures happy. For me, the museum of the occupation was the most fascinating and outright depressing of them all. The history of these small countries has been troubled to say the least. It goes something like this.

Following the first world war they were three independent sovereign nations with a developed constitution.

Following the non-aggression pact between the soviets and the Nazi’s, the Soviets (somewhat aggressively) invaded and set about a period of Sovietisation. This included incorporation the army into the Red Army, deportations to Siberia etc etc

Not to be outdone – the Nazi’s had a go at invading – kicked out the Soviets and increased the atrocities, murders and deportation’s etc. Strangely, this included the detailed documenting of Soviet crimes which were then blamed on the Jews and used to commit their own Nazi crimes. Those who had previously been forced to work for the Soviets were punished and many people were shipped to Germany to help the war effort.

Finally, as if two invasions weren’t enough – The Soviets popped-up again and kicked the Nazi’s out. In the cruelest of twists this battle even pitched Locals incorporated into the Red army (who fled the Nazi occupation) against locals forced to fight along side the Germans. The Soviets won and once again the Russiafication started along with the deportations, claiming of private property etc etc

Between 1939 and 1949 Latvia alone lost one third of it’s pre war population – a total of 550,000 people.

Amazingly throughout this all (and I guess this is always a trade mark of oppressed people) the locals kept many traditions, artistic talents and sense of identity – of which they are very proud.

So, maybe I’ve been a bit hard on Siaulia – also given that it was burnt 7 times, totally destroyed 7 times in the wars and has had a good does of the plague no less than 7 times!

Between Riga (Latvia) and Siauliai (Lithuania) I spent a day in the Latvian town of Jelgava – a town that gets no mentions in the tourist literature but, is actually a
nice town with some good sites and churches etc. I also met some great people in Riga from Norway, Switzerland and Canada all of whom made great drinking buddies and managed to watch Star Wars – Episode III for about two pounds.

Tomorrow – providing all goes well I will try to leave here and head to the more tourist-friendly capital Vilnius


PS – I couldn’t resist it – the Hill of Crosses now has a new cross. One to shamelessly promote I challenge you to find it.

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Excellent free city guites

Visiting Lithuania? Belarus? Ukraine? then check out

I found this site whilst looking for a decent guide to Belarus. Not only does it have such a guide but, it also has guides to a host of decent towns and cities in Estern Europe. They are informative, funny and 100% free!

I mean where else can you find a guide to Tartu? or a review of Haapsalu?

Remember Haapsalu?

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Photos Photos Photos

I forgot to mention the photos…

Finaland is HERE
Estonia is HERE
Sweden is HERE
Pete’s Wedding is HERE

and, all of them can be found HERE

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Still in Oxford

Yes, I’m still here. Contrary to my planned one-week flying visit, I’m still enjoying the fold up bed on my parents floor.

My visa for Belarus took longer to organise than I expected and the flights back to Riga were more expensive. However, I’m back on track now and hope to collect my visa tomorrow and catch my plane next Monday.

So now there is little else to do but wash a few clothes, drink a few tea’s and read a few books in the (currently very hot) sunshine 🙂

It’s been an interesting time to be back in the UK though – It started off raining, then there was Pete’s Wedding and the much talked about Live 8, then we won the Olympic bid, then London got bombed and then it got sunny!

The bombing bit was a bit strange but I’m glad I was here in England when it happened. While the papers and TV are still squeezing every article possible out of the explosions I haven’t yet met anyone who’s been obsessed with or significantly changed by what happened. The reaction has been very subdued. This may be different in London where the wounds are right there for everyone to see but, outside the capital it seems to get little more than a passing mention in conversation on the same scale as many other news items. I’m not a social expert but I’m guessing this is largely due to the inevitability of it happening, it’s (although still horrific) small scale and the fact that it is set against the backdrop of daily news reports from Iraq detailing their daily, and often much larger losses.

Let’s hope the “Blowback” stops blowing.

The Olympic bid though – how good is that? OK, so I think it would have been far better for the country if the money and development went to another more central city but still – it will be a great event. Hopefully it will also be a great incentive for kids to get out and play some more sport. Talking to the Australians I met when I was away it’s clear that our facilities and emphasis on sport are along way from where they should be. Actually, perhaps it’s not the facilities – it’s the weather. I mean cricket is boring anyway but when it’s raining? – No chance. Oh, and I say kids as I will be almost 35 in 2012.

OK, that’s it for now – this post has taken the form of a disorganized rant filling time which would otherwise be spent doing very little, and so – I’m off to do very little.


PS, If you ever decide to visit Belarus contact Svetlana at BelarusTourService. She’s brilliant.

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John Pilger

Over the past two weeks, the contrast between two related “global” events has been salutary. The first was the World Tribunal on Iraq held in Istanbul; the second the G8 meeting in Scotland and the Make Poverty History campaign. Reading the papers and watching television in Britain, you would know nothing about the Istanbul meetings, which produced the most searing evidence to date of the greatest political scandal of modern times: the attack on a defenceless Iraq by America and Britain.

The tribunal is a serious international public inquiry into the invasion and occupation, the kind governments dare not hold. “We are here,” said the author Arundathi Roy in Istanbul, “to examine a vast spectrum of evidence (about the war) that has been deliberately marginalised and suppressed, its legality, the role of international institutions and major corporations in the occupation, the role of the media, the impact of weapons such as depleted uranium munitions, napalm, and cluster bombs, the use and legitimising of torture . . . This tribunal is an attempt to correct the record: to document the history of the war not from the point of view of the victors but of the temporarily anguished.”

“Temporarily anguished” implies that, even faced with such rampant power, the Iraqi people will recover. You certainly need this sense of hope when reading the eyewitness testimonies which demonstrate, as Roy pointed out, “that even those of us who have tried to follow the war closely are not aware of a fraction of the horrors that have been unleashed in Iraq.”

The most shocking testimony was given by Dahr Jamail. Unless you read the internet, you will not know who Dhar Jamail is. He is not an amusing Baghdad blogger. For me, he is the finest reporter working in Iraq. With the exception of Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and several others, mostly freelancers, he shames the flak-jacketed, cliché crunching camp followers known as “embeds”. A Lebanese with American citizenship, Jamail has been almost everywhere the camp followers have not. He has reported from the besieged city of Fallujah, whose destruction and atrocities have been suppressed by western broadcasters, notably by the BBC. (See www.medialens. org/ alerts).

In Istanbul, Jamail bore his independent reporter’s witness to the thousands of Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib and other American prisons. His account of what happened to a civil servant in Baghdad was typical. This man, Ali Abbas, had gone to a US base to inquire about his missing neighbours. On his third visit, he was arrested without charge, stripped naked, hooded and forced to simulate sex with other prisoners . This was standard procedure. He was beaten on his genitals, electrocuted in the anus, denied water and forced to watch as his food was thrown away. A loaded gun was held to his head to prevent him from screaming in pain as his wrists were bound so tightly that the blood drained from his hands. He was doused in cold water while a fan was held to his body.

“They put on a loud speaker,” he told Jamail, “put the speakers on my ears and said, ‘Shut up, fuck, fuck, fuck!’ He was refused sleep. Shit was wiped on him and dogs were used on him. “Sometimes at night when he read his Koran,” said Jamail, “(he) had to hold it in the hallway for light. Soldiers would come by and kick the Holy Koran, and sometimes they would try to piss on it or wipe shit on it.” A female soldier told him, “Our aim is to put you in hell . . . These are the orders from our superiors, to turn your lives into hell.”

Jamail described how Fallujah’s hospitals have been subjected to an American tactic of collective punishment, with US marines assaulting staff and stopping the wounded entering, and American snipers firing at the doors and windows, and medicines and emergency blood prevented from reaching the hospitals. Children were shot dead in front of their families, in cold blood.

The two men responsible for this, George Bush and Tony Blair, attended the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. Unlike the Iraq Tribunal, there was saturation coverage, yet no one in the “mainstream” – from the embedded media to the Make Poverty History organisers and the accredited, acceptable celebrities – made the obvious connection of Bush’s and Blair’s enduring crime in Iraq. No one stood and said that Blair’s smoke-and-mirrors “debt cancellation” at best amounted to less than the money the government spent in a week brutalising Iraq, where British and American violence was the cause of the doubling of child poverty and malnutrition since Saddam Hussein was overthrown (Unicef).

In Edinburgh, a shameless invitation-only meeting of Christian Aid supporters and church leaders was addressed by Britain’s treasurer, Gordon Brown, the paymaster of this carnage. Only one person asked him, “When will you stop the rape of the poor’s resources? Why are there so many conditions on aid?” This lone protestor was not referring specifically to Iraq, but to most of the world. He was thrown out, to cheers from among the assembled Christians.

That set the theme for the G8 week: the silencing and pacifying and co-option of real dissent and truth. It was Frantz Fanon, the great intellectual-activist of Africa, who exposed colonial greed and violence dressed up as polite do-goodery, and nothing has changed, in Africa, as in Iraq. The mawkish images on giant screens behind the pop stars in Hyde Park beckoned a wilful, self-satisfied ignorance. There was none of the images that television refuses to show: of murdered Iraqi doctors with the blood streaming from their heads, cut down by Bush’s snipers.

On the front page of the Guardian, the Age of Irony was celebrated as real life became more satirical than satire could ever be. There was Bob Geldoff resting his smiling face on smiling Blair’s shoulder, the war criminal and his jester. Elsewhere, there was an heroically silhouetted Bono, who celebrates men like Jeffrey Sachs as saviours of the world’s poor while lauding “compassionate” George Bush’s “war on terror” as one of his generation’s greatest achievements; and there again was Brown, the enforcer of unfair rules of trade, saying incredibly that “unfair rules of trade shackle poor people”; and Paul Wolfowitz, beaming next to the Archbishop of Canterbury: this is the man who, before he was handed control of the World Bank, devised much of Bush’s so-called neo-conservative putsch, the mendacious justification for the bloodfest in Iraq and the notion of “endless war”.

And if you missed all that, there is a downloadable PDF kit from a “one Campaign” e-mail to “help you organise your very own ongoing Live8 party”. The suppression of African singers and bands, parked where Geldoff decreed, in an environmental theme park in Cornwall, in front of an audience of less than 50 people, was described correctly by Andy Kershaw as “musical apartheid”.

Has there ever been a censorship as complete and insidious and ingenious as this? Even when Stalin airbrushed his purged comrades from the annual photograph on top of Lenin’s mausoleum, the Russian people could fill in the gaps. Media and cultural hype provide infinitely more powerful propaganda weapons in the age of Blair. With Diana, there was grief by media. With Iraq, there was war by media. Now there is mass distraction by media, a normalising of the unmentionable that “the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people”, wrote the playwright Arthur Miller, “and so the evidence has to be internally denied.”

Deploying the unction of Bono, Madonna, Paul McCartney and of course Geldoff, whose Live Aid 21 years ago achieved nothing for the people of Africa, the contemporary plunderers and pawnbrokers of that continent have pulled off an unprecedented scam: the antithesis of 15 February 2003 when two million people brought both their hearts and brains to the streets of London.

“(Ours) is not a march in the sense of a demonstration, but more of a walk, ” said Make Poverty History’s Bruce Whitehead. “The emphasis is on fun in the sun. The intention is to welcome the G8 leaders to Scotland and ask them to deliver trade justice, debt cancellation and increased aid to developing countries.”


In Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter to show her the way out of wonderland. They did, over and again, this way, that way, until she lost her temper and brought down her dream world, waking her up. The people killed and maimed in Iraq and the people wilfully impoverished in Africa by our governments and our institutions in our name, demand that we wake up.

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