The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Positions are hardening in Zimbabwe ahead of the MDC's Monday ultimatum for mass action, with the opposition reiterating its determination and the ZANU politburo resolving to continue the crackdown against "students of white men."
Not your rebbe's Purim
Assaf Patrick reports on a Hasidic Purim party in Jerusalem, complete with Shlomo Carlebach songs, rock versions of Purim classics and (sex-segregated) dancing.
Friday, March 28, 2003
Final reflection on the world tour
If I ever suggest something like this again, someone please slap me upside the head.
The Head Heeb World Tour: Antarctica
Yes, The Head Heeb has received visits even from this most remote part of the world; specifically, from McMurdo Station. Although Antarctica is sparsely populated, it is at the center of a number of global environmental and political issues. One recent item of concern was the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in February 2002; although this event did not significantly affect world sea levels, it may be indicative of a general warming trend on the continent:
In particular, the next shelf to the south, the Larsen C, is very near the stability limit, and may start to recede in the coming decade if the warming trend continues. Melt ponds are occasionally observed in limited regions of the Larsen C shelf. More importantly, the warmest part of the giant Ross Ice Shelf is in fact only a few degrees too cool in summer presently to undergo the same kind of retreat process. The Ross Ice Shelf is the main outlet for several major glaciers draining the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains the equivalent of 5 m of sea level rise in its above-sea-level ice.
The warming trend could also adversely affect the environment of Antarctica itself; scientists have already noted a decline in the penguin population.
The geopolitical status of Antarctica is also potentially volatile in that the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 prohibited new territorial claims but did not resolve existing ones. In many areas, particularly that claimed by Britain, Argentina and Chile, the claims overlap, and all of them are inconsistent with the United States' position that Antarctica is international territory. Argentina and Chile have in the past been accused of sponsoring permanent settlements under the guise of scientific stations; although the conflict over competing claims is largely dormant, this may change if commercial exploitation of Antarctica's mineral resources becomes feasible.
The Head Heeb World Tour: North America
For the Canada stop on the world tour, I'm pleased to recommend one of Naomi's and my favorite Québec City restaurants: Au Petit Coin Breton. This Breton creperie is located at 1029 Rue St. Jean in the old city; the service is European in its slowness, but the food is well worth the wait. The placemats, which depict a medieval map of Brittany, are an item of interest in themselves (at least to someone of my eccentric interests); among other things, the medieval place-names made me aware of Brittany's Celtic roots.
Mexico has been an empire on two occasions, the first of which was the brief rule of Agustin de Iturbide. Iturbide came late to the Mexican struggle for independence; he was a royalist officer for much of the war and was commissioned in 1820 to lead Spanish troops against Vicente Guerrero. After a brief campaign, however, he agreed to switch sides, convincing Guerrero to accept him as emperor and proclaiming Mexico's independence under the Plan of Iguala.
In 1822, after negotiations with the viceroyal government, Iturbide and the Spanish commanding general recognized Mexico's independence in the Treaty of Cordova. After this treaty was annulled by the Spanish Cortes, however, discontent with Iturbide's rule grew quickly; in 1823, he was ousted by a liberal revolution and exiled from the country. His attempt to return to Mexico the following year ended with his capture and execution by shooting. With the exception of a similarly brief interlude under Maximilian, which ended the same way, Mexico has been a republic since - although realizing its democratic potential has proven much more difficult.
Of the fifty states in the United States, four have been independent nations: California, Hawaii, Texas and Vermont. The last of these joined the American cause at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, with Ethan Allen leading a lightning campaign that seized Fort Ticonderoga from the British. Later in the war, however, Vermont decided to go its own way in order to defend itself from the competing land claims of New York and New Hampshire:
New York continued to press claims and in March of 1777 a meeting in Windsor produced a Declaration of Independence for a new republic and the name "Vermont" was adopted... In the meantime Ethan Allen had led an ill-fated invasion of Montreal and wound up in an English prison until 1778. In June, 1778, sixteen New Hampshire towns decided to join Vermont. Congress took a dim view of this and in early 1779 the towns were returned to New Hampshire.
The constitution adopted in 1777 contained a bill of rights that was remarkable for its time and, among other things, won Vermont the honor of being the first New World country to abolish slavery.
The Republic of Vermont existed for 14 years and had all the trappings of an independent nation, including foreign embassies, a functioning legislature, courts and money. Ultimately, after negotiations to rejoin the British empire were unsuccessful, it cast its lot with the United States instead:
In 1790, Vermont had a population of 85,000; Ethan Allen died (President Ezra Stiles of Yale University note in his diary: "Feb. 13, Gen'l Ethan Allen of Vermont died and went to hell this day." and Vermont Governor Moses Robinson met with George Washington in Bennington to discuss the possibility of Vermont joining the United States. Agreeing to pay New York $30,000 reparations for the land that had been 'taken', on March 4, 1791, Vermont became the first state to join the original thirteen.
The rumor that Vermont reserved the right to secede from the United States is false, but a semi-serious secessionist movement remains in the state today.
The Head Heeb World Tour: The unscheduled stops keep coming
Cambodia, home of that modern-day Talleyrand called Norodom Sihanouk, checked in for the first time last night. Today, Cambodia also took a step toward coming to terms with a dark chapter in its history when the cabinet approved the creation of an international tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide. The tribunal was agreed upon recently by Cambodian and United Nations representatives after five years of difficult negotiations, and will contain a majority of Cambodian judges. It now goes to the Cambodian parliament for approval, which appears likely in view of Hun Sen's dominance of the government.
And someone dropped by this morning from Togo, perhaps the only African country that has been ruled by four different colonial powers. The first to arrive were the Danes, who built slaving stations and small-scale settlements along the coast during the 17th and 18th centuries. By 1814, however, the cost of maintaining the slave posts had become too great for a country as small as Denmark to bear, particularly after the loss of Norway.
The slave trade continued along the Togolese coast during the early nineteenth century, and Catholic missionaries from Portugal and Brazil also became active during that time. The country that would eventually establish control over the region, however, was Germany, and it did so almost by accident:
Gustav Nachtigal, a German Consul in Tunis, arrived on the coast of the Golf of Benin. On July 4, 1884, Gustav Nachtigal stopped his ship, "The Gull", at the level of Baguida. Then, with some of his men, he took a launch and went to the village of Togo. He met Placko, a notable of a local king named Mlapa who died not long before, who signed, by drawing a cross, an English text that Nachtigal presented to him.
Germany solidified its control over Togo by the early 1890s, and designated it a "model colony" to be developed with plantations and railroads. With the outbreak of World War I, however, the German garrison was caught unprepared, and British and French forces overran Togo within a week. For the next five years, the Togolese lived under joint British-French administration, with the capital at Lomé under British occupation. It was not until after the war that Britain and France divided the territory, with France receiving a League of Nations mandate over the modern Togolese Republic. As the fourth and final colonial ruler, France would control Togo until 1960.
The first coalition dispute of the second Sharon cabinet is in full cry, with Mafdal threatening to leave the government over the Trade and Employment Ministry's decision to suspend enforcement of Sabbath-closing laws. Ironically, the decision that precipitated the crisis was not made by Shinui; the Trade and Employment Minister, Ehud Olmert, is an old Likud stalwart who governed Jerusalem for ten years in cooperation with the religious parties. The suspension of the Sabbath-closing laws is, in all likelihood, motivated by a desire to revitalize the Israeli economy and free up inspectors to enforce other labor laws rather than anti-religious sentiment.
Nevertheless, Mafdal isn't amused. It has already suspended its activities in the cabinet, and is indicating that it might leave the coalition unless Sharon countermands Olmert. Sharon could survive Mafdal's defection - with Shinui and the National Union, he'd still have 62 seats - but that's assuming that the National Union wouldn't follow Mafdal out the door. Given that the National Union also draws many of its voters from the national-religious camp, that's far from certain:
Deputy Education Minister Zvi Hendel (National Union) said "the mask has now been removed from Olmert's face. Now that he's no longer Jerusalem's mayor, his true face has been exposed. Olmert was and remains basically anti-religious and, in addition, is betraying his duty to enforce the law regarding opening a place of business on Shabbat."
If the National Union also threatens to leave, Sharon would be faced with two unpalatable options - overrule Olmert and anger a powerful supporter, or go to Avoda hat in hand and ask it to join the government. Adding Shas and UTJ to the coalition wouldn't be an option with Shinui in the government, and ditching Shinui wouldn't be one without the National Union and Mafdal, so Avoda's bargaining power would be greatly increased. Based on past experience, my guess is that Sharon will try to stare Mafdal down as he did Shas in last year's budget crisis, but if it comes down to a choice, he'll anger Olmert rather than Eitam. That will keep his government intact for the time being - but it won't help the Israeli economy, and it will surely lead to trouble down the line.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
The Head Heeb World Tour: Will the unscheduled stops never stop?
Today's new arrival was Iceland, a country renowned for its sagas but not without honors in modern literature. Despite its relatively small population, Iceland has produced a Nobel Prize-winning author:
Halldór Laxness (1902-1998) is the undisputed master of contemporary Icelandic fiction and one of the greatest European novelists of the twentieth century. He was the first Icelander writing in his native language to achieve international renown, culminating with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.
Many of Laxness' novels from the 1920s and 1930s, such as Independent People, reflect his communist politics with scenes from the Icelandic class struggle, but he gradually abandoned communism after touring the Soviet Union in 1938. His later works "warned of the worship of totalitarian ideologies."
Iceland has also produced other notable authors, and no survey of the creative output of modern Iceland would be complete without Nina Tryggvadóttir. The works of this abstract artist have appeared throughout the world - and she shares with Laxness the distinction of having been barred from the United States for political reasons.
The Head Heeb World Tour: Central and South America
The history of Argentina during the first half of the nineteenth century was marked by disunion and open warfare between the provinces, and it was not until the 1860s that the fractious regional governments solidified into a nation. One of the leaders who played a great part in unifying the country, but is at the same time controversial for his dictatorial rule, was Juan Manuel de Rosas.
Rosas was born in 1793 and, as a boy, participated in repelling the 1807 British attack on Buenos Aires. By the 1820s, he was effectively an independent warlord in Buenos Aires province. In 1829, following a civil war and the rejection of a proposed constitution, Rosas was elected governor; with the exception of a three-year hiatus between 1832 and 1835, he would dominate Argentine politics for more than two decades. Although he remained nominally governor of Buenos Aires province and never held national office, he was able to rule the country ruthlessly:
His government became a ruthless tyranny. Assisted by spies, propagandists, and the Mazorca (a secret political society that degenerated into a band of assassins), he instituted a regime of terror. Though he was adulated in public, successive and continuous revolutions were organized against his rule.
The Rosas era, which was also marked by frequent warfare with neighboring countries and favoritism toward rural landlords, ended with his overthrow and exile in 1852. A liberal constitution was adopted the following year and remains substantially in effect today. Although Rosas' rule was a bloody and repressive period in a country that has suffered many such episodes, he is often regarded with mixed emotions:
Ironically, this federalist leader, who was nominally only the governor of Buenos Aires, did more than the unitarians to unify the country. Ironically, too, this enemy of intellectuals stimulated his political opponents to write in exile some of the finest works of the Spanish-American romantic period; among the writers were Domingo F. Sarmiento, Bartolomé Mitre, José Mármol, and Esteban Echeverría.
One of the unique features of Brazilian culture is the syncretic Candomble and Umbanda religions, which combine aspects of Catholicism with West African tradition and ritual. What is less well-known is that a syncretic form of Islam also existed in Brazil. This religion was the Malê cult, whose name is likely derived from "Mali:"
... the Malé cult, also called "religiao dos alufás" (religion of the alufás), "mussurumim" or "muçulmim" was developed by Islamic Africans that came to Brazil as slaves in the 18th century. The Islam practiced by the Africans was already different from the one practiced by the Arabs; in Brazil it was further transformed by the new influences it encountered here. The Malês remained deeply attached to the Qur'an, never departing from its teachings or its rituals; however, some practices and some names, were influenced by different places and cultures.
The Islamic roots of the Malê, adapted to the difficult conditions of slavery, were apparent in their customs of circumcision and fasting:
Members of the cult observed a number of important rituals. At the age of ten, they practiced male circumcision. Every year they observed the "assumy" (the annual fasting). During the fasting they would only eat at four o'clock in the morning and at eight o'clock at night. Their predominant diet would be sugar, honey, milk, rice, and yam. They were required to pray five times a day. Since they were slaves they often found it impossible to pray five times a day they reduced daily prayer to two main prayers that were attended by men and women. One was in the early morning; the other one at night. During these prayers, they undertook a ritual in which they washed their face, hands and feet, they sat in a basin of water.
During the era of slavery, the Malê were often leaders of slave communities and were instrumental in one of Brazil's largest slave revolts, the Salvador uprising of 1835. After emancipation, however, the Malê gradually assimilated or died away, and they are not believed to be a currently active religion.
Costa Rica is famous for being a peaceful social democracy in a rough neighborhood, but it's also home to a small Jewish community of 2000 to 3000 members. Although the Costa Rican Jews' proven roots extend only to the nineteenth century, there are persistent rumors that marrano communities existed long before that. Even non-Jewish Costa Ricans "have as part of their national myth the notion that the original Spanish population in Costa Rica included many Sephardic Jews." The current community, though, is mostly Ashkenazic:
... the present Jewish community dates from before World War II and is primarily of Eastern European origin, nearly half from two villages in Poland. They were apparently from within the Hasidic ambit since they use the Hasidic ritual Nusach Sephard in their services. When they came to Costa Rica they became known as "Polacos," (perhaps for the same reason as in Mexico where the Jews chose that term because they feared to be identified as "Judeos" or "Israelitas"), a term which had some derogatory connotations.
The Jewish community of Costa Rica - which today includes 40 to 50 Israeli families - is assimilated and successful; one of its members, Rebeca Grynspan Mayufis, was elected vice-president in 1994. Nearly all the Jews live in the capital in San Jose; most are members of the established Orthodox Centro Israelita, an Orthodox synagogue, although a Reform synagogue, Congregation B'nei Israel, was founded in 1989.
Guatemala has a troubled history of civil war, dictatorship and genocide, particularly during the early 1980s when General Efraín Rios Montt was the dominant political force. In the wake of the 1997 peace accords between the government and Mayan insurgents, human rights remain a problem which has worsened since the victory of Rios Montt protegé Alfonso Portillo Cabrera in the 2000 presidential election. At times, however, the rule of law prevails in Guatemala, as when the autogolpe of President Jorge Serrano Elias was defeated in 1993.
An autogolpe, or "self-coup," is the seizure of dictatorial power by a democratically elected leader, as was done by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in 1992. On May 25, 1993, Serrano sought to follow Fujimori's example:
Like Fujimori, Serrano had only a handful of deputies behind him in the Congress, while defeated parties easily formed a majority. Without a solid party, program for government, or team of cadres to support his administration, Serrano governed by improvisation. This suited his authoritarian personality, preference for confrontation over dialogue, and tendency to rely on the armed forces and intelligence service. For two and a half years, he tried to conciliate the groups arrayed against him. He made alliances in Congress and gained support from those who were eager to secure, in return for their cooperation, immunity from investigations into past corruption. Corruption in Congress and the judiciary grew. Finally, facing a major corruption scandal that threatened his presidency, Serrano attempted an autogolpe.
Serrano's power grab, however, encountered swift opposition from the media, street demonstrators and the country's electoral board, which refused to obey his order to schedule new elections. After several days of wavering, the military finally turned against Serrano, and by June 1, he was forced to leave the country.
One significant aspect of the Serrano affair is the role of the courts in removing him from power. Among Serrano's first acts upon seizing dictatorial authority was the dissolution of the Constitutional Court. The court, however, refused to accept this decree and, in a clandestine meeting, issued two successive rulings condemning the autogolpe as illegal. The Constitutional Court's resolve, along with the actions of civic groups and other independent government institutions, helped sway the military away from Serrano, and stands as the first occasion on which a court participated in defeating an extraconstitutional seizure of power. It would be eight more years, however, before another court - the Fiji Court of Appeal - succeeded in reversing a coup on its own.
UPDATE: Al-Muhajabah follows up on my reference to the Malê by discussing other Muslim groups in America.
Calling all Arabic speakers
This page has evidently linked to one of my articles from December. If anyone can let me know what it says, please comment.
Conflict of interest
A recent Second Circuit decision reveals a small problem with the American civil forfeiture system:
The defendants characterize their travails as "Kafkaesque." Our rehearsal of the facts in some detail below tends to support that view. The United States Customs Service wrongfully seized a large sum of money from Romano, which he alleges made it impossible for him to pay taxes he owed the IRS on those funds. Although the government paid interest on the seized money, it did so at a rate so low in comparison with the penalties and interest the IRS was charging him on the unpaid taxes that, ultimately, the amount Romano owed the government in taxes and interest on the fund far exceeded the amount in the fund. Meanwhile, Romano was hindered in bringing the civil proceedings to a conclusion by related criminal prosecutions which also eventually proved meritless. When Romano finally went to get his money back, it had been eaten up by taxes and penalties on it that, he says, he could not have paid because the government had wrongfully seized his money. We conclude, nonetheless, that Romano has not presented us, as an Article III court, with a legal basis upon which to deliver him from these circumstances. We are no more able to relieve Romano of the absurdity of his situation than we are able to relieve Kafka's Joseph K of the absurdity of his.
My first thought was of Joseph Heller rather than Kafka, but I share the general sentiment.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
The Head Heeb World Tour: Yet Another Unscheduled Stop
The number of Head Heeb-reading countries continues to grow, with the Czech Republic today becoming the fifty-fourth. It is not often remembered that, even after the postwar expulsion of the Sudeten Germans, a substantial German minority remained in the country:
In the Czech census of 2001 some forty thousand Czech citizens described their nationality as German, a little under half a percent of the population, but the number of Czechs who have at least partly German roots probably runs into hundreds of thousands.
During the Communist period, members of the German minority often faced official discrimination despite guarantees of equality. With the fall of Communism, however, the Czech government recognized the Germans as a national minority with linguistic and cultural rights. In 1992, the status of the Germans in the Czech Republic was entrenched in the terms of a German-Czech friendship treaty, and a further joint declaration in 1997 established a German-Czech Future Fund. In the same year, a bilingual Czech-German high school, the Thomas Mann Gymnazium, was established in Prague, which now draws many ethnic Czech students.
Neighboring Slovakia also has a small German minority, which, according to a report on Czech radio, is apparently not subject to the residual prejudice that exists in the Czech Republic:
... the kind of tension that exists between Czechs and Germans is largely absent in Slovakia. The current Slovak President, Rudolf Schuster, is himself of ethnic German origin, he speaks fluent German and his roots have never caused him political problems within the country [...] The gulf between the Slovaks and the Germans had never been as deep as it was here, between the Czechs and the Sudeten Germans who had been forced to stay here or who could stay here. I think one interpretation lies in history, because Slovaks had to fight for their survival against the Hungarians, historically seen.
Of course, as the radio commentator delicately pointed out, the Slovaks and Germans "acted as partners" during the same period that the Czech Republic was under occupation.
No, I don't think so
The results of a Google search for Jews of Prague began with the helpful suggestion, "Did you mean: jesus of Prague?"
Emirate within a republic
The Emir of Dutse, a traditional ruler in northern Nigeria's Jigawa state, has some interesting things to say about democracy, feminism and the role of traditional monarchs in modern Africa.
The Head Heeb World Tour: Australasia, part 2
Off the southern coast of New Zealand are a series of sub-Antarctic islands. Although small and forbidding in climate, they are unglaciated and above freezing much of the year, and are home to a wide variety of bird and animal species.
It is likely that the sub-Antarctic islands were visited by Maori fishermen, and sealers called at all of them during the nineteenth century, but the most colorful history probably belongs to the Auckland Islands. Since their discovery by whalers in 1806, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to establish farms or sheep stations:
Perhaps the most famous of these was the Hardwicke Settlement (1848 - 1852) which was created by the South Seas Whaling and Fishing Co. 200 settlers came out from Britain in response to a glowing 'ad campaign' - needless to say the whole project was a total disaster. The director of the settlement was given the title of Lieutenant Governor by the British parliament -- creating, in the Auckland Islands, a colony with the same status (at the time) as Canada, Australia and New Zealand!
A parallel attempt at settlement was made at the same time by a group of 150 Maori colonists from the Chatham Islands, who arrived in 1841. The following year, another group of Maori settled on the island with 30 Moriori slaves. The Maori colony lasted considerably longer than the British attempt, but by 1854, the last of the settlers had departed.
One of the most respected institutions in Pakistan is the Supreme Court, which has existed largely unchanged through alternating periods of military and civilian rule. The court has, in fact, been called upon to determine the legality of military coups on several occasions, beginning with Mohammed Ayub Khan's 1958 takeover. The 1958 decision, which adopted the theories of legal positivist Hans Kelsen and held that Ayub Khan's coup created its own legality, was repudiated in a 1971 case in which the court held that a military government - albeit one that had already fallen - was illegal.
Since then, the court has tended to adopt a pragmatic approach toward extra-constitutional changes in government, granting military rulers legitimacy under the "rule of necessity" but seeking to guide and constrain their actions. In some cases, as with Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, these efforts proved ultimately unsuccessful, with the ruler claiming the power to amend the constitution without regard to the courts. Pakistan's current military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, may now be taking the same path. In an initial decision rendered soon after his takeover in 1999, the Supreme Court ordered that elections be held within three years. At first, it appeared that Musharraf might follow the court's timetable, with parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2002. Rather than stand for re-election himself, however, Musharraf held a referendum that extended his term to 2007.
This referendum, like the initial takeover, was challenged before the Supreme Court. The court ruled, however, that an up-or-down referendum on Musharraf's rule was a valid substitute for an election.:
... the word 'referendum' is of Latin origin which means 'things to be referred'. It is derived from the French term 'referer' or from the Latin term 'referre' and a compound verb formed from the prefix 're', meaning, 'back' and 'ferre' meaning 'carry' and referendum is an adoption of 'neture gerundive of referre'. The terms 'plebiscite' and 'referendum' are interchangeable. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Volume XI, Second Edition, 1989, the word 'plebiscite', which is also of Latin origin, is made of two words 'plebis' and 'citus', which mean 'referring to the people'. The word 'plebiscite' is said to be derived from 'plebeian' and etymologically is a decree approved by the common people. In modern politics, plebiscite is a direct vote of the whole of the electors of a State to decide a question of public importance. Direct democracy elections or plebiscite are nearly as old as the idea of democracy. The notion of plebiscite goes back at least to the ancient Rome. A plebiscite is a direct vote by which voters are invited to accept or refuse the measure, program or the government of a person or a party, and is a consultation whereby citizens exercise the right of national self-determination. According to the book 'Direct Democracy' by Thomas E. Cronin, Harvard University Press, the Swiss Constitution of 1848 provided for a popular constitutional initiative. The Swiss have held more than 300 referendums and launched 135 initiatives since 1800s. Similarly, Australia, Italy, the Scandinavian nations, Canada, Ghana and the Philippines have also used referendums. Although the United States is one of the few democracies without a nationwide initiative or referendum, the State Department has some times recommended its use to settle political questions in other nations. In 1978, the US mediators urged President Anastasio Somoza to allow Nicaraguans to vote on the question whether he should remain in office or not.
The court was nevertheless "constrained to mention that in the year 2002, i.e. after 54 years of the creation of our country... we must observe that we have miserably failed to evolve a system of governance, transfer of power and to follow the constitutional path for achieving the welfare of the people and establishment of democratic institutions as envisaged by the Constitution." Whether that can be done, with or without the help of the courts, may determine Pakistan's future.
Singapore is a place you'd never expect to find Jews, but a small community, numbering about 300, lives there. The beginnings of the Singapore Jewish community can be traced to the early nineteenth century:
In 1824, the Sultan ceded the 200 square mile area to Great Britain, and in 1830, according to historical records, the Jewish population totaled nine Jewish traders living in Singapore. In 1840, the wealthy Sephardic Sassoon family established business interests in Singapore, and the Jewish population soon increased. The Jewish community managed to build a 40-person synagogue on a street still called "Synagogue Street." By local custom, the Jews were allowed to travel by rickshaw on the Sabbath.
Many of the early Jewish community leaders of Singapore were immigrants from Iraq; Jewish settlers from Persia and Europe also arrived in Singapore in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As befits a community living in such a busy entrepot, the Jews of Singapore were predominantly merchants; one, Sir Menasseh Meyer, was known as "the richest Jew in Asia."
At its height in the 1930s, the Jewish community of Singapore numbered about 1500. Many emigrated to Israel after the war, but the Magen Avot and Chesed El synagogues are still active.
170 miles from the coast of South Korea is the island province of Cheju-do. Cheju has been inhabited since the stone age, and was brought under the rule of the southern Korean kingdom of Silla during the Three Kingdoms period. In 1105, it was formally incorporated into the Koryo, kingdom, and since then has generally been considered an integral part of the Korean state.
During the period of Koryo and the dynasties that succeeded it, Cheju was often the destination of political exiles. Cheju in the twentieth century has been marked with violence on several occasions, beginning with a 1901 rebellion against French Catholic missionaries. In 1948, a much darker period in Cheju's history occurred when 30,000 to 60,000 people - out of a population of 300,000 - were massacred in the aftermath of a Communist-inspired uprising. The bloody suppression of the Cheju uprising, which prefigured the similar response to the Kwangju uprising of 1980, was largely ignored by Korean historians until recently, and the truth of the matter is still obscured by political rhetoric. The uprising of 1948 marked the end of Cheju's turbulent twentieth-century history; since its administrative separation from Cholla province in 1961, it has remained a largely peaceful agricultural province.
Thailand's rocky path to constitutional rule began with the Revolution of 1932. For a generation prior to the revolution, Thailand's modernization had produced a growing number of democratic-minded technocrats who grew increasingly impatient with absolute rule. In June 1932, matters came to a head:
The politics of Thailand took a very significant turn on 24 June 1932 when a group of young intellectuals, educated abroad and imbued with the concept of Western democracy, staged a bloodless coup demanding a change from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Determined to avoid any bloodshed, King Prajadhipok (Rama Vll) agreed to the abolition of absolute monarchy and the transfer of power to the constitution-based system of government as demanded. On 10 December 1932, King Prajadhipok signed Thailand's first constitution and thus ended 800 years of Thailand's absolute monarchy.
An abortive counter-revolution in 1933 was quickly suppressed by government troops. A number of military coups and constitutional changes have intervened since then, but the current constitution of Thailand, as amended in 1997, is largely derived from the 1932 charter.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
The Head Heeb World Tour: More Unscheduled Stops
Romania became the fiftieth Head Heeb-reading country earlier today, with a hit from the great city of Timisoara. This 800-year-old city in western Romania is famous for its opera house, cathedral and historic synagogues, but it is better known today as the place where the Romanian Revolution of 1989 began.
On December 16, 1989, demonstrators took to the streets in Timisoara to demand the departure of President Nicolae Ceausescu. The veteran dictator was less than pleased:
He and his wife Elena lashed out at the interior and defense ministers for their forces' inability to quell the protests. "Why didn't they shoot?" Ceausescu demanded to know. Putting all law enforcement agencies under his direct and immediate control, the Romanian leader ordered the army and police to fire on demonstrators with live ammunition.
The massacre of Timisoara, however, only ignited Romania's citizens. By December 20, the city had fallen, and massive demonstrations began in Bucharest the following day. On December 23, Ceausescu was captured while trying to flee the country, and he and Elena were executed on December 25 after being convicted of genocide by the provisional government. By the end of the year, the last resistance from the Securitate had been crushed and Romania joined the rest of eastern Europe in throwing off Communist rule.
Ethiopia also checked in to The Head Heeb for the first time today. This East African country has known more than its share of famine, dictatorship and civil war, but - with the exception of a nine-year occupation by Mussolini - it has never known colonial rule. This experience, along with the holy places laid down by Ethiopia's 1700-year Coptic Christian history, has given Ethiopians a sense of common history and national pride that is rare elsewhere in Africa.
One manifestation of this pride is that, almost alone among African countries, Ethiopia has a significant amount of internal tourism. Ethiopian as well as foreign pilgrims are drawn to such attractions as the 13 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the ancient capital of Axum and the island monasteries of Lake Tana. The latter are among the few places on earth where the ancient liturgical language of Ge'ez is still spoken.
Portugal includes, not only the western portion of the Iberian peninsula, but the nine Atlantic islands of the Azores. These islands have no indigenous population and have been Portuguese since their initial settlement in the 1420s, gaining the status of a diocese in 1534. During the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, they were an important source of immigration to Brazil, founding the city of Porto Alegre.
The Azores today are famous for the twice-annual Feast of the Holy Spirit, marked by bullfights and the distribution of food to the poor. Surprisingly, the Azores also have Jewish roots:
In the last century, the city [of Angra] became the residence of a number of Jewish families, engaged in traditional trading activities that, ever since the time of the island's discovery, had served to turn Angra into a major port between Europe and America. The Jewish cemetery still remains today as a testimony to their presence
Since the Carnation Revolution and the democratization of Portugal following the Salazar dictatorship, the Azores have been an autonomous province of Portugal with a local parliament and self-government.
The disunion of the Comoros
One of Africa's lesser-known but more contentious states, the Union of the Comoros, may be reverting to type after a year of relative peace. The immediate cause of the trouble is contention between Federal President Azali Assoumani and the president of the island of Grand Comore, but it has its roots in a long history of instability.
The Comoros were settled in the tenth century by Shirazi traders. The islands' tradition of fractiousness was visible even then, with a network of quarreling sultans spreading throughout the islands; at one time, there were 12 sultans on the 500-square-mile Grand Comore alone.
In the early 19th century, the Comoros came under French rule, and were administered from Madagascar until they became a separate colony in 1948. In 1961, they achieved internal self-government, and the victory of a pro-independence party in the 1972 election made separation from France inevitable. In July 1975, Grand Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli became the independent Republic of the Comoros, with only the island of Mayotte choosing to remain with France.
Mayotte, it may fairly be said, got the better of the bargain. In the quarter-century of Comoran independence, the country has suffered more than 20 coups, with strongmen and mercenary leaders taking turns in the presidential palace. The coup de grace was administered in 1997, when Anjouan seceded from the federation, followed shortly thereafter by Mohéli. An attempt by government forces to reconquer Anjouan was repelled by the secessionists, and although Mohéli eventually drifted back into the federation, negotiations with the Anjouanais dragged on under the auspices of the OAU.
Ultimately, after yet another coup put Assoumani in power on Grand Comore, island leaders issued a joint declaration agreeing in principle to a federal republic. In 2001, a draft constitution was promulgated under which each island would be a sovereign state with its own president. Article 9 provided that the powers of the federal government would be limited to "religion, nationality, coinage, foreign relations, external defense and national symbols." Power over inter-island affairs or island-level decisions that affected other islands would be shared between the federal and island governments as provided by an organic law and the judgments of a constitutional court. (I think so, anyway - I'd appreciate it if someone would check my French.)
The road to reunion remained difficult. In November 2001, Anjouan suffered a coup of its own, which one commentator drily stated "may disrupt the national reconciliation process." An invasion of Mohéli from an unknown quarter days before a referendum on the new constitution also didn't help matters. Nevertheless, on December 27, 2001, the voters of the Comoros approved the constitution by a 77 percent margin. Subsequent referenda in March and April 2002 resulted in Anjouan and Mohéli formally rejoining the federation, and Assoumani became the Second Republic's first elected president in May.
The problems began soon afterward. The elected president of Grand Comore, Abdou Soule Elbak, was a bitter rival of Assoumani, and he quickly began to quarrel with the federal government over the boundary of its constitutional power. He contended that the "external defense" limitation in Article 9 meant that local policing was exclusively an island matter, and also demanded the "financial autonomy" guaranteed by Article 11. According to that article, revenue-sharing between the federal and island governments was supposed to be fixed by an organic law, but no such law was passed. The result was that many businesses on Grand Comore received two tax bills - one from the Union and one from the island - and couldn't even be sure which court to appeal to for relief.
Last month, matters took a turn for the worse when two ministers in the Grand Comore government were arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup against Assoumani, a charge Elbak hotly denies. Elbak retaliated quickly by requesting that the EU suspend its payments to the federal government for fishing rights until the power-sharing dispute was resolved. This week, joined by the president of Anjouan, Elbak declared that "dialogue between the three presidents and Assoumani has completely broken down."
The Comoro situation is a textbook example of what happens when power-sharing agreements are not spelled out with sufficient detail. The 2001 constitution left many details unspecified, in the anticipation that they would be filled in by cooperative legislation and the judgments of the constitutional court. In a country where the dominant political tradition is feudal and both the rule of law and trust between political leaders are virtually nonexistent, however, neither of these things can be taken for granted.
The Head Heeb World Tour: Australasia, Part 1
One of the more remote territories of Australia is Christmas Island, a dot on the map in the Indian Ocean with a population of 2500 people and 120 million red crabs. There is no indigenous population; the people of Christmas Island are a mix of Euro-Australians and descendants of imported Chinese and Malay phosphate miners.
The island was, not surprisingly, discovered on December 25, 1643, but remained unsettled for more than 200 years afterward. It came relatively late to Australian control; it was administered as part of the Straits Settlements until 1948 and jointly with Singapore until Malaysian independence in 1957. During the 1970s, a nascent labor movement made the island politically volatile, but many of the islanders' grievances were alleviated during the 1980s through improved working conditions and infrastructure, local self-government and the provision of Australian citizenship.
More recently, however, Christmas Island has become controversial again with the construction of a detention center for asylum-seeking refugees. The conversion of Christmas Island took place in the wake of the 2001 Tampa incident, in which a Norwegian freighter carrying 438 Middle Eastern refugees was stranded offshore, creating a diplomatic standoff between Australia, Norway and Indonesia. The Tampa refugees were ultimately taken to Nauru for processing, but since then, Christmas Island itself has become a holding center, with a 1200-bed detention facility nearing completion.
Since Hong Kong was reincorporated into China in 1997, its highest court has been the Final Court of Appeal. The court has appellate jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters and, at least in theory, has unlimited power to reverse or modify the decisions of lower courts.
The court is officially charged with safeguarding the Hong Kong constitution and the "one country, two systems" framework. In practice, it has been subject to criticism for being overly compliant toward the government in high-profile cases. One such occasion was the case of Ling v. Director of Immigration, in which the court initially ruled that thousands of mainland Chinese with one Hong Kong parent had the right to reside in Hong Kong. Within days after this decision was rendered, the Chinese government informed the court that its decision had to be "rectified." On a motion for reconsideration, the court acknowledged that the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Congress had final authority to interpret the Hong Kong constitution. Later, the Standing Committee overruled the court's decision, and the great majority of the 5000 applicants for permanent residency were ultimately deported.
Still, in ordinary cases, the Final Court of Appeal has shown a considerable degree of independence. In some cases, it has continued to rule against the government, as in this year's decision in Singh v. Director of Immigration, in which it prohibited the deportation of an Indian national on constitutional grounds. Like many courts that function in semi-autocratic environments, the Final Court of Appeal has developed a finely tuned sense of what it can get away with - and its freedom of action, although constrained in politically sensitive cases, is otherwise wide.
Gurcharan Das wonders what language they'll be speaking in India fifty years from now:
One possibility is that the status quo will continue - a small elite will be comfortable in English while the masses converse in the vernaculars. A second prospect is that almost half the population might speak English to varying degrees of comfort. A third option is that there will be a linguistic renaissance of the vernaculars and we might have a bilingual middle class. A fourth possibility is the Sangh Parivar's dream of a Hindi rashtra.
Das is not without regret over the possible loss of the vernacular literary traditions, but he makes the point that "our vernaculars were ‘created’ and are not primordial, as many vernacular nationalists would like to think:"
... we were always relaxed about our languages and the consciousness of a 'mother tongue' did not even appear until the Europeans arrived. Interestingly, in Europe, vernacularisation of Latin happened at the same time, but there it led to the nation-state. Prior to our vernacular millennium, for a thousand years or more our literary world was cosmopolitan as Sanskrit held sway over South Asia, and as Latin did in Europe. Pollock says, "there was nothing unusual about finding a Chinese traveller studying Sanskrit grammar in Sumatra in the 7th century, an intellectual from Sri Lanka writing Sanskrit literary theory in the northern Deccan in the tenth, or Khymer princes composing Sanskrit poetry for the magnificent pillars of Mebon and Pre Rup in Ankor in the twelfth." Again, unlike Europe where Latin was the language of power and the Roman state, the Sanskrit cosmopolis was dharmic and voluntaristic - the Shakas and Kushanas, for example, as they migrated into India adopted Sanskrit and its culture.
He urges that Indians accept the "global ascent of English as another cosmopolitan phase in our history" rather than indulging in linguistic nationalism.
Japan is one of the few developed countries besides the United States and South Korea that still uses capital punishment. About 600 executions have taken place in Japan since 1945; lately, there have been 4 to 5 executions in an average year with about 50 prisoners on death row.
Death row conditions in Japan have been widely criticized. The appeal process from sentence to execution takes an average of 18 years, during which the condemned prisoner is held in solitary confinement "to avoid disturbing the other felons." The prisoner typically receives no more than an hour's notice that he is to be hanged:
Executions are usually carried out on Friday mornings, and convicts are not given advance notification. Surviving any Friday past nine a.m. guarantees another week of life.
The family is also not notified until after the execution, as the Japanese Foreign Ministry explains:
... no outside persons, including family members, are to be notified in advance of the date of execution. Reasons for this treatment are as follows: the family might experience unnecessary mental anguish, if they are notified of the date of execution beforehand, and, if the prisoners, whose death penalty have become final, receive their family visit after they have been notified of the date of execution, they may become mentally distressed and be unable to maintain calmness.
Despite criticism, support for the death penalty in Japan has remained steady, with about 80 percent of the population believing that exceptionally heinous murderers should be executed.
The oldest civilization of Malaysia was likely in Kedah. According to archaeological finds, a flourishing kingdom existed there as early as the fourth century:
Before the sea route around the peninsula was firmly established, trade between India and China was conducted across the peninsular isthmus. One of the primary trading centers for this overland trade was a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that flourished from the fourth to the seventh century in the Bujang Valley, just south of the peak of Gunung Jerai (and thus easily located by early Indian mariners). Like Malacca a thousand years later, the Bujang Valley civilization attracted a cosmopolitan population of merchants and traders, including Indians, Chinese, Achenese (from Sumatra), Burmese, and Arabs. With the arrival of Arab traders, Islam arrived on the Peninsula for the first time, though the most substantial cultural influence came from Pallava India.
During its early history, Kedah was dominated in turn by the Srivijayan empire, the Thai states and the kingdom of Malacca. Indians visited on missions of commerce and war, and Kedah is identified frequently in Indian literature, with one eighth-century volume referring to it as the "seat of all felicities." Like much of the rest of Malaysia, Kedah was successively Buddhist and Hindu, with Islam becoming dominant around the 15th century. By that time, dominance of the Malay peninsula had passed to Malacca, where it would remain until the arrival of Portuguese and British conquerors.
Monday, March 24, 2003
The Head Heeb World Tour: Unscheduled Stops
The Head Heeb received its first visit today from Turkey. The largest city in this nation of 67 million is Istanbul, not Constantinople, much as some Greek nationalists prefer to think otherwise. It turns out, though, that the two names were once used together:
The confusion is rooted in the various names the city assumed under the Ottomans in the centuries after their conquest of the city in 1453. Although the Ottomans did not purposely change the city's name, they opted to make "Constantinople" into a more Turkish style name "Konstantiniye" (which loosely translates as "of Constantine"), however variations on Konstantiniye soon cropped up.
Others have speculated that, "when [Byzantines] they wanted to say 'to the City', they said 'eist enpolin' (is-tin-polin), which was the (possible) origin of the name 'Istanbul.'"
By whatever name, Istanbul is home to many holy places, including the great Ayasophia mosque and the Ahrida Synagogue, with its platform shaped like the prow of a ship. Istanbul has a rich Jewish history extending to Byzantine times, when the Romaniote Jews lived in Kuzguncuk on the eastern side of the Bosporus. After the expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews were invited to settle in the Ottoman Empire, with many of them living around the Galata tower. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, the center of Jewish life in Istanbul had moved to Balat on the southern bank of the Golden Horn, where many of the city's 20,000 Jews still live.
Today also marked the first visit from Saudi Arabia, a country much in the news for its oil wealth, its support of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect and as the site of the Hajj. Today, however, we will focus on none of those things, but on the component parts from which the kingdom sprang: Hejaz and Nejd.
Hejaz, a region on the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula running from Aqaba south to Mecca, was historically the more settled of the two regions. An article written in 1911, at a time when it was still an Ottoman vilayet, relates its history thus:
Hejaz, together with the other provinces of Arabia which orf the overthrow of the Bagdad Caliphate in 1258 had fallen under Egyptian domination, became by the conquest of Egypt in 1517 a dependency of the Ottoman empire. Beyond assuming the title of Caliph, neither Salim I. nor his successors interfered much in the government, which remained in the hands of the sharifs of Mecca until the religious upheaval which culminated at the beginning of the 18th century in the pillage of the holy cities by the Wahhabi fanatics. Mehemet Ali, viceroy of Egypt, was entrusted by the sultan with the task of establishing order. and after several arduous campaigns the Wahhabis were routed and their capital Deraiya in Nejd taken by Ibrahim Pasha in 1817. Hejaz remained in Egyptian occupation until 1845, when its administration was taken over directly by Constantinople, and it was constituted a vilayet under a vali or governor general. The population is estimated at 300,000, about half of which are inhabitants of the towns and the remainder Bedouin, leading a nomad or pastoral life.
In contrast, Nejd - which occupies the remainder of modern Saudi Arabia - was virtually independent and occupied primarily by Bedouin tribes, although its capital impressed nineteenth-century travelers:
Its well ordered and thriving appearance is commented on by all these travellers. The town is surrounded by a wall and dominated by the emir’s palace, a stately, if somewhat gloomy building, the walls of which are quite 75 ft. high, with six towers, the whole giving the idea of an old French or Spanish donjon.
The coalescence of the Hejaz and Nejd took place over a period of 16 years beginning in 1916, when the Sherif of Mecca rebelled against Ottoman rule with the aid of T.E. Lawrence. After the war, the Arabian Revolt turned into a civil war between the Hejaz and Nejd, from which Ibn Saud, the king of Nejd, emerged victorious in 1924. Eight years later, the two countries were formally united, creating the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it exists today.
The Head Heeb World Tour: Eastern Europe
The Head Heeb World Tour moves on to Eastern Europe, where I've received visitors from the troubled Balkans and points north:
Croatia is the home of Dragan Antulov, who ought to be on many more blogrolls than he currently is. As he points out, the Croatian courts have also delivered a historic judgment:
Mirko Norac is going to enter history books as the first general to be sentenced for war crimes by his own country's courts. Young general, who had earned his rank and fame by organising successful defence of Gospiæ (Gospic) in Autumn 1991, during Croatian war against Federal-backed Serb rebels, has just been sentenced to 12 years. He was sentenced for the role in massacre and disappearance of few dozens of local Serbs. Two of his associates – Tihomir Oreškoviæ (Tihomir Oreskovic) and Stjepan Grandiæ (Stjepan Grandic) – were sentenced to 15 and 10 years, respectively.
Dragan's hometown, Split, is a 1700-year-old city on the Adriatic that was founded in the time of Emperor Diocletian, who built a palace there. Today, it is an important port and tourist attraction, and is the home of one of Croatia's great universities.
Proletarios Epanastatis discusses the music of Greece and its discontents:
My father likes to joke that, in terms of popular culture, everything in Greece is ten years behind the U.S. and Britain. Thus, in the interim period between the fall of the colonels' regime and his immigration to the U.S.--we're talking mid-seventies here--every friend of his with an instrument and a smidge of talent was forming a rock band, and traversing the path from blues-rock to psychedelia traced out a decade previous by the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
Epanastatis reports that Nikos Portokaloglou is doing something more original, but that "the recognizably Greek elements [in his music] are treated as folkloric ornamentation on an underlying form borrowed from Hollywood." He regards this as symptomatic of a larger trend in regional music:
The world is replete with musical genres and movements that would have been impossible without the Euro-American culture industry, but sound nothing like its products: South Asian bhangra, Algerian rai, Brazilian tropicalismo, and every genre of African popular music, to name a few. None has come from the Balkans or Eastern Europe. Why?
The thousand-year-old Jewish community of Hungary is one of the few growing Jewish populations in Central and Eastern Europe. The 100,000 Jews of Hungary are still a far cry from their prewar population of about a million, but they form a relatively young and vibrant community compared to others in the region. In Budapest, there is a Jewish community of 80,000, the largest in Central Europe; the city boasts 23 synagogues, an active rabbinic seminary and community center, and a flourishing cultural life.
All the same, anti-Semitism remains a concern, especially from the Hungarian Justice and Life Party, a virulently nationalist party led by István Csurka. The MIÉP, as it is known in Hungary, won 14 seats in the 1998 parliamentary election with 5.5 percent of the vote, and Csurka has called for the purging of Jewish influence from Hungary as well as the expulsion of all Roma. In the 2002 election, the MIÉP declined to 4.75 percent of the vote and lost its representation in Parliament, but it continues to have a substantial following in Budapest.
Piotr Nowaczyk, an eminent commercial lawyer in Poland, has been appointed to the International Court of Arbitration, a worldwide alternative dispute resolution system established by the International Chamber of Commerce. The ICA, as Nowaczyk explains, is less a court than a system to coordinate international business arbitrations and ensure uniform and expert awards:
The Court monitors arbitration proceedings in every case to which arbitrators are appointed in line with the ICC rules. The arbitrators are subject to a certain degree of discreet supervision by members of the Court. Plenary court sessions held once a month focus on such matters as reviews of pending cases and progress made by arbitrators toward resolution. The arbitrators can rely on the great support of the Court Secretariat, which employs 50 people of 20 nationalities, and over half of these are multilingual lawyers from international legal offices. Each one has experience in arbitration or in international commercial transactions. They can prepare a case, make written reports and review some of the legal issues even before the arbitrator receives the case files. The Secretariat firmly but discreetly reminds arbitrators of deadlines and makes sure that they are observed.
Although the ICC is a private organization rather than an inter-governmental body, national governments, including that of Poland, often agree to submit commercial cases to arbitration.
Among the 400 people arrested thus far in connection with the assassination of the Prime Minister of Serbia are the former head of State Security and his assistant:
Jovica Stanisic was born in 1950 in Backa Palanka, as was Milosevic-era Customs Director Mihalj Kertes, with whom he later worked closely.
Franko “Frankie” Simatovic, the former commander of an armed secret police unit called the Red Berets, was also arrested. The investigation is focusing on organized crime figures.
Another road map
Those following the link from Kesher Talk on the Jewish community of Cairo can find my post here.
Mapping out the peace
It looks like the Bush administration may be getting real about implementing the road map to Palestinian statehood:
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is establishing a special department that will be responsible for implementing the road map for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Well, we can hope so. If there's one thing that's become clear during the past two years, it's that Bush's laissez-faire approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn't worked. As long as Sharon and Arafat continue to act as each other's enablers - a situation that has been greatly aggravated by the Bush administration's hands-off policy - the current bloody stalemate is likely to continue.
The road map is fraught with danger, as is any plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, because it requires concrete action by both sides at each step of the process and provides for real international supervision, it is the most credible proposal put forward thus far - and, more to the point, all the other alternatives are worse. The road map should be treated as a draft, with the final version implemented in consultation with both the Israelis and Palestinians, but it should be put in action as soon as possible and substantially in its present form. The last Persian Gulf conflict led to historic breakthroughs in the Israeli-Arab conflict and, if properly managed, so can this one.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
The Head Heeb World Tour: Northern Europe
Finland is a country very dear to my heart, both because of the warm welcome I was given during my 1997 visit and because of Finland's protection of its Jewish population during the Second World War. Finland was attacked by Stalin in 1939, which put it on the Axis side of the war by default; faced with the choice between allying with Hitler or being conquered by Stalin, the Finns can hardly be blamed for choosing Hitler. All the same, Finland never became a Nazi satellite; it remained a democracy through the war, and Jews continued to have all the rights of Finnish citizens. Some, in fact, served in the army alongside German soldiers:
The comradeship-in-arms with Germany during the Continuation War did not alter the status of Jews in Finland or in its army. Jewish citizens served in the Finnish army, in women's voluntary defence services and in other duties alongside other Finns. The same was true with regard to all the ethnic minorities, Tatars, Russians, Gipsies, Lapps, without differentiation.
I met a number of Jewish war veterans in Helsinki and Turku in 1997, in the course of researching an article I never wrote. One of them, an army nurse, was awarded the Iron Cross for her work in a German field hospital; many others had surreal stories of friendships with German soldiers who would likely have killed them under other circumstances. Throughout the war, the Helsinki synagogue was down the street from the German army headquarters - and, as Jewish veteran Harry Matso told me, the only difference between then and now is that in those days, the synagogue didn't need a security guard.
The Jews of Finland particularly revere Carl Gustav Mannerheim, who led the Finnish armies through the war and briefly served as President. The story goes that Hitler demanded that the Finnish Jews be deported, and that Mannerheim answered "over my dead body." The story has been called into question, but every Finnish Jew I met swore to it, and it would be entirely in character for Mannerheim. What is certain is that on December 6, 1944, Mannerheim became the first Finnish head of state to visit the Helsinki synagogue and thank the Jewish community for its contribution to the war effort, and that every Jew in Finland considers him a great man.
Latvia will decide this September whether to join the European Union. Polls earlier this month show a slim majority of Latvian citizens favoring membership in the hope that it will speed the country's rapid economic growth and modernization. Slightly more than a decade after securing its independence from the Soviet Union, Latvia has shed much of its Soviet-era decay, but its economy is still marginal by EU standards. The status of the Russian minority, many of whom remain ineligible for citizenship even under the relaxed criteria adopted in 1998, is also an open question.
Norway was the home of one of my favorite nineteenth-century playwrights: Henrik Ibsen. I wonder, sometimes, what the author of A Doll's House and An Enemy of the People would have made of the trials of Norway's current Crown Princess Mette-Marit.
It could have been a classic Ibsen story - a hardworking single mother who had made some bad choices, suddenly thrust into the public eye and forced to confront the disapproval of society. Social rigidity apparently isn't what it used to be, though; unlike the typical Ibsen protagonist, Mette-Marit didn't have to stand alone. The royal family liked what they saw and supported her throughout the engagement; now, almost two years after her marriage to the crown prince, she also seems to have won the acceptance of the people. The idea of disgrace beyond redemption, which permeated Ibsen's plays, is much less of a force now; the debate in Mette-Marit's case turned out to be whether she had redeemed herself or whether she had nothing to redeem in the first place.
Sweden, once a near-monoculture, is becoming a multicultural society. Thanks to the ease of population movement between EU nations and Sweden's openness to refugees and asylum- seekers during the past generation, one ninth of the population of 9 million is foreign-born, a ratio higher than the United States. This has led not only to a proliferation of minority cultures in Sweden but to increased assertiveness among long-established minorities; many Swedish Jews, after pursuing a "policy of invisibility" for generations, became more assertive in expressing Jewish viewpoints during the 1980s and 1990s.
One neighborhood that is particularly associated with immigrants is Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb where about 80 percent of the population is foreign-born. The patois of the area, which is a combination of Swedish, immigrants' native tongues and American pop culture references, is known as "Rinkeby Swedish" and is reportedly imitated by Swedish teenagers seeking street credibility. A few years ago, though, Rinkeby distinguished itself in another way when its students topped Stockholm in academic test scores. Rinkeby has also become the home of the Institute of Multilingual Research, whose mission is to collect the data that will help Sweden and its immigrant population come to terms with each other.
A late Western European arrival also checked in to The Head Heeb for the first time today: the Archduchy of Luxembourg. This country of 450,000 people has the distinction of being the world's wealthiest nation, with a per capita GDP exceeding that of the United States. Some 27 percent of the population is foreign-born, mostly economic migrants from elsewhere in the EU. Luxembourg is also famous for its castles, including those of Vianden, Clervaux and the fortress of Luxembourg City itself.
Luxembourgers speak three native languages: French, German and Luxembourgeois. Each of these has a distinct role in the public sphere; French is the language of the courts and government, German is the language of business and media, and Luxembourgeois is the language of daily life. Luxembourgeois is a Germanic language that is related to Middle High German and is as distinct from modern German as the Dutch language. Although written Luxembourgeois is not taught in the schools, it is an important source of national identity and has undergone a modest literary revival.
The Head Heeb World Tour: Western Europe, Part 2
In addition to its many other virtues, Italy is a great place to eat. One of my personal favorites is the cuisine of Sardinia:
...the land and the sea return to labour unique produce: mushrooms, wild boars and game, wheat, sheep's milk, lobsters and fish, grapes and wines of superb quality.
Try Sardinian eggplant and pork, and there's plenty of other good food coming from Tuscany and Lombardy.
One of the victors in the Netherlands' recent parliamentary election was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali Muslim immigrant who ran on the center-right VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy) ticket. Hirsi Ali is not the first Muslim to be elected to the Dutch parliament, but she is unique in campaigning not only for greater tolerance of Muslim immigrants but against repression of women within Muslim communities. For this, she has received death threats and is under heavy police protection.
Hirsi Ali's position highlights the dissonance between the desire of Muslim immigrants for greater communal rights and the desire of some individual members of the community to escape social pressure and repression. There is a considerable movement within European Muslim communities for national minority status, which would place them on an equal footing with "native" minority populations. One of the most important aspects of national minority status, though, is that it confers individual as well as communal rights; the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is that any minority group member has the right to opt out of participating in minority institutions. The decision of whether and to what extent to assimilate is at bottom an individual choice, and care needs to be taken that individual Muslims - particularly women, who are often vulnerable to social pressure - have the ability to make this choice freely.
Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities: Ceuta and Melilla. These cities on the Moroccan coast, which have been under Spanish rule since the 15th century, received autonomous status in 1995.
Outwardly, Ceuta and Melilla appear well integrated into Spanish society; both cities have historically voted for the center-right Popular Party of Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, and separatist parties have gained little foothold. The catch is that as many as two thirds of the ethnic Moroccan population of Ceuta and Melilla do not have Spanish nationality, and many are sympathetic to Morocco's territorial claims. Some also see an inconsistency between Spain's insistence on retaining Ceuta and Melilla and its claims on the British enclave of Gibraltar.
Switzerland may be the only country where naturalization is a local matter. Under Swiss immigration law, a candidate for citizenship must first become a citizen of a commune and canton, which are free to establish their own conditions for naturalization. In many cases, this involves referenda at the communal and cantonal level at which established citizens vote on whether the candidates should be naturalized. Not surprisingly, this means that many immigrants from Muslim countries, even those who have resided in Switzerland for extended periods and become fluent in Swiss German, are denied citizenship - often by voters who know little about them besides their names. The disenfranchisement of immigrants is made even more complete by the fact that Swiss law does not grant automatic citizenship to children of foreigners born on Swiss soil; a Swiss diplomat has estimated that 6 to 8 percent of the population are foreigners who would have citizenship if Switzerland adopted naturalization laws similar to the United States or France.
In the United Kingdom - well, not exactly - is the Isle of Man, an island of 74,000 people located between Britain and Ireland. The Isle of Man holds a centuries-old place in Britain's constitutional structure as a "dependency of the British crown." As such, its people are British citizens and carry British passports, but the island is not actually part of the UK. It has many of the trappings of an independent nation, including a thousand-year-old parliament and its own stamps, courts and international data code. By unwritten custom, Parliament does not legislate for the Isle of Man except in extraordinary circumstances, which has allowed it to develop a reputation as a tax haven.
The Channel Islands, divided into the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, hold similar constitutional status. Guernsey itself includes the two smaller islands of Alderney and Sark, which fall under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Guernsey but are internally self-governing. Sark is the last remaining feudal nation in Europe; it is legally the property of its Seigneur and exists under a royal charter dating to 1565. The parliament of Sark, the Chief Pleas, is composed of the Seigneur, forty tenants-in-chief and twelve elected representatives. Other medieval Norman customs persist on Sark, including the famous Clameur de Haro:
Under Norman custom a person can obtain immediate cessation of any action he considers to be an infringement of his rights. At the scene he must, in front of witnesses, recite the Lord's prayer in French and cry out "Haro, Haro, Haro! A mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort!" The Clameur must be registered at the Greffe Office, and a deposit (£7.50) made. All actions must cease until the matter is heard by the Court and if, after investigation, the complaint is disallowed, the deposit is forfeited, and the complainant can be liable to a claim for damages.
By all accounts, the current Seigneur, John Michael Beaumont, is a progressive and accessible feudal lord; among other things, he answers e-mail.