Recycling history

The International Olympic Committee awarded Germany the 1936 Games before Hitler came to power.
But once German Chancellor, he seized the Olympics as a powerful propaganda tool.
Governments, including those of the United States and the UK, rejected calls for a boycott, even though Jewish athletes had been removed from Germany’s Olympic and Davis Cup teams.
However, international opposition to the Berlin games was great and it is a little known fact that ‘counter-Olympics’ were planned in a number of places.
The biggest of these was to be in Spain. History has forgotten it, not least because the proposed People’s Olympiad never took place.
In the summer of 1936 Spain saw the rise of its own branch of fascism. General Franco moved to seize power and the Spanish Civil War began.
The People’s Olympiad had to be cancelled.
Seven decades on, though, and with another Olympics underway, the spirit of the event is being recalled.
Members of the National Clarion Cycling Club had been expected to take part in the alternative Olympiad in Spain.
After it was cancelled – and with the war in full swing – two decided to undertake an amazing ride from Glasgow to Barcelona to raise money for the Spanish Republic (two other club members were to be killed in the civil war).
That was in 1938. On Wednesday, July 30, 2008, a group of 14 riders left Scotland to begin a 20-day ride on the cyclists’ 70-year-old trail.
They are due to arrive in Barcelona on Tuesday, August 19.
Anna Martí and publisher Alan Warren, who have done so much to keep alive the memory of Welsh veterans of the Spanish Civil War, are on the team.
Maite de Paul Otxotorena, who was born in Spain’s Basque country but now lives near Ammanford, is there in support and has organised the Spanish leg of the route.
Maite says the event ties together not only the 1936 Olympics and those currently being held in Beijing (which have been controversial in their own way too) but also Barcelona’s Games in 1992.
“I was a child in Franco’s military Spain when our memory of our history had been lost,” she says. “Events like the 1992 Olympics and the Expo put an international focus on Spain. People started to research our history.
“But as I have been contacting the mayors and the cycling clubs in the places we will be travelling through no one has heard of the other Olympics planned for 1936.
“Events like this are part of the end of our amnesia.”
I spoke to Anna Martí before the ride as she took a break in her training for the 2,000km journey.
“I have been told to take plenty of clothes for Scotland,” she told me. “But when we get to Spain we come through an area which is like a desert.
“It will be like cycling towards the centre of the Earth.”
:: First published in The Big Issue Cymru, July 28, 2008

Fighting for liberties

Can there really be a person of integrity at the heart of British politics?
Shadow home secretary David Davis has resigned as an MP to force a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency.
He’ll fight the by-election on the issue of the new 42-day terror detention limit and as a fight against the Government’s erosion of civil liberties.
“I will argue in this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government,” he says.

Keeping Faith in the USA

On Saturday June 14, Bruce Springsteen plays at the Millennium Stadium.
It will be his first concert in Wales, although he’s been coming to the UK since 1975.
Back then, a huge amount of hype surrounded his third album, Born to Run.
“At last, London is ready for Bruce Springsteen,” boasted the record company’s posters – some of which Springsteen himself climbed up onto billboards to rip down.
In 1984 and 1985 he rode the hype, and indeed contributed to it himself, for the Born in the USA album and tour, a period so overblown that for many it still dominates his image.
Hardcore fans, and he inspires dedication most artists can only dream of, know there is much more to him than that.
In his writing he’s covered every subject from the economic despair of many of America’s industrial heartlands, to the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the atrocities of September 11.
The plight of refugees, and immigrants to the United States from Mexico in particular, have been central to his work.
“For everything the North gives, it exacts a price in return,” warns one Mexican father as his sons head across the Rio Bravo.
Campaigning journalist John Pilger called Springsteen a “fine humanitarian artist”, real praise from someone who has charted so much that has gone wrong in US foreign policy.
In February 1999 a 22-year-old West African immigrant named Kadiatou Diallo died in a hail of police bullets in New York.
Springsteen wrote a song about it, causing the city’s police department to boycott his gigs at Madison Square Garden.
But where are the major artists covering the significant events in Britain’s social and political life?
Why did no artist see the 2005 shooting of unarmed Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by London police officers as a subject for protest?
Billy Bragg has said: “Springsteen makes me keep faith in America”.
Bragg is a dedicated Springsteen fan. So are James Dean Bradfield, of the Manic Street Preachers, and Swansea-born comedian Rob Brydon, who already has his ticket for the Millennium Stadium gig.
And so am I.
I think we all need Bruce – not just America.

(Bruce fans go here.)

Ana Lucia Pinzon is the most senior female trade unionist in Colombia.
And being a trade unionist – of either gender – – in Colombia takes a special kind of courage. An estimated 2,600 have been killed over the last 20 years.
The US and the UK have poured weapons into this deeply divided country, claiming to be fighting a war against drugs.
But Justice for Colombia, a British-based NGO, and others, claim the weapons are instead used in a bloody counter-insurgency war.
And according to Amnesty International, all sides in the conflict, including the army and army-backed paramilitaries, have been “responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
I only know what I read. Ana will describe all this first hand when she gives a special talk at the Memorial Hall, Bodhyfryd, Wrexham, at 2.30pm on Saturday (June 7).

::First published in The Big Issue Cymru, June 2-8, 2008

WAG’s asylum point of principle

There was a predictable outcry when the Welsh Assembly Government decided recently to allow asylum seekers, who have been refused permission to stay in the UK, access to hospital treatment.
It was the usual knee-jerk reaction. One has to wonder what these people would do if they came across someone in pain, or suffering a life-threatening illness, but who they suspected to be from abroad.
Would they check first whether they should be ‘here’, whether they pay their taxes?The Tories, as Betsan Powys of the BBC, pointed out, got very confused over the new policy.
Obviously, they didn’t want to appear soft on foreigners – heaven forbid – but the true blues are a little wet over this side of Offa’s Dyke, a little too caring.
Today, in an excellent letter to the Western Mail, Cathy Owens, programme director for Amnesty International in Wales, describes the “outrage from the usual quarters about queue-jumping and fairness for British taxpayers”.
Some of this is based on valid argument, she says, but some is based on “misinformation and xenophobia”.
Asking readers to put themselves into the shoes of some of the 3,000 asylum seekers in Wales – many of whom have fled repression and war – she says: “A few hundred may not win the right to stay, but may find it very difficult to return – they may not be able to travel back to Afghanistan, Darfur or Zimbabwe.”
If they fall ill, they can go to a GP but cannot be treated as inpatients at hospital.
Last year, only 11 people in this situation needed treatment in Welsh hospitals – a small number when you consider that more than 300,000 operations take place in Wales every year.
“For each of those 11 people behind the headlines, it could have been the difference between life and death,” writes Owens.
WAG’s decision was a point of principle – that we don’t refuse help to anyone who is ill or dying. And it was one that makes our nation a little more humane.

Remembering Ama

There will be a demonstration in memory of Ama Sumani later this month in Cardiff.
Ama died in Ghana on March 19 after being removed from the University Hospital of Wales while receiving treatment for cancer.
Campaigners hope that the event will be both a tribute to Ama and a message to the authorities.
“This protest is important because we have to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again” said Janet Symmons, Ama’s friend and co-ordinator of the campaign.
“Ama’s tragedy touched a lot of people, but it is important to understand that there are hundreds of people in similar situations right now. I know a Zambian lady who has a baby daughter with brain damage, a Cameroonian boy with Hepatitis – all have the threat of deportation hanging over them.”
The demo takes place at 1 pm at the Nye Bevan Statue, Queen Street, Cardiff, on Saturday, April 19.
* Thanks to Respectable Citizen for highlighting this event.

Ama’s death "on Britain’s conscience"

The death of cancer patient Ama Sumani will be on the conscience of this nation, according to the Archbishop of Wales.
Ama Sumani, 39, died yesterday in Korle-Bu hospital, Accra, Ghana, after she had been forcibly removed from Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales in January.
The widowed mother-of-two had been taken from her hospital bed in Cardiff while undergoing treatment because her visa had expired.
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said today: “I am enormously sad to hear of the death of Ama Sumani.
“I believe her death is on the conscience of this nation because we removed her when it was against every humanitarian instinct to do so.
“My thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
:: Ama’s deportation and the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants in Wales has been discussed extensively on What Is Wales?

Asylum seekers and Cardiff Prison

There have been rumours about the housing of asylum seekers at Cardiff Prison.
South Wales Anarchists Gagged! Newsletter and Respectable Citizen have both reported claims that the jail has again been used to make up for a lack of space at detention centres.
Although it’s not a devolved issue I contacted the Welsh Assembly Government about the rumours. A number of assembly members campaigned against the practice when asylum seekers were held in the jail back in 2001 and 2004.
WAG assured me last week that it is not happening. Read more in the current edition of Big Issue Cymru (Jan 13-20).
UPDATE: See ‘comments’ section.

Also, please check out if you can my friend John Gilheaney’s blog Save Llantrisant Post Office.

Asylum decisions in the air

Should commercial airlines sell seats to allow the Government to forcibly return asylum seekers?
The issue’s been brewing since early last year – but it’s not one airlines themselves are particularly eager to discuss.
Take the case of Veneera Aliyeva.
Veneera settled so successfully in Swansea with her two children that when immigration officers came to take them away, the community campaigned for her.
The campaign continues although, as I write, the family had finally been released from a detention centre by the Home Office pending a possible judicial review. The threat of expulsion from the UK still loomed over them.
If they are forced to return to Azerbaijan they will do so on an airline in seats you or I’d use for our holidays.
Twice the family has been marked down for return, both times on British Midland Airways (bmi) flights from Heathrow.
When I contacted bmi to ask whether it would abandon these flights, it responded with classic meaningless PR.
“bmi is not at liberty to discuss the details of any of its passengers, under the terms of the Data Protection Act, and we do not wish to get drawn into a debate over Home Office policy. I suggest you contact the Home Office for further details of the case you describe.”
Veneera is a 40-year-old ethnic Armenian. Since a war between Azeris and Armenians in the early 1990s tensions have been high. More than 600,000 remain displaced from their homes, according to Amnesty International, despite a 1994 ceasefire.
Veneera is married to an Azeri and kept her own ethnicity secret until she was seen visiting her mother’s grave in an Armenian graveyard.
The harassment began and, according to Asylum Justice, she was beaten and raped.
Campaigners, then, are concerned for her safety if she is made to return.
So note how bmi publicly absolves itself of responsibility.
It says it can’t discuss the fact that Veneera is being flown back to all possible horrors because of the awful DPA – ie, to protect her privacy as a passenger.
Note also the swish of the bat which knocks the issue in the direction of the Home Office.
The airline – whose subsidiary bmi baby flies out of Cardiff International – should take responsibility for its actions. If it is proud to be carrying out government policy then why not say so?
Other airlines who make these flights have previously intimated that they have no choice but to do the Government’s bidding. But the Home Office says they can turn down these unwilling passengers.
In fact, earlier this year XL Airways said it would no longer take part in these flights out of “sympathy for all dispossessed persons in the world”.
Will we be a better country, or bmi a better company, if Veneera and her children are forced somewhere they do not want to go?

:: From Big Issue Cymru, December 27, 2007-January 6, 2008

Swansea asylum family returns

Good news in the case of Veneera Aliyeva and her two children, Anna and Murat.
According to Keith Ross, of Asylum Justice, the family has returned to Swansea after being released from Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
“The family were released by the Home Office this afternoon ‘pending the outcome of the children’s judicial application’,” Keith explained.
The children, who are just 13 and 11, were supported by Maria Battle, Deputy Children’s Commissioner for Wales, who this week told me their detention at Yarls Wood was in breach of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The family remains under the threat of forcible removal to Azerbaijan. Lawyers are currently seeking a judicial review into the case.
If that fails Veneera and the children could find themselves marked down for seats on another removal flight.
::I’ve been looking at the way airlines are used by the Government to forcibly return people to countries they do not want to go for Big Issue Cymru.
I believe it will be in the issue which comes out on December 27 – something to digest along with turkey stew, turkey sandwiches, etc.

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