The pitfalls of Italy’s abortion law

ON PAPER, Italy’s law on abortion seems flawless – but reality is much different due to the existence the loophole known as conscientious objection.

Abortion was illegal in Italy until May 1978, when Law 194 was passed and introduced the right to terminate a pregnancy safely and with the minimal risk for women’s health. By law, any woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first 90 days for whatever reason they see fit. Once obtained proof as to the state of the pregnancy, all that it takes is making an appointment with a structure authorized to terminate the pregnancy. This may be either a public hospital, where the whole procedure is free of charge, or in a structure authorized by the regional health authorities. Should carrying the pregnancy to term endanger the woman’s life or health, or should the foetus’ health turn out to be seriously compromised – thus putting strain on the mother’s emotional and psychological state – the termination can be carried out up to 20 weeks after conception.

All in all Law 194 seems flawless, allowing women to terminate an undesired pregnancy with minimal risk for their health. Reality, however, is quite different. The most obvious loophole is that of conscientious objection: the possibility for any doctor to refuse performing an abortion on ethical or religious grounds. As a result, while Law 194 grants women the right to a safe abortion, doctors are also allowed to refuse performing it.

The volume of objection

What raises an issue is the sheer amount of conscientious objectors. While the percentage varies depending on the region, it only goes below fifty percent in one region. In several regions conscientious objectors are 80 – 85% of the medical personnel qualified to perform abortions. These numbers are at odds with people’s general attitude toward the issue: in 2012 a Censis report found that only 26% of individuals interviewed were against the right to abortion, with 60% being pro-choice.

As a result of the high percentage of objectors, booking an appointment can be far more difficult than it should be – with the risk of getting past the time limit of 90 days after which a pregnancy can only be terminated under special circumstances. While any attempt at changing the situation has been rejected by Catholics and pro-life movements as an attack to the medical personnel’s conscientious freedom, Claudio Crescini – of the Italian Association of Hospital Obstetricians and Gynecologists – says that it often isn’t a matter of personal belief.

“Abortion is overused in electoral and political debates, and there’s a lot of pressure on us,” he says.“While it’s not explicitly stated, someone who’s not an objector doesn’t have the easy career an objector makes – and they’re often forced to perform nothing but abortions.” In short, conscientious objectors have less of a work load than non-objectors with no risk of damaging their career by avoiding a loaded issue. It’s no wonder that many choose not to perform abortions for convenience rather than because of a religious or ethical issues.

An even bigger obstacle comes from those who take their right to conscientious objection well past what the law allows. Objectors have the right not to personally perform an abortion – but that’s all. Emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill or RU-486, isn’t covered by the right to objection; there is no right for the doctor to refuse prescribing it, or for any medical professional to refuse giving it to a woman who asks for it.

At what cost ? 

And yet that’s precisely what happens and women’s right to safely terminate or avoid a pregnancy is constantly under attack. Despite it being against the law, many doctors downright refuse to prescribe emergency contraception. Last week in Voghera, a town in Lombardy, a nurse kept two young women from accessing to the hospital when they said they wished to get a prescription for the morning-after pill. It’s not uncommon for objectors to try guilting women into not terminating the pregnancy, adding strain to what’s already a stressful situation. Some were even left alone through part of the procedure because the doctors and nurses who started their shift were objectors. As a result, women have to leap through fire hoops for a chance to terminate a pregnancy – a right granted by Law 194. Some doctor go as far as refusing to certify their state, knowing that without a certificate they cannot terminate a pregnancy without medical proof that there is indeed a pregnancy. The practice is so widespread that Nicola Zingaretti, President of Lazio, had to introduce new rules in his region stating that medical personnel in public structures could not refuse to certify a state of pregnancy or to prescribe emergency contraception.

This raises the question of what pro-life movements precisely hope to accomplish by trying to force women into carrying undesired pregnancies to term. If they think it would make abortions stop, they’re sorely mistaken: history and common sense tell us it wouldn’t be the case.

A 2000 survey by Istat – the Italian National Institute of Statistics – estimates that at least 20,000 illegal abortions were carried on every year prior to 1978, when Law 194 was passed and abortion became legal. The fact most illegal abortions were obvious carried on in secret makes it difficult to give exact figures; Istat doesn’t rule out the possibility their estimate may be lower than the truth.Before Law 194 abortions had been happening under wraps in the entire country as illegal, unsafe procedures that could easily result with the woman’s death due to haemorrhage and infections. Fear of social stigma would lead many unmarried women to risk their lives to terminate the pregnancy; fear of punishment would keep them from seeking medical help afterwards. Even for those who sought help, it was often too late.

This is what comes out of taking away women’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term: not only it fails to keep abortions from happening, but it also puts women in the position to risk their own health and lives to terminate a pregnancy.

So much for pro-life.

Written by Allessandra Pacelli 

Image Credit: Paolo Margari 

 

 

 

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New Hamburg: Life of the Veddel

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Ever since I decided to go abroad, I have been often reminded by how little everyone knows about the world, myself included. We are bound by an obnoxious bubble of self-proclaimed self-righteousness and assumption of knowledge of worldly events; however, this bubble gets popped upon collision with communities we might know very little about.

Yesterday marked my initial contact with Veddel: a fascinating blend of people from 67 different nations, all of whom had left their homelands in pursuit of better life standards. For many immigrants, Germany has been a rather popular destination, despite the fact that the conditions of arrival and integration are not exactly ideal. Nevertheless, between racial discrimination in their home nations, along with religious segregation and prosecution for political activism, Hamburg in particular seemed a safe place to be.

Veddel: A harmonious entanglement

Veddel is a snapshot of a truly multicultural city within a city. Though it is commonly misrepresented in traditional media as being dangerous and high on crime rates, as immigrant communities often perfectly fit the illustrative material for that particular purpose, the island has taken the definition of “parallel societies” to a whole new level. Its residents, with the variety of their backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, education levels, ages and experiences, live together in a harmony most big cities with all the proper infrastructure have been unable to achieve.

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A live example of this polyphony is the Immanuel Church [Deutsche: Immanuelkirche], formerly an Evangelical center of Veddel’s mostly Christian society. Today, the church is a melting point of cultural dialogue, music, film, sports and other activities for the multitude of spiritual beliefs that inhabit Veddel, creating a network of diversity where parents, teachers, members of different religious communities, artists and activists had the space to develop New Hamburg, an initiative that celebrates the cultural richness and diversity of the island.

Along with the fascinating theatre shows, the music and the inspiring performances, New Hamburg Festival, held from the 3rd to the 25th of October, offered a platform for the residents of Veddel to tell their stories.

A larger portion of the population stems from Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, and other Southern-Eastern European countries, but were born there as part of the Romani communities [also known as Gypsy, despite my distaste for the term] in those nations. Prior to coming to Europe, I had only heard of the word “Gypsy”, yet had never associated it with any specific connotation. Coming from Egypt, the only time I’d ever heard the word was in Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, referring to Esmeralda’s character. Whatever I came across yesterday is how I’ll always perceive the Romani community, for as long as I have a memory.

Mapping life across Europe

One of the most intriguing events that took place was a series of presentations given by a few members of the Veddel community, where each one stood in front of a large-scaled map of Europe to illustrate their life stories by placing a pin in each country they lived in, even briefly, then tying a thread, each person with his preferable colour, that connects the dots in a way that ends with them settling in Hamburg. The map ended up being a canvas of intertwined tangles of threads, each thread representing a tale.

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Among the stories was a Romani man who was born and raised in Serbia. Being a journalist and a political activist, he was among the founders of the first political party that represented the Roma community in Serbia, for which he was prosecuted, chased by the police forces in former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and forced to flee.

“I had to leave; I couldn’t risk taking my family along to face the hardships I knew were about to come.” Waving his hand across different countries in former Yugoslavia, he said, “I had no passport, and I travelled through Hungary and other countries on foot.”

Briefly narrating the story of his continuous abscond and suffering, he told his audience how he ended up in Germany with severe health complications, for which the authorities decided to give him a disability card to legalize his status in Germany.

Centuries-long discrimination

“With no mother nation to stand up for our cause, we are denied citizenship almost everywhere. Veddel has been good to us, but there is such a high unemployment rate, and we are increasingly misunderstood and maligned due to our ethnicity as a minority group.”

Originally migrating from India, to Mid-West Asia, and finally arriving in Europe around 1,000 years ago, the Roma have suffered economic, cultural and political discrimination at the hands of both communist and capitalist, and both democratic and totalitarian societies.20141019_202815

Upon doing more research on their history, some of what I stumbled upon was inhumane, illogical, and rather shocking. Not only are they culturally excluded from their prospective communities, but more-so politically. For example, in 1993, Jozsef Pacai, the mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev said, “I’m no racist, but some Gypsies you would have to shoot.”

Several far-right political groups in Eastern Europe consistently used the idea of ridding of “gypsies” as propaganda for their campaigns. In 2009, the Czech National Party ran advertisements for the European Parliament election calling for a “final solution to the Gypsy problem”. Another far-right party in Slovakia, in 2010, has used the term “Gypsy criminality” in reference to the danger they allegedly form towards the nation state.

Even in Germany, since they are not German nationals, they do not get the right to vote, which makes Veddel untouched by the hands of the authorities, and lacking in infrastructure in many ways.

“It’s a vicious cycle. Europe complains about us; they dislike that we are nomads, but what makes us nomadic is that we are never accepted into our host countries. We don’t know where to go”, a Montenegrin told me.

Celebrating diversity

Despite their rather traumatic stories, the Veddel community was rather welcoming. Some of the women grilled food in the church’s backyard, offering food at minimal prices for the festival’s guests. Some of them also joined to attend the consequent events of the evening. Children huddled around the fire for warmth, and by the evening, many people, mostly Germans and Veddel locals, gathered inside the church’s café for a welcome from the organizers of New Hamburg, ending with a warm “Our house is your house” [Deutsche: Unser Haus ist dein Haus].

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The crowd slowly moved into the second part of the evening celebrations: a tour around a big hallway where several people told the stories of people who had immigrated to Veddel many decades ago, in German. I was lucky enough to h
ave a German-speaking friend, translating the stories word by word. Some of them would make us chuckle, others would give us goosebumps, and others would leave the ending open, bringing about some hope for a better future for the people.

A beautiful interruption of the stories tour were a short couple of performances by Rosemary Hardy, an English lady who had volunteered for the New Hamburg initiative as part of the theatre group. Dressed in a colourful Hungarian dress and seated in a chair while knitting, the spotlights would bring the audience’s attention to her strong Soprano voice, as she sang two songs, one of which was Hungarian, and the other was German, titled “Waldeinsamkeit“, which translates to “the feeling of loneliness you get while being in the woods”, reminding me of how many surprises the German language can carry.

Veddel 5What ended the night was an inspiring performance of a girl in her mid-twenties who sang in Albanian to the earthly tunes of her Eastern instrument, leaving her audience astounded after singing around 5 melodies that ranged from melancholic notes to upbeat tunes.

For our readers in Hamburg, I highly encourage you to visit Veddel on Saturday the 25th of the current month to enjoy more performances, especially a Turkish music concert. For more information on the New Hamburg initiave, please visit http://new-hamburg.de.

 

 

Written by Shorouk El Hariry, an Egyptian journalist who studies and lives in Hamburg, Germany. She could be found on Twitter at @shoroukelhariry

How one of Iceland’s most prominent singers went from singing alone to singing worldwide in only a couple of weeks

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Pandeia got a moment of Ásgeir’s Trausti busy schedule after he finished playing at Skanderborg Festival (Smukfest) in Denmark, and right before he flew off to his home in Iceland.

Despite Ásgeir Trausti’s young age of 21 and his relatively short career, he is one of Iceland’s biggest stars at the moment and is a long way into his international career. This summer he made a quick stop at Skanderborg’s lively music festival located in Denmark to play his music.

What is unusual about this young singer is that his father writes some of his lyrics and he did not really sing in public before he became famous.

His sudden and unexpected popularity came about when Ásgeir met a record producer in Iceland and for fun they decided to record a few of his songs. Ásgeir said: “One day I simply met Kiddi, our soundman, and gave him some songs I had recorded and we started playing around with the recording. And a few weeks later we sent a couple of them to the radio, and that is how the ball started rolling”.

“It just exploded in 2012 and I decided to dedicate myself to it for some time.”

Ásgeir never planned to play to more than for himself. “I never really planned to play music in front of other people or become a musician at all, I only wrote for myself. I have been playing since I was 6-year old but I never thought I would take my music further, publish it or play it in front of other people.”

Before Ásgeir knew it, he was well-known in Iceland, held an international record deal in his hand and was starting to prepare himself to leave Iceland to tour around the world. He describes his doubts and feelings on how he was not (in any way) ready for this journey:

“I had never actually sung in front of people before, and therefore I had absolutely no experience. So I jumped into the deep end with this without being ready for it at all. I knew it would be very difficult for the first few months, the first years – it still is difficult.”

Today his band has become well-known in the Nordic countries, Europe, Japan and Australia, and is making a break into the American market. “It is at the starting stage in the U.S.,” said Ásgeir modestly, despite having had two successful tours and a newly published record there.

He emphasises this is still all very new to him, “it takes time to learn and get into the whole thing and it is still all very new to me: even though we have now played more than 300 concerts I am still getting used to the whole idea.”

Ásgeir mentions that he is very self-critical on his performance on stage and he has a hard time feeling satisfied with his performance; he describes feeling nervous before entering stage every time. “I used to think that having a glass of red wine before going on stage would fix my nerves, but somehow it did not do the trick so now I result in having a cup of tea before going on stage with my buddies and having a chat with them.”

Despite Ásgeir’s stage fright his focus is still on his music and the crowds experience for every concert. It is important to stay focused he said: “it is important for you to find your place before going to stage, it is a mindset you need to get into.”

He smiled and added: “I have seen such progress since we first started: it is all going better now, I knew it would happen at some point.”

Previously their music was only written in Icelandic, but the band started translating their lyrics into English 2 years ago. “The main reason was that I was going abroad and wanted to reach to as many people as possible. It made more sense that it would be on a language that everybody understood,” said Ásgeir.

His band was not at all sure of how the feedback for translating into English would be at the start:

“There are a lot of people who like the songs in Icelandic. I was not sure myself when we started. I honestly had no idea how this worked: if it mattered if we sang in Icelandic or English at all. So we had to take a chance with this and simply try it in English”.

“But it has definitely been beneficial to do so, there are certain countries who only know our music today in English.” he adds.

Most of the Nordic countries still play his music in Icelandic, apparently making Trausti a little happy as he smiled and added “I think it is great that they play it in Icelandic.”

“It felt very weird for the first weeks to sing my songs in English, but today I’m used to it,” Ásgeir describes.

Recently Ásgeir started writing his songs in English, saying he is tired of translating. It should not concern the audience who prefer the Icelandic lyrics as he has not stopped writing in his own language.

Regarding making new music there is not a set plan to make it  at the moment said Ásgeir. “It is rather hard to write music while we are touring, the only free time we have  is spent sitting in a bus, so whenever I get home I try to have time to go to the studio and record some new music.”

About the start in Iceland, Ásgeir mentions the band had to go through a bit of transition cutting down members before touring abroad: “we had a whole brass band on stage with us along with seven band members. In Iceland it is not expensive to tour in so we could do whatever we wanted there.”

They changed the band’s structure without having any problems in only a couple of weeks before leaving, almost everybody in the band are guitar players who can play almost any other instrument, which made it easier.

Obviously the band has become very close touring together: “it is like family, it is an annoyingly tight group we have here,” said Trausti. With all his focus placed on the music he says that it only makes their music better to spend so much time together.

Despite Ásgeir’s short time in the spotlight, he has caught well-deserved attention worldwide.  Still, with his feet on the ground, modesty and determination to get even further,  it will certainly be exciting to follow up on him work in the future.

With  all the variety of music Skanderborg festival has to offer, Trausti certainly fit in  the goal of making it “Smukfestival” – the prettiest festival in Denmark.

Written by Svanlaug Árnadóttir

The Cut: a Biblical Western

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The Cut: a Biblical Western: a new film by Fatih Akin, the German film director and producer.

The poster of ‘The Cut’ looks like that of an old-school Western: a lonely figure of a man is walking down a deserted street of some small town. Presenting the film, Fatih Akin, the director, said that he was inspired by the Western genre. You can see the inspiration in the film: electric guitar playing in the background, plenty of long, panoramic views of deserts and roads, with the main character walking along the horizon. The choice of the story, though, is far from traditional: a young man sets out on a long journey. He doesn’t know it yet, but he will cross half the world before he reaches his destination.

This man, Nazaret, is an Armenian, who lived in a small village in Turkey, before he was summoned to work for the army in 1914. Soon after that, his family was killed in the genocide. As the civil war started in Turkey, he wandered south, into Syria, and learned that his two daughters had survived the genocide. He starts his search for them, and it will take him several years before he finds them.

This film is part of Akin’s trilogy about human nature: Love, Death, and Devil. This is Devil ‒ the concluding part ‒ the darkest and most dramatic story, showing people at their worst. The film is strewn with references to the Bible ‒ but this time, taken into the harsh reality of a civil war. A man sacrifices himself to save his family, but tragically they get killed soon after. He wanders through the desert on his own, loses his voice, but on his first day back with humans he has to kill a woman to end her suffering, because this is the only way he can help her. He can not offer any help to the people he meets during his journey, and has to steal and fight for food. His hope to ‘resurrect’ the daughters he thought were long dead dwindles, and the ending is far from happy.

The film meticulously reconstructs the details of the story: not only clothes and food, but languages, too: most characters speak their national languages ‒ Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, and only Armenian is substituted with English. The soundtrack is slow-paced, but dramatic, with the lyrics in Armenian or Berber.

One might believe that the director has tried to sweeten the bitter story by giving it an epic dimension: the main character crosses half the world on his own, escaping death in its different forms, now a marauder, desert, or hunger ‒ and remains himself, still fairly young and very good looking. Something you might expect of Odissey or Siegfrid, but not of a real person. But it was, probably, a good idea: in the end, the film feels more thought-provoking than depressing.

Written by Daria Sukharchuk

Photo copyright: http://thefilmstage.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/the_cut_poster.jpg 

Supporters trusts to play bigger role in UK football, say Labour Party

Hull City fans take part in their  City Til We Die protest against owner, Assem Allam, last season - when the latter wanted to rebrand the club Hull Tigers

Hull City fans take part in their City Til We Die protest last season

THE UK’S LABOUR Party plans to overhaul the way the nation’s football clubs are run, with greater power to clubs’ supporters, should it win the general election next May.

Fans would be empowered to remove up to a quarter of the directors on their club’s board, and would have the right to buy up to 10 per cent of their club’s shares during any takeover or change in ownership.

Clive Efford MP, Labour’s shadow sports minister – who more recently has spoken publicly on the Ched Evans rape case –  said in a statement: “We have reached a tipping point in the way football is run.

“Too often fans are treated like an afterthought as ticket prices are hiked up, grounds relocated and clubs burdened with debt or the threat of bankruptcy.”

Borussia Dortmund fans on the famous Südtribüne (South Bank) terrace at Westfalenstadion

Borussia Dortmund fans on their famous ‘South Bank’ terrace – the largest terrace in European football

As English fans find it increasingly fashionable to say in such cases: ‘It’s not like this in Germany’.

Debt and insolvency

The announcement has been made against the backdrop of the ceaseless and rapid rise in costs for British football fans, particularly since the beginning of the Sky Sports and Premier League era in 1992.

The BBC’s latest Price of Football study published on Wednesday shows that the average cost of attending a football league game has risen at more than twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011 (13%).

Supporters are not only feeling priced out but helpless and ignored, as clubs like Portsmouth, Leeds United and Birmingham City have been steered into debt and insolvency in the past decade by poor decision-making at boardroom level.

Meanwhile Coventry City fans had to watch their club’s home games 30 miles away in Northampton for the whole of last season, as the club’s owners and the local council engaged in financial trench warfare.

And while Cardiff City – the Bluebirds – now play in red home kit to satisfy an owner and his overseas marketing ideals, fans of Hull City waged a season-long war with their owner last year in order to prevent being rebranded as ‘Hull Tigers’.

Price of football: the figures and context

4.4% versus 1.2% – the year-on-year ticket price rise is more than treble the rate of inflation

£3 billion – price at which the Premier League sold its TV rights for the years 2013-2016.

£4.50 – the most expensive pie in all English football, at Kidderminster Harriers of the English fifth tier.

Clive Efford, MP for Eltham and the Labour Party's shadow sports minister

Clive Efford MP, Labour’s shadow sports minister

Formal relationship

The new measures would allow for fans of each club to found and run an officially sanctioned supporters’ trust that could then take advantage of the rights outlined by Labour.

Supporter-controlled football clubs are not a novel phenomenon, though, with Portsmouth, Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers and AFC Wimbledon currently all fan-owned and playing their football in England’s League 2.  There is also the famous case of community-owned FC United of Manchester, founded as a breakaway club in 2005 by disillusioned Manchester United fans after the Red Devils were taken over by Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman.

“Giving football fans a voice is part of our plan to change our country by devolving power to our cities towns and communities.” – John Cruddas MP, Labour

Supporters Direct, an organisation set up to help fans to initiate their own supporters’ trusts, welcomed Labour’s plans.  In a statement, they said: “This signals the establishment of the formal relationship between supporters’ trusts and their clubs, which we have sought for many years.

“No-one in football denies the special social and community nature of football clubs, yet there has always been a resistance to measures that would actually increase the role of those fans in their clubs.”

The ‘how’ of supporters trusts

So how would a supporters trust work under these new measures?  Governance standards would be maintained by an umbrella body with which all supporters trusts would be affiliated, with trusts compelled to adhere to its own constitution and elect a board on a one-member-one-vote basis.  Moreover the reforms have already been verified as compatible with European law by the Labour’s legal advisers.

And for anyone wanting to know how the financial cogs are going to turn in these proposals, the party’s official release on the planned shake-up does go into some detail.  Any buyer “acquiring control of the club (defined at a 30 per cent level) would be required to offer the Supporters Trust up to ten per cent of the shares they were buying in that transaction at the average price paid by the buyer for relevant securities in the year preceding the change of control.”  That offer would then have to remain open for 240 days.

Also noted in the report is that supporters trusts would have the right to “appoint and remove up to a quarter and not less than two of a football club’s directors.”

Jon Cruddas MP, head of the Labour Party’s policy review, said in his statement: “Football is more than business, football clubs are part of people’s identity and sense of belonging.

“Giving football fans a voice is part of our plan to change our country by devolving power to our cities towns and communities.”

Words: Sean Gibson

Photos: Jon Candy (lead); wolf4max (inset [i]); IFAW Tails for Whales (inset [ii]).

This is what the Cuban economy looks like

By Nele Goutier

A Cuban supermarkets selling products that costumers can get with their libreta, a ration card subsidized by the government. Basic goods like sugar, oil, rice, beans, bread, eggs, coffee and salt are cheaply available thanks to state subsidy. What can be bought for 1.20$ in shops that accept the libreta, costs roughly 58$ in the overpriced supermarkets that were traditionally set up for foreigners. Reason for Cubans to avoid these supermarkets? That’s not an option, because all other goods than the absolute basics are only available in the ‘tourist shops’. Groceries in such ‘luxury’ supermarkets are to be paid with a different currency: the Peso Convertible, also known as CUC. It’s not just a matter of a different coin. The CUC is worth 24 times more than the Cuban Peso, or CUP, and thus extremely expensive for people that earn CUP’s – 78% of the population. For a long time the double currency created severe problems for the Cubans. They were paid in CUP by the state, with which they could only buy the basics. All other goods were only available for CUC’s. The only way for Cubans to get hold of CUC’s was by getting involved with the ones in the possession of the precious currency: foreigners, often in the tourist industry. It was illegal, but necessary for whomever couldn’t live on a diet of rice, beans and white bread. This changed in July this year. Cubans can now pay with whatever kind of currency they want, but the price differences between state supermarkets and modern shops remain the same. Basic goods are cheaply available, while all other goods – from shampoo to tomato ketchup – are as expensive as before and hardly affordable for Cubans. José Carlos: “I don’t care about the kind of currency they allow me to pay with. As long as they don’t pay me more, nothing changes.”

A Cuban supermarket selling products that costumers can get with their libreta, a ration card subsidized by the government. Basic goods like sugar, oil, rice, beans, bread, eggs, coffee and salt are cheaply available thanks to state subsidy. What can be bought for 1.20$ in shops that accept the libreta, costs roughly 58$ in the overpriced supermarkets that were traditionally set up for foreigners. Reason for Cubans to avoid these supermarkets? That’s not an option, because all other goods than the absolute basics are only available in the ‘tourist shops’.
Groceries in such ‘luxury’ supermarkets are to be paid with a different currency: the Peso Convertible, also known as CUC. It’s not just a matter of a different coin. The CUC is worth 24 times more than the Cuban Peso, or CUP, and thus extremely expensive for the 78 per cent of the population who earn CUP’s.

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For a long time the double currency created severe problems for the Cubans. They were paid in CUP by the state, with which they could only buy the basics. All other goods were only available for CUC’s. The only way for Cubans to get hold of CUC’s was by getting involved with the ones in the possession of the precious currency: foreigners, often in the tourist industry. The men on the picture do so by  offering a ‘bici-taxi’ service to tourists. Economic interactions with foreigners were for a long time illegal, but necessary for whoever couldn’t live on a diet of rice, beans and white bread. This changed in July this year. Cubans can now pay with whatever kind of currency they want, but the price differences between state supermarkets and modern shops remain the same. Basic goods are cheaply available, while all other goods – from shampoo to tomato ketchup – are as expensive as before and hardly affordable for Cubans. José Carlos: “I don’t care about the kind of currency they allow me to pay with. As long as they don’t pay me more, nothing changes.”

Even though groceries can be paid in both CUC’s and CUP’s today, CUC’s are still worth 24 times more than CUP’s and therefore much more profitable. Maria tries to boost her meager state income by selling beverages on the street. Cubans pay the equivalent of 0.15$ in CUP’s, while tourists – usually unaware of the price levels for Cubans – pay 2$ in CUC’s. By selling one drink to a foreigner, Maria earns 5% of a month’s salary in no-time. Private initiatives were traditionally not allowed in Castro’s Cuba, but since 2011 there is a list of 201 occupations that can be practice independently. On the list are carpenters, housekeepers and taxi-drivers, but no doctors, manufacturers, im- and exporters or journalists are allowed.

Even though groceries can be paid in both CUC’s and CUP’s today, CUC’s are still worth 24 times more than CUP’s and therefore much more profitable. Maria tries to boost her meager state income by selling beverages on the street. Cubans pay the equivalent of 0.15$ in CUP’s, while tourists – usually unaware of the much lower price levels for Cubans – pay 2$ in CUC’s. By selling one drink to a foreigner, Maria earns 5% of a month’s salary in no-time.

A man preparing his beer tank for Santiago's unnual carnival

A man preparing his beer tank for Santiago’s annual carnival. Private initiatives were traditionally not allowed in Castro’s Cuba, but since 2011 there is a list of 201 occupations that can be practiced independently. On the list are carpenters, housekeepers and taxi-drivers, but no doctors, manufacturers, im- and exporters or journalists are allowed.

A policeman in Havana Vieja.

A policeman in Havana Vieja, paid in CUP by the government.

"Long live the Committee of Defense of the Revolution"

“Long live the Committees of Defense of the Revolution”. Formed in 1960, the CDR’s are the eyes and ears of the communistic regime and are located in each and every block all over the country. CDR-employees have the responsibility to monitor, control and report about all that’s going on in their block. Who goes where, who buys what, who spends time with whom, and – most importantly – who is says what about the revolution?

A construction worker having a sidewalk siesta. One of the main problems of communism, according to its opponents, are the fixed state salaries that take away the incentive to work. “The Cuban economy is like a boomerang”, my Cuban friend told me, “it comes back and hits you.”

A construction worker having a sidewalk siesta. One of the main problems of communism, according to its opponents, are the fixed state salaries that take away the incentive to work. “The Cuban economy is like a boomerang”, my Cuban friend told me, “it comes back and hits you.”

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Fishermen at Cayo Granma. Traditionally they lived off the fruits of the sea. Today most have a job in the nearby city of Santiago, while fishing during their time off as a supplementary income. Over the past decades, the island has transformed from a privileged paradise-like island strewn with luxurious mansions for upper-class Americans to a run-down fishermen’s town with wooden shacks popping up between the facades of what once were extravagant residences. When the Americans left after 1959 the villas were given to fishermen and the islet became a leisurely escape from the urban hustle and bustle. That all changed in the ‘90s, when Cuba entered a deep crisis due to the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting stagnation of Russian trade. After repeated attempts to hijack the ferry to the island and escape Cuba for good, the government decided to ban travelling across the bay. But it couldn’t stop dissidents from escaping: roughly 1.5 million (5% of the population) have fled to the United States. Today, the island has caught the attention of foreign tourists and has regained its status as a peaceful destination for a daytrip.

Fishermen at Cayo Granma. Traditionally they lived off the fruits of the sea. Today most have a job in the nearby city of Santiago, while fishing during their time off as a supplementary income.
Over the past decades, the island has transformed from a privileged paradise-like island strewn with luxurious mansions for upper-class Americans to a run-down fishermen’s town with wooden shacks popping up between the facades of what once were extravagant residences. When the Americans left after 1959 the villas were given to fishermen and the islet became a leisurely escape from the urban hustle and bustle.
That all changed in the ‘90s, when Cuba entered a deep crisis due to the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting stagnation of Russian trade. After repeated attempts to hijack the ferry to the island and escape Cuba for good, the government decided to ban travelling across the bay. But it couldn’t stop dissidents from escaping: roughly 1.5 million (5% of the population) have fled to the United States. Today, the island has caught the attention of foreign tourists and has regained its status as a peaceful destination for a daytrip.

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Juan Pedro is a farmer, like there are many. In Cuba he is like all other farmers, in Europe he would be quite exceptional, because Juan Pedro does not use pesticides or fertilizers. His farm is completely organic, like almost all farms in Cuba. A matter of ideology? Not really. When the SU fell, a large part of the Russian trade vanished, leaving Cuba in a severe crisis. During the ‘Special Period’, as the crisis is subtly referred to, agricultural production dropped with 54%. The state saw no other option than to lift their monopoly on food production and to rent land to small-scale farmers. In the absence of agricultural chemicals and fuel, the farmers were forced to make a leap and develop natural ways of production in which biodiversity plays a key role. “Look”, says Juan Pedro, “I alter avocado plants with mango trees. They both use the soil differently and their roots don’t get intertwined. Like that I can use the soil maximally without exhausting it.”

Juan Pedro is a farmer. In Cuba he is like all other peasants, but in Europe he would be quite exceptional, because Juan Pedro does not use pesticides or fertilizers. His farm is completely organic. A matter of ideology? Not really. When the SU fell, a large part of the Russian trade vanished, leaving Cuba in a severe crisis. During the ‘Special Period’, as the crisis is subtly referred to, agricultural production dropped with 54%. The state saw no other option than to lift their monopoly on food production and to rent land to small-scale farmers. In the absence of agricultural chemicals and fuel, the farmers were forced to make a leap and develop natural ways of production in which biodiversity plays a key role. “Look”, says Juan Pedro, “I alter avocado plants with mango trees. They both use the soil differently and their roots don’t get intertwined. Like that I can use the soil maximally without exhausting it.”

Juan Pedro has the right sell any surplus on the market and keep the profits. This encourages him, and his colleagues alike, to maximize their efficiency which resulted in an even more precocious agriculture. The many old-timers that dominate the Cuban streets may give the country an old-fashioned image, but in terms of agricultural development, Cuba is light-years ahead of the industrialized world. " width="5184" height="3456" class="size-full wp-image-3475" data-wp-pid="3475" /> Juan Pedro has the right sell any surplus on the market and keep the profits. This encourages him, and his colleagues alike, to maximize their efficiency which resulted in an even more precocious agriculture. The many old-timers that dominate the Cuban streets may give the country an old-fashioned image, but in terms of agricultural development, Cuba is far ahead of the industrialized world.

Juan Pedro has the right sell any surplus on the market and keep the profits. This encourages him, and his colleagues alike, to maximize their efficiency which resulted in an even more precocious agriculture. The many old-timers that dominate the Cuban streets may give the country an old-fashioned image, but in terms of agricultural development, Cuba seems far ahead of the industrialised world.

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Text and images by Nele Goutier

‘A mass movement needed to happen’ – Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution

HK3
FROM A CLASS BOYCOTT by student activists, to the sudden kick off of the long awaited Occupy Central Movement, the mass protest started on 28th September in Hong Kong is the biggest in the city since 89 Democracy Movement in 1989. While depicted by international media as the most peaceful revolution, there actually exits very opposite opinions of the movement among citizens.

Conflicts and confrontations between protesters and the police, between pro-occupy and anti-occupy supporters, filled the movement with the unnecessary element of verbal and physical violence. The infiltration of triads and gangs in the protest also questioned the movement’s nature and raises concerns that more violence would be caused.

Entering its third week, the movement appears stagnated: both the government side and the protesters are looking for a direction. Student leaders, scholars and professors know well that Beijing is not going to back down at this stage and give Hong Kong full democracy. C.Y. Leung, a puppet of the Chinese government, is unlikely to step down because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would “lose face” by doing this. In other words, the protest has not achieved and is not likely to achieve anything concrete any time soon.

Many thus blame this on the immature decision of student leaders and the youth. Because of their blind impulse, Hong Kong has been paralyzed and the daily life of general public is disturbed. School has to be suspended; shops in central areas are forced to close; traffic, business is interrupted, all in exchange for a movement where no significant achievement is foreseeable.

However,  the mass protest is needed and is a milestone for the future of Hong Kong, politically and socially.

The lack of confidence in the government is hindering the city’s development

In the past few years, Hong Kong citizens have lost confidence in the government. In a survey conducted by Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, ratings of the current governor C.Y. Leung has constantly been below 50, which – among previous governors – is a failed performance. As a result of the lack of trust, members of the Legislative Council (Legco) – half being elected by eligible voters and thus representing the will of the public – hardly agreed on any budget plan, public expenditure or law proposed. From 2012 to 2014, radicals from the opposition camps have staged filibusters four times, as a way to prevent votes on several proposals they were against, and as a gesture to show their dissatisfaction of the governor. Legco is an important body in enacting, amending and repealing law, also in examining and approving budgets, taxation and public expenditure. If Legco is not functioning, Hong Kong cannot move forward.

The lack of trust in the governor, to a very large extent, is because he is not elected with the system of universal suffrage. He was appointed by the CCP. He is not legitimated to represent the people and whatever he does, the public interprets as Chinese agenda – to tighten its political control over the city. This civil disobedience, as how the student leaders call it, is a fight to accomplish full democracy, which is actually fundamental for the city to move forward.

A public lecture for the HongKongese

The Occupy Movement is not merely a protest, which the anti-occupy supporters argue just causes public disorder, but a very important lesson for the 7 million inhabitants to stop and think about what they really want from the government, and how they want their city to develop.

It is also literally a lesson because along the occupied areas, professors and scholars have been constantly giving public lectures about democracy, social movements and current political issues. It also provides a platform for discussion between citizens with different political orientations, which is quite rare among the politically silent Hongkongese. The city dwellers have a reputation of being politically apathetic and ignorant. This mass movement has taught them that it is not a privilege to practice political freedom. It is instead the basic right that should be enjoyed by people in a civilized city, and it is also their responsibility to participate in every political decision.

Beside the poorly functioning government that hinders the city from moving forward, the atmosphere of the society has been grim and tense in recent years. This is not entirely but to a large extent because of the increasing number of mainland Chinese moving to, traveling, or doing business in Hong Kong

A cultural difference between mainland Chinese and HongKongese has to be addressed

SARS in 2003 brought an economic depression to Hong Kong. The by then governor C.H. Tung carried out Individual Visit Scheme, which allows easy access for mainland Chinese to visit Hong Kong. From then on, various kinds of social problems have emerged: Chinese pregnant women travel to Hong Kong and give birth in order to obtain Hong Kong citizenship; the speculation of milk powder products that drove up the price of milk powders; of Chinese tourists eating, drinking, littering and even defecating in public transports outraged the local citizens. These are just some of many examples.

Though these public behavior problems seem minor and trivial, they actually disturb the harmonious order and daily life of the locals. Criticism from the locals against the mainland Chinese has gone from objective to subjective, from reasonable to radical, from fair comments to personal attack. It is an inevitable product when two very different cultures are put to live under the same roof. It is the result of the accumulated daily clashes.

Needless to say, Chinese tourists have helped boost the economy of the city, but the cultural clash in the society cannot go on any longer. Hatred, discrimination, and binary divisions would only deteriorate the relationship between Hong Kong and China. This protest represents the fundamental ideology shared by Hong Kongese but not with mainland Chinese because of historical context – the thirst for freedom and democracy.

By the time this article is published, the police will have launched again another round of eviction in the occupied area. Anti-occupy protestors, at the same time, tried to clear out roadblocks surrounding the occupied zone and suppress the pro-occupy supporters. Triads and gangs, who it is  suspected were sent by the government or anti-occupy group to create disorder and chaos, were also trying to confront and provoke the police, creating unnecessary violence.

It is important that at this stage of the movement, protestors do not forget the major purpose that drove them to take to the street in the first place. Their attention should not to be diverted by ingenuine gangs who are trying to disunite the peaceful public.

As the old saying goes, it takes more than one day to establish a full democratic system. But in any case, this mass movement has taught the Hong Kong public the power of collective efforts and has changed the city’s culture of being politically passive. It is one of the most revolutionary events that has happened, and there is still a long way to go.

Written by Cheuk Yin Chan
Images taken from Instagram