Three Wise Men?

Three Wise Men

I couldn’t resist sending the above seasonal/political greeting to a few friends, etc. who I felt wouldn’t be offended. The idea came when I told a vicar I know who invited me to a Carol service followed by a Christmas lunch that the service wasn’t really my cup of tea if I was expected to sing about jolly angels around a manger, and three wise men from the East – commenting ‘presumably not Marx, Engels and Lenin?’ Fortunately this vicar, whose views seem to be slightly to the right of Attila the Hun on some issues, and extremely liberal on others, can take a joke.

But there is a serious point behind my joke Xmas message. These three men were wise, in my opinion. But not infallible, that’s the point. Lenin in particular made many mistakes when actually trying to set up and establish the Soviet Union in a very difficult situation of first World War and then Civil War, with the capitalist states trying to crush the new Socialist entity.

The main difficulty was in the area of freedom versus the necessity to safeguard Socialism from attempts to undermine and overthrow it. It had long been realized that it would be necessary to establish a ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, but what exactly does this phrase mean?

In its broadest sense, any democracy, even so-called bourgeois democracy, could be described in such terms. Given that the proletariat or working-class forms the majority in most countries, they will always in a truly democratic society have the majority vote, which could also be described as the ‘Dictatorship of the Majority’. In practice, of course, this is not the case at all. In countries like Britain and USA where ‘first-past-the-post’ elections rule, most governments are elected on a minority vote, so more people voted for other parties than voted for the one in government.

Also freedom of choice is effectively limited to two main political parties in these two countries, a vote for any others in a General Election or Presidential election is a wasted vote. Also votes in non-marginal constituencies are non-effective because of the huge majorities for one particular party, so in practice only a tiny minority of voters in marginal seats have a vote which carries any weight – these voters actually decide which party will be elected to government.

A system of proportional representation or alternative transferrable vote is more democratic, but leads to coalition government.

In effect this is what existed in the Socialist countries, a coalition. Some actually had coalitions – the GDR (East Germany) and CSSR (Czechoslovakia) for instance, even the DPRK (North Korea) I believe. Others have or had a one-party state – the USSR, PRC (China) and many others.

Inevitably, in a one-party state, all sorts of people of varying shades of opinion and varying motives are going to join that party, so it is also, in effect, a coalition. The CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and similar parties in government became not so much the ‘vanguard of the working-class’ as an opportunist bandwagon for the most reactionary self-interest groups and individuals to join in order to further their careers.

Two fundamental mistakes were made by Lenin and his comrades when establishing the Soviet Union, admittedly under very difficult circumstances and following on shortly from an autocratic Tsarist dictatorship (only briefly interrupted by the democratic Karensky government).

The two mistakes were establishing the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ as a one-party state, and the second was awarding privileges and perks to state bureaucrats and Party officials, People’s Deputies, diplomats, etc.

The ‘three wise men’ Marx, Engels and Lenin all greatly over-estimated the political maturity of the broad masses of working people and their eagerness and ability to take control of their own destiny, albeit under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist Party. This leads us to the third mistake – revolution rather than evolution.

If you have a violent revolution to establish Socialism, then you not only get a violent reaction, but you catapult a whole population overnight from a system based on free enterprise or some autocratic rightwing form of government to a Socialist one where the reins of power are supposed to be handed over directly to the people.

In so-called ‘bourgeois democracies’ the electorate vote for political parties and their candidates to represent them in local and national assemblies and legislatures. The idea of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ was to hand over power directly to the broad toiling masses, who would govern themselves.

However it is obvious that class and other contradictions are not going to disappear overnight. Also it is clear that the broad mass of people will have no preparation for taking control of society themselves, which involves taking on great responsibility, self-sacrifice, and attending endless meetings, and possibly putting oneself up for election to various bodies.

The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ therefore cannot come in the form of a one-party state, or one-party led coalition, in the vain hope that the broad toiling masses will join and become politically active, ever vigilant and prepared to use their majority power to weed out and expel careerist, opportunist and other self-interest and anti-Socialist groups who infiltrate the Party or national coalition. Of course the privileges and perks offered to encourage Party membership, etc. attracted these anti-Socialist individuals, so was also a grievous mistake.

People often ask why undemocratic states like East Germany and North Korea insisted, or still insist, on describing themselves as ‘democratic’: the German Democratic Repubic and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is the same reason that the apparently contradictory term of  ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat’  is sometimes used. It is described in the Marxist-Leninist written works as democracy for the working-class and its allies in order to crush the class enemy, and therefore is denying democracy to the enemies of Socialism.

Since Socialism, in its truest form, is a more democratic system than any form of free enterprise, then Socialist countries feel justified in calling themselves ‘democratic’. The means of production, distribution and exchange is commonly owned, which must be more democratic than being in private hands and making profits for individuals by stealing from the wage packets of the exploited workers. But of course, if a ruling clique of State bureaucrats and Party officials are getting inflated salaries, special shops and other privileges, the democratic nature of the State becomes much more blurred.

However it is true that the population of most Socialist countries (with some exceptions such as during the Stalin era, and the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea/Cambodia) enjoyed many democratic benefits such as good health and education services, cheap housing, full employment and security in old age. If you are uneducated, unable to afford hospital treatment when ill, and out of a job then you can hardly be described as living in a true democracy. All these things are democratic rights, which by and large, the Socialist countries fulfilled.

Coming back to the idea of  ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, it is not an ideal term by any means since it implies no rights for minorities. There will always be minority groups within society who have rights which need protecting – gays, religious groups, the disabled, the elderly, children, etc. These minority groups cannot just be ignored and crushed under a dictatorship that only caters for the interests of the majority.

On the other hand, dialectical and historical materialism, the philosophy which underpins Marxism-Leninism, teaches that society progresses inevitably from a form of primitive communism, thru tribalism and feudalism, to capitalism and ultimately to Socialism and then Communism proper, in which the State itself finally withers away and you have the utopia of a self-governing Communist democracy. If you follow this logic, then there has to be a check to prevent society slipping backwards, as happened in the period 1989-1991, from Socialism to the more primitive, backward system of capitalism.

However this doesn’t have to take the form of a one-party dictatorship or coalition, at least not in the Socialist stage of development. During this stage there will be many class and other contradictions, and also the final Socialist model will not be necessarily agreed upon. The preservation of the Socialist State (‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ with rights for minorities if you like) can be achieved by establishing a Socialist Constitution, protected by a President and a national security force, national intelligence service, etc.

This Socialist Constitution would allow various political parties and other groups to exist and contest elections with rival candidates, as a prelude to the masses themselves becoming more politically active and eventually taking control of society directly themselves. The proviso, under this Constitution, would be that the basis of the State, whichever political party was elected to government, would be the common ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange, or at least the bulk of it (some private shops and family businesses could be allowed to remain.)

We would then have a system where a corrupt government could be voted out, but where a non-Socialist government could not be elected by a small majority, or even on a minority vote as has happened in Britain many times. In order to dismantle Socialism it would be necessary to hold a referendum on the Socialist Constitution. Normally such referendums require a two-thirds majority of the entire electorate (not just those voting) to replace the current Constitution, therefore Socialism would be stablilized as the basis of the State not susceptible to small swings in the popular vote. It is just not practical to keep swinging from taking industries and services into public ownership and then back to privatizing them again, stability is required.

Many years, maybe even centuries (and this again is where the three wise men and others underestimated the length of time required) of Socialism may be required, with various political parties and groups trying out different Socialist models (there are many, from State enterprise Socialism as existed in the USSR to worker-consumer cooperatives and competing smaller-scale  public enterprises as existed in the Yugoslav federation).

Only after all these years/centuries may society be unified and mature enough for it to progress to the ultimate stage of Communism, if indeed it is ever ready to do so. This would require certain conditions to be in place: The masses would need to be politically active and mature, they would need to have eliminated class contradictions and be united as members of one political party or of one political coalition, and the masses as a whole would need to be eternally active and vigilant to prevent minority would-be self-interest groups and criminal elements from taking over. In short, everybody would have to be a policeman/policewoman, a member of parliament, a legislator, a judge and everything else that the State now provides to protect and regulate society. The State could not wither away unless this universal form of self-government developed, thru years/centuries of evolution (not overnight revolution), and I am not convinced at all that it would ever happen.

The most which I would expect is that relatively small groups of dedicated individuals could set up self-governing communes, like the original Israeli kibbutzim. But if these became widespread, then possibly a Communist utopia could emerge, with this network of communes all trading with each other and cooperating on a worldwide scale. That, however, is so far into the distant future, and requires such a high level of maturity, vigilance, dedication and self-sacrifice, that human development, both spiritual and political, would have to be far in advance of what it is at the moment.

The demise of the Israeli kibbutzim from Socialist, almost Communist, mini-societies into largely capitalist enterprises prove how easy it is to slip back into the old ways based on greed and personal profit.

So Three Wise Men? Yes, Marx and Engels laid out the basis for many Communist and also democratic Socialist parties, like the original Labour Party was. They showed how all value was created by labor, and how all capitalist profit was stolen from the workers’ wage packets. Lenin had to put these ideas into practice in the most difficult circumstances and conditions existing in post-Tsarist Russia and its former empire, with the background of the First World War and then civil war to overthrow the Bolsheviks.

It is therefore hardly surprising Lenin and his comrades crushed all opposition, including Socialist opposition, but this was to prove disastrous, along with the perks and privileges awarded to State bureaucrats and Party officials to get the embryo State off the ground. Later Stalin took over, and his autocratic, paranoid dictatorship eliminated many sincere Socialists and Communists, while leaving in power the many self-interest groups and individuals who were there for the perks and privileges of office, and who held no allegance to Socialist ideals. Ultimately this led to the collapse of the whole system, with these State officials largely still in place 20 years later.

One has to ask the question whether people like Putin and the ex-Communist leaders in other former Socialist countries like Yugoslavia (where terrible wars and genocides took place under the guise of nationalism) were ever true Socialists/Communists in the first place, or just opportunists seeking to further their own careers and feather their own nests.

So next time we try to establish Socialism, we must learn not only from the three wise men, Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also from their mistakes and lack of foresight, which only became apparent in the Socialist experiments of the 20th Century.

Having said all this, I believe it is nevertheless true that even the imperfect Socialism which existed in the Soviet Union and the other Socialist countries achieved a great deal  for the broad mass of the people, and were truly a more caring society than capitalism. Think once again of their positive achievements – full employment, security in old age, good cheap public transport systems, subsidized rents and basic foodstuffs, good education (wiping out illiteracy in places like Russia), good health services, rights for women, and many other things. They also achieved much more – prowess in sports, which also helped to keep the people healthy and fit, the Soviet Union was a leader in space exploration putting up the first artificial satellite and the first person in Space, and these countries were leaders in many other fields.

The GDR (East Germany) had a high standard of living for the Socialist countries, and was one of the world’s leading industrial nations, particularly in industries like optics. Carl Zeiss of Jena who made cameras and other optical equipment was a GDR company, looked upon with envy from its inferior sister company in West Germany. It is a tragedy that  West Germany annexed the GDR, and grabbed these industries, claiming they were all ‘clapped out’, then threw millions of East Germans on the scrapheap. Unemployment was unknown in the GDR and other Socialist countries, but that’s what happens when you try to turn the clock back to an inferior, undemocratic system like capitalism where personal profit and market forces are the driving force, and where people and their rights/security come a poor second or third.

So Three Wise Men – yes. But we must build on their wisdom and learn from the practical experience of 20th Century Socialism, not repeating the same mistakes. That’s how society, and all humankind, progresses spiritually and in all other ways too. Only those who don’t learn from their mistakes fail to progress, and stagnate.

3D Mania

Well I’ve been waiting for it for about 56 years, ever since I first saw 3D films at the Saturday Morning Pictures in the early 1950s. But John Logie Baird, TV pioneer, demonstrated full color, 3D and hi-definition TV on huge screens back in the 1930s and 1940s, so the so-called 3D revolution has been an awful long time coming. In fact 3D was invented back in the 19th century, but has never really taken off.

Channel 4 recently had a 3D week, but although I had a selection of 3D glasses (red and green, red and blue and clear lens ones) I couldn’t really see much of a 3D effect even with the red and blue glasses deemed suitable for TV. There was a slight effect, but nothing to get excited about.

By far the best 3D is that seen thru the clear glasses issued at Imax cinemas. On that huge screen you literally are reaching out to catch things floating in the air before your eyes. Even in the 1950s you blinked as things came out of the screen straight at you. This doesn’t seem to work on a TV screen, even a 32″ flat screen like I have is far too small to have a noticeable 3D effect I found.

But I understand proper 3D TVs are now being made, and hopefully these will produce a better effect. And please lets dispense with the red and green/red and blue glasses and opt for clear ones. The clear ones allow full color, whereas the colored glasses drain most of the color from the screen, so you’re virtually watching in black and white (or is is blue/green and red?)

John Logie Baird actually developed 3D TV without the need for glasses at all so I believe, so we don’t seem to have come very far, in fact actually gone backwards, in the last 60 years or so.

I firmly believe 3D is the future of cinema and TV if we can get it right.

And let’s throw out those stupid comic strips, etc. designated ‘3D’ when they are nothing of the sort. I’m not talking about animated 3D films, but the 2D images which are often erroneously described as ‘3D’ – you don’t look thru glasses at them, they are merely drawn so they look less flat than some other comic strips.

The potential for 3D films/TV is enormous, but the technology has to be right first. Channel 4’s attempt was pretty pathetic I’m afraid. It didn’t help that you had to keep taking the glasses on and off again for most of the programs.

Inheritance Anomalies

The sensible thing to do is to make a Will, but many people don’t do this for various reasons, or just put it off indefinitely until it is too late. I have come across several cases among friends and family where, Will or no Will, inheritance rights have caused major problems and difficulties. It seems to me the law could do with a review.

I have become aware of three major problem areas regarding inheritance: where parents owning a home die but where one adult offspring, often unmarried, is still living in the family home; where one partner of a married couple (or of a couple with a civil partnership) dies and there are no children; and where one partner of  an unmarried couple (gay or straight) where there are no children dies.

Take the first case, that of the family home. I know of two cases where an unmarried adult has lived in the home all, or most, of their lives, their parents die and they suddenly find themselves not only bereaved, but about to be made homeless. This is because the law of inheritance, or the Will of the parents, states that their property is to be shared between all their offspring.

This usually means the family home has to be sold, and the money raised from the sale shared out amongst the offspring. This is fine for those who have already moved out of the family home into one of their own – a very nice little bonus. However it can be devastating for the often single adult still living in what has been his or her family home for maybe all their lives. Having lost both their parents, they are now faced with losing the home they’ve known all their lives too.

Bereavement and moving home are two of the most stressful things that can happen during one’s lifetime. To have to face both at the same time could easily lead to severe depression, a breakdown or even suicide. The law needs to be changed, even if a Will has been made. The adult still living in the family home should have security for at least a number of years, and probably for as long as they wish to continue living there. The home will contain memories which some will not wish to leave behind, while others will be all too eager to move away from these reminders. Bereavement affects people differently. I personally could not have contemplated moving out of my flat when my partner died, and would still find it very very difficult over 18 years later.

There are practical difficulties with the family home being sold too. The adult living there will find that his/her share of the proceeds of the sale are probably far too little to buy a new home, so they face homelessness or a struggle to obtain a mortgage, or to find suitable rented accommodation. All are probably forced to downsize and get rid of many of the household fixtures and fittings, which also have to be shared among their siblings.

Recognition needs to be given to adults still living in the family home, and my view is that they should have the right of tenure and to most, if not all, of the contents for as long as they wish to continue living there, which means for life if that is their wish. It has been their home all, or most, of their lives – why should they be forced to give it up just so siblings comfortably off in their own homes can get a nice little bonus? Of course if any of the siblings are themselves homeless or in unsatisfactory accommodation, they should be invited to share the family home by moving back in. Otherwise they should be content to wait till the occupant/occupants are ready to move before they claim their share of the inheritance. If they die in the meantime, then their offspring, partners or whatever will inherit.

The second scenario is where one partner in a childless couple (married or in a civil partnership) dies, and the inheritance passes to the surviving partner.  This means the family of the partner who dies loses their inheritance. Heirlooms and personal things which may have been in their family for generations, or things the deceased partner worked hard for, now are lost forever. They pass to the surviving partner, and to his/her family when they die. It is different where there are children, as the inheritance will eventually pass to them, who are offspring of both partners, therefore the family property stays within the family.

The third scenario is similar, where one partner of an unmarried couple (gay or straight) dies, but in this case under normal circumstances where there is no Will, the property (and home of the couple if owned) passes to the family of the deceased partner. This is the opposite case to the second scenario described above, but just as unfair. Of course if the property was jointly owned by the couple half will pass to the surviving partner, but this could like in the first scenario also cause major problems, such as being forced to move and possibly becoming homeless.

I know one case of a gay couple one of whom died, and his family felt they just could not claim the family heirlooms, antiques, etc. which had been in their family for generations because the surviving partner (they didn’t have a civil partnership and there was no Will) had lived in that rented home for about 40 years. So they decided to leave the property as it was, until the surviving partner moved out or died. It was expected he would move fairly soon, as he wasn’t on the rent book. In fact he managed to get the tenancy transferred, and apparently all the property still in the flat then became his. The family of the partner who died first, because of their generosity and compassion to the surviving partner, lost everything. The surviving partner was not to blame at all, he suffered from dementia and moved into care. The Social Services disposed of most of the property, presumably to pay for his care. I’m glad he got good care in his golden years, but at the same time why should family heirlooms, etc. (including sculptures and paintings done by an uncle of the deceased partner) be lost to that family forever?

In all these cases it seems to me there is unfairness. A sensible solution in the last two cases would be an equal division of the property between the surviving partner and the family of the deceased one, but the surviving partner having the right to live in the property and use most of its contents for life, or until he/she decides to move out. 

In the case of the first scenario, as already stated the family home and most of its contents should remain with the adult offspring still living there till they either die or decide to move away.

There is, finally, the general question of inheritance, death duties, and those who inherit nothing. In my view, and that of many Socialists, it is quite wrong that some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, sometimes so rich that they never have to work all their lives. So death duties have to be fixed so that the really wealthy are not able to pass on the bulk of this obscene wealth to their offspring, but it goes to the State in death duties. These death duties should then be used to insure that those whose parents have not left them much, or anything at all, get a lump sum when they reach a certain age – 18, 21 or whenever.

Personal things and modest homes and their contents should, of course, pass to partners and offspring, but vast family estates, ostentatious wealth, etc. should not be passed down from generation to generation. In a truly Socialist society there would, in any case, be no opportunity to accumulate such obscene wealth, since it would be a more equal society where everyone was rewarded in accordance to their work. Unearned income would be a thing of the past.

The Communist ethic, ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’ would also apply in that those able to do so would work and pay taxes, and those really and genuinely unable to do so (pensioners, severely disabled, children, etc.) would be looked after. This is, in fact, the case in most civilized societies today, most of which have a safety net paid out of taxes and national insurance, etc. to look after those unable to provide for themselves. This, however, needs to be carefully controlled and means tested, so that ‘spongers’ and those too lazy to work cannot claim State benefits.

However, this is another subject, the question of benefits and full employment, which is really separate from the issue of inheritance being discussed here.

The lesson to be learnt from the examples above is that making a Will is a very prudent move for people of all ages, and it should be drawn up in such a way as to fairly deal with all eventualities. Letting surviving partners and offspring continue to live in the family home, with most of its contents intact, is an essential part of any Will or inheritance law, with the proviso that the families of both partners or siblings of offspring still living in the family home will eventually inherit, but that they may well have to wait years.

Rhythm Riot!

Just back from the Rhythm Riot! rock’n’roll Weekender at Pontin’s Holiday Center, Camber Sands on the windswept, rainy East Sussex coast.

A crowd of friends were there, including many ‘Woodies’ (members of Keith Woods’ social club for recycled teenagers) and one of the original Teddy-boys, Breathless Dan Coffey who was responsible in the 1960s for introducing us to so many previously in Europe unknown Sun artists and others and for bringing over loads of those yellow-label Sun 45s.

I’d seen all the American acts before, but biggest surprise to me was Big Jay McNeely who not only plays great tenor sax, but has a great rockin’ singing voice, at 83 knockin’ spots off other legendary rockers younger than himself.

Barrence Whitfield on at 2 am that Friday nite did little for me I’m afraid, as his act seemed to mainly consist of screaming into the microphone, and most of his numbers sounded the same. The best was his second number, I thought, about Big Mamou which had a nice beat. He also did a version of Big T. Tyler’s ‘King Kong’ which was frantic, but too much like the other numbers he sung.

Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry did a fantastic set also, both rockin’ numbers including his biggie ‘Ain’t Got A Home’ with his frog imitations which gave him his nickname, and great ballads like ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’, ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You But I Do’ and Fats Domino’s rockin’ ballad ‘Blueberry Hill’. 

I must say I was not impressed with the Collins Kids, who were a novelty act in the 1950s because Larry Collins was a young teenager whose voice hadn’t broken. To be fair neither was in top form due to colds I believe, and so there were too many instrumentals for my liking. But Lorrie Collins’ fixed false toothy smile and Yankee-doodle ‘I’m so cutie-pie I could shit a brick” phony friendliness grated with me – I much prefer the down-home genuine hospitality of the Southerners like Big Jay and Clarence Henry. No sorry, the Collins Kids (Seniors might be a more appropriate description nowadays) did nothing for me I’m afraid.

There were some great discoveries among the supporting bands/acts, such as the sensational Revolutionaires complete with screamin’ sax and a lead singer with a gravelly voice well suited to rock’n’roll, and he also had a very energetic stage act, even dispensing with his guitar and playing some great numbers on piano to replace a former pianist with the band so I understand.

The name ‘Harmonica Sam’ conjured up an image of an old black guy from the Delta in his 90s, but on stage came a fresh-faced youth of about 18 at the most accompanied by Boppin’ Steve on piano and The Domestic Bumblebees from Sweden, all fairly young. Sam not only plays harmonica but has a good voice, and he virtually closed the weekend (there was one act after him that many didn’t stay up to see as it was in the early hours) in a really rockin’ manner. With acts like that we can be sure rock’n’roll will be around for the next 50/60 years or so. Many youngsters in the audience as well, which is encouraging.

The ‘heroines of the Soviet Union and People’s Republics’ were there as usual. Well I suppose they are trying to look like Britain’s ‘Land Girls’ of the 1940s in their dungarees and headscarves tied in a knot up front above their foreheads, but I just keep seeing Socialist Realist posters of them sitting on tractors on collective farms, holding up sheaves of corn or sickles to accompany the hammers held up by men dressed in working clothes.

Also there was all manner of fancy dress from uniforms from the 1940s (mainly American army and sailor ones) to an old guy in full drag all weekend.

The Rhythm Riot! has always been great fun, with a good friendly party atmosphere and a wide variety of music from the 1940s/50s eras. So apart from the appalling weather, a great weekend.

We Wish You A Rotten Christmas…



That seems to be the message from the public transport organizations at this time of year. The very day everybody in the country badly needs public transport, it is taken off!

Christmas Day is the time families and friends like to meet up, party and have a few drinks. This means even for those with cars, driving is a no-no. So visiting at Xmas means either remaining teetotal, or staying overnite at least two nites, often three as most national railways stop running for two days.

This situation is unique to Britain, and only came about in the last 20 years or so. Before that transport ran on Xmas Day and Boxing Day. Since it stopped many is the time I’ve been unable to visit my mother on Xmas Day, and she’s had to spend it all on her own, not having room to put me up (not even a sofa). Now she lives near me, but friends can’t visit because of the lack of transport (they don’t have cars so remaining teetotal isn’t a helpful option.) So it will be just the two of us again, with my friends all on their own wishing it was all over with no public transport, all the shops, etc. closed and a load of rubbish on TV.

Every additional death on the roads over Xmas will be on the conscience of selfish public transport workers who refuse to work over the Xmas holiday period. When I worked in an essential public service we were listed to work 6 hours Xmas Day, on double-time with a day off in lieu. People who didn’t celebrate Xmas and some who did were falling over themselves to do your shift. If they did the early one starting at 8 am, by 2pm they could be on their way home (there was public transport in those days) with 6 hours double pay and a day off coming to them. Good deal!

Places abroad like Paris and even tiny towns in Germany have public transport running Xmas Day, so why can’t UK? The EU should make a ruling on public safety grounds (discouraging drinking and driving) that all member countries MUST run public transport all over Christmas, and indeed 365/366 days a year. Come on Brussels/Strasbourg, legislate and FORCE Britain to stop the carnage on the roads at Xmas and stop condemning millions to a miserable, lonely Christmas separated from family and friends.

Back to Cyprus after 11 years



Above: flags of the two Cypriot republics


After a gap of over 11 years I returned to my father’s country of Cyprus for a week’s holiday. The changes during that time are quite enormous.

Whereas in 1998 it was not possible for Greek-Cypriots to visit the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, and Turkish-Cypriots could only get into the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus thru the Pergamos checkpoint via Pyla village and the British base at Dhekelia, now there is freedom of movement thruout the whole island for everybody, including Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Passport/visa controls at the various checkpoints on the Green Line are minimal.

This is a great improvement on the previous situation since the events of 1974 divided the island. When I visited both sides in 1977 (I have a British passport and an Anglicized surname, so was allowed to cross) there was no contact between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the island. A young Greek-Cypriot just released from his National Service said the only Turkish-Cypriots he had seen was thru the eyesights of an army rifle. I found this very sad indeed.

In the 1990s this had improved slightly in that there was a place near Paphos Gate in Nicosia where Turkish and Greek Cypriots could wave and shout to each other, which I witnessed them doing. There was also the checkpoint mentioned above where Turkish Cypriots (but not Greek Cypriots or foreigners) could cross the Green Line easily because the Greek Cypriots had no control here, the Pergamos checkpoint leading to the British army base and the UN controlled village of Pyla where Greek and Turkish Cypriots still live together amicably.

Now there is continuous contact between the two Cypriot communities, with many Turkish Cypriots working daily in the Southern Greek-Cypriot republic, and many Greek-Cypriots visiting the northern republic.

I myself witnessed the Turkish and Greek Cypriot guides on our coach tours talking to each other. This contact has greatly increased understanding between the two communities. It is now recognized by many Cypriots that demanding all ‘refugees’ return to their former homes is unpractical and will never happen. 35 years have passed, so can these people truly be classed as ‘refugees’ for a start? Many have been born and grown up in the houses their parents were allocated when they were refugees, and never knew their former family homes.

If Greek-Cypriots were to return to their former homes in the north, then Turkish-Cypriots would claim the right to return to their former homes in the south, now occupied by Greek-Cypriots.

However, the situation is greatly improved by the freedom of travel and the negotiations between the two sides now need to concentrate on levels of compensation for lost homes/land/property for both Cypriot communities, and on the final status of the two Cypriot republics.

United Cypriot flag - proposed in Annan Plan

Proposed flag for a united confederal Cyprus

At present we have the anomaly whereby the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus rejected the Kofi Annan plan to reunite the island yet was admitted into the EU, whilst the Turkish-Cypriots in the unrecognized (except by Turkey) TRNC voted in the referendum to accept the Annan reunification plan. So the Greek-Cypriots have been rewarded with EU membership for voting to continue the division of the island, whilst the Turkish-Cypriots have been denied EU membership even though they voted to reunite Cyprus.

The problem is largely one of building up trust and safeguards. Turkish-Cypriots were driven into enclaves long before the events of 1974, and after the fascist Sampson coup were threatened with annihilation. Nicos Sampson admitted in an interview that had Turkey not intervened, he would have united Cyprus with the then fascist Junta-run Greece and eliminated all Turkish-Cypriots on the island. Since most Greek-Cypriots have always wanted Enosis (union with Greece) to make Cyprus a Greek island, is it any wonder the Turkish-Cypriots do not trust them?

If Turkish-Cypriots again become overwhelmed by Greek-Cypriots in all areas of the island, then they will again feel threatened with ethnic cleansing or genocide. Remember it was not Turkey who first invaded Cyprus in 1974, it was Greece. Greek-Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios said as much after the 1974 coup when he appealed to the UN for help because ‘Greece has invaded Cyprus’.

Britain had already colonized Cyprus, giving it independence in 1960 on condition the UK continued to occupy two large areas as ‘Sovereign Bases’ where British administration, law, etc. still rules. Most Greek-Cypriots sought ‘Enosis’ (union with Greece) not independence, which threatened the Turkish-Cypriot population.

The Green Line dividing north from south Cyprus was NOT a product of the events of 1974 or the intervention by Turkey. It was a green line drawn on a map by the British authorities during the ethnic struggles between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Turkey only intervened when Britain, a guarantor of Cypriot independence, refused to act to reverse the Sampson coup and stop annexation of the island by fascist Greece. Turkey was also a guarantor of Cypriot independence, along with Greece.

So in 1974 we had the situation where one guarantor of Cypriot independence (Greece) had invaded the island by means of a coup, with the goal of annexing it and ethnically cleansing it of Turkish-Cypriots. Where another guarantor of Cypriot independence (Britain) continued to occupy two large areas of the island with thousands of troops, yet refused to live up to its obligations to protect the independence of the rest of the island. Where the third guarantor (Turkey) felt obliged to annex the northern part of Cyprus and set up a Turkish Cypriot state (later declared a republic) as a safe haven for Turkish-Cypriots.

Since 1974, one of the main complaints by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots is the number of settlers from mainland Turkey who have settled in the North, but then they might just as well complain about the number of British and other settlers who have moved permanently into homes on both sides of the island.

It seems to me a solution to the Cyprus problem is now in sight. It will mean some Greek and Turkish Cypriots moving to their former homes/land, but most of these problems being solved by compensation. It will also require cast-iron guarantees that neither Greece nor Turkey will try to annex the entire island, or any part of it. A genuinely independent Cypriot state needs to be established, and this will probably need to be a federal republic comprised of two semi-autonomous Cypriot states, one Greek and one Turkish. The future of the British base areas also needs to be settled, as these are also virtually occupied areas of the island.

The whole island will then be a member of the European Union, and hopefully mainland Turkey will also be admitted.

I was greatly impressed by the new freedom of movement and cross-border contacts between the two sides, which are beneficial to both Cypriot communities. Not only financially, but culturally, politically and also very beneficial in building up friendship and trust between the two very similar Cypriot communities. The greatest difference between them is language and religion, and their allegance to two different NATO countries – Greece and Turkey. Across the entire island foreign flags fly. In the north it is the mainland Turkish flag alongside the flag of the self-declared Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. In the South it is the mainland Greek flag alongside the flag of the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus. In the British Sovereign Base areas it is the Union flag of the UK.

The situation is similar to Northern Ireland, where one community flies the Irish tricolor and identfies with the Republic of Ireland, whilst the other community flies the Union flag and identifies with Great Britain. A solution has been found there, and now a solution needs to be found for the Cypriot situation. Success now focuses on the final details of any reunification plan, especially the question of compensation and format of the reunified Cypriot republic.

Below: flags of the three allied/occupying nations