Sunday, December 25, 2005

Tajikistan: Where the Swastika Is Welcome

Tajikistan: Where the Swastika Is Welcome
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
Tajikistan - Swastika
The swastika, Tajik-style
Like other post-Soviet countries, Tajikistan has taken a fresh look its history following independence in 1991. The result is a state campaign to promote the notion that the Tajiks as a Aryan nation – and the widespread use of the swastika.

Prague, 16 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The swastika may be known the world over as the symbol of Nazi Germany and it may be banned in some states for that reason, but in Tajikistan it appears on placards, banners, and billboards with the blessing of the state.
For officials in Dushanbe, the swastika is above all a symbol of national identity. Most Tajik historians now maintain that Tajiks are of Aryan origin, and argue that Aryan or Indo-European civilization must therefore be studied and promoted. It is an argument now accepted by the state. Indeed, the revival of Aryan culture is now official policy of Dushanbe: 2006 will be celebrated in Tajikistan as the year of Aryan civilization.
The authorities say the swastika’s now widespread adoption in Tajikistan has nothing to do with Nazism and fascism. “Throughout history, interpretations of this symbol have changed,” notes Abduhakim Sharipov, head of a department in the Soghd regional administration. He, like other officials, emphasizes the swastika is a symbol of Aryan culture that has existed for many centuries. “We all know that fascism used this symbol for its purposes. This symbol therefore carries negative connotations for many…[but] we should not limit ourselves to only one interpretation.”
When the swastika first appeared, in India, it was as a sign of eternity and eternal motion. The newer, positive connotations that the Tajik authorities want the swastika to gain were outlined two years ago by President Imomali Rakhmonov when he declared 2006 the year of Aryan culture: the aim of the year is, he said, to “study and popularize Aryan contributions to the history of the world civilization; to raise a new generation [of Tajiks] with the spirit of national self-determination; and to develop deeper ties with other ethnicities and cultures.”
Linguistically, the Tajiks are closely tied to the Persians, who since ancient times have used the term Aryan to describe themselves and their language.
The Tajik historian and ethnographer Usto Jahonov supports both the state’s desire to raise awareness of Tajikistan’s Aryan heritage and the use of the swastika. Using an argument employed by Tajik officials in numerous speeches, Jahonov contends that it is an inherent part of Aryan culture and a key to building national identity. A stronger national identity is itself “needed now because we live among [non-Aryan,] Turkic nations” that are, he says, rewriting “their history by claiming that they emerged in this area [Central Asia]. We should therefore go back to Aryan history, demonstrate and prove to others where our place is. Each nation should know its place.”
An Ancient Symbol In The Shadow Of A Modern Taboo
But it is hard to rid the swastika of its negative associations. For many people in the West, the swastika is a taboo, synonymous as it is with Nazism, fascism, and white supremacy in general. Post-war Germany outlawed the swastika and other Nazi symbols for all but scholarly purposes.
Continued sensitivities were highlighted earlier this year when Britain’s Prince Harry was criticized for wearing a Nazi swastika armband and a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party. The incident led to calls from German politicians for a ban on all Nazi symbols across the European Union, which was then followed by a debate in the European Commission in Brussels.
For similar reasons, the new prominence of the swastika is touching on sensitivities in Tajikistan, recently prompting a group of Tajik World War II veterans to write a letter to Rakhmonov asking him to end the use of the swastika.
The Tajik president has so far not responded.
“I am a veteran of World War II,” says one Tajik former member of the Soviet army. “We veterans demand that this fascist cross, the swastika, be removed from placards. We fought against the Nazis, who had the swastika. Why should we propagate it now?”
The use of the swastika by skinheads has made the symbol even more controversial in recent years.
Due to high levels of unemployment and poverty, many Tajiks have had to work as illegal migrant laborers abroad, overwhelmingly in Russia. Many have been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Several have been killed by racist groups in recent years.
The most prominent case was the murder, in February 2004, of a 9-year-old Tajik girl in St. Petersburg by a group of teenagers armed with chains, metal rods and knives. Khursheda Sultanova’s father and her 11-year-old cousin were also savagely beaten.
This and other cases have provoked public outrage in Tajik society.
For one woman interviewed, both objections to the swastika originate close to home. “My grandfather died in a battle against Nazi Germany,” she told RFE/RL, and “last year, my neighbor’s son was killed by a group of skinheads in Russia.”
“I am amazed to see [the swastika]. Why does our government recover and propagate the [hooked] cross now?”
This Tajik woman says she welcomes a rediscovery of the Tajik nation’s history. But, she argues, historians should not forget the nation’s recent past just to revive its ancient heritage.
(RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service correspondent in Tajikistan, Alisher Akhmedov, contributed to this report.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

39 years of waiting

From the BBC:
Shame on the religious fundamentalists and so-called moralists around the world.
39 years of waiting
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Roger Lockyer and Percy Steven
Roger and Percy: Already signed unofficial London register
With civil partnerships now legal, one gay couple tells the BBC what it means to be the first in the queue - one they've waited four decades to come to an end.
They've been waiting 39 years, but Roger Lockyer and Percy Steven are about to make honest men of each other.
When 21 December comes around, the London couple will be at the front of the queue at Westminster Register Office to become a legally-recognised, officially sanctioned, Parliamentary-approved Civil Partnership. Or, perhaps more simply, a happily married gay couple - in all but name.
A few short legal ticks and then, together with their witnesses, Roger and Percy will toast their little bit of legal history over lunch at a favourite little venue.
December marks a sea-change in British society with the 2004 Civil Partnership Act coming into force.
The legislation allows gay and lesbian couples to declare themselves permanently together in proceedings which, in every legal regard, accord them the rights which married people take for granted.
'Long overdue'
So when Roger, 77, and Percy, 66, quietly step into the register office and pick up the pen to sign their names, it will be not only with a sense of satisfaction but also with a feeling of "about bloody time".
There was a pause as my mother took this in - and I waited and eventually said, 'So what's it to be? A cup of tea or a Scotch?'
Percy on telling his mother he was gay
"This really is quite long overdue," says Roger, a retired professor of history at Royal Holloway College. "It really has been a long time to wait for what, quite frankly, should have been recognised as our normal right.
"It means that I am not going to worry anymore about things like inheritance of our home, were I to die first. We both know of people who have lost their home because of the inheritance tax bill when one partner has died."
Married couples expect part of their pension, and all of their assets, to be transferred to their spouse on death. That will now also apply to gay couples in civil partnerships.
Family rights
Another major issue is next of kin rights - something close to the heart of Roger and Percy.
Brighton and Hove: 510
Westminster: 140
Manchester: 88
Newcastle: 80
Birmingham: 70
Leeds: 60
Edinburgh: 76
Sheffield: 58
Nottingham: 50
Glasgow: 30
Cardiff: 24
Belfast: 20
Liverpool 20
Londonderry: 6
Aberdeen: 5

"Eight years ago Roger had to go into hospital for a week," says Percy. "I was along visiting and this doctor, this medical god, came through with his acolytes.
"Roger asked if I could stay and the doctor asked who I was. When Roger said I was his partner, he said, 'What? Your business partner?' and looked quite horrified and askance.
"I thought 'well f - you' and offered him my seat with a smile. It was only later that one of his interns came back and said to us that they were deeply ashamed by his behaviour."
That kind of event has increasingly become the exception. In practice, many organisations have recognised gay relationships while waiting for the law to catch up, particularly in the light of the 1998 Human Rights Act and related European Union anti-discrimination measures.
It's fantastic that everyone can now enjoy this long term commitment
Cheryl Shilvock, Surrey

But for Roger and Percy it has been 40 years of waiting. They were introduced through a matchmaking friend who thought the young academic and Percy, a South-Africa born actor, would get on like a house on fire. They soon realised they wanted to spend their lives together.
Their professional lives have taken them around Britain and the United States where, they say, they found attitudes more liberal than at home.
Older, but militant
But it has been the official recognition they have been waiting for.
Same sex couples recognised as legal partners
Similar rights to married couples
Inheritance and pensions benefits etc
Court-based dissolution similar to divorce
22,000 expected to sign up in first five years
"After 40 years of being together I don't think that it needs a declaration - our love does not need proclaiming as such," says Percy. "But here is another importance in making our fellow citizens aware that there are other people with other lifestyles in the universe.
"As I have got older I have got much more militant because this is a political statement as well as an emotional statement."
Roger says: "We have suffered very little discrimination during our time together but it is important to us to know that we will now be legally kin. It used to be said that homosexuals are some kind of horrible people who cannot have any kind of meaningful relationship.
"Younger generations have a different perspective on this. Kids are much more willing to say that they are gay and that is perhaps because society, and their age group, has changed its attitudes."
Roger suggests that a crucial social change may come in how the public construe the "gay scene". Hedonistic lifestyles in post-war London were driven by the simple fact that relationships were, until the late 1960s, illegal and until now unrecognised.
While the government's 1957 Wolfenden Report recommended decriminalising homosexuality (concluding it was "not a disease") it took a decade to get through Parliament, albeit with a higher age of consent.
"Before Wolfenden, if you were a bachelor, that was that, the assumption was you would get married," he says. "But after the report, if it were said that you were a confirmed bachelor, then it was 'hey ho, we really know what you are'."
Men of his generation were subject to blackmail - particularly those involved in politics or business - while the police would send the vice squad in to raid clubs, the assumption being that anyone who attended was involved in corrupting the public morals.
That sense of "something to be ashamed of" did not end with legal reform in the 1960s. Staff at one popular gay club in London regularly warned patrons in the 1990s that the photographers outside were not taking pictures to promote the venue.
Today, as couples seek partnership, the wider public gaze may shift from night clubs to the simple and mundane things of ordinary life: couples being couples, living out their lives in society. This may prove crucial to undermining remaining prejudices.
Letting the family know
In Percy's case, he never discussed his sexuality with his father, but believes he always knew.
His mother however had to confront the issue when she visited from South Africa soon after the couple had bought a home.
"She asked 'So where are you sleeping', assuming that I had temporarily moved from my room to create a guest bedroom," recalls Percy.
" 'That's my bedroom there'. 'You're sharing with Roger while I am here?' she said. 'No that is our bedroom, mother.
"Well, there was a pause as my mother took this in. And I waited and eventually said, 'So what's it to be? A cup of tea or a Scotch?' "

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Greetings from Dubai

Dear all,
Greetings from Dubai!  After a travel hiatus - I mean leisure travel - lasting 6 months (long by his standards), Wee Cheng is finally off again for another adventure...ok, it's not adventure in his conventional sense, but a trip nevertheless.
I arrived in Dubai at 6:30am today after an overnight flight from Singapore.  For one who has always planned his trip meticulously, this is my first holiday at such short notice.  I booked the air ticket less than 24 hours before flying.  Poor me - I have been working very hard since I joined my current job in May this year, also my most stressful job ever in my working life.  Finally, after months of an ardous painful process, we managed to submit our IPO application to the Stock Exchange on Friday, after which I rushed to the travel agency to confirm and pay for my air ticket.
Here I am at a bright flashy business lounge of Dubai airport, waiting for a connection to Kuwait.  This is going to be a 10 day city-hopping trip around the Gulf, yes, fabulously wealthy Gulf, flush with Petrodollars and space-age fantasy monuments.
From Kuwait, I will return to the United Arab Emirates where I will meet my Anglo-Dutch-Sharjah-resident adventurer friend Arian whom I met in Mauritius in 2003.  One night in the emirate of Sharjah and off to the Kingdom of Bahrain by the new budget carrier, Air Arabia.  From Bahrain, I will proceed to Doha, capital of Qatar and base of the famous TV channel, Al Jazeera.
I will then return to Sharjah where I would explore the rest of the Emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah, plus a side trip to the Sultanate of Oman.  Then back to Singapore.
OK, have to check out the legendary Dubai Dutyfree now.  More from me later.
Have fun!
Wee Cheng
Dubai International Airport