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“The Kite Runner” is a movie about friendship and loyalty, childhood and growing up, making mistakes and making up for them, cowardice and courage. It’s about Afghanistan; its people, its landscape, and its painful history – the horrors of Soviet invasion and Taliban Rule. It is about the gap between the West and the developing world – the U.S. and Afghanistan in this case -, a gap it shows to be hard, but not impossible to bridge. There is some hell in that American heaven, and some heaven in that Afghan hell. And last, but not least, it is about kites – not just the metaphorical ones!

The Kite Runner (2007) (Takes some time to load!)

Charlie Rose discusses “The Kite Runner” with Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel the movie is based on, director Marc Forster and main actor Khalid Abdalla.

“Time Out” – Review

Now that’s a nice surprise! According to a poll by in Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Indonesia, the Palestinian Territories, and among the Muslim population of Nigeria a clear majority of those questioned is more or less in favor of globalisation and trade:

Asked about ‘globalization, especially the increasing connections of our economy with others around the world’, majorities in six of the seven nations polled say that it is ‘mostly good’ for their country. Approval is highest among Egyptians and Nigerian Muslims (79% and 78% saying mostly good, respectively). Sixty-three percent of Azerbaijanis, 61 percent of both Iranians and Indonesians, and 58 percent of Palestinians see globalization as mostly good. While support in Turkey does not reach a majority, a plurality still calls globalization mostly good (39% to 28%). On average across all seven publics, 63 percent say that globalization is good for their own countries. Only 25 percent think it is mostly bad.

The World Bank has finally published the revised poverty figures for 1981-2005, introducing a higher poverty line, $1.25 a day instead of $1. At first the results are a little confusing. And so is the title of the study:

The Developing World is Poorer Than We Thought, But No Less Successful in the Fight Against Poverty

Here is a nice summary, if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

If you take a closer look, the main findings haven’t changed much:

“- The % below $1.25 a day was halved, falling from 52% to 26% over 1981-2005.

– The trend decline in the aggregate poverty rate was one % point per year.

– Number of poor fell by 500 million, from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion.

– At this rate, the developing world as a whole is on track for attaining the first Millennium Development Goal of halving the 1990 poverty rate by 2015.”

To draw conclusions about the root causes for these successes, it is very important to look at the regional differences. Globalised East Asia has made impressing progress, especially China:

“- Dramatic progress in East Asia. Looking back to the early 1980s, East Asia was the region with the highest incidence of poverty in the world, with almost 80% living below $1.25 a day in 1981. By 2005 this had fallen to 18%.

– There are 600 million fewer people living in poverty by this standard in China alone, though progress in China has been uneven over time.

– In the developing world outside China, the $1.25 poverty rate has fallen from 40% to 29% over 1981-2005, though not enough to bring down the total number of poor, which has stayed at around 1.2 billion.”

But Africa has been marginalized:

“- $1.25 a day poverty rate for Africa has shown no sustained downward trend over the whole period; starting and ending the period at 50%. The number of poor has almost doubled in Africa over 1981-2005, from 200 million to 380 million.”

The big question seems to be: How do we get Africa on the Asian track?

20 years ago, in August and September 1988, people all over Burma took to the streets to protest military rule and bring back democracy. The government reacted with most cruel repression. It is estimated that at least 3 000 people were murdered during the crackdown.

Min Zin was only 14-years-old when she saw students getting killed before her eyes. She was able to survive and escape arrest by going underground for many years. In the Far Eastern Economic Review she remembers those days and what has happened since then:

Reflections on Burma’s Uprising

Voices of ’88 is an internet site commemorating the democracy movement.

Beyond Rangoon is a movie based on the events starring Patricia Arquette.

Some commentators – left and right – are convinced that Russia’s new aggressive nationalism is at least to some degree a reaction to the West’s own special kind of aggression. They tell us that Russia has been humiliated by the West and if it had only been treated as a partner, it would have behaved like one.

Cathy Young strongly disagrees. Russia has not been humiliated by anyone, she argues, but a lot of people have been humiliated by Russia:

Don’t Cry for Russia – The world’s unlikeliest “victim.”

Forty years ago, when russian tanks brutally ended the Prague Spring, eight russian human rights activists saved the honour of the russian people by showing their support for czech independence on Red Square in Moscow. Of course they had to pay a heavy price for their courage.

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty has talked to two of them, Pavel Litvinov and Viktor Fainberg, about their own experiences and their thoughts and feelings on the Russian invasion of Georgia:

Forty Years After Prague, It’s Georgia’s Turn

There are two reasons why I very much hope that a real and true peace will return to Georgia as soon as possible. The first is a very obvious one: war of course means that people are being killed and injured. But the second reason may be just as important: wars can easily destroy everything a country has been building up for very long periods of time: its infrastructure, its economy and its democratic institutions. And they can do that very quickly.

Starting in 2003 with the Rose Revolution – possibly the greatest moment in this small country’s painful history! – the country has done a lot of very positive reforms. To be sure, it has made some mistakes, too, and messing with a powerful and aggressive Russia might have been the biggest one. There have also been some political setbacks just before the war. Freedom House still calls it only “Partly Free”, and Amnesty has protested some of its politics concerning the rule of law. But, all in all, Georgia has been on the right track for some years now, and this is especially true for its economy, which has been one of the fastest growing not only in the region, but around the globe.

The Cato Institute held a very interesting and hopeful policy briefing on Georgia’s successes and difficulties in May 2008. You can watch or listen to it here:

Georgia’s Transformation into a Modern Market Economy

“Featuring Kakha Bendukidze, Head of the State Chancellery, Georgia, with comments by Andrei Illarionov, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute, and Former Economic Adviser to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Moderated by Ian Vásquez, Cato Institute.

Following the Rose Revolution of 2003, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia began far-reaching reforms in governance and economic policy that are turning the country into a post-socialist success story. Georgia now ranks 44th out of 141 countries on the Economic Freedom of the World index, is cited by the World Bank as one of the world’s leading reformers, and is sustaining economic growth of more than 9 percent per year. Kakha Bendukidze, one of Georgia’s key reformers, will explain how his country is rapidly modernizing and will share his vision for continued high growth in a sometimes hostile neighborhood. Andrei Illarionov will assess Georgia’s progress and highlight its remaining challenges in consolidating democratic capitalism.”

Freedom House urges the world community to learn from this grave mistake:

Authoritarian Olympics Should Not Be Repeated

“We’re just beginning to understand the lengths to which the Chinese Communist Party went to systematically crush dissent in the name of the Olympics,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. ‘Behind all of the pomp and glitter, an untold number of Chinese citizens are now languishing in labor camps, prisons or simply missing as a result of these Games. The Chinese authorities and their partners at the IOC have taught the international community some painful lessons that should not be ignored.’

A new democratic standard for the Games should be put in place before any new host countries are announced. The next two Olympics are in established democracies, but in 2014 the Winter Games move to Russia, an authoritarian regime that recently invaded neighboring Georgia forcing more than 100,000 people from their homes.

‘The IOC consistently demonstrated that it was unwilling to use its influence to push China’s Communist leaders to make even basic reforms,’ said Windsor. ‘Without intervention now, I can guarantee that Russia will deliver a repeat performance of China’s most grievous human rights abuses.'”

Declassified – Tiananmen Square (History Channel Documentary)

“This episode of Declassified tells of the birth and death of a movement, and the secret story of how demonstrators changed China forever.”

Human Rights Watch is very clear about the impact of the games on human rights:

Hosting Olympics a Catalyst for Human Rights Abuses

IOC and World Leaders Fail to Challenge Great Leap Backward for Rights in China

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at HRW:

“The 2008 Beijing Games have put an end – once and for all – to the notion that these Olympics are a ‘force for good.’ The reality is that the Chinese government’s hosting of the Games has been a catalyst for abuses, leading to massive forced evictions, a surge in the arrest, detention, and harassment of critics, repeated violations of media freedom, and increased political repression.

Not a single world leader who attended the Games or members of the IOC seized the opportunity to challenge the Chinese government’s behavior in any meaningful way. Will anyone wonder, after the Games are over, why the Chinese government remains intransigent about human rights?”

Is there a way to measure how open China really was during the games? Well, how about this very simple one?

BBC News, Beijing:China has received a total of 77 applications to stage protests during the Olympic Games period – but none has been approved. Beijing’s public security bureau said 74 applications were “withdrawn”, two were “suspended” and one was “vetoed”. China was praised by the International Olympic Committee when it said protest areas would be set up for the Olympics.”

Any more questions?

Still convinced that China is slowly making progress on the human rights front? Well, think twice. After all China is a dictatorship, which forces 77- and 79-year-old ladies to one year of “reeducation through labor”, as these cynics call it. So why are two grandmas treated like dangerous enemies of this mighty state? Because they tried to publicly complain about the forced eviction from their homes.

The Olympics could have been and should have been their stage, a chance to speak up without fear. Instead, their stepping on the world stage has once and for all shown the real and very ugly face of the games.

Yes, these Olympics could have worked as a trojan horse for human rights in China. But almost no one was ready to get into that horse – or out of it once it was inside . It’s a shame, and a disaster for the human rights movement.

Daily Kos comments:

“There’s something lurking just beneath the surface. It’s the Olympics as Potemkin Village, the Olympics as propaganda, the Olympics as police state.

Isn’t Berlin Beijing wonderful? Isn’t this all about peace, and unity, and brother and sisterhood? Isn’t this all about fun and peaceful competition? Isn’t this all about entertainment and sport as a unifying force? Isn’t this beyond politics? Well, no, it isn’t. The protests for human rights, for Freedom for Tibet, for free speech, for an end to the genocide in Darfur have all been suppressed in China.

But, folks, we’re not in China. And we need to raise a ruckus. We need to call on China to free Wu Dianyuan And Wang Xiuying, and everyone else they are holding to keep Berlin Beijing and its Olympics beautiful.”

Less than a year ago, people around the world were outraged when the burmese junta brutally ended the largely nonviolent pro-democracy-protests headed by monks, the biggest since almost two decades. All of this seems to be forgotten, now that the focus of attention has moved to the general’s big brother in the north, the host of the Olympics.

This film documents the tragic events, people should have remembered, but obviously haven’t:

Inside Myanmar – The Crackdown – 10 Oct 07

“For this extended special news programme, Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley went undercover in Myanmar to report exclusively on the people’s protests and resulting bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military government, talking to the protesters, filming the bloody crackdown and gauging the mood of the nation.”

Tibet has become a hip issue and everyone has heard of human rights violations there. But most people in the west are not as well informed as they think they are. If they would be, there would have been far more protests before and during the games – protests, that could have been decisive for Tibetans.

This documentary proves that arbitrary arrests, torture and forced sterilisation are still widespread:

The True Face of China – Dispatches Undercover in Tibet

“With reporting so rigidly controlled from the region little is known of living conditions inside Tibet. To make this film, Tibetan exile Tash Despa returns to the homeland he risked his life to escape 11 years ago, to carry out secret filming with award-winning director Jezza Neumann. Risking imprisonment and deportation, he uncovers evidence of the “cultural genocide” described by the Dalai Lama. He finds the nomadic way of life being forcefully wiped out as native Tibetans are stripped of their land and livestock and are being resettled in concrete camps. He reveals the regime of terror which dominates daily life and makes freedom of expression impossible. Tash meets victims of arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and “disappearances” and uncovers evidence of enforced sterilisations on ethnic Tibetan women. He sees for himself the impact of the enormous military and police presence in the region, and the hunger and hardship being endured by many Tibetans.”

While China is hosting the Olympics, the sudanese government continues the ethnic cleansing of Darfur. Where is the connection? Well, if China would pressure Khartoum or at least get out of the way of the next UN-initiative, the killing could end very quickly. And if the world would put enough pressure on China, they would do just that. Yes, I believe it’s that simple. But I’m afraid we will never find out. The world is too busy watching sports right now.

The New York Times portrayed the Dream for Darfur-Team and its desperate struggle to bring the grim realities of Darfur to the world’s attention:

Changing The Rules of the Games

Here you’ll find their short overview of what China is doing, as well as what it should be doing.

“China Must:

  • Immediately provide half of the transport helicopters that UNAMID requires, with support from Europe and the United States for maintenance and contracting arrangements.
  • Support punitive measures, such as UN Security Council targeted sanctions, against Khartoum officials, until peace and security for Darfur is achieved.  UN targeted sanctions should be imposed immediately against government, rebel, or militia officials who are responsible for undermining UNAMID’s deployment, the North-South peace deal, or regional stability, such as attempting to overthrow the government in neighboring Chad.
  • Verifiably suspend all military cooperation with the Khartoum regime, including weapons transfers, until peace and security for Darfur is achieved.
  • Work with the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in a quartet supporting UN and African Union initiatives in Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Chad.  This cooperative work on the peace process needs to be comprehensive.  The problems of Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Chad are intertwined, so unless peace is advanced on all of these fronts it will be unlikely to be achieved on any of these fronts.”

It is one of the most famous and most impressive pictures of the 20th century. A young man, carrying nothing but shopping bags, standing right in front of a tank, forcing it to stop. We don’t know his name. We don’t know his fate. We don’t even know what he told the soldier when he climbed up the tank. But we all know what he stood for, there on the street, all alone.

Now that the world is watching the games in Beijing, we should remember this very ordinary and yet so extraordinary man. Whoever he is – we all know him.

This documentary is a tribute to him and all the brave chinese who tried to bring freedom to their beautiful country: Tank Man

(I don’t agree with all the economic lessons we are being taught in the second half of the film, but that’s another matter)

While the whole world is watching the games in China, this same China is playing a very different game around the world, a game so terrible, you will be unaible to enjoy sports once you think about it. Last year, when burmese soldiers fired on peaceful protesters, Christopher Hitchens wrote some very important and very clear words about China’s Role in the world:

Maintained in China

“I do not need to specify these senescent gangster systems individually, except that they all have one thing in common. They are all defended, from Cuba to Zimbabwe, by the Chinese vote at the United Nations. Those who care or purport to care about human rights must start to discuss this problem in plain words. Is there an initiative to save the un-massacred remains of the people of Darfur? It will be met by a Chinese veto. Does anyone care about Robert Mugabe treating his desperate population as if it belonged to him personally? China is always ready to help him out. Are the North Koreans starved and isolated so that a demented playboy can posture with nuclear weapons? Beijing will give the demented playboy a guarantee. How long can Southeast Asia bear the shame and misery of the Burmese junta? As long as the embrace of China persists. The identity of Tibet is being obliterated by the deliberate importation of Chinese settlers. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man who claims even to know and determine the sex lives of his serfs (by the way, the very essence of totalitarianism), is armed and financed by China.”

In my eyes the question, if it was a mistake to give the Olympics to Beijing, cannot yet be answered. If nothing much happens during this time, when the whole world is watching, it will have been one of the biggest mistakes of recent times. If the games go on without much interruption, it will make it even easier for the communist dictatorship to sell the most important of all its lies to the world. The lie, that only they can keep China on the development track. The lie, that China just needs some time. The lie, that it cannot and must not be pressured, because that would be western arrogance.

If on the other hand we use this window of opportunity to speak and stand up for freedom and democracy, if enough people in and outside China take to the street, the games could become the starting point for what might be the most important political change of the 21st century.

Right now I am not optimistic. But it’s all up to us!

Freedom House, the No.1 think tank to study the development of liberal Democracy around the globe, has lots of materials on Chinas human rights record and the Olympics:

China and the Olympics

“Beijing was selected to host the summer Olympics in 2008 despite its dismal human rights record. Although China is a rising global economic power, the government continues to restrict even the most basic political rights and civil liberties of Chinese citizens. Chinese citizens have no say in their leadership, the judiciary is not independent, and freedom of speech, association, and religion are all severely restricted.”