Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for May, 2006

Double Standards

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2006

The democratically elected Palestinian government are told they will not be talked to or supported or anything unless they “renounce violence” and recognise the state of Israel. Fair enough, perhaps. And I certainly have no time for Hamas and their tactics in the past. It’s clear there needs to be dialogue and discussion in order to get closer to some kind of just peace, and it seems unlikely that an organisation which doesn’t even recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist is going to be able to negotiate with it.

The new democratically elected Israeli government are welcomed to the table and feted by world leaders. Funding and investment is free to flow. Has this government been asked to recognise the State of Palestine? No. Has it, even more crucially, been asked to renounce violence? Has it bollocks. It is still as violent as ever, and the daily tally of Palestinians killed by the Israeli state mounts. Why are there these double standards?

No need to answer that question. We all know why there are double standards, and why there will continue to be double standards even if the Palestinians elect a party of neo-liberal Gandhis. The world will continue to shit on the Palestinians, and nobody in power will do the slightest thing about it. Indeed, it’s in Israel’s interests (and a fair few other countries) if Palestine dissolves in Civil War and implodes. It certainly looks like that’s the current intention of the “international community” (whoever they are).

Now Olmert wants to redraw the borders, ignoring the internationally recognised borders of the Palestinian State. As laid down in various UN Resolutions. How is this supposed to help anyone? Israelis fundamentally want safety and security (and I believe that while there are some scummers within Israeli society who want to annex Palestine and ethnically cleanse the territories and even commit genocide, the vast vast majority just want to live in safety). How is this supposed to help that? Israel will forever have on its borders a dispossessed angry bitter people, supported by tons of other people around the world who see the injustice of the situation, me included. Is that what Israelis want? It may be what Sharon and his ilk want, but it’s not, I suspect, what the average Israeli wants. Israel will always be a pariah state and the people living across the green line – fundamentalist settler or not – will always be hated by most of the world. Sorry guys, that’s your fate and that’s your future if you go along with this Olmert plan.

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Blog resurrection

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2006

I have decided to resurrect this blog as I can no longer sit idly by and say nothing as the world’s media seemingly bows down to the idea that starving Palestinians because some of them voted for the wrong people is kind of an OK policy, and that the Olmert proposal to steal even more Palestinian land is the best way forward. (Of course, Israel still claims that the world’s media is against them, which is laughable. Even the BBC is seemingly just ready to kowtow to the Olmert/Sharon line – though I was glad to see recently that an independent inquiry had discovered what most non-blind people had been able to tell for years, that the Beeb is actually biased against the Palestinian cause). Anyway, whatever’s below this post and written before 2005 is stuff I wrote when I was in the West Bank, and everything above this post and written in 2006 and beyond is stuff I am writing from elsewhere.

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Random observations on Lithuania

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2006

  • Lithuania used to have an empire which stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. That’s something I never knew.
  • In the supermarket I saw a can of something described as “Beef in its Own Juice”. What’s that then? Blood, I presume, or possibly cow mucus.
  • Lithuania is obsessed with basketball. It is way more popular than football, which makes Lithuania the only European country in which football is not the most popular sport. (I have just made that last fact up, so don’t take my word for it. I may have overlooked the Liechtensteinian love of cricket or the Albanian passion for jai alai)
  • Vilnius is a very beautiful city, with a nice wide river, a very nice old heart, and an excessive amount of churches.
  • Lithuania was the last country in Europe to submit to Christianity. I use the verb specifically because their paganism was so shocking that various crusading forces were launched against them so that they would finally accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and saviour. Given that fact it’s quite surprising that since their eventual conversion they have clung to Him quite so readily and enthusiastically.
  • The Lithuanian language is said to be the closest modern language to Sanskrit. It’s Indo-European but of the Baltic group, which means it’s only related closely to Latvian and basically nothing else. Not Slavic like its large Polish/Russian neighbours, nor Finno-Ugric like Estonian.
  • All male nouns in Lithuanian have to end in “s”. Thus there is a bankas, a baras, and various other things that end with “s”. Georgeos Bushos, for example, gets a mention in the papers. Seriously. The Australian themed bar is called Kuko-Baras (clever huh?)
  • Two famous sons of Vilnius are Adam Mickiewicz and Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Both of them were ethnic Poles born in what is now Belarus and educated in Vilnius. Mickiewicz, a great poet, is claimed by both Poland and Lithuania as their own and you would upset a Pole if you called him Lithuanian and a Lithuanian if you called him Polish. Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the KGB and is less desperately claimed. Or even mentioned anywhere. I didn’t ask anyone about him, but I’m guessing Lithuanians would call him Polish and vice versa. Or maybe both nations would call him Belarussian. Either way, he’s not exactly the most popular man in Lithuania.
  • Shamefully I have no recollection of the events of January 1991 when Soviet tanks killed 13 Lithuanian civilians in an assault on the TV Tower in Vilnius. I have now rectified that gap in my knowledge. (In my defence it was a time of my life when I had no TV or ready access to news, and it was apparently simultaneous with the beginning of the first US-Iraq war, so got a little buried in the global coverage).
  • Oh, and finally,

  • Lithaunia is very similar to England. Lots of interesting old buildings, a green capital, an imperial history, and above all, constant and unending rainfall

Posted in travel | 4 Comments »

Back Home

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2006

Got home at about 2am on Monday. You’ll be excited to hear that Harghita is now a bird flu zone and presumably other areas of Romania too (it would be a very odd phenomenon if the only two counties affected were Harghita and Covasna – you’d end up with Romanian nationalists pointing to this and saying something about how Hungarian chickens are dirty or something, and Hungarian nationalists positing conspiracy theories about how the State was deliberatley infecting those areas). Anyway, I did finally get disinfected. First, we went through a kind of hi-tech gate system somewhere between Bucharest and Ploiesti where the tyres were cleaned by a deep shag pile carpet, and the car itself was sprayed from all angles with a fine mist of disinfectant. Later, in Malnas village in Covasna county, we were stopped by a policeman and two smiling disinfectors, with cigarettes hanging rakishly from their lips, who proceeded to fire up flamethrower type devices and drench the car in spray. (Someone somewhere is making a killing on all this disinfectant – manufactureres, importers, distributors, whoever, it has to be the biggest boom they’ve ever seen). The third disinfectation station we passed near Tusnad, was less impressive as all the people (police, spraymen and hangers on) had fallen asleep in their cars and we just drove straight past.

Anyway, I’m going back down to the aiprort on Wednesday night to pick up my parents who are over to visit for two weeks, so not only will the car get lots of disinfecting, but also I’m unlikely to be blogging much until mid-June. Plus ça change.

Posted in news | 2 Comments »

Random observations on Lithuania

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2006

  • Lithuania used to have an empire which stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. That’s something I never knew.
  • In the supermarket I saw a can of something described as “Beef in its Own Juice”. What’s that then? Blood, I presume, or possibly cow mucus.
  • Lithuania is obsessed with basketball. It is way more popular than football, which makes Lithuania the only European country in which football is not the most popular sport. (I have just made that last fact up, so don’t take my word for it. I may have overlooked the Liechtensteinian love of cricket or the Albanian passion for jai alai)
  • Vilnius is a very beautiful city, with a nice wide river, a very nice old heart, and an excessive amount of churches.
  • Lithuania was the last country in Europe to submit to Christianity. I use the verb specifically because their paganism was so shocking that various crusading forces were launched against them so that they would finally accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and saviour. Given that fact it’s quite surprising that since their eventual conversion they have clung to Him quite so readily and enthusiastically.
  • The Lithuanian language is said to be the closest modern language to Sanskrit. It’s Indo-European but of the Baltic group, which means it’s only related closely to Latvian and basically nothing else. Not Slavic like its large Polish/Russian neighbours, nor Finno-Ugric like Estonian.
  • All male nouns in Lithuanian have to end in “s”. Thus there is a bankas, a baras, and various other things that end with “s”. Georgeos Bushos, for example, gets a mention in the papers. Seriously. The Australian themed bar is called Kuko-Baras (clever huh?)
  • Two famous sons of Vilnius are Adam Mickiewicz and Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Both of them were ethnic Poles born in what is now Belarus and educated in Vilnius. Mickiewicz, a great poet, is claimed by both Poland and Lithuania as their own and you would upset a Pole if you called him Lithuanian and a Lithuanian if you called him Polish. Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the KGB and is less desperately claimed. Or even mentioned anywhere. I didn’t ask anyone about him, but I’m guessing Lithuanians would call him Polish and vice versa. Or maybe both nations would call him Belarussian. Either way, he’s not exactly the most popular man in Lithuania.
  • Shamefully I have no recollection of the events of January 1991 when Soviet tanks killed 13 Lithuanian civilians in an assault on the TV Tower in Vilnius. I have now rectified that gap in my knowledge. (In my defence it was a time of my life when I had no TV or ready access to news, and it was apparently simultaneous with the beginning of the first US-Iraq war, so got a little buried in the global coverage).
  • Oh, and finally,

  • Lithaunia is very similar to England. Lots of interesting old buildings, a green capital, an imperial history, and above all, constant and unending rainfall

Posted in travel | 4 Comments »

Back Home

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2006

Got home at about 2am on Monday. You’ll be excited to hear that Harghita is now a bird flu zone and presumably other areas of Romania too (it would be a very odd phenomenon if the only two counties affected were Harghita and Covasna – you’d end up with Romanian nationalists pointing to this and saying something about how Hungarian chickens are dirty or something, and Hungarian nationalists positing conspiracy theories about how the State was deliberatley infecting those areas). Anyway, I did finally get disinfected. First, we went through a kind of hi-tech gate system somewhere between Bucharest and Ploiesti where the tyres were cleaned by a deep shag pile carpet, and the car itself was sprayed from all angles with a fine mist of disinfectant. Later, in Malnas village in Covasna county, we were stopped by a policeman and two smiling disinfectors, with cigarettes hanging rakishly from their lips, who proceeded to fire up flamethrower type devices and drench the car in spray. (Someone somewhere is making a killing on all this disinfectant – manufactureres, importers, distributors, whoever, it has to be the biggest boom they’ve ever seen). The third disinfectation station we passed near Tusnad, was less impressive as all the people (police, spraymen and hangers on) had fallen asleep in their cars and we just drove straight past.

Anyway, I’m going back down to the aiprort on Wednesday night to pick up my parents who are over to visit for two weeks, so not only will the car get lots of disinfecting, but also I’m unlikely to be blogging much until mid-June. Plus ça change.

Posted in news | 2 Comments »

More bafflement

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 May, 2006

Back by popular demand, the continuation of the alphabet of baffling things about Romania. I suspect it will go slowly, and possibly never get past J, but what the hell.

F is for Flu. In particular bird flu, which we have had longer than everyone else in Europe because Romania sets the trends that rest of Europe aspires to follow. First numa numa yay, now gripa aviara. Well, a couple of weeks ago, bird flu reached Covasna county, which is just south of us in Harghita (it’s the other majority Hungarian county). I hadn’t really paid much attention to it since we were moving. But on my way to the airport on Friday I drove past the first physical evidence of the presence of H5N1 on my doorstep. The decontamination teams. We passed one on the other side of the road as we left Tusnad, at the county border. They were pulling everyone driving north over to spray the wheels of their cars with disinfectant and, I dunno, checking that they weren’t transporting chickens out of the county in the hope that they wouldn’t be culled.

Between Sfantu Gheorghe and Brasov we passed another one. At the southern border to the county. I say passed, because this too was on the other side of the road checking people coming into the county. Have you spotted the flaw in this system? Bizarre, innit? Presumably (unless the all clear has been sounded by then) on my way home I will be disinfected twice. Still, it looked very impressive with all the white suited blokes flagging down cars in the middle of the night. It certainly looked like a really strong response to the disease. Shame really that they had not coordinated the direction of traffic that was to be disinfected.

I’ll come up with a “G” soon.

Posted in romania | 1 Comment »

Eurovision

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 May, 2006

Lithuanians are really, really into the Eurovision Song Contest. On Saturday night I went out into the old city with Richard, an English bloke who lives here. The first bar we went to, which made its own very good beer, was dead. I think there was one other group of people in there. The second bar, a very cool and trendy place in a cellar, was completely empty. We asked the barman and he said it was because everyone was home watching the Eurovision Song Contest. I thought he was joking, but Richard assured me it probably was the case.

Eventually we spied a bar which seemed to be buzzing, went inside, and discovered that the reason for its busy-ness was that it had a big screen showing the Eurovision. People were cheering, whooping and going crazy, particularly when the Lithuanian number started up.

For any readers not from Europe, I may need to supply a bit of background here. The Eurovision song contest has been going on annually for years and years (I think I heard last night it was the 51st year). It involves every European country selecting a song to be performed in competition with every other country. When I was young this wasn’t too many countries, since the Warsaw Pact didn’t enter, since it was all too decadent or something, and anyway, there weren’t that many countries in Europe back then. Now there are bloody loads and there appears to be one more every year (as I type this Montenegrins are going to the polls to decide whether to start another one). It has always been a fairly rubbish event, that us world-weary and cynical Brits have tended to look down upon, and I honestly can’t remember ever thinking it was a worthwhile competition which one should cheer on ones favourites in. (And it certainly wouldn’t empty the pubs on a Saturday night). But since the collapse of Eastern bloc, the new entrants have certainly taken it to their hearts and really see it as a way to put themselves on the map.

The other big change is in the nature of the songs and the voting system (which may be related). At some point (possibly with advent of mobile phones) the voting went from being some kind of national juries charged with awarding the points from each nation, to being a public voting thing (I’ll leave you to decide whether this is a valuable progressive step towards democracy in everyday life or an opportunity for mobile phone companies to make money from each SMS-ed vote). In tandem with this change, the songs have more and more tended to be all sung in English (so as to appeal to a greater proportion of the pan-European voting public), and the songs themselves have become less and less important as it has become more vital to catch the eye and be memorable (especially since the audience now has to sit through so many songs). Last year, for example, the Moldovan entry (which despite the gimmick was easily the best one) incorporated an old woman wandering round banging a big drum while this mad group of nutters sang about grandma banging the drum. Last nights featured “Lordi” a group of heavy-metallers from Finland in mock horror masks. The most common eye-catcher used by many nations is to try and push the boundaries of what is acceptable in terms of having scantily clad attractive women singing or dancing around the singer in some way.

The Lithuanian entry, which had everyone so excited last night, was 6 blokes in suits doing a number about how they were the Eurovision winners and urging people to vote for them. It wasn’t a song as such, but more of a football chant. I learned later that it was kind of a jokey but deliberate attempt to subvert the format – the blokes are all TV personalities here, and they deliberately didn’t have any women on stage with them. The ended up coming 6th, Lithuania’s best ever performance, which probably says something, though I don’t know what.

The most comical part is the voting. Each country votes separately and then gives points to the top ten vote receivers there. Plus you can’t vote for your own country’s song. What this in effect means (it certainly seems from last night) is that immigrant populations sway the votes considerably. Germany, for example, gave maximum points to Turkey’s entry last night. While Russia finished second largely based on the fact that they got maximum points from lots of the nations of the former USSR which still have large Russian minorities, plus Israel. Also there is a lot of neighbourliness, with Scandinavian countries giving their top points to their neighbours, and even the former Yugoslavia putting aside the past to vote for each other in a touching gesture of post-civil war fraternity. Lithuania got maximum points from Ireland, in what I thought was testament to the Irish love of a good joke, but was told today that it’s because there are loads of Lithuanians in Ireland.

Romania, whose song I didn’t see, pipped Lithuania for 5th place. (Lot of votes from Moldova, surprisingly). Hungary didn’t take part for some reason. Perhaps a sudden rush of good taste, or a feeling of being above it all. Or maybe they just forgot to send in their entry forms this year. They were in it last year; I remember their song, which was quite a good one, though sung badly – in direct counterpoint to the Romanian one which was a bad song sung well.

Oh, and the Finnish horror rockers won by a country mile, despite not having a widely spread diaspora. Obviously the mask thing worked. Or perhaps because Finland produced most of the voting equipment that will have been used by the electors of Europe.

Posted in music, travel | 1 Comment »

More bafflement

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 May, 2006

Back by popular demand, the continuation of the alphabet of baffling things about Romania. I suspect it will go slowly, and possibly never get past J, but what the hell.

F is for Flu. In particular bird flu, which we have had longer than everyone else in Europe because Romania sets the trends that rest of Europe aspires to follow. First numa numa yay, now gripa aviara. Well, a couple of weeks ago, bird flu reached Covasna county, which is just south of us in Harghita (it’s the other majority Hungarian county). I hadn’t really paid much attention to it since we were moving. But on my way to the airport on Friday I drove past the first physical evidence of the presence of H5N1 on my doorstep. The decontamination teams. We passed one on the other side of the road as we left Tusnad, at the county border. They were pulling everyone driving north over to spray the wheels of their cars with disinfectant and, I dunno, checking that they weren’t transporting chickens out of the county in the hope that they wouldn’t be culled.

Between Sfantu Gheorghe and Brasov we passed another one. At the southern border to the county. I say passed, because this too was on the other side of the road checking people coming into the county. Have you spotted the flaw in this system? Bizarre, innit? Presumably (unless the all clear has been sounded by then) on my way home I will be disinfected twice. Still, it looked very impressive with all the white suited blokes flagging down cars in the middle of the night. It certainly looked like a really strong response to the disease. Shame really that they had not coordinated the direction of traffic that was to be disinfected.

I’ll come up with a “G” soon.

Posted in romania | 1 Comment »

Eurovision

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 May, 2006

Lithuanians are really, really into the Eurovision Song Contest. On Saturday night I went out into the old city with Richard, an English bloke who lives here. The first bar we went to, which made its own very good beer, was dead. I think there was one other group of people in there. The second bar, a very cool and trendy place in a cellar, was completely empty. We asked the barman and he said it was because everyone was home watching the Eurovision Song Contest. I thought he was joking, but Richard assured me it probably was the case.

Eventually we spied a bar which seemed to be buzzing, went inside, and discovered that the reason for its busy-ness was that it had a big screen showing the Eurovision. People were cheering, whooping and going crazy, particularly when the Lithuanian number started up.

For any readers not from Europe, I may need to supply a bit of background here. The Eurovision song contest has been going on annually for years and years (I think I heard last night it was the 51st year). It involves every European country selecting a song to be performed in competition with every other country. When I was young this wasn’t too many countries, since the Warsaw Pact didn’t enter, since it was all too decadent or something, and anyway, there weren’t that many countries in Europe back then. Now there are bloody loads and there appears to be one more every year (as I type this Montenegrins are going to the polls to decide whether to start another one). It has always been a fairly rubbish event, that us world-weary and cynical Brits have tended to look down upon, and I honestly can’t remember ever thinking it was a worthwhile competition which one should cheer on ones favourites in. (And it certainly wouldn’t empty the pubs on a Saturday night). But since the collapse of Eastern bloc, the new entrants have certainly taken it to their hearts and really see it as a way to put themselves on the map.

The other big change is in the nature of the songs and the voting system (which may be related). At some point (possibly with advent of mobile phones) the voting went from being some kind of national juries charged with awarding the points from each nation, to being a public voting thing (I’ll leave you to decide whether this is a valuable progressive step towards democracy in everyday life or an opportunity for mobile phone companies to make money from each SMS-ed vote). In tandem with this change, the songs have more and more tended to be all sung in English (so as to appeal to a greater proportion of the pan-European voting public), and the songs themselves have become less and less important as it has become more vital to catch the eye and be memorable (especially since the audience now has to sit through so many songs). Last year, for example, the Moldovan entry (which despite the gimmick was easily the best one) incorporated an old woman wandering round banging a big drum while this mad group of nutters sang about grandma banging the drum. Last nights featured “Lordi” a group of heavy-metallers from Finland in mock horror masks. The most common eye-catcher used by many nations is to try and push the boundaries of what is acceptable in terms of having scantily clad attractive women singing or dancing around the singer in some way.

The Lithuanian entry, which had everyone so excited last night, was 6 blokes in suits doing a number about how they were the Eurovision winners and urging people to vote for them. It wasn’t a song as such, but more of a football chant. I learned later that it was kind of a jokey but deliberate attempt to subvert the format – the blokes are all TV personalities here, and they deliberately didn’t have any women on stage with them. The ended up coming 6th, Lithuania’s best ever performance, which probably says something, though I don’t know what.

The most comical part is the voting. Each country votes separately and then gives points to the top ten vote receivers there. Plus you can’t vote for your own country’s song. What this in effect means (it certainly seems from last night) is that immigrant populations sway the votes considerably. Germany, for example, gave maximum points to Turkey’s entry last night. While Russia finished second largely based on the fact that they got maximum points from lots of the nations of the former USSR which still have large Russian minorities, plus Israel. Also there is a lot of neighbourliness, with Scandinavian countries giving their top points to their neighbours, and even the former Yugoslavia putting aside the past to vote for each other in a touching gesture of post-civil war fraternity. Lithuania got maximum points from Ireland, in what I thought was testament to the Irish love of a good joke, but was told today that it’s because there are loads of Lithuanians in Ireland.

Romania, whose song I didn’t see, pipped Lithuania for 5th place. (Lot of votes from Moldova, surprisingly). Hungary didn’t take part for some reason. Perhaps a sudden rush of good taste, or a feeling of being above it all. Or maybe they just forgot to send in their entry forms this year. They were in it last year; I remember their song, which was quite a good one, though sung badly – in direct counterpoint to the Romanian one which was a bad song sung well.

Oh, and the Finnish horror rockers won by a country mile, despite not having a widely spread diaspora. Obviously the mask thing worked. Or perhaps because Finland produced most of the voting equipment that will have been used by the electors of Europe.

Posted in music, travel | 1 Comment »