Friday, May 30, 2008

Radio Moscow Crackling Late Into a Hot Spanish Night...

I was moved and very interested to see, thanks to Madrid Kid , that the 'Voice of Russia' the current successor to the old Radio Moscow has been reconnecting with some of its loyal listeners in Spain. This is a further example of a most welcome trend within Russia of acknowledging and embracing many diverse aspects of the Soviet times. Of course the important aspect of the Radio Moscow Spanish service was that it provided an important means by which the exiled anti-fascist and progressive forces could stay in direct contact with the Spanish people as Franco's oppressive regime ruthlessly squashed internal opposition to the fascist dictatorship. Voice of Russia came to Madrid on April 23 to pay recognition to a group of Spanish Civil War (1936-39) exiles who helped put together what would become the Spanish-language service at Radio Moscow. During an emotional ceremony that took place at Hotel Puerta de Toledo next to Madrid’s famous Toledo Gate, Leonard Kosichev, VOR’s deputy director for European programs, handed out medals issued by the Russian government. This was the first time that the Spaniards had been publicly honored for their contributions to Radio Moscow and their role in helping provide information to listeners in Spain during the Francisco Franco dictatorship. Among those distinguished were Eusebio Cimorra, depicted above , Pilar Villasante, Vicente Arana, and Agustin Masso, who all began working at Radio Moscow during the 1940s and 1950s. It is estimated that dozens of Spaniards found jobs at the Soviet shortwave radio station after fleeing the Franco regime.

Cimorra, who died in January at the age of 98, was perhaps the most popular Spanish announcer during his more than 30 years at Radio Moscow. Using the on-air pseudonym “Jorge Olivar,” Cimarro began working at the station in 1940. Before the Civil War, he was an influential publisher of the Spanish Communist Party’s newspaper Mundo Obrero. He returned to Spain after the transition to democracy in 1975 and had been recognized as one of the country’s leading "deans" of journalism. “My father always said that Radio Moscow gave him the opportunity to continue to fight against the dictatorship, a fight he began when he was a young journalist in Spain before the Civil War,” recalled Boris Cimorra who received the medal on behalf of his father from Kosichev (right, in photo above). “He decided to continue to fight for his ideals and principles because he was true to his faith. In the best of words, he was a communist who was an idealist, romanticist and intellectual,” said the son who also put in five years at Radio Moscow. Another earlier broadcaster on the Radio Moscow Spanish language service was Pilar Villasante, who also attended the gathering . Pilar came to Moscow as a child at the age of six. She was among the hundreds of Spanish children who were sent to the Soviet Union by their parents with the hope they would receive a better life there than in a fascist society. This massive evacuation began taking place toward the end of the Civil War when it became apparent the Republicans would be defeated. Although she was educated and grew up in Moscow, Villasante never forgot her mother language. She served as artistic director for the Spanish service at Radio Moscow, where she worked for 30 years before returning to Madrid in 1989. “I want to thank the Russian people, the Soviet people for taking us in, educating us and giving us the opportunity to work. I was especially lucky because I got to work for Radio Moscow,” she said.

Some readers of this blog will be delighted to know that they can relive those days of listening to Radio Moscow late into the night thanks to a series of recordings collected by Snithsonian/ Folkways. Perhaps the most evocative memory I have of listening to Radio Moscow was hearing its characteristic ‘Kremlin Bells’ chimes, on a freezing night in the bitter winter of 1981 / 1982 when I was working in Walsall in the West Midlands, I remember thinking that the amount of snow that was falling on us that particular January night was not dissimilar to what you might have expected in Russia. I also always found that Radio Moscow’s political line was so different from the BBC, at that time immersed in the jingoistic lunacy generated throughout Britain following the Falklands War. Furthermore it was actually almost a jolt to hear such anti-imperialist ideas pouring out of the radio from Moscow at this time, weirdly coming from an item of electrical equipment almost intrinsically linked with the drip-drip feed of pro-western and anti-Soviet propaganda, tuned as it was, and still is, normally to BBC Radio 4 , which I still have great time for since it does seem to have largely successfully resisted that vulgarization and dumbing down that characterizes so much of the media today .
Well done to the Voice of Russia for making that wonderful connection between the past and the present, and drawing attention to the role that radio can play in maintaining contact with ideas and information that may not easily be accessible otherwise.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Seeing through Transparency International

Pledged to fight corruption worldwide, the NGO is in danger of revealing its own political agenda in a recent report on Venezuela...Calvin Tucker of reveals
The credibility of Transparency International, a global "non-partisan" organisation which "promotes transparency in elections, in public administration, in procurement and in business", is on the line. Their latest report on Venezuela, which was produced after months of research, is factually inaccurate in almost every respect. TI say that they "stand by their report" and stand by the person who compiled the data, an anti-Chávez activist who backed the 2002 military coup against democracy.
The full report, dated April 28 2008 and titled Promoting Revenue Transparency examined the published accounts of oil companies in 42 different countries, and ranked them according to whether they were of high, medium or low transparency. Venezuela's state-owned oil firm PDVSA was given the lowest possible ranking. Transparency International say that "comprehensive corporate reporting diminishes the opportunities for corrupt officials to extort funds".
PDVSA was directly accused of failing to disclose basic financial information such as their revenues and how much royalties they paid, and of not producing properly audited accounts. The international corporate media considers TI to be a reliable source, despite the fact that almost all their funding comes from western governments and big business. The British government is one of the major donors, contributing £1 million in 2007. Other donors include the US government, Shell and Exxon Mobil. Unsurprisingly, TI's damning report was seized upon by rightwing newspapers and websites and used as another stick with which to beat Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chávez.
When Dan Burnett, a New York-based blogger who runs the popular Oil Wars website, read the TI report, he almost choked on his cornflakes. Burnett had been analysing PDVSA's accounts for several years, and regularly writes about the financial information that TI claims does not exist.
I checked the PDVSA website. Burnett was right to be astonished. On page 127 of their financial statement it says that revenue for 2007 was $96.242bn, and that they paid $21.9bn in royalties. On page 148, PDVSA's auditors state that the accounts were prepared in accordance with international accounting standards. Further research showed that PDVSA's financial statements are also published in hard copy, and are widely reported in the domestic media, both in newspapers and on television.
I was perplexed. How could Transparency International, which claims that its report was subject to a rigorous "quality control regime" and had been checked for accuracy by "industry experts", have got it so wrong? I called them and asked.
A spokesperson explained that their report was published two weeks before PDVSA submitted their 2007 accounts on May 12 2008. This explanation implied that TI are unfamiliar with basic financial reporting procedures. Before company accounts can be submitted, the data has to be collated, analysed and audited. It is normal for this process to take several weeks or months. For example, Transparency International's own audited financial report for 2007 is not yet publicly available on their website.
However, TI's explanation for their inaccurate report on PDVSA contained a much more serious problem. It was wrong. The March 29 edition of El Universal, a major opposition newspaper, featured a report on PDVSA's financial statement, together with a photograph of PDVSA's president, Rafael Ramirez, holding up a copy of the 2007 report and accounts. The information that TI claimed was being withheld by PDVSA, was published four weeks before they made their allegations. Armed with this additional information, I attempted to contact TI's press spokesperson again for a comment. My calls were not returned.
Despite Transparency International's less than transparent behaviour, was it still possible that there was an innocent explanation for the errors in their report? I began to wonder whether their spokesperson had got the dates confused and was actually talking about a previous set of accounts.
I checked the historical records which are freely available on the PDVSA website. Their audited 2006 accounts were published on September 8 2007, a full seven months before TI published its report accusing PDVSA of non-disclosure. The 2006 accounts also contained the information that TI claimed was not disclosed. The 2005 accounts were also available, as were all the annual accounts going back to 2000.
In the past, there have been problems with PDVSA's accounts, and in particular with late submission. In late 2002, just months after the failed coup attempt, PDVSA oil executives went on strike in an attempt to bring down the Chávez government. It became clear that the strike would not succeed, but PDVSA's operational equipment was sabotaged, causing millions of dollars of damage. A massive amount of data was destroyed, including the files containing PDVSA's financial information and accounts. PDVSA was forced to rebuild its financial infrastructure from scratch, and for several years this caused delays in producing accounts. However, TI's accusation is that PDVSA does not disclose information, not that previous accounts were submitted late. This accusation, which forms the basis of TI's report, is demonstrably wrong.
Transparency International denies that they pursue an anti-Chavez agenda. "We are not a political organisation", their spokesperson told me. Despite this denial, TI's Venezuela bureau is staffed by opponents of the Venezuelan government (pdf). The directors include Robert Bottome,(right) the publisher of Veneconomia, a strident opposition journal, and Aurelio Concheso of the Centre for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge, a conservative thinktank funded by the US government. Concheso was previously a director of the employers' organisation, Fedecamaras. The president of Fedecamaras, Pedro Carmo, led the failed 2002 coup and was briefly installed as Venezuela's dictator.
The data in TI's report was gathered by Mercedes de Freitas, (left) the head of their Caracas bureau and a longtime opponent of President Chávez. De Freitas' previous job was running a US government funded opposition "civil society" group. The Nation reported on her response to the 2002 military coup: "... on the night of April 12 - after Carmona suspended the assembly - Mercedes de Freitas, a director of the Fundacion Momento de la Gente, a legislative monitoring project subsidized by NED [National Endowment for Democracy, a US government agency], emailed the endowment defending the military and Carmona, claiming the takeover was not a military coup."
In July 2006, Freitas issued a press release on behalf of Transparency International, which argued against the passing of a draft bill that proposed making it illegal for Venezuelan "civil society" organisations to receive funding from foreign governments, including from the US government. "If it becomes law, civil society would be subject to considerable restrictions, with government allowed to interfere in their objectives, activities and funding sources" the press release asserted.
Documents released under the US freedom of information act show that the Bush administration gives $5m a year to organisations opposed to the Chávez government.
Transparency International has a choice. They can continue to defend their indefensible report and refuse to answer legitimate questions about their activities in Venezuela. Or they can come clean and provide full disclosure. As TI's own report diplomatically puts it: "Disclosure improves a company's image, making it less vulnerable to unsubstantiated attacks on its reputation."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Moscow 2008...The Fruits of 'Freedom' ?

Thanks to US based blogger Nicholas for alerting me to this very disturbing video from what I presume must be some kind of Trotsykist punk band. It depicts the reality of existence for the hundreds of street orphans, the so called 'bezprizorniki', who now live completely feral existences on the Moscow Metro. Sixteen years on from being subsumed into the capitalist world, this is the reality of life in Moscow for many of these street kids. Some aspects of life in Russia, for some, may have improved, that is indisputable, but this video shows that the weak and the vulnerable are most definitely not better off.

The USSR had many many problems, but one thing that was widely acknowledged was that children were cared for and educated to an admirable standard, with the state intervening in families where either through alcoholism or abuse, parents were unable to cope with their responsibilities. When right wing free-market enthusiasts smirk over the triumph of 'capitalism' over socialism, they are cheering on the restoration of a system which is designed to force the weakest to the wall, watching this video shows just what that actually means in reality.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

McCann's One Year On-Yet Another Incongruous Media Moment?

I watched the interview on BBC 1 with Madeleine McCann's grieving parents Kate and Gerry McCann, and listened with sympathy to how they had 'steeled themselves' for the interview with the BBC, how they had ' nearly not gone' to the interview.
There then appears a moment when the interview is clearly over, but the camera continues to roll, this appears at 2 minutes and 44 seconds into the clip , at that moment the demeanour of the couple appears to change dramatically, from sombre steely solemnity, to what can only be described as expressions which are something akin to a moment of bar-room bonhomie.

I still have an open mind as to the fate of young Madeleine, but I have always expressed the sincere belief that eventually the truth will out, as to how this young girl disappeared.
I do have to confess however to being continuously wrong footed by the body language of this couple. They appear to be able to adopt one persona one moment and another a few seconds later. Is there something innate to the humanity of us all that allows us to perceive sincerity?Speaking personally, when one fails repeatedly to receieve the usual visual cues which signify this quality of sincerity, is it any wonder that ones normal default position of sympathy and belief is challenged?
The premise of the interview was that the couple had struggled with the emotional challenge of discussing the anniversary of their daughters disappearance at all, then when the interview appears to end, the visual image that leaps from the screen completely undermines that premise.
It is also interesting that the editors at the BBC chose to retain that section of the footage on screen, that surely was not an error.
I would rather not have seen it, because as with the other jarring incongruities about this couples body language throughout the past year, it makes disturbing viewing. Why? Because it rakes up that nagging doubt once more as to why these discrepancies continue to arise, disjunctures between what this couple say they are feeling and how they actually look.

Friday, May 2, 2008


I have resisted the temptation to turn this blog into the sort of personal diary that some bloggers favour...thats ok its up to them..I suppose because of the political nature of the title, the bulk of the articles have hitherto had a political flavour.
But I am breaking with that tradition for this post to pay sincere tribute to the late great Nigerian afro-beat musician Fela Kuti for contributing enormously for being my constant and much loved companion on ny return to fitness since September last. I realised in August last year whilst climbing the Great Wall of China, as one does, in sweltering heat that I was about three stone overweight. That experience made it clear to me that it was getting beyond the point of being able to simply deny the evidence of my own eyes.In September I set about altering diet and doing some regular gym based exercise. The results have been most pleasing, I am now a svelte 13 stone, having previously been over 16 stone. Where does Fela Kuti come in? Well, gym based aerobic exercise,(I favour the rowing machine and the cross trainer torture engines), is ok....but on a regular basis it is incredibly boring, and the gym I go to has TV3's diet of reality makeover and celebrity shows on permanently, which is enough to sap the will to live.I needed something that would consistently motivate and hypnotise me into rhthmic and intense exercise.
Fela Kuti's music fitted the bill perfectly. I found that listening to the wonderful charged music of Fela Kuti was just amazingly good for exercise, the tracks are long and provide a powerful and intelligent backing sound to exercise. Furthermore, and this surely is testimony to the sheer quality of Fela's music, it stands endless repetition...tracks such as ODOO, the anti-imperialist 'ITT' and 'Coffin for a Head of State' amazingly sound as good after 9 months of repeated listening as they did at the beginning of this exercise odyssey.
Fela Kuti was born on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria, to parents who were political activists. His mother was a feminist and anti-colonialist, and his father was active in the Nigerian teachers' union. Fela Kuti died in 1997 of AIDS.
In 1958, Fela Kuti moved to London, where he began studying music. He soon formed a group called Koola Lobitos, which was later renamed Nigeria 70. They played a kind of music which Fela named "Afrobeat", which was American jazz, pop and funk blended with West African highlife music.Fela Kuti was a gifted multi-instrumentalist, playing, among other things, saxophone, keyboards, trumpet, drums and guitar. He was also a talented singer and a highly energetic live performer. His lengthy songs (most were over 10 minutes long) were backed up by a consistent groove of drums and bass, a style which heavily influenced the genre of hip-hop.The first video below is of a part of 'Army Arrangement' a satirical attack on the politically corrupt intervention of the Nigerian army into the countries political life.

In 1961, Fela Kuti married Remilekun Taylor. They had three children, Femi, Yeni and Sola. Femi Kuti went on to become a well-known Afrobeat musician in his own right. Later in his life, Fela would become a strong believer in polygamy, and married dozens of women.Many of whom appeared on stage with him as part of his huge ensemble of musicians and dancers. Fela despite a prodigous marijuana intake, was a disciplined musical arranger, and it is obvious the more one listens to his music, that the sound has been achieved only after intensive rehearsal and repetition, it is just too crisp and tight to be ONLY the exuberant spontaneity that it appears to be at first listening. No, its power and intensity is derived in no small part from the perfect timing of the interactions between musicians, vocalists, and chorus singers, a tightness that could only be achieved by intense rehearsal and discipline.The clips reproduced below have no video but have a higher audio quality and sample 'Lady' a tribute to African women, and 'Water No Get Enemy'.

Fela Kuti was a major activist for Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism, and because of his socialist beliefs, had many run-ins with the authorities of several African countries. His struggles made him a veritable icon of the Black Power movement. Fela Kuti attempted to run for Nigerian President several times, but was never allowed to.
Fela Kuti died of complications from AIDS in 1997 in Lagos, Nigeria.
This musician is in my opinion the creator of some of the greatest music of the 20th century I strongly recommend readers who have not heard his music before, seek him out, he can change and perhaps even save your life..:))

Thursday, May 1, 2008


This is the first May Day for the Blog and its an opportunity to extend traditional May Day Greetings to all the readers of this blog...