Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Why is UKIP Wales so Anti-Welsh?

Something very bizarre and frightening has just happened in Welsh Politics.  UKIP Wales, that is the Welsh branch of UKIP, Britain’s right wing nationalist party, has just elected a leader who has promised to a) Seek to Abolish the Welsh Assembly and thus scrap Wales’s limited sovereignty, and b) stop promoting the Welsh Language.

Just think about how bizarre and unusual that is.  In any other country country, England, France or Sweden, you name it, the nationalist right’s self-declared Raison D’être is to defend the country’s traditional culture, identity and sovereignty.

·       In France, the Front National’s self-declared aim is to protect Frenchness, French Identity and French Sovereignty.

·       In Sweden, the Swedish Democrats’ aim is likewise to defend Swedish Identity and Swedish Sovereignty.

·       Likewise, in England, UKIP’s aim is precisely to protect England’s Englishness, the indigenous culture and the nation’s sovereignty.

Yet in Wales, UKIP Wales’s central aim now is to attack Welshness, Wales’s Culture and scrap what limited sovereignty Wales currently has. 

Why on earth is UKIP Wales not beating the drum in support of Welsh Culture and Welsh Sovereignty like UKIP in England is doing for England?

To answer that we should maybe look across the oceans.  The only countries where you’ll find nationalist right-wingers being anti-indigenous are those like Australia and New Zealand. 

And why are Australia and New Zealand, along with the Americas, in such a bizarre, and paradoxical situation?  Precisely because they are colonial societies. 

And so readers, I put it to you, that Wales itself has become a colonial society and that the very fact that Wales’s own nationalist right wing is anti-Welsh, rather than fiercely pro-Welsh and pro-indigenous, is certain proof of that.

Wales and Colonial Nationalism
Like in Australia and New Zealand, the history of Wales over the past two centuries has been the history of an indigenous culture and society being progressively eroded and destroyed by an non-indigenous one. 

When Right-Wing nationalists in Australia and New Zealand are anti-indigenous, it is precisely because their nationalism is the ‘White and Anglo’ nationalism of the settler nation and one that is diametrically opposed to the interests of, or any potential nationalism by, the indigenous people.

Likewise, UKIP Wales has just proven that they are certainly not a Welsh party, but instead an Anglo-nationalist party that happens to exist in Wales, and which hates indigenous Welsh culture and Welsh sovereignty just as White Nationalists in Australia are anti-Aborigine. 

Complete and Utter Hypocrisy
So in England UKIP is in favour of national sovereignty and taking back control, while for Wales UKIP thinks that having any sovereignty and self-control at all is positively bad.

In 2016, UKIP was adamant that a strong central government = bad news but now it seems to think that a stronger Central government is just what Wales needs.

In England, UKIP is pro-indigenous culture and indigenous language, and in Wales, UKIP is anti-the indigenous culture and language. 

All that I can say is, “Hey UKIP, good luck trying to sell that two-faced con-trick to the Welsh people.”

What to do about it
Among Welsh Nationalists it seems to have been popular to refer to anti-Welsh behaviour, whether it be anti-Welsh racism in the street, or comments by politicians, as ‘xenophobic.’ 

But given that the word ‘xenophobic’ means hating foreigners, that to me sounds like you are conceding that the Welsh are somehow foreigners in their own country, Wales.  And to that, I say NO.

Come on, the Welsh are the Indigenous inhabitants, and the Titular Nationality, in Wales, – and they are also are the descendants of the Ancient Britons. 

So when you encounter British Nationalists and British Unionists being anti-Welsh, whether it’s racism in the street or policies by a political party, you should hit them where it hurts and accuse them of being anti-British. 

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Racism against the Welsh Puts the UK into Disrepute

 It seems that in the twenty-first century, anti-Welsh racism in the UK, and particularly in Wales itself has become so common that it’s practically part of the news landscape now.

Whether it’s Welsh speakers in their own Welsh hometowns being told by incomers to ‘stop speaking foreign muck’, to incomer staff in shops and pubs mimicking or threatening locals for speaking Welsh, to comments by leading British media figures, it’s only a few months after a slur like this before you hear of another. 

 And then at the end of last month, Guto Bebb’s resignation from the government was met with a storm of anti-Welsh comments on Twitter, some of which include the following:

‘‘I’m sorry, Guto Bebb is not a name, it’s an accident with fridge magnets.’’

“Christ, even anagrams are resigning” 

So, in other words, it’s now got to a point where a Welsh politician can’t even participate in the government of his own country, at the level of the political Union, without being mocked simply for his Welsh name. 

This is beyond insane, and the people who should be most alarmed by these trends are the Unionists, since such anti-Welsh remarks by people in or from the other nations of the UK can’t exactly be good for pan-British brotherhood and solidarity can they?

Anti-Welsh Graffiti on a beach in Tudweiliog which is one
one of Wales's last truly Welsh-Speaking communities.
Racism towards the local Welsh in Barmouth,
a popular seaside resort in southern Snowdonia.

Racism towards Welsh-Speaking customers in a shop
in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, where
Welsh-Speakers are 78% of the population.
But how should Welsh-Nationalists respond?

It seems to have become quite popular on amongst Plaid politicians and their supporters to label these actions as ‘xenophobic’.  Xenophobic, for those who don’t know, means hatred of foreigners. 

I’m sorry but that to me sounds like you’re conceding that the Welsh are somehow foreigners in their own country, and that Wales is somehow doesn't belong to the Welsh. 

And that, let’s face it, sounds just like a surrender.  So no, let’s not use the X-word.  So what shall we call this racism then?  I’ll tell you what to call it – Anti-British.  And here are a few reasons why  anti-Welsh racism is absolutely anti-British:

·       The Welsh people, language and culture are indigenous to Wales which, last time I checked, was on the island of Britain and part of the UK.
·       Not only that, but the Welsh are the descendants of the Ancient Britons, and thus their ancestors, language and culture were on the island of Great Britain long before we English turned up after the Romans left.  In short, the Welsh are British Par Excellence. 
·       By being racist towards another group of Brits, those Brit Nats must surely be doing the United Kingdom a disservice by undermining the spirit of brotherly unity and solidarity that should come with any political Union.  Thus, they are surely undermining their own British State.

And so calling them anti-British is exactly what we should do - since they're all undoubtedly Brit Nats themselves, by calling them as such we will be attacking them on their own ground and hitting them where it hurts.

And that should shut them up.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Is Learning Chinese really all that hard?

I guess you could say that I come from a 'language-learning family.'  Indeed, both my parents, all four grandparents, and all my cousins can speak at least two - and often three or four.  Yet I don't think that very many of them would have ever considered having a go at Chinese.

Certainly in the UK, and throughout the West generally, Chinese is most definitely seen as something mind-blowingly-impossibly-absolutely-impossibly-difficult - the equivalent of a 'no go' area in the language world.

And for me too, I had that idea, and indeed whenever I met anyone who said they were learning Chinese, the first thought that would enter my mind was always 'Are they a genius or are they insane?' 

And then, a year ago, I got accepted into a job in China and started learning Chinese.  Then seven months ago, with my VISA sorted out, I arrived here in Nanjing.

So what do I think of learning Chinese so far?

Forget Half of What you Already Thought you Knew
I don't want to shock you readers too suddenly when I say this - but Chinese grammar is actually way easier than that of French, German, Italian, or any European language.  No, seriously:
  • In most European Languages (apart from English) all nouns are either masculine or feminine, including inanimate words such as for chair and table, which means that you have to remember whether to use the word for 'he' or 'she' even when talking about inanimate objects.
  • In addition, most European Languages have different words for 'the' and 'a'/'an' depending on whether the word is a 'he' word or a 'she' word, or if the noun in question is the subject or the object of the sentence.
  • In addition, in pretty much every European language, including English, whenever you use a verb, you have to use the correct form of that verb which corresponds with the subject of the sentence (eg: 'I go' vs 'he goes') as well as with the tense - whether in the past, present or future.
Because, guess what?  None of these strictures exist in Chinese.  In short, in Mandarin, a word, be it a noun or a verb, just 'is what it is.'  Once you've learned it, you've learned it.  No grammatical gender, no grammatical cases, no conjugation.  And as for articles such as 'the' and 'a'/'an', they don't exist.

To make something past tense, you just add 'le' on the end of it, or you can just add a time word, like the the word for yesterday, or tomorrow, to make the time clear.

But then I hear you ask 'What about the tones?'  Well, sure enough, my fellow foreigners do freak out about them and many don't even try with them but here's my advice:  Don't freak out.

Just as in English you know that the word laptop is pronounced with the stress on the 'a' not the 'o', in Chinese you eventually come to learn the tone with every new word and have them glued together in your mind by instinct.

On the other hand, when speaking, you shouldn't slow yourself down to make sure that every tone is correct - that, strangely enough, will make you less understood than if you continue talking at a normal pace and just 'merge' words together, which is far more common.  Tones are not quite as important when the word is obvious by the contest.

But then, there's the real hard part  - the characters!

Characters - Learning them by the Hundreds
Now this is what makes Chinese difficult - the characters.  Whereas in English and other western languages, each letter represents a sound, in Chinese, each character represents a one-syllable word (each syllable in Chinese is a word in it's own right) and given that there are thousands of words in any language, you get the picture.

Indeed I am aiming for at least HSK Level three before I leave China, and for that, I am told, I will need to know 600 characters.

But here's the thing about characters - they're not completely random; there is in fact a pattern to them - which I am about to show you:

Here is the character for the word 'female' - pronounced ''.
The general rule of thumb, is that any word character that has anything to do with female, such as the word for 'mother' or 'she' will have the female character inside its own character, like so:

The character for 'she' (pronounced ''):

The character for mother (pronounced ''):

A Phonetic Side to Characters too
Although characters in Chinese are generally not phonetically based, often they are made to deliberately look like other characters that sound similar.  Above was the character for mother,'Mā', and below is the character for horse, pronounced 'Mǎ', both of which, tones aside, are pronounced the same:

So, as you can see, the character for mother was deliberately designed so that it was an amalgamation of the female radical and the horse radical, to reflect both the word's meaning and its pronunciation .  This is just one example of how characters are what they are for a reason, making them easier to remember.

So yes, there are aspects of Chinese that are a challenge for any foreign learner, but it's certainly not as impossibly difficult as we westerners instinctively think it is.  And indeed, the lack of all that western grammar has made it more fun to learn than learning Western languages (sorry, French), although that may also be due to the pure excitement of it all.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Can Ethnic Federalism Truly Succeed in Abiy Ahmed's Ethiopia?

It's now been four months since Ethiopia's brave new reformist Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, took power in a country until then classed as an 'authoritarian regime'.

In that time, he has so far:
  •  Released thousands of political prisoners, including opposition leaders who were on Death Row. 
  • Made concessions that have brought real peace with Eritrea for the first time in two decades
  • Ended numerous authoritarian laws which cracked down on descent, 
  • Promised to allow private citizens to buy shares in state owned companies, 
  • Admitted to his governing coalition having used torture before he came to office,
  • When meeting with opposition leaders, talked about the need for a true multi-party system as well as arguing that his own job should have term limits.
For those readers who don't know, Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister after mass protests had led to his predecessor resigning, and that in itself was an amazing democratic awakening.  Yet what has happened since has blown even that out of the water.

And now, numerous Ethiopians abroad in the West have decided their homeland is now good enough for them to return.

So now that the country's political situation has improved so drastically, could Ethiopia's governing principle of Ethnic Federalism actually become a model, that is when it is applied with real Democracy?  And just what is Ethnic Federalism?

Some History

Ethiopia, much like India, Yugoslavia, or the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a multi-ethnic, multi-national  and multi-lingual country.  However, it has only been a Federation since 1991, when the country's Soviet backed Communist Regime , the Derg, was overthrown by a coalition of rebel forces from different ethnic groups.

Until then, both under the Monarchy (pre-1974) and the Derg, Ethiopia was essentially a Unitary Empire, dominated by the Amharas who make up 26% of the population, the ethnic group who created and expanded the Empire in the first place.  Amharic has thus been the country's official language and Lingua Franca, just as German was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

However, in 1991, the Civil War which had seen a multitude of different ethnic nationalist rebels fighting the Derg, ended when a rebel coalition called the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), cooperating with other forces, seized the capital, Addis Ababa.

It was this group, formally a coalition of different ethnic groupings but dominated by their Tigray coalition parter (the Tigrays being 6% of the country's overall population) who, upon seizing power, decided that the country was to be a Federation of different states, just like the US or Canada.

Federal Ethiopia since 1991, divided into its
different ethnic states.
And in this new Ethiopia, the state boundaries were to be drawn deliberately to reflect the boundaries between the different ethnic groups, so that each ethnic group would get their own autonomous state for themselves, a 'country within a country' of sorts.

 Smaller ethnic groups, on the other hand, got to share states with other small ethnic groups, such as in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.

And that, my readers, is Ethnic Federalism.  Indeed EF has itself been referred to as 'Zenawism' after Meles Zenawi, leader of the EPRDF and Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 1991 until his death in 2012.

However the idea itself is actually not new, indeed, it was essentially the system in Yugoslavia until the 1990s, and is what the Archduke Franz Ferdinand proposed for the Austro-Hungarian Empire before his assassination in Sarajevo.  Here in China, there is a similar system whereby the largest of the country's minority groups have their own Autonomous Regions.

Ethnic 'Federalism' under a De Facto Dictatorship
Ethnic Federalism had its critics from the beginning.  There are, for example, both the former Monarchists and former Derg supporters, who, having ruled Ethiopia has an Amhara dominated Unitary state, have argued that the new system is a cynical break up of the country for the purposes of 'Divide and Rule' by the new regime.

Then you've also had the ethnic nationalists, many former allies of the EPRDF during the Civil War, such as the Oromo Liberation Front, who want full independence for their ethnicities and not to be part of any Ethiopia at all.

And neither of these opponents, nor any other opposition party, were given a fair shot at winning power since the elections since 1991 have not been free or fair - the EPRDF have been no more democratic, it seems, than either the Monarchy or the Derg before them.

And, to top it all off, the governing coalition, ostensibly a coalition of all the ethnicities, has in practice been dominated by its ethnic Tigray wing - the country's government had gone from being dominated by one ethnic group to be being dominated by another.

Thus, the resentments and protests against the EPRDF, which only intensified after Zenawi's death in 2012, were not just pro-Democracy but also increasingly anti-Tigray.

And a major cause of resentment for the Oromos in particular was a government plan to expand the territory of the city state of Addis Ababa into neighboring territory belonging to Oromia, a plan which was eventually dropped but either way, the Oromos were perhaps the ethnicity with the greatest grievance.

The ethnic protests by multiple ethnic groups culminated in 2016 and were met with Government Repression - Live Ammunition and a State of Emergency but eventually led to the resignation of Zenawi's successor and Abiy Ahmed's predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn.

The governing coalition knew it needed a change of direction and thus Abiy Ahmed, himself an ethnic Oromo, was elected its leader and duly became the new Prime Minister - and so the miracles listed at the front have unfolded since then. 

So can Ethnic Federalism work now?
Federalism, which is, after all, about the states and the central government sharing power, means nothing if it's all a Dictatorship. 

Without Democracy or political freedom, you can't have real autonomy.

Without the rule of law and the separation of powers between different branches of government,  you can hardly have any real sharing of power between different layers of government.

So, that, readers, has been the problem for the past 27 years.

On the 18th of June, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a commission to review the system of Ethnic Federalism, perhaps suggesting that there is a possibility that of it being scrapped in favour of a different model. 

I am of course not an Ethiopian, but as an amateur observer, I personally see nothing wrong with Ethnic Federalism in principle.  Sure there are some problems that go with it, such as the possibility of border disputes, but the biggest problem has not been the principle but the practice.

And Ethnic Federalism does have its advantages.  Why shouldn't each ethnic group have their own unit, their own 'country within a country' where they are autonomous?  Certainly the Oromo people seemed to be proud of their own Oromia otherwise they wouldn't have been so angry at the idea of the City State of Addis Ababa encroaching upon it.

So now that Ethiopia looks like it's embracing genuine democracy, if I were Ethiopian I would want Ethnic Federalism to be continued, so that it can be allowed to run as it's supposed to - with genuine freedom and autonomy.