27 April 2005

My own Anzac Day experience

BerlinBear avatarFor a couple of days I've been meaning to post about my own Anzac day experience here in Berlin, but various other things have got in the way. But now, finally, here goes.

It occurred to me that many of you who read my blog aren't from either New Zealand or Australia, so all this Anzac day palaver might be completely new to you. For your benefit, here is a brief potted history of Anzac day, lifted from the programme at the service I went to.
The History of Anzac Day

The Anzac tradition - the ideals of courage, endurance and mateship - was established on 25 April 1915 when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

It was the start of a campaign that lasted eight months and resulted in over 130,000 casualties from both sides. Of these, the 11,410 Australians and New Zealanders represented a huge loss for he two fledging nations.

The men who served on the Gallipoli Peninsula created a legend, adding the word Anzac to the Australian and New Zealand vocabularies and creating the notion of the Anzac spirit.

In 1916, the first anniversary of the landing was observed in Australia, New Zealand and England and by troops in Egypt. That year, 25 April was officially named Anzac Day by the Acting Prime Minister of Australia, George Pearce.

That little piece, though it is nice and succinct, omits a few key details:
1) The entire Gallipoli campaign was an unmitigated disaster for the Allies. It completely failed to achieve any of its strategic aims whatsoever.
2) The campaign itself was the hare-brained idea of none other than Winston Churchill. It was intended that by taking the Gallipoli peninsula, Allied Troops would control the Dardanelles, thus freeing up the way for an advance on Constantinople (now Istanbul) and knocking Turkey out of the war. None of that happened.
3) The generals, admirals and commanders in charge of the campaign hopelessly underestimated their opponent, and had no clear idea of how they should best go about achieving their strategic aims. They were, essentially, blundering about cluelessly in the dark, sacrificing young men's lives by the thousand.
4) The Anzac casualties were vastly outnumbered by the French, British and Turkish casualties (in that order), though of course on a per capita of population basis the New Zealanders and Australians were the hardest hit.
5) The Turkish troops were led in this campaign by Mustafa Kemal (who later renamed himself Kemal Ataturk), who made a name for himself as a brilliant leader and strategist and went on to found modern Turkey.
6) Perhaps most importantly, the campaign bred amonst the Anzac troops a strong and healthy respect and admiration for the bravery, stubbornness, and sheer willpower of the Turks against whom they were fighting, and vice versa.

I only mention that last point because it will help to understand certain aspects of the service I attended, discussed below. If you're interested, you can find more on the history of the Gallipoli campaign here, and here. In book form, I can also heartily recommend L.A. Carlyon's Gallipoli

Anyway, enough background.

So, on a cool and windy 25th April, Ms Bear and I headed off to the Anzac Day Ceremony at the Berlin 1939-45 War Cemetery in Berlin Charlottenburg. It was organised jointly (hear that John Howard?) by the Australian and New Zealand Embassies. We arrived about half an hour early, which I was pleased about, because it gave us the chance to wander around the beautifully presented and very serene cemetery almost completely alone. As the name implies, those buried in this cemetary were not Gallipoli casualties, but rather World War II victims, from all of the Allied Nations. I've noted this in War cemeteries before, but it never fails to shock me: almost all of the soldiers buried there never made it to my age. Accordingly, by the time the ceremony itself started, I was already feeling pretty moved and choked up.

There were perhaps 70 or 80 people in attendance. They included the Australian, New Zealand and British Ambassadors, the Turksih Charge d'Affaires, Australian, New Zealand and Turkish Defence Force representatives and sundry invited guests such as ourselves. The service itself was brief, only about 25 minutes in total. But it was very moving. This was the first Anzac Service I'd been to where Turkish representatives were in attendance, and I must say I thought it was a very nice touch. It greatly added to the strong sense that I always have on Anzac Day that it is by no means a celebration of war, but rather a celebration of peace on a day where we remind ourselves of the futility and senselessness of war. (Why else would we New Zealanders and Australians choose to remember our war dead on a day that symbolises perhaps our most resounding military defeat of all time?)

After an opening prayer from an Anglican minister and a reading and prayer in Turkish from one of the Turkish representatives, the Australian ambassador and New Zealand ambassadors both made moving speeches about the meaning of Anzac day. They were two of the best Anzac Day speeches I've heard, and I wish I had copies of them to share with you.

But then came what, for me, was the most moving part of the ceremony. Mr Adnan Basaga, the Turkish Charge d'Affaires read this piece:
as a thoroughly gripping and informative read.
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours ...

You, the Mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears;
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they
Have become our sons as well.

Kemal Atatürk, 1934

That, to me, just about says it all, much more eloquently and movingly than I could have.

In addition, there were of course a couple of hymns, a reading from Laurence Binyon's Ode for the Fallen, a prayer of remembrance, and the Last Post and Reveille played by a lone bugler. All very moving stuff. Having missed out on observing a couple of Anzac Days while I was living in the UK, I was very pleased to have been there. And the drinks and nibbles at the Australian Ambassador's residence afterwards were nice too. In case you're wondering, I did manage to bite my tongue about Teflon John's no-show in Gallipoli!

For any Kiwis or Australians living in Germany, I would urge you to get yourselves on your embassy's list of residents. That way you'll get an invite to this ceremony next year too. It's well worth the effort.

26 April 2005

Teflon John'dismayed' by talk of ANZAC snub

BerlinBear avatarPreviously posted on my old blog.

In this article in today's New Zealand Herald, we find that poor, put-upon Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard is 'dismayed' by talk that he deliberately snubbed the New Zealand memorial service at Gallipoli two days ago. I blogged about this issue here.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard is said to be dismayed by reports that he snubbed New Zealand’s memorial service at Gallipoli and has given a personal explanation to Prime Minister Helen Clark. ...

Mr Howard’s decision to go to a barbecue on the beach with his troops instead of the New Zealand service received extensive coverage in New Zealand for the two days before the 90th anniversary commemorations and after it.

Some reports said New Zealand officials had tried to convince Australian officials to get Mr Howard to attend, warning that it would be seen as an insult. ...

But according to Helen Clark’s spokesman, Mr Howard told Helen Clark that no one had told him that the New Zealand service was being held at a different time to Australia’s. He had not realised it was possible to attend both.

He was said to have been as dismayed as she was at reports that he had snubbed the service.
You know what I think? I think that is bollocks. No one told him that the NZ service was being held at a different time? Crap! When travel arrangements are made for Prime Ministers, whole teams of embassy, security, liaison and press staff are involved in making sure everything runs smoothly, right down to the last detail. And not one of them knew that there were two different ceremonies going on at two different times? How can it be then that the New Zealand contingent knew exactly what the Australian plans were and could plan their own movements accordingly? What about the "flurry of emails" that is said to have been exchanged between New Zealand and Australian defence staff to sort out this problem? Did no one who received those emails think perhaps the details should be passed on to the Prime Minister? In short, of course Howard knew.

My assessment of John Howard from the other day as "an odious little man with an attitude problem and a misplaced desire to turn his country into a carbon-copy of the USA" stands. Having read this story, I think I can now safely add liar to that list.

24 April 2005


BerlinBear avatarPreviously posted on my old blog.

Tomorrow, 25th April, is ANZAC day. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. ANZAC day is the day on which New Zealand and Australia remember their soldiers who landed at Gallipoli in the First World War and fought there against the Turks, who were defending the peninsula from Allied invasion. More generally, ANZAC day has become the day on which New Zealanders and Australians honour all of their returned servicemen and women and their war dead. It is a public holiday in both countries, and there are a great many memorial services held, not only in New Zealand and Australia, but also in Turkey and around the world. For example, I will be going to an ANZAC day service tomorrow here in Berlin, organised jointly by the Australian and New Zealand embassies. Anyway, the point is, ANZAC day is a big deal to many New Zealanders and Australians.

Given that, perhaps you can imagine the sense of indignation that many New Zealanders will be feeling when they read that Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, has decided to fly in the face of tradition and snub the New Zealand memorial service at Gallipoli this year. Instead, he'll be at a barbeque on the beach. No, really. The full story is at Scoop.
Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard will be boycotting an official ANZAC Day New Zealand ceremony at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, preferring instead to attend a barbeque on the shores of ANZAC Cove.

The snub had New Zealand foreign affairs and defence officials exchanging emails with their Australian counterparts over the past two weeks. Attempts to find a solution to the snub have proven to be futile.

John Howard’s decision not to attend is being perceived as an insult by veterans, senior defence officials, and, Australian and New Zealand visitors here at Gallipoli. One senior New Zealand officer said it is an outrage.

OK, so let me clarify. It's not as though John Howard is somewhere else entirely and can't make it. John Howard will be attending the Australian ceremony in the morning. But then, when the New Zealand ceremony takes place a couple of hours later, good old John will be at a barbie on the beach just a couple of kilometres away. Pardon my French, but what a knob!

As the name ANZAC implies, the Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought alongside each other (along also with many thousand of British and French troops) at Gallipoli. It was very much a joint effort. So to say that this decision by good old Johnny is a bit of an insult to New Zealand veterans would be putting it mildly.

It will be interesting to see if there is any political fallout from this. There has been no indication at this stage what Howard's reasons for not attending might be. For the moment, the NZ Prime Minister (who is not in Gallipoli this year) has been very diplomatic about it:
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is not publicly critical of the Australian PM’s boycott but appeared outwardly annoyed. She said: “That (the decision) is entirely a matter for Mr Howard on how he designs his programme… Mr Howard’s programme is entirely for him to determine.

But I'll be surprised if nothing at all is said in the aftermath.

I'm afraid that this just further confirms my previously-held impression of John Howard as, frankly, an arrogant tosser. It is completely beyond me how and why the Australian electorate goes on re-electing him time after time after time. If I were Australian, I'd view him as an embarrassment to my country. As I am not, I simply view him as an odious little man with an attitude problem and a misplaced desire to turn his country into a carbon-copy of the USA.

Can you tell this has got me wound up? OK, sorry, I'll stop now.

[Update 25/04/05 14:00] OK, it's actually worse than I thought it was. Contrary to my original post, I've now found out that the New Zealand Prime Minister is in Gallipoli today, and attended both the Australian and New Zealand services. I'll be posting later today about the very moving ANZAC service here in Berlin that I've just returned from.]

04 April 2005

Is George Weah the answer for Liberia?

BerlinBear avatar This article on BBC News looks at former professional footballer George Weah's attempt to become president of Liberia, and cites examples of other sportsmen and sportswomen who have gone into politics.

In his time as a footballer, George Weah was a superstar, not just in his native Liberia but all over Africa, Europe and the world. In 1995 he won the World's best player award, and in 1998 he was voted African player of the century. But now that his football career is over, Weah has decided to try his hand at politics. And he wants to go straight to the top.

George Weah plays football with youngsters in LiberiaGeorge Weah is welcomed by crowds in Liberia

George Weah plays football with youngsters, above, and receives a
hero's welcome, below, in Liberia. [Source: Unicef]
The elections in Liberia will be held on 11th October 2005. Despite his limited education, it seems that George Weah will have a good chance of being elected president. He still holds cult-like hero status in Liberia, due to his successes on the pitch. He is popular with the young, which is important as they make up a disproptionately large part of the election (Liberia's median age is just 18.1 years). Furthermore, Weah is already known in Liberia for his efforts off the pitch. As the BBC article puts it:

"Yet Weah's impact on his country was not just sporting. Mister George, as he is known in France, is also a hero to many Liberians for his off the field work, being named a Unicef ambassador for his efforts to improve the lives of children throughout the continent. "It is almost impossible to explain how much George has done for Liberia," the country's sports minister, Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes, told BBC World Service's Focus On Africa magazine. ...

Above all, Weah is perceived as an honest and good man. Liberia has seen few such wholesome characters among its political leaders in the last two decades. For that alone, the footballer turned politician has a good chance of winning the most important job in his homeland."

It is difficult to say from this distance and before Weah's campaign gets into full swing what exactly his politics are like and whether or not he would make a good president. One thing is certain though: having George Weah as president would definitely raise the profile of Liberia in Europe, which presumably could only be a good thing.

Doubtless there have been a great many people who were "perceived as an honest and good man" when they entered politics, but who have then gone on to become corrupted by their power and influence, and have failed to deliver what the electorate had hoped for. Let us hope that, if elected, George Weah will not turn out to be one of those. Because Liberia, after 14 years of civil war, and with 80% of its population living below the poverty line, could certainly use a strong and trustworthy leader.

And now you know.

[Note: Don't know anything about Liberia? Shame on you: it's Africa's oldest republic and it was founded by freed American slaves. Check out the BBC's country profile, or the CIA factbook entry for Liberia]