politics, world

A Good Week For International Change

IrotzabalFidel Castro

If there are four big pieces of international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these. And if there were for big pieces of good international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these:

  1. The Kofi Annan-led mediation team seems to be getting close to a real resolution to the months-long violence in Kenya that has left over one thousand dead.
  2. Kosovo, a former province of Serbia under United Nations control for nearly a decade, declared independence. Little–though sadly not none–violence or meaningful disruption followed this long-feared move.
  3. In a largely symbolic but long anticipated move, Fidel Castro has announced that he will officially resign his posts of president and commander-in-chief of Cuba.
  4. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appear willing and able to accept the results of Monday’s election, preventing the type of chaos that was unleashed in Kenya when Mr. Mbeki refused to accept the legitimate results of the election in his country.

Surely this list isn’t all sunshine and daisies. There’s still a long road toward peace and stability that Kenya must travel before it regains some of the stability and sheen it had less than a year ago. Kosovo still has a large Serbian population in it which will likely continue to cause disruption. That will also be exacerbated by Serbia’s unwilling to accept the legality of the fracture. While Fidel’s Castro role in Cuba’s day-to-day activities has clearly diminished, it’s hard to see Cuba becoming a free and open country while he’s still alive and his brother retains power. Though Pakistan’s begun the transition back to civilian governance, it’s still a mess of country with large ungovernable portions. The legislative future is still far from smooth while the newly-elected parliment is to be checked by a president it doesn’t like but can’t impeach.

Indeed, too, there are large problems in many other places around the world. Civil wars still rage, the rule of law is still a dream in far too many countries, totalitarian leaders still have meaningful influence in far too much of the world.

But seen from a distance–the only way I know how to see international affairs–this has been a good week. Certainly we’d need many good weeks like this to see a meaningful trend toward openness, democracy, and prosperity sweeping over the world. Probably we’d really need something closer to many years like this week for us to reach something like satisfaction about the way the world is now.

But we should be glad for what we’ve gotten this week. Too rarely does so much good news come without a break of the bad, the terrible, or the catastrophic. Though I have no idea what tomorrow will bring these countries and all the others in desperate need of change, I’m thankful for what progress we’ve had so far.


Review: Blame it on Fidel

Foreign films have a reputation for being boring. So, a random line from this one:

Mickey Mouse is a fascist! I said don’t read it!

If that’s doesn’t make you sit up and pay attention, nothing will. The line also succinctly explains the chief struggle in Blame it on Fidel (La Faute à Fidel).

Young Anna is a moderately spoiled and conservative nine year old in France in 1970. Conservative not in a deeply political way, but the casual conservatism of child who rather likes her Catholic schools and the nuns that teach there. And rather likes having a big house with a big yard. And rather likes her family’s housekeeper, a Cuban émigré. And seems closer to the woman, Filomena, than her parents. She also share’s Filomena’s distaste for her visiting aunt and cousin–refugees from Franco’s Spain who the refugee from Castro’s Cuba recognizes as socialists.

When the housekeeper’s suspicions–that Anna’s parents would become socialist crusaders–are proved correct, she’s dismissed. Anna’s parents have found passion for socialist movements and are driven to help Salvador Allende’s ascent to power in Chile. To truly pursue this dream they must give up their home and her father’s high-paying job as a lawyer.

This in the first of many seemingly-unbearable changes with which Anna must contend. The move into a smaller apartment and recruitment of a new childminder–a depressed refugee from Greece–don’t help her chronic dissatisfaction with all the changes in her life. She’s further insulted when her parents take her out of divinity lessons, well aware that her socialist cousin had been removed from them as well.

Told that saving is the only way get the money she sees as necessary for the life she wants, Anna takes to pinching pennies, and sometimes even stealing them outright. She regularly turns off as many lights as possible, as well the water heater. Of course, the results aren’t nearly what she desires, seeming to do little more than make her have cold baths from time to time.

What’s amazing and worthwhile in this strained relationship between Anna and her parents is the extent to which it lays bare the logic of arguments hashed out all over the world between radicals and reactionaries. For example, a conversation between Anna (emphasized) and her father after being tear-gassed at a protest:

I’m hungry. I want to go home.

Me. Me. Me. That was group solidarity! We’re here for your future.

My future?

When you’re older, you’ll see that we were right. In Spain they kill men like Quino [Anna’s uncle, killed by Franco’s men]. In Latin America the poor live in shacks.

Ok. We have to help the poor and be polite to them, but why do all that? Let’s do like Granny [who lives in a big house and sometimes donates clothes to the poor]!

The whole thing is by measures inspired and absurd. And much of it delves into history and cultural references that I can only begin to understand. But none of that’s much of a problem. The films constant understated humor sustains the drama throughout.

On the whole, I think it’s a great and important film that I feel certain more should see.