Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dr Grigoris Lambrakis

In April 1963, Grigoris Lambrakis laid a wreath at the feet of Lord Byron, whose statue is to be found near Hyde Park Corner in London. He had walked about 80 kilometres, all the way from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, carrying his banner marked “ELLAS” (Greece), as part of CND’s annual Easter March.

A few weeks later, on 27 May, Lambrakis was murdered in public, in Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece. These dramatic events were captured in Costa-Gavras’s acclaimed film “Z”, which takes its title from the first letter of the Greek word Zi, meaning “he lives”. “Z” appeared in graffiti all over Athens.

Dr Lambrakis’s public stand for peace and against oppression continues to resonate in Greece and beyond. He inaugurated the first Marathon March for Peace, carrying the same ELLAS banner he had raised in England. In Greece, he marched alone initially, it seems, defying an official ban on the event. Later, thousands joined him, defying the ban.

Bertrand Russell wrote in his Autobiography:

‘In 1963, my interest in the resistance fighters in Greece came to a head. They had opposed the Nazis there but were still languishing in prison because most of them had been “Communists”. A number of their representatives came to see me, among them the Greek MPs who visited England in April and May. A “Bertrand Russell Committee of 100” had been formed in Greece and they held a march, or tried to hold one, towards the end of April to which I sent a representative. Then came the murder of the MP Lambrakis at Salonika, with, it was fairly clear, the connivance of the Authorities. This deeply shocked me, in common with other liberal-minded people. Again, at request, I sent my representative to the funeral of Lambrakis in Athens … ’

That funeral was a huge, international event, attended and watched by millions. Lambrakis’s name became familiar to many people around the world who were concerned about the nuclear arms race, which had so nearly wrought disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis a few months earlier.

Panos Trigazis has written a new book about Lambrakis, which we hope to publish in English at a later date. Panos is a good friend to the Russell Foundation who, over the years, has become one of its most active contributors. He was with us in the days of European Nuclear Disarmament, during the 1980s, and he is with us still. In his hands, ‘the Glorious Art of Peace’ continues to flourish, as do the links between peace movements in Greece and Britain.

Dr Lambrakis provided the most powerful impetus for those relations by the example he gave before his untimely death.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why we need a political campaign to reinstate the NHS

This extract is from the forthcoming publication by Prof Allyson M Pollock and David Price on the future of the national health service for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class).

This blog first appeared on Left Foot Forward on 25 March 2013.

At 2.36 on the afternoon of Tuesday 27 March, 2012 the Health and Social Care Bill 2011, repealing the legal foundations of the NHS in England, was given royal assent and became law.

Campaigning groups, NHS staff and professional organisations had fought for nearly 2 years against what must count as one of the most regressive pieces of UK legislation of the last 60 years.

That the bill became law in the end is testimony not to our robust democratic processes but to the autocratic power of government. The coalition came to office in May 2010 on a manifesto promising no further top-down reform of the NHS, and then promptly did the opposite.

The bill passed into law without an electoral mandate because no major political party or parliamentary institution in England was willing or able to defend the NHS. It was a constitutional outrage. Its passing marked the end of a National Health Service in England that for more than sixty years served as one of the most successful models in the world, widely praised and copied.

The UK NHS was created by national consensus in order to ensure that every citizen was guaranteed health care. Underpinning these arrangements was the secretary of state’s core duty to provide or secure a comprehensive health service, a duty repealed by the first clause of the Health and Social Care Act.

Repeal was the fulcrum of the free market agenda because the duty compelled the minister to allocate resources according to need instead of leaving allocation to market forces and unaccountable organisations.

In the absence of a ministerial responsibility, it now becomes possible to blur the boundaries between free health care and chargeable health and social care. Many NHS services are being transferred to local authorities, which can charge for care.

The Act also abolishes rules that make certain health services mandatory. Under this system, players in the health care market can choose the services they wish to provide and the patients for whom they provide.

The principle is not, as the coalition repeatedly claimed, increased patient choice but increased choice of patient.

The NHS has been an international model because it provided what no other country in the world has achieved at the same cost: universal health care in the form of equal access to comprehensive care irrespective of personal income.

For most of its existence the NHS was based on the principle that the poor, the chronically sick and the frail elderly would receive the best available care only if the rich received the same service. Since the 1970s and throughout the 1990s, we have witnessed a dismantling of publicly-funded and provided long-term care including nursing care for the elderly and the huge inequalities that have accompanied it.

As the 2012 Act is being implemented, corporations will have more say in determining our entitlement to free health services. In future, no single organisation will be responsible for ensuring the health care of all residents within an area and it will no longer be clear who should be held accountable when things go wrong.

Our relationship with our doctor will change when for-profit companies run more services. According to the Financial Times, Virgin already earns around £200 million a year by running more than 100 NHS services nationwide, including GP surgeries.

As patients we will no longer necessarily come first: how can we feel confident that our doctor is putting us first when he or she is a for-profit company employee?

It is clear that the government is manufacturing a crisis, reducing the level of services and their quality, and shaking public confidence in the NHS. But claims that we can no longer afford the NHS are untrue. The NHS is not over budget. Last year the NHS budget was under spent and £2 billion was returned to the Treasury.

This year it’s a similar story. Headline stories about hospital and other health service deficits only mean that resources are unfairly distributed not that the NHS is unaffordable overall.

The answer of course is political not financial. A new Act is needed to reinstate the NHS. These changes are the culmination of a transition from public to private responsibility as market dogma has penetrated, only to abolish, an institution that has defined us in our own eyes and internationally.

By removing the mandate on government to provide a health service, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is the crowning achievement of the architects of this long recessional from universality. Our response must be political too.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ayşe Berktay, Turkey

Ayse Berktay, friend of the Russell Foundation for many years, has now been acknowledged by PEN America and awarded the 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write prize. Here is here acceptance speech, written in prison in Turkey, where she has been held without bail since October 2011 (see Spokesman issues 115, 119, 120)

Ayşe Berktay in Bakırköy Women’s Prison. Photo courtesy Ali Berktay

STATUS: On Trial
Ayşe Berktay is a translator, scholar, author, and cultural and women’s rights activist. Her publications include History and Society: New Perspectives, 2008, and The Ottoman Empire and the World Around with Suraiya Faroqhi; and she is the editor of Women and Men in the 75th Year of the Turkish Republic. Her translations include The Imperial Harm: Gender and Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1520-1656 by Leslie Penn Pierce; and The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (New Approaches to European History) by Donald Quataert.

Over the past decade, Ayşe conducted work at the History Trust, where she was part of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Board on Human Rights; the Women’s Human Rights Trust, where she prepared publications; the Compatriots for Peace Initiative; the Truth Behind Diyarbakir Prison Research and Justice Commission, where, in 2008, she met with individual prisoners that had been detained from 1980 to 1984; and the Women for Peace Initiative.

In December 2009 Ayşe became a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has 36 elected representatives in the Turkish Parliament. In March 2010 she was elected to the BDP Istanbul Province Executive, where she worked in the Press Committee. In October 2010 she was elected to the BDP Central Women’s Committee, where she worked in the Foreign Relations Office.

Berktay is the recipient of the 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

Current Status
In a November 2012 letter sent from prison, Ayşe Berktay writes: “Growing up, I learned that it is a virtue to oppose injustice, inequality and unfairness. I was taught to read, research, to question, and never stop learning. I’ve never lost hope on our belief that our conflicts can be resolved through democratic means and not with violence. We have something to say about peace, and the power to make it a reality. We still do.”

Ayşe Berktay is currently being held in Bakirköy Women’s Prison in Istanbul. If convicted of the charge of "membership in an illegal organization," she could face up to 15 years in prison. Her trial, like many others swept up in this crackdown, is ongoing. Her last hearing was on March 14, 2013.

Case History
Police arrested Ayşe Berktay and raided her home at 5:00 a.m. on October 3, 2011, and seized personal papers and materials, though no arrest or search warrant had been issued. She was eventually charged under Turkey’s anti-terror legislation of “membership in an illegal organization” for allegedly “planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilizing the state, plotting to encourage women to throw themselves under police vehicles so as to create a furor, and attending meetings outside Turkey on behalf of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK),” a banned pro-Kurdish party. The indictment specifically refers to international conferences she attended, where she is accused of having served as the organization’s “international advocate.” Ayşe Berktay is one of more than 1,800 people, including many writers and academics, who have been swept up in mass arrests of supporters of Kurdish rights in Turkey.

Writings by Ayşe Berktay
Ayşe Berktay's Acceptance Remarks

I Do Not Accept This Indictment

Ayşe Berktay’s Summary of Her Situation and Proposals: December 2011

Take Action
Your voice matters. The simplest and most effective response to censorship is to spread the word. Use our ACTION TOOLS to send a letter calling for Ayşe Berktay's release. Then share this page and get the word out.


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