Monday 16 April 2018

Sùil air an Tsunami, BBC Alba, Diardaoin 8.30f

Anns an stiùidio le Iain Moireasdan airson Fianais

“Inns dhuinn mun chogadh”, bhiomaid a‘ faighneachd nar cloinn, agus gheibheamaid sgeulachdan èibhinn mu phuirt air taobh eile an t-saoghail agus seòladairean annasach. Cha robh dad ann mu chogadh.

Cha do thuig mi sin gus an deach iarraidh orm pàirt a ghabhail ann am prògram Fianais, far am bi Iain Moireasdan a’ còmhradh riuthasan a bh‘ ann agus a chunnaic tachartasan eachdraidheil.

‘S e an cuspair agamsa an Sual Mòr ann an 2004, an Tsunami Àisianach. Chuir mi seachad cola-deug ag aithris bho theis-meadhan an sgrios a mharbh còrr is cairteal de mhillean.

Mar a b‘ fhaisge a thàinig sinn air clàradh a‘ phrògraim, ‘s ann bu lugha a chuimhnich mi. na rudan èibhinn, bha iad agam, ach cha robh an còrr eile.

‘S ann nuair a lorg mi agus a leugh mi airson a‘ chiad uair na h-aithisgean a chuir mi dhan phàipear-naidheachd agam bho chionn ceithir bliadhna deug, a thàinig a h-uile càil air ais.

Am fàileadh, na seallaidhean, na cuileagan, na làraidhean làn de chuirp. Bha mi air mo ghlasadh a-mach às mo chuimhne airson mo dhìon fhìn.

Tha na thàinig a‘ taomadh a-mach ri fhaicinn air Fianais, Diardaoin-sa tighinn aig 8.30f air BBC Alba.


“Tell us about the war”, we used to ask as children and we’d get amusing reports about harbours on the other side of the world and strange sailors. There was nothing about actual war
I didn’t understand why until I was asked to take part in the programme Fianais (Witness), in which John Morrison talks to those who have been and seen historic events.
My subject was the Great Wave of 2004, the Asian Tsunami. 
I spent a fortnight reporting from the epicentre of the disaster which killed over a quarter of a million people.
The closer it came to recording the programme, the less I remembered.
The funny things I could recall, but not the rest of it. 
It was when I found and read for the first time the reports I had sent to my stories newspaper 14 years ago that everything came back.
The smells, the sights, the insects, the lorries full of bodies.
I had been locked out of my memory for my own protection.

What came tumbling out can be seen on Fianais, next Thursday at 8.30pm on BBC Alba.

Saturday 14 April 2018

The swing away from Europe's forgotten Spring

From my Daily Record column 13/04/18

Kenneth Murray, Murdo Morrison and myself, Czechoslovakia, March 1990

In the spring of 1990, as the walls came tumbling down, I travelled with two friends on an 2000-mile round car trip to the newly liberated countries of central Europe.

We had our passports stamped at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie, as East Germany held its first free elections since 1932.

We drank in Prague beerhouses and stayed in art deco splendour as Czechoslovakia went to the polls, and we swam in the steam baths of Budapest as old men played chess after voting.

We made it there and back in a 950cc Ford Fiesta with a battery tape recorder blasting out Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World.

I realise this is not everyone’s idea of an Easter break but after the Soviet Union collapsed, the prospect of a liberated, united Europe drew everyone east.

We met Labour’s Brian Wilson in Berlin, bumped into Lib Dem veteran Russell Johnston in Budapest’s Intercontinental hotel. For once, Russell wasn’t in Brussels.

Budapest, when we arrived in our sewing machine car, was the most westernised capital of them all.

The legacy of the 1956 uprising, the education system and liberalised economy gave it a real head start on other eastern neighbours.

Last weekend, after the re-election of right-wing populist Victor Orban as Hungary’s PM, I messaged a friend in Budapest, a descendant of one of the small pocket of Hungarian Jews who survived the Nazis.

In good news, she is expecting a baby. But as for her country, she texted back: “Extremely sad.” It is likely she’ll move her life to Paris.

The pendulum swing from communism to neo-nationalism that has barbed wire fences going back up on Hungary’s border is tragic.

Orban was re-elected on a single issue – immigration, with anti-Semitic and anti-Islam overtones.

He used the same image of queuing migrants as UKIP played in the last days of the Brexit referendum (I feel sorry for Scots photographer Jeff Mitchell, whose image of refugees in Slovenia has been misappropriated).

Results like Orban’s – he controls two thirds of parliamentary seats – show voters aren’t going to back to the “sensible centre” any time soon.

Not under the old rules anyway. Politics is in the grip of populists.

I reckon this is why talk of a new centrist party in the UK is a dead loss.

Despairing of Jeremy Corbyn, some in the centre left are sniffing around for a new political vehicle.

The money is there but the backing isn’t because splitting the Labour vote simply allows the Conservatives to remain in government and sustain the SNP at Westminster.

And what would a centrist party have to say to voters driven to tribal extremes?

When radicals gain ground, even people with reasonable views are driven into the bunkers. The lesson of the post-crash world is that populism is an easier sell than reason.

The only European exception is president Macron, who I’m beginning to think is not the new radical centre but a throwback to market-driven Blairism which France skipped out on for years.

Soon enough, populists move on to scapegoats or sell mirages too ludicrous to accept. Just watch Brexit unfold.

The mainstream challenge is to respond with optimism about what can be achieved, to somehow find a voice that squares identity politics with a bigger picture, that addresses fears of migrants and resists the downsides of globalisation.

With voters not hankering for the middle ground, it is a big ask.

Another liberalising European spring is down a rocky road. Democracy needs more than an underpowered hatchback for the journey.