Monday, 22 June 2009

GX Week 10

Monday 25th May

Today Di (our supervisor at Catch 22) took Olga and I around her home town, Thaxted, and out for lunch. I got the 510 to Bishops Stortford where I met Olga at the station and Di picked us up. We took a scenic route through the Essex countryside I know so well to Di's house, which was, absolutely beautiful with a view out the back of the windmill. We walked from her house down to the church where the Morris Men were performing. Apparently the Thaxted Morris Men are famous but despite living around that area for the first 6 years of my life (I even spotted my old P.E. teacher from primary School in the audience) I had never seen them. After the dancing we took a turn about the market/car boot sale on the high street where I just couldn't resist buying some jewellery and then went for lunch with Di and both her sons in the pub opposite the church. After lunch both sons departed and Olga, Di and I took a look inside Thaxted church. The church is very large compared to the size of the town. This is because, as Di explained, Thaxted historically was a very important town but is one of the few towns to have actually shrunk in size. Next we went down to the guildhall to look around an art exhibtion being held there and from there we went to the windmill, which is open as a museum, and Olga and I took many pictures of ourselves and the surrounding Essex countryside out on the boardwalk. Di then took us for a cream tea at a little cafe that I think was called 'Poppy's'. I don't know if it was something I ate for lunch, a stomach bug or the second cup of really strong coffee that I had but as I watched Olga eat her second scone I started to feel quite sick. Back at Di's just before we were to get into the car to go home I had to admit to myself and to Di just how bad I was feeling. I ended up being sick in her toilet which I felt just awful and embarassed about, throwing up all the lovely food she had brought for me. Di very kindly drove me all the way back to Harlow which was about an hour out of her way instead of letting me get the bus. Back at Ilma's I went straight up to bed and slept.

Tuesday 26th May

I set an alarm this morning I spent a while debating with myself whether I was well enough to go into work in the end deciding to stay at home. I pretty much just slept all day.

Wednesday 27th May

I can get quite upset hearing about some of the experiences of the learners. I can relate to them and I feel how easily I could have ended up in their situation had it not been for the support of some fantastic people in my life, namely my mother.

Thursday 28th May

Today the learners did a treasure hunt around Harlow so there wasn't much to do except send them off, meet them for lunch and then again at the end of the day. I have loads of GX stuff to do though. Despite using my laptop pretty much all weekend I feel like I need another 5 hours alone with a computer. The last minute rush seems to be taking its toll on everyone. As I'm not on any other committees except the debrief I don't mind doing the majority of the work but I don't want people to feel like I'm taking over.

Friday 29th May

A very unhealthy day for me. I had a scone and coffee for breakfast, chinese takeaway for lunch and pizza for dinner. To top that off I also got sunburnt. Today was also Rory, Baur and Kassym's GCD on Democracy. Believe it or not we started by brainstroming ideas about and defining democracy.

Democracy - rule by the people, idealised, government, freedom, freedom of speech, equality, right to vote, representative, direct, belief systems, mass media (I swear Misha says that every time).

Definition courtesy of Wikipedia: A form of government in which state power is held by the majority of citizens within a country or state. I had to ask where the definition was from as having studied politics for the last three years I've read hundreds of definitions. I thought this one from wikipedia was pretty simple and comprehensive. It got my approval.

The teams next task was to mark on a world map countries we believed to be free, not free and partially free, which we then compared to the map produced by Freedom House. A map to which Baur and Kassym had made changes, changing Russia and Kazakhstan from not free to partially free. Dinara argued that Kazakhstan was partially free with de jure democracy but not de facto. Dina backed this up claiming that there is no freedom of speech and Misha said that the government and opposition media are strongly divided with the information often being witheld from the opposition and demonstrations suppressed. Ben remarked that perhaps we were looking at democracy and freedom from a western bias as 'the best form of government'. That reminded me of something we talked about during my degree, that democracy may not be the best form of government for all cultures. For example for my initial GX presentation I studied Kazakhstan's political system concluding that the country was not a democracy as the president holds too much power. I will post it here eventually but I didn't at first as I was worried that I might not be allowed into the country or something like that. However from reading books on Kazakhstan and speaking to the team it seems that though the president, Nazarbayev, does hold too much power this has yet to become a problem as he leads the country as a 'father figure' through a period of stability. Under a 'better the devil you know' mentality Nazarbeyev has alot of support within the population who are afraid to support an untested candidate and face more change. A problem may arrive however when Nazarbeyev must finally vacate his seat leaving a very powerful presidency with a person who does not have the country's best interests at heart or the same skill. Olga commentated that the higher the level of democracy and freedom a country has the more they complainm, or in my opinion have more freedom to complain, that they do not have it. A good example might be the recent complaints about MPs expenses. It was noted that Freedom House lists Afghanistan as free. Freedom House is an American sponsored organisation. Could it be that the map of Freedom in the World is nothing more than American propaganda? The next task was to split into two teams and write down what we thought were the 5 most and 5 least democratic countries in the world. Then the answers were presented to us. The boys had used the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2006 (which ranks 167 countries) but I've also found the figures for 2008 becuase I'm clever like that. I shall post both as there have been some changes.


Most Democratic

1 - Sweden

2 - Iceland

3 - Netherlands

4 - Norway

5 - Denmark

6 - Finland

7 - Luxembourg

8 - Australia

9 - Canada

10 - Switzerland

Least Democratic

167 - North Korea

166 - Central African Republic

165 - Chad

164 - Togo

163 - Myanmar

162 - Turkmenistan

161 - Libya

160 - Uzbekistan

159 - Saudi Arabia

158 - Guinea-Bissau

The UK was ranked 23rd in 2006 as a full democracy and Kazakhstan 135th as an authoritarian regime.


Most Democratic

1 - Sweden

2 - Norway

3 - Iceland

4 - Netherlands

5 - Denmark

6 - Finland

7 - New Zealand

8 - Switzerland

9 - Luxembourg

10 - Australia

Least Democratic

167 - North Korea

166 - Chad

165 - Turkmenistan

164 - Uzbekistan

163 - Myanmar

162 - Central African Republic

161 - Saudi Arabia

160 - Guinea-Bissau

159 - Libya

158 - Guinea

In 2008 the UK ranked 21st as a full democracy. Kazakhstan also moved up to 127th but is still categorised as an authoritarian regime.

The boys then conducted a mock election of 'good' Rory vs. 'bad' Baur which I don't think they had entirely planned and the whole thing turned into a bit of a farce (just like some real elections). Basically the majority voted for Rory but Baur won. I suppose this was supposed to demonstrate the electoralist fallacy, the idea that just having an election does not make a country a democracy. Dinara talked about what she called the 'election carousel' with the same people standing and being elected to power over and over again and also the pressure in schools and workplaces in Kazakhstan to vote for certain candidates. In which teachers and employers promote certain candidates and you will be encouraged to attend rallies for the favoured candidates. Rory showed us a video from, which is a website that only Rory would know, on the march of democracy across the last 4000 years. The video portrayed the U.S.A as the first nation founded on democracy but as some in the group pointed out this 'democracy' was not inclusive. Women, slaves and native americans were excluded. After this we took a critical eye to the charaters of George W. Bush, Nelson Mandela, Victor Yuschenko (the Ukrainian President) and Benazir Bhutto, arguing whether they were dmocratic individuals or not. There was dirt to be found on all of them but I noticed the group more forgiving of Mandela and Bhutto, perhaps because of their media image or the different starting point of their countries. To end the GCD Rory invited the ex-mayor of Bishops Stortford and Town and District Councillor, Mike Wood, to talk to us. He explained about Bishops Stortford Town Council in which councillors are unpaid with no expenses. The responsibilities of the town council are limited to allotments and parklands etc. Bishops Stortford Town Concil is comprised of 13 Conservatives, 4 Liberal Democrats and 1 Independent. The Mayor is elected once a years by the council in May and cannot stand for more than two terms, usually one. In East Hertfordshire District Council councillors are paid 5000 pounds a year (no pound sign on cyrillic/english keyborads. The council covers a population of 140000, with 38000 in Bishops Stortford. Council responsibilities include planning, refuse collection, street cleaning, markets and carparks. The 50 councillors are elected every 4 years from 17 wards of which Bishops Stortford elects 13. There are 42 Conservatives, 4 Liberal Democrats and 4 Independents on the council. It employs 150 staff in hertford and 130 in Bishops Stortford. The highest level of local governmnet in the County Council. In this case Hertfordshire County Council. The Council covers a population of 1 million and councillors are paid 9000 pounds a year. They are responsibile for much of the 'big spending', social services, education (which combined have a budget of 500 million), libraries, trading standards, planning and highways. The council is comprised of 46 Conservatives, 16 Labour, 14 Liberal Democrats and 1 Green. It has about 3000 staff including teachers etc. In the UK system above the County Council comes the national government at Westminster and then the European Parliament. The Eastern Region, of which Bishops Stortford is part, elects 7 members. Currently (prior to the June 4th elections) they were 3 Conservative, 1 Liberal Democrat, 1 Labour and 1 Green. As a typical Liberal Democrat he promoted Proportional Representation and discussed local election turnout which is 'good' at 40% in East Herts. Having written an essay on the topic at University and interested to hear his opinion I asked whether he thought there was a problem in local governmnent with such low turnout and people being mopre concerned with service delivery than using the council as an outlet for democractic expression. He didn't really answer the question but detailled the steps the council has taken to try and get people mpre involved, such as town meetings and a youth council, which I guess means that they do think its a problem. I think that the problem is that the council lacks what is seen as any important powers and is too focused on service delivery as confirmed by Mike's answer to Rory's question. 'How much are you ordered to do by central government?' Mike spoke about directives and targets, which he described as 'not a bad thing'. 'It means a better service for the public'. Of course we need good services and we don't want a postcode lottery either but the councils need some more powers and flexibility to get people interested in local politics again.

During the day I also managed to confirm my status as a politics graduate by scoring 9 out of 9 on the boys quiz. There were no badges this time though.
The first country to allow all of its population to vote and stand for election was Finland.
The first democratic form of rue appeared in Athens in 500 BC.
The native population of South Africa were allowed to vote in 1994.
The 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen' was accepted in France in 1789.
The first constitution in the world was accepted in San Marino in 1600.
The first ombudsmen was appointed in Sweden in 1809.
The 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' was accepted in 1948.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau first expounded 'liberal democracy'.
Scandinavia is also known as 'the social democratic region'.
Some of it was admittedly educated guessing.

The end of the day dragged with loads of annoucements, taking photos for the press conference we are apparently going to have in Kazakhstan and filling in Visa applications which I got very annoyed with after ticking the wrong box.

Team 93 Photograph

Saturday 30th May

Had a brief lie in before getting up to work on my learning journal and then heading into town. I managed to spend nearly 30 pounds in Boots and used my 1 hour daily allowance of internet use in Harlow Library on Debrief plans and updating this blog. In the evening our team had a fancy dress party at the Northgate Youth Centre. I went as a hippy. My mind wasn't on enjoying the party, I was however distracted for the last hour of the party by a game that was effectively strip musical chairs. When the music stops you must remove one thing that you are wearing and place it on the chair yo have stopped by. This happens until people start protestingand then you must start putting on an item from the chair you stop by when the music stops.

The result of 'strip' musical chairs

Sunday 31st May

Lots of church going today. First to Ilma's church where she had volunteered Gulnara to sign a hymn in her own language and then to St. Andrews in the Stow (where we have our african drumming class) to do a display of African drumming and lead the procession for the opening of their new church hall.

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