It is inevitable, isn’t it?
I am referring to the unstoppable rise of China as the new pivot in international relations, strongly positioning itself as a counter to U.S. interests in Asia-Pacific region. There is no competitor to China as such, with even Russia and Turkey vigourously supporting the rise of China as a strategic counterweight to the U.S. (even the U.K., France, and Germany seem to be drifting away from U.S. positions as witnessed recently in the Palestine vote in the U.N. General Assembly).
While no country would take an opposing view to China in global forums, given its economic and military might, a few countries are thinking aloud about the potential ramifications of what they consider as “influence-peddling” by China to gain global power, by lending billions of dollars to poor countries hungry for infrastructure investments. Thousands of Chinese workers have been deployed in scores of countries around Asia and Africa, with their visible presence communicating a sense of beholdenness on the part of the local populations who have to pay back the loans eventually to China, failing which China would demand a stronger involvement in more government and private sector projects in those countries, thereby making certain countries as its vassals. An extreme observation, but nevertheless likely to happen in the next 10 to 20 years, as part of China’s inevitable rise towards the #1 position in economic power. It is estimated that by 2032, China will match the U.S. in terms of GDP size.
Now, who are these few countries with doubts about China’s rise and influence-peddling? These are Japan, Australia, the European Union as a collective, and of course, India. For instance, the EU and India have raised objections to China’s OBOR (One Belt, One Road) initiative, which is mostly an economic exercise to spread China’s influence over 65 countries with USD 124B investment via loans which will eventually make most of those countries forever indebted to China. There is no transparency in the way China has promoted the OBOR initiative, which is mostly President Xi Jinping’s vision without a “hard” blueprint of planning and execution. It is touted as the world’s largest ever infrastructure investment, many times bigger than the U.S. Marshall Plan which was implemented in the aftermath of the Second World War. China will try to spread its political and military influence over many of these “poorer” countries, such as what it has been doing in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It will “buy” entire sea ports or towns and develop these as its own enclaves in those countries. Economic dominance will eventually impoverish these countries.
A lot of thought is required before nations can commit to OBOR. They have to seriously question China’s intentions, which cannot just be global trade and economic growth. There is a cost to everything, and nations have to understand the overall plan and their role in it. Further, all procurement cannot go only to China companies, there must be fair and transparent bidding processes. Land grabbing cannot be allowed in return for money, and human rights have to be respected (not in the way China does these things, however). There cannot be institutionalized corruption as part of the OBOR rollout in countries with weaker governance or authoritarian rulers. What is touted as a global initiative and vision, need to have global governance and a strong underlying framework, and cannot just be controlled entirely by one country (China).
The EU is likely to demand all of the above and more – it would like to have a say if China wishes to extend the OBOR initiative deep into the European heartland. We have seen that the EU is more balanced than the U.S. (or even the U.K.) when it comes to trade matters and human rights, and may be it will become the last bastion for fairness in all global matters of critical importance like this initiative.
I would like to complement President Xi Jinping for his vision of OBOR. It might become a much needed investment plan for most of the world in the coming decades. It might further China’s strategic interests and enhance its geopolitical influence against the U.S. It might even make China a well-accepted “partner” in many of the countries who are in the process of signing up for the OBOR program. All good, but the policy planners in these countries should carefully analyze the cost-benefits of participation in OBOR and advise their governments to seek responses from China in an appropriate manner, conducive to eventual participation.
My guess is that even India will eventually consider participation in OBOR, if its concerns are appropriately addressed by China. More importantly, China has the continuing habit of trying to “block” the world’s largest democracy from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and acting against Pakistan’s terrorists in the U.N. Security Council – these things do not go down well in India for sure, and repeated needling at border locations like the recent skirmish at Doklam is not helpful at all. If China wants to defeat India economically, it needs to first understand that it has already achieved that objective couple of decades ago. If China wants to defeat India militarily, that goal has also been achieved 55 years ago (though that may not be possible again). However, if China wishes to “encircle” India in a strategic manner and constrict it from growth and multilateral participation, then India will retort by intensifying its strong strategic partnership with the U.S. and Japan. It will also bring in Australia and Israel into the equation. India has the advantage of “soft” power which China lacks. India is mostly trusted around the world and at the U.N., while China suffers from a strategic distrust about its territorial ambitions as evidenced in Asia by its claims on the South China Sea.
So, where are we? Where is the world? I mean, on the OBOR program? A lot of questions need to be clarified before it can make a big impact on the world.
I wish President Xi Jinping all the best in OBOR acceptance and rollout, but he better take actions to smoothen the rollout – otherwise it will be consigned to history as a program which was conceived well as a vision, but did not have the essential elements in place and the strategic concerns appropriately addressed.
14th January 2018
We welcomed the New Year in Singapore with non-stop rains, which played spoil sport for the thousands of party goers assembled at multiple venues for cheering the arrival of a new year. This past year has been a successful one for the Singapore economy with GDP growth almost doubling from its original forecast, and a general uplift in the mood of people with increasing income levels. Real estate prices are climbing yet again after several years of tightening measures by the government. Jobs are available for the right skilled people. Immigration is under check. Workers are adapting to newer technologies. Population of “smart” workers is on the rise. MNCs still view Singapore as a critical piece of their Asia Pacific expansion and growth strategy. Home rents are lower thanks to an oversupply of apartments. New Healthcare initiatives are being rolled out.
However, the world around does not share similar performance as that of Singapore, even in the immediate neighbourhood. While young Asians share an optimism about their future prospects, the Asian governments need to balance their thirst for economic growth and advancement and their strong desire to maintain social order and stability. This is an issue even with developed countries, so it is not new. However, the younger demographics of Asia could pose a tough challenge to governments. The younger generation has been defined by social media proliferation and intense networking, and share a common desire to break away from traditional viewpoints, often espoused with strong vigour by many Asian government leaders.
This is one reason why the Singapore government is infusing its party and ministerial line-up with younger, high-potential leaders. I am sure several other governments in Asia are also thinking and executing along the same lines. It is more critical and important to have an energetic global view of governance and its challenges, rather than just fall in line and toe the party line. Younger generation of today brings unbridled energy, enthusiasm, drive and passion to whatever they do, and if they feel they are not going to be heard, then they will head for the exits – it is not going to be a revolution of sorts, but going where they can be heard and can play a crucial role via contributing to the rise of new technologies. Governments so should devise a strong policy framework to keep their younger talent at home (at least a majority of them), rather than lose them to the same set of developed nations who provide a better ecosystem for such young workers.
The U.S. still remains the bastion of new ideas, despite the damaging influence of President Donald Trump. May be he will go away, and then the new President would liberalize the country and its tech-driven economy, and also further integrate the U.S. with its major trading partners more closely. The world will wait for that to happen. Nevertheless, people with dreams will still find a way to migrate to California.
Now, on another critical topic of interest to all global citizens:
2018 promises to be a year with lot of hopes, aspirations, desires and dreams. Global citizens should unite to stop war threats, and hold the U.N. accountable for ensuring peace in war-ravaged countries. Civilian casualties should completely stop. The International Criminal Court should prosecute more war criminals, keeping its mandate strictly in mind. Lack of peace and war-mongering are the antitheses of economic growth and social development. Let us not forget that there is more investment on offensive weapons and ammunition than on building national infrastructure, providing a higher quality of primary and secondary school education, ensuring a high quality of national healthcare, and other key people-oriented initiatives that governments should consciously implement with the tax payers’ money.
More weapons, higher the stock prices of the defence systems contractors. Who else benefits?
Given that the global wish is to have a peaceful 2018, let us all petition the U.N., the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. President Donald Trump (no choice folks!), to stop all ongoing wars, and not to start a new one, and to commit not to use nuclear weapons irrespective of irresponsible provocations by rogue regimes. This is the best outcome for a peaceful world in 2018. Our collective conscience should demonstrate our joint commitment to demand that our leaders listen to our collective voice, and act based on that voice. People have a vote, a voice and of course, they pay taxes. Expecting leaders to listen is not an “out of the world” requirement.
So, friends, let us dedicate all our joint efforts in the coming months to stop wars. Please run through some of the anti-war initiatives in the following websites:
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (which won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017)
I strongly feel about this anti-war philosophy – every day brings news on atrocities committed by governments, sometimes on their own citizens, and on other governments which are waging wars under the pseudo-umbrella of a “coalition” against all norms of humanity, civilization, and decency. How can killing of innocent civilians and children benefit any country? I fail to understand the concept of “war” perpetrated by countries with advanced weapons against poor, innocent civilians in the name of obliterating an opposing political or religious philosophy that they are not comfortable with. And, in all this, our great U.N. has been found to be wanting, totally lacking of firm leadership.
I can go on and on, but it is very important for all of you to stop for a few minutes and think, especially those of you living in developed countries. The planet is under threat of wars and an impending nuclear cloud. If you think you can escape by virtue of living in an advanced country, you are totally and clearly mistaken with an absolute lack of understanding of these threats which could become rather real in 2018.
Welcome to a challenging, yet promising New Year folks!
01 January 2018
Today is the last day of 2017.
What an eventful year it was – every year has some significant events which define it. However, 2017 was one of those years which had multiple significant events trying to define it, the most important one being the coronation (!) of Donald Trump as the President of the U.S. in January 2017.
That changed almost every other significant event in the entire world – Trump changed the world order for everything significant. It became a topsy turvy world defined by uncertainty, chaos, confusion, war-mongering, spiced up elections, enhanced killing of civilians, increase in the number of refugees, increase in the severe perpetration of atrocities on ethnic minorities, diplomacy torn to tatters, more urban violence, intolerance towards minority races, testing of long-established alliances, threat to dismantle trade partnerships, ruinous twitter shots, anti-immigrant rhetoric, vilifying genuine polictical opponents, and what not. The list is endless, but the defining moment of the year was the unexpected anointing of Donald Trump as the most temperamental power-mongering trigger-happy IDK (I don’t know or care) president of the most powerful nation on earth.
If the U.S. is making diplomatic and militaristic waves in the North American continent, the U.K. is making a different set of waves in an economic and trade sense, in Europe via its Brexit separation from the European Union. While massive chaos has not followed the Brexit vote, it is likely that the full impact of this separation would be felt in 2018/19, as both entities resolve trade, immigration, security and other issues between themselves. In Asia, the country which is making most of the persistent waves of a destructive impact would be none other than China, which is intent on flexing its military and political muscle towards an unreasonable, unjustified nationalistic expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of the South East Asian countries. While Japan and India are acting as joint counter-balance to the rising influence and belligerence of China, they would not be able to match China, without the active involvement and participation of the U.S.
The most peaceful economic rise is that of India. While marked down by the demonetization and the national goods and services tax initiatives, India is recovering and is on the verge of exceeding a 7% GDP growth rate, soon to reclaim as the fastest growing large economy on the planet. Such a focused, sustainable growth rate is expected to lift 200 to 300 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 to 5 years.
2017 saw military conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria – all in the Middle East. An accurate tally of the human cost of these conflicts is not available, even from the United Nations, but it is safe to assume that a million or more civilian lives has been lost in these countries. It appears that human lives are the easiest expendable commodity that is available to policy makers in both political/government and military circles. This is a pathetic evolution of unnecessary warfare on civilians who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot be defended by their own weak governments. A totally ridiculous situation which even the most sober people in the world are not able to address and resolve to this day.
The ejection of the Rohingya Muslim community by Myanmar is another sad refugee story, which is tainted by lots of blood in the hands of the government and the arumy. The glorified leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung Saan Suu Kyi of Myanmar, has not done herself any favour, by not speaking out loudly and clearly on the ethnic cleansing which has characterized the army operations against the Rohingyas. The United Nations, again, is unable to do anything except giving media interviews.
2017 was positive in many aspects as well. Stock markets everywhere created huge additional wealth during the year. There was strongly positive action in corporate market, with several major mergers and acquisitions announced/completed. Tax rforms in the U.S. have been a positive news for U.S. corporations. Climate change initiatives are in progress, despite the lack of U.S. support and participation. Trade initiatives are in progress, despite lack of U.S. participation (Trans Pacific Partnership, Belt & Road initiative, etc.,). GDP per capita is firmly rising in Asian countries.
So, in a nutshell, 2017 while being a dramatic and significantly eventful year, has not diluted the human confidence on the criticality of economic growth, alleviation of poverty, elimination of wars, sustainability of peace, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., At the end of the day, people need more bread on the table, and if governments can help in achieving that goal so much the better for everyone.
I think we can learn a lot from the happenings of 2017, and could plan execution of important events in our life a little better. Lack of study, analysis and preparation hampers our execution many a time, and we should not let that happen. However, we almost have to pray that a nuclear war is not unleashed on Asia (again). Only one country has suffered from a nuclear war, and that is Japan. Do we want the second such country in Asia as well?
Surely not. Let us hope better sense will prevail over hot heads who have been given the mammoth responsibility to make epochal decisions which affect all of mankind.
I hope you all had a good 2017, and here’s wishing you an outstanding year in 2018 and more success, peace, and health. Forget the money and focus on these three things. You will come to the conclusion that your money priorities were not the right ones to lead a positive and cheerful life.
31st December 2017
As I had written in one of my blog posts a few years ago, the Israel – Palestine conflict is an unnecessary one which has ravaged the Middle East politics and society, and caused untold misery and deaths.
I generally like Israel and the Jewish people who are creative, resourceful and talented. Israel was born out of the misery of the Jewish people. As was usual in those days (1940s), Britain was the cause of many territorial problems around the world. Britain just walked out of many trouble spots that they themselves created, and left it for the warring parties to settle scores. They did it in many nations, and I come from India wherein, Britain caused major damage to the fabric of Indian society.
It was no different in the Middle East. The Palestinian problem could have been resolved with the intervention of Britain (who was the occupier of many of the lands) just around the time of formation of Israel. Britain failed to resolve the matter and the result? A festering problem even 7 decades later.
I am not blaming either Israel or Palestinians for the problem. However, Israel is the more powerful party in the conflict, and it indeed has the most powerful military in all of the Middle East, the only one to have nuclear weapons and very advanced missile technology. Israel has the power – both military and moral – to stop all the killings which occurs in their conflict with the Palestinian factions. Please read one of my earlier blog posts – The Unnecessary War.
Now that the U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, the Middle East is in a state of unrest yet again. Clearly, the Palestinians see this as a direct endorsement of the policies of Israel by its ally, the U.S., which is now increasingly losing its position as a conflict mediator between the two parties. The Palestinian President rightfully refused to receive and host the Vice President of the U.S. Mike Pence after President Trump’s announcement.
Israel has a great chance (it always had a chance) to call for an absolute truce and sit down for a dialogue without the presence of any third parties. Israel needs to communicate its sincerity about peace without getting irritated by unofficial statements of the Palestinian factions, and the anti-Israel utterances of many nations in the aftermath of the Trump announcement. Israel can show its magnanimity towards the suffering Palestinians and offer them the pathway to a dignified life with a statehood as they deserve. Of course, Israel’s security is absolutely critical, but then I believe that Israel is the most prepared nation in the event of an attack or a conflict. Israel needs to make it very clear to the Palestinian leadership that any violations of its security will lead to a complete reversal to the status quo.
And, Palestinians need to play ball with sincerity as well. There is no point in getting riven by internal factional politics without focusing on the welfare of the Palestinian people. They need to understand that the existence of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and they need to make some compromises towards achieving a state of long-standing peace, like what Israel has to do as well. It takes two hands to clap, and the third hand(s) are now getting out of the picture, if you understand what I am trying to say.
So, in my opinion, the stronger party has to take the lead in establishing peaceful conditions for negotiations to move forward. Building settlements on Palestinian land (or, disputed land) should stop. Using brute force against unarmed Palestinians should stop. Accusations against the U.N. should stop. Similarly, Palestinians should stop street violence against the Israeli Defence Forces. They should compel their military factions to stop launching rockets against Israel. They should work with Israel in a positive way to defuse the current tense situation, and enter into negotiations with Israel.
Are all these things practical? Will they ever happen in our lifetime? There are tons of naysayers who preach that hostilities will continue till the time a “two-state” solution is reached, which appears impossible as of now, which then means that hostilities will indeed continue.
However, I think that if the U.S. and the U.K. get out of the peace negotiations, and let direct talks start between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, then we can hope to see some concrete progress in about a year’s time, provided there are no provocations from either side. If both parties are willing to make some compromises, make some much needed adjustments in territorial claims, remove irritants from the relations, and talk every day, then things can indeed move in the positive direction for both parties.
For Israel, this will be a positive step ahead towards lasting peace. For Palestinians, it will be a stop to their never-ending misery in living conditions, a stop to unnecessary deaths, and a potential realization of an official homeland for all of them, even with some limitations and compromises. It will be a huge start for them.
This is a real possibility only if Israel starts the ball rolling towards the Palestinians in a proactive manner, without any pre-conditions for starting the negotiations.
Let us all hope Israel will take that much-needed initiative, and bring about a much-needed peace to their lands, for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians. I hope Palestinians will cooperate if Israel takes the first positive initiative towards securing peace. Then together the world can celebrate the Israel-Palestine peace sometime in 2018.
17th December 2017
This is my third blog post getting published during this weekend. Since I am on a short vacation later part of next week, I will not be posting during the following weekend, and I had time today to do some more work, so I thought why not……….do some more publishing.
This post is about the social importance and necessity of net neutrality. However, I cannot help taking a swipe at the rich mens’ club of the Republican Party of the U.S., which is comprised of multi-millionaires and some billionaires, including the U.S. President Donald Trump. The bureaucratic and judicial appointments made by President Trump over the past 12 months demonstrate his intent in ample measure. The main objective of the Republican Party is to make rich people and rich corporations richer, while eventually having a design to take more money in the form of increased taxes from the middle class people, and knocking off the universal healthcare costs. This objective is playing out in the latest tax reform bill that the U.S. Senate passed during the early hours of Saturday, 2nd December. Corporations can help themselves and this extra tax savings will drive the stock markets even further up during the coming week. The percentage of middle income families who own stock in the U.S. is rather low. So, basically, money is going to flow from lowered taxes and increased stock prices to the coffers of the rich people who can afford to own a lot of stock and to the corporations who are already awash with money stashed in low income tax regimes abroad. The assumption that these monies will be used for investments in the U.S. is flawed right from inception. Money will flow wherein there is use for inexpensive capital to acquire less expensive labour, facilities, and materials in the case of manufacturing. Consumers are not going to pay for an iPhone manufactured in the U.S. at twice the current cost structure.
OK, that’s all on that topic, though there is a relationship to the following material on net neutrality. The FCC or the Federal Communications Commission, wants to help the big companies, and that should not come as a surprise at all. President Trump appointed Ajit Pai as the Chairman of the FCC, knowing full well he will execute what Trump wants. No net equality or neutrality can be expected from the revamped FCC under Ajit Pai. Full freedom is going to be given to large internet companies to throttle the internet the way they see fit, and this is going to cause a revolution amongst the internet based startups who are in the process of getting shortchanged. A new internet mechanism is not unimaginable, and companies like Google and Facebook should be busy at work in devising counter strategies to the abolition of net neutrality. Broadband internet will no longer be a telephone or electric power or water like utility subject to regulations, but will become an “information service tool”, which means it will be largely unregulated.
Social fairness and equality will be completely lost if net neutrality rules are abolished, leaving people at the mercy of broadband providers who could kill off competition. This is a very likely scenario – as consumers, we will gravitate towards broadband services which will offer the products or shows we desire at a faster speed if we are willing to pay more. There are comparisons for such consumer behaviour in all walks of life. For example, we are willing to pay more for getting our children into “successful” schools – those with a track record of producing successful kids. We are willing to pay more for reducing inconveniences in our lives – even at temples, we are willing (or constrained) to pay more to get into a “VIP” queue as it would be shorter, and the service provider (the priest) will do “more” in terms of services for those on this queue. If you think of similar examples, you would understand how the utopia will look like – something like Finland, wherein all children attend public schools funded by the government and still come out all right.
Take a look at some of these interesting sites:
There are many more……….it is critical to fight back. Consumers want more choice. Startups want more choice and freedom to choose. Big corporations want to control the market and make even more profit.
Think about it. What is your stand on this matter?
3rd December 2017
While there is a lot to dislike about Late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the one thing I liked about her was her firm and strong opinions on matters of State. She pushed through the abolition of the Privy Purse in the Indian Parliament in 1971, which abolished the significant payout of monies to the Princely States of India which had acceded to the Indian Union by 1947 (some states required coercion and joined only by 1949). These states wer ruled by rich kings (no capital “K”) or princes, who had enough assets to pay for themselves and their families’ maintenance. However, under an arrangement worked out around the time of Indian Independence, Privy Purses were established, ensuring annual payments were made by the Government of India from its budget.
However, India became a Republic in 1950. It was the classic state with rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. Kings, princes and emperors and their accompaniments were of no value after 1950, though there were many Indians who were subservient to these folks (the same tendency which brought India down against the British). After the 1971 abolition of privy purses, the kings and princes and princesses officially became “poor” and common citizens. There are not many countries in the world apart from France, of course, which disbanded royalty which had ruled them for hundreds of years, and let them go away. There was no bloodshed in India against the kings and princes – there are many stories of how the erstwhile royalty survived in conditions worse than that of the common man of India, even living on railway station platform for instance.
All told, royalty is extinct in India. Nobody even mentions the titles of kings (some of whose lineage still exist, like in Rajasthan State and Mysore, a part of Karnataka State).
How about England? How about Australia, which is still shy of talking about becoming a republic? How about many other nations which were under British rule, and still are subservient to the Crown of England?
Absolute stupidity and nonsense, I would say.
Gone are the days of royalty and obeisance to them. Now they spend taxpayers’ money. In the U.K., the Queen of England has a huge budget allocation as the equivalent of the privy purse. Her palaces require expensive maintenance. The weddings of the royal family are huge affairs with huge costs picked up by the British taxpayer (one is coming up pretty soon if you are following the news).
I wrote about the “anachronism of royalty” in a 2011 blog post – you can read it here The anachronism of royalty.
Why does the common man still believe that the royalty are superior to him, and so deserve a better treatment? Do they have genes which distinguish them as royalty? Are they descendants of God himself? Do they deserve what they are getting for free, without doing any work of substance in return for the state?
The subservience of the common man to people with authority can only be allowed if it is out of respect for a democratic title – like the president or prime minister. The role is critical for the performance of duties in a democracy, and so we respect the role. Not necessary, of course. In a democracy, every person is equal to another person – there cannot be a distinction. This fundamental principle is violated in the current treatment of royalty.
France abolished royalty in 1789. Russia did that in 1917. India did that in 1971.
It is time for England and other princely states (there are many of them still around) to abolish monarchy in a democratic manner, like what India did. There will be protests, of course, but the fundamental principle of human equality and democratic application of the same cannot be contested either on legality or parliamentary procedures. One day or the other, it has to happen. Then you will have kings and princes walking on the street and drinking the same coffee that we do.
I am sure there are many poeple amongst us who still revere any royalty, and this concept of abolition of their privileges is going to be a big anathema to them. However, they have to just think of the sufferings of the common man. Things have not improved for the common man in many countries of the world. Why bother about the rich royalty who in any case, have huge assets and are incredibly wealthy?
The Indian way has proven to be the best – peaceful, no protests, even-handed. Legal battles went on, but finally the Supreme Court of India ruled against the reinstatement of the privy purse and other benefits in 1993. Speaking for the bench, the Chief Justice, L M Sharma, said: ‘The distinction between the erstwhile rulers and the citizenry of India has to be ended so as to have a common brotherhood.’ He added: ‘In a country like ours, with so many disruptive forces of regionalism and communalism, it is necessary to emphasise that the unity and integrity of India can be preserved only by a spirit of brotherhood.’
Yes, the Chief Justice captured the essence of democracy in that statement.
Think about it. England invented the concept of democracy and rule by elected representatives to the parliament. They invented parliamentary democracy, which has been adopted by scores of countries including India. But, the English system of governance still remains as constitutional monarchy.
Time for a rethink, I guess?
2nd December 2017
I continue to have a fascination for the Second World War and its stories. I might have seen many war movies over the years, and especially like the ones which show the miseries of war, the sufferings of the people, the utter insanity of war, and the cruelty displayed by the average man in all his barbaric manner when he belongs to the winning side (not always though).
In my recent flight, I chose to see The Zookeeper’s Wife after I read the brief description of the movie – nothing much, but enough to kindle my interest. I browsed through a lot of movie briefs on the screen, but eventually came back to this one because it was set in wartime Poland, which was probably the most bombarded and affected country in the Second World War and also in its aftermath.
I am not going to recount a summary of the movie here in this post. In a nutshell, the movie is about the Director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife (Jan and Antonina Zabinski), who managed to save 300 Jews from sure death during the German occupation of Poland from 1939 onwards. It tells their story of warmth, kindness, compassion towards the Jews, whose Ghetto was under attack by the German soldiers and eventually burnt down. It also shows the cruelty and barbarism of Nazi German soldiers, who were anyway under orders to murder Jews.
Imagine if Germans had discovered the fact that Jan and Antonina were hiding hundreds of Jews in their zoo. They would have been executed without mercy for an act of human kindness – an act of saving other people from the cruelty of Germans, and also an act of saving them from torture and death (which was impending as the Germans rounded up the Jews in the Ghetto and packed them off to the concentration camps – it was heart-breaking to see the small kids as young as 5 years old pleading to be taken off the train and saved). It is still sometimes difficult to believe that such cruelty existed in this world (unfortunately in continues to exist in several nations as we know for sure now).
While the story revolves around Antonina, the real hero of the story is Dr Jan Zabinski, the Director of the Warsaw Zoo. He displayed a strong sense of humanity and justice (remember this is a true story) towards the Jews. He secretly participated in the Polish underground, and was always working against the occupying German forces. Jan said “My deeds were and are a consequence of a certain psychological composition, a result of a progressive-humanistic upbringing, which I received at home as well as in Kreczmar High School. Many times I wished to analyze the causes for dislike for Jews and I could not find any, besides artificially formed ones.”
As a lover of animals and believing that every living creature was important, Antonina played an indispensable role in saving hundreds of Jewish lives. “I looked at them with despair,” she said. “Their appearance and the way they spoke left no illusions. … I felt an overwhelming sense of shame for my own helplessness and fear.”
[The quotes above from Dr Jan and Antonina Zabinski are from Biography.com – please see Zookeeper’s Wife True Story].
Out of the 300 people the Zabinskis saved, only two died during the war; all the others remarkably found refuge and safe passage elsewhere.
In 1968 the state of Israel honored the Zabinskis with the title “Righteous Among the Nations,” a recognition that was given to all those brave citizens who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
I liked the movie though it was not a big commercial success. I understand that the Polish people liked the movie. In my opinion, the movie shows that human kindness and civility have a big role to play even in today’s highly commercialized world. During the Second World War, the situation was vastly different from today, especially in the countries occupied by Germans who were on a mission to eliminate Jews. Poland was hugely affected. We cannot forget the fact that Adolf Hitler managed to murder 6M innocent Jews in Europe, and movies such as these show the small, yet critical kindness that was required on a humanitarian basis to save people of any kind. After all, what is the difference between one human and another? The brutality of Germans has been depicted in some savagery in this movie, though much less than in some of the other movies.
Let us not forget that human kindness, compassion and civility form the crux of human life on this planet. And, powerful nations cannot keep silent in the face of ethnic cleansing, brutality and murder of innocent civilians, irrespective of their race, religion, colour or ethnicity. I have written about other such instances (the expulsion of Rohingyas of Myanmar is a strong example, and the Syrian War – both are going on currently).
As highly educated and well-to-do people, we owe it to this world to do the right thing instead of keeping quiet in the face of atrocities unleashed on civilians by brutal dictatorships. We should push our own governments and multilateral agencies to act to save people.
12th November 2017