Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Load of balls

IT IS a common fallacy to suppose that the main reason for visiting the Swedish furniture giant Ikea is to buy household goods. The true reason is quite different. The meatballs in the Ikea canteen provide sufficient justification.

In Norway, however, eating the prized meatballs is a pricey business, making Ikea distinctly cross. Even the Swedish government is involved. As the trade ministry spokeswoman said: "This is a problem that's bigger than just meatballs."

The duties imposed by Norway on Ikea meatballs (25 tonnes are sold there every year) are so high that an Oslo Ikea meatball costs four times as much as a Stockholm one. Ikea is threatening revenge. It currently buys 500 tonnes of Norwegian salmon for sale in its Swedish stores, but says that it might cancel its order if the Norwegians do not come into line. The punishment: "Let them eat lumpfish caviar."

On your Marx

CHINA is heading at breakneck speed for the market, the market and more market. The new prime minister, Zhu Rongji, is so keen on privatisation that Margaret Thatcher - even Peter Mandelson - might blench.

Some might think that such dedication to capitalist enterprise leaves little room for any Marx except Groucho. But that would be to miss out on the intricate logic of Chinese politics, which allows you to have your ideology and eat it.

China has just published a book called Marxism in China in the Past Hundred Years, written by a team of Chinese scholars. The editorial adviser, Ding Shouhe, told the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, that this was "the most systematic look ever at the subject". Xinhua noted: "The book illustrates the validity of the truths of Marxism. Celebrations will abound throughout the country." Naturally. Expect champagne corks to pop and (officially praised) wealthy businessmen of China to be thinking of little else.

Prize harvest

IN AT least one corner of the former USSR, the Soviet ways die very hard indeed. The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, delivered a live television broadcast to his compatriots on Friday night to encourage them to bring in the summer harvest - faster, better, more Sovietly. "Everything alive, everything that moves or is capable of moving, must be directed towards the grain harvest."

This, it must be admitted, is at least one step removed from the old style of propaganda, when the official line was that the harvest was better than ever before. Now, the crisis is at least implicitly admitted; from tomorrow, officials will exercise "tight control". This can be financially advantageous. In a twist that even Brezhnev and Stalin did not devise, the best harvesters in the country will win watches, TV sets, fridges, motorcycles or cars. Oh, brave new Belarussian world.