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Saturday 16 August 2008
Letters: Visa shame
No reason for denying visit visa to niece of exiled Polish war hero
On the first day of the Second World War, my brother-in-law was murdered by the Nazis in Warsaw, leaving two baby boys. Soon after, when Russia invaded from the east, his brother (my husband) and his elderly parents were deported in unimaginable conditions to Siberia where they would remain as slaves, hungry, cold, treated, sad to say, even worse than those Poles deported to Germany.
Later, my husband would walk to Iran to rejoin the Polish forces and carry on the fight. The Poles were among those who won the battle of Monte Cassino, and their reward was to have their homeland given to Stalin by their allies, UK and USA.
For 53 years, they did not know what was happening to east Poland (now Belarus) but in 1993 it was suddenly possible to visit. This we did and found the two "babies", now middle-aged and with families. Due to illness and age, we cannot go again but we keep contact by phone.
This year, we invited a niece for a one- or two-week visit. We had to supply three years of bank statements and details of our property and so did our niece. She had to travel to Minsk, stay in a hotel, and seek a visa. She was not granted an interview but was charged £60 to be refused. There is absolutely no wish on her part to be absent from her home for long; she has adopted an orphan and her job permits only a short absence.
No reasons were given for the refusal. The visa official seemed unaware of the sad history of east Poland so our niece took with her James Holland's book Twenty One, in which a chapter is dedicated to my husband. My husband, like most Poles in exile, has led an exemplary life in a difficult world. He is a former colonel, now 91, and in bad health.
The Minsk website invites letters but you get no response. Our local MP, who is excellent, also wrote to the ambassador but was similarly ignored. No nation suffered more, fought harder (remember the Battle of Britain and those Polish fighter pilots) and was treated worse.
I, Londoner born and bred, am ashamed to have my country so represented in Minsk.
Pupils must learn about drug danger
Drugsline is saddened to hear that one in four secondary age schoolchildren has admitted trying drugs, although not shocked. ("Drug Nation", 15 August).
It is clear to us, through our visits to schools, that many young people are unaware of the very real consequences of using drugs or alcohol, whether that be through overdose, driving accidents, violent attacks or sexual assault. This is as well as leading, in many cases, to drug abuse and addiction.
Drugsline believes it is critical that every school pupil in the UK is provided with comprehensive, appropriate drugs education that equips them with the relevant information, and knowledge about the dangers and consequences of drug and alcohol misuse.
Over the past academic year, Drugsline has seen 47,000 school pupils aged nine to 17, to discuss openly the reality of drug abuse and addiction. Drugsline's schools team is led by a recovering heroin addict and made up of those who have worked on the front lines of addiction treatment, people who are best placed to inspire young people's confidence and trust.
But drugs education programmes, such as ours, remain massively under-resourced, with little or no Government funding, leaving charities searching for funding to survive. With more time and resources allocated to effective drugs education for all young people, we believe many such occurrences could be avoided.
Operations Director, Drugsline, Ilford, Essex
Languages are bridge to friendships
Mike Hockney (letters, 14 August) describes "fans of a multi-language world" as "narrow-minded nationalists, the enemies of communication, and slaves to conservatism". Presumably, since I speak French and German to almost trilingual standard, that's me he's talking about.
So, let's see: I spent seven years living, studying and working in two countries; travelled widely; made many friends from a variety of nationalities and backgrounds; got involved in a wide spectrum of creative and academic projects; moved billions in investments around the globe in my career in banking in Frankfurt (where Mr Hockney's so-called "language barrier" did very little to impede either progress or the flow of capital); had my eyes opened to various aspects of culture, and came back to the UK having learnt that, while I am very small and the world is very big, there is no place that is not my oyster if I make the effort to get inside the heads and hearts of its people by learning their language.
Back in my home town, it is clearly not the kids who have A* grades in GCSE French and Spanish who like to amuse themselves by picking fights with the young foreigners who come here to study English. So who's the narrow-minded one?
Rather than building his monolingual "tower that goes all the way to the stars", perhaps Mr Hockney just needs to build bridges to global neighbours.
I was fascinated to read the discussion about language learning. I am among a small number of people who have spoken Esperanto from birth. Although I use English too, I have also used Esperanto for personal friendships, travel and enlarging my understanding of science matters; I am a subscriber to the international science magazine in Esperanto. I fail to see why Esperanto is not taught in schools.
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
Children get lesson in litter from mother
Brian Viner writes about litter louts (Opinion, 12 August); I agree with him. In this country, it has become "uncool" among many people of all backgrounds, to respect the areas in which we we live and work. I travel to Australia as often as I can to visit family, and find it to be totally the opposite.
I will always remember returning in 2000, and waiting at a junction behind a woman driving a new Mercedes. Her children were in the back and they threw crisp packets out of the window. Having just spent 12 months in a country where this is unheard of, I instinctively tooted my horn.
She got out and looked at the boot of her car, thinking I was directing her to a problem she had, but when I mentioned that her children had just thrown litter on the road, I received a torrent of abuse.
When she got back in her car and began driving away, a whole lot of rubbish suddenly sprayed out of the driver's window. She had obviously collected up as much as she could find lying around and threw it out as if to make a point. I am sure her kids learnt a lot from her example.
Australians respect their community environment because it is always well looked after. So it remains that way; it always looks nice because people look after it, to keep it looking nice. In this country, we have broken that cycle.
Both the Tories and New Labour are to blame. If local community areas become run down, people lose pride in their local community. After that, it is just a slippery slope to the landfill site.
Mental services are failing older people
The Age Concern report and campaign "Down, But Not Out" (15 August) highlights what is only too apparent if you work in mental health services for older people. There is very limited access to psychological therapies for depression for older people, there is over-use of medication, and lack of identification of depression because it is written off as old age.
The launch of the Government's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies aimed at primary care level is also not likely to lead to big improvements for the old because, being based on the Layard report, it targets working-age individuals aimed at reducing incapacity benefit claimants.
We need investment in older people at primary and secondary care levels. Suicide is rising for them, an indictment of a system ageist in its approach to their mental health, ignoring their often unpaid contribution to society as volunteers, carers and citizens.
Dr CHRIS ALLEN
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Maidenhead, Berkshire
Prince should look at realities of GM
Prince Charles should be brought back to earth (report, 13 August). He talks about "genetic engineering [leading to] the biggest disaster environmentally of all time". Bigger than the tsunami of 2004? Or global warming?
I wonder if the Prince is aware that the insulin produced by genetically engineered micro-organisms has saved many millions of lives?
And if genetic scientists succeed in growing blight-resistant potatoes, or rice with added vitamins, or maize or wheat which can thrive in drought or saline conditions, will he still insist this is damaging "food security"? I doubt whether those for whom crop reliability is a matter of life and death would share his concerns. They may not care that biotechnology is "experimenting with nature".
About six weeks ago, the Joint Research Centre (the EC scientific body) surveyed more than 400 Spanish farmers who grow Bt maize (the only crop allowed for cultivation in the EU), and reported that it produced higher yields and earned up to £50 more per acre than conventional maize.
Of course we should resist the Monsantos of this world, with their terminator seeds and "zombie crops", but we should also resist the bullying of anti-GM campaigners who hinder scientific research by destroying GM crops.
It would be wonderful if we had food security for all, and fair trading in the world. But, as a world development campaigner for 35 years, I have seen how every step forward is invariably followed by a move backwards. We should not exclude any potential vehicle for higher yields.
Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 15 August) makes the fundamental error of ignoring the most relevant research into science and technology in agriculture, published this year. The UN International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), written by 400 scientists and backed by 60 governments, was so unconvinced about GM crops feeding the world that the biotechnology industry pulled out of the process despite contributing substantial funds at the outset.
Lawson's statement that "many types of GM crops have been designed to produce high yield" is simply wrong. The IAASTD found no conclusive evidence that GM crops increase yields. Even the US Department of Agriculture has admitted there is not a single GM crop designed to increase yield.
Prince Charles is right to highlight the risks to the environment and small farmers posed by GM crops. His central point, that GM crops are part of the export-led, oil-reliant model of food production that has created the food crisis in the first place, is spot on.
Friends of the Earth, London N1
The brilliant and much-needed article by Johann Hari (Opinion, 14 August) lifted my spirits. The book The Jewel of Medina mentioned by Johann can, in fact, be ordered on Amazon. If enough people do so, perhaps the publishers will change their minds; or another will take it on.
Triple the fun
Growing up on a council estate in Wigan in the 1950s and 1960s, my friends and I were fortunate enough to have a choice of three excellent local football teams to support. They were Wigan Athletic AFC, who played "soccer", or "footy"; Wigan RLFC, who played "rugby", and for us grammar school boys there was Orrell RUFC, who played the toffs' game, "rugby union".
At Leicester Football Club they play rugby.
Terence Blacker (Opinion, 12 August) asks, "What exactly will we be selling" when the Olympics are staged in London in 2012. Could we not just stick to offering a sporting venue for sportsmen? Play down all nationalism? Promote the pursuit of excellence by dedicated individuals? Promote the fact that winning at the Olympics is within reach of anyone with enough determination and inspired coaching? And refuse to invite any politician or celebrity unless they are an accomplished athlete?
Your reader, Richard Betts, asks how any nation can follow the stupendous spectacle of the opening of the Beijing Games (letters, 11 August). May I suggest something cool and minimalist, and a millionth of the cost?
Civil wars are uncivil
Jim Coyle states that war between EU countries is impossible (letters, 13 August). Yet surely some of the most vicious conflicts are civil wars, when people seek to break free from an artificial political union. The American Civil War, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda are examples. My father, Peter, joined the RAF in August 1939 because he did not want his children to be ruled by Europeans, and thought he'd fought on the winning side until Ted Heath betrayed us.
Driven to marriage
British readers may be amused to know that here in Las Vegas, besides the weddings noted in the article about famous people being married here (14 August), you can also have a drive-through wedding. All you have to do is get a marriage licence from the county, then drive to an appropriate wedding chapel, where an Elvis actor, or some other licensed minister can hitch you up, in the chapel, or in your car, and it's legal.
Richard J Mundy
Las Vegas, Nevada USA
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