ECUADOR has shown an example to the world by standing up to the US and Britain and granting Julian Assange asylum. The threat by the British government to invade its embassy in London and seize Assange is an outrage. It’s an unprecedented violation of the laws of diplomacy and an act of post-imperial bullying against a small independent South American nation.
It’s also an indication of how far the Cameron government is in the pocket of Uncle Sam. The whole world knows that the extradition case against Assange is NOT about acts of consensual sex without a condom with two adult women – which is what he’s accused of in Sweden. It’s about US determination to get him, ever since WikiLeaks revealed the footage of an American helicopter gunship killing unarmed reporters and civilians in Iraq and secret cables revealing the true venality and illegality of US actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
For Australians, it’s time to stand up. The issue is simple. The Australian government has an obligation to provide assistance to any of its citizens facing persecution overseas. We must demand that the federal government, which has been wholly remiss in Assange’s defence, tells the British they have no right to seize him and must allow him safe passage to Ecuador.
Nicola Roxon, widely considered to be a lawyer of some principle when she took office as Attorney-General, made a disgraceful statement to Radio National when news of the British threat broke, saying there was little Australia could do. “This is a matter between Mr Assange and Ecuador,” she said. “Increasingly it seems it’s a matter between Ecuador and the UK.” This is tantamount to a declaration that Australia is abandoning its duties towards citizens overseas.
On the other hand Assange’s union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has so far been staunch in his defence. Principled journalists who have supported him include Laurie Oakes in his December 2010 Gold Walkley acceptance speech, Elizabeth Farrelly in her Sydney Morning Herald column this April, and Richard Ackland just two weeks ago in the same paper. In London senior expat journalists Phillip Knightley and John Pilger have been at the forefront of the defence campaign.
All Australians who care about our rights and liberties should join them in demanding the government defends Assange against the right-wing conspirators in the US, British and Swedish governments.
After heady days in Athens, we’re taking a little downtime on the island of Andros. Just 90 minutes from the capital by sea, it has the reputation of being the most “Greek” of the Cyclades. Traditionally it has attracted relatively few foreign tourists, but a lot of holidaymakers from the mainland. This year their numbers are down – ferry operators report a 25% drop compared to last year around the mid-August break.
It’s a lovely, historic island and a favourite haunt of windsurfers because of the strong sea breezes. Staying on the western side, just outside the ferry port of Gavrio, we’re sheltered from the winds and our family hotel has both a pool and an excellent little beach with crystal-clear waters.
Gavrio itself, 500 metres’ walk away, is a fishing village which has become a port without spoiling the sea-front strip of tavernas and cafes providing good cheap eats.
Which brings me to the point: how can we afford to spin our trip out so long? The answer is simple – we aim to live like Greeks. We do all our shopping for food at local markets and eat there as well. Freshly grown tucker cooked on the spot.
A day’s meals: buffet breakfast is included in the hotel rate. Lunch may be a simple slice of spanakopita – spinach pie – from the nearest bakery, average price 1½ euros, and a piece of fruit. Dinner out for two, with seafood, salads and a small carafe of wine, is usually less than 20 euros. If we buy our own wine at a supermarket it’s 3 euros for a litre of organic white, red or rosé. Internal travel is cheap: it cost us 17 euros each to travel from Athens to Andros on the first-rate ferry service and we use public transport wherever possible. The hotels are incredibly good value, having slashed their prices because of the fall-off in trade. Hard to beat.
FUTURE OF A GENERATION
Prices here may look good to us, but for a generation of unemployed youth they’re little comfort. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that there are now 75 million young people out of work worldwide. Almost six million of them are in the European Union, with rates in both Greece and Spain well over 50% and rising – almost half a million have joined the dole queues across Europe in the past year. In both France and Italy there are more than one million under-30s unemployed.
The ILO report states that “unless immediate and vigorous action is taken, the global community confronts the grim legacy of a lost generation”.
The EU recently held yet another summit in Paris on the subject, but so long as governments bow to the banks’ demands for austerity, it’s mere window dressing.
Nor is Australia immune from the worldwide trend. Since the end of last year our youth unemployment rate has ranged between 21 and 26%, sometimes exceeding the British, French and American rate of an average 22%. It’s perhaps the most telling statistic of the dangers of over-reliance on the resources boom.