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Two German women straddle Europe

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One has made Germany the greatest of Europe’s nations and the other heads the European Union. Hence we too, though far removed, are interested in them, particularly those of us who believe that women, very often, do better than men in even the political sphere.

Angela Merkel

Angela Dorothea Merkel has held the exalted position of Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She served as Leader of the Opposition from 2002 to 2005 and as Leader of the Christian Democratic Union from 2000 to 2018. A member of the CDU, Merkel is the first female Chancellor of Germany. And it wasn’t easy to get there. For one thing she was from East Germany and came to politics in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was underlying resentment of women holding top jobs so she lost her bid for chancellorship once, before she won it in 2005. She entered the government of East Germany and was elected to be the government spokesperson. With the unification of East and West Germany, she was elected to the Bundestag under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and was Minister of Women and Youth; later Minister of Environment and Reactor Safety.

She definitely broke the glass ceiling and then retained her popularity as head of Germany from the start. Instead of the word ‘retained’, the phrase ‘gained increasing popularity and approbation’ would be more apt. Consider that when she gave up heading her party the CDU and the Chancellorship, she was given a countrywide six minute applause in the Bundestag and in homes and offices. Many leaders are booted out and hooted too. Not this great lady who steered a disparate combination of prosperous postwar West Germany with an economically and communist East to become the most forceful nation in the entirety of Europe and economically stablest. Angela remained outstanding in any forum of world leaders; certainly not for her appearance or dress but for her personality and sincerity. Her humanness was shown when she was on the fringe of a group of leaders – Trudeau, Johnson and Macron – and amused, we presume, when they were ‘caught’ commenting on Trump’s bluster at the meeting of world leaders. He left that meeting the next day in high dudgeon.

In 2015 she showed humanitarianism in taking in refugees – 890,000 in all – from Islamic countries fleeing persecution in the Middle East. She would surely have known it was a risky move and she would be heavily criticized, but she led Europe in this humanitarian act.

Angela was born on July 17, 1954 in Hamburg, Germany, to a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, sympathetic to the Communist regime. Angela entered the University of Leipzig in1973 and earned her doctorate in physics in 1978. She had married Chemistry Professor Ulrich Merkel in 1977 but divorced in 1982. She wed Joachim Sauer in 1998.

During 18 years of leading Germany and its 80 million Germans with competence, skill, dedication and sincerity, no transgressions were recorded against her. She did not assign any of her relatives to high posts, not even secretarial. “She did not claim that she was the maker of glories”. She did not utter nonsense, nor seek popularity. It just came to her. She was dubbed “The Lady of the World” and was described as the equivalent of six million men.    Germany stood as one body bidding farewell to the leader of Germany a short time ago, a chemical physicist who was not tempted by fashion or the limelight and did not buy real estate, cars, yachts and private planes. At a press conference, a female journalist asked Merkel: We notice that your suit is repeated, don’t you have another?   She replied: I am a government employee and not a model. At another press conference, she was asked: Do you have housemaids who clean the house, prepare meals and so on?    Her answer was: No, I do not have domestic workers and I do not need them.  My husband and I do all the work at home every day. Even the laundry is a shared chore. The couple live in an ordinary apartment like any other; the same she lived in before being elected Head of Germany. She owns next to nothing. We wonder what her future will be. You just cannot keep an efficient woman down!

 

Ursula von der Leyen

In July 2019, the European Council nominated Ursula von der Leyen to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker, and was elected 13th President of the European Commission by the European Parliament on 16 July. She assumed office on December 1, 2019, following the approval of the European Parliament.

There is a connection between the first great woman I write about and this woman. Born Ursula Gertrude Albrecht on October 8, 1958 in Belgium, she is German. Her father was one of the first European Union civil servants who later took to German politics moving to Hanover in 1971. Ursula became a medical physician in 1986 in Hanover and a year later married fellow physician Heiko Von der Leyen. She studied economics at the London School of Economics in the late 1970s using the name Rose Landson, the family name of her great grandmother who was from Charleston, South Carolina. She spent time in Stanford, California, in the 1990s where her husband was in the University, specializing. They have seven children.

In late 1990, Ursula entered politics in Germany and served under Merkel. She was favoured to succeed Merkel as Chancellor of Germany and also to be the Secretary General of NATO. But nominated by the European Council she assumed office as the President of the European Commission and that’s when we saw this very beautiful, poised and fully confident woman, yet very feminine, on the world stage. She was seen at Brexit negotiations in both Brussels and London. Remembered with amusement is her mild and mannerly gesturing by hand to Boris Johnson to keep the mandatory distance when she and he faced the media at one of the negotiations late last year.

Ursula von der Leyan has many more miles to travel, as Robert Frost noted in his poem Stopping by the Woods… Her smart femininity, her slim figure though the mother of seven children, is remarkable. She too is an upwardly mobile woman who somewhat straddles the world stage, playing an important role.

 

Cannot keep an outstanding woman down!

Michelle Obama proves this. She shares centre stage with two puppets in the Netflix series of films that attempts to teach children the joy of home cooking – a way to wean kids off fast food. Titled Waffles + Mochi, the ex First Lady and two puppets travel the world trying out recipes. She has always been concerned about children and said of the film: “I only wish Waffles and Mochi had been around when my daughters were growing up.”



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Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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