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Spring: A passionate life in words

Abigail George

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The leaves wastes dance with confidence in the air. The wind reminds me of the mysterious chill of autumn. An eloquent, articulate state of mind. Focus and concentration calls for analysis not just intelligence.

The connections between focus, concentration and intelligence and grace or rather the grace of intelligence must be calculated struggle (internal and external) and by the exceptional connections of the withdrawn, shutdown shell of the human body questioning everything. Questioning nothing at the same time. Winter it is hard to let you go. It is hard to live with and without the sun.

I have learned as a diarist to read everything and when reading as a child reads, not thinking about censorship but rather free will and understanding and toleration you will regain, invest, claim back the energy and see, feel, be drawn to think about the innocence and tenderness behind the furious beast of the words., and once again you will be the purveyor of truth.

Courage will always soar. Let the flair of empathy dazzle alongside profound truth, the fairness of justice, and integrity. Before you dream of freedom, count your blessings. Name them. In naming them you will bring honour to them.

The sun came out today and all the world was still. Its loveliness was beautiful to see. I loved the day. I knew in my heart if I dug down deep enough that it loved me in the breath, way, shape, form that I loved it in return with its deep colors, woven tapestry, textures, leaves. You could see spring everywhere even as the weary rain announced itself. Leftovers from winter. I also knew that this day. I would never experience it again. I could see and acknowledge this beauty from my window where I spent hours working. Crafting a poem for myself to myself. Crafting a poem (in other words writing love letters to myself). Writing fiction that I hoped that I could from a short story into a novel.

When evening falls away, the night, the early hours of the morning spent ruminating, restless, frustrated, promising, pathetic (see tired), introspective, nervous, doubtful, insecure, troubled. Yes, I think it is good to describe it in the way that I am doing now. That it all fell away. For me, I trust older women rather than the younger ones. I feel love. I see love. I have a collective empathy when it comes to the outside world. When I connect with it. I have joy in my heart when I see people happy. I have my moments when I am weak.

Moments that turn into hours and days.

I perform my duties as a writer up to a point within my crowning belief system, the sweetness of the liveliness/livelihood that virtues offer me. One day I came upon ‘fire’, this gift and it lit a flame inside my heart. It has been faithful ever since. I cherish this gift.

For without it I would be invisible and that would mean a succession of deaths to me. I would under other circumstances be living in exile now in another life. A wife, a mother with a job, a proper career. If I did not write perhaps I would have been married to a writer, psychiatrist, teacher or an academic (see professor with tenure at a university).

Politics are superimposed on my ideals of love, my ideas of dead literature and literature that is very much alive. Here I am ready to give up my life to writing. Daily it is like living on a deserted island armed with a virtual treasure map. ‘X’ marks the spot. Prose is expected. It is poetry that is the unexpected. ‘X’ marks the spot where the treasure is buried. The door is closed when I am writing but I am constantly interrupted by a small child with an inquiring gaze and searching mind. A child who wants to play. I am also interrupted by a father, a mother, a brother.

Survival and drowning, strength of human will and the weakness of stigma. Knowing my limitations are what I must live with every day. I have made mistakes as a young woman (I am not so young anymore). I’m not perfect. No one really is. I’m constantly learning all the time.

From the world’s pain and my own. I know what the memory of love is, and hopefully I write from that perspective. I think with both experience, being dominated by a man’s world and a woman’s psychological framework in that space. I am influenced by other women, old or young, married or divorced, whether they are writers or not. I am influenced by the birth of the universe or of a new day in a child’s eyes. Most of all my mother’s personality.

Today I might be a writer or a woman at work in the shadow of love.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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Strengthening Sino-Russian Ties

Olga Melnikova

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During her speech at the New Year’s celebration, hosted by the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, in late December 2017, Olga Melnikova, Counsellor of the Russian Embassy and Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, said Russia has many cultural symbols that come from China. In her opinion, Sino- Russian bilateral relations are an example of “the most stable, healthy, mature and lasting relationship between countries in today’s world.” The Russian Cultural Center for years has organized cultural, educational and science- related activities to stimulate Chinese citizens’ interest in learning the Russian language and culture.

In her recent interview with Women of China (WOC), Melnikova said she hoped the Sino-Russian strategic partnership would be strengthened, and that cultural communications between the people of the two countries would be  enhanced.

Had you visited China prior to assuming your post as Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing in September 2017? What is your impression of China and the Chinese people?

I first visited the capital of China, Beijing, in 2012. I was a tourist at that time. Beijing impressed me as a modern metropolis that also kept well its traditional Chinese flavor. I saw magnificent ancient temples and palaces coexisting with modern buildings and small cozy streets. The architectural styles of many buildings, the decorations on streets, and the designs of parks clearly showed how much Chinese people had been respecting their history and traditions.

Now, I look at Beijing through the eyes of one of the city’s residents, not as a  tourist. In modern Beijing, people are    paying great attention to physical education and sports, and to taking care of their health. I have watched, many times, the Chinese citizens who gather in the morning to exercise together. They perform qigong , a system of deep breathing exercises that Chinese use to train their bodies and properly maintain the energy flow in their  bodies.

My job has pushed me to travel around China, and to meet people from all walks of life, including government officials, diplomats, representatives of academic institutions, professions, teachers, students and schoolchildren. Based on my personal communications,   I think Chinese are friendly, polite and  kindhearted. Chinese always l isten attentively to  interlocutors’ opinions, and they know how to correctly defend their points of view.

Please tell our readers about some of the events your center has organized in China to promote Russian culture.

Under the circumstances of globalization, culture becomes an important “language,” or factor, that lays the foundation to build the whole system of international relations. Cultural exchanges include communications in tourism, the scientific and educational fields, business contacts, and cooperation in the sports, mass media, art, music and film  industries.

Russia is a country that has a great cultural heritage and centuries-old traditions. Within the framework of popularization of Russian culture in the world, our Russian Cultural Center regularly hosts events, such as concerts of Russian folk artists, music and dance groups, meetings with Russian celebrities in the cultural field, exhibitions of contemporary artists, photo exhibitions of Russian museums’ archival materials, film screenings showcasing the latest achievements of Russian cinematography and theater performances for both children and  adults.

Every year, we celebrate our victory in World War II, the day of the first space flight of cosmonaut Yuri Garagin and the launch of our first space satellite. Soon, we will celebrate the date of lifting the blockade of Leningrad and the anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad. Those events are great and memorable, not only for Russian people, but also for humanity all around the  world.

Are you interested in Chinese cultural symbols?
Developing mutual interest in our cultures helps us strengthen the “ties” between our peoples. For example, the  Chinese horoscope, which includes the tradition and meaning related to the Spring Festival, is very popular in Russia. Some symbols of good fortune, such as the dragon, fish and frog, can be found in decorations that Russian people place in their houses, offices and private shops. Although the images with auspicious hints are used as decorations, most Russians do not fully understand the meanings that those images imply. Perhaps the most popular auspicious inscription is a picture of the upside-down Chinese character of “fu,” which means “happiness.”

What roles are women playing to enhance bilateral communications between Russia and China?
It is a global trend that women play more active roles in different spheres of life — business, politics and diplomacy … In some countries, women occupy the highest positions in government. There are women ministers, prime ministers and even heads of state. Women and men should complement each other while they are dealing with political issues.

Actually, the Russian- Chinese Commission on Humanitarian Cooperation is chaired by Olga Golodets, Vice-Premier of the Russian Government, and Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier of the State Council of China.
The Russian Cultural Center is the representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo — the State Agency, which is headed by Eleonora Mitrofanova, a Russian diplomat of high level with significant experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and in international organizations. Our center will continue to make contributions to strengthen the ties between Russia and China, advance the promotion of the Russian language and culture in China, and stimulate the development of mutual exchanges.

Women of China

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Reviving the Spirit of Mosul

Audrey Azoulay

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Last week, the world made a great commitment to rebuild Iraq following the recent defeat of ISIS. Recognizing the immense courage of the Iraqi people and the depth of their suffering, the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq pledged to rebuild infrastructure so that the country can once again prosper.

Mosul is the living symbol of Iraqi’s pluralistic identity. For centuries, it was at the crossroad of culture in the Middle East. From the Sumerian cities to Babylon, from the walls of Nineveh to the Silk Road, the region has been a melting pot of people and ideas. For the last three years, this story of peace – the true spirit of Mosul – has been overshadowed by another story of hatred and violence.

The conference stressed the importance of putting the human dimension at the heart of our efforts for sustainable reconstruction. So we launched “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, an initiative for the reconstruction of the Old City, both its physical infrastructure and restoring the dignity of its people. When war is waged against culture and education, response must be culture and education. This is the only long-term solution against extremism.

The destruction of the University of Mosul Library, the dynamiting of the Al-Hadba minaret and the pillaging of the Nabi Yunus Shrine, emblem of the religious coexistence of the three religions of the Book – shocked the world. Public libraries were burnt, music was silenced, artists attacked and cafes closed.

Thousands of children have learned war and been indoctrinated with an intellectually corrupt ideology. They have not received an education – the essential tool for building the future. To avoid raising a lost generation, we must teach peace but also reinfuse these communities with the culture of peace, steeped in Iraq’s rich history and cultural life.

The revival of the Old City of Mosul is the cornerstone of our initiative, supported by both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi. This initiative means restoring architectural symbols that bring the Iraqi people together, in all its diversity. Many key actors like the European Union, neighboring countries and international organizations expressed great interest in participating in this effort that UNESCO will coordinate.

UNESCO will bring its expertise in damage assessment to restore and reconstruct the emblematic sites of the historic center. We will work hand-in-hand with the local population and the government to restore bookshops, cultural centers and museums – including the Museum of Mosul, which was tragically ransacked.

We will provide opportunities for technical and vocational training, particularly in traditional building techniques, so that Iraqis will have the skills to actively contribute to this reconstruction.

The great civilizations of this region defined the course of humanity, through a thousand-year dialogue, which gave birth to the wheel, writing, mathematics and law. We will work with our Iraqi counterparts to ensure future generations will learn of their proud heritage, through the school materials that we are developing, including a new school curriculum, which puts humanities at its core along creativity, critical thinking and values of respect. This is the only way to ensure that fanaticism does not prevail once more.

This “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative will be UNESCO’s main contribution to the United Nations’ Response and Resilience program designed to help Iraq’s government fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction.

Later this year, we will organize an international conference at UNESCO Headquarters, with the Iraqi government and all our partners, to design a blueprint for this reconstruction.

Through culture and education, we can restore trust and create the conditions for a common future. This reconstruction will take time but, brick-by-brick, lesson-by-lesson, together we can revive the true spirit of Mosul.

First published in Asharq Al-Awsat

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Music and art from the country of peaks and legends: Day of Afghan Culture

MD Staff

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On 8 February 2018, the SCO Secretariat hosted the Day of Afghan Culture. Addressing the guests and participants of the event, the SCO Secretary-General thanked top leadership and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for all-around support in organising the Day of Culture.

“Afghanistan is populated by wonderful and courageous people, descendants of ancient ethnicities who cherish their sacred traditions, lifestyle, unique culture and art,” Rashid Alimov said. “The entire SCO family strongly and unanimously supports the Afghan government and people’s efforts towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous state. We believe this day is near and wish the brotherly nation of Afghanistan peace, happiness and prosperity.”

In his remarks, Afghan Ambassador to China Janan Mosazai expressed his deep appreciation to the SCO Secretariat for organising the Day of Afghan Culture. “Events like this strengthen the Shanghai spirit in the growing SCO family,” he noted.

The main event of the programme, a concert of traditional Afghan music, delighted the guests with charming melodies from the ‘country of peaks and legends.’ The programme was presented by ten talented musicians from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music led by its founder and director Ahmad Naser Sarmast.

The guests also enjoyed a display of amazing colourful masterpieces of Afghan carpet weaving art, which goes back more than 2,000 years. A special photo exhibit showcasing the uniquely beautiful nature of Afghanistan and the rich legacy and contemporary life of its people was also very popular. The guests had a taste of the traditional Afghan cuisine.

The event was attended by extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Syria, Bahrain and Singapore, as well as representatives of diplomatic missions, EU ambassadors, Chinese and foreign media.

The Day of Afghan Culture took place as part of the SCO Is Our Common Home programme.

Some 40 types of carpets were displayed at the Mosaic of Afghan Carpets exhibition. Afghan carpet weaving is known for distinct colours and traditional geometrical ornaments.

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