Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Vatican's gay document: articles and editorials

How gay is too gay?

The Vatican has decreed anyone with 'deep-seated homosexual tendencies' need not apply to the priesthood. Those with only a 'transitory problem' are, however, now welcome. Can you can ever be just a little bit gay, wonders Emily Wilson

Guardian November 30, 2005

Can you be just a little bit gay? Is gayness ever just a phase? These are serious, difficult questions, as Michael Portillo, for one, will tell you. But yesterday some light was thrown on the subject by none other than the Catholic church. The Vatican published a new edict on its position on priests and homosexuality, one approved by the new pope, and the answer to all these questions, it emerges, is "yes".

The Vatican's document states that candidates for the priesthood with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and those who actively support "gay culture" need not apply, on the basis (in precis) that they are past saving. But candidates who have suffered only a "transitory problem" with gayness need not give up hope of a place in the seminary, just so long as three years have passed between them "overcoming" the "problem" and them entering the priesthood.
In short, young priests may have a closet, and they may once have peered out of the keyhole, or even stepped out for a moment, but from now on, the closet door must remain tight shut. Or, to put it another way, homosexuality is very much like smoking - a few years off the fags, and you're all nice and pure again.
There is no mention, in this document, of the 30-50% of priests already in the church who are claimed (by Catholic gay rights campaigners, but still) to be gay. And it goes without saying that while transitory problems with gayness may, with time, be acceptable, celibacy remains a strict requirement for all priests, and gayness in general remains un-OK for lay Catholics. (Quite how this can claim to be any sort of response to the church's record of child abuse is unclear, but that is another matter.)
It will not surprise many readers to learn that this document has been condemned as homophobic. (Can gayness be just a temporary problem? "It's just a 'no'," says Andy Forrest, of the gay rights group Stonewall.) It's no surprise either that the Vatican's edict has been described as not only confused but confusing in other quarters. ("Seminaries are full of gay men! What about them?" asks Mark Dowd, a former trainee Dominican friar, and the chair of Quest, a group of gay and lesbian Catholics.) But then the Catholic church has never been too concerned with groups such as Stonewall and Quest, just very concerned indeed - or so Dowd and others claim - with bums on seats in the developing world, where gay rights tend not to be much of a winner in the pulpit.
The Catholic faith is far from the only church to have come over all hot and bothered at the thought of man-on-man action. And it is far from the only church to have tied itself into elaborate knots in its efforts to explain whatever curious position it has chosen to adopt on the subject, taking into account all relevant scriptures and the social mores of the day.
In fact, in this country at least, it can be argued that the major religions between them constitute the last great bastion of official homophobia. As David Allison of Outrage!, another gay rights group, puts it: "The churches have stood against every form of social progress since the year dot. The further people go towards civil liberties, the less reliant they are on the church."
In America, according to Chris Barron, political director of Log Cabin, a gay and lesbian Republican organisation, gay rights in the US "lag behind most of Europe". Gay marriages are still only possible in a few areas and, of course, campaigners have the infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the armed forces to focus their ire on. This supposedly enlightened policy has led, Barron says, to about 10,000 discharges since it was first introduced in 1983.
In this country, though, official homophobia of the sort once practised by institutions such as the Foreign Office - which refused gay jobseekers on the basis that they might be blackmailed, and besides, how on earth would one seat their boyfriends at a dinner party? - is yesterday's story. Allison says that, "to be fair to Tony Blair", his government has done its best to stamp out anti-gay legislation. Homophobia has not gone away, but it has been taken out of the rulebook. The army may have odd ideas about broomsticks, but in the navy homosexuality has long been "practically compulsory", he says, and those in charge do seem to be doing their bit for equality. The police force may not be perfect, but at least there is a Gay Police Association. Same-sex civil marriage services may not be perfect either, but at least gay couples are now to be allowed some sort of legal protection. Portillo may have had to abandon all hope of being prime minister, but homophobia is not actually official Conservative party policy.
Ah . . . but in the houses of our gods and goddesses. In the churches, official bodies still talk with straight faces about homosexuality as a "tendency", and most of them are still dancing, in gorily drunken fashion, with their rules on gayness, and how gay is OK, and whether priests should be allowed to be as gay - or less gay, or even more gay - than lay people.
Take the Anglican church. The Reverend Martin Reynolds, a Welsh priest who is gay and is engaged to be married to a man (with whom he has a foster child), is our guide to the subject. According to him, the rules, as of today, are thus: in England, a vicar may be gay, and may have a gay partner, and they may live in the vicarage together. As of December 21 this year, they may even get married. But! On no account must they have sex. Ordinary members of the Church of England, however, are free to have gay sex before and after marriage. Why the discrepancy? "That's a very good question," says Reynolds.
In Wales, however, as the Welsh bishops made clear only last week, gay priests will be free not only to marry but to "frolic". Ditto in Scotland. The situation in Ireland, Reynolds says, is "bitty". What may be OK for the southern bishops probably will not be OK for the northern bishops. Is kissing and cuddling, but no rude stuff, OK? No one is sure, Reynolds says.
Clear so far? You can be very gay indeed and an Anglican priest in Scotland, Wales and some parts of Ireland, but only quite gay and an Anglican priest in England.
How gay is too gay in Judaism? In the orthodox branches of the church, even a tiny bit gay can be too gay, although one may find interesting (anonymous) pieces on the internet by men purporting to be gay orthodox rabbis. But in more liberal branches of the faith, you can be very gay, whether you are a lay person or a rabbi.
Rabbi Danny Rich is the chief executive of an organisation called Liberal Judaism, which today, as it happens, publishes a liturgy formally giving the thumbs-up to same-sex marriage ceremonies in its synagogues - once the couples have signed the civil partnership register. Rich says his organisation has two gay and four lesbian rabbis on its books. And are they allowed to actually have sex? "It's not our business," he says. Which means yes.
The situation in the Reform movement that sits somewhere between the orthodox groups and the 10 to 12,000 members of Liberal Judaism is less clear. There are gay rabbis, but, Rich says, "they don't have a policy on same-sex marriages" as yet.
No one from Queer Jihad was replying to messages yesterday, but it is probably fair to say that the number of openly gay imams in this country may be counted on one hand, and that many Muslim groups are as open about their homophobia as is the Catholic church.
Homosexuality in Hinduism is an interesting one. While some Hindus are as proudly anti- gay as their counterparts in other churches, accepted Hindu religious texts do not explicitly mention homosexuality at all and, according to Wikipedia, "to this day in modern India there are hijras, transgendered men who have sex with men. They religiously identify as a separate third sex, with many undergoing ritual castration. In Hindu thought, a man who penetrates a hijra is not defined as gay."
A curious thing, in all this, is that lesbians really do not get much of a mention (apart from the four lesbian rabbis to whom Rabbi Rich lays claim); it is all very Queen Victoria. When the Anglican church frets over gay vicars, it is really men and men's bits it is worrying about. What about all those gay nuns and gay lady vicars out there? People just tend to "fret" less about what women get up to, says Reynolds.

Distinctly without prejudice

Leader [Editorial]

Guardian November 30, 2005

The most important thing about the Vatican's new document on gay priests is that it is not bigoted. Celibacy is a career open to any man, and the Vatican makes no distinction between the temptations to be resisted. Catholic leaders in this country have also been quick and clear in their support for homosexual clergy. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has said that a homosexual orientation must "never be considered sinful or evil in itself. Nor should anyone ever suffer discrimination or prejudice as result of such orientation." This is a position so unlike the bullying prejudice of much rightwing Christianity - American or even Anglican - that it is worth reflecting on the arguments that the Holy Spirit might have used to persuade Pope Benedict of its truth.

The most powerful is surely that gay priests are not a novelty. Some must have helped to draft this document. The seminaries are full of them and have been for years, all across the western world, and especially in the US. There, by some estimates, as many as 50% of the candidates in some seminaries are gay. Some of these men have been largely responsible for the disasters of the child sex abuse cases that have so damaged the church in the last decade.
But the problem could not be solved by expelling all gays from the priesthood, even if that were either just or possible. The church has a huge shortage of truly celibate priests, whatever their orientation. Although the sex scandals in which the victims were mostly adolescent boys from rich countries have outraged the world, and cost a fortune in law suits, a Pope might suppose that God is just as outraged by the abuses whose victims are young girls in poor countries who will never sue anyone for anything. It is in this light that the document's attempt to draw a line between "transient" and "deep-rooted" homosexual orientations must be understood.
It looks as if the Vatican is trying to distinguish between priests whose temptations will always be homosexual, and those who are merely frustrated heterosexuals. Perhaps that is how some of the drafters meant it. But it will be interpreted in an entirely different spirit. In practice, the distinction between deep-seated and transient will become a way of labelling good and bad gay priests to differentiate between those who will abuse their positions, and those who will not. The Catholic church will remain dependent on faithful and celibate gay clergy for as long as it rejects the ordination of married men. It is good that it is at least trying to deal honestly with them.

Pope's gay priest ruling is hailed by moderates

Ruth Gledhill, Religion correspondent and
Richard Owen in Rome

The Times 30 November 2005

A VATICAN ruling on homosexuals entering the priesthood received a surprising welcome from leading Roman Catholics in Britain yesterday after it became clear that it was not as severe as had been feared. However, gay pressure groups and liberal Catholics were critical.
Senior Catholics said that the ruling showed a slight softening of Pope Benedict XVI’s hard line against gays. The instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education said that ordination was not permissible for men with “deep-seated” gay tendencies but was permissible for those who could show they had overcome “transitory” homosexuality for three years. It does not apply to those already ordained.

The instruction was welcomed by moderates because it is not an outright ban on all men of homosexual orientation, celibate or not, but it will disappoint traditionalists because it does not call homosexuality a “tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”, a phrase used by the Pope in his previous post as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac MurphyO’Connor, said: “A priest is primarily a witness to Jesus Christ. Anything that detracts from this impedes that witness.
“Priests are required to live lives of celibate chastity, whatever their sexual orientation, and must be able to relate freely and well to both men and women. Bishops must ensure that men are not admitted to the priesthood for whom its requirements and demands will be too burdensome or impossible to fulfil.
“The instruction is not saying that men of homosexual orientation are not welcome in the priesthood. But it is making clear that they must be capable of affective maturity, have a capacity for celibacy and not share the values of the eroticised gay culture. This is especially important because seminaries are all-male environments.”
In 2004 the bishops of England and Wales said that “a homosexual orientation” was not sinful or evil in itself.
The Cardinal said: “The Church utterly condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse directed against people who have homosexual tendencies.”
The Vatican ruling was attacked by Peter Tatchell, of the gay rights group OutRage!, who said it was “bigoted and hypocritical”. He said: “If these rules had existed in the past, many existing archbishops and cardinals would have never been allowed to enter the priesthood. Given the high proportion of gay clergy in senior positions in the Vatican, this new policy is rank hypocrisy.
“Given that about a third of Catholic clergy in Britain are gay, the new rules are an own goal that could result in hundreds of churches being left without priests.”
He added that the Church should concentrate on eliminating child sex abusers from the priesthood.Widespread child abuse by Catholic priests has been revealed in the United States and other countries. The Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay £49 million to more than 500 victims in 2003. Last week a Brazilian priest was jailed for 14 years for abusing two children, and Italian police said yesterday that a priest in Tuscany had confessed to molesting 30 boys over the past five years.
Damian Thompson, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Herald, said the Vatican ruling was “a highly intelligent compromise”. He added: “It is not nearly as bad as the gay community was expecting. They were fearing a blanket ban on the ordination of anyone under any circumstances who was gay.”
He conceded that the reference in the document to “deep-seated homosexuality” would offend many but said that the document’s references to showing “respect” for gay people were also signs of a softening attitude. “All this is language that would have been inconceivable coming from the Vatican in the 1980s. The gay community was really worried that Benedict was going to come out with a blanket ban.”
Father Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominicans, said that it would not be correct to interpret the document as ruling out men with a permanent homosexual orientation as there were “many excellent priests” who were gay and who clearly had a vocation.
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay pressure group based in the US, said gays were being used as scapegoats and called on “all fair minded Catholics” to protest to their local priests. “We urge them to consider what Jesus would do if he saw his neighbour treated this way,” the group said.
Father Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University, a Jesuit foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, said: “Our seminaries are likely to be depopulated to a significant extent.” He added that the hunters might become the hunted, suggesting there were “hidden” gays in the Vatican.

Vatican Officially Releases Document on Banning New Gay Priests

Ian Fisher

New York Times 30 November 2005

VATICAN CITY, Nov. 29 - The Vatican officially released a new document on Tuesday that strongly reinforced its ban on ordaining homosexuals as priests, while a cardinal, making the church's first public comment, rejected the contention that the decree was discriminatory.
"It's not discrimination, for example, if one does not admit a person who suffers from vertigo to a school for astronauts," Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican department that issued the document, said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on Vatican Radio.
The document's official release ended months of piecemeal leaks on one of the most sensitive issues facing the church. Last week, the entire document was posted on an Italian Web site, inciting debate especially among American Catholics about how restrictive the church meant to be and how the rules would be applied.
It was finally published Tuesday in two forms, as a booklet that ran for seven pages in the English translation with footnotes, and in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.
The newspaper also published a much longer commentary by the Rev. Tony Anatrella, a French Jesuit psychologist who repeated the church's long-held condemnation of homosexuality both in the priesthood and in the wider culture. Generally, he said, homosexuality "presented a destabilizing reality for people and for society."
"During these past years, homosexuality has become a phenomenon that is always increasingly worrying and in many countries is considered a quality that is normal," he wrote. He said homosexuality was a "sexual tendency and not an identity."
According to the text of the document, the church will not admit to a seminary or ordain "those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "
Only candidates who had experienced "homosexual tendencies" that were "transitory" will be ordained, the document said, provided they were "overcome" three years before ordination as a deacon.
But the short document did not define terms like "tendencies," "deep-seated" or "overcome," though on Tuesday Cardinal Grocholewski gave several specific instances of homosexuality that could be considered "transitory" and therefore possibly acceptable.
"For example, some curiosity during adolescence or accidental circumstances in a state of drunkenness, or particular circumstances like someone who was in prison for many years," he said in the Vatican Radio interview.
A central question is whether the new rules will allow ordination of a candidate who is celibate but believes his basic sexual orientation is homosexual.
The instruction does not apply to priests already ordained, though some liberal Catholics predicted protest resignations of some priests who consider themselves gay.
The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., released a statement calling it a "timely document" in an era when homosexuality and gay marriage are so widely discussed.
He said it was a "valid concern" for the church to seek priests who are chaste, mature and "can faithfully represent the teaching of the church about sexuality, including the immorality of homosexual genital activity."
Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York for this article.

A church confused over sexual issues

By Bernadette J. Brooten

Boston Globe November 30, 2005

IF THE VATICAN aims to prevent clergy sexual abuse by barring gay men from the priesthood, it is profoundly misguided. Most strikingly, the latest Vatican statement doesn't ever name clergy sexual abuse as a problem. Instead, the Vatican refers ever so obliquely to the ''contemporary world," which must mean ''a world in which even priests have sex with boys."

The Vatican needs to address head-on the dual problem of priests abusing their power and their bishops protecting them. Otherwise, Catholics and non-Catholics will live with shaken confidence in the Roman Catholic Church, an important social institution by any measure. This document diverts attention away from Catholic bishops who have worked mightily to avoid just settlements with sexual abuse survivors, to open their financial records, or to include clergy as mandated reporters of child sexual abuse.
By defining homosexuality as the problem, the Vatican also masks the fact that numerous priests have had, and are having, sexual relations with adult women. Unlike therapists or physicians, priests are not usually legally prohibited from having sexual relations with the women whom they counsel. Women whose trust priests have betrayed have rarely been able to sue for damages, and the media have therefore seldom reported their stories.
Instead of facing up to these urgent problems in the church, the statement bars all men ''who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support so-called gay culture" from seminary and the priesthood. As theological justification, the Vatican explains that a priest must ''represent Christ, head, shepherd, and bridegroom of the church." Christ's maleness is the same reason the Vatican excludes women from the priesthood, although in church history, canon lawyers more candidly explained that women are simply inferior.
Now we see that being a man alone isn't enough. The priest also has to be a real man. He has to be heterosexual in order to function as a head of the congregation and as a bridegroom of the church. Yes, heterosexual and male, but also celibate, while living with other male priests -- a tall order. In a new theological twist, Jesus was not only celibate but also heterosexual.
Even as the Vatican is puzzling out the finer details of theological symbolism, US Catholics face new disappointments each year. The head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., a diocese that had sought bankruptcy protection, is appealing the judge's ruling that church property ''can be sold to pay claims filed by victims." Skylstad argues that the bishop doesn't own these church properties, the parishes do. Meanwhile, in Boston, Catholics have held vigils to prevent the archbishop from selling off their churches. Archbishop O'Malley argues that the archbishop owns these churches, not the parishes.
The most heartening sign on the horizon is that US Catholics increasingly see sexual abuse as the problem, not sexual orientation. Both in the courts and in the court of public opinion, Catholics are calling their church to accountability. More and more Catholics support the abuse survivors, want a say in whether their parishes and schools will stay open, and want sexual ethics based on meaningful consent and mutuality.
Bernadette J. Brooten is professor of Christian studies at Brandeis University and the director of the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project

Bishop Says Edict Allows Some Gay Priests

U.S. Catholics at Odds Over Interpretation of Vatican's New Directive

By Alan Cooperman

Washington Post November 30, 2005

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday that under a new Vatican directive on homosexuality, men with a lasting attraction to members of the same sex can still be ordained as priests, as long as they are not "consumed by" their sexual orientation.
Bishop William S. Skylstad's flexible interpretation of the document, which was officially issued in Rome yesterday, was sharply at odds with the position of some other U.S. bishops. They said the Vatican intended to bar all men who have had more than a fleeting, adolescent brush with homosexuality.
"I think one of the telling sentences in the document is the phrase that the candidate's entire life of sacred ministry must be 'animated by a gift of his whole person to the church and by an authentic pastoral charity,' " Skylstad, the bishop of Spokane, Wash., said in an interview. "If that becomes paramount in his ministry, even though he might have a homosexual orientation, then he can minister and he can minister celibately and chastely."
Skylstad's comments are the opening salvo in what promises to be a wide-ranging battle within the U.S. church over the document's implementation. Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said yesterday that Skylstad's interpretation is "simply wrong" -- a rare public clash among bishops, who usually go to great lengths to preserve an image of collegiality, even when they disagree.
"I would say yes, absolutely, it does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is towards one's own sex and it's permanent," D'Arcy said of the document. "I don't think there's any doubt about it. . . . I don't think we can fuss around with this."
Although each bishop can apply the document as he sees fit in his diocese, the fallout could reach thousands of Catholic schools and parishes as gay men who are considering the priesthood -- and some who have been ordained -- reevaluate their place in the church.
"I think every gay seminarian faces a question of conscience now," said a 33-year-old gay seminarian from New England who requested anonymity because he has not yet decided whether to leave his seminary. "There's no question of leaving the church. I'll die a Catholic. The question is whether I can with integrity be a priest."
The six-page instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican department in charge of seminaries, was leaked by an Italian news agency a week ago. But most bishops were silent about it until its official publication yesterday. As soon as it was released in Rome, many U.S. dioceses posted statements on their Web sites, and many bishops held news conferences.
The document says that "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "
It adds that men can become priests if their "homosexual tendencies . . . were only the expression of a transitory problem -- for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded." But those whose homosexuality is deep-seated "find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women," the official English translation says.
Several prelates, including Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, indicated that they will continue to ordain seminarians regardless of sexual orientation, as long as the candidates are committed to live in celibacy and to uphold church teachings.
"It is important to look at the whole person. One issue of many that are looked at in the overall evaluation process is in the area of human sexuality," McCarrick said in a written statement. "Applicants for the Archdiocese of Washington must have a demonstrated commitment to living a chaste life and must fully embrace, through belief and action, the Church's teachings, including those on human sexuality."
Asked whether that means the archdiocese will still accept gay seminarians, the cardinal's spokeswoman, Susan Gibbs, said: "We don't anticipate our admissions policy changing based on the document. There can be people whose orientation is homosexual if it's not such a strong part of their makeup that it interferes with their ability to live out church teaching. It's part of the larger picture we have to look at."
Skylstad took a similar approach. He said the barring of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" refers to those who are "principally defined by" or whose "primary identification" is their sexual orientation. Although the document does not say so, he said, the same implicitly applies to men who have deep-seated heterosexual impulses.
"Absolutely, it cuts both ways. . . . I think if the orientation dominates one's personality, whether that be homosexual or heterosexual," then the candidate is not suitable for ordination, Skylstad said. "You know, a heterosexual person who cannot live the celibate life in fidelity to his mission, in fidelity to appropriate boundaries, is not going to be called by the church to priesthood, either."
The same point was made by Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y., in a statement on his Web site; it noted that the Vatican's instruction requires all candidates for the priesthood to show emotional maturity.
"I must concur, and add that such criteria also would be applied to a heterosexual man whose sexual behavior would in any way interfere with his celibate service to the Church and to those to whom he would minister," Clark wrote.
But in Rome, the head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, said that the problems of homosexual and heterosexual candidates are not equivalent. Although many people think homosexuality is a "normal condition of the human person," he told Vatican Radio, it "absolutely contradicts human anthropology" and violates "natural law."
For the church, denying ordination to gay men is no more discriminatory than "if a person who suffers from vertigo is not admitted to a school for astronauts," the cardinal said.
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the conservative Catholic journal First Things, said that "human nature being what it is, those who want to evade the clear statement of the instruction will have ample opportunities to seek loopholes, evasions and rationalizations."
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and generally a liberal commentator on church affairs, agreed.
"Over the next few months we will hear from plenty of canon lawyers and theologians and bishops, as we have already, arguing, out of a genuine and compassionate desire to help the church continue to accept celibate gay men into the priesthood, that the document needs to be interpreted in the most positive light possible," he said.
"But it is impossible, after reading the Instruction, to escape the fact that when the Vatican says men with 'deep-seated homosexual tendencies,' it means what it says."
Special correspondent Sarah Delaney in Rome contributed to this report.

NB English translation of the full text of the Vatican [Congregation for Catholic Education] instruction Concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies in view of their admission to seminaries and holy orders can be found on:

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Nuclear War military exercise and Poland, 1979

World War Three seen through Soviet eyes

David Rennie in Warsaw

Daily Telegraph 26/11/2005

The nightmare of nuclear war in Europe - a spectre that haunted the world for half a century - stood revealed yesterday in terrible detail.
In a historic break with the past, Poland's newly elected government threw open its top secret Warsaw Pact military archives - including a 1979 map revealing the Soviet bloc's vision of a seven-day atomic holocaust between Nato and Warsaw Pact forces.
The defence minister, Radek Sikorsky, showed off the map at an emotional press conference.
He described it as a "personally shattering experience", pointing to a long line of nuclear mushroom clouds neatly stamped along the Vistula, where Soviet bloc commanders assumed that Nato tactical nuclear weapons would rain down to block reinforcements arriving from Russia.
About two million Polish civilians would die in such a war, and the country would be all but wiped off the face of the Earth, he said.
On the map, western Europe lay beneath a chilling overlay of large red mushroom clouds: Warsaw Pact nuclear strikes, using giant warheads to compensate for their relative lack of precision.
Soviet bombs rain down on cities from northern Denmark down to Brussels, the political headquarters of Nato. Large red clouds blot out cities such as Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and Baden Baden, Haarlem, Antwerp and Charleroi, above the Franco-Belgian border.
On the map, smaller blue mushroom clouds showed expected Nato targets - most of them relatively precise attacks - including strikes on Warsaw and Prague.
The map dates from a time when the balance of power was radically different from now. In Washington the vacillating Jimmy Carter was suffering a series of defeats - the Iranian revolution and the subsequent seizure of the United States embassy in Teheran. Britain was at a low ebb, racked by strikes, and just putting its faith in Margaret Thatcher.
The Kremlin, however, was stretching its muscles - preparing for its ill-fated takeover of Afghanistan.
Perhaps because the map shows a limited war game exercise, entitled Seven Days to the River Rhine, rather than full invasion plans, troops stop at the Rhine, and there are no attacks or bomb strikes on Britain, or on France.
Large blue Nato nuclear bombers are shown flying out of bases in East Anglia, and squadrons of Nato fighters are shown scrambling from Danish bases into combat over the Baltic.
The decision to unveil the Warsaw Pact documents is one of the first moves of Poland's new conservative government. Mr Sikorsky described it as an attempt to draw a line under the country's Communist past, and "educate" the Polish public about the old regime.
He did not deny that the opening of the archives will be seen as a provocation in Moscow. Russian-Polish relations have sharply deteriorated recently, amid rows over a planned oil pipeline, and Polish support for democratic revolutions in Russia's backyard, first in Ukraine, and now Belarus.
Mr Sikorsky, a former dissident who studied at Oxford University, said: "These are documents that are crucial for educating the public, and showing how Poland was kept as an unwilling ally of the Soviet Union. This government wants to end the post-Communist period.
"It's important for citizens to know who was a hero, and who was a villain. It is important for the civic health of society to make these things public."
The files being released would include documents about "Operation Danube", the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. They also included files on an army massacre of Polish workers in Szczecin in the 1970s, and from the martial law era of the 1980s.

Planowano nuklearną zagładę Polski

Paweł Wroński, PAP

Gazeta 26-11-2005

Dwa miliony zabitych i rannych, przeszło 40 miast polskich zrównanych z ziemią po ataku atomowym NATO. Tak wyglądał scenariusz III wojny światowej w dokumentach Układu Warszawskiego.

Wczoraj na wspólnej konferencji prasowej z prezesem IPN Leonem Kieresem minister obrony Radek Sikorski przekazał akta Układu Warszawskiego z Centralnego Archiwum Wojskowego do archiwów Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej. Powstały w 1955 roku w Warszawie sojusz wojskowy podporządkowywał ZSRR armie tak zwanych państw socjalistycznych. Był w latach 70. największą potęgą wojskową i stale przygotowywał się do nuklearnej konfrontacji z Zachodem. W apogeum zimnej wojny po stronie Układu Warszawskiego pod bronią stało około 5 mln żołnierzy, dziesiątki tysięcy czołgów i tysiące bomb i rakiet nuklearnych.Wczoraj na konferencji prasowej minister Sikorski przedstawił część już odtajnionych dokumentów. Były to sztabowe zapisy ćwiczeń wojskowych z 1976, 1982. Największe wrażenie na dziennikarzach zrobiła jednak mapa sztabowa ćwiczeń z 1979 roku - "gra wojenna kierowniczej kadry MON". Scenariuszem tego ćwiczenia jest wizja wielkiego konfliktu nuklearnego między NATO i Układem Warszawskim, tak jak sobie go wyobrażali sztabowcy radzieccy. Minister Sikorski wspominał, że właśnie o tej mapie mówił mu kiedyś płk Ryszard Kukliński. Według Kuklińskiego radziecka strategia zakładająca, że właśnie Polska będzie największą ofiarą starcia komunizmu z Zachodem skłoniła go w latach 70. do podjęcia współpracy z Amerykanami. Ćwiczenia z 1979 r. zakładały, że Związek Radziecki dokona w odpowiedzi na atak NATO potężnego uderzenia nuklearnego na Niemcy zachodnie, Belgię i Holandię. Przez ten napromieniowany rejon miały atakować na Zachód pancerne dywizje Układu Warszawskiego. Sowieckie rakiety miały spaść na niemal wszystkie większe miasta Niemiec zachodnich - Hamburg, Bremę, Monachium. Właśnie ta część mapy przykuła uwagę licznie zgromadzonych w Urzędzie Rady Ministrów zachodnich dziennikarzy. Polacy skoncentrowali swoją uwagę na naszym kraju. Generałowie radzieccy przewidywali, że to właśnie Polska stanie się głównym celem kontrataku jądrowego NATO. Nasz kraj miał zostać zniszczony po to, by żeby uniemożliwić przemieszczanie drugiego rzutu wojsk radzieckich atakujących na Zachód. Sztabowcy Układu przewidywali, że w pierwszym etapie wojny rakiety z głowicami jądrowymi spadną na 43 polskie miasta. Z powierzchni ziemi miały zniknąć Warszawa, Poznań, Wrocław, Szczecin, a także miasta Górnego Śląska. Przewidywana liczba ofiar cywilnych to 2 mln zabitych i rannych. Duża część kraju miała pozostać napromieniowana i skażona chemicznie.Według mapy Polska miałaby się stać zapleczem frontów północnego i północno-zachodniego. Pierwszą linię koncentracji jednostek wojskowych miała być Odra, okolice Wrocławia i Poznania. Przez Polskę miało przemaszerować około 2 mln żołnierzy radzieckich. - Ktoś mógłby powiedzieć, że to była tylko gra wojenna. Ale my mieszkaliśmy, żyliśmy w tym kraju. Nie wiedzieliśmy, że nasze życie było przedmiotem tego rodzaju gier wojennych - mówił prezes IPN Leon Kieres. Polska do tej pory nie ujawniła dokumentów Układu Warszawskiego ze względu na klauzulę z 1991 r. Została ona przyjęta przez wszystkie państwa w momencie rozwiązania Układu Warszawskiego podczas szczytu w Pradze. To właśnie ta klauzula zakładała, że wszystkie dokumenty w byłych krajach członkowskich pozostaną tajne. Zdaniem Sikorskiego to ustalenie Polski nie obowiązuje.- Prawnicy MON uznali, iż to porozumienie nie zostało ratyfikowane przez Polskę, a zatem prawo krajowe ma przed nim pierwszeństwo - zaznaczył minister obrony narodowej. Dodał też, że prawo międzynarodowe dopuszcza wycofanie się z traktatów "przy znaczącej zmianie okoliczności". A takimi okolicznościami jest fakt, że nie istnieje Związek Radziecki, Polska jest członkiem NATO. - Społeczeństwo ma prawo wiedzieć o swojej przeszłości - zaznaczył minister, dodając, że odtajnienie akt Układu Warszawskiego jest symbolem końca postkomunizmu w Polsce. W zasobach Centralnego Archiwum Wojskowego znajduje się około 1700 zespołów akt Układu Warszawskiego, wśród nich tajny statut Układu zawierający jego schemat organizacyjny, protokoły narad, dokumenty związane z interwencją w Czechosłowacji w 1968 r., liczne zapisy sztabowe z ćwiczeń.- Podjąłem decyzję, by ujawnić prawie wszystkie akta - zapowiedział Sikorski. Szef MON zaznaczył, że niewielka część dokumentów pozostanie tajna ze względu na interesy obronności współczesnej Polski. Do oceny dokumentów zostanie powołany specjalny zespół, który 2 stycznia 2006 przedstawi ministrowi wykaz, które z nich mogą mieć zniesioną lub obniżoną klauzulę tajności. Sikorski zapowiedział, że decyzje w sprawie każdej konkretnej teczki podejmie on sam.Co znajduje się w tych dokumentach? Paweł Piotrowski z wrocławskiego IPN, który bierze udział w międzynarodowym projekcie badawczym "Historia porównawcza NATO i Układu Warszawskiego", ma nadzieję, że będą to nie tylko zapisy ćwiczeń, ale elementy prawdziwych tajnych planów Układu przygotowane na wypadek wojny.- Być może będą również dokumenty dotyczące tak zwanego frontu polskiego - dodał Piotrowski. Chodzi o plany operacyjne frontu północno-zachodniego, który miał być dowodzony przez polskiego generała i w którym większość jednostek atakujących na Zachód miała być polskich. Nasi żołnierze mieli atakować północne Niemcy, forsować Łabę i uderzyć na Holandię. Część wojsk miała uderzać na Danię, która dodatkowo miała być opanowana dzięki desantowi morskiemu i lotniczemu.Historyk ma też nadzieję, że w polskich archiwach pozostały ślady sprawy "Wisła". Chodzi o przechowywanie w bazach radzieckich na terenie Polski bomb, w które miało być wyposażone lotnictwo, i pocisków nuklearnych.

Soviet plans to annihilate Europe revealed

Stephen Castle in Warsaw

Independent 26 November 2005

A Cold War map detailing the Warsaw Pact's training plans for a nuclear war has been released by the new Polish government, which pledged to confront the nation's Communist past.
Dating from 1979, the map reveals how Soviet forces could respond to a Nato assault by invading Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Red and blue mushroom clouds are marked on the map, showing Soviet nuclear bombs raining down on cities including Brussels, Antwerp, Munich and Stuttgart, and Nato nuclear strikes on Warsaw and a line of Polish territory, cutting the country in two. The Nato objective was to halt a second wave of Soviet troops sweeping westwards from Russia. Polish military chiefs said yesterday that about two million people would have died in Poland alone. Meanwhile, Britain and France appeared to have escaped unscathed, so separate plans may have existed for them.
The right-wing Polish government sent a powerful political message by releasing the map from the military archives, reinforcing its tough, nationalistic and anti-Russian rhetoric.
The Law and Justice party emphasised that key figures in the previous social democratic government had been members of the Communist regime.
Radoslaw Sikorski, the Defence Minister, said there had been no prior discussions with Moscow about the release. Explaining how the Soviets had made Poland the main target for Nato, he argued: "We need to know about our past. Historians have the right to know the history of the 20th century. If people did some things they were not proud of, that will be an education for them too.
"I think it is very important for a democracy for the citizens to know who was who, who was the hero and who was the villain. On that basis we make democratic choices.
"I think it is also important for the health of civic society for morality tales to be told: that it pays to be decent and that if you do things that did not serve the national interest, one day it will come out and you might be called to account."
Mr Sikorski promised to release 1,700 documents including the statute of the Warsaw Pact, protocols from its political and military committees and documents relating to the suppression of the Prague Spring uprising in 1968.
The model for openness is that of the Gauck Institute in Berlin, which made public the files compiled by the Stasi, the East German secret police. "This government wants to end the post-Communist period in which the files of the Warsaw Pact were secret,'' Mr Sikorski said.
Asked whether the release of archive material would recreate social divisions, and antagonise those who regard Poland's last Communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, as a hero, Mr Sikorski replied bluntly: "He is not considered to be a hero by me.''
Interestingly, the Warsaw Pact training map illustrates a defensive military operation in response to a Nato nuclear strike, and the Soviet forces appeared to stop at the English Channel. French territory is also avoided, a fact which Waldemar Wojcik, head of Poland's central military archive, explained by the fact that France was outside Nato's integrated military command structure.
Britain does, however, feature on the map and Nato bombers are shown flying over Bridlington and Ipswich on the way to the Continent, as a separate force sweeps in from Denmark.
Mr Wojcik added that, on a visit to Washington, Polish military officials had seen plans from Nato that were "a mirror image" of the Warsaw Pact's own deadly war plan.

Russian sacrifice: Poland

Graham Rowley

International Herald Tribune November 25, 2005

In a early test of its relations with Russia, Poland's new government opened up on Friday previously sealed Warsaw Pact military archives, including a 1979 map showing Soviet plans to sacrifice Poland in the event of nuclear war with the West.

Just four weeks into power, the rightist government of President Lech Kaczynski is putting a priority on rebuilding relations with its big European neighbors, Germany and Russia, which were frayed during the time of the previous government, according to senior ministers interviewed here.

But the opening up of the archives now - a decade and a half after independence and 19 months after joining the European Union - reflects the new government's attempt to play to its more conservative, anti-Russian supporters and to underline Poland's break with its Communist past.

"This government wants to end the post-Communist period," said Radoslaw Sikorski, the defense minister. "It is crucial to educating the public in the way that Poland was kept as an unwilling ally in the Cold War. It is important for people to know who was the hero and who was the villain."

The 1,700 files, which have been kept in Warsaw's central military archives, include details of Operation Danube - the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by Warsaw Pact troops. The plans dating from 1979 were made at the height of Cold War tensions, coming at time when a new pope, John Paul II, was publicly pressing the Communist nations of Eastern Europe to grant greater freedoms.

At a press conference Friday, Sikorski unveiled a map showing hypothetical plans in the event of a NATO attack on Warsaw Pact nations which called for a Soviet counterattack that would have included the nuclear bombing of Munich, Brussels, Dutch ports and other targets. This in turn, according to Soviet military thinking, would precipitate NATO nuclear attacks on forces concentrated on the Vistula River, attacks that the Polish government now estimates would have killed two million Poles.

The map showed the widespread destruction of Western Europe, including mushroom clouds over key areas of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. Cities such as Brussels would have been destroyed as Soviet troops advanced to the Western shores of the Continent, although Britain and France would have been left unscathed.

"Poland was being asked to participate in an operation that may have resulted in the destruction of Poland," said Sikorski, who came into the government from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group in Washington.

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said that he supported the publication of the files and added that he doubted it would worsen relations with Russia.

"I think that opening all the files is an important element in discovering our history and also our international relations," he said in an interview with journalists here. "I am sure that all countries want to build their presents and futures on the truth."

After its sometimes radical pre-election rhetoric, the new government in Warsaw is trying to define itself in the eyes of the world, as well as prove its domestic stability since the governing Law and Justice Party has been forced to forge an alliance with two extreme radical groups.

Ministers interviewed here stressed that they would continue the policies of the previous government, including a strong commitment to European integration, economic reform and balanced relations with Russia.

"The pre-election period in every country is a special period, not only in Poland," said Stefan Meller, the foreign minister. "I would like to assure you that this is without doubt a pro-European government and a government that wants to be perceived as pro-European."

But ministers also stressed that they would put renewed pressure on both Russia and Germany to reconsider the path of a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline to bring gas to Western Europe, an issue of sharp controversy between the three countries.

The decision by Russia and Germany to route the pipeline under the Baltic Sea rather than through Poland has exacerbated tensions between the countries, amid anxiety in Poland about its reliance on Russia for much of its energy needs and worries that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could use Russia's energy resources to exert influence.

"The pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic might create environmental problems, since there are chemical weapons from the Second World War on the sea bottom," said Marcinkiewicz.

Poland's stance comes at a time of increasing tensions between Russia and the former Soviet vassal states on the Baltic, including some bitter border disputes. The new government wants to make forging stronger alliances between Poland and the Baltic countries a priority.

The Polish government, which is perceived as strongly pro-American, confirmed Friday that it would proceed with the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq next year, a move that the previous government agreed to in talks with the United States and Britain.

Poland currently has about 1,400 troops in three southern provinces of Iraq. Sikorski and Meller are due to visit Washington next month, and they said a decision on the troop withdrawal would be made in December after the Iraqi elections set for Dec. 15. The withdrawal could come as early as January or February, they said. But Sikorski held out the possibility of a delay until next summer.

Sikorski also said that Poland would be eager to act as host to American military operations that might be moved from Germany. "If the U.S. is rethinking its global posture and global network of military bases, and there are facilities in Germany where I am told there is concern, then perhaps some of them could be more cheaply run in Poland," he said.

"I have a long list of mayors who would love to have U.S. bases, but it would be the U.S. that would have to take the initiative."

The government, which has promised higher social spending, has also faced questions from business about its openness to foreign investors and commitment to economic reform.

Earlier this month, the finance minister triggered a drop in the stock market after suggesting the government would resist further investment by foreign supermarkets in Poland.

She has since been shifted out of the public spotlight, but Marcinkiewicz added to the uncertainty on Friday when he suggested that the government might begin to favor domestic Polish investors more over foreign investors in Poland.

"We have concentrated on facilitating investment possibilities, mostly for creating good conditions for foreign investors," he said. "We want all investors to have equally good opportunities. I have never seen a foreign investor lose in Poland."

Sikorsky said Warsaw Pact records held by the former nation of Czechoslovakia and Hungary had also been released, but Waldemar Wojcik, head of the central military archives in Warsaw, said Poland was the first Warsaw Pact country to release full records.

He said they were technically declassified a couple of years ago but had remained unseen.

Jan Rokita, a leader of the opposition party Civic Platform, said instability in the minority government, and particularly its reliance on extreme radical parties, could lead to a collapse of the government next year.

"It is very possible that we have a political crisis next year," said Rokita. "It could lead to a general election or a coalition between Civic Platform and Law and Justice."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Glacial thawing: Greenland and Himalayas

The big thaw

Global disaster will follow if the ice cap on Greenland melts. Now scientists say it is vanishing far faster than even they expected. Geoffrey Lean reports

Independent 20 November 2005

Greenland's glaciers have begun to race towards the ocean, leading scientists to predict that the vast island's ice cap is approaching irreversible meltdown, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Research to be published in a few days' time shows how glaciers that have been stable for centuries have started to shrink dramatically as temperatures in the Arctic have soared with global warming. On top of this, record amounts of the ice cap's surface turned to water this summer.
The two developments - the most alarming manifestations of climate change to date - suggest that the ice cap is melting far more rapidly than scientists had thought, with immense consequences for civilisation and the planet. Its complete disappearance would raise the levels of the world's seas by 20 feet, spelling inundation for London and other coastal cities around the globe, along with much of low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.
More immediately, the vast amount of fresh water discharged into the ocean as the ice melts threatens to shut down the Gulf Stream, which protects Britain and the rest of northern Europe from a freezing climate like that of Labrador.
The revelations, which follow the announcement that the melting of sea ice in the Arctic also reached record levels this summer, come as the world's governments are about to embark on new negotiations about how to combat global warming.
This week they will meet in Montreal for the first formal talks on whether there should be a new international treaty on cutting the pollution that causes climate change after the Kyoto protocol expires in seven years' time. Writing in The Independent yesterday, Tony Blair called the meeting "crucial", adding that it "must start to shape an inclusive global solution". But little progress is expected, largely because of continued obstruction from President George Bush.
The new evidence from Greenland, to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, shows a sudden decline in the giant Helheim glacier, a river of ice that grinds down from the inland ice cap to the sea through a narrow rift in the mountain range on the island's east coast.
Professor Slawek Tulaczyk, of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told the IoS that the glacier had dropped 100 feet this summer.
Over the past four years, the research adds, the front of the glacier - which has remained in the same place since records began - has retreated four and a half miles. As it has retreated and thinned, the effects have spread inland "very fast indeed", says Professor Tulaczyk. As the centre of the Greenland ice cap is only 150 miles away, the researchers fear that it, too, will soon be affected.
The research echoes disturbing studies on the opposite side of Greenland: the giant Jakobshavn glacier - at four miles wide and 1,000 feet thick the biggest on the landmass - is now moving towards the sea at a rate of 113 feet a year; the normal annual speed of a glacier is just one foot.
The studies have found that water from melted ice on the surface is percolating down through holes on the glacier until it forms a layer between it and the rock below, slightly lifting it and moving it toward the sea as if on a conveyor belt. This one glacier alone is reckoned now to be responsible for 3 per cent of the annual rise of sea levels worldwide.
"We may be very close to the threshold where the Greenland ice cap will melt irreversibly," says Tavi Murray, professor of glaciology at the University of Wales. Professor Tulaczyk adds: "The observations that we are seeing now point in that direction."
Until now, scientists believed the ice cap would take 1,000 years to melt entirely, but Ian Howat, who is working with Professor Tulaczyk, says the new developments could "easily" cut this time "in half".
There is also a more immediate danger as the melting ice threatens to disrupt the Gulf Stream, responsible for Britain's mild climate. The current, which brings us as much heat in winter as we get from the sun, is driven by very salty water sinking off Greenland. This drives a deep current of cold ocean southwards, in turn forcing the warm water north.
Research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts has shown, that even before the glaciers started accelerating, the water in the North Atlantic was getting fresher in what it describes as "the largest and most dramatic oceanic change ever measured in the era of modern instruments".
Even before these discoveries, scientists had shortened to evens the odds on the Gulf Stream failing this century. When it failed before, 12,700 years ago, Britain was covered in permafrost for 1,300 years.

Millions face glacier catastrophe

Global warming hits Himalayas Robin McKie, science editor

Observer November 20, 2005

Nawa Jigtar was working in the village of Ghat, in Nepal, when the sound of crashing sent him rushing out of his home. He emerged to see his herd of cattle being swept away by a wall of water.
Jigtar and his fellow villagers were able to scramble to safety. They were lucky: 'If it had come at night, none of us would have survived.'
Ghat was destroyed when a lake, high in the Himalayas, burst its banks. Swollen with glacier meltwaters, its walls of rock and ice had suddenly disintegrated. Several million cubic metres of water crashed down the mountain.
When Ghat was destroyed, in 1985, such incidents were rare - but not any more. Last week, scientists revealed that there has been a tenfold jump in such catastrophes in the past two decades, the result of global warming. Himalayan glacier lakes are filling up with more and more melted ice and 24 of them are now poised to burst their banks in Bhutan, with a similar number at risk in Nepal.
But that is just the beginning, a report in Nature said last week. Future disasters around the Himalayas will include 'floods, droughts, land erosion, biodiversity loss and changes in rainfall and the monsoon'.
The roof of the world is changing, as can be seen by Nepal's Khumbu glacier, where Hillary and Tenzing began their 1953 Everest expedition. It has retreated three miles since their ascent. Almost 95 per cent of Himalayan glaciers are also shrinking - and that kind of ice loss has profound implications, not just for Nepal and Bhutan, but for surrounding nations, including China, India and Pakistan.
Eventually, the Himalayan glaciers will shrink so much their meltwaters will dry up, say scientists. Catastrophes like Ghat will die out. At the same time, rivers fed by these melted glaciers - such as the Indus, Yellow River and Mekong - will turn to trickles. Drinking and irrigation water will disappear. Hundreds of millions of people will be affected.
'There is a short-term danger of too much water coming out the Himalayas and a greater long-term danger of there not being enough,' said Dr Phil Porter, of the University of Hertfordshire. 'Either way, it is easy to pinpoint the cause: global warming.'
According to Nature, temperatures in the region have increased by more than 1C recently and are set to rise by a further 1.2C by 2050, and by 3C by the end of the century. This heating has already caused 24 of Bhutan's glacial lakes to reach 'potentially dangerous' status, according to government officials. Nepal is similarly affected.
'A glacier lake catastrophe happened once in a decade 50 years ago,' said UK geologist John Reynolds, whose company advises Nepal. 'Five years ago, they were happening every three years. By 2010, a glacial lake catastrophe will happen every year.'
An example of the impact is provided by Luggye Tsho, in Bhutan, which burst its banks in 1994, sweeping 10 million cubic metres of water down the mountain. It struck Panukha, 50 miles away, killing 21 people.
Now a nearby lake, below the Thorthormi glacier, is in imminent danger of bursting. That could release 50 million cubic metres of water, a flood reaching to northern India 150 miles downstream.
'Mountains were once considered indomitable, unchanging and impregnable,' said Klaus Tipfer, of the United Nations Environment Programme. 'We are learning they are as vulnerable to environmental threats as oceans, grasslands and forest.'
Not only villages are under threat: Nepal has built an array of hydro-electric plants and is now selling electricity to India and other countries. But these could be destroyed in coming years, warned Reynolds. 'A similar lake burst near Machu Picchu in Peru recently destroyed an entire hydro-electric plant. The same thing is waiting to happen in Nepal.'
Even worse, when Nepal's glaciers melt, there could be no water to drive the plants. 'The region faces losing its most dependable source of fresh water,' said Mike Hambrey, of the University of Wales.
A Greenpeace report last month suggested that the region is already experiencing serious loss of vegetation. In the long term, starvation is a real threat.
'The man in the street in Britain still isn't sure about the dangers posed by global warming,' said Porter. 'But people living in the Himalayas know about it now. They are having to deal with its consequences every day.'
· Additional reporting: Amelia Gentleman and Felix Lowe

Monowi, Nebraska: population 1

Population 1: the town that's been reclaimed by the prairie

As rural economies collapse, communities across America are being deserted, as Paul Harris discovers in Monowi, Nebraska

Observer November 20, 2005

The entire population of Monowi, Nebraska, is sitting in a bar. Her name is Elsie Eiler, 72.
Monowi, founded by Czech immigrants seeking a slice of the American dream, is on its last legs. Only Eiler is left, surrounded by the ruins of homes that once boasted families, neighbours and friends.
'After me, I suppose there will be be nothing here. But I aim to be around for quite a few years yet,' she said with the stoicism that probably marked her tough ancestors. Like the Indian tribes that the settlers of the West replaced, Eiler is in turn the last of her kind, the last of Monowi.
This town is an extreme example of what has happened across America's heartland. The depopulation of the countryside over the last 50 years has been called the largest migration in American history. Nowhere is that more starkly illustrated than on the Great Plains, which includes Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. They defined much of the American self-image, a land of family farms, hard work and mom's apple pie.
Monowi, and thousands of places like it, spawned the American small town values celebrated even now as the small towns themselves vanish. And you can't get more small town than Monowi.
Eiler's life as its mayor and sole resident is surreal. Once a year she raises taxes from herself to keep the four street lights on and a few other basic amenities going. She runs the town's only business, the Monowi Tavern, and lives in the only remaining habitable building. She grants her own liquor licence and elects herself mayor. Her customers come off the highway that runs through Monowi or from nearby towns. The town's welcome sign lists Monowi's population as two, a figure halved last year when Eiler's husband Rudy died.
It was not always so. Monowi - an Indian word for prairie flower - once thrived. It was founded in 1902 by European settlers lured by a promise of farms of their own. It soon had a post office, two banks, a high school, a church and rows of sturdy wooden houses. Its population probably peaked at around 150 in the Twenties.
A map of old Monowi now hangs on the age-tanned wooden wall of Eiler's tavern. It shows a grid of streets with homely names such as Louisa, Marion and Paulina. Now nearly all those streets lie beneath prairie grasses that are reclaiming them.
The pretty wooden church is boarded up. Houses stand in various states of decay. Some have collapsed completely. Others look as though their owners have just spent a year away: nothing a lick of paint and mowing the grass would not fix. In one abandoned home there is still a piano. In front of another a children's tricycle lies on what was once a front lawn.
Monowi seems hopeless but Eiler will have none of it. She's just opened a 5,000-book library just behind the tavern. This was her husband's dream project but he died before it was built. It is a hit with people from surrounding towns.
But the library's success is rare in recent Monowi history. The primary school where Eiler met her husband as a child is now a ruin. In fact Monowi's been in decline since shortly after it was founded. That is true of a lot of the Great Plains. Although settlers flocked to the land, the soil is too thin for quality farming and is soon exhausted. Changes in the rural economy, where Wal-Mart and other chain stores take almost all the business, have destroyed what remains.
That leaves behind only the old and the stubborn. Eiler happily counts herself as both. She is blunt about prospects here: 'There is just no employment for people. Farming is hard and all the small farms have had to merge into bigger ones, and the young people just want to go away to college and a city. Few of them come back.'
All over the Great Plains small towns are dying. The roll of decline is written on road signs on the road to Monowi. Obert: pop. 39, Maskell: pop. 54.
Many have tried all sorts of schemes to stay alive. Some have worked, turning them into artist colonies. The novelist Larry McMurtry turned Lucas, Texas, into a mecca for book lovers.
Others have not. Empty business parks, built with federal grants, dot the landscape. It is a reversal of the old ode: 'Build it and they shall come.'
The landscape is gradually reverting to grassland and prairie. Many farms are switching to hunting. Some have replaced cattle with buffalo, increasingly common on American dinner plates.
Twenty years ago there was a huge controversy when two academics proposed the plains be turned into a wildlife preserve called 'Buffalo Commons'. Locals and politicians, clinging on to their way of life, were outraged.
The former governor of Kansas, Mike Hayden, scoffed at the concept then. Now he thinks differently. 'I was wrong,' he said. The newest concept is a 'rewilding' of the area with animals from Africa such as elephants and camels, returning the plains to the Pleistocene ecosystem before humans arrived.
But the plains are taking matters into their own hands. Prairie wildlife is already returning as humans leave. When Eiler was growing up, deer were unheard of around Monowi. Now they are so common they are a pest.
Wild elk have returned, too. And predators not seen for a century on the plains of Nebraska are back. A handful of mountain lions roam the state and are even spotted on the outskirts of Omaha, the biggest city.
'We used never to get deer here at all. Now every day I see them come through the streets,' Eiler laughed.
A walk through Monowi is an eerie experience. The only sound is wind rustling through the grasses.
Suddenly a flock of birds shoots out of the tall grass, soaring into a blue sky. They had been nesting in thick weeds growing on what was once Main Street.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Afghan Poetess battered to death

Woman poet ‘slain for her verse’

Christina Lamb

Sunday Times 13 November 2005

SHE risked torture, imprisonment, perhaps even death to study literature and write poetry in secret under the Taliban. Last week, when she should have been celebrating the success of her first book, Nadia Anjuman, was beaten to death in Herat, apparently murdered by her husband.
The 25-year-old Afghan had garnered wide praise in literary circles for the book Gule Dudi — Dark Flower — and was at work on a second volume.

Friends say her family was furious, believing that the publication of poetry by a woman about love and beauty had brought shame on it.
“She was a great poet and intellectual but, like so many Afghan women, she had to follow orders from her husband,” said Nahid Baqi, her best friend at Herat University.
Farid Ahmad Majid Mia, 29, Anjuman’s husband, is in police custody after confessing to having slapped her during a row. But he denies murder and claims that his wife committed suicide. The couple had a six-month-old son.
The death of the young writer has shocked a city which prides itself on its artistic heritage. It has also raised uncomfortable questions about how much the position of women in Afghanistan has improved since the fall of the Taliban to American-led forces four years ago.
“This is a tragic loss for Afghanistan,” said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations. “Domestic violence is a concern. This case illustrates how bad this problem is here and how it manifests itself. Women face exceptional challenges.”
Herat, in particular, has seen a number of women burn themselves to death rather than succumb to forced marriages.
Anjuman’s movements were being limited by her husband, her friends believe. She had been invited to a ceremony celebrating the return to Herat of Amir Jan Sabouri, an Afghan singer, but failed to attend.

Her poetry alluded to an acute sense of confinement. “I am caged in this corner, full of melancholy and sorrow,” she wrote in one “ghazal”, or lyrical poem, adding: “My wings are closed and I cannot fly.” It concludes: “I am an Afghan woman and must wail.”
Afghan human rights groups condemned Anjuman’s death as evidence that the government of President Hamid Karzai has failed to address the issue of domestic violence. It is especially tragic because she was one of a group of courageous women, known as the Sewing Circles of Herat, who risked their lives to keep the city’s literary scene active under the Taliban regime.
Women were banned from working or studying by the Taliban, whose repressive edicts forbade women to laugh out loud or wear shoes that clicked. Female writers belonging to Herat’s Literary Circle realised that one of the few things that women were still allowed to do was to sew. So three times a week groups of women in burqas would arrive at a doorway marked Golden Needle Sewing School.
Had the authorities investigated, they would have discovered that the sewing students never made any clothes. Once inside the school, a brave professor of literature from Herat University would talk to them about Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and other banned writers.
Under a regime where even teaching a daughter to read was a crime, they might have been hanged if they had been caught.
I was taken to meet some of these women by Ahmed Said Haghighi, president of the Literary Circle, in December 2001, only days after the Taliban had fled. One of them, Leila, said that she stayed up till the early hours doing calculus because she so feared that her brain would atrophy. “Life for women under the Taliban was no more than being cows in sheds,” she said.

Anjuman was part of this remarkable group. After the Taliban fell, she went to Herat University to study literature. “She was becoming a great Persian poet,” Haghighi said. Anjuman’s husband was also a literature graduate. Speaking from prison he insisted: “I have not killed Nadia. How could I kill someone I loved? We had a small argument and I only slapped her on the face once.
“She went to another room and when she returned she told me she had swallowed poison. She said she had forgiven me for slapping her and pleaded, ‘Don’t tell anyone I have swallowed poison. Tell them I died from a heart attack’.”

The authorities are sceptical of this account. “One of the reasons we suspect the husband is he did not take her to the hospital until four hours after beating her up,” said Maria Bashir, the city’s prosecutor.
Although Afghanistan’s new constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women before the law, its conservative mindset has not changed. This is partly because of the continuing power of the American-backed warlords whose repressive views are similar to those of the Taliban.
Many women were allowed to stand in parliamentary elections in September, the results of which were being finalised yesterday. One of the most surprising results announced earlier in the count was in Herat, where Fauzia Gailani, a female aerobics instructor, topped the polls.
The 32-year-old mother of six said she was outraged by Anjuman’s death and was compiling a list of such cases. “In Islam no one has the right to hit their wife,” she said. “We hope the government will take action and stop crimes like this.”

Additional reporting: Tim Albone, Kabul Christina Lamb is the author of The Sewing Circles of Herat (Flamingo)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Warmed-up mountains

The melting mountains

Joe Simpson, climber and author of 'Touching The Void', reveals how climate change is destroying the world's most spectacular landscapes

Independent 05 November 2005

On 23 July 1983 Ian Whittaker and I were inching our way up the Bonatti Pillar, a legendary Alpine climb up 2,000ft of golden granite on the south-west face of Les Drus, high above Chamonix in France.
Walter Bonatti had made the first ascent of this route alone over five days in 1955. It is a legendary mountaineering story, perhaps one of the greatest exploits in the history of Alpinism, to rank alongside the first ascents of the north faces of the Eiger, the Matterhorn and the Grandes Jorasses.
We all need heroes. Walter Bonatti was the hero of heroes; a man way ahead of his time whose mountaineering prowess was awe-inspiring. I repeated the routes he put up with a sense of reverence. I have followed in the footsteps of so many of my heroes and there were times on their routes when I half expected to see them pass me by dressed in the clothes and the equipment of their time, climbing steadily with grim, hard, unsmiling expressions. I knew that they would not notice me.
Only Bonatti has survived. The rest are all gone, leaving the faint glow of their brilliance on the routes they pioneered. Yet the icy world in which Bonatti played his high-risk games is changing with frightening rapidity. The mountains are melting, and it is not only mountaineers who will suffer the effects. The long-term outlook for the Alpine nations - and those in which the other great ranges lie - is bleak.
The Dru is an extraordinary pinnacle of rock. It sports an icy north face (one of the six classic Alpine north faces), a 3,000ft west face of smooth vertical walls and overhangs, and the spectacular south-west Bonatti Pillar. Few mountains have such a variety of magnificent lines on them or look so beautiful. The Dru crusted with a winter lace-work of ice and gilded in the golden pink of Alpine glow is one of the most striking sights in the Alps.
The Bonatti Pillar itself rises in a series of steep, leaning columns seamed with fissures and bristling with overhangs. It rears up 2,000ft towards the massive capping overhangs just below the summit.
By late afternoon we had reached the Red Walls - 300ft of blank granite split by a hairline crack that bristled with old, rusting pitons. We were tempted to bivouac on a series of terraces at the top of the Red Walls but confidence got the better of us and we decided to try to get past the huge roofs and reach the summit in a day.
As darkness began to close around us we found ourselves in increasingly blank and forbidding territory. The dark shadow of the roofs blackened the early night sky above and tendrils of mist began swirling up from the depths of the icy couloir glinting thousands of feet below.
I began to follow the ropes draped down the corner, clutching in the darkness at unseen holds and shouting for Ian to give me a tight rope. After about 40 feet, the vertical corner seemed to pinch out into a smooth wall. Groping to my left, my fingers slipped into a sharp-edged crack and, with help from Ian, I struggled up until I saw the dark shadows of his legs hanging above me. He was sitting on a narrow ledge.
I clipped myself to a handrail rope that Ian had fixed above the ledge. The handrail had been tied to an old ring piton and stretched across to the far end of the ledge, where he had tied it to a small flake of protruding granite.
Once ensconced inside my bivouac bag I settled myself down on the comforting solidity of the ledge. Seconds later there was a heart-stopping downward lurch accompanied by the thunderous sound of tons of granite plunging into the abyss. I heard a cry of alarm and pain above the roar of falling rock. My arms were outside the bivouac bag as I fell and I flailed them blindly trying to grab something. It must have taken only a fraction of a second but it seemed to last forever.
We bounced on the springy stretch of rope. The handrail had held. I swung gently on the rope with my arms pinned to my sides. I had held the fall on my armpits and for a confused moment I desperately tried to remember whether I had clipped myself to the handrail.
In the sudden darkness, with the sounds of falling rock echoing up from the depths, I was momentarily disorientated. Where was Ian? I remembered that sudden yelp during the fall. Had he gone with it?
"By 'eck!" I heard Ian's broad Lancastrian voice beside me. I poked my head out from my bag and glanced at Ian. His head lolled on to his shoulder and his torch reflected a sodium yellow light off the surrounding rock walls. There was blood on his neck.
We hung side by side on the tightly stretched rope and swore. With the help of our torches we were horrified to find that our ropes had gone. We looked at each other and giggled nervously. Two thousand feet up and no ropes! The handrail shifted suddenly, causing us both to squeak with fright, hearts hammering at the thought of falling again.
I turned and shone my torch on the handrail. It looked odd. I twisted round, grabbed the rope. It shifted again and the peg moved. I lowered myself gingerly back on to the rope.
"Oh God," I whispered.
"The peg's buggered. It's coming out."
"Christ! Where's the gear? Let's put something in."
"It's gone. The hardware, boots, everything. It went with the ledge."
Ian was silent. I looked at the flake where the handrail had been tied off. Tiny pebbles and dust trickled from its sheared-off base. Both attachment points could go at any moment. If either went, we would fall into the abyss.
"I think we had better stay very, very still."
"Aye," Ian muttered.
We hung there helplessly for 12 hours until at last a helicopter came into view and we were winched to safety.
Two weeks later, while working as a plongeur in the Montenvers Hotel, I saw an even bigger rock fall on Les Drus - a fall that altered the shape of the summit and spewed helicopter-sized blocks down the north face, creating a 1,000ft high dust cloud.
So what? After being swept 2,000 feet down the north-east face of Les Courtes in 1981 and then having my bed disappear on the Dru in 1983 I am keenly aware that mountains have always been falling down, usually, it would seem, with me attached to them. It happens. The Cairngorms were once Himalayan in scale. Frost, wind and water have ground them down to their present lowly heights.
However, 20 years later it would seem that perhaps Les Drus are falling down rather faster than they should. In 1997 more than 1,500 cubic metres of rock fell into the valley below, destroying classic alpine routes such as the Thomas Gross and the Destivelle routes as well as some pitches of the Bonatti Pillar.
This was nothing compared with the collapse on 29 June this summer, when the west face of Petit Dru suffered yet another enormous rock fall. A fortnight earlier, two climbers on the Quartz Ledge escape route from the top of the north face had been alarmed to discover that a gaping crack had split open along the length of the ledge. It was the first sign that the Bonatti Pillar in its entirety was soon to disappear, alongside the famous Harlin Route on the west face and large chunks of the American Direct.
The collapse occurred above the previous 1997 fall. Fifty years of iconic climbs had disappeared without trace. More surprisingly still, no one was killed. Climbers have been advised to steer clear.
Such warnings are becoming ominously familiar in the Alps nowadays. Two years ago Victor Saunders, one of Britain's leading climbers, and his companion, Craig Higgins, had reached a point halfway up the Matterhorn's Hornli ridge when their climb turned into a nightmare.
"An enormous avalanche hurtled down the mountain's east face," said Saunders. "I have never seen so much rock falling at one time." An almost continuous rain of boulders ricocheted past them as they cowered under an overhang. Within an hour an even bigger rock avalanche was thundering down the north face, obliterating the classic 1931 Schmidt route that I had climbed in 1980. This was swiftly followed by the thunder and dust cloud of yet another vast rock fall. In one of mountaineering's biggest mass rescues, more than 70 climbers had to be hoisted from the slopes of the Matterhorn.
A ban on climbing the mountain was instigated for the first time in history as rock falls battered its broken flanks. It seemed to the survivors that the very Alps had started falling apart.
In the summer of 2003 one of the world's most iconic climbs, the 1938 route on the Eiger's north face, became yet another victim of climate change. Climbers were shocked to find that there was barely any ice left on the route. The huge second ice field, the third ice field and the White Spider had melted away and now consisted of rubble-strewn rock slopes dusted by blackened snow and pocked by forlorn patches of ancient grey ice. The heat wave of last year, reported to have been the hottest Alpine summer in 200 years, seemed to have finished off this venerable climb. It may be that it is only ever climbable during the winter months, when some semblance of névé ice has reformed.
A local guide, Hans Ueli, has reported enormous rock falls. One such fall woke him at five in the morning and, upon looking out of his window, he saw that the lower half of the 6,000ft high face was obscured by an enormous cloud of dust.
Climbs the length and breadth of the Alps have suffered similar collapses. On Fiescherwand there was no snow ice at all on the entire four-mile wide north face. The north face of Les Droites near Chamonix, recently only climbable in the winter, now even in the coldest months presents an insurmountable 600m barrier of smooth, bare rock slabs where once there had been pristine ice fields.
Ironically, only a few days before the Bonatti Pillar disintegrated, a man regarded by some as a half-witted religious bigot announced at the G8 summit in Gleneagles that as far as he was concerned America did not regard global warming as important nor pressing. Leastways that is how I interpreted President George Bush's words.
Scientists now believe global warming is melting the Alps. The ice that for thousands of years had filled the deep cracks at the summit of the Dru has started to melt. The glue holding this rock tower together is leaking away.
More seriously, the crust of permafrost that binds the whole mountain range together is beginning to melt. The foundations of buildings, roads, mines, tunnels, cable-car stations and their supporting pylons are entirely dependent on the frozen solidity of this permafrost. As it steadily melts, the whole infrastructure of Alpine tourism is at risk, as well as a great many lives.
All the most famous ski resorts in Europe are situated in valleys overlooked by mountains held together by permafrost. The high altitude permafrost zones lie on steep slopes above these settlements, roads, railways and valleys. Massive slope failures and landslides leading to blocked rivers, dammed lakes and catastrophic flooding will be especially pronounced in the Alps, which has such steep topography and high population levels.
Already climatologists have predicted the complete failure of the Scottish ski industry due to lack of snow within 20 years and the Alpine ski industry within 50 years. Many Alpine ski resorts would already be out of business but for the snow machines.
Because the best Alpine ski fields and lift systems are above the crucial permafrost altitude of 8,202 feet, it could spell the end of the ski industry as we know it, let alone the more esoteric world of mountaineering. When you consider that one sixth of Austria's gross domestic product comes from Alpine tourism, the effects of permafrost meltdown could be far more wide-ranging than just screwing up our winter sports holidays.
Climatologists, geologists and civil engineers from all over the world are making disturbingly similar reports. Glaciers in Antarctica are thinning twice as fast as they were a decade ago and this may destabilise the west Antarctic ice sheet, which, if melted, contains enough ice to raise sea levels by as much as five metres. A gigantic slab, the Larsen B ice shelf, has already fallen off its eastern side.
Ablation rates of glaciers are speeding up all over the world. Retreating glaciers in the Peruvian Andes are adding huge amounts of melt water to already overburdened mountain lakes, greatly increasing the risk of dam collapses and alluvion avalanches. There are passes in the Cordillera Real in Bolivia that just 20 years ago were glaciated, yet now are rocky moraine fields.
Only two weeks ago it was announced that Kilimanjaro in Tanzania would lose its year-round mantle of snow within 10 years. One-third of Kilimanjaro's ice field has disappeared in the past 12 years.
In Iceland ice cores have shown that temperatures are at their highest since the arrival of the Vikings. The past two years have been the hottest since records began in 1822. At this rate of melting, all the ice will be gone in 200 years.
In the Arctic, a region of sea ice the size of France and Germany has melted away in the past 30 years and there are fears that the inflow of fresh water could possibly lead to the shutdown of the Gulf Stream, which bathes Europe in warm water. This would plunge Britain into winters that would be the equivalent of those in northern Canada. It wouldn't save the ski industry, not unless you like skiing in conditions of 40C below.
Boreholes sunk to monitor ice temperatures in Switzerland, Austria, the Dolomites, the German Alps, the Sierra Nevada and the Abisko mountains in Swedenn have all recorded temperature increases of between 0.5 and 1C during the past 15 years.
The ground temperature in the Alps has risen considerably over the past decade. As air temperatures have increased, the effects below ground are being magnified fivefold. A test borehole dug in Murtel in southern Switzerland has revealed that sub-surface soils have warmed by more than 1C since 1990. Increasing evaporation caused by warmer summers is also triggering thicker falls of winter snow, which insulate the soil and keep it warm. All in all it is not looking good.
Spotting the early signs of the imminent collapse of buildings and valleys may be possible. Mountains collapsing around your ears are a dead giveaway. Noticing that cable stations and other buildings have developed cracks should also be easy. But by then the horse has well and truly bolted. The abrupt disintegration of the Matterhorn, the Dru and the desertification of the north face of the Eiger may mean that some classic routes can no longer be climbed, but they are also the harbinger of far more gloomy events.
Is this global warming? I don't know. It might just be a normal climatic cycle. Somehow, unlike President Bush, I don't think so. It may not be the day after tomorrow but it certainly looks as if it is all because of the day before yesterday.