Christmas Day

Well, not really. Here in Georgia, Christmas is in January, the old Julian calendar. Earlier in the day, I was teaching in Tbilisi State University, and later, Nato and I went to see some traditional Georgian dancing: really athletic stuff, especially when the men are ‘fighting’ with sword and shield.



A journey overland, by bus, boat, train… and one fold-up bicycle, from Belfast to Beijing and beyond… and back; outward bound across Europe to Iran, and homeward via Mongolia and the Trans-Siberian railway to Moscow.  And why?  Well, basically, it’s more de Borda –

In 1985, Russia was changing, Mikhail Gorbachev took over in Moscow, so the West asked him to adopt our western form of democracy which, in a word, is majoritarianism: majority votes and then majority rule.  But the Russian word for majoritarianism is большевизм (bolshevism).

Today, China is on the brink of change, perhaps, and fully aware of what happened in the Soviet Union. For fairly obvious reasons, then, they are not too keen on any political structure which is blatantly majoritarian and adversarial. After all, binary referendums in particular and/or majoritarianism in general have already done enough damage in the Balkans and the Caucasus, in Rwanda and South Sudan. If a plebiscite were to be held in Xīnjiāng, the consequences would probably be no less bloody.


I have my computer, my adaptor, my alternator, my accumulator, my connector, my charger, my camera, my spares of everything and a toothbrush. I also have my little Brompton fold-up bike with me, so in every city, I can get around, for free! Brilliant. Then fold it up, put it on the bus or train, and off I go to the next destination. Where again, the sun is often shining. I had a bit of rain in Vienna, a spot or two in Tbilisi, along with some snow in Karaj (lran) and Kashgar (China), but with the exception of these four days, nothing but lovely spring and then summer sunshine. But May in Taiwan was a bit too hot, as was June in Beijing, so it was time to turn round and head northwards.  And now, late July, with one day of rain in Ulaanbaatar, I’m in Moscow and on my sunny way home.

OK, this blog starts on 21st Oct 2018 in Vienna, and from there it’s overland to Belgrade, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tbilisi and Yerevan – all places where I have worked before – next to Tehran and then Kashgar (or shí, 喀什), in Xīnjiāng (新疆) in the West of China, where if all goes well, I start travelling across China and maybe too Mongolia. First things first: the Taklamakan desert, and this old Uighur word means, “those who go in do not come out.” So maybe I’ll go round it instead.
A little bit of Mongolia, just outside Tsetserleg in Arkangai, where I was based for the 2017 presidential elections, as seen from that bicycle.


I came overland to Vienna, via Dublin, London, Brussels, Leiden, Berlin and Brno. And everywhere, it seems, is suffering from this crazy majoritarianism. It was part of the problem in Northern lreland, of course. Now, the UK has gone crazy with Brexit: to ask a simplistic 2-option question on such a complex problem was obviously silly. The Netherlands (where I arrived on Oct 7th) spent 225 days forming a majority coalition government, a Dutch record; well, with 13 parties in parliament, the biggest with only 33 (21%) of the seats, the smallest with 2, any one of numerous combinations could have been ‘totally democratic’. In Germany (Oct 12th), their latest elections saw the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, AfD, and post-election the politicians were initially in limbo, trying to form either a majority or a grand coalition government or maybe just a minority administration – or perhaps they would hold another election. The Czech Republic (Oct 19th) chose a playboy, charged with fraud; the other parties don’t like him, so he might have to settle for a minority administration as well, but in a majoritarian democracy this too, apparently, is also democratic. (?) Next came Austria (Oct 20th) which lurched to the right, and now has a majority coalition with the extremist Freedom Party, which thus gets more influence than is its proportional due. And all of this is because of this crazy craze for majority rule.  It’s ubiquitous and, as often as not, iniquitous.

But everybody pretends it is just fine. Holland knows that Wilders, of the far-right, is biding his time. Germany knows the AfD is getting bigger. Austria knows that when the Freedom Party, FPÖ, was in coalition 20 years ago, the EU and others said no no; but now they say OK. Everyone is aware that Hitler came to power by a (weighted) majority vote. But still the system persists. Crazy! And so dangerous.

The Balkans and Caucasus suffered terribly from majority vote referendums in the 1990s. Turkey uses the theory of majority rule to keep the Kurds permanently in opposition. Iran has shown that the referendum in meaningless. And in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan both talk about referendums, which is highly irresponsible – just as it was irresponsible of the Scots and the Catalans to have referendums, when they knew that these examples of such polls would be used to stir up hatreds in Ukraine and Bosnia respectively. After all, as noted above, any plebiscite in Xīnjiāng would undoubtedly be, literally, bloody awful. Continue reading