Autumn, 1938. German jackboots clatter over cobblestones in the town of Eger. The soldiers barely have time to settle in before Adolf Hitler arrives to joyous tears and arms raised in salute. Eger joins the Third Reich.
Now known as Cheb, the town is perched on the banks of the river Ohře, close to the Czech-German border.
In late Summer 1938, the town belonged the Sudetenland region in Czechoslovakia, which was home to many Ethnic Germans who demanded autonomy from Czechoslovakian government.
Amid talk of war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought a meeting with Hitler. Just days
before this meeting, which Chamberlain later praised for securing peace in Europe, he had taken to the radio waves and said: "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing."
The result of the meeting was a temporary peace, and that at considerable cost. Despite Czechoslovakian appeals, the Sudetenland became "autonomous" and foreign jackboots clacked down its streets. Within 12
months, Hitler's appetite for land would plunge Europe into war, and less than four years later, much of the world had joined the conflict.
Fast-forward to today, and recent events in Crimea offer some startling parallels. Ethnic Russians in Crimea have demanded autonomy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has supported these demands and moved swiftly to annex Crimea to his country.
What on earth is going on in Ukraine? I'm sure you've seen the images of fire, death and protest on the news, and heard words like Putin, referendum, invasion, and maybe even Crimea. But what's really going on over there?
A little background first. Ukraine is a very different nation to NZ. It has only been independent since the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, and its borders look really different now to the last time they had independence for a few years back in the early 1900s. This means that the country has a bad case of split personality disorder - divided roughly East and West.
East Ukraine spent most of the last 250 years ruled by Russians-it's good farming country there, great for feeding an empire-who sent Russian speakers to live there, and passed laws to make everyone speak Russian. Unsurprisingly, many East Ukrainians still speak Russian, and see Russia as a natural ally.
West Ukrainians basically disagree. They speak Ukrainian and are sick of the chronic corruption in politics and government-to them, echoes of the hated Soviet regime-that have plagued Ukraine's economy since independence. They see Western democracy, particularly the European Union (EU) as the best partner for a stronger, more successful Ukraine.
Unsurprisingly, every presidential election since 1991 has been an almost 50/50 split vote between candidates seen as either pro-Russia or pro-EU. The last President, Viktor Yanukovych (we'll call him Viktor from now on) is from the East, and he literally fled the country to Russia in mid February, after violent protests from mainly West Ukrainians, who pretty much forced Parliament to depose him.
JANE SILLOWAY SMITH
At one point in my early school years, my science teacher totally upended my views on nature. Up to that point, I had been taught that nature existed along a food chain: the sun and the rain nurtured the plants, animals like rabbits ate the plants, bigger animals like foxes ate the rabbits, and when the foxes died, their bodies were decomposed by worms and bugs or scavengers like hawks.
It was simple, it was straight-forward, it made sense-until I found out that nature wasn't a chain at all. It was a web, in which lots of factors and actors interacted in numerous and sometimes mysterious ways upon one another. If you make a change any one element-any one point-of the web, you can see effects in places you didn't even realise were related to that one element, that one point.
The Government recently announced that it will be raising the minimum wage by 50 cents to $14.25 per hour. Critics on the right have accused the government of being too generous, saying that raising the minimum wage will have a flow on effect, costing jobs in the wider economy and raise inflation. Critics on the left, meanwhile, say that the raise isn't nearly high enough-it's not giving low-wage workers the money they need to support their families.
Either critique would be fine if the economy and society were chains. But they're not-they're webs.
Nobody really knows what will happen in the wider economy once the minimum wage has been raised. A recent report out of the Congressional Budget Office-basically the US equivalent of Treasury-estimated that raising the minimum wage in the US from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 could result in the loss of anywhere from zero to one million jobs; it's also similarly unclear what would happen to inflation in the economy. So it could have no impact, or it could be devastating.
When I was 13, I got my own room, and I really wanted to paint it green. And when I say wanted green, I mean GREEN. My favoured shade of the colour was best likened to a granny smith apple, or the lurid hue adorning the cans of a well-known energy drink.
My parents rejected my master plan. They possessed a keen understanding of the fickle nature of teenage opinion, and probably a clear eye to the resale value of our house. I was crushed, in the charmingly unhinged way that only a teenager can be.
But two years later, I remembered the episode and laughed, and cringed. It was an early lesson about the perspective of hindsight in matters of taste.
These memories have come to mind recently, as the debate around New Zealand's flag bubbled to the surface again. Much of the conversation around changing our flag stems from a central thought: that the flag we have does not match or properly express the identity we have as a nation today.
To that I say: why does that matter? What makes us think that our generation is the best suited to defining New Zealand's identity in this way? Do our opinions matter more in the course of New Zealand history than our forebears, or our descendants?
Sixteen years ago, I got a diligence award from school. I had no idea what diligence was, and when I found out, I said there had to be a mistake: half the school day I went without buttons-the result of bullrush at lunch-the other half I swung on my chair.
I heard there was no mistake: I'd done well in social studies. That's true. My social studies teacher wore pens in his socks, did a gripping impression of a whirlwind, and was lavish with his praise. He engaged the class, and I'd wanted to do well.
Many of us probably have similar stories about inspiring teachers.
And now the Government plans to devote significant resources into improving teaching and learning in New Zealand schools. Prime Minister Key recently announced that a National Government would invest $359m over four years into expert and lead teachers, and executive and change principals.
Last Tuesday, Education Minister Parata launched the "InspiredbyU" website, which is a forum for visitors to recognise inspirational Kiwi educators.
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