Headwind, Laxmi’s Story – still available.

In 2011 and early 2012 I wrote the English language novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’ about a young Bhutanese woman who was born in a refugee camp in Nepal after her parents were exiled from the supposed to be Shangri-La country Bhutan. Laxmi was resettled by the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) to the Netherlands. In her story she looks back at het past life in the camp and tells about her struggle to create a new life in a society that is alien to her. And all the time she longs for her true love, the boy she grew up with in the camp and who now lives in the United States as a resettler.

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story is about coming of age in between cultures, about the life as a refugee and a migrant. About having to struggle for a decent life and about a love that seems impossible. It’s about the caste system that is a fundament underneath the Hindu society and the changes that come when people are taken from their home, their country, culture an religion and implanted in a modern society. But above all it’s a story about a young woman with a difficult past who fights her way through life, like most refugees do.

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story is still available through mailorder in the Empowerment Foundation’s bookshop or directly through me. Here you’ll find the first chapter of the novel to get a grip with the story of Laxmi. Click here for Headwind, Laxmi’s Story Sample. You can buy the book here. All earnings are donated to the Empowerment Foundation in support of their empowerment project.

headwind front coverHeadwind, Laxmi’s Story Sample

 

 

Year’s end and new beginnings.

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all that I can permit myself to contemplate. John Steinbeck

I was born on a New Year’s Eve. Nepali New Year’s Eve on April 13 to be exact. Not the one we celebrate here. I wasn’t aware of that until last year. Working and living in Nepal made me realize it. Of course it is of no importance besides the fact that I nowadays celebrate the New Year twice a year. Once is my own new year, the other one is everyone else’s new year. And every year I reflect on the past year, look back a year, or two or three, and compare. Compare how my life is compared to the previous New Year’s Eves. I’ve always done that because I solemnly believe that when times are hard it is good to look back and based on the comparison understand where the progress has been. I thrive on progress and change, that’s why I do that. Because I also believe that the year I can no longer define progress in any aspect I will have lost my soul.

Past nine years have brought joy, challenge, pain and sorrow. So, on the one scale is all that defines me now as the person I am and what I think is good. The other scale is loaded with the negative, the disasters, illnesses and headwind. And I do not even try to objectivate the outcome. Because if I do I I can not be sure that the overall balance is positive. I simply don’t know if I’m better off now than a year ago. This year has learned more than any year before that the negative might just as well bring a lot op positive things and the seemingly positive can be a dark thing.

A year ago I was in love, and love was answered. In another place in the world, far away from home I had unexpectedly found a woman who I fell in love with and in spite of a massive ravine between our cultures. I felt my life had changed and I planned to move away from Europe and start another life in Asia. It wasn’t even a dream but it was a reality and steps were made, choise were made and I felt so good. In February the axe fell. Totally unexpected. Cultural differences prooved unbreacheable. I had to let go and to be honest, I had already done so the day I stepped on that damned airplane that flew me back to my European life in January. Sometimes I still feel I shouldn’t have boarded that plane but just stayed. For that new life. For love.

I didn’t stay. I flew back. I lost my love.

It tumbled me over and then it was the April New Year’s Eve and I turned fifty, thinking it didn’t matter to me at all. But it did. A lot, an awful lot. I fell sick and the summer went unnoticed. I did not live.

By fall I started breathing again. I published a novel and a photobook. Photo exhibitions followed and there is still one ongoing until February next year. Four days after my birthday on April 18 I was in bed with a bad flu and I found a painting on the internet. I swept me off my feet. I had to know what that painting was and I started researching. I found out it was made by a nineteenth century painter who lived in Kensington, London. ‘Flaming June‘ made me restart my life. Research learned me that there was a dispute about the model who sat for Frederick Leighton for thet specific painting. That dispute led me to a forgotten woman who died in the 1930’s but who was three decades earlier one of the most beautiful women in England. And gradually a story unfolded which was already there waiting to be revealed. More on that can be read here: www.woordenstorm.nl/lachrymae.

Flaming_June,_by_Fredrick_Lord_Leighton_(1830-1896)

It’s end of December now, tomorrow is the last day of this year. I am working hard on my new novel which has evolved in a trilogy about three women, about emancipation, about relationships, war, poverty, wealth, beauty and decay. And about me. It’s the work I will have to write in the coming year, maybe even years. I already know most of the story but I also know that as always it will grow and evolve in a much more detailed and compelling story. My biggest work ever. And tonight I look back. Back to this crazy year.

My life is in many aspects destroyed in the past decade. My body is defect in a very private aspect and I feel deep sadness about that. It actually is the reason why relationships scare me. I don’t think anyone can help me with that, it is very much my own struggle to get some peace over that. My economics are, well they are virtually non-existent. To Dutch standards I am poor and in debt to a level that I will never overcome, no matter what I do and no matter how hard I work. This was the year that I had to learn the harsh reality of not having the money to lead a normal life. I don’t have my own front door anymore, most of my belongings have gone (which for the most of it I don’t mind at all), I can hardly afford transport to anywhere and my social life is becoming smaller and smaller. There are days I do not have food. But this year also learned me that I have the ability to go on and after a year living way below poverty standards I am still here. The most important thing that happend to me this year is that I relearned to make decisions about my own life again. Because I did.

Which brings me to next year.

January will be very difficult. They’re coming to take some of my things away. I won’t be there myself. Complicated story. Pressure is building on me rapidly and life will certainly not improve in January. But important moves are being made. Finance stuff for instance. In the coming months it will all become more transparant and that will inevitable lead me into some sort of debt reduction scheme or bankruptcy. Life won’t end over that. What will happen is that I’m entering a couple of years of very poor living standards but I have the assurance that they won’t be worse than they are now. And yes, that old divorce thing will be corrected in the coming months and that might very well bring a lot of relief. If only because the negative economic part of that will be lifted and redevided in a manner that is fair and making my life easier. It’s all the direct result of the I choice made this year to start rebuilding my life after a downwards spiral that had caught me in the past nine years.

And then there is art. The other major decision I made is that my life will be about writing my books, making my photos and filmwork and focus on the arts as my line of business and the major driving force in my life. It even tops relationships. I know now I can not make any concessions anymore in regard to the art I make and the reason why I do that. Because writing is for me like breathing. There is no way that I can stop that or want to do so. Which made me to choose a pseudonym for writing my future work. Enter Anna Ros. 2012 has brought me a lot on the artistic plane because I’ve grown and made major steps forward but 2013 is even more promising in that. My work improved and so did my writing. I have become confident in that work. I know my abilities and I know where improvement is needed. And there is a lot out there waiting for me to take on. The trilogy being the most important work but there’s also that other loosely related work which I make with a befriended writer. It will surprise a lot of people and is really exciting to make. And of course the film will get finished in 2013, at last. Not as one major work but as a series of three or four short documentaries, portraits of specific people telling the story of forgotten refugees.

And love? Well, that is something else entirely. I am not chasing it to the intensity that I did in the past years. If it happens, it happens. Which doesn’t mean I am not in love because I think I am. To a certain extend. Maybe 2013 will be a good year for love. I would like that but of course that’s uncertain. What is certain is that it will be a great year for friendships. With the few people out there who really know me.

So, this New Years Eve is a very unclear one. Unclear on how my live will continue in 2013, uncertain about where I’ll live and with who. Uncertain about love. But very certain about what defines me: my writings.

I wish all of you a good 2013. With health and love. Skip the economics and other non important things of life, just go for happiness and health. That should suffice.

Love,
Alice Anna

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Dutch Floriade exhibition embraces human rights violator.

Note: today we received an invitation from the organizing committee of the Floriade to discuss our findings with them. Of course we accept that invitation.

On September 22nd this year a Bhutan day was held at the Floriade World Horticultural Expo in Venlo in the Netherlands. The day was centered around making the world a better place and the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness‘. Amongst the people present that day was Mrs. Erica Terpstra, a well known Dutch liberal ex politician who made a television program about beautiful Bhutan, its nature and culture. Next to Mrs. Terpstra, Mr. Dago Tshering was present. He holds a minister seat in the government of the small Himalayan kingdom.

Erica Terpstra returned home with the honor of having a tulip named after the queen of Bhutan presented, presumably unaware of the fact that she had been shaking hands with a notorious human rights violator. Because, who is Dago Tshering for real?

In the early ninetees, after demonstrations against the at that time already longtime ongoing civil rights violations, a process of ethnic/religious/cultural cleansing was started by the Bhutan government. In just a few years the civil rights and citizenship were taken away from over 20% of Bhutan’s population. Changes in marital and citizenship laws were cooked up to do that. Wearing other clothes than the traditional dress from the powerful ruling elite minority was forbidden and the Nepalese language was banned from schools and government organizations.

Through a policy of state terror in which political murder, random arrests, torture and years long incarceration of intellectuals and leaders from the south and east of the country, the population in those regions was oppressed. After violent attacks by the Royal Bhutan Army and the police against village leaders, their families and other local leaders, a total of over 100,000 and possibly 150,000 people fled the country. Many of them at gunpoint after being forced to sign papers stating they were voluntary leaving and abandoning their homes, land and possessions. The by far percentagewise largest exodus in 100 years really started off in the first months of 1991 after an edict written by that same Dago Tshering who came to Venlo in the Netherlands to welcome the visitors to the Bhutan pavillion on the Floriade exhibition.

Because, on August 17, 1990, Dago Tshering, then Deputy Home Minister of Bhutan wrote a ‘NOTIFICATION’. It states literally, and I quote:

You are hereby instructed to immediately inform alls the gups, DYT members and the general public in your dzongkhag that any Bhutanese national leaving the country to assist and help the anti-nationals shall no longer be considered as a Bhutanese citizen. It must also be made very clear that such people’s family members living under the same household will also be held fully responsible and forfeit their citizenship.

With this order to the Dzongkhas’s, Dago Tshering personally kicked off the ethnic cleansing that would in the end lead to the exile of over 1/6th of Bhutan population.

The Netherlands is, together with the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the European Parliament, financing the UNHCR refugee camps in Nepal and the resettlement of the larger part of the population of these camps to these fore mentioned countries. By doing so the West is taking the rap for the effects of the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing that was initiated and excuted since 1990 by Dago Tshering and the current prime minister of Bhutan, Mr. Jigme Thinley. The international community has until now spend tens of millions of dollars on this issue and will continue to do so on request by the United Nations. The European Union itself has sourced the UNHCR at the end of 2011 with over 3 million euros for upholding the refugee camps in Nepal and taking care of the after effects after these camps will be emptied by the ‘durable solution’ as the mass resettlement is euphemistically named by the UNHCR.

Bhutan has since 1991 systematically refused to take a serious effort in repatriation of its own people to their villages and homes. The victims live in diaspora without expectations for return to their motherland.

In 2012 however, Dago Tshering is received and honored by the Floriade. There were no Bhutanese refugees present in Venlo. They were not invited by the organization and Mrs. Terpstra probably again had no idea what she was dealing with.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Twee onvergetelijke tentoonstellingen op komst.

Vanaf half september tot na sinterklaas worden er twee onvergetelijke tentoonstellingen gehouden door mij en mijn collega Eveline van de Putte.

Deze slideshow heeft JavaScript nodig.

Van 15 september tot en met 26 oktober is UNFORGOTTEN te zien in de Domkerk in Utrecht. Daarna zal deze tentoonstelling van 10 november tot 7 december te zien zijn in Café & gallerie Quirky in Den Haag.
UNFORGOTTEN is een tentoonstelling met de beste foto’s uit ons bestand van 18.000 foto’s die we in het kader van het Headwind project gemaakt hebben in Nepal, Sikkim (India) en Nederland. De foto’s laten het leven van de vluchtelingen uit Bhutan zien in de kampen in Nepal en gaat in op de resettlement van hun waardoor zij in enkele jaren in diaspora worden gebracht.

  • 15 september – 26 oktober
    Domkerk Utrecht
    Project presentatie en vernissage met live muziek op zondag 23 september om 12.30u.
  • 10 november – 7 december
    Café & galerie Quirky, Tasmanstraat 128 Den Haag
    Vernissage en fundraising dinner (traditioneel Nepalees-Bhutaanse schotel) met live muziek op zaterdag 10 november om 18.00u.
    Reserveren gewenst. Prijs: €20 waarvan €5 gedoneerd wordt aan de Empowerment Foundation voor het Headwind project.


Reserveren is gewenst en kan op 070 3808502 of info@cafequirky.com

* In English *

From September 15 until October 26 UNFORGOTTEN, the photo exhibition, can be seen at the Domchurch in Utrecht. UNFORGOTTEN will be brought there in co-operation with the Domchurch Citypastoraat.
Special presentation of Headwind and UNFORGOTTEN is on Sunday September 23rd at 1 PM.

From November 10 until December 7 UNFORGOTTEN will travel to Cafe & gallery Quirky in the Tasmanstraat 128 in The Hague. The vernissage on Saturday November 10 will be followed by a fundraising dinner at 6 PM. Cost €20 of which €5 is donated to the Empowerment Foundation’s Headwind project. Reervations needed and can be made at 070 3808502 or info@cafequirky.com.

Een kadootje voor mijn lezers.

Beste lezers,

soms moet je iets geks doen. Soms is dat heel zo gek niet.
Aangezien de drukkosten tegenwoordig hoog zijn en er geen fondsen zijn voor heruitgave van mijn debuutroman, gegeven dat ik die al lang in een eBook PDF versie klaar heb én gegeven dat ik gezien wat er allemaal dit jaar nog uitkomt aan nieuwe uitgaven, geef ik jullie hierbij een kado.

Daar is een reden voor. Ik ben een tegenstander van het beleid van het inmiddels demissionaire kabinet dat over zijn graf heen regeert en nog steeds allerlei maatregelen er door drukt die de samenleving schaden en de zwakken in de samenleving hard in de portemonnaie treffen. Ik ben een tegenstander van het beleid van de gemeente Den Haag die in navolging van dit cultuurbarbaarse kabinet de kunsten in Den Haag afslachten door intrekking van de steun aan het Koorenhuis waar duizenden Hagenaars met veel plezier tegen redelijke kosten kunst leren beoefenen. En ik ben tegen het intrekken van de subsidies aan kleine theaters als Branoul en de Regentes die een functie hebben in deze stad. Dat soort beleid raakt mij aan alle kanten. Het creeërt een klimaat in de samenleving waarbij kunst als nutteloos, overbodig en zonder waarde wordt gepositioneerd. Als hobby, als tijdverdrijf.

Met het gratis beschikbaar stellen van mijn debuutroman maak ik een statement tegen dat beleid. Tegen de destructie van de kunst, of dat nu amateurkunst of ‘professionele’ kunst is. Het is een statement gemaakt met de wanhoop van de schrijfster en de bohémienne die deze samenleving onderuit ziet gaan en als enig antwoord daar op heeft haar kunst op straat te gooien. Niet omdat die kunst niks waard is, maar omdat het de enige manier is waarop iedereen met of zonder geld daar kennis van kunnen nemen. In de hoop dat de bestuurders ooit hun verstand terug krijgen.

Mijn debuutroman Eén latte, een cappu en een espresso is vanaf vandaag gratis te downloaden vanaf deze website én vanaf GoodReads. Het downloaden hier is natuurlijk het eenvoudigst want dat is als U dit leest precies één klik weg. Klik HIER voor de eBook versie.

Ben ik gek dat ik de eBook versie gratis weggeef? Absoluut!

Alice Anna Verheij

For my English speaking readers: what is written above this is an announcement of the availability of my debuting novel FOR FREE DOWNLOAD. It is in Dutch, so if you’re in for a challenge, please go ahead and download and enjoy the book. And spread the word! To get it, just click on THIS.

The Story of Mary Lloyd.

She was a beautiful and praised model at the end of the 19th century. Then she was forgotten.
Until 1933 when a newspaper article told her sad story to it’s readers. The she was forgotten again.
Until 1996 when Dr. Martin Postle, a British art historian discovered photographs of Lord Frederic Leighton’s atelier just after he died showing multiple paintings for which Mary posed. Just like she posed for Frederic Brock when he made the Victoria Memorial years later. Then she was forgotten again.
Until I saw the painting by Frederic Leighton titled ‘Flaming June’ and learned about the dispute regarding the model who sat for Leighton when he painted this painting. That triggered and puzzled me. And when I found out about Mary’s story there was no way back for me.

Mary Lloyd, the forgotten model is the main character in my upcoming Dutch language novel (hopefully to be translated into English later) De Engel van Kensington (The Angel from Kensington). Although large parts of Mary’s life are unknown and impossible to retrieve from the past the story of Mary Lloyd, the upper middle class girl who became a painters model and lived a rather quiet life, is a beautiful story full of 19th century fin de siècle atmosphere, 20th century interbellum excitement and love.

Mary Lloyd who at seventy was still a beautiful woman leading a poor life as a seamstress and housekeeper but looking back at a wonderful modelling career, deep friendships, beautiful art a two loves of her life. So, what really happened in Mary’s life?

The Angel from Kensington is planned for publication before Christmas 2012. The story of Mary Lloyd starts again today.

Alice Anna © 2012

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story. Pre-publication of the novel.

Dear readers,

today I give you a free sample as a pre publication of my latest novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’ that is currently in its final stage before publishing. I hope you enjoy it and will get even more curious and interested in this book that I wrote straight from the heart in the summer of 2011 while staying in Nepal for the Headwind project.

This pre publication contains an explanation of the novel, the prologue and the first chapter. Right click on DOWNLOAD to get the PDF file.


As of today I accept pre-orders for the novel. The book price for non Bhutanese will be €17,95 / 1900 NPR / US$ 22, for Bhutanese this will be €9,00 / 990 NPR / US$11 excl. postage and packing.

For preordering please send an email to alice.writes@xs4all.nl and I wil answer with information regarding payment options.

Alice Anna Verheij
author of Headwind, Laxmi’s Story 

No new constitution in Nepal but elections instead.

A couple of days ago the Constituent Assembly of Nepal dissolved after another extended term went without the outcome of an agreed concept constitution. Wether that is bad news or good news remains to be seen.

Seat of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal, Kathmandu

After the overturning of the monarchy almost a decade ago and the ending in 2006 of the ten year long civil war that devastated the countries economy and homogenity there have been elections only once. The outcome of those events was the installation of a Constituent Assembly and the dawn of the provisional Federal Republic of Nepal. Elections were held and a government was formed. And that government fell. A new one was formed. Which fell also. And another one and another one. Nepal became politically unstable with none of the major parties (including the Maoists who started the revolt against the former king) being large enough to stay in power for long. The core problem of Nepal turned out to be the many divisions in politics.

The country became paralized but because of the intentions of becoming a democratic nation it also became one of the countries with the largest support from international organizations, NGO’s and governments. The country became dependent on aid as the successive governments proved unable to bring the country from revolt to stability, to improve the economy and to improve the many infrastructural and social challenges that were present. In the meanwhile many Nepalese had hopes of the effects of a new constitution that was in the making. But that constitution never materialized. Terms for the 2008 elected Constituent Assembly (with its ludicrous large number of 575 seats) were extended several times. The 60% ballot turnout proved the high hopes of the people of Nepal. But these hopes deteriorated quickly due to the continuous inability of the assembly to come up with a draft constitution on time and agreed by a majority.

Still, that draft that didn’t materialize did have some very specific topics handled in a revolutionary manner in the last Hindu ex Kingdom and the results have been brought to a provisionary implementation by the government recently. The caste system became politically undesired which potentially freed millions of people from hardship and lack of opportunities and there was even a third or other gender introduced as a concept in gender identification releasing the gay and transgender communities from social pressure based on discriminatory laws.

But it all ended on May 27 of this year at midnight.

The Constituent Assembly outlived its term and its mandate and the government decided to dissolve the non working body. At the same time announcing general elections on November 22nd this year. The second general elections and the first one after four years of disappointment since the fall of King Gyanendra. At this moment in time the conditions for Nepal to come back to a stabile political solution are far from ideal. The political spectrum dominated by the Maoists, Marxist-Leninists and the conservative Congress Party is more divided than ever. No one is big enough, politicians are not trusted by the people any more because of the many broken promises and the country is in economically dire straits. The infrastructure of the country in areas like energy, transportation, education and health care are all in a very bad state. The international monetary crisis is devaluating the Nepali Rupee at an alarming rate and impovering the country faster and faster. The political squeeze from India and China is becoming more vivd in daily life because of the dependencies on those neighbours for basic resources like food and energy. There is an energy crisis in the country that is lasting for years now and becoming worse. India pretty much owns Nepal’s oil consumption which effects the economy.

The Nepalese are demotivated by the politics in the country. Young peoples main desire is to leave the country and indeed there’s a brain drain going on of enormous proportions. The number of refugees and stateless people in the country push an extra burden on the economy and mental stretch of the people. As the politicians are unable to bring salvation many groups in the country (political, ethnic and otherwise) are increasingly grabbing the only instrument they have to force the government to give them what they want: they strike. The destabilizing bandhas (strikes) have become a daily routine in many parts of the country and especially in the Terai, the southern part of the country which is of key importance for food production and the little industry the country has. These strikes slowly kill what’s left of the economy and by their nature prove the worst possible ‘solution’ to the many problems.

It remains to be seen wether the failure of the Constituent Assembly is a bad thing for Nepal. If on November 22nd elections turn out to be clear on which political parties should rule the country then a faster solution to the constitutional crisis is in sight. But that would be a miracle to be honest. Looking at the current political situation, the bad economy, the institutionalized fraud and corruption, the instability of the armed forces (the integration of Maoists in the Nepal Army is still very shaky) and the hunger for individual power of the politicians, it is impossible to be optimistic on the outcome. If it doesn’t work out later this year it will only mean that the largest of the former Himalayan Kingdoms will remain without a formalized constitution and with less hope of overcoming the many crisises the country is facing.

Hopefully the international community will be fully aware of Nepal’s problems and not turn it’s back on the country with it’s almost thirty million inhabitants. Nepal needs solid international backing and attention now more than ever.

Alice Anna Verheij © 2012

Short trailer of Headwind released today.

Today the short trailer of Headwind is released with a call for support and funding.
More information about the film can be found at http://www.headwindfilm.com.
The trailer will be published on http://www.eu1.tv too later today.

We still need substantial funding for the completion of this film.

Alice
director of Headwind

A letter to the Fulbright International Educational Exchange Program.

Today I have send the following email to the Fulbright Program. In astounishment after reading an article of some time ago that was published in an American newspaper about a scholar who was granted a scholarship to go studying Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.

This is the link to the article in the Portland Herald and before that published in the Sentinel.
This is of course the link to the article written by Kai Bird in The Nation.

Dear Fulbright people,

today I’ve read this article in The Portland Press Herald concerning a scholarship for a study by Mrs. Gretchen Lechler who plans to travel to Bhutan to study Gross National Happiness:
I am amazed and quite honestly astounded by this.
Because yesterday I read this article by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird about the Bhutanese diaspora and the cost of that for the US, the international community, Bhutan and the Bhutanese refugees:
I have personally spend six months in 2011 in Nepal to work on the first feature length documentary about the Bhutanese exile and the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR and it’s effects. So I know very well the reality of Bhutan. By experience.
It is totally flabagasting to see a US government funded organization to spend a load of money on a scholarship for studying the myth of Gross National Happiness in a country that is in reality percentagewise the largest ethnic cleansing country in recent history. Especially since it is the same US government that has started the resettlement effort on request of the UNHCR and is actually welcoming over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees to become US citizens.
This scholarship is a disgrace, as is this study that Mrs. Lechler is undertaking. There is no way that Gross National Happiness can be objectively studied without extensive visiting of the Bhutanese refugee camps and realizing that a large portion of the Bhutanese people is all but happy.
I sincerely request your organization to think again because by this scholarship Fulbright is actually passively supporting human rights violations. And preferably, to request Mrs. Lechler to study GNH in the Bhutanese community in exile. To do that she doesn’t even have to leave the US. If needed I can provide all relevent contacts for that and am more than willing to assist in any possible way.
With kind regards,
Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
The Hague, Netherlands / Kathmandu, Nepal
Alice © 2012

Pulitzer Price winner’s article republished on Headwind website.

Today The Nation granted me the rights to republishing an article written by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird on the Headwind website. Kai Bird’s article is an excellent account of recent history concerning the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing and exile in the early ninetees of last century, the ongoing resettlement of Bhutanese refugees and the long term to be expected effects of this on the position of Bhutan, it’s king and government.

Kai Bird won the Pulitzer Prize with his excellent co-authoring on a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘invertor’ of the atomic bomb. Mr. Bird has work for many years in the Middle East and has recently published his autobiographic ‘Crossing Mandelbaum Gate‘ about the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and how he has lived, grown and endured in the region. Mr. Bird has lived for some time in Kathmandu, Nepal and recently traveled to Bhutan and was a guest of the royals.

‘The Enigma of Bhutan’ is an absolute must read for anyone interested in the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing and exile, the ongoing largest UNHCR third country resettlement project and the effects of this all on Bhutan.

The article is published in The Nation’s March 26, 2012 issue and can be read on the website of the Nation and on the Headwind website.

Alice

The Party for Happiness / Partij voor Geluk

UPDATE: The ‘Partij voor Geluk‘ has removed their link to Bhutan as a guiding country for Gross National Happiness in response to the comments made by me. Which is a good thing and I welcome that! I wish this new party all the best in their endeavors. Obviously it is important that the myth of Bhutan as a hallmark for happiness is dismantled and the human rights violations by Bhutan are recognized and acknowledged.

A new political party is coming to the Dutch politcal arena. As a counter movement to the current development of Dutch (or even western) society. The Party for Happiness, in Dutch ‘Partij voor Geluk’ (www.partijvoorgeluk.nl). How nice.

A Party for Happiness, what a great initiative don’t you think? Because, to be honest, everything in this world is judged in financial economical terms like Gross National Product (GNP) meaning money, the filth of the earth. And there is another option like the one that this PvG suggest. Just look at Bhutan they say. Bhutan the buddhist Himalayan kingdom where Gross National Happiness is the measure for government success, Bhutan where the people are happy and Bhutan where according to it’s prime minister Mr. Thinley ‘even the dogs smile’…

But is that true? How are things concerning Gross National Happiness in Bhutan really? Is Bhutan really that happy conutry and does the United Nations indeed push them forward as an example, as a guiding nation for the world?

The answer my friend, is blowing in the Himalayan wind. And it simply says: no. Not at all. Bhutan is not an overly happy country and although the dogs might smile, many of it’s people certainly don’t. Bhutan is the only 100% Bhuddist ruled country in the world. A country that in the years 1990 – 1992 exiled some 120,000 of it’s citizens to India and in the end to refugee camps in Nepal where they have lived ever since. Almost 20% of the Bhutanese population now live outside the country in global diaspora since the United Nations started mass third country resettlement in 2007 shifting almost all of these refugees to countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands. Bhutan as a nation is responsible for the percentagewise largest ethnic and cultural cleansing since world war two. Hardly a nation to set an example to the world.

Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is according to the latest results certainly not all over. Things like health care and education are experienced as factors making the mostly rural population less than happy. According to Bhutan’s own annual GNH report that was recently published. Bhutan does not have freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of travel, freedom to speak Nepali, freedom to dress to your own desire, freedom to smoke a cigarette… Bhutan does however have over 400 political prisoners (according to sources like Human Rights Watch), it throws monks in jail for carrying 30 grams of tobacco on them and has been denying international requests to repatriate it’s own people to the south and east of the country. Bhutan sabotaged 19 years of talks with the Nepalese government for repatriation, lies structurally to the refugees, the international community and the press about their willingness to take their people back and Bhutan remains a country as closed to the outside world as North Korea. If you live in Bhutan and oppose the government you can be thrown into jail, be tortured (Bhutan has the doubtful reputation of a great inventor of torture methods), thrown into exile or even get killed.

Over the past decades the Human Rights Evaluations by the United Nations on Bhutan have repeatedly shown many comments from countries like the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands and others on the situation concerning the exiled population now living in the refugee camps in Nepal with already half of them resettled in the largest third country resettlement project of the UNHCR ever. Continuous reporting by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Global Human Rights Defence have made clear that Bhutan is not a country of Gross National Happiness but a country of Gross Human Rights Violations.

It’s sad to see that western society has a very biased and uninformed view of the Bhutanese reality. Bhutan has been able (and has been given ample space to do so) to build an effective reality distortion field around it’s atrocities. That reality distortion field has a name: Gross National Happiness. As a concept welcomed by Buddhists and politicians globally. It is because of that western urge to be inspired by something nice as ‘happiness’ that helps Bhutan in covering up the reality and trying to change history. Using that concept is very much like taking king Herod’s approach to an unwelcome reality: washing hands in innocence while allowing human rights violations to continue.

Not quite a good start for a political party I suppose.

If you want to know more about the reality of Bhutan and the situation of the Bhutanese exiles surf to http://www.headwindfilm.com, watch the trailer of the upcoming documentary and read my essay about the topic.

© 2012 Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
director of Headwind
Friend of Bhutan Media Society

The Headwind Poject: an overview.

In the past year the Headwind Project has broadened from making a documentary to much, much more. At this stage the project is in fact a more than full time job for the Headwind Production team. The following graph shows what is done and what is coming in the (near) future:

Alice © 2012