Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Return to democracy in Seychelles

Seychelles, an island nation in Africa, was formerly a colony of France and then the United Kingdom. It achieved independence and commonwealth status from the UK in 1976. But since then, the politics of this nation have not remained consistent.

In 1964, two parties formed in Seychelles. One, referred to as the Seychelles People's United Party (SPUP), was led by France-Albert René and advocated socialism and independence from the UK. The other, the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP), was led by James Mancham and wanted closer integration with the UK. When elections were held in 1966, the SDP won.

In 1970, a constitution was drafted, and in following elections such as in 1974, the two parties competed. Negotiations with the UK at this time led to Seychelles becoming an independent republic of the Commonwealth of Nations. Mancham became the first President in 1976 with René as his Prime Minister.

Mancham's rule did not last long. While he was overseas on June 5, 1977, a coup led to Mancham's deposition and René's new rule as President. René and his socialist party transformed Seychelles' democracy into a one-party state, and the SPUP evolved into the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF).

Many attempts to end SPPF rule followed the 16 years during which Seychelles was a one-party state. One failed coup by Mike Hoare (claimed by some as an attempt to re-install the pro-American Mancham), an army mutiny stopped after only two days, and the arresting for treason of Conrad Greslé, a local democracy advocate who planned to overthrow the Seychelles government with foreign mercenaries.

Ultimately in 1991, after the Soviet Union's dissolution (one of many communist countries to collapse/change regime), René allowed the creation of new parties in the return to a multi-party system. James Mancham returned from exile and resurged his party, and in the elections in 1993, the SPPF, SDP, and six other political parties faced off.

President René won the 1993 election, as well as the 1998 election. Mancham switched to the centrist liberal Seychelles National Party (SNP) and was the SPFF's strongest competitor. However, the SNP lost the 2002 election to the SPFF with 42% of the vote. And in 2004, René turned presidency to his former vice president James Michel. Michel also won the 2006 election again the SNP's leader, Wavel Ramkalawan, with 53.5% of the vote.

Sources: Seychelles Travel, African History.about, Info Please, Wikipedia

Monday, February 25, 2013

India in the Commonwealth of Nations

Map of the Commonwealth of nations. Based on I...
Map of the Commonwealth of nations. Based on Image:BlankMap-World6, compact.svg with information from List of members of the Commonwealth of Nations and colour scheme from Image:Commonwealth of Nations.png. Commonwealth of Nations members Suspended Commonwealth of Nations members (Fiji) Former Commonwealth of Nations members (Ireland and Zimbabwe) British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Perhaps you've heard of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of 54 independent member states, most of which were formerly British colonies. Today, each member state is technically led by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, though in practice the states are fully independent. Some of the better-known members of this Commonwealth include Canada, Australia, and India. Our focus is the latter.
How did India join this Commonwealth? The British ruled India from 1858 to 1947. However, repression by the British government and a strong sense of nationalism led many to non-violent protest for self rule. One prominent figure amongst non-violent protestors is Mahatma Gandhi. In 1942, the British government attempted to offer India independence in exchange for its support in World War II, but notable figures like British prime minister Winston Churchill opposed this move, and therefore negotiations fell through. Following in July 1942, the Indian Congress called for the complete withdrawal of the British from India, referred to as "Quit India." Such Congress leaders were arrested, and violent protests formed sporadically around the Indian subcontinent.

Finally, at the end of World War II with the new British Labour Party now leading the United Kingdom, India was granted independence in 1947. Following the war, the UK faced an economic burden and was unable to uphold its overseas empire. But brewing tensions amongst the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent also led to a partition at this time into two independent nations of India (the 'Hindu' half) and Pakistan (the 'Muslim' half). This formation of an independent Indian republic brings India to where it is today.

Now as a part of the Commonwealth of Nations, India participates in many of its member events. India was in fourteen of the previous eighteen Commonwealth Games (a sports competition/celebration amongst member states) and even hosted the 2010 games in New Delhi. Though only nominally ruled by the United Kingdom today, India still enjoys a friendly relationship with the UK and other memberships under the Commonwealth.

Sources: Wikipedia, The,
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

James Madison

Apologies for the late entry! Just a little bit belated, here we are at yet another Presidential Friday- this time, the fourth president, James Madison.

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
-James Madison

Often called the "Father of the Bill of Rights" and the Father of the Constitution," Madison drafted the first ten amendments to the Bill of Rights and was key to the writing of the Constitution. He was a Virginia man and therefore owned a plantation and hundreds of slaves. He supported the three-fifths compromise which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person, believing them to be below human beings. And uniquely, he never had any children.

He is also known for having fluid political beliefs, expressed by his switch in political affiliations and such. He split from the Federalist Party of James Adams, and Madison and Thomas Jefferson together formed the Republican party, nowadays referred to as the "Democratic-Republican" party.

As Secretary of State under President Jefferson, Madison presided over the purchase of the Louisiana territory. He rose to presidency in a time of peace, 1809, but soon the country was brought into war. Due to the British sinking of American ships and the British aid towards the Native Americans, Madison declared war against Great Britain. The War of 1812. Yet the country was in no place to engage a major empire and its colonies.

The Treaty of Ghent ended the war in early 1815 after the Americans won a large battle against the British, and many Americans felt an inflated sense in the US's power, believing they had forced Great Britain to withdrawal. Their somewhat inaccurate opinions on the US' 'victory' led them to refer to the war as "the Second War of American Independence" and brought high spirits to the people. It ushered in the 'era of good feelings,' and Madison saw in the last years of his term increased popularity and a time of peace and prosperity.

Sources: Wikipedia, White, Miller Center, Brainy Quote

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Utah War

As you may know, Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints, are not exactly well-liked by everyone. In fact, tensions have led there to be several conflicts between Mormons and fellow Americans, including the 1838 Mormon War, the Illinois Mormon War, and the Utah War. Our focus will be on the latter, as it involves the US government as a belligerent.

During James Buchanan's presidency, Utah was considered a US territory and not yet a state. In 1847, Mormon pioneers had settled in Salt Lake Valley. Under the guidance of Brigham Young, the settlers petitioned to become a US state and formed their own state constitution. Mormons were the majority in the great Salt Lake Basin, where they resided, and President Fillmore formally appointed Young as governor of the territory. Yet tales of Mormon polygamy had given much of the country a negative opinion of the Mormons, starting a controversy on the Mormon people governing the Utah territory. 

Mormon encampment

Many federal officials sent to the Utah territory were prejudiced against the Mormons, and took issue with the Latter-Day Saint's polygamous practices and the lack of clear distinction between church and government. For their part, the Mormons held a certain hostility for many government representatives who they felt had chased them out of the eastern lands and forced them into the Utah territory. When tensions rose and some federal officials moved back East to avoid dealing with the Mormons, President Buchanan saw it as a sign that the Mormons were getting too rowdy and rebellious.

Buchanan replaced Brigham Young as governor with Alfred Cumming, and he sent 2,500 troops to accompany Cummings and oversee the turnover to new leadership. Though these troops were ordered to not be on offense, Mormons felt threatened. They felt that they would be oppressed, being overtaken by a non-Mormon group, and they prepared to evacuate as well as burn their own homes and crops in retaliation. Upon delivering this message to the US army troops, US Army Captain Van Vliet stated his support for the Latter-Day Saints and for the end of the Utah War.


No battles actually occurred during this war. Frequently, the opposing forces clashed. The Mormons raided from the US army troops, and the US army troops fired some shots at the Mormons, killing no one. In November of 1857, Cumming declared that Young and his followers were guilty of treason and prepared to attack. In the winter, negotiations began, and Young traveled with US army troops to formally hand over leadership to Cumming. Following this, Cumming became a moderate voice against the more anti-Mormon voices amongst the community. Nearly 30,000 people were relocated as Young's followers moved South and away from their former territory. Buchanan pardoned the Mormons from the treason charges, which Young happily accepted while denying that Utah had ever rebelled against the government. 

Ultimately, the US troops saw casualties of less than 50 men, while the Mormon casualties are unknown. Upwards of 100 civilians were also casualties in this short war.

Sources: Wikipedia, Smithsonian Mag, Info Please, History to go

Monday, February 18, 2013

Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day

English: Jarosław, Bożnic square, polish - hun...
English: Jarosław, Bożnic square, polish - hungarian friendship monumnet and Leon Czechowski Monument Polski: Jarosław, plac Bożnic, pomnik przyjaźni polsko - węgierskiej i kopijnik upamiętniający Leona Czechowskiego (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On March 23 of every year, two European countries celebrate their good relations- Poland and Hungary. The holiday came to be known as Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day

How did these close relations start? Back in the Middle Ages,  intermarrying amongst Hungarian and Polish nobles was commonplace. In fact, at separate times the same man, Louis the Great, was King of Hungary and King of Poland. Władysław III similarly served as both King of Poland and King of Hungary at separate times. The two nations assisted each other in various battles throughout their history- a Polish legion of 1,200 Polish soldiers came to aid Hungary in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Hungary offered to send 30,000 cavalry to help Poland during the Polish-Soviet war, and many munitions trains reached Poland despite Czechoslovakia’s refusal to allow Hungarians through the demilitarized zone.  

During World War II, Hungarian Admiral Horthy of the Axis Powers refused to send troops to help invade Poland faster, stating that he did not wish to dishonor Poland and Hungary’s friendship. Because of this refusal, many Polish government officials and military men were able to escape Poland into neighboring Hungary. The Polish October revolution for reform helped spur the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and over 11,000 Poles showed their support by donating blood to Hungarians. 

And in 2007, just 11 day before the soon-to-be Friendship Day, the Hungarian parliament unanimously declared March 23rd “Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day” with all 324 votes in favor. Four days later, an election in the Polish parliament also declared the new holiday. 

And how is this day celebrated? Despite its official date, festivities run for over a week, and involve the Presidents and government representatives from both countries coming together. Just some of the events include “theatrical performances, films, exhibitions, concerts, workshops, [and] scientific exhibitions.”
A proverb exists about these two countries together- “Pole and Hungarian cousins be,” or “Pole and Hungarian, two good friends.” And another 1849 quote by a Polish activist, Stanlislaw Worcell, similarly embodies the good relations: "Hungary and Poland are two eternal oaks. Each of them shot up a separate and distinct trunk, but their roots widely scattered in the ground are intertwined and knitted invisibly. Hence the existence and vigor of one is the condition of the other's life and health."

Sources: Wikipedia, Polish Greatness.blogspot,, The

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Thomas Jefferson

On our third Presidential Friday, we will discuss Thomas Jefferson. Both a Founding Father and writer of the Declaration of Independence, he has quite a reputation. But there's more to him than just that.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were close friends, then political enemies, then close friends again, eventually dying on the same day exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence (July 4th, 1826). It was due to Adams' nomination that Jefferson found himself at the forefront of politics during the Revolution and the chosen drafter of the Declaration. He served many positions, such as government of Virginia and foreign minister of France, but lost the presidential bid in 1796 to John Adams. Thomas Jefferson was a Democrat-Republican to John Adam's Federalist. But the number of votes Jefferson garnered still allowed him to become Adam's Vice President.

During the Quasi-War, as Adams enacted laws such as the Alien and Sedition Act, Jefferson banded with James Madison to assert States' Rights to not uphold these laws. While Madison preferred 'interposition', the act of a state declaring the governments' laws unconstitutional, Jefferson preferred nullification. He even drafted a threat of secession for the state of Kentucky. Quite the radical, Jefferson also shared with French consul Joseph Letombe his belief that Adams would serve only one term and his belief that France should invade England. He also encouraged Letombe to impede American negotiators with stalling.

Jefferson narrowly won the Presidency in 1800, defeating Adams due to slaves being counted as three-fifths of a person and defeating Aaron Burr (who was to become his Vice President) after tying him in electoral votes and putting the decision to the House of Representatives. But during his Presidency, Jefferson ended up reducing the national debt by a third. The war with France was over and Jefferson was able to severely cut military spending, and he also cut down an unpopular tax on whiskey.

He fought the Barbary War with North African pirates and oversaw the purchase of the Louisiana territory. While no mention of land acquisition was made in the Constitution, Jefferson toned down the strict sticking to the Constitution and bought the land for only 2.9 cents per acre, basically doubling the territory of the United States. Jefferson also directed famous explorers Lewis and Clarke.

Jefferson appeared to enforce the removal of Native Americans (especially for those who fought alongside the British), figuring the group of people should either assimilate or be removed. He won a second term, but his popularity suffered. The Embargo Act of 1807, meant to maintain neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars, dealt a heavy blow to the American economy. There was also conflict in the government, and Jefferson ended up trying his Vice President Aaron Burr of treason and attempting to secede the Western states into their own territory separate of the US. Jefferson also segregated the US postal system so it did not allow blacks to carry mail.

Jefferson was succeeded by James Madison. As per Jefferson's wish, his tombstone revealed the things he had given to the American people, including the Declaration.

Sources: Wikipedia, White,, Fun Trivia

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Grigori Rasputin, the “Mad Monk,” has had his name or his story make pop culture appearances everywhere from an animated movie called Anastasia to a popular song called “Rasputin” by Boney M.
Surprisingly little is known about him, considering he became such a famous (or infamous) figure in Russia during Tsar Nicholas II’s reign. Conflicting accounts and memoirs are accounted to everything from his childhood to his death. He was born a peasant, and following the deaths of two of his siblings and penance for theft, turned him to a religious life, specifically one of Eastern Orthodoxy. 


As a travelling mystic and due to his introduction by Montenegrin princesses Milica and Anastasia (not to be confused with Anastasia of the Russian Romanov family),  the tsarina Alexandra took an interest in Rasputin and his supposed ability to heal her hemophiliac son, Alexei. 

Mystics such as Rasputin were expected to heal through prayer, and in a hotly contested issue, Alexei indeed felt better and recovered from a painful physical injury the day after Rasputin’s visit. Some suggest the man used hypnosis, which has been known to distract patients from pain, while others suggest leeches. In fact, letters of Rasputin’s do demonstrate a basic knowledge of bedside manner such as when to simply let Alexei rest. 

Tsarina Alexandra was heavily influenced by Rasputin, who she thought of as a holy man of God, and he thus became quite close to the political dealings of the tsar. His personal image was low amongst money for his alcoholism and sexual promiscuity. Tsar Nicholas II, fearing scandal, had Rasputin investigated, but Nicholas II ended up not eradicating the man and instead firing his minister of interior for insufficient press censorship.

At Rasputin’s suggestion, Nicholas II became more involved in World War I and took charge. He moved to the front lines and left his wife in charge at the capital, and by extension Rasputin saw a certain amount of power over Russia. He convinced Tsarina Alexandra to help put some of his friends in high positions, and appeared to support Russia’s withdrawal from World War I (with what might have merely been concern over the number of casualties.) But the people, outraged at Rasputin’s influence and supposedly immoral ways as well as suspecting the German born Alexandra of being a spy wished to get rid of Rasputin. 

But perhaps the most contested part of Rasputin’s life was his death. In 1914, he survived a stabbing assassination attempt. In 1916, his real death came at the hands of Prince Felix Yusupov and a group of other nobles.  The legend that survives to this day first claims that the nobles called him out and served him cake and wine laced with cyanide, enough to kill 5 men, but Rasputin appeared unaffected. Rasputin’s daughter and some modern historians deny this, the former claiming Rasputin avoided sugar and that she doubted he had ever been poisoned, and the latter claiming no poison was found in his system. However, the assassins’ accounts, a theory of Rasputin building immunity to poison, and the initial autopsy suggest that Rasputin did ingest cyanide.  Attempting to finish the job, Yusupov shot Rasputin with a revolver and the group left. However, Yusupov supposedly returned to retrieve a jacket and was lunged at by the bleeding Rasputin. Rasputin was shot thrice more, and still breathing, was thrown into the half-frozen Neva River. The autopsy suggests he died by drowning and the water in his lungs suggests he was still alive when thrown in the water. 


The man’s life is something of an enigma, but he found many enemies in those who thought him immoral and he enjoyed a lofty position in the Romanov’s rule during the time of his employment by Tsarina Alexandra. However this man lived and died, he will be remembered for a long time yet. 

Sources:  Wikipedia, History 1900s, Alexander, First World

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