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In Spanish video parodying government, a stapler saves the day

John Dyer By John Dyer

At Latitude News, as we incessantly peruse global headlines, we try to identify themes overseas that resonate with our American readers. This week, we start in Spain, move to Uzbekistan and land in South Africa to prove that no country has a monopoly on absurdity.

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, the traditional debate about whether the United States or Europe has the most effective system of government has risen to a new height. After all, the two are not so starkly different as in the past.

America now suffers from unemployment levels that are worse than Northern European countries like Germany, while the social safety nets of some Southern European countries, though fraying and probably unsustainable, are mitigating the effects of those countries’ downwards spirals.

But the January 2011 video below, called “o36,” from Spain’s Jameson Notodo Filmfest will dissuade Europhiles of the merits of the continent’s big bureaucracies. It’s gotten more than 1.8 million clicks, so it’s been popular.

It seems like a joke, right? Yet I experienced similar Kafkaesque treatment in Bulgaria that leads me to conclude this parody contains more than a grain of truth. I always thought it was the legacy of communism that created this stuff. Guess not.

Terrible beauty

Speaking of the legacy of communism, let’s check out Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, Islam Karimov. Radio Free Europe reports that she is a singer, composer, fashion designer, professor, diplomat, philanthropist, and businesswoman — positions I’m sure she secured through her remarkable talent.

But now Karimova’s charity, Fund Forum, has teamed up with UNESCO, the British Council and other respectable groups to promote weddings and circumcisions in her impoverished country. Radio Free Europe notes that her fortune is worth around $600 million, so I don’t see why she needs those aid organizations, but, in any case, who could criticize her for helping out young families?

The Uzbek people, it turns out. The radio service reports that a mass marriage of 123 couples and a mass circumcised of 200 boys was less than fun:

The mood is not all festive, however. People have begun to complain about being forced to hold ceremonies under threat of losing pensions and other social services, and local officials and businessmen claim the elaborate celebrations are draining local community coffers — making such payments impossible anyway.

A wedding party in Uzbekistan in 2001, long before the daughter of the country’s dictator forced anyone to marry. Yet they still don’t look too happy. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov)

Yes, Karimova has threatened to withhold pension payments from poor people in order to pay for lavish events that bankrupt the state so there’s no money for payments to poor people. And, in the process, she’s managed to ruin a day that for most people should be among the happiest in their lives. That, friends, is a legacy of communism.

Terrible art

In May, a political brouhaha exploded in South Africa when the City Press newspaper published a review of Brett Murray’s “The Spear,” a painting that included a depiction of South African President Jacob Zuma’s penis. Zuma called for the painting to be taken down, his African National Congress sued City Press and zealots defaced the painting as it hung in a Johannesburg gallery. For a reprise of the drama, click here.

Now, Daily Maverick writer Sipho Hlongwane has written a plea to his countrymen on the scandal in a piece entitled “Enough about Zuma’s Penis!” Hlongwane writes:

Penis fascination is a well-established human tradition. Even so, I cannot for the life of me understand why we’re supposed to have deeply held, passionate opinions about Zuma’s penis. I really don’t. And frankly, I’ve had it.

I like the fact that Hlongwane admits that penis fascination — jokes, taboos, etcetera — are mundane. But doesn’t he see that he’s adding to the media buzz by calling for an end to the media buzz?

South Africa only recently ended Apartheid. Already, as the conflicting interests in the painting debate illustrate, the country is bumping up against the limitations of democracy and free speech. But it’s a hell of a lot better than communism.