Series focusing on foreign affairs issues
Belarusian Police – Behind the Balaclavas
Minsk, early December. A wall of masked men in black body armour, beating their truncheons on steel shields. In front of them stand women bundled in winter coats and teenagers wrapped in red and white flags. They’re singing a protest song once heard in the revolutionary shipyards of Gdansk a generation before - an anthem for democracy and change. For more than one hundred days these versions of Belarus have advanced and retreated - and now they seem locked in impasse. Despite sanctions, despite disapproval so loud that even foreign diplomats are demonstrating - the government of Alexander Lukashenko stands firm. For Crossing Continents Lucy Ash explores the world of the security forces that keep Lukashenko in power, peeling back the ubiquitous balaclavas to find the men and women beneath.
Producer, Monica Whitlock
Editor, Bridget Harney
Sicily's Prisoner Fishermen
18 fishermen from Sicily are in jail in Benghazi, accused of fishing in Libya’s waters. And in this part of the Mediterranean rich in the highly-prized and lucrative red prawn, these kinds of arrests are frequent. Usually the Libyans release the men after negotiations. This time it’s different. Gen Khalifa Haftar – the warlord with authority over the east of Libya – is demanding a prisoner swap: the freeing of 4 Libyans in jail in Sicily convicted of human trafficking and implicated in the deaths of 49 migrants, in return for the fishermen. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly explores a little-known conflict in the Mediterranean - the so-called War of the Red Prawn, and its fall-out.
Martinique: The Poisoning of Paradise
“First we were enslaved. Then we were poisoned.” That’s how many on Martinique see the history of their French Caribbean island that, to tourists, means sun, rum, and palm-fringed beaches. Slavery was abolished in 1848. But today the islanders are victims again – of a toxic pesticide called chlordecone that’s poisoned the soil and water and been linked by scientists to unusually high rates of prostate cancer. For more than 10 years chlordecone was authorised for use in banana plantations – though its harmful effects were already known. Now, more than 90% of Martinicans have traces of it in their blood. The pollution means many can't grow vegetables in their gardens - and fish caught close to the shore are too dangerous to eat. French President Emmanuel Macron has called it an ‘environmental scandal’ and said the state ‘must take responsibility’. But some activists on the island want to raise wider questions about why the pesticide was used for so long – and on an island divided between a black majority and a small white minority, it’s lost on no-one that the banana farmers who used the toxic chemical and still enjoy considerable economic power are, in many cases, descendants of the slave owners who once ran Martinique. Reporting from the island for Crossing Continents, Tim Whewell asks how much has changed there. Is Martinique really an equal part of France? And is there equality between descendants of slaves and the descendants of their masters, even now?
Produced and presented by Tim Whewell
Editor, Bridget Harney
Poland's Gay Pride and Prejudice
A number of small towns in Poland have been campaigning against what they call 'homosexual ideology'. Local authorities in the provinces have passed resolutions against perceived threats such as sex education and gay rights. LGBT activists complain that they are stoking homophobia and effectively declaring ‘gay-free zones’. Both sides argue that they are protecting the universal values of free speech and justice. But the row has attracted international condemnation. The European Union has withheld funds to six of the towns involved, and some of their twinning partners in Europe have broken off ties. Meanwhile, politicians within Poland’s conservative ruling coalition stand accused of exploiting the divisions to further a reactionary social agenda.
Lucy Ash reports. Mike Gallagher producing.
The Trouble with Dutch Cows
The Netherlands - small and overcrowded - is facing fundamental questions about how to use its land, following a historic court judgment forcing the state to take more urgent action to limit nitrogen emissions. Dutch nitrogen emissions - damaging the climate and biodiversity - are the highest in Europe per capita. And though traffic and building are also partly to blame, farmers say the government is principally looking to agriculture to make the necessary reductions. They've staged a series of protests - what they call a farmers' uprising - in response to a suggestion from a leading politician that the number of farm animals in the country should be cut by half. This is meant to bring down levels of ammonia, a nitrogen compound produced by dung and urine. The proposal comes even though their cows, pigs and chickens have helped make the tiny Netherlands into the world's second biggest exporter of food. Farmers think they're being sacrificed so that the construction industry, also responsible for some nitrogen pollution, can have free rein to keep building, as the country's population, boosted by immigration, grows relentlessly. What do the Dutch want most - cows or houses? Will there be any room in the future for the ever-shrinking patches of nature? And in a hungry world, shouldn't the country concentrate on one of the things it's best at - feeding people? Tim Whewell travels through a country that must make big choices, quickly.
South Africa Moonshine
Pineapple beer is the universal homebrew in South Africa and pineapple prices trebled when the government imposed a ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco during the coronavirus pandemic. South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa and the government introduced the ban to ease the pressure on hospitals. With the infection rate now falling the ban has been lifted although some restrictions remain in place. Ed Butler and Vauldi Carelse have been hearing from the brewers, both legal and illegal, on the impact the ban has had on their livelihoods and on people’s health, and since the ban has ended, from those considering what lessons the nation might learn from its experiment with being ‘dry’.
(Image: Barman working at a bar which has re-opened under new regulations in Val, South Africa, 07 August 2020. Credit: EPA/Kim Ludbrook)