Closure of the Café Diplo

Dear Friends

We very much regret to have to tell you that we will no longer be holding our Café Diplo events for Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique, and to thank you for all the support you have given us since the UK Branch of the Association was founded in 1997.

During this time we have provided an intellectual reference point for those interested in social justice and world affairs, and we have enjoyed the great privilege of hosting experts on these critical issues, so often overlooked or misrepresented in mainstream media. We would like to express our profound gratitude to these speakers, who have given up so much of their time and energy to come and share their expertise with us.

As some of you may remember, we initially held our talks on Saturday mornings in the café at the French Institute in South Kensington, but this arrangement ended in the spring of 2006 when the Institute suddenly refused to allow us to host Moazzam Begg  (a speaker who had been imprisoned for three years in Guantanamo without any charges brought against him), and it became clear that our future events would be open to censorship in a similar way.

It was at this point that Alan Baxter, of Alan Baxter & Associates, very kindly offered us the use of The Gallery at 70 Cowcross Street, a wonderful venue where we have held our events for the last fifteen years. We are enormously grateful for his generosity, without which we could not have continued to function.

Since the Pandemic restrictions, we have been organising a number of events on Zoom, and these have been well attended, although inevitably they lost the intimate quality and sense of comradeship of our face to face meetings.

However, all good things come to an end. Our very small Management Committee which has been stretched to the limit for some years, has now been very sadly further depleted by ill health and the death of Susanna Mitchell, and it would no longer be feasible to return to the Gallery, even if it reopened and invited us to do so.   We have therefore reluctantly decided that it is time to draw our Café Diplo events to a close.

We intend to keep the website operational for another year in case any of our supporters would like to consult it, and listen to the recordings of some of the talks given by our wonderful speakers.

Again, huge thanks to you all – to our speakers and supporters, and most particularly to Alan Baxter and his staff, whose generosity has enabled us to hold so many informative and enjoyable evenings in such congenial surroundings.

With very best wishes to all concerned

The Management Committee of Friends of le Monde Diplomatique

 

 

SUSANNA MITCHELL 1941 – 2021

Susanna was the inspiration and leading light of ‘The Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique’ over a period of nearly twenty years. Brought up in Northern Ireland from a conservative Protestant background, she and her husband Donald became increasingly active politically following a period when she was an army wife stationed in Germany and Gibraltar and then when they were both running a farm in Northern Ireland. They became involved with the Alliance party, trying to overcome the sectarianism that plagued Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and subsequently Susanna wrote and published three novels – one of which ‘The Colour of His Hair’ looks at the situation in Northern Ireland. Unable to see a way out of the sectarianism, and with family responsibilities, Susanna and Donald moved to the South of England in the 1980s, and after taking A levels, Susanna was accepted to do a degree in Political and Social Science at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge.

On graduating, she taught political theory at Cambridge and then worked as a researcher for the New Economics Foundation in London, producing a number of important reports in 2007 and 2009 on Migration and the Consumption Explosion. With a deeply held belief in social justice, she became a very committed and active member of Camden Labour party after their move to London, being strongly convinced that political engagement is essential if democracy is to have any future; central to her political activity was opposition to the privatisation of the NHS via the Health and Social Care Act (2012), and yet more fragmentation and privatised services through the new Health and Care Bill making its way through Parliament now. But it was the Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique that was the main focus of her activism over many years.

She joined the Friends in 2003, at a time when it was going through a very difficult period and the future of the group was in doubt. With her husband Donald and a group of dedicated Committee members, she put in place a fresh start, and over the coming years organised hundreds of talks on a huge range of subjects at the fortnightly Cafe Diplo meetings, which took place initially at the French Institute and subsequently at The Gallery in Farringdon. The philosophy of Cafe Diplo was to offer an alternative view to the neoliberal narrative that dominates the media on the most important political, social and economic issues of our time. Within this, there was also a commitment to look at issues of international importance rather than narrow UK concerns, to cover political issues in countries which receive little coverage in the western media, and to support the journalistic aims of the Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, and in particular its English edition.

The results of this approach were impressive. Susanna used her wide range of contacts in the academic and political world to enable the Committee to invite speakers with formidable specialist knowledge, who spoke at the Cafe Diplo meetings without a fee and who welcomed the opportunity to disseminate their ideas to a wider audience. One attendee at Cafe Diplo meetings said it was like attending a high-powered fortnightly seminar on the most important contemporary topics. And the range of topics covered at the meetings and full day conferences was indeed impressive and eclectic; it included countries in crisis such as Yemen, Burma, Egypt, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, international banking and finance, globalisation, health, microfinance, modern warfare, human rights, sustainable development, climate change and much more.

Susanna was committed in her radicalism and unwilling to compromise with a predatory establishment. When Moazzam Begg, recently released from Guantanamo, agreed to speak at Cafe Diplo in 2006, the French Institute, under pressure from the French embassy and no doubt the British security establishment, refused to allow the meeting to take place on their premises and would not relent despite meetings with the French Consul and representations to the French ambassador. The meeting with Moazzam Begg was eventually held at Imperial College and from that time on, Cafe Diplo severed its links with the French Institute; through Susanna and Donald and thanks to the generosity of Alan Baxter it found a home at the Gallery in Farringdon where there was a commitment to free and open discussion.

The many achievements of Susanna’s life were substantial, however it is particularly her qualities as a person that will be remembered. She was a devoted family person, mother and grandmother. Committee meetings at her house were always memorable for the hospitality that she and Donald provided and for the wide-ranging discussions they engendered. She had a razor sharp mind and a penetrating intelligence, but it is her gentleness, humour, warmth, kindness and ability to empathise with all kinds of people that we will miss so sorely.


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