By Jonathan Power
“Brazil has a great future, and always will”, said Charles de Gaulle, the president of France in the 1960s. In truth it is not difficult to be cynical about Brazil. It is a large land of both great potential and many lost opportunities- and yet whenever I visit it, as I have regularly over 40 years, I find the positive changes are immense.
In my time I have seen growth rates year after year of 10% or more. I have seen the transformation of favelas- shanty towns- into solid working class housing. I have seen infant mortality rates plummet. (To capture the flavor of the lives of the poor a must read is the new top prize-winning novel, “Quarenta Dias” (Forty Days), written by Valeria Rezende, a nun.) And under Brazil’s last president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, leader of the Workers’ Party I have seen the almost unbelievable- capitalist economic progress and socialist social progress storming ahead hand in hand.
Right now Brazil is in the middle of the kind of economic crisis profligacy, bad economic management, a sudden loss of export markets for its commodities and inflation have brought a number of times before. But this is perhaps the worse fall in economic progress since the 1930s. To compound Brazil’s problems is the Zika virus, which is spreading at a fast rate. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear Dr. Riad Hijab
I’m very sorry to see that that is your decision and conditions as stated in your e-mail to me and at Al-Jazera here.
Without your participation in Geneva, there will also not be a chance of a better situation for the Syrian people.
There are grave faults and violent actions and killing by all sides who conduct politics by arms and killing.
To request that one side out of some 30-40 shall stop doing something bad as a precondition for participation is, I am sure you recognise, a path to even more destruction and human suffering.
Good old Immanuel Kant would say with his moral imperative: Ask yourself what would happen if all other actors did what I do now? In other words, do our own actions have such a quality that it could be elevated to a general principle practised by all.
And you may see what I mean.
Jan Oberg, dr.hc. peace researcher and mediator
Director of TFF
By Jan Oberg
Permit a digression to neighbouring Sweden.
Sweden has – shamefully – not only closed its borders for people without valid documents, scrapped the right to asylum embedded in the Human Rights Declaration. It has declared (January 28, 2016) that it intends to deport 60.000-80.000 refugees already inside Sweden.
It was Sweden’s ambassador, the courageous Harald Edelstam, who in 1973 stood at the stadium in Santiago after the Pinochet coup and murder of president Allende and told thousands that they would always be welcome in Sweden. Thousands came and made a good life in Sweden. (There were 90 Chileans living in Sweden before the coup, today over 40,000). A small internationalist country took humanitarian leadership and we could all be proud.
But we can’t take that many people now, I hear many say.
The head of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Region (SKL) has stated that 40-50 municipalities are facing crisis in Sweden but that, significantly, 200-220 municipalities “say they can do more.”
But then what about the country’s security and stability? The risk of social disorder, criminality, hatred?
Of course that is a risk. But that is an old one – xenophobia and racism has been around for long in Sweden, however less visible at the surface. An enlightened government’s response should be to serve as a role model and combat racism, Islamophobia in particular – not to combat and deport refugees.
Sweden’s new overall refugee-repelling strategy is a deplorable bending down for the worst forces in society instead of mobilising a demonstratively humanitarian and visionary policy for the common good – good for Sweden and good for Europe. If you behave like Denmark and Sweden you lose your goodwill and certainly every chance to influence or take leadership among other EU countries.
Where there is a will there is a way. But it also requires a little creativity.
The Swedish government lacks the will. Like Denmark – albeit in different ways.
Are we moving from democracy towards some kind of kakistocracy – i.e.“government by the worst, least qualified or most unprincipled citizens”?
New Danish fighter planes and reduced development assistance
Back to Denmark and one more piquant aspect. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
One can point to many reasons for such a tragic development in an otherwise decent, wealthy and hitherto well-respected country.
• It’s become too easy to go to war. The generation of politicians who might have a sense of war are long gone. If you take property owned by people who have fled thousands of kilometres because their life opportunities have been smashed and who carry just what they could grab in a hurry and carry – you simply have no idea of what life is like in a war zone. Neither do you see any need for advisers.
• Only a small percentage of Danish politicians have any international experience, no special competence, in international affairs – in sharp contrast to the 1970s-80s.
• Knowledge, broad civic education and cultured manners have been replaced by marketing consultants, styling experts, and fast politics salesmanship.
• Politics nowadays attracts a different kind of people than before. They fight more for their power positions than for an ideology, values, norms or a vision of a better world – all of which is totally outdated in today’s politics.
• Politics is a job or profession, not a calling based on deepy held individual values and visions about a better society for all.
• Anyone mentioning ethics or existential responsibilities would be ridiculed. And neither do media people raise such dimensions. An expert in ethics is hardly ever invited to the TV debates.
• Since the end of the Cold War, there has been no international balancing factor to take into account – the US/NATO and EU could do virtually what they pleased, riskfree violations of all good norms and international law – and implicit, if not intended, humiliation of Russia.
• The social democratic party developed from a working class solidarity movement to a middle class power elite losing on the way all ideals, ideology and solidarity with disadvantaged classes domestically and internationally. It lost its narrative and party identity as a social transformation agent for the better sometime in the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
It was a few days ago when Swedish Army chief, Major-General Anders Brännström stated in a (leaked) internal document that ‘Sweden could be at war within a few years.’
This is, of course, nothing but ‘fearology’ and very bad judgement. He may be a great soldier but a victim of his own system’s bizarre threat perceptions – always pointing as they do to the Russians.
As I explain here, this is part of a much larger picture – and it isn’t good. The statement – that is not and has not been backed up by any analysis – ought to be enough for general Brännström to be replaced.
But that is something both mainstream media and scholars are too diplomatic to suggest. Had he stated something about Sweden being drawn into a war if it were a NATO member it would certainly have caused quite a media debate and discussions about his qualifications.
By Jan Oberg
Or, where there is a will, there is a way
2001 – the ‘war on terror’
The war on terror was initiatied after 9/11 – Afghanistan 10/7. Denmark went along without thinking. The idea came from Washington, so what was there to think about?
At the time about 400 people were killed in international terrorism per year; today the Global Terror Index informs us that 32.000 people are killed in terrorism. It must be the stupidest war in modern time and the majority of the victims are found in the Middle East, not in Europe and not in the US.
But we bomb – and create more terrorism. And more refugees. Politics having become anti-intellectual and devoid of ethical considerations, few connect the dots. Fewer see Denmark’s own co-responsibility for causing the problems and even fewer see the moral responsibility of taking care. No, steal their belongings.
It was prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of the liberal Party, Venstre (meaning left but it’s neo-liberal right) whose government made Denmark an occupying power in Iraq over four years (2003-2007). By any standards the most serious foreign policy blunder of Danish foreign policy since 1945.
Asked recently on Danish television how he felt about the tragic situation in today’s Iraq he answered that – well, we stretched out our hand to the Iraqi people but unfortunately they didn’t take it.
No remorse there, Mr. Always Right. But quite a statement when you are a non-convicted war criminal having joined a project that killed about 1 million Iraqis during war, occupation and 13 years of sanction. The Danish politicians and people are still, it seems, unable or unwilling to understand the dimensions of this blunder – which is one reason they also don’t understand today what it means to be a refugee.
It was under his leadership – or lack if it – the Muhamed caricatures became a diplomatic disaster. He refused to meet with Muslim leaders in Denmark and also ignored a letter of concern from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the global voice of Muslims with 57 member states and 1,6 billion people.
Probably no one in the PM’s and foreign minister’s office had a clue what the OIC was.
But he did know who Khadaffi was when later, rewarded for his good deeds by the US and catapulted to S-G of NATO, he spearheaded the coalition member states’ violation of the very limited UN mandate, their destruction of that country and the killing of Khadaffi. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Or, where there is a will there is a way*
Once again Denmark appears in the international community and media for the wrong things, this time for a law package with three main, draconian anti-refugee laws. One legalises stealing – that’s what it is – valuables owned by refugees upon arrival if they exceed US$ 1450; the second cuts down on the already meagre daily benefit and the third extends the family reuinion period from 1 to 3 years.
81 MPs voted yes, 27 No, 1 abstained and 70 MPs were absent. The main argument is that Denmark wants to “signal” that asylum seekers should go elsewhere. Otherwise marketing-conscious politicians have overlooked that there are millions upon millions out there who are not asylum seekers and they get an extremely bad impression of Denmark. Like they did when Denmark put ads in Middle Eastern newspaper some time ago to deter potential refugees.
The three laws – of which the first clearly provokes memories of what the Nazis did to the Jews – are just a peak point in a long (mal)development of Denmark’s foreign policy. It can be characterised by incremental absence of ethics, solidarity, compassion, empathy and sound human judgement – all concepts outside the domain of ‘real’ politics – combined with increased interventionism, militarism and lofty contempt for international laws.
By passing these laws, the country’s parliamentarians – with a few exceptions – have soiled the image of the country abroad even more and for a very long time ahead, one must fear.
It is not unreasonable to assume that terrorists will pay attention to this development which is de facto targetting refugees which are almost 100% Muslims.
Many Danish citizens including myself now recognise that ‘Dane’ rhymes with ‘Shame’. This trend in Danish policitics doesn’t happen in our name.
Once upon a time
Denmark used to be known and appreciated around the world Read the rest of this entry »
By Jonathan Power
Political freedom is going down.
Date: January 27th 2016.
Life, said Martin Luther King “is a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign”. He must have said that when his spirits were flagging as most of the time he was optimistic about making the world a better place.
I was reminded of this when reading a new report, “Freedom in the World, 2016”, written by the US-based Freedom House. For the tenth consecutive year, it says, freedom has declined.
72 countries slipped back in the amount of political, civil rights and press freedom they allowed their citizens. 43 countries made gains. However, to keep it in proportion, the number of countries which are free is much higher than when the Cold War ended. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of countries going backwards have small populations.
This report has given my own optimistic spirit a bang over the head. In the first decade after the Cold War I used to quote Freedom House whose annual reports showed democracy and freedom gaining ground across the world at a rapid rate. Read the rest of this entry »
By Johan Galtung
The state system emerged in the 17th century, with institutions for force. One was for internal and one for external use: the national police and the national military, national standing for the dominant nation in the states. The role of the police was to protect elites against theft and violence by the people; crimes by the law. And the role of the military was to protect the states against each other. Both police and military occasionally initiated violence.
The description just given still holds very well for the USA. “Banking scandals” give us insight in class-conscious “justice”. Police patrol the streets, not the boardrooms. And no arrests.
But wars between states are now dwindling. They yield to wars between dominant and other nations within states, and dominant and other civilizations in the world; using state and non-state terrorism.
How did “modern” elites get these ideas? From intellectuals.
They picked Thucydides who told them that wars there will always be, and von Clausewitz who trivialized them, from Hobbes who told them that people are born violent and have to be controlled, and Machiavelli who told them that the prince has to be feared, not loved.
Or they decided themselves and picked intellectuals to confirm.
The military had an agenda: fight for victory, unconditional surrender of the other side, dictate the terms; call it peace.
The police had an agenda: detect, arrest, court, confession, sentence, punishment; call it justice. Theory: individual and general prevention, punishment not to do it again and as a warning to others.
All false, all nonsense. And wars and crimes are still with us. Read the rest of this entry »
By Farhang Jahanpour
Since achieving their independence from Western colonialism, most Arab countries have never experienced events such as they have seen during the past few years. The demonstrators in Tunisia got rid of their autocratic ruler in a remarkably short time.
And the events in Egypt starting exactly five years ago today (25 January, 2015) spelled the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The fire of revolutions and uprisings spread to other Arab countries, and are still continuing.
Although those revolutions have not yet led to any lasting democracy or improvements in the lives of their citizens, nevertheless, what has happened during the past five years cannot be reversed, no matter how hard the autocratic rulers try to set the clock back.
For better or worse, the Arab world is undergoing profound changes, which will affect both the lives of Arab citizens and the relations between those countries and the rest of the world for a long time to come.
Let us remember that the Prague Spring began on 5 January 1968, but it took more than another two decades for East European countries to achieve their independence and a greater degree of democracy. The Prague Spring was short-lived, as was the Arab Spring, but the spark that it ignited never died.
The spark of the revolution in Tunisia was an Read the rest of this entry »