Jun 282022

I’ve learnt a new word this week. Actually, the difference between an enclave and an exclave still isn’t clear to me, nor do I think it is all that important. (See definitions and examples in Wikipedia as at 27 June 2022). Oddly, the Wikipedia article doesn’t mention the exclave Gibraltar. I wonder why.

Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave bordered on the South by Poland and on the North by Lithuania. A railroad connects Kaliningrad with the rest of Russia and ensures supplies to the city.

On the other hand, a 100 km long so-called Suwalki Corridor lies between Kaliningrad and Belarus. The Suwalki corridor is subject to much NATO hand-wringing, since the three Baltic states would be pretty helpless if Russia/Belarus takes control of it.

Nonetheless, Lithuania proudly announced the other day that they would hereafter block rail transport of goods between Russia and Kaliningrad (see a discussion on the matter in Foreign Policy) effectively creating a blockade.

This step on the part of Lithuania, which is merely implementing sanctions imposed by the EU, is pretty reckless, I’d say. Obviously, if Russia feels pressured into taking belligerent action against a NATO country to supply its city, all hell will be lose (i.e. WWIII).

Of course, when the day comes, nobody will remember that we, the NATO countries, almost forced Russia to attack in order to supply the roughly half million people living in Kaliningrad. We will have forgotten, for the simple reason that most of us never knew; our press barely murmured something about the exclave in a subordinate clause.

I find myself asking what the heck is the matter with Warmonger Stoltenberg. (His name, by the way, means proud rock, so why not call him Rocky?) Had I asked him personally, he would of course have replied that fear of death should not prevent us from defending Democracy, or something to that effect. I would have retaliated with dramatic gestures that Russia has never threatened my country’s democracy (or non-aligned Sweden’s or Finland’s), that Ukraine never was a democracy and that every country the US and/or NATO has touched since 1950 has been reduced to rubble. I never argue well with people I passionately despise.

For Mr Stoltenberg, who grew up in the lap of luxury, “death” is just a word. More importantly, though, he has never ever had to be anything but Norwegian. For Norwegians a number of modern values are self-evident. Anybody or any country that does not share and understand those values is “wrong” and subject to kind but firm conversion efforts or, at worst, defamation. That is, of course, unless the person or country in question is an ally, like apartheid Israel. And now, at last, Norway is proudly and ridiculously carrying the banner together with the big guys — UK and France and Germany — determined to fight for global Democracy. We are going to “save” China, Afghanistan, Iran… etc. First, though, we must crush Russia. Of course, we are not alone. At the head of this crusade is USA.

USA’s national assembly has just, we are jubilantly told here in Norway, managed to agree on some gun control. The infinitesimal gun control agreed upon has, however, been offset by a gargantuan gun liberation ruling passed by the Supreme Court. See the New York Times for details. You might not have noticed this decision, at least if you live in Norway, where negative references to USA tend to be shied away from these days. Is the press grooming us to rally around our dear leader, President Biden and his lieutenant NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg?

Jun 202022

The UK Government is capitalising on the conflict between Russia and the US-led alliance, to try to push a National Security Bill through Parliament. If enacted, the legislation in question will make it a criminal offence for anybody to report “restricted” information if that person – say a journalist or his/her organisation – has received funding from abroad. Investigative journalists and whistle blowers will risk ending up in jail for life.

In my country, the press is pusillanimous these days, now that our former folksy prime minister is the warmongering Secretary General of NATO. So on Monday, the UK Government’s decision to sign Julian Assange’s extradition order was only mentioned on pages 14 and 18 respectively in two of the country’s leading dailies [Dagsavisen and Aftenposten]. Admittedly the heading in both papers was “A dark day for press freedom”. When questioned about the extradition order, the Norwegian Foreign Minister was quoted as blithely “confident that the British authorities adhered fully to their international human rights obligations in this matter.” [Aftenposten, 18/02.22, p. 14]

Not in any Norwegian paper do I find a word about the United Kingdom’s proposed National Security Bill. Russia is ahead of us, of course, as far as persecution of journalists is concerned, but we’re learning, and we’re learning fast:

Allow me to Introduce Section I of the bill:

  1. Obtaining or disclosing protected information
    1. A person commits an offence if—
      • (a) the person—
        • (i) obtains, copies, records or retains protected information, or
        • (ii) discloses or provides access to protected information,
      • (b) the person’s conduct is for a purpose that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom, and
      • (c) the foreign power condition is met in relation to the person’s conduct (see section 24).
    2. In this section “protected information” means any information, document or other article where, for the purpose of protecting the safety or interests of the United Kingdom—
      • (a) access to the information, document or other article is restricted in any way, or
      • (b) it is reasonable to expect that access to the information, document or other article would be restricted in any way.
    3. Subsection (1) applies whether the person’s conduct takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
    4. A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life or a fine (or both).
    5. For the purposes of this section—
      • (a) a person retains protected information if the person retains it in their possession or under their control;
      • (b) disclosure includes parting with possession.

Notice the expression in subsection 2: ” safety or interests of the United Kingdom”. The “interests” of UK could be defined as anything, at the discretion of the powers that be. Obviously.

Notice too, the “foreign power condition”. Just like Russia. Putin must be beaming with pride.

A bill is considered drab reading and rarely makes much headlines. Legalese is a near incomprehensible jargon, and there tends to be introductory assuaging references to “public interest … safety… security” and “protection of the general public”. By the time you get to the crux of the matter, you’ve fallen asleep. But this is a matter of freedom of the press! Have mainstream news outlets ceased to care (unless, of course, the press in question is Russian)? Have they simply given up already?

Please note that many, or maybe even most, humanitarian NGOs apply for and receive aid from numerous countries other than their own. Most worthwhile news publications, including the Guardian, depend on donors from all over the world. Many investigative journalists – those that still dare to operate as such – devote their efforts to exposing corruption. (One of the key characteristics of corruption is that it involves national or local government officials.) The bill in question would threaten them all.

I’m not British. But the British courts have so blatantly disregarded due process on a number of counts in the Assange case, and the frivolous British head of state is so quite obviously not to be trusted and, moreover, not accountable , either to the public or to the prosecuting authority, that I find myself doubting that the British Parliament is any better. If the UK enacts the National Security bill, I fear the rest of Europe will sooner or later follow suit. After all, in all of Europe, a lot of very powerful people have plenty to hide.

A number of prominent foreign affairs experts, historians and diplomats have suggested that Biden and most of his immediate predecessors have orchestrated the Ukraine war. Their articles and warnings are not being printed in the mainstream press, which is why some of them are turning to non-mainstream outlets, such as https://consortiumnews.com, while others just shut up. You’re welcome to believe that what they are saying is “Putin propaganda”, but I put to you that we are all, on both sides of the divide, bombarded with propaganda. Meanwhile, the fate of Assange does not invite out-spoken critique of the Western narrative.

If https://consortiumnews.com were based in Russia, its editor in chief would no doubt be prosecuted. What I fear is that in the not too distant future, his freedom might be threatened, also in the West. At any rate, the fate of Assange demonstrates that “freedom of the press” is already very limited.

Jun 142022

Now that the costs of this war are starting to stand out from all the dust and smoke, we are hearing a lot of semantic exercising. I quote N.Y. Times today: “Mr. Scholz, who has been criticized for not supplying more arms, faster, to Ukraine, says that Russia must not win — but has never said that Ukraine must achieve victory.” A growing number of people are belatedly finding it opportune to remind us of Neville Chamberlain’s adage: “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.”

Russia will most certainly have lost the battle against Ukrainian fascism. Opposing fascism with fascism rarely ends fascism. (War is, after all, fascism, seen from the perspective of the attacked party.) Russia will have won the eternal hatred of most Ukrainians, the fierce loathing of an enormous swathe of Europe’s previously neutral population – if you consider such an achievement a victory – and the addition of two countries into the enemy alliance NATO.

Most analysts finally agree, however, that the greatest loser will be Ukraine, both in terms of casualties and material damage and in terms of trauma. It will take years to rebuild the country economically and to heal emotional wounds. Fascism and Neo-Nazism will be alive and thriving, there will be political discord, and entry into the EU will be totally unrealistic for years to come.

Russia will probably have won some territory. It will not have been weakened economically. It will have consolidated its nationalism and Putin’s grip. It will have seen demonstrated even further how economically and politically feeble the US is, and it will have strengthened the case for geopolitical multi-polarity.

Ever since Navalnyj started looming too large for his personal comfort, Putin has become very much more of a hard-liner, more willing to brazenly demonstrate his fear of losing personal power. Nevertheless, having virtually lifted Russia out of the rubble when he took over, he still enjoys the unequivocal support of his compatriots. Moreover, the West has completely failed to understand Russians’ historic ties to Ukraine, and has disclosed appalling hubris, if you ask me. Russians won’t readily pardon western hubris.

Yet, much as Russians are used to keeping their mouths shut in public – they are not willing to shut down their brains. Disaffection about Putin’s refusal to accept opposition will probably grow, but only in the long term. After all, we’re increasingly seeing insidious restrictions of and even outright attacks on free speech/press also in the Western world. The Russians recognize hypocrites a mile off. (They’ve been breast-fed by their own 19th century novelists, for whom hypocrisy was a primary topic.)

The sad part is that those who clamoured loudest for military support to Ukraine have for once been not so much neocons as those who normally vociferously oppose neocons. In the name of “justice”, “fairness”, and all things good, they have been bamboozled. This is the case not least in my own country. Very sad. And here we are: Bear Market in the US, severe inflation everywhere, growing shortages of food, energy and spare parts … all inevitably to be followed by rising despair among mortgage holders and low-income households everywhere. (Despair, remember, equals havoc.)

My point being, once again: Yes, we must strive for “justice for all”, for fairness; we must oppose injustice, fascism, apartheid, BUT we must also bring our heads down from the clouds. Putin is arguably a dictator, but he is far, far from the worst of the lot. The Arabian prince, for instance, a long-term buddy of the US, is infinitely much worse.

As for winners and bamboozlers, I mean losers, Neville Chamberlain was not entirely right: Not all are losers. There will always be some people who know how to make astronomic profits from war.

May 162022

The expression “international relations” can be the name of a field of study or research. It can also refer – unsurprisingly – to “international relations”.

I see that experts of “international relations” tend to be qualified as either “realist” or “liberal”. You will have to do your own research, but I have done mine and have reached the conclusion that the “liberal” school is at best pitifully naive. “At best,” I insist, and I mean “at best”.

Most nation states will prefer diplomacy (polite coercion) and cooperation to armed conflict, if for no other reason because the latter is costly. Just as most people don’t take each other to court, even if they have “a good case”, because no matter how sure they are of the legal basis for their claims, they can never be sure that “justice will prevail”.

Some “nation states” call the shots more than others in international organisations. Take even the Security Council with its “permanent members”, who have veto powers: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; three Western countries against two non-western. Almost like the sharply bipartisan US Supreme Court. Except that the veto power means that the Security Council is pretty well paralysed. Were it not for the veto, the West would have its way in every case. You might think that would be a good thing, but if you are not a reasonably wealthy person in a reasonably wealthy state, you might not.

We are human, after all. Our species has many lovely traits, but also some that are less loveable. Take for instance our tendency to abominate those who are different (colour, religion, outlook, sex, whatever.) When I went to upper secondary school, the school’s very best student was kicked out because he refused to cut his hair. “Quite a few years ago”, you may say, and you may think we have changed since then. Changed, yes, but at all times, and in every place, there will always be abomination. India, a country I learned to revere as the home of Ghandi, as the cradle, as it were, of non-violence, has turned into an extremely violent place. Even Sri Lanka …

When people are desperately hungry, they don’t always act nobly. When people are desperate, period, goodness knows what they will do.

I’m sure you are familiar with “group dynamics”, in workplaces, for instance. Maybe you are a student. Maybe you have a child at school. Whoever you are, I’m sure that you know, in your heart of hearts, of people who were not included, not invited, not welcome. Maybe you yourself were excluded, treated overbearingly or even hectored. Or maybe you yourself were a bully. In the US, they are so ahead of us that they even have school shootings, more often than not perpetrated by people who have not been included, invited or welcomed.

That’s us, you see. Homo sapiens. We can be very kind. We can also be anything but.
“But,” you say, “cooperating nation states will not stoop to the level of vile individuals!”

  • What did the West do with its Covid vaccines? Did we or did we not share them with, say Africa?
  • There is a terrible famine in Africa now. Far worse than ever before. And it’s due to climate change! What are we doing about that? Huh?

And by the way, a resolution to combat “glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” was adopted by the UN in 2021 against two votes. Guess whose votes they were. See for yourself, finding the N preceding the names of only two countries.

Now all this was just an introduction. My real agenda is to suggest a lecture held in 2015 by John Mearsheimer. John Mearsheimer is currently a favourite hate object for the press. He was and is still however, a prominent expert on international relations, a so-called “realist”. I think that we should have paid more attention to what he said back then.

Seven years after he held that lecture, we have a war on our hands and it’s too late to prevent it and probably also too late to stop it (because wars follow their own perverse dynamic. Remember, we’re humans, i.e. not entirely rational.)

  • A lot of people on both sides have died and will continue to die. Died! Like lost their lives (sometimes slowly and painfully) – leaving broken hearts, widows and orphans…
  • Innumerable homes and livelihoods in Ukraine will be gone.
  • Innumerable people in the US and Europe will sink into poverty or deeper poverty.
  • A handful of people will grow fantastically much richer, and I bet that you and I won’t be among them.
  • We are told that the war will lead to food shortages over the entire planet.
  • Meanwhile, the entire planet is facing a monumental existential challenge: Climate change.

Mind you, this war is not going to end any time soon. Will it have been worth it? If so, why?

  • Because we hate Putin?
  • Because we believe in “freedom”?

What is freedom? For whom? From whom? How and at what cost?
Now that I think about it, though, ultimate freedom is death, so I guess, yes, this war is a step in the direction of ultimate freedom for all.

Apr 302022

I’m standing by a window on the top floor of a hospital in a village just outside the capital. In my hand, a cup of steaming, near-undrinkable hospital coffee, but in my ears, ear-buds. I’m taking a five-minute break from work, shutting out all but the sight of softly rolling fields – green at last – trimmed with darker green coniferous forest, and the sound of indigo – Mood Indigo. Spring has come and I just simply love the chromatic twists of Duke Ellington’s piece.

The harmonies are a wee bit lewd, I muse, taking an unwilling sip of the horrid coffee, as something breaks up a house on the outskirts of the village, and black smoke rises. I tear out my ear-buds and hear a blast as another house is blown to bits, flames and black smoke, and another and another, closer and closer to the hospital where I am staring petrified from a window on the top floor.

Relax! It was just a dream, a horrible dream.

But my dream refused to end! Hour after hour, it seemed, it hounded me into the bleak grey hours preceding daybreak. That was when I finally woke up and walked through the nightmare, pretending to be my own psychoanalyst: There was, for instance, the scene where we were in the over-crowded bomb shelters under the hospital. Even the patients’ beds were jam-packed. Black, foul-smelling smoke was pouring in through the great iron door that muscular men were trying to shut against the pressure from innumerable beds and patients and nurses on the other side – the outside! – where they were being enveloped in poisonous smoke.

Mind you, the thick iron doors are real enough. They date back to the Cuba crisis. Over the years, hospital employees hurrying through the long subterranean corridors will absent-mindedly have wondered why they are there. Now, once again, they make sense.

My psychoanalyst, i.e. me, tells me that I am terrified they will once again be needed, and that now, bomb shelters from the fifties cannot possibly accommodate the current population.

Once again, we are witnessing a stand-off between powers. Back then, in 1962, somebody – possibly on both sides – had a bit of sense, and WWIII was averted. Will it be averted this time?

Some politicians – again on both sides – have very big egos and are keening to demonstrate their mettle. In the West, they are often referred to as “hawks” or “hardliners” or “neocons”, men more often than not, obsessed with the idea of being noticed, yea, adulated. In the US, having preened themselves they make sure to gain the attention of TV cameras in front of which they strut like turkeys.

What, I wonder, are they called in the East?

In the West, we don’t see Russian turkeys, unless we consider Putin one. He has after all been depicted in the press with a bare torso. (You would never see Biden with a bare torso! On the other hand, you would never hear Putin speaking like a neocon). Maybe would-be Russian turkeys are being suppressed. There is, of course, also the possibility that Russians don’t admire human turkeys as much as we do in the West. Maybe they admire subtlety and irony. In fact, I happen to know that Russians are masters of irony.

How about honesty? Putin is a liar, no doubt about it. He said he would not invade Ukraine, and see what happened!

Mr Putin, henceforward nobody will ever, ever, ever believe a word you say. That card, that of your word, is one that you will never again be able to play. Not that politicians in the West don’t lie. “I never had sex with…” And what about the famous “weapons of mass destruction” for which an entire country had to be destroyed. But those liars got voted out of power. They went. They all go, one after the other; all the western strongmen (and they all lie) go, but you, Mr Putin, you are staying, having imprisoned your opponents. Now, however, you have played a card you could not afford to play. You lied demonstrably to an entire world that will not forget, far less forgive. Mendacity is not generally tolerated, Mr Putin.

Now “the Russians” are destroying a whole country. Much good it will do them, with Finland and Sweden joining NATO and a cold war – more like an ice age – freezing all of Europe. Oh, I’m pretty sure Russia will survive. Less sure that Europe will, not to mention Ukraine.

If it comes to being bad, every trick in the book will be used by both Western turkeys and Eastern masters of mendacity.

So who is good? Who is bad? It seems so obvious now, but who produces what evidence in what court? Above all: Who is the judge?

Meanwhile people are being killed absurdly on both sides. “Poof! You’re out!”

For years, I’ve been following the Catalan issue. Catalonians and Spaniards have diametrically opposed understandings of Catalan history, just as the Ukrainians and Russians have different understandings of Ukrainian history. In 2017, Catalonia seceded, and the Spanish central authorities demonstrated that Franco’s spirit is still alive and well. (The Franco regime’s crimes against humanity have never been prosecuted in Spain.) A civil war seemed more than possible. Fortunately, a change of government in Spain enabled genuine and constructive dialogue. The issue is not solved, not least since “patriotic” Spanish voters tend to be furiously opposed to compromise, but I put it to you that genuine constructive dialogue is better than civil war.

NATO never offered genuine constructive dialogue. After Russia’s very unfortunate reaction to NATO’s pigheadedness, the West has stomped into this issue with heavy military boots, pouring arms into Ukraine, inviting Ukrainians to exterminate themselves and their country, solely in order to debilitate Russia.

All I can say, by way of conclusion is this: Hey you guys on both sides, history will be your judge, so pull your fucking socks up!

Jan 212022

Let us take stock of NATOs fiefdoms in Europe. The map (right) shows the extent of NATO in Europe in 1990: (source: Wikipedia as at 20 Jan. 2022): Since the organisation’s foundation in 1949, only four states had joined: West Germany, Greece and Turkey (in 1952) and Spain (in 1982 after the end of the Fascist dictatorship).

The light blue patch denotes that Germany was being unified and that what had been East Germany would soon be included in NATO. East Germany’s inclusion was the source of negotiations between the Soviet Union and Western powers.

Since then — only 30 years ago — the outcome of these negotiations appears to have been “forgotten” by the Western powers. Agreements were reached in 1989 through 1991, that the Western powers subsequently failed to honour.

As a Norwegian, I am particularly pained and humiliated by the abject lies told by my former Prime Minister, the current dangerously silly secretary general of NATO. See for yourself in the National Security Archive that the Western powers pledged that NATO would not expand “one inch” eastwards.

Now this is the extent of NATO in 2020:
(source: Wikipedia as at 20 Jan. 1922):

See a difference?

All the former European Warsaw pact states have been joyously welcomed into NATO. Well, not all: Moldova is not a member, and Belarus is Dictator Putin’s plaything.)

And then there is, of course, Ukraine.

Now I am sure that most of us agree that Mr Putin is as much of a psychopath as President el-Sisi of Egypt and the handsome prince of Saudi Arabia and whoever is in charge in Israel at any given moment, currently Benny Ganz, all three of whom systematically and continuously commit crimes against humanity.

But NATO does not go to war on Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel, far from it! These three countries are NATO allies. So please let us agree on one point:

NATO is absolutely indifferent about human rights.
NATO cares only about “realpolitik” (as defined in Wikipedia as at 20 Jan. 1922):

… politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism. It is often simply referred to as “pragmatism” in politics, e.g. “pursuing pragmatic policies”. The term Realpolitik is sometimes used pejoratively to imply politics that are perceived as coercive, amoral, or Machiavellian.

So I ask you:
If you were Russian, living in Russia, and your president told you that “our country is surrounded by NATO and risks being attacked”, and you looked at the two above maps, what would you think of NATO? …. a NATO that is now literally hugging all your European borders except that of Sweden, Finland and Ukraine, a NATO that is now determined to include even Ukraine.
Would you consider NATO expansion “peaceful”?

And I ask you also:
If you were Russian, living in Russia, and you looked at the two above maps, would you oppose your president? … a president who, admittedly, uses all “necessary” means to suppress serious resistance to his regime, but who is determined to uphold Russia’s honour.
Or would you gladly defend your country against NATO?

Please remember that Russians love their country just as much as you love yours.

Now, I put to you that the current secretary general of NATO is not a smart player, is not even vaguely a statesman. He is merely a puppet of the Pentagon (i.e. US military industry) and is, probably unwittingly (poor man), acting as a warmonger.

Analogy: A kid is surrounded by bullies telling him to lie down on the ground, or else!
Now if that kid happens to have a switch-blade in his pocket, he might actually fight back, and maybe his friends (China, Iran and other outcasts) will come to his rescue and the outcome will be extremely bloody.

I don’t like kids with switch-blades anymore than you do. But I think we have to rethink foreign relations. Silliness should certainly not determine the fate of any country’s population.

In a recent substack post by Glenn Greenwald about the unholy alliance between “war hungry” neocons and the Democratic Party, I find a quote from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Now that’s silly for you.!

Reality is this:
(Copied from the New York Times, photo by Diego Ibarra Sanchez)

Dec 212021

The Social Democrat Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970, and again in 1973. His re-election in 1973, in spite of the United States’ destabilization activities (which effectively paralysed Chile) was the last straw for the U.S. and the Chilean upper class. The role played by the United States in the bloody 9/11 coup and the dismantling of Chilean Social Democracy is well documented not least by declassified documents from the US National Security Archive.

The blood-curdling bestiality of the subsequent dictatorship has also been painstakingly researched, not least by some of the victims’ next of kin (e.g. the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet). Incidentally, allow me to recommend the six episodes of the Netflix documentary, “Colonia Dignidad” established shortly after WWII and later used as one of the dictatorship’s myriad torture and detention centres.

The next opportunity for Chilean voters to make their wishes known came on 5 October 1988. To prove to his Western friends, not least Margaret Thatcher, how much his people loved him, and thus to justify continued dictatorship, Pinochet had allowed the “YES or NO plebiscite”. It didn’t occur to him that people would vote NO (i.e. NO more Pinochet!)

Again I recommend a film, “NO”, by Pablo Larrain. The fictional protagonists playfully use the enemy’s Neoliberal marketing tricks to win voters.

Equally important, I think, is another lesson learnt: David can beat Goliath. Pinochet held absolute power over all media, which trumpeted, day in and day out, Chile’s impressive GNP, its wealth and strength. All known leftist activists were either dead, abroad or in jail. Pinochet was handsome, elegantly courteous to the ladies, a “real man” for the men and devout (i.e. “a good man”). He was indeed beloved by many. His detractors were portrayed as dangerous communists, determined to strip you of all your property.

Still, Pinochet’s opponents won!

His “Chicago boys” had been hand-picked by Milton Friedman to reform the economy of the country, which became a testing ground for market fundamentalism, commonly referred to as “Neoliberalism”. After Pinochet stepped down, market fundamentalism was still enshrined in “his” Constitution, which was promulgated in 1980. For decades now, the world has considered Chile an economic miracle.

Was it?

The day 18 October 2019 saw the start of the “Estallido” (explosion). Just a few days earlier, President Piñera had boasted that Chile is the “oasis of Latin America”, failing to mention who owned the “oasis”. “Not us, to be sure,” said most people. “To be eligible for retirement benefits, we have to pay private pension funds that only repay a fraction of what we paid. We have to pay for private health insurance and for the education of our children. We are hopelessly indebted; we work from dawn till midnight; we hardly even know our children!”

When “our children” were castigated for refusing to pay the Metro fare to get to school because of a small price hike, parents stood by them. What started as a juvenile prank (the kids simply jumped over turnstiles) ended up as a major riot with tanks and a president who declared the country at war.

“War?” spat the infuriated hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets. “You are going to war against your own people?” Indeed, President Piñera was castigated by his own allies when Chile made international headlines due to the authorities’ brutality against peaceful demonstrators.

The uprising lasted for weeks and only ended after President Piñera had promised a new plebiscite. On October 25 the people of Chile were allowed to answer two questions: 1) Should the existing constitution be replaced? 2) In the event, should a new constitution be drafted by a democratically elected constitutional committee?

The voters responded with a resounding “YES” to both questions.

Alas, the subsequent backlash included the usual lies about what would become of Chile in the hands of idealistic fools manipulated by Russia, Cuba and China. I shall refrain from giving you the full text with which, I’m sure, you are already familiar. You know as well as I do that the Neoliberal set adroitly tailor the “information” they provide to fit their customers’ educational level, religion and culture. Above all, they make sure to filter “information” and spice it with titbits of fiction. “Truth” is not in the Neoliberal dictionary.

Many Chileans will literally have wept when a Fascist won the first round of this year’s presidential election. Referring to politicians you dislike as “fascists” is not comme il faut, but Jose Antonio Kast really is just that, a Fascist. A soft-spoken, handsome religious conservative like his hero Pinochet, he has the political outlook of an iron fist. Just as in Brazil, voters had tired of moderate conservatives and the only right wing person who could rally support was one who promised the moon. Electoral participation in the first round was, however, no more than 47%.

Voter turnout in the second round, on 19 December 2021, was 56%, even though most buses mysteriously stopped running that day, and people had to stand in line for hours in the scorching heat. Moreover, many Chileans living abroad were also prevented from voting when they discovered that Pinochet’s constitution requires them to register with their embassies almost half a year in advance of elections.

Chile is a deeply polarised country. That’s what dictatorships do to countries: They cleave them, and the wounds last for generations. Take Spain, for instance. Franco died in 1975, but the country has not healed, it is merely hushed. Silence is not always golden.

But in Chile, a young and fresh generation has taken charge, a generation that appears determined to dismantle Neoliberalism. To quote President-elect Gabriel Boric: “if Chile was the birthplace of Neoliberalism, Chile will also be its grave.”

Let us hope.

Dec 202021




Challenging neoliberalism, fake news, and mainstream (neoliberal) press is only the first step. Winning an election against such formidable foes, however, is nothing less than fantastic, almost sci-fi.

What remains to be seen is whether the beautiful forces of mostly (but certainly not only) young people demanding a decent life, a fair constitution, and basic human rights will survive past the almost paralysing astonishment at their actually having won the election.

Hope is definitely not dead.

Nov 272021

Where were we?
Oh , yes:

   rising inequality;
   and of course the pending implosion of basically all systems, due to climate change.

Is there any point in writing? Is there any point of signing petitions which governments don’t even bother to read, of joining protest marches that attract little notice unless they are brutally castigated by riot police. Is there any point of even discussing these issues?

Over the past decade, Greta Thunberg, Thomas Piketty, and Yuval Noah Harari have all been saying – each in his or her way – Stop the runaway train! They are no doubt still saying it and many, many others with them. Yet, all we hear from the powers-that-be is, as Greta Thunberg points out: bla-bla-bla.

Many of the passengers on the runaway train are bent over their mobile phones or tablets, some are chatting quietly, some are gazing out the window, a few are reading a book or a printout of a report or academic paper. In one of the wagons where a group of 6 are singing Christmas carols, a man has managed to fall asleep in a corner. Night has fallen outside, and the train careens on.

But not all is lost. Tireless efforts by millions of dedicated scientists all over the world have yielded results. Most of the deleterious processes undermining climate as we know it have been identified. By the same token, researchers have found out how these processes can be halted, even stopped. Yes, it can be done!

There is only one overwhelming obstacle: “the matter of money”.

Not that there isn’t enough “money”. Far from it. Somebody said the other day, “it only takes 2 % of all countries’ national product” – that’s not much, really, not when so much is at stake.

What is so utterly unresolved, however, is “whose money?”


Alas, there is much callousness about! Take for instance the British authorities’ reluctance to provide relief to its own citizens during the great famine in 1845-52. (One million died, and more than 2 million fled.) Was there an element of ethnic cleansing involved (after all, the victims were Irish, Catholic and poor) or was this disaster only a matter of “who pays?” At any rate, Great Britain was the richest nation on earth, and the authorities knew exactly what was happening.

Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries, when neither the nobility nor the clergy paid any tax, was a different matter. The Spanish crown, nobility and Church desperately needed funds to pay for endless wars and unimaginable profligacy (“noblesse oblige”). For a while, the Crown had access to silver and gold, robbed from Latin America, but over time, Spanish decadence was basically paid for by the peasants, who had the nasty habit of dying of starvation and exhaustion. There was no industry, few if any bustling towns with wealthy, tax-paying burgers, and hardly any agriculture to speak of. Spain was an extremely backward country.

Why? Because of what we would nowadays refer to as an “attitude problem” or, more precisely, because of ideology. Finally, in the 18th century, “the enlightenment” started seeping in, eroding cracks in the pernicious ideology that enveloped Spanish society, and Spain slowly started picking itself up out of the gutter.

Mind you, there was plenty of resistance to the progressive reforms advocated by adherents of “enlightenment”. Neither the clergy, nor the nobility wanted to relinquish privileges and – this is key – the destitute peasants weren’t impressed either; the reforms sounded outlandish and would not immediately benefit them. Spain remained a backward country until after the death of its last dictator, Franco.

Ideological sea-changes tend to be painful. There will be unpleasant discussions between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and students. Besides, not all so-called “progressive” ideas are good ideas even if rioters are willing to die for them.

In many countries, we see a traditional “right wing”, a traditional “left wing” and a so-called “centre”. And then we have what the press calls “extreme right” and “extreme left”, both of which are condescendingly referred to as “populist”. The majority of voters want to play safe, so they tend to prefer “centrist” parties. In recent years, however, growing income and wealth inequality and anxiety about the future (immigration, crime, and climate change) has driven growing segments of many populations to lose faith in Democracy, to vote for fascist leaders, and to demand “tough action”. (We are now seeing a neo-fascist taking the lead in Chile, after the first round of elections. Interestingly, an Italian newspaper has seen the writing on the wall for Chile and has published an excellent analysis of Antonio Kast’s style.)

Whether a government is headed by traditional parties, fascists or “populists”, most countries are in the throws of ideological, economic and political petrification. There is an unwillingness to acknowledge that a free market has not and will not solve the issues of immigration pressure, crime and climate change. The free market has, inst exacerbated the problem of growing income and wealth inequality, i.e. the divide between rich and poor countries (hence the growing flow of desperate migrants) and between the haves and have-nots in each country (hence crime and civil disorder).

Moreover, no country that I know of has started adapting to a very simple little fact:

Continued economic growth is simply not sustainable. There is absolutely no doubt about this, like it or not. I repeat: Continued economic growth is not and never will be sustainable.

We need to find other ways of doing business. There are lots of ideas out there, alternative economic models, elephants we fail to bring into the runaway train. They are tied up outside the train stations, in the freezing cold. There is no doubt in my mind that something will have to give, sooner or later. We are at a sea change. In comparison, the advent of the Pill and the Personal Computer will have been small change. So bring in the elephants!

Oct 202021

No doubt about it: There is more domestic violence (“Intimate Partner Violence” or IPV) in the Nordic countries and the UK than in, for instance, Spain, Italy and Ireland. In spite of greater gender parity!

Allow me to draw your attention to an Icelandic TV series, “The Flatey Enigma”. This is to all appearances a fairly ordinary crime story, true enough from the 70s., with a vibrant female heroin and a dull and ugly scoundrel who happens to be the investigating police officer.

However, there is nothing ordinary about the series. Just as the heroin has to revert (in 1971) to blackmail to have a particularly interesting article published in an academic journal – because she is only a woman, after all – the director of this series has had to use a “crime device” to demonstrate that Icelandic women were battered in the 1970s.

I watched the four-part series with growing dismay. I had known that conditions were hard for everyone in Iceland back then, and that women rarely had reason to laugh or even smile, but I did not know they were battered. I decided to look into the issue.

In the seventies, some very few women were fortunate or brave enough to go abroad to work and/or study. They had no trouble finding work throughout Scandinavia, because they had a reputation of being extremely hard-working. While abroad, they learned that women need not defer to men, and they learned to talk back. In 1975, back in Iceland, they were able to organise the most remarkable demonstration of female power I have ever heard of: They persuaded the country’s entire female population to go on strike for one day. How they managed, I cannot imagine! But they did.

It was a stunning affair. The country was absolutely paralysed for a whole day. No food on the tables, schools and childcare centres closed. Male doctors had to nurse hospitalised patients, daddies had to change toddlers’ nappies, planes were grounded…

After that, things changed. Everything changed, and very quickly. Vigdis Finbogadottir became president, and Iceland evolved from a miserable backwater where many people still lived in turf huts into a truly modern country. (I hasten to add that the greedy bastards who drove Iceland to the brink of extinction in 2008 were not women. Mind you, women can be greedy bastards too.)

No, Icelandic women need not bow to any man in public. BUT, in private, alas, things are still not well. An article in Foreign Policy notes:

One theory to explain the Nordic paradox is that increased gender equality fuels male resentment, creating frustrations that are channeled into physical violence—a mode of action where men can easily still dominate. Violent outbursts of this sort, fueled by feelings of injured masculine status, are so deeply psychologically motivated that they can be difficult for governments to counteract.

In the same article a link takes us to the abstract of a study carried out by the National Hospital.

Aims: The purpose of this study was to analyse the prevalence of hospital visits and nature of injuries caused by intimate partner violence (IPV) against women and associated costs. All visits to Landspitali National University Hospital by women 18 years or older subjected to IPV, inflicted by a current or former male partner during 2005–2014, were observed and analysed
…. punching (29.7%), shoving (17.8%), kicking (10.5%) and attempted strangulation (9.8%) were the most common types of aetiology. Repeated new visits were 37.8%.

I repeat: There are few Muslim immigrants in Iceland, so it’s no use blaming them.

If asked to pick one of the suggested causes of the Nordic Paradox, I would vote for “backlash”. If you impose norms on a recalcitrant group, it seems intuitively obvious to me that there will be resistance. Some will protest loudly. Others will just take private action.

Female emancipation dethrones the male. Many men have absolutely no wish to sit on a throne and be “boss”, and for them female emancipation is liberating. For many others, however, it is perceived as socially castrating and as a violation of what they consider their birth rights.

There are lessons to be learnt here for countries where female emancipation is still a matter of the future (e.g. Afghanistan). Action will have to be taken to help the male population come to terms with a new and disconcerting (for them) reality.