Category Archives: International Affairs

The thin line between irony and auguring.

4297357401_97b14e670fOnly a few years ago, not so long after the death of Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, Chile opened its museum of memory and human rights. It’s an important part of a nation seeking justice for past wrongs, of how the truth is unearthed -often literally, reconciliation achieved between former adversaries.

The Museo de la Memoria is an imposing edifice, its geometric single-mindedness proportionate to the enormous task at hand. You can’t miss it. Due to clumsiness on my part -Google was not at hand- I did miss it. As, to my surprise, did most Chilenos and Chilenas I interrogated, I mean asked. A few shrugs here, a false lead there. So much for ‘memoria’. Visitors were a mix of well-to-do nationals and foreigners. In defense of absent masses, it was a weekday and, you know, workers be workin’.

The years, starting on that other September 11th, 1973, were dark indeed. But how tenacious a plant is justice. How much effort has been expended to find out what happened to whom and where. No matter what the regime did to its opponents; kidnap, torture, kill -buried in mass graves or thrown in the Pacific Ocean tied to steel beams, what goes down must come up again. Bodies were exhumed, (rather quickly miss-)identified and years later exhumed again to be properly investigated with all the modern means at the government’s disposal. That task, over 25 years after the reestablishment of democracy, is ongoing.

allende-chile-coup-1973-stadium-200x148Weirdly a lot of people supported the junta. The well-offs did anyway. Law and order. A bit of discipline for the greater good. 12.000 people corralled in a sports stadium cum improvised concentration camp. Summary executions, you name it. Who are these people, I wonder? Today, I mean. Is it the elderly man with the meticulously maintained half-moustache and fine watch -the kind you never really own but merely pass on the next generation- sitting in the metro opposite me? The Audi driver at the crossroads? The lady in the black skirt and expensive sunglasses?

What fickle beast is democracy. How easily disturbed. Ears pricked up to the snapped twig a couple of bosques away. On the run at the first whiff of a predator. In this case, the United States. The museum doesn’t mention their role in the overthrow of the left-leaning Allende government. But ask any Uruguyan, Argentinian, Chilean citizen -I did- and they will tell you: “The Americans fucked us over.”

Bygones I guess. Recent US administrations have been solely guided by the advance of democracy and the universal application of human rights. Ahem.

Belgium went through a similar phase in the seventies and eighties: Left-wing militants and criminal gangs widely believed tied to right-wing security-sector elements cooking up a stew of fear and instability. Every so many years new investigations are announced to fill in the details but efforts, on a par with the relatively mild Belgian brouhaha, languish. And yet, questions remain, and as long as the dead have living relatives, and relatives of relatives, the search goes on. Thus is the way of the human spirit. 2016-01-08 14.57.06As indeed evidenced by the indigenous-inspired murals found all over Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile (probably some of the most de-indigenized Latin-American nations, but the only ones I’ve visited so far… watch this space). The one pictured above sits right across the street from the Museo de la Memoria. Signifying the thin line between irony and auguring, I guess.

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Filed under extreem-rechts, Human Rights, International Affairs, Mensenrechten, Travel, United States, Verenigde Staten

Goodbye Odessa

Georgian singer Nino Katamadze, live at Ibiza Club, Odessa

Either my social skills are improving, or folks here are really nice, I say to myself walking up to the pulpit to witness the marriage between new friends. Barely a week in, and I have already found what I’d come looking for: the meeting point betwixt east and west. Zhe melting pot entre Beijing and Brussels. Yulia, the happy bride, has the blood of Genghis Khan in her (or at least a Chinese father). In terms of red goo I go no further than so many steaks saignant, or hearing white-robed men mumble incoherently about imbibing the juice of Jesus or some such nonsense.

Here, in the city formerly known as Khadjibey, most of the facades are Tsarist Russian, but Ottoman influences can be spotted everywhere in the um, architectural… ancient crossing of the caravans… and so on and so forth [copy-paste your favorite wikipedia entry]. The gist of it: everything’s kinda glued together. The minutes and eons. Mass-ish tourism and the type of coffee place that serves Americano as Espresso, adulterated at will by means of hot water served on a wooden cutting board. I’m talking hip, and the deadly beauty that hasn’t taken any prisoners since world war II. The vacant strut that says “What?” with every step, well-heeled against impossible odds, high-heeled on impossible cobbles.

Odessa is special,” someone said. “It’s not Ukrainian. It’s not Russian.” The latter are staying away since the latest fracas further east. Their place is taken by Ukrainians, who used to vacation in the Crimea. Cry me a river… And Egyptians, I couldn’t help but overhear from a particularly jolly table adjacent ours, Turks, Romanians, Germans, the list goes on. As pots go; what has been melted, cannot be unmolten.

The city shrugs off the centuries, self-proclaimed sentries be damned. Minorities become majorities and vice versa. Somewhere a supernova explodes. It don’t matter to Jesus. One’s thoughts wander to that other town, from Odessa to Brussels, Black Sea to backseat. Another such place whose soul is not one thing, however much its constituent parts partaking in the muddle muscle to pretend (now repeat!).

Identity is plural. Place is nothing without time. Flags don’t mean a thing. Blood is thicker than water but to dust we all return must.

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Filed under Europe, History, International Affairs, Multiculturalism, Travel

België moet vol inzetten op multilaterale samenwerking

Eerst verschenen in Mo* Magazine (online).

België moet vol inzetten op multilaterale samenwerking

Drie miljard euro investeren in hernieuwbare, lokale energiebronnen in België geeft mogelijk een betere return-on-security dan nieuwe gevechtsvliegtuigen.

Veiligheid gaat natuurlijk al lang niet meer over het bewaken van de landsgrenzen.

We identificeren bedreigingen verder van huis; kleine brandjes blussen voorkomt groter onheil. Van interne tot regionale of zelfs internationale conflicten. Vroeger ingrijpen is beter, bij voorkeur voor er gevochten wordt.

Conflicten maken noodzakelijk deel uit van de menselijke conditie. Mensen, groepen van mensen, landen, bedrijven hebben verschillende belangen. Dat maakt verandering en vooruitgang mogelijk. Kleine landen hebben er belang bij om zichzelf in een groter kader in te schakelen zodat hun belangen niet geschaad worden. Tijdens de Koude Oorlog besloot België dat NAVO-lidmaatschap de beste garanties bood voor haar territoriale en politieke soevereiniteit.

Meer dan twintig jaar na de Val van de Muur probeert de NAVO andere rollen uit. In Afghanistan moest de organisatie een peperduur Amerikaanse avontuur van ruggensteun en legitimiteit voorzien. Onderbemand en op louter militaire leest geschoeid kwam er van de vooropgestelde doelen – democratisering, ontwikkeling, vrouwenrechten – weinig in huis.

De uitbreiding van de organisatie zelf, naar bijvoorbeeld Oekraïne, blijkt meer en meer een factor van instabiliteit. Heeft België voldoende gewicht binnen het bondgenootschap om die zwalpende, gevaarlijke koers bij te stellen? En indien niet, durven we dan onze (dure) conclusies te trekken?

Realpolitiek

media_xl_752128België is meestal geen directe partij in conflicten, maar ervaart wel de impact van conflicten tussen derden: vluchtelingenstromen, verloren investeringen van Belgische bedrijven, enzovoort. In deze onrustige tijden is het oké om Realpolitiek te voeren, maar dan liefst binnen het kader van de VN. Het buitenspel zetten van die organisatie en het eigengereide optreden van onder andere een aantal NAVO-partners heeft bijgedragen aan de huidige chaos in het Midden-Oosten.

Het machtsvacuüm in Irak, het helpen verwijderen van Khadaffi in Libië zonder follow-up plan, het bewapenen van deze of gene partij in de Syrische burgeroorlog… kunnen vergeeflijk “westerse” zonden genoemd worden. Een alternatief daarvoor is geen onrealistische dromerij, maar pure noodzaak. Alleen zo kan de metastase van dat conflict naar Europa gestopt worden.

Veiligheid wil ook zeggen minder afhankelijk worden van invoer uit onstabiele gebieden of uit landen die die afhankelijkheid als politieke pasmunt gebruiken.

België moet vol inzetten op multilateraal. Een actieve rol in een geherwaardeerde VN. Veiligheid wil ook zeggen minder afhankelijk worden van invoer uit onstabiele gebieden of uit landen die die afhankelijkheid als politieke pasmunt gebruiken. Drie miljard euro investeren in hernieuwbare, lokale energiebronnen in België geeft mogelijk een betere return-on-security dan nieuwe gevechtsvliegtuigen.

Inzetten op eerlijke handel, duurzame ontwikkeling, partnerschappen aangaan met de allerzwakste landen betekent niet alleen het indammen van (economische) vluchtelingenstromen nu, maar ook nauwe banden met de dankbare tijgers van morgen. In datzelfde licht moet een verdere verstrenging van de regels voor de Belgische wapenexport gezien worden, helaas nog steeds geen vanzelfsprekendheid.

Europese samenwerking

Bij meer Europese militaire samenwerking de volgende bedenking: zal een hypothetische krachtige EU-defensiepoot een minder kortzichtige economische invulling geven aan veiligheid en roekeloos eigenbelang dan de op zijn laatste benen lopende Amerikaanse unipolaire wereld? Het valt te betwijfelen of concurrerende militaire blokken vrede bevorderen.

De markt werkt niet als het op veiligheid aankomt. Dat kan je zien op microschaal in de VS, waar iedereen zichzelf min of meer naar believen bewapent en verdedigt. Op macroschaal hebben we ettelijke millennia aan menselijke geschiedenis om uit te putten.

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Filed under Brussels, Europe, Globalisering, International Affairs, United Nations, Verenigde Naties

Zie ginds komt de stoomboot!

krampus-cardIk zie de pieten-discussie als deel van de grote kruisbestuiving der beschavingen. Toen het einde van de geschiedenis uitgeroepen werd dachten we dat die kruisbestuiving maar 1 kant uit ging. Onze waarden universeel. Zij veranderen. Wij doen verder en veranderen niets. Na de hoofddoekjes is er eens iets dat van ‘ons’ gevraagd wordt. Niet het afschaffen van de Sint. Niet het afschaffen van piet. Gewoon een erkenning van het feit dat, bijvoorbeeld toen ik klein was, ik hoerenschrik had van die zwarte wilden (want in Neerglabbeek gingen de pieten met verve op in hun rol als boeman) die je van de roe gaven en in een zak stopten en meenamen. Voor een manneke van pakweg 4 laat dat wel iets achter (het gaat intussen al beter met me:) Wat er wordt gevraagd is dat de pieten niet enkel zwart zijn (als ik het goed samenvat).

In de meeste landen (de UK, VS bijv) is het zwart verven van je gezicht om zwart te ‘spelen’ even beledigend als bezigen van het N-woord als je niet zwart bent. Ondanks Obama en Serena Williams leven we nog steeds in een blanke wereld. Geopolitiek, sociaal-economisch staat de blanke man nog steeds bovenaan de food chain. Maar dat is aan het veranderen. Langzaam maar zeker. Het pieten-debat is daar een symptoom van. Ik zou zeggen, laat het debat gevoerd worden! We zien wel waar we uitkomen.

Mijn bijdrage: waar zijn de boze, paniekerige ‘Blijf van onze cultuur’ af Facebook posts over Sinterklaasboekskes die al in September komen? Over het volstoppen van de hoofden van onze kinderen met ‘krijgen’. Altijd maar meer plastieken brol. Met Sinterklaas. Met de Kerst(man), weetjewel, de versie van ‘onze’ Sint die via Scandinavie richting Amerika ging, en nu terug hier de fabrieken doet draaien vanaf het moment dat zijn alter ego terug richting Spanje stoomt? Ik heb nog Kerstmissen meegemaakt zonder al te veel pakjes. Want dat was met Sinterklaas. Hoe ‘cultureel’ is die fokking Sint nog?

Waarom moeten we nu plots naar de winkel voor Halloween versiering, snoep, en weet ik wat nog allemaal? Wanneer gaan wij ook Thanksgiving vieren? (spoiler alert: heel binnenkort!)

Wat onze cultuur uitholt is niet de vraag om wat beleefdheid, een kleine aanpassing van piet, de zwarte als ondergeschikte, jolige, venijnige, boze dienaar van blanken. Wat onze cultuur uitholt is het geld.

Thoughts?

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Filed under culture, International Affairs, politiek

Intervention in Libya: a state of play on military action

On March 21st, 44 people, mainly civilians, died in the 18th “suspected” American drone strike this year on the tribal areas of West Pakistan. Most news articles add the term “suspected” because US officials rarely acknowledge these attacks that are directed, not by the morally unimpeachable US military, but by the evil Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, West Virginia. In 2010, 111 of such strikes have taken place, targeting suspected militants in jeeps, homes, weddings, and funeral processions. Thousands of bystanders, wives, children, neighbors and drivers of these suspected militants have died.

To call these actions “counterproductive” is a gross understatement, if not a cynical denial of such democratic principles as the right to a fair trial and representation, or simply the privilege to attend public gatherings without having your entrails violently spread out over a large geographical area. To say Americans are creating terrorists rather than combatting them would be too technical, misanthropical an appraisal of the individual lives, the women and children whose lives are lost on a daily basis. The short news blurbs featured in western outlets even more so. To opine that Pakistan is rendered less, not more stable doesn’t come close to capturing the loss of humanity a scornful observer might label “a couple of nine-elevens”.

Meanwhile the United States of America, guarantor of global freedom and democracy, keeps schtum as Bahrain, host to its 5th fleet, deploys snipers to snuff out ongoing pro-democracy protests. Yemen, whose tribal areas are also regularly targeted by CIA drone aircraft, killed over 50 democracy protestors yesterday (CNN lavishly peppers the term “Shi’ite” over its coverage as in Iran/dangerous as opposed to freedom-loving) . Somehow, none of the above prevented Hilary Clinton from prancing up and down Tahrir square in Cairo, hailing the magical events there that led to the demise of a personal pal of hers. To call America’s friend request vis-a-vis the Arab spring as merely contemptuous would be to deny the decades of propped up dictators, supplying an Iraqi madman with poison gas, wars fought directly or by regional proxy, etc..

Libyans are as deserving of freedom and dignity as anyone using their petrol. Short of actually fucking his mom, Kadhafi is “our” creation.

At least his French fighter planes and Belgian riffles are. Perhaps it’s a tad cynical to view the looming intervention as a ploy to quickly liberate the oil installations. Perhaps the armed opposition might have been snuffed out otherwise, leaving Libya an autocratic outlier for an untold number of years in an increasingly democratic region. Perhaps, like the Iranians, Libyans simply need to bide their time, dust off, and try again later. The Arab spring, however messy, incomplete, staggered, and bloody should remain just that. Arab, that is.

This revolution isn’t about oil, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about Arab populations exercising popular sovereignty, which is a difficult, complex, painful, necessary, and cathartic process that involves taking steps forward, and some back again. Foreign intervention is, by its very nature, antithetical to this revolution. Helping beleaguered Benghazi might, from an emotional stance, be a chance to right historical wrongs, or just another opportunity to miss an opportunity to but out. Who knows? Historical precedent however strongly suggests the latter.

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Filed under International Affairs, Islam, oil

Afghanistan – A moment of reflection.

Afghanistan – A moment of reflection.

walkom3As the United States deposits tens of thousands more boots on Afghan soil, in addition to the roughly 65.000 soldiers already there, launching an Iraq-like ‘surge’ in a bid to recapture what’s been euphemistically dubbed ‘momentum’, a brief instant of reflection might be in order. On reflection, dictionary.com offers, among other things, the following definition: Something, such as light, radiant heat, sound, or an image, that is reflected. Reflection thusly interpreted purports to mean the image, light, or lack thereof returned to the brain of he or she whose ray-like mental beams have chosen to dwell on any given topic of interest. Applied to Afghanistan, and the conflict currently raging there between Western troops and the local peasantry, a keen observer’s laser-guided focus mostly yields but a dim glow in return, scarcely enough on a nightly errand of sanitary import to avoid tripping over one’s nonchalantly disposed off slippers. If applying copious lengths of unsightly fluorescent tape is the way forward, so be it. Safety first!

Safety first.

Which is, coincidentally, exactly why we, the amalgamated, amorphous and often nebulously circumscribed West, providing the bulk of NATO’s personnel soldiering under the banner of ideals featured prominently in Western constitutions, bankrolled by Western tax payers, are in Afghanistan to begin with. Safety. Our safety.

Jokes aside, obviously it isn’t good to leave any turf, in this case about 650.000 square kilometers of the stuff, devoid of law, order, and full of bearded extremists. That’s like leaving Ferris Bueller in charge of Jay Leno’s rare car collection. No good can come of it. Afghans need, and deserve stability, good government, like those of the 42 nations currently embroiled in providing them with just that such as Luxembourg, Denmark, and Azerbaijan. History amply demonstrates the heterogeneous, mercurial, and often fierce mountain folk’s inability to abide the kind of rule-based society Westerners enjoy, or even show a modicum of effort or talent in maintaining its territorial integrity against foreign armies, like that of Alexander the Great (330 BC), the Arab conquest (642–1187), Genghis Khan (1220), Timur Lank (1383), the British (First Anglo-Afghan War, 1838–1842), the British (Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880), the Soviets (1979-1989), and finally, the American-led international coalition forces (2001-?), the first wholly altruistic invasion in the fractious nation’s history.

The glass is a quarter-full, but used to be empty.

Human rights defenders are rightly aglow listing the many achievements wrought since 2001. Especially in the sphere of education and healthcare, statistics such as a 350% increase in school enrollment rates, a 21% drop in infant mortality, or 700 new health clinics built by USAID alone since the Taliban ouster, are staggering. And yet, after almost a decade of enlightened rule, seven million children still do not attend school and, according to UNICEF, 30% of primary school age kids are working, often as the sole source of income for their family. According to the CIA fact book, in 2009 Afghanistan still had the third-highest infant mortality in the world, with 151.59 deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births in the same year actually worse than in 2003 (142.48). For comparison, in Sweden that number is 2.75. The figures are nonetheless a spectacular success story for the West’s now 9-year commitment in the desolate Silk Road nation. If you think any less so, allied sources are quick to point out baddies causing insecurity, a resurging Taliban rendering the kind of state-building and nation-building Afghans need, nigh impossible. Safety first. School-burning, women-hating zealots are to blame for setbacks, not chronic under-funding of civilian reconstruction, health care, and education. After all, spending roughly 2000 USD per day per NATO soldier on the ground, not a whole lot remains for social engineering.

Bringing Afghanistan into the modern world.

imagesThe West reaches a helping hand. Obscurantist, medieval Taliban warriors are holding back the sands of time. They must be helped to respect life, and embrace the future. Depending on the source, insurgent terrorists have been responsible in the past 9 years for 3419 to 4969 civilian deaths. Coalition forces meanwhile have over the same period been able to avert between 5317 and 8109 civilians from dying atrociously at the hands of terrorists. Their demise was merely tragic, accidental, very unfortunate, or more often merely Taliban propaganda badmouthing NATO’s forces of peace and love, who will always launch a full-scale investigation into reports that have yet to be independently verified. Welcome to the information-driven 21st century.

But seriously.

The Taliban regime that held sway between 1997 and 2001 ushered in a backward brand of Islam, oppression for women, blowing up ancient Buddha statues and, after decades of civil war and Mad Max-style apocalyptic breakdown, about enough stability for Unocal, of El Segundo, California, to negotiate building a gas pipe-line from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. In 1998, Dick Cheney, then chief executive of Halliburton, then the world’s biggest oil services company, remarked: “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

On 12 February of the same year John Maresca, vice president for international relations of the Unocal Corporation, in front of the U.S. Interests In The Central Asian Republics hearing before the Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations House of Representatives stated:

The Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves. Just to give an idea of the scale, proven natural gas reserves equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000 barrels per day. By 2010, western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day, an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about 5 percent of the world’s total oil production.”

Make my day.

While in Hamburg a tight-knit group of Saudis whiled away the days downloading porn from the internet and learning to fly commercial airliners, Taliban negotiators held competing negotiations with Bridas, an Argentinian company and subsequently failed to strike a deal with Unocal. With the luxury of hindsight, the Afghans might have reflected differently.

Soon, no amount of fluorescent tape could keep them from grasping the modern way of going about things. But you know, I really shouldn’t have written all that. We really are spending all those precious billions for all the right reasons. Afghans really love their schools and hospitals, even if the latter are built to make us feel better, and the former to keep us dumb.

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Filed under Afghanistan, International Affairs, United Nations, United States

The Zombie paradox.

The Zombie paradox.

fighting-zombiesAlthough zombies, or the myth of dead people returning in various manifestations to inform, puzzle, haunt, or eat the living, are present in all cultures, as far back as a mention in the epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Sumer, the word “zombie” itself hails from Afro-Caribbean voodoo culture. What zombies are and do differs widely according to different sources. In Haiti it’s the Bokor, or voodoo sorcerer who bestows upon healthy individuals a death-like state. After burial, the Bokor disinters the biddable undead, in order to basically utilize him or her for such mundane chores as fetching the morning paper and murdering opponents.

In modern fiction, starting with George A. Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead”, the deceased have become cannibalistic automatons, either infected by unknown rabies-like viruses, or some mysterious apocalyptic force.

TORONTO, Ontario — A police officer at the scene of a grisly beheading on a Canadian bus reported seeing the attacker hacking off pieces of the victim’s body and eating them, according to a police tape leaked on the Internet Saturday.

Regardless of this shocking headline plucked recently from CNN.com, zombies are and remain, according to mainstream academia, firmly in the realm of fiction.

Nevertheless, credible suspension of disbelief, a necessary tool in even the farthest flung corners of imaginary tales, not only forms an integral part in zombie science, it is a rich quarry from which contention erupts like, well, zombies from a grave. For example, scientifically, it shouldn’t be so hard to imagine some of yet unencountered germ to incapacitate a person’s higher brain functions, rendering them comatose, will-less, or uncompromisingly aggressive. Think Michael Douglas in “Falling Down”. Mass-hysteria has yet to produce a single throng of brain-devouring revenants, but all-you-can-eat buffets, English soccer matches and dog-eat-dog mums at a price-slasher megasale offer tantalizing glimpses of the human psyche’s regressive abilities.

No need at all to go as far as mentioning war and the mathematical certainty that detention camp wardens will get up to no good regardless of contented family lives, jealousy-inducing end-of-year bonuses, munificent pension plans, or regular work-outs on Wi-sports. Zombie flics rightly explore the threshold between order and chaos, the tenuous membrane separating Homo Apollo XI-us and his club-wielding forebear.

All this is understood by social scientists and geeky teens alike. What’s never ceased to bug me though is this; If the infection is passed on through bites from a crazed, meat-chomping former individual, how does the disease propagate? When does the zombie decide he’s munched enough to quench his unquenchable desire for human flesh but still leave enough limbs on a victim to become a successful sociopath in his or her own right? Discuss!

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