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Talking with the Taliban: a necessary exercise in frustration

27. Januar 2023 - 14:52

“It’s a brutal situation because none of the key players are willing to back down,” said the representative of an international organization with several decades’ experience in Afghanistan and the region. “You cannot go in and tell the Taliban what to do. They’ll only hunker down even more because they don’t care what outsiders think. And the Americans and Europeans only want to talk about girls’ education and women’s rights, so that’s not going anywhere. The Taliban hardliners did not fight all these years to re-impose an equitable society. That’s the sad reality, but once this is recognized then perhaps the international community can start moving forward.”

As both he and other experienced observers point out, there is no single approach that will convince the Talib leadership to change its policies. The international community may be looking at months, possibly years, to achieve even limited reforms with different initiatives by respected groups and individuals ranging from international NGOs, such as the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, to the UN itself.

At one point, too, countries perceived as neutral such as Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Iceland might emerge as possible long-term mediators. When asked to comment, the Swiss Foreign Ministry maintained that while it remains in touch with key actors in Afghanistan and across the diaspora, and is fully prepared to offer its good offices, “any mediation requires a mandate and the consent of the parties to the conflict.” Switzerland has mediated in the past and played a crucial role in talking to all warring groups during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The Swiss government helped bring representatives of the mujahideen, or holy warriors, to Geneva for talks during the late 1980s to promote peace negotiations with the Soviets. For its part, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had begun supporting Afghan rebels in July 1979 to fight the communist regime in Kabul. It drastially increased its military and funding backing when the Red Army invaded a few months later. (Photo: Wikipedia) How to get the mediation process moving

“But it may take a respected figure – whoever that be, Afghan or otherwise – to initially open the door,” noted Michael Keating, executive director of the European Institute of Peace (EIP) in Brussels who first became engaged with Afghanistan during the UN’s Operation Salaam in the late 1980s leading to the Soviet Red Army withdrawal. “This will mean someone highly knowledgeable regularly visiting or even based in Kabul who is respected by the Taliban. We’re talking about a lot of tea-drinking and patience.”

Some believe that former president Hamid Karzai, a Pushtun from Kandahar, or Abudullah Abdullah, a Tajik-Pushtun from the Panjshir and former Chief Executive during the NATO occupation, could emerge as possible candidates. Others disagree arguing that neither command sufficient credibility or trust. While the last western-backed Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has proposed himself as a contender, he is widely regarded as corrupt and arrogant with little or no leverage left. As a result, finding a reputable Afghan with standing remains a critical challenge.

British businessman and former journalist Peter Jouvenal (left) meeting with Taliban to discuss possible private sector investment prior to his arrest in Kabul in autumn, 2021. Despite being on good terms with various Taliban leaders, Jouvenal may have been the victim of factionalism within the Taliban and the principal reason behind his six-month detention. Despite his ordeal, Jouvenal believes that constant dialogue may prove the only way for the international community and the Talib leadership to come to terms with each other. (Photo: Peter Jouvenal family)

Some, too, including within the international aid and conflict resolution community, believe that the private sector could play a significant role. Peter Jouvenal, a British businessman and former journalist engaged with Afghanistan since 1980, who was arrested and held last year for six months by the Taliban, sees it as capable of nudging the current regime toward greater openness. “If the Taliban are able to see that more open investment is one of the only ways of helping the country back to recovery, then they may agree to re-establishing certain rights,” he said. “But they will only do it on their own terms, not if they’re pressured.” (See Global Insights article)

As for China, India, Turkey and Qatar, they are all exploring investment possibilities, notably mineral resources with an estimated worth of up to three trillion dollars yet remain hesitant as long as the Taliban go against the international flow. “The Chinese are not particularly looking to help resolve the Taliban’s political problems but are quite happy to engage with economic initiatives that can be exploited regardless,” said one international aid source in Kabul referring to Beijing’s efforts to develop the Mes Aynak copper mine, one of the world’s largest with up to 12 million tons of reserves. “We’re looking at significant potential investment initiatives, but these may drag out for years.”

Russia is reportedly seeking to purchase sophisiticated military hardware and ammunition abandoned by NATO forces in the summer of 2021 for its war in Ukraine. (Photo: TASS)

Russia, which previously supported the anti-Taliban resistance leading up to the US-led invasion in October 2001, is believed to be negotiating with the cash-hungry Taliban for the purchase of sophisticated military equipment for deployment in its war in Ukraine. Abandoned by NATO forces during their calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, much of it, including ammunition, is lying in guarded but often exposed storage locations.

Many majority Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which had diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in the past, disagree with the Taliban’s backtracking on women’s education and their right to work. As pointed out by one Dubai-based international lawyer, “some openly consider such constraints as un-Islamic and have made this point to the Taliban.” To date, no country recognizes the Taliban regime. and hence there is insufficient lobbying to generate the official representation at the UN that the de facto regime in Kabul seeks. Various Afghan diplomatic missions such as Geneva and Washington are still represented by pre-Talib regime ambassadors, several of whom see themselves as possible players toward bringing about rapprochement, although it is unlikely that the Talib hardliners will cooperate with them.

Afghanistan is running out of time Afghan women in exile demonstrating against the Taliban. The Kabul regime is increasingly using physical repression to crack down on protests. (Photo: Unsplash/Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona)

For Keating, the main objective now is restoring economic activity. “Humanitarian aid is essential but not the answer. And western development aid is politically impossible,” he adds. “A complete collapse in trade, investment, jobs will deepen the humanitarian crisis, will not resolve the human rights situation and will make women and children even more vulnerable. Rebooting the banking system and investments to create jobs is fraught with complexity but may increase the chances of the kind of change the international community is seeking.”

According to UN estimates, a staggering 97 per cent of Afghans are now living in poverty, while two-thirds require basic humanitarian aid to survive. Out of a population of 40 million people, half face acute hunger. So Afghanistan, which now represents the world’s largest humanitarian operation with 28 million receiving aid, is running out of time.

As Martin Griffiths, head of the UN’s humanitarian operation (OCHA), maintains: “Without women working, we can’t deliver for the people who are in fact the primary objects of humanitarian assistance – women and girls. So it’s a practical matter. It’s beyond rights.” With many years’ experience dealing with the Taliban, Griffiths, who has just completed a dialogue foray to Afghanistan, expressed hope that the leadership would be willing to rescind their recent ban on women working with international aid organizations. (For the moment, this does not affect Afghan women employed by the UN).

The Afghan Red Crescent Society providing humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. (Photo: IFRC)

“I think they’re listening,” Griffiths told the BBC of the Talib ministers he had met. “They told me they will be issuing new guidelines in due course which I hope will help us reinforce the role of women.”At the same time, Griffiths is fully cognizant that any long-term reforms may take a lot of subtle, under-the-radar negotiation to convince the Taliban.

Yet even this may not prove easy. As the Taliban’s head of Disaster Management, Mohammad Abbas Akhund, a cleric, told the BBC: “Men are already working with us in the rescue efforts and there is no need for women…” He strongly condemned the UN and other aid agencies for not respecting “our religious beliefs,” an allegation denied by Griffiths who said that such beliefs are always respected wherever the UN operates. Akhund further maintained that even if the UN halted its distribution of food to Afghanistan this would not change his government’s position.

For the moment, much of the work undertaken by UNAMA in Kabul is in the form of its own subtle diplomacy. “Maybe 95 percent of what we do is based on quiet discussions with the Taliban, ordinary Afghans and the different NGOs,” said one UNAMA representative. “This is the only way to know what really is going on.”

UN Deputy Secretary-General, British-Nigerian Amina Mohammed. (Photo: UN)

Nevertheless, UNAMA regularly helps organize official UN visits, such as the high profile four-day visit by a delegation in mid-January 2023 headed by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, a British-Nigerian Muslim, to “appraise the situation, engage de facto authorities and underscore UN solidarity with the Afghan people.” 

While the largely female delegation, including the director of UN Women, an agency focusing on women’s issues, met with select Talib leaders in Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat, it was not received by any key figures. The most notable, Haibatullah Akhundzada, the fundamentalist Pushtun Islamic scholar, cleric and jurist considered to be the supreme leader of the Taliban refused to meet with them. But then, as one international source in Kabul pointed out, “this is not surprising as he does not even meet with some of his own ministers.”

While the UN delegation sought to reach out to Afghan women but also NGOs and other organizations to emphasize the international community’s committment to female rights, it was criticized for playing to the gallery without contributing toward any real change other than to aggravate the hardliners. While Griffiths’ trip was perceived by some as a “to do” trip by someone with significant background to Afghanistan, Mohammed’s was referred to as a “for show” initiative.

A similar largely women’s visit conducted during the first Talib rule in 1997 produced equally limited results. When a delegation headed by the European Union’s Emma Bonino together with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour sought to highlight the plight of Afghan women by filming in a Kabul hospital, their highly mediatic presence only managed to anger the new Jihadist leadership who ordered the temporary arrest of all 18-members of the group.

As a businesswoman, Hassina (middle) has also been active with her support for women and children, including widows. (Photo: Hassina Syed archive_

“Perhaps I shouldn’t say this as a woman, but many Afghans were shocked by the way she (Amina Mohammed) went about her visit,” said Hassina Syed, an Afghan businesswoman, philanthropist and politician. Syed, who was evacuated from Kabul in August 2001 to the United Kingdom, remains in close contact with Afghanistan, including the Taliban. “We are all deeply concerned by what is happening and we want to help, but you need to be serious about connecting with the Taliban.” (See Global Insights article)

Syed further stressed that if one is to make headway in bringing about genuine change, then one needs to operate with the right background experience based on a close knowledge of the country. “You need to work only with quiet diplomacy and be in Afghanistan fulltime. That’s the way Afghans are. It takes a long time to build trust. You can’t just go in there and talk about women’s rights. They’re not going to listen to you.”

Another concern voiced by Afghans and international aid representatives is that some international donors would like nothing better than to disengage from Afghanistan. This is primarily for budgetary reasons but also because of other more immediate distractions such as Ukraine. As some donors have already noted, the international community fought a pointless war and spent billions of dollars trying to support Afghanistan’s long-term recovery to no avail, except, as some maintain, its ability – largely the result of efforts by UNICEF – to send millions of girls to school and to university. (See Global Insights article)

So why continue? The fact that much of the responsibility for this horrendous failure must lie with the West’s managerial incompetence, lack of vision and often blatant corruption is becoming increasingly forgotten. “These governments simply want out,” said an aid representative. Or, as one former US diplomat seeking to justify the Trump-Biden fiasco put it: “Contact us in a hundred years if you’re serious about change. Then we’ll help you.”

The Taliban: A Revolutionary Franchise French helicopters overflying Kabul during the 2001-2021 NATO occupation of Afghanistan. The US-led Coalition forces fought the Taliban for nearly two decades from October 2001 to the summer of 2021. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

Another problem is that there is no one Taliban. It is a movement – a “revolutionary franchise” as one UN representative aptly put it – consisting of different factions, commanders, and leaders. While perhaps a majority of Taliban in leadership positions in different parts of the country may disagree with the hard-line approach imposed by Kandahar, which is rapidly becoming the real capital of Afghanistan, they are too afraid to step out of line. Rifts are steadily emerging among Talib ranks, including in the Kabul government, to the point of violent altercations and even fistfights.

As various aid workers have pointed out based on their contacts with the regime, many Taliban have nothing against women working or girls going to school. “But you’re dealing with an extremely narrow-minded and traditionalist vision at the top seeking to impose its own version of what the ‘new’ Afghanistan should look like,” said one aid source.

In many ways, Afghanistan is witnessing a replay of when the Taliban first took power in Kabul in September 1996, eventually controlling nearly 90 per cent of the country prior to the US-led invasion of October 2001. The Ministry of Vice and Virtue regularly announced new ‘Tali-bans’ such as the prohibition of girls to attend high schools, the playing of music, the taking of photographs, the wearing of high heels that “make noise in the streets”, or even the flying of kites. And yet, many Taliban did not fall in line with what the leadership of the new Islamic Emirate declared. Travelling in Afghanistan at the time, the further away one got beyond Kabul the more young Talib fighters wanted their pictures taken. Or they listened to Iranian and Bollywood pop songs on tape cassettes.

As part of an initiative which may now be revived, a Swiss-based NGO, Media Action International (MAI), collaborating with the BBC created Radio Education for Afghan Children (REACH) in 1998 to support the clandestine home schooling of girls throughout the country. Talib commanders regularly – and surreptitiously – stopped by REACH’s office in Peshawar to pick up freely distributed course books for their children and communities. “A lot of the Taliban wanted their girls to be educated,” said a former MAI programme director.

It is no different today. Numerous Taliban have made it very clear that they want their girls to be educated, including at university level. As they stress, only female doctors, teachers, and community workers should interact with their women, not males. So this means ensuring that enough qualified women are trained. Many, too, want their wives to work. They desperately need the revenue. According to sources, both families and communities, many of whom have no jobs or means of survival, are increasingly pushing their leaders to resolve the current crisis in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban are going to have to do something about this. They can’t continue as before, and they know it. The Pushtun Kandahari leadership may be bloody-minded, but one needs to give them a way of getting out of this doldrum without losing face,” maintained an international source in Kabul.

One is also seeing a somewhat different Taliban in the manner with which the franchise is organized. The Taliban today are far more multi-ethnic, including minorities such as Tajiks, Uzbeks and even Shia Hazaras. There is also far less interference from outsiders such as the Arab Jihadists, Pakistanis and other Islamic interests which dominated the first Talib rule of the late 1990s. Pakistan, which played a double game through its powerful military InterServices Intelligence Service (ISI) backing the Taliban right up to the NATO withdrawal, has far less influence today. Several incidents along the Afghan-Pakistan border also recently broke out in which a number of soldiers on both sides were reportedly killed and wounder. The Taliban are also at odds with ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Jihadist elements.

Nevertheless, as some observers point out, an emerging reality is that the Kandahar leadership may seek to impose even more Pushtun dominance over the country. Traditionally, Afghanistan has always been run by tribal Pushtuns, who have tended to encounter trouble whenever they sought to push their own interests over others, including rival tribal Pushtuns. In the long run, such control is unlikely to be accepted by Tajik, Uzbek and other ethnic groups currently collaborating with the Taliban, particularly if the humanitarian and economic situation deteriorates further.

Talib commander Azizullah Asif and eight of his fighters in Baghlan Province who reportedly joined the National Resistance Front in the summer of 2022 citing “oppression, cruelty and crimes” within the Taliban as the reasons behind their defection. (Photo: NLFA)

Insurgent groups, such as the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) headed by Ahmad Massoud, the son of assassinated guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, have been attacking regime positions on a steady basis since last spring, 2022. So have various armed Hazara and other groups. They expect to increase their insurgency as soon as the snows melt. While resistance leaders met with US officials in December 2022 to discuss options, Washington, which backed the anti-Soviet mujahideen with weapons, training and funding during the 1980s, is cautious about whether it will again support armed revolt.

Another possibility is that the Taliban themselves could start imploding, particularly if former collaborators representing ethnic minorities in cities like Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kunduz react to further imposition of hard-line Pushtun doctrine by Kandahar. For the moment, however, the emphasis is on peaceful resolution, possibly in the form of an internationally overseen Loya Jirgha, a traditional form of “grand gathering” bringing together all parties and ethnic groups possibly leading to a Swiss-style Federation of semi-independent regions. This system was proposed – and rejected – at the December 2001 Bonn talks by the leading donors in favour of top-down government from Kabul, a decision which may have cost Afghanistan long-term peace and the return of the Taliban.

Global Insights editor Edward Girardet is a journalist and author focusing on conflict, humanitarian crises and development who has covered Afghanistan since just prior to the Soviet war in 1979. His 2011 book “Killing the Cranes – A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan” is considered a ‘classic’ (New York Review of Books) and one of the most informed on this country’s apparently never-ending humanitarian and economic turmoil since civil war first broke out in the summer of 1978. Other books include: “Afghanistan: The Soviet War”; “The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan”. (4 fully-revised editions) and “Somalia, Rwanda and Beyond.” Girardet is currently working on a new book, The American Club: The Hippy Trail, Peshawar Tales and the Road to Kabul.

Editorial Note: The fourth, fully-revised edition of ‘The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan’ published by Crosslines Essential Media, a partner of Global Geneva Group, was printed in 2014. Much of it is still relevant. You can procure an e-edition through this LINK on Amazon. We still have a few hard copies left, too. You can order with: Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. If you like our independent journalism in the public interest, you can also donate. We urgently need your support to help fund our reporting.

Writer Edward Girardet reporting clandestinely during the Soviet war in northern Afghanistan in 1982. (Photo: Edward Girardet archives) The fourth, fully-revised edition of The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan published by Crosslines Essential Media, a partner of Global Geneva Group. Although this current edition was pubished in 2014 much of it is still relevant. You can procure an e-edition through this LINK on Amazon. We still have a few hard copies left, too. If you would like a copy, please order with: Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add. Related articles in Global lnsights ( America’s – and NATO’s – Afghanistan disaster: Still a possible peace solution with a Marshall Plan. Not Knowing the Color of the Sky in Afghanistan Ukraine: Putin’s Vietnam Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban Back to the Cold War Russia’s Ukraine Intervention: Death by a Thousand Cuts? Russia and China: The Bros in the Owner’s Box Building Bridges for Geneva and the world: Breaking the silos

His books include: “Afghanistan: The Soviet War”; “Killing the Cranes – A reporter’s journey through three decades of war in Afghanistan”; “The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan”. (4 fully-revised editions) and “Somalia, Rwanda and Beyond.” Girardet is currently working on a new book, The American Club: The Hippy Trail, Peshawar Tales and the Road to Kabul.

Editorial Note: The fourth, fully-revised edition of ‘The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan’ published by Crosslines Essential Media, a partner of Global Geneva Group, was printed in 2014. Much of it is still relevant. You can procure an e-edition through this LINK on Amazon. We still have a few hard copies left, too. You can order with: Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. If you like our independent journalism in the public interest, you can also donate. We urgently need your support to help fund our reporting.

Related articles in Global lnsights ( America’s – and NATO’s – Afghanistan disaster: Still a possible peace solution with a Marshall Plan. Not Knowing the Color of the Sky in Afghanistan Ukraine: Putin’s Vietnam Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban Back to the Cold War Russia’s Ukraine Intervention: Death by a Thousand Cuts? Russia and China: The Bros in the Owner’s Box Building Bridges for Geneva and the world: Breaking the silos

Isn’t it ironic? Untangling the paradoxes of WEF at Davos

23. Januar 2023 - 4:05
What’s the most exciting headline you can invent for WEF?

The panel on AI: pens and paper + “standing room only” (Photo: weforum

Watching the WEF’s closing-day discussion of the wide-ranging economic and social implications of computerized artificial intelligence on white-collar jobs, you might have found it ironic that three of the five panellists were taking notes with pen and paper. The other two were long-standing top-rank academics.

But that’s typical of the Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum, which came back to the Grisons resort in January 2023 after the COVID hiatus.

Journalists in particular seem mystified by the World Economic Forum itself — as if it should not exist but somehow flourishes impervious to their muckraking in a suburb of Geneva far away from the United Nations, with a stunning view of the much bigger international bureaucracies across the lake from its Cologny building.

World Economic Forum headquarters in Cologny (Photo: Alexey M., wikipedia)

So here are some of the headlines and commentaries I monitored this year at during the intense 5 days of the Davos 2023 sessions.

Davos Has It All Again — Except the World’s Most Powerful Person (Bloomberg)

Greta Thunberg says Davos elite are prioritizing greed and short-term profits over people and the planet (CNBC)

Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge

Nature loss is an economic crisis — we need innovative solutions now (weforum) The first “Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge” was launched on 19 January at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting at Davos. The World Economic Forum estimates that over half of the world’s GDP, $44 trillion of economic value, is at moderate or severe risk due to nature loss. It has called for project submissions by 1 March 2023.

Elon Musk and a Tesla Model S, 2011 (Maurizio Pesce from Milan, Italy, wikipedia)

Elon Musk warns against World Economic Forum ‘world gov’t’ (American Military News)

Davos organizers: Elon Musk wasn’t invited despite what he says (

Davos elites are in love with their crazy ideas (Fox News)

Twitter Files Journalist Outlines How Musk Is Countering the Leftist World Economic Forum Agenda: “The WEF is a leftist organization that promotes Orwellian initiatives, such as the “recalibration” of “free speech” online. The WEF is also the same radical organization that legitimized an insane idea of microchipping children.”

Liberals trash Kyrsten Sinema’s outfit at World Economic Forum: ‘Why is she dressed like a sheep?’ (Fox News)

Then there are stories like this:

Succession: HBO

‘Succession’ has nothing on Davos: Elite conclave mulls next leader (politico)


Mutiny erupts among WEF staff over role of ‘Mr Davos’ (Guardian)

How much of this is clickbait, designed to increase readership and sell media outlets to advertisers or their political sponsors, and how much is well-informed reporting?

Olena Zelenska (Photo at

Both those “Who and what comes next?” pieces came within a day of each other, and the Guardian piece appeared the day after Ukraine First Lady Olena Zelenskyy addressed the Forum in person.

Climate and Nature (Photo: weforum Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary)

That day, too, the Forum launched a “New Initiative to Help Unlock $3 Trillion Needed a Year for Climate and Nature”: Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA) (LINK). But maybe that wasn’t considered worth the time of Guardian readers. Google the title to see how it was reported elsewhere and how little the Guardian offered. You can find the other headlines here.

Journalists at work during Davos. Usually conditions are much more comfortable (Photo: weforum Ciaran McCrickard)

I have had no privileged access to people inside the Forum or at Davos for over 10 years, so I can’t judge the accuracy of the reports. I didn’t flag the Guardian piece at first because it was not clear from the story how concerns about Schwab’s succession and the “group of nobodies” around him became a mutiny. According to a reported posting on LinkedIn, later taken down, a group of WEF staffers complained: “His managing board is such a viper’s nest that senior leadership will be at each other’s throats the moment the old man pops off.”

What makes WEF tick? Is it the photo opportunities? (Photo: weforum Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary)

For at least 40 years on my count, journalists have been obsessed with the internal workings of the Forum, reporting rumours and unsourced allegations, particularly among distinguished newspapers that you’d expect to do better.

Opening of the first Forum meeting in Davos, 1971 (Photo: weforumr

Wikipedia records: “The World Economic Forum and its annual meeting in Davos have received criticism over the years, including the organization’s corporate capture of global and democratic institutions, its institutional whitewashing initiatives, the public cost of security, the organization’s tax-exempt status, unclear decision processes and membership criteria, a lack of financial transparency, and the environmental footprint of its annual meetings. As a reaction to criticism within Swiss society, the Swiss federal government decided in February 2021 to reduce its annual contributions to the WEF. The WEF has also been the target of conspiracy theories.”

2020: The Great Reset

A virulent succession of criticisms followed Klaus Schwab’s writing in 2020 to argue for “a Great Reset” in the world’s social and economic arrangements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Great Reset project was co-launched by the now U.K. monarch King Charles. Schwab, with Thierry Malleret as co-author, published a 200+-page book on the ideas (LINK).

The onslaught of conspiracy theories alleged this was a plan by the global élite to control the rest of world, even creating the pandemic. As the BBC monitoring service reported: “In this narrative, lockdown restrictions were introduced not to curb the spread of the virus, but to deliberately bring about economic collapse and a socialist world government, albeit run for the benefit of powerful capitalists.”

This theory dated back to a posting on WEF’s website in 2016 when a Dutch activist spoke of the benefits of a society where all social needs were met by public services rather than accumulating private property. By 2020 this had become: “Klaus Schwab says — you will own nothing in 10 years — and you will be happy about it: Klaus Schwab is the new Karl Marx.”(LINK).

Even in September 2022 a senior WEF official could be seen still making public statements to debunk these ideas (LINK).

A young Davos group (Photo: weforum Greg Beadle)

As for the ‘mutiny’ story, nothing in the text suggested this was any more than common frustrations in small organizations with a powerful founder, and could have been said of the WEF in any of the 30 years I was closely associated with it.

Politico concedes: “Schwab has grown WEF’s $6,000 startup capital in 1971 into a $390 million a year business, turning a once sleepy [not true!] organization into the think tank world’s FIFA. Today, WEF’s annual meeting attracts more billionaires and CEOs than any other event on earth, and more political leaders than any gathering outside the United Nations General Assembly.”

Klaus and Hilde (Photo: weforum)

Schwab turns 85 at the end of March but the politico piece notes that Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffet are still at the top of their huge and influential organizations.

The Guardian report said a group of WEFers, past and present, “questioned the ability of the organisation to function without Schwab at the helm.” The succession issue was picked up by the Alt-Right Breitbart site, among others.

In fact, few of these reporters seem to have any private access to Klaus. I spoke with him in 1999 about his history and ambitions for the organization when he agreed to an interview for a start-up magazine edited by a friend of mine that has since folded. I haven’t seen much since that got any closer to his personal (as distinct from his professorial) views.

Nelson Mandela and Klaus, Davos, 1999 (Photo: weforum)

This interview formed the basis of a Global-Geneva article I published in 2020(“Klaus Schwab: Geneva’s unlikeliest revolutionary“), and his views on economic and social development I covered in an earlier piece when he became the fourth person to receive Geneva’s most prestigious prize, the Geneva Acknowledges Award from the canton’s Enterprises Association: “International Geneva: Already a leader in the next Industrial Revolution.

In the interview he set out plainly what he was trying to do with the Forum. Schwab said: “Our job in Davos to a certain extent, if not to a large extent, is to confront business with the mirror of social expectation.”

Throughout its history, he has tried to make the Forum an arena for permanent consultation. This, he argues, will be the key to its survival after he is gone.

Watch the closing report presented by former Norwegian foreign minister, Børge Brende, who was brought into WEF as Presiden and putative successor t in 2017, to learn about the various actions agreed in Davos this year if you want to see how the Forum is living up to that vision.

The short video at the end of Brende’s 15-minute presentation, with highlights from the various speeches, uses only a couple of second’s from a Klaus speech at the end, and this is immediately faded out. Hardly what you might expect from the Wizard of DavOz picture painted by some critics.

And allegations of a rich boys’ club to control the world’s wealth don’t really match Schwab’s statements about what Davos represents.

Clinton, Schwab, Davos 2000 (Photo: weforum)

Schwab acknowledges that a media spotlight falls on the Davos meeting because of its billionaires, but points out: “They come to Davos for a few days to reflect on the fundamentals. And the fundamentals, I think, are not just the financial issues. The fundamentals are the social issues, the ethical issues, issues of the sense of life and of course all those issues that eventually affect the business climate such as cultural tensions and so on.”

This is in line with his championing of “stakeholder capitalism”, an idea he has promoted since at least 1971. A Forum publication covering the first 40 years of its history explains the idea further. It states that stakeholders “include the enterprise’s owners and shareholders, customers, suppliers, collaborators of any kind, as well as the government and society, including the communities in which the company operates or which may in any way be affected by it. Indeed, a broad range of actors in the national economy may in some way or another be counted among the stakeholders of any commercial organization.”

Idris Elba, Davos, 2023 (Photo: weforum Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary)

This has brought some unexpected panellists and activists to Davos, some championed by Klaus’s wife Hilde as head of their social entrepreneurship foundation which this year brought actor Idris Elba to Davos.

“People like [Swiss environmental activist] Franz Weber, when I invited him to come to Davos at the end of the 1970s, he was looked on as the enemy,” Schwab told me. “Today business has evolved and executives consider representatives of Greenpeace as legitimate discussion partners with whom they don’t share always every idea but with whom they consider a dialogue necessary.”

What he did not tell me was that he was the youngest professor in the country when appointed to the University of Geneva in 1972, along with several other aspects of his history that would have reflected well on his reputation. But he did tell me Nelson Mandela and Shimon Peres, an Israeli leader who risked his career in the search for Middle East peace, were the politicians he most admired.

South African President F.W. de Klerk shakes hands at Davos with Nelson Mandela (Photo: weforum)

One frequent focus of critics is the Forum’s admittedly complex and somewhat obscure finances. The magazine Vanity Fair delved into the financial background in an article on 18 January 2002, but without claiming, as others have, that Klaus has up to $100m or even $2.7 billion from his business dealings associated in some way with his Forum connections. There’s no secret that the Forum gives him CHF1m a year for his activities on its behalf.

Often, though, the media accounts obscure the differences between Swiss and U.S. finance law. The Swiss government had no problems with the situation and recognized the Forum as an “international organization” in 2015.

Davos Congress Centre, the poster picture, not as it was in 2003.

In my 25 years of as a reporter, editor and consultant for Davos and some other Forum activities, I was put under no pressure to tailor the stories I edited to meet any pre-defined message. My instructions were simply to give participants the essential points to take home to their board members from any session.

The service later expanded to inform journalists about sessions they could not attend, but this was partly so that busy reporters could concentrate on other, exclusive stories being sure that they would be reliably informed of whatever was worth retaining from the panel discussions.

Another target for critics is that the Forum has long been a family business as well as a non-governmental organization. To quote wikipedia: “Schwab’s children Nicole and Olivier hold high-ranking positions in the organization, and his wife Hilde presides over a foundation and awards ceremony in Davos. WEF’s governing statutes give family members rights to board seats.”

This, too, obscures the truth. I know nothing of Olivier, but Hilde — Klaus declares — is his “social conscience”, bringing activist celebrities who devote much of their time to good causes — often in conflict with the profit principle — to Davos to put their message across to the money men.

His daughter Nicole, for her part, has been a lifelong campaign for gender equality, promoter of equitable Third World development and steers the, the trillion-tree planting project supported by the Forum.

These are not simply sinecures.

Where’s the magic key? These people may have it: contacts, networking, information (Photo: weforum Sandra Blaser)

Journalists often treat the Forum as if there is a magic key which they have discovered to explain why the organization is so successful. I think the answer is, it makes pure business sense to the participants, both from business, from academia and from the international organizations.

The billionaires can meet each other on the streets and around the coffee tables without any entourage. CHF120,000 might sound a lot to pay for a seat at the table, but if it leads to one business deal, you can have made the cost 100 times over. At the same time you can learn what the best minds are thinking about the future. For the world’s intellectual élites it gives them an audience and opening to business that would be difficult to obtain elsewhere, and an opportunity to deliver messages business might otherwise not hear.

Ina Fried: White-collar workers: Is AI coming for your jobs? (Photo: weforum Boris Baldinger)

For example, in the AI session, Ina Fried of Axios recalled that many executives welcomed automation as making their companies more successful, then “all of a sudden, we realized AI is coming for our jobs”.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere from San Jose, California, author of “How a digital workforce benefits businesses and workers” on the WEF website, took a more optimistic view.

When a mortgage lending worker can give you an answer in 3 minutes instead of 30 days, you can expand your operations exponentially, he pointed out. His company has 5,000 customers in over 90 countries and runs 100 million processes with AI. Growth is in double digits every month. “If you think AI is coming — it is already here.”

Mihir Shukla: “It is truly a watershed moment” (Photo: weforum Boris Baldinger)

As distinct from earlier AI, however, software bots can take care of processes that were too complicated and varied for earlier automation. “Anywhere from 15-70% of all the work we do in front of a computer can now be automated. It is truly a watershed moment that is happening.”

Shukla speaks of a “human-bot partnership” but the key in transitioning, he says, is re-skilling.

Are companies reducing their workforce? In mortgage lending, “you end up processing a lot more […] and you gain market share. This is about doing more. The other thing I would point out is that out of a hundred million processes, we estimate about 20% […] are the things we did never did before because it was not technologically possible or economically not viable. In another 3-4 years I estimate it will be 30-40%. That means 40% of the new things — new products, new services, better quality of service, better quality of life. We forget that technology is not about doing things better, cheaper, faster. It is about doing things we never did before.”

“I do not know of anyone who works up and says my mission is to process invoices,” he commented.

Erik Brynjolfsson: despite fears of job losses, unemployment in the U.S. is at record lows but we need “higher job quality” (Photo: weforum Boris Baldinger)

Erik Brynjolfsson from the Stanford Institute for Human-Centred AI (HAI) observed that despite the early hour of their discussion on the last day of WEF Davos 2023 “it is standing-room only here” as an indication of the importance business leaders give to the issue.

He noted that despite fears of job losses, unemployment in the U.S. is at record lows. AI, suggested Brynjolfsson, is affecting job quality and changing the way we carry out work. Stanford is now researching ways of “keeping the humans in the loop” and making work more fulfilling “and maybe gets rid of some of the boring routine work of filling out invoices or whatever and people can focus on some of the more interesting human-centric parts and connecting”.

The Stanford mathematician suggested it would be interesting to observe over the next decade whether society is able to create “higher job quality” instead of simply doing the same things more cheaply or driving down wages. “Either path is possible.”

Sir Martin Sorrell: “You will not be dependent as a client on a 25-year-old media planner or buyer who has limited experience.” (Photo: weforum Boris Baldinger)

Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of the world’s largest advertising and PR group WPP, commented that this affected mainly “blue collar” workers: “The real issue is how far this is going to go up the value chain.”

He agreed the impact would be felt in the creative businesses, where video and story ideas could be created by bots. “But it will be in the data and analytics and digital media side. It’s an $800 bn industry, the media industry, of which digital is currently two-thirds, predicted to go to three-quarters by 2025. So media planning and buying […] is an area which is very human-driven.”

When Google, Facebook (now Meta) and Amazon came on the scene, it was conventionally predicted that organizations like WPP would be driven out of business by them. “It didn’t happen. And the reason why is that Google’s business was not in employing people. Or Meta’s business was not in employing people. And they didn’t want to go into a service business because they were very labour-efficient and capital-intensive.”

The big change now, said Sir Martin, is that automation employed in media planning has made the area “very highly competitive area”. “It may take about five years [..] to seven years” for automation to break down the holding companies’ human advantage, he predicted. “You will not be dependent as a client on a 25-year-old media planner or buyer who has limited experience.”

Fried said she was concerned that though radiology was a field where a combination of humans and automation was thought to be very fruitful, it leaves open the question of where could we find radiologists with years of experience if machines take over most of the work.

Prof. Brynjolfsson said there is “a new division of labour that is emerging”. There are more radiologists today than when a famous analyist some five years suggested the world should stop training radiologists in favour of machines. “There are still important parts of that job that humans can do better.”

It is not just reading images. “There are 26 distinct tasks that a radiologist needs to do. I don’t think you want a robot to tell you whether or not you have cancer at the end of a diagnosis.”

They coordinate care with other physicians, and sometimes administer sedation, for example. “We looked at 950 occupations. We did not find a single one where machine learning ran the table and could do all of them.”

He added: “It does not mean that machines are going to mass-replace whole occupations. There’s a harder but more interesting task ahead of us, which is restructuring work, redesigning it.”

There will still be jobs for CEOs, HR managers and many others. “Historically that has always taken years, if not decades, to play through.” When electricity was introduced, it took about 30 years for it to achieve significant productivity benefits. “It required a reinvention of the factory, a reinvention of the office, to take full advantage of it. We are in a similar period now.”

But “I would not advise just blindly turning [generative ai] on and walking away. These systems have too many flaws, they don’t understand truth very well, they can hallucinate facts that aren’t really there. Certainly right now it would be just downright dangerous to use them without having a human in the loop.”

“Even going forward,” Brynjolfsson told the WEFers, “we are going to develop a new job: prompt engineering [ — only a few present had heard of it…]: when you work with one of these large language models, you can write different kinds of queries, and it turns out that depending on how you write the query, you get dramatically different results. Even the inventors of these technologies are surprised.”

Sir Martin protested that the suggestion is that the upper layers will be protected. Fried quipped: “GPT is a great CEO.” Sir Martin suggested: “The real question that we are all nervous about is how much of a replacement [occurs]”. Artificial general intelligence may not always create more employment.

Brynjolfsson asserted: “It’s still a ways off.” AI today offers “human-level or superhuman-level [performance] in certain specific categories in certain specific tasks.”

More often in history, technology has been a complement rather than substitution for human labour, “and has allowed a lot of people to do more, and new, things”. Substitutes tend to drive down wages. Complementary technologies tend to drive up wages. “Most of the tools we have invented, by and large, have been complements.” So over the past 200 years wages have increased 50fold.

Fried argued that most of the benefits have not gone to ordinary people. This has been true only of the past 20 years, Brynjolfsson said. “I think that is the grand challenge of the next decade,” he declared.

Lauren Woodman: I’m not sure I want a computer to tell me the results of my radiology scan for cancer, “but I also don’t know that I need a doctor to do it.” (Photo: weforum Boris Baldinger)

Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope*, said she spent a lot of time thinking about how ai could benefit non-profits on the ground. Process automation is largely a substitution, she suggested. “I worry that there is a commercial pressure to jump to those things very quickly, and […] exacerbates the inequalities that already exist.”

Though 83% of Americans are credit-worthy, only 45% currently have documentation complete to get a mortgage, she reported. “Without human intervention, we don’t create those opportunities for people.”

As for radiology, she did not want a computer to tell her the results of her scan, “but I also don’t know that I need a doctor to do it.”

Fried said that if machines are bad at telling us we have cancer, some doctors are also “pretty bad”. She suggested we need a new job title of “empathist” for people who are good at such tasks.

ChatGPT apologized to me

“ChatGPT apologized to me the other day,” Woodman reported. “I’m not saying that it’s developing empathy, but…”

“Emotional intelligence will become increasingly to the forefront, something that humans depend on other humans for,” predicted Brynjolfsson.

Shukla came back to the mortgage issue. The reason fewer people got mortgages than were credit-worthy was because these loans were only commercially viable. With AI you can double your market, and find out who is creditworthy. “It can create a more equitable society if you use the tools right.” During COVID his company created a bot that measured oxygen levels, saving 2 hours of nurses’ time every day. “I like to think it made a difference between life and death.”

We saved lives and an intern saved $200m in inventory costs

Similarly, an intern wrote an app to enable transfers of goods between warehouses for supplies during the COVID lockdown. “Before then it was just easier for you to order more [goods]. Now that was not an option. We saved $200m in inventory costs. This didn’t change anybody’s job. It is just more money to go around.”

Surprized at anything bots haven’t been good at? “Those are the human jobs, being able to connect the dots, empathy, care, nurture. I don’t know of an AI system that knows that the right questions are.”

What do Brynjolfsson and his colleagues worry about? asked Sir Martin Sorrell. “The ability of these tools to generate information and disinformation at scale,” the scientist replied. “If you set the price of generating disinformation at zero, the quantity tends to go to a very large number. We have to find a way to navigate that. We are going to have to come up with some control mechanisms to sort that out very shortly.”

He suggested that getting information to the right people is very important in society, and making sure this is not polarizing.

Are the Chinese leading the world in this field? Sir Martin asked. “The Chinese have very strong AI in lots of [aspects],” Brynjolfsson agreed. But often the fundamental steps were made in the United States but perfected in China and other countries.

Today this technology is in the hands of only a few companies, Fried pointed out, but this is likely to change. One company may act responsibly, but another not with open source technology.

What do we do with no population growth?

Shukla observed that all societies today were based on growth, either through productivity increases or population growth. “I think everyone at WEF has been talking about [the fact that] there is no more population growth, and not for the next 20 years. That means for the next 20 years we have to double the productivity. Does anybody have an idea how to double the productivity [of digital technologies]? If not there is just enough to go around in society of social security and health care. None of that works without growth.”

Asked from the audience how to maximize white-collar work with AI, Shukla answered: “I think 95% of all jobs, current jobs, the future is human beings and AI-powered bot working side by side…my digital co-worker. Just like we all work with computers.”

Another medical consultant suggested that ai-users become complacent or demoralized after the first enthusiasm. Fried commented that if a auto-driving computer can only handle 95% of the job, this is dangerous.

Bots work well when humans are in charge

Brynjolfsson agreed with these points but pointed out that Google had tried to work with a safety driver who began to nod off when the vehicle was auto-driven so that a second safety driver had to watch the first one. “This is not the path toward driverless cars.”

“The driverless car took two drivers,” Fried noted. You could also see my article about Sion’s driverless buses with two controllers on board. The experiment was suspended for two weeks to allow reprogramming when the program failed to recognize an open door on a delivery truck because it lifted up rather than opened from the side.

Shukla’s experience was different. He took a nine hours trip on a driverless car with a companion. “It actually worked out fantastic. There were two levels of redundancy and I was able to pay more attention to conversation and the music that was playing. The quality of the consversation was better as a result. If you don’t have anybody to talk to that’s a different problem.”

Brynjolfsson added that you could flip the system around, as Toyota is doing, and use the autonomous system as “a guardian angel”: “if the human’s about to crash it intervenes.” Cresta, a call-centre business, keeps the human at the front but uses its AI to offer suggestions to the call handler.

Customer satisfaction and productivity increased for the least experienced workers

When his Institute tested human-led bot vs humans vs machines in call handling, the human-led bot system “did dramatically better in terms of productivity, customer satisfaction, and interestingly it closed a lot of the wage and skill gap as well: the workers who benefited the most were actually the less experienced, less educated workers they got the biggest boost in their productivity.”

Another questioner asked how to train humans to take advantage of this new way of relating to ‘customers’ of all kinds.

ChatGPT’s ideas ‘weren’t that bad’

Woodman said that ChatGPT had come up with ideas “that weren’t that bad” when she asked it how to handle an ebola outbreak — several were consistent with what her organization did in 2015. “What they missed was the connection to community resources, how people felt, those types of things.”

Shukla said the session should not close without mentioning the 3bn people who did not have access to the Internet or acces to the digital economy. Last year Automation Anywhere ran 2.5m training courses, including for women in Africa, in poor parts of Mississippi, in India and various parts of the world.

From flipping burgers to $100k

“In three months about 85% of them went from […] flipping burgers to $150k jobs in AI and automation. This is what human beings are capable of. Talent is evenly distributed. Opportunity is not. The role of technology is to make that possible.”

‘Do more and better than ever before’

Brynjolfsson concluded we should not be hiding from ChatGPT “but embrace it and do more and better art than we have ever done before”. Stanford has a work2vec project that maps skills needs according to 200 million online job postings, and most important — what skills are closest to each other, giving a roadmap to companies for hiring and reskilling. “This is something that used to be done by gut-feel. It’s a new frontier that we can use to map our path for taking advantage of what these tools can do.”

“We actually did that in our company,” said Shukla. “We obviously drink our own champagne. We used a bot to create an individual career development plan for 2,000 employees.” But usually, “there is usually not enough time in business to do that.”

“Think how many people are not in the right job and they are living lives of quiet desperation,” commented Brynjolfsson. “They probably have some capabilities that could fulfil them much better but they are not being matched to it because there is not the infrastructure to put them in place. I think that’s the real value — is getting people to live up to their potential.”

Does that sound like a plan for the global élite to rule the world?

* Nethope, based in Seattle, is “an organization charged with transferring hardware, software, research, and best-practices from the tech community to the largest international humanitarian organizations in the world. Whether it’s getting connectivity equipment to West Africa during the Ebola crises or leveraging Silicon Valley expertise to help maximize the impact of NGO members, Lauren spends her days tackling the toughest development and conservation challenges alongside the world’s leading international NGOs.”

— By the way, the GPT in ChatGPT stands for “Generative Pre-training Transformer,” a reference to how the system processes language.

Further links

Debates at Davos: The biggest stories from the World Economic Forum meet: Ukraine War, energy and food crises, climate crisis, globalisation, inflation, global economy, supply chain crisis, and cybersecurity were among the topics that dominated the five days of debate at the WEF 2023 in Davos (LINK)

— Ahead of the WEF’s Annual Meeting, the Global Risks Report 2023 highlighted serious risks we might encounter during the next 10 years. While the report said cost of living will be the main global danger in the next two years, the next ten years will be dominated by climate action failure.

— The Crystal Awards marked the opening of the WEF 2023 recognized four cultural leaders who have worked in areas of environmental preservation, food security, combating climate change, mental health awareness, and education.

— Chief Economists Outlook: A global recession is anticipated by two-thirds of those polled, with 18% of respondents saying it is quite likely.

— “Open Forum: In Harmony with Nature” emphasised the importance of changing organisational practices and highlighted existing lifestyles in order to restore the planet’s health and safeguard the welfare of the present and future generations.

— Amplify Earth Action (GAEA), a new programme, stressed they will employ charitable resources to assist raise the funds required annually to combat climate change and the destruction of nature.

— The WEF unveiled its Global Collaboration Village, a new metaverse platform designed to promote multi-stakeholder collaboration. This purpose-driven metaverse brings people together to learn, explore solutions, and take action on the most serious problems facing the globe, has attracted 80 organisations as Village Partners.

— As part of a reskilling revolution, the Forum claimed it is collaborating with numerous partners to offer 1 billion people skills and job prospects by 2030.

Devex’s take on the meeting Davos done and dusted: how did it do? — devex — 20 January 2023 (LINK)

— Billionaires Bill Gates and George Soros weren’t there, neither was U.S. President Joe Biden. But film director Oliver Stone was, and so was former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who provided some doomsday scenarios to cheer us up.

— Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University — someone not easily impressed when it comes to pledges to protect the planet (the launch of a Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate) — dubbed it a “really important day for climate action.”

—Our Vince Chadwick did his best to stake out climate activist Greta Thunberg’s movements for a quick question — unfortunately, about two dozen reporters from around the world had the same idea. The Swede was having none of it, and we’re told she slipped out a side exit, leaving a frostbitten press pack staring at the front door.

—Our colleague Jenny Lei Ravelo spoke to former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark during our Twitter Spaces event about how pandemic preparedness is being addressed, or not, during Davos. She didn’t mince her words. “It’s there. But of course, it’s also the place where the companies are making their PR announcements,” she said. “People are putting their spin on their announcements, but basically, you know, you’re not going to get out of the major corporates a desire for any systemic change, because, hey, they’re creaming it from the way things have happened, right?”

— what did Vince make of his first Davos? “On the one hand, the stereotypes seem to hold true,” he tells me. “There are decadent parties, executives spouting vacuous talking points about sustainability, and behind it all the mysterious World Economic Forum. Still, every global development leader I spoke to was glad they came. The easy access to top-level corporate and government leaders is hard to replicate elsewhere, even at the United Nations. But the question for journalists and development practitioners alike is whether, by their sheer presence, they are legitimizing a gathering which could not be more removed from the constituencies they’re meant to serve. Each year, it seems they ask themselves the question. And each year they come back.”

What a Digital Worker Could Mean for the Human Workforce — — 21 January 2023 (LINK): Research shows that in many European countries and the U.S., the growth of information and computerized technologies was accompanied by a significant expansion of professional and managerial occupations and a decline of low-skilled jobs.

What is new in ChatGPT pro? Features and pricing explained — sportskeeda — 22 January 2023 (LINK)

ChatGPT and AI: headlines about the issues, from (LINK)

WEF Davos 2023 headlines from, as before (LINK)

A New Year’s Revolution

19. Januar 2023 - 11:31

TUCSON – Homo sapiens have been at odds since we first began lobbing stones at each other. If we can together settle differences and repair the damage, human ingenuity can create an unimagined future for those to come. If not, we will be the generations who switch out the lights on Earth.

This is not hair-on-fire hyperbole, but rather the considered conclusion of a working reporter who has spent 60 years covering war and peace firsthand on seven continents. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect I’m not.

After the Great War left 200 million people dead from conflict, hunger, influenza and genocide, T.S. Elliot wrote in “The Hollow Men”: “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.” Unless we collectively lower the heat, literally and figuratively, it will be both.

By the time I was born in 1943 during the second world war, an unhinged despot had gassed three million Jews, Romani and others he considered off-white. That soon doubled by 1945. All told, perhaps 80 million died. Much of Europe and two Japanese cites were blasted to rubble.

And now, even if we prevent nuclear winter, unchecked gases in a closed ecosystem will starve us of oxygen as dying oceans rise.

A “revolution” is a tall order. But consider Stéphane Hessel, who, at 93, printed 6,000 copies of “Indignez-Vous!” in 2010, when there was much less to worry about.

The title translates roughly to “Wake the Fuck Up,” although English-language publishers preferred “Time for Outrage!” Before long, it sold 4.5 million copies in at least 20 languages, and he followed with “Engagez-Vous!” Get Involved!

Hessel, a German-born Jew, fled to France and joined the Resistance. Captured, he escaped a Nazi death camp. After the war, he was a French diplomat and human rights advocate.

He argued that small numbers of articulate activists can effect change, the way yeast rises dough. Decades later, a wired world makes overnight “influencers” of teenagers with quirky ideas and lavish-living merchandise peddlers. We need influencers with more serious purposes.

Confronting tyrannies is harmful to health. In democracies, people only need to keep informed with solid sources, energize voters and hold faithless leaders to account. That requires facts and analyses that make clear why this matters so much in a world facing endgame.

Since starting in Africa for the Associated Press, I’ve witnessed all manner of self-obsessed leaders poison countless lives. Watching 2023 begin in Washington, I had a sickening thought. The most egregious example of human dysfunction I’ve seen is here at home in America.

The United States is hardly Somalia, but that’s the point. In the places Donald Trump calls “shitholes,” people suffer with what they’ve got. America’s uncivil war is self-inflicted.

If true to their historic values, Americans could rally allies to mitigate climate collapse, thwart land-grabbing despots, defend human rights and reduce the crushing poverty that forces millions to migrate. Yet the Sixth of January casts a pall over the Fourth of July.

P.J. O’Rourke’s 2003 book title, “Parliament of Whores,” was a reductio ad absurdum lampoon. Now, with so much big money in politics, principled legislators fight an uphill battle. That much-touted “City on a Hill” has little moral heft if a red light hangs on its Capitol.

Grim video and 845 pages of damning testimony lay bare Trump’s attempted coup d’etat. Two years later to the day, instigators who belong in prison were seated in the House as “honorable members” who swore hypocritically to defend America from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Republicans who eked out a narrow victory spoke grandly of America’s founding principles. But they are Alexander Hamilton’s worst nightmare. He wasn’t really Puerto Rican and was better at the minuet than hip-hop, but Lin Manuel Miranda caught the spirit of a brilliant polymath who warned that the nation’s survival depended on sound finances and political compromise.

Historian Ron Chernow wrote: “Hamilton’s besetting fear was that American democracy would be spoiled by demagogues who would mouth popular shibboleths to conceal their despotism.” That is Trump in a nutshell (emphasis on nut) and other Republicans eyeing the White House.

Kevin McCarthy, finally named speaker on Jan. 6 after 15 floor votes, praised his own tenacity in a triumphant speech that smacked of an amateur actor trying out for summer stock. Empty jingoistic America-above-all rhetoric and blatant lies parroted his master’s voice in Mar-a-Lago.

In fact, his blind ambition whittled America’s big stick to a toothpick. Like a chameleon, he changes hue to suit the situation. But chameleons have spinal columns and unforked tongues. The 20-member “Freedom Caucus” extorted concessions down to removing metal detectors so hothead legislators and visitors can keep their sidearms. What could go wrong?

The big giveaways are terrifying. Fiscal year 2024 spending is frozen at the 2022 level as Russia, China and rogue states threaten widening conflict. Climate collapse costs soar. Social Security and Medicare are at risk. A shutdown could force America to default on debt as failed states do.

As Ukraine prepares for all-out assault to push back Russian troops, future military aid is uncertain. McCarthy previously signaled possible cutbacks. Now he is in debt to Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and others who want to slash vital U.S. support.

Republicans convince gullible voters to blame Democrats’ profligacy. Bill Clinton left a balanced budget for George W. Bush, who reduced taxes before wasting trillions on war in Iraq. Barack Obama turned W’s recession into a booming economy, for which Trump took credit.

Immediately after Trump took office, Republicans shoved through a $1.8 trillion tax cut for the rich, sending markets to new heights. When Trump’s Covid-19 denial brought everything crashing down, Congress had to spend trillions on relief. He emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine, and inflation soared. Despite it all, Biden has managed stunning successes.

The House majority now plans to squander time hounding Hunter Biden, Tony Fauci and Homeland Security officials while pushing for yet more tax cuts. Abortion rights are off the table. So is gun control. A Virginia 6-year-old just shot his teacher with a pistol, critically wounding her. Guns don’t kill people; first graders do – or at least they can take a shot.

Matt Gaetz, unindicted in a teenage sex scandal, put McCarthy over the top after so much jerking around that another congressman had to be stopped from throttling him. He told reporters he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted. One freshman won a close election by inventing his entire resume, yet Republicans seated him anyway.

Lauren “Annie Get Your Gun” Boebert, a deluded mad queen down her rabbit hole, best reflects the tragicomedy as adversaries in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, among others, watch the “grand old party” that Trumplicans destroyed pervert representative democracy.

Roger Cohen of The New York Times profiled her – and the rift in America – weeks before she was first elected in 2020. He went to her Shooter’s Grill where waitresses pack pistols in Rifle, a conservative ranching town an hour from bright-blue Aspen. He wrote:

“Trump…has exploited this division with astute cynicism. He does not know which way is up with a Bible, could not shoot an elk if it stood in front of him on Fifth Avenue, and has no idea what morality means. Yet he has become the hero of millions of upstanding, churchgoing, rural Americans…who grew up with guns and have never had it easy. The president’s political heist defines demagogy in the digital age.”

Boebert refused to speak with Cohen. As he was questioning customers, she had him bounced out her bar’s door.

“So much for freedom of expression and the freedom to talk to people who think differently,” Cohen concluded. “So much for the freedom of the press and that free American ‘spirit.’ That’s what freedom may look like in a second Trump term: more the my-way-or-the-highway muzzle of a Glock than the liberty enshrined by the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Recent AP interviews in Rifle reflected disillusion among supporters who wanted her to stick to serious business. But she kept her seat by 546 votes among more than 300,000 cast in her district. Even a minuscule revolution in her district could have made the difference.

In voting rounds, Boebert rose to nominate an obscure member of her caucus, beaming at the CSPAN camera like Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin. Later, on MSNBC, she declared she represented what the American people wanted in the spirit of those “founding fathers.”

She has split with Greene, a QAnon crazy who babbles about “Jewish space lasers.” According to the New York Post, when Greene urged her to back McCarthy, she snapped: “Get the fuck out of my face.” Both of them, among others in the hard right, expect plum committee assignments.

McCarthy has promised to remove Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, fellow Californians, from the House Select Intelligence Committee in bald retaliation for exposing Trump administration abuses. Somalia-born Ilhan Omar says she is being barred from committees only because she is Muslim. Boebert has repeatedly called her a terrorist who might blow up the Capitol.

MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle banged away for 14 minutes challenging Boebert’s lies and diversions. At the end, she began to list Biden’s success at restoring jobs, lowering gas prices, and bringing back a solid economy.

“Yes, Joe Biden’s economy is terrible for the American people,” Boebert interrupted. “You are correct.” When told Trump hates a loser and supported McCarthy, she cut in again. “I love President Donald Trump, and no one is going to pit me against him.”

Meantime on Jan. 6, Biden honored election officials who ignored death threats and police officers who faced insurgents, several at the cost of their lives. In a moving address, he recalled his first G7 summit. When he said America was back, one leader retorted: “For how long?”

Another asked him to imagine an armed mob with a noose storming the House of Parliament, where prime ministers change over minor misconduct. Yet Britain, like all countries, has its own dysfunctions and faces the same global crises.

In a world on the edge, “superpower” has lost its meaning. Iraq and Afghanistan made clear no amount of military might can defeat determined popular resistance. No one will win a nuclear showdown. The European Union, a disparate bloc, depends on leadership in Washington.

But both houses of Congress are shot full of the wrong stuff. Some members are dumb as sledgehammers. Others, scary smart, master what Hamilton feared: hiding demagogy beyond populist claptrap. The Supreme Court is coopted and corrupted. Trump’s acolytes are fast turning “America First” into “America Only.”

Ukraine, bleeding and freezing, faces Russian war crimes on the free world’s behalf. Remember Jim Jordan’s cruel, moronic questioning during Trump’s first impeachment for trying to extort dirt on Biden by holding up badly needed missiles? He now heads the Judiciary Committee.

Upcoming Mort Reports will dig into crucial global developments that too many American “mainstream media” overlook. Others will offer advice on finding reliable sources from elsewhere, beyond such excellent stalwarts the Guardian and BBC’s World Service.

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“We, the people” is now a cliché to fit all purposes, but its essence remains. Only a critical mass of informed voters, especially young ones with the most at stake, can spark a New Year’s revolution with shots heard round the world.

Global Geneva contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tucson, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. His regular column, The MortReport, is available online and by email. Also see Mort’s most recent book: Saving the World from Trump.

Saving the world from Trump can be purchased in print and e-book from these and other links.

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Mort Rosenblum Related articles on the Global Insights reporting platform: MortReport Extra: Now or Never MortReport: Paris – An Immoveable Beast A Mort Retort: Facete Rectos Pagare Mort Report Booster Shot Sh’ma Yisrael – A Mort Report Extra Book Review: Saving our world from Trump – Mort Reports The Mort Report: A crime against humanity

SWISS JOURNEYS: Zurich, troisième ville au monde où il fait bon vivre

19. Januar 2023 - 11:15

EDITION FRANCAISE: Les beaux jours, s’ils sont ensoleillés, sont propices à une ballade au bord du lac avec vue sur les Alpes pour apprécier l’art de vivre à la zurichoise. Avant de prendre le car pour un tour de ville guidé et voir défiler le musée national, la fameuse Bahnhofstrasse, l’imposant bâtiment de l’opéra (Opernhaus), le quartier universitaire avec sa très réputée École polytechnique fédérale (EPF) et les facultés de l´université de Zurich.

Une promenade ensuite dans la vieille ville, à travers le Münsterhof et ses maisons de guildes historiques, a été l’occasion de voir les églises Saint-Pierre et Fraumünster, charmante chapelle dans laquelle nous n’avons pas manqué de pénétrer le lendemain, pour admirer cet écrin spirituel serti de merveilleux vitraux dessinés par Marc Chagall. Fondée en 853 en tant que couvent, sous le nom d’église de Félix et Sainte Régula, Fraumünster a joué un rôle important dans le développement de Zürich, devenue au Moyen-Âge une cité florissante au large rayonnement.

Fraumünster, charmante chapelle avec les merveilleux vitraux de Marc Chagall. (Photo: Nadia Robert)

Le confort du car a permis de porter le regard sur la Goldküste, fastueuse côte dorée où se succèdent de luxueuses villas entourées de jardins soignés, dont celle de la chanteuse étatsunienne Tina Turner, naturalisée Suissesse, qui y réside depuis les années 1990.

À Meilen, le lac, scintillant au soleil d’un après-midi à température plaisante, invite à le traverser sur un ferry où véhicules et promeneurs se côtoient le temps d’être éblouis par un paysage enchanteur, avant de débarquer pour atteindre la station du téléphérique Adliswil-Fesenegg, quelques pas plus loin. Une cabine bondée mène au point d’observation Fesenegg, perché à 800 mètres au-dessus du niveau de la mer, d’où la vue sur le lac, la côte et les Alpes est spectaculaire. Brève halte ensuite au restaurant de ce belvédère pour y déguster un café et une part de tarte faite maison, avant de se dégourdir les jambes dans les bois alentours puis de retourner en cabine pour redescendre au bord du lac.   

Nana par Niki de Saint Phalle. Exposition au Kunsthaus jusqu’au 15 janvier 2023. (Photo: Nadia Robert) Niki de Saint Phalle illumine le Kunsthaus

Entre-aperçu depuis le car, l’ensemble du Kunsthaus, dont la nouvelle partie a été dessinée par l’architecte britannique David Chippeerfield, est le plus grand musée d’art de Suisse. Il mérite une visite approfondie, pour y découvrir des expositions permanentes et la rétrospective exceptionnelle dédiée à Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle. Née en 1930, de mère américaine et d’un père aristocrate français, elle deviendra, grâce à ses talents multiples et à sa créativité féconde, l’artiste mondialement connue sous le nom de Niki de Saint Phalle, auteure, entres autres chefs-d’œuvres, de sculpturales Nanas hautes en couleurs et d’un Jardin des Tarots créé en Toscane.

Peintre, dessinatrice, sculptrice, performeuse, plasticienne féministe et avant-gardiste avec ses « Tirs » à boulets multicolores réalisés dans les années 1960, Niki de Saint Phalle formera avec le sculpteur suisse Jean Tinguely un couple artistique à l’imagination flamboyante. Pour la belle et rebelle, audacieuse et lumineuse, l’art sera une auto-thérapie qui l’aidera à surmonter les traumatismes infligés par un géniteur abuseur incestueux.

La rétrospective constituée d’une centaine d’œuvres permet aux visiteuses et visiteurs, toutes générations confondues, de saisir la richesse et la subtilité de l’univers joyeux et parfois cruel de Niki de Saint Phalle, d’une grande diversité et sensibilité, doté d’un humour tout en légèreté. Son engagement lucide, pédagogique et ludique a en outre contribué à sensibiliser décideurs politiques et grand public autour de thèmes de société, comme le sida à l’époque.

« Ange protecteur » suspendu dans la grande halle de la gare centrale de Zurich. « Nana Mosaïque Noire » parée de morceaux de miroirs et de céramique éclatante. « Accouchement rose » d’une parturiente aux traits inquiétants. « Jardin des Tarots » assorti à la magie de l’Italie. Et « Hon », sculpture de 25 mètres de long pesant six tonnes, présentée pour la première fois au Moderna Museet de Stockholm, qui verra plus de cent mille personnes pénétrer à l’intérieur de cette femme stylisée et allongée que Niki de Saint Phalle surnommera « la plus grande putain du monde ». Des pièces géantes et impressionnantes qui contribueront à la notoriété internationale de l’artiste américano-franco-suisse.

Innovante, élégante, résistante et indépendante, Niki de Saint Phalle avait le don de ré-enchanter la vie, en faisant de ses blessures intimes un parcours brillant et foisonnant, récompensé entre autres distinctions par le Praemium Imperiale, prestigieux prix artistique décerné par la famille impériale du Japon.

L’artiste célébrée, qui a marqué l’histoire de l’art du XXe siècle, fut également une fille, mère et grand-mère au regard magnétique, comme l’illustre une photo figurant dans l’exposition. Elle décèdera en mai 2002 d’une insuffisance respiratoire due à l’utilisation de matériaux toxiques tels que le polyester et la fibre de verre. Ses Nanas, fières et imposantes, sont l’étendard que Niki de Saint Phalle plaçait haut, comme celle flottant à l’entrée de l’Académie d’architecture de Mendrisio au Tessin, fondée par les architectes Mario Botta et Aurelio Galfetti. 

Le café Odéon à Zurich. Terre d’asile pour écrire, penser et préparer la révolution

Parmi les réfugiés célèbres ayant trouvé à Zurich une terre d’asile figurent James Joyce, ainsi que le lauréat allemand du Prix Nobel de Littérature en 2029, Thomas Mann (né à Lübeck et mort en 1955 à Zurich) et deux de ses enfants, Klaus et Erika, qui se lieront d’amitié avec la journaliste et écrivaine zurichoise Annemarie Schwarzenbach. D’autres grandes figures ont également vécu dans la ville traversée par la Limmat, comme Richard Wagner, Albert Einstein, Paul Nizon, Max Frisch, Johanna Spyri (l’auteure de Heidi) et une belle brochette de dadaïstes. Sans oublier un certain Vladimir Illich Oulianov dit Lénine, qui habita au numéro 1 de la Spiegelgasse, la rue rendue célèbre par le Cabaret Voltaire.

À Zurich, Lénine planifiera la révolution, avant de monter dans un train, du 27 mars au 3 avril 1917, en pleine guerre et bénéficiant de l’immunité diplomatique octroyée par l’Allemagne, pour s’en aller prendre la tête de la Révolution d’Octobre, accompagné d’un groupe de sympathisants, ouvrant ainsi la voie à l’instauration de l’Union soviétique.

Révolutionnaires, artistes, écrivains et simples citoyens ont de tous temps apprécié de converser dans les cafés. Déjeuner à l’Odéon est l’occasion de se plonger dans l’histoire de ce lieu qui fut fréquenté par des personnalités dont les photos des plus illustres d’entre elles figurent sur la devanture de cette adresse devenue mythique.

Un article paru dans le quotidien français Le Figaro, intitulé Le café Odéon à Zurich, antichambre des révolutions illustre sa renommée. Depuis plus de trois siècles, le café est un lieu de liberté emblématique de la vie intellectuelle sur le Vieux Continent. Là se fréquentent penseurs, écrivains et artistes. Les idées bouillonnent à la faveur des conversations, avant de se cristalliser dans des œuvres et de se diffuser dans la société. Voyage parmi ces cafés illustres que l’Encyclopédie appelait des « manufactures d’esprit », pouvait-on lire sous la plume de Ronan Planchon, le 12 août 2021.

Zurich a également vu germer les prémisses d’ouvrages majeurs. Le romancier et poète irlandais James Joyce y a séjourné et c’est là qu’il a écrit la première moitié de son livre le plus connu Ulysse. C’est d’ailleurs dans cette ville qu’il est mort, en 1941. Joyce s’installe à Zurich en 1915. Contraint de quitter Trieste à cause de la Première Guerre mondiale, il a trouvé refuge en Suisse. Professeur d’anglais, il a déjà publié des poèmes, le recueil de nouvelles Les Gens de Dublin (1914), ou le roman autobiographique

Portrait de l’artiste en jeune homme (1916). Joyce compose les premiers chapitres de son chef-d’œuvre au premier étage d’un immeuble de l’Universitätstrasse 38, où figure aujourd’hui une plaque commémorative, comme l’a rappelé le journaliste Julien Burri, dans le quotidien suisse Le Temps, en date du 27 janvier 2022.

Flâner dans les ruelles de la vieille ville et pousser la porte du Cabaret Voltaire permet de se remémorer quelques temps forts de l’expérience dadaïste. Fondé par le pianiste Hugo Ball et la chanteuse Emmy Hennings en 1916, le Cabaret Voltaire, doit sa notoriété au poète Tristan Tzara et au peintre Jean Arp.

Considéré le berceau du dadaïsme, mouvement artistique qui mettait au défi les interrogations d’un monde traumatisé par la Première Guerre mondiale, grâce à la littérature, la danse, la peinture et des concepts novateurs proposés sur scène.

La légende dit que Ball et Hennings manquant d’argent pour réaliser des travaux avaient demandé à leurs amis artistes de leur prêter des œuvres pour décorer les murs du cabaret. C’est ainsi que se retrouvèrent exposées quelques figures de l’avant-garde et notamment Modigliani, Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Léger ou Matisse. Le Cabaret Voltaire propose aujourd’hui des expositions, performances et débats dans la salle historique et la cave voûtée. Le soir, prendre un verre au bar des artistes Künstler:innenkneipe est recommandé par les initiés.

À Zurich, il est aussi suggéré de déambuler dans les rues piétonnes du Niederdorf et celles du quartier Schipfe. Ou de traverser ses parcs, dont le suggestif China Garden. Avant d’aller visiter, non loin de là, près du lac, le Pavillon Le Corbusier, dernière œuvre de l’architecte le plus innovant du XXe siècle, qui avait vu le jour à La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Né de la rencontre du Corbu avec la galeriste zurichoise Heidi Weber, ce bâtiment coloré a été construit en verre et acier, selon le système du Modulor qui détermine les proportions au nombre d’or. Achevé en 1967, il est placé sous la direction du Museum für Gestaltung. L’œuvre et le rayonnement de Le Corbusier sont ici thématisés lors d’expositions, manifestations et ateliers. Un coin bibliothèque permet de parcourir de nombreux ouvrages sur ou écrits par le précurseur de l’architecture moderne, dont 17 de ses sites sont inscrits au Patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO.

Comme l’indiquent Stephen l’Irlandais, son épouse tessinoise Gisella et leur fille Stella, ainsi que la Milanaise Carola et son amoureux neuchâtelois Matthieu, heureux de résider à Zurich, la ville phare de la Suisse alémanique offre aussi un vaste choix de spas pour se relaxer et régénérer le corps et l’esprit. Bains orientaux, bains publics, piscine sur le toit, hammam dans les hôtels, au bord ou en traversant le lac et même un complexe de bains thermaux situé dans une ancienne brasserie réhabilitée sont une manière de terminer le séjour zurichois par un moment consacré au bien-être.  

Quelques liens pour informations : –  Zurich Card

Swiss Journeys: Le Corbusier, artiste aux multiples-talents, précurseur de l’architecture moderne – En pause saisonnière jusqu’au 20 avril 2023

À lire :

Niki de Saint Phalle – Kunsthaus Zürich – Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt.

Le petit guide de l’église Fraumünster de Zurich

Being Volodymyr Zelenskyy

18. Januar 2023 - 13:00

Longhaul air flights offer ideal training in bingeing your days away with video. Flying from the dream world of Zurich Airport, with its bewildering profusion of shopping areas and escalators, to the fantasyland of Miami Airport, equally huge and hard to find your way around its wild concourses, the “national airline” Swiss (now belonging to Lufthansa) offered as inflight entertainment (along with a number of paranoid violent fantasies) Being John Malkovich from 1999, perhaps the most brilliant U.S. comedy of the past 25 years, written by the masterly Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze in what for both of them was their first feature film.

Theatrical release poster. All photos from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise specified.

In case you have, for some inexplicable reason, missed it, it’s the story of a frustrated puppeteer, Craig Schwartz, played by John Cusack, who is depressed by a dead-end job and stale marriage  (according to its blurb), who performs his  unsuccessful shows to Bartok’s most dramatic music. He takes a job as a filing clerk with the LesterCorp filing company on the 7.5th floor of the Mertin Flemmer Building in New York. The floor, designed for a vertically challenged woman from the not-too-distant past, consists of low ceilings throughout. The firm run by the enigmatic Dr Lester (Orson Bean) took the lease to save money. So all the staff have to walk around bent over with their arms down to the ground. The boss thinks he is speaking completely unintelligibly though every word he says seems eloquent and appropriate. But that’s not the story.

What gives the film its title is that Schwartz, by chance, discovers a secret door behind some filing cabinets, and this turns out to be a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. After about 15 minutes it spits Craig out onto the roadside by the Jersey Turnpike. But by then the character is hooked. A few moments before we had heard him promoting puppeteering as a way to experience being someone else. Soon he is inducting his wife and $200-a-shot customers into the experience.

New Jersey Turnpike 1992 (Photo: Wasted Time R)

I couldn’t help thinking of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Almost every night we can hear him on television saying exactly the sort of things we would want to say in his position. We might never imagine ourselves as Joseph Biden, let alone Vladimir Putin.

But Zelenskyy, a former standup comedian, was also creator/star of the most bitterly realistic, hence tremendously comic, picture of 21st-century Socialist totalitarianism:  Servant of the People (2015-2019). He seems to be speaking to the world as if we were directing his voice. No wonder a political party was founded by Zelenskyy’s production company with the same name as the TV series, and he became its successful presidential candidate in the 2019 election.

It may be hard to remember now, but during his presidential campaign Zelenskyy promised to end Ukraine’s conflict with Russia and made efforts to keep open a dialogue with Putin. Then came 24 February 2022.

We are not President Zelenskyy, of course, as he’s entitled to protest. We are not living the hell that Putin is trying to make of Ukraine. And it’s not funny, as Being John Malkovich consistently is. But the film can teach us the benefits of comedy in horrific situations, even if we are cynical philosophers. We may be in John Cusack’s situation but we need not delude ourselves into thinking we know what it’s like to be Zelenskyy. And the difference between our position and his gives us reason to extend our empathy to the realities of his experience.

Zelenskyy in the Pandora papers

And Zelenskyy is not solely the anti-corruption President of his political campaign, or his character in Servant of the People. In October 2021, the U.K.’s Guardian reported from the 11.9m leaked financial and company files known as the Pandora papers “he had – or has – a previously undisclosed stake in an offshore company, which he appears to have secretly transferred to a friend weeks before winning the presidential vote”.  This, the newspaper observed, was “rather similar” to what he accused his presidential opponent of doing. It wrote: “Zelenskiy participated in a sprawling network of offshore companies, co-owned with his longtime friends and TV business partners.” He also appeared to have arranged for his family to continue receiving money from these companies, which owned expensive London properties, and Zelenskyy’s wife was named head of the main firm he controlled. In view of the corruption endemic in the Russia-allied Ukraine of the time, this may have been a survival tactic. In any case, his assets in 2018 were estimated to be worth $1.15m.

Putin in KGB uniform, about 1980 (Photo: …and Putin’s associates 

Vladimir Putin’s assets, according to official figures, were put at $280,000 in bank accounts plus a St. Petersburg apartment in 2007, though by 2017 journalists were asking “Is Vladimir Putin Secretly the Richest Man in the World?”  and put his fortune at around $70 billion. Wikipedia records: “Putin has been photographed wearing a number of expensive wristwatches, collectively valued at $700,000, nearly six times his annual salary.” Putin’s associates feature in the Panama paper but the man himself is not mentioned by name.

John Malkovich, 1994 (Photo: Gorupdebesanez). He does a superb job of playing himself as he is not.

But if you need a reminder not to confuse the person with the public character, or the representation with reality, we have the fiction film. John Malkovich does a marvellous job of playing himself as an actor being John Malkovich the film person. Zelenskyy has been equally a victim of attempts to suggest his personality is a series of impersonations. His legal steps against oligarchs’ influence on Ukrainian politics in September 2021 were criticized, in The Financial Times no less, as seeking to “centralize authority and strengthen his personal position” (paywalled article).

Spike Jonze, 2013 (Photo: aphrodite-in-nyc)

Back to the ‘fiction’. Spike Jonze is actually Adam H. Spiegel, once married to Sofia Coppola, daughter of film-maker Francis Ford Coppola, which is how Spiegel saw the script, and it was produced in part by Michael Stipe, who you may know as the lead singer-composer for R.E.M. Spiegel (German for mirror) made his name as a music video director after photographing skateboard and BMX riders since his teens.

He became Spike Jonze professionally because the owner of a Bethesda community store gave him the nickname in his high school years in reference to the satirical bandleader Spike Jones.

As for the film, one potential funding studio head asked: “Why the fuck can’t it be Being Tom Cruise?”  Wikipedia notes: “Jonze recalled that Malkovich asked the same question, and that Malkovich had felt that ‘Either the movie’s a bomb and it’s got not only my name above the title but my name in the title, so I’m fucked that way; or it does well and I’m just forever associated with this character.’”

From the film

The film’s spoof video in which Schwartz presents the building’s attractions of “low overheads” for less profitable businesses: “to the trained eye,” wrote Jay Potts In a 2020 blog, “[the building] bears the same organizing principles and structural grid as Louis Sullivan’s 1891 Wainwright building, hailed as the beginning of modern skyscraper design”.

Merton Flemmer Building Wainwright building

Mental Floss has an article on 9 notable real buildings with secret floors, including the Empire State Building’s 103rd floor with an open, narrow walkway surrounding the top, and an Amsterdam house that has a fully functioning church that has been hidden away in its attic for 400 years since the persecution of Roman Catholics in the Netherlands.

Empire State Building floor 102: entry $79. But not floor 103. (Photo: esbnyc)

Though the office address of Mertin Flemmer was specified as 610 11th Ave. in New York, New York 10012, it was all filmed in Los Angeles, on board the Queen Mary liner, Bristol (England) and, of course, the New Jersey Turnpike.

Cameron Diaz in 2012. (Photo: David Shankbone).

By the way, the other stars are Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener. Brad Pitt has a half-second cameo, Sean Penn puts in an even shorter appearance. So does Wynona Ryder, and Spike Jonze appears himself on screen as assistant to the world’s pre-eminent puppeteer. Charlie Sheen has a bigger role as himself, ridiculing Malkovich for taking drugs. Film director David Fincher is seen in its pseudo-documentary.

Catherine Keener in 2014 (Photo: GabboT)

Diaz and Keener both won nominations for best supporting actress at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Keener in the Academy awards. Diaz’s makeup artist said it was a challenge to make the actress look homely, while Keener initially disliked her scheming character (a Lesbian in love with Craig’s wife) and did not feel she was right for the part. Craig’s wife, for her part, though also enamoured of Keener’s character, later falls in love with her chimpanzee Elijah who is suffering from repressed early childhood trauma.

Charlie Kaufman in 2015 (Photo: Anna Hanks from Austin, Texas)

Kaufman said he started writing the script in 1994 as “a story about a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife”. All the weirdness was added in the writing. There’s even an alternative, original ending unearthed by Badass Digest in 2014, which is much stranger even than the final version, which climaxed with a battle against a giant Harry S. Truman puppet. Kaufman went on to write Adaptation (2002) for Jonze and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), then directed Synecdoche, New York (2008), Anomalisa (2015), and I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020).

Voting with his wife Olena in the 2019 elections (Photo:

Back to ‘reality’. Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy, also transliterated as Zelensky or Zelenskiy, was born on 25 January 1978, which makes him one year past the fiction film’s cut-off date of 44 for being taken over by a third person. He grew up as a native Russian speaker in central Ukraine.

He announced his candidacy for President on New Year’s Eve 2018, alongside the address of then-president Petro Poroshenko. In contrast to his TV character, Vasily Petrovych Golobroko, a high-school history teacher, son of a ne’er-do-well father determined to cash in on the new opportunity his son’s presidency offers, Zelenskyy is the son of a professor/computer scientist father and engineer mother. He gained a law degree from an Institute of Economics at what was part of the Kyiv National University, but never worked in the legal field.

When Zelenskyy the man became president, he appointed a prime minister that made Ukraine the only country outside Israel to have a Jewish head of state and government leader. The ironies of Putin’s accusations of neo-Nazis in the leadership of Ukraine are worthy of the Jonze and Kaufman film.

Paddington Bear, all alone: statue in Leicester Square (Photo: Matt Brown from London, England).

Zelenskyy, meanwhile, earned fame by recording the voice of Paddington Bear in the 2014 and 2017 Ukrainian dubbing of films with that name. In 2014 he also spoke out against the banning of Russian artists from Ukraine, which was then instituted in 2015.

Film historians exploring originality in productions may remember the 2006 movie Man of the Year, written and directed by Barry Levinson, in which Robin Williams played a talk show host who is elected president following an offhand remark.  The Italian film Welcome Mr President, about a librarian who is elected president due to a joke vote, was released in 2013.

Wikipedia says an American remake of Servant of the People (sometimes also translated as Servant of the Nation) was ordered by Hulu but scrapped when Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. Zelenskyy was named the Time Person of the Year for 2022. Reality often outdoes even the wildest fiction.

Zelenskyy at WEF Davos 2023 Zelenskyy Urges ‘Speed and Resolve’ in Ukraine Conflict — weforum — 19 January 2023 (LINK) Zelenskiy uses Davos speech to intensify call for more tanks from allies — guardian — 18 January 2023 (LINK)

Ukraine’s president Zelensky addresses Davos forum after fatal helicopter crash — bbc — 18 January 2023 (LINK)

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy invites China’s President Xi for ‘dialogue’ — aljazeera — 18 January 2023 (LINK)

Ukraine first lady headlines first big day at Davos meeting: scolds leaders for failing to ‘use influence’ — apnews — 17 January 2023 (LINK)

NuseReal: Other WEF Davos 2023 news (LINK)

Some weird news from Friday the 13th

Russian boy, 6, gifted cheap smartwatch and toy car after dad killed in Ukraine (LINK)

Texas 21-year-old in jail after allegedly decapitating his newlywed wife (LINK

Professional Organizers Share Photos of the MOST Organized Closets (LINK)

‘Cerebral Valley?’ San Francisco’s Nerdiest New Neighborhood (LINK)

Student sparks chaos by testing teachers’ engagement rings to see if they’re real (LINK)

Get an AI to write a cover letter for every position you apply to (LINK)

Five famous artworks that were accidentally hung upside-down (LINK)

Verbier et Crans-Montana: Deux stations pour un désir d’hiver enneigé

7. Januar 2023 - 19:16

Les hôtels valaisans sont également à l’honneur puisque le W à Verbier a été désigné meilleur hôtel de montagne du monde, le Chalet Zermatt Peak est décrété meilleur chalet de montagne du monde, et le Crans-Ambassador figure dans la liste très sélect du label Little Guest.

Verbier et Crans-Montana rivalisent d’atouts pour séduire les amoureux de la montagne et des sports d’hiver venus d’autres cantons suisses et de nombreux pays, qui scrutent le ciel et guettent neige et soleil pour dévaler les pistes, à ski, en bob, snowboard, luge et pour entreprendre des ballades, en forêt ou le long du Chemin des lanternes.

Les deux stations valaisannes ont également eu l’honneur de figurer dans deux ouvrages à succès : L’énigme de la chambre 622, du romancier Joël Dicker (aux éditions De Fallois) pour Verbier, et Crans-Montana, de l’écrivaine Monica Sabolo (paru chez JC Lattès), deux romans à lire après l’effort sportif au grand air.

Les deux lieux de vacances proposent en outre des activités culturelles de haut niveau lors des saisons d’hiver et d’été. Verbier fêtera en 2023 les trente ans de son prestigieux festival international de musique classique. Et Crans-Montana, grâce à l’association Swiss Made Culture, met en dialogue la Suisse culturelle avec le monde en invitant des personnalités renommées dans différents domaines.

Une chambre Little Guest à l’Hôtel La Réserve de Genève. (Photo Luisa Ballin).

Un concept innovant pour parents et enfants

Les enfants disent souvent « bien aimer les vacances à l’hôtel », hiver comme été. Un garçon de dix ans et une fillette de sept ans m’ont accompagnée, avec leur maman, découvrir un concept innovant, après avoir dégusté un délicieux goûter, participé à un atelier de préparation de cookies et découvert une chambre labellisée Little Guest, à l’hôtel La Réserve de Genève.

Fondé en 2018 et présenté à quelques journalistes par l’entrepreneur Jérôme Stefanski, le label Little Guest, fort de son réseau de quelque 350 hôtels à travers le monde, propose un service personnalisé pour petits et grands.

« L’hôtellerie de luxe a longtemps boudé les enfants, voire totalement censuré le kids-friendly. Une clientèle en couches culottes jugée hors des standards d’excellence et laissée aux hôtels clubs alors plus populaires. Aujourd’hui, bien loin de les négliger, les établissements les plus luxueux déroulent le tapis rouge aux petits pensionnaires. Une tendance qui devrait prendre davantage d’ampleur dans les dix prochaines années et dont Little Guest a fait sa marque de fabrique », explique Jérôme Stefanski.

Dans des établissements haut de gamme, aux prix de nuitées qui ne sont pas forcément à la portée de toutes les bourses, le confort des parents et des enfants est soigneusement pensé : sièges auto pour les transferts à l’aéroport ou à la gare, produits d’accueil spécialement conçus pour les enfants, cadeau de bienvenue y compris une petite mallette sur roulettes, poussettes, biberons, chauffe biberons et baby phone pour les plus petits, baby-sitter si nécessaire, activités d’éveil et initiation à des sports adaptés selon l’âge.

En Suisse, le concept Little Guest est proposé par une dizaine d’hôtels : Alpengold à Davos, Nendaz

4 Vallées & Spa, Crans Ambassador à Crans-Monana, Grand Resort à Bad Ragaz, Chalet Royalp & Spa

à Villars-sur-Ollon, Huus à Gstaad, The Chedi à Andermatt, Tschuggen Grand Hotel à Arosa, La Réserve Genève Hôtel & Spa et le Gstaad Palace.

Et si l’envie surgit de quitter les cimes enneigées pour une escapade à Venise, le temps du mythique Carnaval que petits et grands apprécieront, l’hôtel Danieli est l’escale prisée par les familles aisées.

Quelques liens :

Swiss Made Culture :

Verbier Festival :

Little Guest :

Global Geneva : A week-end in the Valais : culture, vineyards and thermal baths

Swiss Journeys: A weekend in the Valais – culture, vineyards and thermal baths

Take the Rilke 2023 Swiss Tour challenge and you can win a prize!

21. Dezember 2022 - 19:17

Farrol’s new book on Rilke in Switzerland marks the centenary of a key work by the poet.

I’ve just finished a book, Road Trip with Rilke Round Switzerland, due out on 28 June 2023. It covers some 200 places.

Now I am challenging readers to visit as many of them as possible and post selfies on a special website as evidence.

An annual award will be given to the hikers, bikers, train or car trippers who have achieved the most.

St. Pierre-de-Clages has made a name as The Swiss Book Village (including English paperbacks), boasting an 11th-century church with Switzerland’s only octagonal tower, local buildings echoing Italian architecture, and a superb shop

The visits will be graded from the most obvious places, such as Castle Muzot or his tomb at Raron, to rare places like church of St. Pierre-de-Clages or the Hottingen Club, which will be credited with more points.

Another unique feature is that when you are standing in front of a place or spending a night at a hotel he stayed in, you can share the moment with Rilke because, from the book, you can read the letters he wrote there.

Many of the partners involved in the Road Trip with Rilke will have a memorial corner with a display of books and other mementoes, so that people learn more about this life-enhancing poet by following in his footsteps around Switzerland.

I discovered to my delight while writing the guide that a tradition had evolved of a pilgrimage to Raron’s Rilkedorf to place a bouquet of white roses on Rilke’s grave. It began over 30 years ago when German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited his grave on 14 April 1989.

The book is part of a project to roll out an English-focused programme as Rilke is very popular with anglophones. More books are published about him and his poetry in English than in German.

Jojo Rabbiit, the official poster in Nazi propaganda style.

Rilke was also featured in the Disney movie Jojo Rabbit, which won an academy award in 2020. (It includes Rilke’s letter ‘Requiem from a friend’ and the poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going. No feeling is final.”) Both the Oscar winner for the best adapted screenplay, Taika Waititi, and Lady Gaga who has a Rilke tattoo on her arm, will be invited to the celebration. The singer’s Rilke tattoo is on the inside of her left arm, close to her heart.

Chateau de Muzot, where Rilke completed the Duino Elegies in February 1922, 11 years after the first composition. He recorded: “I went out into the cold moonlight and stroked the little tower of Muzot as if it were a large animal.” The chateau is still a private residence (Photo: wikipedia)

Already two books have appeared in advance of the centennial of the Duino Elegies, which is a landmark of Modernism comparable to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), much of which the English-American poet worked on in Switzerland during his wife’s breakdown.

The first translation of Duineser Elegien into English was done by Vita Sackville West (Cranach Press, 1931). She had begun the translation with the assistance of Margaret Voigt, an American living in Berlin, with whom she had started a passionate love affair early in the spring of 1928.

Being in love always helped Vita to write. In a relationship lasting five months the two established their fantasy love-world at Long Barn (in which Margaret played the ‘peasant’ to Vita’s aristocrat, and Vita was ‘David’ to Margaret).

The translation was completed in collaboration with Edward Sackville-West, fifth Baron Sackville (1901-1965). It was a luxury edition printed in red and black with text in English and German. Its 20 woodcut initials were heightened with gold designed and cut by Eric Gill.

Later Vita approached Hogarth Press, which was run by Virginia Wolf and her husband Leonard. However, it was a poor translation. Just a handful were printed and then only in deference to Virginia, her friend and lover. H.J. Leishman and Stephen Spender later delivered a good translation, published in 1939. The book went into several editions until the 1970s.

Stephen Mitchell in 1995 produced a fully annotated selection of Rilke’s poetry and prose: Ahead of All Parting (The Modern Library). The U.S. poet W.S. Merwin wrote of some of his translations: “Rilke’s voice, with its extraordinary combination of formality, power, speed and lightness, can be heard in Mr Mitchell’s versions more clearly than in any others.”

A bilingual edition with the H.J. Leishman and Stephen Spender translation.

Pushkin Press has reissued the original translation with an introduction by Lesley Chamberlin, but this only muddies the water of English Rilke studies.

In her introduction to the Duino Elegies by Pushkin Press Chamberlin describes Rilke as the greatest poet in German. This is the equivalent of toppling Wolfgang Goethe from his throne and Friedrich Schiller from his pedestal.

Then she takes a swipe at the Cambridge Companion to Rilke (Editors K.Leeder and R.Villain), describing him as being not-quite-a-modernist poet. This is contrary to their description of Rilke being “one of leading poets of European modernism comparable in importance and influence with American-born T.S. Eliot and the French poet Paul Valéry”.

Duino Castle. (Photo Rilke Foundation, Sierre)

As an example, here’s Rilke’s first line of the Duino Elegies which comes across as the roar of a lion (translated by J.B.Leishman and S.Spender): “Who if I cried out would hear me among the angelic / orders.” Compare this with the croak of a frog by the Sackville-Wests: “Who would give ear, among the angelic host, Were I to cry aloud.” Mitchell’s version: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?” His note explains that in 1925 Rilke wrote to his Polish translators: “The angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible […] already appears in its completion […] ‘terrifying’ for us because we [..] still cling to the visible.”

A mammoth German book of 1,450 pages with 1,100 illustrations was published by Nimbus in 2022. It consists of 800 eyewitness reports on the poet collected by Curdin Ebneter and Erich Unglaub.

In it, you will find a a lot of surprising statements. Notably, among them unkind or puzzling remarks made by lovers such as Lou Andreas-Salomé and Claire Goll, Thomas Mann and the housekeeper Frida Baumgartner.

In addition to texts that sing his praise, included are words from those who disliked or openly despised him (Benno Geiger, Marcel Jouhandeau, Agnes E. Meyer, Georg Heym and others).

Some other people, not too many, remained indifferent (for instance Ricarda Huch). More than one eyewitness found him ugly — even his greatest supporter, Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis and his first girlfriend Valerie von David-Rhonfeld.

Rilke’s gravestone in Raron (Photo: Rilke Foundation, Sierre)

Others called him beautiful and charming, especially his eyes and his voice, from the evidence of the dancer Alexander Sakharoff, Antonina Vallentin and many others.

One entertaining example come from Harold Nicholson’s Diaries and letters, concerning Bernard Berenson and his wife Vita Sackville-West.

“They visited him in Florence on a glorious hot day on September 23, 1950. At dinner B.B. is the gracious host. He talks well. He tells us about Rilke.

‘He must have been a very small man,’ said Vita.

‘Small?’ said B.B. ‘Not in the least. He was my size. But I suppose you would call me small.’ B.B. is neat and tidy, but only about 5 ft. 3, she wrote.”

Another striking anecdote comes from the famous pianist Harriet Cohen. The poet Rilke was also enamoured of a woman of marvellous beauty, Nimet Eloui Bey, and he had come down to Lausanne-Ouchy to be near her a few months before his death.

“Shall I ever forget those wide bright-green eyes, the thick loops of hair – almost like rolls of black cotton wool, the small perfect features of that sometimes gentle, sometimes arrogant face,” the pianist recalls.

“Rilke was very interested indeed by the story of D.H. Lawrence writing verse in my autograph album and pulled out a sheaf of poems from his pocket as a man might pull out unpaid bills.

“This was a habit of his, according to my old friend the poet Georgina Mase. Whether it was the Lawrence story or not, he selected one for me there and then, copying it onto an old envelope. It fitted everything so, especially the lines (in Mason’s fine translation): “I do not know what sounds delight you” — for he had never heard me play. Everything in the poem tallied. Later I learned that these verses had been written in 1914. Very strange.”

The poem was published several years later, in 1927.

Biographical novelist. organizer and activist journalist Farrol Kahn

Farrol Kahn is the author of a bio-novel about Rilke and an investigative journalist with books on aerospace medicine and fashion. He is also the organizer of the Swiss World Art Forum and the Gstaad Concours d’Elegance 2022 for classic cars.

Related Global-Geneva articles:

The Rilke bio-novel: From healthy flying to dramatic fiction (LINK)

Rilke’s Valais: ‘I have this country in the blood’ (LINK)

Les défis de l’UNRWA face au désespoir des réfugiés palestiniens

21. Dezember 2022 - 11:28

Créée en décembre 1949, l’UNRWA vient en aide à quelque 5,8 millions de réfugiés de Palestine dans la bande de Gaza, en Cisjordanie, en Jordanie, au Liban et en Syrie. Philippe Lazzarini, citoyen suisse le plus haut gradé dans la hiérarchie onusienne, a été nommé en mars 2020 par le Secrétaire général de l’ONU António Guterres au poste de Commissaire général de l’Office de secours et de travaux des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés de Palestine dans le Proche-Orient (UNRWA), succédant à un autre Suisse, Pierre Krähenbühl, mis sur la sellette, qui avait démissionné en novembre 2019. La tâche de l’UNRWA est titanesque entre ses difficultés financières chroniques qui risquent de l’engloutir et la nouvelle donne politique au Moyen-Orient.

« On nous demande de délivrer des services publics, mais nous dépendons essentiellement de contributions volontaires des États membres de l’ONU – rappelle Philippe Lazzarini -. Depuis la fin des années 1990, il y a une baisse d’attention de la communauté internationale qui a coïncidé avec l’enlisement du processus de paix israélo-palestinien. Des dynamiques, mondiales ou régionales, ont fait que l’attention sur ce conflit n’est plus une priorité. L’UNRWA a été pointée du doigt pour des responsabilités qu’elle ne pouvait pas entièrement assumer. L’organisation ne peut pas prendre la responsabilité des incohérences politiques derrière cela. Il y a une responsabilité de la part des États de traduire le soutien politique en ressources adéquates ».

Pour Vincent Pasquier, Chef de la coordination régionale Moyen Orient au Département fédéral des Affaire étrangères (DFAE), les défis de l’UNRWA ne sont pas nouveaux. « L’agence est intimement liée au conflit du Proche-Orient. Elle est née de ce conflit, de la première guerre en 1948 et des 750’000 réfugiés palestiniens qui ont émergé de cette guerre. Ce conflit perdure depuis près de 75 ans et les défis auxquels fait face l’agence ont augmenté : de 750’00 réfugiés, nous sommes passés à 5.8 millions ».

Il estime que la nature de l’agence a changé. « L’UNRWA prend aujourd’hui des fonctions quasi étatiques, sans aucune des fonctions régaliennes. Par contre, elle offre des services indispensables dans le domaine de l’éducation, de la santé et un filet social. Ce conflit continue de polariser et d’attiser les passions tant dans la région qu’en Suisse. L’UNRWA est observée et prise à partie. Elle fait l’objet de critiques régulières ».

Health care for Palestinians. (Photo: UNRWA) Comment pallier au manque de ressources financières de l’UNRWA ?

Critiques dont Riccardo Bocco, professeur émérite à l’IHEID-The Graduate Institute sis à Genève, se fait l’écho. « Comment les autres agences de l’ONU sont-elles capables de répondre au manque d’argent ? Il n’y a pas de financement assuré à l’UNRWA sauf pour les salaires des expatriés, soit le 1% des quelque 30’000 employés de l’UNRWA dont 99% sont essentiellement des Palestiniens réfugiés, voire des autres citoyens Arabes. Il y aurait un travail à faire par rapport à la capacité de mobilisation des ressources ».

Et Riccardo Bocco d’interpeller le chef de l’UNRWA : « Avec une équipe compétente, vous pourriez, Monsieur Lazzarini, élaborer une vision, être proactif, afin de pallier le manque de financement et ré-assoir le rôle de l’UNRWA, malgré les Israéliens, les Américains qui soutiennent les Israéliens etc. L’UNRWA pourrait avoir un rôle de catalyseur et commencer un processus ».

Le spécialiste du Moyen-Orient poursuit son analyse : « Depuis 1950, l’UNRWA n’a pas été capable de créer une unité faite de ses employés palestiniens. Ils sont sur le terrain. Le succès de l’UNRWA tient principalement à la qualité de ses employés, courroie de transmission immédiate concernant les besoins de la population. Le problème est que l’on n’associe pas les employés palestiniens dans le processus de prise de décisions de l’UNRWA ».

S’agissant de l’Autorité palestinienne, Riccardo Bocco affirme qu’elle ne représente plus qu’elle-même. « On dialogue avec elle, mais on renforce l’« empowerment », la responsabilisation des réfugiés palestiniens. Les pays hôtes de la région ne peuvent pas se passer de l’UNRWA. Ils ont intégré les millions de l’UNRWA dans leur économie politique ». Il demande si l’UNRWA serait capable de mettre autour d’une table les différents acteurs et de construire un dialogue, comme elle l’avait fait en 2004 avec le DFAE. Elle avait réuni 120 pays donateurs et suscité un engouement, rappelle ce fin connaisseur de la question israélo-palestinienne.

Dans sa réponse, Philippe Lazzarini pointe notamment du doigt le rôle ambigu des pays hôtes et de la communauté internationale, en citant les barrières d’inclusion socio-économique concernant les droits civiques des réfugiés palestiniens qui les maintiennent dans une situation artificielle. « Les réfugiés palestiniens se sentent abandonnés par la communauté internationale et par les pays arabes. Le monde a changé depuis 2004. Il est plus fragmenté. Nous avions à l’époque des partenaires plus prévisibles. Ils ne le sont plus. La situation devient désespérée sur le terrain. Il n’y a pas d’alternative à l’UNRWA, parce que l’alternative ne peut être que le produit d’un processus politique ».

Le frein de certains pays donateurs

Et le chef de l’agence onusienne qui vient en aide aux réfugiés palestiniens de préciser : « Il y a deux ans, lorsque nous voulions organiser une conférence de donateurs, nous avons eu des freins de la plupart de nos donateurs qui nous ont dit : ne faites pas cela parce qu’on ne veut pas que vous exposiez trop la question de l’UNRWA. Pour beaucoup des pays donateurs c’est une question domestique extrêmement sensible. Je passe beaucoup de temps auprès des parlements, de différents comités des Affaires étrangères et de partis politiques dans les pays où il y a cette sensibilité. Nous avons chaque année, au mois de juin, une conférence des donateurs, à l’Assemblée générale de l’ONU, qui regroupe les États membres ».

Compte tenu de sa situation économique périlleuse, l’UNRWA risque-t-elle de disparaître ? « Il n’y a pas d’alternative à l’UNRWA », affirme Vincent Pasquier. « Nous devons la soutenir ». À l’évocation du rôle proactif de la Suisse qui avait notamment soutenu l’Initiative de Genève, plan de paix alternatif signé en décembre 2003 dans la Cité de Calvin par d’anciens partenaires de négociations israéliens et palestiniens, le représentant du DFAE ne cache pas les aléas d’une certaine realpolitik : « Vous parlez de l’Initiative de Genève. Le monde a changé depuis. Nous voyons deux tendances parallèles et parfois contraires. Les accords de normalisation (Ndlr : les Accords d’Abraham, signés entre Israël et certains pays arabes) sont le reflet de changements profonds dans la région. Il y a vingt ou trente ans, le conflit israélo-palestinien structurait la région. Entre-temps, les printemps arabes ont posé des questions aux pays de cette région : les guerres civiles en Syrie et en Libye, les relations avec la Turquie – un acteur plus présent dans la région -, le rôle de l’islam politique, celui des Frères musulmans, la relation entre les pays du Golfe et l’Iran. Le conflit israélo-palestinien n’est plus au cœur des préoccupations ».

Vincent Pasquier évoque aussi les regains de violence à Gaza, à Jérusalem, en Cisjordanie où cette année a été la plus meurtrière avec 150 morts du côté palestinien, ainsi que deux récents attentats en Israël. Le diplomate suisse corrobore une vérité que les décideurs politiques internationaux font mine de ne plus voir : « Tant que le conflit israélo palestinien ne sera pas résolu, il restera une source de tensions, de violences et d’instabilité dans la région. La Suisse n’a jamais arrêté de soutenir l’idée d’une solution à deux États et d’offrir nos bons offices aux parties, ni de rappeler qu’il faut un horizon politique et pas seulement des mesures économiques ».

Des pistes pour éviter une explosion sociale

Que faire pour que la question lancinante du sort des réfugiés palestiniens reste à l’agenda de la communauté internationale, préoccupée aujourd’hui par la tragédie de la guerre en Ukraine ? Philippe Lazzarini met en garde contre une situation explosive : « La stabilité est importante pour nombre de donateurs. Ils ne nous soutiennent pas uniquement pour des raisons humanitaires, mais parce que nous sommes une organisation qui investit dans le développement humain. Dans un Moyen-Orient volatil, nous contribuons à la stabilité de la région. C’est un des motifs pour lesquels les États-Unis contribuent à plus de 300 millions auprès de l’organisation et que des pays européens donnent de fortes contributions à l’UNRWA ».

Mais, souligne le haut responsable onusien, « aujourd’hui le désespoir est tel que la situation tourne en ressentiment. La colère se retourne parfois contre l’UNRWA, comme au Liban, parce que les réfugiés palestiniens n’ont nulle part où aller pour exprimer leur frustration. Elle se traduit par des drames humains, comme avec ceux qui essaient de traverser la Méditerranée en prenant les trajets de la mort. Et par la colère dans les camps ». 

Le professeur Riccardo Bocco propose des pistes. « Je suis ravi d’entendre l’engagement du Département des Affaires étrangères suisses. Très bien. Mais vous croyez encore au modèle de deux États ? (Ndlr : Israël et un État palestinien). C’est fini, il n’y a plus deux États. Je suis déçu que la Suisse, dépositaire des quatre Conventions de Genève, ait quitté Jérusalem pour Ramallah sous pression du gouvernement israélien. Il n’y a pas d’alternative à l’UNRWA. En attendant que les décideurs politiques internationaux prennent leurs responsabilités par rapport aux réfugiés palestiniens, l’UNRWA a des choses à faire : sur le plan juridique international, sur les conditions socio-économiques et les migrations des Palestiniens dans la région et en Europe, ainsi que concernant la sécurité dans les camps de réfugiés palestiniens. Si vous ouvrez le débat sur ces thèmes, l’UNRWA aura des financements ».

Lien pour écouter le débat au Club suisse de la presse : Les nouveaux défis de l’UNRWA

Related stories on the Global Insights Platform

Hugo Pratt : un désir d’ailleurs visité et dessiné

9. Dezember 2022 - 13:08
Hugo in Argentina, deuxième volet de la trilogie de documentaires de création que vous dédiez au dessinateur, bédéiste et aquarelliste italien Hugo Pratt, a été présenté en avant-première mondiale aux Giornate degli autori, un aperçu autonome de films d’auteurs dans le cadre de la Mostra du Cinéma de Venise en 2021. Et en première romande au Festival FILMAR en América Latina. Pourquoi l’Argentine a-t-elle été importante pour Hugo Pratt ?

En 1950, lorsqu’il débarque en Argentine, alors qu’il rêvait d’aller aux États-Unis, Hugo Pratt découvre Buenos Aires, une ville en plein boom économique et d’une grande effervescence culturelle. Il est un jeune homme avec du potentiel, mais encore loin de ce que sera Hugo Pratt plus tard, lorsqu’il créera le personnage qui l’a rendu mondialement célèbre, le marin au long cours Corto Maltese. Ses dix années en Argentine vont lui permettre d’apprendre le métier. À la fin de sa vie, il se rendra compte, d’une façon lucide, qu’il appartient à une histoire. Tous les personnages auxquels il a rendu hommage et les pèlerinages qu’il a effectués à travers le monde étaient pour lui une façon de s’inscrire dans un ancrage. Il va aller jusqu’au bout de son histoire, dans ses bandes dessinées et dans les livres qui ont constitué son impressionnante bibliothèque.

Hugo Pratt, nom de plume d’Ugo Eugenio Prat, né à Rimini en Italie en 1927 et mort à Pully en Suisse, en 1995, est enterré à Grandvaux. Qu’est devenue son impressionnante bibliothèque ?

Quelque 17’000 livres de Pratt se trouvent au Villars-Palace, dans les Alpes vaudoises en Suisse.

La Suisse a-t-elle été l’antre privilégié de Hugo Pratt ?

Oui, il a vécu à Grandvaux de 1984 à 1995. Quand Pratt dessine Corto Maltese, entre 1967 et 1991, notamment dans Les Helvétiques, il fait un voyage dans un livre, d’où il sort deux pages avant la fin. Hugo Pratt construira et gardera ses archives en Suisse, il créera sa maison et y amenera ses œuvres, dont Il donnera les droits de gestion à Patrizia Zanotti. Pratt disait qu’il a beaucoup pris à l’Histoire et qu’il a voulu rendre à l’Histoire ce qu’elle a de symbolisme et de métaphysique.

Le dessinateur, bédéiste et aquarelliste italien fait partie de ces artistes qui ont fait de leur vie une œuvre. Vous lui dédiez une trilogie filmée. Quels ont été les temps forts de son parcours exceptionnel ?

Le premier volet était Hugo in Africa, le deuxième est Hugo in Argentina, et dans le troisième volet de la trilogie, nous montrerons Venise et une Suisse différente, initiatique, dans laquelle Pratt s’était plongé et qu’il a su rendre de façon magistrale dans son travail.

Pourquoi avoir choisi Venise pour conclure le cycle ?

Parce que la Cité des Doges est un lieu emblématique pour Hugo Pratt. Selon ce que l’on cherche, on peut y trouver des choses très différentes. Le fait qu’il n’y soit pas né, qu’il n’y soit pas mort et enterré est dans la logique prattienne. Il est partout chez lui et est tout le temps ailleurs. J’ai rarement vu quelqu’un qui s’est intégré avec autant de plaisir, de talent et de spontanéité dans d’autres cultures. On le perçoit dans les aventures de Corto Maltese et c’est pour cela que cette bande-dessinée, mythe du neuvième art, reste d’actualité, avec une perception de la multiculturalité très riche et une profonde adhésion.

Comment avez-vous structuré votre trilogie ?

Elle se base sur trois éléments fondamentaux, comme pour parapher la Sainte-Trinité : il y a d’abord le père. Hugo Pratt l’a suivi en Afrique où la famille s’était installée pendant la Première Guerre mondiale lorsqu’il était enfant. Son géniteur va mourir là-bas et Hugo, adolescent, va découvrir qu’il est du mauvais côté de l’Histoire, puisque son père avait été soldat dans les troupes de Benito Mussolini qui occupaient l’Ethiopie. C’est donc le dépassement du père. Dans le deuxième volet, celui du fils, Hugo devient, en Argentine, le chef de file de la bande dessinée. Dans la troisième partie, si on pense au Saint-Esprit, j’évoque Venise, la Suisse et le Pacifique, les trois lieux de ce voyage mystique, culturel et historique que Pratt va entreprendre vers la fin de sa vie.

Venise était bien le lieu où vivait sa grand-mère, dans le ghetto ?

Pratt aimait mystifier les choses. Il semble qu’il avait honte de sa grand-mère qui ne correspondait pas à ses projections. Avec Pratt, vit-on dans la réalité ou dans le mythe ? Il faut accepter que la vérité qu’il raconte se situe en partie dans la réalité et en partie dans une dimension qui va au-delà de la réalité. Ce n’est pas du mensonge, c’est de la mystification, une représentation des choses bien à lui. Pratt était un artiste, il avait un regard et voyait la profondeur des choses. Et sa vie était un spectacle !

Quand sortira Hugo a Venezia ?

Cette troisième partie devrait sortir en 2024 à la Mostra du Cinéma de Venise ou en 2025, l’année du trentième anniversaire de la disparition de Pratt : trois films, trois chapitres importants de sa vie et à 30 ans de sa disparition.

Que pouvez-vous anticiper de la troisième partie de votre trilogie ?

Pour ouvrir Hugo à Venise je vais utiliser une phrase. Lors d’un entretien, quelqu’un lui avait demandé : Monsieur Pratt, comment définiriez-vous le fait d’être Vénitien ? Pratt a répondu : être Vénitien, c’est faire confiance à l’eau. L’eau représente l’inconscient ou le subconscient. Cela veut dire faire confiance à ce que l’on ne maîtrise pas, à ce qui peut nous engloutir.

Cette phrase de Pratt s’accorde parfaitement avec ce qu’est Venise : un lieu unique au monde qui risque d’être englouti par l’acqua alta, la marée haute.

Oui. Et Venise est aussi un labyrinthe, où l’on sait qu’il y a une sortie. Mais qui voudrait sortir de ce labyrinthe inspirant qu’est Venise ?

A voir : Au Cinélux, Genève. Dimanche 11 décembre à 16h40 : Hugo in Argentina, film de Stefano Knuchel

Aux Cinémas du Grütli, Salle Langlois, Genève. Dimanche 18 décembre à 18h45 : Un lugar llamado Dignidad, du réalisateur chilien Matías Rojas Valencia.

Un lugar llamado dignidad

Aux Cinémas du Grütli, Salle Langlois, Genève. Dimanche 18 décembre, à 21h00 :  Amparo, du cinéaste colombien Simon Mesa Soto.


Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva.

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

Related articles on the Global Insights Platform. Bertrand Badie : L’éloge de la biculturalité pour comprendre les subtilités du monde Daniel Cohn-Bendit : « Les Ukrainiens redéfinissent la politique de l’Europe » Deux maestri partagent le podium pour les dix ans de l’Orchestre des Nations Relat articles on the Global Insights Magazine webplatform Un été italien, de Padoue à Venise au fil de l’eau WIKI’s Centennial Expedition: A multimedia venture to help save the Med Namsa Leuba, l’artiste du 8e art qui explore les identités plurielles L’ancien président suisse Adolf Ogi lance trois suggestions : à l’ONU, au pape François et au Conseil fédéral Ai Weiwei’s Turandot Metin Arditi invite un adolescent et un brigadiste dans son nouveau roman Maurizio Serra perce le mystère Mussolini In Squandered Eden, Paradise Lost Democracy – Quo Vadimus — Where Do We Go? La Passion : amours infinies et infinies amours La France contre elle-même, enquête d’un journaliste franco-suisse sur la ligne de démarcation

Reporting global issues: Supporting freelance journalism is key

24. November 2022 - 15:46

African and Indian freelancers dominated the 2022 Rory Peck Awards, with all 12 finalists highlighting the bravery, technical skill, canny use of regional fixers, and the crucial sixth sense when it comes to facing down danger. Established 1995, the Awards highlight the significant contribution of freelance journalists to the international media industry and celebrates the most outstanding work produced each year.

The core fact is that the news industry is happier commissioning freelancers to do the difficult jobs in the darkest corners of the world, than sending its own staff teams. The direct result is that freelancers expose important stories, and help broadcast audiences to better comprehend particular causes and issues. At the same time, too, many of these individuals often take extraordinary risks to ensure that the public is properly informed, particularly in an age where mis/disinformation combined with deliberate cyber abuse and propaganda run rampant in social media.

In a passionate opening speech, Rory Peck Trust (RPT) Director Clothilde Redfern said: “Our driving purpose is to protect the important pool of independent journalists who, in turn, protect our democratic values in a world of increasing authoritarianism.”

News gathering, Redfern stressed, cannot happen “without a whole army of local journalists, local field producers, and freelance journalists on the ground: they are all contributing to the huge and complicated process of news gathering, and keeping journalists safe.” She added. “Ninety percent of journalists want more guidance and support on safety issues, and the risks are becoming more complex.”

The RPT has been running safety clinics for five years, but funding from the Google News Initiative has created a new frontline. “We will be launching a risk and security help desk in the new year,” said Redfern. “Our crisis fund, which normally lasts all year was spent by the end of August, but we reached out to our regular fund raisers and 80 journalists raised £20,000 by running in the Royal Parks half marathon.”

Stories disappear

The awards consisted of the usual four categories: News, News Features, The Sony Impact Award, and the Martin Adler Award for regional journalists. The first category went to Bhat Burhan from Kashmir, with How Remote Areas in India are Getting Vaccines. This was commissioned by the international news organization, Insider.

Bhat Burhan

The judges praised Burhan for the humanity of his film and said it was a technically beautiful piece of journalism.

“My film shows health care workers going door to door. I started shooting at 9am and packed up at 4pm, and we were quite lucky that snow fell at that time because it enabled me to show the hardships the vaccine team faced,” he said. “You have to see what colour you can add to your filming, and I had an all-white background.”

All the journalists nominated wanted to discuss the big issues, and Burhan said: “We are facing intimidation and censorship more than ever before. Almost every media house has taken a back foot and has altered its editorial policies. During such a crisis a lot of stories disappear in front of our eyes. I don’t have enough words to commend and thank the editors at Insider.” 

Jamal Osman Trust your judgement

This issue of support, the threat by Donald Trump to arrest journalists if he re-takes The Whitehouse, and location safety were the discussion issues of the night. The News Feature prize was collected by the brilliant Jamal Osman for Britain’s Channel 4 news story Inside Al-Shabaab.

“In doing stories like this, and besides the access, you need editors who trust your judgement,” said Osman. “And that you can go and hang out with Al-Shabaab, and come back to London. You have to trust yourself too, because people like Al-Shabaab won’t trust anyone. They thought secret services could use me to get them.

“They suspect your equipment may be bugged, so I hired from Somalia, at the last minute. But I planned everything else beforehand because I have good contacts and I am Somali,” he added. “After long discussions it remained 14 minutes, but the material we had was so good, the editors were asking to add more.”

One incredible sequence features an Al-Shabaab girls’ school.

“I said I wanted to film one of the schools, and they said fine. They have created their own curriculum and education system, a tax system and strong military, and they are determined to take over Somalia,” said Osman. “As a journalist that is what I am interested in; I am not: yes, they are seen as terrorists, and they kill all of the time. We know that side of the story, but I was interested in getting deeper into the group, and the ambition of what they are trying to achieve.”

Asked what the biggest threat is to freelancers, Osman said: “Not having the support. My editors trust my judgement. “The RPT shows that we have to appreciate free journalism. We take risks, and it is dangerous, but if you get the backing you need, you can deliver great material, and know with confidence that if something goes wrong there is a support mechanism,” he added.   

Abductions and Killings

The Sony prize went to Yusuf Anka for the incredible BBC World Service production The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara. The Sony Impact Award for Current Affairs honours the work of freelance journalists in long-form current affairs that examines a single issue, story or situation and has an impact on the viewer, policy or public awareness.

Yusuf Anka

Anka said: “I heard about these atrocities when I was a child. Fear became a part of us which we could not shake away, yet the criminality of armed groups increased year on year. Many schools and roads in Zamfara remain closed. Abductions and killings became the order of the day.”

Anka was a law student when he met two guys from the BBC. He said: “We scratched around for answers to Nigeria’s most pressing questions – who are these bandits, and what do they want. They got me some training on shooting pictures and recording voices. With this training, an iPhone and a tripod, plus the assistance of two fixers, I embarked on a journey through Zamfara to scratch for the answers.”

He discovered something quite astonishing: “It was the story of true pain inflicted by climate change, dire poverty, and injustice,” said Anka.   

Defamation Case

The Martin Adler Prize, which honours local freelance journalists or field producers, was won by the Sudan-based Mohammed Alamin, proposed by Middle East Eye, an independently funded digital news organization covering the Middle East and North Africa in English and French.

One of the other two finalists, Parth Nikhil who was nominated by The People’s Archive of Rural India, added to the debate about issues hitting freelancers. “Freelancers do not have the institutional backing that most journalists get, so when they are working on a sensitive story they can be on their own. If your story doesn’t go down well with the authorities, somebody slaps you with a defamation case,” he said.

“This has happened to a lot of India’s independent media outlets. Knowing that they do not have big resources, the authorities are basically bleeding them out,” he added.

The third Martin Adler finalist was Alithea Stephanie Mounika, proposed by Unbias The News, a feminist crossborder newsroom working towards a more equitable and inclusive world of journalism. It further describes itself as offering a space for journalists who experience “structural barriers in the field.”

The two other finalists in the News category were Ukraine Various (for Reuters) from Sasha Ermochenko and Pavel Klimov, and Raul Gallego Abellan’s Edge of the Artic, made for Al Jazeera. Both could easily have won.

In News Features, another incredibly strong section, Lebanon on Life Support came from George Henton, for BBC Our World. Surabhi Tandon created the incredible story Life at 50C: Using Ice to Battle India’s Heat for BBC World Service.

The Sony Impact category threw up another two wonderful finalists in Afghanistan: No Country for Women, from Ramita Navai and Karim Shah, and Conversations about Climate Change with (Australian) Coalminers, from Kim Paul Nguyen and Chris Phillips. The first was for ITV Exposure and PBS Frontline, and the second for Vice.

George Jarrett is a media journalist – writing about both technical and creative subjects – since 1969. He has been freelance since 1986, and now writes mainly for IBC365. He first attended IBC in 1970, and was editorial founder of the IBC Daily, and the Soho Runner. He has produced and chaired over 100 industry conference sessions.

For more information on the Rory Peck Trust and what it does to support journalists, such as assistance grants, trauma & resilience workshops, online resources and safety training, please see:

Related articles in Global Insights on the platform 2021 Rory Peck Awards: Recognizing the best of freelance reporting and filmmaking Without Borders – A Tragic and Cyclical Odyssey Across the Muslim World Nobel Peace Prize 2022: recognizing courageous human rights defenders WIKI’s Centennial Expedition: A multimedia venture to help save the Med Building Bridges – but lacking participatory public interest media International Geneva: Missed Opportunities, New Possibilities Luc Hoffmann’s Legacy of Hope for the Planet Inger Andersen: “No one can go it alone on sustainable development.” Related stories on oceans and environment. We have published numerous stories on water, oceans, polar and other related issues on the Global Insights Platform (See below) The Global Reef Expedition: A mission to assess the health of coral reefs around the world Caribbean Dreams – Economic Nightmares Transnational Red Sea project aboard neutral Swiss ship launched Transnational Red Sea project to save coral reefs launched in Aqaba Overfishing: The greatest threat to our oceans Oceanus to Oceans: The Sea Affects All Things Art Contest for Students: The Living Oceans’ 2020 Science Without Borders® Challenge! The Hindu Kush Himalaya: An endangered “water tower” in a warming world An oink heard around the world The Hans Hass Fifty Fathoms Award: Communicating the oceans Rex Tillerson and the ‘Art’ of the Oil Business


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Alain Gachet – A water wizard for the planet MPs bet on water diplomacy – and CERN – for the Middle East Turning water drama into Geneva’s blue wave of peace Water and peace: Made in Switzerland POLAR FOCUS: Iceland Exceptionalism – Renewable energies, effective pandemic measures and careful tourism. PolarQuest2018: Voyage to the edge of the North Pole


POLAR FOCUS: Including the Sixth Sense in Arctic Work

POLAR FOCUS: Including the Sixth Sense in Arctic Work Polar2018: Bringing the Arctic and Antarctic together in Switzerland Dealing with new realities: Cities must adapt to climate change Why Climate Change matters to your security, health & wealth


Enrico Letta : « Nous avons sous-estimé l’impact de la crise économique »

15. November 2022 - 20:42
EDITION FRANCAISE : Le temps est-il venu pour la Suisse et l’Union européenne de renouer le dialogue ?

Oui. La crise internationale et l’aide commune apportée à la résistance ukrainienne démontrent qu’il est temps de renouer les relations entre la Suisse et l’Union européenne. Il y a eu un enlisement de leur relation après le Brexit, pour des raisons différentes. Pendant trois ans, la Commission européenne était occupée à gérer le chaos qu’a été le Brexit. Elle n’avait ni le temps ni la tête pour penser au dossier suisse ou à celui de l’élargissement de ses membres. Par ailleurs, quelques milieux en Suisse ont imaginé un rapprochement avec les Britanniques pour jouer une partition ensemble. Le Brexit était un divorce alors que dans le cas de la Suisse, il faut trouver la façon de reprendre une relation sans divorce en arrière-plan.

Que peuvent faire la Suisse et l’Union européenne pour relancer le dialogue ?

Le Brexit s’est mal terminé pour le Royaume-Uni. L’Europe doit se concentrer sur la relation avec la Suisse et la Suisse doit prendre au sérieux sa relation avec l’UE. L’idée de la Communauté politique européenne est fondamentale. Initiée par le président français Emmanuel Macron, elle a tenu sa première réunion le 6 octobre dernier à Prague avec la participation du président suisse Ignazio Cassis. Je crois qu’il n’y a pas eu de polémique en Suisse à ce sujet. Le climat est donc propice pour avancer dans ce sens.

Enrico Letta avec des jeunes.

Que suggérez-vous ?

Il y a des raisons politiques pour avancer. La barre ne doit pas être mise trop haute et il faut être concrets. Un bon crochet est la participation commune à cette communauté politique européenne pour se rencontrer et voir comment elle peut être une formule gagnant-gagnant pour recommencer à se parler.

En parlerez-vous avec le Conseiller fédéral Alain Berset que vous allez voir dans un instant ?

Pourquoi pas…C’est la bonne personne pour le faire.

Qu’en est-il de la question des migrants ?

Sur la question migratoire, le temps est venu d’expérimenter une nouvelle méthode. Parce que la méthode actuelle ne marche pas. Il faudrait une coopération renforcée sur la politique migratoire, un instrument dans les Traités, rarement employé, donnant la possibilité à une majorité de pays de construire une politique, au sein, et non pas hors des Traités. Construire cette politique en disant franchement que quelques pays membres de l’EU ne doivent pas être à bord.

Enrico Letta.

Quels sont ces pays ?

Avec les positions politiques actuelles de la Hongrie et de la Pologne, il est impossible d’avoir une politique migratoire qui marche. Ces pays mettent des obstacles. Il faut trouver des accords non pas à l’unanimité mais à la majorité. Ma suggestion est de quitter la via maestra et prendre un détour par une coopération renforcée. Les pays qui le veulent agiraient ensemble et partageraient les coûts et les décisions pour surmonter l’impasse dans laquelle nous nous trouvons. Si chaque bateau arrivant sur les côtes est obligé de négocier et est objet d’une attention médiatique extrême, c’est la folie garantie. C’est aussi une façon pour que l’Italie, le pays avec le plus de côtes dans le bassin méditerranéen, ne soit pas laissée seule et ne soit pas le bouc émissaire.

Les pays de l’Union européenne ont-ils la volonté politique de gérer la crise migratoire ?

Depuis quinze ans, l’Europe a su surmonter les crises importantes qu’elle a dû affronter, en créant de nouveaux instruments pour faire face à la crise financière et à celle du Covid, sauf en ce qui concerne la crise migratoire pour laquelle elle n’a pas su faire bouger les lignes. Le problème est institutionnel.

Que préconisez-vous ?

Lors de la récente campagne électorale que j’ai menée dans mon pays, de nombreux entrepreneurs italiens m’ont dit que leur priorité est d’avoir des travailleurs émigrés pour effectuer certains travaux. En même temps, nous avons cette situation de folie autour de la question des migrants. Le manque de gestion coordonnée des flux migratoires empêche d’obtenir ce qui est nécessaire pour la compétitivité de nos entreprises. Il est question d’humanité et d’intérêt européen, les deux doivent se compléter. La politique européenne sur ce thème a fait faillite, une coopération renforcée est indispensable.

Les pays européens n’ont-ils pas deux poids deux mesures avec les migrants et requérants d’asile ? Les Ukrainiens étant accueillis alors que les Syriens, Afghans et autres ressortissants musulmans ne sont pas les bienvenus.

C’est plus facile en effet pour les Ukrainiens, car une des raisons est qu’ils veulent rentrer chez eux une fois que la guerre sera finie.

Lors de notre entretien précédent, alors que vous étiez doyen de l’École des affaires internationales de Science Po Paris, je vous avais demandé si vous souhaitiez que l’histoire repasse pour vous. L’histoire est repassée puisque vous avez été nommé à la tête du Partito democratico (PD), en faisant rêver beaucoup d’Italiens…

Oui, mais cela n’a pas marché lors des dernières élections.

Pourquoi la gauche ne fait-elle plus rêver en Italie ou en France, deux pays où de nombreuses personnes qui votaient pour des partis de gauche votent désormais pour l’extrême-droite ?

Il faut une profonde réflexion à ce sujet. Si je dois faire un mea culpa, un examen de conscience, je pense que nous avons sous-estimé l’impact de la crise économique. Au sein du PD, nous avons fait une campagne électorale ancrée sur des sujets d’avenir, comme l’environnement et le droit aux libertés individuelles. Alors que les Italiens demandent des prix de l’énergie plus bas et des salaires plus hauts. J’avais vu arriver cela avec le mouvement des Gilets jaunes en France. Je n’ai probablement pas su donner une réponse rapide et à la hauteur, car lorsque vous parlez de sauver le monde à des gens qui n’arrivent pas à boucler leur fin du mois, ils ne vous écoutent pas. Nous n’avons pas été capable de lier fin du monde et fins de mois, de dire que notre action était aussi d’éviter que l’impact des changements climatiques et les libertés individuelles soient marginalisés en Italie. Mais des gens ont pensé que nous n’étions pas intéressés à discuter de leur salaire et de leurs fins de mois difficiles.

C’est un problème général ?

Oui, la Suède et la France ont eu le même problème que nous en Italie. Il faut des réponses politiques qui conjuguent soutenabilité sociale et environnementale. Pendant ma campagne électorale, je parlais de voitures électriques et j’étais contesté par ceux qui disaient : nous voulons garder notre travail dans l’automobile traditionnelle et vous, avec vos voitures électriques, vous aidez les constructeurs chinois de batterie contre les Italiens qui construisent des voitures traditionnelles !

Que pouvez-vous faire ?

C’est compliqué. Parce que si on pose le problème ainsi, la réponse sera : faut-il défendre les salaires aujourd’hui mais détruire la planète demain ? Il est nécessaire d’avoir des politiques à long terme capables de faire en sorte que les transitions écologiques se fassent sans détruire les postes de travail ni baisser les salaires. Seule l’Europe est capable de faire cela, parce ce que le niveau national n’a pas la capacité de le faire. Je plaide en faveur de l’Europe qui est essentielle pour aller dans cette direction.

Pendant votre campagne électorale vous n’avez pas été suffisamment opportuniste ?

Vous voulez dire pas assez méchant ? On ne peut pas forcer son propre caractère. Je fais un discours politique positif. Et j’admets que c’est une limite. La politique d’aujourd’hui travaille sur les peurs. Je ne le fais pas, je cherche à tracer un horizon positif et à travailler sur des alternatives.

Si vous aviez conclu l’alliance des gauches italiennes avant les élections, cette coalition serait arrivée en tête. Pourquoi ne pas l’avoir fait ?

Nous avons tenté de le faire, mais les deux autres partis (ndlr : Movimento 5Stelle et Azione e Italia Viva) ne voulaient pas être ensemble. Les chiffres démontraient que pour arriver en tête nous devions être les trois ensembles. Les autres deux ont voulu courir seuls en donnant pour acquis que la coalition des droites allait gagner. Ils se préparaient à être à l’opposition. Nous avons tenté de mettre les trois partis de centre gauche ensemble, mais cela a échoué.

Maintenant que vous êtes les trois dans l’opposition, allez-vous voter ensemble ?

Chacun va faire ses choix. Pour nous, il est important de tenir le congrès du PD et avoir un nouveau ou une nouvelle leader qui prenne ma place. Et trouver la façon de faire une opposition efficace.

Vous ne vous présenterez pas pour guider à nouveau le PD. Resterez-vous en politique ?

Oui, je resterai en politique. Je suis parlementaire. Quand on perd une élection, il faut céder sa place de leader.

Comment comptez-vous séduire à nouveau celles et ceux qui ne votent plus pour le PD ? Allez-vous travailler avec les jeunes ?

Avec les jeunes, nous avions trouvé de bonnes idées, mais nous n’avons pas eu le temps de les développer. Nous leur avons parlé d’environnement et de droits aux libertés individuelles et j’ai été accusé d’avoir fait une campagne électorale trop ancrée sur ces deux sujets. En travaillant sur ces thèmes nous serons capables de faire monter les jeunes en puissance au sein du PD. D’après les sondages, les jeunes ont voté pour le PD à 18-19%, surtout ceux âgés entre 18 et 24 ans. Nous sommes considérés le parti voté par les sages et cette fois-ci nous avons aussi obtenu le vote des jeunes. Il faut transformer cela en politique de la jeunesse, qui est marginalisée dans toutes les activités en Italie, y compris en politique. Je vais y travailler.

Sans perdre le vote de la classe ouvrière qui avait fait le succès du PC d’Enrico Berlinguer et du PD ?

Vous avez raison, cela a été probablement notre problème pendant cette récente campagne électorale. Nous avons recommencé à discuter de ce sujet et du salaire minimum qui sera notre cheval de bataille ces prochains mois. Et évidemment, le dialogue avec le monde du travail est fondamental.

Vous n’avez pas su trouver les mots pour convaincre les travailleurs et travailleuses pendant votre campagne électorale ?

La dégringolade du gouvernement dirigé par Mario Draghi a été si soudaine que nous avons dû organiser une campagne électorale et trouver les mots d’ordre en quelques jours alors que les élections étaient prévues en avril 2023. Giorgia Meloni (ndlr : la leader du parti Fratelli d’Italia, première femme à diriger le gouvernement de l’Italie) a répété, en campagne électorale, les mots qu’elle utilisait lorsqu’elle était à l’opposition.

Certains vous reprochent d’avoir été trop loyal avec le Président du Conseil Mario Draghi et pas assez incisif pour faire gagner votre parti le PD. Que leur répondez-vous ?

Je pense qu’en politique comme dans la vie la loyauté compte. Je me trompe peut-être, puisque nous n’avons pas gagné. Nous avons défendu le gouvernement de Mario Draghi jusqu’au bout. Si nous avions été dans une fin ordonnée de la législature, avec Mario Draghi négociant avec l’Union européenne, et d’avoir gardé la date de l’élection au printemps 2023 comme prévu, cela aurait été plus judicieux pour les Italiens. En faisant chuter le gouvernement Draghi, Giuseppe Conte (5Stelle), Silvio Berlusconi (Forza Italia) et Matteo Salvini (Lega) ont pris une responsabilité qui restera dans l’Histoire.

Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva.

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

Related articles on the Global Insights Platform. Bertrand Badie : L’éloge de la biculturalité pour comprendre les subtilités du monde Daniel Cohn-Bendit : « Les Ukrainiens redéfinissent la politique de l’Europe » Deux maestri partagent le podium pour les dix ans de l’Orchestre des Nations Relat articles on the Global Insights Magazine webplatform Un été italien, de Padoue à Venise au fil de l’eau How threatened is the Mediterranean and what can we do about it? WIKI’s Centennial Expedition: A multimedia venture to help save the Med Namsa Leuba, l’artiste du 8e art qui explore les identités plurielles L’ancien président suisse Adolf Ogi lance trois suggestions : à l’ONU, au pape François et au Conseil fédéral Ai Weiwei’s Turandot Metin Arditi invite un adolescent et un brigadiste dans son nouveau roman Maurizio Serra perce le mystère Mussolini In Squandered Eden, Paradise Lost Democracy – Quo Vadimus — Where Do We Go? La Passion : amours infinies et infinies amours La France contre elle-même, enquête d’un journaliste franco-suisse sur la ligne de démarcation

Without Borders – A Tragic and Cyclical Odyssey Across the Muslim World

13. November 2022 - 14:52

An American blunder went far towards making the Haqqanis what they are today, internationally infamous as remorseless terrorists and suicide bombers

During this same period, the United States also suffered the worst attack on its soil since Pearl Harbor with the events of 9/11. Subsequently, it went on to fight and lose the longest war in its history. It also left behind a restored safe haven for transnational terrorists, with no end to this cyclical odyssey in sight.  

Jere Van Dyk’s latest book, Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul, is the fruit of a more recent odyssey he undertook across the Muslim world over the last decade in order to understand how this terrible turn in modern history came about. Revisiting the Afghanistan-Pakistan zone of conflict, he also journeyed to Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, The Sudan, and the Syrian-Turkish border, interviewing a broad and detailed spectrum of people representing different classes, professions, and ideologies.

What he concludes is that a perfect sandstorm of acutely myopic American foreign policies, the brutally malign influence and actions of allegedly pro-Western regimes in the region, and severe psychological reactions to historical and personal traumas among a variety of Muslims has produced the singular intensity of modern jihadist violence.

For him, all this is symbolized by the Haqqanis, an Afghan Pushtun family with a vast following that is today internationally infamous as remorseless terrorists and suicide bombers who were America’s most implacable foes during the war. Yet, when Van Dyk first bonded with renowned mujahed commander Jalaluddin Haqqanni, in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan forty years ago, he and his men were valiant resistance fighters possessed of an heroic probity. They were also backed by Washington through Pakistan’s military intelligence organization, ISI.

Jere van Dyk travelling in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s.

A native of Washington state, Van Dyk first travelled to Afghanistan as a tourist in 1973. He was enchanted by a land of fabled beauty and warm hospitality, which had always followed the Hanafi school of Muslim jurisprudence — the most liberal in Islam. At that time, too, there were few madrassas, or religious schools. If revenge was very much on the minds of its inhabitants when he returned in 1981 as a war correspondent for The New York Times in the wake of the Soviet invasion, it was restrained by ancient cultural norms as to how war should be be waged, regardless of the enemy’s provocations.

Women and children were sacrosanct, suicide bombing was unthinkable, and his host, the famed mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani – then a staunch American ally – was open to negotiating with the Afghan communist army when it came to humanitarian considerations.

A quarter century later, when in the aftermath of 9/11 Van Dyk was captured and held for ransom by a different Taliban faction while seeking out the Haqqanis along the frontier with Pakistan, he found himself in a nightmare world of gruesome death threats, intense pressure to convert to Islam, and the endless playing of suicide bomber recruitment tapes. Without Borders skillfully weaves together impressive scholarship, the evidence of his interviews, and such stark personal experiences to fathom this change not only in Afghanistan, but across a Muslim World plagued by Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Al Shabab, and Boko Haram.

Author and journalist Jere Van Dyk in New York.

Van Dyk’s thesis is that jihadism is an ideology and a movement that emerged as a response to traumatic reversals in Islamic history, such as the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258. It was revived as an answer to British colonialism in the 19th and Soviet aggression in the 20th centuries, and its proponents see America in the same light in the 21st.

Yet Van Dyk is insistent, as are his most profound interlocutors, that Islamic extremism as a widely diffused phenomenon has state-level origins in the more than half century old efforts of Saudi Arabia to export its ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi creed abroad.

“What was Salafism? It was Wahhabism,” the soon-to-be-assassinated Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi told Van Dyk over dinner in Bahrain. “If I scanned all radical movements that carried arms, their Islamic background came from Saudi Arabia.” The Islamic State itself, for all its venom directed against Riyadh, Khashoggi characterized as “raw Wahhabism.”

The Saudis achieved this global poisoning of minds by using their oil wealth to spread Wahhabism through the World Muslim League they established in 1962, founding universities in their country that indoctrinated foreign Muslims, and funding radical madrassas in Pakistan, their indispensable partner in this reactionary program. Both countries sought to preserve intact the absolute socio-economic power wielded by their ruling feudal elites by crushing nationalism, tribalism, and modernizing reform.

This stream of diffusion became an international torrent during the Soviet-Afghan War, when, with the support of the United States, Riyadh and Islamabad funneled the lion’s share of resources to the most extreme Afghan factions and circulated the so-called “Arab Afghans” in and out of the battlefield so they could fight and then spread Wahhabism in their home countries.

After Washington lost interest in the region in the 1990s, they managed after years
of  brutal civil war which they had helped foment to put the Taliban in power, completing what Van Dyk calls “the Arabization of Afghanistan.” Al Qaeda’s presence there in the years leading up to 9/11 was the keystone of that Arabization.

“It was raw Wahhabism,” he writes of the transformed Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier. “Once Pashtuns never attacked women and children, once Wahhabis were only in Arabia, once schoolgirls here laughed in the streets.”

As his focus is on the roots of Jihad and its pathological effects on the Muslim world, Van Dyk does not address the question of why — despite the agony of 9/11. And despite the incontestable facts that Pakistan continued to support the Taliban and then helped hide Osama bin Laden; the consequent loss of the American-Afghan War, and the raw Wahhabism of the Saudis’ devastation of Yemen and butchering of Jamal Khashoggi, whereby Washington has never dropped its support of these rogue states.

Yet Van Dyk does describe an American blunder that went far towards making the Haqqanis what they are today. Jalaluddin had refrained from participating in the Afghan civil war or in actively fighting for the Taliban, as he never sought personal power, only to resist what he viewed as illegitimate power. However, during the initial American bombing campaign that began in October of 2001, a U.S.-allied warlord from his own tribe called in repeated airstrikes against his people, simply because he saw them as potential rivals to his power. His younger brother Ismail and a cousin were killed, along with dozens of civilians under their protection, women and children among them. Jalaluddin himself was pulled alive from the rubble.

“Why,” another brother, Ibrahim, plaintively asked Van Dyk, “did the U.S. do this to them?” I didn’t know what to say.

In a prophetic passage in In Afghanistan, Van Dyk mused that, given the Afghans’ traditional tolerant culture, extremist “(p)olitical parties only existed because Pakistan willed it. They would go if America really wanted things to change.” As one views the tragic trajectory of forty years that spans the two books, one realizes that only a coming to recognition that produces change in America itself will bring that about.

VANNI CAPPELLI, an American freelance journalist, is the president of the Afghanistan Foreign Press Association.

Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul by Jere Van Dyk
Washington and London: Academica Press, 378pp, $38.00.

My FTX crypto disaster story

12. November 2022 - 11:21
FTX iced me out of its community channel because I showed it was a shambles even last January

FTX’s reported penthouse in the Orchid Building, Albany, Nassau. $21K maintenance fees, 1200sq m. listed for $39.9m

Perhaps I should have known FTX was going to end in a meltdown. Back in January 2022 I wrote about my catastrophic experience with the high-flying exchange and was immediately punished for it on FTX’s Telegram social media channel by being excluded from its major community network. Here’s what happened and (more or less) what I wrote at the time:

Climbing to no 2 on the crypto exchanges list in next to no time, Sam Bankman-Fried’s start-up has had lots of very respectable promoters. Guy of CoinBureau describes it as “top-notch”. But it is also a shambles.

ftx web site 11 November 2022

Look at Telegram’s FTX channel yourself. You will see almost nothing but complaints about the difficulty of getting FTX to respond to problems.

It’s even worse than that.

Apart from scoring some kind of record for unresponsiveness to customers compared to my experiences with other exchanges, FTX has been not only slow to respond to my requests but often incomprehensible.


For example, see this message about my being shafted on a margin-purchase of IOTA-Perp I did not consciously make but was nevertheless charged for: “Please note the system will not initiate order if it is liquidation related. Referring to your IOTA-Perp, except the last 2 trade ID that it is liquidated due to margin requirement. The rest of ID comes from one open order (referring to which user has inputted a market o[r]der for 12,539 units of IOTA-Perp.”

See what I mean?

So what could I have done to get myself banned when crowd-griping seems to be the standard message on ftx Telegram?

Two months for a refund

Maybe because the failure of FTX was so egregious: it had taken two months to get a refund of a failed transfer to my bank, and I said so on Telegram.

Gaslighting critics is typical behaviour by confidence tricksters rather than a Benthamite vegan that Sam Bankman-Fried* has declared himself to be (the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared as a principle : “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”).

Sam Bankman-Fried (Photo: wikipedia)

Reading complaints about bureaucratic foul-ups is boring. So I’ll try to be brief. Just read the details for amusement rather than attempting to follow the intricacies.

A Delaware intermediary with no company contacts?

The proceeding itself was simple. Transfer funds from my FTX account to my bank in Switzerland in mid-November 2021. One good reason for using FTX , there should have been no charge for using Swiss francs. I filled out the details and ordered the transfer.
But FTX , I learned, used a company named as North Dimension Inc, which according to bizapedia was based in Delaware and founded in August 2020 with no company contacts (LINK). The transfer was through a California company of the same name. Wouldn’t that raise alarm bells in any sensible customer.

And this did not tell the Swiss bank the money came from me. So the Swiss bank sent it back that month when FTX would not provide me with documents proving the funds came from my account and not a third party (a Swiss regulation to avoid money laundering). The Swiss bank and the ultimate destination (an investment company) even delayed returning the money so that I could get hold of the necessary documents.

Weird wire receipt

Over a month later, after several requests, I received a note from FTX on 20 December indicating a bank wire receipt from 16 November.

On December 24, Christmas Eve, FTX sent me a “To whom it may concern” note confirming that I had made a withdrawal on 17 November

This after FTX told me on 27 November, the day after my bank returned the money, that “We unfortunately cannot provide you with an account statement.”

So when did my money get recredited to my account? On 17 January 2022, according to an email from FTX, exactly two months after the recorded transfer action.

Barred for warning of scammers

By this time I had already been barred without notice from FTX Telegram for my complaints.
I’d said online that FTX might not be a scammer but it sure acted like one.


On 15 December 2021 FTX had told me on its website ticket: “Your funds will not be lost.”
I tried to show my gratitude with this message: “thanks for this. It’s the most responsive answer I have had for a month.”

Come 15 January, this month-old assurance was sounding like a typical scammer’s device to stop you questioning the process, as happened to me at just that time with some solar panels I ordered through Facebook (I received two cards of stick-on finger nails to compensate for delays in fulfilling the order. I have not used the fingernails).

As all the crypto gurus tell you, you are on your own if something goes wrong in the cryptoverse.

Something like a minute after my FTX posting, the channel vanished from my Telegram list. I could not get access again and was told “this group is not accessible”.

I’d been scammed before

I was hyper-alert to confidence tricksters because of my experience with ordering the solar panels. I bought them using my Paypal account. When I complained to Paypal about the scam. it repaid me immediately.

So when the FTX funds reappeared, I immediately made a withdrawal once more. This time I confirmed with the bank that the two documents I received too late from FTX would be acceptable for a transfer to take place. And so the funds were transferred, and at no charge in Swiss francs, as promised.

FTX finally came through but I could not tell their customers

This time FTX also gave me full wire details on the same day via Silvergate, a Federal Reserve member bank.

I suggested to FTX they stick to Silvergate for their transfers in future. But because I am barred from posting in the Telegram channel, I can’t tell all those frustrated FTX users about the happy ending.

One result: after that I only used FTX for same-day transfers and withdrawals, leaving a couple of hundred francs in the Swiss account to cover unforeseen expenses and FTT tokens (FTX’s funny money) to reduce costs on such transactions. OK, it was like holding Starbucks special deal tickets on the belief that the coffee bar chain would never shut down and you could always trade your Starbucks coupon for a Subway tuna sandwich ticket. Until you couldn’t.


On 10 November, befoe FTX’s filing for Chapter XI bankruptcy pro, I tried to move some of the Swiss franc funds off the exchange. This was recorded as OK but was still pending on the next day.

So I cancelled the order to avoid extra fees on cashing out more than once in a week and added the remainder to a what would be my first transfer. FTX again approved it.

But by 12 November the site no longer let me in, or simply churned when I tried to hook up. Sam Bankman-Ried’s apologies on Twitter for having f*cked up didn’t cut it.

By my reckoning, the transfer should have been off FTX ‘s books already, and ready for crediting to my bank account. Dream on, eh? My Starbucks coupon got me a Subway ticket but nothing happened after that, except gurus told me I was at the back of the queue, behind lenders and investors. I was just a customer.

FTX later that day warned customers not to use its apps, I read: “FTX has been hacked. FTX apps are malware. Delete them. Chat is open. Don’t go on FTX site as it might download Trojans.” But that alert came via its Telegram channel, the one it had frozen me out nine months before.

* wikipedia records: “Bankman-Fried’s net worth peaked at $26 billion. In October 2022, he had an estimated net worth of $10.5 billion; however, following FTX’s liquidity crisis, on 8 November 2022, his net worth was estimated to have dropped 94% in a day to $991.5 million according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. By November 11, 2022 Bloomberg estimated Bankman-Fried’s net worth to be $1.”

FTX’s More shots of the Nassau penthouse SBF reportedly shares/shared with nine other young nerdy staff, though it is said to have emptied through flights to Dubai and HongKong which have no extradition treaty with the US. I am in no position to confirm any of this, and most of FTX’s activities were designadly conducted offshore. So U.S. official pursuit of wrongdoers is likely to take some time. Think Mt Gox and its debacle in 2014 that still has to be finally settled with investors.


swissinfo: the future of Crypto Nation Switzerland. 2 November 2022 (LINK , video)

coindesk: Bankman-Fried’s Cabal of Roommates in the Bahamas Ran His Crypto Empire – and Dated. Other Employees Have Lots of Questions. 10 November 2022 (LINK)

News about crypto-currencies at (LINK): FTX Hack: Almost $600 Million Transferred Out Of FTX Wallets. 12 November 2022. FTX only.

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Global Sarlat: From prehistory to tomorrow’s world

8. November 2022 - 7:36
Why this bijou Perigord town attracts 1.5m visitors each year

Sarlat, a small town of some 10,000 people in France’s Perigord, part of the Dordogne, lives comfortably in the midst of 15,000 years of human history. Only a few minutes’ drive from the prehistoric caves of Lascaux, six hours from Geneva by road, it might seem that “modern history has largely passed it by”.

Sarlat from the air

That’s not true, despite wikipedia’s snap judgement, as this article will make clear. But the town remains one of the most representative of 14th-century France, with 77 protected monuments. It’s also, unfairly, been called a time warp town. So this first part is bound to read like a promotional brochure.

Sarlat’s limestone buildings have been carefully maintained or restored, largely because in 1962 it became the trial town under a law to protect the patrimony of French towns. This was the brain-child of writer and Culture Minister André Malraux. During World War II, Malraux was very active, as Colonel Berger, in a Resistance cell in and around the Dordogne.

Wikipedia explains: “While visiting Sarlat [after becoming Minister], he realized that the city was in danger of ruin in certain neighbourhoods and that some monuments were being destroyed. The Saved Areas Act was drafted to save the city.”

Sarlat now has the highest density of ‘Historic Monuments’ and ‘Classified Monuments’ of any town in France. A square and gallery in the town are named after Malraux.

Sarlat’s centre in summer. Photo: wikipedia Jack R. Blaze

Sarlat by night in October , still lively. (Photo: Nikki Meith)

The region is also a gastronomic centre, known for its foie gras, truffles, magret and confit de canard (duck specialities) – and this time of year for cèpes (boletus/porcini mushrooms). Bergerac, whether white, red or rosé, is the wine of choice.

For foreign visitors it is often the starting point for trips around. For example, to La Roque Gageac, a member of “France’s most beautiful villages” association, with stone houses built up against a steep rock face and a riverside offering trips on boats based on the Dordogne River’s old trading vessels.

La Roque Gageac (Photo: wikipedia Stephane Mignon – Flickr) Trading Boat tourism trips on the Dordogne at La Roque Gageac (Photo: wikipedia Stephane Mignon – Flickr) Domme (Photo: Nikki Meith)

Close by Sarlat are Domme, a fortified medieval town where many Knights Templar were imprisoned (their graffiti survive) and the site of long English-French and Protestant-Catholic disputes, and Beynac, which has what many consider the region’s most beautiful castle.

Beynac on the Dordogne. Photo: wikipedia Chensiyuan

Equally close is the Chateau of Milandes, once home to the American singer and dancer Josephine Baker, who used it in World War II to store arms for the French Resistance and hide British, Polish and Belgian pilots during the Occupation. She adopted 12 children and created here a “world village” designed to give a home to orphaned children of different races, religions and nationalities, as well as offering holiday accommodation as a business. Baker opened a theatre at the chateau, gave performances, and helped improve life for the villagers of Les Milandes. The present owners have kept the beautiful rooms as close in detail as possible to Baker’s time, while continuing restoration, and have carefully labelled displays as well as producing a portable audio guide to the mansion. A statue of Josephine was recently erected in the village.

Chateau des Milandes kitchen

But for most visitors, the many castles and countryide are unexpected bonuses to their exploration of the Perigord’s prehistoric past and rich food offerings. The region was a centre of Magdalenian culture (17,000-12,000 years ago). These tool-making people, who numbered perhaps as many as 50,000, are thought to be semi-nomadic hunters, with the great increase in art forms indicating they had leisure. They disappeared as herd animals became scarce when the climate warmed. “It has been suggested that the complexity of the later cave art represents an attempt by Magdalenian man using ‘sympathetic magic’ to cause the animals to once more become abundant,” notes the Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Magdalenian culture owes much to the abundance of food, allowing time for leisure and the development of religion and aesthetics.”

Replica of Magdalenian woman’s skeleton in the Cap Blanc rock shelter. Photo: wikipedia: Glenn McIntosh

The Abri of Cap Blanc contains animal engravings and the replica of young woman’s skeleton found here, the most complete Upper Paleolithic skeleton in Northern Europe. The frieze engravings, including at least ten horses, are considered “the most dramatic and impressive examples” of art from this period some 11-15,000 years ago. It is believed this Magdalenian woman was buried deliberately.

Lady of Cap Blanc, as she may have looked alive 11-13,000 years ago

The prehistoric sites were preserved because sandstone rock slides sealed them off for centuries. Sarlat preserved itself by being cut off from the main railway lines (it now has a good connection to Bordeaux) and was outside the major trading routes of France.

The region’s history has been used in many films. Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1978) used the region as its setting. The pyramid tomb of its inspiration, a French general in the Napoleonic wars, can be viewed in the cemetery. The director came back to film scenes for The Last Duel (2021). Other films that have used its historic buildings include Luc Besson’s Joan of Arc (1999).

But Sarlat is also a community that today prides itself on its openness to the modern world. Not just because it is “besieged by tourists at almost all times of the year”, particularly from Northern Europe, as one guide notes. The Sarlat Theatre Festival is the biggest in La Nouvelle Aquitaine and one of the best known in France, with open-air performances at the end of July and beginning of August. It celebrated its 70th anniversary this year.

The Abri of Cap Blanc contains animal engravings and the replica of young woman’s skeleton found here, the most complete Upper Paleolithic skeleton in Northern Europe. The frieze engravings, including at least ten horses, are considered “the most dramatic and impressive examples” of art from this period some 11-15,000 years ago. It is believed this Magdalenian woman was buried deliberately.

The prehistoric sites were preserved because sandstone rock slides sealed them off for centuries. Sarlat preserved itself by being cut off from the main railway lines (it now has a good connection to Bordeaux) and was outside the major trading routes of France.

The region’s history has been used in many films. Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1978) used the region as its setting. The pyramid tomb of its inspiration, a French general in the Napoleonic wars, can be viewed in the cemetery. The director came back to film scenes for The Last Duel (2021). Other films that have used its historic buildings include Luc Besson’s Joan of Arc (1999).

But Sarlat is also a community that today prides itself on its openness to the modern world. Not just because it is “besieged by tourists at almost all times of the year”, particularly from Northern Europe, as one guide notes. The Sarlat Theatre Festival is the biggest in La Nouvelle Aquitaine and one of the best known in France, with open-air performances at the end of July and beginning of August. It celebrated its 70th anniversary this year.

Sarlat Theatre Festival

For 31 years Sarlat has also held a film festival known for its adventurous choices of international films you might find it difficult to see elsewhere outside their home countries. It has also established itself as “the festival of high-school students (lycéens)”.

The latest edition took place on 8-12 November. The film programme brings 600 lycéens to Sarlat-la-Canéda (the commune’s official title for the two joined settlements), and includes the opportunity for the school pupils to make a short film in the streets of Sarlat helped by working directors and editors, with professional actors playing their scripts. The films are then projected in the local cinema. There are also six workshops for students, free and open to the public. Topics this year include filming with portable equipment, film criticism on social media, and video games.

In 2022 the school filming programme switched its rules by giving the teenagers a common scenario to film. And its study sessions featured a restored version of Federico Felliini’s 1953 film about young people in Pescara, I Vitelloni (‘The Layabouts’), the film that French lycéens are studying for the 2023 baccalauréat (school-leaving exam).

It also planned to project two films throughout Perigord in a cinema chain using decentralized means and one of them, Les rascals by Jimmy Laporal-Trésor, a story of gangs preying on Blacks and Arabs in Paris, was to be transmitted in high schools of the region, in the presence of the director in the afternoon, as well as the film selections in the morning.

In fact, this willingness to go outside conventional boundaries doesn’t just take place on five days in November. The local cinema held its 4th international festival of shamanic films earlier in October, and it has run unusual foreign films for years – the latest Costa Brava, Lebanon, the first film of 31-year-old Mounia Akl, about a family trying to resist exploitive encroachment by politicians on their eco-friendly existence in the hills outside Beirut.  On rottentomatoes it has won an 89% approval rating and is available for rent on Amazon Prime and iTunes.


One unusual aspect of the movie was that the young girl who played what became the main character was brilliantly played by twins, Ceana and Geana Restom. The local film club’s presenter filled in Lebanon’s catastrophic political background in an informative talk to spectators beforehand. Its environmental disaster theme made it resonate as our own possible futures very soon.

My tips for your trip:

On the way from other parts of Switzerland besides Geneva: break your journey at Parigny: Le Dahu. A charming hotel with super food at a fair price that gets a bum rap on TripAdvisor and skirts Lyon on the north.  30min from Geneva itself.

Le Dahu restaurant: note the domestic housework items on the walls collected by the owners. (Photo: Nikki Meith) A book in the hotel claiming to explain the name. Not seriously, but as reliable as Wikipedia (Photo: Nikki Meith)

Streetmap of Sarlat and attractions (LINK)

Film festival programme (LINK): Apart from French movies, the selection for 2022 includes films from Tunisia, Turkey, Chile, Austria, the U.K., Spain, Iceland, Algeria, Pakistan, Finland, Russia, South Korea, Morocco, Italy and Norway.

Where to eat? I had been warned to avoid the tourist traps but Sarlat is cosmopolitan enough for that not to seem to matter. We ate at l’Imprévu for CHF25 each with wine surrounded by visitors as well as locals and it was great. And that was true elsewhere as well.  And we felt welcome everywhere.

Abri de Cap-Blanc: can accommodate 25 visitors, and the tour is a comfortable 1-hour.  The Grotte des Combarelles nearby will set you thinking – how did they carve the figures so close to the floor in such narrow tunnels, but visiting groups are limited to 7 at a time. Star of the show is the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume with 200 illustrations, some polychrome, but limited to 13 visitors at any time. You may have to book it days in advance. They are all close together.

Limieul: another of the “most beautiful villages of France”, where the Dordogne meets the Vézère, “not usually completely overrun with  tourists”, according to its website (but see below). Here I was introduced to the restaurant Le Chai near the water with its beautiful garden and exceptional cooking at a reasonable price. The village itself has an extremely steep street, which I did not attempt. Wikipedia is rather snooty about it:  the “derelict houses were steadily bought, to be restored by French, Dutch, English, German, South African, and Australian second-home owners. The original village (of barely 30 permanent, year-round, residents now) has to endure all the inconvenience – as well as some benefits – of this mass inflow.” It was charming in October.

If you want a panoramic view of the hills around, Domme has a charming, reasonably priced restaurant (Le Belvedère) at the top of the town with parking nearby.

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac is for some “the world capital of prehistory” at the confluence of the Vézère and Beune Rivers, with a friendly café on the High Street with parking nearby and an original choice of music for its ambience, appreciated by other travellers as well as myself (see the link). Another “tourist trap” well worth your time.

Le Bugue is also on the Vézère, at the meeting point with the Doux. It’s worth a trip for its Aquarium, the largest freshwater aquarium in Europe with 6,000 animals and demonstrations by staff to explain aquatic life, though it closes for winter. TripAdvisor has critical reviews from last year, but nothing to complain about in October 2022, except that the pricing is set for families to visit more than one of the attractions. Everything is set up for children, with “jungle golf”, a “prehistoric labyrinth”, virtual reality and lazer game arcades –  “13 universes of pleasure” in conjunction with nearby Journiac, according to Univerland’s blurb. Worth putting in your diary for a family outing  if you have young children. 

Uzerche : wifi free (Photo: Nikki Meith)

Uzerche. Wikipedia says: “In 1787, the English writer Arthur Young described the town as ‘the pearl of the Limousin’ because of its picturesque setting. Since 2010, [it] has been listed among the towns of France to be worthy of a “plus beau détour”.

Explore prehistory: Why did ancient humans paint the same 32 symbols in caves all over Europe? 4 November 2022 npr TED Talks (LINK)

Bertrand Badie : L’éloge de la biculturalité pour comprendre les subtilités du monde

17. Oktober 2022 - 22:08
ÉDITION FRANÇAISE: Votre livre Vivre deux cultures – Comment peut-on naître franco-persan ? paru le 5 octobre aux éditions Odile Jacob, est-il une réparation pour les souffrances que vous avez endurées lorsque vous étiez enfant et celles de votre père Mansour Badie, arrivé en France en 1928 venant de Perse, du temps de Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi ?

Je voudrais que la réparation s’adresse d’abord à la mémoire de mon père, le vrai héros de ce livre. Toute mon enfance a été bercée par le récit incroyable des difficultés, des rejets et parfois même du mépris qu’il a eu à essuyer. Lui, fort et noble, que j’admirais. Je ne comprenais pas à l’époque qu’il souffrait. Je devinais qu’il y avait quelque chose d’étrange. Puis j’ai découvert ses souffrances et elles sont devenues mes souffrances, confondues avec ce que, petit enfant, j’avais enduré du fait de ma biculturalité.

Et vous, comment avez-vous vécu cette réparation ?

Par le grand bonheur et le privilège que j’ai retiré, dès l’âge adulte, d’être bénéficiaire de deux cultures extrêmement riches : la culture française de ma mère et la culture persane de mon père qui, conjuguées, m’ont amené à aimer et à me passionner autant pour Ferdowsi que pour Racine et avoir une autre lecture du monde. Le sociologue Auguste Comte aurait dit que l’on ne peut pas se mettre au balcon pour se regarder passer. Le biculturel a la chance de pouvoir sortir d’une de ses maisons pour, à partir de l’autre, regarder de manière objective ce qu’il en est. Le regard que j’ai pu porter sur la France, l’Occident et l’actualité internationale, je n’aurais pas pu l’avoir si je n’avais pas eu une autre maison à partir de laquelle j’observais ce qui est le foyer exclusif du commun des mortels.

Ce livre est-il une thérapie ?

Le lecteur en jugera. J’ai suivi une épistémologie. Pierre Nora a inventé la formule de l’égo-histoire. Cet ouvrage n’est pas une biographie. C’est une explication d’un mécanisme de pensée et la tentative de voir comment une certaine subjectivité peut conduire à une lecture renouvelée du monde qui est la mienne.

Vous dites avoir fait votre coming out

Oui, c’est la bonne formule. J’ai écrit 52 ouvrages relevant de la science politique où je n’ai jamais écrit une ligne à la première personne. Je ne me suis jamais livré. J’avais besoin de témoigner pour mon père, pour mes souffrances. Par honnêteté vis-à-vis de mes lecteurs, j’avais besoin de leur montrer d’où je venais, expliquer certaines formules, hypothèses et constructions conceptuelles que j’avais pu avoir. On me dit transgressif dans ma vision des relations internationales. Elle s’enracine en partie dans ma biculturalité, un des fondements majeurs de ma réflexion. Je m’en suis rendu compte très tard. Cela fait quarante ans que je voulais écrire ce livre et que je n’osais pas le faire.

Qu’est-ce qui a déterminé ce désir d’écrire un ouvrage très personnel ?

Je dois énormément à Odile Jacob qui m’a pressé à le faire, sinon je ne serais jamais passé à l’acte. Ce passage à l’acte a aussi été un effort pour construire une nouvelle épistémologie : on ne peut pas regarder le monde froidement. À travers cette lecture personnalisée et engagée, je crois que l’on peut faire de la science. Le subjectif n’est pas a-scientifique. Ma modeste expérience est celle plus noble de mon père permettent de découvrir les vraies pathologies y compris cachées, dont souffre notre monde et le système international contemporain.

Dans votre lecture de l’Histoire, vous avez introduit la notion de l’humiliation. Peut-on dire le ressentiment aussi ?

J’étais inconsciemment persuadé que l’humiliation est un paramètre essentiel des relations internationales. D’autres l’ont dit, à leur manière. John Maynard Keynes pointait l’humiliation de l’Allemagne en 1919 annonciatrice de beaucoup de choses. On peut aussi retrouver, à la base de la sociologie d’Émile Durkheim, l’idée que le défaut d’intégration est une source vive de conflictuaiité. Les souffrances que j’ai pu voir chez mon père et chez d’autres gens, migrants ou pas, qui, pour une raison ou une autre ont été humiliés et ont compris que cette humiliation était liée au système international, m’ont fait comprendre qu’il y avait là quelque chose d’important. L’humiliation devient un paramètre dangereux, d’autant plus si elle est cachée.

Pensez-vous que le président russe Vladimir Poutine ait agi en partie parce qu’il se sentait humilié ou par ressentiment ?

Votre question permet de faire une mise au point. Je ne pense pas que l’on puisse construire le personnage de Vladimir Poutine à partir de l’idée qu’il aurait été humilié. Je pense que c’est un homme qui a compris qu’il pouvait rentabiliser l’humiliation réelle subie par le peuple russe pour en faire une marchandise électorale et être élu, puis une marque politique lui permettant d’installer son gouvernement et concevoir sa politique étrangère. Peut-être que dans sa vie personnelle il a subi des humiliations, mais je retiendrais le fait que cet homme a conquis le pouvoir, un peu comme Hitler, en criant haut et fort : vous êtes humiliés et je vais vous laver de cette humiliation ! Lorsqu’il est arrivé au pouvoir, il a lancé la guerre de Tchétchénie pour laver l’honneur du peuple russe, et ensuite la guerre de Géorgie, puis la guerre de Syrie et la guerre de Crimée.

Ignazio La Russa, co-fondateur avec Giorgia Meloni du parti Fratelli d’Italia, et nouveau Président du Sénat italien, a dit qu’il fallait tenir compte de tous les Italiens, le jour où la séance du Sénat a été ouverte par la sénatrice à vie Liliana Segre, qui avait dû quitter l’école, enfant, à cause des lois raciales contre les Juifs, instaurées par le régime fasciste en Italie. Comment lisez-vous la politique italienne après les récentes élections ?

Je la replace dans un contexte qui n’est pas spécifiquement italien, qui est presque mondial et certainement occidental. L’Amérique de Donald Trump présentait les mêmes symptômes. La racine du mal est toujours la même : il y a eu, au début de notre siècle, un mouvement de bascule au sein de la société américaine qui a découvert qu’elle avait été spoliée par la mondialisation alors qu’elle espérait en être la bénéficiaire. Ce sentiment de régression de la classe moyenne italienne ressemble au sentiment de régression que l’on trouve dans les classes moyennes européennes, en France, en Suède, en Italie.

Quelle conséquence en tirez-vous ?

On voit que l’humiliation va de pair avec une régression dans la confiance accordée par le peuple à ses institutions. Ce lien est dramatique parce que, lorsque le comportement politique n’est plus soutenu par des institutions fortes, reconnues et appréciées de ses usagers, on voit les ferments du national-populisme remonter à la surface comme l’identitarisme et le revanchisme. Les humiliés cherchent à s’enfermer, à nier l’altérité. Dans la bouche de Mesdames Meloni et Le Pen et de Monsieur Orban, il y a la méfiance envers l’Union européenne, l’intégration, les institutions internationales, la mondialisation. C’est une pathologie qui se soigne si elle est prise à temps, mais à partir du moment où ces personnes gagnent des élections, c’est trop tard.

Voyez-vous un espoir ?

L’espoir est dans le paradoxe ! Ce cri national-populiste, ce symptôme de l’humiliation, lorsqu’il se converti en principe de gouvernement, échoue. Parce que comme disait le philosophe Tzvetan Todorov, les nationalistes n’ont rien à vendre dans le monde actuel. Le monde ne peut progresser et réussir que par une gouvernance globale.

Quel est le message de votre livre ?

Ma biculturalité m’a permis de découvrir la valeur du cosmopolitisme qui est, dans la bouche de certaines personne une injure ! Lorsqu’elles veulent dénigrer quelqu’un, elles le traitent de cosmopolite. Comme l’avait dit l’ancien Secrétaire général de l’ONU Kofi Annan, c’est dans le global que l’on trouvera la solution. Ce n’est pas l’addition de 193 politiques nationales qui viendront à bout du Covid, des désastres climatiques ou de l’insécurité alimentaire. C’est un travail global qui appartient à celles et ceux qui font profession d’ouverture à l’Autre. Voilà le message fondamental que j’ai voulu faire passer.

La mondialisation de l’économie fait peur à de très nombreuses personnes car elle a laissé beaucoup de gens sur le bord de la route…

Oui, tout l’équivoque est là ! La mondialisation n’est pas par essence économique ! Elle a été captée par les opérateurs économiques à leur profit. Elle s’est habillée, ces vingt ou trente dernières années des oripeaux du néo-libéralisme, qui a été un échec complet ! La mondialisation est l’intensification des communications, des interactions, l’abolition de la distance et du temps dans les relations internationales. La mondialisation est le passage d’un ordre statique, territorial, frontalier, à un monde mobile et interdépendant, qui est le contraire de la souveraineté. Ce qui fait peur c’est que la mondialisation vient bouleverser les règles que l’on a apprises. Cela est vrai de l’individu et du prince qui nous gouverne, qui ont été socialisés à une autre lecture du monde et cela donne le vertige. Je suis né dans un monde interétatique et je mourrai dans un monde global ! Toute les règles ont changé et la peur apparait. Cette peur conduit à la volonté réactionnaire de fermer ses portes, en niant l’Autre et en voulant rétablir une souveraineté qui ne pourra pas être rétablie. L’immigration est l’avenir du monde. Ce que mon père a fait en allant de Hamadan à Paris était déjà le XXIe siècle. Celui qui a peur de la mobilité s’agrippe au statique et fait mal à l’Autre, au monde et à lui-même.

S’agissant de l’avenir de l’Europe, êtes-vous inquiet ?

Si je pense à la tragédie sanitaire, à la tragédie ukrainienne et à ses conséquences, l’Europe ne s’en est pas si mal tirée. J’ai apprécié que Angela Merkel propose une mutualisation des dettes de la crise du Covid. J’ai apprécié également que, à l’occasion de la crise ukrainienne, une solidarité en matière énergétique ait été construite entre les États européens. Le passage que doit réussir l’Europe est de passer d’un modèle associatif, qui a été celui du plan Schumann et des Traités de Rome en 1957, à un modèle solidariste et de mutualisation. Il reste à réconcilier les individus européens avec les institutions européennes, à créer une âme d’allégeance européenne, à créer une défense européenne et surtout, que l’Europe qui, pendant des siècles était habituée à ne tourner qu’autour d’elle-même, à s’inscrire dans le monde. C’est la grande faiblesse de l’Europe. Aujourd’hui, dans les relations internationales, c’est aussi savoir traiter avec les pays émergents, avec les pays du Sud et cela l’Europe ne sait pas le faire. Elle est d’un nombrilisme méthodologique désespérant !

L’Europe est surtout tournée vers les États-Unis. Comment rééquilibrer son partenariat avec Washington ?

Il ne faut pas le rééquilibrer, il faut le réinventer ! Raison de mon scepticisme à l’égard de l’OTAN et de l’Alliance atlantique qui apparait, alors que la bipolarité est terminée depuis longtemps et que les blocs ont disparu, comme un vestige de l’Ancien monde. L’Europe a cette faiblesse d’entretenir l’idée qu’elle est une bastille de l’oligarchie mondiale et de l’élite des États-nations. Elle fait peur et agace dans les pays du Sud notamment, raison pour laquelle Vladimir Poutine arrive encore à traiter avec des pays du Sud qui en principe ne devraient pas lui faire confiance.

Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva.

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

Related articles on the Global Insights Platform. Daniel Cohn-Bendit : « Les Ukrainiens redéfinissent la politique de l’Europe » Deux maestri partagent le podium pour les dix ans de l’Orchestre des Nations Relat articles on the Global Insights Magazine webplatform Un été italien, de Padoue à Venise au fil de l’eau How threatened is the Mediterranean and what can we do about it? WIKI’s Centennial Expedition: A multimedia venture to help save the Med Namsa Leuba, l’artiste du 8e art qui explore les identités plurielles L’ancien président suisse Adolf Ogi lance trois suggestions : à l’ONU, au pape François et au Conseil fédéral Ai Weiwei’s Turandot Metin Arditi invite un adolescent et un brigadiste dans son nouveau roman Maurizio Serra perce le mystère Mussolini In Squandered Eden, Paradise Lost Democracy – Quo Vadimus — Where Do We Go? La Passion : amours infinies et infinies amours La France contre elle-même, enquête d’un journaliste franco-suisse sur la ligne de démarcation

Daniel Cohn-Bendit : « Les Ukrainiens redéfinissent la politique de l’Europe »

15. Oktober 2022 - 9:23
ÉDITION FRANÇAISE:  La victoire du parti d’extrême-droite Fratelli d’Italia, emmené par Giorgia Meloni, aux élections en Italie peut-elle avoir un impact pour l’Europe et l’Union européenne ?

Giorgia Meloni a compris qu’elle doit coller à l’Europe. Elle a pris l’actuel Premier ministre italien Mario Draghi comme conseiller à l’Europe car elle a besoin de l’argent de l’Union européenne (UE). À court terme, je ne suis pas inquiet du positionnement de l’Italie. Il y aura des répercutions, mais pour l’instant l’Italie ne veut pas la rupture. Giorgia Meloni a aussi compris qu’elle doit suivre l’Europe sur la solidarité avec l’Ukraine.

La probable future Première ministre italienne a montré une sympathie envers Victor Orban. Cela va-t-il renforcer le bloc des démocraties dites illibérales qui pourrait poser des problèmes à l’Union européenne (UE) ?

Oui, mais le bloc illibéral est divisé sur l’Ukraine. Entre la Pologne et la Hongrie, le lien ne tient pas. Victor Orban est assez isolé. L’Ukraine redistribue les cartes en Europe. L’arrivée de la droite et l’extrême-droite au pouvoir en Italie est un coup dur mais ce qui est intéressant est de le voir à l’envers : l’Europe est si nécessaire que même les réactionnaires de droite sont obligés de coller à l’Europe.

Votre intervention ce samedi (par Skype) aux Rencontres Orient-Occident du Château-Mercier à Sierre reflète-t-il une inquiétude pour l’Europe ?

Oui, je suis inquiet. Non pas parce que les forces centrifuges vont se renforcer, je suis inquiet parce que les difficultés de l’Europe face à la guerre en Ukraine, face à la crise énergétique, à la transition écologique et à la crise climatique sont telles qu’il faut renforcer l’Europe. Et je ne vois pas quelles sont les forces capables de la renforcer. La France et l’Allemagne peuvent-elles donner le coup de rein nécessaire ?

Certains peuples européens sont sceptiques par rapport à l’Union européenne. L’UE pourrait-elle devenir neutre, un peu comme la Suisse ?

Les peuples ont des réticences par rapport à l’UE, mais ils ne veulent pas la quitter, car ils savent que si leurs sociétés peuvent tenir face au réchauffement climatique, elles ne pourront le faire qu’avec l’Europe.

Les peuples veulent aussi que Bruxelles donne une réponse sociale face à leurs difficultés économiques. Le peut-elle ?

Oui, il y a une demande d’un nouveau fonds de solidarité face à la crise énergétique. Les réformes sociales se font dans les pays, mais il y a une attente de soutien de l’UE aux économies en difficulté. Et ce soutien est la condition sine qua non pour que la protection sociale soit effective dans les États membres de l’UE.

Auparavant, c’était la gauche évoquait ces questions sociales. Elle est moribonde en Italie et en France notamment. Comment expliquer que la gauche, dans les mots, se soit fait doubler par l’extrême-droite ?

La gauche n’est pas encore arrivée au XXIe siècle. Sa vision de la politique est dépassée. La société est balkanisée, en Italie comme en France. Cette balkanisation nécessite des alliances et des compromis politiques pour obtenir des majorités. En Italie, la droite et l’extrême droite ont moins de voix que le Mouvement 5 étoiles et la gauche. Cette incapacité de trouver un compromis majoritaire face à la droite et l’extrême-droite est le même problème que l’on voit en France. Si le centre, la gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon et les Verts ne trouvent pas des compromis, Marine Le Pen passera.

Est-ce l’erreur tactique d’Enrico Letta en Italie que de ne pas s’être allié avec le Mouvement 5 étoiles avant les élections, alors que l’on parle maintenant d’une possible alliance dans l’opposition entre le Parti démocratique renouvelé et les 5 étoiles ?

L’erreur est celle d’Enrico Letta et de Giuseppe Conte, le leader du Mouvement 5 étoiles, qui a voulu sauver la peau de son groupe en allant seul aux élections, ce qui lui a réussi dans le Sud de l’Italie. En France, si Jean-Luc Mélenchon croit qu’il remportera la mise aux prochaines élections, il se trompe. Nous verrons quelles seront les personnalités politiques capables d’offrir une majorité de centre gauche.

Comment voyez-vous les relations entre l’Union européenne et la Suisse ?

Je ne suis pas un spécialiste, mais s’il y a une crise bancaire, la Suisse aura besoin aussi de l’Union européenne. Car si la crise du Crédit suisse devient une crise du système bancaire suisse, cela risque d’exploser.

Que signale la réunion de la communauté européenne à Prague le 6 octobre dernier ?

Je crois que la communauté européenne est la base d’une communauté de défense. Il faut une accélération de l’Europe de la défense, une armée européenne, pour que la communauté européenne puisse agréger les États qui ne sont pas membres de l’UE mais ont une vision qui s’en approche. L’Union européenne a besoin de l’Angleterre et l’Angleterre a besoin de l’UE dans la solidarité avec l’Ukraine.

Il existe, en France notamment, un courant anti-américain. L’Europe, pour se consolider, a-t-elle besoin d’être aux côtés des États-Unis ?

Je suis vigilant, mais je ne suis pas anti-américain ! Il faut être honnête : face à l’agression russe contre l’Ukraine, l’Europe et les États-Unis ont besoin l’un de l’autre. Les États-Unis seraient incapables d’avoir cette solidarité avec l’Ukraine sans l’Europe et les Anglais. Aujourd’hui, ce courant anti-américain est un courant poutinien. La défense de l’Ukraine n’est pas de l’intérêt seulement des États-Unis, elle est de l’intérêt de l’Europe. Défendre la liberté de choix des Ukrainiens c’est aussi défendre nos libertés en Europe.

Quelles conséquences géopolitiques pour l’Europe dans sa relation avec les États-Unis ?

Il faut renforcer la capacité européenne de défense pour une relation à un même niveau. L’économie européenne peut être concurrentielle avec celle des États-Unis, mais les capacités européennes ne le sont pas. L’Europe doit être capable des mêmes efforts que les États-Unis. Si un jour il se passe quelque chose aux frontières de l’Europe et que les États-Unis décident que ce n’est pas leur tasse de thé, l’Europe doit être capable d’y répondre.

La Turquie et l’Azerbaïdjan ont été invités à la réunion de Prague. Est-ce un problème ou est-ce logique ?

C’est un problème mais c’est logique ! La Turquie est dans l’OTAN. Ce sont les contradictions auxquelles nous sommes confrontés. Le come-back de l’OTAN est fascinant lorsque l’on voit la Finlande et la Suède vouloir la rejoindre. L’OTAN se redéfinit face à l’agression russe de l’Ukraine. Nous devons redéfinir les relations entre l’Europe et les États-Unis, sans se soumettre aux tendances impériales des États-Unis, mais comprendre que nous avons des intérêts communs.

Y-a-t-il eu un flottement de la part du chancelier allemand Olaf Scholz face à la guerre en Ukraine ?

Il y a eu un flottement de tout le monde. Le président Emmanuel Macron a flotté en espérant pouvoir éviter le conflit en Ukraine. Les Ukrainiens redéfinissent la politique en Europe. La France et l’Allemagne ne croyaient pas que la Russie allait attaquer l’Ukraine ni que les Ukrainiens pourraient résister. Ils sont surpris par la capacité des Ukrainiens et la folie de Vladimir Poutine. L’Allemagne redéfinit sa politique étrangère. Elle a fait des erreurs envers la Russie à cause de sa dépendance énergétique. Les Allemands pensaient qu’en faisant des affaires avec la Russie, les relations s’amélioreraient. Olaf Scholz ne regarde pas vers la Russie, il doit redéfinir cette évolution. C’est une rupture avec la vision politique qu’avaient Angela Merkel et le SPD.

L’Allemagne va-t-elle revenir au nucléaire ?

L’Allemagne ne peut pas retourner au nucléaire car il faudrait pour cela une majorité chrétienne-démocrate et libérale. Comment accélérer l’énergie renouvelable ? C’est un dilemme. Pour résoudre la crise énergétique cet hiver et garantir que l’on puisse se chauffer, l’Allemagne doit prendre des décisions contradictoires à celles nécessaires pour lutter contre le réchauffement climatique.

Ursula von der Leyen, la présidente de la Commission européenne, qui est Allemande, en fait-elle trop ?

Face à ce qui se passe par rapport à l’Ukraine, Ursula von der Leyen elle-t-elle capable d’entraîner toute la Commission ? Si Vladimir Poutine gagne, l’Europe sera en point de mire. Face aux réticences de certaines sociétés dont les États se font les hauts parleurs, Ursula von der Leyen a raison de jouer les avant-gardistes.

Collaboration : Richard Werly

Samedi 15 octobre, de 10h00 à 12h00, le politologue Bertrand Badie et Daniel Cohn-Bendit seront interrogés par Richard Werly sur l’avenir de l’Europe, aux Rencontres Orient-Occident du Château-Mercier à Sierre.

Site : et lien vers YouTube en direct ou en différé :

Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva.

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

Related articles on the Global Insights Platform. Deux maestri partagent le podium pour les dix ans de l’Orchestre des Nations Relat articles on the Global Insights Magazine webplatform Un été italien, de Padoue à Venise au fil de l’eau How threatened is the Mediterranean and what can we do about it? WIKI’s Centennial Expedition: A multimedia venture to help save the Med Namsa Leuba, l’artiste du 8e art qui explore les identités plurielles L’ancien président suisse Adolf Ogi lance trois suggestions : à l’ONU, au pape François et au Conseil fédéral Ai Weiwei’s Turandot Metin Arditi invite un adolescent et un brigadiste dans son nouveau roman Maurizio Serra perce le mystère Mussolini In Squandered Eden, Paradise Lost Democracy – Quo Vadimus — Where Do We Go? La Passion : amours infinies et infinies amours La France contre elle-même, enquête d’un journaliste franco-suisse sur la ligne de démarcation

Nobel Peace Prize 2022: recognising courageous human rights defenders

13. Oktober 2022 - 11:27

This year’s Peace Prize has been awarded to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties. The first two are well-known and received many important human rights awards.

Agent Provocateur is Global Insight Magazine’s independent oped column.

Ales Bialiatski was the winner of 11 other awards. (See True Heroes Film Profile), while Memorial has received seven earlier awards earlier. (See True Heroes Film Profile). Q few days ago, Oleksandra Matviichuk, chair of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, received the Right livelihood award. (See True Heroes Film Profile).

2022 Nobel Preace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski. (Drawing: Nobel Foundation)

Ales Bialiatski founded the organisation Viasna (Spring) in 1996 in Belarus in response to the controversial constitutional amendments that gave President Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko dictatorial powers, an action that triggered widespread demonstrations. In the years that followed, Viasna evolved into a broad-based human rights organisation that documented and protested against the authorities’ use of torture against political prisoners.

Government authorities in Minsk have repeatedly sought to silence Ales Bialiatski. He was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014. Following large-scale demonstrations against the regime in 2020, he was again arrested. He is still detained without trial. Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus. (See also Human Rights Defenders blog)

The human rights organisation Memorial was established in 1987 by human rights activists in the former Soviet Union who wanted to ensure that the victims of the communist regime’s oppression would never be forgotten. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and human rights advocate Svetlana Gannushkina were among the founders.

2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Memorial. (Drawing: Nobel Foundation)

Memorial is based on the notion that confronting past crimes is essential in preventing new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Memorial grew to become the largest human rights organisation in Russia. In addition to establishing a centre of documentation on victims of the Stalinist era, the organisation compiled and systematised information on political oppression and human rights violations in Russia.

Memorial became the most authoritative source of information on political prisoners in Russian detention facilities. The organisation also has been standing at the forefront of efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights and government based on rule of law. During the Chechen wars, Memorial gathered and verified information on abuses and war crimes perpetrated on the civilian population by Russian and pro-Russian forces. In 2009, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was killed because of this work. (See Human Rights Defenders Blog)

Civil society actors in Russia have been subjected to threats, imprisonment, disappearance and murder for many years. As part of the government’s harassment of Memorial, the organisation was stamped early on as a “foreign agent”. In December 2021, the authorities decided that Memorial was to be forcibly liquidated and the documentation centre was to be closed permanently. The closures became effective in the following months, but the people behind Memorial refuse to be shut down. In a comment on the forced dissolution, chairman Yan Rachinsky stated, “Nobody plans to give up.” (See Human Rights Defenders Blog)

Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv announcing Nobel award. (Photo: Center for Civil Liberties)

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in Kyiv in 2007 for the purpose of advancing human rights and democracy in Ukraine. The center has taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy.

2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Center for Civil Liberties. (Drawing: Nobel Foundation)

To develop Ukraine into a state governed by rule of law, the Center for Civil Liberties has actively advocated that Ukraine become affiliated with the International Criminal Court. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it has engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population. In collaboration with international partners, the center is playing a pioneering role with a view to holding the guilty parties accountable for their crimes.

By awarding this Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 the Norwegian Nobel Committee is honouring outstanding champions of human rights and consistent efforts in favour of humanist values, anti-militarism and principles of law.

Hans Thoolen is a Dutch national who has worked for various NGOs and inter-governmental organizations, including 12 years in Geneva. He is now retired but not tired. Read his blog:

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