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Coffee with a mission – from Switzerland, where else?

29. April 2022 - 10:51

That’s coffee from St. Légier not Vevey. And grown by women coffee farmers in the developing world. It’s an initiative launched by a Catalan-Swiss woman in Switzerland on International Women’s Day, 8 March, with the motto “exceptional coffee grown by exceptional women”. The coffee and their story can be found at https://www.dona.coffee. Our deputy editor Peter Hulm explains.

“70% of the work done in the coffee farms is carried out by women but only a small percentage of coffee farms are owned by women,” DONA points out on its website.

The business roasts its imported green coffee beans in small batches in Geneva, and offers them as roasted beans or Nespresso-compatible capsules. It even notes the date its capsules were filled. And it only uses arabica beans, the best quality of coffee.

Nariño beans

“All our coffees are graded as specialty coffee […] the highest quality designation by the Specialty Coffee Association,” it notes.

Each variety has an SCA score: “Any coffees scoring 80 plus points are guaranteed to come from ethical sources, where human rights & the environment are respected & farmers & workers get a good deal.”

All DONA’s coffees score above 80.

It currently offers five varieties: the four featured here and a decaf. Each one has a story behind it of the women who grow the coffee. They are all featured on the website.  

The prices include a mark-up for specialty coffee focused on quality plus transparency and sustainability of the supply chain, as distinct from commodity coffee that focuses on quantity rather than quality, says the business founder Elisa Dot Bach.  So packets start at around CHF12 for 225g or 16 capsules. Shipping in Switzerland is free for orders of over CHF35. The package seals are better than most commercial products and the capsules are both biodegradable and compostable.

RD Congo by Marceline

The coffee is described as spicy and powerful. It has a taste of vanilla, cedar wood and cocoa. It is currently in process of certification as organic and meeting Fairtrade standards. Its SCA score is 86. Intensity: 4.5.

“Changemaker Marceline [Budza] founded Rebuild Women’s Hope that gathers more than 1800 entrepreneurs in RD Congo, united for the joy of coffee growing and for creating greater opportunities for women,” DONA reports.

The website adds:

From a family of coffee growers, Marceline grew up in Bukaru where she had the chance to graduate as agronomist. In 2015, she founded Rebuild Women’s Hope (RWH), an association that empowers women coffee farmers in the island of Idjwi. The mission of the cooperative is to promote women’s social and economic development whilst enabling its members to produce high value coffee for export. RWH provides training, interest-free loans, and coffee processing facilities to enable farmers to produce coffee of the highest quality. Today, RWH has expanded to over 1,800 members growing specialty coffee for international markets.

Social Programmes:

– Maternity and pediatric clinic, opened in December  2020

– Women’s centre, built with support from French government, opened in September 2020, for training in literacy, business skills and income-generating activities, including sewing and baking.

Awards: 2017 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award, 2019 French Republic Human Rights Prize, 2020 University of Oslo Human Rights Award

The coffee itself is the red bourbon variety.

Rwanda by Furaha

This is a single origin coffee for espresso and espresso-based drinks. The coffee bean is red bourbon and Nyaruzina coffee has an SCA score of 84. It’s described as bold and confident. Intensity: 4.

Furaha Umwizeye, of Rwandan and Swiss nationality, is behind three model sustainable and socially responsible coffee farms that offer full traceability down to the smallest lot. She founded Kivubelt Coffee after she finished her Master’s Degree in Economics and was motivated to return to Rwanda to contribute in a positive way to the society and the country economy.

Furaha

“Nyaruzina is one of our farms directly on the shores of lake Kivu. It is situated on a scenic peninsula on the lake and only accessible by boat,” she reports. “This is a unique coffee in Rwanda because all the cherries are produced on one farm where we can control the growing conditions; inputs, pruning, mulching etc. There is also far more scope for selective picking and sorting to only process the best cherries.”

Colombia by Candelaria

This coffee is described as delicate and sweet. A single origin coffee ideal for gentle extraction methods like French press or filter. Also suitable as a mild espresso. It has organic certification and an SCA score of 83. Intensity: 3.

Candelaria’s Coffee Project unites 45 women producers in the municipalities of La Unión, Cartago, Genova and San Lorenzo, owning coffee farms with an average size of 1 to 3 hectares.

One project they have been working on is to rescue native seeds in the region that will help have better production and maintain the best quality in the plants. The coffee is grown in the region of Nariño (Colombia). Near to the Pacific Ocean with a warm humid climate, Nariño benefits from an abundance of sunlight, ideal rainfall patterns, and rich volcanic soil, allowing for the cultivation of coffee at higher altitudes (1700-2000m) than in other parts of Colombia. The bean is the Caturra variety.

DECAF Colombia by Las Rosas Cooperative

This coffee also uses the Caturra variety. The decaffeination is carried out by the Swiss Water Process rather than chemically. Its SCA score is 83-85.  Intensity: 3.

Las Rosas is a group of 350 women coffee growers formed in 2010 in La Plata, “growing quality coffee and looking for economic stability, food security and using coffee production to drive change and development in their community under a new narrative of women recognition.”

Its story so far:

  • A rotating credit fund with USD37,000, fully managed by women. Credit lines for productivity, food security, education and domestic calamities. The fund is fed by the project premium of their coffee.
  • 550 people trained in gender equity and financial literacy; 2 women trained to continue as gender equity promoters
  • 30 women were certified in leadership.
  • 350 people trained in quality
  • Psychological support delivered to women and families who require it
  • High quality coffee produced with continuous improvement
Power of 3. House Blend

For espresso and espresso-based drinks including cappuccino and latte. Intensity: 4.

This coffee comes from women-run businesses across three continents.

Two of the stories:

Andrea Ribiero Silva Andreia Ribeiro Silva

“Our family has been in the coffee-growing industry for generations, passing from great-grandmother to great-grandson, all within coffee cultivation.” The region has around 4,500 farmers cultivating a combined area of 210,000ha. The Cerrado Mineiro presents a dry climate during the harvest period, which causes the coffee to suffer less from humidity after harvesting, allowing for a consistent drying process. The region, which covers 55 municipalities in total, achieved the Denomination of Origin in 2013 and was the first region in the country to receive this recognition. Her estate Fazenda Aragão has an SCA score of 84. It uses the Catuai variety.

Kokowagayo Cooperative, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia

This group unites 544 women producers. Its SCA score is 83.

Ernani Muzaputri, Cooperative Member and Social Training Coordinator, Café Femenino Sumatra, explains: “In a traditional Fair Trade cooperative, the men vote for how the social premiums are to be invested. Oftentimes, the women’s priorities are different and our voices are not heard. This was the motivation to form the first all-woman cooperative.”

The average farm size is 1 ha. The women use their increased premiums to strengthen their skillsets and self-esteem through capacity-building workshops in leadership, financial management and human rights. To help diversify their income, the women have created an entrepreneurship programme that provides women with the resources and training to grow and sell non-coffee commodities when the coffee harvest is complete.

Kokowagayo Cooperative members

Dona’s founder, Elisa Dot Bach, explains her motivation:

“After I left Nestle 3 years ago, I realized that coffee was not only my job but also my passion and I wanted to continue learning about coffee to be able to develop my own coffee company that reflected my values. A business with a purpose at core.

“And this is what I am trying to do with DONA, a coffee brand that sources high quality specialty coffee from women-owned coffee farms around the globe. A company that recognizes, supports, and celebrates the work of women in the coffee farms and inspires others to follow. By the way, DONA means woman in Catalan my mother tongue.

“I am building a company with the help and generosity of lots of people and hopefully through this, we will be changing the life of many women and their communities whose incredible dedication results in a fantastic cup of coffee. I am really honoured to be able to offer the coffee from these exceptional women.”

Russia’s War in Ukraine – The Danger of Expansion

27. April 2022 - 11:01

U.S. cartoonist and author Jeff Danziger (see his website) is a contributing editor of Global Insights Magazine. He is also a member of our media partner, Cartooning for Peace.

FRANCE “Oouff” Outdid “Ah, Merde”

27. April 2022 - 10:18

TUCSON — It will take some time to see where France goes next. But that old saw — plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — is for sure out the window. Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen soundly on Sunday, but the turnout of 72 percent was the lowest in decades, a shade below 2017 when he skunked her by a far wider margin.

Now France faces parliamentary elections in June. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left contender who tipped the balance toward Macron, wants to be prime minister. And an awful lot of workaday Frenchmen are hopping mad. All National Assembly seats are up for grabs. If Le Pen’s National Rally party scores big in legislative voting, Fifth Republic loopholes would force “cohabitation,” and a coalition could conceivably make her prime minister.

This column by contributing editor, journalist and author Mort Rosenblum is from his regular comment The MortReport. Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva Group are supporting Mort’s insightful and frank reporting from different parts of the world. If you can donate to his journalistic endeavour – based on decades of unique reporting experience across the globe – please do so.

But for now, I can almost hear the “oouf” of relief from eight time zones away.  

Elated messages poured into the Elysée Palace from European Union leaders who feared Le Pen would hamstring NATO by pulling out of its unified command structure and thwart a united EU stand against Vladimir Putin’s genocidal assault on Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelensky called Macron “a true friend of Ukraine.” Tweeting in French, he said “I am convinced that we will achieve new joint victories toward a strong and united Europe.”

Le Pen’s promise to ban Muslim women’s headscarves and crack down on les immigrés portended raucous mayhem in the streets. Her off-the-wall ideas, such as legislating by referendum, would likely have tied up the Constitutional Council indefinitely.

Two New York Times interviews, among many, reflected the overriding mood in a divided France.

In a tough Paris exurb, Adbelkrim Bouadla cast an enthusiastic vote for Macron in 2017, drawn to youthful energy, fresh ideas and a rejection of far-right racism. But he saw business and the bourgeoisie favored over working families. Now, he said, the choice was between “breaking your ribs or breaking your legs.”

In a posh section of Neuilly not far away, Jean-Louis Mathieu voted for Le Pen. It wasn’t because of economic hard times. “I don’t have a money problem,” he said. But, he added, “the France we used to know, with values, with respect, doesn’t exist anymore.”

In the second round, Macron and Le Pen fought for Mélenchon’s 7.7 million voters. He urged them to shun Le Pen. Many just didn’t show up at the polls.

French elections offer lessons for America, with its endless campaigns and sound-bite debates. Big-money contributions and small donations reach into the billions. Emails bombard voters with plays to sympathy and often outrageous lies.

In France, first-round contenders can raise only 16.8 million euros ($18.5 million), and 5 million more if they reach the second round. Only individuals can donate — up to 7,500 euros to a party and 4,600 to a presidential candidate. If they abuse the limits, as Nicolas Sarkozy did, they can be jailed.

Before the first vote, main candidates and also-rans give a brief televised spiel. Drawn lots determine the order. Voting is on Sundays in conveniently placed ballot boxes. The runoff winner is declared hours after polls close. No sore loser disputes the results.

Macron began campaigning only in late March. He said he was busy with running the country and the Ukraine war. His one rally, in Seine-Saint-Denis near Paris, was a walkabout in dark suit and silk tie with a discreet security phalanx. TV cameras focused on faces in the crowd, all the colors in a new France.

He joked and bantered in man-of-the-people mode. A smiling young African-Frenchman boxer, clearly capable of reducing him to steak haché, told him: “Show us what you got.” Macron put on gloves, sparred for a minute, and embraced the man to amused applause.

In the traditional debate, nearly three hours long and watched by 15 million people in a country of 67 million, Macron was politely eviscerating. He challenged Le Pen for details on how she would fund new social benefits. He noted her party’s $12.2 million loan from a Russian bank and her chummy visit to the Kremlin in 2017.

France doesn’t do lame ducks. Had he lost, he would have been out of the Elysée in three weeks. Given the French mood, there was a strong chance of that.

The Yellow Vest movement sprang up across France in November 2018, a class conflict sparked by gas prices that roiled Paris and the provinces for more than a year before calming to a low simmer. Le Pen exploited it to the maximum.

Polices repelled violent protesters with tear gas, water cannons, flash-bang grenades and plastic bullets. Meantime, terrorist attacks and alerts brought out heavily armed patrols. Then Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccine requirements raised the heat.

France’s grandeur was built on its outsized role in the world, from culinary arts to close ties with former colonies in Africa and Asia. But global upheaval since America’s quagmire in Iraq has diminished its role.

African Muslims from former French colonies grew up with textbooks referring to “our ancestors, the Gauls.” But new arrivals from the Middle East and South Asia are not melting in the pot. In the white mainstream, young voters attuned to a wider world tend not to vote along traditional lines.   

Presidents seldom stay popular for very long in France. Macron is the first to be reelected to a second term since 2002. When his patrician manner veers into condescension and arrogance, he pisses off a lot of people.

But he clinched his reelection in the debate, exposing the nationalist Le Pen genes now masked by a cosmetic makeover. If she imposed her new order on Muslims, he said, that would spark civil war. Voters who are aghast at events in America took note.

France is different today. But Macron seemed to stir a deep-seated sense of Frenchness that reflects my favorite line from Victor Hugo’s purple pen: “France! France! Without you the world would be alone.”

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: www.global-geneva.com MortReport Extra: Now or Never MortReport: Paris – An Immoveable Beast Afghanistan’s looming catastrophe, and how we can stop it “I’ll kill myself at 80,” said film innovator Peter Greenaway The Daily Doormat Ukraine and the Chinese Conundrum

La Passion : amours infinies et infinies amours

25. April 2022 - 11:13

Lors d’une répétition à la cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genève, dans l’emblématique chapelle des Macchabées, Stéphane Pecorini, directeur artistique de ce spectacle musical inédit, explique à Global Geneva la genèse d’un projet artistique ambitieux.

« Quand j’ai demandé au compositeur Théo Schmitt de nous composer une Passion pour la Micro Harmonie, Théo m’a répondu qu’il aimerait beaucoup le faire en donnant la place aux femmes. C’est son initiative et j’ai trouvé l’idée géniale. Nous avons contacté le librettiste Stéphane Blok pour nous écrire un texte exprimant les points de vue de Marie-Madeleine, de Marie, et plus généralement des femmes », déclare le directeur artistique enthousiaste.

Edition Française. Global Geneva is including French-language articles on ‘international Geneva’ themes as part of its worldwide outreach to Francophone audiences. A reminder: our content is available free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please become a Support Member of Global Geneva Group, our Swiss non-profit association, or DONATE.

Idée audacieuse, façon originale de faire entendre la tragédie de la Passion du Christ à un public, tous âges et horizons confondus. L’ensemble d’excellence Micro-Harmonie a souhaité aller au-delà de l’aspect biblique pour faire passer, par des mots en musique, un message universel. L’adage ne saurait mentir : derrière chaque homme, cherchez la femme. Et dans ce cas ce ne sont pas une mais trois femmes qui sont en première ligne : Caroline Meyer, la cheffe de chœur, avec Carole Meyer, la soprano et Flavia Aguet, la contralto, qui interprètent Marie et Marie-Madeleine.

Pourquoi choisir les mots de Marie-Madeleine et de Marie ? « Parce que cette Passion devient un moment universel de séparation d’une amoureuse et d’une mère qui perdent un amoureux et un enfant. On dépasse ainsi la critique de base pour mettre en lumière la souffrance de deux femmes séparées d’un être aimé. Une souffrance que peut ressentir tout être humain », estime Stéphane Pecorini.

Une question traverse les siècles : pourquoi a-t-on voulu cacher que Jésus et Marie-Madeleine avaient eu une passion l’un pour l’autre ? « J’en ai parlé avec Line Dépraz, la pasteure de la cathédrale de Lausanne. Elle dit que si on ne parle presque jamais ouvertement des femmes dans les Évangiles, on en parle en fait tout le temps. Les premières personnes qui découvrent le tombeau vide ce sont les femmes. Elles sont présentes sans que l’on dise leurs noms, sans les mettre en avant. Les apôtres prennent vite le dessus, alors que les femmes sont tout le temps là. C’était donc pour nous une évidence de mettre en avant les femmes ».

Est-ce le patriarcat de l’époque, encore présent sous certaines latitudes, entêté à ne laisser que peu de place aux femmes, à vouloir présenter Marie-Madeleine au mieux comme une pécheresse repentie, au pire comme une prostituée, exemple persistant de l’Histoire écrite par les hommes pour les hommes ? Stéphane Pecorini acquiesce. « Oui, alors que les femmes jouaient un grand rôle, on leur faisait jouer le rôle de la vierge, comme dans le cas de Marie et de Jeanne d’Arc la pucelle. Voulant ainsi gommer leur aspect sexuel, puisque la sexualité des femmes a été gommée pendant deux mille ans. Heureusement, les années 60 sont arrivées ».

Revenant à la musique, est-ce différent d’écrire une œuvre pour les femmes, de diriger des musiciennes ou des choristes comme c’est le cas pour cette Passion ? « Non, il n’y a pas de différence de diriger des musiciennes ou des musiciens. Par contre, dans le texte dit par les femmes dans notre Passion, il y a des résonnances fortes avec l’actualité, avec ce qui se passe malheureusement en Ukraine. On voit des reportages montrant des femmes qui perdent leurs enfants. Nous sommes dans une actualité atroce ».

Sans oublier les autres tragédies, dont celle qui déchire le Yémen. « Exactement, comme dans tous les endroits où les femmes sont victimes de la violence et de la guerre, ce qu’on oublie tout le temps », conclut Stéphane Pecorini.

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.

Informations : www.lapassion2022.ch

La Passion

AMOURS INFINIES, INFINIES AMOURS

La Passion du Christ revisitée du point de vue des femmes

22 avril 2022 – Cathédrale de Lausanne

24 avril 2022 – Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, Genève

30 avril 2022 – Temple du Sentier

1er mai 2022 – Basilique de Saint-Maurice

Related stories in Global Insights on the www.global-geneva.com platform Afghanistan’s looming catastrophe, and how we can stop it La France contre elle-même, enquête d’un journaliste franco-suisse sur la ligne de démarcation

Afghanistan’s looming catastrophe, and how we can stop it

17. April 2022 - 11:54

The following article was first published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on April 15, 2022.

The escalating litany of atrocities being revealed to the world in the Ukraine has almost from the first been punctuated by the violence directed against those whose duty it is to do the revealing. Among the eight journalists killed after only six weeks of fighting two, American documentarian Brent Renaud and Irish photographer Pierre Zakrzewski, had significant experience in our own just-ended yet far from resolved war in Afghanistan.

And that is a fact which should remind us of that country’s latent potential to spew chaos far beyond its frontiers when its critical issues are ignored, which is why we fought a war there in the first place.

Most pressing amongst these issues at the moment are the continuing detention of British and American citizens by the Taliban, and the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe for Afghans resulting from the militants’ control. Though seemingly different in type and scale, these two problems can be linked in a compromise that would significantly contribute to global stability at this dangerous hour.

Symbolic of the whole situation is the case of Peter Jouvenal, a British former journalist who has been detained without charge since December. (See recent Global Insights article on western detainees) During the recent war he was widely respected as the gracious owner of the Gandamack Lodge in Kabul, a key gathering place for journalists, aid workers, and diplomats, all of whom benefitted from Peter’s unique knowledge of the country, going back to his coverage of the Soviet invasion. (See background article on Peter Jouvenal)

Yet he is best known as the cameraman for the CNN team who interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1997, revealing to the world a critical threat. Washington did not treat that threat with the seriousness it demanded, and ultimately proved incapable of mastering the aftermath, with the result that we have come full circle.

And it is a very vicious circle indeed. Since the Taliban’s reconquest of Afghanistan last August, the United States and Europe have cut off development aid, frozen Afghan government assets abroad, imposed severe sanctions, and have of course withheld recognition to the fundamentalist regime.

The militants have compounded the crisis by persecuting dissidents and minorities, banning women from working, and barring girls from school. Add to these sown winds the stark fact that much of the economy only existed because of the Western presence, a bad wheat harvest, and a worse winter, and the whirlwind yield is pervasive suffering and the very real prospect that millions of Afghans could die of starvation.

People are not known for sitting down and dying stoically in place, and the last thing the world needs right now is a repeat of the vast influx of Afghan refugees to Europe of a few years ago, as the continent is overwhelmed with the Ukrainian war and refugee crisis.

Geographically well-placed Russian allies Iran and Syria can be counted on to facilitate such a flood if an embattled Moscow asks them to pressure Europe in this way. Yet there is an obvious path to avoiding such an apocalyptic scenario. For all their arrogance and self-righteousness, the Taliban have enough sense to know that their hold on power will be shaken by the physical collapse of Afghan society.

As much as we would like to see them gone, no one in their right mind wants to see it happen in that way. The Biden administration should therefore immediately open negotiations with them aimed at relieving the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Although it should be clear that recognition and the frozen assets are off the table, Washington should be flexible, and even generous, on emergency relief, easing of sanctions, and development aid.

However, the precondition for talks must be the immediate release of Peter Jouvenal, American Navy veteran and civil engineer Mark Frerichs, and the others, along with a strong statement to the Taliban that the random detention of Westerners will not be tolerated.

In his great novel of the Civil War The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, who was himself a war correspondent, has his naive hero lament that the conflict he is heading into will be “a play affair,” not like the grand wars of old. “Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.”

He soon learns otherwise, as we all have time and again over the last century and a half. Yet the current Afghan crisis is an instance where a sensible combination of firm finance and courageous resolve can avert a looming catastrophe.

Vanni Cappelli, a freelance journalist, is the president of the Afghanistan Foreign Press Association. Cappelli has written previously for Global Insights with this article on Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

Related articles in Global Insights www.global-geneva.com LETTER FROM GHAZNI: The Palace in the brush Afghanistan’s Taliban still holding western detainees Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban America’s – and NATO’s – Afghanistan disaster: Still a possible peace solution with a Marshall Plan. To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot. Ukraine and the Chinese Conundrum Russia’s politically-appointed UN chief in Geneva: Silent on Putin’s war

“I’ll kill myself at 80,” said film innovator Peter Greenaway. He’s still here with lots of work planned for his ninth decade

11. April 2022 - 11:08
Greenaway by Saskia Boddeke. He turned 80 on 5 April 2022.

Come March 2022, Greenaway released a trailer for his long-in-the-works biopic on Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi titled Walking to Paris (Variety), first announced for 2016 and planned for showings from November 2022.  Variety also said he is working on three new projects: Lucca Mortis, Bosch and The Food of Love (planned for 2023). And there’s talk of a second film about Eisenstein. Perhaps Greenaway discovered that 80 can be the new 50.

Ten years ago he told the Guardian: “I don’t want to be a film-maker. I think painting is far more exciting and profound. It’s always at the back of my mind – let’s give up this silly business of film-making and concentrate on something more satisfying and worthwhile.”

He also pointed out that he had a child of 11 and another of 8 with his second wife Saskia Boddeke in Amsterdam, his home for 26 years: “They’re not going to want Daddy to disappear.”

Pip Greenaway in Why is so hard to love?, premiered in 2020.

In 2019 he wrote the text for Boddeke’s immersive art installation A Happy Death. His daughter Pip Greenaway appeared in her parents’ 2020 exhibition “Why is it so hard to love?”, which premiered in Lithuania. Zoë Greenaway, then 16, featured as Greenaway’s questioner in Boddeke’s 2017 documentary The Greenaway Alphabet, which won awards in Albania and Bulgaria.

Peter and Zoë Greenaway in The Greenaway Alphabet The Swiss connection

Why did Greenaway drop off in Saas-Fee? Since 1998 the car-free Valais resort has been the site of regular seminars organized by the European Graduate School of Interdisciplinary studies, attended by a disparate mix of young creative artists, media professors with practical experience, and Web workers.

I studied there from 2001-2004.  The appeal? Not many universities could offer such film-makers as Greenaway, Werner Herzog and John Waters as active members of their faculty. Nor could many promise courses with French cultural guru Jean Baudrillard, US “performance art” lecturer Allucquére Rosanne Stone, feminist theorist Donna Haraway and Slovene culture critic Slavoj Zižek.

Though it has no physical campus, EGS set out to attract some of what its founding Dean Wolfgang Schirmacher calls “the best of the cybergeneration”. EGS was able count on Greenaway as a lecturer/presenter almost from the beginning.

The particular appeal of EGS is that professors lecture and present their current work, not their past productions. Students are encouraged to sit round the table with the faculty and exchange ideas as equals.

What critics often miss

What came across from Greenaway’s public routines – often missed by critics who see only his severely intellectual approach and “the nudity, piss, shit, vomit, spit and other excretions deployed in his films” (Roger Ebert.com) – is his impish sense of humour, often delivered with pontifical assertiveness as if he brooked no contradiction.

EGS lecture hall By Néstor Buendía, wikipedia

The last time I saw him in Saas-Fee, he lived up to his reputation as a provocateur. As students and I cleaned up after drinks and snacks in the auditorium kitchen, closing a ground-breaking multimedia lecture on Rembrandt, Greenaway announced matter-of-factly that he planned to kill himself at 80. “I can’t think of anyone who has done anything remotely useful after the age of 80,” he later told the Guardian (LINK).

The tyranny of text

Once you recognize Greenaway’s puckishness you understand why his conviction that cinema is a visual medium that mistakenly prioritizes words — “Whether you’re Godard or Almodovar or Scorsese, it’s text, text, text. Everything begins with the text and this is a source of great anguish to me” — becomes at one presentation: “All film writers should be shot.”

Sometimes he has identified himself as Welsh and sometimes as English (he was born in Newport, raised in Essex and educated in London, though rejected from Art School). But his nationalist affiliations are not chauvinistic, as his cosmopolitan activities attest.

Furthermore, Greenaway has also been a careful and generous explicator of his ideas, many of them on YouTube and in video lectures on the EGS website.

His connections with Switzerland include the 1994 installation The Stairs on the streets of Geneva, and the 1999 film 8 1/2 Women, a rethinking of Fellini’s film 8 1/2. In Greenaway’s version the women turn the tables on a group of rich men trying to exploit them in Geneva.

Greenaway’s Organizing Principles

For anyone interested in investigating Greenaway’s more esoteric ideas and explorations, I’d recommend the booklet Some Organizing Principles, an English-Welsh exhibition publication about his assemblage of objects from South Wales museums in 1993 and not mentioned in wikipedia. It’s dedicated to “the great determination man has to count, number and measure every phenomenon he experiences”.

Welsh milk bottle crate from the folk museum.

Given that it ranges from the numeric grid in Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I/Melancholia (1514) to a metal crate with milk-bottles, this can remind you of the background to Greenaway’s creations – not just painterly filming but how he structures his productions, from the arithmetical editing governing Vertical Features Remake (1978) and the 92 deaths or near deaths featured in The Falls (1980) to his 2003-2004 Tulse Luper multimedia installations.

Saskia Boddeke films the film-maker ‘Ken Russell on laughing gas’

His most recent film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, was premiered in 2015 and the Roger Ebert reviewer Godfrey Cheshire said then that he “hasn’t made a really good film in a quarter-century”. The write-up was so dismissive I can’t resist quoting further from it: “He’s now like Ken Russell on laughing gas.”

I’m sure Greenaway would appreciate that. He told the Guardian a common criticism of his films is that “they are far too interested in formalism and not enough interested in notions of emotional content,” he says. “It’s a criticism I can fully understand.” By the way, Eisenstein in Guanajuato later won Peter the Best Director Award at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI).

Resnais and Godard

He has freely confessed his enthusiasm for Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad, and his films often combine the formalistic inventiveness of the Resnais film with Godard’s jokey pastiche of the American gangster movie.

Dürer’s engraving Melancholia, note the numeric grid at the top right. Photo: wikipedia.

In Some Organizing Principles, “our lives are identified by counting and lettering,” says the author of “A Zed and Two Noughts” (1985), “Drowning by Numbers” (1988) and the straight-faced mockumentary 26 Bathrooms (1985). “After sixty life comes in decades,” he adds.

The Dürer engraving features a grid of 16 numerals arranged to add up to 34 horizontally, vertically and diagonally, he points out, though Greenaway insists “I have no particular belief in any magic of numbers.”

Throughout his career Greenaway has stuck to the conviction expressed in his introduction to the published screenplay of A Zed & Two Noughts (1986): “Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.” Nevertheless, film critics have mainly celebrated his films that come closest to narratives: The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989).

Extending cinema into real life

But Greenaway has extended his cinema productions into multimedia events for many years. Even his published screenplays reproduce his master-copies with extra scenes, dialogue and comments rather than a transcription of the distributed film. In 1992 he told l’Avant-Scène du Cinéma: “A film is never really finished. You simply stop working on it.”

In The Draughtsman’s Contract, originally running to 4½ hours, Greenaway says, he wanted to explore the symbolism of fruits, the relationship between upper and lower floors in houses, the world of masters vs the world of servants, and many other elements, but these were all cut to produce the distributed film.

“By the time you see [a] film it may very well be sub-titled, re-edited, shortened, even censored, and every film is viewed at the discretion of the projectionist, the cinema manager, the architect of the cinema, the comfort of your seat and the attention of your neighbour,” he adds.

Precursor of Squid Game, Money Heist and Severance

Some of his organizational procedures and pictorial ideas are now part of the mainstream, as seen in the web-TV series Squid Game, Money Heist and Severance (The Cook etc. was carefully colour-coded though rarely noted). But he has also reinvented cinema by extending it into multiple installations, as with his 2007 mockumentary on Rembrandt’s Night Watch, followed by plans for similar treatments of eight classical paintings.

Veronese, The Wedding of Cana. Phpto: wikipedia.

His 2009 treatment of Veronese’s The Wedding of Cana managed to divide critics schizophrenically as much as his earlier pieces. The New York Times described it as “possibly the best unmanned art history lecture you’ll ever experience” while acknowledging in the same article that some viewers might regard it as “Disneyfied kitsch”, wikipedia records. For film theorists he’s as provocative as ever.

Peter Hulm received a PhD at EGS from what is now the Division of Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought, and EGS also holds sessions in Malta, giving graduates EU recognition. EGS is holding its first Saas-Fee sessions since COVID from 16 June-31 July. Peter is Deputy Editor of Global Geneva.

Links

The Guardian interview with Xan Brooks (LINK)

Quotations from Greenaway on Wikipedia (LINK)

The Greenaway Alphabet (LINK)

Views of Greenaway (LINK)

Trailer announced for Walking to Paris (LINK)

List of productions (LINK)

La France contre elle-même, enquête d’un journaliste franco-suisse de l’étranger sur la ligne

4. April 2022 - 2:43

Faisant régulièrement la navette entre Paris et Genève, Richard Werly était mardi l’invité de l’association Rayonnement français en Suisse, présidée par l’éditrice Suzanne Hurter, pour débattre avec l’historien Michel Porret, professeur à l’Université de Genève. Thème abordé ? La France face à ses révolutions, contradictions, désillusions et aspirations.

Le correspondant du Temps à Paris s’interroge et interroge : Pourquoi la France persiste-t-elle à vouloir être un pays différent des autres ? Partant de cette question, l’éminent journaliste et intellectuel, qui a reçu le 22 mars les insignes de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres par la ministre de la Culture française Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, est parti en reportage le long de la ligne de démarcation, courant sur 1200 kilomètres, pour comprendre si, comme l’affirme un candidat d’extrême-droite au mandat suprême, la France et les valeurs qu’elle revendique sont menacée de disparition.

Richard Werly

Enquêtant au fil de sa traversée de près de deux cent communes françaises, « hier tranchées par le couperet de cette ligne infamante, héritée de l’une des plus terribles défaites de l’histoire nationale », Richard Werly, stylo et calepin à la main, portait également une autre interrogation en bandoulière : comment le redressement survenu à la Libération rendu possible par le narratif de la France libre et libérée peut-il avoir lieu après tant de blessures présumées fatales ?

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La recherche de l’auteur de La France contre elle-même n’est pas qu’historique et intellectuelle, elle s’appuie aussi sur son histoire personnelle, étant né d’un père suisse et d’une mère française et ayant grandi dans un village sis sur la ligne de démarcation. Citoyen franco-suisse de l’étranger, Richard Werly relate avec finesse cette campagne française éternelle qu’il connait bien, véritable incarnation de l’esprit français, lui qui possède aussi les codes de la vie parisienne et une connaissance aigüe de la suissitude.

Avant d’entamer son périple « là où la guerre entre la France et l’Allemagne s’est achevée, par l’assassinat en règle de la République, le 10 juillet 1940…à 410 kilomètres de Paris », le plus suisse des Français et le plus français des Suisses comme l’a défini Roberto Balzaretti, ambassadeur de la placide Helvétie en France, note que « la Confédération helvétique est, à de multiples égards, l’exact opposé de la France. Le multilinguisme est imposé. La démocratie directe et la décentralisation maximale y sont des règles d’or…Sans parler du consensus, difficile à comprendre dans une France imbibée de culture révolutionnaire… ».

Or la Suisse est bien plus qu’une voisine de la France. Elle en a partagé presque tous les tourments historiques et ses contours actuels, tant politiques que géographiques, doivent beaucoup à l’empereur Napoléon 1er, rappelle Richard Werly. La Suisse se retrouve au cœur de son livre pour deux raisons. Premièrement à cause d’Herbert Lüthy, correspondant de la Neue Zürcher Zeitung à Paris, dont Richard Werly recommande la lecture de l’ouvrage habilement traduit en français par

À l’heure de son clocher, qui avait aussi séduit le philosophe Raymond Aron. Et deuxièmement parce que la Confédération helvétique resta neutre durant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, étant l’un des points finaux de la ligne de démarcation et devenant un horizon d’espoir pour les résistants, les prisonniers de guerre, les évadés alliés et les juifs fuyant dès l’automne 1940 les lois scélérates du régime de Vchy.

À travers des lieux de mémoires, musées de la Résistance et conversations avec les habitantes et habitants de bourgs et villages, Richard Werly ausculte cette France « immuable mais néanmoins changeante, que j’ai voulu comprendre, passant de commune en commune, m’arrêtant sur chaque pont, ralentissant aux (innombrables) ronds-points, éclairant les fractures d’aujourd’hui à la lumière des blessures d’hier. Car la France de la ligne de démarcation existe toujours. Une France rurale, paysanne, agricole, besogneuse, éloignée des principaux centres de décision économiques et politiques, mais touchés de plein fouet par les inquiétudes diagnostiquées dans tous les essais ou enquêtes publiés sur l’état de l’Hexagone : paupérisation, disparition des classes moyennes, prolifération des zones-dortoirs pavillonnaires, affaissement des services publics, désertification médicale, interrogations suscitées par l’immigration mal maîtrisée, insécurité, violences. Une France dont la quiétude, en surface, cache un soubassement ébranlé par les convulsions de la modernité ».

La France des Gilets jaunes aussi, certains desquels confiant à Richard Werly leur sentiment d’être ignorés et méprisés par les plus hautes sphères d’un pouvoir tout puissant siégeant à Paris. Impression de déclassement également, celle des petites gens qu’il écoute attentivement : fermiers, métayers, employées, cheminots, anciens passeurs ou résistants dont les témoignages poignants résument le ressenti d’une France silencieuse, désireuse de faire entendre sa voix y compris à un jeune président qu’elle considère si loin de ses préoccupations.  

Le journaliste franco-suisse fait par ailleurs écho à une tribune du cinéaste Antoine Vitkine publiée dans Le Monde. « La France du pire va côtoyer celle du meilleur ». Cette ambivalence permanente sera l’arrière-plan de son récit de part et d’autre de la ligne. « Les Français ne sont jamais vraiment sortis de l’ombre portée des cinq années qui allèrent de 1940 à 1945. La douloureuse mémoire de deux épisodes de cette période, la défaite de 1940 et Vichy, tous deux liés, est, je le crois, l’une des causes de la longue crise existentielle, politique et morale que traverse notre pays. La mémoire cuisante de « passé qui ne passe » pas explique pourquoi cette page d’histoire peut être aujourd’hui savamment, efficacement et malhonnêtement exploitée, au service de la pensée réactionnaire et xénophobe d’Éric Zemmour ».  

Richard Werly fouille en profondeur dans le passé de la France pour mieux saisir les contours de son présent et esquisser un avenir qui ne soit pas défaitiste. « J’en arrive à la conclusion, banale, que chaque époque a dramatiquement besoin de symbole », écrit-il. Pour rendre visible non pas seulement les annonceurs du malheur, mais les hommes et les femmes qui ont incarné la générosité française, la prise de risque spontanée, la solidarité qui se noue et reconstitue le tissu social explosé par la défaite. Ces petites mains dont il fait l’éloge de la simplicité.

Au terme d’un voyage instructif et passionnant, Richard Werly se veut optimiste. N’en déplaise aux chantres du pessimisme ambiant. « L’héroïsme du quotidien ne consiste plus, en 2022, à faire passer des réfugiés de l’autre côté de la ligne de démarcation qui, pourtant, se trouvait ici. Encore que…L’héroïsme devrait consister à repérer et réparer ces petites plaies qui défigurent la France, ce patrimoine ordinaire qui s’affaisse, ces vestiges d’une époque où le pays, même divisé, n’a pas complètement perdu son âme ».

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.

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‘Your brain is hazardous to your wealth’ — investing whiz Patrick Geddes

25. März 2022 - 9:25

Patrick’s only partly joking. Co-founder and former CEO of Aperio Group, a pioneer in custom index equity portfolios delivering tax optimization with $42 billion under management at the end of 2020 when it was acquired by BlackRock, Patrick in “retirement” has published his lessons for ordinary consumers as “Transparent Investing: How to Play the Stock Market without Getting Played”. It’s available in an Amazon Kindle version for only $3 or so.

Typically, Patrick has promised: “All net proceeds from sale of the book [as well as speaking income] will be donated to support financial education at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America.” His website, https://patrickgeddes.co, offers free resources, such as a chapter from his book on whether to hire a financial adviser, case studies, a portfolio organizer, and recommendations for the best investments right now. “Chances are the top choices are the same today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow,” he says. But he lists five reliable and low-cost mutual funds “to own now and in the future”.

“I’m the kind of guy who believes in numbers and research,” Patrick says. “I get apoplectic when I see falsehoods getting spread, and it makes me want to stir up trouble when I see the need for it.” His father called him a “dung disturber”. “OK, he used more colourful language,” Patrick admits.  So he found himself being interviewed by Meb Faber for the 400th episode of Meb’s investing broadcast (LINK) as a pioneer in the financial indexing world.

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Patrick reveals that he spent five years working for Amoco oil company, now part of BP, and planning to get a PhD in finance, when he was connected with Morningstar to carry out research. Despite his protestations that he was not an econometrician, Patrick was hired as head of research. Eventually he became Chief Financial Officer. But what interested him was calculating investment earnings after tax, rather than simply percentage returns on investment, which very few analysts bothered with at the time. “There’s a simple answer on why no one cared about it,” Faber said, “because it’s not the sexy part.”

In 1997 Patrick moved back to his home state of California. “I was teaching portfolio theory at University of California, Berkeley Extension program. And I’d set [up] a small — emphasis on small — consulting practice on the side,” Patrick reports. Then he met his Aperio co-founder Paul Solli. “We actually never formally decided to start a company,” Patrick remembers. But he found himself working with clients particularly on their risk, environmental, social, and governance issues, which few others were. “This feels like a very 2022 conversation,” Meb Faber commented. “But you were doing it 25 years ago.”

Patrick and Paul registered Aperio, which means transparent, in the summer of 1999. But it took 4-5 years to take hold. When people asked him how the business was going, Patrick responded: “Well, we’re too much of a success to be labelled a failure, but we’re too much of a failure to be labelled a success.” He adds: “It was limping along. We all had side jobs. I mean, we did this with no capital, ours or anybody else’s.”

But come the financial meltdown of 2008 and 2009 in the United States, Aperio took off. “I think at the end of 2011, we were like 2 billion and then grew that to 42 billion by the end of 2020. In a way, we had some foresight. In another way, we were just fortunate to be standing in the right place.”

They sold the business to Blackwater as they approached retirement age, and the COVID pandemic hit as Patrick was preparing to write his book as “payback” for his luck. “It was convenient in the sense of, if you’re going to work that hard to do a book when you’re working full time, you don’t want a lot of other distractions. And as everybody knows, like, a lot of those fun distractions in life disappeared for quite a while.” But he was still working fulltime until about May 2021. “I’d get up early and work weekends.”

A book that is different and plain-speaking

Patrick wanted his book to be different and plain-speaking. “I’ve not seen anyone blend all the research in behavioural finance with all the research on how, what an atrocious track record [you see from] active management, on both security selection and the asset allocation, market time and market-beating behaviour. They’re just awful. They’re not like a little thin: it’s so overwhelming. So that [part] was fairly clear and, within the pro indexing camp, well understood.

“The piece I hadn’t seen was the brain is such an important component and the way it’s evolved, and the way in which it’s actually very inefficient […] making poor decisions.”  As he puts it in the book: “Unfortunately for us all, our brains have evolved in ways that tend to make us poor investors. We make bad decisions about money not because we’re stupid, but because, as the data show, we’re anything but rational when it comes to investing.”

With acknowledgements to many others, Patrick tries to convince starting investors that they can’t beat the market – and neither can their advisors – except on a short-term basis. He describes the temptation as going for the chocolate cake when we all know broccoli is healthier – an analogy he invented then discovered someone else had used it before him.

“Risk and return reflect two conflicting emotions driving investment behaviour: fear and greed. However, wealth advisors avoid these latter terms for a couple of reasons. First those terms don’t sound like they’re grounded in scientific methodology. Second, these emotions have negative connotations,” he notes. One result: “a 20 percent drop in a portfolio triggers two to three times more suffering than a 20 percent increase produces elation.”

His message: “As Morgan Housel argues in The Psychology of Money, it’s good behaviour, like sticking to your guns in a rough market, that provides the key to successful investment results, more so than good analysis. Women tend to achieve slightly better investment outcomes on average. The reason for this? Men tend to have more unfounded confidence in their abilities. (I imagine this won’t be shocking news to women anywhere.)”

If you want to use behavioural finance to decide your investments, you’d do better “looking in the mirror and learning how to avoid your own worst tendencies,” as a psychology-trained financial professor advised, Patrick adds. “Your brain is hazardous to your wealth.”

But with his usual modesty, Patrick reports: “In 2009, during the worst of the crash, a client asked me how I managed to not sell out. I responded — somewhat sheepishly — that while I’d prefer to think that all my experience with risk had given me the discipline to ride things out, the fact was that selling out would mean I was a complete hypocrite. After years of offering clients advice on how to persevere during a downturn, I had to take my own advice. In that way, my self-image helped save me from selling out myself (and, by consequence, selling myself out).”

The investment industry encourages the worst instincts in order to make money

“The average expert who tries to outsmart the market usually proves more effective at outsmarting their clients,” he argues. An investor in the S&P 500 would do better than most active traders, even mutual funds. “A Morningstar study of market timing by mutual funds found that from 2003 to 2018, the average tactical-allocation fund (active) returned 3.4 per cent per year, while the static (passive, or no market timing) Vanguard Balanced Index with the same overall risk returned 6.6 per cent, a whopping victory for passive asset allocation.”

His fellow investment managers get short shrift from Patrick: “The investment industry has evolved to encourage some of your worst instincts because it makes us more money. The investment industry blends helpful advice with self-serving recommendations. While we can help clients manage risk and earn higher returns, we don’t do it by our predictive abilities.”

The financial press largely leaves him unimpressed: “It’s unlikely you’ll ever see a headline like “Here Are the Investments You Need to Own in Today’s Market: The Same Boring Index Strategies We Told You About Last Year and the Year Before,” he writes. “(You can sense how misleading I find most marketing. At my firm, the staff joked that if I were in charge of marketing for a fancy sushi restaurant, I’d come up with the tag-line “Hey, you want to buy some cold, dead fish?”)

Patrick gives credit to his parents for his no-nonsense attitude to investing: “My parents displayed rebellious tendencies even as they both attended divinity school, where they met. During the 1960s, my father participated in the civil rights movement, getting arrested with the Freedom Riders in Mississippi in 1961, rebuilding a Black church burned down by white supremacists in 1964, and marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma in 1965. My father would observe the same provocative tendencies in his children.”

So it might be no surprise, but very useful for someone trying to educate themselves about the stock market, to read his critical comments as an expert statistical analyst on the S&P500 as a guide to investment: he recommends the Russell 3000. He offers several self-help pages to enable investors to judge how much they should be putting into stocks, bonds and other assets. Indexing may be the coming thing these days, accounting for over 50% of U.S. equity mutual funds in 2019, but back in 1998 the proportion was only 13%.

Along the way, he offers numerous tips – and it’s a book that tempts you just to quote and quote from it, since what he says is so sensible and clearly phrased:

 —  “What doesn’t make sense is trying to assess whether the stock market looks overvalued or undervalued at any particular moment in time and adjusting your asset allocation accordingly.”

— “Investors [seeking to change their declining investments] are likely learning that their risk tolerance isn’t as high as they’d presumed during calmer times. In effect, therefore, they’re saying that they need a permanently safer asset allocation given their own behaviour, which I view as useful self-knowledge,” Patrick says.

— “With indexing you do run the risk of not making it into the very narrow group of active managers who may actually beat the market, but with active, you run the risk of finishing at the bottom of the heap [80-90% of them].”

How long will you need to monitor your investments once you set up your simple portfolio of index funds? “A couple of hours every one or two years. Many people react with shock when they hear how little time I recommend spending on feeding and caring for their portfolio, but staying on top of market news, research, and new developments just doesn’t provide enough value to make all that work worthwhile.”

“When you add in all the expenses, active [investing] costs a lot more on average than passive, thus proving that even without researching historical returns, we can safely state that the returns of all active investors after expenses will be less than the returns of all passive investors. This absolute truth tends to horrify active asset managers when I point it out.”

Peter Hulm is deputy editor of Global Insights Magazine and the Global Geneva newsportal. 

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The Daily Doormat

22. März 2022 - 15:45
Political cartoon by Jeff Danziger, cartoonist, author and contributing editor to Global Insights. He is also a member of our media partner, Cartooning for Peace.

TUCSON, Arizona — I’ll get to the big picture in upcoming reports. For now, a focus on how my hometown paper has changed over the decades — with a hard-pressed staff that faces odds stacked against it — goes to the heart of the problem.

Bill Mathews’ Arizona Daily Star outshined Bill Small’s afternoon Tucson Citizen – except when it scooped us, and that crimson face went deep purple. Mathews was publisher but also simultaneously among the best war correspondents and editorialists of his time.

The Pulitzer family in St, Louis bought the paper when he died in 1969, then sold it to Lee Enterprises in 2005, which has aggressively cut costs – and corners. Meantime, Gannett took over the Citizen and in 2009 scrapped it for parts. 

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The Star’s weekday circulation is near 100,000, only twice what it was in 1965 when Tucson had one-fourth the population. And now a hedge-fund hog snuffles at what is left of the only daily in a city of one million inhabitants. Writ large, it is the same across the United States.

Last month, CBS’s “60 Minutes” focused on Alden Global Capital, which is trying to add the Star to the 200-plus papers it has stripped to bare bones while jacking up subscription rates. It is the worst of what the industry terms vulture capitalists, an insult to self-respecting buzzards.

CBS never got to Heath Freeman, Alden’s 41-year-old president, fashionably unshaven with a self-satisfied smirk. No one does. The company website offers some palpable untruths about noble intentions. After 21 senators sent a letter asking him to show civic responsibility, he doubled down. The segment ended with a shot of his $19 million Miami mansion.

The piece focused on unreported local news and jobs lost as Alden shoots for 30 percent profits. The New York Times’ margin is a third of that. But the problem is far greater than that.

The role of good journalism

Mathews helped readers vote wisely and keep a close watch on what legislators did in their name. He was runner-up for a Pulitzer in 1934 during the Great Depression. FDR wanted to build back better, and Congress was near deadlock on economic recovery legislation.

“It is a matter that transcends partisan politics,” his long analysis began. “It is a matter where the welfare of the nation and its people should alone be considered.”

Late in 1941, another editorial warned that Japan would attack Pearl Harbor. Soon after, the battleship USS Arizona sank with 1,177 sailors and Marines aboard, one of nine lost warships. He assigned himself to Germany where he predicted Hitler’s assault on Poland, down to the number of divisions.

Later, he foretold how the Führer would fall and how that bomb would obliterate Hiroshima. The photo illustrating this piece shows Mathews aboard the USS Missouri with Gen. Douglas MacArthur for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

In the 1960s, Mathews and a seasoned editorial board anchored unsigned daily comment at the top left of the opinion page, as self-respecting papers did. News columns stuck to what reporters saw and heard, bereft of personal views. We wrote in third person; bylines were about attributing responsibility, not for showing off to friends.

It’s about readers, not us.

Papers back then weren’t “communities” with jointly signed “what about MY needs” grievance letters. We learned fast how to get yelled at by a benevolent dictator at the top and the rest of a newsroom hierarchy that was no democracy. It was about the readers, not us.

We kept watch on the city, literally, from iron balconies on a three-story salmon-hued downtown building. At cocktail hour, authorities and business leaders spilled the beans on local scandal over stiff shots at the Press Club. Everyone returned our calls; a “no comment” amounted to taking the Fifth.

A dapper managing editor in a glass office rode herd. A colorful bunch of copy editors pored over staff stories and news agency dispatches. One snipped the semicolon key off the typewriter of a reporter who overused it. Charlie Finney wrote celebrated novels. Alex Parker, always with his green eyeshade and hemorrhoid cushion, set up a scholarship that had paid my $125 tuition to the University of Arizona journalism department.

Putin School of Journalism, killing reporters, political cartoon

Editors gathered after lunch for the news conference, a crucial process now mostly lost at small dailies where work is often remote. That decided what made the frontpage. They gave priority to world and national dispatches from the Associated Press or the New York Times syndicate over all but exceptional local stories.

As deadline neared, we banged away at typewriters on long rows of desks. When someone’s cigarette ignited a large barrel of copy paper, everyone scrambled for extinguishers.

At 11:30 each night, rumbling from the basement presses grew louder until the whole building vibrated. We uncorked bottles in our desks, headed to fresh air on the balconies, and I reflected on my j-school professor’s favorite line: there are two kinds of people; newspaper people and the other kind.

Gender was no issue. Withering retorts silenced untoward male remarks. My sister, Jane Kay, escaped the “Society” page to pioneer an environmental beat that exposed carcinogens in the city’s water supply from Hughes Aircraft, now Raytheon, at Davis-Monthan Air Base.

Tucson in the 1960s was, as Somerset Maughan said about the French Riviera, a sunny place for shady people. Mobsters from “back east” bought property and messed around in local politics. You can’t cover that sort of thing with phone calls or emails at a distance.

Once I staked out the home of Joseph Bonanno, “Joe Bananas,” and sneaked up to rifle through his car’s glovebox – as illegal as it was stupid. Soon after, an FBI guy called my editor. If the Mafia doesn’t get that skinny kid with glasses, he said, we will.

In sum, newspapering back then was about up-close contact and competition. It was not, for fuck’s sake, “content.” Mathews would have had heart failure at stories now attributed to his bitter Phoenix rival, the Arizona Republic, and bizarre filler features from odd provenances.

True, as today’s critics say, it was a one-way process. A.J. Liebling was right: freedom of the press was reserved to those who owned one. With no “social media,” people could only mail in letters to the editor. But they had choices, and publishers fought hard to keep their readers.

“Interactive journalism” has its limits. People who can’t find Ukraine on a map need guidance from reporters on the spot to help shape their thoughts. I can hear Mathews’ snort at the idea of a staff whiz kid tweeting to subscribers: “Germany invades Poland; what’s your opinion?”

“Citizen journalists” are hardly new. People called in with “breaking news” or to offer tips about dark doings. These were stories only after reporters checked them out on the spot and, when necessary, consulted trusted sources to confirm, correct or deny them.

Today, the Star is printed 120 miles away in Phoenix. Mathews’ ornate building was demolished long ago, replaced by a 17-acre complex with a rail spur shared by the Star and Citizen. Lee sold that at auction in 2019 for just over $3 million, the same price a single home in the foothills fetched last month.

The surviving staff kept it going during the pandemic and will soon move into new quarters. Each morning, I hear that familiar plop in the driveway, just like the old days. But, squeezed to the limit, every edition is a crap shoot.

The other morning, the Star was late. I hurried to a Walgreens to spend $3 on a thin sheaf of newsprint with only a smattering of news about a world edging fast toward war. One local story touched on the subject. If Vladimir Putin lobs nukes at America, a likely target would be that Raytheon plant. It makes missiles and drones vital in an age of pax americana.

On some days, it is rich in local news: the fight for Colorado River water; the university president’s extravagances; over-aggressive policing; blatant abuses by the Republican state legislature and governor; Mexican border coverage. On others, not so much.

The problem goes back to a 2006 column by the much-missed Molly Ivins that began: “I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying – it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”

When the internet deprived papers of classifieds, legal notices and a chunk of display advertising, newspapers tried to survive by charging more for less. Some gambled that if they offered the paper free for, say, a year, readers would get the habit and subscribe. It didn’t work out that way. People insisted on getting news for nothing, which is what so much of it is worth.

Local papers have an essential role in explaining controversial issues

A business that is so fundamental to democracy got to be like those old free-lunch bars where regulars bitched about the quality of the food and then complained that portions were too small.

Few readers now understand that sacrosanct line between news columns and opinion.

Local papers have an essential role in explaining controversial issues that affect their readers. Like all news organizations, their quality depends on consistency and credibility across the board. Essentially, they need a Bill Mathews.

The Star’s staff-written editorials are long gone, replaced by snippets from other papers. Everything on the opinion pages is prefaced by lawyerly italics absolving the paper of responsibility for anything. Readers’ letters run at length, often far-right screeds about the “Red Star” despite frequent conservative columns.

One prominent op-ed extolled non-existent virtues of a Canadian-owned copper mine, a vast open pit projected to be dug in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, a treasured recreational area of rare biodiversity. It was written by the company’s vice president.

I had reported on the mine for Harper’s magazine. The EPA, U.S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and county agencies blocked permits for 10 years, citing impact on dwindling groundwater, wetlands, wildlife and air quality. Under Donald Trump, decisions were reversed; only a pending federal court decisions stands in its way. Meantime, its owners have bought large tracts of private land for other mines nearby.

Tony Davis, recently named Arizona Press Club reporter of the year, has followed the story since the beginning. Scrupulously objective, he takes no sides. But his reporting makes the facts plain. The company would pay only minimal taxes and create few local jobs. Ore would be shipped to Asia for smelting; profits would go to Canada.

Proponents cite today’s high demand for copper to dismiss objections as the usual NIMBY resistance: not in my backyard. Countries in Asia, Africa and South America have vast reserves. But because of old federal law that exempts hardrock mining from royalties, it is cheaper and easier to mine the Santa Ritas. When I asked the opinion editor (since moved on) about it, she replied, “We use what we get.”

The Star took me on while I was finishing school, but I had already worked for a paper in Venezuela. Editors supervised me closely to make sure I earned my guild salary. Now, like so many others, it saves money with “interns” who work hard at token pay and little guidance.

The paper now bolsters its staff with students who, if promising, are not ready for the job. My thick file of goofs ranges from such silly misspellings as a large headline about a “highjacking” to glaring omissions in new stories.

Reliable journalism comes at a cost that far exceeds money

Journalism, a high calling with a serious purpose, cannot be about shortcuts and corporate editorial control. Reliable news comes at a cost that far exceeds money.

As I was writing this, a cameraman friend called from Paris. “I just had a good friend killed in Ukraine and another one who was with him might not live,” he said. The survivor is 35, with three daughters. If he pulls through, he’ll be missing a leg. Peter Jouvenal, his old sidekick who covered Afghanistan for 30 years, is a Taliban prisoner in Kabul. (See Global Insights article on Jouvenal and other westerners being held without charge by the Taliban)

In earlier days, we could calculate danger. Journalists were mostly considered off-limits. Today, “PRESS” on a vehicle just gives murderous assholes something to aim at. Indiscriminate shelling hits what it hits.

At a local level, risks are more about baseless crippling libel actions. But the principle is the same. Profit alone should not be the criteria, especially when predators buy up papers to starve them to death. Vultures at least have the decency to wait until their prey dies before swooping in.

Faithful readers can save them, but the prospects are dim. I just flew out of Tucson’s busy airport before 8 a.m. after finding no Star. At the main concourse newsstand, the woman at the counter shrugged. “We only get three a day,” she said.

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: www.global-geneva.com MortReport: Paris – An Immoveable Beast Afghanistan’s Taliban still holding western detainees To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot. Ukraine and the Chinese Conundrum Russia’s politically-appointed UN chief in Geneva: Silent on Putin’s war MortReport Extra: Now or Never A Mort Retort: Facete Rectos Pagare Sh’ma Yisrael – A Mort Report Extra

Ukraine and the Chinese Conundrum

19. März 2022 - 21:41
Vladimir Putin (left). Xi Jinping (right). Photo credit: G20 Argentina / Flickr (CC BY 2.0) and COP PARIS / Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

The problem is that global wealth and technology are overwhelmingly on the side of the US, Europe, and their clients while Russia’s economy is only slightly greater than that of Spain. China’s top trade partner is the United States, and vice-versa. For China’s leader, Xi Jinping, ditching the rest of the world in favor of Russia is a risky gamble that would prove extremely costly and upend China’s economy. The global order as we know it would change beyond recognition.

It is not clear if Putin warned Xi that he was about to wreak mayhem on Ukraine when he met with him three weeks before the invasion. Regardless, Xi appears stuck with Putin for the moment, especially since they both signed a document pledging virtually unlimited cooperation, friendship, and support. Putin may have convinced Xi that Ukraine would surrender overnight, or he could simply have hidden his intentions. Either way, the fact that Ukrainian resistance proved stronger than expected has put Xi in a tight spot. If Putin is forced to pull out of Ukraine in disgrace or suffers political consequences at home, Xi will lose face for having aligned China’s future with a loser at his uncivilized worst.  

Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva has consistently sought to provide in-depth coverage, analysis and compelling writing on the war in Afghanistan. This is a shared article with our North American media partner, Who, What, Why, an investigative newsportal. We seek to help broaden free reader access to independent and critical reporting in the public interest worldwide. A reminder: If you like what we do, then please become a Support Member of our non-profit Global Geneva Group. You can also donate to our Afghan Journalists Support Initiative.

Xi himself is far from invulnerable. He is coming under increased scrutiny from China’s ruling oligarchy. China’s red-hot economy, which expanded at an astonishing rate averaging as much as 10 percent a year over the last three decades, is finally cooling off. Growth dropped to 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021. Chinese consumers are increasingly cautious about the future, construction has slumped, and property sales are stagnating. The draconian sanctions that the US and Europe imposed on Russia are likely to slow growth in China even further. 

Slow growth would be an annoyance in any European country or the US. In a top-down, authoritarian state like China, it can be fatal. Being the top strong man in China is frequently compared to riding a tiger. The ride is exhilarating, but when you step off the tiger’s back, you are likely to be eaten. Maintaining the balance between political control and economic growth is a tricky proposition.

Marc Faber, a Hong Kong-based Swiss economist who publishes a newsletter, The Doom, Boom and Gloom Report,points out that power in China periodically oscillates between Beijing and Shanghai. The political power is in Beijing but is unsustainable unless accompanied by a vibrant economy. The engine of economic growth is centered in Shanghai and the coastal cities. Beijing is regularly forced to loosen its control in order to generate growth. COVID-19 and Putin’s disruption of the global economy have put Xi in a tough spot.  

Genghis Khan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The relationship between China and Russia has always been based more on the principle that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” than on any true affinity. Ethnic Russians have been wary of China ever since the first inhabitants of Moscow were reduced to being vassals of the Mongols. Ivan the Great eventually defeated the Mongols and secured Russia’s independence, but Russia’s relationship with the rest of Asia has never been easy. Ivan’s grandson, Ivan the Terrible, who was brilliant, paranoid, and brutal, set the tone for Russia’s future leaders. Putin is merely continuing a tradition that has extended through the centuries. Ivan ordered anyone suspected of opposing him tortured, murdered, or in some cases burned alive. Whether they were innocent or guilty didn’t matter. Putin is doing the same in Ukraine, only by remote control. (See William Dowell piece on back to the Cold War)

Xi may hate the United States as much as Putin does, but he is also aware that he faces a delicate balancing act. China’s trade with the West is six times greater than anything it gets from Russia. The only exports Russia has to offer are fossil fuels and weapons, and they have been reluctant in the past to sell China any advanced technology. The Russians aren’t afraid that the Chinese will actually use the weapons against them, but they know that whatever they sell to China will be copied and put on the market at a cheaper price.

Xi’s main concern in addition to all this is that he faces an election later this year. He wants to be confirmed to an unprecedented third term in office. If he finds himself tied to Putin’s catastrophic actions in Ukraine, both his judgment and his future will be effectively over. It’s in Xi’s interests to see Putin extricate himself from the Ukraine catastrophe with a minimal loss of face.

Putin is clearly a problem, but Xi’s longer-range concerns are also focused on the United States. There has been a lot of talk in foreign policy circles about the “Thucydides Trap.” The ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, observed in his history of the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta that when an emerging power challenges a reigning superpower for global domination, war is more than likely to follow.

Graham T. Allison, an American political scientist, observes that over the last 500 years, there have been 16 cases in which a reigning power was replaced by an emerging power. In 12 of the cases, the result was war. In an article in Foreign Policy, Allison noted that former President Donald Trump, while still in office, invited Xi to Mar-a-Lago to tell him the US has enough missiles to blow North Korea off the face of the planet. Allison says that Xi likely interpreted Trump’s offhand comment as proof that the Thucydides trap is real, and that a struggle in which China needs to best the United States is a foregone conclusion.

Xi has other reasons for seeing the US as a potential enemy to be taken seriously. Few Americans spend much time considering the history of the Opium War. In Xi’s mind, however, the war, launched in the middle of the 19th century by Britain as a retaliation for the Chinese setting fire to warehouses that stockpiled British opium, still rankles as the “Great Humiliation.”

The East India Company iron steamship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the Sulphur, Calliope, Larne, and Starling destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson’s Bay, on January 7, 1841, during the Opium War. Photo credit: Edward Duncan / Wikimedia

Britain had hoped that the sale of opium grown in India would offset the outflow of currency from British coffers that was paying for the imports of Chinese tea. When the Chinese protested that British opium threatened destruction of China’s coastal cities, Britain refused to listen. After defeating China in several battles, Britain demanded that the Chinese surrender Hong Kong as payment for the damages done to the opium traders. The result was the collapse of government power in Beijing and the gradual colonization of China by Western powers. The West soon forgot the injustice. China never has. 

All this took place more than a century ago, and it might be easy to dismiss those events as ancient history; but Xi clearly sees nationalism and patriotism as powerful forces that can hold China together. Reminding China’s public of the injustices of the past is an effective way of molding national support for his agenda.

Even without delving into the colonial past, both China and Russia have problems with Western concepts of democracy. Putin clearly believes that the Soviet-tsarist tradition of strong-man rule has proven more effective than democratic elections. From Xi’s point of view, Western democracy offers advantages if you are white and come from European stock, but tends to ignore everyone who is not. China finds it hard to forget that Western democracies failed to intervene when Japan invaded China in the 1930s and raped an estimated 20,000 Chinese women while slaughtering 150,000 male prisoners of war during the “Rape of Nanking.” 

Xi clearly sees the US, which still dominates the international institutions — like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization — that make global trade possible, as playing a rigged game, essentially giving with one hand and taking back with the other. Xi believes, with some reason, that the US will always manipulate the system so that the West stays on top. (See William Dowell article on Russia’s political appointee as the head of the United Nations in Geneva).

The question for Xi is whether to risk openly breaking with the West now — incurring American sanctions and seeing what kind of power he and Putin can build behind a bamboo/iron curtain — or continuing with the pretense that he is neutral and seeing what kind of deal he can continue to work on with the US and Europe.  

As for the mayhem in Ukraine, from Xi’s point of view, it is just another case of westerners killing westerners. It has nothing to do with Beijing.

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Insights Magazine’s America’s editor based in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing editor to Who,What,Why. Tom’s Paine is his regular column. Over the past decades, he has covered much of the globe, including Asia as Hong Kong bureau chief for TIME. He has also worked for ABC News and other news organizations.

Related articles in Global Insights www.global-geneva.com To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot. Ukraine: Putin’s Vietnam Russia’s politically-appointed UN chief in Geneva: Silent on Putin’s war Afghanistan’s Taliban still holding western detainees Frozen Afghan Funds: The need for urgent UN Security Council action Russia’s war in Ukraine: Lessons from Afghanistan? Back to the Cold War

Russia’s politically-appointed UN chief in Geneva: Silent on Putin’s war

18. März 2022 - 12:25
Editorial

As pointed out by veteran journalist Bill Dowell in his recent Global Insights article, Valovaya, a Russian political appointee, has been avoiding the press. She has yet to comment openly on the war. Instead, she has sought to hide behind her PR team and anodyne tweets. As the current conflict – but also past events such as the U.S. election of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s Brexit – have shown, social media and the disinformation that comes with it can be easily manipulated. Twitter is no longer a trusted means for determining what is happening. Up front questions and in-the-field reporting are what matter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing everything possible to ensure that ordinary citizens only receive his heavily censored version of what is happening in Ukraine. Coupled with threats of prison for those reporters who dare call it a ‘war’ or an ‘invasion’, he has shut down virtually all that remains of Russia’s independent press. He is now blaming anyone who criticizes him as being a traitor, including the Russian mothers now finding out that their sons are being killed, wounded, or captured in a senseless war. Even members of Geneva’s Russian mission, which is located opposite the Palais des Nations where the UN is headquartered in Europe, are horrified at what their boss is doing to their country’s reputation.

More and more, it is now up to credible and well-documented journalism by the BBC, CNN, Le Monde, Guardian, NYT, Svenska Dagbladet, SRF (Swiss Broadcasting) and other newsgatherers, including freelancers, to establish the facts, even if reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous. Tragically, at least four journalists have been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began. Operating with vehicles clearly marked as PRESS has not prevented them from being shot at by Russian forces.

Valovaya, who Dowell describes as a “glorified housekeeper” for UNOG, has failed to set an example of what International Geneva is supposed to represent. She has yet to condemn the deliberate bombing of civilians. Nor has she referred to the horrific things currently occurring under Putin’s direction. For international Geneva, which the Swiss are seeking to push as the world’s focal point for humanitarian and human rights concerns, this is an embarrassment. (See Global Insights article on International Switzerland as a global knowledge hub)

Fortunately, most UN agencies, such as UNHCR and WHO, have been forthright in their condemnation of Putin’s war. They have criticized the war, which has already caused nearly three million people to flee, as well as the deliberate bombing of hospitals. UNICEF director Catherine Russell forcefully made her point in a recent BBC interview describing such brutal policies as ‘unconscionable’.

Tatiana Valovaya (left), Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), at the Palais des Nations with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. (Photo: UN) Political appointees: One of the UN’s biggest problems

As UNOG’s public information team points out, Valovaya’s first commitment as an international civil servant is to the United Nations, not the Kremlin. This is absolutely correct. Yet anyone who knows the UN is aware how the DG was appointed in the first place. It is doubtful that she will speak out against her home country. Furthermore, Moscow has long considered the top UN slot in Geneva as a Russian prerogative. Apart from Michael Møller, a former Danish diplomat and UNHCR employee who served as Valovaya’s predecessor, the previous three UNOG appointees have been Russian or ex-Soviet.

At the same time, Dowell notes, the reality behind the political appointment of senior officials only underlines one of the UN’s biggest problems. It is a practise that thoroughly undermines the UN’s ability to perform as an effective institution. Major donors ranging from the Americans and Chinese to the Swedes, British, French and others, all lay claims to the top positions. While some candidates may turn out to be good choices, others do not, often resulting in a roster of bland and unimaginative officials who do not inspire.

For years, the Americans have headed up WFP, UNICEF and IOM, while the British now consider OCHA theirs. The last major UN reform process presented by Kofi Annan in 2006 called for all job hires to be based on meritocracy rather than donor influence. Little, however, has changed. As Dowell says, the UN continues to allow the naming of mainly political rather than professional appointees at senior levels.

Of course, the UN may sometimes hit the jackpot with excellent and highly competent individuals. Ghana’s Kofi Annan, for example, threatened to emerge as a bland Secretary General (1997-2006), but then appeared to fall into the job based on his knowledge of how the UN system worked.

Similarly, Møller used his two terms (2013-2019) as UNOG chief to firmly place ‘international Geneva’ on the map. He was constantly reaching out at dinners, conferences and events persuading key humanitarian, environmental and climate change players to engage with both the Swiss and international business community. Martin Griffiths, the UK’s current head of OCHA, has years of experience in the humanitarian field and is proving a deft galvanizer for support with regard to Ukraine, but also ongoing concerns such as Yemen and Afghanistan. (See Global Insights article comparing Russia’s war in Afghanistan to Ukraine)

The League of Nations at its opening session in Geneva in 1920. Over a century later, the United Nations today runs the risk of becoming an equally ineffective institution to prevent war. (Photo: UN archives) The UN needs to remember why it was created

Fortunately, the UN has a broad array of exceptional professionals and consultants who are trying to make a difference regardless of who is in charge. But unless the UN changes radically, it can expect to deteriorate even further, incapable of influencing peace and bringing wars to an end.

The threat of expanded conflict in Europe and even beyond is real. So is the possible use of unconventional weapons by Russia. With Ukraine only just down the road, a two-day drive from Geneva, the UN is precariously close to ending up like the failed League of Nations on the eve of World War II. If the International Geneva community is to properly engage, then it needs to loudly assert that neither war nor crimes against humanity are acceptable.

What UNOG really needs, however, is the sort of leadership that will crucially assert that the UN – as an organization – is not a limpid League of Nations, but a gamechanger. At this time of crisis, what needed is a Jan Egeland type, the outspoken former head of the UN’s humanitarian and emergency relief operations from 2003 to 2006, not afraid to express his views and to condemn human rights perpetrators. This also means speaking candidly with the press rather than peddling Tweets.

Related articles in Global Insights (www.global-geneva.com) To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot. Afghanistan’s Taliban still holding western detainees Frozen Afghan Funds: The need for urgent UN Security Council action Russia’s war in Ukraine: Lessons from Afghanistan? Ukraine: Putin’s Vietnam Back to the Cold War

Afghanistan’s Taliban still holding western detainees

18. März 2022 - 11:31
Peter Jouvenal (right with camera) while reporting during the Soviet-Afghan war. (Photo: Ed Gorman)

There is still no news about the possibility of release of the remaining westerners being currently held by the Taliban. While some of their families have so far preferred to remain discreet, others have opted to go to the press.

One of the best known of the western prisoners is Peter Jouvenal, a British-German former journalist widely renowned amongst the international community for his long-time and expert knowledge of the country. He was taken in Kabul last December by armed fighters of a Talib intelligence unit. The family of Canadian Nadima Noor, who was believed to be held by the Ministry of Interior, also publicized her predicament earlier as a means of putting pressure on the Taliban. She has since been released. (See background piece on Peter Jouvenal in Global Insights)

While various diplomatic initiatives have been underway to release the westerners, apart from Noor, little progress has been made to date. Diplomats operating out of Doha, capital of Qatar where the Taliban have their main international office and where the United States, Britain and other countries are currently basing their Afghanistan interest representations, recently managed to briefly visit at least several prisoners being held in Kabul. Jouvenal was allowed to phone his wife, but with Taliban present. Some sources suspect that there may be other westerners, including possibly another European and American.

For the moment, however, there are few signs that the Taliban are willing let them go. There is also confusion as to where they are being held. According to reliable sources, at least some of the prisoners, including Jouvenal, are being kept in poor conditions in small, cold cells and fed with little more than boiled rice occasionally mixed with beans. They are also being held largely in darkness as constant power outrages prevent regular electricity.

Although some observers suspect that the Taliban are holding the foreigners to pressure the West into granting international recognition no such demands have been made. Others believe the problem may lie more within the Taliban themselves. Not unlike the oft divisive mujahideen of the 1980s and 1990s, various factions within the Taliban are seeking to assert themselves as part of the new government. These include Sirajuddin Haqqani, acting Minister of Interior and son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was formerly backed by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan War and later founded of the Haqqani Network. Designated a terrorist by the United States in 2010, Sirajuddin is believed to be holding some of the prisoners.

Another problem, according to local and international sources in Kabul, is that the Taliban simply have too much on their plate. Political direction must be provided by a consensus amongst the Elders, who must discuss each item in detail. As one well-informed western source noted, “they are not yet used to government but need to discuss in detail amongst themselves to be in agreement with each other. I am also not certain that the plight of these prisoners is at the top of their list.” (See article co-authored by Peter Jouvenal and Edward Girardet in spring, 2021 on a possible peace solution)

Taliban social media photo depicting fighters on Lake Band-e-Mir in Afghanistan. (Photo: Taliban social media)

In addition, as the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York notes, the Taliban are also stepping up their harrassment of Afghan journalists. On Thursday, March 17, Talib agents from the General Directorate of Intelligence detained Aman as well as TOLOnews news manager Khapalwak Sapai and the channel’s legal adviser at its headquarters in District 10 of Kabul, according to BBC Persian and tweets by former TOLOnews journalists. (See CPJ for details)

Some sources suspect that there may other westerners, including possibly another European and American. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has the mandate to visit prisoners from all sides in time of conflict, reportedly has so far failed to receive permission from the Taliban to see any of the detainees or to provide medical attention which several are believed to require. The ICRC can also only share details with members of the detainees’ families. While a number of journalists and aid workers are privy to background details, most of the names of the current detainees cannot be revealed without their families’ permission.

Other discreet international initiatives are being undertaken by different groups and individuals, including concerned Muslims, in the United States, UK, Switzerland, UAE and Pakistan. They are trying to persuade the Taliban that it is not in their interest from the public relations point of view to hold western prisoners, or even to manipulate them as bargaining chips. As one United Nations representative said: “If the Taliban wish to present themselves as serious, they cannot simply go around taking westerners in the streets, and then hold them without charge.” Last month, the Taliban briefly detained two consultants, including former BBC correspondent Andrew North, working for UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency.

Peter Jouvenal’s wife Hassina Syed, a successful Afghan entrepreneur voted “Young Leader of Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum in Geneva and “Businesswoman of the Year” in Afghanistan, has been lobbying hard – and publicly – for her husband’s release, but is now concerned that the war in Ukraine may detract from what is happening in Afghanistan.

 “I cannot understand why the Taliban do not let him go,” she said from her home in Lincolnshire where she and Peter normally live with their teenage girls. “He has always been a friend of Afghanistan, and the Taliban know this.” Helped by the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, Syed recently filed an official complaint against the Taliban with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in Geneva for holding her husband without charge.

Jouvenal has been engaged in reporting the war in Afghanistan since the early days of the Soviet occupation in 1980. Over the years, he has filmed for the BBC, NBC, CBS, National Geographic and other international broadcasters. In 1997, he was cameraman for the CNN team which interviewed Osama Bin Laden as the first American network to do so. From 2002 to 2014, he ran Gandamack Lodge, a guest house and restaurant widely frequented by journalists, aid workers and diplomats as the place to go in Kabul.

Ironically, Jouvenal has always maintained good relations with all sides, including the Taliban. Following the US-led intervention in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Jouvenal consistently warned Westerners not to ignore the Taliban as their involvement in any peace process was crucial given that they represent a significant portion of the Afghan population, namely the Pushtuns. This was ignored until too late.

According to Syed, her husband, who is a Muslim and highly respected amongst many Afghans, had returned from the UK to Afghanistan following he return of the Taliban in Kabul for family reasons but also to openly explore opportunities for international mining investment. He had even met with various regime officials.

One highly experienced senior western source long known to this writer, who requested not to be identified, returned last week from the Afghan capital where he met with different representatives of the Taliban and the international aid community. He said that he felt the Taliban were “perplexed” by the amount of interest shown by the Americans and British for the foreign prisoners, while refusing to engage in proper negotiations at senior level “with their government.”

As with other westerners and non-Taliban Afghans working with international organizations, the source believes that the prisoner issue is symptomatic of the quandary now facing the country. The Taliban want appropriate recognition, he maintained. “The West needs to become far more pragmatic if it really wishes to help ordinary Afghans. Whether we like it or not, the West needs to work more closely with the de facto government.”

Humanitarian response alone, both he and others are increasingly arguing, is not going to redeem the billions of dollars spent on Afghanistan during the nearly 20-year-long western occupation. Nor will it prevent the complete economic collapse of the country, including preventing the mass starvation of millions of Afghans. Given that most ministries are run by non-Taliban civil servants it is crucial to help them provide the services the country so desperately needs, they maintain.

The Talib regime has yet to be recognized by any government. This includes Pakistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia, which had established diplomatic relations during the previous 1996-2001 regime of the Taliban. Since the collapse of Kabul, the United States, Canada, European Union and other members of the international community have all demanded that the Taliban declare their support for women’s rights and other basic international obligations, such as a return to free and fair elections. (See article by Norah Niland in Global Insights on the need to release Afghan funds)

Related articles in Global Insights www.global-geneva.com Frozen Afghan Funds: The need for urgent UN Security Council action To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot. Russia’s war in Ukraine: Lessons from Afghanistan? Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban The Trump-Biden Afghanistan Debacle: Time for Washington to be decent America’s – and NATO’s – Afghanistan disaster: Still a possible peace solution with a Marshall Plan.

Frozen Afghan Funds: The need for urgent UN Security Council action

18. März 2022 - 10:52
The following article is offered on an oped basis.

United Against Inhumanity (UAI)launched a campaign on 8th March to challenge the decision by some governments to freeze Afghan national reserves that have been built up since the time of King Zaher Shah, with a current total value of US$9.1 billion.  The loss of access to these resources, as is well known, is having a devastating impact on Afghans who have already endured more than four decades of warfare.

Given the added responsibilities of countries that are UN Security Council (UNSC) Members in upholding and enhancing international peace and security, it is important that Ireland takes urgent action to address this catastrophic ‘man-made’ disaster.

UAI is challenging the decision to freeze Afghan national reserves held in banks under the jurisdiction of governments in the US, Europe and elsewhere such as Germany, Italy, the UK and the UAE. Blocking access to these assets means that the Afghan central bank is unable to deliver on some of its core responsibilities including curbing inflation. This has led to a banking and liquidity crisis that, coupled with inflation and the loss of jobs and livelihoods, means that most Afghans are no longer able to afford essentials such as food or fuel needed for cooking and keeping warm in harsh winter temperatures.   This dire situation has obliged some families to take the heart-breaking decision of selling their under-age daughters in marriage to get some food.  

International Committee of the Red Cross providing humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. (Photo: ICRC)

UAI launched its campaign on International Women’s Day; it is the women and children of Afghanistan who are now paying the most severe price for a situation not of their making. The human right to food is but a mirage for millions of Afghans who were told in 2001 that military intervention was necessary to secure the human rights of women and girls.  In 2022, Afghans are effectively being told that an enlarged humanitarian program – yet to be developed – will have to substitute for a functioning economy.  The reality is that, for many Afghans, this is a death sentence. This is why urgent action is required both in and outside the UNSC.

As we say in our open letter, UAI is deeply concerned about the Taliban’s human rights record, their interpretation of Sharia law, and their rule from Kabul 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the right to life of impoverished and hungry Afghans must be prioritized over all other considerations. Our organization has sent letters to US president Joe Biden as well as various European heads of state requesting that these funds be released.

We request that UNSC members address the issue of frozen national reserves, and the implications of this for the survival of millions of Afghans, when it meets next week to review the renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA).  This is particularly important in the context of strengthening respect for, and protection of, fundamental human rights and helping to create the economic and social conditions critical for sustainable self-reliance and stability.

Norah Niland is a co-founder of United Against Inhumanity, an emerging global movement concerned with war-related atrocities and erosion of the international asylum system. 

Related articles in Global Insights (www.global-geneva.com)

To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot. Letter from Sicily: The Mediterranean – the World’s most Deadly Anti-Refugee ‘Wall’   The Trump-Biden Afghanistan Debacle: Time for Washington to be decent Russia’s war in Ukraine: Lessons from Afghanistan? Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban Appel de l’ONU pour des fonds destinés à 28 millions de personnes en Afghanistan et dans la région. Focus on Afghanistan: Whose responsibility?

To Be or Not to Be: Russia’s UN political appointees on the spot.

16. März 2022 - 11:20
William Dowell’s regular Tom’s Paine column.

How do you act when you are supposed to represent the world’s leading international organization dedicated to world peace and you learn that the president of the country that got you the job in the first place has turned into a paranoid lunatic, hell bent on global destruction?  The obvious answer is that you proceed with great care and trepidation. 

Tatiana Valovaya, the current Director General of the UN Office in Geneva (UNOG), is a case in point. Valovaya, who started her career as a reporter for a Russian magazine focusing on economics, doesn’t talk to reporters these days, unless they happen to be from a former Moscow satellite and the subject of conversation is guaranteed to be anodyne.  She did give an interview to Armenia News in which she listened to Yerevan’s standard complaints concerning Ngorno-Karabakh.

That was before Vladimir Putin launched his bloody campaign against Ukrainian independence and began bombing and shooting women and children. Since then, from Valovaya there has been not a peep.  Occasionally, she or someone in her office, sends out a brief message on Twitter — but never about anything that reflects the crisis, or the threat of nuclear destruction, her country is unleashing on the world. (See William Dowell article in Global Insights)

Russian troops blast a Ukrainian maternity hospital to pieces, killing women in the middle of childbirth along with newborn babies. Valovaya is silent.  Russian aircraft bomb a Ukrainian higschool. Valovaya has nothing to say.  Vladimir Putin hints that his real goal just might be genocide — Ukraine without Ukrainians; it never was a country to begin with. Again, Valovaya has nothing to say. 

Admittedly, Valovaya’s role, despite her impressive title, is pretty much that of a glorified housekeeper. According to the UN’s public information office in Geneva, her first responsibility lies with representing the UN and not Russia, even if everyone who understands the UN knows precisely who put her there. Still, her silence is deafening.

Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia at the United Nations in New York addresses the Security Council meeting on the war in Ukraine. He to listen in silence as 140 members of the General Assembly condemned his government’s barbarism and deliberate targetting of civilians. (Photo: UN) Failing to respond to global concerns

Valovaya is not the only one on the hot seat these days.  Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the UN in New York, had the awkward fate to find himself the temporary head of the UN Security Council just as Putin launched his murderous onslaught.  All that Nebenzya could do was to incongruously warn the hapless victims of Putin’s violence against defending themselves.  Nebenzya had to listen stoically while 140 members of the UN General Assembly denounced Russian barbarism. (See Global Insights article comparing Russia’s failed war in Afghanistan with Ukraine)

The greatest humiliation of all may have been felt by Russia’ foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Back in 2000, when I was working in Time Magazine’s New York bureau, the editors wanted to invite Lavrov to a lunch at Bernadin, a posh restaurant a few blocks from what was then the Time-Life building.  Lavrov and I showed up early and engaged in a few minutes of small talk.  It was obvious that Lavrov was not only highly intelligent and witty, but, more important,  it was clear that he had a perfect understanding of the United States and how it worked. Lavrov was no one’s fool. So how did he end up working for a mad man determined to become a bloody murderer?

In the defense of both Valovaya and Lavrov, it can be argued that Russia and its diplomats are not the ones who are really responsible for the unnecessary carnage that is tearing through Ukraine at this very moment. The true responsibility belongs to one man: Vladimir Putin.  That said, what we, and above all the Ukrainians are experiencing, is the downside of authoritarianism and the concession of individual rights and responsibilities to dictatorships, in which a single man’s vision can lead an entire nation and possibly the world down the path to ultimate destruction.

Putin may, as the Economist recently suggested, want to be the new Stalin. He may even think that he can restore the old Soviet Union’s dream of empire. Fantasies of that kind are endemic in many criminals. Stalin (the pseudonym translates as “steel”) began his career as a bank robber.  Putin began as a juvenile delinquent. Life in Russia has never been easy. When one looks at Russia’s painful history, Putin is just the latest in a series of brutal leaders in a tsarist tradition that dates back to Ivan the Terrible,  who see murder as a legitimate function of the state.  Violence begets violence and Russia’s history is one of unceasing violence.

The United Nations headquarters in Geneva are located in the same building that once served the former League of Nations. The League was in the process of installing the bronze “Sphere of Peace” by American sculptor Paul Manship donated by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in front of its building on 31 August 1939. The next morning, the Second World War broke out with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. (Photo: UN) The specialized agencies are doing their job. But what about the UN itself?

The question today is where the UN fits in all this?  When it was founded in the traumatic aftermath of World War II, the intention was for the conquering allies to create a global organization that could see to it that we would not go to war again. The Security Council in New York was intended to represent the organization’s ultimate power. The Russians had been de facto allies against the Axis powers, so they were included in the council charged with oversight.

Each member had a veto to make sure that any decision defining the future would be unanimous. It was assumed that everyone wanted the same thing. As it turned out, that was a mistake. Whatever Stalin wanted, it was not peace.  The split was further widened when Mao Zedong succeeded in ousting China’s nationalist war lord president, Chiang Kaisheck.  

What is often forgotten in all this is that in addition to the worldwide trauma resulting from World War II, much of the post-war developing world was just beginning to exit colonialism. That was a difficult enough transition, but it was further complicated by the fact that Russia, defining itself as the Soviet Union, was determined to extend its control over Eastern Europe, effectively creating a colonial empire of its own. At the same time, the United States was almost unconsciously creating its own neo-colonial empire by doling out foreign aid. 

Instead of working for world peace, the US and its battered western European allies lined up on one side of the political divide, and the Soviet Union, using communism as a lure, lined up on the other. Any real power the UN might have had was effectively neutralized.

The situation was further complicated when former colonial possessions achieved at least nominal political independence.  The UN General Assembly suddenly swelled to 160 members.  A voice was given to the world, but the power behind that voice was diffused in the process. 

With everyone clamoring to be heard, the United States, which had regularly footed a quarter of the UN’s operating costs, began to adopt an attitude that said: “If you don’t want to play my way, I’ll just take my ball and go home.”  The UN progressively found itself strapped for funds. That is ironic, because the total cost of the UN is somewhat less than the amount that New York City spends on its metropolitan police department.

After these setbacks, the UN became essentially a talk shop, at least as far as its efforts to attain world peace were concerned.  Associated agencies, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the UNHCR, the World Food Programme, and other organizations attached to the UN as part of the so-called ‘International Geneva’ community did make important contributions and in many ways are excelling in their ability to respond to the horrific humanitarian crisis that has emerged in Ukraine. (See Global Insights article on International Switzerland’s unexploited knowledge hub) But as Putin’s rampage through this now independent and democratically-elected former Soviet republic demonstrates, the goal of guaranteeing an end to war proved elusive.

War-afflicted Ukrainian civilians receiving food and other humanitarian items recently supplied by the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. (Photo: ICRC) Reform or fail: The need for professionals, not politicals

The UN also suffered from an initial mistake. With the best of intentions, it  felt obliged from the beginning to give everyone a chance at participation.  As a result, qualifications and ability counted less than diversity and politics. While the concept was honorable, efficiency was inevitably sacrificed for political correctness. The end result, among others, was that Tatiana Valovoya got to call the shots in Geneva.

(Editorial note: While the former head of UNOG was Michael Møller, a Danish national and former UNHCR employee, this top Geneva position has in recent years been regarded by Moscow as a ‘Russian’ slot. The previous three DGs prior to Møller were either Russian or former Soviets. Not to be outdone, the United States has long considered UNICEF, WFP and IOM to be American fiefdoms, while the UK now regards OCHA as British).

The former European colonies who were now lumped together under different euphemisms, Third World, Developing Countries, Emerging Markets and now Global South, were never really fooled by the process. They regarded the UN either as a cushy assignment in which you really did not need to accomplish much, or as a convenient political dumping ground. Afraid that such and such a candidate might compete with you in your next presidential election? Make him an offer he can’t refuse and then soften the blow by sending him to Geneva where he gets tax write-offs, luxury lunches and what amounts to an enjoyable vacation. At least he won’t cause damage at home.

Much of the UN’s Geneva headquarters is housed in the building that was the original home of the League of Nations. The ghost of the League still hovers over the building.  You can sense that when you are lost in the impenetrable maze of hallways (now being radically renovated by the Swiss) that frequently lead to a dead end. The endless conferences in which nothing of importance is said are even greater proof that the more things change, the more they add up to they stay the same. The fact that the doors to the directors’ offices are bullet proof and the magnificent front entrance to the complex is permanently sealed off with riot fences, testify to the distance that the UN still needs to go in order to achieve its original objective.

(Editorial Note: While the public ranging from ordinary citizens to NGOs and outside journalists used to have open access to the building (you could literally wander in and out), security concerns have more or less closed off the outside world except those with special accreditation. The irony is that the more interesting global discussions, which used to be hosted by the Palais, are now being held off-campus in the Maison de la Paix, Geneva International Conference Centre, hotels, and other locations).

Henrik Sørensen’s unfinished “Dream of Peace” at the United Nations Library in Geneva. The painting by the Norwegian artist was donated by Norway in December, 1939. (Photo: UN)

In one of the main rooms of the UN library there is a mural that was painted during the old days of the League. The mural was entitled “Dream of Peace.” The League ran out of money as the world, threatened by Hitler, lost interest.  The mural was never completed. The last thing the artist said before packing up his paints and leaving was: ”There will be no World Peace.” He was right.  Let’s hope we survive the next one.

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Insights Magazine’s America’s editor based in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing editor to Who,What,Why. Tom’s Paine is his regular column. Over the past decades, he has covered much of the globe for TIME, ABC News and other news organizations.

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William Dowell is also a co-editor of 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. https://www.amazon.fr/Essential-Field-Guide-Afghanistan-Humanitarian-ebook/dp/B00HZ1FNRW

We still have a few hard copies left, too. If you would like a copy, please order with: editor@guyg11.sg-host.com Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add.

Related articles in Global Insights (www.global-geneva.com) Russia’s war in Ukraine: Lessons from Afghanistan? Russia’s Ukraine Intervention: Death by a Thousand Cuts? Ukraine: Putin’s Vietnam Back to the Cold War Le Yémen est l’un des pays les plus invivables pour les enfants et les mères – UNICEF Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban Is Assassinating the Latest ISIS Leader Just Cutting Off Hydra’s Head? The case for letting go of humanitarian reform Geneva’s Palais des Nations scandal Pandemics, climate change and UN reform Surviving Nuremberg trial lawyer calls for UN whistleblowing reform Bosnia: A looming humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe

Russia’s war in Ukraine: Lessons from Afghanistan?

14. März 2022 - 13:39

When the Soviet 40th Army invaded Afghanistan on 27 December 1979, the Kremlin was “responding” to a call for assistance by its new Afghan puppet, Babrak Karmal, who had been conveniently flown in from Czechoslovak exile only hours before. While Soviet military advisors had been on the ground ever since the communist April, 1978 ‘Saur’ revolution, the objective was to make it seem that Moscow had been invited in.

The Russians specifically wished to get rid of Hafizullah Amin, the increasingly uncontrollable head of the country’s ruling Khalqi faction, but they also wanted to take charge of the regime’s failing efforts to put down rapidly spreading armed revolt.

Not unlike Hitler’s staged attack on August 31, 1939 by Germans dressed as Polish soldiers against the German transmitter at Gleiwitz to justify his Blitzkrieg, Moscow felt obliged to justify its takeover of Afghanistan, whose Islamist influences, it feared, threatened to undermine its own Central Asian Republics. By quickly occupying Afghanistan, the Russians believed, they could contain the problem. Little did they imagine that their failure to subdue this mountainous and desert country would ultimately lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, a factor that appears to have influenced President Vladimir Putin’s current reasoning for re-asserting Russia’s position in the world.

Putin, who was already in charge in 1999, used similar language to justify his brutal military invasion of Chechnya to prevent the majority Muslim region from breaking away. His war resulted in the razing of Grozny, the Chechen capital. The Russian dictator has replicated similar justifications for his February 24 assault against Ukraine. Describing its population as ‘vassals’ and ‘neo-Nazis’ manipulated by NATO and the European Union, the Russian dictator not only perceives democratic Ukraine as a “security risk”, but a threat to his own ambitions for a new Russian empire.  (See William Dowell article on Ukraine as Russia’s Vietnam) 

Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Russian military held the cities, but failed to take the countryside in a pointless war that caused the loss of up to 25,000 Soviet troops, many of them conscripts, and up to one and a half million Afghans. The end result of Moscow’s failed occupation was the collapse of the USSR. Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan failed in the long run

So how does Afghanistan fit into all this? While many of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, notably the deliberate bombing of towns and fleeing civilians, reek of Chechnya-revisited, there are some lessons worth exploring.

Not unlike Moscow’s 41st Army push with an estimated 150,000 troops deployed from Russia and Belorussia in the north, but also annexed Crimea and the Black Sea in the south, the Red Army invaded Afghanistan with a 115,000-strong force. While the bulk of its troops crossed over from bordering Soviet Central Asia, airborne units within days took major airfields, such as Bagram, Kandahar and Shindand. As this writer can ascertain based on first-hand reporting, the Kremlin figured that such military might alone would suffice to intimidate the country’s largely illiterate population and poorly armed rebels.

The shock and awe invasion initially worked. Resistance was light and over five million Afghans fled the country, many of them during the first few months. Supported by Afghan government forces, including paid and often ruthless communist militia, the Red Army quickly established its control in the cities. Throughout Russia’s nearly decade-long control, Kabul suffered only limited damage. Only a few specialized guerrilla fronts focused on urban assaults and assassinations.

It was a different story in the countryside, where the mujahideen, or holy warriors as Afghan guerrillas were known, took their war. Operating from amongst the high mountains and rugged deserts, they fought an increasingly successful campaign of attrition by ambushing Red Army convoys and attacking forward bases. Outside military assistance in the form of weapons and funds provided by the CIA, Saudis, Pakistanis and others steadily strengthened their ability to fight, particularly with the arrival of US-supplied Stinger missiles – a gamechanger for the Afghan resistance – which forced Soviet MIGs and helicopter gunships to fly high and less effectively.

The mujahideen basically made it impossible for the Soviets to assert themselves despite repeated major land and air offensives involving 12,000 troops or more against guerrilla strongholds. Frustrated, the Soviets destroyed over 22,000 villages forcing out civilians and turning farms into parched moonscapes by rupturing irrigation canals and killing off fruit orchards as a means of denying the resistance local support. They also laced the mountain passes, roads and farmlands with anti-personnel and other mines inflicting a devastating problem that has taken years to clear.

Russian propaganda also perpetuated the myth of “brotherly friendship” between the Soviet and Afghan peoples. While the East-bloc trained KHAD, the Afghan version of the KGB, stifled urban opposition, including demonstrations, through arrests, beatings and summary executions, Moscow sought to ensure the appearance of stability and progress – at least in the cities. It did this by subsidizing wheat and other food prices to the detriment of the Soviet economy. It also inaugurated ‘modern’ or refurbished apartment blocks, factories and hospitals, sometimes several times for television and PR purposes. As Red Army soldiers found to their astonishment, you could eat better in Kabul than back in the USSR.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to human rights organizations, already a dictator and war criminal in the making. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: a poorly planned operation now resorting to killing civilians

Similar developments have emerged in Ukraine. Nearly three million Ukrainians – mainly women, children and the elderly – have already fled as the Russians increasingly – and deliberately – bomb populated areas. “It’s like déjà vu,” recalled a former International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegate who was in Peshawar, Pakistan, when the first waves of Afghan refugees crossed the border. The Russians are also preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching besieged populations.

While Afghanistan had a functioning communist regime largely willing to accept Russian backing, it seems unlikely that many Ukrainians except perhaps well-rewarded Quislings will collaborate openly with the invaders. Moscow-inserted officials in the now Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, for example, which is witnessing daily anti-Moscow demonstrations, have been seeking to interact with the local population only to find themselves ostracized. Even ethnic Russians have been criticizing the Putin regime. The Russians are now resorting to kidnapping or otherwise eliminating mayors and other municipal officials in captured towns and villages.

According to the Melitopol’s Ukrainian mayor, Ivan Federov, the Russians have been staging fake humanitarian food distributions for propaganda purposes using actors to portray concerned aid workers, but nothing is actually handed out. “We are not co-operating with the Russians in any way,” he told the BBC. “They have not tried to help us…and we do not want their help.”

Unlike the Afghans, whether the mujahideen fighting the Soviets or the Taliban against NATO, the Ukrainians have a different and less advantageous terrain to operate in. Their war will be fought more in and around the towns with bitter street and trench fighting using shelled buildings for cover not unlike, ironically, the manner with which the Germans and Soviets fought in Stalingrad. “Russia’s invasion has been incredibly badly organized and is now running into real trouble,” noted a senior NATO officer. “Their desperation has become clear by their efforts now to make the lives of civilians hell.”

The independent Russian radio station Echo was recently shut down by the Kremlin and its FM wavelengths handed over to the government-run Sputnik network. Banning words such as ‘war’ and ‘invasion’, the Kremlin’s repression of independent Russian and foreign press is forcing many to rely on official information sources, such as state television, which fail to provide the real picture of what is happening in Ukraine. (Photo: Wikipedia) Kremlin disinformation: preventing the truth from reaching Russians

At the same time, while costly, Ukraine’s war against the invaders has already proven highly effective, something that the Kremlin was not expecting. Russian forces have only been able to advance slowly against significant resistance, which has been blocking road access for fuel supplies given the number of destroyed tankers and trucks. For this reason, the Russians will probably persist with their air and long-range artillery assaults resulting in the steady destruction of Ukraine’s towns leaving a massively devastated land in their wake.

The Ukrainians, who already have been receiving western military assistance in the form of anti-aircraft missiles, including Stingers, and anti-tank weapons, have been taking a toll on Russian planes and helicopters. (The mujahideen, in contrast, had to wait several years for such weaponry).  According to the Royal United Services Institute in London, at least 20 Russian aircraft have been visually confirmed as shot down, an indication that the Russians are struggling for air supremacy. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which has admitted to suffering its own aircraft losses, claims it has downed nearly 60 Russian aircraft plus more than 80 helicopters.

Russia’s deliberate targeting of the city of Mariupol has already inflicted thousands of casualties and is preventing the arrival of humanitarian supplies. (Photo: ICRC)

While such claims cannot be verified, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) has noted that if western intelligence is to be believed, the Russians are suffering considerable casualties, “possibly in their thousands, including at least two generals.” The Pentagon is putting the figure at between 5,000-6,000, while the Ukrainians claim more than 12,000.

The Kremlin, however, is not making the mistake as in Afghanistan by sending back dead soldiers in caskets and leaving it up to Soviet mothers to spread the word. This proved a crucial factor for building popular resentment to the war during the 1980s. As one BBC journalist noted, the Russians are also leaving their dead behind without bothering to remove them. Ukranians have been removing their weapons, videoing their remains and collecting their IDs to eventually inform Russians back home as to what is happening to their boys.

With this conflict, however, Putin’s troops are operating mobile incinerators. The last thing the Kremlin wants is to have closed coffins lined up on airport tarmacs appearing in social media. It is also keeping the official number of deaths low, 500 or so to date, and declaring them ‘heroes’, precisely what Moscow did throughout the Soviet-Afghan war.

Unlike Afghanistan, where the bulk of Red Army soldiers were poorly trained conscripts, Russia’s Ukrainian war is relying more on so-called ‘contractors’, soldiers who have signed up for longer than the one-year draft in return for better pay. Many, too, are Chechen mercenaries. Last week, the Kremlin announced that it was engaging Syrian ‘volunteers’ to help with its war.

Nevertheless, as recently captured Russian POWs have indicated in video testimony, many are still conscripts, while contractors are pointing out that their pay is too paltry to make joining the army attractive. Morale appears low. As occurred in Afghanistan, Russian soldiers, who have access only to official information sources, are saying that they did not know they would be invading Ukraine but had been told they would be on maneuvers in Belorussia.

Afghanistan resulted in the collapse of the USSR. Is Ukraine the end of Putin’s expansionism?

As during Soviet-Afghan war, the Kremlin has sought to control credible information. Given Putin’s repressive crackdown of social media and outside news sources, such as the now banned BBC, but also its repression of Russia’s own remaining outspoken press where the words ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ are banned, Ukrainian cyberhackers encouraged by the Kyiv government are ensuring that harsh realities from the front constantly interrupt official state media. As one sources with the Cyber Security Forum in Geneva maintained, “the ultimate success of Ukrainian resistance may lie in its ability to completely hack the Russian system.” Many Russians still have little idea about the realities of the Kremlin’s ruthless war in Ukraine.

Initially, the Soviets in Afghanistan at least had the benefit of an Afghan army to work with. But as the occupation became more futile, thousands deserted. Even senior Afghan officers within the high command collaborated with the resistance. The only ones the Russians could rely on were the paid militia, but even these readily changed sides the moment funds ran out. Red Army troops, too, soon realized how pointless the war was resulting in high alcoholism, drug addiction and depression. Not only that, but the war was proving financially draining, something that international sanctions against Putin’s Russia and inner circles may also be achieving. 

The whole purpose now of an effective resistance strategy by the Ukranians is to ensure that occupation simply becomes too costly – and pointless – to continue. The Soviet Union lost up to 25,000 dead during the Afghan war. Russia could face similar casualties in Ukraine. They will have achieved nothing, except, perhaps the demise of both Putin and his dream of a new, expansionist Russia.

Edward Girardet is a foreign correspondent, author and editor of the Geneva-based Global Insights Magazine. He has covered wars and humanitarian crises worldwide for The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report and the PBS Newshour. 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.”

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: editor@guyg11.sg-host.com 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: editor@guyg11.sg-host.com Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add. Related articles in Global lnsights (www.global-geneva.com) 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

La Genève humanitaire immortalisée dans La mesure de l’impossible

11. März 2022 - 16:22

Edition Française: « Je n’aime pas le théâtre ». Cette affirmation en ouverture d’une œuvre théâtrale n’est pas banale. Ennuyeux le théâtre ? Il peut l’être parfois. Sauf lorsque le sixième art, celui de la scène, pose des questions pertinentes et éclaire vérités et paradoxes. Qu’importe si la mise en scène est minimaliste et qu’une simple toile tirée par des ficelles fait office de décor, en se hissant, levant un pan symbolique sur les misères du monde. Et qu’une batterie suggère jusqu’au paroxysme le fracas de conflits oubliés. 

Tiago Rodrigues, metteur en scène portugais au talent reconnu mondialement, fait escale à Genève, avant de s’en aller diriger le festival d’Avignon. S’inspirant du vécu professionnel et privé de femmes et d’hommes ainsi que de leurs allers et retours entre zones dangereuses et foyers rassurants, l’homme de théâtre contribue à rappeler l’action de celles et ceux qui s’engagent pour soulager la douleur des victimes dans des contrées où sévissent hostilités ou famine.

Edition Française. Global Geneva is including French-language articles on ‘international Geneva’ themes as part of its worldwide outreach to Francophone audiences. A reminder: our content is available free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please become a Support Member of Global Geneva Group, our Swiss non-profit association, or DONATE.

Il analyse également l’engagement artistique : faut-il sauver un monde réel et cruel ou transformer cette noble ambition en fiction ? Une pièce de théâtre peut-elle avoir plus d’impact sur le public que mille et un communiqués, vidéos et photos publiés par les agences gouvernementales et non gouvernementales actives dans le domaine humanitaire et contribuer à secouer les consciences une fois le rideau baissé ? La fiction peut-elle outrepasser la réalité des souffrances ?

Certaines questions existentielles sont-elles mieux posées sur une scène de théâtre qu’en regardant à la télévision le théâtre de l’absurde qu’est devenu le monde ? Suffit-il de scander des mots pour faire écho aux tragédies et dénoncer l’impunité de crimes sans châtiments ? Quatre comédiens et un batteur peuvent-ils et elles mieux décrire et faire entendre l’horreur de la guerre ? Et devenir les passeurs de témoignages de ces délégués officiant au sein d’organisations qui s’affairent sur le terrain ?

Constations qui évoquent également l’hypocrisie de certains États producteurs et marchands d’armes de destruction sélective ou massive, finançant en même temps les organismes qui viennent en aide aux victimes de leurs engins destructeurs. N’est pas non plus passée sous silence, l’adrénaline inavouée ressentie par certaines personnes, impatientes de retrouver les fronts angoissants mais grisants où l’intensité de se sentir vivant est multipliée par les risques et périls de la mort qui rôde à tout instant.            

Sous la houlette d’un Tiago Rodrigues doublement présent à Genève – il montera en mars sa version de La Cerisaie d’Anton Tchekhov –, les interprètes Natacha Kouchoumov, Adrien Barazzone, Beatriz Brás, Baptiste Coustenoble et Gabriel Ferrandini à la batterie ont fait résonner, en français, anglais et portugais, les mots percutants des mousquetaires de l’humanitaire, indispensables héros de l’ombre. Moment de théâtre saisissant, coproduit avec l’Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe à Paris, le Piccolo Teatro di Milano, et le Teatro Nacional D. Maria II à Lisbonne.

Rencontre

Le metteur en scène portugais Tiago Rodrigues participera à un Grand entretien au Festival du film et forum international sur les droits humains (FIFDH), le vendredi 11 mars à 20h00, à la Comédie de Genève, sise aux Eaux-Vives, après la projection du film Dans la mesure du possible, de Romain Girard. Entretien mené par Yves Daccord, président exécutif de Edgelands et ancien directeur général du CICR.

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.

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Ukraine: Putin’s Vietnam

11. März 2022 - 15:47

It turns out Ukraine may not be as powerless as everyone thought. 

Strategic analysts focusing on the limits of pure military power might draw comparisons between Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s onslaught and the “shock and awe” that the Bush administration unleashed on Iraq in March 2003. Bush won the war, toppled Saddam Hussein, announced “Mission Accomplished,” and then lost the peace. But a more instructive example of what can happen when a superpower takes on a much smaller but highly determined adversary would be the Vietnam War. 

One key reason why a military victory proved elusive in Vietnam for the United States, despite the Americans’ overwhelming firepower, was that the US could never stop the flow of troops and supplies along the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” sprawling across Vietnam’s lengthy border with Cambodia and Laos. 

Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva has consistently sought to provide in-depth coverage, analysis and compelling writing on the war in Afghanistan. This is a shared article with our North American media partner, Who, What, Why, an investigative newsportal. We seek to help broaden free reader access to independent and critical reporting in the public interest worldwide. A reminder: If you like what we do, then please become a Support Member of our non-profit Global Geneva Group. You can also donate to our Afghan Journalists Support Initiative.

Russians face the same problem in Ukraine. The frontier that Ukraine shares with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova extends for more than 1,600 miles. NATO has stated that it won’t fight on Ukrainian territory, but it is currently sending thousands of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles across the border. Ukrainians can move across the border at will, and if Russians do succeed in overpowering Ukraine’s current government, it will be fairly easy to establish a government-in-exile just across the frontier. 

Just as the US could not put troops on the ground in North Vietnam without risking China entering the war, NATO has made it abundantly clear to Putin that if any Russian troops cross the border, the gloves will come off, and Moscow will have a vastly greater war on its hands.

According to the Pentagon, Russia has committed around 190,000 troops toward occupying Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million. Russia’s current population is around 144 million. At the peak of the Vietnam War, the US had  550,000 troops in-country. To maintain its enormous troop strength, the US, which had a population of almost 212 million during the war years, had to rely on the draft — and that deployment was to control a population in Vietnam of only around 46 million people. The US couldn’t do it.

US Navy fighter jet drops bombs over Vietnam in February 1968. Photo credit: US Navy / Wikimedia

The Russians have already demonstrated that while their army is effective at attacking civilians, especially women and children, it can’t really accomplish much else. Putin’s gamble is that indiscriminate missile attacks and long-range artillery barrages would reduce Ukraine’s cities to rubble, and that would be enough to eliminate its population. That is the approach Moscow adopted in its destruction of Syrian rebels opposing Bashar al-Assad. The West did not care enough about Syria to directly intervene. Ukraine is different.

It is questionable whether total destruction really works. It didn’t help Hitler at Stalingrad. The Blitz against London only made the British fight harder. During the Vietnam War, the US dropped more than 7.6 million tons of explosives — more than three times the amount it had used during World War II. It didn’t work.

Putin might hope to install a puppet government to eventually convince Ukraine that being under Moscow’s thumb is better than dying. But the US has also tried to install and support governments that were at least moderately friendly to American interests. They tried it in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Again, this strategy repeatedly failed. The artificial governments had no real connection to the people they were supposed to represent, and in the end, the only thing holding them together was corruption and greed. That was hardly an incentive for the population to care about their “leaders’” survival. 

NATO has stated that it won’t fight on Ukrainian territory, but it is currently sending thousands of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles across the border. 

In the end, various US administrations found that none of these approaches really work. In Vietnam, where it all started, the US demonstrated that it was too powerful to lose the war, but it couldn’t win it either. Finally, the cost in terms of lives, a hemorrhaging economy, and domestic political damage became too much for even the US to bear.

It remains to be seen how Putin’s efforts will end. Whatever happens, it won’t be cheap. When the US became involved in the Vietnam War, it had the world’s richest economy. Today, Russia’s economy ranks just slightly ahead of Spain’s and not even a match for South Korea’s. 

Economics has never been Russia’s strong point. Its economy today is based mostly on extracting oil and natural gas, along with some gold, and peddling them to a world market. No one is lining up these days to buy Russian manufactured goods, nor is anyone dazzled by Russian innovation. While it does not make much, Russia buys quite a lot, and virtually everything it buys is manufactured somewhere else. Sanctions have already slashed the Russian ruble to the point where it is valued at less than one US cent. Thanks to Putin’s latest adventure, Russians will soon find themselves paying double for basic necessities.

Shoppers in Nevsky Centre Shopping Mall in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo credit: Ninaras / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

What matters in any conflict is the will to fight. Resolve and passion are significant, if not determining, factors. It’s now clear that many of the Russian troops sent into Ukraine are beginning to realize they were lied to. They believed Putin when he declared that the forces massed on Ukraine’s border were merely participating in a training exercise. They did not expect to be sent to slaughter women and children or to engage in the pointless destruction of Slavic cities. 

Here, too, Putin might learn something from America’s experience in Vietnam. American soldiers were not necessarily lied to, but more than a few felt that they had been sacrificed to political arrogance and an ill-conceived policy that turned out not only to be wrong but to have lethal consequences. With Vietnam, the pretext for going to war was the “domino theory,” a misguided panic that communism was about to engulf the entire world and that Vietnam had strategic importance in what amounted to a global chess game. The theory turned out to be hokum. That was proved by the fact that after the US withdrawal, Vietnam was essentially forgotten and ignored for the next four decades. Today, Vietnam’s ports welcome US Navy ships, and Vietnam and the US cooperate on guaranteeing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. More than 58,000 US service members died in the conflict. Today, one might ask what for. 

Like Russian soldiers in Ukraine, many American soldiers in Vietnam felt that they had been sold a false bill of goods. Towards the end of the US involvement, an increasing number of frontline troops let their officers know that they would fight to defend themselves, but they were no longer going to aggressively attack the “enemy.” Officers who failed to get the message were likely to find a bullet or, in some cases, a hand grenade hidden under their pillow. Most line officers understood. A number who didn’t were either shot or blown to bits by their own troops — a practice known as “fragging.” In the end, the US had to withdraw or risk losing the army, at that stage “drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous,” according to a Marine Corps historian.

Russian military weapons destroyed and seized by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, near Bucha on March 1, 2022. Photo credit: Міністерство внутрішніх справ України / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Russian military weapons destroyed and seized by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, near Bucha on March 1, 2022. Photo credit: Міністерство внутрішніх справ України / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

The real problem in Ukraine is not Russia. It is Vladimir Putin and the fact that he wants to step back in time and recreate what he imagines to be the glory of the lost empire of the Soviets or even the czars.

The irony is that, in contrast to Vietnam, Ukraine really has strategic importance. It is the keystone to security in Europe, effectively a buffer that separates today’s Russia from its former satellite colonies in Eastern Europe. Short-range nuclear missiles stationed in Ukraine could hold most of the capitals of Europe hostage to Putin’s ambitions. Likewise, if Ukraine were to fall in NATO’s camp, similar missiles could threaten Russia’s heartland. 

The sensible approach would have been to guard Ukraine’s neutrality, respect Ukraine’s independence, and allow Ukrainians to get on with their lives. Instead, Putin decided to gamble on a war that is likely to guarantee that, in the future, Ukrainians will see Russians as nothing less than bestial enemies. In case Ukrainians missed the point, Putin delivered a number of statements that made it more than clear that he intends to have Ukraine without Ukrainians — in other words, genocide on a limited but effective scale.  

Until now, Ukrainians themselves had mixed feelings about Russia. Some liked it, some didn’t. Many had friends and relatives there. After Putin has bombed their cities to rubble and randomly killed women and children, Ukrainians are very likely to be unified as never before. Putin might be able to reduce the entire country — which is roughly the size of Texas and larger than France — to ruins, but if he does, it’s unlikely that Europe will look the other way. Putin has already threatened Finland and Sweden with retaliation if they dare to declare their independence by joining NATO. Where will he stop?

The news from Moscow is that Putin is increasingly isolated. These days he speaks mostly to three close associates. There is no telling what Putin will do next, and he has access to several thousand intercontinental nuclear missiles. Putin could destroy half the world. That is what makes the war in Ukraine a frightening proposition, one in which looking the other way is not really an option.

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Insights Magazine’s America’s editor based in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing editor to Who,What,Why. Tom’s Paine is his regular column. Over the past decades, he has covered much of the globe for TIME, ABC News and other news organizations.

William Dowell is also a co-editor of 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.

4th Edition of the Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan

We still have a few hard copies left, too. If you would like a copy, please order with: editor@guyg11.sg-host.com Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add.

Related articles in Global Insights Back to the Cold War

Back to the Cold War

27. Februar 2022 - 19:51

Putin may survive this round, but the post-Ukraine world he has created is not going to be the same. To start with, nothing that Putin says from here on out will have any credibility. That may explain US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s last minute decision to cancel his scheduled meeting with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. It’s not just that Putin is a liar — that’s obvious — it’s that, much like his former partner in bromance, Donald Trump, Putin appears to be living in his own alternate reality. Does anyone seriously believe Putin’s claim that Ukraine’s independent government, presided over by a Jewish humorist, who once played a fictional president on a comic TV series, is composed of hardened Nazis? 

Putin’s increasingly questionable denial of Ukraine’s national identity — his counter-factual insistence that it has always been a part of the Russia and that Moscow is concerned about the welfare of Ukrainians and is therefore entitled to slaughter them — is so disconnected from reality that it would be laughable, yet he seems quite capable of imposing this distorted vision on the Russian public thanks to a tightly controlled propaganda campaign in a media environment in which a formerly outspoken opposition press has been largely silenced.

Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva has consistently sought to provide in-depth coverage, analysis and compelling writing on the war in Afghanistan. This is a shared article with our North American media partner, Who, What, Why, an investigative newsportal. We seek to help broaden free reader access to independent and critical reporting in the public interest worldwide. A reminder: If you like what we do, then please become a Support Member of our non-profit Global Geneva Group. You can also donate to our Afghan Journalists Support Initiative.

Putin aside, the attack on Ukraine, which is beginning to look like the assassination of a former Soviet colonial satellite, has dramatically changed the security environment in Europe. Any confidence in Russia and Russians that had been allowed to flourish following perestroika and the collapse of the Berlin Wall has been swept aside. Even Trump’s inexplicable but obviously genuine admiration for Putin looks dangerously naïve.

In terms of land mass, Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t in the past, that when it comes to European security, Ukraine is a keystone that can have a critical impact on a less than certain future. In terms of land mass, it is the second-largest country in Europe. More importantly, Ukraine serves as a gateway through which Russia can menace its former satellites in eastern Europe. Under different circumstances it could also provide access for NATO to threaten the southern flank of Russia, especially if NATO were allowed to station medium-range missiles on Ukraine’s territory. That is Putin’s argument. The problem here is that NATO has enough problems maintaining its own unity, much less engaging in aggressive behavior. In contrast, Putin has shown an appetite for using force and taking risks to expand Russia’s otherwise shrinking influence in the world. 

NATO condeming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: NATO)

Given Putin’s ambition and Europe’s vulnerability, the idea of making Ukraine a functional member of NATO never made much sense. The best future for Ukraine, in fact, would be to guarantee its absolute neutrality and safeguard its independence, turning it into an independent buffer zone. 

One alternative is for NATO to post troops as a blocking force along Ukraine’s extended western border which connects it to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova. Stationing that kind of force in perpetuity would be an expensive proposition, which will require the nations of the European Union to beef up their respective militaries.

In the past, the US has borne the lion’s share of such expenses. The cost would now very likely shift to the European powers themselves. All of this could be avoided if Putin were to agree to at least a partial withdrawal, establishing the western part of Ukraine as a neutral zone. What seems more likely is that Putin will resort to standard Soviet tactics, using Russian troops to place the government in Kyiv under arrest and rounding up the country’s independent politicians and consigning them to a hidden dungeon or simply “disappearing” them permanently. If things move in that direction, dreams of a globalized world in which everyone is free to do what they like is likely to become a memory of a golden past.

The current impasse appears to have been triggered at least in part by Trump’s decision to suspend US participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and then to formally quit the treaty altogether in August 2019. The INF banned highly mobile, medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking at distances from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. These missiles, intended to support combat troops in theater-wide operations, have always been considered highly destabilizing. They enabled Russian forces to directly target Europe’s major cities.

The Trump argument for killing the treaty, propounded by then-Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo, was that the Russians had violated its terms when they introduced two new missiles. Rejecting US allegations, the Kremlin insisted that its newest missiles had ranges that were either shorter or longer than the ones banned by the INF. It then accused the US of violating the treaty. (SEE VIDEO LINK)

The Russians had already begun chafing under the INF’s restrictions even before Trump trashed the treaty. Putin’s complaint was that China, which had not been included in the initial treaty, had been making major strides in designing and producing its own new intermediate range missiles. 

With the US administration under Trump drifting towards isolation and evincing little interest in NATO, arms control showed signs of crumbling from neglect. As soon as the US had freed itself from the INF, the Pentagon started rushing development of a new generation of updated intermediate-range missiles. With little public discussion, the Pentagon put the finishing touches on a precision strike missile which was upgraded to have a 500 to 600-kilometer range and it began working on a hypersonic missile with a 2,700-kilometer range.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, Trump’s decision combined with Western interest in Ukraine risked creating a situation that might loosely resemble a Cuban missile crisis in reverse. Where the US had been confronted in 1962 with the threat of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Russians now found themselves facing the possibility that NATO missiles in Ukraine might someday threaten Russia’s southern flank. 

In that context, the solution to the current Ukraine crisis might be to quietly agree to eliminate missiles from Ukraine altogether, along with a pledge not to include that country in NATO planning. In exchange for this pledge, Moscow would need to agree to pull back its forces, at least from western Ukraine, and to otherwise allow the Ukrainians decide their own future. After the violent Russian attacks across Ukraine, it may be too late for that now. 

If Putin refuses to back down, it seems likely that NATO’s allies will try to make sanctions as painful and damaging as possible in the hope that they can effectively isolate Russia and lock it in a financial deep freeze. But this tactic is likely to prove expensive for everyone concerned.

The initial phase of sanctions has already cost the Russian stock market some $200 billion in losses. The Russians aren’t the only ones to suffer. With Russian oil almost certain to be a target of sanctions, the price of a barrel of crude soared to more than $103. That means that global transportation costs are likely to increase dramatically, making just about everything more expensive and further slowing down global economic growth, which already took a beating from COVID-19. Putin’s assault on Ukraine, in short, may be a self-inflicted wound, but it is one that is likely to end up hurting just about everyone. 

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Insights Magazine’s America’s editor based in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing editor to Who,What,Why. Tom’s Paine is his regular column. Over the past decades, he has covered much of the globe for TIME, ABC News and other news organizations.

.

William Dowell is also a co-editor of 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. https://www.amazon.fr/Essential-Field-Guide-Afghanistan-Humanitarian-ebook/dp/B00HZ1FNRW

We still have a few hard copies left, too. If you would like a copy, please order with: editor@guyg11.sg-host.com Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add.

Related articles in Global Insights (www.guyg11.sg-host.com) https://guyg11.sg-host.com/russias-ukraine-intervention-death-by-a-thousand-cuts/ https://guyg11.sg-host.com/peter-jouvenal-a-journalist-veteran-of-afghanistan-held-by-the-taliban/

Back to the Cold War

27. Februar 2022 - 19:51

Putin may survive this round, but the post-Ukraine world he has created is not going to be the same. To start with, nothing that Putin says from here on out will have any credibility. That may explain US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s last minute decision to cancel his scheduled meeting with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. It’s not just that Putin is a liar — that’s obvious — it’s that, much like his former partner in bromance, Donald Trump, Putin appears to be living in his own alternate reality. Does anyone seriously believe Putin’s claim that Ukraine’s independent government, presided over by a Jewish humorist, who once played a fictional president on a comic TV series, is composed of hardened Nazis? 

Putin’s increasingly questionable denial of Ukraine’s national identity — his counter-factual insistence that it has always been a part of the Russia and that Moscow is concerned about the welfare of Ukrainians and is therefore entitled to slaughter them — is so disconnected from reality that it would be laughable, yet he seems quite capable of imposing this distorted vision on the Russian public thanks to a tightly controlled propaganda campaign in a media environment in which a formerly outspoken opposition press has been largely silenced.

Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva has consistently sought to provide in-depth coverage, analysis and compelling writing on the war in Afghanistan. This is a shared article with our North American media partner, Who, What, Why, an investigative newsportal. We seek to help broaden free reader access to independent and critical reporting in the public interest worldwide. A reminder: If you like what we do, then please become a Support Member of our non-profit Global Geneva Group. You can also donate to our Afghan Journalists Support Initiative.

Putin aside, the attack on Ukraine, which is beginning to look like the assassination of a former Soviet colonial satellite, has dramatically changed the security environment in Europe. Any confidence in Russia and Russians that had been allowed to flourish following perestroika and the collapse of the Berlin Wall has been swept aside. Even Trump’s inexplicable but obviously genuine admiration for Putin looks dangerously naïve.

In terms of land mass, Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t in the past, that when it comes to European security, Ukraine is a keystone that can have a critical impact on a less than certain future. In terms of land mass, it is the second-largest country in Europe. More importantly, Ukraine serves as a gateway through which Russia can menace its former satellites in eastern Europe. Under different circumstances it could also provide access for NATO to threaten the southern flank of Russia, especially if NATO were allowed to station medium-range missiles on Ukraine’s territory. That is Putin’s argument. The problem here is that NATO has enough problems maintaining its own unity, much less engaging in aggressive behavior. In contrast, Putin has shown an appetite for using force and taking risks to expand Russia’s otherwise shrinking influence in the world. 

NATO condeming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: NATO)

Given Putin’s ambition and Europe’s vulnerability, the idea of making Ukraine a functional member of NATO never made much sense. The best future for Ukraine, in fact, would be to guarantee its absolute neutrality and safeguard its independence, turning it into an independent buffer zone. 

One alternative is for NATO to post troops as a blocking force along Ukraine’s extended western border which connects it to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova. Stationing that kind of force in perpetuity would be an expensive proposition, which will require the nations of the European Union to beef up their respective militaries.

In the past, the US has borne the lion’s share of such expenses. The cost would now very likely shift to the European powers themselves. All of this could be avoided if Putin were to agree to at least a partial withdrawal, establishing the western part of Ukraine as a neutral zone. What seems more likely is that Putin will resort to standard Soviet tactics, using Russian troops to place the government in Kyiv under arrest and rounding up the country’s independent politicians and consigning them to a hidden dungeon or simply “disappearing” them permanently. If things move in that direction, dreams of a globalized world in which everyone is free to do what they like is likely to become a memory of a golden past.

The current impasse appears to have been triggered at least in part by Trump’s decision to suspend US participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and then to formally quit the treaty altogether in August 2019. The INF banned highly mobile, medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking at distances from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. These missiles, intended to support combat troops in theater-wide operations, have always been considered highly destabilizing. They enabled Russian forces to directly target Europe’s major cities.

The Trump argument for killing the treaty, propounded by then-Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo, was that the Russians had violated its terms when they introduced two new missiles. Rejecting US allegations, the Kremlin insisted that its newest missiles had ranges that were either shorter or longer than the ones banned by the INF. It then accused the US of violating the treaty. (SEE VIDEO LINK)

The Russians had already begun chafing under the INF’s restrictions even before Trump trashed the treaty. Putin’s complaint was that China, which had not been included in the initial treaty, had been making major strides in designing and producing its own new intermediate range missiles. 

With the US administration under Trump drifting towards isolation and evincing little interest in NATO, arms control showed signs of crumbling from neglect. As soon as the US had freed itself from the INF, the Pentagon started rushing development of a new generation of updated intermediate-range missiles. With little public discussion, the Pentagon put the finishing touches on a precision strike missile which was upgraded to have a 500 to 600-kilometer range and it began working on a hypersonic missile with a 2,700-kilometer range.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, Trump’s decision combined with Western interest in Ukraine risked creating a situation that might loosely resemble a Cuban missile crisis in reverse. Where the US had been confronted in 1962 with the threat of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Russians now found themselves facing the possibility that NATO missiles in Ukraine might someday threaten Russia’s southern flank. 

In that context, the solution to the current Ukraine crisis might be to quietly agree to eliminate missiles from Ukraine altogether, along with a pledge not to include that country in NATO planning. In exchange for this pledge, Moscow would need to agree to pull back its forces, at least from western Ukraine, and to otherwise allow the Ukrainians decide their own future. After the violent Russian attacks across Ukraine, it may be too late for that now. 

If Putin refuses to back down, it seems likely that NATO’s allies will try to make sanctions as painful and damaging as possible in the hope that they can effectively isolate Russia and lock it in a financial deep freeze. But this tactic is likely to prove expensive for everyone concerned.

The initial phase of sanctions has already cost the Russian stock market some $200 billion in losses. The Russians aren’t the only ones to suffer. With Russian oil almost certain to be a target of sanctions, the price of a barrel of crude soared to more than $103. That means that global transportation costs are likely to increase dramatically, making just about everything more expensive and further slowing down global economic growth, which already took a beating from COVID-19. Putin’s assault on Ukraine, in short, may be a self-inflicted wound, but it is one that is likely to end up hurting just about everyone. 

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Insights Magazine’s America’s editor based in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing editor to Who,What,Why. Tom’s Paine is his regular column. Over the past decades, he has covered much of the globe for TIME, ABC News and other news organizations.

.

William Dowell is also a co-editor of 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. https://www.amazon.fr/Essential-Field-Guide-Afghanistan-Humanitarian-ebook/dp/B00HZ1FNRW

We still have a few hard copies left, too. If you would like a copy, please order with: editor@global-geneva.com Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add.

Related articles in Global Insights (www.global-geneva.com) Russia’s Ukraine Intervention: Death by a Thousand Cuts? Focus on Afghanistan: Peter Jouvenal – A journalist veteran held by the Taliban

Russia and China: The Bros in the Owner’s Box

25. Februar 2022 - 15:22

I call this Mort Report non-prophet; correspondents can only speculate on the future based on the present in light of the past. I am scared witless about far more than Ukraine — less because of Russia or China than of treacherous politicians, greedheads and useful idiots at home.

The following column by contributing editor, journalist and author Mort Rosenblum is from his regular comment The MortReport. Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva Group are supporting Mort’s insightful and frank reporting from different parts of the world. If you can donate to his journalistic endeavour – based on decades of unique reporting experience across the globe – please do so.

Ukraine’s history is long and complex. Just start with the Orange Revolution that began in November 2004 while George W. Bush was wading deeper into needless quagmire in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack that triggered his all-out war on terror.

Ukrainians, who had fought hard for freedom and democracy, spent two months and a day in freezing weather until they overturned what so many saw as a rigged election. Police held back, fearful of violent response. Casualties amounted to one man who suffered a heart attack.

Contrast that to America in 2016. A plainly evident narcissist demagogue won because so many Democrats sulked when their candidate lost the primaries, and so many others did not bother to vote. He would still be president, I am convinced, had it not been for the Covid-19 pandemic.

We all watched Donald Trump toady up to Putin, taking his side against America’s own intelligence services’ assessments. Congress approved urgent aid to Ukraine, but he held it up in an attempt to extort dirt on Joe Biden. High crimes don’t get higher than such blatant treasonous treachery.

Trump weakened NATO, insulting allies and threatening to bring home troops from Europe if partners did not pay more money in spite of their effective forward defense. And on Wednesday, he heaped praise on Putin. “This is genius,” he said. “How smart is that?…We could use that on our southern border.”

Trump’s humiliating capitulation to the Taliban was not on Moscow and Beijing. Nor was public response in America. Joe Biden managed an inevitably chaotic yet successful evacuation in the impossible circumstances Trump left behind.

As conflict looms with potentially unimaginable consequences, Republicans play politics. Mitch McConnell blames Biden for the Afghanistan response, which, he says, emboldened Putin to react. And Democrats, along with much of the Washington press corps, continue taking pot shots at the president.

Step back and consider the broader backdrop.

Republicans, along with Democratic factions squabbling among themselves over domestic policy, have brought about the nightmare that haunted Richard Nixon: China and Russia have joined together in pursuit of old dreams to dominate the world.

Xi has grander plans to create vassal states all over the map to supply strategic materials, with beholden leaders who stamp out human rights and free expression, starting with genocidal ethnic cleansing at home. He is colonizing from the sea floor to the dark side of the moon, with space stations to render traditional armies and navies obsolete.

Meantime, he is building submarines and warships at an astonishing pace, along with cyber weapons to paralyze economies and confound adversaries’ command and control.

Putin is no longer focused only on the traditional aim of defending Mother Russia from neighboring threats. He is reviving Soviet-era efforts to dominate the Middle East, with ventures into Africa and Latin America.

This is no armchair thumb-sucking. I have watched this take shape in fits and starts since covering the United States and the Soviet Union square off in Africa and Asia during the 1960s. It is no for time for a clown-car Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose grasp of history extends to recalling Hitler’s “Gazpacho,” is comic relief. Others are hardly funny.

With all of its nuclear superpower, the United States is like a muscular weightlifter made impotent by steroids. It cannot intervene without provoking a world war that everyone would lose. Sanctions achieve nothing in the short-term. Leaders at the top are the last to suffer. Both Putin and Xi are playing for the history books, not simple tactical gains.

As it happens, Biden is perfectly suited to the job. So what if he is no spelling-binding speaker or inept at blowing his own horn? This is not “Dancing With the Stars.”

If all sectors of America cannot rally around the president they’ve got, not the central-casting character so many would prefer, elements of Armageddon are no longer beyond the realm of possibility.

Watch Biden’s clear address to the nation, explaining preparedness to aggression Putin has been planning for months. The ruble has plummeted along with Russia’s stock market, he said, as bank interest rates soar. The Russian propaganda outlets churn out lies (he didn’t mention Fox News, which also qualifies), but prospects are hopeful if Americans hold firm.  

A president might be able to forgive student loans by fiat, but he, or she, has little to say about abortion or social and cultural inequality or other issues that America obsesses on even in the face of a threat the country hasn’t faced since World War II.

Biden’s main role, like all president’s, is to confront foreign threats. He has spent a lifetime gaining experience and earning respect among world leaders. Politicians and ill-informed citizens who hamstring him now do it at unthinkably extreme peril.

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.

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

Google Books

Barnes & Noble

Mondadore Books

Amazon

Related articles on the Global Insights reporting platform: www.guyg11.sg-host.com https://guyg11.sg-host.com/russias-ukraine-intervention-death-by-a-thousand-cuts/ https://guyg11.sg-host.com/mortreport-extra-now-or-never/

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