Mar 21, 2011

Keep Sanity In The Circle Of Tragedies

These days tragedies impossible to take in, emerge in newspaper and TV channels. The impact of the terrible disaster in Japan is difficult to understand, and I would imagine many people close their eyes and turn to other pages or channels.

I do it myself, very often, as all the events, catastrophes and crises is disturbing. To think of all those Japanese people who are affected, is in fact heartbreaking.  I think it is natural as well, and rather sane, to focus on the brighter side of life as we all need a kind of mental nutrition and encouragement. We need hope.

Of course we could just leave all these negative realities and drift into selfishness. But this is not the case. Many people have great sympathy for the Japanese people and many are thinking in a broader perspective and get worried about the global impact on this catastrophe of such huge dimension. Although oceans, mountains and border lines keep us apart, we all belong to a chain.

The international economy could be affected The environmental impact is of great importance. There are many cards on the table. Only a few are known so far. This will be a topic for a long period, but the events in Japan will fade as soon as a new tragedy turns up.

This is the face of journalism. Broadcasters and reporters are running after the news, wherever is it possible to find it. These days we get every events live in both net version, net-TV in newspapers and of course traditional television. Mass communication is finally a correct word, in every possible sense and meaning. For instance, through mobile phones, news are sent around the world, as events take place, and this is something of a sensation which new generation take for granted, but as I have been living for a certain time, I am amazed by the speed of news these days. Still, we have become consumers of news and information and I am not sure if we really let it sink in, or if it just fill a new gap, our need of impressions.

Could we make a diagnose: Information and communication stress?

Why not turn it all off? Stay silent. Enjoy peaceful moments in daily life. Get into your own soul. Be mature through your knowledge of your own inner universe, which is a journey of imagination. Perhaps this is the best recipe to keep sane.

But of course the world outside fascinate: I am sure Japan will be able to rebuild and move forward. Japanese people are hard working and disciplined. They have this ability in the fabric of society and “cultural infrastructure”. Perhaps Japan will be able to modernise and reform its society as well.

In the shadow of the Japanese disaster, the development in Libya has continued. Libyans are bombed and killed by their own leaders, which is a crime against humanity. Still, world leaders are discussing what to do. This is difficult to understand for ordinary people. What will happen if Gaddafi survives this crises? Both personal and state assets are frozen. He will be a liability and only welcome in countries like Venezuela, Zimbabwe or North Korea. Will Gaddafi and the international community return to point zero, where Gaddafi has been before? Will he ever be able to return to his previous position? It will be interesting to see the further development. Libya will indeed be on the map of world news for a while as well.

The struggle for reforms is not finished in Bahrain, yet. Although emergency law is used by the regime, the Shia majority is angry. And anger is a particular energy. One does not give up easily. In the end, the monarchy of Bahrain could fall. These days the ruling family and their institutions are under the protection of Saudi soldiers. Tomorrow is an other day, as those who put the weapon against its people will one day face the same destiny. This is a law of the nature. The situation is tense in Yemen. A change could come fast or the crises could last for some more time.

Still, as we live in the circle of tragedies and crises, we can only watch and wait. The need of normality is very human. We search for order and stability. We need to laugh, and therefore, to feel joy, you keep sane as events unfold.

Mar 8, 2011

Monarchs On Shaky Thrones

Next year Egypt will celebrate its 60 years as republic. The last king ,Farouk, was famous for many things, but these days I think of one statements the king made while living his last years in a restless exile:

“One day there will only five kings in the world – the one in England and those four in the pack of cards”

I came to think of Farouk while I read about the demonstrations and revolutionary slogans which spread like a wildfire in the Arab world, where you still find many feudal and more or less old fashioned monarchies. 

Many of these kings, sultans and emirs face great challenges. Although not so many cries out for republics, but demand constitutional monarchies, based on free and fair election and a government based on a parliamentarian system, the atmosphere and opinion could change very fast as the map of politics seems to get into new phases almost every week.

At present rulers in countries like Jordan, Oman, Morocco and Saudi Arabia are able to handle the situation, but they are indeed vulnerable as some of them seem to forget that generous economic package is not part of the deal or answer of the problem. People are asking for democratic reforms and structural changes, which will of course reduce the power of the ruling families.

Democratic constitutions will in any case not be as those you  find in the West as the society is build up in a different way, but constitutional monarchies are very much based on the same principles: Out of politics and only ceremonial. And more transparent of course.

Such a change could be very difficult for many Arab leaders as they seem to have been able to dip not only a finger, but their entire hand in the state coffers and thus enriched  themselves and stashed away a great amounts of money.  In a feudal society, the link between rulers and business is much more closer and it use to happen out of sight of the ordinary people. In some of the countries we can witness a big gap between the rulers and those who are ruled.

For instance, in Tunisia, business was based on link with the presidential family. We do not know the dimension of this enrichment in other countries, but it can be huge and it can be devastating for monarchies in the region if it all became public.

So far, demands of the people in many of the Arab countries have been met with few changes and short of reforms which goes deeper in the structure of the society. Therefore monarchs like those in Jordan and Morocco or the Sultan in Oman could face a much more dangerous situation tomorrow. As changes sweeps the region, old systems has to go through transitions or fall. The destiny of many monarchs is therefore very unsecure and some of them sit on shaky thrones.

On other important aspect: The trade, like arms, with USA, Britain, France and other countries has great impact and is part of the co-operation between Arab countries and Western countries.  Transparency in this field could also have many consequences, but a fall of monarchies could have a great impact on arm trade, which is a powerful and important industry in man countries.

European monarchies has fallen and been sent in exile through the past. Very few has been able to return to the throne. Spain is the only success story.

Do not think that European monarchies are untouchable.

Today, they are a kind of first family, not full blooded royalties as before and they are part of the glossy magazine life, still busy with some humanitarian work and doing charity-  and they enjoy inherited privileges which is actually not in tune with other trends in the society. 

Absurdity and paradoxes is part of the life: One day royalties buys clothes for a big amount of money and the next day they talk about poverty. 

Some tries to find a meaningful role in using their position to focus on topics and issues of social importance, some takes a little step into the political sphere in the efforts to play are role, but ceremonial they are and should be. 

Transparency:  Except Sweden, where the royal fortune is under taxation, other European royal families have a secret or two about their fortunes. Some are very rich, but details are not known.  This is family business behind the veil, in a modern world like our own.

Who really cares?
I will return to Farouk. Nothing is as sad as a monarch without a throne, and nothing is as sad as the fact that ignorance and lack of understanding of realities often is the reason why monarchies end up in the museum.

Mar 1, 2011

Ugly Dictators With A Friendly Face

I have through my life met or been in contact with some of them. Men with power, but not elected to office.  They have entered the presidential office with a weapon in their hand. I remember one in particular. He had been president for decades and did not think of him self as a servant of the people, but he was the personified will of the people. He thought he was the only one who could rule the nation. It was of course a bit surrealistic to visit him.

In his garden, outside the presidential palace, there were young soldiers, sitting under some green threes, with heavy guns, looking on every visitor. I greeted them of course, as I am polite, but they did not notice me at all. They were just focusing on dangers which perhaps could occur at any time. But as I was a women with no intention to making a coup I was asked to move forward and walk in the direction of the main entrance to the presidency.

Still, while passing all these soldiers, I felt a bit shaky. They could shut me down at every minute. The human nature is like that, one can not know the weakest link in the chain, and some could have just gone mad at that very moment , tired of sitting there with the gun, thirsty in the sun, hot tempered in the heath. One never really know when a person loose control. These were some of my reflections while walking to the door to the office of the Head of State.

Did I tell you that he kept some old silent turtle in the garden as well?

In fact the oldest one in the nation, protected by the president and his many soldiers. They would of course neither harm him or protect him, but a president also have its pleasure. One of them was looking on these animals which slowly moved around.

Inside the palace, I decided to take the stair. But I was not alone, as for every five steps, there happen to be a king size man with dark glasses. Imported guards from the South Africa. They did not look on me, but still they did. I could feel their way of observing everything – without moving their head or glance. Strange, but very well trained in a camp for high security service, which is of course very costly and only available for those who can afford it.

A president can pay, and are in need of protection. I was told later. By the most prominent bishop of the country.

Of course, it was obvious, this president had gone through hard lessons. Several coup attempt had made him not only a bit nervous, but also a control freak. I was told that in his office, there were files on every person in the nation which possible could treat him. According to one of my sources, there were perhaps only a few man left – and the turtle in the garden.

What could I expect when entering the office?
A smiling secretary, sitting in front of a desk with lots of papers. Very normal in fact. The walls was brown. Rather usual as well. But the doors were all heavy, padded, it seemed.

I did not have to wait a long time. Some presidents or prominent leaders has some whims regarding appointments, letting people wait and make sure that you really get the feeling of being worth an audience with the lord of the land. But not this one. He was disciplined and ready to talk.

And finally, he was coming, greeting me with a white washed hand. His smile was friendly. His eyes as well.  To be honest with you, he was very nice and a very good with jokes. Although talking about politics, about the powerful USA, the manipulative Russian or Chinese and the polite but insignificant Britain, he did it with great charm and a kind of enthusiasm which a man of his age an in power for such a long time would perhaps not have anymore. Actually he enjoyed talking about politics, not the small map, but the very big one. Conflicts of interests between big powers, which he always noticed and put attention to, in case it could offer him and his country some opportunities.

You have already guessed. Yes, he liked playing chess.

One started to forget about the camps, the terrorism, the dictatorial style of government, the harsh condition for oppositions, which this very nice man with good manners had established in his nation. One nearly started to forget all the girls he had misused in his need of physical satisfactions.  I say nearly, because it came up in my mind while he was reading a very beautiful poem. People in power are great contradictions, and one can often wonder if they are really sane, those men - as they usually are men, who rule for decades, with out being voted in to office in a free and fair election.

Well, they certainly eat almost the same diet as you and me,  but they have an stamina for power which make them ruthless. Pity, they do not understand their own nature and that there are one rule which seems to be true: if you put a gun in the face of a person, you will one day be met with a gun you self.

Still, this  is often the reality for today`s dictators as well. If they are not running away, in the late dark evening.