Archive for the ‘European politics’ Category


Procrastination is mostly seen as a vice. Putting things off till later as a bad habit. This is not necessarily so. Certain decisions can have so many complicated effects, that putting them off to later may even become beneficial for all. The long lasting indecisiveness of the British parliament on on leaving the EU and if so how do do that is a fine example of the positive effects of procrastination. The object of decision is changing in the process. Starting of with Yes or No for Plan A, we have now passed plan B and C and in the end someone may walk off with a Yes for plan E, whatever that will be.

The extension of the BREXIT decision given by the leaders of the EU states to Great Britain, up to one year from now, brought me to read again the pocket book of diplomats, rulers and politicians written in the 17th century by a Spanish court priest Balthasar Grácian “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, as the two hundred and so maximes still do apply to actual politics (as many wisdoms from the past, with technology and scientific knowledge having changed a lot, but human nature not).

These one’s may well fit in the hand bag of Theresa May… the book of Grácian has been translated in many languages and an early Dutch edition has as a title: “Handorakel of de kunst der voorzichtigheid” (Hand oracle or the art of prudence). A small size book one could put in one’s pocket or bag was called in the Low Countries ‘handorakel’. As with all of these ‘tactical manuals’ the whole set of recommendations/maximes will show some inconsistency, what is deemed good to do in one may be called not so good or bad in another. Still it helps us to get a wider perspective on the phenomenon of poltical decision.

“3. Keep Matters for a Time in Suspense. Admiration at their novelty heightens the value of your achievements. It is both useless and insipid to play with the cards on the table. If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation, especially when the importance of your position makes you the object of general attention. Mix a little mystery with everything, and the very mystery arouses veneration. And when you explain, be not too explicit, just as you do not expose your inmost thoughts in ordinary intercourse. Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom. A resolution declared is never highly thought of; it only leaves room for criticism. And if it happens to fail, you are doubly unfortunate. Besides you imitate the Divine way when you cause men to wonder and watch.” [Gracián y Morales, Baltasar, and Joseph Jacobs. 1892. The art of worldly wisdom. London: Macmillan and Co. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/654889.html. ; maxime 3. ]

“36. In Acting or Refraining, weigh your Luck. More depends on that than on noticing your temperament. If he is a fool who at forty applies to Hippocrates for health, still more is he one who then first applies to Seneca for wisdom. It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck even while waiting for it. For something is to be done with it by waiting so as to use it at the proper moment, since it has periods and offers opportunities, though one cannot calculate its path, its steps are so irregular. When you find Fortune favourable, stride boldly forward, for she favours the bold and, being a woman, the young. But if you have bad luck, keep retired so as not to redouble the influence of your unlucky star.” [Ibid.; maxime 36.]

“39. Recognise when Things are ripe, and then enjoy them. The works of nature all reach a certain point of maturity; up to that they improve, after that they degenerate. Few works of art reach such a point that they cannot be improved. It is an especial privilege of good taste to enjoy everything at its ripest. Not all can do this, nor do all who can know this. There is a ripening point too for fruits of intellect; it is well to know this both for their value in use and for their value in exchange.” [Ibid.; maxime 39.]

“55. Wait. It’s a sign of a noble heart dowered with patience, never to be in a hurry, never to be in a passion. First be master over yourself if you would be master over others. You must pass through the circumference of time before arriving at the centre of opportunity. A wise reserve seasons the aims and matures the means. Time’s crutch effects more than the iron club of Hercules. God Himself chasteneth not with a rod but with time. He spake a great word who said, “Time and I against any two.” Fortune herself rewards waiting with the first prize.” [Ibid.; maxime 55.]

“59. Finish off well. In the house of Fortune, if you enter by the gate of pleasure you must leave by that of sorrow and vice-versa. You ought therefore to think of the finish, and attach more importance to a graceful exit than to applause on entrance. It is the common lot of the unlucky to have a very fortunate outset and a very tragic end. The important point is not the vulgar applause on entrance — that comes to nearly all — but the general feeling at exit. Few in life are felt to deserve an encore. Fortune rarely accompanies any one to the door: warmly as she may welcome the coming, she speeds but coldly the parting guest.” [Ibid.; maxime 59.]

“110. Do not wait till you are a Sinking Sun. It is a maxim of the wise to leave things before things leave them. One should be able to snatch a triumph at the end, just as the sun even at its brightest often retires behind a cloud so as not to be seen sinking, and to leave in doubt whether he has sunk or no. Wisely withdraw from the chance of mishaps, lest you have to do so from the reality. Do not wait till they turn you the cold shoulder and carry you to the grave, alive in feeling but dead in esteem. Wise trainers put racers to grass before they arouse derision by falling on the course. A beauty should break her mirror early, lest she do so later with open eyes.” [Ibid.; maxime 110.]

“257. Never let Matters come to a Rupture, for our reputation always comes injured out of the encounter. Every one may be of importance as an enemy if not as a friend. Few can do us good, almost any can do us harm. In Jove’s bosom itself even his eagle never nestles securely from the day he has quarrelled with a beetle. Hidden foes use the paw of the declared enemy to stir up the fire, and meanwhile they lie in ambush for such an occasion. Friends provoked become the bitterest of enemies. They cover their own failings with the faults of others. Every one speaks as things seem to him, and things seem as he wishes them to appear. All blame us at the beginning for want of foresight, at the end for lack of patience, at all times for imprudence. If, however, a breach is inevitable, let it be rather excused as a slackening of friendship than by an outburst of wrath: here is a good application of the saying about a good retreat.” [Ibid.; maxime 257.]

“268. The Wise do at once what the Fool does at last. Both do the same thing; the only difference lies in the time they do it: the one at the right time, the other at the wrong. Who starts out with his mind topsyturvy will so continue till the end. He catches by the foot what he ought to knock on the head, he turns right into left, and in all his acts is but a child. There is only one way to get him in the right way, and that is to force him to do what he might have done of his own accord. The wise man, on the other hand, sees at once what must be done sooner or later, so he does it willingly and gains honour thereby.” [Ibid.; maxime 268.]

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The backdrop of the policy for Libya and Syria by European Union and associated NATO countries is always painted with oil. (1) British/Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, French Total,  CNPC from China and ONGC of India are main investors in Syrian crude oil and gas. (2)


His Excellency President Al-Assad described his talks with President Sarkozy as ‘very successful”, ‘constructive” ”transparent” and as ”bolstering the confidence built between Syria and France”, ”dealing with many international as well as regional issues, bilateral relations, the Iranian nuclear file, the recent positive developments in Lebanon, particularly following the formation of the Lebanese Government, which we expect to be an important step for the stability in Lebanon.” (…) ”The talks, further, dealt with the situation in Gaza from a human perspective; I asked President Sarkozy to interfere as to stop the daily killing of the Palestinians by the Israel Army,” said H.E. President Al-Assad citing today’s killing of a Palestinian citizen.

 “… discovery of treasure, a huge oil and gas in the basin of the Mediterranean is estimated reserves to 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 107 billion barrels of oil.”

SYRIAN OIL AND GAS NEWS: Announcement for International Offshore Bid Round 2011 Category: Oil Ministry Decisions & Declarations | Posted on: 30-03-2011 The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) invite international petroleum companies for an International Bid Round to explore, develop and produce petroleum from three offshore blocks in some areas of the territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone of the Syrian Arab Republic in the Mediterranean Sea according to the production sharing contract.The announcment contains three marine areas ( block I, block II, blockIII) with covarage area estemated by 3000 cubic kilometers per one block. the annoncement date starts in 24/3/2011 for six monthes and closed on 5/10/2011.The modern American studies recently confirmed the discovery of treasure, a huge oil and gas in the basin of the Mediterranean is estimated reserves to 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 107 billion barrels of oil. (4)

(1) oilprice.com 14/4/2011: “Oil Production Figures in Areas of Unrest (Middle East & North Africa)”

(2) royaldutrchshellplc.com 3/12/2011: “E.U. sanctions force Shell to leave Syria.”

(3) www.presidentassad.net: Presidents Al-Assad/ Frnace visit statements (13/11/2009)

(4)  Syrian Oil and Gas News; 8/2/2010:International announcement for developing 7 oil field in Arraqah

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"Hotline MOE-landers (middle and East Europeans (...) leave your story here" click picture for full size. For rough translation of the PVV text in this picture see further on in this article.

A ‘détournement‘ for the latest campaign of PVV/Wilders group targeting Middle & East European workers… what I see when I check out the Complain Web Site of the PVV.

The word ‘MOE-Landers’ is a post Cold War invention, before there was  the monolithic term  ‘Oostblok (East-block from the East germany/DDR all the way to Vladivostok in Siberia ). MOE is an ‘acronym’ of Midden Oost Europees (Middle East European), which is then glued to the word ‘lander’ (someone from a certain land or country).

The word ‘MOE’ in Dutch means being tired. This is an interesting association as the MOE-landers may be coming to the Netherlands because the Ducth lower paid classes are tired (moe) of working for too low wages and in too bad circumstances. The Dutch entrepeneurs are of course the last to complain about willing Middle-East-Europe employees.

Wilders and his PVV movement specialise in using generalised ‘statistic group names  for humans’ as a basis for their pointing-a-finger-to-others politics. It is not just those belonging to a religious entity like Islam that are targeted by the PVV. The party of Wilders also points to other groupings of people, often groups that have been defined as a specific statistical category by the State Statistical Bureau (CBS). Autochtoon (Old-Greek: αὐτος; autos = “self” and χθων chthoon = “land/earth”)  and Allochtoon (ἄλλος (allos) = other; + land/earth) are important ‘catchwords’ to be found in the ‘policy nets’ of the PVV. ‘Native’ and ‘alien’ to use other dividing terms, or simply ‘us and them’.

The above ethnic scheme is taken from Wikipedia and I found this comment of an expat in the Netherlands web blog DutchDirt, on the social labelling tradition in the Netherlands: "Why do the Dutch continually focus on this condescending word? What is 100% allochtoon anyway? Did they forget the history of the Netherlands and who their ancestors are? Even the Royal Family are Allochtonen… Anyway to me the whole allochtoon situation is totally absurd and ridiculous. They have in general not yet been able to realize that this whole ‘putting people in boxes’ system is what is causing a lot of social issues and friction. The word has been abused and consequently a negative connotation has stuck. Alas, as it seems it is a cultural thing to give people labels. So maybe we haven’t come that far from apartheid (literal translation = being different) either, oh yeah that’s also a Dutch word." (the author makes only one mistake in the origin and connotations for the word 'Apartheid': it is a Dutch language word originating from the Afrikaans/Dutch spoken in South Africa. The Dutch word 'apart' comes from the French (à part) and is used in three ways: separate in space, separate in circumstances, and extraordinary; 'heid' means 'state of being' (apart))

Sub-categories – all neatly defined by the Dutch State Statistic Bureau – are singled out by PVV strategists for their populist campaigns, like the seemingly geographic notion of ‘Niet Westerse Allochtoon’ (non Western Allochtones). NWAers would be an acronym for this group, proposed to us as a non-adaptive foreign element in the mythically national entity of ‘echte Nederlanders’ (real Netherlanders) originating from ‘non Western countries. The last thing is historically and geographically such an absurd notion that it will take a separate article (in the making) to explain it in maps. For the rest I need not detail here the fact that all nations exist only by the grace of migration. The ethnographer searching for a real aboriginal Dutch will have a hard time finding one.

This map (by me tj.) does NOT appear on the web site of the State Statistical Bureau of the Netherlands, but is construed from the textual information they give. I made it to understand what this idiot term 'Niet Westerse Allochtoon' means. Just before the elections in the year 2010, the PVV financed a study by consultancy bureau NYFER, that managed to construct a demagogical interpretation of the social costs of migration (benefits were not mentioned) focussing on the statistical category of Non Western Allochtones (NWA), claiming this group "costs Dutch society 7,2 milliard Euros a year." These 'statistical lies' were cleverly launched just before people went to the ballots.(*) As the financial crisis had been a part of all television debates between the candidates, who had to explain how they would cut in state budgets and who would suffer from that, and the magic number was 15 milliard, Wilders put forward triumphal how he would solve the 'crisis', by getting rid of NAW citizens. The NYFER report (**) of Wilders failed to be sufficiently discredited (in time) by trade unions, academics, other political parties and so on. (***) It brought Wilders to power with 24 seats in parliament (before he had 9 seats) and the extra-governmental position of power to deliver a majority to a minority cabinet of VVD (liberals) and CDA (Christian centrists).

The singling out of MOE-landers as a target is not a new PVV policy. It fits in their long term structural policy of ‘the Netherlands for the Netherlanders’ (Nederland voor de Nederlanders). The definition of what a real Netherlander is – according to the PVV – remains kind of vague. I do not see a ‘jus sanguinis‘ (the fact of being born in a country) approach by the PVV as a basis for citizenship, as Dutch citizenship is something in their opinion that can be taken away from first, second – who knows where it ends – generations of migrants, that have committed a crime. “Send them back to their homeland” is the adage, while – crime or not – these are Dutch citizen born and educated in this country.

Middle and East Europeans in the Netherlands: (blue) not registered employee in the GBA (Gemeentelijke Basis Administratie Persoonsgegevens/Municipal Basic Administration of Persons Information); (brown) idem registered. Source CBS . Click image to go the CBS web page.

It is certainly not only the PVV who is campaigning against former East-blockers, East-Europeans or MOE-landers. The Liberal Party for Freedom (VVD) – the main power in government now – is in fact the main motor behind the PVV action against MOE-landers. The VVD minister of Social Affairs and Employment, Henk Kamp, proposed already a year ago to expel unemployed Polish workers, not withstanding European accords on free movement of employees. The number of problem cases of such economic migrants, as suggested by the minister last year, have been criticised and relativized by informed sources and members of parliament, accusing the minister of a party-politic election show over the backs of EU migrant workers.

What we see is an orchestrated campaign whereby the PVV takes an extremist  stand by actions like the call to complain on a web site about MOE-landers (anonymous and without check on double entries if wanted), while the VVD plays it more subtle and indirect. Minister Kamp has a personal campaign, often televised by the NOS television or the State Information Service (RVD), whereby he draws his double sided sword: threatening to scrap the welfare benefit of Dutch unemployed workers, if they refuse to do the jobs now done by the MOE-landers and at the same time move MOE-landers out of their Dutch jobs. Jobs often in the greenhouses of the agrarian export sector. Double sided sword, double side profit, especially for the state, who can earn a few milliards of Euros on this move.

Minister Henk Kamp (VVD) of Social Welfare and Employment in a video during a working visit to horticulture firms in the Noord-Oost Polder, filmed by the Dutch State Information Service (RVD), later broadcasted without mentioning its original source by the NOS tv news: "..if you can work and there is work, than you must work." Click picture to go to the RVD information page of this work visit. Kamp (his name means 'camp' in English) speaks about the number of unemployed Dutch workers in the 'polder region', being the same as the number of MOE-lander workers employed there the horticulture . The horticulture entrepeneur explains on camera that these MOE-landers can be called to work on short notice and even for short time contracts only, whereas the Dutch looking for employment in the region are looking for an all around year job. Nobody seems to know the historically speaking distressing association that the Noord-Oost Polder (new land on what once was an inner sea) has consumed a lot of real 'forced labour' when it was laid bare and made into farmland during World War II, including arrested Jewish men that had some (ill-fated) hope to survive here.

The agrarian sector itself certainly does not embrace this proposal for a number of reasons: refusal or incapacity of the “real Dutch” unemployed to do this kind of work, because of what is not said in the VVD minister’s campaign, the not so brilliant economic and social conditions offered to workers employed in EU competitive factory greenhouses and the fact that many jobs a only for a short time. The horticulture industry thrives on EU seasonal migrant workers.

The media performance of VVD and PVV is perfectly orchestrated these days, with Geert Wilders being attacked for his discriminatory MOE-landers campaign while Henk Kamp appears on television giving him indirect support by saying that it is up to any parliament fractions to take on measures and do researches they deem necessary. What is ‘discrimination’ for one, is ‘freedom of expression’ for another, according to Minister Henk Kamp, being asked about his opinion on the complaint against the anti-MOE-lander campaign by the Polish ambassador to the Netherlands.

The text below is a GoogleTranslation of  the PVV new anti-MOE-lander campaign web site on February the 9th 2012 (it is an automatic translation of PVV prose, that is as much as I am willing to do about rendering PVV Dutch in some kind of English, it is enough to get the gist of it):

“Reporting Central and Eastern Europeans

 Since May 1, 2007 there is free movement of workers between the Netherlands and eight countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries. At present the estimates to the number of people from these countries, which resides in the Netherlands, apart from 200,000 to 350,000 people. As one of the few parties, the Freedom Party from the beginning against the opening of the labor market to Poland and other CEE nationals. Given all the problems associated with the massive arrival of especially Poland, is that attitude materialized. Recently, the PVV whatsoever against further opening of the labor market for Romanians and Bulgarians voted.

 This massive labor migration leads to many problems, nuisance, pollution, displacement and integration in the labor and housing problems. For many people, these things a serious problem. Complaints are often not reported, because the idea that nothing is done.

 Do you have trouble of CEE nationals? Or have you lost your job on a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Central or Eastern European? We would like to hear. The Freedom Party has a platform on this website to your symptoms to report. These complaints, we will identify and offer the results to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.

 Submit your story here”

Original Dutch web site for complaint hot-line by the PVV is here: http://www.meldpuntmiddenenoosteuropeanen.nl/


… in Dutch by farmer Merijntje produced by a farmers son, Rinus van Wezel, a 8 minute discourse with birds singing in the background with the title:”Minister Kamp sends forced labourers to the horticulture”

A long and well argued call to the minister that “forced labour tomato picking will be a disastrous undertaking”; Merijntje describes what will happen with strawberry harvesting by workers that are forced and try to evade it in all kind of creative ways. In all detail farmer Merijntje sketches the fanatic posture of  VVD minister Kamp in his zealous campaign to have Dutch workers to pick Dutch fruits and the consequences it will have for those law abiding farmers like him. “Just imagine”, he says lifting his arms in the sky, “government falls because of strawberry picking.” The horticulture entrepreneur also knows his classics on prudent politics when he uses the metaphor of the need for the Minister to stop being a hardliner to become “bendable… in the wind, bendable like the reed.” The European Union reality is better understood by farmer Merijntje, than Minister Kamp, when he comes to the plight of all those Bulgarian and Rumanian workers that are employed as season helps by him, already for years, and he recalls the expectation they have to earn something once in a while in the Netherlands. Think about their families, their situation at home often without work.The contrast between the PVV and VVD campaigns and this video discourse from the other side of the field is enormous. Recently similar reasoning by other employers of MOE-landers could be heard in the Dutch media.

Still the low level of payment (I doubt if the Collective Payment Agreements (CAO) by the trade unions for this sector of industry is always applied), the meagre working conditions and the social impact of  this new kind of EU seasonal migration work, must not be forgotten. We also need to get a better understanding of horticulture market prices, European and international competition, economic risks and profits that are or could be made, to be able to better judge the claims that no other employment schemes – as the one we see now – can be deployed.

Having looked at the case at hand of the public discrimination of “MOE-landers”, it seems to be such an anachronism with high overtones of xenophobia and authoritarian control of the labour market. A minister of employment accusing – underneath well formulated lines – ‘profiteering lazy bones’ that do not want to work for a living, threatening them with good beating by cutting their social welfare. Anachronism also of  a ‘liberal’ and ‘free market’ propagating VVD party, that  switches for electoral reasons to a social poker game. A game that supports a statistical based discrimination of EU citizens. Political liberals that have switched to protectionism and support for outmoded forms of  fear and hate of foreigners. Does the VVD of today still fits their own image of a liberal and somewhat progressive party? Are VVD and PVV by now not two faces of the same Janus head?

(*) Below the PVV web page on the NYFER report.

"10 YEARS IMMIGRATION COSTS 72 MILLIARD EUROS" This web page, dated May 19th. 2010, neatly documents how main stream media have amplified this instance of semi-academic statistical lies: Elsevier Weekly; free newspater De Pers; De Telegraaf a big right from the middle newspaper; RTL television news; NOS Journal (state television news, though they like to see themselves to be independent). Click picture to go to the PVV web page with all these links (all in Dutch).

(**) Het NYFER report has  a much more blank title as the rendering of its content in the words of Geert Wilders: “Budgettaire effecten van immigratie van niet-westerse allochtonen.” (Budget effects of immigration of non-western-allochtones)

(***) There were of course many reacting who did not get sufficient platform for their criticism to have an impact on the elections in February 2010. I just give here a link to one example by a young trade unionist Vicent Bontrop: “Wilders en het NYFER rapport.”

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EUROPEAN FOOTBALL STADIUM BAN FOR HOOLIGANS… Ahmed Aboutaleb major of the City of Rotterdam rejoices today the European Parliament initiative for an European level implementation of banning locally convicted football hooligans from all EU stadiums.  (1) This law initiative has been long in the making. An earlier document  by the Council of the European Union “Resolution of the Council on preventing and restraining football hooliganism through the exchange of experience, exclusion from stadiums and media policy” dates back to the year 1997:

The responsible Ministers invite their national sports associations to examine, in accordance with national law, how stadium exclusions imposed under civil law could also apply to football matches in a European context.

However much I dislike football hooligans this is a juridical precedent which will have far reaching negative consequences for civil rights in general. Not only does it create yet another centrally managed person database that can be accessed by all EU police forces (like data on persons DNA, illegal migrants and so on) it is a further step in constructing a ‘central EU police force’ with all its inherent dangers. Such an EU-wide anti-hooligan law also means multiplied condemnation – for a big part of the European continent – on the basis of a local conviction.

Together with actual proposals (in the Netherlands) for ‘whole sale mass arrests’,  not only hooligan “leaders”, but also of their “followers” (‘meeloophooligens’ is the Dutch term), we can be certain that such an extra-national banning and black-listing power, will be abused in ways beyond our imagination. Once such a law and its enforcement has been put into effect, other ‘social distinct groups’ whose behaviour is classified as unruly can get the same routine treatment in the future. The Council of Europe document of 1997 cited above speaks of “preventing and containing of disorder”, so one need not to be surprised when other forms of  “disorder” will be handled in the long run in the same way. For instance, when we take in account the frequent attempts by politicians – defending employers interest – to criminalise strike actions, trade union activists could be databased and blacklisted with the same ‘anti-hooligan routine’.

(1) It is interesting to note that the ‘hooligan-ban’ proposals in the European Parliament plenary session of  February 2. 2012, was part of a bundle of all kind of measures related to sport listed in this order: – Promote sport for girls; – Blacklist hooligans; – Make doping a criminal offence; – Regulate sport agents; -Combine learning and training. The resolution – thus packaged – has been passed with 550 votes in favour, 73 against and 7 abstentions. In the section of hooligans is also this sentence: “MEPs also call on Member States and sports governing bodies to commit to tackling homophobia and racism against athletes.” Something problematic in the sense of ‘civil rights’ has been hidden inside a package of mostly emancipatory proposals.

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Daniel Cohn Bendit is an old style orator who loves to be on stage and debate, from the university back rooms of Nanterre in the mid sixties as a ‘young European anarchist’ and explicit anti-parlementarist, to the the front room of the European parliament in Strasbourg and Bruxelles as an elected deputé of the Green Party. Yesterday I saw on French television TV5 a snippet of his discourse against Viktor Orban, Hungarian President, comparing Orban’s position with that of Chavez and Fidel Castro.

To me his way of arguing on television  seemed to be a fallacy, as Orban is a member of a neo-liberal right wing party – Fidesz – that came to the fore because of its fierce anti-communism.

When I tried to find a more complete registration of that yesterday debate, I failed to do so, but I did stumble upon a similar oration of Cohn Bendit versus Orban exactly one year ago on January 19. 2011.

Here Cohn Bendit’s discourse is less crude and more to the point when he attacks the new press laws of Hungary, which lets a (Fidesz) committee decide on the objectivity and balance of news reporting. State censorship in short in the name of “balanced information” (l’information équilibrée). It is the European Parliament meeting where the EEC presidency of Hungary for that year is inaugurated.

“L’information équilibrée n’existe pas” (balanced information does not exist) declaimed the Green tribune, facing and pointing to Hungarian President Orban and sums – apostrophic and repetitive in the form of rhetorical questions – cases from history where state authority has been challenged by news media: from the Watergate scandal of burglary in the offices of the Democratic Party under Nixon to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse under George Bush.

“L’information doit déranger la politique..” (information must derange politics). With a grim face and fierce gestures Cohn Bendit finishes his display of exemplum by adding after a short pause  “et ça fait mal quelquefois: (sometimes that hurts).

Cohn Bendit is fully equipped to propose this dictum, as he has been fiercely attacked personally several times in his life – often unjustly – by news media that had to fear no state control in his favour. From the right wing news papers in 1968 calling him “un juif allemand” (a German Jew) (*) to the more recent attacks on him linking his sexual mores of  the sixties and seventies to pedophilia (**).

When one sees this Youtube version of the Cohn Bendit debate in the European Parliament not embedded here but on the Youtube page, scandalous racist hate viewer comments are on public display, as well as the moderate and supportive ones. All this seems ‘unmoderated’. This is not “information équilibré” and one must have a harnessed soul to read many of the comments. The relative anonymity  of the internet produces such reactions and its is up to any internet community to keep excesses under control.

We remain with the question whether the dictum ‘information must derange politics’ should also be applied to the public realm of digital social media.


(*) 2 mai 1968 extreme right wing journal Minute writes: “Ce Cohn-Bendit, parce qu’il est juif et allemand, se prend pour un nouveau Karl Marx.” (this Cohn benit, because he is a jew and a German, takes himself for a new Karl Marx)
(**)   “German MEP open about his paedophilia” is just one of the many descriptions (British Democracy Forum) of the belated reactions to a passage in his book “Le Grand Bazar” published in the year 1975 in which sexual tinted activities between him and some children are described. It took 26 years before a political opponent (German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel of the FDP/Free Democratic Party) grabbed the opportunity to confront Cohn Bendit with his escapades in the early seventies of last century. In January 2001 Cohn Bendit answered by way of an interview in The Observer: “I admit that what I wrote is unacceptable nowadays.”

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…while the list of Libyan war criminals by  the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno-Ocampo keeps dwindling and until now only three suspects are mentioned by name: Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Gaddafi’s brother in law Abdullah Senussi. The deserted former head of the Libyan Secret Service and last Minister of Foreign Affairs Moussa Koussa (also spelled in the Western press as Musa Kusa), part of the regime till a few weeks ago, when he crossed the border of Tunis and was welcomed as a valuable informer for NATO in Great Britain, seems not to be on the list of the International Criminal Court. We now have a whole score of pro-active regime members who are defecting by telephone. This tactics seem to be much more effective than throwing big bombs from speedy airplanes onto buildings that are either empty or inhabited by people who were are the wrong place at the wrong moment. What to think about the British Chief of the Defence Staff General David Richards who called last Sunday for “widening targets in Libya”  as NATO tries all it can to keep Gaddafi from being caught alive and being brought for the International Criminal Court in The Hague. All of this is also a show of force to help topple the tank based Assad family from power in Syria, in the near future. Political leaders must by now have received the message of the international legal community, that only in China it is allowed to use tanks against demonstrators. Both politics and justice in Africa and the Middle East seem to be in the hands of  NATO generals, they take the initiative while parliaments have lost all control over this theatre of war. Happily the International Criminal Court in The Hague – that has no own police force to arrest indicted war criminals – still has a telephone line, to prove things can be done differently. Or, one musty believe that the members of Gaddafi’s claque and clique needed some bombs to rain next to their front doors before they would call The Hague, as if the downfall of the Gaddafi reign had not been imminent for many months already, without NATO airplanes. Why diplomatic forms of subversion have failed to be used to oust the regime of Gaddafi? Who does the body count in Libya irrespective on which side death occurs? Who are those Libyan army soldiers that are legitimate targets now?  I read the army consists of 25.000 volunteers and 25.000 conscripts and that their equipment is rather outdated. So what chance they have against the ultra up to date NATO forces? NATO does not have smart bombs that can decide who to kill and who not, bombs that can distinguish between a conscript, a volunteer, a Gaddafi guard or an insurgent. Too many unanswered questions. I have always had a suspicion when ‘civilians’ are protected and soldiers are open for lawful slaughter. We need to widen our vision on such conflicts and develop new tactics for more peaceful methods of transition of power.

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It is not my habit to make just a quick simple link to another blog, but just now I saw such a a nice example of  anthromorph mapping that I just put the picture here with a a link to the full caption on the most appreciated blog “Strange Maps” (the Netherlands on the top of the hat and Italy as the boot with a heel).

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In mainstream news papers and television the decade-commemoration-machinery for The Fall Of  The Berlin Wall in November 1989 is running at full speed now. So this is the right moment to recall the ‘against the current’  history of those days – just before from 1985 till summer 1989 – when mainstream media and commentators had no clue yet, of the sudden change in the political configuration of Europe, that would have its now official apotheose at last in November 1989. It was citizen dissidence that made not only the Berlin Wall fall, but also leveled the walls of nine state communist buildings (though, failing to dig out the deeper authoritarian fundaments). Thirty years of  heavy Cold War propaganda bombardment of party-regime edifices in the eastern parts of Europe did not accomplish, what in the end could only be done by the inhabitants, the citizens,  themselves. Some did it by writing and self publishing, others by distributing and reading, playing, dancing and singing, thus exposing the internal contradictions of systems reigning in the name and interest of all people, while excluding most of them from participation. The counter-culture movements in Eastern Europe have been instrumental in hastening the erosion process of state-socialism, this to such an extent that the walls of  these bureaucratic paradises crumbled at the sound of these ‘horns of Jericho’. It was in Hungary and Czechoslovakia that the first fissures appeared, and soon it were the East Germans, hopping trains, buses and their Trabants to hurriedly climb the fences of embassies in Prague, or to simply do a country hike and walk out across the Hungarian Austrian border where – for a short while – barbed wire was cut and watch towers were unmanned. DDR citizens not tearing down walls but “voting with their feet.”

Earlier in 1989 the iron curtain – however rusty – was still in place, the great divide between Western and Eastern Europe. Block-thinking was predominant: First World (capitalist), Second World (socialist) and Third World (poor and revolting). A long curving line from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean split Europe, separated it physical in two opposing political systems. Europe was a plural word at that time. The geographical Europe as could be found in atlases and maps reaching till the Urals, and two socio-political Europes: Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Culturally speaking, that what was East of that fenced line was considered by the Westsiders NOT even part of their idea of Europe (something like the actual perception of Turkey as something that should not be part of the EEC). In the end all this bickering over meaning of pseudo geographic entities has long be understood by the United Nations personnel  as can be read in a report of the UN commission on toponymic issues that had to make an assessment for “A Subdivision of Europe into Larger Regions by Cultural Criteria” and concluded: “every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct.” The report – using shady diplomatic language – comes up with the conclusion that the notion of “East Europe” based on the Russian Empire from the 16th to the 20th century and the Soviet period from 1917 to 1992 and its sphere of influence is over now and the traditional idea of “Central Europe” can once more be established. I can not find the promised maps of this commission and when one does only a quick check anybody can see that more than one mapping of the idea of Central Europe exists.


Four of more possible visions of Central Europe: 1- the mid 20th century German idea of "Mitteleuropa"; 2- Central Europe map first shown in the Wikipedia page on this subject; 3- Central Europe as seen by some Croatian source; 4- idem recent Czech view of Central Europe. As always views of the world, be it macro or micro are centric. I did learn that already as a boy in primary school when my teacher explained that for the Danes our (Dutch) "North Sea" was the "West Sea." Click images for full size view and - for most browsers - click once more to enlarge and use bottom scroll bar to move along.

It is hard to imagine now, but it needs to be recalled how deeply entrenched the divide was then, on all levels. There had been popular risings in Eastern Europe, starting in East-Berlin in 1953 and ending in Gdansk in 1980, with the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 and Czech Spring of 1968 as moments where the iron curtain was torn aside a bit, but soon after repaired by Soviet and Warsaw Pact occupying forces with their tanks. There was no end in view of  the ‘entente’ between the power blocks that kept each other in a forced embrace of mutual deterrence, based on their nuclear weapon arsenals. This military vision also translated into the cultural realm with the  monolithic view of the Eastern European block as one total oppressive political unit with a only a few courageous dissidents, martyrs for the cause of  a Western type of  “freedom”, for the rest just masses of indoctrinated communist obeyers


Typical Cold War cartographic demagogy: left the 'red danger' from a cover of a Dutch translation of a West German book published in 1958: "Peninsula Europe"; right a neo Mongol view from 1952 published in Time magazine maps, by cartographer Robert M. Chapin.

Those who looked beyond this Cold War imago knew that the rule and control in each of the countries – messed together in the notion of ‘Eastern Europe’ – had its own particularities, its own time line of  periods of openness and repression. Those who were knowledgeable  had observed that – in each country in a different way and at different moments  – in certain official recognized cultural areas some forms of  less restricted activities and expressions were possible, like jazz festivals, cinema and theatre experiments, international scientific meetings, certain publishing activities, and cultural centers managed by youth associations or students. Those from “the West” who went through the curtain and made the effort to go beyond the controlled itineraries could also discover  a whole network that could rightly be labeled  a ‘cultural underground’, or as it was called  in Czech society of that time, not ‘underground’ or ‘counter culture’ like in “the West”, but ‘paralelní kultura’ (parallel culture), also sometimes named ‘zweiten Kultur’ (second culture) like in the DDR.


Print room of the group around the Umwelt Bibliothek (Environmental Library)in the cellar of the Zionskirche in East Berlin October 1989, they had a duplicating machine from the church and here the magazine which was a strong rallying point for the young DDR opposition was produced. The print room was a total mess in those days right before the fall of the wall. Everybody who came in was asked to assemble their own copy of the magazine of which the pages were spread out over several chairs. There was always lots of fun with some of the obvious Stasi agents who had to join in with the assembling exercise.

Self publishing or ‘samizdat’ was one of the main cultural activities, ranging from the most primitive carbon paper duplicated manuscripts hammered  out of ancient typewriters in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (with a maximum of ten hardly readable copies), to the silk screened leaflets of the Polish Solidarność  trade union and the Hungarian groups like ‘Inconnu’ and Demokrater’…. Only at the end of the eighties in some towns (Prague, Budapest) people managed to get limited access to (state controlled) photocopying facilities; the underground cultural magazine “Revolver Revue” from Prague is an example of this. The duplicating machine (often called Roneo, or stencil-machine) which used to be the standard self-publishing machine in “the West”,  was mostly an off-limit device in Eastern European countries, so the same stencil-principle was used in a more primitive way by pressing ink onto paper with a fill bar of rubber fitted in a wooden handle through a fine textile fabric stretched in a frame, onto which photographically, or by hand painting, texts and images were transferred (silk screening technique, often referred to as ‘Polish printing’). In the Soviet Union pop and rock music fans had their own inventive ways for self publishing by making a single copy lay-out of their magazine and photographing it, next making duplicates of the negatives and sending them around to friends and acquaintances all over the Soviet Union, where many had access to the facilities of local photo-clubs. So happily the negatives with the Russian music fanzines were printed over and over again, thus gaining a huge readership.


Budapest winter 1986, Jennö Nagy holds a silscren frame of the cover of his handprinted magazine 'Demokrater' in his suburbian house (that has been raided several times by the police confiscating even this primary tools). His printing set is now in the collection of the International Institute of Social History... I must have better pictures, but this is all what I could find for the moment. It shows nevertheless how such simple devices were seen as and could actually be 'a danger of the state'.

The ‘unfree world’ in its great cultural palaces, museums, and concert halls “of the people” displayed only state sanctioned forms of  culture (not totally unlike what happened at the other side of the divide), though, the whole intermediate structure of the “free world” with its venues for both radical groups and all shades of institutionalized initiatives did not exist in the state socialist countries of Eastern Europe. A singular top-down control mechanism had – over decades – smoldered all initiatives from below. Civic society with its dynamic social levels and relations, had mostly disappeared in Eastern Europe. Still there were exceptions to prove the rule, like the student and youth clubs where some independent forms of cultural expression could find an outlet and where the authorities would be tolerant for a while (a good example were the SKUC  (Student Cultural Centers) in many towns of the former Yugoslavia). Independent and radical culture , the mirror image of the pompous ‘Palastkult’ of state socialism, had retreated into the personal domain, in small private city apartments or countryside dachas (*). The home became the basis for art forms and alternative practices like, apt-art (one evening exhibitions in someone’s apartment), flying universities (lecture series based on the personal hospitality of many people, constantly changing address), and temporary bookshops in someone’s apartment where during an hour or so samizdat literature could be bought. Performances and happenings would not only take place in the conclave of  a home, but the congregation of non-conformists also would take to the woods and fields, one could say reminding of the centuries old tradition of the dissident christian religious practices in Eastern Europe, from Bohemian Moravians and Bosnian Bogomils to Russian “Old Believers” (Starovertsy).


October 1989 East Berlin several evangelic churches functioning as action centers. Banners are calling for the support of those arrested, flowers have been brought into the church and on the steps outside; inside the rather darkish church space the walls are covered with newspaper cuttings put up with plaster as sellotape is something not readily available; a handwritten placard points to the example of the October 9 demonstration in Leipzig. What I remember the most was how primitive and endearing this first free communication wall was. What you see here is: freedom of expression at the stage of a foetus.

Such outdoor performances could become real prolonged struggles with the authorities, as it was the case in Czechoslovakia with the absurdist band “Plastic People of the Universe“, a local rock group taking at first inspiration from  foreign groups ranging from “the Velvet Underground” and “The Fugs” to Frank Zappa and his “Mothers of Invention”, later developing its own haunting musical style and critical lyrics. They followed the footsteps of the Fluxus art action related Czech group ‘Aktual’ from the mid sixties. Plastic People  came up in the period of the Prague  Spring in 1968 and the subsequent Warsaw Pact occupation. The band was soon banned from playing in Prague and together with a growing group of fans they developed a system of performances in the countryside, sometimes deep in the woods, only at the last moment information of the precise location would be spread, so people already congregated at a nearby train station or other spot and would be directed from there to the actual place of the concert. Of course the secret police would be on their heels, smell them out, which at times led to mass confrontations as during the “Ceske Budovice Massacre” in March 1974, when over a thousand fans were rounded up by police at Budovice train station, beaten up, and send back to Prague, with many names noted followed by later persecutive consequences at work and in school. A year or so later  band members were arrested and their case and cause, of a socialist state against a rock band, became a rallying point of protest against the repressive system. This belonged to a series of repressive events, that led also to the foundation of the Charta 77 group and their manifesto claiming the rights of free expression. (Progarchives.com have a good 1981 recording of the Plastic People online). This form of combined creative protest of young people finding support from academics and intellectuals, differed from the more widely known moral and political dissidents of the Soviet Union, with writers like Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Sinyavsky and Aksyonov who were made into official heroes in the West and -except for Pasternak – were forced to emigrate.

More names of dissident Russian writers could be mentioned here, like (Aleksandr) Zinoviev, but the last one is a category on his own, who, when he would not have died in 1999, could well have developed into ‘a dissident author’ once more, but now in the West, as he opposed the Perestroyka of  the Gorbachev area and gave interviews at the end of his life idealizing Stalin, Milošević, Karadzic, and Mladić. I know there is much more to say about the change of position and meaning of Cold War dissidents after the “Die Wende” when the so called fall of state-communist societies failed to translated in the erasure of all traits of totalitarianism.

The Plastic People of the Universe in the mid seventies, with in the background the first signatories of the Charta ’77 manifesto. The record shown at the left has been produced in 1978 in Paris to support an international campaign against the persecution of the band. Our bookshop Het Fort van Sjakoo in Amsterdam did the distribution for the Netherlands and after we managed to get an one hour program on national radio, hundreds of records were sold to help the support fund. In 1988 a similar support action was undertaken by us for Petr Cibulka, active in the Czech independent music scene, who was imprisoned in that year for protesting the death in prison of yet another human rights activist Pavel Wonka…

These developments were communicated in all kind of ways to the non-state-socialist world, by Western travelers, through postal tricks (sending back faked foreign mail envelops marked ‘address unknown’; the Hungarian group Inconnue derives its name from that practice), through artistic forms of correspondence that seemed harmless enough to state censors to be allowed, which explains the importance of ‘mail art’ as  an exchange medium between Eastern and Western artists in the seventies and eighties, last but not least by cultural attaches, especially of the American embassies, who had recognized – in those days – the importance of such independent citizen initiatives. Most important in slipping through the news from behind the iron curtain, were the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe and its mixed network of CIA agents and independent correspondents and informers of many nationalities, both inside and outside. I have visited a few times – at the end of the eighties – the headquarters of Radio Free Europe in München as I became aware  that this institution – abhored by many Wester leftists – had lots of relevant information on ‘modern social movements’ that interested me. From 1973 onward I had been collecting documents from and on what I labeled ‘modern social movements’ for the University Libary of Amsterdam (later the collection has been tranferred to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam): from the artistic to the political, trying to cover the whole scale emancipative, communitarian, spiritual, esoteric…

Three examples of later studies that document the importance of music for social change in state-socialist countries: The left hand book is “Rock Around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, 1954-1988” by Timothy W. Ryback published already in 1990 and is a great read, mentioning things like the ‘Beat Riot’ in Leipzig in October 1965 a protest against the ban on amateur music groups – very curious as it was again a Leipzig protest in October 1989 that heralded the fall of the DDR regime. In the middle David Caute’s extensive study of how the Cold War was fought on the cultural front, how hot-jazz was employed to “melt down the iron curtain”; there is a good long chapter on jazz and rock music in this book. The right hand book is “Golden underground, unofficial rock journalism in Russia 1964-1994, history and bibliography (Zolotoe podpol’e : polnaja illjustrirovannaja enciklopedija rok-samizdata 1967-1994 : istorija, antologija, bibliografija) an encyclopaedic exercise by  A. Kušnir. I  bought this very detailed documentation from the publisher at the Frankfurt Buchmesse in 1994, where he had a small stand with an exhibition showing some samples of handcrafted rock magazines. (see ** for links and references)

Personal visits over the years – from 1976 onward- to Hungary, Poland, DDR, Yugoslavia and Rumania had made me aware of the specific forms of political and cultural underground movements in these countries and the supportive role played by Radio Free Europe. The underlying reason for the Radio Free Europe (RFE) support of  this alternative culture was clearly geo-political based: support for the USA “free world” empire quest.  I remember Hungarian friends of mine complaining in the mid eighties about some of the RFE journalists and their lack of real interest in the content of their artistic endeavour.  RFE journalists were mostly concentrating on the censorship side of things,  only  interested when a certain form of expression was suppressed and the bad genius of communism could be proven once again (also in the “free world” certain expressions only gain media coverage when some sort of scandal is at stake). Like Eastern Europe itself the big well protected offices of Radio Free Europe – located in a spacious villa suburb of  München – did not have a uniform approach, but were internally balkanized.  This was expressed in the total different atmospheres of each national department having its own personal commitments, set of priorities, traditions, smell of food. As a curator and librarian of the University of Amsterdam I could gain access to the vast documentation facilities of the radio station and I still remember vividly the long corridors and many doors flipping open and closing with hasty journalist on their way and shreds of a multitude of languages coming to my ears. The Russian department had their thumbed card file drawers pointing to many individual cases documenting post-gulag forms of repression, the Polish offices had newly bought file drawers housing an wide range of samples from the the very active Polish samizdat press, the Hungarians were very much into the underground magazine culture  with both exile publications from Paris like Magyar Füztek in a handy small smuggle format, and locally produced primitively printed magazines like Demokrater and Beszelo. The Rumanina section had hardly any documents, so reflecting the effectiveness of Ceauşescu Securitate and it was only later, in 1985, that – in Budapest – I saw and copied issues of a Transsylvanian (Erdely) samizdat magazine ‘Ellenpontok” (counterpoint) published in Cluj-Napoca (Klausenburg, Koloszva) which was – according to some later sources – the only Rumanian samizdat magazine.

Radio Free Europe former head quarters in München (now they are based in Prague) one sees clearly the very long central corridor and the all the connecting side buildings. A huge institution with all its intelligence, translation services, speakers of many different languages and documentation storage,

Which brings me to the year 1985, it must have been fall, when a contact from Belgrade Pavlusko Imsirovic (implied in a political process of the post-Tito era with six activists (known as ‘The Belgrade Six‘) persecuted in the serbian part of the Yugoslav Federation for holding meetings and publishing critical texts) gave me the address of a Rumanian man living in exile in Budapest: Attila Ara-Kovácz (he was one of the publishers of that sole Rumanian samizdat paper). Arriving in Budapest and meeting Attila brought me straight into a just started counter-conference of the “European Cultural Forum” (also called The Budapest Cultural Forum) a follow up – after a decade! – of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) known for its Helsinki Accords that were a protocol for fixing the entente of the power blocks in Europe. This ‘Alternative Cultural Forum’ was an initiative of the then nascent Hungarian opposition, the ‘International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights’ and some Western intellectuals of which Susan Sontag and Magnus Enzensberger were the most high profile ones. I went to several meetings ranging from the lobby of the sumptuous Intercontinental Hotel to some huge sculptor studio on the hill of Buda where a party for the corps diplomatique of the official conference was organized by the Hungarian opposition with as special subject the protest and repression in Rumanian Transylvania against Ceauşescu’s plan to  bulldozer eight thousand traditional villages and deport their inhabitants to newly constructed agro-industrial complexes. The official Forum had set as its task to foster cultural exchanges and cooperation which then could “contribute to a better comprehension among people and among peoples, and thus promote a lasting understanding among states.”  The Alternative Forum with Budapest full of diplomats gave some sort of protection to the the opposition which had been more or less hidden till that time to come out into the open and manifest itself. Anyhow the regime of János Kádár  – in power since 1956 – showed serious signs of fatigue and – much less spectacular than the Fall of the Berlin Wall – in 1985 the state-communist regime was in the process of dissolving. The regime was still there, but it was only ‘pro forma’. It is not surprising that the real first opening of  the iron Curtain did not happen in East Germany but in Hungary, starting formally in April 1989, but already since the the fall of the governance of Kádár in the spring of 1988 the Hungarian borders – and not only the ones with the West – had become somehow ‘transparent’. This was due to the bad treatment of the Hungarian minority in Rumania and old Hungarain sentiments on the dismemberment of their once glorious shared Austrian-Habsburg double monarchy. I knew at that time a polyglot adventurous lady (a descendant from a Ruthenian/Rusyn family) who was illegally crossing Hungarian-Rumanian borders taking with her publications printed in the West. The dismantling of the Hungarian part of the Iron Curtain happened a few months before what is called the ‘Prague Embassy Crisis” in September 1989 when East Germans were flooding the compound of the West German embassy in Prague. All this is mostly lost in the actual mainstream commemoration of the Fall of the Berlin Wall anno 2009.

Cover of the February 1989 “Europe Against The Current Manifesto” Go to and outward link with the full manifesto by clicking the picture above.

It was this ‘Alternative Cultural Forum’ in 1985 in Budapest that inspired the idea of  organizing a real the whole of Europe meeting of practitioners of alternative culture in Amsterdam. Since 1977 we had started with a few friends an alternative international bookshop in the Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam, ‘Het Fort van Sjakoo‘. That collective undertaking had been growing over the years into a solid volunteer organization (it still exists still in 2009 as a fully volunteer driven organization).  We decided to breach the political and cultural borders and make a call to the whole continent from Iceland to the Urals, from the sub-polar regions of the Scandinavian countries to the sub-tropical Mediterranean Sea. This meant making an inventory of persons, groups, initiatives, institutions to invite. This was a huge work at that time when the Internet as such did not exist yet (apart from Usenet and Fidonet facilities, which we did use). Somehow we managed and though the date set at first for the year 1988 could not be met, in September 1989 it really did happen. On this occasion of a twenty year anniversary I have republished the original manifesto, the call for a coming together  we named: “Europe Against The Current” (the archive is at the IISG). Hundreds of people from many countries both from the East and West did participate, the manifestation was scheduled to be opened by Václav Havel, then still a writer under house-arrest. He failed to get the permission to leave Czechoslavakia for this occasion, his travel permit was withheld, so we established a telephone connection and thus the upcoming first post-communist president of the Czech Republic spoke the opening words of our manifestation. The opening was broadcasted – fully in style – over telephone lines and connected radio stations, both legal and pirate ones.

Back + front side of the catalogue with one thousand addresses and descriptions of alternative and radical cultural initiatives in Europe, a databased directory that has been for a few decades a guide to alternative Europe. See (***) for link.

Early 1990 I did write a background article on the origin and development of this historic manifestation taking place in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam and the adjacent gallery W139 at that time still a squatted cultural institution.  It has been published in the Dutch cultural journal ‘de Gids’ and the complete text translated to English is since many years online on my web site and may be enlightening to read again, now twenty years later. Commemorate the past with insights from the past.

Overview of the Europe Against The Current fair in the Amsterdam Beurs van Berlage, September 1989. To read the full background article click the picture.

A more formal description of  the exhibitions that formed a part of the manifestations can be found on my documentation web pages ‘Art ~ Action ~ Academia‘ and an overview of some of the one thousand posters on show in a special installation in W139 Gallery can be found on another web page on an 1968 and beyond poster exhibition in the London Print Studio (formerly Paddington printshop) last year for which I made a huge poster of posters based on the photographic slides used in the September 1989 exhibition in Amsterdam.

The alternative and radical information carrier show in W139 September 1989.

(*) Dacha: small country houses outside the main cities in Russia, at first allotted only to party and trade union cadre, from the fifities onward available to broader layers of the population; also very popular in Czechoslovakia.
(**) Rock music in Eastern Eirope sources with links to worldcat.org that give syou an option to see in which nearby libraries these books can be found, click worldcat icon to see library catalogue:
icon-worldcat Ryback, Timothy W. 1990. Rock around the bloc: a history of rock music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. New York: Oxford University Press.

icon-worldcat Caute, David. 2003. The dancer defects: the struggle for cultural supremacy during the Cold War. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

icon-worldcat Kušnir, Aleksandr I. 1994. Zolotoe podpol’e: polnaja illjustrirovannaja ėnciklopedija rok-samizdata : 1967 – 1994 ; istorija, antologija, bibliografija. Nižnij Novgorod: Izdat. Dekom.

icon-worldcat Tijen, Tjebbe van, and Bas Moreel. 1989. Europe against the current: catalogue on alternative, independent and radical information carriers. Amsterdam: Foundation Europe Against the Current, ID Archiv im IISG/Amsterdam.

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clcik picture for bigger size view ....

click picture for bigger size view ....

These last weeks my research for making a momental monument for migration involves collecting pictures on a daily basis and this morning a press release in which the EU agency Frontex (*) was mentioned (once again) made me do a search just for that word, limiting the search to high resolution pictures only. One of the first pictures that came up was on the website of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU in the year 2008 and showed a dinner that formed a part of the Ministerial Conference on the Challenges of the EU External Border Management (day 1); the caption of the happy crowd well attended by waiters did read “Dinner at Grand Hotel Toplice.” Next picture that catched my eye was the high rise office building, seat of this EU border policing organization Frontex in Warsaw (it is said that the EU had a hard time to find sufficient personnel to serve in Poland because of its lower wage level that the Western part of the EU). The emblematic pictures of what may be Saharan desert road traffic (**) and dangerous rubber boat trips on the Mediterranean were quickly found, as were the few extra elements that show a way of possible reading of the tableau in the diagonal between Frontex logo and member state special police uniforms with golden lettering symbolizing the new European ‘el dorado’.

In the middle of the green EU fortress map there is a hole: Switzerland. One day some smart migrants will dig a tunnel all the way form Africa to that hole in the EU  …. to arrive directly into the bank faults containing mountains of gold safely deposited by African leaders and their cortege favoring – for over half a century now – the silent Swis banks as a place to deposit their revenues. Every year 148 milliard dollar are stolen from the continent by its leaders and civil servants and it is not just old time business à la Mobutu, there is for instance a new trade in special minerals from Rwanda and profitable deals made by depositing toxic waste in Somalia. Till this very day  (money) migration from Africa has heartily been welcomed in Europe. Has that fact been a table talk topic of the ministers – last year – having their nice dinner in the Slovenian Toplice Hotel (as a less corrupt and more equal Africa may diminish the urge and need to sneak through the walls of the EU fortress and may greatly simplify the task of the Frontex agency)?

Not only the Swiss fraudulent hole has to be closed, but also the Guernsey postal box firms, the Luxembourg and Liechtenstein bypass and who knows what other financial loopholes are offered by European Fortress bank managers and the like to the African elite, who are always most welcome and just take a legal airplane for a visit or a more permanent stay, instead of an attempted illegal entry in a leaking rubber boat. Where will be the European headquarters for this new organization that will forcibly round up all those deposited African milliards and send them back to where they came from… and what would be a good catchy name for such a new agency? Or … would such honorable seizures trigger yet another financial crisis because most of  our trustful banks may collapse once again without the use of these migrated African assets?

(*) European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union)
(**) The Sahara picture shown I found in the form of  a kind of postal card with the text ‘Greetings from Malta” in pseudo arabic lettering on the web site of a Danish man Hans-Jørgen Gotsche, who also resides apparently part of the year in Malta; a bit more visual research made it clear that such overpacked trucks are a regular sight on the route from sub-Sahara Niger to Libya, an impressive documentation can be found on the Flickr pages of the photographer Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak, Trucking across the Sahara. Another example is on the MSF Photo Blog that has a page with posts with the tag ‘refugeees’ with a picture of such a Sahara truck by Sven Torfinn “Niger – March 2003 150 young men loaded on a truck, on their way through the Sahara – from Sub-Saharan Africa to Libya or any other North-African country, with a final destination of Europe. Crossing the desert takes about a week.”

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To the urns (ballot box); the whole world is green

Back to the Urns (ballot box; a urn is also a large pot) the whole world is green. I like the French slogan "Aux Urnes" and used it for the nomenclatura (headline) of my European election emblem. Above the pictura, below this line the traditional 'descriptio':

There were five peas in one pod; the peas were green and the pod was green, and so they believed that the whole world was green-and that was absolutely right! The pod grew and the peas grew; they adjusted themselves to their surroundings, sitting straight in a row. The sun shone outside and warmed the pod; the rain made it clear and clean. It was nice and cozy inside, bright in the daytime and dark at night, just as it should be; and the peas became larger, and more and more thoughtful, as they sat there, for surely there was something they must do. “Shall I always remain sitting here?” said one. “If only I don’t become hard from sitting so long. It seems to me there must be something outside; I have a feeling about it.” And weeks went by; the peas became yellow, and the pod became yellow. “The whole world’s becoming yellow,” they said, and that they had a right to say.

These are the opening lines of the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen “Five Peas in a Pod” which is a nice and sentimental story about some ignorant peas in a pod who will learn about the world and its chances. Most of the peas are wasted away quickly, but one is shot into the air by a boy with a blowing pipe – a peashooter –  and lands in the gutter right beneath a half rotten window pane of an attic room in which a poor family is living. It is a mother and a frail sick girl that has to stay in bed all the time. One day she discovers the pee that has sprouted and grows into  a plant. The girls happily observes this wonder of nature and takes the pea-plant as an example and so she starts to get better, growing healthier by the day.

This week thursday the 4th of June the Netherlands did cast their peas in the European election-pot and this weekend the other nations will follow suit. Each nation neatly compartmented in their own pod. Each member state having their own inside-the-pod vision and in the end most of these peas will end up in a big pan, on a  fire, be stirred, decompose into a soup. There are 27 member states with approximate 500 million inhabitants of which a major part is considered ripe enough to cast their vote. By sunday June the 7th all 736 seats of the parliament of the European Union will be divided and the stirring of  the soup may begin.

Centrifugal powers will bring together and drive apart the ingredients and from the perspective of a voter, this reconfiguration may often be at odds with the specific original color and taste of a chosen pea. Transnational coalitions on ideological basis, as well as regional cluttering and opportunistic monstrous alliances. After a lot of stirring, nevertheless, it becomes one big pan of soup because the mere scale of  it makes the substance into an amalgam that has lost  its specific flavors and blends  everything into one strong taste: peas…. and one overwhelming color: green.

But what about the one pea that by chance, or destination,  jumps the other way and ends up in a moist and fertile corner and starts to sprout? Potentially there are many peas that stayed in their pod and could roll another way. In the Netherlands less than 40% of the voters did use their right. In most other countries European elections tend to have a low participation also. Non-involvement in European elections may just be an expression of a general lack of active participation in political affairs, but not necessarily so.

The four levels of delegation of power offered (municipal, provincial, national, European) may be too much for a simple pea. Active local participation where one can see who stirs the soup or even can take the spoon in one’s own hands and stir the other way around if necessary, makes much more sense for most people. Most of the parties that participate in the European elections, are also represented at the other three levels and their representatives seem hardly equipped to tackle transnational and European affairs. The public debates about European politics, as seen in most countries these last weeks, were most often projections of local and national issues, like keeping  foreigners and islam out, so no new member states, like Turkey. The paradoxical question how to deal with national protectionist measures in the realities of  a common European market during the actual international financial crisis, was mostly evaded, instead there was the regular local squabble and political bickering. Grand themes like the EU and the world food situation, global energy questions and new visions on migration could not be heard. It is like the babbling peas of Andersen in the green world of their pod: “It seems to me there must be something outside; I have a feeling about it”, but when the protective cover of the pod is pulled open and they drop into the real world, most of them are soon wasted away, ending up in the big soup pan, where once again everything seems to be green.

It is only 1460 days from now that you can cast your pea again and try and make a better soup than the last time …

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Traditionele methode om boter te maken; bron Flickr pagina van 2008 Beaverton Farmer's Market

Traditionele methode om boter te maken; bron Flickr pagina van 2008 Beaverton Farmer’s Market

“De Boterberg” dat is wat ik mij het eerst herinner – als leergierig jongetje – iets dat te maken had met de Europese Economische Gemeenschap, dat wat later opging in de Europese Unie of tegenwoordig door lidstaatbewoners (arrogant) kortweg “Europa” genoemd wordt. De boterberg, dat was een begrip dat tot mijn verbeelding sprak. Miljoenen pakjes boter zag ik voor me, zo hoog opgestapeld, dat de top van deze smeuïge berg in de wolken verdween.  Het waren de vijftiger jaren, tijdperk van het radionieuws, een medium dat je eigen beeldend voorstellingsvermogen meer prikkelde dan  tegenwoordig nog het geval is. Steevast tussen de middag at ik thuis mijn besmeerde boterhammen en luisterde naar “De Mededelingen voor Land- en Tuinbouw”. Zo kwam de beeldspraak ‘boterberg’ mij ter ore en kreeg de daaraan gekoppelde naam van Sicco Mansholt een vertrouwde klank. Sicco Mansholt (1908-1995), Nederlands eerste Euro-commissaris voor het landbouwbeleid, boer en sociaal-democraat die tijdens de oorlog in de Wieringermeerpolder in het verzet zat en nog Willem Drees tijdens de hongerwinter van voedsel wist te voorzien. Hij was een vooruitstrevende boer die technisch vernieuwing niet uit de weg ging. Na de oorlog werd hij minister van landbouw en in 1958 Euro-commissaris. In nog geen decennium wist hij met zijn beleid het naoorlogse voedseltekort op te heffen, creërde zelfs een voedseloverschot. Gegarandeerde afname van landbouwproducten door de overheid was één van de instrumenten die Mansholt gebruikte en in Nederland betrof dat dan met name melkveehouderij-producten. (De boer zou op deze wijze door gegarandeerde afname van zijn producten tot een werknemer worden die ook meer tijd zou hebben voor activiteiten buiten het werk op het land.) Deze gestuurde prijspolitiek ging gelijk op met technische vernieuwingen en de daarbijbehorende schaalvergroting. Het vooroorlogse kneuterboertje en zijn verspreid liggende lapjes grond verdween met de ruilverkaveling uit het landschap. De melk emancipeerde zich van de schuur naar de fabriek. Enorme machinaal aangedreven karn-tonnen werden geïnstalleerd. Met de groei van de productie werden vrieskasten tot vriespakhuizen, waarin de de goudgele boter – als in de kluis van een bank – opgestapeld werd , wachtend op het moment van de beste marktwaarde.  De gevroren boter was gevrijwaard van bederf, maar door deze opslag, raakte vraag en aanbod op de zuivelmarkt uiteindelijk bedorven. Een tijd lang werd er met extra goedkope ‘kersboter’ nog wat van die berg afgegraven en zelfs de inwoners van de Sovjet Unie hebben nog even geprofiteerd van de voor dumpprijzen verkochte boter uit de Gemeenschappelijke Europese Markt.

Sicco Mansholt en zijn in in 2008 onthulde standbeeld in de Wieringermeerpolder waar landbouwgrond nu bestemd is voor een nieuwe woonwijk "Blauwe Stad"

Sicco Mansholt en zijn in in 2008 onthulde standbeeld in de Wieringermeerpolder waar landbouwgrond nu bestemd is voor een nieuwe woonwijk "Blauwe Stad"


Het bleef niet bij een boterberg, pasteuriseren en vriesdrogen tot melkpoeder waren nieuwe bewaartechnieken die tot een zelfde vorm van overschot leidden en de term ‘melkplas’ deed ontstaan. Europees beleid was en is in de eerste plaats landbouwbeleid en naar mate er minder mensen in deze sector werkten, is de bedrijfsvoering efficienter en productiever  geworden. Voedselverbouw met als doel  ‘nationale zelfvoorziening’ is in ieder geval iets dat volledig uit het zicht verdwenen is. Gestimuleerde export en bewaakte import waren, zijn en blijven – ondanks alle wereldhandelsverdragen – de praktijk. Wat de kosten als het gevolg van dit Europees ontwikkelde beleid voor het landschap en het millieu, voor ons algehele welzijn, geweest zijn moet nog steeds eens goed becijferd worden. Het economisch metaforisch landschap van de Europese Unie werd in ieder geval wel verrijkt,  met een ‘wijnzee’ en een ‘vleesberg’ en wie weet wat voor een problematische overschotten nog in de rij staan om aan dit beeldspraak-landschap toegevoegd te worden, nu nog aan het burger-oog onttrokken door anonieme vrieshuizen en reuzensilo’s. (Mansholt is pas na zijn pensionering tot het inzicht gekomen – mede onder invloed van de toen opkomende kritiek van de Club van Rome – dat zijn politiek van product-subsidies en schaalkvergroting schadelijk voor het milieu was.)

Bijna de helft van de Europese begroting betreft landbouw' bron 2006  Wiki Europese Commissie Begroting.

Bijna de helft van de Europese begroting betreft landbouw' bron 2006 Wiki Europese Commissie Begroting.

Vandaag is het in Nederland de dag van de Europese verkiezingen en al weken lang zijn we gaar gestoofd om ons erwtje in de grote pan met soep te gooien, onze stem uit te brengen. Alhoewel het landbouwbeleid bijna 50% van de totale begroting van de Europese Unie uitmaakt is het een onderwerp dat niet of nauwelijks door de zich aandienende euro-parlementariërs aan de kiezers voorgelegd is. Het voedsel dat we dagelijks eten, hoe het smaakt, waarom het zo smaakt, hoeveel het kost, waarom het zoveel kost, hoe en waar  het verbouwd, geteeld, gekweekt, gefokt, gevoed, gemaaid, gedroogd, geslacht, gekookt, verpakt en verkocht wordt, lijkt toch iedere euro-burger aan te gaan. Als je dan wel eens Europese landbouwpolitiek ter sprake hoort brengen dan kan je er van op aan dat het debat zich toespitst op het in het gareel houden en minimaal tevreden stellen van de landbouwproducenten. Regels en verorderingen zijn nog steeds in termen van de inmiddels overleden Sicco Mansholt gedacht: efficientie en productiviteit (zo heeft de Europese regelgeving voor de nieuwe lidstaat Slovenië ertoe geleid dat de frequent voorkomende verkeersborden die waarschuwen voor overstekend vee – op de kronkelige wegen van dit mini-staatje – hun functie geheel verloren hebben omdat de meeste boeren aldaar het niveau van de door de EU gestelde eisen dusdanig vond dat zij hun vee maar van de hand hebben gedaan).


De boterberg ontstond ooit door een op melkprodukten gerichte prijspolitiek. Inmiddels is er een kentering in deze politiek te zien, waarbij er voorstellen zijn om het beleid om te buigen naar overheidssteun aan boeren niet meer voor hun producten (die ooit moeten gaan concureren op de wereldmarkt) maar voor een bredere taak, die van landschapsbehouder en milieubeheerder. Dat mag dan een een verbetering zijn tenopzichte van de catastrofale ‘boterbergpolitiek’, het blijft nog steeds een te nauwe opvatting van aansturing en beheer van zulk een essentieel onderdeel van ons bestaan als ons dagelijks eten…

 Schaalvergroting van het winkelbedrijf heeft geleid tot vergaande monopolisering van wat er aan eten te koop is. Deze vaak multinationaal opererende bedrijven ontwikkelen zich tot meer dan enkel distributeurs van etenswaar. Supermarkten krijgen een groeiende invloed op de voedselmarkt, alsook op de voedselproducenten, hier ten lande en tot in de verste uithoeken van de wereld. Zijn deze winkelketens inmiddels niet degenen die het werkelijke landbouwbeleid van de Europese Unie zijn gaan bepalen? (Een eenvoudige zoekopdracht “zuivelproducten” op de web-site van Distrifood, onafhankelijke nieuwssite voor supermarkten, laat de dagelijkse trends zien van winkelketens die op Europees niveau  reageren en opereren.) Is dit niet een voortzetting van dezelfde blindelingse schaalvergroting, zoals bij de landbouwhervormingen van de vijftiger en zestiger jaren van de vorige eeuw? Zeker is dat de uiteindelijke voedselconsument nauwelijks invloed heeft, of het moet zijn stemgedrag zijn dat dagelijks in de vorm van zijn koopgedrag minitieus en volautomatisch geteld en met verfijnde markttechnieken aangestuurd wordt. Vraag en aanbod lijken zo meer efficient en beter op elkaar afgestemd te worden, maar ook hier blijven de nadelige gevolgen van deze meer efficiente en grootschalige aanpak buiten het zicht en is er nog weinig maatschappelijk debat. Het winkellandschap verschraalt sinds jaren, kleinere gespecialiseerde voedselwinkels verdwijnen, voedselmarkten worden steeds meer overspoeld door andere branches, met name die van kleding tegen dumpprijzen. Toenemende vloeroppervlaktes en rijkogende uitstallingen en verpakkingen, van voedsel-supermarkten moeten het verlies aan variëteit en kwaliteit verhullen. In welke mate valt dit te vergelijken met de blinde  ‘boterbergpolitiek’ van de jonge Europese Gemeenschap van bijna een halve eeuw geleden? Als er dan al geen weg terug is (het verleden was nooit ideaal) wat is dan de weg vooruit?  Kan de schaalvergroting van een de politiek op Europees niveau- op wonderbaarlijke wijze – ook bijdragen aan een noodzakelijke tegenwaardse beweging van schaalverkleining, die de steeds verder uiteengedreven consumenten en producenten van voedsel op een meer harmonieuse wijze bij elkaar gaat brengen?

Is er een Europese landbouw-commissaris denkbaar die in de zin van een vangstbeperking van vissen om ‘overbevissing’ tegen te gaan, een “vangstbeperking van voedselconsumenten”  in verband met ‘overbewinkeling’ gaat instellen? Waneer worden er door een Europese commissaris beperkingen opgelegd aan de fusies, kartels, weilandwinkels, gigantische voedselplaza’s en andere monopoliserende activiteiten van de voedselhandelaren en distributeurs? Hoe lang zal het duren tot de Europese stem van de voedselconsument mee gaat tellen?

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