This is not the Pope you’re looking for!

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The media frenzy surrounding Pope Francis since his ascension in February 2013 is seemingly ever escalating. Notably, compared to his predecessor Benedict XVI, the intense media scrutiny of the present pope has been almost entirely positive in nature, whilst betraying some significant shortcomings in the knowledge of Catholic theology on the part of reporters.

The new Pope has been compared favourably to his predecessor on all points, ranging from apparel (Benedict wore red shoes, restoring the traditional footwear of popes past, whilst Frances prefers plain shoes) to theology. Francis’ decisions about personal appearance seem almost selected to contrast his unpopular predecessor’s taste for traditional papal style. He travels in a plain Ford Focus within the Vatican (of course, no prodigious distances are to be found within the Vatican), and he has chosen not to live in the traditional papal quarters, preferring a (quite plush) boarding house.

More than the Pope’s personal appearance, his theology and opinions have been discussed in a similar style. Francis’ every comment has been interpreted as revolutionary.
The Pope’s statement on evolution was reported by, among many others, the Independent, Telegraph and Huffington Post, as a controversial issue, where the Pope appeared like a benevolent, modernising revolutionary. However, as the official Church teaching on evolution has been on board with the general view since 1950, when Pope Pius XII authored the encyclical Humani Generis, this take on it is ludicrous.
Francis’ stand on homosexuality made another splash, with quotes like “who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” causing headlines all summer. Yet again, a simple perusal of the Catholic Catechism, easily available online, would have shown reporters the following:

2358: The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359: Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

The Pope has not on any point deviated from the official stance.

Furthermore, like Popes before him, he is firmly against marriage equality, female priesthood, abortion and contraceptives. In fact, there is very little that separates him theologically from Benedict on issues that can be judged as progressive.
Despite interviews that may hint to the opposite, Francis has not, despite his absolute power over the Church as Pope, actually done much of anything. The one exception is his call for a synod on a reformulation of the tone of the approach to homosexuals and divorcees, which was voted down.
His predecessor, on the other hand, got the shorter straw.
Few knew the previous pope by his pontifical name. Instead of referring to him as Benedict XVI, his civilian name clung to him like burdock – Ratzinger. Pope Benedict seemed to lack in charisma and media savvy to a considerable degree. He was seen as old-fashioned, unpleasant and rigid, and jokes about his resemblance to the Emperor in the Star Wars movies and about his shiny red boots mingled with righteous fury at the handling of paedophilia and corruption scandals. Media seemed to revel in discoveries of the unpopular Pope’s past as a citizen in Nazi Germany, in his condemnations of abortion, contraception and female priesthood, and in his shortcomings as a leader.

What caused this black-and-white view of popes past and present? What prevented basic research on Catholic teachings when reporting about Francis, and what created blind anti-pope bias when reporting about his predecessor?

A part of the clue lies in Benedict’s treatment. The public did not see Benedict as a satisfactory replacement the much-loved John Paul II. One sign of this might be the refusal of the public to recognise him by his Papal name, instead calling him Ratzinger, to show that he was not accepted as a judge of morals. Rule adhering and scholarly, without much in the way of charisma, he was soon made into a scape-goat for the many paedophilia and corruption scandals that shook the Church, which he handled with little delicacy and transparency. His unapologetic and stiff behaviour turned him effectively into an effigy of everything that was seen as wanting in the Catholic Church – its pomp, its relentlessness, its heavy handedness, its antiquated views – and as such, he burned. After his resignation, the new pope, with his radical differences in appearance and personal behaviour, and his status as the first non-European Pope, was naturally greeted as a fresh change. His every move is thus interpreted as heralding progressive change and a revolution in the Catholic Church, embodying everything Benedict was not seen to stand for: progressive social values, transparency, approachability, modesty.

Clearly, they got the wrong Pope.

 

Photo credit: Diana Robinson via Flickr

Debattkontrovers och förutsägbarhet

Alla uttryckta åsikter och citat är tillskrivna de intervjuade enbart som privatpersoner.

Den 24:e april deltog ordförandena för Ung Vänster, SSU, Grön Ungdom, CUF, LUF, MUF och KDU i en debatt på Studenternas Hus. Lokalen var bara drygt halvfull, och utanför portarna pågick en protest där ett hundratal deltagare protesterade mot att Poliforum, ett studentinitiativ inkluderande UF, bjudit in även SDU:s ordförande till debatten. Både debatten och protesten gick lugnt till, trots att några av SD-ordförandens mest rasistiska uttalanden dränktes av burop och skrik.

Utblick pratade med Adam Josefsson, en av arrangörerna av tillställningen, för att bringa en smula klarhet i hur debatten om debatten hade tett sig inför demonstrationen och valet man gjorde att använda riksdagsmedlemskap som riktlinje för deltagande i debatten:

På ett plan kan jag personligen känna att det finns en övertro på idén om att ‘ta debatten’ på något sätt skulle hjälpa. Hittills verkar det som att när man har tagit upp liknande frågor på dagordningen runt om i Europa så har man gått i klinch och fastnat där, vilket inte har funkat.”

Dock tycker jag att det finns ett begär att få argumentera öppet i sådana här sammanhang, och att det begäret i grund och botten inte går att bortse ifrån. Det är inte vår roll som arrangörer att bestämma vilka argument som då inte ska få höras och bemötas. Vi måste ju ändå dra gränsen någonstans, och då beslutade vi att riksdagsmedlemskap fick gälla som urvalsprincip.”

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Debatten som sådan följde strikt moderpartiernas åsikt i nästan alla frågor som togs upp: arbetslinjen, utbildning och bostäder. Vid diskussionen om EU på slutet tog den fart och blev något mindre förutsägbar, då flera deltagare också kandiderar till EU-parlamentet.

Diskussionen om arbetslinjen ur ett universitetsperspektiv tog upp en stor del av tiden, och ungdomsförbunden följde blockgränserna. De partier som är för arbetslinjen framhävde behovet av lärlingskap, praktik och tydliga kopplingar till arbetsmarknaden, tillsammans med höjd maximilön för att fortsätta vara berättigad CSN. Oppositionen framhärdade i stället att man inte ska tvingas arbeta under studietiden för att överleva.

Ingen av debattdeltagarna föreföll anse att forskning och kunskap har ett egenvärde utöver att förse samhället med kvalificerad arbetskraft. Det var det i alla fall ingen som påpekade.

Så fort dörren ut ur Studenternas hus öppnades, ljöd manifestationens burop in i lokalen.
Joel Celander, en av arrangörerna av demonstrationen utanför Studenternas hus, menade att demonstrationen på det hela taget var lyckad:

Absolut! Även om man har polisen emot sig så tycker jag att vi trots det kunde få fram att rasisterna inte är välkomna. Jag hade hoppats på ännu fler, men det gör inget på det stora taget, markeringen går igenom ändå.”

Joel menar att den politiska obundenheten är något av en kuliss:

“Det var väldigt många poliser på plats, men något annat var väl inte att förvänta sig. Nazisterna får spatsera fritt, och det är tydligt att polisen inte vill ta ställning för utan emot oss som tydligt vill markera mot rasismen och främlingsfientligheten. Det såg vi i Kärrtorp också – det är samma grundlösa hållning som arrangörerna verkar ha också; det finns ingen politisk obundenhet.
Man kan bara hävda att man har det från den priviligierade position som arrangörerna har, och att förneka det är enligt mig naivt. Eller, naivt låter kanske för hårt, men du förstår vad jag menar? De sitter fortfarande, i egenskap av arrangörer, i den sitsen att de bestämmer hur utformningen av debatten ser ut, och att då åberopa obundenhet som något sorts mantra ändrar inte på det faktum att man bidrar till normaliseringen av rasismen.” 

Adam menar att ambitionen har varit en annan:

Huvudpoängen har inte varit hur SDU ska bemötas eller huruvida de har någon rätt att vara på universitetet. Vi vill skapa debatt inför valet, och då vore det konstigt att stänga ute ungdomsförbundet till ett av Sveriges största partier. Kanske direkt kontraproduktivt, om man är emot dem. Man har all rätt att protestera och vägra vara där, på debatten, om man är emot SD:s politik. Jag förstår det, det är en intuitiv effekt. Vi har ingenting emot att man protesterar på det sättet.”

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Inne i Studenternas hus fortsatte debatten, om än stillsamt. Även i frågan om vinster i välfärden var ungdomsförbunden förutsägbara. Alliansens partier förespråkade kvaliteten och valfriheten som privatiseringen av välfärden ger, och oppositionen kontrade med att det är en dålig idé att låta privata aktörer gå med vinst med skattemedel. SDU höll med oppositionen. Den enda åsikten som stack ut var LUFs, som hävdade att privatiseringen av välfärden är ett feministiskt projekt. Till skillnad från traditionellt manliga yrkesområden ”får” inte kvinnodominerade områden tjäna pengar, vilket enligt LUF förändras genom vinstmöjligheten i välfärdssektorn.

Kopplingen feminism-privatisering hade inte SDU:s representant några större kommentarer på. Under de få gånger som Kasselstrand yttrade sig och publiken var tyst nog för honom att höras, vilade han som mest på eufemismer, stolt applåderade av två-tre anhängare som letat sig in i lokalen.

Utblick avslutade intervjun med demonstrationsarrangören Joel med att fråga honom vad han tyckte var det stora problemet med att bjuda in SDU till debatt.

“Det är inte enbart att man ger SD en arena. De har redan en arena – hade de inte haft det, hade kanske sådana här manifestationer inte behövts, och vi kunde fokusera på att skicka ut Alliansen istället. Nu tvingas vi syssla med det här istället. Det är mediabilden som basunerats ut – den liberala idén om ett fritt debattklimat där man gång på gång avsäger sig sitt ansvar. Debatten ska inte ske på vårt universitet – den ska ske i riksdagen, i Sveriges parlament!”

Adam håller med om det, men menar att universitetet även kan fylla funktionen av informationsspridare, vilket även har varit Poliforums idé från första början:

För vår del, som arrangörer av en debatt med ambitionen att sprida information inför valet har det väl snarare funnits en uppriktig vilja att göra just det. Och någonstans måste vi dra den gränsen. Visst skulle vi kunna ha använt en annan princip, men då måste man också fråga sig om man hade använt samma princip på SD om de inte suttit i riksdagen, inklusive alla andra kontroversiella partier.”

För Joel är det inte relevant:

“Studenternas hus har ett symbolvärde för oss studenter och bara för att man sitter i riksdagen har man inte rätt till all offentlig yta. SDU har ingen som helst rätt att propagera för sina åsikter på vårt universitet, men istället väljer arrangörerna att premiera Kasselstrand framför de som går på debatten. Det är sådana föreställningar som leder till en normalisering av rasismen.”
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En månad efter att debatten hållits, går svenskarna till urnorna för att rösta i EU-valet.
Det sista och mest intressanta temat i debatten var också EU. Flera av deltagarna är kandidater för EU-parlamentsvalet, vilket gjorde debatten mer intensiv och mindre enligt partiprogrammet. Samtliga ungdomsförbund utom LUF var EU-kritiska i någon grad.

Roten till det onda fanns enligt CUF i att EU inte är en perfekt öppen marknad, och medan den enligt Ung Vänster låg i att EU är ett ”högerprojekt”. Mp tyckte att en högermajoritet i Europaparlamentet vore beklämmande med tanke på hur de brukar prestera på miljötoppmöten, och SDU menade att Birgitta Ohlson ”skämmer ut Sverige” i EU genom sin kritik mot Ungern, som han målade upp som EU-normen.

De mest skilda åsikter – Ung Vänster och MUF, exempelvis – enades i önskvärdheten hos ett mellanstatligt samarbete i stället för det nuvarande. De flesta partier framhävde flyktingpolitiken (SDU hade, föga förvånande, en annan vinkel) och klimatet som huvudfrågor för EU. Hur detta ska ske i en mellanstatlig organisation lämnades vi i okunnighet om.
Det stod dock klart att de kommande valen framöver bjuder på polariserande frågor som bäddar för både kontrovers och samstämmighet. Både utanför och innanför Studenternas hus.

Text: Anja Johansson & Josef Svantesson

Omslagsbild: Blok Glo/Cemil Arikan

Is neoliberalism ruining the welfare state?

It is universally acknowledged that Europe is in a state of precipitous decay. The demographics of the continent are changing drastically; people aren’t keen on having children, and
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Is European welfare perhaps being abducted by neoliberalism in disguise,while its population stands by, suffering powerlessly? Europa abducted by Jupiter, disguised as a white bull, as her friend watches helplessly – as imagined by Rembrandt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Google Art Project

It is universally acknowledged that Europe is in a state of precipitous decay. The demographics of the continent are changing drastically; people aren’t keen on having children, and meanwhile the very old keep getting more numerous as medical science and work conditions improve. Baby boomer generations of the 40’s and 50’s are retiring en masse. These retirees deserve pensions, of course, and pensions are paid by the taxes of the currently employed. Furthermore, other welfare institutions – including medical care and care of the elderly – are similarly dependent on the bounty of the workers, whose services our aging population require to an ever-increasing extent. The problems are obvious – with fewer workers, how will we manage to uphold the current state of welfare for the increasing demands of the future?

Several solutions have been proposed. Increased immigration, for instance, would increase the number of working people in Europe and bring about the taxes the nations are clamouring for. But are there enough immigrants to fill the aching hole in national tax revenue everywhere? Why should they desire to, for instance, move to Sweden, a chilly and boring country if ever there was one, when France and Germany beckon, and arguably have a lot more to offer? Relying on immigration is obviously also a politically sensitive issue to the racist hive mind of the European population. It is simply not politically possible for European countries to open their borders, not when so many ruling parties have made their success through appealing to our inner xenophobe. Other ideas include delaying retirement age a few years, also an unpopular idea among the working masses, and limiting welfare, which is paramount to political suicide in a country like Sweden, where trust in the state is high. How then, do you keep the population happy while not infringing unnecessarily on the welfare system?

Enter social investment funds, originally a venture capitalist idea of quantifying welfare to make profit. There are countless variations of social investment, sometimes involving no private enterprises at all and sometimes run more purely for profit. The overarching idea however, is that a fund is set up to which individuals and organisations can apply for funding of a project over a limited time period. The project needs to have “both social and economic benefits” and an analysis of when the project is expected to generate profit and pay back to the fund is required. The profit is gained from savings in other parts of the welfare state package through early interventions. Essentially, early intervention is to identify risk behaviour and vulnerable groups and intervene before they become a “problem” and cost the state copious amounts of money in welfare. For example, an investment of early intervention for a particularly vulnerable group in school pays back in the savings in, for instance, the criminal justice system and social services, whose services won’t be needed. The superfluous budget is cut and delivered as profit.

The basis of this approach is a ruthlessly neoliberal view of human life as an economic investment of the state. The lack of morality, and of the notion that human life worth saving for its own sake, is striking within this movement. This has however not stopped it from becoming an enormously attractive option, even in countries with a historically strong welfare state and ideals of solidarity with the weak, such as Sweden. The Swedish state has spent 6 billion SEK 2006-2014 on social investment, despite not even having a state-run fund. Instead, the driving force behind this movement is SKL (Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting) and individual municipalities. Eager to limit the expenses of welfare, which weigh heavily on municipalities, they start their own social investment funds. SKL produces massive amounts of sunny pamphlets and guides for municipalities, coated with the thick glossy varnish of the unobjectionable gospel truth: the projectisation of welfare will inevitably bring success and improvement to, not only the budget, but the citizens as well. Because at its core, that is what this approach suggests. Render the welfare state to a complete set of self-sustaining three year projects targeting specific vulnerable groups. There is profit to be made!

There is no use blaming municipalities for their enthusiasm for social investment. They have immense costs to carry, enormous responsibility for their population, chronic inability to reach their ideals, and ever-slimmer budgets to keep. Social investment funds promise, with almost religious fervour, to solve social problems without further draining the coffers. But what are the consequences of turning the welfare state into projects? Despite all of SKL’s claims about long-term, preventative solutions, projects rarely run for longer than three years. Some of these projects might be turned into regular practice, but it is rare that their structure remains unchanged once they have to fit into a budget. Furthermore, which projects are accepted by the funds? Surely “safer” ones, promising reliable returns, have a higher chance of approval than projects that might have a bigger need for the extra funding but whose clients are more unpredictable. There is also, naturally, the moral issue of equating a human life to figures and costs. Trying to calculate the price of a troubled childhood resulting in social issues, versus the cost of an intervention certainly seems to be a profoundly inhumane look at life. Do all aspects of society need to be rendered in economic terms to be worth spending money on?

Despite the numerous problems that naturally arise from trying to clinically calculate methods to gain profit from something as complex and precious as human life, the social investment funds of Europe continue to thrive. The European Union, facing a future of an impoverished, aging continent, is a vocal proponent of the method. And certainly, some good might yet come out of it. But as the ultimate saviour of the continent’s welfare issues, it speaks more of our increasingly economic way of viewing the world, than of our desire to help.

Text: Anja Johansson
anja.johansson [at] utblick.org

Utblick at Bokmässan

The annual book fair in Gothenburg, Bokmässan, features an event focusing on international issues –  “Internationella torget”. Utblick was there and talked to representatives of two organisations working with human rights issues; Operation 1325 and Emmaus. First out was Maj Britt Theorin – current President of Operation 1325 who has also served as a member of the Swedish as well as the European Parliament.

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Operation 1325 is an umbrella organisation working for full international implementation of Resolution 1325, adopted by the United Nations’ Security Council in 2000. Resolution 1325 focuses on the necessity of involving both men and women in the work of conflict resolution and peace building.

Ms. Theorin explained that while women constitute half the global population, there is a stark absence of women within peace building efforts; both on national and international levels. Recognising that sustainable peaceful relations cannot be reached with only half the population on-board, especially in regard to the vulnerable position of women and girls in armed conflicts, Resolution 1325 aims to improve the participation of women on all levels of conflict resolution.

Despite the Resolution being adopted in 2000, full implementation remains elusive in most countries. Even in countries where the Resolution is formally implemented, such as Sweden, Ms. Theorin pointed out several weaknesses that hamper the usefulness of the Resolution. The Swedish implementation, for instance, is lacking on many fronts as it does not include any concrete objectives, time frames, or funding for the government agencies in question – thus carrying little actual force. (Report Monitoring Swedish implementation: http://operation1325.se/sites/default/files/women_count_2012.pdf

Operation 1325 uses a variety of methods to reach their goals; education, awareness campaigns and political influence. As an umbrella organisation bringing together women’s organisations worldwide, the Operation arranges lectures and seminars; both through its own initiative as well as local outreach programmes. According to Ms. Theorin, the most recent include seminars arranged in Sudan and a project with Libyan women’s organisations due to start shortly.

Due to their extensive experience within the Swedish and European Parliaments, Ms. Theorin and her fellow activists are also able to influence politicians in their natural mileu.

While the goal of ensuring gender equality in peace processes is still distant, there is some progress; Ms. Theorin mentioned the Nepalese implementation of the Resolution as a good example for other states to follow. “The Nepalese implementation is commendable as it provides ample opportunity for making a real difference, for example through providing  various resources (monetary, judicial and medical) for women wounded in armed conflict.” 

Next, Utblick met Julia Finér, president of Emmaus Stockholm, who was also present at Internationella Torget. Emmaus’ focus was to present their project for increased visibility of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Ms. Finér explained that while the occupation of Western Sahara has been ongoing since 1975, it receives very little international attention. Emmaus, is a solidarity-based group working for sustainability and justice,  and seeks to highlight the problems in Western Sahara, by drawing attention to the situation.

Ms. Finér explained that the UN does very little to alleviate the situation. This limited role is attributed to France exercising its veto power within the Security Council in lieu of both its long term alliance with Morocco as well as its historical role as colonsier – hindering any intervention in the area. As a result, the UN force allowed in the area has no mandate to investigate human rights abuses. Effectively, human rights violations continue unhindered and the UN presence is useless for the Saharawi (Western Saharan) population. However, things are a-changing – in 2011 the EU voted against a treaty with Morocco on fish trade with occupied territories, for the first time opposing French opinion.

Emmaus works at improving awareness through several outlets; Swedish news outlets, parliament seminars, debate articles as well as active participation at events such as Bokmässan. They are also supporting the publication of a new book, “Tyst Territorium” – a compilation of reports from Western Sahara by noted investigative journalists Fredrik Laurin and Lars Schmidt. Furthermore, Emmaus is arranging a trip to Western Sahara, where participants will be guided around the area and visit refugee camps in Algeria. The aim is to give insights and increased visibility abroad, as traveling through Western Sahara privately, especially in more sensitive areas, is currently very difficult to do.

Text: Anja Johansson

Bild: Jan Ainali

Read more: Emmaus Stockholms Västsaharasida: http://www.emmausstockholm.se/vastsahara/

Western Sahara Resource Watch: http://www.wsrw.org/

Saharwian Fishermen Condemn EU-Morocco Fishing Treaty ‘Fraud’, EurActiv: http://www.euractiv.com/development-policy/saharawi-fishermen-condemn-eu-mo-news-530059